Twilight Sparkle kept an eye out her open window on the heavens as she paced about her bedroom. She was already in her full regalia – just imagining Rarity's puppy dog eyes was enough not to risk going without – and she already had a headache. “Okay, run this by me again,” she asked Spike.
The baby dragon nodded, going back to the top of the letter. “Your most learned highness,” he began.
“Skip that stuff,” Twilight said, having already heard it twice. “What does this pony want me to do?”
Spike skimmed the letter again. “Blah, blah, blah,” he muttered, then picked up the thread near the bottom. “Having shown that the thief’s so-called theory of differentials is naught but a web of lies and deceit around a shameless pilfering of my own method of fluxions, I have no doubt that the heart of the Princess of Books beats with a desire for justice. I will be visiting my cousin in Ponyville on the night of your Dusk Court two weeks hence, and should you summon the blackguard from Canterlot, we may confront him with the proof of his crimes together. Your loyal subject, Falling Apple.”
Twilight spent a few moments enjoying the image of a mathematician wearing a stetson hat delivering a lecture in Applejack's accent, then sighed. “Okay, Spike. One question. Does he say anything about how a decades-old mathematical theory can plagiarize a treatise he published last year?”
Spike scanned the text again. “I don't see anything, Twilight,” he answered.
“Right,” Twilight mumbled. “Okay, just put it on my to-do pile and remind me to ask Applejack about this cousin of hers.” She turned in her pacing. “And who told him I was the Princess of Books?” she grumbled. “If that little joke means I'm going to start being asked to arbitrate every petty academic dispute in Equestria...” She trailed off as she glanced to the window, catching the moon rising into place.
“Do you think she's going to come?” Spike asked. It had been two weeks since she'd made her judgment on the matter of Nightmare Moon, and a certain paper was due tonight.
The spotless moon's light brightened, pouring in through the window. “I think so,” Twilight said, shielding her eyes. A moment later, she lowered her leg, and Princess Luna stood in the center of her bedroom. She bowed her head briefly.
“Good evening,” Twilight said after a moment, when it became clear the larger alicorn was waiting for her to say something.
“I hope you do not mind my early arrival,” Luna said, and without waiting for an answer, her magic pulsed. A bundle of papers floated over to Twilight's desk in a dark blue aura. “I believe you should find that satisfactory,” she said.
Twilight nodded. “I'm sure.”
“Perhaps you might be able to explain why your sister Cadenza seemed incredibly concerned that a pack of diamond dogs might steal and consume my work,” Luna said.
Twilight fought not to snicker, and managed to only let out a slight chuckle. “It's... a modern education joke,” she said. “Don't worry about it.”
“I see,” Luna said, in a voice that made it clear she did not.
Twilight glanced at the paper, but made no move to start rifling through it. She would eventually – as much out of curiosity than anything else – but it existed for Luna's benefit, not her own. “Did you learn anything?” she asked cautiously, almost wincing at how patronizing the question sounded in her own ears.
Luna grimaced, but the frown didn't seem directed at Twilight. “I did,” she said, “and probably more than I would have without the... practical lesson of your final decree.”
“Huh?” Spike asked.
Luna glanced at the dragon, but kept addressing Twilight. “In the past two weeks, I have had no fewer than ten petitioners come to request that I sign your sire's novel. Five wished to gift me copies, and two of those suggested I should confront my sister about why she was suppressing the story. Three ponies came merely to ask what 'really' happened between North Star and myself that night in the cave, as though the book were a history. Even the captain of my own guard asked if I wished some memorial to be held for her.
“There are only five hundred copies of the cursed thing,” Luna finished. “And yet it already spread so far, so fast.”
“Part of that is my fault,” Twilight admitted. “I ensured that word of Nightmare Moon got out among my father's fans quickly.” She sensed another hoof at work for so much to happen so soon, though, and added it to her mental list of things to ask Celestia about the next time they spoke privately.
“I suspected as much,” Luna said, “but it only accelerated matters, did it not?” There was actually probably a good chance that, without intervention, a very limited edition of a just published work by an anonymous author who actively wished it forgotten might have indeed have vanished without a trace, but Twilight still nodded. It was true in principle.
“It was different a thousand years ago,” Luna said. “For the most part, only the nobility could read, and among them only a few scholars read much. A story like Nightmare Moon would have been a play.”
“There was no mass publication,” Twilight began, “and it is hard for a theater to put on a performance covertly. It would have been easy to stop some play from spreading.”
“Yes, though such was hardly needed,” Luna said. “Most every playwright, even those peddling cheap entertainment for the masses, had my sister as her patron.”
Twilight nodded, the conclusion obvious. Spike looked a little confused, so she said aloud, “A word – or even a hint – of disapproval would have been enough to make a writer abandon a play.”
Somepony knocked on the front door below. “Spike, that's probably Rarity here to finish setting up the decorations.” Twilight didn't really see the point, but everypony seemed to expect the library to be transformed into a throne room whenever she held court. “Why don't you go let her in and see if she needs any help?”
Spike was gone almost before the words left her mouth. Luna looked puzzled. “Is there some reason he was so eager to be gone from my presence?” she asked, glancing at Twilight's bedroom mirror as though to reassure herself she hadn't grown fangs.
“It's not that,” Twilight reassured her. She smiled slightly. “It was who he's going to, not who he's leaving.”
Luna still looked a little confused. “I feel as though I am missing something.”
Twilight just smiled. “I'm afraid I can't say more,” she said. “It was a promise.” The last thing she needed was for Pinkie Pie to inexplicably burst in on this conversation. “We were talking about how it was easier to suppress stories you didn't like a thousand years ago,” Twilight prompted.
“It wasn't something we... I thought of in such terms at the time,” Luna said, “but yes.” She shook her said. “I considered, no doubt as you intended, when each of those petitioners came to my court bearing that book, what it would have truly taken to eliminate that story now. I could have ordered those copies confiscated, but there were more out there. I could have ordered my guard to seek out all five hundred, but that would have only spread the word of the book's existence.”
Twilight nodded. “Even now,” she said, “there's probably at least a hundred illicit copies out there.” The magic to copy writing from one book into a fresh volume was easy enough, though time-consuming. “If the guard was to actively try to round up every copy of the book, there would be ten times that number or more in a matter of weeks.”
Luna winced. “So many?” she asked.
“Right now, the rarity gives the story value,” Twilight said. “Ponies are enjoying being one of the few who've read it. It's spreading, but slowly.” She shook her head. “If it was being actively suppressed, some of those ponies would want to get thousands of copies out there just as a matter of principle. More and more ponies would hear about it and want a copy, and for every pony that got one another dozen would learn the story by word of mouth.”
“Worse than futile, then,” Luna said, “as I expected.” She sighed. “You may consider the lesson learned, Twilight Sparkle.”
“Is that all you learned?” Twilight asked cautiously.
Luna grimaced. “I learned that I am not so adjusted to this era as I thought, if that is what you mean.” She sighed. “And also, even if this were a thousand years ago and none of these rights the books you gave me spoke of existed, I should still be capable of discerning the difference between intentional insult and well-meant mistake. I allowed my anger to blind me.” She bowed her head again. “Is that what you wish to hear, Twilight Sparkle?”
Twilight considered her words carefully. “I am glad to hear you recognize that,” she said, “but those are not the only things I wanted you to learn.”
Luna's wings shifted slightly. “What further failure of mine have I failed to see?” she asked.
“No,” Twilight said quickly. “Not that.” Luna raised her head, looking at Twilight. “None of those ponies who came to your court about Nightmare Moon came intending to hurt you,” she said.
“I know this,” Luna said. “I have no anger toward them.”
Twilight shook her head, searching for words again. The idea had seemed so simple in her head, but it took effort to find a good way to say it. “They were all ready, eager, to believe in my father's version of Nightmare Moon.”
“We noticed,” Luna said. “Foals. The Nightmare Moon of that book is a lie, as you of all ponies should be most aware.” She snorted, stamping one hoof. “That... fantasy rebelled out of more than jealousy and pride, believed that she could make Equestria thrive beneath her Eternal Night.”
“Could you have?” Twilight asked unthinkingly, and moments later she wished she could take the distracting question back.
Luna blinked once. “Perhaps some small shadow could have survived,” she said slowly, “if I had exerted a great deal of magic to protect it.” Luna shook her head. “There was nothing but hatred in Nightmare Moon's heart. All Equestria would have died, starving and freezing, and their Princess would have only laughed and considered her vengeance complete.” Twilight swallowed once. “Twilight Sparkle, Nightmare Moon... I was a monster, and neither you nor anypony else should forget that.”
“We want to,” Twilight said. Luna stared at her, and Twilight swallowed again. “You learned before how the Nightmare Moon of legend that we all grew up fearing is a terror that we enjoy.” Twilight smiled softly. “I'm afraid to ask Princess Celestia how much of that was a deliberate plan,” she said, then she shook her head. “Either way, that's beside the point.
“Princess, Luna,” she said. “Believing, really understanding, that you could have been a true monster is hard.” Twilight smiled. “It's easier to forget, to believe in fantasies like my father's story.”
Luna shook. “A kind lie does not change the hard truth.”
“It doesn't,” Twilight agreed. “I'm not arguing that it would be better for the truth to be forgotten. It is more than a little foalish. I understand, a little, how it can hurt you, but... I want you to try to look at it from a different perspective, Luna. If those ponies hated you, if they had not forgiven you for Nightmare Moon, if they saw her rage and jealousy in you, they would have hated my father's story. They would never have believed it.”
“Twilight Sparkle...” Luna said.
“When ponies race to believe a story like Nightmare Moon, it's because they... because we love you.”
“I...” Luna was quiet for a long moment, then she crossed the short distance between them and hugged Twilight. “Thank you,” she said.
Somepony knocked on Twilight's bedroom door. “Twilight, sugar?” came Applejack's voice.
Luna released Twilight, and the younger alicorn caught her breath. “Come in; it isn't locked.”
The door opened. “It's gettin' close to time,” the farmer said. Then she noticed Princess Luna and bowed quickly. “Princess.” Spike, who was riding on the her back, jumped off and bowed also.
Luna smiled, tossing her head at Twilight. “I believe somepony else has primacy here,” she said.
Applejack glanced at Twilight and flushed. “Ah...”
Twilight snickered. “Oh, get up.”
Applejack smiled and stood. “There's a ton of ponies waitin' outside,” she said. “Are you ready?”
“Why so many tonight?” Twilight asked. Surely by now the novelty of having a resident Princess was starting to wear out. “Did Pinkie –”
“Ah, this one may be my fault,” Applejack said, flushing again. Spike laughed. “I may have mentioned in passin' at the market that I was making a whole bunch of fresh apple fritters out of the best fruit of the harvest for tonight.”
Twilight sighed, then laughed. “I suppose I can't blame them,” she said. “I guess it is past time to start.”
Spike was over by a bookshelf. “Where'd you put the catalog?” he asked. “I need to pick a romantic mustache quickly!”
Twilight laughed again, then she glanced at Luna. “You're welcome to stay.”
The older princess smiled. “I had best be going,” she said. “My own court is to begin shortly, and I believe your sire has a list of questions waiting for me after that.”
Twilight nodded. “Some other time, then.”
“Before I depart,” Luna said. “One last matter, Twilight Sparkle.” She bowed her head. “We truly thank you for everything you have done for us.” Her magic pulsed again, revealing a sealed scroll. “You may consider this both an expression of our gratitude and a belated gift of congratulations on your ascension.” Twilight took the scroll. “I'm not sure why my sister hasn't taken care of this already, but I'm glad to have the chance.” Before Twilight could ask what Luna meant. the moonlight streaming in through her bedroom window brightened momentarily, and then Luna was gone.
Spike ran up, holding open the Omnibus Catalog Of The Mustache. “Here! Twilight, quickly!” Applejack shook her head, holding in laughter.
“Just a moment, Spike,” Twilight said, unrolling the scroll and scanning it quickly. “...oh, ponyfeathers,” she swore.
“What is it, Twilight?” Applejack asked worriedly.
Twilight shook her head. “Read it yourself,” she said, floating the scroll over to her friend.
Spike tapped his foot impatiently. “What are we waiting for?” he demanded. Glad of the distraction, Twilight glanced at the – indistinguishable, so far as she could tell – mustache and cast the familiar spell while Applejack read aloud.
“By our authority as Princess of Equestria,” she recited, “in recognition for innumerable services rendered to the Night Throne and to all ponykind, the village of Ponyville and all land held by the Crown within two days' trot of it are...” Applejack trailed off for a moment.
That was enough to distract Spike from his new mustache. “What?” he asked.
“...are granted to the Princess Twilight Sparkle in perpetuity as her personal demesne, along with suzerainty over all vassals of the Crown within those borders,” Applejack finished. “What the hay?”
Twilight sighed, bringing a hoof to her face. “I'll take care of it. Spike, put it on my to-do pile with a note to find a couple good histories about the end of the feudal system.”