“Got all yer stuff packed, darlin'?” Sheriff Silverstar asked. He was standing at the platform of the Appleoosa train station, on the outgoing side of the line, with a large steamer trunk beside him.
“My needs are few, and I am satisfied with light travel. You know I do not require many things. Only you, my dear,” replied his wife, Cactus Blossom. The cafe au lait buffalo cow snuggled up securely against Silverstar and lightly nudged a small satchel beside her.
“Ah don't want ya ta go without. It's a fair stretch. But at least this time we're goin' without havin' ta hide,” Silverstar said with a soft laugh, snuggling against his wife's side.
“Hiding... never again, Sheriff, never again,” said a voice familiar to the two. It was Clarion Gale-Bell, the dusty-orange unicorn mare with a lavender mane. Accompanying her was her husband, Howling Gale-Bell, a bulky light-brown buffalo brave, who was carting a large trunk effortlessly on his back.
“Not in this town,” Howling said with a grunt, depositing the trunk onto the platform.
“Y'all got that right. Missus an' Mister Gale-Bell, not surprised ta see ya on this particular journey,” Silverstar said with a polite tip of his hat brim.
“News travels fast in all circles. I get many updates from Canterlot friends who are still speaking to me. I treasure them all the more for it,” Clarion said with a soft laugh. “I'm sure our little town will send up its tale of folk.”
“Room fer two more, Sheriff?” Braeburn asked. He and his wife Little Strongheart stepped onto the platform, with Braeburn bearing a few bags, while Little Strongheart carried a few smaller parcels.
“Always, Mister Apple, always. Lookin' forward ta seein' yer kinfolk?” Silverstar asked.
“Most of 'em...” Braeburn answered, with a bit of hesitation.
“Well, this little assembly is hardly surprising. How wonderful to see you all,” said a cultured voice. It came from Honeysuckle, daughter of First Edition, the owner of the Appleoosan newspaper. She was a young adult unicorn, with a thick and squat body in a deep, striking blue tone, with a honey-golden mane. A large, showy hat rested on her head, sprinkled with her namesake flower. Beside her was her fiancee, Topaz. The Diamond Dog was quite large but very lank, carrying her muscles in tight packs. She was of the floppy-eared breed, a light blue in color. She was effortlessly carrying a few suitcases in her strong arms.
“Going to same place as Honeysuckle and me?” Topaz asked, setting down the pile of bags by the growing collection.
“Hardly any other place in the Principality ta go 'round this time,” Silverstar noted, which drew nods from the others. “Jes' gotta wait fer the train. Waitin's the hardest part.”
- - -
“Are you certain you can carry our bags?” Trixie asked, as she used her magic to arrange a collection of battered second-hoof valises. “We have a bit of a trip and have a few days there.”
“Chill, dude, we can make it. It's not like we've gotta take our dresses and my brat and all that. I just need my Claddagh clasp and a smile,” Gilda said, lightly rubbing the indicated clasp which secured on a small collection of interconnected silver necklaces.
“It will be a trial for us both, won't it? We promised to be civil and smile on the street, but... time will tell how it all works out,” Trixie said, arranging the bags again to find the most efficient carrying shape.
“Harder for me. There're two in there I never made a promise to. And... they probably still wanna buck my head down into my neck. But they're ponies. They'll probably invite me for tea, or cookies or something,” Gilda noted with a chuckle.
“Don't underestimate mares... or we'll make you pay,” Trixie said with a grin and a quick whip of her tail, which struck Gilda's flank. She then tied a colorful silken ribbon onto her tail and settled it so that it hung underneath.
“So you tell me, over and over. You sure we've got the bits for this? I'm not sure what they'll charge us for staying,” Gilda said, while giving a few flaps of her wings.
“We are already saving on travel, and prices are reasonable in our nation,” Trixie said. “So now... are you prepared to take us? Or would you like to wait a bit? We have a few days before...”
“No. I want you to be nice and rested for the big day. If we're gonna make the effort all for a brand new thing, we have to do it right,” Gilda insisted, stroking a talon lovingly under Trixie's chin.
“And that, my dear, is why I think you will make a most excellent Roa,” Trixie said, lifting her head and leaning into the soft stroking. “I don't need too much rest to be at my best, as well you know.”
“You're the best, mo chroi, no mistake. Any time, anywhere, you're number one to me,” Gilda said with a nibble at Trixie's neck.
“And you, mine,” Trixie responded, lifting her head higher and shivering a little. “But! I fear we may be too late if we continue as we are. We both know how we can be when we begin to grow... close...”
“Right... hop on, dude, and we'll get going,” Gilda said, securely grabbing up the bags and securing them to her body with a bit of rope. As she did that Trixie climbed up onto her back and settled herself down comfortably. “All set?”
“Let us be off, to see if this new happening is worth all the travel,” Trixie said, grabbing tightly onto Gilda's back and using magic to further anchor herself as the mighty griffiness gave a powerful flap of her wings and catapulted both of them into the air.
- - -
In the upper reaches of Canterlot there was a flurry of activity at the airship port. Preparations for departure were underway, with pony and donkey porters carrying various bags and boxes onto a small, elaborately designed sky-yacht, the habitable portion recalling a sleek pleasure craft in glossy silver and blue tones, the balloon in the fanciful shape of a koi. The name plate on it read, Platinum Prize.
Directing the various workers was Platinum Shine, the wealthy unicorn model. Her long, tall form was a bit thicker than the usual examples of her body shape, in imitation of Luna's 'Popolo Grasso' look. Her sleek, silvery-gray coat was curried to glossy perfection, while her pale pink mane with the silvery threads had been released from its usual rings into a medium-length flow that covered her long neck. “Make certain to stock the pantries and settle the extra linens. Do not touch the crew cabin, there will be no accompaniment.”
“Why not let me do? Is easy for strong Dog. Still am strong Dog,” said Platinum's companion, her husband Basalt Shine. The burly Dig Dog was still impressively muscled, still the usual light dun color, but wearing a white dress shirt, rather than his armor and helmet.
“Dearest, I have no doubt you could bear away every last bit on your broad and powerful shoulders. But you are a very wealthy Dog now. While I admire and praise your work ethic, some things do change as status does,” Platinum said, rubbing her head against Basalt's broad chest and smiling up at him.
“Mm, know. You say all the time. But not understand. Can still work, work hard. Do work hard in home, and out in fields, digging,” Basalt responded, one huge hand stroking Platinum's back.
“My love, you know of Colonial Ministers and other assorted politicians doing work because life in your colonies is based on that work. But here, ponies have the option of leisure if they have wealth and power. You work at things which interest you, your sculpting and smelting and digging for materials. All the wealthy have hobbies and sometimes make something of them, such as artists like you. But the other tasks, the smaller tasks, are done by servants and hirelings as seen here,” Platinum said, quietly, occasionally kissing Basalt's neck.
“But can... do...” Basalt said softly, looking down at his large, powerful hands. “Yes? Still can?”
“Your considerable strength has never faded. Never...” Platinum cooed, kissing Basalt on his lips. “But think on this. Those in our employ are well compensated, and use this to contribute to the economy or raise their families. They come because they are eager and happy to do the jobs they take, and find that they contribute meaningfully to life and the land. Our work is done, often work we could never finish all on our own. For all your great strength, you know well you could never cook our meals, manage our papers, clean the rooms and perform the miscellaneous tasks. The servants that do are good at their jobs, and happy for the chance to have a job.”
Basalt smiled broadly and kissed his wife lovingly on her delicate lips. “Understand... know servants need jobs. Know they work hard. Good and strong ponies, and others. But... not bring servants on trip?”
“Not on your life, dear,” Platinum insisted, wrapping her forelegs tightly around Basalt's muscular form. “This is our trip, and our time. I want you all to myself. And I'm passenger-craft certified. That's my hobby...”
Farther up Canterlot mountain, at the palace airship hangar, a similar scene was playing out. Uniformed Celestian Corps guards primly marched around, bearing in supplies and cases towards a modestly sized airship. The passenger portion looked large enough to be a decent party barge, the darkly stained wood enhanced with metal bracings of gold and silver, as well as jewel-enhanced filigree touches. The balloon portion was not made to resemble any animal, but was more a prolate spheroid with both tips greatly pointed out, each tip extended by the addition of decorative silver rods that stretched back to connect to the outer skeleton around the balloon. The nameplate read, The Rabbit of the Moon.
Prince Blueblood stood by the gangplank, checking on a scroll as the guards move containers up onto the ship. He nodded his head and checked off a few items. “Excellent, excellent. We're quite ahead of schedule.”
The Wonderbolt Fleetfoot marched up and saluted Blueblood. “We're prepared for departure, your highness. A detachment is waiting for crew assignment.”
Blueblood motioned with his head to the ship. “See my wife for crew assignments, she's in charge of that area.”
“Yes, your highness,” Fleetfoot said, giving another salute and marching up onto the ship behind a guard. She made her way to the main internal area and up into the room just behind the window-fronted control room. The room mostly consisted of shelves stuffed with books and papers, and a large table spread with a schematic of the ship and several lists. Standing at the table was Blueblood's wife, Princess Connie. The very-long-eared, light gray donkey was dressed in a loose gown, the black and white color recalling her maid attire. “Fleetfoot reporting for assignment, your highness.”
“Call me ma'am,” Connie said, with a touch of humility. “That's not my thing but it's a little closer to what I'm used to.”
“My Commanding Officer is ma'am to me, your highness. Regs require I address you as 'highness,'” Fleetfoot said, giving a bow and salute.
“Of course they do...” Connie sighed. She looked over one of the papers and the schematic. “Which of you helmed Great-Aunt Luna's trip in the Lunar Perigee?”
“I did, your highness. I am fully licensed for all sizes of flying conveyances and can fly at night, in inclement weather and under attack by magical or mundane creatures,” Fleetfoot responded.
“Perfect! Alright, you're pilot. After that the assignments will be easy. We're running a skeleton crew. Blueblood wants to cut down on inconveniencing too many of you. He's really growing,” Connie said with a smile.
“You're truly remaking him in your image, and a better image it is. If I may be so bold to speak ill of the Prince, your highness,” Fleetfoot said, a smile tugging at her lips.
Connie gave a loud, braying laugh and shook her head. “You may. He's harder on himself. And I thank you for the kind words, Fleetfoot.”
“Following Regs, your highness, right to the hilt,” Fleetfoot said with a larger smile.
- - -
Scrubland passed by the windows of the overnight express, heading out of Appleoosa. The slowly setting sun added to the beauty of the flat, austere setting, drawing all eyes out of the windows of the club car. All the tickets had been purchased by a pool, but First Edition had seen fit to throw extra bits into the whole so that all of them could travel in style.
“Have been in bad soil too long, too much clay. Not mean to speak bad about land, but is not fun underneath,” Topaz said, looking apologetically to the buffalo in the car with her. “Will be good to go back to strong rock.”
“No, it is understandable. The mana flow tells us of the state beneath. It is quite fortunate the Appleoosans have a mine which can house and employ your kind,” Cactus said.
“It has certainly been very good for me...” Honeysuckle said, giving a smoldering glance to her fiancee. “Mmm, it is not that I could never meet such a woman in Manehattan but... perhaps not one of such an... admirably strong build and great energy. I am so fortunate that father chose to come to Appleoosa.”
“We're all fortunate, Miss Honeysuckle,” Braeburn said, nibbling at Little Strongheart's neck. “Ah can't even imagine mah life without her...”
“Ah know what mah life was like without Cactus... weren't none too good,” Silverstar said with a firm nod of his head.
“It's a captivating little town. So purely and properly Equestrian, even if that state took some time and had some bumps in the road. I have never been prouder to be an Equestrian. There are many charms, are there not?” Clarion asked of her husband, stroking over one of his horns lovingly.
“Only one charm for me. But, uh, I think you knew that the first time I...” Howling began.
“Enough!” Clarion said suddenly, a blush burning on her cheeks and a smile pulling at her lips. “I... think our neighbors get the gist of this conversation.
“We are all adults in this car, Mrs. Gale-Bell. We all know what has been happening in private moments. There's little mystery when we all have lovers,” Honeysuckle said, planting a gentle kiss on Topaz's chin.
“There's some mystery... we are all properly discreet,” Clarion said, the blush still on her cheeks.
“Ah must agree with Missus Gale-Bell. We's all proper folk out here. No need ta be talkin' 'bout this,” Silverstar said. He then wrapped Cactus up in a tight embrace and popped his brows at her. “We jes... show 'em in private...”
“Oh! My dear...” Cactus said, returning the embrace and nuzzling at Silverstar's neck. The others gave light laughs and similarly snuggled up, returning to watching the sky glow as the sun set.
- - -
“Where should we land when we get into the area?” Gilda asked, yelling a little bit so that her voice carried through the wind.
“The outskirts, not on the far edge from... the place you'd rather not go, but on one of the middle points between the two,” Trixie responded, her head beside Gilda's, her legs clutching the griffiness for dear life.
“Sounds good. We can start asking around about a place to stay. Kinda sucks they don't have a real hotel,” Gilda said, smoothly diving to avoid a bank of clouds.
“Roa know the roads, and know the towns. Small places never need them, only a few even bother with small inns or lodging-taverns. Resort towns have them but they have something to see,” Trixie noted, “Las Pegasus, for example, or the many cities in our homeland now that they are open to tourists.
Gilda let out a happy 'skree' and executed a quick loop. “I love the way you say 'our', dude.”
Trixie gave a loud shriek, half of fear, half of delight, as the roll tested the strength of her grip. She gave Gilda an extra-tight squeeze. “Mind your exuberance! You have a passenger, not a load of dead weight,” she chided.
“I've got both,” Gilda said cheekily, thumping the bags attached to her.
“Hmph! Being right is no excuse for rudeness,” Trixie said.
“Does that apply all around?” Gilda asked with some humor.
Trixie went stiff for a moment before grumbling out, “Impudent griffin...”
“You love it, you love it all day and all night,” Gilda laughed, flying in a gentle, undulating wave pattern for a moment. “Still... think we'll even get a place?”
“If we arrive early enough I suppose we should find space,” Trixie answered.
“Not what I meant. You and me... we're good now. And we love each other. But we burned a whole mountain pass worth of bridges. We really squawked off a lot of folks. They're not gonna forget. And if most of them did forget, you know there are a few that won't,” Gilda noted, with a serious tone.
“Then we will be as our blood before us. Set up a camp, cook over a fire, and endure,” Trixie said. “Can you endure?”
“Anything and everything as long as you show me where to point my hard head,” Gilda said with a laugh, despite her intention to be serious.
“Then speed on! We need either time to find a place or time to build one,” Trixie said grandly, pointing at the horizon with her hoof.
- - -
Ponyville was, despite proximity to the capitol and the notability of some residents, just a small town. It lacked many amenities found in places even just slightly larger. But that proximity meant that some things were put up merely out of need. One of those things was a small but serviceable airship station. It had a few raised arrival platforms, sufficient for craft up to commuter size, some hangars for repair, a refueling station and a small visitor building, all of it in the rustic style of the rest of the town.
Both airships which had departed from different layers of Canterlot and come down the mountain by different routes arrived at the port at nearly the same time. Local port attendants made the ships fast to the platforms, and helped to bring down the gangplanks on both vessels.
Platinum and Basalt were the first ones to come down, walking side-by-side, with Basalt keeping a hand on Platinum's back. They halted on their platform and watched as Wonderbolts filed out of the other vessel and set themselves up in two lines, at attention. “Announcing the arrival of their Honorarium Highnesses Prince Blueblood and Princess Connie of Canterlot!” Shouted the odd pony out in the group, who stood at the bottom of the plank.
Blueblood and Connie strolled down a moment later, Blueblood looking cool and calm, Connie looking a bit more uncomfortable with the whole thing. As they passed the Wonderbolts fell into step behind them, the lead one marching ahead of them when she was reached. “Seems a bit much, don't you think?” Connie asked aside to Blueblood.
“Think of it as a perk. Surely you like such things. They must make you at least a little happy, right?” Blueblood asked back, giving Connie a hopeful smile.
Connie rolled her eyes and gave a slow nod. “I suppose so. But I'm a donkey. Solid, efficient, not too concerned with all this flash.”
“That is the nature of the position. Even if it never grows on you, I think you deserve it. Indulge my desire to glorify you,” Blueblood said, giving Connie a kiss on the cheek.
“Oh you...” Connie blushed and gave Blueblood a nudge. Her strength sent him stumbling to the side, and into one of the marching Wonderbolts, who discreetly nudged him back into place.
“Ah, Prince Blueblood, Princess Connie, this is a surprise, and yet it is not,” Platinum said, as she and Basalt made their way down the plank towards the royal procession.
“No, not a surprise at all, I would think. It is truly good to see you, Mrs. and Mr. Shine,” Blueblood said with a slight nod of his head.
“How flattering, you know who we are,” Platinum said, blushing a touch and turning her head towards Basalt.
“Great-auntie Luna mentioned you. She said you might be coming here, and wanted me to make certain you knew you were in the royal thoughts,” Blueblood said.
“Princess Luna knows of us? How flattering,” Platinum said.
“You bring pride to the upper reaches of Canterlot. You deserve the notice,” Connie said, looking up at Basalt. “Mm, personally I prefer mine.”
“Well, he is quite taken,” Platinum said with a laugh.
“Yes, gem not in situ. Polished and in collection, have setting and not need other,” Basalt wurfed, stroking slowly down Platinum's back.
“My good fellow, I could not have said it better myself,” Blueblood laughed. “Are you off to see the Mayor of the town?”
“Of course. We need to stamp our permits and pay the lodging fee for a few days of docking. I'm amazed that you must as well. I would have thought that the royal household would have done that already,” Platinum said.
“It was my idea. I want him to, you know, do some work now and then. It's... upper terrace work, having to get his own permits rather than having someone do it for him but it's something,” Connie said.
“See! Pony Prince work! Wife makes work. Why not let me work?” Basalt whined.
“I know you do this for the good of your husband, but my husband has a work ethic that would exhaust ten ursas, and he cannot stand delegation. I think you've set me up for a week of whining and whimpering,” Platinum said with a laugh.
“Sorry, but I do what I must,” Connie noted, giggling a bit.
- - -
“I realize that you'd like lodging but... I'm sorry,” The pegasus mare said, gently closing her door in Gilda and Trixie's faces. With no formal lodging in town, most citizens who had spare rooms made themselves available as bed and breakfasts.
“And that is how ponies are unkind to you,” Trixie said. “They probably have something against one of us, if not both of us, but these ponies aren't going to spit and fight. They will kindly tell us to move along.”
“We're running out of town,” Gilda noted, casting her eagle eyes down the main drag. “We're coming close to a place I can't go.”
“Won't go,” Trixie corrected. She didn't look perturbed when Gilda turned an angry glare on her. “You cannot endure if your hurt feelings stop you from taking advantage of every opportunity that may be available to you.”
“It's more than hurt feelings and you know it,” Gilda insisted, hissing through her teeth. “That mare probably wants to kill me. And even if not, my ex is probably over there. Do you really want to deal with that?”
“Pain comes, pain goes. The wheel turns and we endure. You cannot stop life from hurting you by hiding in your arrogance and aerie heights. You still think like a Bald, and that stops you from living like a Roa,” Trixie said.
Gilda winced, and slumped a little bit. “Ugh. I hate my family more than usual right now...”
Over at the train station the overnight express arrived at last, and let out the contingent from Appleoosa. “Ahh, the city looks so lovely,” Honeysuckle said, looking over at the grand rise of Canterlot. “But I would never choose to move back. Still, a visit would not come amiss, if it is alright with you, darling.”
“Is alright. Can see delicious crystal caves in mountain. Have tours now,” Topaz said, with a lick of her lips.
“Besides the coming of our Changeling citizens I suppose that the revelation of those caves was another positive outcome of the failed invasion,” Honeysuckle said with a laugh.
“Not a bad idea. Maybe a trip would be nice,” Silverstar said, rubbing his chin. “Before that, we gotta find rooms. Wanna go all at once or split up?”
“Now, Sheriff... well... ah think ah know where we can get us all rooms,” Braeburn said, looking a little shifty and nervous.
“Is that so? Jes where might that be, Mister Apple?” Silverstar asked.
“Well, ah was told by some kin that... the homestead out here is plenty big an' ain't got much in the way of folk inside. Should have rooms, as we're all hitched, 'r formally engaged. Gotta be at least that ta lodge in a proper room,” Braeburn said.
“A rustic setting. Should provide us with some familiar surroundings,” Honeysuckle said with a nod.
“Would a pony place be big enough for me? I only fit in Clari's place because it's big,” Howling said.
“Long as ya don't mind takin' up the whole bed an' havin' yer wife laying on top-a ya,” Braeburn noted, pulling a face as he thought about what he said.
“Sounds like my kinda place,” Howling said, with a pop of his brows towards Clarion.
“I confess, it sounds delightful,” Clarion said with a laugh.
“Straight on through town an' out inta the farmland,” Braeburn said. He hung back with his wife as the others walked on.
“So now, tell me... which member of yer family gave ya the idea ta lodge here at Sweet Apple Acres?” Silverstar asked.
“Ta tell the truth, Sheriff, it was Badinage. He's fulla good advice,” Braeburn confessed.
“Oh he's fulla somethin', but ya ain't wrong about good advice,” Silverstar said with a hearty chuckle.
The mass of Appleoosans moved through Ponyville like an odd parade, greeting cheerful pony folks and waving to the happy citizens as they made their way down the streets and out into the farmland. Braeburn took up the head of the procession once they got to the dirt path leading to the farmhouse, and he was the one who knocked at the front door.
“Jes a minute! Jes a minute...” Granny Smith called from behind the door. She opened the door with a smile, “What can ah...” Her smile fell for a moment but popped back up quickly. “Well now... Braeburn. Mah dear grandson. An' yer wife... an' guests from out in Appleoosa. Wh-what brings ya hereabouts?”
“Well... don't ya know?” Braeburn asked.
“Oh... oh... fer that,” Granny Smith said. “Well, ah suppose y'all 're after rooms.”
“Yes, it would be most helpful if we could all lodge in familiar surroundings,” Honeysuckle said.
“Well, y'all look like upstanding folk. Hitched, are ya?” Granny Smith asked, peering at the couples.
“Honeysuckle engaged to me. Waiting to hitch, pony father want big, fancy wedding,” Topaz noted, smiling broadly.
“Wealthy feller, is he?” Granny Smith asked of Honeysuckle, trying to ignore the large Dog.
“Well-off enough. He owns the newspaper and comes from Canterlot money. I don't need a big wedding. But if he chooses to fuss, then it is his business,” Honeysuckle said with a soft laugh.
“Well... ah wanna be of assistance. Er with mah kin an' all but... it's hard...” Granny Smith stumbled over her excuses, seeking any kind of plausible explanation for her refusal. She caught sight of two other figures coming up the path and suddenly had a moment of inspiration. “Ah've got one room an' they already had it. Ah figgered it was best ta get folk reserved. Better that folk know they've got rooms,” she said with a strained smile.
Braeburn and Little Strongheart looked to one another knowingly, Little Strongheart saying, “It is understandable, grandmother. We will seek lodging in town.”
Granny Smith nodded absentmindedly as she creaked her old bones down the path. She wasn't thrilled by what she saw, a unicorn and a griffin, but it was better than what had showed up on her doorstep. “Ladies! Ladies! Ah got yer room all set an' ready fer ya!”
Gilda tilted her head and blinked a few times. “Seriously? Our room is ready? I expected we'd get buried in rotten apples.
“Good baxt comes to one and all in time. Let us take advantage,” Trixie whispered across to Gilda. “Our room is ready? Excellent! Then please lead us to it, Bibi Apple.”
Granny Smith sighed with relief as the Appleoosans walked off, and she walked behind her two guests. At least she'd make some comfortable money. It was just then that she noticed the ribbon swinging around under the mare's tail. A ribbontail. Of all her luck... “Upstairs, first on th' left...”
“What in the name-a Tartarus are ya doin' here?” Applejack shouted from inside the house.
“You got some nerve, Gilda! I never figured you'd get this desperate. I mean, I know I'm awesome but...” Rainbow Dash said, posing a little bit.
“Ugh, check your ego, Dash! And yours too, hays- Applejack,” Gilda said, with an aggravated tone.
“That's a fine thing comin' outta yer mouth, critter,” Applejack said. “What're ya doing here? An' with this one?” She asked, pointing to Trixie.
Trixie stood proudly and looked imperious. “We are here for obvious reasons. A moment of thought will make you aware of what would bring the likes of us.”
“Oh, yeah... what's wrong, couldn't get a place in town?” Dash asked.
“Tried, but you know how they feel about us. Kinda surprised your Granny here just gave us a room,” Gilda said.
“And if you need to know of our harmlessness and our new and better nature, just ask your friend Twilight Sparkle. And Pinkie Pie. They will tell you the truth,” Trixie noted.
Dash and AJ looked to one another and gave a shrug. “I'll go see Twi,” Dash said, speeding suddenly out of the front door.
“Why would ya offer a room so fast, Granny?” AJ asked.
“It was good luck for us. There was a large collection that left as we arrived, several buffalo and a Diamond Dog with some ponies. They looked very rustic,” Trixie noted.
“All makes sense now...” AJ said, trying not to look disgusted. “Ah'll be in town seein' 'bout... things. Don't cause no trouble.”
- - -
Out in an Everfree clearing, Nightwatch Section Chief Brandy Punch, known as Slivovitz, was cooking an oat cake over an open fire as the sun started to rise. The dark puce mare swept back her curly black mane and noticed two figures strolling up to her. “A bit late, isn't it?”
The two figures saluted Slivovitz. One was a hunter green stallion with a brown mane, the other a medium-sized grayish Diamond Dog female, Constable Clear Facet and his wife Constable Emerald Facet. “Section Chief, permission to take time to go into town for the celebration,” Clear said.
“Permission denied,” Slivovitz said sternly. She then winked and motioned with her head. “Go out there for two days if you like. I'm surprised you didn't take off yesterday.”
“Not right to leave. Have to ask permission. Regulations,” Emerald said, still standing in a salute.
“That's why you're one of the elite,” Slivovitz said with a laugh. “Try not to fall asleep out there. Daylight hasn't been your habitat for a while.”
“Not today, not where we're going,” Clear said.
Over at Sweet Apple Acres Gilda and Trixie stepped out of the farmhouse, behind Big Macintosh and Smarty Pants, with Applebloom trailing behind them. Gilda was looking mostly neutral about everything, until Applebloom suddenly zipped off with a squeal and over to a figure waiting for her in front of the house. “A zebra? Here? You're a long way from your Veldt.”
“And what is this I see? A Bald come far from her cold aerie,” Zecora said, looking at Gilda with a stern expression.
The two women looked at one another with a hard stare, increasing the tension of the scene. “What's all this about?” Big Macintosh asked.
Before either Trixie or Smarty Pants could speak up Applebloom chimed in with, “Griffins an' zebras share a border with each other an' Equestria. They ain't non too friendly 'cause griffins bother zebras with complaining about the border line an' huntin' on the veldt without permits. Ponies help 'em be polite.”
“We don't need help... doesn't hurt but we don't need it,” Gilda said with some reluctance.
“How do you happen to know all that, Applebloom?” Smarty Pants asked. “I knew it because Twilight's mother was from the Veldt.”
“Applebloom pressed against one of Zecora's legs and smiled brightly. “She don't jes teach me 'bout plants an' potions.” She looked at her flank quickly and grumbled when no Cutie Mark seemed forthcoming.
“Teaching her about your ways and land? Are you engaged in some fashion?” Trixie asked of Zecora.
“It is indeed as you have said,” Zecora responded with a nod. “When she is sixteen we will be wed.”
“Well now, learning about life and culture, and engaged. Isn't that interesting?” Trixie asked, looking over at Gilda with a smile.
Gilda scoffed but nodded. “Okay, there's common sky. I'm Equestrian now, I can let it drop.”
The group set out to Ponyville proper, which was decorated to the nines. Banners, balloons and other party touches were all over, filled with hearts of all colors. Couples wandered all over the place, waving and calling to their neighbors. The interspecies couples in the town were all in a kind of loose parade, heading towards the edge of town.
“Dearest, please do hurry, we want a good spot,” Doctor Soft Heart, the Ponyville veterinarian, said with a touch of insistence.
“Coming! Want to look good,” her husband, Labradorite, responded. He was a greenish-brown, small-breed Diamond Dog, looking at himself in the bathroom mirror and brushing his coat carefully.
“Men and their vanity...” Soft said with a giggle. “You always look handsome to me!” She called out.
Labradorite made his way out into the front room and executed a slow turn, showing off his white dress shirt, red vest and black pants. “Is good?”
“It's perfect. Come along, the other couples are already crowding,” Soft said, giving Labradorite a kiss on the cheek and moving out into town.
All the various interspecies couples were congregating in the small park space established on the way out to the gem fields, where had been placed the great statue depicting Baroness Larkspur and Baron Heliotrope, as they had been retroactively titled.
The gathering was impressive for the small town of Ponyville. Diamond Dogs, buffalo, Changelings, griffins, donkeys and the single zebra mingled with their pony partners and conversed politely with one another, trading tales of being in an interspecies relationship in various parts of the Principality.
There were no formal activities, no prescribed rituals or happenings. It was the first Hearts and Hooves Day with the new statue being a common cultural touchpoint. Many settled into a silent, contemplative observation of the statues, a few of the Dogs letting out mournful howls in honor of Heliotrope. Many photographs were taken in front of the statue. Some of the couples and groups had brought along picnic baskets, and were sharing with some of the others who came around.
“Does your heart good, doesn't it, your highness?” Platinum asked Prince Blueblood, as they stood slightly away from the scene.
“This is what Equestria ought to be, every day in every place,” Prince Blueblood responded, pressing warmly against his wife.
“Sad Heliotrope died. But is good ponies know he loved mare,” Basalt said solemnly, stroking down Platinum's back.
“Out of tragedy, this beauty. It doesn't make up for it, but like all Equestrians, we make the best from what we are dealt,” Platinum said, leaning lovingly against her husband's side.