A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe
3. The Feast Of St. Ætheldreda
Perpicacity Starshine, telescope crafter, needed more glass. This could sometimes be a chore, since the type of glass she needed was special. It had to be clear, as perfectly clear as possible, and utterly untinted.
Most common glass in Equestria had a reddish tint to it, and the things made from it ended up more or less pink. Looking around her at the windows of Greater Fetlock, they all appeared pink or various shades of pale red; this was normal. Finding glass useful for the lenses needed for telescopes and microscopes and glasses and magnifiers and such was a little more tricky.
She had brought her own embroidered saddlebags filled with items of trade; some rather fine gems, a bag of the small, unmarked coins called 'bits', and a particularly tasty apple-peach pastry. The pastry wasn't for trade; rather it was there because she thought it would be fun to eat it in the park, on the way home.
In Equestria, gemstones were relatively commonplace. Any unicorn with the right spell, or any diamond dog with a good nose could find a decent selection with just a little effort. Small gemstones, useless for anything other than glitter, were easily seen in the topsoil. But glass was precious. Clear glass, anyway, untainted by rubescence.
Featherhoof Hearthstone ran the Greater Fetlock Blacksmithy, and he made glass, among other things - such as door handles, hinges, and for the old fashioned, horseshoes. Traditional horseshoes were seldom worn by ponies anymore, they didn't allow any movement of the frog, and thus could cause discomfort and even foundering in later life. Whether glued or nailed, they damaged the hoof over time, and so had become unpopular.
That said, there were some traditionalists, hold-outs and youngsters trying to find their own uniqueness that still wore the outdated hoofware. Perspicacity would have none of it. She liked her hooves flexing with every step. She wouldn't give up that extra bounce in her walk for anything. If she needed shoes, she would wear boots. Which she did, at least in winter.
She had left Wildfire busy as always, translating more of the ancient manuscript. She was looking forward to a repeat of last night - beginning with a bedtime story would be alright too. That wasn't really fair, she thought - she truly was interested in the notion that Celestia had met with a human long ago, as absurd as the idea seemed in the light of day.
Mostly, she just wanted her stallion to be happy; translating the old document had really put a sparkle in his eye, and a grin on his muzzle. And that excitement made her happy because it made him happy. And frisky. Frisky and happy. Happy and...
"Back for more glass, I see." Featherhoof waited. "I said, back for more glass? Hello? Glass? Want?"
Perspicacity snapped out of her reverie. "Ah! Yes! Featherhoof, just the pony I wanted to see."
"Yah could'a fooled me. A bit distracted, are we?" Featherhoof grinned at his most regular client. The constant need for glass had made friends of them for many years.
"Sorry. Wildfire has a new... hobby... and, well, you know how he gets." Perspicacity blushed slightly, perhaps it was the warmth of the nearby furnace.
Featherhoof - how had he gotten that name? He'd never been willing to divulge the tale - grinned and went over to his glass box. The big roan stallion had constructed the box years ago to store the glass he made when it became apparent that the demand would be constant. Perspicacity was his only glass client, but she was unflagging in her need for the stuff.
To make clear glass, Featherhoof had to melt the normal pink glass and precipitate out the pigment using a reactive agent. Or, in terms more to his outlook, he used a prepared form of the special mineral-rich soil from the base of Dragon Mountain and mixed it into a batch of glass and then rattled the molten mass until there was enough clear glass on top to harvest. It was pretty time consuming and all the more impressive considering that Featherhoof was a pegasus.
Featherhoof wore a wing-binding tack that kept his primaries out of the fire, and metal hoof and leg covers that he had forged himself. He had a pair of dark, tinted glasses to shield his eyes - they had been made by Perspicacity herself, in trade for even more glass. But the secret of his trade was his tools.
The eccentric pegasus had an astonishing collection of tools, most custom designed and made, to permit him to do the sorts of tasks an ordinary unicorn blacksmith would find trivial. There were clamps and mouth tongs, forehoof tools that clipped onto his leg and hoof guards, and his special hammer with the shock absorbing handle that had spared him many a toothache - or a headache. Just in case, he had a bottle of a tooth-restoration potion in his medicine cabinet. He had only needed it once over the years.
Perspicacity had once asked Featherhoof why he had chosen such an unusual - and difficult - occupation for a pegasus. She hadn't meant to be insulting; it just seemed obvious to her that dealing with molten metal and heavy tools was a job best suited to a working unicorn. It certainly was vastly easier.
Featherhoof had looked upset, causing Perspicacity to apologize for any offense.
"Any pegasus can walk on a cloud, or push a storm together, or kick the sky clean and let the sun shine down. Name me another pegasus that can make ya clear glass or fix your broken gate hinge."
"I... I can't think of one, not anywhere. That's why I asked why you..."
"That's your answer, right there." Featherhoof had brightened then, and Perspicacity decided to drop the question permanently. Besides, despite his obvious handicaps, and the tools he had needed to construct to overcome them, Featherhoof was a darn good blacksmith, and his glass was beyond excellent.
"So what is this new hobby of your husbands, if I might ask?" Featherhoof had already ambled over to his glass bin; he had only recently worked up a batch to add to the small pile already in the wooden box.
The clear glass was in small lumps and drops, scooped from the molten mass with one of the clever pegasus' unique tools. The water-clear blobs of cool glass could later be worked by Perspicacity in her shop, and spun into perfect lenses with her magic and her considerable skill and talent.
"Wild's developed a taste for history. Well, he always did like history, but this is his first real fascination with... Equestrian history." Perspicacity always felt a little hesitant to bring up her husband's background, despite the fact that everypony in town knew he was a newfoal. She wanted his status to be forgotten, because he had seemed troubled by it at times, but occasionally she slipped, and this was one of those moments.
"Ah! I see. Well, that's a good thing, then. It's always good to take an interest in how we got to be where we are." Featherhoof carefully laid out the lumps of glass on a black cloth. He had a touch of the salespony about him, he was well aware that a black backdrop made crystalline things look all the brighter. "I worked up a new batch just last week; I think you'll find this the clearest glass yet."
He always said that. Every batch was somehow clearer than the ones previous. If this were true, and it continued, Perspicacity thought, at some point he'd be showing her air and asking for bits. "Oh yes, these are wonderful, Featherhoof! I need about three weights of glass. I have an order all the way from Clydesdale."
"So they're needing telescopes in Clydesdale, are they? I'm glad to see the rest of Equestria is taking notice of our brilliant crafter of magnificent lenses." Perspicacity had always had the feeling that Featherhoof was a bit sweet on her, then again, it was equally likely he talked this way to all of his clients. It was good for business, she had to admit.
"How much, then, for the glass?" This was always the bothersome part. Featherhoof liked to dicker; bartering was apparently his special fun. "How much do ya think these fine, fine pieces are worth to you?" He asked.
Thus battle was joined.
Perspicacity lost out on that trade rather badly. To be fair, her mind was on other things. In the end she was out not only a fine gem, and not a few bits, but also her apple-peach turnover. On the way home, she looked sadly at the park, thinking of her absent, sweet, fruity friend. Glass was just glass, but a pastry was a good snack.
She briefly thought of going across town to get to the bakery, then returning to the park, but it seemed like such a chore. Besides, she had to get home and make sure her silly stallion remembered to get up and stretch his legs. He was so obsessed with this project. Maybe, she thought, it was because he was a newfoal. Maybe, in translating the manuscript, Wildfire was somehow working out something inside himself. She'd thought he'd completely accepted being Equestrian, but perhaps he still had some unresolved issues.
It couldn't be easy, she reflected, to change one's entire species. She couldn't imagine doing it. In her foalhood, she had wondered what it would have been like to have been born an earth pony or a pegasus, but when it came down to it, she wouldn't trade being a unicorn for anything.
Wildfire had once tried to explain to her what humans had looked like. He had sketched her a picture of what he had once been. Wild was a fairly good artist; it was a skill that he had picked up when he was first learning to write with his teeth.
The creature in his sketch was strange. It reminded her of a baby dragon, only thin to the point of being gaunt. Or perhaps a wingless, beakless, shaved griffon standing on its hind legs, with its forelegs hanging down unnaturally. The head was weirdly shaped, with a tiny nose that protruded past the flat, wide muzzle. The creature possessed tiny, sunken eyes. At first she had thought humans had no ears, until Wildfire had made another sketch, showing them to be miniature disk-like things, hidden under the stringy mane that covered their entire head.
Perspicacity tried to imagine her handsome stallion as one of the coatless, skinny, flat-faced and beady-eyed creatures and it had made her shudder inside. They were horrifically ugly. It had made her feel skittish for days, but she had asked, indeed she had needed to beg Wild to show her. It made her feel ashamed that after he had so reluctantly granted her wish, she had felt so bothered and distant afterwards.
No wonder he suffered from such nightmares for so many years. Being converted must have been an incredible relief to him. It must have been terrible, just terrible, to have been forced to live in such a body. Even diamond dogs were more appealing. At least they had a coat to protect them, and a tail to wag. She had cried for him that night, when she was out of his sight.
If Wildfire needed to work something out about his terrible past, then she would do whatever she could to support him in it. Besides, she wanted to hear what had happened with the little human musician and the princess, long ago. Wildfire was so passionate reading the story to her. And after.
When dinner was finished - they had supped on Manehattan Style Toasted Grains and whipped carrot salad with apple bits - and after Perspicacity had finished the detail work on the main cylinder of the telescope for Clydesdale - thin lines of golden swirls and moons, and tiny white gems placed like stars against a deep blue background - it was finally time for bed. Once again, Wildfire had finished his translation work for the day.
And forth we goon towardes that village
Which that called was Eslaforde
Wel we weren maad To take our wey.
There met we a merchant with forked beard,
And girt In motley gown, and high on horse he sat,
hav him so greet envye of the mare faste by my syde
Putte in his thought that he sholde the mare beye.
So that he offren Nobles or pens,
Whiche that be goode and trewe,
But was ther noon of al that I wolde have
For al the world.
"My fairy patron thus bid that we go forth such that she could see the world, particularly she wished to see how men lived and worked. Near to us was the village of Eslaforde, to which I was destined already, and thus to this place we then made out way.
As we approached Eslaforde, we were met by a traveling merchant with a forked beard and clothing both filthy and uncared for, yet he sat on a horse not entirely wretched. The merchant was immediately taken with my fairy companion, in her guise as a common mare, and he desired to purchase her forthwith.
From out of his bags he produced prodigious coins, all far more than his appearance suggested, and offered them to me in exchange for my mare, which he coveted greatly.
Of course of his money I would have nothing whatsoever; the very thought of selling my patron, a fairy queen, into bondage reviled me beyond measure. Thus I sent the wretch on his way, but in his eye I sensed great mischief, a warning I would later come to greatly wish I had heeded.
To her great credit and wisdom, Celestia did not speak once during this meeting, having somehow understood at a glance that the horse under the merchant was not as she within her guise; and was only a common animal and nothing more.
Though afterwards she did query me on whether any creature but Man could speak in the world, and to this I responded that none did, save perhaps those enchanted by fairies or possessed by devils. The fairy queen asked further about these things, and after long explanation, concluded that they could not exist despite my protestations.
In answer to my plain statement of her own existence in the world, she informed me such that she would know if any other fairy or demon lived anywhere at all, and that she was entirely alone in all of creation, and that only by virtue of the fairy wind that came from the door through which she had passed.
I did not want to accept her council on these matters, but who could know of them better than she, herself a true fairy? Still, the thoughts engendered in me from her words troubled me for some time, until I finally pushed them from my mind.
In Eslaforde it was a happy time, for it was the The Feast Of St. Ætheldreda, and all preparations were being made for merriment. It would have been an ideal time for me to ply my trade; feasts and festivals always have need of songs and poetry and tales to be told, but I was beholden to a greater calling, my fairy queen.
Celestia looked out in great astonishment at the village and all the people therein, and quietly begged me tell her if there were other such villages in the world. I explained to her of my travels, and of many villages and towns and cities too, of castles and keeps and countless farms. I related to her that the world was filled from water to water with people and their works, and beyond the water the rest of the world was populated also thus.
Here it was that I saw a most curious thing; a tear formed at the eye of the seeming mare, and she was curiously silent for some great time, even when we were alone and safe from stray ears and eyes. For the rest of our tour of Eslaforde, her head was not carried so high, nor was her carriage as proud. Only later would I learn the terrible reason for her grief.
Of her silence only one thing broke it, and briefly, when she saw what it was that men eat and how. We had entered the marketplace, my thought not only to show my queen the ways of commerce, but also it was my plan to purchase for her some treat such as a horse would likely enjoy, in the hope of cheering her thus.
She suddenly reared and made a noise and turned full away; I thought it wise to leave the marketplace immediately, and so we did, my queen only too glad to be gone from it. I begged her tell me what it was that had offended her so.
She referred to the meat we eat. It was true that there had been pigs being butchered there, and sheep, and also chickens, for it was feast time and such delicacies are good and proper. Instead of cheer, I had brought yet more sadness to her, and this confused me greatly.
Did not the fairies hunt? Were there not tales of great parties of fairy folk, all in fine garb, chasing the hart through the woods in merry fashion? All fortunate souls have gladness at good meat, and fairy folk, it is said, dine on the finest meats with every meal.
At the end of the day, Celestia finally spoke to me once more, and it was there that I learned that all I had known about the fairy folk was wrong. They ate no meat, and drank no blood, nor did they swap their children with our own. Her kind ate fodder, such as a farmer's animals would, and fruits of the field and tree, but did no harm to any other creature.
To see the squalling of the pigs as they were cut open gave her great sorrow, as did the screaming of the sheep. The spill of entrails that for man signal the joy of feasting were abhorrent to her, as was the bright and sweet smell of blood as it covered the ground. To man, these things a joy, but to fairykind, in opposition to all the stories and songs at my command, a blasphemy.
Her kindness and compassion went far beyond men, to even the most meaningless of creatures. This was a matter most strange to me, for had not all the animals been made only for man to make use of? They had no purpose beyond this, and no souls, and their seeming pain was only for entertainment, a pleasure to boy or man.
To this, Celestia responded in anger for the first time to me, and I cowered under such wrath, up to this time convinced that my fairy queen had only one face, a face as pure and exsanguine as the moon and many times more tranquil.
What she did relate to me, once I had explained to her the meaning of my words more clearly, I now hesitate to write upon the page, for fear and also in worry that by so scribing them, they might be made all the more real.
She said that what I called souls was the very stuff of life itself, if she understood my meaning, and it was that which came to her and sustained her in the world as it blew through the hole between her province and my own. The reason she had been thus shocked that men could walk and move and act was that in all creation she could detect none of that of which souls were made. Though I had many a tale and song of fairies and hauntings and witchcraft and miracles too, it was impossible that any of them be real.
That we walked and moved and spoke and thought was what had made her cry for us; and it was the worse that there were so many of us, here, and in countless towns, and across the water, and in endless lands beyond. If we had souls, as I claimed to her, then so also would the pigs in the market she claimed, and the sheep, and the chickens all, and in that place she had sensed none, and this had made the slaughter all the more terrible to her.
She was made of the stuff of life, the stuff of all magic and wonder and of the devils and the angels both; and though we had dreamed well of such it did not truly exist for us, and that in all the world she could sense nothing and less, despite all her formidable powers.
And in this my mind rebelled, for our world is such that without the promise of salvation eternal, what is the sense of living at all? Amidst such pain and sorrow as life, if there were no guiding hand and no hope for heaven beyond, then the world truly would be empty as she claimed, and I could not take this council, nor could I accept her words.
And it was there that I betrayed her, in my horror and my anger I abandoned my fairy queen, running away as fast as traitorous legs could carry me.
And it was in my absence that the shoddily clothed merchant with the split beard did appear, and somehow manage to take Celestia into his bondage and ownership, and force her away, his intention to profit thereby."
And there in myn absence
The motley merchant with forked beard
Did a sly, and for to stele Celestea
And did brynge her to servage
For his own commune profit.
"Celestia, princess Celestia, was taken prisoner by a human? How? How is that even possible? She can raise the very sun, and the moon, and the stars in the sky!" Perspicacity was understandably incensed. "You said it yourself, deep down we all know what she truly is, a goddess! There is nothing that she cannot do. How could she ever be captured by a... a skinny, horrid little skin... dragon... thing?"
Wildfire winced slightly at that. He couldn't help it really. All the work he had done so far, the idea that the manuscript had been written by a human, had brought back a lot of disturbing memories for him. As exciting as his project was, it was also unsettling, and reminded him of his unequestrian heritage.
"I don't know yet, Perspicacity. I have some ideas, though. But that is what it says. That's what is written in there." Wildfire nodded towards the kitchen, where the manuscript lay on the table.
"I... I just don't know about that thing anymore." Perspicacity seemed a little calmer now. "Alright, Wild, what are your ideas about how Princess Celestia of Equestria could possibly be captured?" Pers almost spat the words "By a human?"
Wildfire swallowed and lowered his head close to the comforter on the bed. "In ancient stories, fairies could be chained with iron. There was something about the metal that destroyed magic. Maybe Earthly iron actually could do that." Wildfire thought for a moment. "If so, back in the days when the earth still existed, groups like the Human Liberation Front would have done anything to know that little bit of trivia." Wildfire shuddered at the implications, were it the case.
"I can't accept that at all." Perspicacity lay back on the pillows covering the headboard. "Remember that... carriage-thing that turned into pudding? You said it was good pudding. You used to love telling that story. You saw it happen, and those carriages were made of iron, weren't they?"
"Steel, beloved. Mostly iron, a little bit of carbon, some other things I guess. Unless it was a modern one, in which case it was probably carbon fiber. But I get your point." Wildfire thought about it; the humans would have certainly tried iron. Some human would have remembered the old fairy stories and applied anything and everything to try to deal with the problem of thaumatic radiation - magic.
"Perhaps... well, maybe..." Wildfire began, but was unsure.
"Out with it. What? Go on, let's hear your thoughts."
"What if... what if Celestia let herself be caught. In order to truly understand humans." Pers was frowning, but Wildfire carried on. "Think about it; if she was in no danger, if she could not be hurt, if she could escape at any moment, then why not just let herself be caught? She could learn a lot from it, and she could leave whenever she wanted. Will had run away, so... why not just go along with things to see what would happen?"
Perspicacity considered his argument. "I can see that." Suddenly she had a strange look on her face. "Wildfire, last night our little human author wrote that Celestia was being sustained by magic coming through the tiny hole she had entered through, right?" Wildfire nodded. "What if that was more serious than our author mentioned? Why would Celestia even bother to hide herself as an Earth animal if she had all of her powers? Why hide and not speak? What if the hole was very, very small?"
Wildfire suddenly grasped what his wife was suggesting. "What if the hole was, like, the size of a molecule, or an atom, or subatomic? What if the hole between the universes was incredibly tiny? If Luna can change her shape and size, why not Celestia too? What if she came through a hole that was leaking such a small amount of magic that she was just barely being sustained at all? Maybe she was genuinely vulnerable back then!" Wildfire's eyes were wide at this. "Pers, maybe Celestia took more of a risk than our writer could possibly have understood? Even a goddess needs magic to be a goddess. It was completely different when Equestria emerged in the ocean - the 'hole' was HUGE! Hundreds of miles across, thousands, in the end!"
"Celestia, completely vulnerable. It is frightening just to think about. What if we had lost her back then? Princess Luna was still in the moon. There would have been no day or night. The whole of Equestria might have perished!" Perspicacity crawled closer to her husband and laid her head on his back, pressing her body into his.
"Didn't unicorns once have the power to raise the sun and moon? That's what they say in the traditional Hearth's Warming play, right?" Wildfire nuzzled, kissed, and licked his beautiful mare.
"Oh, I wouldn't believe everything you see in a children's holiday play. I'll tell you a not-so-secret. Unicorns sometimes like to claim all kinds of amazing powers and abilities. It makes us seem more impressive." Perspicacity smiled, ever so slightly, as she cuddled Wildfire.
"I don't believe that for a minute. I know my amazing unicorn can do anything she wants to." Wildfire smiled back.
"You're a smart little colt."