Standard disclaimer: This is a not for profit fan work. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is copyright Hasbro, Inc. I make no claim to any copyrighted material mentioned herein.
Chapter 8: A Ponyville Sojourn
An ornate carriage crossed the sky of Ponyville, the four pegasus guards pulling it flapping their wings in perfect synchronization. A few ponies noticed the carriage as it approached the Castle of Friendship, but on the ground, nopony paid attention. No formation stood at the ready outside the castle; in fact, nothing had been announced at all.
As the carriage landed, one of its passengers, a filly of twelve years, noticed. “Where are the guards? The heralds?” she asked.
“Bluebell, you have had enough of that treatment in Canterlot,” Prince Blueblood replied. “I fear you have learned the wrong lessons I once learned. You need to learn true friendship, and you should be thrilled that the Princess of Friendship is willing to take you under her wing.”
Princess Bluebell pouted and crossed her forelegs over her chest.
“Look, Bluebell, I came to Ponyville because I needed to become a better pony,” Blueblood said.
“No, you came because you needed to hide for eleven months!” she countered.
“Well, yes, but we’re not going to talk about that, are we? The truth is, I needed to become a better pony, but nopony was willing to tell me that. Now, come on. The princess is waiting for us.”
As if on cue, the guard opened the door to the carriage. Bluebell stepped out into the chill winter air.
And promptly sank in the snow up to her fetlocks.
“Ugh. Don’t they take care of this town?” Bluebell complained.
Blueblood followed her out of the carriage, ignoring the cold snow around his hooves. “Ponyville operates differently than Canterlot. You have six months to learn to appreciate it.”
Bluebell grumbled as they walked through the door of the castle. A guardspony finally met then, and led them silently through the crystal halls. They passed the grand throne room, which stood empty, and instead headed through a simple door.
The small room beyond was lined by bookshelves, overflowing with books. Several sofas and chairs were arranged around a rug of Mareoccan design. In the back of the room, Princess Twilight Sparkle stood, dusting a bookshelf with a duster held in her magical aura.
“Princess. Your guests have arrived,” the guardspony announced.
Twilight Sparkle turned around and smiled as the duster winked out of existence. “Blueblood! Bluebell! So nice to see you. Thank you, lieutenant.”
The guardspony nodded and departed, closing the door behind him.
Blueblood and Bluebell gave slight bows. “On behalf of House Platinum, I wish to thank you for extending your hospitality, Princess,” Bluebell said.
“You’re very welcome. And please, call me Twilight Sparkle. There’s no need for titles when we’re in my personal quarters.”
“Still not big on formalities, Twilight Sparkle?” Blueblood said.
“Not at all. Please, have a seat,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Tea? Coffee?”
“I think a tea service would be wonderful,” Blueblood said.
“That’s fine,” she said unenthusiastically.
Twilight Sparkle disappeared into the kitchen, and returned with a teapot in far less time than it would take to boil water by mundane means.
“This is much appreciated, Twilight Sparkle. The carriage just does not stay warm on long trips.”
“That’s why I prefer the train,” she replied. “Or teleportation, but that’s not really an option for most ponies.” She turned to Bluebell. “And how are you, Bluebell?”
“Fine,” she replied.
“Bluebell, this is not a punishment,” Blueblood said. “Ponyville is different than Canterlot, and it took me months to appreciate the town for what it is. I’m asking you to open your eyes, and open your heart, and appreciate the magic of friendship. It will do you well to understand it as Princess of the Unicorns.”
“I know, Father. You told me that on the carriage ride here. And yesterday. And when you first told me I should come here.”
“I will cease telling you once you understand,” Blueblood said.
“Now, you two, starting the day with an argument is not a good way to learn the magic of friendship,” Twilight Sparkle interrupted. “Bluebell, I’d like you to start by focusing on one positive thing.”
“Like what?” she said.
“For example, you will be spending the next six months away from your parents, and in the care of a princess who can get quite busy with her duties.”
“I didn’t think about that.” Bluebell smiled. “Thank you again for this opportunity, Princess.”
“I shouldn’t keep the carriage waiting much longer,” Blueblood said. He rose and embraced his daughter. “Be good. I expect to not see your name in the Canterlot newspapers for the next six months, Bluebell.”
“No promises,” she said, returning the hug.
Blueblood opened the door, and a pair of guards escorted him out of the palace. That left Bluebell and Twilight Sparkle, sitting quietly.
“More tea?” Twilight Sparkle said.
“I’m fine,” she replied.
“The castle staff should have collected your trunks by now. Do you want to see your room?”
Upon arriving, Princess Bluebell surveyed her chambers. The guest bedroom was small, but at least the bed looked comfortable. The décor was surprisingly appealing, much more modern than her ancestral home. The artwork... not so much. Bluebell guessed it was the work of local artists, ones whose true genius would not be appreciated for years, if at all.
“If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask. The palace is at your disposal,” Twilight Sparkle said. “But I recommend getting a good night’s sleep. You have school tomorrow.”
Princess Bluebell groaned.
The next morning, Princess Bluebell rose with the morning sun. She briefly wondered if the bathroom attached to her room was created with the castle, or added by magic. Fortunately, the crystal here was opaque. She lay out her selection of soaps and shampoos. Though the bath was small, the water was hot and invigorating, and she was smiling when she left the bathroom.
Bluebell frowned, however, when she found her dress not laid out for her. But with her hoofmaiden back in Canterlot, she would just have to choose her own outfit. For just a normal day in Ponyville, she passed on her finest dresses, the latest designs from some of Canterlot’s and Manehattan’s trendiest designers. Rather, a sleek dress, in the violet and platinum colors of her house, would serve to introduce her to her temporary home.
Then she frowned again. While she didn’t have her hoofmaiden, there was no excuse for her horseshoes to still be dirty from the previous day’s tromp through the snow. She left her room, horseshoes suspended in her magical aura, looking for somepony.
The only other pony around was Twilight Sparkle, who was in the kitchen, preparing Prench toast for breakfast. “Good morning, Bluebell!” she greeted her.
“Good morning, Twilight Sparkle,” she replied unenthusiastically.
“You know, you remind me of your father,” Twilight Sparkle said.
“I remember your father wondering why somepony didn’t clean up after him while he slept. Granted, I was still living in the library at the time, and not a castle, but still, I thought you would have noticed the lack of staff.”
“You have nopony to clean this entire castle?” Bluebell asked.
“No, I do hire ponies to care for the public areas of the castle, but for my personal quarters, I clean them myself,” Twilight Sparkle explained. “I may be a princess now, but I’m a pony like any other.”
Princess Bluebell just stared. The mare in front of her was clearly not a pony like any other. Like four others, maybe. A life growing up among the Canterlot elite did not give her any idea how to respond to such a statement.
“Do you need me to teach you a cleaning spell?” Twilight Sparkle asked.
“No!” Bluebell quickly said. She noticed that, in her silence, she hadn’t moved her horseshoes, which were still floating in the air.
Bluebell concentrated, forming the arcane syllables that directed the simple cleaning spell. After a few seconds, her horseshoes were clean, but lacked the sparkle they had when hoof-polished by the castle staff.
“Ponyville is all grass and earthen paths, Bluebell,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Try going out without horseshoes. It feels good. And I doubt anypony at school will be wearing clothes.”
“I’m perfectly capable of deciding how to attire myself, Princess,” Bluebell said.
“Sorry. I just want to help you fit in. Ponyville is different from Canterlot.”
“Believe me, I know,” Bluebell grumbled.
“Now, how about breakfast?”
Bluebell sat down as Twilight Sparkle levitated two plates to the table. She sniffed at the dish. She liked Prench toast, but this looked like a poor rendition of it.
“I know this isn’t as good as you’re used to,” Twilight Sparkle said.
“It’s okay,” Bluebell said. It was hard to ruin Prench toast, especially once one added enough maple syrup.
“If you want, I can recommend some local restaurants, but you’ll need to get up earlier. And speaking of that, you’ll probably want to be leaving very soon.”
Bluebell glanced up at the clock, and her eyes widened. She quickly finished off her breakfast, grabbed her saddlebags, and ran out the door.
Princess Bluebell already knew she would be without the use of the family’s carriages, so she would have to get used to walking. Fortunately, Ponyville was rather... compact. It took a good ten minutes by carriage to reach the edge of the House Platinum estates. Princess Twilight Sparkle’s castle was right in the middle of Ponyville, not that far from Bluebell’s destination, the school.
She was shocked at what her new school looked like: a one room schoolhouse. Bluebell thought those only existed in history books. When she got closer, she realized it was an illusion; it was a larger building, probably with a dozen rooms, built like the classic schoolhouse. But it was still a single building.
In Canterlot, Bluebell attended an exclusive private school, which was much larger, and modeled on the campus style of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns and Royal Canterlot University. Buildings with their unique architectural styles, tree-lined paths, a grassy quad at the heart of the campus—those were the hallmarks of a proper school. She sniffed and headed on.
Bluebell was met by a middle-aged earth pony mare. “You must be Princess Bluebell,” she said.
Bluebell nodded. “Yes, that is me.”
“I am Mrs. Cheerilee, your teacher, and I’d like to welcome you historic Ponyville Elementary.”
“Historic?” Bluebell questioned.
“It’s one of Ponyville’s oldest public buildings, and educated two of the Elements of Harmony,” Cheerilee said. “But I suppose it isn’t quite as historic as Canterlot.”
“There are some truly grand structures in Canterlot,” she replied diplomatically. That was a debate that would not likely endear her to her new teacher.
“The bell’s about to ring. Come with me, and you can introduce yourself.”
Being the new student standing at the front of the class was another experience Bluebell had only read about. There was no need for such introductions at her old school; the students’ families traveled in the same social circles, so she knew her fellow students, or at least knew of them.
“Settle down, class,” Cheerilee said after the bell rang. “We have a new student this semester. Princess Bluebell, would you please introduce yourself?”
“I am Princess Bluebell. I have come to Ponyville to study friendship with Princess Twilight Sparkle, and so I will be a student here for the semester,” Bluebell said. “And please call me Bluebell.”
“Thank you, Bluebell,” Cheerilee said. “Does anypony have any questions for our new classmate?” A chunky colt raised a hoof. “Yes, Rocky?”
“If you’re a princess, where are your wings?” he asked.
Bluebell scowled. “I am the heir to House Platinum and the title of Princess of the Unicorns, which predates the founding of Equestria.”
“Oh. Cool!” he replied.
“Bluebell, please take the empty seat in the fourth row,” Cheerilee said.
Bluebell’s scowl faded as she walked to her seat. Every other time somepony at school had said “where are your wings”, they knew very well why she was a princess, and were needling her for not being a “real” princess. And being a princess, she couldn’t dignify them with a response, as much as she wanted to deliver one, preferably with her hoof. Maybe the ponies of Ponyville actually were nicer.
Bluebell’s desk was old, worn smooth by years of use, but just as uncomfortable as the newer desks at her old school. The classroom, though smaller and plainer, had all the same features. And one other thing was constant, the foals in the classroom. Just like her old school, there were some with their cutie marks, and others, like her, without.
“Now, class, I know you all have grown up in Ponyville with Princess Twilight Sparkle, but there have been many princes and princesses in Equestria’s past, and not all of them were alicorns.” Cheerilee began. “We will be covering the early post-unification period in history this semester. That’s the period between unification and the first rise of Discord. And I want you to pay particular attention, as this month, you will be doing a group project on a pony from that period. You can choose anypony except for Princesses Celestia and Luna or the ponies you know from the tale of Hearth’s Warming.”
Bluebell sighed. She had studied that subject last year. At least history would be an easy A.
Lunch arrived, and Princess Bluebell joined her new classmates in heading out into the crisp winter air. She carried a lunchbox that Twilight Sparkle had provided. She wondered what was in it. In her haste to get to school, she hadn’t even considered minor details like food.
She sat down at a picnic table and opened her lunchbox. She found a daisy sandwich, carrots, and a bottle of apple juice. Bluebell did prefer a light lunch, but normally she had something a little more... flavorful.
She would have time to discuss lunch options later, she mused as she chewed on her sandwich. But her lunchtime solitude was interrupted as two of her classmates approached her table. Bluebell assessed them. A colt and filly, both earth ponies. The shape of their muzzles and complementary colors suggested they were related, probably twins.
“Can we join you?” the colt said.
“Sure. May I have the pleasure of your acquaintance?”
“Juniper,” the colt said.
“Junebug,” said the filly.
“We’d like to work with you on the group project,” Juniper said.
“And learn more about somepony from your family,” Junebug added.
“What, looking for an easy A?” Bluebell said.
“No, it’s not that,” Junebug said.
“We want to learn more about your family,” Juniper said.
“It’s for our brother,” Junebug said.
Bluebell nodded. Their brother? That was a statement that didn’t make much sense; why would their brother care about House Platinum?
Oh. She recalled that awkward conversation her father had with her.
“Is this brother of yours named Blue Seas?” Bluebell said.
The twins nodded.
Bluebell sighed. “Father told me about... your brother. I suppose I should meet him. Perhaps after class today?”
“You can’t meet him,” Juniper said.
“At least not today,” Junebug continued.
“He’s in Atlantis for the rest of the month.”
“Wait, Atlantis? As in the underwater city, Atlantis?” Bluebell asked.
The twins nodded again. Bluebell noted how they nodded in perfect time, in exactly the same manner.
“Well, that’s certainly going to be an interesting story,” she said.
“Yeah. I’m looking forward to hearing about the seapony world,” Junebug said.
“So, do you want to work with us?” Juniper asked.
“Do you know who you’d like to cover?” Juniper said.
“I’ll have to think about it,” Bluebell said.
“Can you pick up some books from the library next time you’re there?” Junebug asked her brother.
“Yeah.” He turned to Bluebell. “And thanks again, Bluebell.”
Left to her meal, Bluebell thought about her family line. She really wanted to speak about the real Princess Platinum. Generations of ponies only knew about her closed-mindedness from the Hearth’s Warming tale, and not all she did for her ponies in a time of great need. But with Cheerilee nixing that idea, she was left with a decision to make. She had hundreds of years to consider, and contrary to what the twins may have thought, she didn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of all her ancestors.
She’d have to look for a book to refresh her memory. Fortunately, she was practically living in a library.
Princess Bluebell spent some time after school exploring her temporary home town. After school, a lot of the foals headed to a garishly decorated bakery. She couldn’t fathom a building like that anywhere in Canterlot, and she certainly couldn’t see herself eating in there.
And then she caught the aroma from the bakery.
Maybe she could stop by. Later.
Bluebell was surprised by the design of Ponyville. A number of the buildings were small shops with a home in back, selling a variety of goods, often in pairs. Others were just homes. There was no consistency in the architecture, no broad boulevards to encourage movement through town. And she saw little that could be described as culture.
She returned to Twilight Sparkle’s castle. From the sound of it, court wasn’t in session, so she expected to find the princess in her quarters.
What she didn’t expect was Twilight Sparkle hosting four foals, including one she recognized.
“Hi, Bluebell,” Juniper said. The colt was monitoring a potion as it was being heated.
“What’s going on here?” Bluebell asked.
Twilight Sparkle strode forward. “This is what I like to call Twilight Time. I’m helping these foals discover their special talent.”
“Yes, really,” Twilight Sparkle said. “I’ve been doing this ever since I became a princess. It started with these three fillies whose special talents were pretty clear, yet they were having trouble realizing them. So I started this program, to help nudge them toward their special talents. And after that, I realized I liked being a mentor.”
“That’s nice,” she replied.
“Oh. Would you like to participate?” Twilight Sparkle asked.
“Well, um, maybe. You’d probably do better helping other ponies,” Bluebell said. “Right now, I want to get started on this big school project.”
“Okay. Take some time to think about it,” Twilight Sparkle said with a smile.
Bluebell wandered off and looked through the bookshelf. The books were organized in some manner that probably only made sense to Twilight Sparkle. But she eventually found the history section, and searched for books on House Platinum.
After scouring the shelves, she selected two books. One was a definitive history by Faded Scroll. That book, a look at unicorn society in the century following unification, necessarily covered many of her ancestors. She set it aside. Her second book was more scholarly. The writer was some historian she didn’t recognize. The writing resembled a scholarly paper more than a history book. But it did include a fairly detailed genealogy of her house, which was just what she needed to help refresh her memory.
She took the first book to Juniper. “This is a good history book,” she said.
“Oh.” He flipped through the book. “Thanks, Bluebell.”
“The potion!” Twilight Sparkle shouted.
Juniper dropped the book and, grabbing tongs in his mouth, hastily lifted the potion off the flame before it boiled over.
Princess Bluebell lay on the bed in her guest bedroom, her book open before her. It was an engrossing read for the filly, as it included biographies of not only the past rulers of her house, but many other ponies of great accomplishment. There was Gold Band, who forged diplomatic ties with the donkeys. Blue Spire, chief architect of the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. Silver Heart, noted sculptor and painter. And Platinum Star.
She heard a knock on her door. “Bluebell?”
“Come in,” Bluebell replied.
Twilight Sparkle opened the door. “Are you ready for dinner?”
Bluebell glanced at her clock. She hadn’t realized so much time had passed. “Sure. Do we have something planned?”
“We’re going to Sugarcube Corner.”
Bluebell frowned, recalling the name from the garish building she passed earlier that day. “Isn’t that a bakery?”
“Yes, but, well... you’ll see.”
Bluebell stood up and straightened her dress. There was no reason to dress formally just to go to a bakery.
The two princesses departed, trotting toward the heart of Ponyville. “So, have you thought about what you’d like to do for Twilight Time?”
“No. It’s not that important to me.”
Twilight Sparkle gasped. “Not that important? How can you say that? Discovering one’s special talent is the most important event in a young pony’s life!”
“Not for somepony like me,” Bluebell said quietly.
Twilight Sparkle paused. “Would you like to talk about it?”
“There’s not really much to talk about. My path in life is pretty much set. Education at Canterlot Academy and Royal Canterlot University, a soft government job to occupy my time, and a marriage to some powerful unicorn in what’s sure to be the social event of the season.”
Twilight Sparkle had seen a lot in the foals she had mentored. Fears about not being good at anything and worries about finding a special talent different from their families were the most common, but many foals worried that their special talents weren’t good enough. “Look at it this way. You can pursue your special talent, or even something completely different, like your father does. You have a freedom that most ponies will never know.”
Bluebell huffed. “That just shows how unimportant my special talent really is.”
“I know this is a tough time for you. Fortunately, I know just how to cheer you up,” Twilight Sparkle said. She stopped at the door of Sugarcube Corner, and held it open for Bluebell.
“Are you sure this place is open?” she commented, looking at the dark bakery.
“Go ahead,” Twilight Sparkle said.
Bluebell hesitantly placed a hoof inside the building. Suddenly, the lights turned on, balloons and streamers flew everywhere, and ponies cheered. Bluebell jumped in surprise.
A very pink pony, who Bluebell assumed had to be Pinkie Pie, rushed up to her, smiling broadly. “Welcome to Ponyville, Bluebell! Everypony deserves a party to welcome her to town, and everypony here wants to be your friend! We have cake and punch and Pin the Tail on the Pony and music....”
“Thank you, Pinkie,” Twilight Sparkle interrupted. “I think Bluebell knows what to do.”
Looking around the crowded room, it was obvious to Princess Bluebell that she wasn’t in Canterlot. Nopony was dressed, unless one were to count paper party hats. Instead of a ballroom, she was in a café, with its tables pushed to the side. Instead of a string quartet, music came from a phonograph. The food was simple fare. But regardless of the differences, it was a party, and she knew what to do.
Bluebell smiled and worked the crowd. Like many parties she had attended, she was the center of attention. But for the first time, it wasn’t because of her name or noble title. The ponies of Ponyville just wanted to meet her because she was new in town.
The crowd was heavily weighted to ponies her age. She recognized many of the students from her classroom, and other school-age foals who presumably attended other schools. They all dug into the treats provided by the hosts. The cake and punch were nothing special, but they were tasty, and there was so much to eat! Pinkie Pie and another mare, a unicorn a few years older than Bluebell, were constantly moving about, keeping the tables stocked with snacks.
It was actually quite generous for a shop of this size to throw such a large party.
Despite the simplicity of the party, Bluebell felt at home. Really, there was nothing here that she hadn’t experienced, in a slightly different form, in Canterlot.
“Come on! Pinkie’s setting up Pin the Tail on the Pony!”
Bluebell nearly choked on her punch when the colt next to her said that. “Are you serious?” she asked.
“Yeah!” he replied excitedly.
Sure enough, Princess Bluebell saw something she had only read about before, in decades-old foals’ books. Even parties for young foals in Canterlot didn’t have games like this. “Do you play this at all these parties?” she asked the colt.
“Yeah. I heard Pinkie Pie even has a special version for adults, so everypony can play.”
“Everypony plays? Why?”
Of all the ponies in the room, it looked like Pinkie Pie was the one most looking forward to the game. One look at the mare’s infectious smile, and Bluebell couldn’t help but smile.
“When in Roam....”
After a few turns, Bluebell decided her special talent was definitely not Pin the Tail on the Pony. She stumbled into furniture, and even when she reached the wall, she completely misjudged where the board was placed. But nopony was keeping score, and she joined the crowd in laughing at every funny misstep.
After the game, Bluebell found herself talking with a group of foals. She was surprised to find that many of them had once lived in Canterlot. Several had a parent in the Royal Guard, while others had parents who were merchants or craftsponies.
“Do you like Ponyville?” she asked them.
“Yeah! Everypony is really nice,” one replied.
“There’s lots of space, and a real forest!” another said.
“I like that we can just go out and play,” a third added.
“So what do you like to do in your free time?” the first asked Bluebell.
“I... don’t really have free time,” Bluebell admitted. Balls, dinners, tutoring, dance and music lessons... in Canterlot, her hoofmaiden had to keep track of her schedule.
“I bet you do now!”
“I do. Huh.” Sure, she had this party today, but there was nothing else on Bluebell’s calendar.
Twilight Sparkle came over to Bluebell. “Let me know when you want to head back,” she said.
“We haven’t been here that long, right?”
“We have. I just spent the last hour talking with Pinkie Pie.”
Bluebell looked around. The party was clearly winding down, with only about a quarter of the ponies that had been there during the peak. The food was mostly gone, and the moon was higher in the sky than she expected. She yawned.
“Let’s go,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Don’t make me tell you it’s a school night!”
“Okay.” She waved goodbye to the foals she was talking to, and headed out into the chilly Ponyville night.
“It’s really dark,” Bluebell commented.
“Yes. Not as many street lights,” Twilight Sparkle said. “But it’s great for stargazing!”
“Do you like astronomy?”
“I was tutored on the subject,” Bluebell said. “It didn’t catch my interest.”
“Too bad. Did you have fun tonight?”
“Yeah. I did.”
Following her welcome to Ponyville party, Princess Bluebell had no trouble falling asleep. She woke up earlier than normal, fully rested, and was able to get ready for school and enjoy her breakfast. She was even able to select what she wanted for lunch, albeit from the meager foodstuffs Twilight Sparkle kept in her kitchen.
Outside the school, Bluebell ran into Juniper and Junebug. “Good morning,” she said.
“Good morning,” Junebug replied.
“Thanks for the book,” Juniper said. “It’s really interesting.”
“You read the whole thing?” Bluebell said.
“No, only a couple of chapters. We did have that party, you know,” he replied. “Equestria back then feels like a different country.”
“It did function more like a confederacy of the three tribes, and that book is a good look at the way unicorns saw it,” Bluebell said. “But I was thinking about covering a pony who’s probably not discussed in that book. Platinum Star.”
“The father of alchemy?” Juniper said.
“He’s more than that,” Bluebell said. “He was the first unicorn to study the magic of pegasi and earth ponies with the same rigor as unicorn magic, and created the first theorems describing the fundamental principles of magic.”
“So he was somepony who exemplified harmony and friendship? He sounds like a pony Ponyville would be proud of,” Junebug said.
“I thought Ponyville was an earth pony town,” Bluebell commented.
“It was founded by earth ponies, but even in the beginning, it welcomed all ponies. It helped that Cloudsdale and Canterlot were so close by,” Junebug said.
“You see that spirit on our town flag,” Juniper added.
“Huh. I didn’t realize that.” Bluebell thought for a moment about just how little she knew about Ponyville. “How does this project work?”
“Same as always,” Juniper said.
“That’s right. You haven’t done one of these projects before,” Junebug said. “There’s a report and a presentation.”
“The presentation is ten minutes, and we all have to speak.”
“Is the paper a formal paper?” Bluebell asked.
“Yeah,” Juniper said. “We need sources and a bibliography and all that.”
“Well, I guess that’s to be expected.”
The warning bell rang, and the ponies in the schoolyard headed to class.
The school week passed, and the weekend approached. Twilight Sparkle had invited Princess Bluebell to join her on her Sunday social events, including brunch and several parties, but the filly faced an unusual prospect: a completely free Saturday. She commented about it at lunch on Friday.
“Want to come over and play?” Junebug asked.
Junebug shrugged. “Something. We can play outside. It’ll be a nice day to enjoy the snow.”
“We’ll probably be stuck inside one weekend, closer to the due date of our project, so why not have fun now?” Juniper said.
“Okay.” She paused. “Do I have to go someplace?”
“Normally, a bunch of foals gather, either around our place or the Apples’.” Juniper said.
“North of town. Look for Orchard Way; that will take you there.”
Saturday morning, Princess Bluebell looked through her trunks of clothes, totally at a loss over what to wear to play “something”. She decided on wearing nothing; none of her outfits were meant to survive outdoor activities. She pulled out a saddle and scarf for warmth, and then decided to wear boots as well. That meant going without horseshoes.
Bluebell’s boots squeaked as she crossed the crystal floor. Twilight Sparkle raised her head. “Going out?” she asked.
“Yeah. I’ll be at one of the farms, the Apples or the Goldens.”
“Okay. Have fun.”
Bluebell paused. “Wait. That’s it?”
“You’re plenty old enough to have free range of Ponyville. I trust you not to do something stupid, like enter the Everfree Forest. Everything else goes without saying. If you want to stay out late, that’s fine, but you’re on your own for meals.”
“This feels so weird.”
“It’s normal for Ponyville,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Enjoy this freedom.”
“I will,” she said, as she was heading out the door.
Bluebell was winded by the time she reached her destination. The directions were easy to follow, the edge of town wasn’t that far away, but the area of land held by the farmers in Ponyville was deceptively large. Trees, bare of leaves in their winter dormancy, stretched in one direction, and vast fields, covered in snow, stretched in the other. And on the snowy fields, dozens of foals of all ages played.
Bluebell trudged through the snow, heading for a group of older foals. Juniper and Junebug were there, along with three of their other classmates. “Hey, Bluebell!” Junebug called.
“Hi. What’s going on?”
“We’re going sledding. Want to come?”
They headed up the hill on the edge of the Goldens’ property. The group of foals carried an assortment of what seemed to Bluebell to be junk. It looked like anything with a broad, flat surface was borrowed to create a makeshift sled.
Juniper’s sled looked different, however, when he placed it down. The flat surface was above the snow, supported by a pair of metal runners. The whole thing was long and narrow. It was painted, though, and had an image of a wheel surrounded by fire.
“Want to ride first?” Juniper asked.
“Okay,” Bluebell said. She balanced on the narrow sled, hind legs tucked in, forelegs looking for something to grasp. Aren’t these things supposed to have something to hold on to? She gulped. “Is this safe? It doesn’t look safe.”
“Well, it was designed by Scootaloo,” Juniper said. “So of course it isn’t safe!” He gave the sled a push.
Bluebell screamed as she shot down the hill, much faster than the other foals. Being first was important in any athletic competition, the rational part of her brain said, but it couldn’t be heard over her screaming. The sled reached the bottom of the hill, climbed up a snow bank, and flipped, dumping it, and her, into the snow.
Bluebell got to her hooves and shook the snow out of her mane. Her saddle and scarf protected her from the worst of the snow. She grabbed the sled in her magic and tromped up the hill.
“Thanks for trying to kill me,” Bluebell told Juniper.
“Anytime. If you don’t want to ride again, then that just means more for us.”
She slammed the sled down. “Of course I want to ride again!”
The foals enjoyed sledding until the sun was high in the sky. At that point, they gravitated to the Goldens’ house.
“What’s going on?” Bluebell asked. She rubbed her head, fighting the throbbing in her horn after carrying the sled around for several hours.
“Lunch!” Junebug said.
They headed to the back door of the farmhouse, opening into its kitchen. After being outside, the farmhouse was toasty warm. A pleasant aroma filled the kitchen, from the large pot on the stove.
Juniper walked over and lifted the lid on the pot. A middle-aged mare scurried into the kitchen and batted his hoof away. “It’s ready when I say it is, Juniper!”
“Sorry, Mom,” he replied.
Bluebell recalled the name of the twins’ mother was Golden Harvest. The earth pony mare, for her part, noticed Bluebell. “A new friend?” she asked her son.
“Yeah. This is Bluebell.”
Golden Harvest smiled. “So nice to meet you. Juniper and Junebug told me all about you coming to Ponyville. We’d love for you to visit.”
“We’re working on a project together, so I’m sure we’ll get together later,” Junebug said.
“And I do hope for a more formal meeting once your eldest son returns,” Bluebell said.
“I’m sure he’d like to meet you, dear,” Golden Harvest said. She inspected the pot. “The stew is ready!” she announced.
The crowd of foals in the kitchen lined up, obviously having done this before. One by one, they took a plate with a bowl balanced on it in their mouth, and Golden Harvest ladled a portion of the stew into the bowl. They then crowded around a kitchen table, built for perhaps eight ponies, but somehow they all fit.
Bluebell tried the stew. It was common fare, mostly carrots and potatoes, with maybe a hoofful of additional ingredients. But it was warm and filling and just what she needed.
Following lunch, Bluebell looked around the kitchen. Used to large rooms with minimal decorations, the large number of items in the small kitchen made it look cluttered. There were pots and utensils and crafts and many framed photographs.
She paused when she saw the colt in one of the photographs. Were it not for the slightly darker coat and the green mixed in his mane, the colt in the photograph would be a spitting image of her father at that age.
“Yes, that’s him,” Juniper said.
“I could tell,” Bluebell replied.
“Let’s go! We’re going to do a snowball fight!” Junebug said.
While the older foals had sledded, the younger foals had built some truly impressive snow forts. Already, foals were preparing for battle, with ponies shaping snowballs and the older pegasi bringing down clouds.
“You’re with us,” Juniper told Bluebell.
“What do you mean?”
“We have two groups, the Apples, and everypony else. So you’re with us.”
She looked around. “How do I tell who’s who?”
“If somepony is colored like an apple, she’s probably an Apple,” Junebug said.
“Or just look to see who’s attacking you,” Juniper suggested.
Bluebell sought the protection of one of the snow forts. It was always best to lead from a position of safety, after all. She sat on her haunches and shaped snowballs with her hooves while the foals got into position.
Finally, somepony threw the first snowball. And from that point, a chaotic battle ensued. Snowballs flew everywhere. Pegasi carried huge chunks of snow over the walls of the opposing fort, at the cost of becoming a prime target. Earth ponies charged the enemy, delivering a swift buck to the snow walls, while their fellows offered covering fire. Bluebell, resting her horn, periodically poked her head over the wall and threw a snowball at somepony. She was pretty sure she pegged a few ponies on her team, but nopony seemed to mind.
Bluebell smiled as another snowball brushed the muzzle of an opposing colt. She was pretty good at this! And then she heard a noise behind her. Bluebell turned, facing a cute earth pony filly, apple green in color. She had a pile of snowballs balanced on her back.
Nopony was protecting Bluebell’s flank. A classic tactical error.
The filly grinned and whistled. Two older colts rushed to her side, armed themselves from her stash of snowballs, and unleashed snowy doom on the defenseless princess.
In the end, it didn’t matter who won. The Apples brought out steaming mugs of hot chocolate, and everypony rested and enjoyed the last hours of daylight. Afterward, Bluebell said goodbye to Juniper and Junebug, and returned to the castle.
The next morning, Princess Bluebell crawled out of bed, her body still feeling the effects of the previous day’s activities. A hot bath helped matters somewhat. Once her coat was dry and her mane brushed, she returned to her room. Twilight Sparkle had invited her to brunch and other formal activities, and so Bluebell needed to find a suitable dress.
While searching, she heard a knock on her door. “Bluebell? Are you ready?” Twilight Sparkle asked.
“Almost. Just need to get dressed,” she replied.
“You might want to hold off on getting dressed until later. There’s something I want us to do first.”
Curious, Bluebell followed Twilight Sparkle into the book-filled room at the front of the living quarters. The rug was rolled up and draped over one couch. And waiting in the center of the room were two buckets with mops in them.
“Seriously?” Bluebell said.
“It’s winter, so there’s no way to avoid dirty hoofprints, especially on this crystal floor. And I want this place to look good before Twilight Time tomorrow,” Twilight Sparkle explained.
“But this is....”
“What I did by myself before you arrived last Sunday,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Working together, mopping the floor will go faster. And think of it this way. You have my undivided attention, if you want to talk.” She levitated the mop and smiled.
Bluebell grumbled and assessed the mop and bucket. She had only seen them from a distance, used by the castle staff. It didn’t look difficult. She reached out with her magic, lifting the mop out of the water, putting aside the dull ache left over from the previous day’s strain. She lowered the mop to the ground, and immediately spattered her forelegs with soapy water.
She was glad Twilight Sparkle had told her not to get dressed, as she splashed herself a couple more times before she got a handle of using the mop. But she soon got into a rhythm.
“Did you have fun yesterday?” Twilight Sparkle asked.
“Yeah. Sledding and snowball fights. I carried around that sled until my horn hurt. It was fun. Different, but fun.”
“Different? How so?”
“In my circle, foals don’t just go out and play. Everything is organized, including leisure time. Ponyville is... it’s like those stories.”
“Any stories in books for foals. The schoolhouse, the bakery, the foals playing, it’s something I read about when I was young. I thought it was all old-fashioned, you know? Decades-old stories written by ponies recalling their long gone youth.”
“I’ve visited a lot of communities as Princess of Friendship,” Twilight Sparkle said. “I’ve seen more places like Ponyville than Canterlot or Manehattan. I’m glad you’re getting to see it and appreciate it, Bluebell.”
Bluebell continued to work in silence. They soon finished; the work passed quickly when working together. The floor sparkled.
“We need to wait for the floor to dry,” Twilight Sparkle said, leading them into the kitchen. “Tea?”
As Twilight Sparkle arranged the tea service, she spoke to Bluebell. “Didn’t you want to talk?”
“I didn’t know what to talk about.”
“How about school? What did you do in your first week?”
“Normal school stuff. There’s a group project. Juniper and Junebug asked me to join them because of... you know.”
“Their brother, who I believe is still out of town.”
“What is the project about?” Twilight Sparkle asked.
“Somepony from the early post-unification period. We’re going to cover Platinum Star.”
“He’s a very accomplished stallion.”
“I was looking for books. I found some that talked about his political accomplishments, and a good book about him as the father of alchemy, but we also want to talk about how he studied the magic of all ponies. I couldn’t find anything in the library.”
“Platinum Star’s contributions to the understanding of magic are many. You could write a book about his early magical theories,” Twilight Sparkle said eagerly. “In fact, there’s a good textbook we used at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. I should still have it in my personal library.”
Twilight Sparkle was about to teleport to her quarters when she noticed Bluebell scowling. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“That doesn’t look like nothing. Do you want to talk?”
“Don’t we have a brunch to get to?”
Twilight Sparkle calmly poured another cup of tea. “Brunch can wait when one of my little ponies needs help.” She lifted her cup, and Bluebell looked away. She considered everything she had seen in interacting with Bluebell, everything she had learned mentoring foals her age, and made an educated guess.
“Bluebell, are you having problems with your magic?”
“No!” Bluebell said defensively. She watched the alicorn, who was showing no sign of dropping the subject. “There’s nothing wrong with my magic,” she continued quietly. “It’s just that you could say my spellcasting ability is average... if you were being charitable.”
“Unicorns have different levels of magical ability, like anypony. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Yes, but they’re not Princess of the Unicorns! How can I be a good princess if I’m bad at magic? Did you know it’s been 400 years since a pony in my line has graduated from Celestia’s School? Is it really too much to ask that I be somepony like Platinum Star?”
Twilight Sparkle waited for Bluebell to calm down. The filly had vented her fears and frustrations, like many ponies before her. She recalled how Sweetie Belle had once expressed similar fears, leading to the first Twilight Time.
“Bluebell, for your Twilight Time, I’m going to teach you some of the techniques I learned at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and help you become better at magic.”
“Thanks, but you probably shouldn’t waste your time,” Bluebell said quietly.
“Magic is a skill, one that gets better with practice,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Bluebell, did you know most scholars think Platinum Star was weak in raw magical power? Yet he still made many contributions to magic, because he worked hard and was willing to listen to earth ponies and pegasi.”
“So he was a Prince of Friendship, too?” Bluebell said.
“I would be happy to share the title with him,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Now, let’s get ready. We have a brunch to attend.”
Princess Bluebell returned home after school on Monday, finding the same group of foals gathered for Twilight Time. Twilight Sparkle greeted her, but didn’t say anything about magic practice. She headed to her room to work on her homework. Truth be told, she hoped Twilight Sparkle had forgotten about her promise.
Sometime before dinner, Twilight Sparkle knocked on her door. “Are you ready to begin your first lesson, Bluebell?” she asked.
“Yes, Twilight,” Bluebell said. She got up and trotted after the alicorn. “And thanks for not teaching me at the same time as the others.”
“I understand wanting to keep it quiet. Especially for a unicorn and her magic, failure is harder to experience in front of unfriendly faces.”
“What do you know about failure?” Bluebell said bitterly.
“Quite a bit, actually. I’m sure you’ve read about how the bearers of the Elements of Harmony got their cutie marks with the first sonic rainboom?”
“Well, just before that, I failed,” she said. “It was my admissions test for Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. I had completed the written exam and one round of practical tests successfully. And then they brought out the dragon egg. I didn’t have any tutors preparing me, so I didn’t know this wasn’t a practical test I was supposed to succeed at. I tried everything my younger self knew about magic, but nothing happened. I then apologized to the testers for wasting their time.
“What I didn’t know is that how I handled failure was the test. Even a pony with a special talent in magic will fail and fail again, and a young unicorn who loses her temper upon failing is very dangerous.
“So while magic came easily to me, and I was casting spells at a younger age than most unicorns, I still failed each of those spells many times before getting it right. And let’s not talk about my first attempts to use pegasus and earth pony magic.” They entered the kitchen. “Here’s your first lesson.”
Bluebell stared. “Why do you have a Pin the Tail on the Pony board set up?”
“That’s the lesson.”
Twilight Sparkle levitated the cloth tail. Bluebell grudgingly took it in her magic. Twilight Sparkle secured the blindfold around the filly’s eyes and spun her around. Bluebell staggered forward, off target, and came nowhere near the board.
“I don’t see the point,” Bluebell said after lifting the blindfold.
“When I play at one of Pinkie Pie’s parties, I don’t care how close I get. Being wildly off is part of the fun. But what if you wanted to win?” She moved the blindfold back over Bluebell’s eyes. “What would you do?”
“I don’t know.”
“A pegasus might flap her wings slightly, and feel the resulting air currents, thus letting her sense where the walls are. An earth pony could connect herself to the earth, feel which way is north, and adjust her walking accordingly. They still wouldn’t see the board, of course, but the game then comes down to remembering where the board was.”
“But how am I going to use magic? I can’t see.”
“You’re holding the tail right now, aren’t you?”
“I want you to recall your very first magic lesson. What did your parents tell you to do? Here’s a hint: I’m sure you hated it.”
Bluebell vaguely recalled an early magic lesson where she was told not to try to use magic at all. She pouted as her mother told her to just focus on her horn, and feel the magic.
She consciously thought about what she was now doing. She was feeling the magic immediately around her; that was by now second nature. It allowed her to keep a hold of the small strip of cloth even without seeing it. And the first step to using magic is to sense magic. If she wanted to levitate the cloth strip onto the board, well, first she would need to see, but then she would need to feel out the magic on the path from her to her destination.
What if she just felt the magic?
“Okay. I’m ready,” Bluebell said.
Twilight Sparkle again spun Bluebell around, and the filly stumbled forward. Once the dizziness passed, she concentrated, just opening her mind and sensing magic. The aura of Twilight Sparkle was unlike anything she had ever sensed. The crystal walls of the palace possessed a lingering aura. She couldn’t pick up on the game board, but being able to sense the walls, she could at least walk to the right location.
Bluebell lifted the blindfold. She laughed when she saw where she placed the tail.
“Good job,” Twilight Sparkle said. “That’s an important lesson any unicorn should learn. There is more to spellcasting than active spellcasting.”
While Twilight Sparkle didn’t have a special talent in teaching, Princess Bluebell was impressed by her abilities. Her exercises were unorthodox, but they led Bluebell to thinking about magic in different ways. Being instructed to move a ball, without using telekinesis at all, led her to use the spells she knew in ways she hadn’t thought of before.
Twilight Sparkle also assigned homework, which was a lot less fun. There were rote spell drills and repeated transcriptions of spell rituals. Getting better at magic was a lot of work. At least she was reading arcane script with greater fluency.
As the month passed, she continued to experience life as a normal student, as a student of magic and friendship, and as an average Ponyville foal. Chores were, well, a chore. Though, on the surface, she was working harder than before, she actually found her time here quite relaxing.
And then there was that little spa she discovered in town. Now that was relaxation!
Near the end of the month, Bluebell made another trip to the Golden home, to finish up their group project. Condensing Platinum Star’s life into ten minutes proved to be no easy task. Juniper chose to talk about Platinum Star, the father of alchemy. Junebug focused on his study of pegasus and earth pony magic. That left Bluebell to talk about Platinum Star’s political accomplishments.
“I’m nervous,” Junebug said.
“I don’t like giving speeches either,” Juniper said.
“How about you?” Junebug asked Bluebell.
“I don’t enjoy giving speeches, but I’ve had enough practice to fake it. All I can say is practice your speech several times before you go to bed. The better you know it, the easier it will be to give the speech. And if you get nervous, just pretend everypony in the audience is wearing stockings.”
“Huh?” the twins said.
“I don’t know why, but it works.”
The next day, their projects were due. And Mrs. Cheerilee, either kindly or unkindly, depending on who one spoke to, chose to have the students give their speeches first thing that morning.
“Bluebell, Junebug, Juniper, you’re first,” she announced.
Bluebell and Junebug gave Juniper a reassuring pat on the withers. The colt took his place at the front of the class and spoke. He stumbled a bit, but it was decent for a student’s speech. Junebug followed him, passionately talking about Platinum Star.
“By the end of the first century of the rule of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, ponies thought of themselves as ponies first, not as unicorns, pegasi, or earth ponies. While there were many contributing factors to this change in perspective, the work Platinum Star did, demonstrating that all ponies shared magic as well as friendship, was invaluable.”
That was Bluebell’s cue, and she headed to the front of the class.
“Believe it or not, the accomplishments you have heard about today were all done in Platinum Star’s spare time. He was a minister in the nascent Equestrian government. While White Star, his older sister and Princess of the Unicorns, focused on the interests of her kind, Platinum Star was working every day with pegasi and earth ponies to expand the borders of Equestria. Land once blanketed in snow was ready to be developed.
“Platinum Star selected a narrow island at the mouth of a river in northeast Equestria as the place for the first city designed for all kinds of ponies. Unicorns built tall buildings, with pegasi adding layers of cloud apartments. And the center of the island was reserved for a great park, so that earth ponies would forever have a place to connect to the soil. Bordering the ocean, this city soon grew into a hub of trade and commerce. You know the city as Manehattan.”
As she finished her speech, Bluebell heard the other students stomp in applause. She smiled.
“Thank you very much, Bluebell,” Cheerilee said. “Now, our second group....”
At the end of school, Bluebell waved goodbye to Juniper and Junebug. “See you tomorrow!”
“See ya,” Juniper said. “And are you free to come over for dinner sometime next week?”
“Dinner? What for?”
“Our brother will be back in town.”
Bluebell wasn’t sure if she should be happy or worried, but this Ponyville sojourn would soon become interesting.