They wouldn’t have noticed the dark clouds rolling in overhead if it weren’t for the steady flashes of lightning. It was enough to draw both Sonata and Prance to the front windows to see what was the matter. At first, they suspected a bit of retribution by their pegasi visitors from earlier that evening. Maybe they actually had taken offense to Begonia's insults, and decided to retaliate with a bit of wind and rain for good measure. However, upon looking up at the sky, the two earth ponies took in the startling sight of a wall of cumulonimbus—far more than only two pegasi could feasibly control alone—moving through the area, headed northwest. Interestingly enough, despite the furious flashes that lit up the night, there was not one single trace of thunder. Both of them supposed that the pegasi in question, whoever they actually happened to be, had wanted to keep things as quiet as possible up there.
The pressure in the atmosphere and the ominous whistling of the winds proved to be quite disturbing to the spirit. One could almost taste conflict in the air. Furrowing her brow as the implication of it all dawned upon her, Sonata immediately set to work cleaning what remained of the mess from earlier. Prance busied himself with pouring her the last, lukewarm bowl of stew leftover from earlier in the evening. He then moved back toward the window, sat down beside it, and continued to gaze out into the late evening.
"Marmalade warned me last week, and I just couldn’t believe her!” the mare prattled on as she bustled about. Every now and then, her eyes would dart nervously toward the scene outside. “It seemed so ridiculous at the time, really. But she had told me that Duke Vision and Commander Debon Air of the Doldrums had had some kind of falling out. Supposedly, Vision insulted the commander in some way... a commander! Can you even fathom such a thing? I don't know if I believe it, myself, but Marmy's brother does work in the..."
At long last, when her head snapped around to glance at Prance, the melancholy look upon his face forced her into silence. Forgoing her cleaning—and her bowl of stew—she took a step forward.
“Prance? Are you alright?”
The stallion still didn’t notice her until, at last, she decided to lift a hoof, and wave it frantically in his direction.
“Hmm? Oh, erm. It’s nothing, Sonata. I'm just thinking.”
“Well, obviously,” the mare said with a roll of her eyes. “And what are you thinking about?"
A thought occurred to her.
“You don’t suppose that this will have anything to do with you, do you? Duke Vision is always saying something silly every now and then. But this will all blow over as usual, yes?”
"Duke Vision is a shining example of everything that is enraging about the unicorn nobility," Prance said with a tired roll of his eyes. "He has little respect or understanding for anypony that isn't unicorn. One of these days, he'll bring a war down upon himself, and quite literally, it will fall down out of the blasted sky. I'm sure of it.”
He again glanced up out of the window.
“Especially if he fancies speaking to pegasi in such a way."
"Prance!" Sonata gasped. "You mustn't say such things. You know the Duchess of Edinbridle is Our Lady's sister. That would be horrible for us if it were to happen!"
"I didn't say I wanted it to. I'm simply saying that—Oy! I told you to finish that stew, didn’t I?” Prance exclaimed as his gaze met with Sonata's forgotten bowl sitting atop the table.
"Oh! I... I'm not hungry, Prance. It's alright. I'll eat it later," she said, continuing to clean. Prance passed her an annoyed glare, rose up, and walked over to force her to her seat.
"No, Sonata. Eat it, now. You haven't eaten enough today, and you're going to make yourself sick. I'm not sleeping until you finish it all."
The look the blue mare gave him was one of utter irritation. After a moment of groaning and whining, she finally leaned forward to stare down into the bowl. Practically plopping her face into the thing, she quickly slurped its contents up in one, huge mouthful. Staring at Prance with cheeks near to bursting, she then gulped it all down.
"There," she stated coldly, holding up her empty dish for him to inspect. "Is this to your liking, Sire? Or shall I lick the bowl clean as well?"
"No, no. That seems satisfactory," Prance retorted, smirking at the hint of vindictiveness that leaked from her words. "You know, you're becoming just as awful as Bea."
The stallion knew he had made a mistake when Sonata's face twisted into a pained grimace, and her bowl went clattering down upon the table.
"Oh, Sonata, I didn't mean..."
Rising up before he could finish, Sonata moved away from the table to go sit on the mounds of cushions that lay upon the large rug in the main room. Collapsing upon them, she buried her face into one particularly large, purple pillow. Prance, feeling quite foolish, moved to her side, and lay down beside her. Resting his head upon hers, he then nudged her with his foreleg.
"Come now, Sonata. You know how things are with Bea. You two just had a small difference of opinion.”
“Small. Yes,” Sonata scoffed, rolling her eyes. Prance decided it best to ignore the sarcasm.
“Once you apologize to each other, everything shall be right as rain. You'll see."
The mare snorted, lifting her head so quickly that it knocked Prance in the jaw, and set him to groaning.
"Apologize? Well, why the dirt should I do something like that for? I meant what it was that I said!" she muttered. Flipping her fringe out of her face, she looked away from the stallion's penetrating gaze. Even still, she could feel his violet eyes piercing into the back of her head.
"Are you certain?" he prodded. It took a moment more for the mare to respond.
"Well... I... I suppose I didn't mean to express it quite so harshly," she murmured, turning her head back around. She was met with a warm smile.
"That seems a good place to start. Try saying that the next time you visit her," Prance gently urged.
"Why would I need to visit Begonia Blossom?" Sonata asked, looking rather perplexed.
"To deliver the apple pie you shall make for her, of course," he retorted, taking a moment to inspect one of his hooves.
"Why would I—" Sonata began again, but quickly stifled herself when her companion gave her an exasperated glare. "Oooh, I see. Perhaps I'll do just that then."
She thought a moment.
"You shall be buying the ingredients, of course?" she asked, sliding the sweetest, widest grin in the stallion's direction. They both burst into giggles.
Sonata found it interesting how much better she felt after talking about all of this out loud. She knew that, without question, it was Prance’s uplifting presence and his lighthearted attitude that had been her motivation to do so. Gazing up at him, she couldn’t help but feel amazed by the fact that, after all of these years and all of his accomplishments, he might still have wanted to associate himself with her. As was to be expected, after he had been knighted, his visits to the Fylleion farmstead became more and more infrequent, and to Sonata’s dismay, she saw less of him each and every month. Yet, even after he had been called away, sometimes for many months at a time, it would seem that he had not forgotten her. Even with such a busy and harrowing life as his, he still managed to find a way to visit, and usually right when she needed to see him most.
Sonata sighed to herself, her smile faltering ever so slightly. If only her parents could be just a little more like him.
“Oh, stop it,” she grumbled under her breath. There she went again, being utterly selfish and ungrateful.
“What did you say?” Prance asked, nudging her in the side.
She didn’t realize he had still been listening. Her head bolted upward. Throwing a wide grin in his direction, she then leapt to her hooves.
“Come with me. I’ve a bit of flour left. Why don’t we figure out what I should do about the two hundred bits whilst I make biscuits?”
She pulled Prance toward the kitchen by the ear.
“N-no, I…” the stallion stuttered as his eyes darted back and forth between Sonata and the main room. “I really should stay put.”
“Oh, come on,” she whined, getting a better hold of him with her teeth. “Thoeth cloudth will thill be there when you geth bath!”
“No, it isn’t the clouds, it’s…” he continued on. His nervous tone of voice made Sonata’s ears stand at attention. She let go of him, and studied his face.
“Not the clouds? What is it then? Are you waiting for something?”
She’d never seen the stallion look as guilty as he did right then.
“I just want to make sure that something will… will find me…” he trailed off, realizing how ridiculous he was sounding.
Gradually, a sly grin spread across the blue mare's lips.
“I see. Is it something from her, perhaps?” she asked. The increased look of anxiety upon Prance’s face told her that, indeed, it was. “Well, that’s perfect, too. We can talk about her until it arrives, although I don't understand why it should have to be delivered at such an hour."
By the time he had finished stuttering in protest to all this, she had already turned, and disappeared through the kitchen door. Popping her head back out, she gave the white stallion a perplexed look.
“What did you say her name was?”
“I didn’t say,” Prance sighed, finally rising up to follow close behind. His gaze lingered out of the front window every step of the way.
“Oh, that’s right,” Sonata mumbled as she disappeared into the pantry. Once again, her head popped out from behind the edge of the doorway. “Wait. Why not?”
Prance could no longer help but crack a smile.
“Because you are terrible with keeping secrets, and absolutely nopony can know about it.”
Sonata frowned, and disappeared back into the pantry, but not before sticking her tongue out in the stallion’s direction.
“That isn’t true… I think,” she whined. “How is she? Have you seen her since your return?"
"Yes," Prance sighed, a dreamy-eyed look washing over him. "She's... She is... perfect."
Sonata grinned knowingly at him as she moved a few small satchels of ingredients toward the worktable.
"By Bullion, Prance. When are you going to ask her to marry you? You're an absolute mess over it," she giggled.
Interestingly enough, Prance's expression hardened into a stern one. He gazed sharply at her, and began to shake his head.
"Oh, no. Oh, no, no. That would be impossible, I’m afraid."
Sonata huffed, dropping a spoon she had lifted between her teeth back into its accompanying bowl. She gave him an annoyed look of her own.
"You always say that! Why not? I want to sing at a wedding!"
"It just... cannot happen," he said, sounding as if he wanted to end the discussion altogether.
Sonata frowned some more, making use of her time by slamming around her cooking supplies, and creating quite an irritating din in the small cookery. After watching Prance sit relatively unfazed by this for about two minutes, she stomped a hoof.
"You act as if love is something to be ashamed of! Why can't you say anything about her? If I were she, I'd be furious that you felt you couldn't talk about me!"
Prance said nothing. Even through all of this, he had managed to keep his composure. Seeing that her attempts to get a rise out of him had not worked, Sonata huffed, and turned back about to her business, raising her nose high into the air.
"It's because you keep mares all over, isn't it? I know you, Prance Lighthoof. Even that pegasus... What was her name? Echo. She caught your eye as well, didn't she?” Sonata shouted. As she continued on, her provincial accent thickened until she was practically spitting angry syllables at him.
“I can tell these things by now, y'know. S’why ye can't say names, isn't it? For fear that they’ll all run into each other whilst samplin’ fried 'taters at mark—"
"How dare you?" Prance said indignantly. He rose to his hooves, and approached the mare until she was forced back. "You apologize to me this instant, Sonata Dusk. I shall have no slander from you!"
"No!" Sonata stated flatly as she began to mix her ingredients together in the bowl. "Every blasted time you visit, you can't stop talking about her, and yet your words are always guarded. It's so silly. I don't want to hear about it anymore if you can't be open about it."
"But Sonata, you're my... Who else shall I..."
He trailed off when he realized the blue mare no longer seemed to care about his distress at all. Seeing this, the stallion eventually plopped down onto his haunches in defeat, and rolled his eyes.
"She lives in town," he muttered spitefully.
As if a switch had been flipped, Sonata immediately dropped her mixing spoon into the biscuit batter, and spun around to flash him an ecstatic grin.
"I knew it! Who are her parents? Does she have overly protective brothers or jealous sisters? Don't they like you?" she spouted whilst Prance raised a hoof to rub at his aching temples.
"Sonata..." he groaned. The sound triggered something within the mare's chest just as she was sliding a pan of biscuit dough into the oven. Barely catching some of the fur of her foreleg onto one of the hot griddles, she hissed, and quickly slammed the thing shut. Turning about one last time, her eyes met with Prance's, and, for the first time, she noticed pain and worry therein.
"Prance? Won’t you tell me what is actually the matter? Really," she asked him, quite concerned. "I'm starting to assume that something is ahoof about this mare."
He looked away from her, unable to meet the sincerity in her eyes.
"I... I'm... just worried that perhaps I'm... we're doing something... quite fooli—"
His words were interrupted by a sudden flash of berry red light, and the distinct, echoing sound of unicorn magic. Both earth ponies’ vision was blinded for a moment, and when the light dimmed, laying before Prance’s hooves was a neatly rolled scroll. Strangely enough, it was tied with a simple piece of string instead of sealed with an identifying wax emblem.
“What is…” Sonata began, taking a cautious step toward the rolled piece of paper. She watched as Prance’s eyes went wide. His gaze darted between her and the scroll before he dove for the thing. Ripping the string off, he unfurled the letter right there upon the dusty floor, and buried his nose into it.
As he read it voraciously, to the mare’s dismay, his excited expression slowly began to wilt. Worried creases grew ever deeper around his usually jovial eyes until, finally, he let off a heavy sigh, allowing the scroll to fall back onto the floor. Sonata held her breath at first, too afraid to speak. Slowly, she mustered up the courage to say something.
"Has... has something happened?" she squeaked, watching the stallion’s eyes slowly growing incensed as he thought to himself. “Prance?”
He was up at once, tucking the scroll into his scabbard, and rushing toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Sonata yelled worriedly. Following close behind, she quickly shoved herself between the stallion and the passageway. “Prance, say something!”
“Out of the way!” he yelled, trying to squirm his way around her. Sonata would not be moved.
“No! Tell me what’s—”
He grabbed her by the kerchief around her neck, and yanked her off to the side. Wrenching open the door, and rushing out into the yard, he never expected to be halted at the gate by Sonata grabbing hold of him by the tail. Turning around, he saw her gripping the thing between her teeth. Shifting her body around, the mare slid her entire weight on top of it, and took a seat, forcing Prance to do the same.
“Get off me! I have to leave!” he cried.
“No!” she screamed. “I don’t know what was in that letter, Prance, and I don’t know why you won’t tell me what's happening, but you promised you would stay here! You promised you would stay with me when you returned!"
"I can't, Sonata!" the stallion protested, digging his hooves into the dirt.
"But you must! I’m in trouble, Prance! Don’t you care at all? What about the... the two hundred bits?”
Even the distraught look in her eyes was not enough to keep the stallion's attention. He tried to squirm away from her, his neck straining forward in the direction of the gate.
“You shall have it! I shall give you all of the bits in the kingdom if you’d just move yer blasted rump off me, mare! Stop being so selfish!"
Her breath caught in her throat.
"S-selfish?" she squeaked.
She swore the sting she now felt in her heart was an actual wound.
“Why are you talking to me this way? Have you finally grown tired of me as well?” she whimpered, looking at the ground. For a moment, she considered that this might actually have been the case. Fighting back the sense of terror that now threatened to overwhelm her, she raised her head. “I… I don’t want your money. I just need—”
Something struck her in the thigh. Prance had used his hind hoof to shove her to the ground. In her disoriented state, Sonata realized she could taste dirt. It took a moment for her to catch her wits about her, but when her vision finally cleared, she saw that the white stallion had already leapt over the fence.
“Wait!” she cried as she headed toward the gate, and watched him race down the path. Her eyes began to leak tears. “Fine! Go on then! Leave! Just like everypony else! I can become accustomed to it, Prance! I can get used to anything, you know!"
She ran all the way to the top of the hill, knowing that there was no way to catch him now. Plopping down in the middle of the road, she watched until he disappeared over another mound in the distance.
The sky over the countryside had been cleared by this time, and the stars shone brightly. Still, Sonata swore that coming from somewhere far away to the north, she could now make out the faint sound of thunder.
She awoke the next morning at the cockerel’s crow. Jolting up in bed with a snort, she was disturbed to find that her entire pillow had fused itself to the side of her face with dry tears and something else sticky. In addition to this, beside her sat an emptied tray once filled with biscuits. A toppled pot of jam lay nearby.
“Oh dirt,” she groaned, peeling the pillow off of her cheek, and then dusting the crumbs off of her face. Moving one hoof upward to glide it across her fringe, she was mortified to find that the forelock had managed to freeze itself in the form of a pillar pointed toward the ceiling. Upon touching it, and then bringing her hoof down to her nose, she smelled, again, the strong essence of peach jam. Sighing, she shook her head. Surely, her day could not begin this way.
Even after all of these years, Sonata still found it amazing what a splash of water could do for the soul. After a quick bath down at the well, and a song from her beloved birds, the blue mare's spirits had been lifted significantly. Dawning her large straw hat and white robe, still torn on the hems from the day before, she then set out at once for her foray in town.
Her performances, once a daily routine, had now dwindled down to just one, weekly occurrence. With all the work to be done on the farm, it was inevitable that something would eventually have to give way. As cherished as this minute aspect of her life was, it seemed obvious that it would have to be the first thing to go.
Following her own good advice, Sonata had taken it in stride. Like water, she accepted, adjusted, and adapted. She prided herself on being able to do this whenever it was necessary, even in instances as distressing as having to say farewell to whatever and whomever she cared for very much.
A frown escaped her as Prance immediately came to mind. She tried in vain to forget the events from the evening before.
Rarely had she ever seen the stallion act in such desperation as he had last night, and the thought of what might have been in that letter still worried her. Pondering to herself as she began to hum—something she always did whilst pondering—it occurred to her that unicorn magic was a very expensive form of post. Whether the letter was simply sent by enchanted means, or was a message from a unicorn itself, one thing was for certain: Whoever Prance had received the correspondence from was well-to-do. She remembered how he had pounced upon the scroll frantically after it had appeared. Was it possible that it was a letter from his beloved?
Sonata gasped to herself. How deliciously scandalous this mystery now seemed. Still, she acknowledged that she was quite cross with the stallion after he had left her so abruptly, and after he had called her... called her...
"Selfish," she hissed to herself.
Even now she felt the tears threatening to burst forth. How could he, of all ponies, call her such a thing? As if she didn't already know she was a rather ungrateful pony. The last thing she needed was to hear it from him, and he knew that. Prance was supposed to be her refuge, the one pony she didn't have to be fearful of sharing anything with. Yet, it seemed that last night he hadn't even cared about their history together, or all of the ways he had encouraged her to trust him over the years, all of the ways he knew certain places and things, certain words and mannerisms could so easily leave their scars upon her.
Sonata shook her head. And even considering all this, she still missed him.
A great part of her had hoped that he would have returned by daybreak, but nopony had been waiting in the yard when she peeked through the window. Nopony knocked upon the door when she was cleaning her biscuit tray and jam pot in the kitchen. Nopony ran into her upon the road this morning until, at last, she had finally rounded the bend where the town of Greenwaters came into view.
We'll see how many dances and biscuits he gets the next time I see him.
She frowned to herself. When would she see Prance next? She hoped that it wouldn't be a whole year until she again reunited with her friend, despite how angry she happened to be at the moment.
Coming to the convergence of the roads that led into town, Sonata was surprised to suddenly spot Marmalade, a light pink mare with a cream-colored mane, making her way toward the opened gates. By her side, pulling along a large cart filled to the brim with jams and preserves of all sorts, was her brother, Rhubarb.
"Marmy!" Sonata cried, waving to the mare. She waited for them at the fork in the road, and gave Marmy a great hug when they finally caught up.
"Back so soon?" Sonata asked, looking her over. "I didn't expect to see you here for another month, at least!"
"Well, then that just tells me you haven't heard the word on the winds, have you, Blue?" Marmalade muttered, her eyes shifting about mischievously. "A mare's got to have some stability in these troubled times, doesn't she?"
"Oh, dear. More bad news from the House of Vision, I take it?" Sonata asked, tugging at the edge of her hat.
Marmalade gave a squeaky giggle. Her eyes still shifted about as she saddled up next to Sonata, and bid her to accompany her through the town gates.
"Is there! Come along, Blue. There is much to discuss!"
If there was ever a gossipy pony, Marmalade was it. It didn't matter whether the word on the street said that a war was coming down upon a noble house of old, or that the price of tomatoes had dropped by half a bit; Marmalade always proved to be ever abreast of the most current information. This, as one might imagine, proved to be an annoying trait to most. However, Sonata, being rather accepting and all too self-deprecating to ever consider spurning anypony who had shown her kindness, never seemed to mind. And it wasn't as if the chatty mare's information was wrong. As a matter of fact, it often wasn't, and even though Marmalade did inspire aggravation in those she would habitually pester, very few could say that they weren't grateful for the information later on.
As Sonata walked alongside the babbling mare, she couldn't help but allow her gaze to wander about the bustling town around her. Gradually, she realized that something had changed about the place. It took a moment, but soon it dawned upon her that everywhere she looked, upon almost every public surface, was plastered a very particular, tan-colored poster dawning the image of a rather grim-faced earth stallion. Chance chose that moment to have one of the sheets hit her straight in the face as it floated upon the wind. Placing her basket down, and filling it with a few small stones, Sonata moved the thing to be carried upon her back. Then, picking up the dirty piece of paper, she fumbling with and folded the thing in her mouth, attempting to angle it so that she might better decipher its text.
The lifeblood of the kingdom shall stop up its flow to the cruel and corrupt, the thing said.
"Wrt doeth it mean?" she asked Marmalade who had leaned over to take a look.
"I was wondering if those had reached Greenwaters as yet,” the pink mare said. “They're all over the kingdom now."
Sonata watched Marmalade as, gradually, her gaze was drawn away to something further on down the street. Hearing a large ruckus and the clanking of metal coming from her left, Sonata's head snapped around just in time to catch sight of two, large guards shouting and shoving along a brown, ragged-looking earth stallion. Despite his being pushed to the ground every other second, the stallion would relentlessly pop back up to his hooves, and shout something until, again, he was silenced.
"Goodness," Sonata murmured. "What has he done?"
The trio strained their ears to listen.
"...and is it not we who feed all three races? Is life on the land and in the sky not supported entirely upon our tired backs? And what do we have to show for it? Endless toil, worry, weakness, and the spite of the old lords of the land who grow fatter by the day on the fruits of our labor! It is time we demand what is ours! And today we must demand liberation from under the suffocating hoof of the unicorn peerage!"
Finishing his words, the stallion was pushed forward quite roughly once again. This time, when he hit the ground, a spray of the same brown posters that were plastered about town came spilling from the inside of his worn and dirty shirt. The pair of guards lunged forward immediately, one to snatch up the posts, the other to hoof the wild-eyed stallion across the mouth, shutting him up for good. Both Marmalade and Sonata winced at the sight.
"If you get caught posting those it's the jailhouse for you, I'm afraid," Marmalade whispered in Sonata's ear as they both watched the poor, bedraggled creature being lifted, and carried away by the pair of guards.
"'Course, nopony knows what happens to the ones that go about preachin' like that. They're toted off to the nearest lord, and not a soul ever hears from 'em again. That's for certain."
Sonata stared at her friend in shock.
"You mean... the Earl?" the blue mare breathed after tucking the poster haphazardly under the edge of her hat. Marmalade nodded.
"Supposedly, there's a small faction of vassals, all earth ponies gone mad, them!" Rhubarb cut in. "Thinking that they've somehow got the wits to govern themselves! Reckoning that they bloody well don't need the nobility!"
He motioned toward the poster and the image of the grim earth stallion printed upon it.
"That's their leader, there. Whatsisname again? Root... Root-something or other. I used to see him all of the time at our marketplace. One day he just up and disappeared, he did. I suppose now we know what the fool's been up to."
"But there are many well-to-do earth ponies," Sonata murmured, feeling confused. "A few of them are even nobles in the unicorn court. What about Pr—... Sir Lighthoof?"
"Knights and Baronets don't count. Can't pass those on to your foals, can you, Blue? You just watch. A generation from now, and those Lighthoofs will still be marching off as dutifully as ever to fight in unicorn battles."
Sonata frowned at the other mare's rather rude words.
"Well, then... W-what about the former Countess? She doesn't suffer."
Marmalade sighed, and shrugged to herself.
"I don't know, Bluey. I don't know." She seemed to think to herself for a moment. "That former Countess of yours—Lady Ginger, yes? She is quite the skittish type, though, isn't she? A few of the other earth pony nobles I've seen are almost exactly like that, some more than others. I imagine it can't be easy living in the middle like that, having to go along with most everything the unicorn court decides with barely any other race's input. Couldn't be easy seeing most of your own kind live to serve you. I'd wager those few earth nobles are a rather lonely lot, wouldn't you, Blue?"
A thoughtful silence ensued between them, so profound and thick that it drowned out the din of the town. Marmalade, wearing a small, melancholy smile, sighed.
"You can practically hear the thunder on every side of you in Edinbridle now. Debon Air's ponies moved into our airspace just this morning, you know. Old Vizzy's sure to have one hay of a time with that mess," Marmalade chuckled. The unsure twinge in the sound made Sonata's ears perk up. "I'm telling you, Bluey, something's coming. Something big!"
As if having been summoned by the pink mare's words, a rather large, armored stallion suddenly appeared in Sonata's line of sight. The blue mare's eyes went wide as he began to approach her at a brisk pace. She began to stutter as he loomed over her, reached forward, and snatched the paper from her hat. Tearing the thing up, he then moved toward a nearby wall that was plastered with them. The trio remained silent until they had continued on a fair distance. Glancing toward Sonata, Marmalade gave her a look of concern.
"You alright, Blue? I swear those brutes have absolutely no manners whatsoever! Is that how they treat a pair of ladies?" Having said this, the mare then turned her head away, hacked in a rather loud fashion, and spat disdainfully into the cobblestone. "No decorum at all!"
Looking about at all the excited, whispering ponies littering the streets, and dipping in and out of various buildings, the sight proved to be far too much for Sonata. It was confusing enough to have to manage a farm all on her own whilst considering the whims of her Lord—and what's more, her parents. How could she possibly be expected to now fit the worries of the entire kingdom into the equation as well?
Something seemed to give way in the blue mare's mind. Sighing loudly, and shaking her head free of thoughts that would only work to worry her even more, she turned to Marmalade.
"You're smart to try to sell extra, Marmy. Wish I was in a similar position. I'm afraid I haven't been as fortunate."
"Money troubles, ey?" the pink mare said, absent-mindedly kicking a pebble out of her way. "Don't I know about those. Seems there's nothing but those back at home nowadays. Wish I could help you, Blue. Really, I do, but news about jobs moves so quickly. By the time I hear anything, it's already gone."
Things were quiet between them for a moment until they managed to glance back toward Rhubarb. Noticing their gazes upon him, he rolled his eyes—more so at his sister than Sonata.
"Pub's always hiring maids. You should go there if you're in need of quick extras. Won't be much, mind you, but it can fill your stomach if that's what you're thinking. And you can work whenever you please."
"The pub?" Marmalade groaned, glaring at her brother with disgust. "Well, if I'd known that scummy place was a viable option, I would've told her that myself!"
Sonata seemed disappointed to hear that the job couldn’t offer her the amount of bits that she required to make up the difference of what she owed. Still, Rhubarb was just trying to be helpful.
"The pub..." Sonata murmured to herself.
Truth be told, she had never set hoof into a pub before, but that didn't mean she hadn't heard the stories that came out of them. Some of the tales were off-putting, sure. But others, those tales of friends made and fortunes won, were quite inspiring. All-in-all, it seemed to be a place of possibility, and if she were remembering correctly the stories about some of the mares that worked in places like these, it might also be possible for Sonata to find a different way to earn what she needed as well.
Her smile had grown bright. Shaking herself out of her thoughts, Sonata passed a grateful grin in Rhubarb's direction. She then leaned forward to give him a kiss upon the cheek, almost making him trip over his own forelegs.
“Thank you, Rhubarb! Thank you, Marm! Thank you so much!” she yelled before picking the basket up again, and racing away.
“Oy, you be careful around that place, Bluey! Many a scoundrel’s passed through it!” the light pink mare yelled before Sonata disappeared around the corner.
“Rozay’s Round,” she mumbled to herself, reading the large, aged sign out front of the local pub. As she approached it, she could hear very clearly the loud sounds of inebriated ponies shouting and jeering coming from inside. Feeling a little apprehensive at the notion of stepping through the darkened doorway into the dim that lay beyond, Sonata hesitated for just a moment. Gulping down her fears, she took a deep breath, and moved to enter.
Walking in the other direction, stumbling a bit more than he was trotting, came a white stallion. Exiting through the pub’s doorway just as Sonata was entering, his muzzle rammed into hers, and they both crumpled to the ground.
“Oy! Why don’t you watch where you’re—” the stallion began before his violet eyes opened, and recognized who it was he had run into. When Sonata’s gaze trained upon Prance, it immediately went livid. The sight of him looking as if he was considering crawling back into the dark recesses of Rozay’s didn't help her mood.
“You… absolute… knave!” she cried, dashing her basket against his head, sending pebbles flying everywhere. “Is this the place that I find you after you leave me so unceremoniously? And having kicked me into the dirt no less!”
“Sonata, listen to me,” Prance began after having rubbed the now sore spot atop his crown. The two of them rose to dust themselves off as he spoke. "You must trust that I would never leave you unless it was for good reason. I was going to return! I just... needed to see—"
"Your glorious, wondrous, one-of-a-kind mare. I know, I know. Out of my way, then, please," Sonata said with a roll of her eyes, almost successfully shoving Prance to the side with her strong hindlegs. The stallion, now looking quite curious, jumped back into her path.
"Just a moment. What business should a mare like you have at Rozay's?"
Sonata studied him before flipping the fringe out of her eyes.
"Well, Sir, if it were any of your business—which it most certainly is not—then I would have you know that I am here for work. Turns out I don't need your silly advice on the matter after all. I've figured things out on my own."
The blue mare straightened out her robes.
"Now kindly get out of my way!"
Prance rushed to block her once again. He stifled a laugh that threatened to escape him when he saw Sonata giving him an incredulous look.
"Sonata, you can't work here," he stated as if the idea were ludicrous. "Those maids don't make enough to pay off the amount you owe."
He seemed to think to himself for a moment, and then shrugged.
"Well, not the ones who only work out front."
"I knew it! It's in the back you say?" she asked, motioning to walk around the side of the building.
Prance, now regretting opening his big mouth, shook his head, and flailed his forelegs as he shifted into her way once more.
"No, no, no, Sonata! You don't understand! Those mares are—"
"Are earning what I need, according to you. And I intend to get my part of it!" she exclaimed.
She watched as the stallion's expression went absolutely grim. It seemed as if he weren't studying her so much as he was staring ahead into the future at the possibility of what could come to pass. A positively nauseous look befell him, and his head shook slowly. It was as if he were trying to rid himself of a horrid vision.
"Sonata?" he gulped, trying to keep down whatever it was he had drunk inside of the pub. "We're leaving. Now."
With that, he casually walked around to her rear, clasped her tail between his teeth, and began to tug.
"What are you doing? Let go of me this instant, you... you..." Sonata gasped as the tug turned into a real show of force, and her hind legs gave way. Prance continued on, wordlessly pulling her down the street as if it were the most reasonable thing a pony could do to another. All the while, Sonata scrambled and struggled to break free as she continuously swung her basket at the stallion's head. It was a strange sight, indeed, and anypony who happened to get too close or question Prance’s motive was quickly directed toward the emblem upon the hilt that the stallion wore around his barrel. The insignia of a royally ordained knight would immediately force any bold bystander into a more than willing retreat.
Once they were well enough removed from Rozay’s, Prance let her go. At once, Sonata stood up tall, and turned to face him. Tears threatened to run from her enraged eyes. She slapped him hard across the muzzle. Surprisingly, even when the stallion's expression fell slack with shock, she felt no vindication, no peace at all.
"Sonata," Prance breathed after a beat," you do not understand what it is you are doing."
"You think of me as some child as well, don't you? Some eternal filly to be forever watched."
"You asked for my help, and I am trying to help you," the stallion continued.
"Need I remind you that you are the one that left me?" Sonata screamed. She then turned tail, and began to march in the direction of the marketplace, trying her best to ignore the sound of Prance following her close behind. It wasn't working. His every, nagging word still pierced into her.
"Oh, by Bullion, you mares will be the death of me. Do you know what that place is? Do you know what some of those mares do to—"
“And, of course, no honorable pony would ever have any business there at all, would they, Sir Lighthoof?” she retorted, surprising even herself. Prance actually seemed to be thrown for a loop by this quip as well.
No longer willing to let the matter go, she spun around, and bounded toward him. Shoving him backward, she forced him into a nearby alley, in a space just beyond daylight's reach. Dropping her basket, she gave him a look he rarely ever saw. It was as if complete awareness had suddenly decided to encapsulate her. Her gaze was sharp and quite serious. She brought her face very close to his.
"What new thing do you suppose you are about to teach me, Prance Lighthoof?" she hissed at him, now reveling in the truly dumbfounded expression upon his face. She waited for him to reply. He did not. In a way, it wasn't necessary. Their gazes inferred that which was not being said.
"I know what it is you are going to tell me about those mares. In fact, I was hoping it was the case," Sonata finally murmured, taking a step back.
Now, Prance just looked sick. Pushing the hat back upon her head, the blue mare huffed, and rolled her eyes.
"I'm a singer, you silly stallion. Nothing rouses the spirit like good music, now does it? Surely, a place like that would have hired a voice like mine, and I would have made quite a bit of money for it. But you had never even stopped to consider that, had you?"
She slowly shook her head at him, clicking her tongue against her teeth.
"Of course not. All you could suppose was that I was so childish that I needed to be shielded from something. And so what if this is the way I have chosen to go about solving my problem? What power do you have to stop me?"
She turned about to fetch her basket, and leave. As she stepped forward toward the lip of the alleyway, she felt a hoof hook across her foreleg. Yelping in surprise, having nearly tripped over, her eyes darted towards Prance again. The look on his face resembled that of a spoiled colt who had just been told ‘no’ for the very first time. She watched as he raised his nose to the air in a show of authority.
“I shall not allow you to return to that place,” he murmured, furrowing his brow.
Sonata’s first inclination was to kowtow, to nod her head obediently as she always seemed to do whenever her more authoritative companions decided to throw their brashness around. But then she felt something within her shift and harden with spite. Shaking her head free of her instinct to yield, instead of wilting in the stallion’s grip, she jerked her foreleg forward, and drew him in. Something different was in her eyes now. They glimmered with a mischievous defiance.
"Be careful, Lighthoof," she warned him, her tinny voice curling in a most beguiling way.
Prance felt his ears twitch at the unfamiliar tone coming from the mare. His eyes popped open wide. She stifled a smile, noticing his reaction, and leaned in so that their noses nearly touched.
“I could have had everything of yours in a heartbeat if I so wished. Just because I’ve been too kind to ever allow you to know this doesn’t mean you can treat me the way you do.”
Holding her breath and his gaze, she waited. Never before had she ever acted so boldly toward anypony. However, at the moment, she had had quite enough of being bossed about by those who claimed they had her best interest at heart when they really cared much more about their own desires. It was just lucky for her that Prance never glanced down to catch sight of the way her hooves were now shaking. Instead, he held her gaze, and in those violet eyes, Sonata could see new understanding taking shape. It was as if Prance had seen her for who she was for the very first time.
Waiting until she could hear him gulp, Sonata released the breath she had been holding, and then backed away. She scanned him over disdainfully.
"I needed a friend out of you, Prance. Not a father."
The faintest trace of sadness flashed across her face before she decisively turned to leave, tipping her hat back straight atop her head.
"The next time you decide to pay a visit, oblige me, please, and let it be for my company, not my welfare. Your pleasure, not your obligation. And do try to restrain yourself when I again see you at that pub."
Tossing a few nearby pebbles into her basket for weight, she swung it around to sit it upon her back. Then, without a word, she walked away, leaving Prance in the dimness to ponder to himself.
The stallion gawked, sinking down to his haunches in order to think. Closing his salt and cider-glossed eyes, he ruminated upon what a mess he'd just made of things, and how he might be able to fix it all.
Singing? In a place like that? Of course he dared not say it to her now, not after her uncharacteristic show of bravado, but it still didn’t mean that he was particularly fond of the idea. Yet, the mare still seemed to be on the right track. Her voice would surely prove to be her salvation. If only there were a different venue for it.
Prance suddenly lifted his head, a thought having occurred to him.
“Lighthoof, you idiot,” he murmured to himself, then quickly popping up to run after Sonata.
He found her walking up the road, very near to the market. When he did, he slowed down to trot by her side.
"I can help! I have an idea!"
"Now, he can help me! Oh, Spirits bless his bleedin’ heart. Are you certain that you can fit me into your busy schedule, Sire? Wouldn't want to keep you from all of your far more important business," the blue mare spat, turning a corner into the market.
Seeing that Sonata remained unmoved by his statement, he huffed, and managed to block her way just as she had pushed through a throng of eager spectators that had gathered around the pile of boxes she used for her makeshift stage.
"Sonata, you shall listen to me. Lady Goldenstalks—"
Oh, no. Not her again. Smirking, the blue mare shoved him off to the side as hard as she could. Stepping up onto the boxes, she dropped the basket she had been balancing upon her back down next to her.
"No thanks, Sir Lighthoof. I've all the ears, eyes, and voices that I require right here. Isn't that right, ladies and gents?" she yelled, delighting in the uproarious applause she received right after. The sound filled her with mirth.
"Been having a bit of a hard time as of late!" she yelled. The crowd promptly replied with a forced lament. "But you know how these things go when you're dealing with stallions."
Laughter spread throughout the square as Sonata began to feel the space between her chest and neck beginning to itch. Her mind opened up as a vengeful notion dawned upon her.
"How about a little song about all of those wonderfully horrid brutes? What say you?" she called out to the crowd, even though her eyes were trained intently upon Prance. Surprisingly—or perhaps not at all—the mass roared again, longing for Sonata's song regardless of what it may have been. Prance, not bothering to look around, shook his head, and rolled his eyes.
"Sonata, don't you think you're being a bit childish—"
Ohhh, Barnie brought me flowers one fine day at half past one...
"Sonata..." Prance groaned, crossing his forelegs. His ears twitched at the sharpness of her forced melody.
'Til I looked upon my yard 'round two, and found my roses gone!
And Tin Snips would shower me with the most delightful kisses...
Sonata watched as Prance, looking rather fed up—and a bit dazed—intently turned, and made his way out of the crowd. The last she saw of him, he was walking in the direction of a nearby messenger's office.
But alas a drought befell me once I learned about his Misses!
Things went as well as could be expected for a while, of course. The crowd cheered, and eagerly began to dance after tossing gold bit after gold bit into Sonata's waiting basket. Yet, as the lively, blue mare looked out upon them all, she could feel that something was different. Something had changed. Usually, all the masses would do was sing and dance. That was to be expected, but as she gazed at them now, she watched as gradually their energy began to warp, to grow. It became tumultuous. Their spinning became chaotic though smiles remained upon their faces. They chanted her tune to each other in shouts and jeers. In the rear of the gathering, she could make out a stallion and mare beginning to prod at each other with their hooves. Soon, they were yelling at each other—and the words they were using certainly didn't sound like song lyrics.
Such a thing had never happened before. Her music brought nothing but joy to those who heard it. Thinking this a fluke, the blue mare continued on. Outright alarm didn't set in until arguments began to break out all over the crowd.
"W-what in the name of..." she mumbled to herself, breaking her song. Looking around, she was shocked to find that the mass had not seemed to notice. Instead it began to seethe and writhe. One mare pushed a stallion she had been previously dancing with, and he shoved her back.
"Now, now!" Sonata tried to yell over the ruckus to no avail. "Surely, there doesn't seem to be any need for—"
Another stallion stepped in to defend the mare, and it didn't take long for a fight to break out, then another, and another. Squealing with fright as the rumbling crowd nearly turned her stack of boxes right over, Sonata scanned the marketplace for any possible source of help. To both her utmost dismay and joy, not a moment later did she spy Prance racing back into the marketplace with gusto. He was clutching a scroll in his grinning mouth when his eyes caught sight of the trouble that she was in. There was a moment of hesitation.
“Help me!” Sonata finally screamed at the top of her lungs. In a flash, the stallion had put the scroll away, and traversed the square toward her.
"I don’t know what happened! They just—" she shouted, watching him force his way through the crowd.
“It doesn’t matter! Just jump!” he called back.
Without wasting another moment, he held his forelegs out for her. Thinking quickly, she snatched up her basket, and as the boxes finally gave way, she jumped, and landed on the stallion. They both fell to the cobblestones. Unfortunately, as she fell, her basket tumbled to the ground, spilling its contents everywhere. There was a beat as both Sonata and Prance stared at the immense collection of gold that she had managed to amass. The few in the crowd who had also caught sight of the spilled coins immediately pounced upon them. It didn’t take long for every last piece to be snatched up.
"Give it! Give it back!" Sonata screamed in utter desperation as Prance dragged her away from the roiling crowd. When they had reached a safe enough distance, he pulled her up onto her hooves, and held her so she faced him. She was still screaming wildly, trying to somehow force her way back to the mob.
"Sonata, it's alright!" he yelled. His revelatory expression had returned as he quickly leaned over to pull the scroll he had been carrying from his belt.
Still, all she could do was shout as she now watched town guards appearing from around the street corners, attempting to break the crowd apart.
"What will I do, Prance? That was fifty bits in that basket! I won’t even make a hundred bits now! And how shall I eat?"
He shook her—hard.
Stunned into paying him the attention he demanded, Sonata found his expression nearly gladdened. His eyes were wide and glimmering. He shoved the scroll toward her, and Sonata took it, trying her best to care about whatever it is the stallion had deemed more important than her lost gold bits and wrecked stage. Plopping the paper down onto the ground, she unfurled it, and quickly began to read.
By order of the Right Honourable Countess of Greenwaters, Trotchester, and all the territories of ancient Sardhoof, it is hereby decreed that Miss Sonata Dusk, daughter of Our Lord’s faithful vassal, Fylleion, and friend to the House of Goldenstalks, be permitted usage of the Glow Hall as it so pleases her from this day forth until a time of her choosing, so long as it neither interfere nor interrupt any affair of His Majesty or of his Royal Court. So is it written; so shall it be done.
There was no signature, simply the very distinct wax seal depiction of the Goldenstalks coat of arms. Below it, in smaller depiction, the Glow coat of arms was imprinted to distinguish that the letter had come straight from the Lady Goldenstalks herself, the most beautiful voice in the entire kingdom, the one for whom the very same grand hall had been built and named.
Sonata could do nothing but gawk at the words. She read them over and over, almost trying to make them say something more realistic and less perfect than what they actually did. After she realized that what it said was true, her gaze slowly slid upward to meet Prance’s.
“H… how the dirt did—”
Prance, grinning smugly to himself, reached out with a hoof, and pressed it against her lips.
"You can save your voice for opening night, thank you very much."