A 14th Century Friar in Celestia's Court

by Antiquarian

First Lessons (Part 2)

“Friar Jacques? Are you all right?”

Twilight and Jacques sat in rocking chairs on the back porch of the Apple Family homestead. The morning’s sparring had come and gone, and, much as she would have liked to interrogate Fritters about his impressive abilities, Twilight simply couldn’t put off Jacques’ lessons in magic any longer. So they had repaired to the house, leaving Applejack and Grannie to attend to their chores, Song to run an errand in town, and Fritters and Marble to “take in the scenery.”

Translation: check out the Acres in their entirety so as to familiarize themselves with the terrain in the event of an attack. You don’t grow up with your brother in the Guard without picking up a thing or two. Not that she intended to tell Applejack what they intended just yet; the farmer hid her anxiety well, but Twilight suspected that fear of what dangers might be on the horizon had taken unpleasant residence in Applejack’s mind. I might have to re-up my offer of hosting the friar at my house; maybe put her mind a little more at ease. It would just be a matter of phrasing it in such a way that the stubborn mare didn’t take offense.

But that’s a problem for another time, she thought, mentally adding it to her checklist. Now, she had a different problem. Namely, that Friar Jacques looked rather pensive and in no way eager to begin the lesson. He sat rocking in his chair, staring out at the Acres with no sign of having heard her. Well, I’ve had unwilling pupils before. “Friar Jacques?” she repeated a touch more loudly.

“Hm?” mumbled the friar as he was startled from his reverie. “What’s that?”

Twilight gave him a teasing smile. “Friar, usually my pupils at least wait until I begin the lesson before they zone out.”

Jacques blinked, displaying the slight furrowing in his brow that often manifested when he was befuddled by one of their colloquialisms. Fortunately, it seemed the aged man was quite adept at parsing out unfamiliar speech, and he rallied quickly with a rueful smile. “Forgive me, Twilight. I must confess that my mind was elsewhere.”

“I see. Were you… were you thinking of home?” He winced. “I’m so sorry! I don’t mean to pry, I only—”

“Pray, do not fret, jeune dame,” Jacques assured her. “You should not feel that you are being gauche in mentioning my home. Though I am at times melancholic that I shall not see it again, in truth I am accustomed to travelling to new lands with little notice, and I have endured far worse conditions. You needn’t, how did Rarity put it, stomp on eggshells.”

The mare giggled. “That’s walk on eggshells, Friar, and thank you for telling me that.” They rocked in silence for a moment. “Were you then?”

“Was I what?”

“Thinking of home?”

The friar gave an enigmatic smile that reminded Twilight of Celestia. “In a manner of speaking.”

“Provencal, France, right?”

“Well remembered, jeune dame, but no; I was not thinking of Provencal. The home I was thinking of is a dusty old battlefield in the Holy Land, many miles from my place of birth.”

“Oh,” blinked Twilight, not quite sure what to make of that. “Any particular reason?”

He shrugged. “I suppose it was watching the sparring this morning. So… invigorating to see. Familiar too, in its own way. Magic may mask the face of warfare, but it cannot change it. I suppose…” he chuckled and ran a hand through his hair. “I suppose I miss it. I may be a priest now, Twilight Sparkle, but mine was a rather late vocation, and I’ve been a warrior for far, far longer. In my heart I shall always be a soldier, you see, whatever new vocations are added into my life.” Once more, his gaze turned outwards to watch the Acres. “I couldn’t change that even if I wanted to.”

There was something familiar about the way that he watched the treeline, and when Twilight realized what it was, she felt foolish for not recognizing it sooner. Shining Armor does the same thing. Without even realizing it, he’s watching for threats. The old warrior sat there, at ease in his chair, rocking without a care in the world. And yet he is forever on watch.

“I must confess that there is one thing about this new magic of mine that excites me,” stated Jacques abruptly, tapping one gnarled finger on the arm of his chair. “To be strong again.”

Twilight gave him an appraising look. “You seem plenty strong to me.”

“I am, for a man my age,” he replied. “I got myself back into fighting shape as soon as I was fit enough after I was…” he trailed off and swallowed, “…after I joined the Hospitallers,” he finished in a more subdued voice. “All the same, when I came to your world I felt as strong as I did in my prime. Stronger, even.” The old man glanced over, a twinkle in his eye. “I’d be lying if I said the prospect of being able to lift twice my own weight again didn’t excite me.”

If your magic develops how I think it will, that might be the low end of your capability, but perhaps now isn’t the time to mention that. “You said that there’s one thing about your new magic that excites you,” she probed. “Does that mean the rest of it doesn’t?” Jacques muttered something non-committal and unintelligible and failed to meet her gaze. Gotcha. “Well, that’s perfectly understandable. Believe me. When I first realized my magical potential, I was so overwhelmed that I accidentally hatched a dragon egg, levitated the teachers, formed an instinctive shield that took the princess to dispel it, and…” she stopped before she added ‘transmogrified my parents,’ to the list. Jacques’ eyes had grown wide enough as it was. “Well, anyway, I felt overwhelmed. And you’re already doing better than I was at that stage, so, bonus, right?”

“Bonus,” he echoed, sounding skeptical.

“Why don’t we start with something that you’re more comfortable with,” she suggested. Her horn glowed, and the roll of notes she’d taken in the hospital appeared in a flash, along with other notes and documentation that she’d taken since then. “Now, when you first described your magic to me, you talked about how it activated when you prayed. So it sounds like the prayer may act as a trigger—”

“Now hold it right there, Miss Sparkle,” interrupted Jacques, his hand raised with authority and his booming voice brooking no argument. Instinctively, her ears went flat. “My prayers are an act of piety, drawing myself and others closer to God by petition, adoration, contrition, or thanksgiving.” He smacked his chest with his hand. “It is a matter of making me the best version of myself; of purifying me of every evil which corrupts the harmonious designs of Creation. They are not some incantation or spell which I cast.”

“Don’t worry! I’m not suggesting they are!” she replied hurriedly. He relaxed somewhat, but his eyes held a mute demand for clarification. “Think of it this way: does your world require magic for you or anyone like you to pray or work miracles? For you to perform adjurations, er, wait, exorcisms, as you call them?”

The friar scoffed. “Of course not! My office as a priest is not some matter of magic, nor is being a Christian.”

“Well, don’t worry, because nothing’s changed!” she assured him. “Trust me, I’ve seen lots of things which defy conventional explanation in my life, and heard of more besides.” I didn’t always believe it at the time, but this lifestyle has a way of bucking my perception of reality. “Sure, plenty of those things were magic, but even then that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t miraculous. Take the Elements of Harmony, for instance. They don’t operate according to the Laws of Common Magic; heck, they’d probably still work if there was no Common Magic.”

He folded his arms. “So, Harmony Magic is miraculous then?”

All Harmony Magic is miraculous, though not all miracles are necessarily Harmony Magic.” For example: I’m semi-convinced that the Creator gave Pinkie the casual ability to break the laws of physics in the name of spreading cheer. But, again, not the best time to mention that.

Jacques seemed mollified by this. “Very well. Please, continue.”

“Thank you. Now, as I was saying, the prayer could have acted as a trigger. Not in the sense of it being an incantation but, well, you said it yourself, Friar – the purpose of prayer is to make you more like what you were created to be, right? More harmonious in nature?”

“In part, yes,” he admitted.

“Well, these new powers are a part of you now. So perhaps, when you prayed, you became more open to them working as they were intended to. And maybe your brain was primed with certain concepts, like when you blocked outside magical influences when you were worried about Dark Magic, or when you experienced enhanced resilience after praying for strength to defeat the Timberwolves.” She shrugged. “It didn’t have to be an incantation to get your body to react instinctively.”

Jacques stroked his beard. “Perhaps,” he said slowly. “I must admit, I am rather out of my depth here. I find it difficult to understand how I could just do magic when I don’t even know how it works.”

“Well, lots of the races do magic more or less instinctively,” Twilight replied. Pointing to the orchard, she asked, “See how prolific the apples are here?”

“I had noticed, yes,” said the friar dryly.

“Well, without magical assistance, they wouldn’t be blooming this time of year.” Jacques raised an eyebrow at that. “Earth pony farmers like the Apple family have specific magical techniques that they use to nurture the crop to bloom out of season, to produce bumper crops even in bad weather, to make the crop flourish even in poor soil, etcetera. Theoretically, most any earth pony could learn how to use his or her magic to do this at some basic level, but the Apples are an old and powerful family, and the magic runs deep in their blood. Add to that the fact that they’ve had generations to perfect the technique and, well,” she shrugged, “there’s a reason the four of them can harvest this entire orchard and produce enough food for the entire town and beyond.”

Magnifique,” murmured Jacques.

“Yes, it is,” nodded the mare. “Now, earth ponies don’t tend to think of their magic quite the same way that unicorns do. To them, it’s generally regarded more as an extension of their physical strength and family tradition than a spell formula like what I use when casting a magic missile or transmogrifying an apple into an orange. When I asked Applejack to explain the formula behind her applebucking technique, she didn’t write down a spell like I was expecting. She just started demonstrating her kicks and saying that,” she adopted Applejack’s accent, “‘This here applebuckin’ technique’s been in the family since the foundin’ of Equestria!’” Twilight’s face soured. “Hours of trying to get her to explain it to me was like trying to get a tatzelwurm to tap dance. Her active magic and mine just aren’t taught the same way. And your magic is probably closer to earth pony magic in a lot of ways than unicorn magic. Fortunately,” she added with a smug look, “I happen to have studied earth pony magic extensively, as well as virtually every other known form of magic, so we still have a lot to go on.”

“Well, I would expect nothing less from the Bearer of Magic,” he said deferentially. “Still, it is… a lot to take in.”

“If it helps, you can try to think of it like any of your other attributes,” she suggested. “Like strength; dexterity; constitution; wisdom; intelligence; charisma.” Why do I have the sudden urge to roll dice and create a backstory for a fictional character? “Or, if that doesn’t work, just think of it as another weapon in your inventory.”

Jacques tilted his head. “In my inventory?”

“Arsenal,” she corrected. “I meant to say ‘arsenal.’”

He rested his jaw on a clenched fist. “That does make things a little clearer.” He smirked. “Especially since I apparently have magic which is meant to counter the Dark Arts.”

“Indeed you do,” she agreed. “Now, it’s not exactly typical for somepony, er, someone to just be able to use Curatrix Magic on instinct, but, well, you’re full of surprises!”

“Mother said that quite often,” he smiled, “usually after Henri and I did something foolish.”

Twilight giggled. “Well, she’d be proud of you in this regard, I’m sure. Curatrix Magic is a form of Harmonic Magic. Historically, it is generally learned by Adjurists so as to better be able to counter Dark Magic and protect other creatures from its effects. It’s used to ward against the Dark Arts, to heal wounds inflicted by them, to destroy them outright, to conceal oneself from them, to fool them…” she paused on that last point, thinking back to her own mistakes in the Crystal Empire. “…though that one can be… particularly dangerous if is done incorrectly.” She pursed her lips, then moved on, “In short, Curatrix magic is the magic of Order – it puts things that were damaged or distorted through unnatural and evil means back into their proper alignment. In some cases, it can heal mortal wounds and, purportedly…” she looked around as though someone might overhear her and leaned in close to say with reverence, “it has even been said to raise the dead.”

She didn’t say anything for a time after that. Jacques cleared his throat when the silence became awkward. “Very well. I am with you so far.”

Twilight leaned back. “That- that doesn’t surprise you?” She raised her two forehooves into the air, holding them barely an inch apart. “Not even a little?

Jacques raised an eyebrow. “Lady Sparkle, recall that miracles and devilry exist in my world the same as yours. My religion has many in it who are raised from the dead, preeminently Jesus Christ, God made Man. Of all the fantastical things you have told me since entering this world, this is the least surprising.”

“I… um… ahem. That’s fair, I suppose.” She shook her head and muttered, “It’s like everything you find shocking or not shocking is backwards.” The friar smirked. “Returning to the matter at hoof, it seems that Curatrix Magic has just been flatly gifted unto you, to the point that it seems to affect every other aspect of your magic. Which is significant because, as Redheart told you, your standard magic is already pretty generous. Having a healing and resistance factor comparable to pegasi and earth ponies is nothing to sneeze at, especially with your added strength against magic and the Dark Arts. You’re already apparently faster, stronger, and far more durable than you were in your own world, and that will likely continue to increase for a time as your body adjusts to this world. On multiple occasions you’ve simply been able to negate magical effects upon yourself without consciously meaning to. Not only that, but when you fought the timber wolves you straight up annihilated the Dark Magic that spawned them. And, to top it all off, when you thought that Spike was a Fell beast,” he blushed at the memory, but in her lecturing mode she barely noticed, “I saw spell matrices snap into place around you that resembled ward spells; specifically, you looked like you became fully armored. It was like your natural resiliency was given a physical form and super-charged. And, who knows, there might even be some other traits that have yet to reveal themselves. And the only way to find those will be through trial and error, meaning that we’ll have to consider all schools of magic.”

Jacques shifted in his seat. “That’s… that’s quite a lot to take in.”

“I know! Isn’t it exciting?” she exclaimed. “I mean, lots of creatures cast active magic more or less through intuition, but the fact that you were doing such complex and powerful spells without even knowing you were doing them is almost unheard of! It’s going to be an entirely untapped field of magic! I’m going to be able to write a paper on this! Maybe even a book! Just think of it! An entirely new contribution to the magical lore of Equestria and—”

At that moment, Twilight chanced to look over, and saw that Jacques had once more taken to staring at the Acres, his face pale and his eyes anxious. Blushing fiercely, she cleared her throat and put on a brave face. “Um… I mean… I’m sure this is all very overwhelming for you, but don’t worry! We’ll figure it out!”

Turning, he held her gaze for a moment, then gave a wan smile. “Well, I am truly blessed to have such an astute mare for my tutor. I don’t think I could manage without you.”

“Oh, you’re a smart man. You’d figure something out. But, since I am here, perhaps we should start with an overview of how spellcraft functions.”

“That sounds like an excellent idea,” he agreed.

“Great! Now, it is important to remember that, no matter what kind it is, magic in this world is formulaic in nature, akin to mathematics in many respects. As you have experienced, the user doesn’t necessarily need to understand the formula for it to work, in the same way that I don’t need a degree in orthopedics to move my knee, but a firmer understanding of the formula does make casting easier. Now, unicorn magic tends towards having the most readily understood formulas due to its direct nature, but in general…”

Morning Song resisted the urge to massage the bruises that Marble and Fritters had given her, instead focusing on enjoying the clean country breeze. All things considered, she was glad that Argent had picked her for the Ponyville assignment. She appreciated Canterlot’s elegant beauty and didn’t mind visiting, but being stuck there for weeks had left her yearning for a small town setting. Things are quieter in the country, she reflected. The days are slower, the air is fresher…

“Are you sure you don’t want some ice for that?” asked Redheart.

… and the ponies tend to be more openly neighborly. Song turned to give the nurse a polite smile. “I appreciate the offer, Redheart, but I’m quite all right. I’ve suffered far worse than a few bruises in sparring.”

“If you say so,” responded the nurse, not sounding convinced.

“I promise, my coloration makes it look worse than it really is,” Song assured her. I suppose I could have put my armor back on after showering, but that would draw more attention than I’d like right now. They were at the train station, waiting on the platform for the two Lunar Guards from Canterlot who were being transferred to Ponyville General. Technically, it wasn’t a secret that they’d be in town. And, once Private Oaken had recovered, they’d likely be seen out and about in armor. Still, no point in advertising it more than we have to, thought Song.

There was a loud crunch behind her as somepony munched on something, and she instinctively opened her mouth to tease Fritters before she remembered that he was still back at the farm. This time, the brown-coated stallion in question was Medevac, who ambled up to stand beside the two mares as he ate his way through a bag of chips. Redheart apparently took issue with his dietary habits, because she scoffed when she saw what he was eating. “How you can work at a hospital and still eat that garbage is beyond me.”

The retired Marine shrugged. “I’ve eaten worse and lived.”

“So far,” she countered.

Medevac raised an eloquent eyebrow. “This coming from the mare who drinks Everfree Energy constantly.”

Her furious blush indicated that he’d scored a hit. “I do not drink it constantly. I drink it to get through the crises lasting more than seventeen hours and that’s it!

Everfree Energy?” asked Song, her brow furrowing. “Isn’t that the drink where it’s a misdemeanor to sell it to Pinkie Pie?”

“Felony,” corrected Medevac as he munched along. “And I’ve seen her on the stuff; it oughta be considered an act of terrorism.”

“She wasn’t that bad,” said Redheart.

“You weren’t part of the detox unit,” growled Medevac, shooting Redheart a glare. “I was.” He shuddered at the recollection. “Sometimes, when I lie awake at night, I think I hear her laughter.”

Song contemplated that statement for a moment. “Do you want to talk about it?” she offered.

Medevac paused mid-chew to consider. “Maybe,” he admitted before returning to his chips.

Further conversation was interrupted by the whistle of a train. The Canterlot Express pulled into the station a few minutes later, disgorging its cargo of ponies onto the platform. Song and the others waited while the rest of the passengers disembarked, knowing that the ponies they waited for would be getting off last. Ordinarily, serviceponies would disembark first as a courtesy, especially if they were invalid. But, since the purpose was to not draw attention, it had been decided that they’d wait. After a while, the last of the other ponies trickled out, leaving only Ironhide and Oaken.

Even though she’d been sent their files that morning, it was still a little odd for Song to see Private Ironhide in the flesh. The fact that his grey coat, gold eyes, and silver mane and tail so perfectly matched the Lunar Guard glamour enchantment was atypical, and it made him stand out even without his armor. And the military physique doesn’t exactly make him any less eye-catching either. As for Oaken, the brown earth pony was burly even by the standards of his race and profession. Not quite as brawny as Big Macintosh, but still a big guy. Neither did the wheelchair he occupied do anything to help him blend in. If Song didn’t have confidence in the capacity of ponies to tune out things they regarded as mundane, she might have despaired of the value of subtlety. After all, I did once sneak into General Eyeling’s office just by having a clipboard, a dress uniform, and the walk of a pony who was supposed to be there. Song smiled at the recollection. She enjoyed hardening security.

As none of them were in uniform, none of them saluted, but Song made introductions. “Gentlecolts, I am First Lieutenant Morning Song, though when we’re not in uniform you may refer to me by my name. This is Nurse Redheart—”

“A pleasure,” said the mare.

“—and Nurse Medevac.”

Medevac crinkled up the chip bag and tossed it in the trash without looking. “Howdy,” he greeted them, waving one wing and grinning cheekily. “And allow me to be the first to warn you gentlecolts that our food won’t be up to your pampered Canterlot standards. Also, your tin nightgowns are against hospital regulation; wouldn’t want you scaring any children, after all.”

The Lunar Guards’ eyes narrowed. And so it begins thought Song.

Redheart gaped at her colleague. “Med, what the hay do you think you’re—”

Song put a hoof to the other mare’s mouth. “Shh. Just let it happen.”

Ironhide set his jaw and took a step forward. “Say, Oak, are you detecting stupidity in this general vicinity?”


“Wow, you guys can detect stupidity?” asked Medevac credulously. “That’s pretty cool. See, in the Marines they just taught us useful stuff like how to fight, but if you guys want to use ‘detect stupidity’ to play hide-and-seek with each other, that’s cool too.”

Redheart’s jaw hit the floor. Song merely smiled. A skillful opening, Marine. How will you respond, Night Watch?

Ironhide feigned a sudden realization. “Ah, a jarhead. That makes sense.” He glanced at Redheart. “I gotta say, it’s really kind of your hospital to hire on the mentally handicapped.”

The mare sputtered angrily. “W-what?! He’s not—”

“Oh, they didn’t tell you?” asked Oaken, concern on his face. “It’s right in the name. Marine: Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not Essential.”

An excellent rejoinder, thought Song with a nod. And how will you retort, Medevac?

Medevac just gave a long-suffering sigh and shook his head sadly. “This is worse than I thought, Redheart,” he said with a grimace. “We’ve got a couple Nighties that think they’re funny.” He walked over to grab the handles to Oaken’s wheelchair. “We’d better get ‘em back to the hospital before they start getting big ideas like learning how to count past ten.” He flicked the bandage on Ironhide’s face with his tail as he started to push Oaken towards the hospital. “We’ve got some aloe to put on that scrape there, Daisy. If you’re good I’ll give you a lollipop.”

Keeping the pressure on with a multi-faceted insult. He has talent.

Not to be outdone, Oaken pointed back at Medevac’s prosthetic leg. “Say, Ironhide, don’t you think that it’s a little ironic that the cripple is pushing the wheelchair?”

“Careful, nightgown, or I’ll break my other one off in your—” he glanced at Redheart and blushed, “—face,” he finished.

“Bold talk coming from a stallion with as many legs as brain cells.”

They continued down the path to the hospital, their slurs branching out beyond their respective branches of service into hygiene, heritage, and race. All the while, their pleasant demeanors remained. Song and Redheart followed behind at an easy pace, the former taking note that Oaken and Ironhide seemed to be matching wits well with the impressive Medevac, and the later simply gaping. Redheart’s horror amused the REF officer. Ah, to be young and naïve again, smiled Song, remembering her own first lesson in the religiously irreverent barrack-room humor. Though Medevac must have been on awfully good behavior since retiring for Redheart to be this shocked.

Eventually, Redheart gave her head a vigorous shake and turned to question the other mare. “Okay, I’ve got to ask. Is this a soldier-thing or a guy-thing?”

Song didn’t even have to ponder the answer. “Yes,” she said blithely.

Yah!” With a solid buck, Applejack struck the tree trunk, sending apples cascading into the barrels below. Mechanically she emptied them into the nearby cart before moving on to the next tree. Applebucking didn’t take all that much concentration when you’d been doing it for a couple decades. At this point it was almost meditative in nature. She felt at peace in the moment, worrying neither about the past nor the future, but simply present to the matter at hoof.

Which was why, when her ear twitched, alerting her to movement back and to the left, she took notice. Something had made that noise, and she got the distinct impression that it wasn’t just the wind. Might be a critter, but then… the princess’s talk of the Shades flooded back into her mind. It might not be.

She twisted her head to get a clear view of the orchard, her eyes narrowing. The noise had come from the back left, but, somehow, she knew that was just what she was supposed to think. Her gut told her that whatever, or whoever, had made that noise was more to the right. And an Apple listens to her gut.

“Ah know yer back there!” she called out, her body lowering into a ready stance. “Come on out, now, ya hear?” And then Ah’ll do what? Fight? Against a killer? She gritted her teeth. Ah faced the changelings, Ah can face this. “Ah mean it!” she challenged more loudly, more for herself than anything. “Ya’ll come out now!

For another moment, nothing happened. Then Fritters stepped out from behind a tree just a little to the right of where she’d been looking. “Not bad, Applejack,” he commended her. “You actually saw through the distraction.”

Applejack snarled, “Fritters! Yer askin’ for a thumpin’ sneakin’ up like that again!” Her threat was instinctive. Emotional. But, the moment she heard the words aloud, they sounded hollow. Aw, who are you kidding, girl? You saw him this mornin’. If’n he don’t wanna be hit, he won’t be.

She expected him to say as much, but instead he just approached with that same hangdog look as always. “Well, I did say you could beat me up later, didn’t I? And, besides, I have a good reason this time.”

The farm mare gave him a look that communicated in no uncertain terms that he had better have a good reason.

“Remember how I said that I wasn’t sure that I could teach you how to use something like my ‘True Sight’ because mine comes from an unusual source?”

“Ah reckon,” she admitted.

“Well, that got me to thinking,” he continued, coming to a halt in front of her. “A big part of how my sister and I learned how to hone our abilities as youngsters came from trial and error. You strike me as the kind of mare who does things on instinct, so perhaps we could hone your abilities the same way.”

Applejack pushed her hat back. “Maybe I’m a mite slow right now, but yer gonna have ta spell this one out for me.”

“In short, if we’re trying to get you to be better at seeing through deceptions, illusions, and generalized falsities,” he gave a sly grin, “then the best way to do that is to just present you with the challenges and let you rise to the occasion.”

She tilted her head as what he meant clicked for her. “What, ya’ll mean lyin’ ta me an’ doin’ slight-of-hoof?”

“Something like that,” he agreed. “I mean, it did work just now when you saw through my little deception. Granted, it wasn’t that complex of a deception, but I’ve used it to sneak past enemy sentries before.”

“Yeah, what exactly did you do? Some sorta crazy Konik magic?”

Fritters smirked, picked up a stick, and threw it into a bush, creating a similar noise to the one she’d heard before. Then he waved his forehooves around like a stage magician. “Maaaaagic!” he exclaimed dramatically.

Applejack chuckled and pulled her hat down to cover her blush. “Quiet, you!”

The stallion laughed for a bit, then, more seriously, added, “It’s up to you. I won’t pressure you one way or another. I just thought you might be interested.”

Biting her lip, Applejack considered his offer. On one hoof, she liked the idea of being able to see threats coming so that she could protect her family. On the other hoof, she wasn’t wild about giving Fritters carte blanche to sneak up on her whenever he saw fit. It didn’t help that she’d seen just how lethal he was that morning. It wasn’t that she thought that he was dangerous to her, but knowing that someone that deadly could get the drop on her wasn’t calculated to help her sleep well at night. But, if’n somepony that dangerous is here to protect me… the idea that such a dangerous stallion was here specifically to protect not only Jacques, but also her family and her as well was… sobering.

“Ah reckon Ah’d have ta think about it,” she said at length.

“Of course,” he responded. “Take your time. No rush.” The two stood silently for a moment. She rubbed one foreleg with the other, not really knowing what else to say. Eventually he cleared his throat. “Well, I’ll just be on my way then. Lots of Acreage to cover, after all.” He turned to leave.

“Fritters, wait,” she said. He turned, and suddenly she realized that she didn’t actually know what she was going to say next. “Ah… uh…” Get a hold of yerself, girl! You act like this is the first time you’ve talked to a soldier! “Ah know these orchards like the back o’ mah hoof. If ya like, Ah could show you around if’n ya gave me a hoof with the apples first.”

He gave a crooked grin. “Well, I do like plans that involve me being near food. Sure. Sounds like a plan.”

She put him to work moving the buckets to and from the trees and cart with his magic as she bucked. They engaged in a little smalltalk, but for the most part they were silent. In the silence, Applejack’s mind drifted back to the sparring she’d seen that morning, and how, if Celestia sent ponies like that here, it meant that they might be needed. And how he might not always be around to protect her family. And how—

“Fritters?” she asked.

“Hm?” he grunted, not looking up from his task.

“D’ya think… Ah mean, Ah do know how ta fight.” He stopped working and looked up, but she didn’t look at him. “Mah family’s always had scrappers in it, an’ every Apple knows how ta handle herself in bar fight or rough up some bandits. Ah’ve thrown down with all sorts over the years. Heck, in this world-savin’ business it’s been do or die more’n once, an’ the Changelings weren’t even the most banged up Ah ever been, but…” Come on, girl. Pony up and ask for help! We ain’t gonna have no Apple stubbornness gettin’ in the way of protectin’ Apples! “D’ya reckon…” Her eyes drifted up, “…ya’ll could teach me how ta fight like ya’ll can?”

A slow grin spread over Fritters’ features and a gleam sparked in his eyes. “I reckon so.”