Captain Equestria Prologue:
"Of Life and Strife"
It was a gorgeous summer morning in the breadbasket of Equestria, without a single cloud in the sky. Acres of apple trees stretched along the gently rolling hills on the outskirts of Ponyville, all in neatly ordered groves. Songbirds filled the air with their delightful music, which brought life to the already beautiful scenery.
And not too far away from the heart of Ponyville, in the unending sea of healthy apple trees, was a scrawny little earth pony filly named Applejack Apple. She was only twelve years old, but she still saw that as no reason she couldn’t enjoy a nice game of Hide and Seek. Which was what she was doing right now. In fact, due to her fragile build, she was easily able to hide in a small bush and watch a massive, dark red earth pony stallion countdown with his face pressed against the trunk of a freshly bucked tree. Seeing him like that made it very hard for Applejack to suppress her giggling.
“Three...Two...One...Here I come!” called her father in his deep, yet teddy bear gentle voice.
Applejack peered through the leaves to see him searching for her, his expressions and movements exaggerated as he peeked in places that no filly would normally fit.
“Now where can that little troublemaker be?” he wondered aloud, looking around one of the famous apple trees. He trotted over to the large wagon that sat nearby and looked underneath, pulling his head out a moment later, scratching his mane in feigned surprise. “Well I'll be darned, she ain't under here either.”
Applejack snickered to herself as she watched her father dip his head in a barrel. She was the Apple Family Hide and Seek champion three years running, she knew there was no way he would ever find her. Applejack gasped when she was suddenly grabbed a dark red hoof, and she screamed with delight as she felt herself being lifted into the air.
“There ya are, missy!” he playfully growled, blowing a raspberry on her stomach. Applejack giggled and playfully kicked her legs. Her dad then set her back down on the ground and started back towards the wagon, Applejack following close behind, still giggling. She watched in amazement as he was able to slip the massive yoke attached to the wagon back on without the tiniest bit of a struggle. Once his yolk was secured, he smiled at Applejack and motioned for her to climb on.
Applejack smiled and scampered onto his strong back. “Aw darn it, Pa! How'd ya find me so darn fast?” she asked, clambering up her father's neck, over his Stetson hat and leaned over in front of his face.
He laughed a deep rich laugh and shrugged slightly. “I can't rightly tell,” he said, as he started to pull the wagon down the well worn dirt road. “I just might have magic,” he said, looking her in the eyes and smiling warmly.
Applejack giggled. “No way Pa! Yer not a unicorn!”
Her father was about to respond when the loud clanging of a bell rang out across the fields, followed by a mare's voice calling out.
“Soups on everypony!”
Applejack's father looked in the direction of the sound and smiled broadly. “Eeyup! Yer Ma must be fixin' somethin' good fer us, AJ,” her father said, motioning towards the small, humble looking house at the end of the road. “Why don't go and see what it is, huh?”
Applejack nodded rapidly, grinning a toothy grin and jumped off his neck and started galloping towards the house as fast as her scrawny legs could carry her. She reached the house and practically bounded up the front porch, where a slightly older light green earth pony with a light blonde mane stood, ringing the dinner bell.
“Hey Sis!” Applejack called out as she ran by.
“Hey AJ, ma just finished breakfast.” Purity Smith said around the string in her mouth that was attached to the bell.
Applejack nodded and ran into the rustic kitchen, where her mother, a caramel colored earth pony with a blonde mane, stood by the stove, doing a last minute stirring for something simmering in her banged up pot. But even in the pot’s poor condition, her mother had still managed to pull of something that smelled positively heavenly. And Applejack knew that it would taste good, too, since it was her mother cooking. And mothers always knew how to make food good.
“Mornin', Ma!” Applejack said cheerfully as she quickly hugged her mother tightly.
“Mornin', Applejack,” her mother Apple Blossom replied, her voice kind and gentle. “And where's yer father?”
“He's a comin' up behind me.” Applejack replied as she trotted over to the breakfast table and sat down in her designated chair. Next to her stood a highchair in which had a tiny yellow baby filly with a red mane. The baby giggled and burbled at the sight of Applejack. Applejack reached over and rubbed the filly's forehead. “Howdy, 'Bloom, how ya doin'?”
Apple Bloom simply squealed in response, babbling a series of nonsense words as she reached out to try and teethe on Applejack's ponytail.
“Mornin' all.” her father called out as he entered the house, giving his wife a kiss on the cheek and reaching into the ice box to pull out a bottle of cider. He then trotted over to the breakfast table and sat down after giving both Applejack and Apple Bloom a quick kiss on their foreheads. Purity Smith followed behind him and sat next to him.
“Now, I wonder what mah beautiful wife has cooked fer breakfast,” he said, smiling when he saw his eldest crack a smile.
He looked towards his wife again, and she smiled warmly in response as she carried a platter with five bowls on it that were all filled with steaming hot oatmeal.
“It's oatmeal, hon,” she said once she set the platter down. She sat next to him and gave a phony stern look as she motioned towards the stetson still propped on his head. “Hon, yer hat.”
Applejack's father glanced up at it. “Wha? Oh!.” He gave her a kiss. “Where would I be without ya?”
He took the hat off and plopped it on Applejack's head. The large hat slid down her forehead, covering her eyes.
Apple Blossom rolled her eyes, a patient smile on her face. “Now, Applejack, you know there's no wearin' hats at the breakfast table.”
“Awe, come on, Ma!” Applejack groaned as she lifted the hat off of her eyes. “Why can't I wear it?”
“Cause its breakfast. Now, AJ, listen to yer Ma.” Her father said as he went about eating his food.
Applejack hung her head. “Yes, Pa.”
She pulled the hat off her head and set it down on the table. There was a long silence as the family quietly went about eating, with Apple Blossom spoon feeding Apple Bloom.
“So,” Apple Blossom spoke, still feeding Apple Bloom. “What took ya and AJ this mornin', hon?”
Applejack's father shrugged. “We was out in the south grove when this little troublemaker,” he playfully ruffled Applejack's mane. “Wanted ta play some hide and seek.”
Apple Blossom smiled warmly at Applejack and gave her quick peck on the cheek. “Of course she did, mah little angel she is.”
Applejack simply blushed and gave her mom a hug. Purity rolled her eyes at the scene and rested her head on her hoof as she glanced out the window. As soon as she looked out the window, her ears perked and she lifted her head as she tapped their father on the shoulder. When her father glanced at her she pointed out the window. Mr. Apple’s face instantly fell and Applejack and Apple Blossom looked at him with concern. And once they looked out the window, everyone became worried as the small cloud of kicked up dirt rapidly approached the simple house. When the visitor stopped in front of the house, the good mood had been replaced with dread.
“Oh no.” Father muttered as he stood up and trotted out the front door to greet the luxury open air carriage that was parked outside.
The carriage, which was pulled by two earth pony stallions, had the emblem of the Belle’s. The wealthiest family in Ponyville, and possibly one of the wealthiest in all of Equestria. Two upscale unicorns were sitting inside, enjoying the comfort of lavishly decorated and top tier soft cushions. The first one was a nattily dressed grey stallion with a well kept dark blue mane. Next to him sat a powder blue filly with a dark blue mane with purple highlights that looked to be about Applejack's age. She was in an incredibly ornate dress and held her head high in the air.
“Good morning, Mr. Apple” the stallion called out, stepping out of the carriage and magically tipping his hat towards the large earth pony, who tipped his head in response.
“Mornin', Mr. Belle,” he said reverently. “What brings ya to mah farm this fine summer mornin’?” His voice was now no longer the confident stallion from before, but rather humble and meek.
“Well, Mr. Apple, it seems you are approximately...” Mr. Belle paused, apparently trying to remember something. “Oh, it seems to have slipped my mind. Glory Belle?” he turned towards the filly sitting next to him. “Glory Belle, sweetie, how far behind rent is our friend here?”
An insufferably smug grin came on the filly's face as she trotted next to him. “He's a month behind, Father.”
“Excellent work my dear,” her father said, patting her head. He then turned back to Mr. Apple. “It seems my brilliant daughter is correct, Mr. Apple. It seems you are a month behind on the rent.”
Applejack could see her mother tense up at the words and look towards her husband, who simply looked down at the ground and nodded.
“That's right, sir. Mah apologies. We'll get ya yer money as soon as possible.” he said, his voice low and humiliated.
There is a pause as both stallions look at each other, their place in society painfully apparent. Not even the chirping or warm breeze could levy the intensity of the situation. But rather than going on a tangent about wanting his money now as most would expect from someone of Mr. Belle’s status, he merely clicked his tongue and looked at the family inside, noting their tense mood. He looked back at Mr. Apple and nodded in understanding.
“Alright then. I expect it by next Monday,” Mr. Belle said.
The filly next to him leaned out towards Applejack's father, the same insufferable look on her face.
“Did you hear that, digger?” she sneered, before her father quickly tugged on her tail with his magic causing her to yelp in pain.
“Glory Belle!” Mr. Belle said, sounding quite angry. “Such language! Say you’re sorry to Mr. Apple.”
He motioned towards Mr. Apple, and Glory Belle let out a theatrical groan and she looked back at Mr. Apple with disdain, and the gentle stallion averted his eyes to the ground. There was a long, painfully tense silence, and Mr. Belle’s scowl became more aggressive with each passing second. When he repeated himself, this time in such a way that one would think he was whipping his daughter, she winced and glared at the farmer.
“Sorry, Mr. Apple,” she said quietly through gritted teeth. She turned around and headed back towards the wagon, muttering: “Not my fault you’re a lousy good for nothing, dirt stomper.”
Mr. Belle was quick to turn her and smack her across the cheek, eliciting a sharp yelp from her and leaving a streak on her cheek. Mr. Apple winced, and when Glory Belle glared at him with more resentment than directed towards her father, he once again found himself looking at the ground, swallowing nervously.
“That's enough Glory!” exclaimed Mr. Belle. Then he pushed her towards the wagon, his stomps heavy and expression merciless. “As punishment for your disrespect to our clients, you won't be going to that sleepover!”
Glory Belle turned towards her father, aghast. “But Daddy-”
Mr. Belle shook his head and used his magic to put her in the backseat with what appeared to be office supplies. “No buts, young lady! You have shown behavior most unbecoming of a mare of your upbringing!”
When Glory Belle tried to protest, using a mix of high pitched whines and begs, he silenced her with another threat of a slap. That shut her up. Glory Belle folded her arms across her chest and glared at the stallions attached to the wagon. Mr. Belle stared at his daughter for another moment before briefly turning towards Mr. Apple.
“My sincerest apologies,” he said apologetically, he turned back to his daughter again, glaring, “I have no idea where she learned such language.”
Applejack's father simply shook his head. “No offense taken, Mr. Belle,” he said meekly.
Mr. Belle turned to Mr. Apple and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, smiling. “Good to see that I employ such long suffering and well mannered workers.” He then beckoned for the two earth pony drivers to ready themselves for pulling. “Now, remember Mr. Apple, I expect this month’s rent by next Monday. I have no doubts that you will be able to meet my deadline, now do I?”
Applejack's father simply nodded, trying in vain to smile confidently. “Yes, sir. Ya'll can be sure. We Apple's is honest folk.”
Mr. Belle smiled and climbed inside his wagon. “Good. I'll be going then.” He motioned towards the drivers. “Onward gentlecolts!”
And with that, the two earth ponies reared up and started off down the road again, leaving a trail of kicked up dirt. Mr. Apple stared at the ever shrinking wagon, and when they reached the fence, he sighed and walked back inside with his head down.
Applejack watched from the doorway as her father climbed the stairs of the front porch with slow, heavy steps. She wanted to say something, but words eluded her. Her father was always the one who cheered her up, he always seemed happy and unbreakable, but seeing him like this made her heart sink. When he gently rubbed her mane without even looking at her, she lowered her eyes and followed him back to the table. He sat down at the table and stared at his oatmeal, seemingly fighting a losing war to keep his anguish hidden. It was an expression Applejack hadn't seen since her Granny passed away.
Applejack carefully approached his side and put her slender hoof on his lap. This made her father look at her with a sad smile.
“Pa...” said Applejack quietly, still trying to find words to lift his spirit.
He all of a sudden embraced Applejack in a tight hug, gently rocking her as he stroked her mane. She felt his tears drip on her mane, and she sniffled as she contorted herself to return the hug. She knew it wasn't much, but hoped that it would be enough to give him some comfort that he has always shown her when she was sad.
Applejack looked up at her father as her mother walked up next to him and nuzzled him gently.
“Honey, don’t you worry. We’ll pay up,” her mother said in a soft voice.
Applejack smiled a bit, and hoped that her father would smile, too. After all, her mother was the most honest mare in Ponyville, so she knew she wouldn't lie about this. Everything would be okay, and her father would smile again. She hugged her father tighter, and he in turn squeezed her.
“I know, I know…” he replied as he rubbed Applejack's shoulder, but his voice was still doubtful. He sat at the table, the air heavy from sadness and resentment.
“Don’t worry Pa.” Applejack whispered as she looked up at her father.
Her father smiled down at her, the sadness still there in his eyes. Applejack nuzzled herself into her father’s large chest as her mother and sister joined in the hug. The family sat there quietly, hugging each other tightly.
Apple Bloom’s cries for attention broke the silence as she bucked against her highchair, seemingly trying to break free and join the hug. The family chuckled at her antics, relieved that there was something to distract them from the impending crisis.
Applejack’s father wiped tears from his eyes, but they returned to coat his eyes in a sad shimmer. “Come now, no time fer cryin’. Let’s finish our breakfast and get out with our day huh?” he said, his voice sounding somewhat choked.
Apple Blossom nodded, and attended to Apple Bloom, shushing her gently. Purity Smith also nodded, but solemnly, and silently resumed eating her oatmeal. Applejack did the same, only she kept glancing at her father as she gingerly ate her meal, and the family finished their breakfast in silence.
“Dear, stop worryin’ yerself,” Apple Blossom said as she snuggled next to her husband in their overused bed. “Everythin’ will sort itself out. It always has.”
Apple Buck simply nodded, looking out the window at one of the hundreds of apple groves that dotted the farm. His family had spent more than a hundred years cultivating and carefully tending this land, and, if he didn’t get that rent money by Monday, he would lose all of what his father’s had worked for.
His precious daughters would be without a home, and his beloved wife would be forced to work, a thought he couldn’t bear to conceive. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be, with him constantly groveling at the feet of some upstart unicorn or pegasus, just to get some money to feed his family or water for the crops. And yet, that was the way the world worked, and as much as Apple Buck wanted it to change, he knew that he could do nothing to change it.
He felt his wife’s warm embrace. “Oh Buck…” she said. “Don’t you worry none. The kid’s will be fine.” She ran a hoof through his dark brown mane. “We’ll get the money and pay the rent. Just like we always do. No worries.”
Apple Buck shook his head, scowling. “Na it ain’t all right. I work all too hard fer that money. Where’s it all go? To Mr. Belle.” He spat the name like a profanity.
Apple Blossom shook her head. “Hon, as bad as our lives are now, they could be worse. At least Blue Belle is a generous pony. The Belle’s have always been kind to our family. They gave yer great-granddad a job here back when he was a nopony. Think of it that way.”
“But that’s still not gonna pay the rent, ya know.” Apple Buck responded. “No matter how nice they are, we’re still a month behind. We gotta get them that money.”
“But how honey? What are you gonna do? Get another job?”
“Eeyup. It's the only way t' make sure that Mr. Belle doesn't take the farm.”
“But you work hard enough as it is.” Apple Blossom replied with worry, nuzzling him gently. She paused. “Let me get a job.”
“Absolutely not!” snapped Apple Buck. His wife shrunk back a bit, ears drooped and a small whine escaping her lips. Apple Buck sighed and hugged his wife, rubbing her shoulder in loving, apologetic strokes. “I'm sorry, honey, but I can't let ya do that. Who's gonna watch the kids if we're both workin'?”
Apple Blossom thought for a moment. “The Harvest's?”
Apple Buck snorted. “Those folk are jus' 'bout as greedy as them unicorns. The moment we ask 'em fer help, they'll charge us as much as the rent.”
Apple Blossom's face fell and she snuggled against Apple Buck again, feeling the tension with every breath he took. She looked up at her husband again, trying to get him to look into her eyes, but he was focused on the beautiful farm land that they might lose. She knew that getting another job was the only option, but she also knew that Apple Buck's mouth was making promises his legs can't keep.
“What about the Heartstrings? They are a kind family and-”
“No! I cannot allow other folks t' raise our children, Blossom! Much less them dang unicorns! If we let other folks raise our kids then we might as well go and sell 'em, seein' as how they'll be the one’s raisin' them!” Apple Buck replied harshly.
Apple Blossom leaned away from Apple Buck, her hoof still on his chest but the fires of a woman scorned burning in her eyes as the severity of his words stabbed her like a knife. Apple Buck returned the glare, completely unmoved by the look his wife was giving him.
“Listen to yerself, Buck!” cried Apple Blossom, eyes wet with tears. “Ya sound just like them folks in Canterlot!”
Apple Buck shook his head. “Well, if it's 'bout us raising our own kids, I reckon it is the one thing we agree on!”
“No! It's about you bein' stubborn and not lettin' me get a job or askin' fer help from the Hearstring's simply because they're unicorns!” Apple Blossom retorted.
Apple Buck swore under his breath as he climbed out of bed, then he turned to his wife and pointed at his barrel, chest heaving and face getting a violent shade of red.
“I'm doin' everything I can ta put food on tha table, give you and the girls a home! It is mah job t' take care of you, and by Celestia I will do that!”
“Yer gonna get yerself hurt with how much yer workin'! Please let me help!”
Apple Buck pointed out the window, towards the sleeping town. “Do ya want ta work down there! Down there with all 'em degenerates and hooligans!” Apple Blossom shrunk under his wrathful shouts, but he can't hear her whimper, he's too busy yelling. “I know them folks! Those crooks ain't no better than Canterlot! If yer a little ole earth pony mare without somepony ta protect ya, they will grab ya, abuse ya, and spit ya out like the garbage they think you are!”
Apple Buck turned towards the door when Apple Bloom started to cry, then he looked back at his wife. Apple Blossom had collapsed to the floor and was now sobbing in her hooves. Apple Buck silently grabbed his stetson and stomped out of the room.
In the hallway, he slammed the door shut, muffling his wife's crying, and was about to go down the stairs when he noticed a pair of green eyes staring at him from the doorway. Apple Buck looked at Applejack, noting the tears in her eyes as she cradled Apple Bloom, and he opened his mouth to say something, but couldn't find the words, so he just walked down the stairs with his head down.
When Applejack heard the front door slam shut, she lowered her eyes and continued to rock Apple Bloom as her tears dripped down on the baby.
Early the next morning, Apple Buck stood with massive bags under his eyes at the front gate of Mr. Belle’s palatial estate. He was dressed in his Sunday best, which wasn’t much. A nice, rather simple looking dark brown jacket and his ever-present Stetson. A rather stocky unicorn in a neatly pressed uniform stood in front of him, looking at him dismissively.
Apple Buck's mind was heavy with guilt from his explosive tangent last night with Apple Blossom, and him spending some time with hard cider at the local pub didn't make matters any better when he woke up. All it did was give him a moment of relaxation at the price of a throbbing head, burning eyes, and a bad smell. A smell that he could not get rid of even if Celestia wished it.
“What seems to be the trouble, Mr. Apple?” The guard pony suddenly spoke, snapping Apple Buck’s attention away from his guilt ridden thoughts.
Apple Buck swallowed and took off his hat as he tried to look up at the unicorn. “I just wanna speak with Mr. Belle if that’s okay wit ya.”
The unicorn huffed. “For what reason? I have to know, otherwise you’re not allowed in.”
Apple Buck nodded submissively. “Yes sir. I’m here ta talk ta Mr. Belle about allowing me ta get an extra job.”
The unicorn guard raised an eyebrow. “Extra job? Why might I ask would you need an extra job?”
Apple Buck hesitated. “So that’d I can pay mah rent. I’m a month behind on it, and I need the money.”
“Is that so?” the unicorn replied, his voice practically dripping with disdain.
Apple Buck's eyes lowered to the pampered pavement as the disdain in the unicorn’s tone and last night's events left him emotionally sore.
There was a painfully long pause between the two before the unicorn finally nodded. “Alright then. Let’s just have a quick security check and then you may continue.”
At those words, the unicorn’s horn flared up and Apple Buck could feel the instantly recognizable tingle of magic running over his body, including some very personal places. After what felt like an eternity of abject embarrassment, the dark green glow around the unicorn’s horn died and he nodded.
“Okay you check out. Go on then.”
Apple Buck nodded and the gate started to open, glowing the same dull green as the unicorn’s horn.
The front gate was at least three times his height, and was seemingly made of solid bronze. At the end of a long cobble stone road was the beautiful mansion that belonged to Mr. Belle.
“Oh and digger!” the unicorn shouted after him as he started down the cobblestone path. Apple Buck stopped in his tracks and turned slowly to face the unicorn, who eyed him suspiciously. “Don’t try anything funny. Got it?” the unicorn said, pointing an accusatory hoof at him.
“Yes sir.” Apple Buck replied, turning back to the path and walking down the cobblestone road.
Alongside the road were two long hedges that were taller than Apple Buck himself. They gave the path a closed in feeling and it made Apple Buck uncomfortable. He was used to open spaces, not tiny roads. It was awfully quiet inside the gates, as the large walls blocked off the outside world.
Never in his life had Apple Buck seen such opulence. Behind the hedges were a seemingly endless variety of well kept and manicured gardens, with all sorts of flowers and trees of a thousand different colors, all of which are being kept by earth ponies. There were statues sitting atop fountains, which poured water down into koi ponds below, and were being washed and polished by earth ponies. Scattered around the gardens were several large topiaries, all made to look like various types of ponies and other animals. An especially large willow tree was being attended to by another earth pony, who briefly stopped his work and waved towards Apple Buck.
Apple Buck waved back rather awkwardly, not saying anything. He noticed that while all the dirty work was being done by earth ponies, the unicorns walked around with pleasant smiles and hushed conversations. He even spotted a couple of pegasi enjoying what he could only guess were high class drinks and pastries with other unicorns as earth ponies waited them with carefully balanced trays on their heads. Apple Buck guessed that there was some sort of party going on, but didn't risk checking it out, especially when a unicorn mare gave him a scornful look that caused one of the manor guards to eye him suspiciously.
Apple Buck swallowed and continued his trek with his head down, which seemed to be enough to dissuade the magical bearers and winged ponies from pondering his presence further.
He finally reached the front porch and stared in awe at the mansion before him. Whereas his house was a simple two story affair with clapboard roofing, this place would be better described as castle.
It was at least four stories tall, painted a bright white. The windows were the single cleanest windows he’d ever seen. Perched right above the massive rosewood door was the Belle Family coat of arms, which was two unicorns rearing up, their horns crossing over a large diamond. The floorboards creaked as Apple Buck set foot on them, and he paused right in front of the oak door.
He reached up a hoof to knock and then hesitated. He actually hadn’t thought he’d get this far. He had expected to be turned back at the gate, humiliated. Instead, asides from the rather invasive security check, and the hawk-like scrutiny of the unicorn guards patrolling, he hadn’t noticed any particular problems. Maybe his luck would continue and Mr. Belle would grant his request.
He finally started to knock on the door, aiming on the only worn spot on the door. The rest of the door was so well polished that he could see his own reflection in the rosewood. The door’s thickness prevented his knocks from making much noise. It didn’t help that he knocked as if the door were made of glass and might shatter at any moment either.
He paused, waiting awkwardly for someone to respond. A few moments passed and there was no answer. All of a sudden, a voice called out to him.
“Hey! You have to ring the doorbell.”
Apple Buck turned in the direction of the voice to see an earth pony tending to a nearby bush. He let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding and relaxed. “Oh, really?”
The earth pony nodded. “Yup. Or else The Boss won’t hear ya. Door’s too damned thick.” The pony then laughed. “Hay, you could buck it and he wouldn’t be able to hear ya.”
“Thank ya.” Apple Buck replied, causing the other pony to simply wave a hoof.
“Just doin’ my job is all. Good day.” and with that, he returned to the bush he was tending.
Apple Buck smiled slightly. With a sense of renewed confidence, he searched for the doorbell. He found it as a cable that ran along the side of the door and disappeared into the wall. He gave it a gentle tug. He could hear the faint sound of a bell ringing coming from inside. Then, the sound of rapidly advancing hoofsteps. The door unexpectedly opened to reveal a gray earth pony with a well groomed, silver and white mane wearing a tuxedo. It was quite obvious that the butler took pride in his work.
“Oh. Hello there. How may I help you?” he asked in a practiced Canterlot accent.
Apple Buck once more took his hat off his head, bowing his head in respect. “I’d like ta speak with Mr. Belle. Iffin’ that’s okay wit ya.”
The earth pony nodded rather tersely before stepping asides, motioning towards the inside of the house. “Come in. Mr. Belle is in his office.”
Apple Buck smiled with the puny amount of confidence he was able to muster and walked inside. “Thank ya kindly.”
The other earth pony simply nodded and closed the door behind him, before trotting up in front of Apple Buck and motioning for him to follow.
As Apple Buck walked into the mansion and let out a low whistle as he took in the incredible grandeur of the home, their own hooffalls echoed through the house, making Apple Buck feel all the more out of place. While his house was cozy and rustic and welcoming to all, this place was the polar opposite. It was a place meant for the elite of society. Not for diggers. The floor was polished to a mirror shine that made Apple Buck worried that his rough and well worn working boots might damage the floor. There was a exotic scent in the air that Apple Buck assumed came from the various pots of ornate flowers that were placed in the windows. The walls were covered in a mix of ornate wallpapers of various colors and paintings. Most of the paints were portraits of various unicorns that Apple Buck assumed where members of the Belle Family line.
Suddenly they came to a stop in front of another rosewood door, upon which was inscribed the Belle Family Coat of Arms.
“Pardon me,” the butler pony spoke before knocking firmly on the door. “Excuse me, Mr. Belle, it seems you have a visitor.”
There was the faint sound of rustling papers and muttering before the cultured voice of Mr. Belle responded.
“I, yes, you may let him in.”
The butler nodded and opened the door. “You may enter, sir.”
Apple Buck nodded and entered the office, and before the door closed, Mr. Belle called the butler.
“Hoity Toity, do check on my daughter, please. I want to make sure she's obeying the grounds of her punishment,” said Mr. Belle as he casually made some last minute touch ups to make his desk look proper for visitors. As in straightening some pens and adjusting his binder to a slight angle.
Apple Buck barely noticed the butler, Hoity Toity, cringe, but the faithful servant nonetheless put on a smile.
“Of course, sir.”
And with that, the doors shut, leaving Apple Buck and Mr. Belle alone. Mr. Belle stood up from where he was seated, smiling broadly.
“Well, I must say, Mr. Apple, I was not expecting your appearance today,” said Mr. Belle. “Did you come up with the rent already?”
Mr. Belle laughed at himself and Apple Buck forces himself to chuckle with the upscale unicorn.
“No, I'm 'fraid not, sir,” said Apple Buck. Mr. Belle nodded, completely expecting an answer like that. “But it is 'bout the rent, and I was hopin' ya could be mah audience fer just a minute as I present a request.”
Mr. Belle grinned as he gave Apple Buck a great pat on the back like they were best friends. “You're trying too hard to be a unicorn, Mr. Apple. Come, come, sit down, relax, and tell me what's on your mind.”
He motioned towards the front of the desk, while making his way back behind his desk, where he sat down again. Apple Buck smiled weakly, still feeling incredibly out of place and like an idiot for trying to impress his boss, and sat down. Mr. Belle looked towards him expectantly, while Apple Buck simply fidgeted, not sure what to say. The only sound between them was the radio that was tucked in the corner. It happened to be tuned into some news station playing from a dial radio, where the host was speaking of civil unrest.
“And more news from the Earth Pony Liberation Front meeting in Manehattan. Authorities have made several arrests after several violent riots broke out, including high ranking members of the E.P.L.F. who were speaking at the event and being accused of insinuating the violence. Authorities refuse to comment on whether or not they have pressed any charges, but our reporter did speak with Chief of Police Stalwart Guard...”
Mr. Belle glanced towards the radio and discreetly switched the radio station to a jazz channel, filling the room with something more upbeat. It didn't make Apple Buck feel better, though, it only made him feel more awkward, especially when Mr. Belle got into the jazz subject.
“Ah, Celestia, I do love jazz.” Mr. Belle said with a relaxed sigh. “Do you play jazz, Mr. Apple?”
Apple Buck shook his head. “'Fraid not, sir.”
“Neither do I. How about listen? Do you listen to jazz?”
Apple Buck shook his head again with a weak smile. “No, sir, I'm a uh... a country stallion.”
Mr. Belle chuckled. “Well, let's move on, then, shall we? What is that you need?”
Apple Buck shifted awkwardly in his seat for a few moments, pondering what to say. “Well, um, Mr. Belle, I was thinkin’ iffin I’m able tah look fer extra work iffin that’s alright wit ya.” He managed to stutter out, reflexively taking his hat off and twiddling with it in his hooves, all while looking down at the floor.
There was another weighted pause between the two as Apple Buck busied himself studying the ornate carpet below his feet. Mr. Belle’s expression, meanwhile, shifted from the expected smile from before to a slightly more pensive expression. The only noise to fill the void was the jazz music playing from the radio. The jaunty music standing in stark counterpoint to the unsettling silence between the two ponies.
All of a sudden, Mr. Belle spoke up, making the farmer flinch. “Mr. Apple, I’d be quite alright with you seeking out extra work. If that is what you need to do to provide for your family in the way you see fit, then by all means, please do so.”
Apple Buck looked up from the floor in shock. “’Cuse me sir? I’m able tah do that?”
Mr. Belle nodded. “Of course!” he chuckled. “I mean, seriously, my dear boy, whatever possessed you to think that I would for some reason deny your request? If anything, we both benefit from it. You have a way to provide for your wonderfully charming children; whereas I can rest assured that you will pay your debts. Its simple mathematics my friend.” And with that he stood up and motioned for Apple Buck to stand. Trotting over to the office door, the unicorn opened it. Apple Buck meanwhile, stood up with a dazed smile faintly visible on his face.
“Th-thank ya kindly, Mr. Belle,” he said as he stepped out the door. “I really mean that.”
Mr. Belle simply nodded and walked him towards the front door. “Think nothing of it. I might be your superior, and I may be from Canterlot, but by no means does that mean I’m a dictator. I am a kind master, Mr. Apple, and I would absolutely hate to see my servants unhappy.”
They walked up to the front door and Hoity Toity quickly trotted past them to open the door for them. Mr. Belle quickly thanked the butler, in which he returned with a smile and a bow.
“I’m sure of that sir.” Apple Buck said, still in a daze.
Celestia must have been smiling on him today. He walked out of the door with a smile on his face, pausing on the front porch to take it the sunny day.
He had done it. He had managed to provide for his family. They wouldn’t have to worry any more. No more humiliation, no more having to cut corners so that they would have enough cash left over to buy both food and pay the rent.
He turned to say thank you once more, only to be greeted by the door slamming rather unceremoniously in his face. The nearly deafening sound of the door slamming shut behind him grounded him back into reality, shaking him out of his fantasy. This was the real world, a world where he was at the bottom of the social ladder. A place where one minute, someone might be nice to him only to slam the door in his face once he turned away.
He started down the path, feeling once more like dirt, but figuring that at least Mr. Belle had given him the decency of letting him into his own mansion and talking with him. Maybe once he paid the rent again and kept the payments nice and regular he could earn his respect and hopefully one day, be allowed to own the farm in earnest.
With that hope in his heart, he trotted a little faster.