The Cricketers in the Rye

by Earth Writer

The Spirits are Disturbed

                Everypony has a special talent; all they have to do is discover it.  That was one of the fundamental principles of life in Equestria, as unquestioned as the daily sunrise, the value of friends, or the rule of the Princesses.
                The hidden shadow had, at various times, doubted them all.  As well, the sanctity of love, the value of politeness, even the point of existence itself had all been questioned in turn.  What remained was only one certainty, one philosophical peg upon which all the world hung and what kept it from dissolving away on the very worst days: the deliciousness of strawberry milkshakes.  And, if there had been any available for it to snatch up from the back alley of Sugar Cube Corner, the next few months might have turned out quite differently.
                However, Pinkie Pie, having already gotten her strawberry fix for the day by licking off Twilight’s smoothie off her face, decided not to make her afternoon milkshake as usual, going straight to planning Psmith and Might’s welcome party.
“Games!  Do Canterlot ponies play games?  I can’t do cricket, because they haven’t taught me what that is yet; did Twilight play pin-the-tail-on-the-pony when she came here?  No, but then there was that whole Nightmare Moon business.  She did drink the hot sauce though, better set that out.  Ooh, ooh!  That reminds me, better get the cupcakes ready, and the Cakes too!  Can’t hold it here, it’d wake up the twins…”
                The shadow could hear the party planner’s voice from out the window, though inside all that could be seen was a pink blur that momentarily coalesced by the oven, on top of the counter, and in the middle of a pile of things disinterred from a drawer, to the bemusement of Rarity, who had stopped by for an afternoon tea and chat.
                “But darling, you must tell me about these distinguished new arrivals.  With business slowing down lately, I cannot afford to pass up any new contacts!”  A smart businesspony always knew about ponies before being introduced to them; it made them feel important, and it never hurt to personalize any pitches.  Besides, the alabaster unicorn wanted any juicy details ASAP.
                “Well, they’re cricket coaches, though I don’t think they coach crickets, but I’ll have to ask.  Do crickets play cricket?”   The pink blur didn’t even stop as she said this, only pausing to hold up two rolls of streamers up to the window, as if to check for counterfeits.
                “Cricket, hm?”  Rarity paused in thought as she took a sip of tea.  “Such an elegant game, I’ve always thought.  I don’t usually work in flannel, but if they’re willing to commission uniforms… Pinkie dear, did they seem exceptionally concerned about dress?”
                Pinkie, now mixing up a batch of batter for the cupcakes, stopped in the middle of the little tune she always hummed while baking.  “Well, one didn’t dress at all, though the other had on a suit and talked a lot.  Do you think the chocolate or vanilla frosting looks better spilled on fabric?  Things might get a little messy-“
                “Pinkie!”  The white mare interrupted, aghast at the very idea.  “No kind of frosting is an acceptable accessory to any kind of fabric.  Except, perhaps, tulle, but only in very specific circumstances.”  Having done her fashionista duty by nipping a dangerous trend in the bud, Rarity relaxed in contemplation as Pinkie gleefully decided not to use frosting.
                “I’ll just put in a cream filling!  Best use the chocolate cupcakes for that.  Why does chocolate hold cream better?  Because I’ve tried with Vanilla, and I was just like, ‘Whoo!  Sugar rush!’ then, ‘Bleah, not so good.’  Maybe because it’s all-white.  GASP!”  A new light of understanding dawned in the pink mare’s eyes; one of the great truths of baking had just occurred to her.  “Cupcakes taste best when they’re not racist!”
                It was right about here that the shadow deduced that no milkshakes would be forthcoming.


                Not too far from Sugar Cube corner, on the opposite side of Main Street, sat that peerless institution, the O’Rye pub.  The old house frame of blackened wood, wreathed with ivy climbing to the peak of the tiled roof bespoke of a rough but hearty welcome to travelers passing through.  Small wonder, then, that Psmith and Might had been directed here when inquiring for rooms to rent.
                The innkeeper, a silver-haired unicorn by the name of Moonshine O’Rye was conversing with the dapper dressed colt over the bar counter, by which we mean that the proprietor was listening to Psmith with a friendly expression gradually growing glassy under the verbal bombardment.
                “…Of course, comrade O’Rye, one could hardly help hearing of your remarkable hospitality.  The fame of Castle O’Rye, its generous portions, excellent brewery, and peerlessly egalitarian lord stretches from the Eastern Mountains to the Western shore.  Hark!  A traveler passes, singing due praise to the beer…”
                *This could take a while.* Might Batsman thought, as he drank from the glass of milk he’d ordered.  The stocky Earth Pony was not a teetotaler, but he knew no middle ground between the ginger-beer of the cricket lunch stand, and the champagne of the hotel restaurants Psmith would sometimes take him to.  To order anything but a glass of ale, or perhaps a shot of whiskey, in such a place as this seemed most inappropriate; Might had never gotten a taste for either of those, and when you came right down to it, it was better to be the stallion who ordered milk because he didn’t drink rather than the stallion ordered champagne because he didn’t drink ale.
                “Oy, see here now,” Moonshine interjected, making a desperate effort to surface from the flood of logomachy before going down for the third time.  “It’s true I’ve got an empty room, but it’ll be small for two, and after a full summer you’ll be feeling quite cramped in there!”
                “Worry not,” replied Psmith, the placidity permanently plastered on his face not giving one inch, “We merely ask a place to rest our heads after the labors of the day, most of which will be outside.  We are not recluses, comrade.  Why, comrade Batsman here is widely seen on the Canterlot social circuit.  No stallion more outgoing and sociable shall you find!”
                Might, who was used to his friend bragging upon his nonexistent virtues and accomplishments, took the remark in stride.  In truth, he could take or leave the social circuit, though he liked company well enough.  Unfortunately, there were exceptions, and now he was confronted with one of them.
                The O’Rye family lived in the rooms above the pub, in the manner of most shopkeepers in Ponyville.  Customers this early in the day being somewhat unusual, all the members at home were listening in on the stairwell, save for the youngest, a colt resembling his father in every feature save eye color, who quite boldly clomped down the stairs and fixed Might with an unnerving stare.
                Now, Might Batsman was not exactly comfortable around his juniors.  If cornered by a young filly, he could hold up well enough, a bevy of younger sisters having given him valuable experience.  Young colts, however, filled him with equal measures terror and repulsion; he felt somehow that it was indecent to let a colt out in public until he was developed enough to win honors for his school.  This Moonshine Jr. seemed just below the cutoff.
                The older colt nursed his drink, putting off meeting the stare until the last possible polite moment.  The younger colt was unabashed.  “You play baseball?”  He asked, pointing to the bat-and-ball cutie mark on Might’s flank.
                “No, I play cricket.”
                “What’s that?”
                “It’s a sport from my hometown.”
                The silver-maned colt seemed to digest this tidbit of information before remarking, “Who names their sport after a bug?”
                This being the second time today that this error had been made brought Might no closer to reconciling himself to it.  Truth be told, he didn’t know the exact connection between the name of his sport, and the chirping insect.  He didn’t know if anyone knew, but rather than admit this fact, he made the tactical blunder of a flat denial, “No, it’s not named after the bug.”
                Moonshine the younger, confronted with a bald denial of an obvious fact, made the only logical retort, “It is too.”
                “No, it’s not!”
                “Is too!”
                Only too late did Might realize that his rejoinder had locked him into the latest iteration of the eternal argument, one which the younger debater was willing to continue all day, by the looks of it.  There was really no dignified way for the earth pony to extricate himself, not without leaving himself looking a fool and his special talent a mere branch of entomology.  In this, as in other cases, Psmith came to his aid.
                “Come, come, comrade; we must leave these stimulating little chats.  Our flat rate is finalized, and we must make our home-away-from-home.  Additionally, there is the welcome party to prepare for, to which I understand our generous host is lending this place for a venue.  So does the lord of the O’Rye manor reveal his kindly soul.”  With a deft movement of exquisite tact, the lavender unicorn guided his friend back to where they’d stowed their luggage to bring it up the stairwell.
                The remaining offspring of the O’Rye clan, daughters all, kept to the shadows, whispering an inaudible commentary upon the pair.  Might was doing most of the heavy lifting, being built for it, while Psmith handled the finer touches, still talking, “I should like to appear at my best for this little soiree; it may aid, however lightly, in easing the burden of tragedy upon our host.”
                “Eh, what’s that?”  Might looked up from the laborious effort of setting up a cot.  “He looked like a cheerful sort to me.”
                “Ah, you did not see it in his eyes?”  Psmith turned away from the delicate process of de-linting his eveningwear.  “Well, well, perhaps it was merely a trick of my imagination.  He is a worthy and prosperous gentlepony, but is it not just that sort that sorrow so easily pierces to the root?  I had thought I caught a touch of it in our little negotiation.  Perhaps I was mistaken.  Ah, well, here’s to his joy, then.”
                Might personally reflected that anypony might look a little sorrowful at the prospect of hosting a prattling piffler like Pmsith, but kept silent as he finally wrenched the reluctant furniture into place.
                Outside, the shadow reflected upon the overheard conversation.  So, these were the interlopers who’d disturbed the town routine, and it’s distribution of strawberry milkshakes!  This would not pass, not without retribution!  *And that party will give me the perfect opportunity…*