"Sonata? Sonata Dusk!" a female voice rang out over the rolling, grassy knolls. The sun had just about disappeared behind the horizon, and the sky was the most magnificent mix of purples and pinks.
A small, blue pony, trotted amongst the flowers with a filled water bucket hanging from her mouth. She quickened her pace when she heard the call. "Cmfg Mvvrrrm!" she yelled through her teeth, almost dropping the pail in the attempt.
Sonata Dusk could have kicked herself for losing track of the time, yet again, but how could she resist spending a few peaceful moments with as gorgeous a view as the meadows at sunset? The day had been long and grueling, as most were, and that special space between afternoon and evening was usually her only small chance to breathe. So, she had taken the opportunity thinking her mother and father would be none the wiser.
After a day's worth of singing—her absolute favorite thing to do—she had been sent down to the valley to fetch cooking water from the well therein. Whilst there, she had listened to the few fading sounds of songbirds, and couldn't resist humming along with them. The birds were much wiser than ponies, as far as she was concerned; for, at least they had the sense enough to know that moments like these dripped music, and were ripe with magic. Moments like these should never go to waste.
As she spotted her family's cottage on the hill coming into view, Sonata took a moment to place her bucket down in order to retie the sackcloth shawl she wore about her shoulders. This was done as a way of shrouding the large, round birthmark that sat in the space between her chest and neck. Her mother thought it a bit too unsightly, and so she had made her the meager shawl in order to hide it. It wasn't much, but it was the best her parents could do. Her mother had even embroidered a row of blue crescent moons about the borders, just for her. Sonata smiled at the sight.
Hearing her name called one last time, she picked up the bucket, and raced the rest of the way to the cottage. As she turned the bend into the gate, and neared the front door where a spindly, yellow, dull-faced mare awaited her, the child's eyes brightened. Running up quickly, she nearly tripped into the other pony, almost spilling the contents of the bucket all over her simple but neat robe.
Hiking up her hems, the mare took a step back angrily. "Sonata! You almost got me wet!" she yelled.
"Aprggss Mvvr!" Sonata muttered before finally spitting out the bucket handle, and smiling apologetically up at the mare. "Apologies, Mother. My mistake."
"Do you know how late you are?" the mare yelled, ignoring the blue filly's apology. "You should have started on supper ages ago. Your father is famished!" She nudged the young one into the cottage, bucket in tow.
Passing the small main room, awash in oil lamp light, Sonata raced by a stout, equally as yellow, bearded stallion. He stared crossly at her as she ran into the back rooms. "Famished!" he yelled, echoing the mare's words.
"Yes, Father! Apologies, Father!" Sonata yelled from the back as the sounds of pots and pans could now be heard clinking and crashing.
The blue filly now moved with much urgency, very much cross with herself for having upset Master Fylleion and his wife. She chastised herself silently, knowing that she should try harder to do better, be more behaved, be more disciplined, especially considering all that the pair had done for her. They had fed her and taken her into their home when no one else would. They had allowed her to sing to her heart's content—at strictly designated times, of course. They had loved her by giving her a place to call home. Surely, she was not repaying that love in kind. Surely, they would see that, and think of what a horrid little filly she was. She could not allow that to happen, ever. The pair meant the world to her, and she was obliged to show them that.
Fylleion and his wife, Thistle, were tenant farmers on the lands of Lord Goldenstalks. They grew small greens. Besides owning this quaint little cottage far out into the countryside, they were also put in control of farming the wide spread of land that bordered the meadows for thistle, dandelion, clover, and all other sorts of miniscule edibles that usually went into the nightly stew they ate—a stew that, quite frankly, Sonata was sick of. Of course, she dared not express such an ungrateful sentiment to the pair whom she now thought of as her mother and father.
In the early summers, the greens would be plentiful, and the labor to harvest them was difficult. They had told Sonata once before that it had been a blessing that she had shown up when she did. She was happy to be needed, and helped out as much as she could, proud when her bunches of greens gradually became bigger and bigger than any the two adults would harvest. Despite the hard work, they had given her life meaning. Before the Master and Mistress, there were only cold streets, and roaming from door to door during the evening times, singing for table scraps.
Sonata had almost always had confidence in her voice and her song. Before her adoptive parents, it was the one thing in the world she could trust to provide for her, and to convey exactly what it was she was trying to say. Naturally, it had taken a while for her to discover all this. For in the beginning, after waking up on that strange beach with only memory of her name, she had been mostly a mute. Nothing was wrong with her, of course. Perhaps she had been just a tad afraid, a touch too daydreamy, and a bit uninterested in speaking—an apprehension that would stick with her for her entire life. Thus, almost by instinct, she simply began to wander about the nearby coastal town of Greenwaters in silence, foraging for food through piles of daily wastes. She quickly blended into a sea of faces that could care less about her, a nopony. If she found nothing to eat during the day, she would be satiated by singing herself to sleep at night near the back kitchen door of the town's bakery, where it was warm. These were the only times when sound escaped her mouth, and her song would always seem to calm her growling stomach. In between all this, she would always make sure to visit the beach where she first remembered waking up, a place which she had loved from the start. Sometimes, if the weather was warm enough, she would sleep there instead.
One morning, after having gone three whole days without food, and not having the mettle nor the skill to pickpocket, in her delirium, she had begun to sing to herself where she sat on the side of the road. It was a glum, slow, rather absurd song that seemed to fit the poor, blue filly's bewildered state of mind.
Oh, roundabout. Oh, round I go,
For a bit of bread and butter,
Or a massive pie about my height,
Or a cake in every color.
She fell backward, feeling too weak to sit upright. In her rash attempt to quiet the desperate thoughts that now raced through her mind, she never noticed a small colt—white of fur with brown mane, and seemingly equal in age to herself—approach her. Slowly, the young one began to smile at her song, then began to dance, clacking his hooves against the ground. By and by, she looked up at him. For a moment, seeing what joy she had given him, and realizing that he had actually noticed her, she seemed to forget about her troubles. Slowly, she stood, beginning to sing louder and faster. As she did, it seemed the song, which usually took on a sarcastically melancholy tone, became more and more jovial and whimsical. Gradually, faces turned, and strained to see from where such a lovely, rich, little voice had come, and as more did, they all began to stomp their hooves in rhythm to the delightfully addictive tune.
Oh, none can know my woe, you see,
For 'round me lurks a beast.
No blessed rest can I receive,
Lest it pounce during my sleep.
I question not why, curiously,
It groans when I smell chowder.
And when I flee, most famished then,
The growling gets 'more louder'!
Oh, roundabout! Oh, 'round I go!
Bid farewell to my mother!
And if my love refuses me,
I'll go 'round to the other!
Something akin to a wellspring broke open within her chest as she watched the adoring eyes upon her, and ponies beginning to dance. Never before had anypony looked at her this way. All she could ever remember from before were gazes of scorn and disgust at her dirtied face, unkempt mane, and ragged clothing. In an instant it had all changed. Perhaps the key had been her voice all along. As her confidence grew, strangely her birthmark began to itch, and almost like magic, the song seemed to take on a life of its own, rippling through the air. One could almost hear harmonies and the pull of fiddle strings. More words now seemed to sprout within her. It was as if her mind could barely keep up as they flew from her lips. Quickly, she climbed atop a stack of wooden boxes with the help of two larger ponies, and then turned to face the crowd.
The dumplings in my daydreams
Are the best I've ever had.
Delusions of double whipped creams,
I must be going mad!
Oh friendly folk I tell you that,
This hungry life's not easy.
But join me on the roundabout,
And you'll find it quite breezy!
She repeated the choruses as if the song might never end. However, as the refrains came to their conclusions, so did her wellspring of words. Slowly, the thoughts dried up as if to make her understand that this was where some unseen force had deigned that the song should end. She had no choice but to let it happen. As she stopped singing, little Sonata could only wonder for a moment what exactly the meaning of her words were before the crowd broke out into an uproarious applause. This made her gasp, snapping her out of her melodious reverie. Almost as if the crowd were following suit, a strange air of realization seemed to dawn upon them. Slowly, their smiles faded into dull looks of normalcy, and those precious visages of adoration began to slip away. Then the gathering began to dissipate. Not understanding what had just happened, Sonata frowned, and slowly backed away from the roadside, deeply confused. Hitting the wall as her legs gave out, she fell to the ground, again, very close to fainting. Hunger pangs racked her even harder now as she could only ponder to herself about what had just happened. Her eyes shut. Assuming that, once again, the world had made her disappear, she never expected to feel a small tap upon her head. Raising her eyes upward, she caught the gaze of the young colt who had been dancing before her earlier. Between his teeth, he held a rather large chunk of bread and a carrot.
Letting the provisions fall before her, he smiled. "Your song was lovely!" he said, waiting for a reply.
Sonata, without song, had once again gone mute, and found that no words wanted to escape her. She gave him a grateful smile through her overgrown fringe. Nodding her head, she then took a frantic bite out of the bread.
The other child blinked at her, slightly confused. "Can't you speak, anymore?" he asked.
In the distance, somepony called loudly above the din of the morning masses. "Peewee! Peewee!" called the female voice, until, through the rush, a gray mare approached them. "Prance! There you are! Why did you run off like that?"
She only seemed to notice Sonata in the shadow after she had raced up, and checked the colt for injuries. When she did notice the little vagabond, a slight look of both repulsion befell her. "Come along, Dear. I have told you many times not to speak to these things," she muttered to Prance as if Sonata couldn't hear her. The mare then shooed the little colt further on down the road. In an instant it was as if all memory of Sonata had been wiped from the elder pony's mind.
"But Mother, she sang a pretty song," Sonata could hear Prance say as they went.
When he said this, the mare leaned over to nuzzle her child lovingly. "I will sing you three when we arrive at home," she said.
Sonata could only stare at them as she took hasty mouthful after mouthful of the food that sat before her, drinking in that familiar look of love that the mother had given her son. It was a look that, a few moments ago, was directed toward her by the cheering crowd. Suddenly, a small flame was kindled within her, a flame that could only be fed with the same adoration she had seen in the crowd, and the tender care she had seen between Prance and his mother. Slowly, as she ate, and tears began to fall from her eyes, a plan began to formulate in her young mind.
It was then that her nightly routine began. Instead of sleeping in the evening behind the bakery, Sonata would sleep during the daytime. Then, in the evenings, while everypony was at home having supper, she would roam about the town knocking on doors and singing for scraps. Not yet understanding how to use currency, she would always refuse coins when the inevitably enamored town residents would try to offer them to her. Still, she soon found that this door-to-door method was a reliable way to keep herself well fed.
One evening, fortune had decided to smile upon her as she wandered farther out into the countryside looking for new audiences. This was how she happened to knock upon the door of Master Fylleion and his wife. However, on that night, as the couple stood in awe before the small filly and her wondrous voice, Sonata had seen them pass a rather undecipherable glance between one another. Then, to her surprise, instead of just giving her a few scraps of bread, they had offered her a home, provided that she would be willing to earn her keep, of course. After a time, they had somehow even coaxed her into speaking to them. Things were rough at first, but she quickly caught on to her duties in no time. Cleaning and cooking breakfast would come first in the mornings, then usually it would be time for one of her parents to escort her through town as she sang for coins while the other stayed at home to handle the farm's business. When the sun began to set, they would head home where Sonata would then go to fetch water, and return to fix supper, after which she promptly went to bed. By that time she was usually exhausted. The only instances during which things seemed a bit harder were during their harvest in the early summer, but that only lasted about a month or so before the routine became the usual once again.
All that had been over a year ago. Now, in the drafty, little, stone kitchen and pantry room, which also doubled as her bedroom, Sonata moved as if dancing from memory. She lit the kitchen fire, then ran to the pantry to grab as much cabbage, clover, carrots, and apples as she could carry. Hurrying back to the kitchen, she grabbed the large stew pot from where it sat in the corner, almost tumbling backward as the sheer size of it overshadowed her small frame. After setting it down, she poured in the well water, and somehow, with her hind hoof, managed to set it on a hook over the growing fire whilst, with her front hoof, she grabbed a few herbs and seasonings off of a nearby shelf—Fylleion had built it short, especially for her. Tonight she would try a cabbage and carrot stew and an apple cake as a surprise. Perhaps her parents wouldn't mind the absence of the usual greens in their broth when they laid eyes upon the delicious dessert.
Thirty more minutes had passed before she had finished, and by the time her mother bellowed for her again, she had already filled the bowls, and plated the lovely-looking cake. "Coming! I'm coming!" she called before dashing out of the kitchen, balancing plates on her nose and head, and leaving a few floured hoof prints in her wake.
Fylleion and his wife were already seated at the simple, yet well laid table beside their fireplace. Both of them stared crossly at her, choosing to remain stoic and silent as she plopped their bowls down before them. Eyes all agleam, she then presented the cake, sliding it toward the center of the table. She eyed them both in silence, waiting anxiously for their reaction as they gazed down to inspect their meals.
"There is no dandelion in this stew," the Mistress huffed in a matter-of-fact manner.
"Indeed," Fylleion agreed dully, even as he leaned over to begin gulping the stew down.
An utterly dejected look befell the filly as she watched her mother regard her husband.
Thistle then turned to the small filly, and sighed. "Very well. You may go have your supper," she said.
"Y...yes, Mother," Sonata replied glumly as she turned tail, and walked back toward the kitchen.
"Oh, and Sonata?" the mare called once again.
Almost too eagerly, Sonata spun around, hope glimmering in her eyes. "Yes, Mother?" she asked.
"Do try and get an early sleep this evening. We will be leaving for town a bit earlier than usual tomorrow," stated the mare.
"Oh," Sonata replied, now doubly deflated. "Yes, Mother."
As Sonata turned to walk away again, she could only attempt to figure how she might possibly get an earlier night's sleep when she still had to clean up the kitchen. Regardless, she resigned herself to the task at hand. When she re-entered the kitchen, there were chopped pieces of herbs, fruits, and vegetables everywhere, not to mention a healthy coating of flour all about. Huffing to herself, she slowly reached up toward her shawl, pulled it from around her neck, and upward onto her head. There she tightened it so that it pulled her long blue mane back away from her face. Moving over to where the remains of the bucket water sat, Sonata poured what remained into a different bucket used for cleaning, fetched the scrubber, and promptly got to work, deciding to forgo her supper until later.
By the time she had finished, it was far too late an hour, and the rest of the household had long ago gone to sleep, bellies filled with stew and cake. Utterly exhausted, Sonata pulled her shawl from around her head with one hoof, and with her teeth, scooped up the small wooden bowl filled with her now cold stew. Dragging herself through the small doorway to her little pantry, Sonata immediately plopped down on top of the meager set of blankets given her for a bed. She set the bowl of stew down gently, and then fell backward onto her dirty, almost too flat pillow. Heaving a sigh of relief, she waited a moment before reaching inside of the pillow through one of its many tears, and pulling out what seemed to be a rather hideously constructed, stuffed pony doll. Even at such a young age, Sonata had sewn this herself, and despite the ugliness of the dirty little thing, she regarded it with only pure affection. "And how are you this evening, Socks?" she asked it, giving it a hug.
Shimmying down beneath her thin blankets, she pulled her bowl of stew toward her, planning on heading to sleep right after she gulped it down. "Late one for me, tonight," she continued on, her head almost instinctively tilting down to rest upon the pillow. Her weary eyes began to droop. "But no worries. I will tell you all about it right after I... finish... my..."
It took less than a minute for the filly's eyes to shut completely, and just like that, she was asleep, her supper left untouched.
The cockerel's crow came far too soon the next morning, and no sooner had it, did Sonata receive a rude awakening. She felt a firm nudge in her back, and her thin blankets were then immediately snatched away from her face. Her eyes popped open, teary from weariness. She sat up in an instant, and stared toward the blurry figure in the doorway now coming into focus, her mother.
"Sonata, I expressly told you to get up earlier, didn't I?" Thistle chided her, keeping her voice low so as not to wake Fylleion who could still be heard snoring, even from this distance.
"I know, Mother, but I—"
"No excuses," the mare interrupted. "Go down to the well and clean up. Your robe and hat will be waiting by the door when you return."
"Yes, Mother," Sonata replied obediently, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She was too tired to attempt to defend herself.
When she had finally willed her legs to stand and move without wobbling, she groggily collected the water bucket, and made her way out into the field. The air was cool and refreshing, and dew hung from the blades of grass that stretched on till the horizon. Her beloved birds had awakened by now, and though the water was chilly as Sonata dumped it over her head, and began to scrub at her fur, she didn't even seem to notice. Despite its cold, it somehow seemed that the water could always give her enough warmth and energy to sing along with her flying friends.
Oh, songbird, how do you sing,
When there's long flight in the winter,
Bitter work in the spring?
In the summer your children leave you,
On freshly feathered wing.
Yet, still you sing.
Still you sing.
Her strong, rich voice echoed throughout the fields, and even the birds, after a while, seemed to stop and listen. Realizing she had overpowered her friends, Sonata giggled to herself, and blurted a small apology to them. The last thing she had expected was to receive a reply.
"It's alright!" came a strangely familiar voice somewhere far to her right. When her head whipped about to take a look, standing there on the small dirt path that cut between Fylleion's farmland and the open fields was a recognizable young colt, about her age, white of fur with brown hair. Prance smiled brightly at her, and made a quick dash into the fields to meet her at the well.
As he approached, Sonata felt something tightening in her throat, silencing her voice. The same shyness that seemed to plague her before she met Fylleion and his wife crept upon her once again, and in that instant she realized that it had been a long time, over one full year, since she had met anypony of her own volition without her mother or father being present. In that time she had never been required to speak to anypony on her own, only sing when she was told to. The few times when her speech was necessary, it was always in her parents' presence, and usually only consisted of a few words.
"Hello! You are the filly from the town marketplace a while ago! Why are you so far out into the country?" Prance inquired as he reached the well.
Sonata backed away from him, looking very much as if she would like to hide.
"My family comes here during the summers to vacation. I didn't think there were any other children nearby." An uneasy expression spread across Prance's face as he realized how uncomfortable he was making her. "M-my name is Prance Lighthoof. My father was once a guard for Lord Goldenstalks. Now they are very good friends. He is whom we're vacationing with. Do you know Lord Goldenstalks?" He seemed to become self-conscious as he looked Sonata over, and realized from the sights of her bucket and ragged shawl that she might not be able to relate to his tale. "P-perhaps we could be friends... If you wish," he posed unsurely. A long silence ensued between them as he awaited her reply.
At this point, it was clear that Sonata was neither happy nor comfortable with the idea. In fact, her eyes darted about, and her breath began to quicken as if she were waiting for somepony to catch her in the act of doing something wrong.
Prance's eyes fell to the ground so as to save her any embarrassment. "I very much enjoy your singing. Why is it that you do not speak to—"
"No!" Sonata finally managed to scream in a panic, making Prance jolt backward in surprise. He looked up again just in time to see her snatch up her bucket, and bolt off toward her home.
"Wait! I still don't know your name!" he called to her. After taking a few steps in her direction, he realized that perhaps it would be best not to follow, and sadly turned back around. It was then that he noticed a shabby piece of embroidered brown cloth flapping in the wind against the side of the well. It was Sonata's shawl. She had forgotten it in her haste to get away. Prance quickly dashed over to scoop it up between his teeth, and began the trek back down the road past the farmlands.
Try as she might, Sonata just could not keep still as she sat next to her mother upon a large wooden box in the marketplace at Greenwaters. The square was just beginning to liven up, and while this usually tended to lift her spirits a bit, today she could not help but feel anything besides guilt. She couldn't quite decide on why, but somehow she knew that she had done something wrong. Staring up at the cloudless sky, the blue pony reached up to the wide brim of her straw sunhat, and pulled it down upon her head, as if trying to make the entire thing disappear within it. For what might have been the millionth time,
Thistle reached out, and swatted her little hooves away. "Stop it! You'll surely ruin the thing, and I am not making you another until next year. Besides, you're making me quite nervous. Why are you acting so strangely, child?" she inquired.
Knowing her eyes could not tell lies, Sonata looked away from her mother, and toward the ground. "Nothing, Mother. I... I suppose this robe is just a little hot," she lied.
"Oh, nonsense. I wear the same material as you, and I feel fine. Besides, every young filly needs a good robe for special occasions," the yellow mare retorted, looking back down into a basket that sat before her, filled with pretty dandelions.
Sonata's looked confused. "But Mother, we do this everyday," she mentioned cautiously.
"Oh, Sonata, do stop whining and second guessing everything that I say," Thistle said with a pained wince of annoyance. "The sun is high, and there are enough patrons now. Time to get started."
With nothing more than a tight-lipped and obedient nod of her head, Sonata immediately got to her hooves, glanced around cautiously just once, and then closed her eyes. There she stood in silence for about a minute, listening to the sounds around her, smelling the fragrant odors of the marketplace, feeling the warmth of the sun upon her skin. Slowly, a shapeless, melodic tittering began to reverberate in her skull. Gradually, it took on a solid form, and when her birthmark began to itch, she knew she had it.
Come down to Sweetrush River,
We shall make good company...
She began in a long, hauntingly beautiful refrain that caught the attention of everypony within earshot. When she saw the eyes upon her, glee seemed to fill her up, as it always did, and even the dominating presence of her mother seemed to dissipate from her mind. As she continued on through the song, the melody then took on a more elated feeling and pace.
Finally, as the song ended, Sonata held the last refrain as she glanced around at the enamored crowd, already clapping and dancing where they stood. Some of the faces were familiar to her. They stared back at her adoringly, having learned to expect the child's lovely singing everyday at the same time. Her mother seemed elated when she glanced toward her, handing out sweet dandelions, one after the other, as a show of gratitude for the mounds of gold bits that were now dropping into her woven basket. It was during these times that the mare always seemed to be at her happiest. Sonata's little heart skipped a beat, and jumped for joy at the contentment that seemed to surround her. Almost disappointed, she let her refrain end, and finished the song where she had started it.
At once, the crowd roared with delight. By and by, she took off her straw hat, and bowed low to them all, making sure to keep the feeling of joy within her heart so as not to cause an incident like the first time she sang for a crowd, that of dissipating love and swiftly being forgotten.
If she were to be quite honest with herself, Sonata knew she could have held the refrain for so much longer than any other pony could. However, having done it once before, it had proven to be detrimental when after a good two minutes of holding a note, whispers of sorcery began to surface amongst the crowd, and their happiness fell away. Even her mother seemed quite fearful at the time, and forbade her from ever doing such a thing, again. Just to show that she was quite serious, she had sent Sonata to bed without supper that evening.
It had all been a learning process, trying to figure out which of her abilities were to be hidden and which were to be utilized just enough to seem exceptional for those who were normal... well, more normal. Eventually she had gotten the hang of it. For yet another day, she could glance at her mother and smile, and be sure that in this one moment she would receive a pleased beam of pride in return from where the mare sat next to a basket that glittered gold.
Later on, at the first sign of a setting sun, they began the long, arduous walk back home. Humming gayly to herself, and stopping every now and then to gulp up a mouthful of strawberries from the basketful her mother had bought her before their trek, Sonata couldn't help but feel especially favored by the world. Thistle, who walked in silence beside her, seemed to be ignoring the filly, making a poor attempt out of counting her gold bits instead of giving the young one any attention, whatsoever. Seeing this, the small pony, for just a moment, felt a twinge of selfishness rush through her. Why should a basket of shiny metal captivate her mother in lieu of her own daughter?
"What is it for?" she asked meekly, gulping down another mouthful of strawberries.
This question astonished Thistle into attention. Her head spun around, and she stared, wide-eyed, at the small, blue, filly. "What did you say?" the mare asked in disbelief.
"The coins. What do you use them for?" Sonata asked again, making sure only sweetness escaped along with her words.
Things were silent between the two of them for a moment until the child witnessed her mother's visage cloud over ominously. The mare stopped walking, silently bidding Sonata to do the same. As she stared at her, the filly seemed to shrink into herself. She couldn't remember the last time she had seen Fylleion's wife so angry.
Slowly, the mare began to speak. Every word seemed to drip warnings of punishments to come. "And who are you to inquire about such things?" Thistle hissed. "Is it that you are not satisfied with our humble home, any longer? Must you have an estate now?"
"N-no, Mother! I didn't mean to—" Sonata stammered only to be silenced by a stomp of the mare's hoof.
"Your father and I use this money to care for you and our home!" the mare said with finality.
It seemed that the world had cruelly tricked her into believing she should be happy, that she could feel free. Now, she could only contemplate on how wrong she had been as she cowered before the yellow mare. "Mother, please. I'm sorry. I shall not ask after it, again," she whimpered, near to whispering.
Thistle glanced down at the little, quivering lump, and slowly, the expression on her face lightened. Sighing heavily, she reached out, and placed Sonata upright, back onto all four legs, dusting her off. "Why must you be so questioning, child? And getting dust onto your robes. What ever shall I do with you? Come. Let us make haste before all of the strawberries are gone. I'm sure your father would enjoy a pie this evening."
A small smile escaped Thistle, and Sonata, supposing this was affection, smiled brightly in return. She exhaled loudly as they continued on down the road.
By the time they neared Fylleion's farm, the sun had sunk to the horizon, and the sky was filled with Sonata's beloved wisps of purple and pink. Thus, her spirits were lifted once more. Humming to herself again, she skipped alongside her mother up the dirt path, and through the gates, not paying attention to her surroundings. She heard her father open the front door and speak.
"Welcome home, Dear," he said to his wife who, for some reason, didn't answer.
"Hello, Fath—" Sonata began, but was quickly stunned into a crushing, horrified, silence as she opened her eyes, and caught sight of what lay before her. She had an inkling all day that something wasn't right, something was amiss, and had not been able to remember what. Now, the truth sat plainly before them all; in the doorway, standing by Fylleion's side, stood a young colt, about her age, smiling happily.
From his mouth dangled her shawl, forgotten at the well earlier that day. He spat it out at once and waved to her. "Hello, Sonata! Good to see you, again!" Prance exclaimed merrily.
In her desperation, the only thought that could come to her mind was to deny knowing him, which she attempted to do quite poorly. Her eyes darted guiltily between her mother and father as she stammered. "H-how did you... get that? G-give it here! I don't know you!" she lied, snatching the shawl, now on the brink of tears.
Prance, who had never heard her speak so many words until that very moment, recoiled in shock.
Thinking that perhaps Sonata's desperate outburst might reveal how strictly she was dealt with at home, Fylleion stepped forward, and laughed loudly, blocking out the sound of the filly's whimpers. "Oh, my silly little daughter, why the tears? Of course you know this young lad. We all do! Haven't you ever heard of the Lighthoofs, the valiant family guards of the Goldenstalks? How honored we are, indeed, to be host to Sir Lighthoof's strapping son in our very own home!"
Sonata was stunned, to say the least. Utterly confused, she could do nothing but sit in silence.
Noticing this, Fylleion spoke up, once more, plastering an almost too saccharine grin upon his face. Yet, his eyes began to reveal his growing impatience. "Sonata, dear, Prance has come all this way to play with you. Have you nothing to say to him?"
Taking the hint, Sonata's head began to nod in agreement before her brain had even thought up what to say.
After a while of this, Thistle gave her a quick bump in her rear. "Speak up, dear," she laughed nervously.
"Thank you, Prance. Th-that would please me very much, indeed," Sonata finally stammered politely in her small voice, then waiting again for her parents to instruct her on what to do.
Thistle was the first to speak this time. "Why don't you take your new friend, and show him down to the meadow, hm?" she suggested, patting the small filly's head.
Sonata nodded frantically. Without hesitation, she got to her hooves, walked past her father, and into the house, toward the back door. Her eyes never met any of the others' as she went. "This way, Prance," she instructed the colt as she went.
He snatched up her twice forgotten shawl, passed a respectful smile to the master and mistress of the house, and turned to follow.
Sonata sat silently under the shade of the large oak a little bit away from the well. She watched Prance, well... prance about nearby, kicking rocks here and there, or chasing squirrels. Every now and then, he would bid her to come play with him, then quickly losing focus once a new squirrel popped its head up above the level line of grasses and wild flowers. However, it was all Sonata could manage to simply sit and stare at him, grimly pondering to herself.
After a while, even the colt caught the hint, and quieted down. He edged closer to her until he was but a few steps away from where she sat. He stared at her curiously. "Is something the matter?" he asked, tilting his head to the side.
This made her brow furrow. "Is something the matter?" she mocker him. "Of course, something's the matter. Do you know how much trouble it is that you are here? Do you know how cross my family will be with me?"
"Trouble?" Prance muttered, shying away ever so slightly. "But your family was so kind. I thought that—"
"No, they—" Sonata interrupted, only to cut her own words short. To go on would mean that she would have to admit out loud to the world, and worse yet, to herself, that her parents were actually being extraordinary fakers. It was something that she not only didn't want to believe, but couldn't believe, for the sake of her own sanity and sense of belonging. The Fylleions were good, hardworking ponies. There could be no doubt about it. Taking a deep breath, she tried again. "They must be kind to you. You're a noble," she said matter-of-factly, turning her head away, and flipping the overgrown fringe out of her eyes.
Her words made Prance take pause. He sighed, now slightly irritated himself, and moved to go sit next to her. As he did so, she scooted away slightly, still not taking even a moment's glance at him. "Well, that doesn't mean that we can't be friends, does it?" he asked gently, passing her a smile that she did not see.
"Yes, it does," she stated outright. "We aren't the same, obviously. Aren't there any other foals out here for you to play with that are nobles like you?"
Prance grimaced and scoffed to himself, a harsh sound that actually made Sonata finally turn to face him. "Of course, there is Lord Goldenstalk's son, Upright," he muttered, passing her a sarcastic smile.
Sonata snorted. "His name is Upright?" she chuckled. He nodded in return, laughing along.
"Yes, quite the adventurer he is, never wanting to leave his mansions or the inside of his carriages unless they're going to a mansion. He hates the country. As soon as we arrive he always begins begging to return to town," Prance sighed, shaking his head.
Sonata stared at him and blinked. "Well," she murmured. "He sounds rather... spoiled."
"Well, he is the son of an Earl, after all," Prance continued. "Courts and schooling since he was born. He is be—...betrothed, as well."
"Be—... betrothed?" Sonata asked curiously, following Prance's example in having trouble pronouncing the unknown word.
"Yes, to some rich daughter of a Baron, somewhere. That means they are to be married when they grow up. I haven't seen her as yet, but the Earl says she's pretty, and that she likes to sing just like you!"
"Oh. It must be so sad to not be able to choose," the blue filly breathed as she turned away to stare at the ground. It took her a moment to force out her next inquiry. "And, are you betrothed to somepony as well?"
Prance burst out laughing at this notion. "Of course not. I shall never be married. Fillies are dreadful," he said making a sour face.
"Hey!" Sonata protested, reaching out with a hoof in order to nudge him harshly. Afterward, she too began to laugh.
"Even still," he continued when their giggling had quieted down. "I suppose you are not that bad." He seemed pleased when the blue filly smiled contently to herself. "Now that you are talking, of course. I could tell by the way you sang and danced all that time ago when I first saw you in Greenwaters. I knew we would make good friends."
Things remained oddly silent. An unspoken thought seemed to pass silently between the two foals. Naturally, the colt was the first to bring it up. "Was it true? The song, I mean," he asked gently, not having the heart to look at her. He didn't expect Sonata to actually answer.
"It was. That was before I met my parents. But, I can have all the pies I can eat, now!" she lied while displaying a blatantly forced laugh.
Perhaps, in order to save face, Prance decided to play along. "Oh yes, and mountains of colorful cakes and dumplings," he joked.
"You're making me hungry," Sonata giggled. Just at that moment, her stomach growled loudly. They both laughed, again.
"I never thought you would sound the way you do, though," Prance continued casually.
"What do you mean?" Sonata asked him, confused.
"You sing differently than you speak. It's almost as if you're..." he paused briefly, trying to figure a less abrasive way to say what it was he wanted to say. He could decide on none. "...less afraid when you sing. When you sing, you sing strong. When you speak, you're like a little mouse." He sighed, wanting immediately to take everything he had just said back. Nervously, he tapped his hooves together, hoping the blue filly next to him wouldn't lash out in anger.
"I never noticed that," Sonata said calmly after a time. "I... I guess I just am not sure if what I say will be the right thing. After all, somepony can say anything they want about whatever odd things are in their head, whenever they wish to. So many choices of words. It's difficult to decide. But, with a song, it seems everything is already right there in its place. It's as if I only have to read it out of my mind."
The strangeness of the filly's words caught Prance by surprise, and he snorted, beginning to shake with nervous laughter. Sonata stared at him for a moment, wide eyed, before she too began to giggle.
"Well, even if you didn't talk, you're still way better company than Upright. Upright would never have a race with me to the well or anything of that sort," the white colt stated suggestively, then obliging himself to sit in a smug silence. It was but a moment later that Sonata had burst forth, laughing joyously to herself as she took a head start toward the little stone well. Prance bounded to his hooves only a moment after to give chase.
The sun had disappeared behind the horizon, and the sky was now all lavender. Sonata knew that she was probably due at home by now, and decided to bid Prance farewell. It still confused her how the son of a noble could be so carefree as to associate with commoners such as herself, but she had to admit that she did not mind the new company for the time being. She also found the fact that her parents could barely bring themselves to refuse a noble of almost anything strangely satisfying as well.
As she trotted up toward the back door which attached itself to the kitchen, a strange feeling began to grow in the pit of her stomach. It took a moment for Sonata to recognize it as slight dread. Perhaps her parents would be cross with her after all. Perhaps she had misconstrued the meaning of their words. Perhaps they had secretly wanted her to get rid of Sir Lighthoof's son on her own.
As she went into the kitchen, she felt a tightening in her chest and throat. When she spoke, it barely came out as a squeak. "Hello? Mother? Father? I'm home," she said, gently closing the kitchen door behind her. She was surprised to find the kitchen fire long since smoldering with a pot full of a delicious-smelling stew hanging above it. Edging closer, she stood on her hind legs to peer into the pot. Her mouth began to water when she discovered traces of seasoned mushrooms and tomatoes floating inside.
Coming back down onto all fours, she then took that moment to look about the kitchen, and was then flabbergasted to have missed the sight of two fresh pies sitting, warm and untouched, upon the counter. Rushing over quickly to smell each one, she was delighted to discover that they consisted of apples and strawberries.
The rich and heavenly aroma nearly bowled her over as she dropped onto all her legs, once more, accidentally upsetting a few pans that sat atop the counter.
Following the loud sound came a call from the front room. "Sonata, dear, is that you?" Thistle called to her. "Please come here. Your father and I would like to have a word with you."
Still not quite sure about the nature of the supposed "words" that awaited her, Sonata planned for a showy recompense by collecting together two fine saucers, a teapot, and teacups from the pantry. Placing some heated water and wildflower petals within the pot, she then carried it from her mouth whilst balancing the rest of the dishes as well as the two pies upon her nose and head. "Cmmmng Mvvvrrr!" she called, hurrying out toward the front.
Walking quickly, though cautiously, into the next room, Sonata dared not glance at the faces of her mother and father who were seated in their usual place by the fire until she had laid out the pies and tea for each of them. She then took a step back, and finally managed to look them both in the eyes. It stunned her to see two pleased smiles staring back at her. "I brought you some tea for your pies," she murmured, still not believing that something was, in fact, not amiss.
"Oh, Sonata, silly child," Thistle laughed at her. "These pies are for you. Tonight, you may have all of the pie and stew you desire, and go to bed early. I will clean the kitchen this evening."
Sonata fell backward onto her rear on account of her hind legs giving out. Her jaw dropped as her eyes darted between her parents in confusion. "I... I don't understand," she croaked. For a moment, she feared that all this was some type of cruel trick, but why would her parents do such a thing to her?
"Well, of course you must go to sleep early," Thistle continued as if it were obvious. "You have a long day ahead of you, what with singing at the Earl's summer estate tomorrow evening!"
"Is it not an honor, Mother?" Fylleion asked his wife. They both then turned to stare at Sonata with those frighteningly wide grins, nodding their heads as if agreeing on her behalf.
Sonata's stomach almost seemed to drop straight out of her body, and her chest felt as if it might cave in. "What?" she peeped, unable to say anything else.
"Yes, child. It was your friend, Sir Lighthoof's son who proposed the idea," Fylleion continued. "He said he remembered you from long before you blessed our little home with your arrival, and I told him that you sing often in town, a loving act of support for your family. It was the colt who then supposed that Lord Goldenstalks himself might have an ear for that lovely voice of yours. Why, he ran straight home and back to confirm the good news."
Sonata's expression grew more and more sickly as Fylleion went on. She had never felt so betrayed in her entire, young life.
"Why, dear, you seem surprised at all of this wonderful news," Thistle murmured, leaning forward. "We thought that perhaps the young esquire would have told you."
"Esquire," Sonata breathed to herself realizing that her mother was talking about the colt she had just been playing with in the fields.
"Yes. After all, the Baronet is a good friend of Lord Goldenstalks," Fylleion continued. Sonata gulped.
"B...b..." she couldn't even bring herself to say it. Prance had, indeed, been keeping things from her, even though he knew the differences in their status made her uncomfortable. The old memory of the colt's mother calling her a "thing" suddenly flashed before her eyes. If she hadn't felt so nauseated at the thought of appearing in front of those who might hold nothing but scorn for her, she would have screamed in a tremendous rage, something she had never done before. Instead, she nodded her head almost mechanically, and turned to leave, a blank expression upon her face. "Yes, Mother," she said, barely above a whisper as she began to walk away.
"Sonata, will you not eat something?" Thistle asked her, a type of worry in her voice that Sonata had never heard before.
"Yes, I..." Sonata trailed off as she disappeared through the kitchen door. In the kitchen, she collected her small bowl and spoon, and purely by muscle memory, poured herself some dinner, carrying it straight away to bed. She was sure that if she had any pie, she would end up sick the next morning. It would be difficult enough to attempt to get any sleep tonight with all of the events of the following day looming over her. She need not worry about belly aches as well.
She ate quietly, and then quickly fell into a deep, fitful slumber, filled with dreams of judgmental eyes, all trained upon her.