Chapter 3: Dancing in the Sun’s Rays
The next few days following my heart-to-heart with Luna came and went without incident. Laws were disputed, taxes were distributed to where they were most needed, and the nobles found another reason to look down on the lower classes. To put it simply, business as usual in Canterlot. It made things easy, if not a little boring.
As usual, I missed Cadence when she was gone. It was true that we sometimes went decades without speaking personally to one another about something other than politics, but I still treasured the few times here and there that we could spend time together. It made me miss the old days when things were so much simpler. I missed the times when the most tragic thing we had been through was a changeling invasion during Cadence’s wedding. Strange that I actually considered something like that simple, but when it came right down to it, ruling over ponies was very difficult. It was something I could never empathize with Luna and Celestia on until I actively took a ruling position within the kingdom.
Unfortunately for me, one of my less-liked events was scheduled for today: the semi-annual meeting with the noble houses.
I found it odd that I held such contempt for the noble houses, when the Sparkle line became a noble house after mine and my brother’s respective coronations. I suppose I didn’t have a problem with the idea of nobility, but the fact of the matter was that I had quite a large problem with how most of said nobles tended to act as if they were better than everypony else. There were exceptions here and there, but they were just that: exceptions. The norm was to be a pompous, self-righteous donkey who spent most of one’s free time looking down their muzzles at the “commoners”. After my coronation however, Celestia had decided that because of my ability to stay calm in the face of such extreme annoyances, it would be best if I tended to handle such matters. Celestia’s strengths leaned towards fostering and maintaining relations between the other civilizations of the world, while Luna was a military genius. Suffice to say that upon Luna throwing a certain snooty high-class pony out on his rump ‒ literally, I might add ‒ I was quickly appointed to handle the noble affairs in her place. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing I suppose, as I was perfectly capable of handling said affairs, even if I didn’t particularly like most of the ponies themselves. Besides, more than being friends and confidants, the other two princesses of Equestria and I were a team, and a good team tries to find the best way to get things done.
While I wasn’t too thrilled about this meeting, I was also determined to have it done correctly.
“Princess Twilight?” called a voice from my side.
“Hm? Wha?” I replied stupidly, very clearly advertising the fact that I had been off in my own little world. I turned my head to look at the voice, and saw my personal guard, Sungleam, shaking her head with a grin.
“Come on, Princess Twilight. You don’t want to be nodding off like that at the meeting.” she warned half-heartedly. “Who knows what a room full of ignored nobles would do?”
I shrugged. “Probably attempt to pass a bill that would forbid ‘common’ ponies from walking within fifty yards of their estates.” I noticed the orange-coated pegasus mare staring at me in confusion, and I nodded with a sigh. “Yes, it’s happened before. More than once. And no, the law never actually passed, and probably never will pass.”
She let out a breath and lowered her head in a relaxed manner. “Thank Celestia for that.”
I giggled lightly. “Actually, you can thank Luna. She was the one that shot it down every time. She dealt with the nobility issues before I took over.”
Sungleam huffed as we continued walking. “Why can’t more nobles be like you and the princesses? It’s like they have a persistent hate-boner for anypony that makes less than eighty-thousand bits a year.”
Sungleam’s no-nonsense attitude and lack of self-censoring was what I liked the most about her. It was in fact those attributes, as well as others, that led me to choose her as my personal guard and assistant. She pulled no punches with words or attacks, and it was her honesty in that sense that drove me to enlist her into my employ. That wasn’t to say that we didn’t butt heads every now and then, but any decent relationship has differences of opinion, and I needed somepony like her to be able to tell me when I was doing something stupid. She had no problem telling me when I was acting like a foal.
I brought my mind back to Sungleam’s comment as we rounded the final hallway. “Well, I’ve found that those that vie for the power of nobility the most are those that will do the least good with it.” I stopped and pointed a hoof to myself. “Take me for instance. I never really thought about being a princess, and even now, I don’t really use the powers vested in me for personal gain. I use the resources at my disposal to find the best way to keep Equestria running and progressing smoothly. When I wake up each morning, my first thought isn’t about me, it’s about you and all the other ponies in the world.” I then pointed to the doors ahead of us. “Most of those ponies in there think only of themselves, and how they can step on ‘common’ ponies and each other to gain headway in life.” I then shook my head with a sad sigh. “What these ponies fail to realize is that in a few hundred years, the world as a whole won’t remember them for how much money they have or how many servants serve them. It’s a little sad what priorities they have.” I smiled as I pointed to Sungleam. “The kind of pony that will be remembered is the one that took six poison darts to her rump to save a princess of Equestria from assassins. A memorable pony would be the one that chooses to serve not for money, but because she believes the pony she protects is more important than a paycheck.” I raised my hoof and placed it on the smaller pony’s shoulder. “In a few centuries, I won’t even be able to tell you the names of the ponies in that room, but for the rest of my life, I’ll remember you. I don’t say it very often, and for that I’m sorry, but I want to say thank you, Sungleam. Thank you for being the kind of pony I can have faith in.”
For one of the rare times since I’d known her, Sungleam blushed as she patted my hoof with her own. “Aw come on, princess. You’re making me all red.” I dropped my hoof, and she smiled warmly up at me. “I don’t do what I do for thanks, but it is nice to hear it from time to time. So, thank you.”
I offered her a smile as well before motioning to the large arched doors in front of us. “So, ready to help me foalsit a bunch of nobles?”
She barked a laugh. “Hey, I’m charged with protecting you from threats to your safety, perceived or otherwise. Dealing with nobles though, that’s all you.” She patted my chest with a smirk. “I’ll be off to the side, watching your eye twitch as you try to keep from scowling.”
I grumbled to myself as I quickly looked over my royal vestments and forced a practiced smile on my face. I then pushed the left door open while Sungleam pushed open the right, and a cacophony of haughty voices assaulted my ears for a moment before going completely silent. All eyes were now upon me as Sungleam and I made our way to the head of the large oval table, Sungleam brushing her two-toned gold and orange-colored mane out of her eyes as she followed me. I took a seat at the obnoxiously-large chair at the head, while my personal guard took her place on a cushion in the corner of the room, where she could keep an eye on all the attendees.
I shuffled my wings a bit as I tried to find a comfortable position, and then placed my hooves on the table and nodded to the group. “Good morning, everypony. I apologize if you have been waiting long, but important matters came up that I was forced to attend to first.”
“Apologies Princess Twilight, but this is an important matter.” spoke a decidedly attractive gray-coated unicorn stallion.
I nodded to him with the same practiced smile. “Of course it is Duke Silverstream, but you cannot expect me to deny a request from Princess Luna, can you?” True that the “important meeting” with Luna was simply a breakfast together, but he didn’t know that.
He lowered his head slightly, obviously a bit cowed. “I suppose not. Apologies.”
I shook my head. “It is quite alright.” I then turned my gaze back to the group as a whole. “Now, the floor is open for any and all requests or important issues that must be brought to my attention. As always, please address me one at a time in a controlled manner, and we will handle this in a constructive way that benefits everypony.” The group as a whole nodded, and a blue-coated unicorn mare raised her hoof. “Yes, Lady Crystal.”
The mare nodded at me, and smiled gently. “Thank you, princess. As you know, with the coming autumn, winter will be fast approaching.” She then motioned to three other ponies ‒ two stallions and one mare ‒ that were sitting near her. “My partners and I were looking over the past few years of building codes, and have found a rather untapped resource of wood within the vicinity of Canterlot. We wish to begin exploiting its riches before the first snow sets in.”
I raised my eyebrow as I nearly physically smelled a scheme in the making. “And where exactly is this untapped reserve?”
The mare lit her horn and levitated a geological map over to me with a large red circle over a certain area of the paper. “To the northwest of Ponyville, in Silverlight Forest.”
Froggy Bottom Bog had slowly dried up over the centuries that passed, and had become a forest of the most fertile ground around. Strange magical trees sprang forth that gave off an eerie blue-silver light by way of bioluminescence. The glow of the forest could be seen all the way from Canterlot on a clear night, and it was no secret that entrepreneurs had sought to exploit this new species of tree for some sort of manufacturing. Magic-imbued wood was very difficult to come by, after all. Unfortunately, I couldn’t prevent them from clear-cutting the forest simply because I thought it was pretty. But…
“Have you done an inspection of the local wildlife?” I asked with a smile as I lowered the map to the table.
Suddenly the smile on Lady Crystal’s face dropped as she seemed to hide behind her silver mane. “Um, it’s just a few local birds and the like. Surely they can find another place to live.”
I pursed my lips and nodded, now sure of the fact that I was about to make the right decision. “That may be true Lady Crystal, but what you seem to have overlooked is the fact that there is a species of timberwolf that lives in that forest that carries the same magical signature as the trees in which it finds its home. This is the only place these animals can live.”
The unicorn's ears dropped as she muttered, “B-but they’re just timberwolves.”
I shook my head. “These are a far cry from the ravenous Everfree variety. They are intelligent and sapient. Though they can’t speak Equestrian, they clearly have the beginnings of a higher-thinking society. And besides that fact, they are an endangered species. Because of that, I must decline your request to harvest wood from the Silverlight Forest.”
“But-” she began, only to be cut off by a glare from me.
“I don’t recall asking for further conversation on the matter.” I stated firmly, my gaze never breaking with the mare. “As stated in Environmental Bill 22, ‘Any and all habitats belonging to an endangered species are to be under the direct protection of the ruling class, and shall be treated as royal property.’ As such, the Silverlight Forest is strictly off-limits for any and all resource procurement, or territory expansion. That is my final word on the matter. Let us move on, please.” True that it wasn’t within my nature to act so firm, but I had learned fairly quickly that the only way to deal with a pony that was unwilling to accept a polite decline was to be firm.
The next pony to attempt to get my attention was a neon green unicorn stallion, and one of the only ponies of nobility that I liked. It was probably because he was a veteran of war, and a DJ. This meant that unlike most of the nobility alive today, he had actually fought for what he had. Also, with being exposed to the club scene, he tended to be much more relaxed and open-minded. The fact that he hardly ever used my title ‒ for which I never corrected him ‒ caused a fair amount of friction among his “peers”. I didn’t mind in the least that he did so. In fact, I enjoyed it.
And admittedly, I liked seeing the more snooty nobles squirm.
“Heya, Sparkles!” he greeted warmly, causing nearly everypony in the meeting room to wince.
I on the other hand only smiled, and nodded towards him. “Hey, Neon Nightrider. A pleasure to see you again, as always.”
He let a nod and a grin seemingly explode forth from him, causing his multiple piercings to glint in the early morning sunlight. “Likewise, princess. How have you been lately?”
Another thing that set him apart from the others was that he made it a point to actually ask me about something other than politics or when I was going to choose a consort, the latter of which was a question I heard far too often for my liking. Neon’s demeanor towards me was one of the things I enjoyed the most. He made me feel like just a pony again, instead of Princess Twilight Sparkle. I liked it, probably more than I should have. Even with the multiple scars and missing left ear, Neon was quite possibly one of the best ponies I could hope to know. In fact, it might very well be because of his life’s strife that he was such a joy to be around.
I offered him a grateful smile as I answered, “Quite well, Neon. Thank you for asking. And yourself?”
“Pretty awesome, princess.” he replied with a warm grin, his youth showing through his hardened exterior. “Anyway, I have a bit of a proposition for you, if you’d indulge me for a minute.”
I raised my eyebrows and nodded. “Very well. Speak, please.”
“Well,” he began, taking on a more serious tone, “I’m not one to mince words, and you know that.” I nodded, so he continued. “The fact of the matter is that crime has increased at an exponential rate around the Solar District of Canterlot. Now unfortunately, there isn’t much me or my friends can do about it, as we aren’t on active duty anymore, nor would we have jurisdiction to handle it if we were. What I am proposing is a militia bill that will allow ex-guard members like me to register with the Royal House and make regular check-ins, and in return, you allow us jurisdiction to take care of these criminal elements within the city. Within reason, of course. We’re not going to be blowing up any buildings or anything.”
I thought about his proposal for a moment before turning my gaze back to Neon. “It sounds like a sound proposal, Neon. Write up a proper bill with all the specifics and drop it off with Sungleam, and I’ll take a look at it and confer with Princesses Celestia and Luna. Should we find it in Canterlot’s best interest, we will contact you for further consideration and discussion.”
He bowed his head for a moment before smiling at me. “Thanks, Sparkles. I appreciate it.”
Just as I was about to return his informal greeting, it had apparently become time for one of the more “traditional” nobleponies to make his annoyance known.
“Know your place, Sir Nightrider. That is Princess Twilight Sparkle, and you would do well to address her as such.” growled Lord Tracker Blueblood, who was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of Prince Leslie Blueblood from the time when my reign started (what mare had been mad enough to procreate with him, I’ll never know).
Neon simply chuckled and shook his head. “Apologies, Lord Blueblood.” The venom in his tone was near palpable, as was the cold tone he had taken. The stallion that had spoken out of turn shrunk back a little as the large ex-guardspony now seemed very dangerous. Still, even though the tension was clear, Neon stayed his hoof and offered a smile. “Forgive my misstep. I must have taken a few more blows to the head in the war than I thought. You’d know all about that though, wouldn’t you?” Before Lord Blueblood could counter however, Neon cut him off. “Oh wait, I guess you wouldn’t. After all, the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done was fire the cleaning staff at your estate, simply because you were in a bad mood from being rejected by First Knight Sungleam.” As he snorted, his demeanor further changed to reflect the hardened captain from the fields of war. “Lose some blood, skin, fur, and an extremity for Equestria. Then you have the right to correct me.” Neon then looked to me apologetically. “I’m sorry, princess.”
I shook my head with a smile. “Thank you for keeping yourself mostly civil.” I then looked to the rest of the group and narrowed my eyes. “For future reference, you all are to allow me to deal with any unbecoming behavior. It is not your place as a noblepony to handle such matters. Furthermore, any pony speaking out of turn will be warned only once before being fined for wasting valuable time. Is that understood?” I was met with a chorus of agreements and a wink from Sungleam in the corner, at which point I smiled again and nodded. “Next, please.”
The doors opened and the meeting was adjourned until the coming month, and I let out a sigh of relief as the last of the nobles left the room. I stood as the last one left and trotted towards the exit, Sungleam following close behind.
“So,” I began, “am I going to hear what happened between you and Lord Blueblood?”
Sungleam rolled her eyes as she trotted next to me. “Do I have to?”
“No,” I answered with a smirk, “but I’ll keep bothering you until you crack. I am very patient.”
She sighed. “Fine. There’s honestly not much to tell though. Before I became your personal guard, he came onto me at a social event where I was providing security with a few of the other guards. He seemed like a nice enough guy, so I flirted a little with him. Then the night ended, and that should have been it.” Sungleam shook her head as we continued trotting down the winding hallways. “A week later, I heard from a friend that he was claiming I was a cold fish.” Her expression fell a little as she said, “I know I’m not really a party pony or anything, but am I so dull that I can bore a noble?”
I rolled my eyes at her self-questioning, and extended my wing to lay over her back. “He was just upset that you didn’t throw yourself at him, like so many other young mares probably do. Privileged ponies generally aren’t accustomed to not getting what they want.” I then nudged her and added, “If you were boring, I’d tell you. I could have chosen any other pony as my personal guard, but I chose you. Not just because of your loyalty to the crown either, but because I saw a pony I could form a strong friendship with.”
Sungleam frowned slightly. “Friendship? But what about-”
I shook my head, cutting her off. “I am very close with the other princesses of Equestria, as well as Empress Cadence, but I wish for a mortal’s perspective on things as well. Because a normal pony’s life is so short compared to ours, they tend to value it so much more.” I sighed sadly. “I miss that, and I want to make sure I don’t lose myself to the distance I put between myself and my subjects.” I looked back to her. “I needed you, who remind me so much of two of my fellow Element-bearers.”
Her eyes widened a bit as her eyes rolled to the ceiling. “Oh, I know this one! Umm...there were six including you, right?” I nodded, and she pursed her lips as she thought for a moment. “Uh...Rarity Belle, Pinkamena Pie, Applejack Apple, Fluttershy Aegis, and…” her face scrunched up a bit more before she looked directly at me with a smile, “Rainbow Dawn Dasher.”
I couldn’t help but let a grin show as I answered, “Very impressive. What were their respective Elements?”
“Generosity, Laughter, Honesty, Kindness, and Loyalty.” Sungleam answered with a confident smirk. “You held Magic.”
I stomped my hooves in praise. “Very good!”
She shrugged nonchalantly. “I was charged with your protection, so I made it a point to know everything about you, including your past.” Sungleam then looked at me quizzically. “Which two of your friends do I remind you of?”
I sighed wistfully at the memory of some of the best ponies I’d ever known. “Applejack...and Rainbow Dash.”
She raised her eyebrow. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope I don’t remind you too much of your past lover. You’re great and all, but I don’t know if I could do my job properly if we were involved.”
“Getting into a relationship is the last thing on my mind, Sungleam. No offense.” I answered with a smirk. I then continued with, “Anyway, your willingness to tell the truth even when it might be painful is something Applejack would do, and in that sense, you make it feel like she’s still here sometimes. As far as Rainbow Dash, she was never afraid to say what she thought, regardless of who was listening, and she thought of those close to her before anypony else...even herself.” I allowed myself a wistful smile as I thought of better times. “In fact, that attribute is one of the things I try to instill within myself. A selfless leader is a good one, after all.”
“But don’t be too selfless, princess.” Sungleam warned. “The ponies care about you, and it would destroy them should anything happen because you’re trying to be noble or something.”
I sighed as we passed through the entryway to the banquet hall. “Why do you think the ponies love the princesses, Sungleam?”
She stopped with her hoof on the door, and gazed at me quizzically. “Is that a trick question?”
I shook my head. “No. I truly want to know your own belief on the matter.”
She was still for a moment before replying, “Well, you all keep the world going ‘round. The sun and moon rises and falls to pass the days, and you all keep the government running smoothly. You inspire us all.”
I nodded with a grateful smile before setting my lips in a thin line. “That is all true, but that does not evoke such love as we receive. We are loved because we think of you all before ourselves. We sacrifice mortal whims and desires in order to give them to all of you, because we love and care for you like parents would care for their foals. In that manner, we wish to give you what we cannot have, and we do all within our power to be sure that all of your lives ‒ short and precious as they are ‒ are comfortable and full of love and safety.” I sighed gently as I continued. “When we wake up from slumber, our first thought is not of ourselves, but of all of you. True that in privacy, we allow ourselves personal whims here and there, but should we ever be forced to choose between ourselves and our ponies, we would choose the ponies without hesitation.” I then pointed my hoof out a large arched window beside us. “All the ponies know that, though it’s not a conscious thought. That’s why the princesses are loved.”
For a few moments Sungleam was completely silent, and I could almost hear the gears turning in her head as she thought on the matter. After a few moments, she tentatively nodded. “I...guess that actually makes a lot of sense.” She then pressed her weight against the door, and it swung open to reveal the dining hall. “Come on, let’s get some lunch before Princess Celestia returns.”
I began trotting in behind her before halting in my tracks in shock. “Oh no!” Sungleam turned to me with a raised eyebrow, and I shook my head with growing panic. “I completely forgot she was coming back today!”
I felt Sungleam nudge me with a grin as she said, “That’s what you have me for, princess. Now calm down and let’s get something to eat. I’ve already got you scheduled to welcome Princess Celestia back home when she arrives, and then the two of you have four hours set aside to spend some private time alone. Both of you could use it, and both of you need to talk.”
I followed her to the table, but still felt the need to ask, “How do you figure we need to be alone?”
She shrugged. “Princess Luna told me. She said to make sure the two of you had time to spend time together without being interrupted, so I made sure it happened.”
I took in what she said for a few moments before smiling gratefully down at her. “You’re amazing, Sungleam.”
A faint dusting of pink lit up her cheeks as she pulled my chair out for me. “You’re sappy as all get-out, you know that?”
I took the seat offered to me and grinned to my guard. “You love it.”
She simply rolled her eyes before taking her seat beside me.
Her personal conduct was another thing I found refreshing about Sungleam. Normally, it would be a bit of a scandal for a “lowly” guard to sit next to the princess, but the palace staff and nobles knew by now to overlook it with me. While they hadn’t learned to judge a pony by their character instead of social rank, they had learned to keep their mouth shut about their own opinions on the matter...most of the time.
I was nervous.
It wasn't something I felt often anymore, but apologizing to my mentor for treating her so horribly was one of the few things that could cause me to feel nervous. Though it was true that I hadn't known Celestia was basically acting as a shield for her younger sister, that didn't make me feel any better about the situation. The fact of the matter was that regardless of who it was I had blown up at, I would feel bad about it.
But for some reason, the very fact that it had been Celestia ‒ my mentor ‒ made me feel so much worse.
Nonetheless, I was determined to make this right. That was why as I waited patiently upon the private landing platform, I steeled myself to not run away in self-loathing. Celestia at least deserved a face-to-face apology from me, along with so much more to make up for how I’d treated her for so long. True that after my initial outburst so long ago, I wasn’t actively angry with her, but looking objectively at my life since then, I noticed a distinct distance that had formed between us...a distance that was my doing.
“You alright there, princess?” asked a voice beside me, accompanied by a nudge to my ribs.
I turned to look at Sungleam and offered her a slightly forced smile. “Yes, I’m fine. Just a bit nervous is all. It’s been quite some time since I’ve spoken to Celestia about anything but work.”
My guard raised her eyebrow for a moment before smiling gently. “Perhaps it’s time to change that. I’ve heard how close you two were in the past, so I know you’re not the only one that misses it.”
I sighed and lowered my head a bit in shame, knowing the current situation between Celestia and I was completely my fault. “Yes. Thank you for reminding me.”
Sungleam chuckled and nudged me again. “Well somepony’s got to keep you in line. None of the other guards have the stones to tell you when you’re being an idiot.”
I rolled my eyes, my frown morphing into a mischievous grin. “Technically you don’t have stones, but that can be easily fixed.”
She stepped away from me ever so slightly as she firmly stated, “I prefer my lady parts, thank you very much. If you gender-bend me, I’m breaking up with you.”
The two of us eyed each other seriously for a few moments before we broke into gales of laughter at the same time. No doubt Celestia’s Sun Guard was likely staring at the two of us like we were insane, but I didn’t care. Perhaps it was my subconscious reminding me that I could pretty much act as I wanted within the palace, or maybe it was just that nearly a millenium of life had given me self-confidence. Whatever the reason, I saw fit to allow my laughter with Sungleam to come unabated for several minutes until we both composed ourselves. Thankfully, we finished our giggles just as a familiar golden pony-less chariot made its appearance from within the clouds, its majestic ethereal white wings propelling it towards the palace.
I sighed nostalgically as I watched the chariot approach. “I still remember back when ponies pulled those through the sky. True that it frees up those guard spaces for other things besides ‘chariot-puller’, but so many of the Guard was quite pleased to be trusted with getting their princesses to and from wherever they were needed.”
“True,” Sungleam replied, “but more ponies available means an easier time dealing with a crisis, should one pop up suddenly.” She then pointed her hoof to the wing of guards that followed the chariot. “Besides, she still has guards around her, they just don’t pull the chariot. That frees them up to focus on her protection instead of pulling a heavy hunk of wood and metal.”
I kept my eyes focused on the approaching chariot. “I suppose. Don’t mind me, Sungleam. Just an old mare reminiscing about a time gone by.”
She let out a low chuckle. “Please. I hope I look like you when I’m old.”
I lifted my front hooves one by one, rolling my shoulders as I did so to ease out the stiffness. “I will admit that being an alicorn has its perks.” The chariot flared its wings as it descended to the stone surface in front of us, and I turned to wink at Sungleam. “Showtime.”
The two of us strode forward behind the group of guards that approached the carriage, and waited patiently as the doors opened and Celestia stepped out. As always when she returned from being away, she looked exhausted, but also very happy to be home. It was one of the things I admired the most about her: she always was happy to see home, and her ponies. No matter the time of day, she always made time for her ponies. As the years passed by, I had come to understand some inkling of the motherly love that Celestia and Luna held for all our subjects ‒ as well as implementing it myself ‒ but the sheer joy in Celestia’s face that could be seen whenever one of her ponies came to her is something I don’t think I could ever replicate. She truly loved them like her own foals. No amount of time as an alicorn or ruler would make me quite like her in that regard ‒ it just wasn’t who I was as a pony.
But, even Celestia had favorites among the ponies.
I knew this because even after all I’d said to her those many years ago, and all the time that had passed without an apology, her eyes still lit up for me in a way they never did for anypony else. The warmth in that gaze ‒ like a crackling fire on a cold winter’s night ‒ was for me, and me alone. Even the day after I had cursed her so long ago, that expression had never changed when she saw me. It was exactly the same as when I had first became an alicorn, and it was one of the few constants in my life that I could always count on.
Which just made me feel a little worse.
Still, I made sure that her welcoming-home was...well, welcome. So, I offered her the happiest smile I could muster and nodded to her as she stepped out of the chariot. Celestia greeted her guards with love and adoration, as always, before making her way to Sungleam and I, who were waiting patiently a short distance away from the crowd of solar guards.
Celestia nodded to Sungleam with a smile. “First Knight Sungleam, it is a pleasure to see you again.” Sungleam bowed shallowly in response, remembering that Celestia didn’t really like the guards prostrating themselves before her in her own palace. The princess’ gaze then turned to me, and again, her eyes lit up with happiness. “Twilight. As always, it is a joy to see you.”
For some reason, the sheer love in her words nearly caused me to tear up, but I swallowed hard and held back the tears, instead offering a smile. “Welcome home, princess.”
Her smile did not abate as she trotted past me, and motioned to the archway that led to the palace interior. “Twilight, would you join me for an afternoon tea in private? I could use some good company to unwind with.”
I raised my eyebrow at that, but followed anyway, motioning for Sungleam to leave us to ourselves. I couldn’t say it was all that common of an occurrence for Celestia to ask to spend time alone with me, but neither was it unheard of. After all, when I was just a filly in her tutelage, it was a rather common practice for me to fall asleep in her chambers at her side after a bedtime story, and she would often let me spend the night with her. So all things considered, Celestia asking to have a bit of tea with me wasn’t all that strange.
As the elder princess and I arrived in her private study, she seemed to be in quite a hurry to usher the guards out and give our tea request to the waiting servant-pony. After the room was vacant save for the two of us, she closed the door and immediately slumped with a loud sigh. A part of me feared she would fall over from the exhaustion alone, but she stood with her eyes closed and head bowed for a moment before trotting over to her large sitting cushion and flopping down upon it in a rather silly manner, letting out a very un-princess-ly groan in the process.
I raised my eyebrow and trotted over to her, nudging the prone princess’s head with my nose as I asked, “Are you alright?”
Celestia’s magic levitated her crown and necklace away before she kicked off her shoes, and her mane and tail settled as they faded to a uniform pink. She then blew a stray strand of hair away from her face before turning her eyes to me. “I am fine, Twilight. Just exhausted. The Crystalhide Clan has thrived under their new alpha, and their demeanor towards the other races has also improved because of his influence.” She then sighed and narrowed her eyes. “However, dragons are still dragons, and they relate to each other quite a bit differently than ponies do. It was a chore just to keep the guards from lashing out at some of the clan members.”
I couldn’t help but giggle as I imagined the guards glaring at a dragon ten times their size, but a glare from Celestia silenced me and I smiled sheepishly. “Sorry.”
She held my gaze for a moment before sighing and looking away, still reluctant to move. “It is quite alright, Twilight. I simply become a bit cranky if I do not get my tea fix.” The door then opened to reveal the servant mare again, and Celestia smiled. “Wonderful timing, my dear.”
The pony set the tray down in front of us before bowing her head and leaving the room, shutting the door behind her. Clearly, she knew her princess well enough to realize when it was best to leave her alone, so I didn’t think twice on just how quickly she left. Instead, I levitated the teapot and poured the tea into one of the two cups, adding two cubes of sugar and a squirt of lemon before sending it over to Celestia.
She took it with a grateful smile before sipping the steaming beverage, humming happily as she did so. “Mmm...thank you, Twilight. Ponies truly underestimate the power of a good cup of tea.”
I only smiled before I prepared my own cup, taking a sip and reveling in the relaxing warmth that suffused me. Unfortunately, my mind saw fit to remind me of what I needed to do, and so I reluctantly set the cup of tea down and turned my attention to the lounging princess before me.
I took a few moments to collect my thoughts, but Celestia noticed my behavior before I could speak. She also set her teacup down before training her magenta eyes on me and asking, “Twilight, what troubles you?”
I silently cursed to myself before meeting her eyes and blurting out, “I’m sorry.”
She cocked her head to the side as she asked, “For what?”
“Luna told me everything regarding my ascension, and the circumstances therein.” I explained, taking care to keep my voice as composed as possible.
Celestia’s eyes widened a bit before she dipped her head low, refusing to meet my eyes. “Oh...oh dear.”
I also turned my eyes away, sighing as I did so. “I shouted at you, and even cursed your name…” I then brought my eyes back to her, though she refused to make eye contact, “and you let me. You let me treat you like a dungpile, and said nothing in return of my insults.” I scooted a bit closer and gently nudged her with my nose again before asking, “Why? Why would you do that to yourself?”
Celestia was silent for a long few moments, but a small smile graced her face as she looked up and past me, seemingly seeing something only she could. “Because Luna is my sister, and I owe her my life many times over.” She then snorted with a dry, mirthless chuckle. “And how do I repay her? By banishing her to the moon to be cold and alone for a millennium.” Celestia grimaced slightly, still refusing to meet my eyes. “I owe her something I can never replace, but I will spend my life attempting to do so any way I can.” Finally, she met my eyes, and I could see the beginnings of tears glazing her own eyes. “Even if that means taking the blame for something that was not my doing, possibly suffering your ire for the rest of eternity.”
I frowned at her belief that I could truly be upset with her forever. “Celestia, I think we both know that no matter what you do, I could never stay angry with you. Not for long, anyway.”
She nodded placidly before replying, “True that you are several thousand years behind me, but even you know that emotions are a fickle thing, and truly anything is possible. As unlikely as it may be, I knew the possibility still existed,” she then smiled gently at me, “but I was willing to bear your anger with pride if it meant protecting my sister.”
I furrowed my brow in thought before responding with, “You once told me that as a princess of Equestria, you and I are equals. I don’t bow to you, and you don’t bow to me.” I shot her a glare as I added, “That means that since I’m honest with you, you need to be honest with me. I truly am sorry for all that I said to you, but now I’m upset that you lied to me.” She attempted to retort, but I interrupted her. “And don’t say that an omission of truth isn’t lying, because I think we both know what Applejack would say to that.”
Celestia’s mouth snapped shut, and I beheld a war of emotions in her eyes for a few moments before she sighed and dropped her head to her sitting cushion, again needing to blow a few stray strands of her mane away from her face. “Then I apologize for that, Twilight. My sister means everything to me, and I would not risk her losing one of the only friends she has.”
“Okay, but what about me?” I blurted out in frustration. “Don’t I mean something to you? Don’t I deserve honesty and trust too?”
I noticed surprise evident on her face, but she still composed herself enough to reply. “Of course you do Twilight, but-”
“But what?” I interrupted with a growl, the unresolved emotions from so long ago mounting to a breaking point. “Is it because I’m not Luna or because I’m so much younger and inexperienced than you? Please, tell me what it is so that at least I know why you withheld the truth and let me hate one of the ponies I care about the most.” I felt a few hot tears streaming down my cheeks without my knowledge of them even starting, so I calmed myself and continued in a much softer voice. “Tell me why I have to live with the knowledge that I made you cry because of what I said, when it wasn’t even your fault.”
The frustration I had towards Celestia degenerated to self-loathing within seconds, and I couldn’t do anything but hide my face in my hooves and weep. I hated myself for how much I had hurt Celestia, and I hated myself even more because I was once again blaming her for something that wasn’t her fault. I wanted to be able to blame her for the fact that she chose to shield her beloved sister, rather than let Luna possibly lose one of the only friends she’d ever had. But...I couldn’t. I realized that I would have done the exact same thing in her position, and also realized that she shouldn’t have to apologize to me at all.
I stood with purpose, my eyes still flowing with tears like a river, and made my way to Celestia before falling onto the cushion and embracing her tightly.
For a long time, I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even word how sorry I was for what I had said to her so long ago, and for how I had shut her out of my personal life. So instead, I let my tears and embrace do the talking for me. I poured every ounce of regret and apologetic notions I had into that embrace, and hoped it would convey to her what my words would not.
Eventually, after a minute (or perhaps hours...I’m not sure) I felt feathers tickling my back as a wing extended over me, and a weight on top of my head as Celestia began gently nuzzling my mane the same as she did when I was just a filly.
“I forgive you, Twilight.” she whispered after a few moments of the relaxing contact, laying her head gently on top of mine as we lay together on her cushion. “I’ll always forgive you. There is nothing you would do that I cannot forgive you for.” She shifted a bit closer to me as she pulled me tighter against her. “You may not be one of ‘my little ponies’ anymore, but you will always be my Twilight. Nothing will ever change that, and I will never stop loving you.”
The love Celestia had for her ponies was well-known, though she never actually spoke the words aloud. A wise pony once said that actions speak louder than words, and her actions spoke truthfully of love every day of her life. But for some reason, the fact that she spoke of her love for us so rarely made the few times she did that much more special. And the way she had spoken my name in context was odd, but not unwelcome. Often when speaking to the ponies, she would refer to them as “my dear”, but not with me. She had referred to me as her Twilight, and for some reason, I was perfectly alright with that.
And so, the words came unbidden to me, and I didn’t try and stop them.
“I love you, Celestia.” I nearly whispered, sparing her a glance from the corner of my eye as her head lowered so that we were cheek-to-cheek.
The bright smile on her face grew in intensity at my words, and I could have swore her body warmed as well. I didn’t pay it any mind though, glad that not only had I apologized to her, but she had accepted my apology.
As we lay together in silence, I was brought back to a time when a young unicorn filly would fall asleep in the embrace of the princess of the sun. For so long, I had missed those times. I had once thought myself too old for such a thing anymore, and so had simply passed it off in my mind as a time gone by. But, as Celestia’s wing tightened around me again and she sighed happily, I came to realize she missed it as much as I did. Even as I began to doze off in the comfort of one of the most important ponies in my life, I relished the embrace of the sun, and closed my eyes before slipping away into the most wonderful sleep I had in decades.