The sun was nearing its horizon when Blueblood returned to the boutique. And the press, of course, had the building surrounded and under siege. All curtains had been drawn tightly against intrusive cameras and seeking eyes, and doubtless the doorbell, if there was one, had been disconnected.
Additionally, the occasional telltale shimmer of purple energy across the building’s surfaces betrayed Twilight’s influence. She wouldn’t go so far as to actively dispel the press, of course, but she could protect her friend’s home against their intrusion… quietly reminding them of her own power in the process.
In actuality, of course, Blueblood was certain that the entire gathering of Elements and their families had retreated through that selfsame power to somewhere safe without ever having to brave the door and the swarm of press ponies that waited outside. Twilight’s castle, perhaps, or Sweet Apple Acres. She would have brought Miss Rarity back for him to pick up, but only to keep attention diverted here. The true sanctuary would have been elsewhere.
The press ponies didn’t know any of that. At least some of them suspected, of course. But to leave the Carousel Boutique and stake out another location, just on a hunch, would have been to risk being scooped on the story of a generation.
And in any event, the moment that the royal carriage had been spotted in the Ponyville sky, all their concerns had been forgotten. And after a moment of bunching together beneath the vehicle, the press scattered, giving it space to land. After all, it would hardly be feasible to bombard the prince with questions while he was in the air.
Even before he opened the carriage door, the barrage began.
“Your Grace! Your Grace!”
“Is there any truth to the rumor that you and the accused…?”
“How does it feel to know you might have been…?”
“Were you and the deceased close, Your Grace?”
“Your Grace, some ponies are saying…”
By sheer reflex, he paused as he exited with his trademark smile, posing for the multitude of flashes strobing across his countenance. He was hardly listening to whatever the press ponies were asking. He simply waited for a moment, then began moving again, gently pressing through the crowd even as they struggled to simultaneously part for him, advance upon him, and keep their competitors from getting closer to him than they were.
When he reached the door, he turned to face them again, and they obligingly fell into silence, save for the continuing foof, foof, foof of their flash bulbs.
“Ladies and gentlecolts,” he said with a winning smile, “I am here tonight as a friend to the deceased, Filthy Rich.”
The crowd exploded with questions, each trying to out-shout the rest. He gave them a moment to make fools of themselves, then held up a hoof for quiet.
“I am also here as a friend to Miss Rarity.”
Another explosion, even louder and more insistent than before.
He gave them more time than he had before, then held up another hoof. Very reluctantly, they quieted once more.
“Obviously, if I had any doubts as to the lady’s innocence, I would not be here. And as she has committed no crime, I will ask in the name of decency that you allow her to exit her domicile without besieging her with questions.”
“Aw, c’mon, Your Grace,” one reporter objected. “let us do our jobs, can’t ya? Ponies got a right t’know!”
“And you will,” Blueblood assured him. “All of you. And so, I will make you this promise. Each of you, before you leave, please give me your card. I will make certain that you have full access to the hearings and the trial, to the best of my ability. I will also invite you to a press conference after the ordeal is over, where I will answer any and all reasonable questions you may have, for as long as you wish.
“Any of you who do not do this, or who disturb the lady before the trial begins, I assure you I shall do the opposite.”
There was a quiet pause. For obvious reasons, none of the press ponies had ever covered a murder trial before. And while usually the press was allowed into court regardless, this might be an exception. Having Equestria’s Prince insist they be allowed in could go a long way.
And then, an unlimited-length press conference with royalty…
A voice sounded out from the murmuring crowd, “Just questions about the trial, though, right?”
He smiled. “No.”
That settled it. One by one, the ponies gave him their business cards and began to walk away. Some silently, others thanking him. Still others giving their whispered assurance that they, too, knew that Rarity was innocent.
Finally, when the last of the reporters were on their way, Blueblood turned and gently knocked on the magically reinforced door.
“They’re gone,” he said.
There was a heartbeat’s pause, and the violet glow vanished, the door opening.
“Oh, thank goodness,” Rarity breathed. “I’m somewhat used to attention from the press, but nothing like this…!”
“My pleasure,” he smiled as he entered. “I’ve found that media attention is an acquired taste at best. In the meantime, should any of them disturb you further, please let me know.”
“I will, thank you,” she said gratefully.
“Blue, um, can I talk to you for a minute?” Twilight broke in.
Looking at her curiously, Blueblood replied, “Of course.”
The two of them adjourned to Rarity’s kitchen. In the corner, Opalescence stirred from where she had been napping, looked at the two of them with feline irritation, and stalked out of the room.
Once she was gone, Twilight sighed. “Blue, I wanted to let you know that I really appreciate your helping Rarity like this.”
He frowned, puzzled. “And you’re welcome, of course…”
Looking away, she said, “But also, I know this may sound weird, but I have to ask. Why are you helping her?”
Blueblood considered her carefully for a moment, then replied, “Because Aunt Celestia asked.”
Still looking away, she nodded. “I figured that. But, you know how sometimes you know the answer to a question, but you still have to ask anyway, because you really need to hear the answer for yourself?”
More cautiously, “Yessss…?”
“Right. So.” Blowing out a breath, she made herself ask, “You don’t have… any other reasons, do you?”
Closing his eyes for a moment, the prince allowed himself a small, bitter smile.
“No, Twilight. Though I will acknowledge that pony events tend to be multicausal, I can safely assure you that I have no ulterior motives regarding the lady.”
Still looking down, she said, “Yeah, and I knew that. It’s just…”
“…It’s just that she’s your friend, she’s in a very vulnerable position, you know me more by reputation than personally, especially in recent years, and you had an obligation to be certain,” he finished for her in his kindest voice.
“And I’m sorry I had to ask.”
“But you had to ask.”
She sighed again.
He thought for a moment, then said, “You know, it occurs to me that for all that we first met years ago, we’ve never really gotten to know one another. When this is all over, could you be persuaded to amend that oversight?”
It was truly wonderful, watching her suddenly brighten as she did.
“Yes!” she cried. “Yes, I would love that! And once we’re friends, maybe you can become friends with the rest of the girls, too!”
“Well, one thing at a time, I’m sure,” he said cautiously, images of a wrathful Applejack glowering before his mind’s eye. Still, he was smiling when he added, “That said, I can think of nothing that would please me more.”
Then, his smile becoming teasing, he winked, “And no ulterior motives there, either. I promise.”
She laughed a little. “Yeah, I got that.”
“Of course, now that I think of it, you could always introduce me to Rainbow Dash first…”
“Oh, my sweet Celestia, will you get out of here?” she laughed, pushing him towards the kitchen door.
“Those blue wings, rowr…”
Despite the terrible circumstances that hung over them all, Rarity had to smile as the kitchen door burst open, the two other ponies practically spilling out into the main room as they laughed.
“I’m getting! I’m getting!”
Fetching her scarf in her magic, Rarity wrapped it around herself stylishly as she said, “Oh, and Twilight? There’s probably a great deal we’ll need to discuss, darling, so I’m not certain when I’ll be back.”
“No problem,” a still-grinning Twilight answered, levitating a small purple crystal towards her. “Just break this when you’re ready to be picked up.”
Blueblood raised his eyebrows. “A homing beacon?”
Twilight gave Blueblood a look of renewed interest. “You’re familiar with them?”
“I’ve read about the concept. I didn’t know you made them, though.”
“Yes, and you’ve no idea how welcome that particular innovation was,” Rarity said, slipping the gem into a pocket in her scarf. “So many times various creatures or circumstances separated us all, causing any number of additional difficulties. Once Twilight worked how Starswirl had made these lovely little devices, between them and her own teleportation abilities our adventures became so much easier!
“Still,” she added with a regretful shake of her mane, “I could wish you’d devised a way to activate them that didn’t involve breaking them, darling. It does seem such a waste.”
“And on that note, fair lady, shall we away?” Blueblood asked, opening the outer door. “As the saying goes, your carriage awaits.”
Rarity exchanged a final hug with Twilight, and then accompanied Blueblood into his royal carriage, and the adventure that it promised.
As opulent as the exterior of the carriage was, the inside was even more so. Cerulean velvet and silk, elegantly engraved silver with sapphires perfectly chosen to match Blueblood’s eyes. And above all, the luxurious comfort of the cushions themselves, driving the stress from her withers with a speed that was almost comparable with magic.
As they ascended into the sky, Blueblood offered her a drink of wine, which she politely declined. Pouring one for himself, he asked, “So, if you’ll forgive me cutting straight to it, what can you tell me about the matter?”
“I don’t really know very much, I’m afraid,” the fashionista said. “The police and the palace guard were all very kind, but also not terribly forthcoming.”
He took a sip, then nodded. “I imagine. What did they ask you about?”
“Oh, my schedule, our work on the museum… and for some reason my telekinesis.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Indeed?”
“Yes. Which struck me as a bit curious, really. It’s no secret that my horn is far more a tool of precision than power. Even the most basic spells were always a challenge for me. In fact, my classmates often thought I would go into medicine, become a surgeon.”
She smiled slightly, adding, “Which was very kind of them, but hardly my true calling.”
Then, she started. “Oh! They also asked about Diamond Tiara’s being over, for some reason.”
“What about it?”
“Oh, how often she’d had dinner with us, how many sleep-overs there had been… which, I confess I’m not completely sure. She’d been over quite a bit in recent months, granted, and she was going to spend the night again last night, but that was before…”
She lapsed into silence again.
Blueblood nodded. “What happened when they arrested you?”
“Well, it was early in the morning, we were only just having breakfast. That was when I first found out about this terrible affair, of course. Mayor Mare and a few police ponies came to place me under arrest. Apparently poor Filthy’s body was found at the Ponyville Museum of Fine Arts we were creating together, in the music section. Mercifully, Diamond Tiara had already left. A filly should be with her mother at a time like this.
“Poor Sweetie Belle was just beside herself, and I’ll admit I wasn’t much better. But as I said, the guard ponies were very kind. And Twilight and Applejack were there for Sweetie, thank heavens.”
“I’m glad they were,” he said. “Did they tell you anything else about the murder?”
She shook her head. “Only that he was found at the museum.” She sighed, adding, “Poor Filthy. It had been so long. It was so wonderful working with him again. And now…”
“Forgive me, but you worked together before? Was it on other charities?”
Rarity smiled sadly. “Alas, no. We went to school together, and we worked on a few projects while we were students. We dated briefly, but, well… not all friends should be partners.”
“We’d drifted apart after graduation. Then, about six months ago he contacted me about the museum. He wanted to help fund it, and even had some ideas on how it could be…”
Her voice trailed off, and she sighed.
He gave her a moment, the asked, “Did you happen to see him outside of the museum project?”
She gave a sad chuckle. “Good heavens, when would I have? We both had work, and I have Sweetie Belle while he has a family. Had,” she added mournfully. “He had a family.
“He would come by the site when he could, to help out,” she went on. “We would brainstorm, or go over acquisitions and storage, personnel, and so forth. And we’d talk, of course. But he could never come by terribly early, and often he would remain there long after I had left.”
She smiled, though it was still sad. “He loved examining the statues and the antique furniture, the garments, but he especially loved the gadgets we were gathering together. He was like a foal, sometimes, turning them on and off, seeing how they worked. Half the antiques in the music section, he’d managed to aquire.”
“When did you last see him?”
“Last week, I don’t recall the exact day. We’d been going to meet at the museum late last night, but Sweetie was ill and I’d stayed home to care for her. I’d had the same thing just the day before, and I was completely exhausted by the time... well, mercifully, Diamond Tiara came by and offered to help.”
She sighed. “I should have gone by the museum, if only as a courtesy. But I was so completely drained I just went upstairs and slept.”
Nodding, Blueblood said, “I know this is a ridiculous question, and please forgive my asking it. But did Filthy have any enemies that you know of?”
Eyes closed, she could only shake her head.
“Very well,” Blueblood said. “If you don’t mind then, perhaps we’ll change the subject, at least for now.”
She gave him a quizzical glance.
“But, Your Grace, don’t you have any other questions?”
“Not really. Right now, I’m essentially just getting a feel for the case itself. Whatever else I need, at least at the moment, I imagine your attorney will have it. I’ll be assisting them anyway, and they’ll have inspectors and the like, I’m sure.”
Looking thoughtful, he continued, “And besides, the more I think about this, the more I think that if this were just going to be a simple matter of presentation I wouldn’t really be needed. Frankly, I’m far more interested in the killer’s activities than your own…”
His voice trailed off as she looked away, wiping away tears.
“I’m sorry,” she said miserably. “It’s not you. It’s just…”
She took in a ragged breath, and then continued, “Spoiled Rich insisted on an immediate funeral, and of course as the accused I could hardly have attended.”
Her eyes squeezed shut. “I know it sounds like a strange thing to be bothering me just now, with everything else that’s happening…”
“No, it doesn’t in the slightest,” Blueblood said firmly. He considered for a moment longer, then faced forward again, rapping on the carriage’s front.
“Your Grace?” one of the pegasi answered.
“Might we visit the cemetery first?”
“Of course, Your Grace.”
Rarity looked down, relief and apprehension warring across her exhausted features.
“Nothing is required of you in this, not by anypony,” Blueblood said. “You can stay as long or short as you like, and I’ll be in the carriage whenever you’re ready. For that matter, we can do this or not, whatever you deem best. You can change your mind at any time. But please, allow me to at least give you the option.”
“Thank you,” she said at last.
Blueblood continued looking out his window at the picturesque view around him, as though the mare next to him were not struggling against herself. Giving her what small amount of privacy the carriage might allow.
“Lady,” he said quietly, “you are most welcome.”