Daring Doodle Donkey

by The 24th Pegasus

A Mare

A Mare

Cranky’s back ached, like it always did. Normally he wouldn’t even notice the aches and pains—he’d gotten so used to them—but every so often, they’d flare up, forcing him to call it quits for the day. Stopping only to roll his shoulders and adjust the harness hitching him to his wagon, the old donkey slowly trudged into the town.

Normally, visiting a new town was exciting. Seeing new sights, meeting new ponies, a chance to sleep under a roof with a fire to keep him warm. They were all things he looked forward to when he was on the trail. But not anymore. Cranky was old, his joints ached, and he had to give up his saddlebags for a wagon a year ago. Wagons were easier to pull than it was to carry a saddlebag, he’d been forced to admit. Unfortunately, that meant he had to stick to the roads, unable to wander through mountains and jungles and deserts like he’d done in the years past.

His throat made a noise, like he was about to say something to somepony, but the words died before they could reach his lips when he glanced at the empty space next to him.

Frowning, the donkey wandered down the town’s main street, weary eyes glaring dead ahead. The ponies gave him a wide birth, whispering to each other as they passed or exchanging curious glances. Cranky didn’t care. He already knew she wasn’t in this town. He’d visited it seventeen years ago and found nothing. There was always the possibility that she had moved here, but if Cranky considered that for every place he stopped at, he’d never feel like he was making any progress on finding her. For now, it was only a convenient stop for food before he continued onto the next leg of his journey. The final leg.

Unhitching himself from his wagon, the donkey found a seat outside at a local delicatessen and frowned at the menu placed before him. Nothing looked that appealing to him, and he doubted the little eatery had anything spectacular to offer. The waiter brought him some water, and when he asked him what he’d like to order, Cranky just pointed blindly to something on the menu and grunted. The waiter said some words, complimenting him on his excellent choice, but it was just noise to Cranky. He would’ve gone right through the town if he could have, but his body had needs that his attitude had no time for. But even that was a joke, a lie; the donkey had all the time in the world to get where he was going, but the sooner he got there, the sooner he could finally surrender this laughable fancy.

Boredom overcame his bitterness, and Cranky’s eyes slowly slid about in their sockets. The ponies at the deli laughed and chatted over food and drink, discussing everything from the newest fashions to the upcoming wedding in Canterlot. Even the news of the return of Discord, and his subsequent defeat, still made splashes every now and then, cropping up in conversations here and there. Apparently the next town over was hit hard by the draconequus, until the Bearers made short work of him. So long as the town was quiet now was all Cranky cared about.

Some voices heralded the arrival of more patrons behind Cranky, but the donkey didn’t bother to turn and look. His ears twisted casually in the direction of the conversation, hoping for something new now that he’d already listened in on the other ponies sitting around him.

“Here you go, Miss. May I get you anything to start with? Water, lemonade, cider, perhaps?”

“Water’s fine, thank you.”

Cranky flinched at the mare’s voice. His hooves shook as he held them against the table, and he waited until the waiter trotted away to turn around. He had to rub his eyes once and squint through the disguise, but he knew exactly who he was looking at.

He could never forget his daughter.


The mare jumped at hearing Cranky’s voice, losing her grip on her menu and almost falling out of her seat. When she finally recovered, she adjusted her thick red rimmed glasses and stared forward in shock. Both she and Cranky made eye contact, and a mixture of surprise, shock, and confusion all tried to grab hold of her face at once. “Dad?”

In a flash, the khaki mare stood up from her table and moved to Cranky’s, sitting opposite of him. She fussed with her hat and purple jacket, trying to get them to settle comfortably around her, before giving up with a groan and removing her glasses to rub at her eyes. “I didn’t think I’d run into you! What are you doing here?”

“I could ask the same about you,” Cranky grumbled, but he couldn’t mask the tiniest trace of a smile beginning to fight its way onto his muzzle. “I wasn’t expecting to see you for a while, yet.”

Daring sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Yeah, I’m sorry, Dad, I’ve just been real busy.” She leaned back in her chair, and Cranky saw the fabric covering her sides shift as she fidgeted with her wings. “Trying to lead two lives is hard.”

Cranky shook his head. “I don’t know why you bother, kid. This whole ‘A. K. Yearling thing…”

“It’s… complicated, Dad,” Daring said. She opened her mouth to say something, but the waiter came by to deliver Daring’s water, refraining from commenting on her shift in table. Daring quickly gave him her order, and when he left again, she sipped from her glass. “Things are a little hot for me, right now. It’s just best if I separate my adventuring life from my daily life.”

“You never had these problems when you traveled with me,” Cranky said. Though the remark was lighthearted, it carried a touch of loneliness underneath.

Daring immediately picked up on it, and she held the donkey’s hoof in her own. “I know, and I’m sorry, Dad,” she said, trying her best to give him an assuring smile. “But…well, I needed my own room. I needed to spread my wings, you know? I couldn’t keep following you forever.”

Cranky sighed. “I know, kid. I couldn’t keep you anchored to me in a fool’s search across Equestria. I just… well, the road’s a lot lonelier when you’re only one.”

Silence stretched between them, both searching for words to say. Cranky found them first. “I bought your first book in the last town I was at. You’re a good writer. Though what’s with the name change?” he asked, a tiny, teasing smile on his muzzle. “Daring Do? Was ‘Doodle’ not heroic enough?”

Daring sheepishly rubbed the back of her neck. “Yeah, about that… um…”

Cranky held up his hoof. “Don’t worry about it, kid, I’m only teasing you. If I really wanted to ask about your name, I’d ask where the Yearling name came from.”

“I couldn’t begin to say,” Daring said, grinning. “It sounded… writerly. And it’s about as far from a household name like ‘Daring Do’ as you can get.” She took another sip of her water, adding, “Plus, nopony thinks I’m actually an adventurer. If they knew that my books are based on real life, I don’t think I could go anywhere without somepony trying to get my autograph, or nefarious minions of Ahuizotl ambushing me on a daily basis.”

“On second thought, I’m kind of happy you decided to go your own way before getting involved in all this. I didn’t need any of it in my life.” His ears wilted, and he went back to staring at the tablecloth. “But that’s all behind me, now.”

Daring cocked her head to the side, a confused frown on her muzzle. “What do you mean? You’re not…” Realization dawned on her face, and she frowned. Cranky imagined that if her hat wasn’t covering them, her ears would’ve been pressed against her skull. “I’m sorry.”

Cranky just shrugged, the resignation already much too familiar to him. “It’s over, kid. I’ve looked and looked and looked. Thirty years of my life spent traveling Equestria, looking for her. I’ve left notes and fliers in every town I’ve visited, and still nothing. I’ll never find her. The world is simply too big.” Sighing, he rested his chin on the table. “I’m too old to walk the roads anymore. It’s time I give up and enjoy what time I have left. I’ve wasted enough of it as is.”

“Wasted?” Daring asked, rubbing her hooves together. “Dad, you haven’t wasted anything. You spent thirty years on the road, chasing a dream, a jenny that you loved more than anything. Can you really say that you regret it all now?” Daring crossed her forelegs and nodded at him. “I don’t regret any of it. You taught me how to survive in the wild on my own, and you fed my hunger for adventure. You rescued me from a town that hated me, and if it weren’t for you, I would have frozen to death on the mountains, or spent the rest of my life as an outcast in my own home. I don’t know which would be worse.

“But I didn’t, and that’s because of you,” she said, almost pleading Cranky to understand. “You pulled my flank out of there and gave me something to live for, and I saw so many wonderful, beautiful things with you. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the best damn father a girl could’ve asked for.”

Cranky was silent, and when the waiter delivered their meals to them, he didn’t respond, leaving Daring to express their gratitude and shoo the waiter away. When he finally spoke again, it was with a small nod. “You’re right. I don’t regret any of it.” Looking at Daring, he offered her a weak smile. “When I found you, I’d already spent fourteen years wandering by myself. I got to spend the next eleven with another pony, another living soul. I believed that I could go looking forever, so long as I had another pony with me to keep me company.” Sighing, he poked at his meal, a salad of various greens and flowers. “When you left six years ago to go to college on that grant, to start your own adventures… well, I tried to make it work for a time. But I missed having you with me, kid. And eventually I decided it wasn’t worth it anymore.”

Daring stared down at her own meal, a daisy sandwich, and reluctantly accepted Cranky’s confession with a dip of her head. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for.”

They both sat at the table, silent, a million miles and a square of table cloth apart. Neither had an appetite, but both ate regardless; years of forcing themselves to eat on the trail to keep their strength up even when they didn’t feel like it were hard to shake off. The waiter came to check on them once more, but Cranky dismissed him with a wave of his hoof.

Setting half of her sandwich back onto its plate, Daring tried to force eye contact with the donkey. “So what now?”

“Now?” Cranky asked, wiping his muzzle and raising his head to Daring. “I retire. I bought a place out in the woods in a little town not too far from here. Ponyville, I think it was called.”

“Not Canterlot?” Daring asked. “It’s a big city, and that’s where the Gala is held. At the very least, you’d think she’d visit it every once in a while for some reason or another.”

“Can’t stand city life,” Cranky muttered. “I’ve spent too much time on the road. The wilds are home to me, not the stone and marble jungles of civilization. This place should be quiet enough for my liking.” He idly spun a piece of bread between his hooves before tearing off the end and popping it into his mouth. “It’s got a nice view of Canterlot on the mountain, though. Something to remind me of things long gone.” Sighing, he added, “Thirty years is a long time.”

They passed the rest of their meal in silence, and when their checks arrived, Daring swiped both before Cranky could even move, stuffing them into the folds of her purple jacket and dropping the appropriate number of bits on the table. Cranky didn’t say anything about it, not wanting to start a petty argument with his daughter. They hardly saw each other nowadays, and he didn’t want to spend what little time they had left bickering before they moved on again.

“So, are you on another one of your adventures now?” Cranky asked. “I know you wouldn’t be in a small town like this without good reason.”

“Something like that,” Daring grumbled, kneading the table cloth beneath her hooves. “I’m trying to track down some leads on an artifact that supposedly has the power to manipulate the sun.”

Cranky’s eyebrow perked. “I thought only Princess Celestia could do that.”

“And you’re right,” Daring assured him. “I’m not sure I believe all the hocus pocus myself, but if it’s something Ahuizotl is interested in, then I’m interested in it, too. After all, something like him having control over the sun, or even influencing it in any way, could be disastrous to the entirety of Equestria.” She shuddered, anxiously toying with the lapel of her jacket. “I’m sure you remember what it was like when Discord came back a month ago.”

“Had me confused on the trail,” Cranky remarked, nodding. “I just decided to stay put until the sun and moon made up their minds about what they wanted to do.”

“And I was trying to navigate a temple with traps that operated off of the sunlight.” She pulled back the collar of her jacket to reveal a scar across the left side of her chest. “Happened to be underneath a skylight when the sun came back, and that triggered an arrow trap. Missed my heart by an inch. I had to crawl my way back out of the temple and try again the next week.” She couldn’t help herself but grin a little when she saw the look of alarm on Cranky’s face. “Those are spoilers for the next book, by the way. Don’t tell anypony.”

Cranky rubbed his temples with his hooves. “Praise Celestia you’re okay!”

“It’s just an occupational hazard,” Daring offered, shrugging. “I got what I wanted, though. The Trottingham Archaeology Museum paid me a good reward for that idol, though most of that money immediately went into looking for clues to the whereabouts of the rings of destiny. It’s kind of why I took up writing; adventuring is expensive, and I needed a little more help paying bills and buying supplies.”

“You always did enjoy writing your little stories.” Cranky pushed his empty salad bowl away from him and looked around the outdoor eating area. This was a nice town. Maybe a bit too big for his tastes, but it did have a certain charm to it. He hoped this ‘Ponyville’ was as nice. “What are you doing the rest of the day?”

“Oh, me?” Daring asked, and after a moment, she sheepishly retreated under her hat and put the fake red glasses back on her muzzle. “I have a meeting with a contact. He’s supposed to have information on the rings, but we’ll see what comes of that.” She hesitated a second before adding, “He also told me that he wanted to meet… you know… alone.”

The implication was clear, and Cranky felt a little of the comfortable mirth that they’d built up over lunch together slip away. He nodded and stood up on knotted knees. “I see. I hope you find what you’re looking for, kid. All that danger isn’t something for me. Just… stay safe, okay?”

Daring stood up and reached over to her father, offering him a heartfelt hug. She squeezed him like she wanted to get all she possibly could out of the embrace before finally being forced to separate. “I will, Dad,” she said nuzzling his shoulder.

Cranky nuzzled her back. “I know you will.”

They separated, and Daring awkwardly pawed at the ground for a second. “I know you’ve given up, but if I ever see anything, hear anything…”

The donkey nodded and patted Daring on the back. “Thanks, Daring. It means a lot to me.”

Swallowing hard, Daring offered Cranky a brave smile. “I’ll do my best to come visit, okay? Just take care of yourself in the meanwhile and try to make some friends. Nopony should be alone.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.” Then, with one last attempt at a smile, Cranky took a step back. “I hope it won’t be another two years until we cross paths again.”

“It won’t,” Daring said. “I promise.”

With that, Cranky could only give his daughter a proud smile, and he left the deli behind. Hitching himself up to his wagon, he continued down the road, replaying their conversation again and again in his head.

She might not have been with him on the roads for the past few years, but the khaki pegasus had never left his heart. Even if he never found her, that mare was the one thing he would always, always be proud of.

It made the last road ahead a little bit brighter and a little bit shorter.