• Published 27th Feb 2012
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The Age of Wings and Steel - DSNesmith



When Equestria is threatened by politics and war, a crippled pony must rise to its defense.

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8. Ultimatum

Celestia’s inexhaustible patience had finally been exhausted. The council, despite being given a day to work itself out, was still unable to come to any sort of agreement regarding the griffons. Tensions had been rising rapidly, as Celerity and Blueblood’s positions had finally become ingrained in stone. The only question now was who more provinces would side with.

For the thousandth time, she considered simply overriding Blueblood’s complaints and devoting all her backing to Celerity. But every time the thought crossed her mind, she mentally stepped back and forced herself to look at the larger picture. She had to keep Emmet happy, as much as it pained her to see Celerity’s disappointed frowns. It was her duty as Princess of Equestria to keep the nation unified against the threat of Gryphan aggression.

The councilors had begun raising their voices. The council session was rapidly degenerating into a shouting match.

“Helmfast, you idiot, we can’t do nothing and hope the griffons just go away.”

“I see no reason to antagonize them with an army, Lord Weatherforge.”

“I can think of thirty thousand reasons.”

Celestia massaged her aching temples with a hoof. “Councilors, do I need to call in more guards?”

Today, the throne was guarded on both sides by a pair of Firewings. She had hoped—clearly mistakenly—that the presence of the golden-armored pegasi would prove a calming, or at least restraining influence on the councilors. To her left stood Lieutenant Bergeron, quiet and sturdy-looking as always. On her right, Captain Windstreak was looking as bored as she felt.

Celestia felt a pang of guilt. She had still not told the Captain what her son was doing, and she was sure that Windstreak was worried sick beneath her calm and confidant façade. Celestia decided that she would tell the poor mare immediately after this meeting, regardless of the outcome.

“Nothing you say will change my mind, Duchess.” Emmet scowled.

Celerity put a hoof on the table and pointed dramatically. “Either we join our forces to fight the griffons, or we may as well put on shackles and give ourselves up to them right now. Make no mistake, those are our choices.”

“I still say we try for peace,” said Lord Greenway. “Griffons are not dumb brutes; they can be reasoned with. We should choose an ambassador.”

“Why don’t we send you?” asked the Count of Westermin venomously. “At least then we’d be rid of your simpering.”

The councilponies burst, screaming and hurling insults. Celestia resisted the urge to bury her head in her hooves. Why did they have to make this so difficult? She just wanted to help them help themselves. But Emmet and his supporters were blocking every effort of Celerity and the Princess to make them see reason.

He was not a bad pony at heart, she knew. Emmet might be prideful, brash, and overly concerned with money, but he truly did have Norhart’s best interests in mind. His greatest goal was to bring his Duchy back into another golden age like the one it had enjoyed under his grandfather’s governance. She almost pitied him for having to assume the burden of a ruined economy that his father had left him.

But his stubbornness was beginning to become a liability. In another twenty years he would be dead or retired, and his son would take his place on the council, but until then she would have to deal with him and his lack of pliability.

“I’ve had enough of this, Emmet!” Celerity was screaming to be heard over the din. “You would rather see the south burn than lift a hoof to help the nation you claim to serve.”

“And you would see yourself on the throne, Belle!”

Celestia stood and flared her wings. Her horn blazed with magical light. “That. Is. Enough.”

The councilponies shrank into their cushions. She glared around at them all. “You are Equestria’s nobility. We expect you to act as such.”

The Duchess winced. She’d caught that royal we, and Celerity of all the councilponies would realize how close that meant the Princess was to losing her temper.

Celestia raised her head and gave another disapproving look around at all of them. “This constant fighting must end if we are to survive the coming storm. I will give you all one day. I can delay no longer. We will hold a vote: to gather together and prepare for war, or not. But know this: if we do not muster our forces, the griffons will sweep north and break us like twigs.” She stared at Blueblood. “Think long and hard before you vote. You have until noon tomorrow.

“This council is dismissed. Get out.”

The councilponies practically fled the chamber, cowed by the Princess’s rage. As the last of their tails disappeared from the door frame, Celestia sank into her throne as if deflating. Instantly, Bergeron was at her side with a cup of tea. She accepted it gratefully.

“Thank you.” She drank slowly.

“Milady…” Bergeron looked worried. “What are you going to do if Emmet and his followers vote against marshaling the armies?”

“I don’t know,” she said blankly. She couldn’t think of anything else to say. She took another sip of tea instead.

Captain Windstreak took her place next to Bergeron. “Is there anything we can do? All of the Firewings are ready to help however we can, Your Majesty.”

“As you always are.” Celestia smiled. “I have a plan in motion already to bring aid to fight the griffons, but it will likely be at least a few weeks before it comes to fruition.” She drank deeply.

“And that plan is?”

“I have sent messengers to the thanes of Sleipnord. They carry copies of the ancient treaties compelling the Nordponies to help us.”

Windstreak gave a low whistle. “A couple thousand Nordpony warriors could do a great deal against the griffons. But your messenger had better have a silver tongue. Who’d you send?”

Celestia looked glumly at her empty teacup. It had drained far too soon. “I sent two ponies. One of them is Inger.”

Windstreak jolted in surprise, then nodded. “Logical choice. He’s a good pony. Who else?”

“Bergeron, could you get me another cup of tea?”

“Right away, milady.” The Firewing took the teacup and left the room. Celestia sighed.

“Who… who did you send, Your Majesty?”

This was going to be difficult. “Perhaps you’d better sit down.”

* * *

“The Princess has set down an ultimatum. I’m not sure it will be enough.” Celerity’s horn glowed as she paced about her quarters. Her tiara flew from her head and bounced off the wall.

Weatherly caught the headpiece gingerly, laying it neatly on the dresser. “Milady, the Princess will make the right decision in the end.”

“You have more faith than I, Weatherly. Blueblood’s influence is strong. If even one councilor votes against war—just one!—then Celestia will not help us.”

“Whose votes are you certain of?”

“Westermin, Weatherforge, Breton, and Rivermeet will all vote with me. But Blueblood and his lot will certainly reject the motion. There’s no chance of this vote passing, Weatherly.”

“So…” Her aide looked lost. “What will we do against the griffons?”

She heaved a sigh filled with regret. “We’ll do whatever is necessary to protect the citizens of Whitetail against Grypha, Princess or no.”

She looked up at the Belle sigil, her eyes as hard as the diamonds on the tapestry. “My bloodline can be traced back to Lady Platinum herself. My family has held this land for over sixty generations. I will not be remembered as the Belle who let Whitetail fall to those mongrels from the south.”

Celerity bowed her head, closing her eyes. “I just pray that the price is not too high.” She looked up. “Weatherly, prepare a message.”

She waited patiently as he dug around in her desk for a quill and ink. He laid out a sheaf of parchment on the writing table, holding the quill ready. He nodded to her to begin. She cleared her throat.

“To Baron Burnside Aubren, General of the army of Whitetail, Lord of Copperton, etcetera, etctera; fill in the titles.” She waited for the scratching of the quill to cease before continuing. “You are hereby ordered to put your troops at full readiness. You are to send twenty five hundred fighting ponies with as many mages as you can spare to march south. I want them at the bridge of Trellow by Tuesday next week. From there, I will personally assume command of the army and lead them on to Sel-Paloth. We’ll reinforce the garrison while we wait for Weatherforge and Westermin’s troops to arrive.”

Weatherly paused and looked up. He dropped the quill onto the table to free his mouth. “Weatherforge and Westermin? I thought you said the vote wasn’t going to pass.”

“Write the letter, Weatherly.” The scratching of the quill resumed. “You yourself, Baron, will be leading fifteen hundred ponies in the other direction. I want you on the border of Easthill by Monday.”

Her aide gave her a confused look. “Why Easthill?”

“I want those iron mines. This war is going to strain our already fragile economy to its breaking point. We won’t be able to afford to buy steel from Easthill. And since he refuses to join us against the Princess’s will…”

Weatherly looked horrified. “But… milady,” he choked, “That… that would be treason.”

“Is it treason, to ensure my people’s safety?” Celerity’s voice was icy and distant. She stared intently at the diamond crest. “Write it down.” The quill scratched.

“Send another message to me once you have completed your assignment. Once Easthill is secure, we can discuss our next moves against the north.”

“Milady… the griffons are coming from the south.”

“Write it down.”

“Lady Belle—”

“Write it down.” The quill scratched.

“I look forward to your report. Sign it Celerity Augustine Belle, Duchess of Whitetail, Lady of the Whitetail Forest, and all the rest of the titles. Then send it out immediately. Don’t use a royal courier; give it to one of ours.”

“My lady…” Weatherly sounded desperate. “Please. Is there no other way?”

“Unless Blueblood has a change of heart… no.”

“But think about what you’re doing. Think of what this will do to the Princess.”

“It’s going to break her heart,” said Celerity sadly. “But the alternative is watching the ponies under my care be slaughtered by the griffons. And that is no alternative at all.”

As Weatherly sealed the message and carried it out of the room, she placed a hoof up on the sigil tapestry. Celerity looked up at it, feeling the weight of countless generations of Belles all looking down at her. “I’m sorry, Celestia.” She looked into the fire below. “But I do what I must.”

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