• Published 8th Sep 2013
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At what price? - Cozy Mark IV

Only Star Swirl the Bearded knows how to save her friends from the reaper, but he has a dark secret of his own. Twilight knows something he doesn't, but could it be enough? And why did Princess Celestia just send a new Guard Captain to Ponyville

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Disclaimer: This is a non-profit fan-made work of prose. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the property of Hasbro. Please support the official release.

By Cozy Mark IV and Jan McNeville

Star Swirl seemed to take note of her expression for the first time.

“Oh, come now, I know it may be something of a surprise, but it's hardly my fault if the historians couldn't reconcile wisdom and a healthy sex drive into the same pony.”

He put a hoof under his chin. “Now where was I? Oh yes, the bells. Celestia's bell policy also had the effect that stallions who subsequently married the girlfriends or mistresses they had been ‘caught with’ treated a single large bell as a kind of male engagement ring, which they wore as a symbol of their lady’s favor even before the wedding for the rest of their lovers’ lives and buried with them or stored sentimentally away when said mares passed on. Interestingly, there were also occasionally mares who took to wearing a lecher’s bell as a sign of their commitment to the same-sex lover they were not officially permitted to marry (a sentimental Sapphic engagement custom which, I'm told, persists in some circles even though Celestia legalized same-gender marriage ages ago,) and also some married mares and stallions took to wearing a bell in honor of the third member of a committed ménage a trois, foursome, or, in one case I can recall from my travels across Andalusia and Prance, a polyamorous pentad that ran a grape arbor and winery.”

“A pentad?!”

He hurmffed in response. “Well, yes. Honestly, you shouldn't sound so shocked Twilight, you're sounding more like the vapidly blushing virgin than the intellectual giant I know you to be.”

Twilight found herself blushing fiercely. “What... what's wrong with that?”

He scoffed. “What's wrong with that? Nothing at all in a school-age foal, but neither of us could claim that innocence at this age. I simply have no interest in virgins.”

If this kept up much longer, Twilight was seriously considering tying a scarf around her jaw to keep it from hanging open.

What?! But all those bells?!”

“Belonged to willing and able mares, and the occasional stallion, who were already experienced, knowledgeable, and who knew what they were getting into.” he finished. “Honestly, why would I want to bed a virgin? They have no idea what they're doing, and half the time they don't even have the intelligence to masturbate, so they can't even tell you what they like! I don't have any interest in virgins for the same reason that a champion hoof ball team doesn't have any interest in playing against a foal's grade-school team. There is a lot I can teach about both magic and sex, but you had better understand the basics before you come asking for advice.”

He sighed and took a seat on a box in the corner, idly tapping the lone bell on the end of his robe. “In all my years, there was only ever one...inexperienced mare...” He chuckled quietly. “And even then it took quite a bit of... persistence... on her part before I capitulated. And she was different, of course, you really couldn't consider it really the same thing...”

The wheels were spinning rapidly in Twilight's mind as she blurted out: “Princess Luna?!”

Star Swirl continued sadly. “I see you know your ancient history. I was already many decades her senior, but she was...I suppose you could call her ...my friend, maybe. Her sister forbade me to share anything with her save knowledge -chaste knowledge, I believe she technically meant. The Princess is older than her little sister, and wasn't always...well...she has always been the diarch Equestria deserves, and at the time, the stallions and mares who lived here didn't deserve much better than a prudish, blushing old maid with no patience for anything more scandalous than a dropped handkerchief or a tilted fan. Celestia warned me that I wasn't to corrupt Luna, and I never meant to do anything of the kind. But that beautiful blue alicorn, I watched her grow and learn and what I refused to teach her, well, she learned it anyhow! I suppose she was convinced she could... reform me.” he sighed.

“It wasn't that I didn't find her attractive, of course, she was objectively beautiful. But while I take some pride in enjoying the mind of a mare more than any other part, I had grown to think of her only as a mind, a pure and innocent filly's heart with the mind of a stallion. She learned and kept up with the very latest in transfiguration, divination, healing magic, even those ridiculous courtly manners and the goings-on of the Equestrian economy. Did you know that decimal currency, the bit, decabit and centibit, that was Luna's braincolt? Or that the separate and wildly discrete elements that make up the amniomorphic spell, it was she who inspired me to combine together for further study?

“It wasn't merely genius; I've seen genius, and this was more. Luna had a way of inspiring ponies, from the little Earth pony colt who brought the tea and developed a primitive steam engine to the crazy old stallion with a begging bowl she liked to give her newly minted bits to and then watch him to see what he purchased (micro-economic studies in the field, of course,) why, she explained to him once over some extraordinarily cheap and headache-inducing mead what the horizon looked like to her as she raised the moon, and wouldn't you know that daft bugger Archimedes, he spent the rest of his life drawing circles and arguing with Coponycus about the universe. She convinced that old fraud Commander Hurricane to develop proper body armor for her troops with helmets that actually stopped something and reduced battlefield casualties during the Griffon Wars by sixty percent. The Declaration of the Rights of Ponies, that was Luna inspiring a whole committee of Earth ponies, Pegasi and Unicorns in a coffee shop, of all places, and reworking the calendar so that the Sun and Moon rise differently in winter and fall and ponies have as much time as they need to harvest and plant their crops? That was Luna inspiring a mad pony with a kite who amused her by printing pamphlets of frankly stupid sayings and devising better reading glasses.”

“I...I never knew that Princess Luna was so involved in Equestrian history.”

“Well, you'd never know it, to look at her. You'd think she was the shyest little thing, never said a word unless it was to agree soundly with her sister in that terrible Royal Canterlot Voice they used, never controlled a thing in her life besides the moon and those constellations she loved so much...and terrible stage fright, of course. She was always so nervous before speaking, and that foal Celestia told her to just project her voice and nobody would notice the stammer...” Star Swirl sighed again. “In time, she lost the stammer, but she also had grave difficulty speaking any softer to more than one pony at a time. The volume became a crutch, a compensation for an unprepared young mare with more responsibility than respect and whose contributions nopony ever appreciated.

“Nopony...save me,” the old stallion gathered the last, shining bell into the folds of his cloak and absent-mindedly polished it. “I knew, of course, that ponies' dreams had the potential to unlock portions of their minds, abilities of which their conscious selves could not even conceive. I never took the idea so far as a certain Austrian pony I might mention, nor did I try to fit the narrative of psychology to whatever old mythology I liked best. But I did study ponies' dreams, and more than once, especially once she'd helped me to understand...to really see...I saw what Luna was doing with her inspirations and I...” Star Swirl's hoof paused and he looked down at the little bell. “I suppose I was the first pony to notice it, really, and to thank her.

“She asked if I really meant it, several times, as if she couldn't believe the attention, I confirmed that she was brilliant and a pleasure to work with, a perfect marvel of a mare -and then she kissed me, just said 'oh, Star Swirl,' leaned in and...” The smile crept back into his voice. “Celestia had forbidden it, and for three whole months, I managed to resist her, avoiding meetings in person and communicating solely by hornwritten letters. I played the gallant, insisted she couldn't possibly love an ancient old nag like me. She tested and demonstrated a healing spell that worked down to the cellular level and...removed that objection, however temporarily.

“I played the tactician, explained that if she were to make alliance with anyone, it should be a political match for the good of Equestria...at which point she became frothingly angry, flew to Griffonia and brokered a thus-far-unbroken peace treaty out of what I suspect was sheer pique, then informed me in the crudest possible language where I could shove my idea of diplomacy.

“I played the lecher, insisted a sweet young thing couldn't possibly want a village-bicycle of a stallion when there were princes a-plenty who could offer honorable marriage and far less jingling...to which she described exactly what she hoped I had learned well enough to teach...and she was very well-read, that I had to acknowledge.

“But even as she was waxing smug over her victory-by-bibliography, I expect you could call that...that manifesto, which I hope to any gods exist is still in some library for the edification of true scholars, I realized that I really and truly did want her, not just for the sort of arrangement which my previous paramours had enjoyed, intellectual company with physical affections, but horribly, selfishly, beautifully and completely. I wanted to be the last stallion she dallied with, the father of little dark-blue alicorn fillies and colts who flew around their Mama and batted at the bells on their Papa's cloak. I wanted to love nobody else save her, ever again, and to love her for the rest of my life...but of course, that would leave her lonely for all the rest of hers, and I knew even then that I could not give her anything like the love she deserved.

“So I stopped playing. I teleported to her chamber in the palace and instead of gallant or tactician, I was the heartless, hopeless bastard you see before you -which I really am, incidentally. I told her I had no use for inexperienced virgin mares who couldn't hope to hold my interest, that she was fine company for the library but wholly inadequate for the bedroom and...and...”

“You broke her heart.”

“I did.”

“On purpose!”

“...I tried to. And that's when I found out how she was different, my princess of dreams. The same dedication to knowledge that had helped her to learn so much about every subject, every area of study her nation and her ponies ever asked of her, the same sweet, gentle and imperceptible inspiration which she used to guide ponies through their dreams to find what would solve the problem, make them happy or make the pain go away...she had managed to learn everything a pony, mare or stallion, could ever wish to learn, despite never once attempting it physically. She overwhelmed my objections, gave me a word to whisper or gasp if I could withstand it no longer, and then proceeded to literally make my wildest dreams come true...all of them, even those I had never so much as spoken aloud.

“Physically, it was most decidedly her first time. Mentally, given what she had learned in my and I certainly hope many other ponies' dreams...it was anything but. I have heard stallions of every race, from griffons to rats to reindeer and elk talk about the female ideal. And not a one has any idea what he's talking about.”

For some reason, Twilight felt the need for a nice glass of ice water. She poured one for herself and filled Star Swirl's broad drinking saucer in case he felt dehydrated. All that talking. And on such an unseasonably warm day, too.

Good heavens, this made that especially spicy novel Rarity had recommended look like the Foal Free Press.

“We were discovered, of course, and the lecherous old Star Swirl was quietly banished from Equestria with one last, mocking bell to complete a career that would have lived in infamy had Celestia not hushed it up. There was a vicious quarrel, Celestia accused her sister of having been corrupted by bad company, Luna accused Celestia of never paying any attention and how old did she think she was...back and forth they went, with Celestia insisting she should never have had anything to do with ponies' dreams at night, Luna asked exactly what in Tartarus was she supposed to do when ponies slept through her night...and either the other ponies in the castle only caught the end of the argument before the crisis came or it was also carefully hushed up and bowdlerized into something you might tell a six-year-old, but long story short, my princess became Nightmare Moon.

“Not just for a moment as part of a lovers' game, but truly and for real. I was frightened for her. I used the word she had given me and this time she didn't stop. It was as if she never heard me, and as I screamed for her to please...don't...but before she ever answered, her sister rose up with the Elements and I never saw my princess of dreams again. I hoped at first that she would return, and I tried everything I could to be alive when she did return...but years dragged into decades, spells had their expected but terrible effects, and for the past few hundred years, I have merely lived on and wondered why. I have no hopes, no ambitions, and even when Celestia apologized and lifted the banishment after five hundred years, I saw no need to return. News reached me often enough and the world is a wide place for a lonely stallion with only the cold, faraway moon and a bell to remind him of what he had, once below the stars.

“And so you know, Twilight Sparkle, why I had such optimism from the reports of you. Getting to know you better, I can see that you are no Luna...but perhaps we only ever get that sort of love once no matter how long the lifetime is. We could be happy, I think, but I'm not satyr enough to give you any illusion that you're the love of my life. I may well not be yours, in fact, I'd tend to doubt it, and if you'd like more outside experience before, after and during a liaison with me, I wouldn't blame you for a moment.

“I can't offer you anything but what I am, and that really isn't much to offer by any means. I won't do like stallions did in my day and swear by the Elements to be loyal, kind, honest, generous or to make you laugh, but I think you'll find that I get a few out of the set most of the time, we do have rather a lot to talk about, after all. And if nothing else, I'm sure you don't often meet a stallion who's self-aware enough to know what he can and can't offer you.”

“...Can't say I have,” Twilight managed to gasp after a long pause, in which she realized Star Swirl was expecting her to reply.