Murder at the Rarity Boutique

by Coyote de La Mancha

Chapter 6: A Reluctant Dinner.

After visiting Filthy’s grave, Rarity hadn’t expected to feel up to dinner. She had returned to the carriage completely wrung-out, wishing desperately that she’d thought to ask if one of her friends could have accompanied them. Even as she sat down on the crushed silk cushions she was considering asking if perhaps they could speak further on the morrow, when she dozed off. She woke next to the sensation of the carriage touching down again, and realized that she was completely ravenous.
The sun had set and the moon was out, betraying that her host had quietly extended the carriage’s flight to give her extra rest. Additionally, a cursory glance at their surroundings confirmed that they were in Canterlot proper. A rain check would hardly have been appropriate, even if her stomach hadn’t started growling.
And then… well, then she saw where they were dining.
The Blue Coi Paloi was one of the finest restaurants in all of Canterlot, some said in all of Equestria. The waiting list to get in was months long, and it employed the finest and most dedicated chefs of several species from around the world. Ambassadors, nobleponies, visiting dignitaries and royalty had all graced its main room. Only the most wealthy or well-connected ponies could be found within its walls, dining upon its finest and most exotic cuisine.
The wealthiest, the best connected… and her.
Not long ago, the very thought of being taken to such an establishment would have made her half-swoon, heart aflutter and eyes full of stars. And certainly, she was excited at the prospect of being here. But it had been two years since she had been to her first Grand Galloping Gala. During that time she had been on a variety of adventures, and had helped save Equestria more than once. She was not the mare she had once been.
And so, she noticed how the maître d' smiled as he bowed when His Grace entered, giving the silent welcome a serving host might give to a familiar and well-liked guest. And while the cloak check pony took her scarf and Blueblood’s frock coat, she noticed how the lovely waitress glanced around the room for a table, finding the two of them a nice cozy corner table in a back.
The last of which wouldn’t have been necessary had a reservation has been made in such a place, of course. But after all, why would Equestria’s only prince, nephew to the diarchy, ever need to call ahead to make a reservation?
It was just a place he liked to eat, and he apparently had no real understanding what dining here meant to almost any other pony in Equestria, or even how much it cost. For as they were seated and presented with their menus (Blueblood having pulled out her chair for her, of course), Rarity saw that neither menu had listed prices. It was as if they knew that for the prince the price didn’t matter, couldn’t matter, and so why should he ever be bothered with it?
And somehow, Rarity felt herself relaxing, despite the ridiculously posh surroundings. Blueblood was obviously well known here, almost certainly a regular. And while with anypony else, the choice of such a venue might be a grand effort meant to impress, from His Grace it was simply dinner at an establishment he enjoyed, where the staff knew and welcomed him.
He honestly has no idea what other ponies’ lives are like, she realized. We’re as foreign to him, in a way, as any creature he’s ever brokered treaties with.
Uncertain what to do with this new information, Rarity quietly filed it away. Blueblood had invited her to dinner and was doing his best to be a gracious host. He had, in a sense, welcomed her into his world, however temporarily. The very least she could do was to accept this gift with good grace.
They ordered appetizers (Rarity ordering a wheat kabsa with gahwah, while Blueblood ordered some dolmathakia), and then fell into the inevitable small talk. Then, once their food had arrived and the servers had departed, their conversation turned to more serious matters.
“So, have you heard anything about how the rest of his family is doing?”
Rarity sipped her coffee as she shook her head.
“Not exactly,” she replied. “Diamond is keeping up a tough outer shell, poor dear, aside from the occasional break like what you saw earlier. Mercifully, Sweetie’s been there for her, and she can talk to the other Crusaders as well.
“But I gather she and her mother aren’t very close. She’s been spending more time at my house than hers since Filthy died. And though of course she’s perfectly welcome, I do wish she could confide in her family.”
Blueblood nodded. “I take it she and your sister are close?”
“Well, they’ve been friends for a while now. Something about a class election, I think? I’m not certain exactly what happened, but she and the rest of the CMC have been friends ever since, and she and Sweetie have been almost inseparable.”
“And Spoiled?”
Rarity shook her head.
“No idea, I’m afraid. I haven’t seen her since the last Gala.” She sighed, adding, “And I’m sure you remember that little fiasco.”
“Actually, I don’t,” he replied. “I was abroad at the time. Though, I understand Discord was in top form.”
“Ah. Well,” Rarity said uncomfortably. “Let’s just say Spoiled was being herself.”
Blueblood winced. “Made a scene, did she?”
“She’d gotten herself lost in the palace,” Rarity confirmed. “Which, had she simply laughed the matter off like Filthy had encouraged her to do, would have been less than meaningless…”
“…but, instead, she became defensive and hysterical, and lost face over the matter,” Blueblood finished with a nod. “I can well imagine.”
Rarity cocked her head. “You know the Rich family, Your Grace?”
“Blueblood, please,” the prince smiled.
Then, his smile fading, he continued, “And, yes, I… did know them, once. Filthy better than Spoiled. We… drifted apart.”
Rarity gave a quiet nod of her own. “I believe I know what you mean. I’ve had a few friends drift myself, over the years. I do hope you’ll forgive my bringing up painful memories.”
He shook his elegant mane. “Not at all. If anything, it is I who should be apologizing. I’ll be re-opening any number of half-healed wounds before this is done, I suspect. And besides, I still owe you an explanation for my behavior when we met last.”
“Oh, come now, Your—Blueblood,” She corrected gracefully. “You’ve determined to keep me out from the dungeons, and you already apologized earlier today. I hardly think you owe me anything at this point.”
“With respect, lovely lady, I must disagree. I did you a grievous injustice when we first met, and publicly, at that. There’s no way that didn’t affect your reputation at the time, and likely delayed your being able to expand your own business. Please, will you hear me out?”
Rarity opened her mouth, then closed it. Then, nodding, said, “Very well, if means so much to you, of course I will.”
He smiled again, and she had to admit despite herself that he did have a beautiful smile.
“Thank you,” he said.
The main course arrived just then, and so their conversation paused while dishes were exchanged, new wine was poured into both their glasses, and pleasantries were passed with the servers. Then, a few minutes later, they had privacy again, and Blueblood began his narrative.
“First of all, please understand that I offer you this as an explanation, not an excuse. Excuses are for those who beg to be excused, and my behavior that night should not and cannot reasonably be so. But there are things I feel you deserve to know, so that there might be clearer waters between us. And one of these – the principle matter, point of fact – pertains in a sense to my cutie mark. Or, at least, what it represents.”
Rarity nodded, puzzled and genuinely intrigued.
“My cutie mark, like most, has multiple meanings… some more public than others,” he said. “Its most obvious, as well as the most relevant to this discussion, is that of a compass rose. So, that is the meaning I shall focus upon for the moment.
“A compass can mean many things, of course,” Blueblood went on. “And I do love to travel, so most ponies – most creatures in general, come to that – assume that’s what it means in my case. But ironically, that is a fallacious assumption.”
The unicorn opposite him cocked an eyebrow. “I see. Well, then, what does it mean? If that’s not prying?”
He smiled. “In navigation, beautiful lady, there are two norths: true, and magnetic.”
While Rarity sipped her wine, he continued, “True north, of course, is the geographic direction towards the precise center of the Northern Realms. It’s used for longer voyages, being more reliable. Meanwhile, magnetic north indicates where magnetic forces converge most powerfully within those same realms… a location which can, depending upon events both natural and magical, be something of a variable from year to year.
“And while star navigation yields the direction of true north, magnetic compasses show where, relatively, magnetic north lies. Which, for shorter excursions, is both easier to determine and perfectly adequate. One need only use a compass, such as my mark represents, and follow as the needle points.”
“But your compass is more like a star itself,” Rarity pointed out. “It hasn’t got a needle.”
“Indeed, beautiful lady,” he smiled. “And that is because it needs none.”
Taking a small sip from his own glass, he explained, “My great talent, you see, is detecting the magnetic north of the hearts of others. What guides them, situationally and ethically, however variable that might be. Thus, just as your friend Applejack is a speaker of truths, I am a seer of truths.”
He paused, then added, “Well, in a sense, anyway. I can’t read thoughts, or detect illusions. At least, I don’t think I could detect illusions. But I can know what kind of pony someone is when I see them, and what motivates them. And I can tell when they’re speaking the truth as they know it, and when they’re not.
“The problem is, you see, it isn’t a spell. It’s only a sense. So sometimes, I can see things clear as a bell. Other times, I only get only slight glimpses. It can sometimes be hard to tell which is which. And it can be a bit of a challenge to tell momentary motive from overall morality. But just the same, that’s why Auntie sends me on the occasional diplomatic excursion.”
Then, with a smile, “Well, that and she knows I love to travel.”
It was an infectious smile, and Rarity found it hard not to return it. But the moment fled quickly, with Blueblood sighing into his plate again.
“But there is a vast difference, unfortunately, between knowing what is accurate and knowing what is right,” Blueblood continued. “And regardless of my own intentions, my treatment of you when we met last… it wasn’t right. Not in the slightest.”
He took another sip of the fine wine before facing her again, adding, “And so, while I do solemnly swear all my faculties to the service of your vindication, I also apologize for their past misuse, including and especially my own poor behavior. As well as however that night might have affected you or your ventures. Sincerely and unreservedly.”
Rarity nodded again, then smiled gratefully at the waiter as he arrived. More dishes were set before them both, glasses refilled, and then they were once again alone.
“And I accept your apology, of course,” she said. “Incidentally, would you forgive my presuming on our acquaintanceship somewhat?”
He blinked. “Oh? Well, I suppose. Please, presume away.”
The lady smiled. “Thank you. You see, I’ve been thinking on that night, and on your reputation within certain circles. And it occurs to me that your mark might not merely be a compass, darling. It might also be a star.
“After all, every compass rose has eight arrows, does it not?”
Blueblood stared for a moment, startled, then began to laugh. It was a pure sound, filled with sunshine, and Rarity had to admit there was something about it that warmed the heart. She took another sip of wine to hide her own smile as he finished laughing.
“You know,” he said fondly, “you’re one of the very few ponies I’ve ever met who saw that, just right off the bat.”
“Well, it’s not as if you go out of your way to hide yourself,” she demurred, cutting contentedly into her haysteak. “And besides, I’ve had ample time to consider the matter, even before tonight. Plus, of course, there’s my dear sister’s influence. One does not live with a Cutie Mark Crusader without picking up a few things.”
“No, I suppose not,” Blueblood agreed. “Even in Canterlot, occasional news of the CMC has circulated about now and then.”
Rarity chuckled, chasing down her bite of steak with more wine. “Oh, please, don’t tell her that. She’s hard enough to live with as it is.”
“Well, I’m sure her relationship with you helps boost her fame somewhat. But just the same, mum’s the word.”
For several minutes, they dined together in contented silence. Finally, Rarity cleared her throat.
“You know,” she said, “It occurs to me that I owe you an apology, as well.”
“Categorically accepted,” Blueblood replied. “Especially after our first meeting.”
“Yes, well, that’s just it,” Rarity said uncomfortably. “It involves our first meeting.”
She sighed, looking down at her half-empty plate.
“I won’t claim to know what you saw that night, and you were good enough to leave that part out of your explanation… but I can guess. And, yes, I wasn’t looking at you as a stallion that night, or as a pony. I just saw you as a prince… a status symbol, an icon. A title. I didn’t treat you as an individual, but as some kind of… of prize to be won. And the harder you tried to shake me off, the harder I stuck on, determined to win that prize.”
“Such behavior is inexcusable,” she sighed again, looking away. “And I am truly sorry.”
Blueblood shook his head.
“I forgave you long ago any slight you might have offered me,” he said softly. “But there wasn’t much to forgive, really. Pedestals are the eternal price of silver spoons. I could have said something. Heavens, I should have said something. But I didn’t.”
“I still deponified you,” she insisted, shaking her head again. “And that was wrong of me. And now, to find out that you could just see right through me…”
“But of course I did,” he replied easily. “I’m never wrong about these things, you know.”
In that instant the moment between them shattered, its shards falling to the floor. Rarity’s eyes were narrow diamonds as her glass immediately snapped up and forward in a light blue arc, throwing its burgundy contents into the stallion’s face.
By the time he had blinked the wine away she was halfway to the door, head and tail high, the dining room’s gentle background murmur having suddenly dropped into silence. The maître d' bowing slightly as she passed, Rarity accepted her scarf from the cloak check pony, draping around herself as elegantly as ever. And then she was gone.
Blueblood remained where he was, the wine gently staining the white of his face and neck as it ran down to soak into his waistcoat. His eyes were faraway, as if contemplating some abstract problem, his demeanor completely undisturbed.
At length, he gently lifted up his own glass. Took another sip. Carefully replaced it precisely where it had been before. When he finally spoke, nodding as he did, his voice was clear and quiet, unheard by anypony in the restaurant that was now buzzing with new excitement.
“I deserved that.”