• Published 11th Feb 2012
  • 5,162 Views, 124 Comments

Phases of the Moon - Laurence Brown

Sequel to Moonbeam

  • ...

Half -- Chapter 4

Luna walked back to her friends with a troubled look on her face. “My sister has invited us to all to come inside and meet her guests,” she said, giving Pine Needle a consoling look, “who just happen to be your parents.”

Pine Needle stared in disbelief at Luna, and the other ponies’ mouths dropped open in shock. Luna nodded in sympathy at her friend, who was starting to sweat and look around him nervously. His darting gaze caught sight of his sister, who was looking up at him with a concerned expression. Taking a deep breath, he straightened his posture.

“Very well then,” he said, putting as much confidence in his voice as he could. “It is probably for the best to get this over with right now anyway. There is no reason to drag this out, or give myself time to second guess mine choice. At least I will no longer have to stress out about when they will find me. Let’s get this done now, while I have not only mine friends here to support me, but also while I still have the will to do this.”

Upon receiving a comforting smile from his friends, he started forward with a confident stride when a soft voice gave him pause. ”Brother, one moment please.” Pine Bough waited for him to turn and face her before she continued, “I think it will be best if I do not go in with you. If our parents were to see that I came here all by myself, without their permission?” She shuddered, “I fear to think how long I will might be grounded.” She trotted over to one of the guards standing by the doors, keeping him between her and the giant portal. “Do you mind if I listen in from here?” Seeing the armored grey unicorn roll his eyes but not voice any objections, she smiled at the guard then nodded at her brother that she was set for whatever else may happen.

“Let’s go,” Luna said, and took the lead. With a salute, the guards pulled the doors open, and she and her friends entered the throne room; Luna was first while Pine Needle brought up the rear. Initially hidden from sight, it took a moment before he could stand clear of his friends, which brought a pair of startled gasps from Celestia’s guests.

“Pine Needle?” asked his mother, Pine Wreath. “Is, is it really you?” Seeing her son nod, she dashed forward and embraced him in a tight hug. “Oh, it has been so long! Too long!” The hug was soon joined by Douglas Fir, and the others all watched with misty eyes at the unexpected reunion.

Celestia smiled as Luna walked over to stand next to her. Leaning in close, she softly whispered, “It was a surprise when they sent me a letter saying who they were and that they were in town for a couple of days on their way to visit family nearby. A little bit of research confirmed my hunch, and so I thought it would be nice to help them get together a day or two earlier than they planned.” She giggled. “I was just about to go send a runner to find you, as a matter of fact.”

Luna shook her head, and a sigh escaped from her lips. “It is nice to see, but I don’t think ‘visit’ covers the entire truth of their trip,” she explained after Celestia gave her a questioning look. “This situation is much more complicated than it appears they have led you to believe.”

Stepping back from the embrace that mother and son continued to share, Douglas Fir looked over at the princesses and shook his head in amazement. “We were honored to have Princess Celestia grant our request to meet with her; to have the chance to meet with one so great and wise is rare, and it will be a moment that I will cherish through the rest of my life. And yet, it seems that you have become friends with Princess Luna?” He barked out a laugh in disbelief. “That must be an interesting story in and of itself, I’d wager!”

“I still have trouble believing it myself, father,” Pine Needle replied with a grin. “If somepony else had told me ahead of time how it would happen, I would have accused them of lying.”

Pine Wreath finally broke the hug and stood back, wiping tears of joy from her eyes. “Son, let me please apologize for what happened back in Stalliongrad. We were wrong to not listen to your thoughts on the matter. I do not blame you for leaving, I just wish that you had not felt the need to go so far away.”

Douglas Fir nodded solemnly. “I believe part of our failure to recognize your stance was that the two of us were paired together without being asked, and it worked out very well for us. I think that is what made us so blind to your protests. If it worked for us, why wouldn’t it work for you?”

“Well,” Pine Needle replied, “I am glad that you understand why I left then.” He allowed himself to relax a little; perhaps his parents had changed their minds on the way down from Stalliongrad? Or maybe his sister had misheard them?

Pine Wreath smiled. “Oh, looking back on it, it’s so obvious that she wasn’t right for you. Did you know she ended up moving to Manehattan and marrying a street sweeper? Her parents were so scandalized by the event that they hid it for months!”

“A...street sweeper?” Pine Needle asked, growing confused about where the conversation was going.

“So consider our lesson learned, son!” Douglas Fir said. “Boy, we sure lucked out there, didn’t we? But that’s what happens when you start getting desperate in trying to find anypony who meets the requirements you’ve set up. You lower your standards, and then the crazy ones get in.” The stallion shook his head at the thought of it.

“That’s right!” Pine Wreath chimed in. “We certainly won’t make that mistake again!”

Pine Needle felt his stomach tighten into a knot. “What do you mean by, ‘that mistake’?” he asked warily.

“Of not doing the proper research, of not being thorough!” his mother replied. “That’s why, when we were presented with a possible match for you, we didn’t just take their word for it, oh no, we went and did our research, let me tell you! Why-”

Pine Needle stomped his hoof in anger on the floor. “No! The mistake isn’t that you did not set me up with the proper mare, it is that you tried to set me up at all! Who I fall in love with, who I decide to spend the rest of my life married to, if I decide to get married at all, is my choice!”

Celestia turned to Luna, wearing a frown on her face. “Sister, I’m sorry. I had no idea that this was going to happen. Please believe me that this was not my intention.”

“There is no need to apologize, Celestia,” Luna replied with a sad smile. “There was no way for you to know that this was going to happen. I only found out myself when they showed up this morning. A good portion of our time today has been spent trying to figure out what to do.”

Celestia nodded silently and turned her attention back to the Pine family members. Her frown deepened, not only at the incomplete story she had been given but also in trying to figure out how her sister had learned about it before she had. Was there something else about the situation she had missed?

“Pine Needle,” Pine Wreath said in a stern voice, “you have to believe us when I say that this not like the last time. We are not going to force the two of you together and simply hope that everything works out.”

“That’s right, son,” Douglas Fir said. “We plan to make sure that everything the two of you do is carefully monitored, and we’ll make sure that if she proves to not be good enough for you, then we’ll call it off.”

Pine Needle spluttered in disbelief. “You, you have not heard a single word of mine, have you? I am not upset about how this... this process is carried out, I am angry because there is a process to begin with! I did not run away years ago because you picked the wrong pony for me, I left because you thought it was your right, your duty to assign one to me to begin with!” He stomped the floor again, having no other way to show his anger without losing his composure. “I should have known, when I was told you were coming to see me, that nothing had really changed!”

Pine Wreath found herself speechless; she had never expected to be so thoroughly rebuffed by her son. Douglas Fir however narrowed his eyes and gave Pine Needle a curious look. “If you do not mind my asking, how did you know we were coming? We wanted to let you know, but without an address, let alone not knowing which town you had moved to until recently, we were unable to mail you a letter. In fact, most of our day tomorrow was going to be spent searching Ponyville for you because we had no way to give you notice that we were coming to see you.”

Pine Needle froze. Had he accidentally revealed too much in the heat of the argument? His mouth turned dry as he stuttered, trying desperately to come up with something to say that wouldn't end up with his sister getting in trouble. His eyes darted back and forth, looking at both his friends from Ponyville and the two princesses, but nothing came to mind. Seeing his father’s gaze turn very intense, he spluttered, “Because... because, um, I-”

“Because I told him, that is why!”

All eyes turned to the open double doors. Pine Bough stood defiantly in the doorway, the surprise of her reveal only slightly undermined by the barely detectable quiver in her legs. With a determined look on her face, she briskly trotted up next to Pine Needle. “I knew when I saw how you reacted when you received that letter from Canterlot that you were bound and determined to make mine brother’s life miserable. That is why I took it upon myself to come and warn him, and also for the chance to see him again after you forced him away so long ago!”

“Young lady,” Pine Wreath said angrily, having shaken off the shock of seeing their daughter in front of them faster than her husband. “You are in big trouble, do you hear me?”

“I do not care!” Pine Bough shouted. “I would do it again too, if I had the choice!”

Unsure of how to react to their children uniting against them, Pine Wreath and Douglas Fir stepped back and brought their heads together to quietly discuss how to proceed. Celestia took the chance to whisper to Luna, “I wondered how you had known about this. Of course, it all makes sense now.” Seeing Luna’s pensive demeanor, she asked, “How are you holding up? This can’t be easy, being forced to watch one of your best friends go through something like this.”

Luna nodded sadly. “I want so badly to jump right in and tell them off! I know however that anything I say will be overshadowed by who I am; it won’t be my words that change their minds, but my rank. And while some situations might call for me to use my position as a means to get a favorable solution, here it would be me being nothing more than a bully like Pine Needle’s parents. Just because they think they can use their station as a reason to get what they think is best does not mean that I can do so too.”

“That is one of the hardest parts about our lives, and having friends,” Celestia said while nodding sadly. “Having to always keep the public half of our lives separate from our private halves. All too often it is our private lives that have to suffer, so that the many can benefit from what we do with our stations as princesses. The times where the two fit together are all too rare, I fear.”

“And yet,” Luna said carefully, “even though I am limited in what I can do right now, I think that this is one of those times. While I may not be able to directly help Pine Needle, I think just being here lets me aid him in both ways. As a friend, I can lend him my support just by being here. And as a ruler, I believe that we are helping to keep things civil. See how his parents keep looking in our direction? I’m willing to bet they are worried about making a scene and earning our disapproval.”

Breaking from their huddle, Pine Wreath and Douglas Fir walked back to their children. “It would appear,” Pine Wreath said in a precise and measured manner, “that we have underestimated your displeasure with our plans. If you truly do not want to give this mare a chance, we can do nothing to change that.”

Douglas Fir nodded in agreement. “You must have one amazing mare friend already to not even consider our proposal.” He looked over at Pine Needle’s friends. Pointing at Feather Down, he asked, “Is that the lucky girl who has caused all of our efforts to be wasted?”

“No, she is merely a good friend of mine. Nothing more, nothing less.” Pine Needle shifted his weight, feeling uncomfortable with where things were headed.

“So, who is this mare then?” his mother asked.

“Actually, there currently isn’t one that I am involved with,” he admitted. Seeing his parents eyes light up, Pine Needle raised a hoof to forestall them. “There is a pony that I care for a lot though. Right now, I am still... unsure of how to approach her and let my feelings be known, but I hope to someday soon gather the courage to ask her out.”

“Then let us help!” Douglas Fir pleaded. “Don’t you see we only want what’s best for you? Let us break the ice then! Allow us to present your case for you, and get the two of you together!”

“Yes!” Pine Wreath chimed in. “We won’t even mention marriage, or earth pony magic potential, or anything of the sort! Let us do this to help make things up to you! And then, after you two have that first date, we can all assess how things went, and where to go from there!”

Pine Needle felt himself waver. It seemed that he had finally made some progress in getting his argument through to them. Perhaps his parents could help keep him grounded where he himself had failed?

“No,” Pine Needle finally said, regret in his voice. “While I appreciate the offer, it would not be fair to the mare, and I would not be true to myself. I need to do this on my own.”

“And how long will that take you?” Pine Wreath asked, turning impatient. “How many other mares have you seen before this one? At least tell me that there is some hope for us having grandchildren someday!”

“I do not think that that is any of your business!” Pine Needle snapped. “While you may think you have only my best intentions in mind, I am finding your lines of questioning to be at the best ignorant, and at the worst downright insulting! I will not listen to anything else you have to say about this! As far as I am concerned, this conversation is over, and so is our time together. Out of respect for my friends, I will not storm off, but I will have nothing more to do with you. Do not come to Ponyville, you will not be welcome at my home!” Unable to look at his parents any longer through tear filled eyes, Pine Needle turned around and stood proudly with his back turned to them.

Pine Needle’s parents stood frozen in place, stunned by what they had just heard. After a moment of silence, Douglas Fir softly asked, “Is this how it is going to be, son?”

Seeing Pine Needle refusing to budge even an inch, Pine Wreath softly sighed. “I am sorry that things had to end this way. We will leave you be then, as you wish. Just... please don’t hate us. We were only doing what we felt was best for you. We only did this out of our love for you.” Still getting no reaction from her son, she turned to her husband. “Very well, let’s head home. We will have to tell Mr. and Mrs. Apple that the betrothal with Applejack we planned on will have to be forgotten.”

Pine Needle tensed, his breath caught in his throat.

Douglas Fir trotted over to the princesses and bowed deeply before them. “Your highnesses, please forgive an older couple their folly, and for dragging our family’s problems out into the open before you. It was not our intention to take up your valuable time with such an unseemly display. We will be on our way now, and please do not think too poorly of our father, or our son. If there is to be any ill will, please place it squarely where it belongs, on us.”

Celestia shook her head. “While I am sad to see things end on such a sour note, I am glad that at least your family was able to come to a conclusion of some sort, instead of simply letting it fester and create a bigger divide. Hopefully in the near future, the healing process will be able to begin.”

“You are too kind, your Highness.” Bowing one last time, Douglas Fir turned and walked back to his wife, who was scolding Pine Bough.

“Making such a long trip at your age, at this time of year?” Pine Wreath was saying to her daughter. “Why did you not simply send a letter? It would have gotten here just as fast, and cost a lot less money than what the food and lodging of your journey cost you! That, and you would not be grounded for a year either!”

“Awww! Mom!” Pine Bough complained to no avail.

Turning towards her son, who had still not budged, she softly said, “Goodbye, Pine Needle. I will tell the family that you are doing well. Please... just don’t hate us?” Hearing no reply, and seeing no reaction, she drooped her head and dejectedly walked out the door, followed by Douglas Fir and Pine Bough.

Luna closed the doors behind the leaving Pines, and Feather Down dropped to the ground, jamming a hoof into her mouth to keep her laughter bottled up. Everypony else walked over to Pine Needle, to see why he had still not budged; the news that he had been, for a short while, arranged to be married to the mare of his dreams had left him frozen in a state of shock. Haystack tried waving a hoof in front of his friend’s face, only to get no reaction. Seeing this, Feather Down finally stood up and, her laughter echoing off of the castle walls, ran out a side door. The galloping of her hooves slowly faded away, but her laughter could still be easily heard.

Dewdrop turned to face Haystack. “While I can see the humor in this situation, I certainly don’t find it that funny. I fear I might be a bit too harsh on her. Perhaps you could go get her calmed down, please?”

“Of course. Besides,” he said, looking at Pine Needle, “I think comforting him when he finally regains his senses will be better handled by you than me. I don’t think I could give this the proper touch that it needs.”

Dewdrop smiled at Haystack. “Sounds good to me, dear.” After watching the farmer pegasus follow after her roommate, Dewdrop joined the princesses who were doing their best to gently bring Pine Needle out of his state. After a few moments of calling his name with increasing volume and urgency, Celestia lowered her horn and simply tapped him on his forehead with it. The physical contact finally shook Pine Needle from his catatonia, and with tears forming in his eyes, he sank to his knees.

“I, I have been an utter idiot,” he sobbed. “I let mine parents leave thinking that I hate them, and I allowed any chance that I might have had with the mare that I love be completely ruined!”

Luna blinked in surprise. “I think you are being too harsh on yourself. My impression was that, while saddened by your refusal to speak to them at the end, they were also disappointed by their failure as well. I am sure that you can send them a letter if you want and let them know how you truly feel.”

“And your chances with Applejack aren’t ruined either!” Dewdrop added. “I mean, it isn’t like any of us our going to bring this up to her. She’ll never know about this if you don’t want her to!”

“No, she still could! Even if none of us tell her, what if things do work out between us? What do you think will happen if she wants to meet my parents? What do I do then? What if Pine Bough comes and visits me again, and she lets this slip in front of her?” Seeing Dewdrop still looking doubtful, he continued, “What if somepony that you were going out with had his parents all of a sudden show up and try to force the two of you together? How would you like that, even if both of you were against it?”

Dewdrop blinked. “That would be... unsettling, to say the least. You’re right hun, it wouldn’t be good at all. There would always be that cloud of doubt, of just how much our attraction was natural, and how much was being forced by his parents.” She fell silent, considering the situation and finding it very unpalatable.

“Well, I know it hurts a lot right now,” Luna said, trying her best to sound confident, “but at least you were able to get through to your parents about how you felt. And while you might not be comfortable pursuing Applejack anymore, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on love altogether! Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all, right?”

Pine Needle laughed, but the noise was anything but cheerful. “Does that really count for my case though? If the mare I desired never even knew of my feelings, because I couldn’t even talk to her? Is that really love, or just some childish attempt at it?” He sighed, and laid his head down on the cold, marble floor. “I appreciate your words, so please do not take my attitude the wrong way. I think I just need time. Time to get over this, and time to think about what being in love really means.”

Haystack followed the sound of Feather Down’s laughter through a couple of hallways before finding her leaning against a wall. The pink pony was gasping for air, and her laughter was finally coming to an end. As he walked up to her, Feather Down took a deep breath, and finally brought her mirth under control.

“I’m sorry, Haystack,” Feather Down said. “I know that sounds really bad, coming from somepony who just fled the room in laughter, but...” she paused and waved a hoof vaguely in the air. Her demeanor turned serious, and Haystack thought he saw her frown. “But what else can I do? I just watched one of my best friends not only go through a very trying time with his family, he also saw his chances with the mare of his dreams get dashed in front of him. And all I could do was watch-- there was nothing I could have done to make things go better. If I can’t laugh at the irony of his parents somehow managing to get Applejack’s parents to agree to such a crazy scheme...” She looked around uncertainly. “What else can I do but cry at the injustice of it all?”

Haystack nodded, and put a comforting hoof on Feather Down’s shoulder. “I hated it too. Just standing there, wanting to do something to help out Pine Needle... What could I do though, that wouldn’t have undermined his position? How am I supposed to show that somepony else is strong enough to do things on their own? Wouldn’t the very act of joining in on Pine Needle’s side go against the very nature of his position?” He lowered his hoof to the ground and sighed. “I felt worthless, just standing there.”

The two friends stood there, silently sharing their misery. After a few moments, Feather Down slowly started back towards the throne room, and Haystack fell in behind her. When they returned, they saw that Pine Needle was slowly getting to his feet, looking miserable but at least aware of his surroundings.

Trotting over, Feather Down lowered her head and softly said, “I’m so sorry, Pine Needle.”

“It is not your fault,” Pine Needle said, managing a sickly smile. “I am sure that someday I too will laugh at this.”

“Don’t give up though, okay?” Surprising everyone with the fervor she spoke with, she continued to fill the silence. “There are still plenty of mares out there! There’s Cheerilee, Rose, Pinkie Pie, no, scratch that one, she’s too crazy... um, Daisy, Lily, the twins from the spa... Oh! How about Carrot Top! She’d be perfect for you, I bet! Or how about-”

Pine needle placed a hoof on her mouth to silence his friend. “I thank you for the thought, but I think that maybe I should just take some time off, so to speak, from wanting a special somepony. If the way I acted around Applejack, even when I just heard her name was any indication, maybe I am not ready to be in love. Perhaps I need to grow up some more, and when I am able to treat a mare that I love as something more than something to stare and drool at, then I can consider myself ready.”

“If you mean that,” Celestia said with a smile, “you may be closer to that day than you think.”

Meanwhile, Haystack had moved over next to Dewdrop. “You know,” he said cautiously, “this has gotten me thinking. I can’t but help but look at Pine Needle’s situation and wonder, am I messing things up too? I’ve never been that good at being social, and I like what we have, and I think I want to be closer yet, but I just don’t know how to express that all that well, and-”

“I understand, dear.” Dewdrop said, gently cutting Haystack off. “I like what we have between us too, and I would like it to be more also. And while seeing this makes me want to force things so we don’t end up in a similar position, where our inaction has cost us our chance, I think doing so could be just as bad too.” She smiled up at Haystack. “Let’s just keep on taking our time, and let it happen naturally.”

Haystack nodded, and then on an impulse brushed his muzzle against hers. Seeing her smile back, he then turned and faced the rest of the group. “So, what now?” he asked.

Luna turned to look at Pine Needle. “Is there anything you’d like to do? Anything that might help cheer you up?” Seeing her friend give a noncommittal shrug, she turned to her sister. “You have any suggestions, Celestia?”

“We could go watch one of the afternoon plays, and I understand that several prominent musicians are playing at the local clubs.” She gave the group a wry grin, “Perhaps we could enjoy a bit of dancing, let ourselves go a little. How does that sound?”

Pine Needle mulled over her suggestions. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to go and listen to some music?”

“That’s the spirit!” Celestia said. “I know just the place too. Give me a moment to get ready.”

Luna blinked in surprise. “You want to come too?”

“Of course I do!” Celestia moved her legs about in something vaguely resembling a dance. ”It’s not often I get the opportunity to strut my stuff.” Seeing Pine Needle grin at her antics, she smiled warmly. “There we go! Go ahead and head towards the west gate, Luna, I’ll meet you there.”

Watching her sister leave to inform the staff that they were going to be gone for the evening, Luna then looked at her friends. “Ready to go?” she asked. Seeing them nod in agreement, she led them out of the big double doors and headed to where Celestia had told them to meet her.

Nightmare Moon continued her slow trek across the moon. While she had doubted that she would face any repercussions for her actions on Feather Down, her caution had won out, and she had refrained from trying anything else just yet. Still, night was about to fall upon Equestria again, and with it would be another chance to try out her new found abilities.

Looking back, she realized she had squandered a lot of chances last night. Taking the time during her march to think, she had come up with several ideas she wanted to test out, the first being if she could enter somepony else’s dream without their noticing. She didn’t know if it was possible, but if she could pull it off, it would also open the window for a lot more possibilities.

WIth an malicious grin, she chuckled to herself, looking forward to what tonight, and future nights, might bring.