• Published 26th Oct 2013
  • 12,694 Views, 378 Comments

Triptych - Daetrin

What does it mean to be a pony? A ruler? A god?

  • ...

Dignities Are Like Faces

Twilight blinked at empty space, shaken and reeling from the avalanche of the unexpected. Equestria’s heart beating under her hooves and in the back of her mind was enough to shake her world, but Celestia’s confession seemed to have torn out a piece of it. The room spun dizzyingly, pieces of it seeming to fade, eaten by the holes that suddenly yawned in her mind.

From a great distance she heard the sound of thunder and a jagged bolt of lightning arced across her vision. She flinched backward, shaking her head free of the fog that had enwrapped it, because she knew that tone and timbre of angry storm. It was Luna in a rage.

“She dares.” Luna growled. “She dares.” Her mane and tail faded into a boiling thundercloud, and in the flashes of lightning her pupils reflected as pointed slits. Twilight swallowed, contemplating the wrathful goddess, feeling only hollowness where once there was surety. Part of her agreed with Luna’s anger, a long succession of memory tainted and suborned by Celestia’s words, but there was still a small core of faith in the princess she had followed for so long.

“Luna,” Twilight pleaded, though her voice came out far less certain than she intended. “I’m sure she had reasons -”

Yes.” It came out a hiss. “She always has a reason. That is what is so damning. Good actions never need a reason. It is only foul deeds that need them.”

“I don’t...I don’t think Princess Celestia is like that,” Twilight said miserably. It felt like a betrayal to take either side, her obligations muddled and uncertain. She didn’t know how to either soothe Luna or defend Celestia, let alone both at once, and the revelations of the prior minutes still rung through her in a rising sour note. She could feel it filtering through her and out into Equestria, drawing another set of traces through the harness of anxiety she wore.

Luna swung to look at her, staring into Twilight’s eyes, and all at once she seemed to collapse in on herself. The angry cloud vanished, the looming anger evaporated, her head drooped, and her eyes closed. “No,” Luna said in a small voice, “she isn’t. Only I have been.”

“That’s not what I meant at all!” Twilight slipped her muzzle under Luna’s, lifting the alicorn’s head with her own. “It’s just...a hard situation. We’ll get through it though, I’m sure we will.”

“I suppose,” Luna said wearily. “But what value have I, have any of us, if all we are consists of pawns on her board?”

Twilight had no ready answer for that, though she felt the question take up residence in part of the hole ripped in her world. Instead she gave Luna gentle nuzzle and a soft kiss . “No matter what Celestia has done, I still feel the same about you.”

Luna’s eyes finally opened and she gave Twilight a soft smile. “I’m glad.”

“And,” Twilight continued, “we still have to go back to the court, and do...um. All that court stuff.”

Luna drew in a breath, straightening up and drawing herself together. “You’re right,” she said. “I can throw a royal tantrum later.” She pushed aside all the confused welter of emotions, focusing on her role as ruler of Equestria. It wasn’t simply the responsibility to make decisions and manage her subjects, but also to spread the benefits of her role and power as goddess to the nature of Equestria itself.

It was not a physical or magical weight, but one of ideas and ideology, the home of thousands of ponies wrought into a unique soul. There was no thing, no experience to compare, and even after a millennium the harness of Equestria was familiar, if rather stiff from disuse. It chafed at the edges of her thoughts as she tried to summon the will to walk back out the door.

Then she felt Twilight’s neck against her own and the barrier was not so great as before. Luna leaned briefly on the smaller pony, drawing strength from the embrace, and gave Twilight a faint, though genuine, smile. “Thank you.” She dipped her head and gave Twilight a brief kiss, offering her a grin at the resulting blush. “I think I’m ready now.”

“What should I do?” Twilight looked as uncertain as Luna felt, so the alicorn gave her a reassuring smile.

“Just look confident. Court usually is not particularly exciting. Though,” she admitted, “I admit I am not familiar with all the modern laws. I don’t expect I’ll need it for most of the decisions brought to the court, but if it’s brought up...”

“I’ll be ready.” Twilight nodded decisively. “I’ve gone through most of the modern law treatises. And we have the entire Archive available if I need to look something up. In fact, maybe I should have them send the references over. Lavender’s Lexicon of Law would be the first, and maybe -” She cut off with a sheepish look. “Well, maybe I’ll wait until later.”

Luna only then realized her look of amused affection, and let it flow into a soft laugh. “I think we’ll be fine. There are certain formalities to attend to first.” Her Night Guards had reaffirmed their oaths to her in a quiet ceremony soon after she had returned, even before she’d regained the first meager morsels of her divinity. She’d resisted anything more at the time, so she was only passingly familiar with the bulk of the royal guards and they with her, but since she was finally taking the throne it was necessary to get their oaths.

She opened the door, striding out as confidently as she could toward the waiting court. Skyshine had been busy in their absence; where once had been a confused crowd were neat rows of ponies, and while the room wasn’t silent, the conversation was muted and respectful. The pegasus herself was bent over a clipboard with Spike, the two of them muttering at each other.

Spike always gave her brief pause when she looked at him with the eyes of a goddess, because he was so sharply divided. Every pony had layers of hopes and dreams, fantasy and yearning layered deep within them. Every one had entire worlds within them.

Spike had two. His vague daydreams and ponderings, half-formed hopes and flights of fancy formed the usual haze, but anything involving Twilight was sharp and clear. He had two pillars; hopes winding close around her, and fears clamped tight around her absence. That closeness pricked her with both sympathy and a vague sense of jealousy, for he was as closely entwined with Twilight as Luna would ever be. And she knew what it would be like to lose her.

The two of them looked up as Luna and Twilight approached; Skyshine had somehow managed to procure a suit for the dragon in the few minutes they’d been away. “I’m ready, Twilight! Er, and Luna. Er, Princess Luna.” Spike corrected himself twice, looking nervous under his officious headgear.

“Very good, Spike,” Luna told him, setting aside his peculiar destiny. “I’ll need you in a moment. Skyshine, call in the royal guard. I need to take their oaths.”

“Yes, Your Highness.” Skyshine bobbed a bow, wide-eyed, and trotted off to have a brief conference with one of the guards already present in the room. Luna watched, settling herself gingerly in the large throne and surveying the hall. She didn’t quite have ‘Tia’s peerless memory, and she wasn’t as familiar with the palace staff as she should have been, so she didn’t actually recognize the stallions and mares on duty throughout the audience chamber. It was a deficiency she planned to correct, one she needed to address as the rulership of Equestria settled into her bones.

Twilight settled in next to her, in a small upholstered divan that had been placed next to the throne, and Luna smiled wryly. She had resented Skyshine being imposed upon her at first, but she could not deny that Celestia had selected well. For all her experience, Luna’s first few days assuming the mantle of ruler could be disastrous without someone like her smoothing the way, and trusting Skyshine was the first step in repaying the unearned loyalty.

“Do you recognize any of these ponies?” Luna murmured to Twilight, surveying the rows of petitioners lined up in the hall. She had no intention of playing whatever power games might have been negotiated between the various nobles of Canterlot, but she keenly felt a lack of the knowledge any ruler should have.

“Huh?” Twilight blinked, dragged out of her own thoughts. Luna winced. From her wilted ears and downcast muzzle, it was clear to see what occupied Twilight so. There was still rage and despair skittering around the back of her own mind, but she’d had far longer to practice hiding it and putting it aside.

“Hold on until tonight, Twilight,” Luna told her. “After court is over, we can...” She made a vague gesture with a forehoof. “Until then I’ll need your help.”

“Of course.” Twilight gave a brief, convulsive nod, sitting up straighter on her divan. She focused forward, studying the hall and its occupants. But she had no choice morsels of either fact or gossip for Luna, so as the guard began to arrive, she offered a helpless shrug.

The captain of the guard braced to attention in front of the throne, and behind him the rest of the guards, all of whom looked alike thanks to the magic in their armor, lined up in rows. They assembled, rank upon rank, to the point where Luna wondered how she’d missed a small army secreted throughout the Canterlot palace.

When the last of the armored ponies had taken their places, she spoke. “When you took your oaths to the alicorn sitting upon this throne, it was not to me that you pledged. When I returned, I did not take those oaths, for I was not ready to earn them. Now I am.”

She loosed her godhood, letting it flow outward, through the room and through her bond with the kingdom itself. “I pledge my life, my loyalty, and my sacred honor to Equestria, to her lands and her inhabitants. I will serve and protect, guide and guard, lead and love all who dwell therein.” The air and earth trembled, shivering from the vault of the sky to the roots of the mountains as she reached into distant memories of the past. “I pledge to nurture the dreams of all who seek and strive and hope, those who yearn to bring the new and the visionary into the world. Under moon and sun, I so swear.”

The captain bowed, kneeling on his forelegs, and the rest of the guard followed suit in a synchronized rustle of wings and clink of armor. “I swear,” he said, his voice ringing out for a moment before it was joined in chorus by the others, “that I will on my honor be faithful to the princess, never cause her harm, and will observe my homage to her against all ponies and without deceit.”

Something that was almost a pure chord shimmered through the air as the exchange of oaths finished, a music more felt than heard as all the tension and power vanished; fulfilled rather than dismissed. “Thank you,” Luna told them, the gratitude that washed through her finding its outlet in her voice, which trembled ever so slightly. Some memories of her time before were still raw, and the acceptance, even welcome, was a profound relief. “You can resume your posts,” she added, and watched most of the guards file back out, some with an obeisance and some without, but she felt no anger or animosity from them.

But as the soldiers left, another stallion arrived, dressed like one of the palace guards but not colored like them. It wasn’t until Twilight made a small, choked noise of panic that Luna finally placed him. The Prince-Consort of the Crystal Kingdom, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza's husband, Shining Armor. She straightened in her throne, casting a glance over at Twilight. “Do you know why he’s here?” She murmured.

“I have no idea!” Twilight replied, quietly frantic.

“Well, it’s your brother,” Luna said soothingly. “I’m sure it’s nothing bad.” She nodded at him, and he stepped up to the throne with a sheepish grin that seemed out of place on someone of his stature.

“I was hoping I could talk to Twily.”

Luna’s muzzle stretched into a sudden gleeful grin, disproportionately amused by Twilight’s nickname. “Well that’s up to...Twily.” She looked over at the unicorn next to her, who was squirming in mortification. “I suppose I can spare you for a few minutes, Twilight.”

Twilight rubbed at her forehead with a hoof and summoned a weak smile. “Well, it has been a while since I got the chance to talk with my BBBFF.”

“Bee-bee-bee-eff-eff?” Luna lifted her eyebrows at Twilight, but it was Shining Armor who responded.

“Big brother best friend forever,” he clarified with a chuckle. “Twily didn’t have many other friends as a foal.”

“Well, I certainly understand how that is,” Luna murmured. “Go ahead, Twilight. I don’t think the court will try and rush the throne in the next few minutes.”

“Thank you,” Shining Armor said, and followed Twilight off to the side of the throne for some semblance of privacy. Luna watched them go, then nodded to Skyshine. She in turn whispered in Spike’s ear, and the dragon stepped forward, raising his hands in proclamation.

“Hear ye, hear ye!” His voice echoed through the hall, surprisingly loud for a dragon so small and unexpectedly authoritative for one so young. There were echoes of Twilight, Celestia, and even Scar in that tone, and it was enough to draw attention. “The Court is now in session! The first petitioners will now approach the throne.”

Luna eyed the well-dressed trio that stepped up to the base of the dais. Her first thought was the rather dark and unhelpful one that Celestia would have known who the ponies were and what they wanted. But she was not Celestia, and had no desire to be. Even in the dim and distant past when she had ruled with her sister, she had acted based on what should be rather than what was. Luna faced them with her head raised and ears perked. With any manner of luck at all it would be something simple.

“The Court recognizes Governor Greengrove, Professor Gandaria, and Lady Marquis Ruby,” Spike called, and Twilight blocked out the sounds of the court, instead regarding her brother. There was part of her that was glad to see him, but there was a far greater part of her that felt utterly crushed under the mounting weight of events. Proclaiming herself to the court was far easier than trying to explain herself to her brother.

“And to think mom and dad chide me for not writing...” Shining Armor shook his head, giving her a familiar grin. “At least I told them when I got engaged!”

“Shiny,” she sighed. “I’m sorry, it’s just been so overwhelming.” She shook her head, feeling more than a little bewildered. She’d found that her godhead did little to help with the chaos and confusion of everyday life; rather, it seemed to contribute, especially with the odd and unbalanced weight of Equestria tugging at her mind. “What are you doing here?”

“State visit,” Shining Armor said gently. “We already finished most of our business with Celestia, and we were planning on heading back in a few days. I hoped we would have time to stop by Ponyville, but since you’re here anyway, surely there’s some time in your schedule for family?”

Twilight winced. There was an undeniable plea in those words, despite his light tone, and it was one he shouldn’t have had to make. “Of course. We’ll come over for dinner at some point, I promise. Or you here? I don’t know which would be best, I’ll have to ask Luna and with the schedule I’m not sure when the court ends and we still have to take care of the night and I have to raise the sun so it’s good I don’t need to sleep much anymore and - “

“Easy, Twily! It’s not an emergency,” Shining Armor chuckled. “Just a dinner, that’s all. Or even a breakfast, since you’re raising the sun now.” He paused and shook his head. “I can’t believe my little sister would be doing...well, all of this. I always knew you’d go far, sis, I just never imagined you’d go all the way off the edge of the map.”

Twilight smiled herself. She had been filled with some formless dread when Shining Armor had asked to talk to her, but he was open, earnest, accepting, and in all the same brother she’d always known. It was a welcome slice of normality after the surreal strangeness of the day, and she felt at least a little more grounded. “Thank you, Shiny. Tell mom and dad we’ll be by, I promise. Or they’ll hear from us, whichever.” She frowned for a moment at her own words. “I need to get organized,” she muttered, half to herself.

“That sounds like my cue to leave,” Shining Armor grinned. “I know better than to stand in the way of Twilight organizing. I also kind of skipped out on some important meeting or another when I heard.” He waved dismissively, then smiled. “It was worth it though. It was good to see you, little sister.” He gathered her up in a tight hug and she giggled, returning it.

“You too, big brother. I’ll see you again soon.” She let him go and watched as he walked off toward one of the many doors, vanishing again into the palace. What turned her back toward the throne was Luna’s voice booming out through the room.

“You dare to try and deceive me?” Luna was glowering down at the trio of earth ponies, but Twilight was relieved to see there were no storm clouds. She was irritated, not truly enraged. Still, Twilight fairly leapt back to her place at Luna’s side, putting a light hoof on Luna’s. The alicorn glanced at her, nodded briefly to show she was still in control, then turned a withering look on the petitioners.

Twilight didn’t recognize them herself; they were simply well-dressed and affronted-looking earth ponies, but through her divine eyes they were closely linked and intertwined. Their souls were not as bright as her friends were, the fires dimmer and duller. There was something about that small detail that made her take notice and pay attention to them beyond what they said.

“You have no desire to bring earth ponies and unicorns to the sky. You want to take it for yourselves.” Twilight blinked, trying to focus on Luna’s words and her own senses at the same time. It wasn’t just a simple division of attention; it was as if she had had two minds or even two bodies. It was an oddly stretched sensation, one she hadn’t felt since she had first learned to use her magic as a filly.

“But, Your Highness!” the Lady Marquis Ruby protested. “Surely having all the airships working together could only benefit Equestria.”

“Under this...proposal,” Luna growled. “They would be working for you.”

“Your Majesty,” Professor Gandaria wheedled, “if I could elaborate - “

“No.” Luna cut him off, then turned her head. “Twilight,” she said. “Does Equestria truly need a more robust and more coordinated airship fleet?”

Twilight blinked again, suddenly aware that every eye in the room had shifted to her. She hadn’t been prepared for the test, but she was up to the challenge. She summoned forth the knowledge of all the books she’d read and discussed in preparation to advise Luna, and strained the facts through the net of her intellect. “The trains go most places in Equestria,” she said. “And pegasi and earth ponies take care of most of the local traffic. However, we do not have a rail line to Draconia, and most high-endurance pegasi are already employed.”

Couched as a lecture, she was almost comfortable speaking in front of so many assembled and judging ponies. “Significant trade with Draconia at this stage would require dedicated cargo airships, and ones that can deal with the non-pegasi-controlled weather beyond the borders of Equestria. We don’t have any. Yet.”

She turned to face Luna fully, preferring to address the answer to her rather than the court. “I’m not sure what the proposal was, but there’s definitely room for a larger fleet. Even if it is only for trade with Draconia.”

“Very well.” Luna broke her princess’ mask for a second to give Twilight a wink before she turned to the petitioners before her. “You wanted to control the skies, and that I will not have. But neither would I crush the spark of your desire. If you wish to do great things you shall have your chance.”

When she spoke again her voice held a kind of a power, not born of magic or divinity but of passion. “We do not have a great fleet of airships. Make one. Invent. Create. Build a fleet to awe even the proudest dragon. Find ponies who share your dream. Rise up and find a future where all of Equestria is richer for your efforts. In this, the crown will support you.”

The banked fires of pony souls guttered, flared, and danced under the breath of Luna’s words. Twilight watched with the same sense of dawning understanding as when magical theory bloomed and flowered into real effects upon the world. She wasn’t sure if it was Luna the pony, Luna the goddess, or Luna the princess that was having such an effect, or whether those three could even be separated, but she had a sudden, intuitive flash of how much more it took to rule than simply making decisions.

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” The Lady Marquis Ruby bowed, her aplomb intact but a slight, unidentifiable hitch in her voice. They withdrew, immediately swarmed by functionaries and courtiers. There would be reams of paperwork, Twilight knew that much from her time in proximity to Celestia, but a Princess’ pledge was never broken.

A motion caught her eye and she spotted her friends on a balcony overseeing the room. Pinkie, of course, was waving energetically, and Twilight imagined how much effort it had taken Rarity and Applejack combined to keep her from shouting out over the crowd. She lifted a hoof to wave back, and to her surprise Luna did too, again abandoning the royal dignity to grin and return Pinkie’s enthusiasm with both hooves.

Twilight’s heart lifted as she watched Luna beam, and she realized that perhaps the princess hadn’t abandoned her dignity at all. There was no diminishment of her presence, no shame or break of decorum. She simply did not regard the court in the same manner that Celestia did, and yet controlled it still, reigning by force of will and personality.

All the burdens of the day seemed a little bit lessened, and Twilight sidled in a little closer to Luna. She wasn’t quite brave enough to do more than that in front of all the proper ponies of the court, but Luna had no such compunctions. When she noticed Twilight’s gesture she scooped her up with an earth pony’s strength and pulled her into an enthusiastic kiss and embrace before releasing her, blushing, to sit on the divan beside the princess.

The display seemed to satisfy Pinkie, who sat back down in her seat with a smug look and to the mutterings of the multitude. Luna ignored them and nodded at Spike. He stared, blinked, then remembered himself and looked at the clipboard Skyshine had left him. “Lady Granite may approach the throne,” he bellowed.

Twilight had spent some time in Celestia’s court, so she was passingly familiar with how the sun princess handled her petitioners. Rarely was an answer simply yes or no. Celestia steered the conversation so that an answer was arrived at by all parties that seemed to be the inevitable conclusion. Luna, too, avoided the simple answer, instead taking the threads of what the petitioner wanted and weaving something new from it.

She could tell the court was unsettled by the abrupt change, but Luna still managed to keep it well in hoof. It wasn’t that any of the ponies would have defied her; she was a princess, even if she wasn’t Celestia. But pony after pony walked away from the throne with, if not satisfaction, at least a changed perspective.

As the hours wore on, the nervous-excited-overwhelmed swirl, both within her and in the court, neither settled nor worsened. Simply sitting and thinking, responding to Luna’s questions, was surprisingly exhausting, but her friends provided support. Throughout the long afternoon there was always at least one of them at the balcony, even as time dragged out while Luna cut through obscuring minutiae or pompadour-bedecked aristocrats droned about their selfish desires.

Eventually, though, the tide of ponies ebbed and Luna rose from the throne. “Court will resume tomorrow evening,” she told the remaining spectators. “The night is my domain, but I recognize I do not share that with most ponies. The compromise will be court at dusk and dawn. I bid you all a good evening.”

Twilight followed Luna back through the door at the back of the chamber, trailed by Spike and Skyshine. The moment it closed behind them Luna seemed to sag, letting out a long breath. “Well, I suppose that could have been worse.”

“I thought it went well!” Twilight countered, glancing back at the other two in hopes of support.

“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Skyshine admitted, “but I’ve been waiting for this for years.” She gave Twilight an almost shy smile. “Is it strange that I’m looking forward to being buried in paperwork?”

“Well, I had fun,” Spike declared, rubbing at his throat. “Though I feel kind of sore after all that.”

“Perhaps it wasn’t so bad,” Luna said, her ears flicking equivocally. “But I have not done that for so long. In truth I spent much of it worrying about which of Tia’s plans I was upsetting.”

Twilight winced. Celestia’s manipulations were a looming specter for both of them, but for Luna the wound was older and deeper. “It really isn’t that way though,” she said. “It’s about what you’re doing now - what we’re doing.”

“I suppose,” Luna said, but didn’t sound entirely convinced. “But at least we’re finished for a while. Do you think the others will join us for dinner?”

“Oh, I’m sure. I don’t know if they can stay all week but at least today - “


She stopped in her tracks at the sound of the voice. Ahead of them were all five of her friends, plus Shining Armor and Cadence, and accompanying them were two more very familiar ponies.

“Um,” she said, staring in blank shock. “Luna? I’d like you to meet my parents.”