“Okay, where is it?” Graves asked as he scanned the boutique’s back yard. If there was a scuttling stone around, it had hidden itself very well: not a single blade of grass was out of place in the immaculately manicured lawn.
“Uh, it must have crawled under a bush or something,” Scootaloo suggested. “I’ll go check it out!” Without another world, the purple-haired girl dashed for a nearby shrub and disappeared underneath.
“Might be too heavy to lift on yer own: I’ll help!” Apple Bloom called out as she dashed after her, also disappearing into the foliage. Graves looked at Rarity, who then looked at Sweetie Belle, who looked up at both of them and smiled.
“Well, while they’re going off to find the rock, why don’t you two go wait over there?” Taking each of them by the hand, the little girl walked them over to a well-pruned oak tree and positioned them under its spreading branches.
“Sweetie Belle, what on earth is going on?” Rarity asked.
“Not much,” her little sister replied innocently. “They should be back soon. In fact, I’ll go and check on them right now.” Skipping back to the bush, Sweetie Belle leaned over and peaked her head in, apparently discoursing with her friends inside.
“What do you suppose it’s about?” Graves asked Rarity, who simply gave a tired sigh.
“I’m not sure I even want to know.”
But know she would, because right then, the bush literally exploded.
Amidst the swirling mass of leaves, Apple Bloom came rushing out at them, holding onto one end of a long piece of rope. The other end was held firmly in Scootaloo’s teeth, her hands busy steering the scooter she rode forward like a charging battle stallion.
The rope caught the marshal and Rarity around the waist and the two little girls quickly turned, Apple Bloom vaulting over the line to loop it back around. Around and around they circled in a dizzying whirlwind, and in a mere matter of moments, Graves and the pretty seamstress were trussed together tighter than Rainbow Dash’s grip on tickets to see the Wonderbolts.
“Sweetie Belle! Just what do you think you’re doing?!” Rarity shrieked as Apple Bloom and Scootaloo tied off the rope. None of the girls answered her as all three had backed up to look over their handiwork.
“Did that do it?” Scootaloo asked, head cocked to one side.
“I dunno, maybe we should ask them,” Apple Bloom suggested, head cocked to the other.
“Do you feel any different, sis?” Sweetie Belle asked as she looked up at Rarity expectantly.
“Different?” the fashionista repeated, a crimson tint rising in her face as she glared daggers at the girls. “Oh, I feel different all right. When I get out of here Sweetie Belle, ooh…”
“Told you she’d be mad,” Sweetie Belle said to her friends.
“Well, looks like it’s up to the shower,” Scootaloo shrugged.
“Shower? What shower?” Rarity demanded, but was once again ignored as Apple Bloom and Scootaloo scaled the tree like a pair of monkeys. Tracking them with his eyes, a quick flash of surprise crossed the marshal’s face while the young lady tied to him continued her protests.
“Sweetie Belle, if you don’t let me out of here this instant…”
“Uh, Rarity?” Graves said, eyes still up in the tree. “Might want to keep your head down.”
“What?” she asked, turning over to look at the marshal in puzzlement. “But why on earth would I–”
Completely and utterly soaked, Graves turned his dripping face to address the sputtering young lady.
Looking up between her sopping wet tresses, Rarity’s eyes went wide as she saw Apple Bloom and Scootaloo perched on a thick branch. Apparently, the pink-bowed girl hadn’t been able to find a bucket, because sitting between her and her tomboy friend was biggest, emptiest rain barrel she’d ever seen. Empty now, because she and the marshal now stood dripping with its aqueous content.
“How’s that?” Apple Bloom called out as she and Scootaloo slid down the trunk to join their friend. “Did it work?”
“Well, did it?” Sweetie Belle asked again, only this time she directed the question at Graves. The marshal blinked once, half from confusion and half just to get the water out of his eyes.
“Did what work?”
“Do you feel any different?” the little girl pressed on intently.
“I feel… soggy? That’s new,” he offered.
It clearly wasn’t the answer she’d been looking for.
“Sweetie Belle, would you please untie us and tell me what’s going on?” Rarity said, smiling through gritted teeth. She hadn’t quite lost her temper yet, but pushing her any farther would probably just be tempting fate.
“I don’t get it,” the Scootaloo frowned as she fiddled with the knots. “We did everything by the book. Why didn’t it work?”
“Maybe we missed a step,” Sweetie Belle suggested as she pulled the sheet of parchment from her overall pocket. “Let’s see… um… no, looks like we got everything.”
“Girls, just what exactly were you trying to do?” the seamstress asked in exasperation.
“You see, Sweetie Belle was sayin’ how nice it’d be to have a big brother,” Apple Bloom explained. “Then I remembered Granny Smith tellin’ me about how this one feller joined our family way back in the day through some fancy old ongoing. So we went an' found out how this thing was supposed to work an' did it. Only it didn’t work out quite like we planned.”
“Wait,” the marshal called out as he shrugged out of the ropes. “You did all this because you,” he pointed at Sweetie Belle, “wanted me,” he pointed at himself, “as a… big brother?” The little girl beamed.
Graves didn’t know what to say. I mean, what did you say to something like that? He sure had no idea, but he had to admit, it had him feeling sort of warm and tingly inside. It was odd. Nice, but odd.
“But why the rope?” Rarity continued. “Why the barrel of water? Why the donuts?” She paused for a moment. “The donuts were part of this, weren’t they?”
“Yup!” Scootaloo beamed.
“Thought so. So anyway, how do all these make Graves your big brother, Sweetie Belle? And why did you need me?”
“Granny Smith says matrimonializing works better if the people are the same age,” Apple Bloom explained.
“Alright, I can see how that would implicate me,” Rarity acquiesced, “but what about…”
Then she blinked.
“Did – did you say, matrimonializing? As in… matrimony?”
Wide eyed, Rarity turned to look at the marshal. He stared back at her, the shock of Sweetie Belle’s bombshell statement providing a good foundation for the incredible surprise of this one. For a moment, the two just stared at each other.
And Rarity, soaked to the skin as she was with long, violet tresses dripping around her face, burst out laughing.
“Hey, what’s so funny?” Scootaloo demanded, little fists on hips as she scowled at the older couple. “What gives?”
“Graves, why’s my sister laughing?” Sweetie Belle asked the marshal. She didn’t get an answer though, as Graves had turned away and pulled his hat down, his cheeks already beginning to flush deep red with embarrassment.
“Oh, Sweetie Belle,” Rarity said through tear filled eyes. “You really are the most… incorrigible little sister I know.”
“But what’s so funny?” Apple Bloom asked in utter confusion. “Why’d you start laughin'?”
With a very fond smile, the young lady gathered the girls in, took their list, and began to explain everything. The marshal didn’t hear exactly what she said, but from their slowly enlarging eyes, it must have been a very educational experience indeed.
“…Oooohhhhh,” the three girls all sounded in unison.
“That warn’t nothing like what we thought,” Apple Bloom said in wonder.
“Yeah, looks like we were waaayyyy off,” Scootaloo agreed. Sweetie Belle just frowned for a moment.
“So wait, if that’s what matrimony is, then that means this entire time, we were trying to…”
Instantly, three pairs of eyes grew even larger and three pairs of cheeks immediately burned hotter than any bakery oven.
“It’s like Hearts and Hooves Day all over again,” Sweetie Belle whispered to her friends, to which they could only nod.
“Well, girls, is there anything else you’d like to help us with?” Rarity asked, her expression strained as she fought to keep further laughter from bursting out. The three crusaders took one look at each other and began shaking their heads vigorously.
“Uh… that’s okay, Rarity,” a flushed Scootaloo mumbled.
“Yeah, got loads of stuff to do, so… um,” Apple Bloom gulped.
“We’ll just be…running along now,” Sweetie Belle said with a weak smile.
And with one last embarrassed look at Rarity and the marshal, the three called, “Gottagookaybye!” and ran off.
“Honestly, what am I going to do with them?” Rarity chuckled to herself before turning towards her companion. “I really am sorry about all this, letting you get caught up in my sister’s crazy antics. Are you all right, Graves?”
“It’s fine,” he replied, now moderately recovered from the very unexpected turn of events. He turned to address the violet-haired girl, but as soon as he looked at her, his eyes nearly popped out of his head. Immediately spinning around, the marshal quickly looked away, his face glowing red like a fresh-picked apple.
“Graves?” she called out, a touch concerned. “Is something wrong?”
“Here,” he coughed out, removing his coat and holding it back towards her while still looking away. “Might wanna put this on.”
Looking down at herself, Rarity’s sapphire eyes doubled in size as her face grew just as flushed, if not more so than the marshal’s. The liberal dousing from earlier had soaked her white sundress, and the now translucently wet material stuck to her slender frame, clinging on like a second skin. All in all, it left very little to the imagination.
“Thank you,” she said gratefully as she wrapped herself in the oversized garment. It was old leather, but it was still soft and pleasantly warm.
“Don’t mention it,” Graves mumbled, his face becoming – if it were possible – even redder than before: Rarity couldn’t help but giggle.
“Well now, marshal, what are we going to do about you?”
“Pardon?” Graves asked.
“I certainly wouldn’t want you to catch a cold, not after you so gallantly offered me your coat,” she smiled. “Why don’t you come inside and get dried off?”
Keeping his eyes averted, Graves followed the young lady into the boutique where a bored and irritable Opal greeted them with a petulant meow. However, seeing as both newcomers were still dripping wet, the cat simply hissed at them before hopping up onto one of the displays to lick her paw.
The pretty seamstress stepped behind the silk screen first. A flash of aquamarine light and a few moments later, she stepped out looking as fresh as if she’d had an hour in front of a mirror. More importantly, however, she was now looking decent again, and Graves heaved a sigh of relief.
“Your turn,” she smiled at Graves. “I guess you’re getting pretty familiar with the drill by know.”
“Oddly enough, yes,” he replied. Who’d have thought?
Once properly shielded, the young marshal’s clothes came over the edge and Rarity quickly gathered them. A few flicks of her wand, and the water collected into a large floating mass, which Rarity flung out the window.
“You know, Graves,” she called out as she hung his clothes back on the screen. “I had some spare time while I was up in Canterlot and made some new designs. Would you be a dear and try them on?”
“Long as it don’t involve belts, sure,” came his reply, and Rarity laughed.
“Nothing of the sort. Just a moment, please; I’ll be right back.”
Seeing a now dry Rarity crossing the shop floor, Opal hopped down from her perch to swat at the young lady’s legs, meowing in a very clear demand to be fed.
“Not now, Opalescence,” Rarity said as she retrieved several new shirts and coats from a nearby wardrobe. “I’ll get you your din-din once I’m finished with the marshal.”
This answer, however, was not enough to please her pet, who continued twining herself around her master’s legs.
“Opal, please,” Rarity said again, now slightly upset: full as her hands were, she couldn’t see her own feet and her cat was making it very difficult to walk. “I need to finish this first.”
The cat paid no heed and continued winding her way between her master’s legs. Of course when this happens, accidents are bound to follow. While trying to avoid stepping on Opal, Rarity’s foot caught a snag in the carpet. Pitching forward with a shrill cry, the overladen fashionista crashed into the dressing screen in a flurry of various men’s garments.
“Oh, dear me I am sorry about that, marshal,” she chuckled, picking herself up. “Opal can be such a handful, I almost think she and Sweetie Belle take les–” Looking up, her eyes fell on Graves who simply stared back at her with shirt in hand.
Scrambling back on hands and feet, Rarity gaped at Graves in wide-eyed shock at the sight of him. His entire body, every inch from neck to waist, was literally covered in scars.
Rarity didn’t know how to respond: she could only stare in mute horror at the tapestried chronicle of injuries covering the marshal’s body. Three great gouges from a wild beast’s claws marred his left shoulder. On his forearm, several round piercings showed where another monster had almost bitten his hand clean off. His front and sides were scored with all sorts of burns and gashes, some as long as his forearm with one great, ragged slash crossing his chest like a macabre bandolier. The list went on as well over a dozen other massive wounds, each one seemingly enough to kill a man, with only a few managing to heal on their own: the vast majority bore additional signs of hasty stitching and sewing, which gave the marshal’s entire frame the ragged, patched appearance of a poorly made doll.
“I’m sorry,” Graves said, his voice suddenly gone cold and flat as he quickly donned his shirt. “That was stupid of me.”
“No, it wasn’t your fault,” Rarity answered in almost a hoarse cry, his words jarring her from her stupor as she clambered to her feet. “I was just… surprised.” Her sickly smile added absolutely no weight to her words.
“I can’t blame you,” he stated simply as he hurriedly pulled on his coat and hat. “Not something a lady should see.”
“It didn’t bother me. Really,” she insisted despite her now ashen face and worried eyes. “I’m perfectly fine. In fact–” One look from his eyes, however, his eyes grey like heavy thunderclouds, made it clear he had no intention of hearing any explanation.
“I should go." His words were layered with an icy finality that would brook no argument.
Picking up the rest of his things, Graves paused for a moment a the door, his hand resting on the knob as he seemed to hesitate. Then the moment passed, and without turning around, his last dull words rumbled forth.
“Thanks for today. It was… nice.”
And with that, the marshal walked out the door.
Legs wobbling beneath her, Rarity staggered back till she found a chair and wearily fell into it. For once, Opal showed genuine concern and hopped into her lap to meow sadly at her mistress.
“Oh, Opal,” she breathed out raggedly, her usual immaculate composure now shattered beyond repair. “Why did I do that? Of all the ways I could have reacted, why did I have to pick the absolute worst, most insensitive way?” She laughed, a weary, frustrated laugh of regret that petered away into a haggard sigh.
“After being treated like that, the marshal must hate me now,” she murmured softly. “Can't say I really blame him.”
Graves was able to keep himself together till he got back to his house, but only just. Throwing off his coat and hat, he flung himself onto his bed and simply lay there, pressing the palms of his hands hard onto his eyes.
It didn’t help. Frustration mounted inside him like a volcano, irritation and anger boiling like water on a stove. He’d let his guard down. Things had been going so well, he’d gotten careless and let someone see a side of him that he tried to keep hidden. And of course, Rarity had to be the one to see it. In the darkness of his mind, he could clearly make out her face, usually so beautiful and full of laughter, now contorted in terror at the mere sight of him.
“Well, not like it’s a surprise,” Graves muttered darkly to himself. “You knew it’d be like this.”
The sun eventually fell, and the hour grew late, but Graves still lay awake and watched the stars slowly traverse across the black night sky.
He didn’t get much sleep that night.
To Be Continued
The Journey of Graves will continue with the fifth story: Untangling the Knot