In a thick forested mountain range, where the trees were rooted as high as the peaks, there was a river that crisscrossed through the bottom crevices that lay between each of the mountains. A truly massive river, its width was stretched as wide as a sea serpent was long. It could also be described as beautiful, for lying under the great cyan ocean that was Loyalty's sky, and with no overhanging clouds to object to Celestia's work, the vibrant blue of the river's water shined white from the reflected exuberance of the sun's unimpeded rays.
Yet for the two that crossed it, although they never verbally shared this with each other, they both believed that peaceful was what the river expressed the most in its existence. They both enjoyed its calm attitude and the quiet sounds of the streaming water's light ripples; no thunderous rapids were present to disturb this river's serenity.
Wide and deep as it was to deter the wary from crossing, the river nevertheless had a thick rope hanging over and stretching across its width. Intermingling with this rope was a wooden raft that slowly drifted atop the river's surface like a lazy otter. It was a shabby raft that creaked as it crossed, with the wood holding it together being aged by the mold and cracks that wore it. With nothing but a flat surface, a few brown crates, and a tall lamp post that had a circular hole in it for the rope to travel through, it was as plain as a raft could be.
The two occupants that rode this simple raft were two very different individuals. The first, who was situated with his rear on one of the crates, was an old stallion that only had three hooves. The fourth hoof, along with the rest of the foreleg that it was supposed to be attached to, was just a stitched stump. With a teal coat and a gray mane, the old stallion also wore a raggedy vest over his body and a very worn out straw hat atop his head. Jutting out between the straw folds of this hat was a horn that indicated him as a unicorn. The horn glowed blue with magic, and behind him, where the rope traveled through the hole of the lamp post, a segment of the rope was wrapped in a blue aurora which helped magically pull the raft across the river.
Even hidden behind the folds of straw, the second occupant of the raft could feel the old unicorn's gaze upon her back.
The aged stallion smiled a pleasant smile from under the shadow of his hat, "You've got beautiful stripes," he said so nicely, his voice creaky.
The smile was returned, "Thank you, that's kind of you to say."
"Oh, think nothin' of it, I was only speakin' the truth," the old unicorn replied, his aged accent showing, "so, who was it? The mother or the father?"
He nodded sagely at that, "A pony father and a zebra mother," he mused loudly, "it's been such a long time since I've seen one such as yourself cross this river," he lifted his head upward, pondering, "so long in fact, that I completely gosh darn forgot what it was that yer folk were called. What was the name again?"
At the sight of the old stallion's quiet pondering, the other raft's occupant closed her eyes and silently prayed that he would not remember the name, and that he would just simply forget the whole thing and move on.
But alas, no such luck was granted.
"Ah, yes. I remember now," said the old unicorn as he lowered his head back to her, "yer a zony."
She couldn't help it. She let out a terribly pained groan that purveyed both her irritation and annoyance for what she perceived as one of the most ridiculous and silliest sounding names that she has ever had the displeasure of being applied to. She honestly wouldn't be surprised if it was Laughter herself that came up with the name.
Her displeasure was noticed by the old unicorn, "Oh, don't be like that," he calmly chastised, "there's nothin' shameful 'bout bein' a zony."
"Except for the stupid name," she quietly muttered under her breath.
"Maybe," the old stallion quipped, "but just 'cause it ain't the most dignified-soundin' name don't mean yeh can't be proud of it."
Swiftly turning her head back to him in surprise, her cheeks were red from embarrassment, "Oh! ...Uh, I..."
The unicorn let out an old croon of a laugh as he saw her expression, "Ha! Now don't you go look'n so surprised. I'm may be half-blind, but I'm not half-deaf, yeh hear me?"
"Er, right. Sorry," she apologized sincerely, before turning away to hide the embarrassment that had yet to disappear from her face, "anyways, if you must know, I'm actually quite proud of being who I am." As she said this, she glanced down at the river's water to find her reflection staring back at her.
The mare that looked back at her was colored with a peach coat, a flowing brunette mane, and a pair of golden eyes. Although she was a hybrid of both pony and zebra, her stature and facial features were much more like that of a pony's. Where her zebra heritage did come in was from the black, thin stripes that arched across her back and circled around her legs. She also had an actual tail like a zebra's, and not just a stub with long strands of hair attached to it like what most ponies have.
She also had a silver scarf wrapped around her neck, which had absolutely nothing to do with her pony/zebra heritage, but she did think that it gave her a fashionable style.
"So, what is it that yer lookin' for?" asked the old unicorn suddenly.
"Excuse me?" she replied, turning back to him and giving him a quizzical eyebrow.
In response, he gave her a toothy grin, "Nopony crosses a river without lookin' for somethin'. It's a fact. Otherwise what'd be the point of crossin' a river? So if you don't mind my askin', what's it that yer lookin' for?"
She gazed back at him steadily, her golden eyes never meeting his own, hidden as they were behind his straw hat. She then turned to look toward the bank of the river that their raft was heading to. At this bank was a dirt road that twisted and turned past some foliage and led deeper into the mountains.
Switching her gaze back to him, she gave her answer, "I'm looking for the Mare of Honesty."
The quiet sounds of the streaming river and the creaking of the raft were the only noises that she heard as she waited for the old unicorn to respond. His frowning silence continued on for half-a-minute as his straw hat stared back at her, until he finally responded with a light chuckle.
"Is that so, huh? And what makes yeh think that she's up there in those mountains, hmm?" asked the old unicorn as the toothy grin returned to his face.
"Because of the buffalo tribe that lives in the mountains," she answered matter-of-factly, "I heard that they called for an important meeting with the local pony community over some kind of dispute or something. If that's true, then she'll be there."
"Oh?" replied the old unicorn, expressing his tone like he was blatantly ignorant of what she was talking about, "and why's that?"
She leaned forward and gave him a serious stare, "Because the buffalo always invite her; they trust her."
The old unicorn must have seen something humorous in her words as he swung his head high and laughed eccentrically, "Bwahaha! Yes, of course they would. Given their history, I imagine that Honesty is who they'd want most at those kinds of meetin's," his eccentric laughing soon dissolved into clucking chuckles as he calmed down, "So that's yer plan, eh? Find the meetin' an' you find her?"
"That's the idea."
"Well, I'm sorry to be the one to sink yer ship before it even set sail, but that meeting came and went nearly a week ago," he said, the laughter nearly gone from his voice as his tone become apologetic.
Her eyes widened, "What!? Are you sure? How do you know?" the striped mare asked with shock written all over face.
"This ol' raft crossin' gets some traffic every now-and-then," the old unicorn answered as he patted the crate below him with his remaining foreleg, "and ponies can't help but speak their mind when crossin' such a quiet river, and so 'bout a week ago a whole bunch of ponies came from that there meetin' and told me about it, includin' how it ended."
"Dang!" she shouted before looking at him desperately, "Was the Mare of Honesty there? Was I at least right about that?"
He nodded, "Oh, she was, that's a most definitely," the old unicorn let loose a knowing chuckle, "why, she's 'bout the only thing those ponies I ferried over ever talked about. You shoulda heard them, the way they spoke of her. Like she was the most important pony there ever was."
That was the raft hitting the river bank. They had finally crossed the river and she could now go about her business searching the mountain range.
She didn't move.
"Aren't yeh gonna cross?" the old unicorn asked.
"What's the point? You said it yourself that I missed her," she replied, almost miserably so, "you might as well just take me back across so I can go back home."
At her words, his muzzle twisted into a scowl, "Now hold on there a minute, I never said any such thing," objected the old unicorn who almost sounded offended by her mistake, "all I said was that you missed that there big meetin' that they had. I know for a fact that she's still up there."
Her head lifted, and her ears propped forward as a small shimmer of hope crossed her curious eyes, "What? How would you know?"
There it was again, that toothy grin, "Why wouldn't I? I live here, I hear things, and I heard she's still here," he leaned forward and gave her an inquisitive stare unseen behind his hat, "what I can't figure out though is why yer goin' about lookin' for her. Most ponies who need her help got this deep feelin' in their gut that pulls 'em to her. I can clearly see that you don't, so what's got yeh searchin' for her?
She looked away, contemplating his question. The reason was a personal matter and was not something she was willing to share so openly, yet the old unicorn might be able to help her, and maybe even inform her on where the Mare of Honesty stayed.
"It's... It's my grandmother," she finally answered, "she wants to see her."
The old unicorn cocked his head to the side at that, "Oh? Is that so? Well then, I think I understand now," he gave a small smile and slowly nodded his head in realization, "Yes... I think I get what's goin' on now."
She stared at him warily, "What are you talking about?"
"Hmm? Oh, nothin'," he replied quickly in an off-hoofed manner, "at least, nothin' that a young whipper-snapper like yourself needs to worry about," he let out some more chuckles, but they weren't the happy chuckles he let out before, they were more strained than mirthful, "tell yeh what, since your granny is in dire need of Honesty, how 'bout I tell yeh where yeh can find her?"
The hybrid mare jumped to her hooves in excitement and with surprise on her face, "You know where she is!?"
"Sure do," he said cheerfully. With a nudge of his head, he pointed toward the path, "you just need to follow that there road, and if yeh keep to the left, you'll find a quiet farm. She's been stayin' there."
Almost immediately, she leapt off of the raft and onto the dirt road. She turned back to him with an excited grin, "Thank you, just thank you so much for this. I'll repay you for your help, I swear."
The old unicorn laughed uproariously at seeing how uplifted and excited the young mare had so quickly become, "Think nothin' of it," he told her.
"Again, just thank you so much. I..." she hesitated as a thought crossed her, "you know, I don't think I ever got your name. I'm Jazz Hop by the way."
"Nice to meet yeh, Jazz Hop," said the old unicorn kindly enough, "as for my name, well... ponies 'round here just call me River Crosser, on account that that's what I do."
Jazz Hop frowned, she wasn't sure, but something about the way he said it bugged her, "That... That's not your real name, is it?"
The aged stallion wore a somber smile, "Nope, but my real name ain't important no more," he informed her in a soft-spoken tone, "helpin' ponies cross this river is all I do now, it's who I am," with his magic, River Crosser tipped his straw hat up, "It's all that I want to be now."
With his hat tilted upward, Jazz Hop could now better see the rest of his face. Vicious scars and a burnt coat surrounded his left eye, or at least where it was supposed to be. An eye patch covered the open socket and saved Jazz Hop from what would be a gritty sight. In contrast, his one remaining eye was a piercing blue in color and stole Jazz Hop's gaze. She found it difficult to tear away from his stare, but tear away she did, and in doing so, she finally caught notice of the mark that adorned his hindquarters: an emblazed lance.
He gave her another toothy grin, "Now you be careful goin' up there, and don't forget to give Honesty my regards."