• Published 7th Oct 2013
  • 32,497 Views, 226 Comments

Diplomacy by Other Means - Georg

Princess Luna sends a diplomatic mission to the griffons in the hopes of preventing a deadly war. When disaster strikes, can their weakest member keep them alive?

  • ...

Ch 1 - Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords

Diplomacy by Other Means
Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords

“Ponies shrink less from offending one who inspires love than one who inspires fear.”
— N. Marechiavelli, The Princess

“You should have burned their aerie to the ground two centuries ago and killed every one of them when you had a chance, Tia.” Princess Luna waved a wrinkled piece of parchment at Princess Celestia once before slamming it to the dinner table in disgust. “This… demand of theirs is insulting, degrading, and not even worthy of being used in a privy. We shall never give up one of our beloved ponies to be held as hostage in their flea-infested nest, particularly one of the Elements of Harmony!”

“Calm, my sister.” Celestia nonchalantly continued to spread marmalade on a slice of toast while Luna fumed. “I share your concerns, and I would never give up any of our ponies to the griffons in this fashion. Their stated belief that the Elements are a tool of war and should be separated in order to prevent them from being used against our neighbors is completely false, and you know it. Their demand is merely a bargaining chip their aerie is throwing out to goad us into a rash action. Should we raise one hoof against their isolated aerie now, the entire Griffon Empire would rally to their defense.”

Luna dropped onto a cushion and extracted a raspberry-filled frosted dessert from a pile of pastry, giving it a nasty bite while glowering. “Yes, and if we sit around on our plots and do nothing, the Misty Mountain griffons will launch an assault on the Crystal Empire in order to ‘restore their rightful rule’ over hundreds of earth ponies who have just been freed from their enslavement to that monster, Sombra. It will be a slaughter.”

“The Royal Guard is in place, my sister, as well as Cadence and Shining Armor. They will be protected.”

“Can they protect the dozens of small towns and villages in the vicinity, Celestia? Will their wings stretch flawlessly over all of our subjects, holding them safe from harm? The blood will flow both ways, my sister. Once the griffons have tasted pony flesh as they did centuries ago, they will not stop short of being slain themselves.” Luna stomped her hoof with no little restraint, making only small cracks in the marble tiles that covered the floor of their private dining room. “I should have slain Wingmaster Talon inside our very walls when I had the chance, and to Tartarus with the consequences.”

A faint reddish smear of raspberry filling flecked the edge of her lips, adding a certain macabre sense to the already tense dinner. Celestia attempted to ignore the material trappings of their surroundings, concentrating on the subject of her sister’s mental duress. “Luna, our options are limited in this matter. Even though the Wingmaster of the Misty Mountains aerie is most likely to blame for their aggressive action, he is old, and does this more out of fear than malice.”

“You did not sit across the negotiating table with the beast for the last two days,” spat Luna, waving the half-eaten pastry over her head regardless of the splatters of raspberry that resulted. “I have seen hatred within my own being that rivaled his shriveled heart, but he truly hates our kind to the limits of his mortal flesh. Our ponies thrive and grow in the valleys and plains around his mountain while his own flock withers away under his ‘guidance.’ He cannot believe his misfortune is the result of his own misguided actions, but is more than willing to pass the blame to us. The new Crystal Empire has drawn his greedy eyes and provided a focus for his hatred that he now uses to flog his remaining flock into their destruction.”

“True, as it may be,” said Celestia, her toast remaining untasted in her magic as it floated to her side. “However, we are limited in the response that we can provide. Moving the Royal Guard to the mountain villages and towns would be seen as an offensive move, while stretching the Crystal Empire defenses thin and providing the excuse the griffons want to call for reinforcements from the rest of the empire. It would escalate into war, Luna. Terrible, horrible war.”

“Thou wouldst have us wait, dear sister, until the Wingmaster descends upon our precious niece and her fledgeling empire? Must pony blood flow thick and deep beneath our hooves before returning his stroke?”

“I-I do not wish it, Luna.” Celestia placed her toast back upon the table and swirled the cold tea that remained in her cup, little fragments of tea leaves forming patterns against the Yixing pottery that had been crafted by an earth pony who had died and gone to dust centuries ago. “Violence will only bring worse violence. It will take…” She paused and tilted her teacup to the fading light of evening that illuminated their small dining room. “Diplomacy.”

“Diplomacy?” Luna fairly spat the word as if it left a nasty taste in her mouth. “The limits of our patience have been reached. They will never return to the negotiating table here.”

“Then a diplomat must be sent to them,” said Celestia firmly. “The wisest and most resourceful in our service.”

“No, Celly. The events of two centuries ago will replay again. Whoever you send will be killed, just as certain as the grass grows.” The sound of breathing from Luna became slower as her sister remained silent at the table, looking into her cup. Finally, the Princess of the Night could stand the tension no more, and sat down at the table with a sigh. “Although you entrusted this task to me, I should return it to your control. I have never been one for the gentle touch of diplomacy. I have mucked this up so badly, and the ponies who will be slain in the conflict shall be more dark spots upon my already blackened soul.”

“No, Luna. You have handled the situation as well or even better than I could have. Wingmaster Talon traveled to Canterlot for this diplomatic meeting as a gesture against myself, intending on waving his flank in front of my nose and showing his confidants how well he was able to bully me, much like his ancestor Silverbeak. Your presence disrupted his plans far better than I expected, and I shall not remove this burden from one who bears it so well, dear sister.”

A faint squeaking noise came from Luna’s cushion as she shifted position, the mangled pastry placed carefully onto the table while she thought. Several times she moved to speak, only to resume her concentration while Celestia looked on, her face locked in her most inscrutable position of false tranquility.

“The unicorn Primrose shall be my envoy,” said Luna abruptly. “Her mentor is far too old and fragile to endure a chariot trip to the Misty Mountains. With the danger she faces, I shall need the fastest pegasi from our guard if she is to flee in haste, preferably one from the Day and Night, to symbolize our joint rule. Three is all that can be risked. I shall not place more than that in mortal peril.”

Celestia nodded, the release of tension showing only as a faint ripple in her ethereal mane. “I shall have orders sent to the Commanders of the Royal Guard for Redoubtable and Pumpernickel to be released on detached service at once.”

“Dandelion instead of Pumpernickel,” said Luna with a faint undertone to her voice that drew Celestia’s attention like a magnet. “He is nearly as fast, and has more experience.”

Celestia remained silent as Luna buttered a roll, taking a bite and chewing without apparently tasting it. It took two more dry bites before Luna coughed and took a drink of orange juice with a glower at her silent sister.

“You are afraid of your own Night Guard,” said Celestia without a trace of accusation.

At first it looked as if Luna was going to argue, but she looked away from Celestia’s warm gaze and stared fiercely at the butter dish instead. “I have my reasons.” Silence filled the private dining room, the dead, dry quiet of thoughts left unsaid and regrets. Finally, Luna lifted her head to face her sister with her jaw set firmly as stone, her voice seeming to echo in the small room.

“When your diplomatic mission to this same griffon aerie was attacked and killed two centuries ago, I witnessed it all. Each of my Nocturne carries more than a tiny piece of my soul from the power that I bestowed upon their ancestors. As much as they are my children, they also bear her touch within their hearts. As we were trapped within the essence of the moon, I felt one of my ponies under attack, the namesake of my guard Pumpernickel, reach into his heart for that power.”

“The Nightmare,” whispered Celestia.

“I could feel every motion, every touch, every drop of blood he shed that night. The Night Guard you sent to protect your diplomats knew he was about to die, and unleashed that infernal power upon the ones who would destroy him in turn. It terrified me, Celly. I could feel their bones break against my hooves, their b-blood flowing down my t-throat.” Luna paused to take a drink of orange juice, her shaking hooves nearly dropping the glass.

“It happened only twice while we were imprisoned, but... it felt good. So awfully, terribly good. I had thought those memories locked away forever, or perhaps destroyed by the Elements of Harmony, but facing Wingmaster Talon over the table brought them back as if it were yesterday. I wanted to rend him apart and drink his b-blood, Celly.”

“You are strong, my sister,” whispered Celestia. “Far stronger than you know.”

“My Night Guard,” continued Luna after a moment, her voice gaining strength, “passes the names of their ancestors to their children in reverence, but has always reserved the name of Pumpernickel for those special even for my children. The ones touched closest by the Nightmare.”

“Pumpernickel?” said Celestia, her brow wrinkled in puzzlement. “He has never struck me as a pony prone to violence, even for a Royal Guard. Although…” A look of concern passed over her face as she thought. “It explains much of his behavior. I had always simply thought of him as frightened of his own shadow.”

“He is,” said Luna with a rumbling voice and a faraway expression as if she were looking at events of her own long past. “The shadow that lurks within his own heart. He fears what he may become if pressed too far. Over the centuries, two of his namesakes have fallen to the corruption which the name carries, and I now fear he may become the third.”

Silence once again surrounded the two alicorns, the meal which was their original intent for the private evening together forgotten in half-eaten bits around them. Celestia breathed out a long sigh, turning away from her sister to face the setting sun, which had nearly reached the horizon and was merely waiting for permission to be dismissed for the night.

“I concede your point, Luna. Your Night Guard Dandelion shall accompany my Royal Guard, Redoubtable on this dangerous task. Although…” Celestia paused, the fading sunlight coloring her white coat with tints of orange fire and the red of fresh blood. “Perhaps both guards should be from the forces of the Day.”

“What?” Luna looked up, the tiny edge of a frown showing at the edge of her mouth.

“Well, since it is as you say, there is a little bit of the Nightmare in each of your guards. If our diplomat is forced to flee, the slightest disharmony among the guards driving the chariot could slow their retreat in an emergency, and that could be disastrous. And Primrose cannot fly herself.”

“True,” said Luna in a small voice, doubt beginning to show in her eyes.

“We shall find Pumpernickel some lesser station where he can be observed, just until we are certain he does not pose a threat to Equestria. After all, your Night Guard are responsible for my security while I am the most vulnerable.”

“Celly,” said Luna, a low growl creeping into her voice as she laid her ears back and glared.

“It would be unfair to dismiss them all at this time, but perhaps they could be isolated away from any other sensitive missions. That is, until we can be certain of their loyalty.”

A chill breeze stirred the curtains of the dinner nook, swirling them around in little circles as Luna continued her baleful stare at her innocent-looking sister. Broken only by the rumble of far-off thunder, the silence stretched thin between them, until it finally snapped in an icy response from the Princess of the Night.

“My Nocturne have guarded Equestria ever since the Night they were born into their station of life, shedding their blood to protect those who scoff and deride them. Thou shalt not dismiss them from our service after they have shown a loyalty to you far in excess of any other during the years of my exile.” It was a tribute to Luna’s control that she managed to speak at all, although there was just a tiny bit of grinding from her jaw and her wings twitched with the effort to keep them down.

“Quite true,” said Celestia, refilling her teacup. “But if you doubt the will of one Nocturne, how can I trust them all?”

Upon hearing those words, Luna subsided to a low rumble, glowering at her older sister who ignored the tension of the moment by simply sitting on her cushion and drinking a fresh cup of tea. Finally Luna rose from the table, collecting her dishes in one large cloud of indigo magic and gathering them together for the servants. With one last look at her remaining orange juice, she turned to Celestia and spoke.

“You fight dirty, my sister. Lesser station, indeed. Your advisors used those exact words when they pressed me to abdicate upon my return. I knew if I were to accede to their demands then, none would ever trust me, and I would be forever beneath a cloud of my own making.”

“You still fear your Night Guard,” said Celestia in a comforting voice. “That which you did not wish upon yourself, you have placed upon others in your stead.” Lighting her horn, Celestia gave a brief nod and the sun descended below the horizon, plunging their dining room into near darkness.

A low indigo glow filled the room as Luna lifted her head, almost motionless as the silvery moon slid up into the sky and the city stretched out before their window glittered with light under the brilliant stars. “I had intended my service to Equestria to be my penance for my crimes,” she whispered. “My Nocturne are blameless for the evil that clings to their souls. How can I let them suffer for my weakness?”

“If your weaknesses are theirs, then so are your strengths, dear sister. I shall stand firm on my choice of Royal Guard to accompany your diplomat. Unless—” she added quickly as Luna opened her mouth to object “—you can prove him worthy.”

“He hath wrapped that seed of Nightmare’s hatred in years of armor,” whispered Luna, looking out the open window at the moon sitting on the horizon. “But it remains a seed, and he has imprisoned himself within the cage he has built for it. Our Royal Guard is the steel of our Equestria, but that steel is not made without fire. He must learn to master this beast that lives within him, or…”

Luna remained at the window, staring out into the night as Celesta moved up behind her and encompassed her in one large wing. They simply stood there for the longest time, wings intertwined as they looked out into the night, each sister seeing it in a completely different fashion. They did not talk, or even look at each other as the distant noises of the capital city filtered up to their moment together. Finally, Luna took a deep breath and rotated her shoulders, extending one wing after another to stretch to their fullest extent.

“He is mine, dear sister.” The Princess of the Night stepped to the edge of the balcony, her mouth set in a thin line and her eyes hard as stone. “I shall test him as thou wishes.”

Celestia remained in the dining room, watching her sister fly away in the direction of the Royal Guard practice field, watching patiently until she was lost from sight in the darkness.

And then a little longer.