• Published 7th Oct 2013
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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?

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Ch 17 - Inheritance

Diplomacy by Other Means

“Nevertheless a princess ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if she does not win love, she avoids hatred; because she can endure very well being feared whilst she is not hated, which will always be as long as she abstains from the property of her citizens and subjects and from their mates. But when it is necessary for her to proceed against the life of somepony, she must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things she must keep her hooves off the property of others, because ponies more quickly forget the death of their sire than the loss of their patrimony.”
— N. Marechiavelli, The Princess

On the roof of the griffon fortress, four ponies gathered around a chariot in preparation for their departure. Redoubtable curled up in the passenger compartment, carefully attaching his safety harness while attempting not to bump his bandaged wings against the sides of the carriage, while Ambassador Primrose took her place at his side.

Two Nocturne took their places at the front with considerable scrutiny by the dozens of griffons closely observing. Laminia slid into her place almost effortlessly, the click of the harness across her shoulders loud in the morning air, while her husband remained in his place next to the griffons.

No armor hung across Pumpernickel’s broad frame this morning, only a black jacket in the colors of mourning that did little to hide the long puckered lines of stitches that covered so much of his body, and was only emphasized by the wide stripes of shaved coat that followed each slash in order to prevent the hundreds of stitches from becoming infected. Even his half-furled wings had not escaped Laminia’s needle, with neatly aligned lines of surgical thread that seemingly wandered all over those dark membranes, and in particular a large patch on his right wing that looked almost crocheted into a doily. With a little heart in the middle.

Gilda and Sunny stepped forward, each bowing in front of their odd Wingmaster, followed by every other griffon in the aerie dropping to one knee in a wave of multicolored feathers behind them. If one or two were a bit slow in showing respect, it was carefully ignored as Princess Gilda, First Heir to the Wingmaster, stood up and addressed Pumpernickel.

“Wingmaster Pumpernickel…” She faded off for a moment with a peculiar look on her face. “It still sounds funny.”

“Princess Gilda, anytime you want to pick up where we left off, I’m ready,” said Pumpernickel in return, with a tiny smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.

“Yeah, that sounds funny too,” she groused, ruffling her feathers in a wave down her neck that showed Gilda’s own stitchwork and bandages across a vivid collection of bruises. “Dash will never let me live it down. Anywho, Father has been placed in the Crypt of the Sky as you have commanded, Wingmaster, and we shall grieve him until the setting of the sun today. Another messenger has been dispatched to the Crystal Empire with the letter your associate provided, and that should be it.”

“You think you can keep my aerie in line while I’m gone?” asked Pumpernickel, with a pointed glance into the multicolored crowd that had one or two griffons suddenly shifting uncomfortably.

“Yeah. Don’t think I’ll have to do as much thumping as Father, but if I can’t thump some sense into the more stubborn ones, I’ll send ‘em to you.”

Pumpernickel nodded before turning to the bright-eyed little griffon to Gilda’s side. “Princess Sunny, how did your responsibility go?”

The little griffon spread her pinfeathered wings wide and bowed, just as calmly and sincerely as if Pumpernickel had been Princess Luna. It even made the big guard take just a second to flicker a glance behind himself just in case there was a real princess there, but no such luck.

“I have carried out your command, Wingmaster Pumpernickel. The conspirators have been turned over to the city elders of Toenail, and their fate is being determined. The mayor seems to be vacillating between having them on town weather detail or using them as messenger pigeons. From the dry state of the town, I suggested the former.”

Pumpernickel could not help but smile a little. “Large words for such a little princess. Did you attend the funeral of your friend, Stargazer?”

The little wings retracted and Sunny shuffled a little closer to Gilda, who extended a wing over her niece. “She taught the words to me. The funeral was very touching. And weird.” Little golden eyes peeked out from under Gilda’s tattered wing. “Do you know the earth ponies put dirt over their dead?”

“Not all of them,” assured Pumpernickel with a nod of his head. “I expect to be in the Crystal Empire for a few days or weeks. Perhaps you can stop by once your father gets settled into his new job, and we can… talk.”

“Thank you, Wingmaster,” said the little griffon. “I shall not forget what you did to my Grandfather, but maybe someday I can forgive you. A little. Forgiveness is not really in our blood.”

Pumpernickel shrugged painfully. “It’s a pony thing.”

Gilda nodded back with a pained wince of her own. “Perhaps it can become a griffon thing too. Goodbye, Wingmaster. May your wings never falter.”

“May your flight be swift and true, Princesses. Guard well the aerie.”

The Wingmaster of the Misty Mountains Aerie saluted his flock and turned to the waiting chariot, buckling himself into the straps without a single displayed wince of pain. In minutes, the Night Guard chariot sprung into the air, the two Nocturne at the harness flapping in perfect harmony as they followed their guide out of the treacherous mountain gusts and into the smooth air of the waiting plains, headed home.

* * *

No words were spoken as the chariot flew onwards, the heavily bandaged Royal Guard and the Ambassador standing flank by flank while the scenery below changed from the forested mountains to the lumpy foothills. In a short time, the landscape below finally straightened out into the patchy brown and white of the plains, where untended snow melted unevenly into the dirt around a narrow road winding its way west in the direction of the distant Crystal Empire.

“Optio Pumpernickel. Land.” One spotless rose-tinted hoof pointed at the road below, and even though Pumpernickel turned his head to look at the ambassador as if to protest, he turned back to the flight with both Nocturne landing the chariot on the damp road just as neatly as if Princess Luna was watching. Primrose stepped out of the chariot and up to Pumpernickel, standing almost nose to nose with the stern stallion before speaking.

“Optio Pumpernickel, in Luna’s name I am commanding you to get your ragged ass into the chariot next to that broken-down bum who calls himself my coltfriend just as soon as I’ve inspected your stitches and made sure you haven’t injured yourself with this damned-fool stunt. Do you understand, or do I need to have your wife spell it out for you letter by letter in more stitches across your flank while I turn off the anesthesia spell?”

“Yes’um!” Pumpernickel gave no resistance to having the harness lifted off his back, which had started to show dark spots through the jacket, and after an exhaustive inspection of his wounds, he meekly took his place next to his fellow guard.

“Tough luck, old pal,” said Redoubtable. “Looks like you’re stuck here with me for the rest of the groundbound trip.”

“It could be worse,” rumbled Pumpernickel, trying not to chuckle while watching Primrose struggle with the unfamiliar harness straps. “We get to ride all the way back to the Crystal Empire, and look at some of the finest flanks in Equestria all the while during the trip.”

“And get paid for it, old buddy. Don’t forget that.” Redoubtable cocked his head at their feminine drivers. “Time and a half for deployment, isn’t that right, dear?”

“Shutup, Red,” growled Primrose, trying unsuccessfully to fasten a strap.

“Don’t forget combat pay and the injury bonus, old pal of mine.” Pumpernickel waved a hoof in the air as if he were working the beads of an imaginary abacus. “Triple pay for that, I believe. You know, if we pooled our bonus, we could buy our own chariot so our marefriends could pull us all around Canterlot whenever they wanted, Red.”

“Excellent idea, my bat-winged buddy. Why, I can see it now. All of our guard friends in amazement at our awesome ride, and of course the finest fillies in Equestria in the harness.”

“Red,” growled Primrose, pulling the final strap closed with her teeth.

“Yes, Red,” chastised Pumpernickel lightly. “You should be ashamed of yourself. We should get something nice for the girls too, like one of those frilly saddles from that unmarked store down by the airship docks.”

“Now that you’re an old married geezer, Lumpy, wouldn’t you want to buy something in a nice velvet hackamore and surcingle?”

“You mean the ones with all the straps?” asked Pumpernickel with a broad smile. “Why wait? I’ll bet there’s a store or two in the Crystal Empire with kinky outfits that haven’t been seen in Canterlot in eons.”

“Lumpy!” howled Laminia, grabbing for her harness straps before being stopped by Primrose.

“Let it go, dear. They’re just being stallions. Let’s get going.” The two mares began to trot down the road, their passengers pausing in their comments to get a less painful position as the carriage bounced along the road, seemingly hitting every pothole and rock.

“You know, Lumpy, our deployment pay doesn’t — oof — stop until we return to our point of origin.” Redoubtable cocked an eyebrow at his fellow guard while bracing himself for more potholes. “So once we get to the Crystal Empire, there’s nothing keeping us from having the girls pull us all over the city, looking for the right tack shop while we recover.”

“Could take days,” suggested Pumpernickel.

“Or weeks,” said Redoubtable.

“We could invite Shining Armor to ride along with us.”

“If anypony knows where the kinky shops are in town, he’s our stallion. Plus he’s a Royal Guard Captain, so he’ll be more sympathetic. Might even buy something sparkly for his wife.”

Primrose huffed, her breath forming a small cloud in the brisk morning air. “Are those two idiots going to do that all the way back to the Crystal Empire?”

“Yes,” said Laminia with a smile and a shake of her head. “And back to Canterlot, if we don’t dump them into a soggy snowdrift first.”

“Hey!” objected Pumpernickel. “Wounded stallions back here. And could you flick your tail a little more, dear? It improves the view.”

“I hadn’t noticed, oh ancient creaky elder of mine,” said Redoubtable, looking between Laminia and Primrose. “Dear, do you think you could trouble yourself to wave your tail a bit during the trip too? Lumpy is right, it looks very fetching. On you! Not Lumpy’s wife. Ooo, and you blush well, too.”

The sound of laughter followed the chariot as it rattled down the country road, on the way to the Crystal Empire and home. And if a little of the laughter sounded from up above, as if three players in a game of Fate and Destiny were enjoying the result, well, nopony paid any attention.

The Princess by Fauxsquared on Deviantart (used by permission)