When the Levee Breaks
I. The Road
The sun over the Riverland was merciless. Daring was the anvil of some spiteful goddess, and the sun was the hammer of her malevolent will. It was at times like these that she understood the ancient motivation behind eternal night.
That was unfair, but she wasn’t in the mood to be fair. She tore the pith helmet from her head and wiped her brow. There was no wind, and the heavy air was like a thick sweater over her usual outfit.
In a way, nothing had changed here since her last visit. The roads were still dusty and the fences still worn. She saw houses in the distance like lonely orphans, and thought of the old Riverland adage: The neighbors you never see are the best kind.
She hated this place. Home or not, she hated it. She had trekked through the worst of the Zebrahara, endured the terrible swamps of Mishoga, and braved the most frigid peaks of Lunangrad. All of these places couldn’t hold a candle to the misery that was walking back down this road. That was adventure, with puzzles and the thrill of the hunt. This was slow and there was no prize at the end.
The long dirt road stretched out before her, leading away from the small and decaying town of Rosedale. It was sad, returning to a lesser world than the one that lived in her memories. It had always been just “Town” then, like it was the only one. It started its long slide into oblivion long before Daring had been born. The diner where her dad had loved to eat and hear the news was full of creaky stools and the cracked window had never been fixed. The old jukejoint where she had her first kiss—quite illicitly, as she recalled—had always been a dump.
I guess it’s not really the same dump anymore. It’s not really anything anymore. Yes, it had been a dirty and rather awful place, but she had a few good memories of that smoke-filled den. The soulful strains of rambling earth bluesponies from Greenclover and Alligator had stayed with her all these years. But fire didn’t care about her memories. When she tried to relive one particular memory, she found it completely gone, nothing to replace it. Only rubble and dirt and rock and ripe, hateful weeds remained.
The Riverland was flat and unkind. She’d walked this road before, many times. She’d ridden in the cart when her father needed to go to town, and she saw the place in all kinds of light. She’d wandered across its fields—fields as wide as the fabled ocean to a young filly—and along its rare and blessed shady ways. She’d swum in its watering holes and tasted of the bread the land had given from her own body. Her hate for her home was mixed with a kind of inescapable, resentful love. It was always a part of her. She’d learned how to run and fight on the ground, and her legs were as strong as any earth pony’s. She might have wings on her back and the love of the air in her blood, but the road whispered that there would always be a tough little gray maned earth pony filly in her heart.
Her wings were tight against her khaki barding. The Riverland was earth pony through and through, and even as a child she hadn’t felt comfortable flying here. It wasn’t that they hated pegasi and unicorns; no, it was simply that they didn’t care, or found the intrusion of magic and flight on their earthbound lives unpleasant. They would watch, and she would feel their eyes. It was better to stick to walking here. Only one pony besides her father hadn’t been perturbed by her wings.
And that’ll be their farm now... I mean, I won’t see him, but— Is that... no, that can’t be.
From the endless oceans of grain, a brown-coated stallion rose and wiped his brow, casting his sweat to the ground. He sighed, the sound so hollow and sad that she doubted that it was really him. But then the stallion saw her, and their eyes locked. He paused, mouth open. She stared back, stuck in the middle of the lonely dirt road.
It was indeed Strong, standing among the grain. There, just a trot and a hop over the fence, was the colt she’d first kissed behind the jukejoint; the closest friend of her foalhood. The years since had not been kind to him. When they’d been young, she’d always thought he was cute. Now, his face was a rough mask of worry and work.
She’d loved that face once, though she’d never admitted it to him. She had thought about it often since she took the last train out of Rosedale.
He regarded her with surprise, but no apparent joy. For that matter, apart from that surprise, she detected no real emotion at all in his eyes. He simply stared at her as if she were a long forgotten memory, teased back to life by an errant ray of sunlight.
“That you? Darin’ Do?”
His voice was deeper, and the welling panic whispered that it sounded harsher.
He shook his head. “I’ll be.”
It had been so easy to pretend she wouldn’t see him here. That she could just slip by and not have her memories tainted. Daring had all but forgotten that his family’s holdings were on the way in her preoccupation.
“I... I’m...” What do I say? It’s been so long. What do you say after a quarter of a lifetime? She had nothing, and it frightened her. It wasn’t right. Strong and Daring—if anypony should have something to say, it would be the two of them.
“Terrible business, all of this. Sympathies from all of us. Ma and Pa and Mornin’ send their best wishes to ya.” Suddenly, his eyes widened. Awareness of his misstep broke on them both at the same time. She recoiled, just slightly. It was enough for him to notice. They were silent.
“I...” Morning. I know that name. Morning Lily. I knew her.
She needed to go. She had somewhere important to be, somepony to see. But still she stared, looking for her friend. She tried to find that happy colt, tried to remember what his lips felt like against her own, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t remember how he smelled. The memory of his sweet laughter drifted away, and she knew that until the day she died her memories of him would be of this moment. Another piece of her childhood vanished, and in its place sat the impoverished present.
He looked like he was going to say something, and suddenly she was furious. Daring had no idea who she was angry with. She had to get out of here. She didn’t want to be where she could see him. It was like he was dead, with those sad eyes. Nopony should have to stand and stare at the walking grave of their closest friendship like this. She gave him a hesitant, jerking wave with her wing and hurried away.
She trotted briskly until he was only a lonely speck among the waving grain behind her, and then stopped on the side of the road to calm herself.
“You’re overreacting, Daring. Calm down. C-calm down!” Her voice shook as she spoke.
Perhaps she was. It was an unhappy occasion, an upsetting occasion. Of course she was on edge. Visiting town had been a lonesome, sad thing. It only stood to reason that all of her recent troubles would pile up on top of each other like this.
All the while, a little voice whispered: Married. Married. Married.
But she was a grown mare and an adventurer, Lunadammit. She was not crying like an idiot on the side of the road about some boy who’d probably—no, obviously!—forgotten about her. Sweat was in her eyes and it stung, and that was the only reason for the dampness on her cheeks.
The constriction in her chest eased slowly. She stood, adjusted her trusty headgear, and continued slowly.
Yes, she admitted to herself that she’d both not wanted to see Strong again and had desperately wished to. She’d dreamed of that night when she’d kissed him again on the train, and had woken at dawn alone in the car.
“Foal’s dream,” she said quietly.
She looked up and saw him with her mind’s eye in the sea of grain, chasing her.
She loved being chased. When the chores were done, and her father finally released her, she headed out to find him.
He snoozed under a tree, unsuspecting and off his guard as always, and it filled her with a strange sort of joy to fall like a stone from the branches above his head, startling him back into the land of the living.
And as always he smiled at her with that wide and untroubled grin. She stood before him, her wings flared out as if ready to take to the skies. Daring winked, and gestured with her head, and he followed as he always would.
No field was safe, no orchard spared. They ran like the wind, and it was like flying. The breeze pulled at her mane and drug its rough fingers through the tangled mess and she loved it. Maybe it was just having someone after her, someone who wanted to find her and catch her.
Daring ran ahead as they reached an irrigation trench and hopped over it, laughing. She was carefree and courageous, and most importantly, she loved it when he tried. He balked at the water’s edge only a heartbeat, looking at her, and something must have given him courage, because he jumped. He stumbled, but recovered, and then the chase was on in earnest and he was laughing.
Her farm was far away, and her father at the plow was even farther. He was off in her own sea of grain, near the tired levee where the waters ran, and she was here, caught up in the chase.
A gate brought her up short. She’d never use her wings, not when Strong was chasing her, and so she tried to turn but lost her footing in the loose dirt. It was only for a moment, but it was enough.
He had her, and they rolled awkwardly. When the dust cleared, she coughed and tried to laugh. Strong let her up, and beamed with pride.
“Caught ya! Always do.”
“Only ’cause I let ya,” she spat out, rolling her eyes. But as she stood, she was happy. That was how it should end. “I could outfly you any day and y’know it! I’d be off an’ you’d be stuck on the ground lookin’ for all the world like a cotton-pickin’ fool.”
It was his turn to roll his eyes. “Righ’, if you say so, Darin’. We both know y’won’t because ya ain’t a cheater.”
“Damn right!” Daring puffed out her chest and Strong laughed as he brushed her off. She liked how his hooves felt against her dusty coat.
“Usin’ big pony words now, ain’tcha?” Strong raised an eyebrow at her as he stepped away. His eyes swept over her.
“I’ll use what words I wanna, Strong Whats-yer-name, and never you mind.”
When Strong smiled, it made something in her feel warm. Her heart beat a little faster at the light in his eyes as he shrugged and blessed her with that grin. “Do what y’will, I suppose ya always do. I was kinna thinkin’ about goin’ into town later… unless there’s somethin’ else you wanna do.”
And something did occur to her. Something she’d thought about before, but she only smiled. Maybe.
“Sure, lead the way, y’big fool.”
And then she looked at him, a good long look. He was different. She could see it now, how his eyes seemed somehow glassier than before. Harder and older, and suddenly he seemed larger and his face was different. He wasn’t a colt anymore, but a stallion, one she hardly recognized. He waited for her to follow, but instead of stamping his hooves with eagerness to get going, he swished his tail impatiently. How had his eyes looked, before? When he was smiling. She tried to remember, but she couldn’t.
She shook her head, letting the memory die. It went.
She should go back and apologize to him. The shock had just been too much—yes, that’s what she’d say. It had simply been too long, and she was so shaken up by all the news of the last few days. She’d come home to find solace and it had changed on her, that’s what she would say.
Daring knew she couldn’t. He wouldn’t understand it all, and not just because time had separated them. She barely understood herself. The parts of her that had dreamed about kissing Strong and finding him again were in full retreat, and the parts of her that feared what lay ahead were screaming. It would all be like this, the latter part of her insisted. It was all going downhill.
But this was the only place she could find any peace, and she knew that. It had to be here.
She couldn’t help but almost feel the rough edges of the wheat they grew here like she had as filly. Oh Strong... how we ran. I was the fastest pegasus in the province on my feet, I’m sure of it. I got it all from leading you on merry chases, didn’t I? The thrill of the hunt, the chasing after clues in abandoned temples and old libraries—I learned it all here.
Daring couldn’t help it. She looked back, trying to find him again. He was so small now, with his changed face. She could imagine it was different. He was still that colt who’d loved adventure and her.
She could imagine he was single, as he stood alone in the field along the road.
I’ve gotta get a move on. The day’s wasting. This is nothing, Daring. You’ve stared down tigers and lions. You’ve fought minotaurs and outsmarted lesser dragons. It’s just a walk. Just coming home, nothing more.
She just couldn’t make herself believe it.
II. The River
You’d never know the River had a name from how ponies talked about it. It was simply The River.
She couldn’t see it now, but she knew it was there. She could smell it churning behind the levee wall, muddy and alive. The road home led alongside it for a way before her path branched off toward the old farm.
She’d read up on her home, while studying Archaeology at Canterlot. It hadn’t surprised her at all to find that in ancient times the earth ponies who had lived here had worshipped the mighty Missifilli River as a god.
They still did, after a fashion. Life came from the River, and its borders were set by the River. Some of the rich planters made their fortunes selling cotton and corn down the river to Las Pegasus and New Hoofington. Others met their ends in the unpredictable floods, when the spiteful water burst over the wall and drowned the farmers and their fields below in an awful deluge of lukewarm mud and water up to one’s eyes. She’d lived through two floods before the acceptance letter had come to their farm, and both times she’d been lucky enough to have her wings to save her. The River gave life and made life and took life.
Her wings had saved her father during the second flood. He had seemed so frail and old even then. He wept as she carried him up out of the waters and placed him on the roof. Later on, before she’d left for the University, he’d told her that for a brief second he’d seen her mother instead of her. Daring had loved it at the time—any connection to the mare who’d birthed her was a good thing. Now, it only made her sigh. Daring was old enough to appreciate what he’d been feeling, or at least she thought she was old enough.
Every foal in the Riverlands played along the river. It had been that way before she had been born, and she assumed it still held true and would until the sun went dark. The earth ponies accepted the river in the stoic manner of earth ponies since the world was young: there was no keeping it back or controlling it.
It made pegasi nervous. The whole region did, in fact—that much was documented. Daring had never known why until, on a whim, she’d started reading up on the place of her birth. It was magic, of course, that had cursed the ponies of the Riverlands to unusually harsh summers and a fickle flooding. No amount of weather control could help the region. Pegasi had tried off and on for a millenium, until the shame of failure haunted them down the generations. The magic stirred up by Discord here during his half-century as king of Equestria had never been expunged, and the cataclysmic last battles of the Sisters’ War had warped the very fabric of reality. Winter came grudgingly, and Summer ruled. The sun and moon came and went as always, but elsewise the Riverlands were wild in their stubborn refusal to act as they should.
Probably why I hate it so much. Maybe, She thought grimly as she listened to the river lap at the walls holding it back.
It hadn’t bothered her so much, as a filly. Her instinctive affinity for weather magic and the sky itself had yet to develop. She had simply been young and the riverside was fun.
Boats were popular among the foals of the Riverlands, though they were always discouraged. Strong and Daring built several rafts as youngsters and sailed a ways down the muddy Missiflli together, singing and laughing and talking. Even when they’d grown up, they’d indulged in the time-honored and occasionally dangerous game of plying the waters together.
She had trouble remembering most of those voyages. But they hadn’t been the only times she’d come to the levee.
Her father had brought her to the river, too.
Those visits were much calmer. They had sat on top of the mound of dirt that kept the waters confined and her father would talk of Daring’s mother and the River.
“She was a pegasus, just like you. Durn well near the pretties’ thing I’d ever seen, guarantee you that.”
“But Pa, there ain’t no pegasi anywhere here but me!” Her voice had cracked, she remembered that for some reason. She still had her Riverlands accent then, the one she’d worked hard to exorcise from her tongue as soon as she’d enrolled in Canterlot University. She’d done a rather marvelous job, and now ponies couldn’t place her anywhere at all. Most days, this pleased her.
But that was years in the future. At the moment, she was a child, and her little wings flared out in excitement. Stories! About her mother! But Pa got sad sometimes, so she tried not to ask except when they came to the river or when he was really happy.
“Well, ain’t always lived here. When I was younger, I lighted out for Las Pegasus. I was gonna make myself a fortune, and tol’ near everybody in town. They all laughed—right of ’em to, I suppose. I was a fool.”
“But you’re the smartest pony in the world!”
He laughed at that and ruffled her mane. “As far as you’re concerned, little ’un. Nah, your Pa has made his share of mistakes. See, I went off to Las Pegasus full of dreams and met your Mama. She was a beautiful filly, Darin’. I acted a right fool around her... but she liked it. Used to make her laugh all the time.”
“Did she fly? Was she the fastest? I bet she was awesome!”
“Yeah, she flew. Flew fast... Your mom was so beautiful, Darin’. She was a wonderful mare, really was. Anypony willin’ to come back with me here had to have been, I think.”
“Why did you come back? What was it like there?”
“Las Pegasus? It’s a fine place as any. Some of it’s up in the sky. The pegasi build up on big clouds, all sortsa fancy buildin’s. Lotsa pegasi, but it’s not just them. All three of the tribes live there, and it’s huge. Why’d I leave? Ran outta money, just like my Pa knew I would.”
Daring grinned and tried to imagine a city built on the clouds full of pegasi just like her. They never came to the Riverlands; no one did. She’d never seen another pony like her before, but she could almost see them speeding through the air.
“You look just like her, y’know.”
“More or less, little hayseed. Same colorin’, but you’ve got my dark mane. Hers was more... olive.” He looked down at the waters and was silent for a while. Daring worried that he was sad, and she nuzzled under his chin. She loved to hear about her Mama, but she hated when Pa was sad. She didn’t know what to do. Her father wiped a heavy hoof across his eyes and sighed.
“Y’know where your name comes from, Darin’?”
“No... did Mama give it to me?”
“Kinna, yeah. Darin’ was the name of one of her gramma’s or some such—’shamed to say I don’t remember at all. But she was a warrior in the Las Pegasus guard, and when she retired she went off to see the world. Like... your Mama.”
“Really? That’s so amazin’! I wanna do that.”
He looked down at her and said nothing. She was almost sure he was mad at her before he smirked and ruffled her mane again. He always did that, like she was a boy! She had to fix it all the time.
“I always wondered if you’d inherit a bit of that pegasus spirit. Enough of it, I mean.”
“Enough? Whatcha mean, Pa?”
“Nothin’. High time we were headed back. You wanna get ate up by mosquitoes?”
She shook her head fervently. Of course not!
As she followed her father down the grassy hill towards the old road, she imagined her ancestor the explorer. She tried, with her small and underfed imagination, to picture jungles and treasures. One day, she would go and see a city full of ponies with wings like hers, and be fast and cool! She would find all sorts of treasure and be pretty like her mom and have adventures, and then she would come back and Pa would look at them all. He’d be happy! She would be just like Mama, and he wouldn’t miss her again and be sad.
She dreamed of jungles after that, though she barely knew what the word meant.
Daring broke out of her long reverie and realized she’d reached the crossroads. The road branched off towards her old home.
She trembled. Her legs felt weak, and her heart beat sickly in her breast. She couldn’t do this. If I step on that porch again, I’ll have to look it in the eye.
Not so daring, huh, Daring?
No, maybe not. This was harder. It was more final. It wasn’t a treasure hunt, one and done, grab the loot and dodge some rather piss-poor attempts at killing her kind of deal. You could go home again, despite what the books said, but you didn’t leave the same. The path before her was a kind of funeral march.
Actually, she realized, it was a funeral march. That’s exactly what it was.
III. The House.
She was ashamed to say that she had only visited him twice since she’d fled the Riverlands.
At first, she’d simply been busy. Her father understood. She’d written him several times, sending long letters full of news about her studies and friends. They had been beyond him, really. He had laboriously answered them all, though, his awkward script practically glowing with pride.
It was always something. She was in Haissan, in the field. She was in graduate school at Hoofington. She couldn’t come home because her friend was going through a hard time and she needed Daring. The museum in Lunangrad had read her paper on batpony glyphs in the Spine and wanted to offer her a really good internship. She was on acquisition duty, buying up relics from mountain ponies with hard lives and a penchant for violence.
Most of them had been good excuses. She had written him stories about her adventures in the field working for the Lunangrad museum, and he loved them. It stretched his limited education to the breaking point, but he read them all and he was always proud of her.
The letters had slowed down, and then stopped. Daring told herself it wasn’t intentional, not really. It was hard, writing letters in the Mishoga swamps. It was even harder finding somepony who would take such a letter back to the Riverlands.
She’d just gotten out of the habit. It had been so easy to forget, with her nomadic lifestyle.
This is stupid. I can go inside. It’s my house, for Celestia’s sake.
But she didn’t move.
The house was old. It had been in her father’s family for five generations, and it had been little more than a hovel since the beginning. None of them were pegasi. None of them had been named Do—her namesake had given her a new second name as well—but they were her ponies all the same.
An old stallion with a wide-brimmed black hat came to the door and walked out on the rickety, rotting wood of the porch. They looked at each other, and Daring withered under his stony gaze.
“Was wonderin’ if we’d see you.”
She wanted to be angry. She wanted to tell him where he could go stuff his arrogance, but she didn’t. He had a right to say the truth—that was another rule of the Riverlands.
“I’m sorry,” she said, feeling like a stupid child. Perhaps she was. He shrugged and stepped aside. That was her cue.
She entered the house.
She hadn’t stepped foot inside in almost a decade. It had changed in her absence, and all of that change was for the worst. The air stank of decay, and the furniture was dusty and probably hadn’t been touched since she’d last seen her father. Since you left him behind.
She noticed now that in the corner there were a few more ponies—her neighbors, though she hardly recognized most of them. The pony who’d greeted her entered and took his hat off.
“He’s in bed, as you can imagine, miss. You still know where it is?”
“Yes,” she said coldly. He had a right to say the truth, but she had a right to think he was a bastard.
He shrugged again, and she left him and the other visitors behind.
Her steps caused the floor in the hallway to creak. Suddenly, she remembered sneaking out as a filly, how she’d learned to hover quietly to avoid hitting the noisy parts of the floor. She’d forgotten all of them.
Daring was terrified, but she was at the door. It was partially open, and she could see a somber party of visitors inside, all of them dressed in black. Death came when it wished, and the ponies of the Riverlands always believed in bearing witness. It was the least they could do, for death was lonely for all.
She almost ran. Her wings fidgeted at her sides, almost as if they were begging her to make use of them. All it would take was running start, straight down the main hall to the door, a good jump off the porch, and she would be gone. She’d never have to come back here again, never have to go inside that tiny little room. After all, what could they do? Stop her? They wouldn’t, and leaving would be as easy as buying a ticket to Canterlot. She wouldn’t have to watch.
Before she could panic and lose her nerve, she pushed the door open.
The gathered neighbors looked up with shock. They had been talking quietly before, but now they were completely silent. Nervously, she looked from face to face, trying to gauge what they thought of her, if they were going to be like the first pony. None of them seemed angry.
“Lightnin’? Light, sugarcube, is that you?”
She trembled. Her father lay in his bed, shrunken. His eyes were dimmed over and cloudy, and she realized he would never know that she had come home for him.
They all looked at her expectantly.
“I... hey, Pa,” she said, her voice falling back into its old patterns and stresses with an ease she would have found frightening, were she not already terrified by the sight before her.
“I’m cold, ain’t that strange, hon? One moment, I’m all hot and flustered and the next I’m—”
He started coughing, and she flinched at the sound. It was so hollow, so old. It was wrong, it was all so wrong. Her father was strong and he was big and there was no way this poor, frail thing was her father.
“Speak to him, child. You came just in time,” an old mare said, not unkindly.
What could she say? What were words going to do? “Hey... hey pa. I came home.”
“Lightnin’? You’re talkin’ too low again, I can’t hear ya. She’s so beautiful, hon. She’s so beautiful. Look, she wrote me a letter...”
She couldn’t hold it back anymore. The tears that had hung over her like a shadow broke through at last and she sobbed.
Somepony put a hoof on her shoulder.
“Pa? I-it’s me. I’m home, see? It’s alright, y’know? I came back!”
“Yessir?” She was crying hard now, tears obscuring her vision.
Her father turned his head as if searching for her. His proud russet coat had faded, grayed. He shook like a leaf in the wind, and she knew his fate would be similar soon. She could feel him going even as he opened his mouth to speak.
“Darin’? Did you have fun with that little frien’ of yours? Strong? What a name—he a good boy, ain’t he? You’re just like your mother, wantin’ to fly all over the place... You should be more careful. I think I’ve got some bandages...”
He was rambling, going. She couldn’t take it. She collapsed, her head resting on his lap. She cried uncontrollably, and more hooves joined the first. A bassy voice whispered to her.
“He’s been like this since yesterday. I’m sorry, young’un. I know the train ride was long.”
She said nothing.
Her father continued to talk, reliving something. Her crying almost drowned him out, and she hated it. She hated herself.
She couldn’t come home again. This was it, the last time. Home was burning. The levee was breaking, the flood waters were coming and though she flew away with all her might she could take nothing with her. The house was going, her father was swept away. The River had claimed its toll at last, like some terrible god out of the night come to sweep up its appointed sacrifices and devour them in the sordid darkness. This couldn’t happen, and yet it would.
He began to stutter, and he shuddered. She looked up and saw that the time had come.
“Darin’?” he asked softly. She felt as if he were finally lucid. She hoped he was.
“I’m so sorry, Pa. I’m here. I came home.”
“Knew you would,” he said and sucked in another pained gasp of air. His body was failing, it had no more to give. The spirit had no will, its mate awaited.
He grew still.
No one said a word. Daring hovered between sobs and screams. She hugged him tightly to her, and he was almost faded completely. There was nothing left of the strong stallion who had plowed the fields of their tiny farm himself. This wasn’t the same body who had wrapped her up in its hooves when they’d took refuge from the first flood, when she’d been barely old enough to read and remember. He wasn’t going to speak anymore or sing any of the old songs in his rough voice.
She couldn’t breathe; her throat was raw. She sniffled, and laid over his bed as one who longed to die.
She had left him here. She’d gone off without thought and tasted of the finest wines in lands whose names her poor father couldn’t even pronounce, and he had waited so faithfully. She knew without looking that all of her hoofscripts would be in that bedside drawer, packed neatly and ordered by date. She knew he had read them all a hundred times and probably had learned some of them by heart.
She let out a long, shaky breath and spoke quietly.
“I was an awful daughter, wasn’t I?”
None of the assembled ponies said a word.
Daring Do rose and stumbled out of the room. She made it to the porch before she tripped down the stairs and landed in a heap in front of her house. Her beloved pith helmet went flying.
The house wasn’t hers anymore. It wasn’t anypony’s anymore. It belonged to the dead.
She shivered, though the sun still beat down on her. She let it, and didn’t move or speak when the pony who had first greeted her quietly helped her to her feet. He didn’t try to make her talk. She was thankful.
She didn’t want to sleep here. She didn’t want to be here. It was a tomb.
As they helped her back into the house, she was transfixed by the fields surrounding the house her father had loved. They went on forever, and she knew that he had known every inch of it. This was his home. Had been his home.
She was homeless.
They helped her sit down, and a farmer’s wife fanned her. She could hardly tell—she knew they thought she’d collapsed from the heat. They were doing their best, it was what Riverland ponies were good at. Her father had done his best.
“Your father told us to tell ya somethin’, ’fore he began to lose his lucidity,” said one of the older stallions quietly. He stretched out the word “lucidity” to a ludicrous length, and she wanted to laugh at how absurd it was. He was trying to be polite to the fainting, emotional mare and she just didn’t care. He had no idea.
But he tried anyhow. “He... he said that you didn’t have to keep up the farm ’n’ all. Jus’ wanted you to take all your notes an’ parcels with ya when ya went back to the city.”
She snorted. “I don’t live in a city. I don’t stay much of anywhere for long.” Her usual accentless voice was reasserting itself. If the pony in black noticed, he was too polite to say.
“It’s a small farm, but a good ’un. He wanted us to sell it for ya, but that ain’t right and I tole him so. I said I’d ask ya whatcha wanted to happen to it. I... don’t imagine you’re a farmin’ pony, miss.”
“Ain’t,” she said bluntly, as the angry dying child made its last hurrah.
He nodded. “Figured.”
He waited for her decision, and Daring had no idea what to tell him. She wasn’t a farmer like her father. What little she knew of that life was long gone. But this was all she had of him, now that his letters and his smile were gone. But it was no place for her. Daring bit her lip and looked down.
But it would make sense, wouldn’t it? She saw herself adrift. Another pegasus mare taking wing to leave home. Just like her idol. Just like her mother.
She looked back up at the waiting stallion. He hadn’t moved an inch. She tried to remember the colt who played with her in the grain, who kissed her at the jukejoint, and found that she couldn’t.
Daring cut the rope, and the anchor fell away.
“Sell it.” She leaned back, letting out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been keeping in. It was done. “I don’t need the money, Mr. …?”
“Roots. Deep Roots.”
Goddess, it was so fitting she almost laughed again. Bitterness welled up in her, and anger came with it. She closed her eyes and put a hoof to her forehead. The ponies of the Riverland and their damned practicality.
“Mr. Roots, I don’t care who gets the money. Which of you needs it most?”
They all shifted awkwardly. You didn’t talk about money problems in the Riverlands.
One of them spoke up, a stallion with a mud-brown coat. “I-I could use it, ma’am. The farm, I mean, not the money. I mean...”
She speared him with the kind of gaze only the newly orphaned could muster. He looked startled, and she felt a little ashamed. She must look awful.
“What’s your name?”
“Raiser, ma’am. House Raiser.”
“Fitting. Why do you need it?”
“Son’s gettin’ married, and he needs a place of his own. Ours is too crowded. I’d help him, but money is tight and there’s no work that could pay him enough for it. I’d be willing to pay at least—”
“He has it. Your son owns this farm as of now. I give it to him. I’ll write it all up and sign whatever I need to tomorrow.”
He looked shocked, and she closed her eyes again.
It wasn’t hers anymore. It wasn’t her father’s. The rope was cut and she was off into the air already. The ponies who came to see her father off could be shocked all they wanted to, but she couldn’t return to a home that wasn’t hers.
Besides, somepony needed to raise fillies and colts here by the river.