A 14th Century Friar in Celestia's Court

by Antiquarian


Limitations

“Absolutely not!” shouted Redheart.

Jacques didn’t bother to slow his warm-up routine. Stretching before battle is vital, after all, he reflected. “Absolutely not what, little sister?” he asked, his tone innocent.

“You absolutely will not be sparring with that maniac in your condition!” She glanced apologetically at Fritters. “No offense, Krucjata.”

Fritters put a hoof to his heart and shook his head sorrowfully. “Ah, the truth stings.”

The friar continued running through the different sword stances, pleased by the balance of the practice blade and gratified to see how well he was moving. “Redheart, know that I have nothing but respect for you when I say this, but you are as cautious as a first-time mother with a sickly newborn. While I appreciate your concern, my ‘condition’ is excellent.” He left off limbering up to flex his arm several times. “I can honestly say that I haven’t felt this spry in forty years.”

Redheart fixed him with a severe look. “How you feel now doesn’t change how you will feel if Fritters puts you on your rear and you break something!”

Setting his lips in a thin line, Jacques met her gaze levelly. “My stitches have been out for days, my ‘vitals’ as you call them have been excellent, and, in my own honest evaluation, I feel like a man nearly a third my age, and an abundantly fit one at that. I need to test the limits of my new abilities some time, and now seems as good a day as any. I’m sparring.”

The nurse sat, throwing up her forelegs in frustration. “Males! Medevac, talk some sense into him!”

Medevac’s pupils shrank and he scratched the back of his head, giving a nervous laugh. “Now, Red, don’t hate me for saying this, buuuut…”

She turned to glare at him. “Don’t tell me you agree with him!”

“He can’t stay out of the game forever,” said Medevac with a shrug. “The way I see it, better to do it while we’re here to monitor than let him do something reckless while we’re not.”

“Medevac!”

Fine,” snorted the retired Marine. “You want me to talk stallion-to-man with him? I’ll do that!” Looking up at Jacques, Medevac raised one eyebrow and grunted, “Uhn?” his gaze flicking over to indicate Redheart as he did so. Jacques understood and shook his head. Medevac nodded and turned to Redheart. “He says he’s fighting anyway and there’s nothing you can do to stop him.”

The white-furred nurse turned red. “Horse—” she glanced over and saw Applebloom and Spike looking at her, and finished, “—droppings! You didn’t say anything!”

“Yes he did,” chorused Medevac, Spike, and all four of the assembled male soldiers.

“Eeyup,” agreed Big MacIntosh.

Song picked that moment to interject. “Redheart, I understand your concerns, but I believe you may have to let this one slide.” The nurse regarded her with shock, mutely demanding an explanation with her horrified gaze. “I’m not saying that I’m entirely comfortable with it myself,” explained Song, “but Friar Jacques does raise some excellent points, and he’s his own man regardless.”

Fritters, who had been stripping off his armor while the debate ran, picked that moment to speak up. “Don’t worry, Doc, I’ll go easy on him.”

Jacques shot him a censorious glance. “You most certainly will not, young colt. If I am to test the limits of my magic, and hopefully provoke it to do what I intend, then you must fight me earnestly.”

“Of course!” chirped Twilight. “I suspected you had an ulterior motive beyond simply sparring. It’s a legitimate theory – if danger or perceived danger has activated your abilities in the past, then a sparring match might be the best way to activate them now. Ooh! I wonder if it will affect the experiment that you anticipate the danger, and whether that will make it more likely to work or less likely? The Hoofenberg Uncertainty Principal would seem to indicate the latter, but then that more generally applies to the study of unicorn magic, which may not be an exact analog to…” she trailed off into complex jargon that, if the bemused looks of every other pony present were any indication, no one else understood.

Except for Big MacIntosh, noted Jacques with some surprise as the silent stallion nodded along to Twilight’s musings, periodically rumbling ‘Eeyup’ with the conviction of genuine comprehension. Exactly what manner of yeoman is he to be so knowledgeable? he wondered. And how came he by this learning?

“Come on, Red,” Rainbow was saying. Jacques forced himself to set aside his speculations and rejoin the conversation. “The guy’s pumped for a fight. Let him have this. He’s too awesome to get banged up over something like this.”

Redheart shot the pegasus an arch look. “If awesomeness is a benchmark for avoiding injury, what does that imply about how often I’ve had you on a gurney?”

Rainbow Dash stammered over a response and fell silent.

“Still,” sighed Redheart, putting a hoof over her eyes, “I suppose it’s hard to argue if everypony’s so dead set on letting this happen. And,” she admitted, “Jacques does have a point.”

“You don’t have to sound so grudging about it,” teased Medevac.

“Hush,” she snapped. “I’m still mad at you.”

His smile was unconcerned. “Duly noted.”

Letting down her hoof, Redheart gave Jacques a pleading look, “Just… please promise me you’ll be careful. I really don’t want to see you get hospitalized again.”

Jacques had gotten more accustomed to the unfairly adorable nature of his pony companions over the last few days, but the sight of her wide-eyed look of care and concern tugged so severely at his heartstrings that he almost changed his mind. Steeling his soul to duty, he made humor his shield and a cavalier tone his sword. “But I rather miss our bedside chats over hospital food,” he said with a smile.

Redheart didn’t laugh. “Jacques, please.”

Sobered by her concern, Jacques stepped over and crouched to be closer to her eye-level. “I promise to be careful,” he said contritely, putting a hand to her cheek and allowing her to nuzzle it in the manner of her people. “You are kind to show such concern for an old fool like me, little sister.” She smiled gratefully. “Though,” he added, his smirk returning as he stood back up, “if you want to get a hospital bed ready for this young buck over here…”

“Young colt,” corrected Fritters, who had now shed his armor. “If you’re going to insult me, at least get the species right.”

Pardonne-moi. You are so skinny and brown that I mistook you for a deer.”

Ooooh!” shouted Marble. “You just got burned, son!”

Fritters glared at the pegasus. “Shut up, fun-size.”

Uugh!” groaned Rainbow Dash, flying over between Jacques and Fritters. “Enough chit-chat! Could we please make with the fighting?!”

Jacques gestured to the ring. “Shall we?”

Fritters nodded. “Let’s.”


“The rules of the bout are simple,” Marble droned as Fritters pumped his legs in place. “The two combatants are permitted to use…”

Fritters tuned the rest out. The rules had been quite clearly outlined ahead of the match, and what they essentially amounted to was that they were the same as in the fight between Applejack and Ironhide, with the additional stipulations that Jacques was permitted to use any magic he could activate and that Fritters could gradually increase his own magical use in direct proportion; in the meantime he couldn’t use his telekinesis to wield his spearheads like floating weapons unless they were tethered to his immediate area. This, among other things, prohibited the use of his Surge ability unless Jacques managed to abruptly unlock hidden depths of power. Which, while a cool thought and the ultimate goal, is highly unlikely. So, rather than hear the rules again, Fritters elected to size up his opponent.

Jacques held himself in the ochs stance, the hilt of the greatsword poised at head level with the point forward. It was a flexible stance that let the friar quickly cover and attack from a variety of angles, and the way he held the blade made it clear that he was comfortable doing so. Not that I expected any less.

The greatsword had the potential to be a challenge for Fritters. While such long blades were difficult to master, those who managed it were among the few who could challenge a spear fighter, or even multiple spear fighters, and hold their own. Most swords were incredibly vulnerable to spears, polearms, and the like. They had inferior reach, inferior ability to rapidly shift points of attack, inferior mass, and inferior defensive abilities. In an unarmored fight, a moderately competent pony with a spear could generally best even a skilled swordpony seven times out of ten. This was chiefly because the spearpony could use the long shaft to fight at either short or long range by various means, whereas the swordpony had to close the distance to strike his opponent (and do so without getting skewered or cut along the way). His only other option was to grapple the spear or strike the lead hoof of the spearpony, but that was no easy task against a warrior who knew how to handle his spear. Now, when the swordpony has a shield, things get much more challenging, but even without my special talent for spears and lances I’d take a spear over a shieldless arming sword nine times out of ten. There was a reason that spears were the chosen Main Battle Weapon of the Guard – in most cases, they were flatly superior to swords.

Greatswords, zweihänders, flambards, and other such two-hooved blades were the exception. In the hooves of a skilled blademaster, the big swords were spear-breakers. They had the mass and motion to sweep aside spear strikes in fights against multiple opponents, the length to be wielded like spears in one-on-one engagements, and the keen edge to chop away at spear shafts, leaving the weapons vulnerable to breaking. Granted, it took multiple hits to the right spot, and the metal langets of the spearhead were designed to prevent just that, but it was still a consideration, especially when fighting opponents with significant strength. There was a reason the earth pony warriors of old had employed such weapons against the spears of pegasi and unicorns. They worked.

Still, the greatsword was not necessarily superior to the spear, and he’d bested the flambards of minotaur champions on more than one occasion. Indeed, he relished the challenge even as he prepared for trouble. How much trouble he’d get would depend more heavily on the friar’s skill as a warrior than anything else.

And Jacques looks… calm. The friar’s half-smile betrayed no concern. He stood lightly on his sandaled feet, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice, but if there was anything in his grey gaze beyond tranquility, normal eyes could not perceive it.

Fortunately, I’ve never been called ‘normal.’ Fritters took a closer look with his True Sight, and what he saw made him blink.

The friar needed this fight. He yearned for it with the battle-lust of a young hussar riding the winds to Viennhoof, the fierce light of war blazing behind his cool exterior.

Alright, Friar, thought Fritters as the two of them tapped weapons respectfully. I respect that.

“Three…” called out Marble.

Truly I do.

“Two…”

In fact, I respect it so much…

“One…”

…that I’m not going to go easy on you.

“Go!”

Fritters lunged forward in a bipedal stance, gripping his spear with both forehooves, anticipating that it would take a firm grip to avoid getting disarmed by Jacques’ heavy swings. He was right. When he feinted a head strike before aiming a stab at the thigh, Jacques batted the spearhead aside with such force that Fritters would have lost his weapon if he’d wielded it one-hoofed. He was forced to bring his weapon in close and deflect a sweeping cut with the cross-tree of his spear.

The friar shifted his grip to half-sword and wielded the blade like a spear, matching Fritters in a series of thrusts and parries. The friar was fast; so fast that it was all Fritters could do to fend off the flurry of strikes. Counter-attacking would have been out of the question against such an onslaught if not for one thing:

Jacques’ strikes were uncontrolled.

Well, they’re somewhat controlled, amended Fritters as a late parry almost earned him a jab to the skull. He’s so fast that I almost can’t keep pace, but it seems like he can’t either. He watched Jacques’ eyes as they sparred and noticed that the Hospitaller seemed equally surprised. If I had to hazard a guess, the old boy isn’t this fast where he comes from. He doesn’t have a handle on his magic yet.

Some might have argued that this was grounds for stopping the fight so that Jacques could become more used to his speed, but Fritters didn’t even consider it. ‘Learn by doing,’ my father used to say. He parried a stab and then struck at Jacques’ shins, forcing the friar to dance back. I’m such a good son.

Jacques’ cuts and thrusts might have over-extended him at times, but he was too experienced a combatant to let his speed go completely to waste. Whenever he struck too far, he’d cover himself with the base of his weapon while he brought the point of his sword back, often using the opportunity to strike at the unicorn on the backswing. Fritters was starting to feel like he was fighting a high-strung pegasus with an earth pony’s clout. And, if I’m being honest, he thought as a heavy strike against the spear shaft rattled his grip, I’m a little rusty on fighting big bipeds.

Both fighters repeatedly came within a hair’s breadth of ending the match with a ‘lethal’ hit, but each time the intended victim managed to dodge or deflect the blow. More than once Jacques attempted to seize Fritters’ spearshaft and yank it away, but Fritters was always prepared and pulled back. Whenever this happened, he would attempt to counter-strike while Jacques was getting both hands back on his sword, but the friar would simply cover himself one-handed until he could resume his full grip. The seconds ticked by as the fight extended into a stalemate.

Then disaster struck. Jacques managed to catch Fritters’ spearpoint on his crossguard and twist, entangling the two weapons. The friar jammed his hilt out at an angle, which left his point aimed at Fritter’s center-of-mass while the business-end of the unicorn’s weapon aimed at nothing but air. Jacques grinned. Fritters blanched. Horsebuckets.

The friar stabbed straight for Fritter’s barrel. Desperately, Fritters thrust with his entangled spear against the sword hilt, hoping to throw off Jacques’ aim long enough for the unicorn to draw one of his spearheads with magic.

He drew the sidearm just in time. Before the sword could connect, Fritters managed to catch the side of the incoming blade with his freshly-drawn spearhead and shove hard to the side. The sidearm didn’t have anything approaching the mass or momentum of the greatsword, but Fritters managed to turn the strike aside. Fritters felt Jacques’ blunted blade pass through his coarse fur close enough to caress his skin.

Now it was Jacques’ turn for disaster. His as-yet-uncontrolled power caused him to overextend on the thrust, jabbing his swordpoint into the ground. Before the Hospitaller could retract the blade, Fritters dropped his spear, stomping on the swordblade with one forehoof while he drew his second sidearm with the other. Pushing off the hard-packed dirt, he sprang up the length of the greatsword, spearhead upraised for the finishing blow.

He cannoned into Jacques, but the friar slid one leg back and braced, dropping his sword to grapple with the unicorn. He caught Fritters by the neck, holding the konik away from his chest. The human staggered, only barely staying upright. Fritters attempted to bring the spearhead down and strike at Jacques’ shoulder while the old knight was recovering, but Jacques freed one hand to intercept Fritters’ hoof and grasp it tight. Rather than try, and fail, to break through the man’s superior strength, Fritters simply called up the first spearhead with his magic and thrust at the friar’s other side.

Jacques saw the stabbing blade coming and released Fritters’ neck to catch the spearhead by its socket. The unicorn winced as he dangled by one foreleg. Here comes the anti-magic, he thought, bracing himself for the painful magical backlash that would come when the friar broke his telekinetic grip.

To his surprise, no pain came. Jacques’ face streaked with strain and concentration as he fought the telekinetic thrust of the weapon, but, though he held it fast, he could not seem to activate his magic to counter Fritters’. Wait, what? Shouldn’t his magic instinctively protect him from mine? The unicorn poured more power into his thrust, hoping that the magical threat would force the friar’s power to come to the fore. Failing that, I’ll take a win at this point. He’s wearing me out.

The blade shook in the air, pulled between the wills of the two battlers. A low, rumbling growl built in Jacques’ throat, and with an animal yell he simply ripped the spearhead out of Fritters’ aura, a victory of brute strength over magic. Fritters felt an excited grin spread across his face. Oh, that is awesome! he thought. Jacques turned his gaze upon the unicorn, captured blade in hand. Also, bad for me. Time to go!

Whipping his body up, he kicked at the arm that held his foreleg. He hit Jacques’ elbow with both rear hooves, and the friar dropped him with a yelp. Fritters landed heavily in the dirt and rolled away, shifting his spearhead to his magic so as to rise on all fours. Looking up, he saw Jacques looming over him with upraised sidearm. He also saw the tangle of their respective primary weapons lying at their feet. Seizing spear and sword with his magic, he swung them sideways.

Jacques yelled in shock as his legs were swept out from under him, and Fritters pounced, landing on the friar’s torso. He menaced Jacques’ throat with his spearhead, panting as the exertion of the bout finally caught up to him. With a toothy grin and great satisfaction, he proclaimed, “I have thee, Sir Jacques!”

To his surprise, Jacques smiled slyly back. “And I have thee.”

Snickers and guffaws erupted from the audience. Fritters blinked in confusion, looking to see where Jacques’ weapon was. He found it in short order – tucked up under his barrel…

…and aimed squarely at his masculinity.

Fritters gulped. “Say, Friar, for the sake of my future wife and children, why don’t we call this one a draw.”

Jacques paused to give the suggestion due consideration, then nodded. “This is acceptable to me.”

The two rose to the sounds of applause, merriment, and smart-alek remarks from the spectators. “Fritters! Fritters!” exclaimed Marble, his voice filled with mock concern. “Is the future of the Krucjata line safe?!”

I would hope so. I have twenty nieces and nephews. He wiped away sweat from his brow as he trotted to the side of the ring. “Mercifully, yes, Marble. The future is secure. And my superior baritone vocals as well.”

Oaken snorted. “An REF pony who can do more than caterwaul? I’ll believe it when I hear it.” Song gave him a long look. “An REF stallion!” he corrected hastily. “I meant an REF stallion!”

While Jacques sat at the side of the ring and allowed Redheart to fuss over him, the others continued to heckle the unicorn.

“It’s really a pity,” remarked Oaken. “Ironhide and I are putting together a quartet and we could have used a soprano.”

Ironhide nodded wistfully. “And I’ll bet you have an amazing falsetto too.”

Song gave a sly smile. “Oh, he does.”

The two Lunar Guards cackled, and Fritters shot his superior a wounded look. “Friendly fire, boss!” Her answering smile was innocent.

Medevac gave Fritters an impish look. “With a mug like yours, I sure hope your family isn’t depending on you for a dynasty.”

Fritters raised an eyebrow. “You want to be a biped, kretyn? Because I will rip another leg off.”

“Savage,” snarked Rainbow Dash.

“You know it,” winked Fritters.

Applejack stepped in and gave Medevac a light shove. “Lay off, Med. He ain’t so bad looking.”

Fritters couldn’t quite keep the shock off his face as he turned to look at her. Her green gaze fell on him and the unicorn flushed briefly. “Thanks, AJ. I appreciate it.”

The farmpony blinked several times, then gave him a crooked smile and a friendly punch to the shoulder. “Well, ya can pay me back by teachin’ me how ta fight that good.”

Once both combatants had been watered, and fed in Fritters’ case, they sat down to discuss the technicals of the fight. “So,” began Fritters, “can anypony point to what went wrong on either side?”

“I failed utterly use my magic,” said Jacques flatly.

The gloomy proclamation caused all heads to turn. Fritters winced at the dark look on the man’s face. “Well, that’s not exactly—"

“The fight would have been mine a dozen times over had I been able to control my strikes,” declared Jacques, flexing and unflexing one hand, “but I do not yet know my own speed and strength. Correcting this is relatively straightforward, but there is also the matter of my inability to break your magical grip.”

Applejack tilted her head in confusion. “But ya did break his grip, didn’t ya?”

Oui, but by brute force, not by cutting his magic as intended. I also could not conjure the magical armor that I used…” he glanced at Spike and cleared his throat awkwardly, “… in the hospital.”

Song spoke up. “Well, you can’t be expected to master a technique in a single sparring match.”

“Yeah,” agreed Twilight. “I’ve had plenty of spells that took me weeks of trial and error to master.”

“With plenty of accidental explosions, fires, and inexplicable color changes to her fur along the way,” added Spike. Rainbow Dash tittered and Twilight hung her head with a sour expression, grumbling incoherently.

Jacques shook his head and sighed. “I appreciate your words, but this is different. My purpose in this sparring was to see if being exposed to a direct threat would prompt my magic to activate. But it would seem that unless I perceive the threat as real, it does not work. That would still be the case were we to spar again – I would always know that I was in no real danger. We could try it one time or one hundred, and I fear the result would be the same.”

Distressed by his unhappiness, both Twilight and Redheart moved over to sit on either side of the friar, pressing up against him in a wordless attempt to console him. He smiled down at them, but his spirits did not lift.

Ever tactful, Song pointed out the fact that his new speed, stamina, and strength had been on full display in the fight, concluding that, “I think it likely the rest will follow with patience and time.” She then steered the conversation back to the technicals of the match itself. So that he won’t dwell on it, Fritters thought as he watched her work. You’ve used that on me enough times for me to recognize what you’re doing, Morning Song. Later you’ll probably corner him in such a way that it doesn’t look like you’re cornering him and tease a better mood out of him with a string of leading questions that put a positive spin on the whole affair.

Such techniques did not come naturally to Fritters, but he’d learned enough to appreciate the work of a master. Taking her cue, he resumed his instruction on the science of the fight. Soon enough, Jacques joined in. A frown still lingered in his grey eyes, but he at least engaged the others in the teaching moments and even cracked a smile now and then as he drew on half a century of anecdotes to drive certain points home. He’s a tough old fighter, thought Fritters as he kept a discrete eye on the man. He’ll come around when he’s had time to process.


The rest of the day’s sparring passed without particular incident. Jacques sat on a crate by the other spectators, taking careful note of how the various fighters had evolved to match each other over the last few days.

Rainbow sparred against Marble, a fierce aerial duel that left the spectators’ eyes spinning. It followed the same pattern that most such fights did – a contest between Rainbow’s incredible speed and Marble’s quick defensive movements. Rainbow, in her lighter rig, tried to get around Marble and cut him with her wing- and hoof-blades. Marble, for his part, did his best to interpose his shield and entangle Rainbow before finishing her off with sword, hooves, and shield-bashes. This particular match ended with a narrow victory for Marble as he caught one of her hooves in the crook of his shield and twisted, leaving her flank open for his gladius to jab her in the gap between her flanchard and her barrel.

Medevac made good on his threat to Ironhide and fetched his old service armor for the fight, though he wore his prosthetic rather than wielding it. As the former medic’s primary weapons were a sword and shield, he and Ironhide fought a relatively straightforward bout, with the exception of when Medevac threw his leg at the other stallion’s head. The match ended in a victory for Ironhide, though the black eye from the leg attack wouldn’t be leaving any time soon. Medevac blamed his defeat on being retired for several years, but was willing to admit with a genuine smile that Ironhide was ‘not bad for a nightgown-wearing ponce.’ Jacques noted that Redheart had cheered for Medevac rather enthusiastically throughout the fight and recalled the tournaments of France, where the ladies would give their colors to their favored champions to wear. If his demeanor with her is any indication, I imagine he would wear hers readily.

In the final match of the day, Song squared off against Fritters. Their fights were always of interest to Jacques, as they provided quite the education in the differences between human and equine combat. A human throwing knives and wielding short blades and sword-breakers would have been hard-pressed to defeat a spear fighter, but Song’s speed, strength, and sure-footedness prevented the bouts from being the gross mismatch they would have been in his homeland. And, of course, the fact that he’s slinging magic makes it different as well. The unicorn had not used his mysterious surge of magical power since that first day (much to the curious Twilight’s chagrin), but in both magic and melee he was a formidable fighter nonetheless. Song, too, was an impressive combatant, managing to take Fritters for one match of every three. No small feat, as they tell me he is one of the best in their company.

One of Fritters’ chief advantages was his vaunted ‘True Sight.’ Song was a cunning and cerebral fighter, well-suited to battlefield deception. Yet for all her skill, Fritters seemed to have no trouble seeing through her feints the vast majority of the time. This forced Song, a mobile skirmisher in style, to fight straight against a stallion armed with a main battle weapon. It rather limits her options.

Today, that limitation cost her the match. She made as though to grapple Fritters’ spear and disarm him, a reasonable strategy against one so armed, but it was a feint. When he braced against her attempt to seize the spear, she lunged forward to grapple him instead. Had it worked, she likely would have pinned the unicorn with her superior strength, as she had the day before. Unfortunately for Song, he anticipated the feint and caught her full in the face with a magic missile.

Jacques winced. Guile and skill may take one far in this world, but against a powerful magic-wielder the magicless will always be fighting at a disadvantage. He knew he was projecting somewhat. After all, Song had magic which she actively used in battle; it just happened that Fritters’ combat magic outclassed hers. But in many ways that only makes my own situation grimmer. I fought him to a draw, it is true, and could likely beat him were we to fight again, but that’s only if his magic is handicapped. Were he to fight me in earnest, I would lose almost certainly. He sighed and shut his eyes, running a hand through his hair. God, how am I to defend these people if I cannot even command my own faculties?

“Friar Jacques?”

Yet there is no one like me in the world, so how then am I to learn my new power?

“Friar Jacques?”

What weakness of mine holds me back? In what way must I be purified so that I may do God’s will?

“Friar!”

Jacques blinked in shock and looked down to see Redheart staring up at him. “Hm? Yes, Bonne Sœur?

“Are you all right?” she asked. “You kinda blanked out there for a minute.” When he hesitated to respond, she frowned. “Still down about the magic?”

Am I that transparent? I used to be better at concealing my distress than this. “I would be lying if I said that it did not weigh heavily on my mind.”

“It will come to you in time, I’m sure,” declared Song, who trotted over to stand beside Redheart. “Nopony expects you to master an unfamiliar talent right out of the gate.”

Redheart smiled reassuringly. “Yeah, Friar. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You literally have a new part of your physiology; getting that to click is no picnic.”

Jacques wanted to respond that they might not have the luxury of waiting, but stopped when he remembered that Redheart wasn’t aware of the coming of the Shades. “You are right, of course. I am simply anxious to have control of my new magic, in the event that it should be needed.”

Song appeared to pick up on what he’d left unspoken, if the softening in her gaze was any indication. The psychologist patted him on the leg. “You’ve told me more than once that Providence works at its own pace. I’m sure that it will become clear to you when the need arises.”

The friar gave a rueful chuckle, rubbing the back of his head. “‘Tis always humbling when a priest must be reminded of the pace of God’s designs. I concede your point, Morning Song. I regret that I am letting my impatience get the better of me.”

“As long as you know better,” Song replied with a merry smile.

Redheart tilted her head towards the farmhouse. “Shall we head on up? It’s about dinnertime, and the Apples have invited us all to join them.” She licked her lips. “I, for one, don’t want to miss an Apple Family dinner.”

Jacques glanced around and realized with a start that the other ponies had already left for the homestead. I was more distracted than I realized. “Yes, we had better head up, hadn’t we?”

Song smirked and trotted off, winking at Jacques as she passed. “Indeed. Best get moving before Fritters devours everything. He’s a stomach with legs, that one.”

Redheart tittered into a hoof. “I’d have said that’s anatomically improbable, but when he swung by the hospital the other day he went through the cafeteria like a swarm of locusts. Even more impressive, he managed to keep it down.”

Had he been in a better mood, Jacques might have made some quip about a locust swarm called ‘Fritters’ and the Plagues of Egypt, but his heart wasn’t in it. At least the Konik Plague can use his magic on command, came the gloomy thought.

Jacques gave himself a hard mental shake. Now none of that, old man! Defeatism is the devil’s work, and by God’s grace you’re better than that! The ladies are right; you need to get your mind in order! Realizing that Redheart was still waiting for him, he put on a smile and nodded. “I’ll be along directly, little sister. If you’d be so kind as to save a small portion for me, I’ll be grateful.”

The nurse tilted her head, perplexed, but she nodded anyway. “Alright. I’ll do my best. But,” she added with a wink, “if I lose a hoof to that ravenous monster while securing your supper, I’ll be unhappy with you.”

Jacques chuckled. “You may borrow my sword for protection if you wish.”

“No thanks. I’ll just use my Nurse Death Glare. It’s not Fluttershy’s Stare by any stretch, but it gets the job done.”

The friar almost asked about Fluttershy’s Stare, but then thought better of it. I imagine there’s a story behind that, and I need to resolve my malaise first if I want to appreciate it.

Once Redheart had gone, Jacques bowed his head in prayer. Holy God, I praise You, for You are infinitely wise and just and have promised not to allow us to be burdened beyond what we are able to bear. Forgive me for my doubts, for I am but a weak man who cannot comprehend Your designs.

He gazed down at his folded hands, his eyes tracing the veins that ran through gnarled flesh. I am gravely troubled by my inability to wield this new power that you have given me, and fearful that the enemy may come upon me unawares. Unbidden, memories of King Philip’s lackeys striking in the dead of night sprang to mind, and he shuddered.

Most of all, I am fearful that I shall fail in my mission to defend these innocents that you have placed under my charge. Grant me, oh Lord, the strength and the wisdom to shepherd this new flock. His hands clenched like joined fists. Let me not fail them through my own weakness and vice. Whatever the hard road ahead, whatever trials and demons I must face, I trust in Your victory, for “the souls of the just are in the hand of God,” and “those who know Your Name put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” Shepherd me, oh God, that I may follow Your will. In Your Name, Amen.

The prayer concluded, he made the Sign of the Cross. His fears were still there, but they were quieted, subordinated by trust. All will be made clear in time, even if I must suffer that my eyes may be opened. With this assurance, he rose and walked to the homestead, smiling as he pictured Redheart defending his portion from the dreaded locusts of Fritters.


Applejack yawned as she wandered the halls of her home, letting the slow pace of her walk soothe her aching muscles. Never thought that swordfighting would teach me so many new and inventive muscle cramps. The rest of the household was long abed, giving her privacy to stretch her legs and let her mind drift. Thank Celestia it’s a light season, or else Ah’d be too sore ta move after farmin’ and fightin’ all day. She approached the living room at the end of the hall, her eyes idly tracking the shadows cast on the floor by the moonlight filtering through the windows. Still, at least it’s fun, even if Ah still can’t—

Had she been asked, Applejack wouldn’t have been able to say what exactly tipped her off, but there was something about the shadows that looked off, as though more than just the drapes shaped the contours of the blackness. The farm mare froze, her eyes narrowing. “Somepony in there?” she challenged, her voice pitched low enough to avoid waking the other residents but still firm enough to carry. Fritters, if this is another one o’ yer attempts ta scare me, Celestia forgive me for what Ah do to you.

After a moment, Applejack heard the creak of somepony rising from the sofa, and a figure stepped into the moonlight, resolving into a sheepish-looking Morning Song. “Don’t mind me, Applejack. I’m just enjoying the quiet.”

Applejack let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and ambled into the room to join the other mare. Horseapples, Ah’m jumpy! Mah heart’s a racin’ now! “No problem, Morning. Just wish Ah’d known you were down here.”

The psychologist gave her an apologetic look as she reclaimed her place on the sofa. “I didn’t mean to lurk. I’m just used to moving quietly after so many years in the field.”

Taking the chair opposite her, Applejack sank into the worn cushions with a sigh. “Like Ah said, no worries. What’re you doin’ up so late, anyway?”

Song tilted her head, seeming to weigh her words before responding. “Thinking about Jacques,” she admitted at length.

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “You worried ‘cause he was down today?”

“It’s not just that,” said the other mare. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that Jacques is a rather scrupulous man?”

Smirking, Applejack replied, “Ya’ll mean he’s a perfectionist? Yeah. Ah’ve been friends with Twi long enough ta pick up on the symptoms. Why?”

“Scrupulosity does not come from the ether, Applejack,” explained Song. “It’s the result of a series of influences and actions. Knowing Twilight’s past, I’d wager that much of hers comes from her entrance exam, both the obsession leading up to it and the exam itself.” The soldier shrugged. “That’s a gross oversimplification of a complex matter, but that sort of thing plays in.”

“Makes sense,” said Applejack, “but what does that have to do with Jacques?”

Song turned her head to stare out the window as she explained. “From what I’ve seen, Friar Jacques, like Twilight, struggles with perfectionism in large part because of a fear of failure. He feels responsible for a great many things, and can’t bear the thought of letting anyone down. Typically, such a deep-seated fear comes from a specific experience or experiences, often traumatic.”

Applejack thought about what she knew of the old man’s past. He’d talked some of his experiences in war, but it never seemed that battle troubled him to any great degree. Of course, war wasn’t what scarred him the most, she realized, her face paling. “His scars…”

“My thoughts exactly,” nodded Song. “I have a strong suspicion that whatever happened to him also happened to folks he loved. Call it mare’s intuition, or maybe it’s that I’ve worked with enough traumatized creatures to put together the little things they say and do, but that’s my belief.”

Applejack shuddered. “Okay, but… why tell me this? Ah ain’t no psychologist.”

Song’s smile was gentle. “No, but you are his friend, and you’re a perceptive mare. If he should open up to you, I want you to know what to look for. I’m not asking you to reveal anything that he says to you in confidence, of course, but it’s important that if he does want to talk you know what to listen for.” She rubbed at the back of one forehoof with the other. “Friar Jacques carries a heavy weight of some sort. If he wants to make any progress, he needs to be able to put it aside.”

“Make progress? You mean with his magic?”

“Well, yes, that too,” said Song with a somber smile.

Applejack wasn’t quite sure what to make of all that, but she did know that she wasn’t the sort to just let a friend suffer quietly. If’n he wants ta talk, Ah’ll listen, even if Ah ain’t the best mare for it. “Well, thanks fer lettin’ me know. Ah’ll certainly keep mah ears open. You might wanna tell the others too, though. At least Twi, Red, Medevac, and the soldiers, since he sees them the most.”

“I plan to,” nodded Song. “And… thank you.”

“Fer what?” laughed Applejack. “Fer bein’ a decent friend? That don’t require no ‘thank you.’”

Song smiled. “Perhaps not, but thank you all the same.” Yawning, she rose from her seat and stretched, her joints popping loudly. “Well, I should get to bed. Goodnight, Applejack.”

“G’night, Song.” The psychologist left the room, leaving Applejack to sit in silence and ponder the conversation. Her pondering didn’t last long before she started yawning too. Ah’m too tired ta think about this, she thought with a grunt, rising to head to bed. Oh well. Ah guess Ah should just be glad it was Song with a heavy conversation and not an intruder with a sword. Chuckling to herself as she recognized her jumpiness, she muttered aloud, “All right, Fritters. First thing tomorrow, Ah’m gonna let you train me in yer ‘True Sight.’ If Ah’m gonna jump at shadows, Ah might as well have somethin’ ta show for it.”


Jacques was just finishing the closing prayers of Prime the following morning when the smell of breakfast assailed his nostrils. He smiled to himself as he murmured ‘Amen,’ rising with alacrity to head down to the dining room. His smile broadened in appreciation for how easily he moved. He felt no pain from his injuries, not even after sparring the previous day. The friar had always been a swift healer, but the magical benefits he now enjoyed had hastened his recovery to the point that he almost questioned his perception of the passage of time. It is gratifying to have one aspect of my magic which works without regard to my own inhibitions.

He caught up his walking stick in one hand before leaving his room. It was hardly necessary, but he liked the heft of it, and it would make for a suitable weapon in a pinch. A stick also drew less attention than a sword, a fact which struck him as odd given the ubiquitous nature of weapons in his world, but it was an important consideration whenever he planned to visit Ponyville.

That name still amuses me. Is there a town in England somewhere called ‘Humanville?’ Surely even your people aren’t that blunt, Andrew. Idly he wondered whether the other races had such literal names to their townships. He resolved to ask the Lady Sparkle when he ventured into town, as he surmised that she would know.

His face fell slightly at the thought of speaking with the mare. Not because he had anything against Twilight. Quite the opposite, in fact. He found her to be an exceedingly pleasant young lady, and an intelligent conversationalist as well. No, the reason that his mood soured at the thought of her was the same reason for his gloom the previous day. He’d made no progress in his magic, and Twilight’s repeated attempts to help only served to underline his failure.

Now, that’s not fair, Jacques. Remember what Redheart and Song said and stop berating yourself for matters beyond your control. My lack of success thus far does not equate to failure; merely struggle. I know that I’m capable, else I would not have been able to save Applebloom and her friends.

His pace slowed at the thought of the filly. Speaking of which, he wondered, his eyes narrowing in suspicion, where is Applebloom?

Typically, the energetic filly could be heard throughout the homestead at this hour. The fact that her ‘grounded’ sanction had yet to be lifted seemed only to amplify her restlessness, and Jacques suspected that the other Apples would soon lift it with the excuse that they were ‘of merciful mind and duly satisfied that she had learned her lesson’ to spare their collective sanity.

Strangely, however, he had not heard so much as a peep out of her the entire morning.

His grip tightened on his walking stick. In fact… I haven’t heard anyone this morning.

Falling into a ready stance, he hefted the heavy stick like a sword and advanced cautiously towards the kitchen. As he approached, he was assailed by a palpable feeling of wrongness. It was a familiar sensation, one which reminded him of the dark power that had knit the timber wolves together, except that there was more to it than that – a memory of a darkness known in years past.

A darkness he’d thought long gone.

Dread settled upon him like weighted coils of rope, threatening to drag him to the ground. Fear took root in his throat. It was a palpable, choking emotion, provoking an animal terror and rapid breath. This was not a fear like any he felt in battle, but a fear of fouler things, the sort of which nightmares are made.

Had he been alone in the house, he would surely have fled. But he couldn’t let himself flee. Not without first ensuring that the Apples and Song were safe.

It seemed to take an eternity to reach the kitchen. The hall stretched out interminably, appearing to twist in on itself as he pushed forward. A great pressure built in his ears as though he was deep under water, staggering him with pain. The dreadful coils tightened about him, and he gasped for air, feeling like they were attempting to pull him beneath the waves of the sea. Shutting his eyes against the nauseating sensation he stopped, leaning against the wall to regain his footing as he hissed prayers through gritted teeth. When his balance returned, he opened his eyes to find that the house was dark; far too dark for dawn.

Then he was at the door of the kitchen, with no memory of having crossed the distance. His guts heaved at the abruptness of it, but, mercifully, his senses cleared, allowing him perceive the room clearly.

He almost wished that disorientation had remained, for without its shroud he could see a crimson liquid pooling on the floor and taste the iron in the air. Merciful God… Gripping his cane so hard that it hurt, feeling close to vomiting from fear for his friends, he entered the kitchen.

There he found a nightmare.

The Apples lay bound and gagged and huddled on the floor, terror quivering in their eyes. The kitchen was in shambles, with furniture smashed and the remains of the breakfast scattered, evidence of a battle only recently spent. Applejack and Big MacIntosh bore the scars of the melee; they’d obviously tried to protect their kinfolk, only to fail. Even now, they were doing their best to shield Applebloom and Grannie Smith with their bodies. And Morning Song…

It was her blood that pooled on the floor.

She’d put up a terrific fight, that much was clear. Her bloodied knives were scattered about the room, some protruding from walls, others embedded in the corpses of two fallen invaders. But it had availed her not, and she lay unmoving, a sword pinning her lifeless body to the floor.

Such horror confronted him that he ought to have fallen to his knees in grief, if not for the presence of the murderers still looming in the room. Murderers who should not, could not have been there.

King Philip IV of France smiled quite genuinely as Jacques entered the room. “Ah, the prodigal friar,” he said cheerily from his place near the Apples at the far end of the room. “I was afraid you might sleep through it all.”

Jacques could not help but stare in horrified stupefaction. At an unconscious level he registered the presence of four of Philip’s torturers. Two were armed with spears and standing to either side of Song’s body on Jacques’ side of the room. The other two lay dead in the wreckage of the kitchen, felled by the slain pony. All four men, whether living or not, had lifeless eyes. The wrongness of the scene rose like a bile in Jacques’ throat, yet even this could not distract him from the simple fact that Philip could not be there.

The venerable friar pointed an accusing hand at his old nemesis. “You’re dead,” he declared, his voice quiet with shock. Unmoved by the declaration, the dead king smiled back. Jacques’ voice rose with fury, “You can’t be here, you’re dead! Dead! Dead and gone!

Philip chuckled, and Jacques could have sworn that the shadows shifted around the king as he laughed. “It suited my purposes that you think as much. But I couldn’t just leave without finishing what I’d started.” He reached into a pouch that hung from his belt. “I had a devil of a time finding you, I’ll say that much. Had to stop by some friends of yours first.” Fishing an object that rattled with beads out of the pouch, he tossed it across the room with a careless flick of his wrist. It landed in Song’s blood with a wet slap, sending flecks of crimson to splash on Jacques. The friar’s heart leapt into his throat as he saw what the object was.

Methuselah’s rosary.

Philip’s laughter reverberated through the room, resonating within Jacques’ skull. “You just can’t seem to keep your family safe, can you, Friar? First one band of monks, then a second.” He prodded Applebloom with his foot, eliciting a whimper from the filly. “And now you’ve put these colorful little creatures in jeopardy too.” He tutted. “Such a pity. Though I must admit,” from beneath the folds of his elegant robes he pulled out a folded white cap with a red sigil on it, “I have found them rather diverting.”

At first Jacques did not recognize the cap. When he did, he wanted nothing more than to un-see it. That’s… that’s Redheart’s hat… but that means… she… no… please God no…

The king gave a faint smile at the recollection. “That three-legged fool of hers put up quite a fight. Futile, true, but then you’d know all about that sort of defiance, wouldn’t you? As for the mare…” he brought the hat to his nostrils and inhaled, as though smelling the perfumed glove of a lady, “…why, the poor dear pleaded for her life rather piteously. It was sad, really. Killing her was a kindness in the end.” He sighed, shaking his head. “To think, all of this could have been avoided if you’d just let me finish you off, like I did that English bastar—"

Jacques exploded into motion, crossing the distance between himself and the left-most torturer in a flash and swinging his heavy wooden cane in a horizontal arc at the man’s throat. The torturer had no time to react before the applewood crushed his throat and smashed him against the kitchen cabinets. He slid to the floor, gurgling on blood, the spear falling from his hands as he vainly clutched his shattered windpipe. Dropping the walking stick, Jacques caught the dying man’s spear before it hit the ground and spun on the other torturer, who was lowering his own weapon to attack. With a warrior bellow Jacques charged, impaling the man and driving him into the far wall with such force that the spear snapped in half.

Jacques discarded the sundered weapon and pivoted to face Philip. From beneath his hooded brow, the friar’s eyes blazed with righteous fury, promising swift justice.

The king gazed back with an air of mild amusement and feigned a yawn.

Rolling his shoulders, Jacques advanced with deliberate strides, snatching up the sword that had been left embedded in Song without slowing, his eyes never leaving Philip’s.

“So dramatic,” mocked Philip, leisurely drawing his own sword.

Jacques didn’t waste time bandying words. He just charged with another warcry. The two men met with the clash of steel upon steel. Jacques moved with a swiftness and precision that belied even his fight with the timber wolves, exploiting his edge in height and reach to bury Philip beneath a flurry of blows. From the start, the deranged king was entirely on the defensive, blocking Jacques’ assaults by only the barest of margins, forced to pull back to stave off final judgment. They ranged around the entire kitchen as the friar pressed his relentless attack.

No more warcries emerged from Jacques’ lips. His entire focus was poured into slaying his foe, his body bent utterly to the task. Philip escaped death only by last-instant parries a dozen times over. His end was assured.

And yet, for all the mortal danger he was in, the king appeared bored.

Jacques did not spare a thought for this incongruity, however. He was too intent on forcing Philip back into Song’s blood. As he hoped, the king slipped. It was not enough for Philip to lose his footing; just enough to distract him for a breath.

That was all the time Jacques needed. The friar thrust his sword at the foul king’s chest, and Philip’s tardy parry could not stop it. Jacques plunged the blade in with all his might, not stopping until crossguard met ribs.

Philip emitted the familiar hraaugh sound of steel puncturing lung. The king stared Jacques up and down in bewilderment, as though seeing him for the first time. “You’ve… grown… powerful,” he managed through ragged breaths.

Jacques seized him by his hair and forced the king to meet his eyes. “You fool!” he hissed, his voice shaking with grief and outrage. “You should have forgotten me! Why could you not forget me?!”

The king quirked a crooked smile as blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth. “You won’t forget… will you?” he asked. Jacques blinked, memories of those final days in the dungeon flashing before his eyes. Unperturbed, Philip patted Jacques’ arm in a congratulatory fashion. “Well done and all that, Friar,” he remarked, his voice unaccountably regaining its strength. “You really have grown powerful. Only…” Jacques let out a cry of dismay as the king began to dissolve into a noxious black smoke, “…not powerful enough.”

Staggering back in horror, Jacques swung his sword vainly at the vapor as it swirled around him. “You have powers you can neither understand nor control,” taunted the voice as the spectral figure crossed the room. It came to a rest behind the whimpering Apples, who tried to pull away as it coalesced once more into Philip. Jacques readied his sword to attack, but Philip made no move. A mocking smile twisted the king’s lips. “You think to protect those you love from the evil of the world, but you cannot.”

Without warning he seized Applejack by the scruff of the neck and hauled her off the floor. She wriggled in his grasp to no effect. Big MacIntosh attempted to grapple the king’s legs, but a contemptuous kick sent him sprawling. Jacques tried to rush to their aid, but he felt himself anchored to the spot. Looking down, he saw black, oily smoke gripping his feet like chains. Desperately he began to hack at them as Applejack cried through her gag, but the sword did nothing against the dark magic that bound him.

“You can’t protect anyone, Friar!” shouted Philip, a smoke-black dagger materializing in his free hand. “Not from me, and not from what’s coming! If you’re lucky, this time you’ll die with them.”

He rammed his dagger into Applejack’s back.

“NO!” howled Jacques. Power coursed through him and his sword became wreathed in white fire. With an anguished cry he flung it through the air like an oversized knife. It impaled Philip between the eyes and the king exploded in a flash of shadow and light. Without him to hold her up, Applejack fell to the floor with a heavy thud. Jacques sprinted to her side, the chains that bound him destroyed with Philip.

“Applejack! Applejack!” he shouted, cradling her as he attempted to staunch the bleeding. “Stay with me, jeune fermière, keep your eyes open!”

“Friar,” croaked Applejack, reaching up to hold onto him. “Friar Jacques.” Her breaths grew raspy as her life slipped way.

“No, no no, nononononono!” he shouted, pressing frantically against the gaping wound with his bloodied hands. “Please stay with me, Applejack! Please! I can’t—” he moaned in grief as tears soaked his beard, “Please, God, I can’t lose her too!”

“Friar!” begged Applejack, gripping his shoulders with her failing strength. “Please…”

Jacques cast his gaze heavenward. “Please, God! Her life is just begun! So many of my brothers and sisters have died,” he choked on his tears as he thought Song, Medevac, and, cruelest of all, Redheart. Little sister! Philip murdered my little sister! “God, God!” he cried. “Please, I beg You, let no more die for me!”

“Friar, please!”

“Please! Take me instead!”

“Friar!”

God, take me!”

As he spoke, he was seized in a mighty grip upon his shoulders and shaken like a dog. Twin green eyes gazed down at him from on high, and he thought an angel had come to take his life for Applejack’s. Immense gratitude flowed through him as the green-eyed angel seized him, her blonde hair streaming behind her like a golden mane—

Friar Jacques!” shouted Applejack into his face. “Wake up, Friar! Wake! Up!

Jacques gasped for air as though he’d been pulled from the sea. His vision swam, blurred by tears, and he instinctively wiped at his eyes, finding himself—

in my bed… at the Acres… and… Applejack…

The mare had gripped him by the shoulders and shaken him awake. She stood over him, her hindlegs on the floor and her forelegs still holding him fast. Her sleep-matted mane was unbound, loosely framing her worried face. Anxious green eyes bored into him, as though she was trying to anchor him to reality with her gaze. “It’s okay, Friar,” she assured him “It was just a nightmare! You’re safe!”

“A-Applejack?” he stammered, propping himself upright automatically. Trembling, he reached a hand up to touch her face, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He was afraid that if he touched her it would dispel the illusion and she would be dead again.

She pressed her muzzle against his hand to show that she was real. Alive… she’s alive… I didn’t lose… and Song… Medevac… Redheart… they’re, they’re all…

“It’s okay,” she promised, “you’re okay now, you’re safe, you’re—oomph!”

Jacques seized the mare in a tight embrace and wept unashamedly into her mane. After a beat he felt her return the embrace, rubbing his back as a mother might to soothe a crying babe. “It’s alright, sugarcube,” she whispered in his ear. “It’s alright. Just let it out. Let it all out.”