Betrothed and Betrayed

by Nightwings81

Chapter 12

The sun was just starting to edge towards evening when Linden arrived at the doors of the Emerald Rooms. He was immaculately groomed and dressed in a tunic bearing the royal colors and crest. Even his mane and tail, usually a little haphazard, had been carefully brushed. When Applejack opened the door, she had to admit that he looked very handsome…and incredibly nervous.
He had thought to bring flowers to Rainbow Dash, but his nervous fidgeting had mutilated the bouquet until only a few broken daisies and a sprig of fern tied in a ribbon remained.
“Evenin’ your Highness,” she said wryly, stepping aside to let the prince into the sitting room. Tiny and Fletcher, also immaculately groomed, followed close behind, and Fletcher gave Applejack a knowing wink as he passed her before sidling up to where Rarity sat.
“Well, don’t you look nice tonight,” the white unicorn told him archly. “One would think you had the date planned.”
“Hmm, I think you’re right,” Fletcher replied. “And it would be a shame to let such a perfect mane day go to waste. Join me for a walk through the gardens then?”
Rarity blinked, surprised by the unexpected invitation. “Oh, well, I would love to, but…”
“Aw, come on. Please? It’s going to be a beautiful, clear night, the moon will be full, and I know of this little spot by a pond where it will shine on the water like a thousand perfect diamonds.” When Rarity’s eyes began to glow at the thought, Fletcher leaned a little closer. “Though it will pale to the sparkle of your eyes.”
Rarity gasped and blushed, looking away from the handsome colt as Pinkie, Tiny, and Applejack snorted laughter.
“Sweet talker, that one,” Applejack said. “Bet he could charm a bird right out of its nest.”
Before Fletcher could say anything in reply, Rainbow Dash stepped out of the bathing chamber with Foxtail and Fluttershy at her heels. Linden took one look at her and the remaining daisies and fern tumbled to the floor as his mouth dropped open.
Foxtail beamed at this reaction and hurriedly nudged Fluttershy aside so Rainbow stood by herself under the prince’s admiring eyes. Her mane and tail had been brushed so much that the rainbow locks fell in soft, loose waves, and her coat was a bright, glossy blue. Foxtail had outdone herself with a dress made of a sheer, airy fabric that seemed to float around the pegasus like a mist. The loose butterfly sleeves falling gracefully to the backs of her knees were held by a thin braid of silver cord to a bodice the color of moonlight on winter snow. The skirt started out in this same shimmery white, but gradually transitioned through deeper shades of blue until the hem that flowed around her hooves was the color of midnight. This effect on its own would have been striking, but a last minute suggestion from Rarity had seen the skirt highlighted with swooping whirls and spirals of tiny, light-catching gemstones so reminiscent of stars that it seemed as though Rainbow was draped in a piece of fallen sky. Foxfire had added to this allusion with a moonstone headband sweeping Rainbow’s bangs away from her ruby eyes.
“Whoa!” Fletcher breathed, drawing a pouty glower from Rarity.
“’Bout time you got here.” Rainbow trotted up to Linden and cocked her head questioningly. “Any news? Did you find them?”
“Did I fi—wh—I, uh…huh?” Linden shook his head helplessly, too busy staring at her to understand what she said. After a moment, Tiny gently kicked his hock and he managed to find his voice, stammering, “Y-you look wonderful.”
The blue pegasus made a show of rolling her eyes in exasperation, but couldn’t stop a blush from showing on her cheeks. To hide it, she flapped her wings and hovered in the air, where she always felt more comfortable and at ease.
“Thanks,” she replied curtly. “But that’s not what I asked. Did you find our, uh, necklaces yet? Do you know who stole them?”
Linden had tipped his head up to continue gazing at her dreamily. Now he blinked, coming back to reality. Quickly, he straightened his shoulders and gave her an abashed look.
“Not yet, I’m afraid.” Seeing Twilight Sparkle droop in disappointment, he hurriedly added, “But it’s only been a few hours. I haven’t given up. I have informed Aster of the issue and he is currently questioning and searching the quarters of all the ponies who have had access to this floor in the last day. I also spoke to the commander of the castle guard and the guard barracks will be searched thoroughly. We will find them, Twilight, I promise, but it may take some time.”
Twilight nodded unhappily. “Thank you, Prince Linden. I’m sure you’re doing everything you can.”
“So, what do you have planned for your date?” Pinkie Pie asked suddenly. She smiled eagerly at Linden, her blue eyes shining. “Is it a romantic, candlelight dinner, or maybe more dancing because you both looked so wonderful dancing? Ooh, I know! You’re both going to climb to the top of a mountain and find some stars and rename the stars to something funny so that only the two of you will know and then you’ll always have that group of stars to remember your wonderful date by?” Throughout this litany, Pinkie managed to pantomime a gourmet dinner, a complete ballroom dance, and somehow ended up draped across Tiny’s wide back with her forehooves pressed to her heart.
Linden smiled nervously under her scrutiny and took a deliberate step to the side to get out from under her gaze. This put him beside Rainbow Dash and his smile immediately softened as she looked at him expectantly.
“She’ll have to wait and see,” he replied cryptically.
“A mystery?” Rainbow asked, intrigued despite herself.
Linden only winked and started for the door. “My lady,” he said, bowing low and gesturing to the corridor.
Rainbow cast a quick glance at her friends, who all smiled at her encouragingly.
“Go on,” Twilight urged in a whisper. “I’ll keep looking, but you might as well have fun now.”
Rainbow nodded and trotted out into the hall with Linden at her side. Tiny paused briefly to pass Pinkie Pie a small nosegay of delicate pink blossoms wrapped in ribbon, then followed them at a short distance to give them some privacy.
“Well?” Fletcher raised an eyebrow at Rarity, who pursed her lips.
“I really don’t have anything to wear,” she murmured.
“I think you look gorgeous as you are.” He squinted one eye closed, scrutinizing her. “There is something missing though.” With a flourish, he produced a lavender rose just beginning to bloom and deftly wove it into Rarity’s mane behind her ear. “There! Just the thing.”
“Oh!” Rarity squeaked, blushing again. This colt put Prince Blueblood to shame!
“You ladies won’t mind if I divest you of Miss Rarity’s company for the evening, would you?” Fletcher asked the other four mares. Pinkie was busy smelling her little bouquet, but Fluttershy, Applejack, and Twilight were all smiling at their companion. Strange as things had become in the last few days, they couldn’t help appreciating the friendship of the colts.
“Ah think we can manage,” Applejack said, winking at Rarity. “How ‘bout you, Fluttershy?”
“Me? Oh! Um, yes…wait, I mean, no. No, we won’t mind. I think a walk in the gardens would be, um, nice.”
“Well, as long as my absence will not be an inconvenience, I suppose I could go for an hour or two,” Rarity demurred. “Allow me a moment, please, to fetch a wrap.” Struggling not to squeal or break into a gallop, she vanished into the bedchamber, returning a few minutes later with an embroidered, floral wrap draped artfully over her withers. “All ready!” she sang.
“You kids have fun,” Applejack cheekily called as they headed out the door. “Just make sure you have her home by midnight or she might turn into a pumpkin!”
The distance from the Emerald Rooms to the castle courtyard seemed to have stretched into infinity. Rainbow Dash was painfully aware of each hoofbeat, each servant eyeing them from the shadows, each breath of the colt walking so close beside her. Neither had spoken since leaving her friends and the silence was stretching between them like a thick fog. There was so much that she had to say, so much that she wanted to say, yet every time she glanced his way her tongue seemed to freeze inside her mouth—he was just so handsome!
It shouldn’t be this hard! He was just a colt! A handsome, sweet, brave, funny colt, but a colt just the same. She’d never had any trouble talking to other ponies before. She was Rainbow Dash, for crying out loud! She had kicked a dragon and fought Nightmare Moon, so why was she so afraid she would trip over this silly dress and fall on her face?
Unable to stand the silence any longer, she pulled in a deep breath.
“Linden,” she said, just as he blurted, “Rainbow, I…”
They both paused, staring into each other’s eyes, then simultaneously burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry,” Linden said, recovering first. “I just…” He snorted. “It wasn’t nearly this hard to talk to you two days ago.”
“I know,” Rainbow said sulkily. “I don’t get it. I haven’t changed, you haven’t changed, it’s everything else that changed.”
Linden’s eyes filled with sorrow and he dragged his hooves on the floor as they walked. “I didn’t know,” he murmured. “I know I can’t make you believe me, but it’s true. I didn’t know…and, Rainbow, if I had known, and if I’d had any idea how much it would hurt you, I would never have let them do it.”
Rainbow looked away. “So, uh, what did you have planned?” she asked, awkwardly changing the subject. She heard Linden give a small sigh, but when the prince spoke next, there was unmistakable eagerness in his voice.
“Oh, just a little something to play on your competitive spirit,” he replied.
Rainbow turned to him again, her ears perking with interest. “Ooh, what is it? A race? You know I can totally beat you in a race.”
“Not a race. Even better.” Refusing to answer any further questions, Linden led her outside, turning, not towards the gardens, but further out to the fields where the joust had so recently taken place. Completely intrigued now, Rainbow tried to quicken their pace, but Linden smugly held them back to a leisurely trot. By the time they stepped into the berfrois, Rainbow’s wings were buzzing in impatient anticipation.
“Here it is!” Linden dramatically waved a hoof at the field. “What do you think?”
Rainbow peered out at the former tourney arena and frowned, confused. The tilt had been removed and three-foot wide squares of purple and white fabric had been tacked to the grass in an eight by eight alternating pattern.
“I…it kinda looks like a giant checkerboard,” she said after a moment. Remembering Linden’s earlier hints, she guessed, “We’re playing giant checkers?”
Linden laughed and shook his head. “Close, but not quite. This is going to be way more exciting.” Stomping on the wooden platform three times, he winked at Rainbow Dash, who gaped in surprise as dozens of ponies, each one bearing an armband of white or purple cloth, appeared from hiding places beneath the stands. “My lady, I challenge you to Saddellia’s first game of live pony chess. May I present…our players!”
Rainbow Dash goggled the ponies for a moment, then turned to Linden with her eyes shining. “Are you kidding?”
“Nope. You and I are going to play chess, with these ponies as our pieces. They will follow all your directions on the,” he gestured to the fabric marked field, “board. Sorry for the colors…it was all they had in the store rooms in such quantity.”
“That’s okay!” Rainbow said, looking over the players again. She noticed a small colt wearing a purple armband who looked rather familiar. Leaning forward for closer inspection, she saw a bandage wrapped around his hind leg. “Hey, isn’t that the same kid from the archery competition?”
Linden beamed at her. “I knew you would spot that. His name is Fidget and his mother is a pastry maker in the castle kitchens.” At Rainbow’s startled look, he winked and added, “After what you said, I took it upon myself to check on him. Seems he volunteered for the part in the hopes that one of the knights would take notice and choose him as for squire. When I mentioned what I had planned for tonight, he begged to be included.”
The pegasus frowned. “Is that a good idea? He was hurt and—”
“According to him, it’s just a scratch and doesn’t bother him at all. I seem to remember another pony saying something very similar to that after being slashed by a hyleena.”
Rainbow looked over her shoulder at her own dress-covered flank. She had stopped wearing a bandage days ago, but the healing wound still twinged occasionally and she sometimes caught herself unconsciously shifting her weight off that leg when standing.
Down below, the colt felt their eyes on him and glanced up, waving energetically and giving her a gap-toothed grin. Despite the bandage, he showed no ill effects from the wound he had received.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” she responded, bopping Linden with her shoulder. “Now, tell me about this game. Is it like checkers?”
Linden blinked. “You’ve never played before?”
“What? Chess?”
“No.” The pegasus hopped lightly onto the railing, balancing on the thin, wooden beam with almost no effort. “But how hard can it be?”
“I think you’re going to be surprised,” Linden chuckled. He reared up to place his forehooves on the railing and shouted, “Players, take your places!”
As the banded ponies all rushed to opposite sides of the “board” and took stances in the colored squares, Linden explained the rules, pointing out the letters roughly drawn on each armband to designate a player’s “piece” within the game. He told her how some pieces could only move one space at a time, while others could only move in diagonals or straight lines. When she had a basic idea of the rules, he suggested they play a trial game, before getting into the more serious competition.
“I’ll go easy on you the first time,” he said slyly. Rainbow scoffed.
“You’re going down,” she retorted, tapping a hoof on the railing. “Who goes first?”
“Ladies, always.”
“Ooh, that’s convenient!” Rainbow pondered her side of the field for a moment, then pointed at a young mare standing in the pawn position before the queen. “You, with the blue mane…what’s your name? Okay, Blueberry, go two spaces forward.”
The dark purple mare proudly pranced forward and Rainbow giggled with delight. “This is so cool! It’s like having my very own army—this is even better than playing Commander Hurricane.”
Twenty minutes later, Linden’s knight put her king into checkmate and the game was over. Rainbow had lost, yet for once she wasn’t upset—well, not too upset. She had been outmatched and couldn’t deny it. But as she called apologies to her players, none seemed bothered with how quickly they had been captured by Linden’s team. She had gained their respect near the end of the game when she had managed to rally her few remaining players into a stand, taking out several of Linden’s key pieces. She had lost, yes, but only by a small margin. Her team was eager to try again and playfully shouted taunts and bets across the field.
While Linden’s team retaliated, he produced another surprise—goblets of chilled pumpkin wine, a decorative box of the candied pumpkin blossoms she liked, and a bowl full of peaches.
“If I know anything about the court ladies, they barely gave you a second to breathe during that tea, let alone get a bite to eat. You’re probably hungry.”
“Oh yeah!” She had eaten a total of two tiny cookies during the afternoon tea, and she had only managed to gulp them down because Rarity had distracted the other mares with her descriptions of the gala dresses she had designed. Plucking a golden peach from the bowl, she took a bite and looked out over the chessboard. The sun had dipped below the surrounding trees and, though there were lanterns hung to illuminate the field, scores of fireflies started dancing through the still warm air. “This has been really cool,” she murmured.
“Yeah.” Linden puffed out his chest smugly. “I really know how to plan a date, don’t I? But it’s not over yet.”
“That’s right!” Rainbow glanced sideways at him, unaware of the firefly lights sparkling in her eyes. “You’d better take a good look at your tail, Prince Linden, because I’m about to kick it!”
“So, what was all that about kicking my tail?” The games were over and Linden had suggested they take a walk along the Flower Path, a long, meandering, stone-lined trail that ambled through each of the castle gardens. In high spirits from the beautiful night and his multiple wins, the prince couldn’t resist a little ribbing.
“I was close! Well, during the third game, anyway.” Rainbow scowled and scuffed her hoof in the dirt, then broke into a trot. “I hate losing.”
Linden’s ears drooped at her disgruntled tone—it probably wasn’t a good idea to beat your date in four consecutive games of chess. Quickening his step to catch up, he admitted, “I guess I could have gone a little easier on you.”
“Huh? Nuh uh! Where’s the fun in that? If…no, when I beat you, it’ll be because I’m better.”
“When? So I guess that means you want to play again?”
“Sure! It was fun.”
“Yeah, yeah it was. Uh, you know, to really master chess takes time. Months. Sometimes years.”
“Years? But I’m…” Looking into his hopeful eyes, Rainbow realized just what he was saying and forced herself to shut up before she blurted something hurtful. Luckily, a sound saved her and her ears swiveled towards a nearby hedge wall. “Uh, what’s that?”
They both froze, listening, until they heard it again—somewhere, close by, somepony was singing. Raising his eyebrows, Linden tip-hooved over the stones lining the path and inched up to the tall hedge separating the garden they were in from the next one. Carefully nudging the branches aside, he peeked through and gave a startled little whinny, his mane and tail shooting up in shock.
“What?” Rainbow called in a whisper. “What is it?”
Linden turned long enough to wave a hoof at her, grinning from ear to ear. Intrigued, the pegasus squeezed between him and a large stone vase. While Linden shook with repressed laughter, she took a curious peek…and clapped a hoof over her mouth to hide her cry of surprise.
“Rarity?” she squeaked.
It was Rarity, lying beneath one of the wispy willow trees on a grassy knoll before a carefully tended ornamental pond. The light of the rising moon made the white unicorn glow silver.
Rainbow was stunned, though not just because Rarity was lying on the ground without the chaise lounge she always seemed to have on hoof. The singer they had heard was Fletcher!
Lounging beside Rarity on the knoll, the green colt was serenading her with a surprisingly pleasant tenor and the unicorn’s eyes had drifted closed, a smile playing on her lips as she delicately leaned her shoulder against his. The scene was so calm, serene…romantic!
“Whoa,” Rainbow whispered, backing up slowly so as not to disturb the peaceful couple.
“Yeah.” Linden was still smiling, his eyes sparkling with good humor. “You have to admit, he’s good—though I plan to mock him mercilessly for this later.”
Rainbow laughed, then ducked her head guiltily, worried that the other two ponies may have heard them. “I guess we should go and leave them alone,” she said in a whisper.
They hurried away along the path, passing beneath a pair of trees that had been woven together as saplings and then allowed to grow in a twining arch. The garden they entered was familiar to Rainbow, with a large focal fountain and stone frogs.
“This is one of my favorite places,” Linden told her, trotting up to the rim of the fountain. “My mother has her Queen’s Garden, so I like to think of this one as mine. I spent a lot of time here as a colt.” Pointing to each of the frogs in turn, he said, “That’s Big Eyes, Speckles, Flat Foot, Lumpy, and Flob.”
Rainbow stepped up beside him, relieved to see that the water was once again clear and clean. Snorting incredulously, she repeated, “Flob?”
The prince shrugged. “What can I say? I was just a little colt. I liked the frogs and thought they needed names.” He glanced from side to side, then added, “I also used to swim here whenever it got really hot. It’s deeper than it looks and makes a perfect pool.”
“Yeah, I know,” Rainbow readily agreed, then, at Linden’s curious look, quickly amended, “I mean, yeah, it looks like it.” She felt weird, confused, thinking of Rarity and Fletcher, so obviously on a date of their own and just as obviously at ease with the whole process. She was very aware of the prince standing beside her, his shoulder just inches away from her own. Rarity had been leaning companionably against Fletcher while listening to him sing, so could she…would it be totally weird to…?
Feeling strangely clumsy and awkward, she tentatively leaned sideways until their shoulders touched. Biting her lip, she wondered if he would just pull away, but instead, a tremor ran over the prince and he froze for a heartbeat, then relaxed and leaned back with a contented sigh.
“Linden?” she said, after a long moment of comfortable silence.
“Hmm?” His eyes were closed blissfully.
“I believe you.”
“Huh?” Linden swiveled his head to look at her, taking care not to move from her side. “Believe me?”
“What you said…about not knowing what your parents had planned. I believe you.”
Vast relief flooded Linden’s face and his eyes sparkled with joy. “You’re not mad?” he asked, making her realize that the issue had been like a huge weight dragging on his shoulders all evening.
Rainbow stared over the fountain and kicked the edge of the fountain with the tip of her hoof. “I’m mad,” she admitted, “but not at you. I think you’re—”
What she had been about to say was permanently wiped from her mind as Linden swooped in and planted a kiss on her snout. Now it was her moment to freeze, her magenta eyes wide and startled. In the natural pegasi reaction to a surge of emotion, her wings flared up, in preparation to carry her away from danger.
But this…this wasn’t danger. This was…was…nice!
But she still felt a desperate need to fly and, when Linden pulled back and eyed her anxiously, she gave a giddy laugh and tapped her hoof on his chest.
Without another word, she shot straight up into the sky, her rainbow colors a brilliant flash against the dark night. When Linden and the fountain were just tiny specks far below, she flung her hooves wide and spun in a circle, shouting the only thing that came to mind—
In the next garden, beneath a wispy veil of golden willow leaves, Rarity was having the most romantic night of her life. Fletcher, though not a prince, was everything she had ever dreamed of—charming and debonair; clever and witty, with a rakish sense of humor; heart-breakingly handsome, and completely attentive of her. It was like all that she had imagined for the Grand Galloping Gala had been put on hold for this very evening.
There hadn’t been a grand, surprising gesture like the giant chess game Fletcher had helped Linden devise and at which they had paused to take a sneak peek, but Fletcher had known which of the castle gardens had the best night-blooming flowers and they had taken a beautiful, aromatic tour. They had finally ended up on the soft grass beneath the willow, staring out at the pond as the moon rose and the fireflies came out, interspersing the surface of the water with silvery shimmers and golden twinkles.
It was a peaceful, utterly gorgeous scene and Rarity sighed with delight as she leaned companionably against Fletcher’s shoulder, content to just sit and watch the stars appear. The first were just starting to sparkle above when the sky suddenly lit up in a flash of prismatic brilliance.
“Whoa! Linden didn’t tell me he planned fireworks!” Fletcher said, dazzled by the colors.
Rarity caught sight of the tiny blue speck that fronted the rainbow and smiled. “Not fireworks,” she said softly. “But it looks like Rainbow’s date is going well.”
In the Emerald Rooms, Pinkie Pie suddenly sat up from the chaise lounge where she had been absently flipping through one of the books Twilight had borrowed from the library. Though she had promised to help in the research, she had been much distracted by the sweet-smelling nosegay that Tiny had given her. It just demanded to be admired and smelled, and she had been giving in to those demands every few minutes.
Now she bolted upright, all thoughts of ribbon-wrapped flowers whipped from her mind while her left hind leg began to bounce up and down of its own accord, her ears flopped, her eyes spun, and her nose twitched so rapidly she began to sneeze. This went on for several moments, shaking her clear off her seat and onto the floor.
When the twitches and shakes of her Pinkie Sense finally subsided, she looked up to find her friends staring at her in amazement.
“Whoo!” Applejack exclaimed. “That sure was a doozy!”
Pinkie glanced towards the window, a huge, delighted smile blossoming on her face. “I’ll say it was!”
“Is this happening?
Is this fantasy?
All my dreams coming true,
All because of you!”
High above the palace grounds, Rainbow Dash startled herself by breaking into song. Looking down, she could see Linden far below her, his head tilted back to watch her, and a surge of giddiness ran through her. It was so strange—this wasn’t like her at all! She was a flyer! A stunt pony! Tough and strong and determined to be a Wonderbolt and…and…
…and she could still feel a tingling on her snout where Linden had kissed her. Hugging herself with her forehooves, she burst out—
“Never did I believe
there could be such happiness,
Feels like nothing on earth,
started with one little kiss,
I could stay in this moment forever!
I could reach every star in the skies!
I could lose myself when I look
Into your eyes!”
Barely containing a squeal, she jackknifed and dove straight down, coming to a sudden stop just above Linden’s head.
“Heh, sorry about that,” she said with a guilty smile. “I had to do the thing at the place and…you know.”
Linden grinned up at her. “Am I right in thinking that the thing at the place included a little singing?”
“Theeere might have been,” Rainbow hedged. “A little. A tiny bit.”
“A tiny bit works for me.”
Turning a somersault, Rainbow landed beside him and the two started back to the palace. As they walked companionably side by side, Rainbow thought about what had just happened and how she had come to know Linden in the past weeks. He was a good friend to them all and quickly edging past that with her. It seemed wrong to keep the true reason for their visit a secret from him.
“Linden?” she began.
He turned to her, eyes bright.
“Yes, my lady?”
“You-you’re a really great pony, and I like you a lot, so I wanted to tell you—I thought you should know—that my friends and I are—”
“Ah! My! Don’t you two look wonderful together! So cozy and nice.”
Goldhoof suddenly appeared from around a large statue of an oak leaf and trotted up to the pair, smiling warmly. “I take it the first date went well?”
Rainbow snapped her mouth shut and struggled not to glower at the dark unicorn. Of all the annoying, inconvenient times to show up…!
“It’s been magical for me,” Linden said truthfully, hooking one leg around Rainbow’s so they inched closer together.
“I am glad, your Highness,” Goldhoof said silkily, his eyes sliding over to rest on Rainbow Dash. A moment passed and she realized he was expecting her to say something.
“It was…great,” she replied, avoiding the advisor’s eyes. She was still mad about getting locked in her rooms that morning, and the unicorn’s presence was souring what had been a really cool night.
“Great, yes, I see. Well, I am so happy to see that the, um, unpleasantness, from last night has been resolved. I will inform the king and queen directly and I am sure they will be pleased that everything can move forward smoothly.”
“Everything?” Rainbow Dash queried suspiciously.
“The wedding, of course. It is going to be such a large, important event that planning needs to start as soon as possible. Cooperation is, well, appreciated.”
Rainbow’s eyes narrowed and her wings, folded neatly against her back until now, rose in a sudden flare of anger. Not wanting a repeat of the previous night, Linden quickly stepped between the agitated pegasus and unicorn.
“That’s…we’re still talking things through, Lord Goldhoof. Nothing is…well, nothing is definite yet. So if you need something to report to Mother and Father, you can tell them that.” He walked past Goldhoof, steering Rainbow away from the unicorn. She gave him a grateful look and broke into a trot, but before they could disappear into the castle, Goldhoof called out once more.
“I also wanted to offer my sincerest apologies for my error this morning, Princess! It was not my intention for you to feel imprisoned in your chambers.”
The blue pony snorted and almost spun around at the word ‘princess’, but the glimmer of hurt in Linden’s eyes stopped her. Shaking off the unicorn’s words with a contemptuous flick of her tail, she let Linden walk her to the Emerald Rooms, where they stood for a moment of silence before the massive doors.
“Well, uh, I guess this is goodnight,” Linden said, scuffing a hoof on the floor.
“Yeah.” Rainbow tilted her head. “It really was great, Linden. The chess game was awesome.”
“It is going to be a tough one to beat. I have no idea what to do next time.”
“Next time…oh, right, there’s going to be a next time.” Somehow, that didn’t sound nearly as awful as it had earlier. She shrugged lightly and hopped into the air. “Well, you’d better get thinking then,” she quipped, tapping him on the head with her hoof. “I’m not easily impressed.”
“So I’ve noticed. Well then, my lady, thank you for such a wonderful evening. I will bid you a sweet goodnight and retire to my brainstorming.” Linden bowed comically low, waving a hoof in an exaggerated motion as he slowly backed up.
Rainbow Dash laughed. “You do that. Goodnight, Linden.” Calling over the prince’s shoulder, she added, “Night, Tiny!” to the giant colt who had followed at a silent, courteous distance throughout the entire night.
“Goodnight, Lady Dash,” Tiny replied. “Please tell Miss Pinkie Pie I wish her a goodnight as well.”
“Will do.” Rainbow pushed the door open and trotted into her rooms, pausing briefly to turn around and wave mockingly to Linden who, as she had guessed, was looking mooningly over his shoulder while he followed Tiny down the hall.
Smiling, Rainbow Dash sighed happily and turned around—only to smash right into a beaming pink face with eager blue eyes.
“Hey Dashie!”
“Aaiiihh!” Dash screeched and leapt skyward. Spinning about and hanging upside down from one of the chandeliers, she scowled down at her friend. “Pinkie Pie, don’t do that! Oh, and Tiny says ‘goodnight’.”
“Aww, that’s so sweet! I wish I could have said goodnight to him. Well, I guess I’ll just have to say ‘good morning’. Or maybe ‘good afternoon’. Or, if I don’t see him until really late, I guess it could be ‘good early evening’, or even—”
“Welcome back, Sugarcube,” Applejack called, thankfully interrupting Pinkie’s litany. She trotted over and looked up at the dangling pegasus. “How’d it all go?”
Rainbow let go of the chandelier and dropped to the floor. “It was fine,” she said airily, walking past them to the bathing chamber to take off the blue dress. She started to drop it on the floor, then thought of the earful she would get from Rarity if she did so and draped it over the back of a chair instead. Tossing the headband on the vanity table, she shook out her mane with a relieved sigh.
“That’s all you have to say, ‘it was fine’?” Applejack retorted when she stepped back into the main room.
“How was the kiss?” Pinkie asked, bouncing in place with a knowing grin. “Was that fine too?”
Rainbow gasped, her cheeks reddening. “How did you…I didn’t say…how could…Pinkie Sense?”
The pink pony beamed and nodded.
“C’mon, Rainbow!” Applejack stamped a hoof, scowling. “You aren’t gonna make us wait all night, are ya?”
Rainbow’s resolve broke and she laughed happily. “It was great!” she squealed, jumping into an exuberant backflip and landing in one of the chairs by the fireplace.
Her friends all whooped and crowded close, hugging her and demanding to know all the details. She relayed them all, from the giant chess game with living pieces, to Linden tracking down the colt so they would all know he was alright, to the walk through the gardens and spotting Rarity with Fletcher.
“They seemed to be having a good time,” she said with a smirk.
“We’ll find that out when she gets back!” Pinkie said, bouncing with impatience. “Don’t stop! What happened next?”
“Well, after that we, uh, talked about things and then, well…he kissed me.”
“Aww!” Fluttershy, Twilight Sparkle, and Pinkie Pie all wilted against one another dreamily.
“I also told him that I know he didn’t have anything to do with the betrothal. I know it wasn’t his fault. And I realized that we’re not being fair to him, you know? Not telling him the real reason we’re here.”
“So you told him?” Twilight asked uncertainly.
Rainbow shook her head, stifling a yawn. “I started to, but then Goldhoof showed up.” She went on to tell them about the other unicorn’s appearance and their brief conversation. “That guy really bugs me,” she concluded.
“He does seem to have his hoof in a lot of the goin’-ons around here,” Applejack agreed with a thoughtful frown. “And he keeps showin’ up at the oddest times. You don’t think he’s followin’ you about, do you, Rainbow?”
“Ooh, I hope not,” Twilight interjected. “I was hoping you and I could go to the quarry tomorrow.”
There was a moment of silence as her friends stared at her, bewildered.
Dash blinked. “Really?”
“Yes. I know we need to get you out of this betrothal, but we’ve been here more than a week and we haven’t done anything to help the slave ponies. I don’t think we can expect much from the king—we haven’t even gotten the audience we were promised—but if we can gather enough information, maybe we can figure something out despite him.”
“What’re you gonna do, Sugarcube?”
“For now, I just want to look at the place, maybe talk to one or two of the captive ponies like Rainbow did. It might give us an idea of just why they’re being enslaved and what the Saddellians are having them dig for. If we leave early, Rainbow can lead me there and we can teleport back before we’re missed.”
At that moment, the door opened and Rarity pranced in, looking blissfully happy.
“Hello, everypony!” she sang. “Sorry I’m so late getting back, but it was such a lovely night and Fletcher and I just got to talking about the most interesting things.” Seeing Rainbow Dash, she laughed giddily. “Oh you’re here, Rainbow Dash! Good! I want to hear all about your date, and don’t you dare leave anything out.” She trotted across the room, but stopped just shy of the chair. “Rainbow? Uh, Rainbow Dash?”
“Ugh!” Twilight groaned in exasperation. “I was just taking to her! This is important!”
Eyes closed, Rainbow had slumped down in her chair, her chin propped on the armrest. As they watched, her side rose and fell with a gentle snore and an unconscious little rustle of her feathers.
“The poor darling,” Fluttershy cooed. “She’s been up all night and all day. She’s exhausted.”
“Don’t worry, Twi. She’s just had a real busy day, but Ah’m sure Rainbow will be rarin’ to go when you wake her tomorrow. Let’s let her get some shuteye.”
“Yeah, and in the meantime, Rarity can tell us all about her date with Fletcher!” Pinkie said jubilantly.
Fluttershy draped a small blanket over Rainbow’s sleeping form and blew out the lanterns, then followed the others out of the room as Rarity began to bubble over about her perfect, romantic evening.