“Enough!” bellowed Celestia Invicticus, Alicorn of the Sun and Rightful Queen of Equestria.
She ran her burning gaze over the members of her court. Her ambassador Kindle and his student Smoke immediately flung themselves prostrate before her, their recent argument with Zecora apparently forgotten for the moment. The Zebra followed suit in her own way, lowering her head in a half-bow that held just as much respect from the reserved creature. Behind the three of them, her Herald Terror Wing merely looked bored, kicking a few loose stones aside with his talons and watching as they fell into the lava pit below. Hovering above her the latest member of her court, the Jinn Bogucu Yangin looked somewhat amused at the antics of her fellows. Over them all towered the great red Dragon Solrathichanon, he met her gaze with his blind eyes for several seconds before turning aside almost dismissively. Corona ground her teeth at the disrespect but she needed to deal with the immediate issues first.
“It does no good for my court to be so divided,” she exclaimed.
“But my Queen,” began Kindle, “with all reverence, it is obvious that...”
She silenced him with a glance. “Leave me! All of you!” she exclaimed. “I will consider your arguments before acting.”
“Thank you, Your Excellency!” Kindle continued to mouth platitudes as he slowly backed away from her, but none struck her as worthy of any attention. The other members of the court followed one by one, once they reached the huge doors at the far end of the throne room where they split up, each going their own way through the lair which Celestia now called home. Unlike the peaceful procession of the rest, Solrathichanon merely rolled backward and dove into the lava pool beneath her throne, splashing the area with molten rock. The gesture was annoying, but was also one of the reasons Celestia had spread her magic out across her belongings, so the immense dragon could have his petty gestures. Giving a nod to her salamander guards, they left as well, closing the doors with a resounding crash.
After a moment of silence Celestia let out a frustrated sigh. If she had fully remembered how tedious running a royal court could be, she might have remained in the sun for another millenia! But it was her place to suffer for her ponies after all. In truth the argument had been over a small matter. Kindle had arranged for a large number of her followers to settle in the
nearest pony settlement of Hope’s Hollow where they hid their true nature from their new neighbours. Kindle believed that their numbers were now enough to openly proclaim their allegiance to her, and as always, Smoke supported him. The unicorn was an excellent student, but wasn’t an independent thinker. Meanwhile Zecora and Yangin had advised patience fearing that revealing her supporters too early risked retaliation by the Equestian armed forces and possibly the discovery of their base. Terror Wing only wanted to enforce her will on any of the population who did not follow her, and Solrathichanon would be happy for an excuse to burn the whole settlement, and, its population, to ash if it remained a problem.
The main problem was not what to do in this situation, it was how fragmented her court was. All of them had reasons to follow her, or at least in Solrathichanon’s case they had similar goals, but except for a few they had no real reason to want to work together. Of course she didn’t need them to regain her throne, she was Celestia, she didn’t need anycreature’s help but they had skills that would make her task easier. Solrathichanon was one of the few creatures alive who might be able to physically challenge her sister, if only temporarily. Kindle was a charismatic orator, able to sway the common pony to her rule and his associate had it in her to become quite an impressive mage. Likewise Zecora and Yangin had access to exotic magics which were useful to her cause. Even Terror Wing was a skilled fighter and the magics she had wrought on him meant he was almost unbeatable by conventional means.
Still, all they did was bicker amongst themselves rather than aiding her. Although from what she had heard her sisters court did little better. They managed to govern the country with some efficiency, despite their corruption. Chewing at her tongue, she considered how she could meld her court into a more cohesive group. Her thoughts were interrupted by an internal twinge, it was almost time to lower the sun. She sighed to herself. At this time of year it seemed that no sooner has she raised it then it was time to put it away for the night again. In her youth she and Luna had tried out various other patterns of day and night throughout the year before settling into the current schedule. Maybe once she had returned to her rightful throne she should look over some of her discarded plans?
Although she could control her celestial orb from anywhere, on or off the planet, she preferred to be able to view the sun as it was lowered. For a moment she started to gather the power to teleport to the peak of her lair which was her preferred spot for her duties but then she paused. There were still a few minutes before her sun's proper time, and it would feel so good to stretch her muscles for a change, so she stepped down from her throne and regally trotted towards the door.
“~The Fire of Friendship lives in our hearts~”
Celestia’s ears twitched as she returned to her chambers after completing her duty. Was that singing? The tune seemed familiar.
“~As long as it burns, we cannot drift apart~”
The Queen turned the corner and was surprised to come across the small figure of her student. She had not known that Smoke was such a talented singer. She realized that her journey had taken her past the doors to the chambers where most of her pony followers resided. The unicorn was used her aura to affix some sort of plant material to the ceiling.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
With a shrek, Smoke leapt almost her own height into the air before spinning around. The sprig dropped from her grasp, for a moment both mare’s eyes flickered between each other and the fallen greenery which Celestia recognised as mistletoe before Smoke’s aura grabbed it again and hid it behind her. “Your Majesty!” she gasped before taking a deep breath and giving a near perfect bow. “I’m sorry I didn’t hear you.”
Celestia waved away her protests. “It is of no matter. What are you doing?”
“Oh, um, well Hearth’s Warming is the day after tomorrow and I thought it would be nice to put up a few decorations.” She waved a hoof and Celestia noticed for the first time that the walls around them were covered with greenery and tinsel.
“Ah,” said Celestia, “do ponies still celebrate Hearth’s Warming? Even after all this time?” She supposed she should not have been all that surprised. The festival was much older than even her original reign but so much else seemed to have changed over the years that she had quite forgotten that it happened at this time of year. A smile drifted over her face as she through back to the grand feasts that she and her sister used to host each year and the gifts they used to exchange. She rested a hoof against the golden boots she now wore, recently reclaimed from a museum. Luna had originally given her this quad for the holiday so many years ago now. .
“Oh yes!” exclaimed Smoke, breaking Celestia’s train of thought. “There’s all sorts of traditions, food, presents, songs, other rituals.” Her eyes glanced back at the mistletoe and her cheeks glowed.
Celestia couldn’t help but smile at her student. Although she herself did not partake in carnal activities, her folio as keeper of the sun did include fertility. She understood the significance of the vegetation. Smoke’s infatuation with Kindle was poorly hidden. It was a shame he didn’t seem to feel the same about his assistant, she wanted all of her little ponies to be happy.
“Um, is there anything I can do for you, Your Majesty?” asked Smoke looking awkward. “I did not think I was due a lesson today.”
“You are not.” The mention of Hearth’s Warming had sparked an idea in her divine brain, a way to attempt to bring her court together, in the same way that the various tribes of ponies had been brought together all those millenia ago. “For a change, maybe you can educate me? Tell me more about how Hearth’s Warming is celebrated in this age.”
“You summoned us your highness?” asked Kindle. For the second time in as many hours the whole of Celestia’s court were present in the throne room. Unusually Smoke was the first one present and was standing by the queen’s chair overshadowed by both it and its occupant’s mass.
“Indeed I did, my Voice,” Celestia proclaimed.
“You have reached a decision, mighty one? Shall I order your servants to reveal their true loyalties?”
“No, I am still deliberating on that matter. Instead there is another issue I wish to discuss with you all. It is my understanding that the day after tomorrow is Hearth’s Warming.”
“What?” exclaimed Terror Wing cocking his head in confusion. “What’s that?”
“I believe it is a pony festival, they say they defeated the Windigo, although I am quite sceptical,” said Zecora.
“What’s a pony festival got to do with anything? Will there be a feast?” The griffin licked his beak.
“Hearth’s Warming is about more than just the defeat of the Windigo,” said Kindle, turning to the rest of the court. “It is also about the founding of Equestia, and the power of the Sun to overcome the cold.”
“Yeah, Fire melts Ice,” said Yangin conjuring a ball of flame and tossing it from hand to hand. “I would have through you ponies would have learnt that earlier.”
“Indeed the festival has many meanings,” said Celestia trying to head off a further argument amongst her staff. “I am most interested in it’s role in showing that the disparate tribes of Ponykind could be brought together to defeat a common enemy. For too long you have wasted your energy fighting and bickering amongst yourselves. If we are to defeat my sister I require unity!” She gazed around the small crowd, they all seemed al least slightly cowed. “I have looked into how Hearth’s Warming is currently celebrated and I believe the exchange of presents is still popular.”
“Of course your majesty, I would lay all that I have at your hooves, I would sacrifice my very life as a gift to you,” said Kindle prostrating himself.
Celestia struggled to stop her eyes rolling. Kindle’s loyalty was refreshing compared to most of her allies, but he did tend to overdo things. “That will not be necessary my Voice. I have decided that we will carry out what I believe is called a,” she glanced over to Smoke, “a Hearth’s Warming Helper. My student has placed a token representing each of you in a bag.” Smoke levitated the item forwards and gave it a shake. “You will each take a single token from the bag and you will then provide the individual it represents with a gift. The gifts will be exchanged at a feast held on Hearth’s Warming itself!”
“If you choose your own token, you put it back,” added Smoke, “and, um, you can exchange tokens with somecreature else if they agree.” Her eyes flicked to Kindle.
“What!” exclaimed Solrathicharnon, “You expect me to... give somecreatue a gift!” The words seemed to be physically painful for the great dragon to force from his lips.
“Yes, I do wyrm,” said Celestia calmly staring up at the larger creature. “In fact I command it! I would have my court show common decency to each other, and acknowledge that they will work together. Is that understood?” It was several long moments until the dragon turned away.
“Of course,” he grumbled.
“We will of course also provide you with tribute as well your majesty,” added Kindle. “It would only be fair that you receive the most presents.”
Corona considered for a moment, presents did sound nice, then she shook her head. “No, I am a generous ruler,” she noted, “but I will take part in the ‘Helper’ as well,” she summoned a small representation of her cutie mark and dropped it into the bag. “You may begin!”
Smoke gave a small bob and trotted down the steps with the bag towards the crowd below.