The Old Hound
The Mad Moon Dog
You could always count on this particular mare to keep to her habits.
The stallion had been staring across the cafe's terrace, watching The Lady for what now amounted to be quite a few minutes. He did his best to look inconspicuous as he sat there, which wasn't easy. She was middle-aged, but still quite beautiful after all...
In his mind, the mare that so entrapped his eye would no doubt be described as such for the rest of her life, too. Having more than enough time and money to spend on appearance, she fit in perfectly with all of the other upper echelon ponies that made up the cafe's patrons. The only thing that marked her out—and no doubt still drew the occasional, very-ignored stare from her—was the dress and hat she wore. Both were a dark lavender in color and were tailored to a some thirty years out of date fashion trend. It wasn't often that such a gorgeous mare would not keep up with the time's styles.
For all her worth, the stunning mare pointedly sat oblivious to the world around her, purposefully engrossed in the book that she read.
The observing stallion was no different. He wore the same style of cloth, both in his garments and hat. Granted, he wore a bowler hat, three-piece gray suit and carried a cane... He would look silly in a dress and sun hat. His cane would have looked ordinary from a distance, but up close the silver filigree and fine craftsmanship were evident. The rest of the older stallion's garments followed a similar direction, marking him for the rich gentlecolt that he was.
Tipping his bowler back just a smidgen, he leaned on the device and began to reminisce from his hiding spot. His grim stare looked at the floor flatly. Even after all these years, she looked no different in his eyes. He was certain that she would say the same about him. At least, on the outside they looked no different, he decided. On the inside though...
"Well, there she is," the aging gentlecolt finally said, breaking the brief quiet and looking up at his companion.
The other pony he spoke to was a major contrast to the middle-aged stallion. He was taller, broader of shoulder and much younger, but even more noticeable was that he dressed like a dockworker. A flat cap, suspenders, heavy work pants and even a pair of boots adorned his body. The boots particular had certainly seen their fair share of use. The ensemble bore all the world-weary colors of black, gray and brown respectively. He stood beside the seated stallion casually, the sleeves of his work shirt drawn up to help ward off the late-spring heat.
"Yes, that's her," the younger responded, eyes shifting from his companion and back to the refined mare. "Should I just...wander off then, maybe?" He sounded hopeful as he pointed to the nearby park with a weak gesture from one hoof.
"Probably for the best. She'll come talk to you when she's through with me, I’m sure." The gentlecolt said absently, his mind no doubt already on what was ahead of him.
"Right..." The young stallion could see the older was distracted. "I'll see if they have a nice spot for a grave while I wait," he replied as the gentlecolt started towards the cafe across the road.
The middle-aged stallion turned around to glare at the younger, finding the other pony's idea of a joke in poor taste.
"Just in case!" The younger held his hooves up defensively, a big lopsided grin on his face, before retreating at a trot to the park.
The older stallion let his scowl fade and shook his head, a faint smile appearing. However, when he looked back to The Lady he had been watching, the cheerful look made room for a foreboding expression. He took a deep breath and pressed on across the cobblestone road. In his mind he was a pegasus about to dive beneath a freezing lake. His hooves hesitantly cantered up the terrace and didn't stop until he reached the mare's table.
The old stallion began confidently, with a simple question. "Hello my dear, how long has it been?"
The mare didn't face him or answer right away, but one of her ears flicked above the brim of her hat. "Well, well. Look what finally managed to drag its sorry carcass over to say hello," she finally replied to him, not even bothering to look up from the book she held close to her muzzle. "Indulge me a better question, one I have for you... Of all the long years, why this one?"
He let out a long sigh, leaning weakly on his cane. "And I was feeling wonderful a moment ago, too..."
The mare made a disapproving clucking noise in response to the conversational side-step. "Poor dear, been locked away in that cabin for too long? Forgotten how radiant my company is? Don't dodge the question, why now?"
"Only as radiant as an eclipse." The stallion grumbled back, side-stepping once again. "For that matter, you are the only one who has ever called my home a cabin-"
The mare set her book down with a clap of literature on wood, interrupting him sharply. "Well what else do you call a shack in the middle of a forest?"
"-Or a shack..." The stallion finished, his eyes squinting in a growing discontentment.
The cultured mare finally deigns to look up at him, what may vaguely be considered a smile showing as she looks out from beneath her wide, sun hat. "Hmm, you really haven't changed at all have you?" She didn't sound surprised.
"I could say the same of you, but I do believe were I to say so it would be a compliment." The stallion pauses to examine her. "You're as lovely in appearance as ever my dear." He finished politely.
To this, the mare smirked coyly, but stayed silent.
"I'm curious now," The stallion continued, seizing the moment. "Is that the same dress you were wearing when last we met?"
Reminded of her outdated cloths, The Lady ruffles the folds of the old dress. Aged it may be in appearance, but much like The Lady who wore it, the fabric was well-cared for. "Well, it may be..." Her eyes wandered back up to the other pony, her face soon flashing with recognition as she spotted the hat perched on his head.
"By Celestia, is that the same god awful... It is!" The Lady batted a hoof at his head towards the thing, to which the stallion leaned back quickly to avoid the sudden attack. "How have you not rid yourself of that horrific thing?! Even when they were in style those things were horrendous. It certainly didn't do you any favors." The Lady's face melted into a triumphant smile in the wake of her retort.
Even the gentlecolt couldn't help but grin. Defeated, he sets the old thing down on the table. Nearby, a few other patrons had taken notice of them and were staring. Spotting such, the stallion concludes that simply won't do at all. He casually claps his hooves; drawing the attention of a waiter. Acting casual, he ordered some tea.
The Lady watched him coolly and with a smirk as he took a seat across from her. Her smirk remains as he settles and meets her, stare for stare. While the silence stretches on she raises one eyebrow at him wryly.
The stallion breaks their stale-mate first. "Always on about the hat and yet you say nothing about my poor suit." Reaching up, he straightened the collar pointedly to emphasize the clothing's importance.
"Oh please, it may be of an older era, but that cloth is new. Not so the pony wearing it." The Lady tilted her head as she examined it further. "Recently tailored in fact, perhaps in the last month... I'm amazed you found anyone willing to take the job."
The old stallion ignored the calculating sizing up and readied a retort. "You're not a young lady anymore either, my dear. What use is there hanging onto old clothing as well?"
The mare's smile faltered at this. "Perhaps not in body, but still young in spirit. Where as you were born an Old Hound dog. No matter the clothing, that will never change."
"Then allow this 'Old Hound' a moment of your youthful time." The stallion paused, seeming to consider his next words carefully for a change. He stared at his hooves for some time before speaking again. "You're going to Prance...Paris in fact, aren't you?"
The smile The Lady wore doubled in size, but her eyes lose every bit of their mirth.
The stallion pressed on, his question as good as confirmed. "You know what's going on over there, right? Not in Paris itself, but you know whats going to reach it."
"And I was feeling wonderful a moment ago..." The mare's voice took a mournful chord as she repeated the stallion's baleful words.
They sat in silence for a while, the Old Hound not sure what to say next. For the first time, they both actually seem their age.
"I'm tired," The Lady finally responded to him. "I've sat idle for far too long; it's time to be productive again."
The stallion leaned forward on his cane. "I don't like it when you say that word."
"What? Productive or tired?" The mare facing him coyly turned her head as she responded to him.
Smirking, the stallion answered her curtly. "Both, neither suit you at all."
A short silence ensued, before The Lady let out a loud guffaw, making the patrons around her jump. "Ha! Then what am I to be hereafter, hmm? Perhaps just another beautiful mare hanging off your arm at the gala?" Her grin was cold as she leered forward at the relic from her past. Around the two, the other ponies turn around again at seeing the earth pony's demeanor.
"I never said-"
The Lady cut him off. "Spare me! It didn't work then, we both know it won't work now. Not for lack of trying..."
"Damn you, you stubborn mule!" The stallion flinched, then looked about and apologized to the nearby waiter, trying to hide his frown.
"None taken." The mule muttered in reply, then took his leave from the bickering table.
The Old Hound sighed, then continued slowly. "This isn't about us; it's about you going to Paris in the middle of..." His voice drifted off...
"In the middle of a war? You make it out like we haven't been in one before." The Lady once again leaned in closer as she finished the line of thought for him. "Bravo by the way, you almost sounded legitimately concerned."
"I am concerned. You think I'm the only one who's noticed you running about?" The stallion drew his brow down seriously in answer.
"Many of them will be joining me, friends or enemies, I'm not going alone, Old Hound." The last words are drawn out and viperous in tone.
"Why Paris of all places?" The stallion asked desperately, trying to find a crack somewhere he could get through to her in.
"What? No fond memories?" The mare brushed her mane out and leaned back in her chair, a foreleg lazily cast over its back. Her entire state had shifted from demure to alluring in mere seconds.
It was his turn to laugh loudly. "Ha! That's just it, far too many fond memories." He looked away, eyes seeing only a far off place. "Paris used to be ours."
"If I recall, I barely saw you over the course of, what was it again?" She pretended to think over her next words. "Oh right, ten years over there!?"
"I was not without my own errands to run you know. As I recall, you were not lacking in company, either-"
"Oh, is that what you call those half-witted mongrels that would drool on my very door step?" The Lady's face turned into a look of disgust for the briefest of moments, before returning to her normal beauteous visage.
"I didn't mean them..."
"Then I suppose you meant the gossiping hens who fluttered around me?" The mare's hoof circled about, gesturing her words in the air.
The Old Hound closed his eyes and leans back with a pained moaned, thinking quietly to himself as she took off talking in the expected fashion. However, she surprised him.
"You are right though," she growled out, raising the gentlecolt from of his stupor.
He stared back at her, complete shock on his face.
"I did have some actual...worthwhile friends. Never for long really, everyone has someplace to go and someone to be. Most of them have blurred together over the years, in truth... But there were a few. There was this one girl, the struggling artist type, not for lack of talent mind you. I still have all the pieces she made for me... They are beautiful, if I wasn't afraid you'd ruin the carpets, I'd show you them." The Lady's voice was slow and haunting as she spoke, surely as though she were reminiscing over very much missed days...until the last sentence which was every bit as bitter and sardonic as every other quip against the Old Hound she had made.
"And why does she come to mind while you're talking to me?" The stallion asked warily.
The Lady turned her head sideways in mocking fashion. "What's that? Well, it's simple really. One day, she up and left. No word of warning, just gone the next day." She looked off into the distance before saying her next words. "Along with my pearl necklace." The mare said it so bluntly and utterly emotionlessly; it took the Old Hound a moment to process it, then another to stop gaping and finally respond.
"I bought you those pearls..."
"Really? No wonder I forgot who gave them to me." The Lady replied quickly, without missing a beat.
The stallion harrumphed loudly in turn. "I take it you never went after her?"
"Of course not, if she needed them that badly I think I can spare a single necklace of baubles."
"Those weren't just baubles! Those were black pearls! Black!"
"How dreadful, no wonder I never wore them."
"You-" he cut himself off, clenched hooves slowly uncurling. "They're only called black pearls. More iridescent, subdued really," he looked intently at her. "Hidden."
The Lady's reply was hesitant. "Maybe I did wear them then," her voice soft. "Once or twice."
"I'm sure you looked radiant in them." The stallion answered somberly, staring into his untouched tea.
"I make everything look radiant," The Lady boasted back confidently, her robust attitude trying to return.
The Old Hound shook his head at her. "Cursed mares," he muttered. "I really shouldn't be surprised that you lost them. How many poor stallions like me have given you jewels of the expensive variety?"
"The nerve!" The Lady's hoof met the table loudly planting itself beside her book. "It is not my fault what those fools did to themselves! For that matter, there are mares who would make me look like a kitten, what with the way they pray on those weak minded saps!'
"Oh yes, you're only guilty of being a member of the opposite sex."
"As if your history is any better!"
A long, seething silence came to hang over them. Both ponies took the silent interim to finally drinking their quickly chilling tea. More tea arrived before they spoke again, the waiter looking from the stallion to the mare warily as he refilled the cups. Oddly, the other patrons have not reacted to the duos argument since it had first begun.
"I have never understood you," The Lady finally said. "It's been so long. After all these years, It takes jumping back into the fire for you to come back?"
The Old Hound didn't answer, he looked out into the park instead. He could see his charge sitting on a park bench, back turned away from the cafe. Looking back to The Lady, he sees that her eyes had followed his own.
A look of recognition sank from her face to her muzzle and she gasped. "My God, he's still living with you? I'm amazed you have not driven him off yet."
The Old Hound snorted. "I wonder that myself sometimes. It may simply be that he has much more patience than either of us."
The Lady had lost interest in The Hound, halfheartedly listening as she stared out at the young stallion. He sat casually on the bench facing away from them, long forelegs easily reaching to either end. It was as though he could happily wait all day watching people come and go from the park. What a glorious day it was, she mused. The ponderous thought from her considered how she had not yet noticed.
The noon sun caused all the colors of the buildings, flowers and ponies to bloom with warmth. The Lady wondered, had spring already come and gone so quickly? Carts—oxen and horse drawn—trundled down the street while a few automobiles wove their way between the crowds. One such cart was laden with flowers. She watched the young stallion across the street rise and rush over to the flower-cart as it passed by. Not an odd sight, especially in spring; to see stallions buying flowers. The mare thought she already knew who they were for.
"He's...gotten big." It was all The Lady could manage to say, despite having predicted that outcome long ago.
"Hard too imagine him as that drenched, meek little thing we found wondering in the woods, eh?" The Old Hound replied, sympathetically watching the boy with her.
"The only time I won't complain about you living there." She mumbled the words slowly and turned back to him, not happy to be reminded of what she recalled was a wretched night. "Were you hoping he might change my mind?"
"There's ne'er any hope for the damned, my dear," He replied in a lecturing tone, also turning back so they once again faced one another.
"You'd know all about that wouldn't you? But you're right, it doesn't," her voice took a defiant edge. "I'm still going."
"Not surprising; stubborn doesn't even begin to describe you." The Old Hound's nostrils flared as he exhaled. "Don't you even want to hear anything about him?"
"I'll ask the lad myself." The Lady paused and studied the stallion in question. "It appears you have at least been feeding him well... I must ask however, what is with those rags that he wears?"
The Hound laughed at that. "The boy prefers those 'rags' to anything else I offer to buy him."
"Of course, and I'm sure it has nothing to do with how expensive keeping him dressed is?"
"Ha! Thankfully that is no longer such a concern. Besides, he needs the work cloths more than any suit."
The prim and proper mare scoffed in answer. "Oh yes, I’ve gotten his letters. I can't believe you have him working as your gardener of all things."
"More of a grounds keeper really," he mumbled back, a bit guiltily. "But he enjoys it, I still have to drag him back inside everyday. Only a mild improvement from having to play hide-and-seek with him, I'm sure you remember that."
"That I do," she said curtly. Her tone was happy at first, before growing despondent as she went on. "It's probably for the best, keeping him out there in those woods I mean. When the drafts start..."
The Hound follows her line of thought. "They'll drag him off first chance they get." He nods solemnly, finishing for her. "Believe me, after today I don't think we'll be making any more town or city trips."
"At least I'm volunteering, as it were." The Lady confidently raised her muzzle as she spoke.
"I'm afraid he may do the same. I take it you've seen some of those propaganda films?" The stallion shook his head disappointingly. "I'm half convinced to join up, and I'm not even Equestrian!"
"We've both been living here long enough to be considered citizens dear," she said pointedly. "And I find that last bit rather hard to believe. You, a soldier?"
"I served before as an officer," he replied in a sullen tone.
"I'm well aware, and that image brings me nothing but amusement. Those were peaceful times though..." The mare's tinkling laughter bordered her every word as she spoke about the stallion's former career from decades past.
The Old Hound scowled and took to glaring at her from his spot at the table. "Keep laughing." He growled.
"I may just do that," she said in return, smugly crossing her forelegs.
The Old Hound rolled his eyes, about to retort when a loud racket starts up in the street. It took them a moment to make it out as 'Proud To Be An Equestrian', horribly butchered by the local school's youth marching band. They were making their way down the middle of town, criers yelling patriotic slogans, while a young pegasus hoofed out pamphlets and other children threw confetti into the street..
The exuberant pegasus began hoofing out pamphlets to the cafe patrons. She was reaching up as far as she could over the terrace's iron railing to give out the bright slips of paper. Her wings appeared to be too small to fly with just yet. When she ran up to the pair near the exit to the open cafe, most of them were gone, but the Old Hound was still able to reach over and pluck one from her saddle bag.
"Support our country and we'll drive those dirty Germanes back once again!" The filly yelled happily, pigtails flying as she ran off to catch up with the parade again. The old stallion grimaced as he realized what she had said.
The Lady watched the procession until the last members made their way around the corner. Looking back over to her companion, she's not surprised to see that he was now reading the pamphlet.
"It really is picking up again, isn't it?" The Old Hound said tiredly, examining the propaganda with a world-weary eye. "Times have certainly changed, but the words have not." Interestingly though, and in complete defiance of his own experiences, the enemy had stayed the same.
The Lady looked on sympathetically. "I am sorry about... Well, what's happening in your home country."
The old stallion gave out a humorless laugh. 'It hasn't been home in a long time. Besides, they've made their decisions, it isn't my concern if they haven't learned since the last war."
"If it really is their fault, that is." The mare stated quietly.
"Does that relate to you going to Paris? Do you think someone else is pulling the strings?"
"Not so much pulling as leading by the nose." The Lady replied smartly. "It is one of the reasons why I'm going, though. Myself and some of the others think that there is someone having a field day manipulating events." She smirks. "Or maybe we're just paranoid and are seeing plots where there are none."
"Either way, others like us are going to be involved," The Old Hound adds in. "They always are, egos flaring up and thinking they can change things." He looks pointedly at her, gesturing with his cane.
"My, are you actually supporting me going?" The Lady asks mockingly.
"Not at all, I think you're a fool for getting yourself involved in such affairs." He sighed once more. "Again."
"It's worked out fairly well before... And if you say it was because you were there, I’m afraid I’ll have to deck you." The mare's eyebrows climbed slightly to punctuate the very real threat.
The Hound rubbed his jaw at that, old memories now stirred up. "Would that make it the tenth or eleventh time?"
"Have I really hit you so many times that you've started keeping count?"
"I wouldn't know, my minds a little fuzzy about that for some reason," he looked at her accusingly. "I wonder why."
"Oh, Poor dear! Maybe I have been a tad bit too cruel." She laughed for a good minute, the old stallion looking on with an annoyed expression.
The stallion coughs fiercely to get her attention, the laughing showing no signs of stopping any time soon. "Glad to see you can still laugh at a time like this."
"Well, besides talking to you, how else am I to deal with it?" The Lady answered between her continuing chuckles. "Things at your expense have always brought a bit of laughter, dark times or not why should that change?"
"I'm not trying to be funny," the stallion's tone was serious.
The mare put on a jubilant face briefly as she replied. "But that's what makes it so! Point in fact, darling..."
The old stallion sighed heavily once more and hid his face in his hooves. After a moment, he gave the pamphlet one last look, before dropping it on the table. He decided he would give it a better look later, even though he knew it would not be that helpful. By then, the mare's giggling had started sounding less girl-like.
"Who are you going with?" The Hound turned the conversation back to his original inquiry.
The Lady picked up on it, eyes narrowing warily. "The Mary twins, Old Gregor, Janus and a few others who you've never met. Any complaints?"
His own eyes narrowed at the last name. "Why Janus?"
The Lady shrugged placidly. "I'll admit he wasn't my first choice, but when you need all the help you can get... Well, then you just have to put up with the two-faced bastard. Helps that he has those connections of his."
"Ah yes, 'connections', whatever in Celestia's name he ever means by that."
"I'll give you that one at least. I've made some foolish decisions before, but we'll be keeping an eye on him I assure you. I'm not some cross eyed ditz you know."
"Oh my heart, to hear you say such hurtful things! Next you'll tell me how I'm doomed to become a shriveled up old nag!"
Even the stallion couldn't help but smile at that. "My dear, there are some things even I’m not willing to insult you with."
"And you better never think to go that far either," The mare warns him, reinforced by an accusing hoof.
There was a short pause, and then the stallion began a proposition. "Do you want me to go with-"
Which was quickly shut down. "No! By Celestia, just no!"
"Are you really that oblivious, that stupid!? I thought you had at least some brains in that chamber pot you call a skull!"
He could only stare at her. It was the mare's turn to sigh and shake her head.
"If you go, he goes."
They both looked out at the young stallion, who had of all things, gotten up and started to idly weed the nearby flower boxes.
"He worships us both, but you're the closest thing he has to a parent... You go marching off to some stupid war, even just to be near it for me, and he won't be far behind." The Lady grabbed the pamphlet from the table. "With all this being thrown at him, you're going to be the one keeping him here, safe!"
"While you're not?"
"I'm committed now, stop dragging me into thi-"
"For Celestia's sake, this isn't the army you're joining! You’re not going to be tried for desertion!"
"Because this time it's different! This isn't like any war we've been in, this one really could change the world!" She held up the pamphlet, shaking it harshly. "For all the garbage this thing is going on about, there is an underscore of truth." The Lady threw it back on to the table unceremoniously. "I'm going to protect the things I care for, and you're staying so that when it's all over, he'll still be here."
"Then I'll go, you stay here. The boy and you can live together, where ever you want! You've been away from him far too long anyway, why can't you just stay and be a good wi-," the Old Hound closed his eyes and leaned back, realizing his mistake too late. The words damned and fool, were all he could think of.
"Adorable, I think we're quite done here, don't you?" The Lady's face and voice, were stone. She stood slowly from her seat, placing her book in her hoofbag as she did so. Her mouth dropped some money for the bill just before she turned to go.
The Old Hound quickly stood out of his own seat. "Odette, I-"
The mare's hoof came back and struck him across the face, hard.
The slap is not too painful. In fact, the delicate hoof barely even stung his face. It actually didn't hurt that much on the inside, either, he had become far too use to...this. A number of audible gasps had rung out, the other patrons having once again noticed the couple. They were all quiet now, a hushed and heavy silence descending as their stares lingered on the scene.
"Good-bye Old Hound, I expect to see you in Tartarus when next we meet." Looking him full on in the eye, The Lady utters the words with only a hint of scorn, then makes her departure.
All other ponies clear out of her way as she leaves, except the one more across the road that she to meet with before her day is done.
The Old Hound, is left staring after her.
In hatred and in love.