• Published 29th Dec 2013
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Obiter Dicta - GhostOfHeraclitus



A collection of short stories, vignettes, and deleted scenes, mostly based in the Civil Serviceverse and tending to be either slice of life or comedy.

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An Afternoon for Dotted Line

An Afternoon for Dotted Line


If you were visited by royalty, Dotted reflected, you usually had some foreknowledge. You could make sure that the place was clean and presentable. Dust things. Scrub. Polish the silver, should you have any.

Not so with dreams.

He heard the beating of mighty wings. A familiar sound. A hopeful sound. A frightening sound. Dotted looked around in panic. Rain-soaked rocky beach. Waves crashing against it. Overcast skies above drizzling in a sort of vague, uninterested way.

Reassuringly normal, all of it. Well, there was a house floating in the sky—only occasionally it was an orange depending on the angle you looked at it from—but that couldn’t be helped. Still, not embarrassing, not as such. At least unless Her Majesty thought to ask what it was a dream of.

He could hear the click of hooves behind him, and he turned, bowing quickly. Dream or not, it didn’t do to forget one’s manners. Luna, the Ruler of the Night, and, perhaps more importantly right now, the Steward of the Dreaming, stood before him. She’d tried for a smile, he saw, but didn’t quite manage. Something of her accustomed stern mien bled through and the smile, paradoxically, made it worse. He replied with a smile of his own, and, by force of habit, reached to tug his chain of office back into place. It wasn’t there and he felt a stab of panic. It was always there. He forced his hoof away from the bare patch through an effort of will, and focused his attention on the princess. If Luna noticed any of this, there was no sign of it. Instead, she spoke, her voice much quieter than normal.

“Dotted Line? We are sorry for disturbing th—your sleep, and would normally consider this an unworthy use of ou—mine powers as the steward of the dreaming, but my sister did ask.”

“Yes, Your Majesty?”

“My sister wishes to see you at your earliest convenience. But, please, don’t wake up right—”

The ground quaked, the rocks leaping up into the sky which turned a nasty bruised color before crumpling and burning away. The ashes became birds which faded, leaving behind only the flutter of wings and a faint mournful cry. The house/orange thing burst into dandelion seeds which dispersed on a wind that took with it the sea and the early morning light. Luna was left alone in a formless void with only the rain, falling from nowhere to nowhere, less because of gravity and more out of sheer obstinate habit. After a few moments even that stopped.

“—away. I told her this would happen,” she said, sighing, and with a single beat of her powerful wings, departed the dreaming.

* * *

Dotted awoke, blind, trapped, and struggling to breathe. For most this would be cause for panic, but Dotted, after the initial shock, knew what was going on. He had fallen asleep in a filing cabinet. Again. He sighed in the warm, papery darkness, and kicked out once, hard. The weak hinge of the filing cabinet gave way, as he knew it would, and the drawer slid into his office. He heaved himself out of the drawer and noted with grim satisfaction that he had conscientiously filed himself under ‘L.’

He looked around the office which, chaotic even in the best of times, now appeared a battleground. Behind his desk the piles of paperwork were merging, threatening to one day wash away all of the furnishings in a papery tsunami. The cleaning staff was going to have a fit when they saw the state of it. Still, he had some time to tidy. They never came in on the morning after Hearthwarm—his eye, lazily drifting across the room, caught sight of his clock and he leapt up into the air with a muffled curse. He was late. He always had a brief meeting with Her Majesty first thing in the morning, and it was a quarter past ten. It took him one breathless instant to realize all of this, another to panic, and yet a third to start running. He was late and Celestia had sent Luna herself to wake him. Dotted couldn’t begin to imagine how the princess might react. What she might do. He ran faster.

He reached the door to Her Majesty’s study in two minutes and eighteen seconds, breaking several speeding ordinances in the process, the sort usually meant to rein in daredevil pegasi. The guards watched him impassively—as per tradition—but he could swear he read a touch of worry in their posture. He took a precious second to regain some of his breath and then, with considerable trepidation, walked past them wheezing out a “Good, uh, Morning, Sergeant Cloud. Sergeant Winter” as he did. They nodded, and made no move to stop him. Well that was something. At least he still retained his job.

He crept in, quieter now than even last night, and bowed deep. He couldn’t quite look at her, not yet. He couldn’t take the look of disappointment, not this soon after waking. He just couldn’t. So his eyes were still firmly fixed on the carpet when he spoke.

“Good Morning, Your Majesty. I—I am terribly sorry. I, well, I overslept, and I—”

“Mr. Secretary! What are you doing up?”

“—didn’t mean to be late, I must have not heard the alarm, the paper does muffle it, but that’s absolutely no excuse and I ought to have—”

“Mr. Secretary?”

“—just incredibly sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“Dotted Line?”

Dotted stopped short, and, with considerable hesitation, lifted his eyes to meet those of his princess. She—she didn’t seem disappointed. Or angry. Just…worried? Heavens. He didn’t worry her, did he? He opened his mouth to speak but his princess raised a hoof and, instantly, the words died on his lips.

“The guards I sent to find you didn’t want to disturb you—you had clearly had a very hard night—and I agreed with them. I asked my sister to give you a message in the only way I knew wouldn’t wake you. Clearly that didn’t work. Are you well?”

“Yes. Of course. Fine. I’m sorry I was—”

“You need not apologize. I am only sorry your sleep was interrupted. You get precious little of it, as I understand.”

“I’m so—it is very unfortunate I was so late.”

“It is no trouble, I assure you. But now that you are here, I would like to draw your attention to an odd occurrence.”

“Yes, Your Majesty?”

“Last night I wanted to finish the work regarding the new treaty with Zebrica, but I fell asleep. I find it very hard to stay up after the sun has set, I am afraid. That is the price of being so attuned to it.”

“It’s quite alright, Your Majesty.”

“Except, this morning, I found the work all completed on my desk.”

“Sleepwriting. Very common. Like sleepwalking, but with writing. A bit embarrassing on occasion, but a great boon to students, as I understand it.”

Celestia’s worried expression softened into a gentle smile, and Dotted’s heart sang just a little bit because of it. He tried not to let any of that show. That’s not how the game was played, after all.

“Except, Mr. Secretary, none of it was in my hoofwriting.”

“A Hearthwarming miracle, perhaps?”

“It was in your hoofwriting.”

“Well, miracles are peculiar things. I’m given to understand that they often choose the most unlikely vessels for their, ah, miraculous purposes.”

“I see. I had intended to give a copy of the papers to you, but something tells me the miracle saw fit to leave them on your desk.”

“In my desk drawer, Your Majesty. Very neat. Very tidy.”

“A very considerate miracle, this.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

There was a brief pause, as both players regarded their performance. Neither was dissatisfied. It was an old game, true, but a cherished one.

“Have a very happy Hearthwarming, Dotted Line.”

“Likewise, Your Majesty. A Happy Hearthwarming. Will your require anything else?”

“One more thing.”

“Anything Your Majesty requires.”

“Go rest. Miracle-working is tiring work, as I of all ponies should know. You might even regard it as a professional opinion.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. As soon as—”

“Mr. Secretary?”

“Yes?”

“I am your princess.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Being that, on occasion, I do give you orders.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“This, I suggest, is one of those times.”

“Your Majesty?”

“Go. Rest. At the very least this afternoon. If I must, I will make it an official royal command. And I shall arrange that it be in writing with calligraphy and I shall have town-criers read it out in the square.”

“No need, Your Majesty. Besides, I sent the Notary Royal home for the holidays. I’d have to write up the order prohibiting me from doing any work myself. And then, I guess, I’d have to write up a note of censure about me breaking that command and so on. Bit of a vicious circle.”

Celestia’s smile grew into a grin.

“Go, Mr. Secretary. Rest.”

* * *

Dotted’s home wasn’t what people expected. The post of Cabinet Secretary had a very generous, some might even say extravagant, salary and involved a lot of rubbing shoulders[1] with nobility. Thus, most Cabinet Secretaries lived as Canterlot lords and ladies, and the majority of ponies expected a mansion. Those who knew Dotted well knew there was no chance of that, but were at a loss to come up with an alternative. Not that they didn’t try for fanciful theories, anyway. Spinning Top once suggested a house-sized teapot, and Balanced Ledger, in the same tipsy conversation, suggested that he had no home, aside from his office, and that there was a bathroom and a kitchen buried somewhere in the papery strata.


[1] Or knocking heads. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Or, in the case of Lady Moonflower, Cabinet Secretary 137-158, literally speaking.


The truth was, Dotted lived in a comically tiny two-story rowhouse at the outermost part of Canterlot, nestled against the outer walls. A very unfashionable quarter, whose decent view and clean air in no way made up for catching the very worst of the weather. The house was ancient but sturdy, the only signs of age being the extensive network of cracks and faults in the stonework. So extensive, in fact, that it harbored a thriving little ecosystem of its own, with ivy blending into moss, and several different pigeon species warring over choice nesting spots in cracks and faults in the stonework. It was only through the dint of hard work that Dotted managed to keep his home from being classified as a wildlife refuge.

Dotted reclined in the ratty old easy-chair in his front room, leafing distractedly through the Journal of Improbable Chemistry, occasionally pausing to take a sip of tea, or to write ‘rubbish!’ in the margins. He never spent much time in his home, which rather explained just how tidy it was. It never had time to get otherwise. Tidy it was, but it was also cold and quiet and empty.

He realized he had read the same sentence about charge separation fourteen times in the past five minutes and threw the journal down on the side table in disgust. He took a sip of the tea and made a face. It didn’t taste right. The chair didn’t feel right. It was all wrong.

He got up and started wandering around his tiny living room, but there really wasn’t enough room to pace properly. Instead he shuffled along the same patch of threadbare carpet desperate for something to capture his attention. The new trade treaty will need to be ratified in the House, of course. There’s no good reason to be opposed to it, but someone will need to reassure the Whitetail South and Whitetail East MPs that the paper mills in their constituencies will be unaffected. Maybe suggest a preferred-vendor approach to—

Dotted jerked away from that thought. He was supposed to rest. Hay, he had orders to that effect. And, besides, how hard could it be not to think about parliamentary politics?

He redoubled his pacing.

Briefly, he wondered how Leafy, Inky, and the kids were doing in Fillydelphia, but that thought hurt so he gave up on it too. He sat in the chair again, but his thoughts immediately drifted back to the treaty, so he flung himself out of it as if it were on fire. Seeing as there was nowhere else to sit, he sat back down again, feeling foolish, picked up a piece of paper and a quill and set about idly sketching a wildly irresponsible proposal for a high-density rocket fuel[2], the sort that used to give his doctoral thesis adviser apoplectic fits. Happier times.

As he sketched and scribbled, he drifted off, and appeared not to notice when what looked unmistakably like a diagram of the seating plan of the House of Commons began to take part on his paper. After a while he began to hum tunelessly.


[2] It was chemically highly amusing, but somewhat impractical, considering that actually using it would involve poisoning everything within a mile of the launch site in two separate yet equally horrifying ways, melting whatever remained after that, and then setting the remainder, if any, on fire.

On the other hoof, it did launch you heavenward with considerable alacrity. Which was probably a good idea, since ponies would be looking for you. A lot of ponies. Curiously insistent ponies, in fact. With big sticks.


* * *

The sound of knocking on the door shook Dotted out of his reverie. He glanced guiltily at the parchment, and noted that he had devised the majority of a plan to launch the House of Commons into Low Epona Orbit, lock, stock, and porkbarrel. He heard another knock, got up, considered the paper, made to crumple it, thought better of it, and filed it. He flung the door open, and goggled at his most unexpected caller.

“Leafy? But—you are in Fillydelphia.”

Leafy grinned and tugged his scarf into place.

“I am?”

“Yes, you—well, no, obviously you aren’t but—what are you doing—is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine. You are a world-class worrywart, you know that, right?”

“Well I’ve a lot to worry about. Want to come in? I’ll put the kettle on?”

“No. No. I have errands to run, but I wanted to tell you Inky and the kids would love it if you’d drop by.”

“They are here too?”

“Yes. We came back early.”

“Why?”

“Oh, the kids were whining up a storm. Something about it not being a proper Hearthwarming without this ‘Uncle Dotty’ character,” he said with a smile, breath misting in the icy air.

Dotted’s face was a battleground between glee, worry, and contrition. Thanks to a cowardly and underhanded ambush, glee was sweeping the field, though pockets of the opposition were still visible here and there.

“Oh. Oh! Um. Sorry. You know how kids are sometim—”

Dotted stopped. Leafy had reached out and laid a hoof on his shoulder, and kept it there until Dotted met his gaze. For once, Leafy was serious. No smile, no arch wink, no joke. It made him look smaller somehow. And older, too.

“Dotty. We, hah, we didn’t really take much convincing.”

With a glad yell the last of the enemy pockets were routed, and glee stood proudly victorious.

“Um. Thank you. I—Inky’s parents aren’t going to be happy.”

“They’ll cope. We’ve promised a vacation together. So you coming?”

“Oh, of course I am.”

Leafy beamed. In an instant, he sprung back into his old self, and a dozen years seem to slip away from his brow.

“I’ll run along now. See you there?”

“Sure.”

Leafy shook the snow from his wings, stretched, and then took to the air with a few well-practiced wingbeats. Remarkably quickly, he became quite difficult to spot, just another white speck among many. Leafy would have been a pretty good racer. Shame he never got the hang of going around corners.

Dotted spent a few minutes blinking after him, and rushed back inside to grab a hat and a a scarf. He’d make that much of a concession to his increasingly creaky bones, but he drew a line at boots. He’d have to renounce his status as a Northisle native if he donned hoofboots for anything less than a raging blizzard. He threw the clothing on, and ran past the hall mirror giving himself one cursory look. As he did, his hoof automatically went for his neck, and he adjusted his chain of office and stopped. He stood unsteadily for a second, hoof touching cold silver. Then, determined, he took the necklace off with his telekinesis. It was amazing how heavy it was. You didn’t even notice, wearing it all the time, until you took it off. He rubbed the suddenly bare patch on his neck absent-mindedly then nodded, and ran off.

* * *

The Salad residence was even farther from the center of Canterlot Town than Dotted’s. Unlike Dotted, who was out at the outskirts because he’d bought the same house he rented when he was an impecunious researcher, Leafy and his family were all the way outside the city walls because that was the only place you could get a bit of a garden without having a major street named after you, or rather your family. Your exceptionally, indeed, extravagantly pecunious family.

And while the house was unremarkable, a rambling two-story built of honey-colored stone, the garden was, in Dotted’s completely biased opinion, the finest in Canterlot[3]. Now, in the dead of winter, it was mostly just an expanse of snow dotted with bare-branched trees. There was also an asymmetrical but enthusiastically built snowpony, and in one corner a defiantly verdant and flowering rhododendron[4]. Luckily, the snow seemed to have tranquilized the migrating herb patch, and it could be seen as a vague mound, shifting slightly under the snow, even though there was no wind. Dotted knocked on the bright green door, and heard a muffled “Come in!” from inside. The Salads didn’t really bother locking their door most of the time. Crime simply didn’t happen to the pony who ran most of Equestria’s police force. And, besides, the houseplants could probably eat any interlopers.


[3] Pushed, he might admit that there was such a thing as the Palace Gardens, but he'd defend his stance by pointing out that, by virtue of being accessible to the public, they were really more of a park. And besides, they didn't have a swing, and did use to have the stone prison of the personification of all chaos. Two major black marks right there.
[4] This illustrated why it was vitally important not to let a biochemist have unchecked control over any plot of land larger than about a square foot. Some ponies took up gardening to get away from their day jobs. Dr. Inky Salad-Flower, Green Hoof Chair for Inadvisable Botany, never quite managed.


He opened the door with care, and slipped in, shaking snow from his thick coat. The house seemed surprisingly quiet. With three exuberant children, their no less exuberant if frequently tired mother, and Leafy Salad one of only three ponies in Equestria who could sleep exuberantly, the house was never quiet. Never, the thought came to him, unless—

“FOALPILE ON UNCLE DOTTY!”

—it was deliberate, he thought in the fuzzy, uncertain manner of someone who had just been stunned by a foalvalanche.

“HAPPY HEARTHWARMING!”

“Tffrf yff. Hffy hffwffinf fy yff tff.”

“Lio, what did uncle Dotty say?”

Filly’s voice. That would be Daisy. Dotted thought he could feel her hooves somewhere on his withers.

“Stop sitting on his head and maybe we’ll hear it properly.”

That was a colt. So Dandelion. Probably the crushing weight on his back, then.

There was a sudden light, blessed blessed air, and the freedom to get up. Dotted stood in the archway that led into the parlor and blocking his way were Daisy and Dandelion Salad, all but vibrating with excitement. Dandelion kept fluffing and re-fluffing his wings, while Daisy hopped in place, suspending herself in the air with frantic flapping from her stubby little wings. She was getting, Dotted noted, some pretty good air. Time for flight camp? He put those thoughts aside and tried not to grin. He might have tried to leap over the sun, for all the good it did him.

“I said ‘Thank you. Happy Hearthwarming to you too.’ How was Fillydelphia?”

Boring! They wouldn’t let me use the chemistry set you got me!” Dandelion’s adopted an attitude of aggrieved dignity so fierce that Dotted had to suppress a sudden mad impulse to giggle.

“Well, they might have been worried about, um, stains. And perhaps your mother—”

“—wants to have a word with you, Dotted.” Inky Salad-Flower was an earth pony mare, about three inches taller than Dotted, and with a caramel coat, chocolate colored mane, and a cutie mark of a dark tulip ending in a nib. This was all quite agreeable. She was quite pretty, and had a pleasant, soothing voice[5]. Likewise agreeable. Despite all this agreeableness she looked like a dragon might, if you woke one up by, say, hitting it over the head with its largest diamond. Which you then ate.


[5] Just ask her students, who could generally go from wide awake to blissful slumber after only three minutes of her lecturing. Over the years she graduated from tossing bits of chalk at the more flagrant snoozers and snorers to a custom-built squirtgun.


“Happy Hearthwarming, um, Inky,” Dotted squeaked.

Inky’s countenance reverted instantly to a heartfelt smile. “And a happy Hearthwarming to you, too, Dotty.” Having said this, she quickly returned to the distinctive look of somepony who’s already decided where to hide your body, though now there was the barest trace of a suppressed grin.

“Now. Dotty. About that chemistry set.”

Moooom. I told you it was safe,” said Dandelion, who traded in injured dignity for expert wheedling. Might make a good actor, thought Dotted, or if Inky and Leafy fail utterly as parents, a good politician. Now there was a shuddersome thought.

“I know it’s safe, Lio. I know Dotted. That’s not the issue. Dotted? Are you teaching my children chemistry?

Dotted grinned. It was hard not to. This was an old, old game, but neither of them tired of it.

“Only a bit. Some redox. Some stoichiometry. Perfectl—mostly harmless.”

“You are a corrupter of youth, you are.”

“I shall await my hemlock smoothie with stoicism, then,” said Dotted, and smiled and waved as he saw Leafy come downstairs.

“Wrong philosophical school, Dotty, wrong philosophical school,” Inky replied.

“Daaaad!” said Dandelion, “Mom and uncle Dotty aren’t making sense. Again.”

“You get used to it, squirt. Hi, Dotty,” Leafy replied, ruffling his son’s mane.

“Hi! Everypony’s here, I see. Except Rose? Where…?”

“She’s upstairs,” said Inky with an odd smile.

“She wouldn’t do the foalpile with us ‘cuz she said she was too big. She’s not too big, is she uncle Dotty?” asked Daisy.

“Well—”

“An’ an’ I think she’s only sayin’ that ‘cuz she’s up there tuning her—”

Daisy’s eyes got very, very wide and she clamped one hoof over her traitorous mouth, then she looked, panic-stricken, to her mother, father, brother, and finally sort-of-honorary-uncle and managed to squeak out, “—room?”

Dotted’s eyebrows rose.

“Do you, uh, tune rooms?”

Leafy gave a rueful smile.

“Not generally, no. You better go upstairs. She’d set us on fire if we told you anything. We’ll be waiting for you downstairs. You are staying for dinner.”

“Well I wouldn’t want to—”

“—wasn’t a question, mate. Statement of fact. Now go on. She’s in her room. Tuning it, apparently,” Leafy said winking at a mortified Daisy.

* * *

Dotted reached the door of Rose’s room, which was a sober brown decorated only by a plaque with Rose’s cutie mark—a sixteenth note—quite unlike Dandelion’s door which was positively festooned with labels, and dire warnings. Were they serious rather than fanciful and, arguably[6], decorative, the only pony allowed to open the door would be the Surgeon-General of Equestria, and even she would have to get special dispensation from Celestia and Luna both. He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts, and his hoof went to adjust his chain of office and stopped, inches away from his coat. With some effort he lowered it, straightened his posture, and knocked.


[6] And, boy, were they some arguments.


“Come in?” Rose sounded…apprehensive? He pushed on the door and entered.

Rose was sitting in her favorite chair fussing over her violin almost like one would over a newborn. She glanced up, saw Dotted, and started a little bit. With great care, and considerable dexterity for an earth-pony, she laid the instrument on its little stand, and got to her hooves, smiling nervously.

“Uncle Dotty! I wasn’t—I mean you—I mean happy Hearthwarming! Um. Oh! Thank you so much for the tickets! I thought they were sold out instantly! How did—I mean they are wonderful and I always wanted to hear Octavia Van Clef perform the—”

Rose started to ramble. Dotted, who had spent most of her foalhood with her in his capacity as foalsitter-in-chief, knew this was a sign of almost terminal nervousness. Still, he let her talk and let his eyes flit across the room. Nothing seemed out of place. Upright piano, with enough sheet music piled on to nearly obscure it; writing desk, untidy; closet, surprisingly tidy; a corkboard covered to an inch’s depth with notes, music scores, and concert posters. Everything was reassuringly normal.

“—they say that she ends that phrase with an appoggiatura which is really tricky because—oh, but I’m rambling.”

“It’s fine, Rose. Please, tell me, are you okay?”

“Well—uh—I do have news.”

She sounded apprehensive. Dotted carefully kept how worried he was off his face.

“Yes?”

“You—you know how I wanted to go to the Canterlot Conservatory?”

Dotted’s heart sank, and his hooves grew cold. He was sure she would get in. Sure of it. But if it were good news she wouldn’t be this apprehensive. Hay. If she had gotten in, there’d be a party on already. Leafy would see to it. That must mean she didn’t—that they hadn’t— that she was— Dotted couldn’t even think it.

He tried to marshal some comforting words, but could find none—none seemed adequate, not for this level of disappointment. He would probably never have children, and Rose… Well, he loved the rest of the kids as if they were his own, honestly, but Rose—he suspected she was as close to a daughter as anything he’d ever have. And to have this happen to her! He remembered how she would ramble on about her dreams and about music and—all of it, gone. It’s those stuck-up prejudiced tribalist bastards in the admission board, he was sure of it. Not good enough because she’s not a unicorn, was she? Rejected without an entrance exam, was she? Well now. His hoof flew to his neck to wrench the chain into place and he suppressed a stab of irritation that it wasn’t there. We’ll see about— he caught himself short. It wasn’t time for anger. Not now. He took a deep shuddering breath and managed, with some difficulty, to speak.

“Y—Yes?”

“Well, I, uh, I got in.”

“Oh, my dear, dear Rose I am so very sorr—wait… did you say you got in?”

“Yes.”

It would be an exaggeration to say that Dotted’s whoop could be heard all the way to the palace, but only just.

“That’s marvel—no, that’s the best news ever! Why aren’t we celebrating right now? When did you learn—when was your entrance exam?”

“A week ago.”

“A week? Then why… Why didn’t you tell me? I would have attended! I would have made time.”

“Yeah. But—but you are you. You sitting there would have influenced the judges. I… I wanted to do this for myself. Because later, well, I’d always wonder, wouldn’t I?”

“Oh, come on, Rose. Hardly anypony knows who I am. They wouldn’t even notice me sitting in the back.”

Rose gave him a Look that made Dotted instantly think of Celestia. It’s the sort of look that suggest that you are not only an open book, but the large print edition, too.

“Maybe they wouldn’t know who you are, and maybe they would, but you’d make sure of it, wouldn’t you? Oh, not in person, no, but you’d make an indiscreet remark to just the wrong pony, who’d blab to just the right pony, and your reputation would precede you. Accidentally on purpose,” Rose said, maintaining the Look.

“Nons—well. Um,” Dotted said, sighing, “have you been talking to the princess?”

“Which one?”

“Take your pick. You sound like all of them. Okay. Yes. I might have—but I just want you to do well and I would never tell them to do anything—but you know how snobbish some of these—”

“Yes. Yes. I know why you’d do it, but—I had to do it alone. And so you couldn’t know. Are… are you angry with me?”

“Oh, Rose,” Dotted sighed, and rushed in to hug her, “of course I’m not. I’m proud. I’m happy. But I’m not even a little bit angry. You were nervous about that?”

“Well, um, a little bit. But there’s another reason. You know how the entrance exam requires that you play your own composition?”

“Yes. I was there when you read the exam rules.”

“Yes. Yes. Well,” the nervousness returned to Rose. She cast around for something to say, gave up, grabbed a sheaf of papers and thrust them at Dotted.

Dotted scanned the score. Foalsitting Rose for all those years had required a surprising facility with music theory, and Dotted had a very good memory. So he could, with some difficulty, make some sense of the score. A solo violin piece, very difficult, lots of ornamentation and trickery that made it seem like the violin was playing more than one melody at a time. A lot of it played in pizzicato, too. He was just about to start sounding out the main theme when he noticed the title. ‘An Afternoon for Dotted Line’

Dotted lifted his eyes, wide with surprise, to regard Rose who was… yes, she was blushing. It was hard to tell, what with her honey-brown coat, but it was there.

“Rose—I… I don’t know what to say…”

“I thought I could maybe play it to, um, to you, if—if you want to—” Rose was stuttering now, uncertain, but the bow was attached to her hoof and she held the violin gently.

Dotted smiled, motioned with a hoof, and sat down, the picture of attentiveness. Rose got to her hind hooves in one smooth motion, and began, one long note held steady, fading at the end into a sort of practiced discord. It was always a wonder, seeing her play. No matter how nervous, listless, sad, angry, or anything she was before, the moment the bow touched the strings a profound peace settled on her. She’d half-close her eyes and just drift off, almost seeming asleep, while her hooves danced and blurred.

The music started slowly. A simple theme played once, serious and solemn, with no ornament and in it, woven throughout, the rhythm of crashing waves. Then a counterpoint, plucked and cheerful, seeming to laugh and caper. At the final note, Rose seemed to accelerate and the two melodies intertwined and danced one ‘round the other. It hardly seemed possible that one violin was making all of these sounds, but no matter how carefully Dotted looked, an orchestra refused to materialize. The music grew yet more complex, introducing another theme to the dance, a variation on the Equestrian March, bold and official. The swirling complexity of it all continued, with three themes weaving and melding in a dance that was becoming more furious with each passing measure.

After a while, Rose somehow found some new reserve of energy and a fourth theme was added, a soft elusive variation on the Solar Hymn. The four themes fought. They had to, there wasn’t room on the violin’s strings for velvet dances, or considerations anymore, and the noise of battle quickly grew cacophonous. Of course, this was still a single violin and the cacophony was… restrained, seen more in the chromatic nature of the notes, rather than sheer volume. Still, there was no mistaking it, where once there was harmony, now there was war. After a climax where the violin was made to shudder and weep, there was a full semibreve rest, and the piece seemed to start anew, but now it was the second theme, the laughing one, that was played first and all the other ones followed, laughing along with it.

The piece ended, and Dotted reminded himself to breathe. Rose opened her eyes, at last, going from beatific calm to nervous in one move.

“Did—did you like it, I wrote it so—are you crying?”

“No. No. I—I just have something in my eyes, is all.”

“Oh,” Rose said, eyes narrowing, “what’s that?”

“Tears.”

“Oh. Did you—”

“—I loved it. It was… beautiful.”

Rose rushed and threw her hooves around Dotted’s neck, nearly clipping him alongside the muzzle with her bow.

“Thank you,” said Dotted, his voice rough.

“What for?”

“Best Hearthwarming present ever.”

Rose smiled, and let go, walking back to put the bow and the violin on their little stand. While she was busy tidying up, Dotted spoke.

“The judges—did they ask who this ‘Dotted Line’ was?”

Rose turned, and grinned.

“They did! After they told me I passed.”

“And what did you say?”

“The pony who makes sure your budget passes every year.”

“Attagirl.”

Author's Note:

This story dedicated to Kobalstromo, who is made of win, whom I promised I'd write this a very, very long time ago. Sorry it took so long, mate.

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