Adagio's exceptional performance during Lord Goldenstalks' visit guaranteed that the arranged meeting between Upright and herself would happen sooner rather than later. However, no one, including Adagio herself, could have predicted that the Earl would have sent for her so soon. Exactly three days after his departure, a message was delivered by unicorn magic to the Glow household, summoning Adagio Dazzle and her parents to the Goldenstalks estate at her earliest possible convenience. Naturally, Starry insisted that they get a move on with it before the Earl changed his mind. Therefore, within another two days, she, the Baron, and Adagio had packed up all the necessary trappings and comforts of home—trusted servants included—and headed out by drawn carriage toward the Earl's large manor which was situated near a small, but bustling town called Greenwaters.
Riding through Greenwaters was a bit of an eye-opening experience for Adagio, who had never before passed through a town to see exactly how the commoners—mostly consisting of earth ponies—got along in their day-to-day activities. Everywhere she looked, she spied something she had never witnessed. There were ponies toting heavy carts around, and tossing buckets of waste out of windows. There were ponies laughing, yelling, and dealing their odds and ends in the streets. One pretty mare, spotting the Glow family's carriage train, had even trotted up to the side of her buggy to pass Adagio one of the lovely flowers she had been selling by the side of the road. The filly gave her a small smile, and waved. Smelling the blossom's pleasant fragrance, Adagio enjoyed how the scent mingled with the aromas of fresh baked breads, perfumes, rubbish, sweat, and all the other interesting odors that trademarked vivacious pony life.
"Beautiful day, don't you think so, Dear?" the Baron said to Starry, nudging her shoulder gently.
Though she was not the one being addressed, Adagio turned toward her father, and smiled, glad to see that somepony else in the carriage also acknowledged the uplifting energy of their surroundings. She was about to nod in agreement when she heard her mother scoff.
The mare gave an eager roll of her silver eyes. "It is so dreadfully hot. 'Tis a miracle that I haven't fainted away as yet. And that ghastly stench...!" Starry exclaimed as she held a finely embroidered kerchief up to her nose. Adagio frowned, quite unsurprised that her mother would not understand such a uniquely curious experience as this.
"That is the stench of life, my dear," the Baron chuckled, giving his wife an all too eager tap on the shoulder that made her wince. He winked in Adagio's direction.
Feeling redeemed, Adagio smiled, and held the flower up for her parents to see. "Mother, Father, look what that pretty mare has given me! Isn't it lovely?" she asked.
Unexpectedly, her mother snatched the delicate thing up in her magic, placed it into her kerchief, and crushed it to bits before shoving the cloth against her nose. "Oh, thank goodness. This does help a little bit," she sighed in relief while Adagio gawked at her, enraged. Turning to finally catch her daughter's gaze, the mare gave her a supplicating tap on the top of her head. "Oh, come now, dear. There shall be mountains and mountains of flowers just for you when we arrive at the Earl's manor. I'm sure of it."
They were now passing through the very heart of Greenwaters, specifically the town square where the townsponies would set up their marketplace each and every day. Adagio had never seen so many common ponies up so close before. The only times she had witnessed this type of crowd was as a backdrop to public affairs of the Canterlotian court. It was implied—usually by the adults of her stature—that ponies like these were to be ignored, tolerated as a necessary nuisance, at best. However, looking at them now as she rode amongst them, Adagio couldn't help but feel more joyful, more alive.
She spied a sizeable crowd at the edge of the marketplace hovering around a stack of boxes on top of which stood a small, quaintly dressed, blue filly. The ponies standing around the filly were saying something that she could not quite make out. Finding the sight rather strange, Adagio leaned out of the carriage to get a better look. As they passed the crowd, she realized that the ponies were not talking, they were chanting, singing! Many of them had even begun to dance merrily, a type of dancing she had never seen. It was energetic, elated, full of all the exciting things that the traditional court dances lackeded.
Looking again at the small blue filly wearing a big, straw sunhat, she realized that the child was also singing. In fact, she had been leading the enchanting tune as she danced about on top of her box. Ponies cheered all about her. The melody was beautiful, bubbly, and the sound carried clear across the square. Even those who had not joined the crowd still tapped their hooves, and hummed along as they tended to their own businesses. Adagio stood up in her seat, and began to giggle. Something about the scene, the crowds, and the child was enticing to her. Something about it seemed more free, more honest. If she were allowed to choose how she might perform for others, it wouldn't be in private, for hopes of sealing a marriage contract. It would be something more like this, so that others might admire her, and enjoy the soul of every song that they heard just as much as she did.
"Look, Father! Look at that filly!" Adagio exclaimed, leaning out over the edge of the carriage to gesture in the crowd's direction.
Her father turned, looked toward where she had been motioning, and smiled. "Well, isn't that something, now? Why I'd say that little one has a voice almost as lovely as yours! Why don't we have a stop to get a closer look, hm?" he posed.
Adagio gasped, barely able to contain her myriad of emotions. Walk amongst the commoners? But they were destitute and dirty! They smelled! Their hooves weren't even manicured! Still, glancing at the blue filly again, she couldn't help but imagine what it would be like to meet somepony who enjoyed song as much as she did, somepony whose voice might even contribute to something of a lovely duet if they, by some rare chance, were to sing together. Adagio eagerly licked her lips, not sure of what her answer might be when she next opened her mouth. The filly's song was so enticing. Perhaps, just this one time, she could allow herself to...
"My Lord!" Starry exclaimed, swatting her kerchief against the Baron's shoulder. "Stop putting these ridiculous ideas into the child's head. Mingle with commoners—and what's more, earth ponies? Do you realize what an utter fiasco that would create? No, my dear, I think it best that we stay in our place, and they stay in theirs. That is the proper order of things."
Adagio's entire expression collapsed. She glanced at her father who looked at her, and sighed. He shook his head apologetically, and then turned to face the road. Eventually, Adagio lowered herself back into her seat, and did the same. The path ahead was now nearing a curve as it came to the edge of town. Beyond the curve, atop of a hill in the distance a large, grey stoned castle bore down upon the small town like an ancient and oppressive patriarch.
"There it is, Dear!" Starry exclaimed, nudging her daughter. "Aren't you excited?"
Adagio's face contorted into a hesitant grimace as she stared at the estate's many off-putting sharp edges and pointy spires. It didn't seem like a place that might ever be enjoyable for a filly such as herself to visit, much less live. However, as they exited the town, and entered the Earl's woods, Adagio resolved herself to her edict once more. This manor, as dreary as it might have appeared to be from its exterior, would be sure to provide her with all of the comforts and luxuries that she needed in order to stay safely away from that harsh, cruel, crude... lively... exciting... cornucopia of life outside of the world of nobles. This is what she had wanted, wasn't it?
There was an expected hubbub and commotion that took place as their carriages were opened and unpacked after stopping just inside the manor gates. Adagio had figured that gossip about her had gotten around the manor by the way the entire huddle of servants stopped and applauded her as soon as she was helped out of her seat. By the time she stepped onto the cobblestones, she was feeling, again, like the important, young, noble lady that she was. She smiled graciously, and performed a curt, half-hearted bow before following her parents up the walkway toward the manor's gaping front doors.
The Earl was eagerly awaiting them at the end of a long, red carpeted hallway that led into the belly of the estate. Standing next to him was what appeared to be a rather waifish, anxious-looking, orange, earth mare. Her nervous smile could not hide the gauntness of her visage.
When both stallions finally stood face to face, they patted each other on the back like old friends. The Earl kissed Starry's and Adagio's hooves before gesturing to the orange mare at his side. "May I introduced my dear wife, Ginger," the Earl said, taking the mare's hoof in his own, and guiding her forward. Ginger's nervous smile grew wider.
"My Lady," Baron Glow murmured, bowing low to kiss her hoof.
"P-pleasure. I-I-I'm sure," she stuttered before nodding her head toward Starry and her daughter. "What a b-beautiful family y-you have, Baron Glow."
During moments like these, Adagio appreciated the rather mischievous nature of her father. It was sweet vindication for both of them to see the look on Starry's face when she had realized that the Countess Goldenstalks was an earth pony. And at the sound of the Countess' voice, the little filly and the Baron knowingly sharing an inward chuckle at her expense.
Their glee was short lived as the Earl was quite intent on whisking them away further into the estate. "Come, come! We have much to discuss!" he exclaimed, turning about, and heading toward what appeared to be the grand hall. "News of Miss Adagio has very much caused quite a stir in the household, as you can see," he chuckled to himself as servants bustled about them happily pouring drinks, and laying out sweets upon the great hall's table. "I think you were right, Glow. I suppose servant's gossip does know the fastest form of travel." He slapped the Baron on the back, making the stallion's uncertain laugh turn into a sharp cough. "Now, how about we get down to business, eh? Before the papers are signed and whatnot."
"Yes! Let's!" Starry piped up, once again, far too hungry.
Before turning away toward the table where, along with refreshments, pen, ink, and parchment awaited, Goldenstalks turned to face Adagio, smiling warmly. "Miss Adagio, perhaps you might like a tour of our gardens for the time being, yes?" he asked.
Adagio was relieved to hear him make such a suggestion. She couldn't fathom how mortifying an experience it might have been to have to sit and watch all of these awkwardly aggravating adults hashing out the terms of her sale. "Yes, My Lord. I would like that very much, indeed," she replied.
Motioning forward a young maidservant, a magenta mare, Goldenstalks directed her out toward the garden gate. "Lila shall show you the way," he said. Turning back toward the others, he urged them forward toward the table.
"Follow me please, M'Lady," Lila murmured to the little filly with a bow before heading toward the garden doors. Adagio followed close behind.
How terribly boring, Adagio thought as she wandered about the immense garden paths, following a few paces behind the magenta mare. She should have known better. How long could she really expect flowers to captivate her attention? It wasn't that they were ugly. They were, in fact, quite lovely, especially during this warm time of year, but none of the blossoms had been anything different than what she had already seen back at home. There were just way more of them here. Still, she had grown tired of pretending to be enthralled as Lila, the servant who tended the gardens, explained the differences between red and white lavender, or harped on about the poisonous properties of buttercups. Thus, when the mare's back was turned, the little yellow filly took the opportunity to sneak away. At least the tall hedges were good for getting lost for a time. She giggled to herself, imagining how panicked Lila must have felt when she turned around to see no one there. Even now, she could hear the mare calling her name, worry in her voice.
Adagio began to run, ducking behind shrubbery, and darting down pebble-paved pathways. After a time, she lost track of exactly where she was. The only thing that was clear to her was the fact that the hedges appeared to be growing larger, more thick, the deeper she went into the garden. Finally, when she could no longer hear Lila's call, she stopped to catch her breath. Glancing backward, she noticed that only the tips of the castle spires could be seen this far away behind all this wild greenery. Flipping her mane triumphantly, she trotted away. She glanced around at the tall trees that now blended in with the rugged flower bushes, as well as the untended pathway that lay before her. Shortly after, she came upon an old fountain, and approached it to peer into the water.
Ripples danced across the surface of the water as she touched it, and as usual, the liquid felt cool and refreshing on her skin. She wondered if anypony might catch her if she were to dangle her hind hooves in the fountain to cool off for just a moment. Looking around, and seeing no one there, she quickly hoisted up her thick, raspberry-colored robes, stood onto her two hind legs, and carefully moved to step into the water.
"You there! What are you doing?" came a deep, commanding voice from somewhere in the distance.
Startled, Adagio stumbled backward on her hind legs, and fell hard against the ground. Eyes darting about, scared that she had been caught by a guard or, worse yet, the Earl himself, she rushed to her hooves, and bowed low, too afraid to look whoever it was in the eye. "My apologies! I'd gotten lost, and—" she stammered before the sound of a young voice laughing echoed throughout the clearing. Looking up in confusion, she spotted before her a colt, about her age, with white fur and a brown mane. He appeared to be incredibly tickled at the sight of her distress, seeing as how he was chortling in such a grating manner that he nearly lost his balance and fell over.
Adagio frowned, now extremely perturbed that somepony else dared get a laugh at her expense. Bounding up quickly to face the colt, she poked him in the chest. "How dare you? Do you know what could have happened? Do you know I could have gotten my robes all wet or ripped? What would I have done then?" she yelled.
The colt, startled by her reaction, took a few steps backward. "I didn't mean to scare you... Well, I did mean to scare you, but I didn't mean to make you angry. Are you alright?" he inquired, a jovial smile still plastered upon his face.
Before he could finish, Adagio had already turned tail, her nose high in the air. She marched away from him in a huff.
"Oh, don't be angry. Would you like to play ball with me?" the colt asked, then producing a large, red ball from somewhere at his rear.
Adagio's head spun about to face him. "Don't you tell me not to be angry, and no! I do not wish to play with you or your filthy ball!" she huffed, trotting away faster. "Get away from me! Shouldn't you be doing your chores, anyway, colt? Shan't they whip you for this?"
"Oy!" the colt exclaimed, sounding quite offended, now. "Who do you think you are, little miss prim and proper? I don't have any chores here, and I said I was sorry about your stupid robes!"
Adagio scoffed, and turned to face the colt. The look on her face was one of disbelief. How dare this uncultured, little thing speak to her in this way? "Who do I think I am? Who do I think I am?" she laughed, approaching him slowly. "I'll have you know, that this one robe is probably worth more than your entire..."
Her voice trailed off, and her eyes went wide. All this time, running around the gardens, far away from the manor, lost in her own thoughts at the fountain, and not having to stare at the Earl, somewhere along the way, Adagio had forgotten that she was no longer at home. She had forgotten that here there were bound to be other children that she did not know. She had forgotten that one of them would surely turn out to be...
She studied the colt's lack of a horn, suddenly remembering that the Countess Goldenstalks had also been an earth pony. A pit that felt to be the size of a boulder grew in her throat, and she felt almost as if she might cry. "Y... You are..." she whispered, stumbling up to the colt who was now backing away.
He was clearly startled by the sudden shift in her demeanor. "Arrreee..."
Adagio stopped directly before him, and bowed low to the ground, her mane dragging in the dirt. "Forgive me. I didn't kn—I forgot th—I'm sorry, My Lord," she stammered, outraged at her own stupidity.
"What are you—" the colt began.
"I didn't realize," Adagio continued forcing a fearful laugh . "You know how things are. I just thought you'd be a unicorn like most of... I-I just forgot that your mother was an earth pony—not that anything is wrong with earth ponies, of course. What I'm saying is..." She took in a deep breath, and directed her gaze toward the ground, utterly humiliated. "...What I'm saying is..." her voice began to waver, and her eyes welled up with tears. It was very clear the poor thing was about to cry. After all this work, she had surely ruined everything. Earl Goldenstalks would probably call off the entire betrothal after hearing about this unfortunate rendezvous. Her parents would be furious. Her mother would probably lock her in her chambers for weeks.
All of this did not escape the attentions of the brown-maned colt who, seeing what distress the yellow filly had caused herself, reached a hoof out to touch her shoulder. "Listen, it's alright. Really, it is. I'm not angry," he said, pulling Adagio upward out of her bow.
She looked at him, perplexed, wiping away a stray tear. "You're not? Well, why not?" she asked him.
"Eh, many of the other children I play with speak that way. Especially when I beat them at ball. I'm used to it," he laughed.
Adagio's tilted her head, still confused.
"For what it's worth," the colt continued, "I think your robe is pretty. Even though fillies are dreadful." He passed a sly grin her way, and slowly, the yellow filly's face began to brighten. She exhaled in relief, and performed another thankful bow which the colt immediately pulled her out of. He pressed his hooves against her shoulders to prevent her from doing it again. "Stop doing that, will you? I know you have to do it for the Earl, but to me, it's... odd," he murmured.
Adagio felt something flutter in her chest when he got close, even for that one split second. Her breath momentarily caught in her throat. Unable to speak, she simply stared at him, nodded, and took a step backward out of the indecency of his touch.
Finding the silence rather awkward, the colt smiled, and presented his red ball once again. "So, shall we play?" he tittered, laughing as he watched a grin grow on the yellow filly's face.
She moved to make another bow, but stopped herself, remembering what the colt had told her. Instead, she kicked up the hems of her robes, and flicked her tail back and forth. "If that is what you wish," she said with a nod.
Cheering loudly, the colt immediately dropped the ball, and kicked it her way. Surprisingly, Adagio kicked the ball right on the mark, sending it flying across the fountain clearing. Usually, she would only feel comfortable playing these types of games with Moonstone, and only when their mother wasn't around to tell them it was "unladylike". This, however, was something that she very much enjoyed, especially if the one she was to be bound to didn't think of her as less genteel because of it.
Screaming in delight as she ran to chase after the colt, Adagio never noticed the small gathering of ponies quickly entering the clearing.
"Adagio Dazzle Glow!" came a commanding, female voice from somewhere behind her.
The filly's brief moment of happiness came to an abrupt and horrifying end as she spun around to see her mother staring angrily at her from the edge of the clearing. With her was her father, Earl Goldenstalks, Lady Ginger, and Lila who was looking rather dejected.
"Mother!" she exclaimed, trying to stave off the sudden weakness in her legs.
"What in the name of King Bullion do you think, you're doing, young lady?" the lavender mare asked her, taking a step forward.
"It's alright, Mother. I was just playing ball with the..." Adagio trailed off as she noticed Goldenstalks and his wife stepping aside, allowing a shorter unicorn colt—fur the color of drab goldenrod—to step through.
"... Who... Who is this?" Adagio asked, her voice going as weak as her legs.
"Mind your manners, Miss!" Starry continued, shaking her kerchief in the filly's direction. "This is—"
She was interrupted by Earl Goldenstalks raising a hoof, and nodding, gesturing for her to be silent. He still wore a welcoming smile. "It's quite alright, Baroness. She is but a child. She is allowed to play," he stated. Starry nodded in agreement, and stepped back, her lips now tight with embarrassment. The Earl turned to look at the servant Lila who had now begun to shake with dismay. When the golden stallion began to stroke his beard, the poor, magenta pony all but wilted away. "Lila, you shall instruct Prickle to lock you in your quarters for the day. I shall send for you at a later time."
Letting out a defeated breath, Lila lowered her gaze to the ground, bowed curtly, and turned to stumble away on shaky hooves.
Afterward, as if nothing had happened, Goldenstalks turned to face Adagio, smiling brightly. The other adults followed suit, not wanting to seem adverse to any of the Earl's decisions. "I see you've met Prance Lighthoof!" Goldenstalks continued with a loud laugh as the brown-maned colt entered the clearing again, kicking his ball. "This little scamp's father is Sir Race Lighthoof, you realize. A hero, that stallion!"
The Baron and Baroness' eyes went wide with understanding. Surely, if anypony knew Lord Goldenstalks, they also knew of his best friend, the former knight, Sir Lighthoof. A few years prior, the stallion had been made Baronet in reward for his bravery in service.
"I'm going to be just like him when I grow up!" Prance exclaimed as he trotted around the fountain.
The Earl gave a hearty laugh. "So you shall, son! So you shall!" he shouted, then turning his attention to Adagio. The filly stood there staring ahead in a state of shock. She continued to wonder who the goldenrod colt was, as well as what was to become of the maidservant, Lila. As she did so, the Earl urged the goldenrod colt forward so that Adagio might get a better look at him. "Miss Adagio," he began again, far more gently. "May I introduce to you my son and heir, the Viscount and future Earl, Upright Goldenstalks."
Adagio tried her best not to let her facial features curl or crease in surprise as she studied the colt before her. He was stocky, of a much more sturdy build than this Prance Lighthoof was, and he stood tall being twice as old as she. His chest puffed out as an acclimation to his perfect posture. His mane was also brown, but eyes were a stark, wintery blue. His face was very serious, though thankfully, not unhandsome. All in all, the colt looked rather plain and quite severe. Even still, Adagio accepted this, taking it all in stride with remarkable grace. So, this was to be her future husband.
Something about his visage unnerved her, but she figured it was simply a bad case of the jitters after all that had transpired a few moments prior. Collecting herself quickly, and putting Prance out of her mind, she took a step forward, and shook her robes back into place. Once she stood before Upright, she performed a low, graceful bow. "My Lord," she murmured. "It is an honor to meet you."
"Miss Glow," Upright replied, performing the stiffest, coldest, and most rigid of bows before he reached out, and placed his hoof beneath hers. He tugged a bit too roughly at her foreleg as he pulled her out of her bow. So much so, that she had to ring the sting out of her joints before placing her hoof back upon the ground.
Waiting for him to say something else, Adagio followed the all-purpose, tried and true rule for a lady who was just now meeting somepony of great importance for the first time—remain silent. It was a lesson her mother had taught her, of course, but she figured that at least this time, she could count on it.
As she continued to stare at the goldenrod colt, she soon realized that he had no intention of saying anything to her. His piercing, icy, blue eyes worked her over, boring holes wherever they scanned. He even reached out with a hoof to prod and poke at the material of her robe.
Adagio held back a gasp. How could it be that this foal had felt so free to touch her in the company of others? It seemed a highly presumptuous and undignified thing to do to a noble lady. She couldn't help but imagine that this must have been what livestock at an auction felt like, at least according to the stories Beryl would tell her.
Forcing her head into a bow of obedience as she felt her cheeks beginning to burn, the yellow filly simply waited for the inspection to all be over with. Was this normal? Was this supposed to be a show of affection, perhaps? Why hadn't her mother told her about this? Passing a brief, fearful glance toward the Baroness, Adagio noticed that even she looked perplexed as to what was happening.
"This robe," Upright said matter-of-factly after what felt like an eternity.
"Yes, My Lord? D-do you like it?" Adagio breathed, relieved to have the silence finally broken.
"No, I don't think so," he sighed, sounding quite bored. "I don't like this color."
"U-Upright!" Ginger chided the colt, only to be silenced by the Earl who turned to glare at her.
Nervous laughter echoed throughout the clearing, but Adagio couldn't tell who it was that was laughing. After a moment, she realized the sound was coming from her own mouth. Eyes darting toward her parents, again she saw the increased look of anxiety growing on her mother's face, while her father was doing his best to hide his disdain for the rude colt. "Th-that is quite alright, My Lord," she blurted, thinking quickly, and shoving together whatever words she could manage at the moment. "I have many more in many other colors."
Forcing a smile, she did her best to give off an air of calm and understanding. Noticing this, Upright's grinned. Earl Goldenstalks burst out in joyous laughter.
"Wonderful! They get along well! Absolutely splendid!" the stallion exclaimed.
Adagio watched, stunned, as Upright peered at his father out of the corner of his eyes, and then very blatantly rolled them in irritation. Holding out his foreleg to guide the yellow filly forward, the colt began to walk away. "Come. Let's go back inside. The air out here is filthy."
"But Upright!" Prance shouted from the center of the clearing where he had spent this entire time kicking his ball about. "Don't you want to come play with me?"
Quickly turning about to face the white colt, Upright looked him over, and gave him a reserved sneer. "No, I don't think so, Prance," he murmured before turning tail once again, and heading past the adults.
Adagio walked alongside him, knowing that she was now bound to his side by edict whenever they should find themselves together. As the adults followed a short distance behind, chatting amongst themselves, the yellow filly looked at Upright, and passed him a smile that he did not notice. Feeling a bit more determined, she resolved herself to speak.
"W-what is to happen to that servant pony? Lila, I believe her name is," she murmured.
This only drew a scoff out of the unicorn colt. "Oh. Her," he sighed. "Well, she is to be punished, of course. A servant does not simply lose the daughter of a noble. You are very valuable, you know."
This drew the tiniest of smiles out of Adagio, and she flipped her mane proudly. Still, she was quick to wonder what exactly the typical punishment for such an offense was. Perhaps it was best if she told the truth. "I must tell you, My Lord, this wasn't exactly Lila's fault. You see, I was a bit bored with the flowers. It was I who decided to run from her. I didn't think anypony would get into trouble for it." She recoiled when Upright turned to pass her the most foreboding of grins.
"Well, then," he began, "it would seem that today you have both learned a very important lesson. Lila has learned to be attentive to the most pressing of her duties, and you have learned that it is best that you should never think to run away."
The colt's words disarmed her, and she suddenly felt very small in his line of sight. Nodding her head obediently, she gazed at the ground as she walked.
Taking a chance, she then turned her head to get one parting look at Prance. The colt appeared to have long forgotten them both as he leaped about the fountain clearing. Something skipped in Adagio's chest at the sight of him looking so happy and so free despite his being alone. She watched him run past the fountain with his shiny, red ball. Racing further down the path in the opposite direction, Prance ran deep into the beauty of the untamed garden, toward the unknown that lay in the distance.