Mister Cook Goes to Canterlot

by Dave Bryant


I bounced and slid across a very hard, very cold polished-stone floor, spinning slowly to a halt amidst piles of books. After a moment to regain my breath, I groaned and flopped over to begin the arduous ascent to all four feet. Why the portal insisted on ejecting its users with such wild enthusiasm escaped me, and I toyed again with the notion of applying to receive hazard pay for these trips.
“Cook!” a familiar voice called. “I thought I heard the portal open. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow!”
Once I was sure my legs wouldn’t buckle under me, I turned to see Princess Twilight Sparkle crossing the room from one of the green-glazed doors, still ajar behind her. “I wasn’t expecting me until tomorrow too, Your Highness,” I explained ruefully, “but I had to swap around a few calendar items at the last minute thanks to the Powers That Be. I apologize for the change and the lack of warning.”
To my surprise, she hooked her jaw over my withers in an equine hug—even raising an arm to brush the elbow against my shoulder, making it a warmer gesture than a simple greeting; I reciprocated as best I could considering her greater height. “I guess I can understand that,” she allowed. “Goodness knows how many times I’ve had to gallop off all of a sudden because of a friendship problem or some royal duty.” She stepped back and eyed me. “And you know you don’t need to be so formal, Mister Cookie Pusher.”
I rolled my eyes. “You know I do—at least on first meeting. I’ve gotten one lecture on lèse-majesté already; I don’t care to get another.”
“We’re not in public, you know,” she pointed out as she turned to lead me out of the library.
“No, but it’s a good habit to maintain,” I riposted, following her on shiny-polished unshod hooves. By now I was moderately accustomed to my alternate form—somewhat small and slight compared to typical stallions, with stone-gray coat, crisp dark short-cropped mane and tail, and pale eyes—but I glanced back over my body to take stock of what I’d hauled through the magical gateway, since its interpretation of whether, and how, to translate inanimate objects traveling along could be strangely whimsical.
My high-end carbon-fiber and ripstop nylon luggage had become a pair of rugged but fine sailcloth panniers dyed an attractive deep, rich rust brown. My brightly colored knit scarf hadn’t changed at all, but my nylon and polyester parka had become an odd saddle-like contraption over a thick felted blanket, seemingly intended as both cold-weather garments and padding for the saddlebags. The rest of my clothing, naturally, had vanished aside from my glacier glasses.
The latter looked unexpectedly similar aside from allowance for my transformed cranial anatomy; the lenses even remained polarized, an anachronism for a country still in the midst of its Industrial Revolution. A corner of my mind surmised the portal passed them through unaltered because the polarization provided a real benefit over simple tinted glass, but wouldn’t be obvious to observers. My still-shaky levitation glowed its customary pale gray as I placed the sunglasses over my alicorn; the interior of Twilight’s castle . . . thing . . . tended to the dim side.
I caught up with her to pace side by side along one of the echoing corridors. “Happy Hearth’s-Warming, by the way, Twilight,” I wished her sincerely.
The princess giggled. “Happy Hearth’s-Warming, Cook. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it up in Canterlot.” She cleared her throat and continued in a more serious tone, “So Sunset didn’t come with you, hmm?”
I shook my head. “No, she was adamant about spending the holiday season with the CHS gang. It’s the first chance she’s had other than last year’s fiasco, and she’s determined to make the most of it. I can’t say I blame her, and I figured that was what she’d decide, but I had to make the offer, at least.”
Twilight nodded agreement, then sighed. “I wish I could play trusty native guide like we planned, then, but I can’t get away today, and I can’t very well ask my friends to drop what they’re doing. I’m sorry, Cook.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I assured her. “I assumed I’d be on my own, and it’s not like I can’t ask for assistance if I need it.”
“Well, I’ll get you some maps and things before you go, at least.”

I stood on the broad stoop of the castle’s main entrance, outside the tall peaked doors still open and framing Twilight, Spike, and Starlight Glimmer. “I’ll be back tonight or tomorrow morning. Since this isn’t an official visit, I shouldn’t stay—or be away from my other duties—too long.”
“Have fun,” Twilight said brightly. Spike waved diffidently and Starlight warily; neither of them seemed entirely at ease with me. In the case of the former, I suspected it was simple unfamiliarity. The latter, of course, had experience of me in a temper, which doubtless colored her view. I regretted that, but there was no time now to redress the problem.
“Thanks—and thank you for the cash and the letter of credit.” The portal tended to be scrupulous about passing through, intact, legal instruments of all kinds, including currency and financial instruments. Eccentric as that was, it made good sense, but the portal and the world beyond it remained classified on both sides, which left financial exchanges in an awkward position. To work around that, the princesses and I had set up a reciprocal arrangement of checking accounts and lines of credit, periodically adjusted to remain in rough parity, to be drawn upon by cross-portal visitors. Sunset Shimmer received a small stipend as a fringe benefit, though it was kept carefully modest to encourage self-sufficiency on her part, and Twilight had authority to release funds in Equestria.
After a last few pleasantries I turned and descended the overly grand steps; the massive doors behind me closed against the winter cold with a soft but audible thump, leaving me to stroll along the broad metalled road connecting the looming arboreal-appearing structure to the nearby rural hamlet of Ponyville. Even this early in the morning, passersby were out and about, walking or trotting briskly, breath pluming, and I nodded or called out holiday wishes in occasional perfunctory greeting.
Mere minutes later I stood on the small platform before the modest station, purchasing a round-trip ticket on the limited express that ran through Ponyville to and from Canterlot. I asked for an extended expiration date for the return trip, which the clerk accommodated as the routine request it was. “Goin’ up to Canterlot, huh?” he asked breezily. “Seein’ family?”
“Well, no, but I’ve never been up there during Hearth’s-Warming,” I replied with perfect truth. “I’ve heard about it, though, and thought I’d go experience it for myself.”
The middle-aged earth stallion grinned. “Fair ’nough. Have a good time, Mister.”
I chuckled. “Thanks. Happy Hearth’s-Warming.”
“Same to you, feller.”
I turned and thumped across the heavy planks to stand with the other ponies waiting by the single track. A growing excitement, the like of which I hadn’t experienced in years, began to fill me. I couldn’t help but gawk unabashedly at my surroundings, my companions on the platform, and down the line for the smoke plume that would be the first sight of the scheduled train. For one day, at least, I wasn’t a diplomat, but a simple tourist. I was determined to play the part to the hilt and enjoy the day.