• Published 11th Jul 2013
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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. 4 - Preenliness Is Next To Goddessness

The Traveling Tutor and the Diplomat’s Daughter
Preenliness Is Next To Goddessness

Very nice beach you have here, but where is the country?
— Lawrence of Saddle Arabia

There was a certain familiarity to indignity that Green Grass had grown accustomed to over the last year. If true love were measured by how many red-hot coals one had walked across, or how many mountains they had climbed for their beloved, Green Grass and Twilight Sparkle both would have ranked lukewarm to somewhat tepid on the scale, having never really seen the logic in going out of their way to confront such obstacles when it was hard enough just to see each other for more than a day without some disaster popping up. However, if true love were measured in blushing and embarrassment, they most certainly would have both been ranked near the very top of the scale if not beyond the very top with Twilight turning in extra credit points for that tiny boost above 100%.

Green Grass was considering preening as his extra credit points.

The bay windows to the dining nook had been swung open, allowing the dinner guests and host to catch the evening spring breeze and to bask in the beauty of Canterlot spread out below while Luna’s countless⁽*⁾ stars spread out above.
(*) Luna knew how many there were. But she was not telling.

Witnesses to Green Grass’ extra credit activity were few. There was Sunny, of course, who was watching the instruction with rapt attention, paying such special care to just exactly what the tutor was doing that he wished somehow that her intense attention to a lesson could be transfused into several of his young unicorn students. Then again, she was a raptor, and the ability to stare intently and concentrate was written into her very being. Friday Haystings had taken a quiet pose on the other side of the table, playing the part of the Respectful Observer, and to Green Grass’ mixed relief and disappointment, not laughing. The unicorn waiter clearing the table of the dessert dishes was intentionally oblivious to the ongoing instruction, and his only contribution was to drape a towel over the tutor’s shoulder, which actually helped when a fleck of feather would get stuck on or up his nose.

On the other hoof, Princess Celestia was having entirely too much fun with her ‘teaching.’

“Do you see there, Sunny? Those two secondary feathers stuck together with their barbs intertwined? That shows your preener doesn’t have enough oil on his lips.”

A small tube of cosmetics wrapped in Friday Haysting’s topaz aura floated over to Green Grass, who picked it out of the air, and read the label out loud.

“Preen Balm - For the ground-bound pony when grooming that special somepony with wings. Moisturizes and lubricates even the driest lips. Not for internal use. Use only as directed. Practice safe preening. Not a contracept—”

A short coughing spree later, and after careful application of the balm to the appropriate preening instrument, i.e. his lips, Green Grass returned to his appointed task, delicately separating the feathers in question on the left wing of Her Royal Highness, Diarch of Equestria, Princess of the Sun while trying to figure out just exactly how he was going to tell Twilight Sparkle about his activities this evening. No particular strategy sprung easily to mind other than brutal honesty and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

“There we go, see how he separated them first, then straightened them. You have a couple just like it on your wing. Why don’t we work on those for a little while.”

While Celestia supervised the young griffon fledgeling’s preen, Green Grass sat patiently by their sides, trying not to think. He tried not to think of just where Friday Haystings had found a tube of Preen Balm, or just why he had brought one along tonight anyway. He tried not to think of just exactly what activity pegasi considered preening a preliminary for, and just exactly how much pegasus was in an alicorn princess⁽¹⁾.
(1) About a third, as expected. But it was the frisky third.

It could have been worse. Without Preen Balm, a preener would have needed to use— his mind skittered away from the thought. After all, pegasi preening glands were located near their tail, and putting his lips near Her Royal Highness’ tail— his mind skittered away from that thought again, and settled on a much more welcome topic very much free of feathers: Twilight Sparkle.

Whatever danger she and her friends had faced from the mysterious Crystal Empire that appeared out of nowhere in the frozen north had been resolved to Princess Celestia’s satisfaction, which was good. The six of them, plus Spike, had been to every known corner of Equestria in order to battle ancient evils or solve intricate puzzles. Now that they had explored the known world, it only made sense that the unknown sections of the world would start popping up for them. At this rate, they were going to run out of both, and start going to other worlds, and that worried him somewhat.

After all, what would they do when they ran out of those?

It dug at his heart to think that even though he had only known Twilight Sparkle for barely a year⁽²⁾, at any moment she could be called away, or lost forever.
(2) Yes, Pinkie Pie threw them a one-year anniversary party, and he remembered to buy a gift for Twilight. A book, of course.

Ordinary ponies experienced this sense of impending loss only in a small scale, while Princess Celestia had been living the experience for longer than he could comprehend. But still, Celestia was able to extend her love and care to young, talented, up-and-coming individuals like Twilight Sparkle and Sunny, year after year, century after century, with smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement.

When somepony dies or goes away for a long while, it is important to cherish their time spent here more than you grieve their departure, and critical that you live in the now instead of obsessing about the future or agonizing over past events. The absolute most important thing of all is to treasure the moment, for it will never come around again.

Celestia’s words were as true as when Twilight had first passed them on to him. Although he had tried to live up to them, it had been quite difficult. Still, he had tried, and been at least marginally effective in his attempt, and that was progress.

“Yes, he has quite talented lips, according to my faithful student’s reports. Greenie, you’re about out of feathers on that wing. Would you like to work on the other one?”

Green Grass looked up from the feathers in his teeth at the very wingtip of Princess Celestia’s left wing, taking a moment to return to the real world before daring to meet the princess’ amused gaze. “Um. Actually, Your Highness, I seem to be nearly out of Preen Balm.”

He showed the tube to Celestia, and after Friday indicated his lack of any more surprise supplies, he tucked it into his suit pocket and tried to compose his face. Princess Celestia sighed with a gentle shake of her head, managing to somehow indicate a greater comfort with her left wing when she tucked them up against her flanks. Fortunately for Green Grass’ frayed nerves, she displayed no indication she desired him to use a more original and somewhat Royal source of preening oil to finish the task on her right wing.

“I have a little something extra planned for my guests tonight,” announced the Princess, settling back into her cushions with her enigmatic smile larger than usual. “In the spirit of the educational experiences you three have experienced tonight, I have prepared a nighttime chariot flight around the castle with some of my most trusted guards. But first, I wanted to see what all of you had learned this day. Sunny?”

“Um.” The griffon fledgeling glanced out the dark window and all around the room before muttering, “Nothing, really. Oh! Other than the preening.”

“Nothing at all?” Celestia’s warm gaze never cooled a degree as she levitated out a sign from under the table.

All attendees must wear a hat.

“Oh, that!” The little griflet grinned. “All those overdressed ponies who go into court can be told to do the dumbest things, and they will.”

“How about this one?” Celestia levitated out another sign.

Dry paint

“Ponies are dumb, and have to check what you tell them, even if it’s right.”

Please wipe hooves before entering

Caution: Magical friction zone. Lift hooves when walking to avoid electrical shock

“Ponies do whatever they’re told.”

Stallions bathroom closed, use bathroom on next floor up

“Ooh, that was neat! We put one of those on each floor of the tower except the top one. There was a line down the staircase almost a floor long.”

Entry forms for the Shiniest Armor in the Castle Award must be submitted to Captain Shining Armor’s office by 5 P.M. this evening.

Sunny squinched up her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t understand that one. But your guards looked really, really shiny today.”

All cafeteria spoons must be returned to the kitchen this evening.
No exceptions.

“I don’t remember that one.”

Celestia flipped the sign over and read it with a chuckle, tossing it on top of the pile she had been collecting. “Whoops, that’s an old one. Greenie, since you have been in Ponyville several times over the last few years. Did Mister and Missus Cake ever tell you how they met?”

Green Grass blinked several times before he could pull his attention away from the stack of signs, trying to think just exactly how many the three of them had placed in the castle over the day and which ones were missing from the display. “Not in so many words, Your Highness. I understand they both used to work in the Canterlot castle kitchens⁽³⁾ before their move.”
(3) To be told in the upcoming story, “The Cakes and the Spoon.”

“Quite correct.” Celestia nodded encouragement.

“And I presume since that sign reminded you of them, that one of them posted it?”

“Also correct. And?” After a very long pause, Princess Celestia sighed. “How many spoons do you think the kitchens lose every year to various employees looking for a spoon to stir their tea or eat their lunch?”

“Quite a few, I would suppose. I have a few from school in my wagon. Oh. I see.”

Second Assistant to the Deputy Director for Mid-Equestrian Agricultural Production Stuffy Wickers pawed through his desk, down past layers of nearly-fossilized paperwork to extract yet another teaspoon from the massive oak monstrosity he had inherited from some other bureaucrat twenty years ago, and from his predecessor forty-five years back, and so on, and so forth. A dozen silver utensils occupied the cafeteria tray that he intended on taking back to the kitchens when he was done retrieving spoons, but so far he had only dug down as far as the century ring on the desk’s paperwork gauge, with several rings left to go. All around him, in countless cubicles throughout the castle, fellow civil servants just like him in similar archeological expeditions dug out their own long-forgotten spoons from centuries worth of accumulated bureaucratic strata, while underlings made emergency trips home to retrieve family silverware drawers silently boosted by work-derived additions. And throughout the entirety of Equestria, letters were exchanged, directives were acted upon, and uncounted tons of long-forgotten flatware began the journey back to their birthplace, where an unsuspecting earth pony had triggered it all by posting a single sign on the lunchroom bulletin board.

Princess Celestia smiled and looked down at the curious fledgeling. “Thousands of spoons are lost from the castle every year. Multiply that by how many centuries the castle has been here, bring them all back and store them in one dining room with weak floorboards, and...”

“Ah.” Green Grass nodded. “The rebuilding of the Quinary Dining Room. I understood it was remodeled because of the weak floors.”

“As well as seven floors beneath it. It was easier to turn the final resting place of the spoons into a kitchen silverware warehouse than to move them after the avalanche. So…” The Princess of the Sun gazed deeply into his eyes and gave a slow nod. “What lessons do you think Sunny learned under your tutelage, since I seemed to be such a loss as a teacher today.”

Green Grass forced his eyes away from Celestia, settling for focusing on his little student, who returned his look with the somewhat baffled stare of the young. “I believe the princess has learned much more from you than she admits. For example. Sunny, did you think we were going to get away with planting signs all over the castle?”

“Yes, of course.” She blinked as realization set in. “Didn’t you?”

“Well, no. But I didn’t think it would go this far up. So I learned a lesson too. No matter how smart you think you are, there’s always somepony smarter.”

...named Celestia, or Luna, or Cadence, or Twilight...

“And I notice how you reacted when the ponies obeyed the signs, no matter how silly. That shows that even though we are the same in so many ways, like preening, and ice cream, and pranks, griffons and ponies are quite different in other ways. Ponies obey rules because they trust those who make the rules, and they have a say in how those rules are set up.”

Green Grass slowed to a halt and tried not to look at Celestia, before continuing at a much slower pace. “That is why what I did with the signs was wrong, even if it was funny. And educational. Ponies trust each other, and putting up false signs eats away at the basis of that trust, and the whole basis of our laws.”

Sunny looked puzzled. “Signs aren’t laws.”

“If Princess Celestia makes a law that most of the ponies think is wrong, they talk to their representatives, who bring their complaints to her. The Princess is very smart, and knows that if she makes many tiny laws and rules, or even just signs, that nopony likes and everypony ignores, they will lose trust in her and start to ignore all of her rules.”

Sunny snorted with a wave of one wing. “That’s stupid. Grandpa makes rules nogriffon likes, and if they don’t obey him, he whomps ‘em.”

Green Grass nodded, his lips compressing to a thin line. “Yes, and they leave the aerie afterwards, right?”

“If they can.” Sunny fidgeted and looked out the window at the starlit Canterlot cityscape. “Sometimes he whomps ‘em pretty hard.”

“The Misty Mountains Aerie had well over a thousand adult griffons back two hundred years ago when the last battle was fought between Equestria and that part of the Griffon Empire. Now there are only about a hundred. By the time you become queen, you may only have a few dozen subjects.”

“Yeah. I suppose.” The little griffon suddenly perked up. “But my new crystal city will have hundreds of earth ponies in it. When I’m Queen, griffons will flock to my glorious Queendom, and the aerie will grow back to its proper size again.”

“That will be a subject for another day,” said Princess Celestia, rising from her chair. “For now, let me show you something my sister loaned to me. Behold.”

A light breeze stirred the curtains around the bay window that looked out into the city, and a dark Royal Guard chariot pulled by two of the largest Nocturne guards Green Grass had ever seen drifted down to rest on the balcony. He could not help but notice the sheer glossy shine on their armor that reflected the stars above with mirror-like perfection, as well as the near-violet glow about the ornate chariot that must have signified dozens of hoof-rubbed coats of wax. Even their bat-like wings gleamed with oils in the moonlight as brightly as their oval golden eyes, although Green Grass could swear there was just a tiny bit of subdued animosity in their gaze for him, and a sudden urge to dig into his own pocketbook for a real ‘Shiniest Armor’ trophy crept up his spine. In order to match the sign and reduce interservice rivalries, perhaps two trophies, Day and Night would be best.

“Lord Green Grass, I thought due to your flight vertigo issues, it would be best if we take after-dinner tea out on the balcony while my other guests enjoy a nighttime flight around the castle. But first, I have one last sign that needs attention.” Princess Celestia gestured to the wall next to the kitchenette, and although Green Grass was quite certain there was no sign there before, there certainly was one there now.

All guests must wash their own dishes

The kitchenette was quite empty of servants, but a respectful number of dirty dishes were carefully arranged in the sink, awaiting their proper attention and eventual return to their respective china and silverware hutch.

“I call wash!” shouted Sunny, flapping her wings in excitement as she pulled a small stool over to the sink. “I love the bubbles!”

Friday Haystings moved up to help, adding, “I have a most effective drying spell that should be quite efficacious upon porcelain, sir.”

“I guess I’m rinsing then,” said Green Grass shrugging into an apron and giving silent thanks that this was going to be the least embarrassing part of the evening’s entertainment.

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