“Vision has really stuck his hoof in it this time, hasn’t he? One would think his allies, witnessing such a horrid turn of events, would swiftly rush to his aid. And so far, how many have?”
“Three! Can you even fathom… three provinces. Why, they could barely provide enough to feed even half of Edinbridle. Hmph. It is a thing to show you who your true friends are, is it not?”
“And I hear with the air going so cold above the land, the earth ponies can't even prepare the soil for seeding. To be quite honest, if I were they, I would revolt against the nobility as well.”
“Sister, you are mad! You mustn't say such things! Do you realize where we are? The king shall have your horn and your head if he were to learn of it!”
“Yes, yes, I am quite clear on my current geographical location, my dear Countess. As I am clear that the Duke of Edinbridle need only step down if he truly cared an inkling for the welfare of his lands. I find that brother-in-law of ours quite infuriating.”
“There would be no problem with the lands if those blasted pegasi would stop blocking off the sun, and freezing the very air with that confounded flapping.”
“Commander Saga Celine said—”
“S-Saga… Who is he, now?”
“She is a Commander, of course, and she said that more than likely, the pegasi wings alone are not responsible for the type of cold hovering over Edinbridle, especially considering the way the cold is now expanding beyond its borders. This is something new entirely.”
“Of course you would be the one to find the sole female pegasus Commander. I suppose you've even invited her to father’s estate for afternoon tea.”
“There are two female Commanders, for your information, and don’t be silly. Of course I couldn't invite her over for tea…”
“Pegasi don't drink tea. It's either hard cider, water, or warmed up mountain lily milk, boiled until it curdles. I had Turq prepare it; she knew how. The Commander drank five whole cups of it with cream. Can you believe it?”
“Wha? Now, wait just one moment, young lady. You invited a Commander to... Moonstone, you irresponsible, little—”
“Checkmate!” the purple mare squealed, straightening the hems on her flowing, green gown. Though ebullient with life, her emerald eyes were dull with a lack of sleep. Rubbing out the tired sting from one of them, she crossed her front hooves upon the table, and passed her gawking opponent a wicked grin.
“Oh, boulders! I contest that, you little sneak!” Adagio bleated, doing her best to keep herself from drowning in the piles of velvet, silk, and embroidery that was her ceremonial gown. Eyes going wide, her gaze momentarily darted back up toward her sister. “And, don't you attempt to change the subject! We shall revisit this entire Saga Celine matter again, do you understand?”
“To be perfectly honest, sister, I am far more concerned with you having implied that I am a liar,” the purple pony scoffed, shaking her head in disbelief at the audacity of her kin. “I challenge you to prove such a thing! Contest away, oh dearest Gio!”
Snickering to herself, the purple unicorn turned away to pass a glance about her sister’s enormous private chamber. Her eyes fell upon an apple green pony sitting quietly in the corner next to a standing silver pitcher. The earth mare was apparently doing her best not to be seen.
“Beryl!” the unicorn chuckled as her opponent brooded over the gilded board before them. “Do step forward, my dear, and pour my sister—oh, pardon me—your new Duchess, and I another cup of cider. We shall both require it if we are to ever finish waiting for her to uncover a flaw in my method!”
Beryl, now as grown as her mistress, far more stalky, and still harboring the gentlest orange gaze, stepped forward cheerfully, pitcher in tow. Her hooves clicked along daintily upon the pristine, wood flooring, and yet the sound made the golden mare’s brow furrow with frustration.
“For Bullion’s sake, Beryl, do try to trot more quietly,” Adagio grumbled. “You've been making that blasted sound all morning. I swear I cannot hear myself think!”
“Y-yes, M’lady. My apologies,” Beryl croaked, never once losing her sense of calm. She had been Adagio's maidservant practically all of the mare’s life, after all. Such scoldings simply rolled off of her back at this age. She knew the Countess usually never meant anything by it. Still, the earth mare would be hard pressed to deny the sting that each reprimand carried with it.
Picking the pitcher back up between her teeth, Adagio’s faithful servant bent to pour her another cup of cider only to find that the first had not yet been drained. Bowing her head apologetically, she turned to the Countess’ younger sister, Moonstone, and filled hers for what must have been the third time and counting. Then, silently this time, she made her way back to her shady corner looking rather stone-faced. Moonstone, noting this, turned to give her sister a perturbed frown.
“Gio, why do you always speak to her in that manner? You must learn to be more mindful of the servants!”
“Do you mean something similar to how you force poor Turq to practice jousting with you once every week?” the elder mare stated plainly whilst patting down more of her ceremonial frills. Her scouring eyes never left the chessboard.
Moonstone bolted upright, an offended look in her green eyes.
“How dare you?” she chirped, turning suddenly to face another young, sea blue earth mare that stood in the opposite corner of the room trying her best to disappear into the wall tapestries. The small, silver tray of refreshments she held between her teeth began to clatter as she felt her mistress’ gaze fall upon her.
“You enjoy jousting, don't you, Turquoise? Tell her!” Moonstone insisted. At the sound of her name being called, the poor servant pony gasped, accidentally dropping the silver platter onto the floor, and sending the food flying.
“Oh, no! I mean, oh, y-yes, My Lady, Moonstone! I-I enjoy it very much indeed!” she stuttered, falling to her haunches to begin cleaning up the mess. Beryl, still moving as silently as possible, trotted over to help. Moonstone, ignoring all this commotion, turned back about to pass her sister a triumphant stare.
“You see? She adores it!”
“Good gold, Moonstone, and are you not a Glow?” Adagio groaned, fiddling a few of the playing pieces upon the chessboard with her magic. “Surely you should know how to deduce when somepony is lying to you by now. We’ve been lying to mother all our lives.”
Moonstone broke out into a raucous laughter.
“That we have, we… Charlatan!” Catching offense, she once again turned to face the two maidservants where they were huddled in the corner. “Turquoise, dear. Have you been… lying to me about the jousting?”
The tone of her voice was aching, full of the pain of betrayal. Turq, wearing a nervous grin and covered in all manners of creams and frostings, was now currently attempting to get her knees to stop knocking together. She couldn't even manage a proper reply.
“Of course she has,” Adagio cut in, her eyes finally trailing upward to look at the jittery earth mare. “Just look at her. The poor thing’s petrified of you!”
“Petrified!” Moonstone boomed, rising to her hooves. Somewhere from the corner, a squeak could be heard, and when all eyes turned to gaze again, Beryl was attempting to pull Turq out from her new, makeshift hiding place behind a grand, oak wood chifferobe.
Huffing to herself, Moonstone turned to face her older sister who was now passing her a smug grin.
“Checkmate,” the elder noblemare tittered, using her magic to flick a lock of her sister’s sharply cut fringe back into place.
“Oh, do shut up, Mare Goldenstalks. And I'm bored of this game,” Moonstone warbled self-consciously, downing her fresh mug of cider, and using her magic to fling the chessboard off to a distant tabletop. “Let’s just get a move on, and fluff ye’ backside for the King and Queen so that this day can finally come to an end. I swear this robe mother has forced upon me is positively suffocating.”
One of Adagio’s hooves tapped impatiently against the table as she braced her head upon the other. It wasn’t a new sentiment or anything, but for the life of her, she couldn't understand why her younger sister refused, with all of her might, to simply grow up. It was long overdue, and she had long since been trained in every appropriate way to prepare herself for marriage just like her sisters, and yet, all she seemed to worry herself with were her own ridiculous, fillyish daydreams. Granted, Moonstone was a tough one as far as noblemares went. She was strong-willed, hard headed, and very, very bright—a quality she obviously picked up from her slightly older sister—but also quite naive when it came to the ways of her elite world, an enclosed place of intrigues, brimming with mortal dangers, betrayal, and broken dreams. A pony with even the slightest amount of real life experience, like Adagio or their eldest sister, Violet, better understood how the fantasies of one like Moonstone were easily crushed underhoof by many who were far more powerful.
It was a fearful thing, worrying that her brash younger sister might say the wrong words to the wrong noble one of these days, and suffer terribly for it, but who was she to talk? On this particular day, fate would have it that she should suffer a great disgrace of her own, one that put her very life and title in danger, one she could not yet muster up the courage to mention to the one noblemare who might listen without judging her unjustly. Instead, Adagio chose to hide her grief and fear behind a show of irritation, and direct it all—unfairly, perhaps—toward her sister.
“Sister, why do you not stop these frivolous pastimes, make haste, and marry? You’ve long since come of and passed age, and you can’t live under the glow of mother and father’s horn forever,” Adagio chided. Moonstone promptly rolled her eyes, and set herself to groaning.
“Don’t you start as well, Gio; I'm far too tired for it, and I simply couldn't bear it if you started with that nonsense. I've told mother a thousand times, I don't want to be married off to some arrogant, stiff-tailed, mare-loathing noble. I have a life to live, first! I want to change the kingdom for the better, and end these petty squabbles like that which rambles on between our… beloved brother-in-law and Commander Debon Air. I don't want to sit about as a foal factory like our eldest sister, Spirits bless her soul.”
Adagio cut her eyes at the younger unicorn, tapping a hoof against her cheek.
“My dear, marrying a ‘stiff-tailed noble’ is how to best influence the changes you wish to see. Like it or not, to have the ear of a powerful pony is your path of least resistance. You'd be surprised what you might accomplish if you would simply accept this truth.”
“Oh, dragonshit,” Moonstone spat, turning away and crossing her forelegs. Both of the servant ponies suppressed their gasps at having been made to witness to such scandalous speech coming from a noble lady.
“I shall do whatever it is that I please, and I will show everypony that a mare left to her own devices is capable of exactly the same thing as any stallion. Why, look at the pegasi and the earth ponies. Does anypony ask whether the pegasi’s female warriors need a seat, or a sip of water, or a nice hat to shade their eyes from the sun when they’re fetlock-deep into an enemy's guts? Does anypony ask a mare farmer whether she might require any assistance with pulling monstrous tree stumps from the earth when the lord of her land is in a rush to profit from her blood, sweat, and tears? Granted, earth ponies do tend to band together as a habit, regardless, but—”
“But you are a lady, Moonstone. You are not like those other, common or barbaric mares,” Adagio sighed, shaking her head.
“And yet, even those ‘common and barbaric’ mares are subject to marriage as well, are they not?” The purple noblemare smiled in light of her own cleverness. “The only time a mare of any race is expected to halt her entire life is when she is in the presence of some stallion who wishes to claim her as yet another one of his earthly possessions, like this table or these sitting cushions! Just sit right on her and weigh her down until she’s full of lumps and tears, worn with age, and well molded to kiss his arse!” Moonstone lamented. “It is so terribly unfair!”
“Moonstone, you are so terribly exhausting,” Adagio shrugged and sighed to herself with finality. Clearly it was of no use arguing with the likes of her little sister. As kind and righteous as she might have been, not only had the younger noblemare still grown to be somewhat self-centered—a Glow household trait if ever there was one—but her revolutionary and quite often crude tongue always seemed to have some difficulty with remembering its manners when necessary. Nevermind that Adagio, her closest sibling, had been married going on four years now to the most stiff-tailed of all known noblestallions. Nevermind that today, the entirety of the kingdom’s nobility had gathered at His Majesty’s palace in Canterlot to witness her husband’s elevation to Duke, and by proxy, her to Duchess by his side, positions that would make them two of the most powerful ponies in the land. With one twirl of her hoof, the golden unicorn could practically have whatever it was that she wanted, but of course, this would never occur to the likes of Moonstone. No, all the younger pony cared for was her own freedom, and ambitions, and pride, all rare and fleeting commodities for a mare of any stature, and all unrelated to obtaining what it was she really wanted: true power.
Adagio cocked a brow as she studied her pristinely shined forehoof. If only her sister could understand what it was necessary for her to relinquish in order to hope to see a day such as today. A splash of blue and the faint trace of a seaside breeze flashed across Adagio’s mind, and for a moment she allowed a small smile to crack her stoic expression as she remembered those days, long gone, once filled with songs and the rolling sea.
“Gio? Gio, are you listening to me?” Moonstone prodded, snapping the golden mare out of her brief reverie.
“Yes! I mean, no, Moonstone,” Adagio corrected herself as she finally rose to her hooves. “I'm afraid there’s far too much to worry after at present. I shouldn’t be sitting still like this.” As she stood, the intricacy and grandeur of her billowing robe, along with its flowing trail was made quite apparent to all who gazed upon her. Naturally, she was a vision—one her sister couldn't help but snicker at the sight of.
“Queen Corona, you look exactly like the cake we gifted to grandmama on her birthday last,” the younger mare chortled, forgetting all of her pitiable complaints from a few moments prior.
“Oh, I’m quite certain of it. With some extra frosting for good measure,” Adagio groaned to herself, hitting a pirouette, and almost falling flat upon her face. “How shall I ever walk in this? My nerves shan’t allow it!”
Seeing her mistress’ distress, Beryl rushed over having apparently pulled a needle and thread from out of thin air.
No worries, M’lady!” the sweet, green mare tittered, flicking her orange braid back behind her shoulder. “I shall hoist those hems half an inch more. You’ll flow like a swan if I have anything to say about it!”
“Or at least waddle like a goose,” Moonstone snorted, pressing a dishonest hoof against her rudely grinning lips.
Adagio and Beryl eyed her over wearily, both having had quite enough of her ridicule. Noting this, the younger noblemare cleared her throat, and turned to inspect herself in the chamber’s oversized, gilded mirror.
“Oh, you two are no fun at all,” Moonstone yawned as she stroked admiringly at her dark violet mane which had grown longer since childhood to now brush past her shoulders. “You'll be glad for my company once they finally arrive.”
Both the heads of Adagio and Beryl shot up to stare at the purple mare in a state of dread.
“Oh no,” Adagio breathed, her words soon transforming into an aching groan. “Oh, Moon, you didn’t!”
“Didn’t what?” Moonstone exclaimed, spinning about to face them. “I haven't done a thing! Do you realize how difficult it was to keep mother and Violet out of your private apartments? Why, Violet’s been awaiting audience in the salon for the past hour, playing Nine Mare’s Morris with her endless supply of daughters!”
“Oh, Spirits. I told the guards I wished to be left alone!” Adagio cried, swiping her hooves down the length of her face. “And what of mother?”
“Has yet to arrive from her chambers, thank Bullion,” Moonstone mumbled to herself, her attentions once again drawn by the mirror as she adjusted the train of her gown. “She must be driving father absolutely mad this morning. Come to think of it, it would be wise for you to down that goblet of cider whilst you are given the opportunity.”
“Ock, you’re absolutely right,” Adagio sighed, pulling herself out of Beryl’s grasp, and leaving a single trail of thread in her wake as she bounded toward the container upon the table. Snatching it up into her magic, she quickly gulped down the entire thing.
“Beryl? Pour me another!” the Countess commanded. “Quickly!”
Eager to do as she was told, the frazzled, green mare rushed off to fetch the silver pitcher, and refill her mistress’ cup. In the blink of an eye, the liquid was all gone again, disappeared down Adagio’s gullet. This rather unsightly drinking caught Moonstone’s attention, earning the mare’s older sister a rather suspicious glare.
“Gio, drink if you must, but are you sure you should be drinking so quickly?” she inquired.
“Yes,” Adagio replied flatly, directing Beryl to refill her goblet yet again. Silly Moonstone, thinking that all of Adagio's woes were to be found in their loud mouth of a mother, and a peerage ceremony. If only she knew what kind of trouble her sister was truly in.
“I was only joking, you know. What about the matter we spoke of on week last?” Moonstone continued, her voice going very quiet. “Has it not yet been confirmed? Are you not still feeling the sickness? I can't believe I didn't ask you earlier. These horrid dreams and lack of sleep have rendered everypony at the estate completely useless, myself included, but I swear I truly am so very excited for you!”
Things descended into an uncomfortable silence. The Countess’ expression went all dark and dull, something that made her younger sister recoil with apprehension. Everything froze, save for Beryl who continued to bustle around Adagio’s hems, sewing as quickly as she could manage. At once, the regal noblemare turned her gaze downward toward the green pony, and cleared her throat.
“Beryl, fetch my diadem. Take Turquoise with you,” she commanded.
Seeing that her mistress wished to be left alone with her sister, Beryl quickly bowed her head in reverence, and cut the sewing thread with her teeth.
“Yes, Mum. Right away,” she murmured whilst bustling her anxious blue colleague out of the room, and closing the door behind them both.
By this time, the look on Moonstone’s face had filled with apprehension as she stood there, shifting her weight from side to side.
“Gio? Well?” she prodded for a reply. At last, the elder mare let loose a long, frightened sigh, and plopped back down onto her sitting cushion at the table.
“I...it appears that I was mistaken. I am not...” the golden mare seemed to choke upon her words. She took a deep breath and started again. “I learned from the queen’s physician only early this morning; I've failed again. I-I was so certain that this time…”
“Oh, Gio,” Moonstone sighed, rushing to her sister’s side to comfort her as the elder mare buried her face into her gold-shoed hooves. “I'm so sorry.”
“What shall I do, Moonstone? How shall I face him today, a failure, yet again?”
“Gio, you didn’t tell him!” Moonstone gasped. “You told him that you were—”
“No, I haven’t! I simply…” Adagio dragged the cider pitcher over toward her with her magic. “I may have told him to keep his hooves crossed, questioned him about tapestry-themes for the nursery, things that hardly interest him on their own, but when presented as clues…”
She poured herself another heaping cup, and this time nursed it slowly.
“He shall throw me out this time. I'm quite sure of it. He shall annul his ties with me after he is made Duke. How could I ever—”
“He will do no such thing,” Moonstone chided her, taking her hoof and sweeping it under her sister’s chin so that they might look at one another. “No harm shall come to you or your marriage, foal or no. I will see to it right this instant.”
Adagio, seeing the sincerity in her sister’s eyes, nodded her head, and wiped her half-formed tears away.
“Good,” the younger mare replied curtly. “We must tell Violet.”
“Have you completely lost your mind?” Adagio hissed, bolting upright. “Violet will tell mother, and then—”
“No, she shan’t, Gio. You must trust me. Violet will know what to do!”
Trying to decipher the secrets hidden in Moonstone’s words, gradually, realization dawned upon Adagio. Her wide-eyed glare of desperation suddenly calmed into a dark look of suspicion.
“She's gotten you out of trouble before, hasn’t she? Moonstone, you irresponsible, little—”
“Pardon me, Your Grace, but if I am not mistaken, you are the one who is currently at risk of being thrown right back into mother’s hooves, a public disgrace, and all because of your own big, fat mouth! Perhaps if you would learn how to—”
The aura of despair that descended upon the golden mare was so heavy that not even Moonstone could avoid its weight. Her lips sealed themselves of their own accord, and after an awkward beat of silence, she leaned forward in an attempt to embrace her sister once more.
“Gio… I… I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
“Go and fetch her then,” Adagio croaked, edging just beyond her sister’s reach. Longing to be rid of the feisty mare, even if it was only for a few seconds, she turned her head away, refusing to speak again.
At the tone of her sister’s voice, Moonstone’s head instinctively bowed. Silently, she turned, and trotted from the room.
Left to her own devices, Adagio exhaled in relief, and collapsed backward into the middle of the floor. Unsightly or not, this was the first moment she’d had to herself since their arrival at the king’s palace exactly one week ago. This was to be expected of course, considering the current circumstances, but the sheer lack of privacy from not only her servants, but her husband and their families was becoming increasingly maddening. She was in desperate need of some relief which would not altogether be a bad thing except for the scandalous nature of that which brought her the most joy and peace of mind, namely a certain white-coated knight.
Bullion, I wish I could see Lighthoof, even if only for a moment.
Of course, knowing Prance, he would be delighted to hear that she had failed to conceive yet again. It seemed the stallion only became more and more gleeful everytime Adagio told him the awful news, almost as if he saw it as fate attempting to hint at a possible future that could be shared between them both.
And as time passed, the more Adagio hoped that this was true.
With each and every failure, her restlessness and desperation for freedom from such worries and obligations only grew. If only she had the courage to act upon such desires. After all, not even Moonstone, her most courageous and outgoing sister, could go any longer than a week without at least three servants rubbing the jousting aches out of her back with her favorite, overpriced jasmine oils. Once a noble, always a noble, and if anypony should know that, it would be a Glow. Still, it didn't hurt to dream about what a life with somepony like Prance could be like, perhaps off in some comfy cottage in some distant countryside or hidden glen where no one they knew might ever find them.
Of course, ideas like these were implausible when seriously considered. She was going to be a Duchess. Starting today, there wouldn't be a soul in the entire land who wouldn't know who she was.
Looking back upon it all again, what had happened between Prance and herself seemed fated. They had practically grown up together, her parents and the Goldenstalks never suspecting that one as refined as Adagio might ever be so careless as to allow her heart to do something so common as loving freely. Her grand and glorious life had already been decided for her, and like her sister Violet, she was expected to be obedient and stick to the plan. For a while, that is exactly what she had done. In her own defense, she had not even realized that what she had been feeling for Prance was love until they had nearly passed their teens, and she had already been married to the Duke for over half a year.
Of course, the servants gossip about their “improperly chaperoned” walks through the estate gardens at night or their suspiciously flirtish games by the fountain never seemed to bother them at first, because they felt there was no basis to them. Besides, hadn’t they been doing the same thing since childhood? Why should marriage be allowed to dissolve such an amicable friendship? Even Upright could never bring himself to suspect such foul betrayal.
It was in this way that the three had lived in a perpetual state of emotional purgatory for years, Prance and Adagio pretending with all of their might—and doing a horrid job with hiding the fact—that their love for each other grew more and more each and every day, and the two of them mumbling lies and excuses around their pitifully oblivious Lord, Upright Goldenstalks, who eagerly awaited the arrival of an heir that even the servants knew was unlikely to come.
Adagio supposed this was how the other rumors had started, all of those lurid tales about her persistent unfaithfulness and whatnot. Those blasted servants and their endless gossip. It was a wonder that Upright had not begun to fall prey to their viciousness. Then again, thankfully, the Lord was never the type to care about such things which he considered frivolities, but which Adagio knew that, given the right ear, could quickly turn into a dangerous, even deadly mode of attack against her. The words of the common ponies held more power than they realized, and these growing rumors of infidelity, along with the fact that she had yet to produce an heir to the Goldenstalks line, were gradually mixing together into a most poisonous combination, one that she feared would very soon infect the mind of the Lord who held power over her very life. Something had to be done about either a foal or these rumors very soon if she and her position were to remain secure. Otherwise, a horrid thing was sure to happen.
Whining and groaning to herself upon the floor, Adagio was startled into attention when the voice of the guardspony rang out in the hall beyond her chamber door.
“Pree-sen-ting Her Grace, the Duchess of Edinbridle and the Honorable Moonstone Gl—OOF!”
“Oh, shut it, you prattling ninny, and make way! She’s our sister, for Bullion’s sake!” an irritated voice, clearly her older sister Violet’s, exclaimed after apparently having shoved the poor servant out of her path.
Adagio, knowing by her sibling’s irritated and high-pitched tone, that she was already doomed to a scolding, never even bothered to lift herself from off of the floor. When Moonstone and Violet finally entered the room—the latter dressed in a furious whirlwind of lavish, midnight blue silk—they both gawked at the sight of their sister lying on the floor in her mounds of ceremonial dress.
“Unacceptable!” Violet trumpeted, slamming the door behind them. “Adagio Dazzle, I absolutely refuse to hold a civil conversation with you unless you pick yourself up off of the floor this instant, and act like a proper lady befitting of your stature!”
“Good, then that shall save us all the headache,” Adagio quipped, not moving an inch, hoping that all of the gaudy frill that surrounded her might soon swallow her whole.
“But you are mussing your robes! They were a gift from the Queen! Do you realize how expensive—”
“Vee, please. I have promised her that you would not do this,” Moonstone bleated, poking at her sister’s sleeve. “She requires our help.”
Eyeing her elder sister ruefully, Adagio wondered at exactly what point such a quiet, demure, lady of a mare as Violet had transformed into this nervous, neurotic, bossy noblemess.
Breaking out into a sly grin, the golden mare proceeded to answer her own question. Surely, being married to such a traditional Duke as Lord Vision, and ending up surrounded by seven brattish, brutish children—three spoiled sons, and four rebellious daughters—would do that to a mare.
“Moonstone,” Violet hissed in warning, “I refuse to listen to this type of coddling nonsense when the very immortals are here today to witness this… this lump become a contender for the throne.”
This statement caught Adagio’s ear. Curiously, she turned her head in her elder sister’s direction.
“Immortals?” she inquired. “And just what is that intended to mean?”
Violet’s head whipped about so that she might glare daggers into her sister.
“Oh, haven't you heard, Your Grace?” she chirped sarcastically. “The two sisters themselves have decided to bless you with their presence today. Told His Majesty that it was absolutely imperative that they witness this occasion. They shall both be attending your ceremony.”
The golden unicorn shot up in shock.
“What? Why?” she screamed. “Why wasn’t I informed of this? I am hardly prepared!”
“No one save for the King and Queen knew of it. I only just learned of it whilst speaking with Corona this morning.”
“Oh no,” Adagio groaned self-pityingly as she buried her face back into her robes. It would seem that her hastily swallowed cups of cider had begun to take effect.
At first Violet gave her a smug grin, appearing to take delight in her sister’s realization of her own ineptitude. Spinning about to look at her youngest sibling, she was met with nothing but the most furious of stares.
“Violet?” Moonstone growled. “Enough!”
The look on Moon’s face seemed to calm the older mare’s temper. Sweeping a lock of her perfect, snow white mane back into place in its elegant bun, she closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Upon exhaling, she slowly stepped forward to stand by Adagio’s side. When she loomed over the golden mare, she huffed, and worked her jaw to keep from blurting the first, probably regrettable thought that entered her mind.
“Moonstone has informed me that you’ve found yourself in a bit of a… pickle,” she tittered, her sense of calm sounding completely forced. “Speak.”
Adagio said nothing. She simply sighed.
“I have told you all of it already, Violet,” Moonstone jutted in. “She’s only discovered it this morning. Have some pity, won’t you? Try to imagine how you would suffer if…”
Her voice trailed off, and the three sisters were left in silence. The look on Violet’s face melted into one full of regret and shame. She nodded, bowing her head in reverence.
“Forgive me, Gio,” she croaked. “Sometimes, it is difficult for me to remember that…”
She too trailed off when her gaze locked with her distraught sister’s. Taking a moment to think, she sighed to herself, kicked up her hems, and gingerly lowered herself down upon the floor next to Adagio’s still form. Tenderly, she placed a hoof upon hers.
“Did the physician allow you to keep the spell?” the elder mare asked her gently.
“Give it here,” Violet continued, motioning with her head.
Almost immediately, the doors of the chifferobe on the other side of the room swung open, surrounded in a berry red aura of magic. Inside sat an enormous, violet chest with a silver, crescent-shaped lock upon its front, a symbol of the Glow household. A moment more, and the lock was surrounded in that ruby glow, and clicked open gently. Sitting up for the first time since her sisters had entered the room, Adagio peered into the chest as best as she could from her place upon the floor. Spotting what she had been looking for, she levitated what appeared to be a small, vial filled with a clear liquid toward her sister.
Grasping the small bottle in the hazy, indigo glow of her own magic, Violet peered closely at the thing.
“Oh, Gio,” she croaked painfully, “I'm sorry.”
“I was so sure this time,” the golden unicorn sighed. “I had the illness, and thought—”
“Shh. Nevermind that now,” Violet hushed her, hiding the vial away somewhere amongst her many folds and flaps of silk. “I shall take care of the evidence and the physician. It is only a shame that you weren’t made Duchess earlier. You could have already gained privilege to the royal collection of high level, memory-altering spells that you would have required. Regardless, listen carefully; this is what you must do next. You shall continue to allow the Earl to believe that you are with foal.”
Both Adagio and Moonstone’s eyes shot open in shock.
“What?” they both squawked.
“Trust in me, sister. Do as I say for but a month. No mare begins to show significantly after but a month. Do this just long enough for all of this hubbub to die down. Then, when nopony is looking or suspecting, you shall have an untimely ‘accident’ at the fault of some careless servant. A freshly mopped floor, some poorly cooked stew, it matters not. The blame shall not fall upon your head.”
“Violet,” Adagio gasped, her head shaking in disbelief, “you cannot be serious.”
“Blame a servant?” Moonstone continued. “Have you grown so cold, Violet? What should become of them?”
“To kill an heir? The Earl would surely have them destroyed!” Adagio added, now feeling anger rising up into her chest. How could her supposedly responsible and once caring sister suggest such a cruelty? Clearly, some of Duke Vision’s traits had rubbed off on her over the years.
Violet reeled upon them both, looking quite defensive.
“Pardon me, but I believe I was called here to help save Adagio’s hide, was I not? I never said it had to be an adult servant. It could be a young squire of your estate, or perhaps one of your attendant fillies, a servant of some worth. Surely, the Lord would have more mercy upon them. But you alone, Adagio? I am not so sure. Not with the way you've continued gallivanting about in public with that white stallion of yours.”
Adagio’s head spun about to peer at her sister, not believing what it was she had just heard.
“W… what did you just say to me?” she hissed.
“Now, come, come, Violet! That is most uncalled for!” Moonstone interjected, furiously. “Why is it that you must always do this when—”
“If only we could all be so lucky as to have a husband that kept us as ‘busy’ as yours has kept you!” Adagio cut in, now filled with spite. “When not in labor, flat upon your back, bringing the Duke’s spoiled brutes into the world, then you're flat upon your belly, groveling forgiveness and aid for his sins from all manner of dignitaries, my husband included!”
All jaws in the room dropped. Violet was left utterly speechless.
“Oh, pardon me,” Adagio continued, more than eager to now twist the vicious blade she had planted. “I suppose I should offer you some leniency. You grovel only during the three months of the year in which your belly is flat.”
“You ungrateful…” Violet spat, lunging forward to strike her sister, only to be stopped by Moonstone holding her back by the hems of her silken gown. “How dare you speak to me this way? When I've come here to help you keep your very marriage intact? And after you and your grim Lord have continued to ignore my pleas for reinforcements in Edinbridle? Do you realize my ponies starve and are on the brink of revolt whilst you fool about, skipping through the tallgrass with that commoner without a care in the world? Whilst the entire kingdom goes mad with night terrors of monstrous evils? Whilst Upright continues to hoard his money and supplies like the greedy, selfish—”
“You would do well to keep the Earl’s name out of your viperous mouth,” Adagio growled.
“I want those reinforcements, Adagio!” Violet barked, pounding her hoof into the floor. “Order him a new library full of his dull books, feed him grapes upon a silver platter, rescind your affections for the knight, and give the Earl a blasted foal if he so desires it. I don't care how you accomplish this. Just get it done, damn you!”
Moonstone wrenched as hard as she could upon Violet’s dress. The eldest mare struggled against her with a hind hoof, and turned once more to face Adagio.
“This is my price for fixing the mess you have created,” the beautiful, snow-maned mare hissed. “If only one of us is to fulfill her duties as Duchess, then by Bullion, it shall be me!”
For a moment, Adagio was left shaken. Looking at her sister with deep resentment, her lips struggled to find a proper retort.
“Y...you don't know anything about Lighthoof… or the Earl… or me,” Adagio croaked, her voice shaking, barely audible. It was clear her resolve had weakened.
Violet’s eyes narrowed. Slowly, she shook her head.
“Oh, my sister… everypony knows about you. And if they know that, then just imagine how much more I must know.”
Adagio’s eyes went wide with terror at the dark implication in Violet’s words. The golden mare was so very caught off guard by it, that she broke out into a nervous chuckle.
“What exactly are you saying, Violet? Are… are you blackmailing me?”
Before Violet could reply, the booming voice of the guardspony once again resounded in the salon beyond the chamber threshold. It startled the three mares into attention.
“Pree-sen-ting the Right Honorable Lady Whinnysor!” the stallion bellowed.
“Oh, fresh Tartarus," Moonstone hissed. "Mother has arrived.”