Old Thunder was sure it would rain soon. Steady and strong winds carried the scents of salt and seaweed towards him as he gazed out onto the dark waters. Contemplating, the gray stallion smoked his pipe, iron gray skies above him.
Many harbors he had seen and beheld many wonders, but no place in Equestria or beyond had kept him for long. Time and again, something would drive him back to the great blue mistress some unspoken oath had pledged him to. He loved her, especially at those times others shunned her: ferocious and wild, smiting ships and swallowing carefree scalawags whole if they tried to mess with her.
Despite this love, he had been looking for a place to settle down for years now. The sailor's life was all he had ever known, but he was feeling his age. The time would come when he'd be too old to wrestle the sea, and soon.
Countless days of strenuous work at all weathers had chiseled deep furrows into his face, all of which were cast into relief as lightning struck the open sea. He did not flinch. A shout reached his ears: “Oi, Old Thunder!” He did not turn around. A young stallion came up to his side and looked into the weathered face that was still staring towards the horizon. “A storm's a' comin'!”
“Aye,” said Old Thunder drily. Starbuck was a good lad, but he had all the shortcomings of young age, one of which was the assumption that all he said was a revelation to those around him.
After vainly waiting for a few more seconds for the old pony to respond, he asked: “You gonna join us? We're gonna stay at the Sinkin' Tankard.”
Old Thunder smiled. “Aye.”
“See you there, then,” Starbuck said and left.
It was customary to spend the first night ashore, and one's earnings to quite a considerable share, drinking and eating after finishing a voyage together. Anypony who had spent some time on a ship would understand a sailor's delight in a meal with fresh vegetables and fruits.
When Old Thunder had been younger, he had always looked forward to those parties. He would drink, and eat, and flirt with the waitresses, be the last to drop and the first to rise again in the morning. As the years flew past however, these parties began to go hand-in-hand with thoughts and feelings of loss. Another voyage complete, and you are none the wiser. A sailor still, root- and restless you wander about this world.
When he saw thick curtains of rain approach the shore, he turned and set out. He followed the small cobblestone path that led past the first row of houses that stared onto the open sea. Both sturdy and weather-beaten, the buildings and the old pony looked like siblings reuniting as he entered the netting of narrow alleys that meandered through the small town.
There were few lanterns, but warm light from the windows lit the alleys. Old Thunder looked inside some as he passed. He saw welcoming living rooms and kitchens; a mare telling of her daughter who looked ruefully at the floor; two lovers locked in a kiss so fierce, one of them might faint for lack of air any moment; an old stallion in an armchair surrounded by his grandchildren that seemed to hang onto his every word. His chest seemed to tighten as their laughter reached him further down the street.
Turning into the main street of the small town, he already heard the familiar sounds of a good tavern and soon spotted the wooden sign hanging from its forged hanger; it showed a tankard sinking in churning waters. He stopped to ponder why one would choose such a bad omen for a seaside tavern when a blob of water doused his pipe. The next drop hit his head. He set himself into motion again, reaching the doorstep just in time as it started raining buckets.
He burst inside and was greeted by his fellows with a series of merry shouts. Waving with his tankard in one hand and a carrot in the other, the loudest of them shouted: “Old Thunder, there you are! Thought you might flake on us. Young Starbuck says you've been brooding by the water. You too old for a good drink or what?” Holdfast was the oldest of the lot after Old Thunder, and what would have been audacious from anypony else was just the way they communicated.
“I was giving you a head start to keep things interesting, is all,” retorted Old Thunder, grinning as Holdfast and the others laughed. He took in the atmosphere of the place. His mates were sitting at a large table at the far side of the room. Behind the bar to his left stood a very old barstallion; a large assortment of bottles of all shapes and sizes was lined up against the wall behind him. The room was dimly lit by a few strategically placed oil lamps. Timber flooring and old fashioned wainscots made the place feel like the interior of a ship. The familiar scents of wood, tobacco and rum hung in the air, thick but not brash.
At the wall to his right hung a large oil painting, but it was dark and obscure. Old Thunder stepped closer to see if he could make out what it depicted. He thought it might be showing a thunderstorm at night on the sea, because you could see exactly nothing. He barked a laugh at his own thought and turned his back on the ominous painting.
He moved over to the bar and addressed the old barstallion. “I'll stay the night. You do have a room left, don't you?”
“Just the one, yes,” the old stallion answered in a wheezy voice. Old Thunder tucked the key away, ordered an ale, paid and joined his companions.
“... and that my lads is how I got this one,” said Holdfast and pointed at a scar on his forehead, finishing his story of the marlin and the shark. Old Thunder had heard it before; it was a good one. He also believed it was true—in essence. He had learned over the years that all good stories deserved embellishment, and he was sure his old mate had, too.
Holdfast leaned back and took a sip from his drink as his audience started to talk among themselves again. He looked over as a waitress brought Old Thunder's ale. “Another voyage over, aye?”
“Aye,” Old Thunder said, nodding and smiling at the waitress as she placed his tankard in front of him. When she had gone, he gazed at it, lost in thought.
“So... still brooding, are you?” asked Holdfast.
“Yeah... well, must be the years. Life seems straight forward enough when you're young, but I'm not. Not anymore.”
“The way I see it,” Holdfast said and leaned forward, intently looking at the old sailor, “the younger you are, the more time you can waste. We old folks best spend our time enjoying ourselves.”
Old Thunder looked up. He was quite fond of the old chap, and the smile he saw asked for a positive reply. “You're right. It's no time for brooding,” he said, and smiled. “So... you're staying for the night, too?”
“Well,” Holdfast said as he leaned back again, “no. I've got family here, see? My old girl would rip my head off if I spend the night someplace else. She's been lonely.” He smirked.
Old Thunder laughed. “So how many families of that sort do you have?”
“Whatcha takin' me for? I'm not that kinda guy,” he said in overplayed indignation. “Nah, just the one. I knew her since we were rugrats. This is my hometown, see? I'm actually thinking of staying for good this time. I've saved some and could get a job here in town.” He took a deep gulp from his drink. “So what about you? You've never told me where your harbor's at.”
Old Thunder's smile faltered. “Well, I don't really know where I was born, and the ship I was raised on sank decades ago. I've never really found—”
His sentence was cut short as the door of the tavern burst open with a bang. A dazzlingly pink and entirely rain-drenched pony hopped in and stopped just past the threshold. She was very young—not a filly, but not quite a mare yet either. All conversation had stopped; everyone had looked around and now stared her; she stared back, wide-eyed. She took a deep breath and shouted: “A party!”
The mirth in her shout was such that the sailors couldn't help but cheer in return. She started towards them as one of the waitresses hurried to her with the intent to dry her off. The newcomer seemed absolutely unperturbed by that, though; what ensued looked like a weird wrestling match, one pony trying to escape while the other tried to pin its opponent down with a large towel. The waitress was determined, though. The pink mare gave up and was reduced to giggles and faint gasps of “That tickles!” and “Not there!”
When the struggle had ended, she was out of breath and both her mane and tail were tousled, but dry. She got up and chirped a “Thank you” towards the waitress who had turned to leave. Her somewhat annoyed expression softened. She did not look around but Old Thunder thought he saw her grinning to herself as she left the room, shaking her head. He couldn't be sure of that, though, since his eyes had filled with tears of laughter as he had watched the incident. The young mare that now positively bounced towards their table had not even introduced herself yet, but he liked her already.
“Hi, I'm Pinkie Pie, who are you?” she said, beaming at them. The sailors told her their names, but when it was Old Thunder's turn she tilted her head to one side and said: “That's a funny name.”
Old Thunder was used to explaining his name. “When I was a foal I seemed to get bad cough every other month. One of the crew coined the phrase 'Ol' Thunder be roarin' again', which was then used whenever I came down with another cold and gave me my name. It sure isn't about my singing voice,” he said with a smile.
Pinkie Pies eyes widened at his last words. “Oooh, singing! Do you like singing? I'm working on a new song, wanna hear it?” she said, but didn't wait for a reply. “You can join in with 'Smile, smile, smile',” Pinkie Pie added and started singing right away. It was a joyful song about brightening up other ponies' days. Old Thunder thought it was a bit silly, but he felt his mood lift all the same. Pinkie Pie though seemed unsatisfied with her audiences contribution at one point and blurted out: “Old Thunder, I need your singing voice!” He laughed and joined in. Near the end nearly everyone at the table was singing along, and after it had finished they all applauded.
“Well, it's a work in progress,” Pinkie Pie said dismissively, earning a new wave of laughter. “What are we celebrating anyway?” she asked once the volume was back down to a speaking level. “Not that I needed a reason; I threw a party once to cheer up my family and they all really liked it so I threw an after party, and since everypony liked that too I threw an after party party. I mean, parties are about being happy and smiling and laughing, and meeting and making friends and why would you need a reason for that?” She had talked extremely fast, but she started giggling to herself which gave all of them time to catch up.
Starbuck was the first to find his voice again. “We're celebrating the end of our voyage. This is our first night ashore, see?”
“Oh, that's cool. I have never been to sea. I'm just passing through on my way to Ponyville. I've found a job as a confectioner there and can't wait to get started.” She beamed at them.
“Alright lads, I see you're in good company. I've got a wife to attend to,” Holdfast said and got up to leave, nodding at Old Thunder.
As the evening went on, Pinkie Pie stayed the center of attention as the lads, Starbuck big among them, were very interested in her and asked her tons of questions. Old Thunder laid back and enjoyed his ale and some of the food, chiming in only sparingly.
At one point though, Pinkie Pie seemed to have enough of talking. She rummaged through her saddlebags and took out an old accordion. She got up, commenced playing an upbeat tune and started dancing. Some of the lads joined her, and she managed to dance with three of them at the same time. It was quite the sight.
Starbuck was not among the dancers, but sat himself beside Old Thunder. “Old Thunder?”
“Aye?” the old sailor said, looking inquiringly at the young lad.
“How... how do you get a mare to like you?” Starbuck asked bluntly. He seemed somewhat embarrassed but too drunk to care. Old Thunder grinned, but managed to keep himself from chuckling.
“I see who this is about, and I can see why you like her. Hell, who wouldn't like her?” He looked towards the pink whirlwind roaring across the wooden planks, making it a dance floor like no other. “I don't claim to be an expert on that matter; the best advice I could give you is: Make her laugh and be sincere. But this one? I don't know if she is something like the spirit of laughter or batshit cra—”
Out of the blue, a pair of pink hooves grabbed Old Thunder by the foreleg and pulled him into the dancing crowd. He wondered how she had done that because the music hadn't stopped even for the fraction of a second. Pinkie Pie now danced with him, her eyes locked with his. Her high spirits seemed to radiate from her, and he started smiling and dancing without wasting a thought.
Their dance lasted a long time. Old Thunder knew she wasn't dancing with him alone, but it sure felt like it; their gazes never parted for more than a second or two. He did not know how she did it, but right now he did not care. He had gotten lost in the moment and wished it would never end.
Pinkie Pie stopped her tune with a long, climaxing note. Again everypony applauded her... at least the ones that had any strength left in their legs. Old Thunder found did not.
“You're really fun, guys. We should totally take some photos,” Pinkie Pie said. She once again rummaged in her saddlebags to fetch a camera and took several group pictures.
After Pinkie seemed satisfied, the company settled down around the table again, restarting the chatter. Their ranks soon lit though, owing to the late hour and the drowsing effect of booze, until only Old Thunder, Starbuck and Pinkie Pie were left. The latter had just started some kind of guessing game in which the old sailor did not want to partake. He got up and excused himself, saying that he wanted to get some fresh air outside. Neither of the other two commented, but Pinkie Pie's gaze lingered on him as he left.
Old Thunder stepped out into the main street. The skies had cleared up; the slightest hint of blue heralded the nearing dawn, but the lanterns were still lit. He lit his pipe and started moving towards the shore, taking the same route through the narrow alleyways. Nothing illuminated the dark windows of the houses now as he went past; all was quiet. It was a healthy and necessary silence, like winter before spring can start anew. Soon, everypony would wake to the light of a new day. He wondered if the house of Holdfast was among those he passed.
He stepped out from between the shore side front of houses and stopped at the spot he had stood on mere hours before. He looked towards the horizon which was hardly distinguishable between the grayish sky and the water, which was so still it resembled honed steel.
There he was, back to brooding again. Yes, the party had been fun, but it had not solved his problem: The feeling of rootlessness, and the growing need for a place to call home. Still, he was not sure what he should be looking for, and if he'd even recognize it if he found it, and where beyond the waves he was supposed to be looking.
The sound of hooves on cobblestone made him look around. Pinkie Pie was coming towards him, smiling. “Hey, you've found the perfect place to watch the sunrise, haven't you? That's east, right? What a great idea!” she said.
“Heh, well, my hooves just brought me here on their own. Didn't think too much about it.”
“Clever hooves, then,” she said, stepped up beside him and looked out towards the ocean.
“What about Starbuck?”
“He fell asleep. Well...” She giggled. “Passed out, more like.”
Old Thunder chuckled. He made an effort to return to his thoughts, but noticed that Pinkie Pie was looking directly at him. He looked back at her, raising one eyebrow in question.
“Why are you mopey?” she asked.
This caught him off guard and instead of answering, he raised the other eyebrow, too. He hadn't known he had been so obvious, but he certainly would not bother the young, cheerful mare with his troubles.
“It's... nothing, it's—” he started, but got cut off.
“Your lips are smiling, but your eyes are not. You're mopey. Why?”
Old Thunder looked into the bright blue eyes that stared intently, even fiercely at him. Right in this moment, they did not seem belong to a young mare, and he once again wondered if she was more than just that. He would not be able to fool them, and he did not want to.
“I... I'm looking for a home,” he started, not sure how to best explain his worries, “I was raised on the sea and don't know where I was born, and I've never found a place I really felt at home... I don't know if I'd even recognize it if I'd found it. This wasn't much of a problem for me when I was younger, but the older I get the more I'd like to, well... to find my harbor.”
Now, it was Pinkie Pie who had raised an eyebrow and looked at the old sailor as though she hadn't understood a word he had said. He tried again.
“You see, salmon live in the ocean for all their life.” He looked out towards the point where the sea met the sky; the latter was a deep blue by now and it wouldn't be long till the sun rose. “When they grow old, however, they swim up a river, to the place they were born.”
The feeling of a touch made him look toward Pinkie Pie again. She was stroking the side of his neck and looked at it, her brow furrowed. After a moment, she seemed satisfied and declared: “No gills!” He looked at her, dumbfounded. “You're no fish, silly,” she said as if speaking to a child that had just tried to eat soup with a fork. “You don't need to find your home, you need to make it.”
Now Old Thunder was the one to raise an eyebrow, and he wasn't sure whether because he did not understand what Pinkie Pie had meant or because she had said it if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“Look, I'm going to Ponyville. I've never been there before. But you know what? I know it'll be the bestest home ever!” She beamed at him. “I'm gonna throw parties and have fun and be friends with everypony and make tons of memories, because that's what a home is all about: Fun, friends and memories.”
He was still looking at her, trying to digest what she had said. He would have to think a great deal about this and did not know how to respond, so he stayed silent. Pinkie Pie did not mind though; happy about the effect of her words, she looked straight ahead at the horizon again where the sun revealed herself for the tiniest fraction just then, bathing the two ponies in orange light.
Old Thunder followed her gaze. What she had said would explain why he had never felt at home on land; he had never stayed long enough. Most of his memories had been made on ships, on voyages just as the one he had just finished. This might be why those good-bye parties had gotten such a bitter taste to him over the years. It's like losing a home, he thought. One day you're there, on the familiar deck with the guys you spend the last year or two, next day everypony goes their separate ways...
“Well, now that's settled... can I crash with you?” The once again cheerful mare broke his train of thought. His gaze snapped back at her, surprise etched on his face. “Well, you see...” she continued more timidly, “I forgot to rent a room and I guess everyone else has gone to bed already, so I can't rent one now and—” His laughter made her stop. “What are you laughing about?”
“Just the thought of you getting tired,” he said, smiling maybe the first real smile for a long time. “Of course you can crash with me.” He pocketed his pipe which had long since gone out and turned towards the small town. “Let's go then.”
They headed back to the tavern. Pinkie Pie soon started talking in an agitated monologue; Old Thunder didn't try to chime in. He tried to listen, but he was getting really sleepy now. His mind wandered to his own thoughts instead, but he did not linger on his problem this time. It now felt like the kind of problem that wasn't a real problem since you had all the necessary tools to mend it—all he needed to sort it out would be a good night's sleep.
As they entered the familiar room with its wooden interior, he shushed Pinkie Pie. Starbuck was still at the table, his head resting on his interlocked forelegs, snorting faintly. They tiphoofed past him and up the stairs which thankfully didn't creak. He opened the door to the room with the number 3 which was etched on his key to reveal a large room with a bed in the center. The style much resembled that of the main room downstairs, but the familiar scent of wood mixed with that of tulips which were in a vase on the bedside cabinet. Two parallel beams of light crossed the room like two diagonal pillars that glittered as the particles in the air moved.
Pinkie Pie dashed past him and threw herself on the sheets, somehow managing to remain perfectly quiet despite her speed. Old Thunder closed the door and went to the other side of the bend. He wanted to say goodnight, but he realized Pinkie Pie was asleep already. Chuckling again, he laid down beside her and closed his eyes. These days, he was used to lying awake with thoughts that kept him from sleep. Tonight though, he didn't think; all he did was listen to the rhythmic breathing of the mare beside him, and he followed her into the realm of dreams within minutes.
When Old Thunder woke up, the sun still sent its rays through the window. Pinkie Pie had gone. His body protested as he turned around in bed and got up. That's what you get for dancing like a youngster through half the night, he thought as he made his sore legs carry him towards the window. Judging from the place of the sun, it was an hour or so past noon. He had slept enough.
He left the room and half fell down the stairs, bursting into the main room with much more momentum than he would have liked to. The old stallion behind the bar was wiping glasses, the handful of his mates that had stayed the night at the tavern were assembled around the same old table. They looked reasonably cheerful, only Starbuck was still sitting on the chair he had slept on, looking vacant and very pale around the snout.
“Oi, Old Thunder thundering down the stairs. Good morning!” Holdfast greeted him, grinning.
“Good morning,” said Old Thunder and smiled, feeling quite fond of his fellows. He went to the table and sat down. “What are you doing here, thought you went home for the night?”
“Aye, I did. But I thought I'd check on you anyway, see if you wrecked anything.” He winked.
“The only thing that got wrecked is young Starbuck here,” said Old Thunder. “How are you feeling, son?”
Starbuck lifted his gaze at the old stallion that looked at him compassionately. “Like shit. Head keeps throbbing; can't eat,” he said, looking down at a cupcake on the table in front of him.
“You'll be alright; after another good sleep it'll be gone. But pick a bed this time, or you might be waking up with a neck to make you forget all other hurts. Been there, believe me,” Old Thunder said. He took a look at the cupcake resting on the table. “That's a funny cupcake you have there,” he said. The cupcake looked big and delicious and was covered in sprinkles of all colors. The cream on top was not the common twirl, but looked like... “a bottle?” Old Thunder asked in mild disbelief.
“Aye.” Holdfast laughed. “Your pink friend took over the kitchen when she got up and baked a whole stash of 'em. Most look normal, though they taste better than any I've ever eaten. But she's made some special ones.” He grinned. “You've got one, too.”
With that words, a sailor beside him placed another large cupcake in front of Old Thunder. It was also covered with multicolored sprinkles all over, but there seemed to be some regularities. He made out a large, brown rectangle on one side of the mound of cream. Right beside it was another, smaller one with a brown frame and blue space in between. It looked like... a door and a window. And that certainly was a chimney on top of the pitched roof of his cupcake-house.
Old Thunder laughed as he recognized it. “Where is she?” he asked, looking around, wanting to thank her.
“Oh, you missed her by—what guys? Twenty minutes? Said she wanted to get as far as Plysnout today and needed to get going,” Holdfast said. “Sorry about that,” he added when he saw the corners of Old Thunder's mouth sag.
He was indeed sad he didn't have a chance to say goodbye, but he'd get over it. He looked at his cupcake again and thought it was too beautiful to just eat it. He ought to keep it as a keepsake... But then again, it was made for eating and wouldn't last anyway. He'd best make it a memory, and a good one.
“Oh, I nearly forgot!” Holdfast burst out and laid one of the pictures Pinkie Pie had taken with her camera last night beside the cupcake. “She said this was for you. Something about you could use the memory, not sure what that was about to be honest.” But Old Thunder was, and suddenly knew exactly what to do.
Two years later.
Old Thunder walked along the path that led to town, smiling and humming to himself, his pipe dangling from the side of his mouth. He was in plain view of the sea, and her ripples seemed to wave at him like an old friend would as they glinted in the bright afternoon sun. The familiar front of houses came closer and closer until he passed his usual lookout spot from which he watched the waves. A voice called to him: “Oi, Old Thunder!”
He turned to look, already knowing who had shouted. “Hello there Holdfast, how're you doing?”
“Never better, what about you?” said Holdfast, hanging out of the window of his house.
“Just fine. Been down to Foalsmouth to get some stuff. The good stuff.” He grinned.
Holdfast laughed. “I'm sure to pop in tonight, then.”
“You do that. Say 'Hi' to your family for me,” said Old Thunder and turned to leave.
He entered the alleyways that meandered between the closely spaced houses. He went past the place old Mrs. Saddlebags lived, past the house where Coinhoof lived—he'd surely pop in tonight, too—and past all the other ponies' homes he knew by now—some more, some less.
He entered main street and had just seen the wooden sign with the tankard in distress when he was assaulted by a gang of foals. They wanted to know what was in his bags, and whether he had something for them, where he'd been, what he'd done and whether he had any new stories to tell. He only managed to shake them off right at the door of his tavern when he said he'd be baking cakes, but he sure wouldn't have the time if they kept on asking him questions, which would mean they couldn't stop by later and have some, along with a new story. That sure did the trick.
He stepped into the main room and the familiar smell of wood and tobacco greeted him. Yes, he had taken up baking, but he had never managed to produce anything like that one cupcake he had eaten at this very table in the corner. He had had a long talk that day with the old stallion behind the bar who, as it had turned out, had been the owner of the place. The two stallions soon had taken a liking to each other. The end result was that Old Thunder bought the place cheap for the promise of not changing too much of the interior. The old stallion still visited from time to time to 'remember all the good times', as he said.
Old Thunder had changed one thing though, and he looked at the new painting on the wall as he set down his bags behind the counter. Not even the old barstallion had been able to tell him what exactly the old painting depicted, so he had taken it down and had a new painting made. The painter, a lad from town, was quite gifted and had managed to capture all the expressions from the photograph: The sappy, drunken grin of Starbuck, the gleaming and, in Old Thunder's case, exhausted expression of the ponies that had just stopped dancing, and in their midst the wide smile of the radiant, pink sun that was Pinkie Pie. Old Thunder still wasn't sure whether she had been some sort of crazy or the personified spirit of laughter, but he was sure of one thing: He was home.
- The End -