• 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 9 - A Time For Family

Diplomacy by Other Means
A Time for Family


“For Time, driving all things before it, may bring with it evil as well as good.”
— N. Marechiavelli, The Princess


“Wait! Don’t go.” Laminia paused at the doorway within reach of the griffon ambassador, who had turned to withdraw after giving his news.

“I’m sorry, young miss. I was given strict instructions by Duke Plummets to take his message to your ambassador, and not to engage in conversation.” A row of feathers sticking up on the back of his neck was the only visible sign of the stress Ambassador Sharp Edge showed, but abject worry about losing his only child could be heard plainly in his voice.

“Then don’t talk, just listen. You know how worried your daughter is about losing her friend, and don’t give me that crap about ponies not being friends like that overstuffed chicken Plummets who visited us last night.”

The ambassador thrashed his tail back and forth before giving a short nod.

“She’s pregnant, did you know that?” At Sharp Edge’s brief shake of his head, Laminia continued, ”You don’t know where Stargazer is either, do you? She’s not at the village, and I’m pretty sure about that being as I talked to half of the ponies there. And she certainly didn’t sprout wings and fly away. That leaves her somewhere out on the mountain among the trees. Alone. Pregnant. Beaten.”

The ambassador did not shift from his departing stance, but tried to look away from Laminia as if he were hoping for a noise from the silent corridor which would give him an excuse to leave. “Duke Plummets says she’s probably hiding in the fortress somewhere, and her grandfather agrees. There are dozens of old rooms boarded up for centuries that they like to play in.” The griffon ambassador fidgeted, clamping his beak shut with a loud snap.

Laminia would not quit looking him in the eyes, holding the griffon entranced despite his best efforts to look away. “You don’t believe him.”

His words emerged as if there were great pressure behind them. “He wears the silver bracelet of the heir apparent. It was the will of the Wingmaster that he be promoted to the position when my sister-in-law Gilda was… demoted.”

“Actually I was busted.” A second griffon emerged from the hallway on silent paws, nodding once to the bowing griffon ambassador before turning back to give a rather grim-looking guard behind her a nod, making him fade back down the corridor to prevent any other unexpected visitors or eavesdroppers.

There was a faint ring of thinning feathers around Gilda’s forearm that showed the location of the bracelet she used to wear, and a look of concern that mirrored that of her ambassador. She patted her brother-in-law on the back once before punching him in the shoulder. Hard.

“Hey Sharpy, next time that blowhard Plummets tells you to do something, don’t argue. It makes him suspicious.”

“Yes, Your Highness.” Ambassador Sharp Edge got up off the floor and rubbed his shoulder while Gilda pushed forward with a wink into the ambassadorial balcony.

“Now, Ambassador Primrose. No doubt a couple of my dad’s goons are watching us from some cloud out there, so I need you to shout a little and get angry with me, ‘K?”

“What is the meaning of this?” blustered Primrose, moving directly forward in front of the griffon with Redoubtable and Laminia directly to her sides. “What are you trying to do?”

“I’m trying to save your ungrateful life,” growled the griffon princess with a sudden fluffing up of her white neck ruff. “After they get done searching the castle and don’t find my little niece anywhere, Dad’s gonna get ideas about where she is. You want him storming down here with his goons or not?”

“B-but this is an embassy,” stuttered Primrose.

“A pony embassy,” snapped Gilda. “Dad’s never been all to happy with ponies. Just about shit a brick when I told him about Dash, ripped my bracelet right off and gave it to Plummets. If he gets in one of his moods like he’s been in lately, he’ll tear somepony’s head off looking for Sunny.”

“He can try,” snarled Pumpernickel, his ears flattening against his head with the sensation of a fiery snake uncoiling in his chest.

“Pops would go through you like a—” The griffon made what was intended to be an intimidating glance at the arrogant guard, but remained staring into Pumpernickel's eyes until Laminia gave her husband a swift kick in the ankle.

“Sorry,” muttered Pumpernickel, looking down at the floor and trying to calm himself down. The effort was wasted as the dirty circle of stones in the middle of the balcony caught his eye, and the screams of the dying seemed to echo through the centuries and into his flattened ears.

“Anyway,” continued Gilda after a brief pause and a second nervous look at Pumpernickel, finally turning to face Ambassador Primrose again. “You need to let me in to search the apartment, rummage around for a while, and send a screaming letter of protest to Dad back with Sharpy. That way he doesn’t need to find out just how many of my relatives are needed to take your armored idiots down.”

Pumpernickel was not even aware of opening his mouth before Laminia stuck one armored hoof into it to suppress his response. Once Gilda and Ambassador Primrose had gone into the apartment and the sound of vigorous searching trickled out from the open door, his wife finally removed her hoof and grabbed him firmly by both ears.

“Listen to me. I said, listen to me, you big lunk! That’s better.” Laminia’s eyes sparkled in the afternoon sunshine, faint little flecks of blue and green dancing in their depths through her watery squint in the bright light. The tinted lenses of her helmet were up on her forehead, like her husband, and she leaned forward to touch noses while continuing to talk. “They’re just worried. You would be too, if Sunny were your little filly, and we were in Canterlot. I doubt you’d be as diplomatic as Princess Gilda.”

A stray glint of sunlight from her helmet made Pumpernickel blink, and he swallowed dryly. “No. I’d be too busy keeping you from killing somepony. Somegriffon.”

“Damned straight.” She leaned forward and pressed her forehead against her husband with a mutual click of armor that only seemed to increase the tension. “I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the griffons, I’m afraid of what may have happened to that little filly griffon, but most of all, I’m afraid of what’s happening to you.”

“I shouldn’t have dragged you into this,” muttered Pumpernickel.

“Oh, Lumpy. I didn’t have any choice in the matter ever since that first time I kissed you.” She kissed him gently on the lips as if to remind him, a warm touch upon his cold face.

“As I recall, you kicked me in the head right after that.”

“Only because you were being a complete ass.” She kissed him again, for a long, long time.

--~-~-~--*--~-~-~--

As the moon softly rose into the sky, the two Nocturne stirred awake, unable to resist the siren call that had been embedded into their beings when Nightmare Moon had created their race a thousand years ago. The magic of married mornings swirled around the bed as awakening ponies touched, their limbs intertwined under the sheets in a passionate embrace that could only have one end result in their present circumstances.

“Yeouch!” Pumpernickel tumbled out of the bed, taking the sheets with him as he landed in a tangled lump on the floor and fought for escape.

“I’msorry! Sorry! I didn’t mean it you know I didn’t mean it I’m sorry Lumpy! It’s the hormones.”

One last corner of sheet later, he looked up into the sorrowful golden eyes of his spouse, and Pumpernickel laughed, a bright red blotch of toothmarks forming on his neck. “I’m never going to get used to sleeping with a pregnant wife.”

“Sorry. It’s instinct.” Laminia spat out a hair and gave a look at the door before sighing. “I’d drag you back into bed and apologize, if it wasn’t such bad timing.”

“Yeah.” He tossed the sheets back on the bed and when his wife fought her own way out from under them, she found a warm kiss waiting for her. “I promise. Later.”

The sounds of claws hammering on the outside door echoed through the ambassadorial quarters, ensuring that later was going to be further delayed.

* * *

“The King of the Misty Mountain Aerie would like to inform you that his granddaughter, Princess Sun Shines, has been found, and that the negotiations over the return of the ancestral home of the griffons, the Crystal Gryphon Empire, as well as reparations due our aerie for its damage at the hooves of the Sun Queen, Celestia, will resume at dawn tomorrow.”

Ambassador Primrose nodded at the griffon messenger, who was flanked by Gilda and a second large griffon. The soft light of a pair of lanterns highlighted the griffons in sparkling glints of silver and gold in the ice crystals frozen in their feathers, and there was an honest glint of relief in Gilda’s golden eyes.

“Please inform Wingmaster Talon of our great relief at the return of his granddaughter, and that we are looking forward to seeing him at the negotiating table tomorrow morning.” The messenger gave a little nod, reminding Pumpernickel somehow of a chicken pecking at a piece of grain, before scuttling out of the door with the larger griffon at his heels. Gilda paused after them and closed the door silently before turning to the ambassador.

“Good thing you dweebs didn’t try anything stupid. Pops has like a half-primary of tercels perched on clouds and ledges to watch your window. Not enough to go looking for my niece, but enough to play gargoyle. Sorry about that,” she added with a grumble.

“How is Sunny?” asked Primrose, giving a quelling glance at Pumpernickel, who was just moments from asking the same question.

“That’s what has me worried. She’s been all fidgety about her little pony friend since we got back from Canterlot, but ever since Aunt Puffy Billows found her out in the forest, all she does is mope. Her father can’t get a word out of her, and my dad won’t let her out of wing’s length.”

“Where was she found?” asked Laminia in a perfectly flat voice that made Pumpernickel blink and look at his suddenly serious wife.

“How in the heck should I know?” Gilda glanced between Pumpernickel and Laminia and opened a foreclaw in frustration. “She was all covered in stickers and weeds and crap. Puffy said she was headed for the downstairs door when she found her. Dad wouldn’t let me go out and look for her today, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t strongarm the relatives into looking.”

Redoubtable walked over to the balcony ledge and looked out into the moonlit night. “Awful lot of snow out there for her to be covered in weeds.”

“Winter Wrap-Up is running way slow this year. We mostly just let it melt off and slosh down the mountain.” Gilda looked out into the moonlight and scowled. “Look, I gotta get back to Dad or he’s going to pop a blood vessel. My cousin Boulders is going to stay out in front of your door tonight and make sure you’re not disturbed. You better stay inside. It’s dangerous for you out there.”

“What kind of weeds? Were any of them yellow?” There was no emotion at all in Laminia’s voice, and Gilda stopped cold in the middle of her departure, a look of nervous tension on her face as she looked back at the Nocturne mare.

“Some yellow foofy things, yeah. And a couple thorny white ones too, I remember Puffy complaining about them.” Gilda gave one last look at the immobile mare before nodding at the ambassador and leaving, the door slamming a bit louder than expected.

Just as soon as Gilda had departed, Laminia turned on her heel and vanished inside the apartment, the sound of armor being rapidly discarded the only clue to her actions. After a few minutes of both Primrose and Redoubtable looking at him pointedly, Pumpernickel squared his shoulders and poked his nose in the door.

“Dear?”

“Busy.”

Pumpernickel looked back at the ambassador. “She said she’s — Okay, I’ll ask again.” Bracing himself, he held up a hoof to stop her as she left the apartment, moving so that his bulk would shield his wife from the view of their cloud-bound watchers outside. “What are you doing, dear?”

“The weeds? Horsenettle and sundrops. I remember seeing a little patch of them when we were flying up here. It seemed like such a pretty little place tucked away under a southern ledge of the mountain, and I was hoping we could visit when we left.” Laminia stuffed a map that looked suspiciously like the area around the fortress into her saddlebag before arranging the ratty brown cloak on top of it. “I’m going to look.”

“What if I say ‘No’ to your plan?” asked Primrose softly, her coat shining in the lamplight and tail blowing in a soft breeze, looking eerily like Celestia standing on the balcony for one heart-stopping moment.

“Your Excellency, that little griffon has neither mother or sister, just one battered and pregnant pony friend out there in the forest somewhere. I don’t care if you speak with Luna’s voice, if you’re going to order me to stay here, you can just go to—”

“Stop.” Primrose nodded. “Be careful.”

“If I was going to be careful, I wouldn’t be crawling out into the woods full of griffons, now would I?” grumbled Laminia before yanking open the outside door and glaring at the griffon guard it revealed. “Well?”

“You’ll vant a light,” rumbled Boulders, the big Germane griffon, handing over a small firefly lantern. “Und keep der hood up on der cloak. She’s my second cousin, vunce removed, und I vorry about her little friend too.”

--~-~-~--*--~-~-~--

There was no flaw in the guard position that Pumpernickel held in perfect silence in front of the ambassadorial quarters, no movement other than the regular intake and outflow of breath, and the occasional blink. Every motion, every noise, every flicker of light was evaluated and comprehended in the perfect harmony that flowed through the room. No bat flying past a silent star was unnoticed, no uncomfortable rustle of the griffon guard outside their corridor door went unheard. It was the only way Pumpernickel could separate his duty from his heart, as every fibre of his being not involved in the defense of the embassy yearned to be out in the darkness with his wife in search for the lost pony. Distant clouds with observant griffons had their watchers replaced as bored tired griffons returned to their nests, exchanged for simply bored griffons, watching a scene that could have been a painting hanging on the wall for all the motion it included.

The griffon who arrived in the corridor outside and talked with Boulders thought his words were quiet enough to be inaudible through the door, but Pumpernickel could hear every word as clearly as if they had been standing right in front of him.

“The meeting in the Council Chamber is getting out of claw. Wingmaster Talon wants you there to keep order.”

“But I vas ordered to guard dis door.”

“Well, now you’re going to be guarding something worthwhile, instead of a bunch of lousy ponies. So get going.”

“As you command, Prince Plummets.”

There was a sharp sound as if a griffon had slapped another one across the face. “That’s Duke Plummets, as long as the old bird lives. Now move it.”

The sound of departing talons scratching on stone echoed hollowly through the empty corridors, but it took several minutes before the even fainter sound of a key entering the lock could be heard.

“Halt! Who goes there?” The words emerged from Pumpernickel automatically, pitched low enough not to disturb Primrose and Redoubtable, who were catching a few hours rest before resuming tomorrow’s exhausting negotiations, but the only response he got was the faint scratching of talons as the second griffon departed.

Time passed slowly, a glacial turn of stars in the moonlit darkness until he heard another noise in the corridor, this one familiar in such a way that it was all he could do not to run to the door and fling it open. Instead, he settled for moving close to the door and arranging his body to block the view any outside watcher would have of his returning wife, much the same way he had done for her departure.

When Laminia opened the door and slipped inside, a wave of shock and fear flowed through his body like lightning. She was white and cold under her soft grey coat, and her beautiful face twisted in a look of pure agony. The door had barely gotten closed before she looked up at him and whispered in a voice rough from hours of crying.

“Kill them, my husband. Kill them all.”