“I say, Sister! This is quite the bit of revelry!”
As archaic as Luna’s speech could sometimes get, Celestia found her renascence-esque’ mood infectious. Trottingham had always kept a little bit of its medieval flavor throughout the ages as a tourist attraction, but today Celestia would have sworn she’d just stepped back through time. The entire town looked like it had turned out with all of the props and era-appropriate costumes they seemed to own. Impromptu markets had taken over the meadow outside of town and there was a carnival atmosphere that not even the appearance of royalty could completely disrupt no matter how much Luna indulged herself on ponies that actually knew how to “play along” with their lunar princess.
Celestia nodded to yet another grip of ponies bowing to her in the elaborate style favored a few hundred years ago. “I’m pleased that our little ponies are enjoying themselves, but I do wonder how word got out. This was supposed to be somewhat private.”
Something snapped in the air above the pair like lightning and solved the mystery. “This is quite the party, isn’t it?” Discord laughed, looping through the air like a kite even in the silly armor he was wearing. He spread out his arms and a storm of confetti rained down on the crowds.
Except it wasn’t confetti. Celestia levitated one of the fliers up to her and Luna; it depicted a majestic-looking Discord striking a pose over the blacked-out silhouette of some poor pony. “‘Brawl of the century at Trottingham Fields. Get your tickets at your local box office.’ I thought we agreed to keep this low key, Discord?”
“No, you said that you preferred to keep it that way. I don’t remember agreeing.” Celestia frowned and the paper still fluttering in the air suddenly became various types of flowers at the snap of a finger. “Now, now. Just think of how much more effective this little show of ours will be with a proper audience.” He flicked a sunflower off Celestia’s muzzle and gave her that rakish smirk she pretended not to like so much. “You can’t say you aren’t enjoying this just a little bit.”
Celestia rolled her eyes, but a traitorous little smile was tugging at the corner of her mouth. “I trust you will take care to nurture the goodwill this event will bring, Discord? Ponies are enjoying themselves because of something you’ve put together; if you go overboard in the duel, you could spoil that.”
The tip of the draconequus’s claw flicked Celestia’s snout. “You worry too much, my sweet. Why, this is going to be the event of a lifetime. Ponies will be talking about it for ages!”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Celestia whispered to Luna. The dark alicorn giggled and Discord blew them both a raspberry before settling down in step with them.
“Really, you’d think that I wasn’t treating this with every shred of seriousness that I can. It’s rather insulting.”
Luna and Celestia shared a look and Celestia curled her wing around Discord’s midsection. It was a slight gesture as far as their relationship went, but to the ponies around it was like they’d screamed something scandalous. Blushes and whispers all around, though Celestia was pleased nopony looked particularly angry or upset. It was a sign her little ponies were more open than she gave them credit.
Discord fiddled with one of his oversized gauntlets. “Ah, actually I have a bit of a favor to ask. Something I’ve overlooked, I think.”
“You don’t say, Discord.”
“Yes, well, it’s come to my attention that one usually has a…a…oh, what’s the word.” He craned his neck over to Luna. “That thing you ponies have in your little duels in case I get sick or injured mid-fight before a winner is decided. What’s it called again?”
Luna’s eyebrows drew together. “A second?” Discord snapped a finger (without any chaos ensuing, thankfully). “You mean to say that you don’t have a second yet?”
“Is that really so important?” Celestia asked.
“Of course, Sister! A second is vital!” Luna flinched when her outburst scared a few nearby ponies. “Ah, that is, We believe it is. A proper duel should have seconds and neutral officiators to set out the rules of engagement.”
Discord swept the small alicorn up and twirled her around. “I thought you’d never ask, Lulu! I’d be happy to have you as officiator!”
“Us?” she blurted. “We haven’t done such a thing in centuries!”
“Who better? I’m sure that you can remember all the steps.”
Luna ruffled her wings. She looked around at all the festive ponies who were enjoying the impromptu renaissance fair with a look of intense wistfulness. “We don’t know if we should,” she finally muttered.
It was clear that she wanted to, though. Celestia could tell that this was the most fun her sister had enjoyed in quite a while. She was steadily getting used to the modern Equestria, but there was no denying she missed the “old days” more than her big sister did.
Sighing, Celestia bumped Luna with her shoulder. “Go on, you know you want to. I’m sure it will be quite thrilling for everypony if you made a spectacle out of it.”
“It has to be neutral, Sister. We know Discord more than whoever his opponent is.” It took a lot for Luna to say that, Celestia could tell. “We could not truly be neutral.”
Discord chuckled. He looked happy enough, but Celestia could hear the tiny edge in his voice that meant he was brewing up trouble. “I don’t think there will be a problem with that. Not in the slightest. In fact, I’m willing to bet on it.”
Celestia let her wing drop. “Discord, what—”
“Ah-ah, that would ruin the surprise! You know how I am about surprises.” He reached up and zipped his mouth shut, slithering back into the air as he did. Somewhere over his shoulder a bell started ringing and all the ponies started filing down the makeshift streets that’d sprung up between the market stalls.
To the delight of the fillies around them, Discord twirled in the air and conjured a balloon dragon which he promptly saddled up. Mouth still zipped, he drew a gleaming sword out of his nose and led them all on a frantic, giggle-filled charge toward the arena in the distance.
For once, the royal sisters found themselves not the most interesting thing in a crowd. Luna didn’t seem to know what to do, but Celestia simply let out a sigh and willed her smile back. Whatever Discord was planning Celestia trusted him not to make too much trouble. “Come along, Luna. We wouldn’t want to miss the main event, would we?”
They fell in with the stream of ponies. Again Celestia was quite impressed with how fast her ponies could set something like this up. Even if Discord’s hand was evident in all the planning, she couldn’t attribute everything to the draconequus. Hundreds of ponies were finding their spots around a circular ring that was at least a solid acre in size, complete with rocks and trees and even a little river. It was quite impressive even if Discord could create it with a thought.
Even more impressive was the amount of goods hawkers working the crowds. More than one pony had a little Discord banner somewhere on their person. Little fillies, and quite a few adults, had various pieces of period piece merchandise as well. Trottingham was going to have a very good year in terms of tourism, Celestia was certain.
Discord was floating near the middle of the ring. He’d lost the balloon dragon at some point, but his silly, misfit armor was still gleaming in the sunlight. In fact he’d added what looked like a kitchen pot as a helmet with his two mismatched horns poking out the top of it.
Luna hopped the fence with a graceful leap when the chaos god beckoned, but Celestia took the time to go through the gate. She couldn’t afford to get too entwined with the events; there was a pony that was going to need a kind ear to listen after all this was said and done, after all. Celestia wouldn’t add to their embarrassment by acting like she didn’t take this entire situation as seriously as possible.
“Took your time, I see,” Discord said when she finally joined the pair. He stretched out a claw to the arena. “Well? What do you think?”
As fields of battle went it was fairly nice and Celestia said as much. Luna agreed as well, especially liking the environmental hazards. “A fine place for a duel,” she said with authority. She’d settled into her officiating role without much more hassle. “Now, if only our other party was here. No doubt they wish to make a suitable entrance representing their station.”
Celestia couldn’t tell if her sister was being sarcastic or not. If one bad thing could be said about Luna coming back from her exile it was that the nobility positively loved her. She fed into their every notion of “proper etiquette” and the million and one asinine little rituals they still insisted on doing. The solar princess had done her best to hack through that hubris, but with Luna’s return all that effort was being undone.
Likely whoever this noble was had gotten his confidence from some little bit of attention Luna might have given them one night at court. They would have known better than to try this even a few years ago. Now they all had crazy ideas about “beating the fell beast for the honor of their princess” or other such storybook nonsense. If everything went to plan today then this would be the last time anypony tried such a thing, but Celestia was certain some new fancy would hit the court and it would all start over again.
“Look out bellooooooow!”
Those three words were the only warning the three immortals got before a rainbow-colored missile turned their spot of the idyllic little arena into a storm of dust and debris. Celestia coughed out what seemed like a lungful of dirt as she swiped at the cloud with her magic. Above her, Discord was doing his best to keep from bursting into laughter even though the scream of fear during the touchdown had been a few octaves higher than either Luna or she could reach.
“Wharrgarbl!” Luna sputtered when she pulled her head out of the river she’d only just been complimenting. For a moment she looked like a very lifelike fountain as she disgorged an entire lungful of water. “Who…who dares?!”
“Oh wow, you guys should have seen your faces! That was mint!”
Celestia reminded herself that she didn’t smite mortals anymore when the rainbow-maned pegasus didn’t even bother to hide her mirth. Her braying laughter even carried over the murmurs and stomps of the crowd.
“Rainbow Dash!” Luna snarled, shaking herself dry, “What is this mockery!? We are not amused!”
“Good thing I’m having enough fun for all of us.”
That was quite enough of that. Celestia stopped her halfhearted cleaning and brought a fraction more of her power to bear. The air got heavy for a moment and Rainbow Dash’s laughing died nearly as quickly as Luna’s slow stalk toward her. Rainbow staggered, as did Luna; Discord simply ignored the pressure and let his white eyebrows wiggle up and down at the display of power.
The entire cloud of dust suddenly pressed itself back down to the ground like a giant hoof was stamping it down. Celestia shook out her mane and let the gravity go back to normal. “Forgive me, you were saying something. Please, continue.”
Rainbow Dash’s smile became strained. “Ha…yeah, about that. Sorry. Guess I got a bit carried away.” Her eyes cast about for a second before locking onto something over Celestia’s shoulder. “Thought I could show off a little bit. For the crowd, you know?”
“Indeed?” Celestia asked, but she was distracted. If Rainbow Dash attended then there was a good chance the rest of the bearers had as well. She wondered where her faithful ex-student and the rest of her friends were.
Luna was giving her a nasty look. “Fear not, friend Rainbow Dash. You do not seem to be the only one showing off this day.” She snorted when Celestia only looked back with a curious, innocent expression that surely had nothing to do with the way Discord was still clapping.
“We are glad to see you enjoying yourself. I trust the rest of your friends are having an equally good time?”
Rainbow Dash’s ear flicked. “Sure. It’s a barrel of laughs.” She looked at Discord and frowned. “She says she’s fine with Luna being the objective thingy. Got a second yet?”
“Well, when you put me on the spot like that…” One of his eyes independently rolled over to glance in Celestia’s direction. “I had an idea, but I don’t know if she would be amendable to the suggestion.”
The alicorn in question looked back and forth between the two without really grasping that her perfect little train had jumped its rails and was now galloping toward a gulch. “Rainbow Dash, how do you know Discord’s challenger?” was the first in a long line of questions she could think of.
Luna echoed that question, but Discord and Rainbow Dash looked at them like they were the slowest horses out the gate. Pieces were starting to fall into place, slowly at first and then gaining steam the more Celestia thought about it.
Far on the other side of the arena the crowd erupted into cheers and fanfare. Luna might have whispered some strained curse, but it was lost in all the noise.
Horns blared and ponies cheered as Princess Twilight Sparkle strode through the opposite gate.
Discord coiled around Celestia’s neck like a scarf. “Surprise,” he said as he stuck a little purple, starburst-patterned flag in her mane.