“Geez, Twilight, you think you’ve got enough parchment there?” Spike asked from behind a pile of packages stacked higher than his head. How he knew where to step remained a mystery.
“Probably,” she replied with remarkable obliviousness to the sarcasm. “I mean, they were having that special sale at the stationery store, so I figured I might as well stock up. Besides I – oof!” Forgetting to watch where she was going, Twilight accidentally collided with someone, an event which broke her concentration and sent the numerous levitating packages around her crashing to the ground.
“Oh, sorry Miss Twilight,” Graves called out as he reached down to help her up. “Didn’t see you there.”
“It’s no problem,” she said as she dusted herself off. “I should probably watch where I’m going.”
“Hey there, Marshal,” Spike called out from behind his stack of parcels. “How’s it going?” Graves shrugged.
“Alright. Need help carrying those?”
“That’d be perfect, thank you!” Twilight beamed. Gathering up the fallen items and relieving Spike of his potentially hazardous load, the three headed back towards the library tree.
Once inside, Spike dropped off his things and immediately dashed into the kitchen, yelling something about ‘famous vanilla almond cookies’ and leaving Twilight and Graves to straighten up after him. As the two put away the various things in their meticulously designated zones, Twilight glanced over at the taciturn man and struck up idle conversation.
“So, how’re you adjusting to life in Ponyville?” she asked as she unbundled a roll of fresh quills.
“Can’t complain,” Graves shrugged, stacking the new parchment in a desk drawer. “Nice town. Nice people too.”
“That’s good,” Twilight smiled. “I’ll bet it’s a pleasant change of pace, huh? Probably a lot more relaxing than running around Equestria all day, am I right?”
Unable to quite catch the marshal's muttered comment, Twilight just chalked up the statement to something she’d probably misheard.
As they finished putting away the last of the purchases, Spike returned with a steaming platter of fresh cookies before dashing back into the kitchen with stray comments about some ‘double chocolate fudge cake’. The mouth-watering aroma made Graves’s stomach growl as he recalled that he hadn’t had lunch yet. In fact, he hadn’t eaten all day.
“Would you care to join us?” the young scholar asked, doing a rather poor job of hiding a giggle when she heard his stomach rumble. “Spike makes one mean vanilla almond cookie. And after that, we can go and reshelf all the books! Won't that be great?” The marshal couldn't believe it, but the purple-haired girl before him was literally jumping with excitement at the thought of a date with Dewey Decimal. What an egghead.
“I’d love to,” Graves frowned wit grey eyes casting hungry glances towards the tray, “but I can’t.”
“Oh?" Twilight blinked. "Why not?”
“Have to finish my rounds. Got to see to the rest of Ponyville before nightfall.”
“Are you sure? They’re really good cookies.” As she said this, Twilight waved the plate under the marshal’s nose and drew forth another rumbling growl as the famished man swallowed hard.
“No, I really can’t,” he said, drawing away regretfully. “Got to go.”
“Oh. Well, all right then. Good luck.”
Now maybe it was the restlessness of the last couple of days coming to boil. Maybe it was because he was rather hungry and starting to get quite cranky about it. Or maybe it was because the day just hadn’t been going like he wanted. Whatever the reason, when he saw Twilight with the same, somewhat disappointed smile he’d seen twice already, Graves snapped.
“Look, I can’t do everything, alright? I’m sorry.” His voice hardly got louder at all, and barely a trace of heat entered his voice, but for a normally composed man like himself, he might as well have been pulling his hair in abject frustration. Needless to say, Twilight was rather taken aback.
“Graves, are you alright?” she asked as amethyst eyes narrowed with curious scrutiny. “You seem… upset.”
He was about to brush it off as nothing like he usually did, but something about Twilight’s innocently inquiring expression made it seem like she’d be more upset if he didn’t talk about it. And considering how much trouble he'd caused already...
With a sigh, Graves took a seat and told her about that day. It probably took less than fifty words in total, but his frustration at not being able to meet everyone’s expectations, which lead to their disappointment, came across loud and clear like a foghorn across the Shetland Sound. Once finished, Graves sank back into his chair as Twilight sat there for a moment, finger tapping her chin as she pondered what everything she’d just heard. And then she did the last thing that Graves expected.
And not just a little laugh either, but a big, gut-busting, tears-down-the-face, rolling-on-the-floor laughing. Not that she actually fell to the floor of course, but the way she rocked in her seat, Twilight came pretty close, and more than once to boot.
“You find this… amusing,” Graves said, the deadpan of his face a sharp contrast to the girl’s exuberant mirth.
“I’m sorry,” Twilight gasped as she wiped a tear from her eye. “I’m not laughing at you, really. It’s just that I never expected to meet someone who knew even less about making friends than I do.” This piqued the marshal’s interest, since novelty was intriguing and he had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. His blank stare prompted Twilight to continue her mirthful explanations.
“Don’t you get it?” the purple haired librarian asked with a sympathetic smile. “None of us were upset that you couldn’t stick around to help us out more; we were upset that we wouldn’t get to spend some time just having fun with you.”
“But I–” he was cut off as Twilight steamrolled on.
“Applejack and Apple Bloom wanted you to try out their granny’s delicious cooking, Fluttershy wanted you to see some of the adorable animals she works with, and I would hate for you to miss out on a super exciting session of book reshelfing.” Graves stared at her, particularly confused at the last one, but she continued on with her lecture mode now running full tilt.
“The point is, none of us really cared about what you could do for us; we just wanted you to do things with us. Do you get it?”
He really hadn’t. Or at least, not yet. Graves crossed his arms and sat there, brow furrowed in concentration as he thumbed his chin and mulled over the things Twilight had told him. Finally, he spoke.
“… That... actually sort of makes sense.” This just prompted Twilight to laugh even more.
“You really aren’t very good at making friends, are you?”
“Not much chance,” he shrugged. “Never stay too long in one place.”
“Just out of curiosity, how long is too long anyway?" Twilight asked. "I mean, what’s the longest you’ve ever stayed in one place as a marshal?” Looking up at the ceiling, it took a moment for Graves to form his answer.
“Cleared out a zombie infestation once. Stayed in the same town a whole three weeks.”
For the second time, Twilight reacted in the last way Graves expected by spewing cookie crumbs all over the table as her eyes went saucer-wide in shock.
“Three weeks?! Are you crazy? And that’s the longest you’ve stayed in one town ever?”
“Since I joined the marshals… yeah," Graves shrugged.
“Wow, no wonder you’re so bad at making friends.” The marshal flat stare transformed her amused smile into a sheepishly apologetic grin. “Heh, sorry. But, you’re going to stay in Ponyville longer right? I mean, it’s not like you’re just going to up and leave next week, are you?”
“Honestly can’t say,” Graves admitted. “I go where I’m told.” For the third time, Twilight Sparkle surprised the marshal by reacting in the last way he'd expect.
“Well this is unacceptable,” Twilight snorted as she stood up with the fires of indignation burning in her eyes. “SPIKE! Time to take a letter!”
“What are you–”
“Dear Princess Celestia,” Twilight dictated, oblivious to all but her intended words as Spike began furiously scribbling away beneath his chef’s hat and matching apron. “It has come to my attention that Marshal Graves here in Ponyville has been on the move for quite some time and has never actually had a chance to settle down. It is my hope that he’ll be able to do so in Ponyville, but of course, we would like to check with you first to see if that is okay. Please write back as soon as possible. Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.”
Once Spike had finished writing, he rolled up the parchment and tied it with a piece of pink ribbon. With a nod from Twilight, the little Salamander boy exhaled a cloud of emerald flame, vaporizing the rolled up scroll entirely. Graves just watched in dumbfounded bewilderment.
“Why would you–”
“Give it time,” Twilight smiled as her hand hand motioned for silence. And so the three waited, Graves absentmindedly picking up a cookie while Twilight hummed and Spike tapped his feet. Or, started to anyway, because in mere moments, the young boy’s cheeks bulged as he let out a massive burp.
“Wow. That’s… kind of gross,” Graves quietly murmured. However, disgust quickly transitioned to surprise as the gout of bright green fire that accompanied the belch quickly quickly coalescing into a roll of parchment adorned with a blob of golden wax imprinted with Princess Celestia’s personal seal. That? That was literally three kinds of unexpected.
“Neat, huh?” Twilight Sparkle beamed as she unrolled the parchment. “Spike's dragon fire can be used to teleport objects. He's still little, so it’s kind of limited, but it makes it really easy to send the Princess a quick letter.”
“No need to thank me. Just doing my job.” Spike beamed as he preened his spiky green hair. Graves simply stared at them in disbelief.
“You have a personal line to the Princess?” the steely-eyed soldier asked with open surprise. He’d seen some of the richest people in Equestria wait hours just for an audience with her, and the little bookworm here could just call her up out of the blue?
“Well, duh. I am her number one student, after all,” Twilight replied, to which the marshal could only let out a low whistle in awe. Twilight, little miss book worm, was a direct protege of Equestrian royalty? And she was in Ponyville? You never knew who you'd run into but this? This was just downright startling.
“So, what does it say?” Spike asked. Coughing to clear her throat, Twilight began to read.
Dear Twilight, my most faithful student,
Did I not mention it in my last letter? Oh, silly me, must have slipped my mind. It is as you say: Marshal Graves has been working so hard for so long, that I’m afraid he might be burning himself out. That is why I want him to remain in Ponyville till at least this time next year. All his personal effects have been shipped and should be arriving very soon.
Also, I hope you’ll explain to him that this isn’t a demotion or anything like that. Everyone needs to rest now and then, and Marshal Graves is long overdue for his. We will keep him posted of any troubles coming his way, and since Ponyville is such a peaceful place, let him know that there’s really no need for him to always be on patrol (from what I hear, he’s not happy unless he’s busy with eight disasters at once). I hope that in the time he’s there, you’ll be able to help him learn to loosen up a bit, have fun, and of course, make some good friends.
Princess Celestia of Equestria
“Isn’t this great?” Twilight laughed, clapping her hands in excitement. “You’ll be with us for a whole year! At least!”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Graves replied, somewhat blown away by the situation. It was odd enough that he’d been posted to such a quiet part of the country, but for the Princess herself to issue the order? Stranger things may have happened, but not often and hardly by much.
“So, now that you know you’re going to be here for a while, what do you plan to do?” Twilight asked.
“Not sure,” Graves shrugged. “Never thought about it before.”
“Well, how about starting off by getting to know the townspeople better? You know, hang out a bit and have fun?” The young mage suggested. Graves leaned back in his chair and let out a long, slow breath as he considered the idea.
However, any serious thought would have to wait as the door slammed open and Rainbow Dash came zooming in.
“Twilight! Have you seen – oh, there you are. Come on, Big G, we gotta go!”
“What’s wrong?” the marshal asked, gunmetal grey eyes flashing to alert as he leaped up with spell gun in hand.
“It’s Pinkie Pie! She’s in trouble down at Sugar Cube Corner. Hurry!” Rainbow Dash flew right back out the door, giving Graves just enough time to turn back to Twilight with an apologetic grimace.
“Sorry. Making friends will have to wait.”
Trailed by both Twilight and Spike, the raven-haired soldier rushed out and followed Rainbow Dash on the way to the bakery where the athletic flyer pulled to a floating halt as she fluttered just by the door.
“Hurry! In here!” she called.
Without a moment’s pause, Graves kicked open the door, spell gun leveled and already humming with charged energy, and–
–was instantly hit by a face full of confetti. Streamers flew and party crackers popped amidst dozens of balloon as Graves, spitting out a mouthful of paper bits, looked around to see that the entire bakery was full. All the people he’d met on the first day – the Apple sisters, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity – stood there smiling at him, albeit somewhat more crookedly that usual. Made sense, considering his rather... unique entrance.
“Surprise!” Pinkie Pie called out as she bounced up with party blower flapping away. “Where you surprise? Were you? Huh? Huh? Were you?”
“Quite,” he blinked, head swiveling about as he tried to figure out the exact nature of the trouble and where it was. “What’s going on?”
Pinkie Pie simply looked at him for a moment, then looked up. Stretched across the whole width of the dining room was a massive banner with ‘Welcome Graves’ written across it.
The sound of raucous laughter from behind prompted Graves to turn around just in time to see Rainbow Dash fly in with hands clutching her belly and laughing fit to burst. Twilight and Spike quickly followed suit, laughing almost as much as their friend and looking fit to fall over a stray gust from Rainbow's translucent wings.
“Oh man, you should’ve seen the look on your face!” the prismatic-haired girl wheezed. “I was like, ‘Pinkie Pie’s in trouble!’ and you were all like, ‘Let’s do this! Hoorah!’ Priceless, I tell ya, priceless!”
“…What is this?” Graves asked again, reshouldering the spell gun now that he clearly no longer needed it. “I mean, why do this?”
“Why? To welcome you to Ponyville, duh!” Pinkie Pie said in her typically enthusiastic manner. “Yeesh, for a guy who’s been around, it sure seems like you’ve missed a few things.”
“When someone new comes into town, we always throw them a party like this,” Twilight explained with a smile. “It’s our way of helping them get to know everyone and fit it.”
“You do have time for a little party, don’t you?” Applejack asked a bit uncertainly. “I mean, we don’t wanna get in the way of yer official marshal duties and all.”
“Oh my goodness, did we do that?” Fluttershy squeaked as her typical panic began to rise. “’I’m so sorry, we didn’t think that you would–”
“No, it’s all right,” Graves assured her. “It’s just… unexpected. That’s all.”
“So, marshal, what's your call?” Twilight began, a knowing grin playing across her clearly amused face. “You going to go back out and make your rounds? Or are you gonna follow the princess’s direct order and have some fun?” As the crowd watched on in anticipation - some not really sure why, just caught up in the atmosphere - Graves reached up and tugged his hat a little lower over his eyes.
“Fine party like this, be a shame not to enjoy it.”
Such a whooping and hollering from the crowd, you’d have thought that Graves had just given everyone there a free diamond-covered pony. But that’s just how Ponyville folk are. So as the music kicked up, conversations got struck, and people cleared tables for a dance floor, it took all of two shakes of a lamb's tale to get the festivities into full, roaring swing.
“So, what was that about following orders?” Rarity asked as she walked over and handed Graves a cup full of punch.
“Oh, nothing,” Twilight smiled while shooting Graves a conspiratorial wink. “Just figuring this big old marshal needs to learn how to take things easy."
“Something like that,” he agreed.
Graves was glad for the punch, because drinking it helped hide the smile that was quickly growing on his usually stolid face. It wouldn’t do for him to go around grinning like a Cheshire cat, but right now, he couldn’t really help it. Sure, these people were crazy, and it’d be a good while till he was really used to ‘hanging out’ as Twilight had said, if ever at that. But even if he didn’t, he had a feeling that he’d enjoy the process, however it turned out.
And with that in mind, Graves smiled and went out to follow orders.
To Be Continued
The Journey of Graves will continue with the third story: Trouble Meets Disaster