• Published 11th Jul 2013
  • 6,496 Views, 243 Comments

The Traveling Tutor and the Diplomats Daughter - Georg

All Princess Sun Shines wants to do is escape from her stuffy room and explore the castle. All Green Grass wants to do is find some distraction to keep him from worrying about Twilight Sparkle’s most recent dangerous mission. Solution: Tour G

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Ch. 1 - The Gilded Cage

The Traveling Tutor and the Diplomat’s Daughter
The Gilded Cage

Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.
— Richard Lovelace

They sure as Tartarus do.
— Count of Mounte Cincho

The Royal Princess sat on the windowsill of her prison cell, looking mournfully out the window at the pony guards far below. Even the warm rays of sunshine that gave her feathers a soft glow did not bring joy to her restless heart. Somewhere out there was adventure, excitement, devious schemes against her homeland to be foiled, horrible monsters to be vanquished, perhaps even… cake.

The Princess licked her beak at the tempting thought and leaned up against the glass to get a better look at the courtyard far below. The Diplomatic Wing of the castle was decorated in fine alabaster stones soaring up the majestic walls and architecture that reminded her so much of the towering mist-covered mountains of home, all of which she had been forbidden to explore. ‘It’s too dangerous, Princess Sunny.’ ‘The wind is too strong, Princess Sunny.’ ‘Perhaps tomorrow, my little Sunbeam.’

Unspoken as always was how her mother had died, caught in a downdraft and smashed against the unyielding granite of the mountains. She was too young to understand, or at least that was the view of her father and Aunt Gilda. Grandfather had understood far too well the heartache she had experienced, and always had time for a tickle, or a story, or to take the little griflet on his back for a flight through the treacherous gusts of the Misty Mountains.

Father was always upset after such a flight, wanting her to finish growing up before she touched the sky. It was always today in Father’s calendar, never tomorrow. Maybe by tomorrow her wings would finally finish growing their prickly pinfeathers into real flight feathers, tomorrow maybe Aunt Gilda would have time away from the constant bickering of the Aerie Council to spend a few hours with her, tomorrow would be different.

Today would be different.

While Grandfather and Father were busy diplomaticing with the pony princesses, Princess Sun Shines on the Misty Mountains at Dawn Through Early Morning Hazy Skies would go out into the unexplored castle and explore! No dusty corner would remain secret, no hidden chambers would escape her sharp vision, no nefarious plots and schemes would be unfoiled. Nothing would stop her quest for adventure out in the exciting—

“Sunny, please get down from the window. You’ll fade your feathers.”

“Yes, Auntie Billow.”

The little princess hopped down from the window, off a chair, and onto the cold marble floor that covered the entire diplomatic suite. One quick skitter of tiny talons across the floor to the safety of a warm rug later, she glanced at Aunt Billowing Clouds About The Mountain Peaks Heavy With Snow with a well-concealed distaste. Her aunt ignored the little fledgling’s predatory glare and fluffed up her grey feathers, settling deeper into a cushion sitting in the warm ray of morning sunlight that streamed through the closed balcony window without apparent thought to the hypocrisy of her actions. Aunt Billow slept a lot anyway, and the long trip from the Misty Mountains had taken a lot out of the old biddy. Sunny had spent the long, cold flight cuddled up to Grandfather in the carriage, sleeping through the night. Now the sun was up, she was up, and everygriffon had places to be and things to do except her. She ruffled her pinfeathered wings and snapped her beak in irritation before regarding the door to freedom, and the key being held by her snoozing aunt.

Even after she got the key and managed to escape, wandering around the castle or city by herself would certainly attract attention from the skittish ponies, resulting in a rapid return to her diplomatic prison with a more alert jailor. She wished Aunt Gilda had been able to come along, but she was busy, as always, doing important Big Griffon stuff back at the aerie. She had not even been able to bring one of the obedient pony servants from home to accompany her on an exploration of this new and fascinating place. They could be ordered around far easier than the Royal Guard ponies who patrolled the hallways here, and the pony guards most likely would have no respect at all for her royal status within the Misty Mountain Kingdom.

She needed an ignorant patsy. But where to find one?

* * *

Even while the train was wheezing to a halt in Canterlot Station, Green Grass had already stood up and begun hefting his suitcase off the baggage shelf. It was strictly forbidden to stand up before the train had stopped, but with the tight press of other ponies doing exactly the same thing, he would have been in more danger of suffocation by remaining seated. Fighting through the crowd to exit the train was an exercise in diplomacy and tact in the capital city; you never knew if the hoof you trod was attached to an easily-upset royal, or a simple country pony visiting the big city.

Even after dozens of trips back to his home city, Green Grass was still not sure just what category he fit. After all, he was the third and last son of a baron, bearer of a proud unicorn lineage that could be traced back through a hundred generations of proud horned aristocracy, and seven different historical links to Princess Platinum, even if they were somewhat weak links and more than one a theorized scribble in an ancient tome with no witnesses. Then again, being an earth pony born into a long and supposedly unbroken line of unicorns (although there were more than one whose family portrait always showed them with a hat), he always felt a bit of darkly-wooled sheepishness in his blood. His older brother Graphite had always teased him in a rather good-natured way about his hornless nature and thick green coat, and although he had teased back, he always felt like he came in a distinct second to his handsome unicorn brother with the dashing silver mane and the glossy dark coat so similar to his name. Mares always seemed to skip right on past the dull green earth pony whenever either of his big brothers were in the room.

Until recently.

It took a great deal of effort to avoid grinning like an idiot around the handle of his suitcase as he walked out into the train station commons. This last year had been such a dramatic shift from his expected career of tutoring small-town unicorn students in their first magic. His first year had been — well, it was hard to use the word ‘ordinary’ in a career where you stood such a high risk of being transformed into a cactus or potted fern while dealing with a young student who experienced a magical surge at exactly the wrong time. Perhaps ‘exciting’ or ‘fascinating’ would be more descriptive, but they paled with what he had gone through on the start of his second year of teaching.

With seven school districts in the Ponyville valley and vicinity, there were not enough very young unicorns to support a full-time Unicorn Magic Youth Education Specialist (UM-YES-1) in just one school, but more than enough to support a young tutor out to prove himself and willing to spend just two months at a time at each school. The first year had been deliriously wonderful, away from his parents and their overwhelming matrimonial drive, with his own wagon for living quarters and all the books he could read. The rural populations were much more accepting of an earth pony with a special talent for teaching young unicorns their first magic than the stuck-up unicorns of Canterlot, and so the city he had grown up in felt far less ‘home’ than a small town he had only known for a short while.

Of course a certain inhabitant of that small town had a lot to do with that, once their initial meetings — some ponies would say ‘small war’ — had been properly resolved⁽*⁾. The two of them did not get to spend nearly enough time together, what with his schedule and her rather strenuous extracurricular activities⁽¹⁾, but for the next two days, their schedules matched. Two glorious days and two exquisite nights in Canterlot with nothing to do but be in each other’s company. Well, with one chaperone, who had proven himself to be quite discrete.
(*) The Traveling Tutor and the Librarian
(1) Nightmare Moon, Discord, Chrysalis, and collecting Princess Luna’s overdue library fines.

“Good morning, sir.” Standing at the edge of the train station platform to greet him was a patient mink-tan unicorn with just enough mottling in his coat to indicate an Appaloosian ancestor or two, contrasting well against his custom-tailored black suit with creases so sharp they could be used to shave. His valet, Friday Haystings, was a fairly recent parentally enforced addition to his rapidly-complicating life during his relatively infrequent visits to his home town of Canterlot.

Mother and Father had been most adamant about his assignment in their best unyielding hard-headed fashion, and Green Grass had decided it was in his best interests to simply pass on this battle, saving his strength for truly important fights, such as their idea of how his life should be lived. To his great relief, Friday had been the perfect silent shadow during the other brief times he and Twilight had managed to get a day or two together in Canterlot, handling restaurant reservations and schedules with perfect timing and grace. But only in Canterlot. After all, having a gentlecolt’s gentlecolt in small town Ponyville or one of the other tiny towns where he spent nearly all of his time teaching would have been horrible overkill. Not to mention Green Grass’ traveling wagon only had enough space to sleep one. Or a very comfy two.

The older tan servant always made Green Grass feel like a tiny colt again during his visits. Friday was at least three times his age and most probably twice his wit. Efforts to avoid the valet by slipping into town unannounced had been completely fruitless to this point, leading Green Grass to suspect some divine intervention in the scheduling of the dry old coot, or a string of unbelievably bad luck⁽²⁾ on his part.
(2) It was just luck. The probability that the eldest Princess of Equestria would actually track the coltfriend of her most precious student, or that Lord Night Light, the father of said student and Director of the Office of Diplomatic Support Services would either, was vanishingly small. Officially.

Although a smile never touched the lips of the elderly gentlecolt, his topaz eyes glittered with amusement as he lifted Green Grass’ luggage in his magic without any sign of strain and set it to float behind them as they walked. That somber disposition hid a subtle humor and razor-sharp wit, which he seemed to sharpen every morning until it could shave steel. Green Grass had once theorized the manespray which kept the old codger’s chocolate-brown mane so crisp and sharp had over the years soaked into his entire face, and a single smile would cause him to shatter like glass, although the theory was still untested.

At least, at the urging of his young employer, Friday had begun to wear a hat. Not for the camouflaging effect for which Green Grass adorned his bare earth pony noggin among his unicorn peers. And not the tutor’s rather shapeless (or as he preferred to think of it, shape-able) head covering. A shining bowler of near adamantine hardness crowned the servant’s rigid mane with all the solidity of an armored helmet and much the same inevitable placement, seeming as if Friday were turned upside-down and shaken, not even a loose bit would fall out. The only concession he had made for his bowler hat was a fairly substantial notch in the brim to accommodate his horn.

Green Grass, being an earth pony, needed no such alteration, to the eternal regret of his unicorn parents.

“Shall I summon a taxi, sir? Or shall we be walking to the castle?”

“I believe we can walk, Friday,” said Green Grass with a genuine smile that only faltered momentarily as the word ‘castle’ sunk in. “Is there something wrong at home?”

“Oh, no sir. Your oldest brother Regal’s wedding planning is coming to a head, and several of your aunts are visiting to assist. The Princesses made the offer of a castle suite a few hours ago, and I thought it only wise to accept on your behalf.”

“Oh.” Green Grass’ relief at not staying at his home was counterbalanced by trepidation at actually staying inside the Canterlot castle, with its two powerful alicorn princesses who seemed to think of him as a convenient playing piece in their favorite game of pranks. Well, three princesses, although he had only seen Princess Cadence once, at her wedding. Technically twice, but since one of those sightings and introductions turned out to be with a vicious, love-eating bug, he preferred to simply pretend it had never happened, along with the green goop, the changelings dropping out of the sky, and an hour or two of frantic running and hiding inside the castle with four young unicorn students whom he had promised to escort. To his chagrin, his young students had been more effective at fighting changelings than their adult teacher.

Still, the fate of Equestria couldn’t be at risk every time he managed to get a day or two alone with his marefriend, and perhaps this week would be different.

Friday continued to stride alongside Green Grass as they walked briskly through the city, his suitcase bobbing along in their wake. “Princess Celestia has assigned you the North Star suite for the next two days, along with an extremely limited staff. Most of the staff are dealing with the rather abrupt appearance of a new city south of the Crystal Mountains, and the subsequent arrival of the Griffon ambassadorial party. They seem upset that the Crystal Empire has returned within their claimed lands, and both Princess Cadence and Prince-Consort Shining Armor have been dispatched to deal with the situation at the source.”

“Oh?” The concept of being able to spend time with his marefriend without the constant observation of her brother began to spread a warm light in his soul, only to be extinguished as Friday continued to speak.

“Of course, the Elements of Harmony have been sent to assist, as there is an additional complication.”

“Oh.” His teaching experience suppressed a second word starting with ‘F.’

After a few more steps, Green Grass could no longer contain his curiosity. “Would this additional complication be some hideous evil beast with tentacles and slime?”

“I don’t believe the danger Her Highness was concerned about was tentacular in nature, sir. In any event, I have been assured the situation is well under control, and the return of the young mares shall only be the matter of a few days, hopefully before your scheduled departure the day after next. Certainly you will be able to find something productive to do around the castle for that short amount of time, sir. Yes?”

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