Don't ruin the robe. Don't ruin the robe.
Sonata’s work-worn hooves darted through a patch of wild flowers sitting serenely amongst the immense and ancient trees of Sardhoof Forest. As they zipped by, a streak of flowing white snagged itself upon a low-hanging branch, and tore away. The limb seemed to wave the strip of fabric at its fleeing owner as a spiteful farewell.
Oh, buckwheat. I've ruined the robe.
The edge of the woods could now be seen as well as the wide, open meadow that sat on its other side, bathed in early afternoon daylight. From this distance, one could just barely make out a tiny cottage sitting atop a hill on the opposite edge of the expansive field. There was a sizeable group of ponies standing about its quaint, crooked gate.
A few of the ponies swung about to face the direction of the forests. A couple more could be seen trotting out from behind the cottage to come have a look.
"I'm here!" Sonata yelled again as she broke through the threshold of the wood, and sprinted across the fields toward her home. Every inch of the land was familiar underhoof; thus, she traversed the distance in but a moment.
Her pace slowed as she trotted up the hill, out of breath. The thirteen or so earth ponies stared at her as she approached. Some waved, clearly happy to see her; others looked quite put off by her presence. Regardless, the lovely blue mare's infectious smile never faltered in the slightest.
"I'm sorry I'm late, everypony! I had to make an unexpected trip," she exclaimed, taking a moment to smooth the windblown strands of her mane back into the elegantly rolled braid she was wearing. "A moment, please, whilst I change."
A few in the group gave a very loud and exasperated sigh. One purple pony dawning a long, yellow braid, stepped forward, and stomped her hoof.
"Sonata, we've been waiting here for two hours! If I'm late home today, I'll right miss my supper!"
The pretty, blue mare at once felt quite guilty.
"Oh. Well, that does seem to be a bit of a problem, doesn’t it?" she began, thinking to herself for a moment. After a few seconds, she sighed, and shrugged, seemingly having come to some great decision. "I suppose I'll just have to make supper for you all this evening, then, as long as you don't mind staying after dark, of course."
A few in the gathering gave a loud cheer, much to Sonata’s surprise.
“Goodness! All that for a pot of vegetable stew, and an apple cake!” she exclaimed, genuinely perplexed. The visitors laughed to themselves, having long since learned to find the cheery mare's absent-mindedness endearing.
It was no secret to anypony that Sonata Dusk wasn't always present in mind even if she was in the flesh; however, what she lacked in the way of complexity, she made up for in loyalty and affection. That, and her cheerful disposition, made her the type of mare that most anypony found themselves wanting to be around. Indeed, ever since she had taken over as the caretaker of the Fylleion farmstead, the small, humble cottage had become something of an axis for the surrounding commoners of this countryside. Needed to borrow a good hat or robe for an important outing? Ask Fylleion's daughter. Had a lover broken your heart? That Dusk mare was a great listener. Did you have no place to stay for the night? The small cottage on the hill always welcomed the needy; the lovely, blue mare that lived there would see to it that you were treated with the utmost care.
In the same vein, everypony knew well how entertaining suppers at the Fylleion farm were. Sonata’s impromptu get-togethers were the talk of the countryside, even though the cheery, blue mare could never seem to figure why. After all, it usually only consisted of a large pot full of a meager meal, a cake or pie, a small tub of some rather weak cider, and of course—a song or two.
“Oh, sticks. Oh, fennel,” she mumbled to herself while undoing her ornate braid, and trotted off toward the cottage’s kitchen door.
Upon entering the cottage, Sonata immediately noted how quiet the empty space was. Something, again, tugged at her heart, and her eyes went sad as she made her way through the main room, and into the bedroom that was once her parents'. The entire house was at least a bit cheerier than when Fylleion had lived there. When they had first departed on their quest for land of their own as well as better seed for their farm, Sonata, thinking that they might return rather soon, felt obliged to leave things exactly as they had always been—dreary.
Then a week passed. Then a month. Then a year came and went, and by that time, Sonata had no choice but to take up the reins of control over the farm, despite how unacclimated she was to pondering over money, trade, and taxes. It was all quite exhausting for her, and usually worked to make her brain hurt. But with a little help from some of her more experienced friends, eventually, like all other things to which she had not been previously accustomed, she became accustomed to it.
By the third year of her parents' absence, Sonata had practically made the cottage her own—purely by accident, of course. The main room was cozier, filled with flowers, colorful paintings, cushions, and dolls, all made by her own hooves. Her old, beloved stuffed pony, Socks, seemed to sit gleefully amongst its more expertly-crafted companions.
The bedroom had been transformed as well. As Sonata now walked through the warm, lamplit, room that smelled of wildflowers and apple pie—which she secretly liked to eat in bed—she found it interesting how much she still missed the dark and dour stylings of her mother. Still, the blue mare had decided long ago that if she should be made to worry and fret over farm affairs which were quite stressful to comprehend, she should at least be allowed the opportunity to come home to some place that felt welcoming, affectionate, some place that felt as if it appreciated her being there. As she caught a glance of the pretty mark upon her flank whilst carefully attempting to remove her robe, she couldn’t help but be reminded of her unquestionable need for love, almost as important as her unquestionable need for song.
Clutching the bits pouch between her teeth, Sonata moved toward an enormous chest that sat at the edge of her cozy bed. Unlocking it with a key that she pulled from its hiding place beneath a nearby floorboard, she cracked the dusty thing open. The hinges creaked as the lid fell back to reveal an array of field clothing, parchments, money, and small tools. Glancing down wistfully at the coins therein, Sonata bit her lip, and wondered how she might be able to make the amount work for tomorrow evening's supper, especially since most of those coins were to be her parents’ payment for the week, and especially since she would be cooking for a small gathering tonight. For a moment, she flirted with the idea of keeping some of the extra money she might make from singing in the market in the days to come, but quickly shook the notion from her mind. She couldn't act in such a deceitful way toward Master Fylleion and Thistle. They would know, if not by the bits count she sent, then by the guilty look they would see on her face upon their return. Sonata grimaced at the thought of what an ungrateful and selfish pony she was being.
With a heavy sigh, she plopped the money pouch into the chest, and pulled out the old, worn shawl her mother had sewn for her when she was little. Taking a moment to nuzzle her cheek against the ragged thing, she then tied it about her neck. It fit more snuggly now, but still managed to comfortably hide her scar. Reaching into the chest again, she then pulled a large, straw, sun hat out, and plopped it upon her head before fetching out a roll of old bandages. Gingerly, she began to wrap them around her hind hooves. They would need all of the support they could get considering the grueling work that was in store for her today.
Locking the trunk with a sigh, Sonata headed back out to meet the others. The sight of the rather upbeat gathering of friends and acquaintances who had come together to help her in such short notice, made her feel renewed. She could tell by the looks of them that they too were feeling quite energetic, probably about the notion of supper. Sonata did have to admit that she was an excellent cook.
Stretching out her legs, and cracking her joints, she gave them all an encouraging smile, and trotted toward the cottage gate in the direction of the open fields. There would be time for merrymaking later. Right now it was time to work.
"Alright! Does everypony remember their jobs?—Because I don't," she blurted bashfully.
Everypony nodded, and passed her that same, endearing smile.
"We've cleared a field or two before, Sonata," Ryegrass chuckled, trotting toward her. "If we work without stopping, we might even have this all done by the end of the day!"
"Really?" Sonata gasped, her eyes going bright. "That would be wonderful!”
Turning to face the field, she quickly began to trot away.
"Well, then what are we waiting for?"
She dug her hind hooves into the soil as she bore down. The ropes attached to her breast collar pulled taut as they were met by the tree stump's resistance. Sweat poured down her brow in the heat of the midday sun.
“Heave!” she heard Dandy call from beside her, and she gave another hard tug. Her left hind hoof shook, and for a moment, her head reeled. Her empty stomach growled in protest. Seeing her falter out of the corner of his eye, Dandy’s brow knit with concern.
“Sonata, we could take a rest if you need it. You look tired.”
From where he was standing, Dandy could not see the look of determination upon the blue mare's face. Even as the pain ripped up her sore hind legs, and the sweat poured down from beneath her wide brimmed hat, she carried on. These hardships were not to get the better of her. She had seen hardships before, and she had persevered through them. If it was one thing that she learned about the good things in life, whether it be finding a family, keeping friends, or even expanding a farm, it was that none of it came without grueling hard work. If these tasks were to be done for those she cared for, then she was glad to do it.
“No, no, Dandy. I’m fine,” she huffed passing him a sweet smile. Looking out to the rest of the field, she could see the other ponies busy hoisting up more stumps or carrying them off toward the woods. “I just don’t wish to fall behind is all.”
Shaking her head free of its haze, she bore down again, never noticing the nervous expression Dandy was now giving her. He cleared his throat, and bore down as well, still eyeing her with interest.
“Yes, well, in that case, may I ask you something, Sonata?”
“‘Course!” the blue mare croaked as she struggled against the rope.
“I was wondering if perhaps lately, you’ve been considering the prospects of… marriage?”
Her hoof slipped, and she yelped in surprise as she nearly fell over into Dandy’s side.
“Oop! I’m fine!” she laughed, straightening herself. “I’m fine!”
Glancing about so as to avoid the stallion’s gaze, she cleared her throat, and fought back the flush that threatened to burn her entire face.
“Weeellll, I… You see, I haven’t really… My, this really doesn’t seem like the proper time to discuss such a thing, does it?” she laughed anxiously.
“Well, any time is a good time for this type of thing,” Dandy laughed in return. From where she stood, Sonata could see his cheeks going red as well. “I… I’m sure it would make handling the farm much easier if you would—”
“Oh, dear! The others are getting ahead again,” Sonata blurted, in a blatant attempt to cut him off.
“I… I suppose what I’m trying to ask you is if, perhaps you have ever considered me to be—”
“Berry and Clover just left those roots sticking out of the ground! I should have known they would do something like that!” the mare exclaimed again.
“Well, perhaps before I say that,” Dandy continued on, ever determined. “I should first tell you how I feel about—”
Lost in his own thoughts, the stallion didn’t notice Sonata putting all of the force she could manage against the rope, nor did he see the stump behind him beginning to wriggle loose. Before he could finish his words, there was a cracking in the earth, and the old stub came free. It managed to bowl him over as it knocked into his rear. Sonata sighed in relief—though not for having finally pulled the thing from the earth. Passing him an allayed grin, she quickly loosened the ropes from about her breast.
“Oh, look, we did it! Well, that’s done! I suppose I should go, and help the others then! Until next, Dandy!” she jabbered, forcing a laugh as she quickly darted away further into the field, leaving the poor stallion tangled in his ropes.
When she was a fair distance away, she gave a great heave. Sitting down a moment to rest, she removed her hat, wiped the sweat from her brow, and closed her eyes.
“Miss Sonata!” called a small voice from somewhere far to her left. The sound of it made her ear twitch. Taking a look, her frown was replaced with a bright smile as she saw two foals approaching. A little pink filly with a curly, yellow and light green mane took the lead. She carried a water bucket between her teeth. Close behind her followed a blue colt. Sonata raised her hat, and waved with it before plopping it back down upon her head.
“Peat! Nia! How are you?” she called out to them. Standing up, she began to walk a bit closer until the two little ones stood before her. Nia, the filly, spat out the bucket handle, and smiled up at her.
“We brought you all some water!” she yelled. The colt immediately gave her an irritated glare.
“I drew it from the well, and carried it most of the way here,” he muttered to himself.
“I said we!” the filly retorted with a roll of her eyes.
The mare couldn’t help but laugh as she now caught sight of Begonia Blossom, the foals’ mother, trotting down the hillside toward her. She was carrying yet another bucket.
Sonata held a special place in her heart for Petunia and Peat Moss, and they for her; for they shared very similar origins. The two foals, once upon a time, had been left abandoned on the roadside outside of Trotchester quite shortly after they had been born. Begonia, one of the most caring mares Sonata knew, had found them coming home from a trip to market, and not having the heart to leave them, resolved herself to taking them in. She had no husband or children of her own, and everypony could see that the two foals had done wonders for her disposition despite the absolute hoofful they both obviously were.
Looking out over the field, Sonata could see that all of the stumps had already been cleared, and a few of the ponies had even begun pulling up the weeds and grasses. There was still a few daylight hours left, and it looked as if they would be finished by nightfall. It seemed a good time to take a break.
“Thank you! That was quite thoughtful of you two, wasn’t it?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, she tilted her hat back, brought her head down, and drank deeply from the bucket. The water was refreshing, rejuvenating even, and by the time Sonata lifted her head with a content sigh, Begonia was standing before her.
“Sonata, dear, you look like death!” the red-orange mare cried. “How long have you been out here? Have you eaten?”
Sonata smiled bashfully. Of course, the answer to that question was no. She hadn’t had the time, but she had been running late. What else was there to do but wait until supper?
“How are you Bea?” she laughed, attempting to change the subject.
“Oh, forget about me. I’m not the pony who has been slogging through this dreadful heat all afternoon. How is everypony?”
“You three came just in time, it seems. It looks like everypony is in good need of a break,” Sonata replied glancing around one more time. The rest of the workers, having spotted the buckets, had already begun to approach the two mares.
“Yourself included,” Begonia harped on, her golden eyes glimmering with concern.
A moment of silence passed as the mare took an opportunity to study Sonata who now looked anxiously at the ground. The blue mare knew that if there ever was a transparent pony, it was herself. The only thing that prevented others from freely reading every last thing that bothered her was her own practiced caution in telling them about the matter in the first place. She had made that mistake with Begonia a long time ago, but fortunately, the mare had indeed turned out to be quite a trustworthy—if not overly motherly—acquaintance. Still, the knowing look she was giving Sonata worked to make her nervous. What came next seemed inevitable.
“Did Fylleion and his wife send their messengers again? Their accursed collectors? Is that why you look like this? Hm?”
“No, not today, Begonia,” Sonata sighed. “And they aren’t ‘collectors’.”
“Well, then what are they, Sonata?” Begonia asked, her tone dropping into a restless whisper.
The field ponies were just now reaching them. Begonia quickly turned to her children who had been watching the two adults murmuring and whispering to each other with curious interest. She then directed them to carry their bucket off to meet the workers, so that they might not hear the two mares’ private conversation. The foals rushed off, not wanting to test their mother’s patience whilst she was wearing that perturbed look upon her face. Turning back around to face Sonata, Begonia huffed to see the mare looking quite worn down. She knew that her nagging wasn’t helping. Closing her eyes, and taking a deep breath, the red-orange mare attempted to calm herself.
“Sonata, please listen to me. Eventually, you shall have to be realistic about all of this, about what this is. Now, I haven’t known you your entire life, but from what I’ve heard, this rubbish isn’t new. Why can’t you be honest with yourself about what is taking place?”
Begonia saw that something was happening inside of her friend. Sonata began to shiver as she bowed her head. The orange mare could not tell whether it was from anger or sadness. The blue mare’s large, straw hat concealed her entire face, but could not mask the sound of her breath now coming heavy, and belabored.
“I fear for you, my dear,” Begonia continued, hoping she was getting through to her. “What shall become of you if you lose the farm? Don’t you find it strange how difficult maintaining it has become since your parents have left, and have been sending those… those scoundrels to steal from—”
“In what way, Begonia?” Sonata interrupted, her voice eerily calm.
“W-what? What do you mean?” the other mare asked, sounding quite confused. Sonata lifted her head to look at her. To Begonia’s surprise, the look upon the blue mare’s face was stern. Her raspberry eyes burned with earnestness.
“In what way do you figure the farm has become more difficult to maintain?”
There was a short pause as Begonia tried to work through her astonishment at Sonata’s apparent irritation.
“W-well, I-I suppose that I...Well—”
“Because as a pony who has been farming this land since foalhood, I will have you know that this work, Begonia, has always been ‘difficult’, and I am glad to be able to do it.”
Begonia stared at her wide-eyed.
“I-I didn’t mean to imply that—”
“Do you know what is more difficult, Begonia?—starving, lacking purpose and direction, being scorned by everypony you see."
The red-orange mare’s brow furrowed.
"And Fylleion has helped rid you of all these woes?" she retorted. "Think, Sonata. See clearly. These ponies have been using y—"
"They saved me!" Sonata screamed, her voice echoing across the fields.
All of the field ponies froze to their spots, gawking at the blue mare who now stood huffing in anger. Begonia was utterly taken aback. Her lips tightened shut, and her eyes went wide with shock.
"It is you who cannot seem to see clearly, Begonia," the blue mare began again after calming herself. Her expression was still stern. "I love my parents, and they love me. They taught me how to do something with my nothing life. And surely we can't all be fortunate enough to prance about watering a patch of summer flowers until the Countess throws her annual garden party, and snatches them all up, can we? Of course what I do looks difficult to you. You don't have to feed two towns!"
Begonia looked incensed. Her breast began to heave.
"I'll have you know that my life is equally as subject to the whims of the Earl as yours. All I meant was that there should not be any reason to have money trouble on top of everything else. The Earl does not cause this problem for you. Fylleion and his wife do, and what's more, you don't even know why!"
Sonata shook her head, now quite frustrated with the entire conversation.
"You do not understand,” she groaned, pulling the hat from atop her head with an air of finality. She then turned in the direction of the cottage, and began to walk. “I should have never opened my big mouth to you.”
“Sonata!” Begonia squawked, sounding heartbroken. “W...where are you going?”
The blue mare turned back around to face her. Surprisingly, her expression had returned to its usual state—one of unperturbed blankness.
“Well, that stew and apple cake aren’t just going to make themselves, are they? At least not in my cottage, Begonia. I can’t say about yours."
She then continued on her way. Begonia, not one to have her friendship so easily shaken, trotted forward a few steps.
“Well, put one of those apples in that big, fat, stubborn mouth of yours, and fill your stomach, will you? I know you haven’t eaten today you little foal, you!”
The sun had set, and a new evening was upon them. The field work had been completed just in time to see those last wisps of purple disappear over the horizon. Looking down at it from the lively cottage, everypony couldn’t help but smile at the efficient job they had done.
Sonata bustled around the kitchen humming to herself whilst trying her best to ignore the freckled, stallion following her every step.
"It's because of Dandy, isn't it?" the stallion asked, sounding ireful. When Sonata didn't reply, he huffed. "I knew it! Let me tell you something about Dandy. That herbary of his is filthy. It's full of weeds and rodents, and can barely pull in even one gold bit. Don't let him tell you any different."
In all actuality, the blue mare had barely heard anything the stallion said at all. Why should she have bothered listening when she already knew what he was on about—marriage, as usual.
"Oh, crabgrass!" she gasped suddenly, remembering that she had forgotten the coriander from her stew. "I hope I'm not out."
The freckled stallion stared at her, looking rather deflated as she pushed past him to get to the pantry.
"Sonata, have you heard anything that I've said?"
Sonata's head spun around, very nearly making her tumble from where she balanced on the edge of one of the shelves.
"Hmm? Oh, but..." she muttered, looking rather bashful, "...but I like Dandy's herbs, Pepperjack! They're delicious!"
"Sonata," the freckled Stallion sighed as the mare made her way back down and out into the kitchen. “You can’t avoid the question forever. A mare like you should be settled. Look how much worry you put yourself through handling the farm on your own.”
“Oh, that’s nonsense, Pepper. I’m not alone, and I’m not worried at all,” she lied. “Not when I have so many friends to help me.”
The blue mare picked up the spice container she had rested upon the floor, and tried to push past the stallion. Looking rather determined, Pepper furrowed his brow, and moved to block her path to the stew pot.
“Well, I want to be more than that. I love you, Sonata Dusk. Marry me.”
If her apple cake wasn’t on the verge of burning, Sonata would have positively collapsed with fretfulness. She tapped her hooves together whilst shrinking in the stallion’s midsts. She dared not look him in the eye.
“Yrs, wll… Bit of a prblm, that, inn’t it?” she stammered, spice tin between her teeth. The nervous sweat was beginning to drip down the back of her neck again as she watched Pepperjack’s lips tighten.
Feigning a sneeze, Sonata sent a cloud of dry spice billowing up into Pepperjack’s face. The stallion, in turn, began to sneeze uncontrollably, himself.
“Goodness! Pardon me! Oh, look! Cake’s finished!” the blue mare blurted, dropping the tin, and worming her way around the stallion, toward the oven. Popping it open, she handled the beautiful dessert with care. Biting down upon a rag to make sure the platter did not burn her, she moved to carry it outside to the other guests.
“Dnt wnnit tr grt cld!” she mumbled to Pepperjack before rushing away, leaving him alone and frustrated inside of the kitchen.
Moving to sit upon a blanket behind the cottage, Sonata glanced around at her guests, and smiled. It seemed that word had gotten around that she had made supper since it appeared that the gathering had now doubled in number. Fortunately, the added guests brought dishes of their own to share with everypony else which was certainly a relief, especially since she didn't have the extra money to shop at the market the following day. Hopefully there would be leftovers that evening.
Thankfully, the sporadic propositions for marriage had died down as the evening went on, and varied ponies rediscovered their affections for other varied ponies under the spell of cider. Looking around at all of the budding relationships being made, for the life of her, Sonata just could not understand why everypony kept harping on about marriage. What was so wonderful about being tied down to one source of romantic affection forever?
Suddenly, she was struck with an odd feeling of guilt for having such thoughts. She knew that such prospects were very important to some of the ponies she called her friends. Sonata could only imagine what it must be like to want that type of love so badly, and for no particular reason, be unable to find it. Begonia, that sweet—if not a bit bossy—creature had yet to find such a thing. Sonata had to acknowledge that there was definitely something that seemed wrong with the fact that all of these stallions kept insisting on prodding, and perturbing her about this type of thing when it was clear she wasn't interested and Begonia was. To her, the idea of marriage felt like something those who were sure of themselves did, and she certainly was not that. The truth remained that despite how much she had grown over the years, and despite all of these new responsibilities she had unwillfully acquired, she still felt just as unsure, imperfect, and foolish as she had whilst a filly. How could somepony like that be suitable as anypony’s wife? Besides, she was sure that her parents wouldn't exactly approve of her relinquishing the reins to their farm to some stallion they did not know. And the wishes of her parents would always come first.
Looking for some source of calm, she stared up at the open sky, losing herself in the stars. When she’d had her fill of them, her gaze fell down toward her forelegs where Petunia had managed, at some point, to wedge herself in the small nook between them. Sonata nuzzled the filly as the child jostled about, nibbling upon the last piece of cake that the blue mare had hidden away for her. Every now and then, she’d lift her head to argue with her brother who was currently dancing about, wearing Sonata’s wide brimmed hat.
“Give it! You’ve had it long enough!” the filly yelled through a spray of cake crumbs. She swiped at the hat with her teeth whilst trying to remain comfortably in Sonata’s grasp.
“If you want it so badly, then trade your cake for it!” Peat said, jutting out his tongue.
“No! You’ve already had plenty, and Miss Sonata saved this just for me!”
The filly stood up this time, and approached her brother. He still managed to keep the hat just out of her reach. With a huff and stomp of her hoof, she turned to face Sonata, a huge frown upon her adorable face.
“Miss Sonata, make him give me your hat! It’s my turn to wear it!”
"You two, stop pestering Sonata!" Begonia chided as she happened to trot past them whilst carrying dirty dishes into the kitchen.
Sonata laughed bashfully.
"They're not bothering me at all."
"I’d wager Miss Sonata never had to share anything or do what anypony else told her when she was little. Isn’t that right, Miss Sonata?" Petunia exclaimed. "I’d wager when you were all by yourself you could do whatever it was you wished!"
A few of the other ponies who happened to be sitting nearby went quiet. Begonia, having heard her daughter's words from inside of the cottage, rushed back out to give the child a furious glare.
"Petunia Blossom, that was a terrible thing to say! You apologize to Sonata right this instant!"
Sonata, who had been sitting there looking rather stunned by the child's words, eventually settled into an understanding smile. She again scooped up the filly between her forelegs, and smirked.
"It wasn't quite so simple, Nia," she said, patting the child's head. "I had to face plenty of obstacles, as well. Quite a few ponies would keep things away from me that I needed, or they'd try to take things that belonged to me, or even fight me."
Both Petunia and her brother now seemed completely hooked by Sonata's words.
"Well, what did you do?" Peat Moss asked, never noticing that Sonata's hat had now begun to dangle precariously from one of his ears. "Did you fight them? Did you take their things, as well?"
"Oh, no. Never," Sonata giggled. "But I didn't need to. There were plenty of other ways to get what I required, and stay out of trouble."
The two children now looked perplexed.
"How?" Petunia asked, drawing a thoughtful look from the blue mare.
"Well, I just..." she trailed off, not sure how to put those few lonely and desperate years of living homeless into words. "Well, what I did was..."
As she stammered, falling deep into the emotions of her memory, the sounds that escaped her throat became quite strange. They wavered, and flowed as if on the brink of song. After a moment, Sonata huffed, feeling the spot between her chest and neck beginning to swell with feeling and inspiration. The wellspring of her mind slowly opened up.
MISERY will make you—
“No, no,” she interrupted herself as the tune didn’t seem to communicate what she wanted it to. “Hmm.”
Oh, you’d be surprised just what you’d eat when—
“No, that’s not quite right, either.”
The distinct sounds of Sonata’s voice trying to find her song immediately drew the attention of everypony within hearing distance. Soon, shouts for her to continue echoed throughout the yard, and not being one to disappoint, Sonata took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Allowing the inspiration of old memories and current good company wash over her, she waited until a warmth extended all the way out to her legs. Knowing she had finally found her tune, she then turned to face the filly and colt.
The first lesson that I learned,
When I was very little,
Was just to flow like water,
Through troubles big and small.
What use is being rigid,
When you're stuck in the in between?
A little compromising,
Won't hurt too much at all.
You'll see you'll swiftly leave your woes behind.
As she sang, the air became electrified, and the very sky seemed to join along with her in a jovial harmony. Her voice seemed to echo throughout the fields, drawing any wandering guests back toward the cottage to hear. After all of these years, most of these ponies had already been privy to Sonata’s voice ever since she had begun singing in the Greenwaters market when she was small. However, listening to the mare’s voice now, one could not help but cede the fact that something about it had grown, and become far more powerful right along with her. Where her childhood voice would draw ponies in to sing and dance jovially to themselves, in her marehood, Sonata’s alto now commanded attention, and inspired the most unearthly sense of joy and wellbeing. It was no longer a matter of enjoying her song. Her song had become joy itself.
Getting to her hooves, she trotted about Petunia and Peat Moss before coming to a stop between them. Nudging them mischievously she began leading them through some playful hoofwork that she had performed countless times on top of her stage of old boxes in Greenwaters.
Just shift on to the left,
A nudge onto the right,
And you'll slip right through the blight.
To duck a little low,
Won't mean to lose the fight.
You will soon step into light.
Just learn to take it all in stride.
Oh, do as water does and see!
She ensnared the minds of all who heard her, and soon enough, they too began to join in the dancing and singing as if Sonata’s wellspring had been their own.
But heavy is the load on me!
Sonata ‘rounded about toward the gleeful gathering.
I'll show you how to cut them free!
Skipping up to Dandy, she nudged him, bidding him forward to dance. Caught in the midsts of Sonata's melodic web, he swiftly forgot her earlier rejection to his propositions, and obliged.
Just loosen up your middle,
And shake off all the brittle.
It's useless getting angry.
Just let your grudges fall.
Now take a look around you.
The skies are getting clear up there.
Your road no longer narrow,
When you accept the grass, the groves, and all the pathways once unseen, just...
Begonia, stomping along to Sonata's song as she watched all the happy couples dancing, happened to catch sight of Pepperjack standing a short distance away. Saddling up to his side, she swatted him coquettishly with her tail. When he glanced toward her, she let loose a jovial laugh, and tugged him off by the ear to dance.
Budge on to the left,
Little to the right,
And your woes slip out of sight.
Just bend a little low.
You can win the fight,
And you'll step into the light.
Spin out of the way,
Jump with all your might,
Roll on past. Ignore the slights,
And then you're almost there.
You have won the fight,
Reaching up to brand new heights.
Just learn to take it all in stride.
Oh, do as water does and see!
As Sonata twirled amongst her companions, lost in a world all of her own creation, her song reached a fever pitch. Gaily leaping from entranced partner to the next, she never even noticed the new face that had entered the space.
Now, flow like water just like me!
Around we go so merrily!
A pair of forelegs wrapped around her. She reared up onto her hind legs, and turned to face the stallion, but froze upon actually seeing his face. Her radiant smile only grew wider as she took in her dance partner's white fur, brown mane, and that ever so familiar mischievous grin. The buzz of her melody was halted abruptly. Feeling this, everypony turned to stare.
"Prance?" she gasped as if not believing her own eyes.
"Well, how rude," the white stallion chortled, feigning his annoyance rather poorly. "End the merrymaking the moment I arrive, will you?"
"Prance!" Sonata refrained, diving upon him at once. "I can't believe it! What are you doing here? Have you returned from Canterlot? What was it like? Did you see the unicorn court's castle? What about the alicorn enclave? What gifts did you bring me?"
Sonata prattled on as Prance, humored by her endearing enthusiasm, helped her up off of the ground.
Dandy, Pepperjack, and Begonia stood a good distance away, side by side. Watching the entire, irritating display, Pepperjack smirked to himself whilst Begonia grinned knowingly at them both.
“That absolutely irritating Lighthoof,” Pepperjack muttered to himself. “What does he have that I don’t?”
Begonia giggled, and swept past him, swatting her tail in his face once more.
“Definitely not jealousy,” she tittered. “Surely, you’ve plenty of that.
With that, she left the two stallions to their own devices. Dandy, who had been standing there looking quite perplexed the entire time, finally turned to glance at Pepperjack.
“How did we all know the words to that song?” he asked. They both blinked at one another, and shrugged.
Looking around the yard, it was clear to see that the festive aura had passed its zenith, and now entered its decline. Everypony had been fed, and had, ultimately, witnessed what it is they had really come to experience—Sonata’s song. The presence of Sir Lighthoof only solidified the function’s end. Everypony knew that when he was about, Sonata's attention would be solely his. Still, the aura in the air remained quite pleasant, and as the two friends stood speaking with one another, the rest of the guests began their inevitable farewells, downing their final swig of cider or gulp of stew.
Begonia Blossom stood a short distance away speaking with another mare whilst intently eyeing Sonata and her companion. Bidding the pony to wait, she hastily made her way over toward the distracted pair. Once there, she coyly walked betwixt the two, whipping her tail about Prance's face.
"Why, Sir Lighthoof," she began, looking quite unimpressed with him, "how generous of you to grace us with your presence. Of course, I didn't notice a blue moon in the sky tonight, but clearly if you are here then..."
"Hello, Bea," Prance said with a smirk. "You're looking quite severe this evening. Good to see some things haven't changed."
Now, Begonia was the one wearing a smirk. Turning to look at Sonata who stood smiling obliviously, the red-orange mare nudged her in the shoulder.
"Sonata, dear, Sugardust has asked after payment for the work today. Perhaps you should hurry along before everypony wanders off."
"Oh, fennel!" the blue mare gasped. "I completely forgot!"
With that, she bolted off toward the cottage, frantically bidding for everypony to wait out front. Before she disappeared into the kitchen door, she turned to face her two friends.
“Come inside, you two! I’ll be but a moment!”
Prance, seemingly without a care in the world, moved forward toward the warm, welcoming glow of the kitchen’s hearth, but was immediately halted by Begonia stepping directly into his path. She placed a hoof firmly against his breast, and stared up into his eyes with a troublingly somber expression.
“I’m gladdened to see you here,” Begonia murmured, suddenly lunging forward to embrace the stallion about the neck. “She needs you here now more than ever.”
Prance’s brow furrowed at these words.
“She’s in trouble,” he stated. “What has happened?”
Begonia sighed, ruffling the mane on the back of Prance’s head.
“Just stay as long as you can, Lighthoof. Somepony has to help her, and she seems to confide in you more easily. I just cannot seem to get through to her.”
Prance slowly moved to embrace the distressed mare, sighing knowingly.
“I see. I understand, now,” he murmured. There was a beat of silence. “I shall try to stay for as long as I can... and to speak with her.”
A relieved sigh escaped the mare, and she embraced him even tighter.
“Alright, alright,” the stallion chuckled. “We’re expected to be at odds with each other, do you not remember?”
He heard the mare sniff, and let loose a small chuckle.
“We are. I’m attempting to strangle you,” she laughed.
Their tender moment was short lived as the pair heard a tittering of tiny giggles coming from the cottage’s direction. Spinning about, Begonia and Prance caught sight of Petunia and Peat Moss spying on them from the kitchen window. Upon being caught, the two foals gasped, and disappeared from the frame.
“Oh, dear. Seems we’ve been found out,” Prance joked saddling up next to Begonia, and playfully making eyes at her. “I suppose now everypony will know about… us.”
Begonia gave a grand roll of her eyes, and at once, began her short trek toward the cottage.
“Feh!” she scoffed, swatting the stallion in the face with her tail as she went. “I am not quite that desperate yet, My Liege.”
Upon entering the cabin, Begonia found Sonata running about in a fuss, practically tearing the bedroom and main room apart.
"What in the name of—... What is going on here?" the shaken mare asked, soon joined by Prance who looked equally as stunned.
"The key!" Sonata cried from somewhere in the bedroom. "I've lost the chest key! The workers' payment is in there!"
Prance, sighing, and shaking his head, took a step toward the room whilst Begonia busied herself with rounding up her two children amongst the mess.
"How much was it?" the stallion called to Sonata.
"Th-thirteen!" she replied. "Oh, how shall I ever..."
Without wasting another moment, Prance pulled a satchel from where it hung by his ornamental blade, and headed out toward the front of the cottage. Begonia, Peat Moss, and Petunia followed close behind.
They found him doling out bits to the straggling workers waiting anxiously in the cool night air. They all seemed rushed now, eager to get home before the evening grew too deep, and the creatures of the night began their prowl. Even Begonia could sense an odd air of unrest out there in the dark as she gathered her foals closer to her sides.
As each pony collected their bits, they headed off down the road, most of them in pairs, wary about travelling the path alone. When they had all gone, and the air was silent, Prance closed up his satchel, and turned to smile at the waiting three.
"And that is that," he said, to which he then received three, pleasant smiles.
Suddenly, Begonia's grin faltered as she seemed to spy something troubling.
"Bea? What is it?" Prance asked her. Realizing she was glaring at something behind him, he spun about, and caught sight of two lone figures making their way down the path toward them.
"They wouldn't..." Begonia growled, her brow furrowing with indignation. "Children, go inside."
Peat and Petunia gazed up at their mother, now looking quite anxious.
"No, Mother! We want to stay with you!" Petunia whined, beginning to shiver.
"Who is that, Mother?" Peat Moss asked, sounding more curious than nervous.
"Inside! Now!" Begonia scolded them, rushing them into the cottage before quietly closing the door behind them. Turning about, fire in her eyes, she marched straight away past Prance—who was still looking quite confused—and went to meet the two strangers.
The pair, a dark gray pegasus stallion, and a white pegasus mare—both utterly grim-looking and clad in black—stopped once they had neared the gate. They stood unmoved, and like stone, even when Begonia rushed forward to defiantly point a hoof in their faces.
"How dare you? How dare you?" She hissed, trying not to let her voice carry into the cottage.
"Out of the way, mare," the gray stallion sighed, sounding utterly unimpressed by her anger.
"Have you no shame?" the incensed mare continued. "At this unhallowed hour?"
"We have only come to do our job, miss," the white mare stated plainly. "Out of the way, then."
"No!" Begonia stated plainly, squaring her shoulders, and planting her hooves firmly in the soil. His patience waning, the gray stallion immediately reached toward his side with his teeth to fetch his blade. As he began to strap the thing around his foreleg, the white mare rolled her eyes.
It was at that moment that Prance finally realized who these two ponies were.
"Out of the way, or we shall be forced to use—" the white mare began.
Prance, rushed forward to stand in front of Begonia, and pushed his chest directly up against the gray stallion's.
"Who do you two work for? Is it Fylleion? Where are they? Answer me!" he commanded, immediately stoking the other stallion's anger. The stranger stepped forward, preparing to raise his equipped hoof.
"Who do you think you’re shovin’, you scrawny rat!”
Prance turned to the side to give both strangers a very clear view of the emblem emblazoned upon his own scabbard, that of the royal Canterlotian court.
“That would be Sir rat, if you will, and if you don’t want to end up sharing a cold jail cell in Greenwaters with about thirty or so more rats, then I would suggest that you answer my questions.”
The two ponies seemed to recoil in unison, both of their faces dawning a frighteningly similar look of astonishment. Their eyes slid to the side to peer at one another, and then slid back in the direction of the white stallion before them.
Taking the lead with diplomacy, as she appeared more prone to do, the white mare stepped forward, and cleared her throat. She then nodded her head in a show of reverence.
“It seems we have acted with an unbecoming amount of brashness, Sir…” she stated, waiting for Prance to supply his name.
“Lighthoof,” Prance replied coldly.
“...Sir Lighthoof,” the mare repeated. “For that we must beg your pardon. I am Echo Hum, and this is Silent Wing.”
With haste, she reached to her side where her own belt hung, fixed with blade and pouches of all sorts. Reaching into a pouch, she managed to pull out a small, rolled parchment. Unfurling the thing upon the ground with her nose, she nudged it forward for Prance to read.
“We are agents of the Lock & Stock Safeguard, the most trusted and efficient private courier and safeguarding service in all of the kingdom for over two hundred years. It boasts the most well-known messengers and protectorates of equine nobility, et cetera, et cetera, and so on, and so forth. We are simply here to collect a delivery due from one Miss Sonata Dusk.”
The white mare rolled the parchment back up before Prance could even finish reading it, and tucked it back into her belt. Flipping her long, silver mane out of her eyes, she smiled at him coyly. “She didn’t make an expected appearance at the Greenwaters branch this morning, and so—”
“And so you’re here to terrorize her!” Begonia interjected, jutting her head out from behind Prance. “You pegasi are all the same: humorless, violent, hot-headed ruffians. I’d wager it wouldn’t even matter if you were being paid for this service, so long as you could frighten the timid and gentle as much as possible. Why don’t you two just fly back up to your grim, little cloud, and go buck—”
“Bea, that’s enough,” Prance chided her, nudging her back. He then turned to face the two pegasi, both looking completely unfazed by Begonia’s outburst, "You two know where Fylleion is, then?" he asked.
"I'm afraid I do not," the mare stated plainly. "We are but humble messengers. And, of course, Lock & Stock wouldn't be what it was if we were privy to all of our very important patrons' information."
"Very important...?" Prance murmured to which the mare leaned in further toward him, wearing a sly grin.
"Indeed, Sir Lighthoof. And might I add that many of our patrons just so happen to outrank your authority, the most applicable being your authority to stop us from completing our task this evening."
The white stallion seemed perplexed by all of this.
"How, then, do these so called important patrons receive their belongings if nopony is able to locate them?"
"They. Simply. Do," the pegasus mare declared with a final stomp of her hoof. Her silver eyes bore into the white stallion as if daring him to prod further. "Now, out of our way. We have a job to complete."
Begonia huffed loudly from where she stood behind Prance. Making her way out to his side, she stared down the two pegasi with her companion.
"Not a chance. There is nothing here for you tonight. You will just have to let Fylleion know that he and his wife will have to wait."
Sonata Dusk, oblivious to the confrontation taking place out in the road, had somehow managed to harness the youthful enthusiasm and effort of the Blossom children in aiding her opening of the chest. In hindsight, it seemed rather simple, really. Just a large knife, a bit of oil, two foals performing a forward somersault, a good kick from her hind hoof, and finally, the large, locked box popped right open. Grabbing up the satchel that bore the Goldenstalks seal, Sonata bid the children to wait inside, and quickly made her way toward the door.
Upon exiting the cottage, the sight that awaited her filled her with dismay. There stood Prance and Begonia hassling two straggling guests about something or other. Her brow furrowing, she, briskly made her way toward the four ponies standing in the road. It wasn't until she had reached the distance of the gate that she realized the two strangers had wings. Peering closer, a different tale began to unfold in Sonata’s head as she realized who it was that had visited her farm.
"W...what's happening here? Is something the matter?" she asked, forcing her way between Begonia and Prance. She eyed her friends suspiciously, and awaited an acceptable explanation. Naturally, it was Begonia who proved unable to hold her tongue.
“Sonata, these two just showed up in the middle of the night to harass you for—”
“For their payment. I know,” the blue mare interrupted. Turning about to face the two pegasi, she smiled politely. “I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to make it into Greenwaters this morning. Something urgent came up, you see.”
“Yes, well, that is no concern of ours, Miss Dusk,” Echo replied, unmoved by the earth mare’s explanation. “The only thing that concerns us is that our patrons receive what is due them, when it is expected.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, but—”
“Spare us,” Silent Wing stated plainly. “Do you have it or not?”
It took a moment for Sonata to catch her wits from the coldness of the two, something she figured she might never get used to. Still, she understood they were just doing their job, and nodded her head.
“Yes, I have it,” she said turning about to head back into the cottage. “Just one—”
“Sonata, what—” Begonia began, blocking her path. Sonata immediately shoved her out of the way, giving her a rather serious look.
“Just one moment,” the blue mare finished as she headed back into the cottage.
Begonia, looking rather dejected, now stood off to the side, pouting and shaking her head. In the mean time, Prance passed the pegasi pair an unamused glare. He remained silent, watchful, studying the situation as it unfolded.
In a moment, Sonata returned from the cottage toting a large sack of bits. Pushing her way past her friends, she moved to stand before the pair of pegasi.
“Here it is. The usual, yes? One hundred bits,” she said dropping the sack, and pushing it forward with absolutely no hesitation. The audible sound of Begonia gasping and Prance huffing in disbelief echoed throughout the yard. Even Echo and Silent’s eyes went wide with shock at how effortlessly she had relinquished such an exorbitant amount of currency.
“S-Sonata, are you mad?” Begonia gasped, her mind reeling. “This is what they expect of you every time? Do you realize how much this—”
“Yes, I do, Begonia,” Sonata chided her, “and I don’t care. I must do what is expected of me.”
As she was speaking to her friend, and whilst Prance was attempting to calm the air between them both, Echo Hum and Silent Wing glanced down at the heavy sack of bits upon the ground, and then toward each other. The blue mare had given up the money so easily, so willingly. It was something utterly unfeasible considering that one hundred bits was quite a costly amount for any common pony, much less a lowly tenant farmer. Still, the seemingly dedicated mare had miraculously found a way to obtain it. An identical thought seemed to occur to the both of them. At precisely the same moment, wicked grins spread across their maws.
“This isn’t enough,” the white mare stated quite plainly, drawing an abrupt silence from the three bickering earth ponies before her. All of them eyed her in disbelief.
“W-what?” Sonata gasped. “But this is exactly the amount that—”
“The amount has been doubled,” Silent Wing interrupted her. “Had you made your scheduled trip to Greenwaters this morning, then perhaps you could have received this message from the patron much earlier. You could have been better prepared this evening.”
“Mother and father want… more?” the poor mare asked in disbelief, her raspberry eyes going wider by the moment. “B-but why would—”
“As I so patiently explained to your companions before your arrival,” Echo interrupted, “we do not know, and we do not care. We are merely here to deliver messages, and to settle accounts. The message we have for you this evening, Miss Dusk, is that the account to be settled is now worth two hundred bits. Do you have this amount or not?”
All of the exhaustion and the worry that Sonata had been putting herself through for the past couple weeks now seemed to show clearly upon her face. She wilted, looking as if the life had been drained from her all at once. One hundred bits per week was already such a large cost that she could barely manage to comfortably sustain herself. How on earth would she be able to survive if double were required of her?
“No, I… I don’t have two hundred bits,” she squeaked. That horrible tightness that she despised so much threatened to clench her throat shut. “How could I possibly have so much?”
Echo and Silent grimaced. With a sigh, the white mare snatched the bits satchel up, and passed it off to Silent to carry. The look she gave the blue mare before her was very stern.
“This isn’t good, Miss Dusk,” she began as she turned to leave. “This isn’t good at all. I suppose that we shall have to let the patron know immediately that you cannot—”
“No, wait!” Sonata yelped, rushing forward to stop them. She never saw the knowing grin now plastered upon Echo’s face. Straightening her expression, the white pegasus slowly turned around, and stared at the distraught earth mare quite boredly.
“I… If I were to find a way to get the other hundred, how long do you think I might have to do it?” Sonata asked, her voice wavering.
“Sonata!” both Begonia and Prance screamed in shock. Begonia stepped forward.
“You can’t possibly be considering—”
Sonata raised a hoof to silence her, keeping her eyes trained fervently upon Echo. The pegasus mare seemed to be thinking to herself.
“Well, I cannot know definitely, of course, by the very nature of our work,” she began. “But I suppose if I were to use other instances like this as an example, I would estimate perhaps another week or two. Of course, since this is a weekly payment, the bulk amount due in that time would surpass a mere two hundred bits. You must stay current with your expenses, Miss Dusk.”
The red-orange earth mare, shaking with anger from where she stood behind her friend, took a few steps forward. Her mouth hung open with repudiation.
“You crooks. You crooks! All of you! Since you two scoundrels are so fantastic with delivering messages, then perhaps you can tell Fylleion and his wife that there is no way that Sonata is going to—”
“Begonia!” Sonata screamed, at long last having lost her patience with the mare. “Stop! Just stop it! You always prance about telling me what I should do, and speaking on my behalf as if I were another one of your foals! Well, I'm not, and this matter is none of your concern. So, it would please me greatly if you would just stay out of it! I'm going to do as I wish no matter what you have to say on it, and if you don't fancy that, then you can just leave!"
It was as if she had been wounded. Begonia peered at her friend in disbelief, fumbling for words. Her eyes grew glossy and red before—perhaps to save face—she turned her head away, and sniffed. After having composed herself, she looked toward Sonata one last time.
"Well, I suppose that’s that, then. You want me to leave you alone? I'll do just that. You shan’t ever have to be treated as one of my foals again, Sonata. Good evening to you all."
With that, she spun about, and headed off toward the cottage to collect her children, shrugging off Prance's attempt to stop her. Realizing what she had done, Sonata's angry expression melted away. A lump grew in her throat as she took a step forward.
"B... Bea..." she croaked.
The red-orange mare ignored her completely as she called her children out into the road. With one final glance, she turned about, and headed off down the path. Petunia and Peat Moss followed apprehensively.
There was a beat of silence before the sound of Echo Hum sighing caught Sonata's ear, and she turned back about. A stray tear fell from her eye as she did so.
"Well, I should think I've had my portion of drama for the evening," the white mare began with a cold chuckle. "And while all this has proven most entertaining, we really must be on our way. So, what shall it be, Miss Dusk? Will you have the full payment in two week's time?"
Trying her best to fight off thoughts about Begonia, Sonata sniffed away yet more tears that threatened to fall. She passed the pegasus a determined glare, her raspberry eyes catching fire.
"I shall find a way," she stated with a sure nod of her head. For once, her voice did not waver.