• Published 20th Feb 2014
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Climbing the Mountain - Talon and Thorn



The story of Baron Mounty Max and his early years as part of the Night Court of Equestria and how his destiny became intertwined with Duchess Fragrant Posey during that momentous time.

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Leaving Home

“Max!” called Off Piste cantering to a stop, “Mail run!” The deputy mayor of Sadlzburg was a brown earth pony stallion. He had his trademark skis strapped to his sides. “I just got in from Praris,” he explained waving a thick pack of letters. The postal system in the area was sporadic at best. Most of the mail was left at the nearest city which was almost a day’s journey to get to. It was collected from the post office whenever somepony visited and then stored in the town hall until someone came to collect it or was heading in the correct direction to act as mailpony. It wasn’t the quickest or most private of systems but it seemed to work. Max was trying to improve it by making collections more frequent, hence Piste’s weekly trips. Being an expert skier he could normally make the round trip in less than a day.

“Just a minute Piste,” said Mounty Max, the Lord Mayor of Sadlzburg, wiping his brow with a foreleg. “I think that did it, Whitefeather,” he said admiring his work. The panic caused by the longest night had resulted in some minor property damage and Max had managed to gather a small group of citizens to help with the repairs.

His companion the town’s only native hippogriff, tilted her bird like head and examined the wall they had just finished fixing. “That looks better,” she commented.

With a grin Max turned back to Piste, “So, anything for me?” he asked.

“Quite a bit, looks official as well.” Piste passed Max a large dark blue envelope stamped with the seal of Princess Luna Equestris.

Looking thoughtful Max trotted over to a drinking trough and took a few mouthfuls of the cool water before splashing some over his mane, despite the chilly climate hard work still worked up a lather. That done he, somewhat hesitantly, ran his hoof over the seal and split it open, he gingerly removed a thick letter and spread it out on the newly repaired wall before scanning it. “Well, I’ll be... I guess the rumours were true. Hey everybody gather round.” The work crew of ponies, goats, donkeys and one hippogriff looked up from their tasks and turned to their leader. He began to read out loud, “‘We are proud to announce the formation of the 258th province of Equestria under the name of Nulpar’,” he stopped, “Nulpar, what kind of name is that?”

“Sounds foreign,” noted one of the donkeys, “Are you sure they haven't just handed us over to the Griffins?”

“I don’t think so,” said Max looking slightly worried, “‘to be defined as the space between....’ bla, bla, bla and to be ruled over in the name of her royal majesty by’....” Max paled and slumped to the ground, “There has to be some mistake,” he scanned the letter again and then for a third time, the words didn’t change.

“What is it? Who’s in charge?” asked Piste ”You’re acting like we were ceded to Corona... We weren’t were we?” a ripple of alarm passed through the crowd.

Max found his voice again and continued. “‘To be ruled over in the name of her royal majesty by Mounty Max previously Lord Mayor of Sadlzburg and now to be ennobled with the title of Baron and granted all the rights and responsibilities due with that title.”

“Wow, Max,” Piste’s eyes bulged, “I mean Baron Max, that’s amazing.”

There was a pause for a second as the crowd adsorbed this information then they gave a cheer. Suddenly everybody seemed to want to pat the shocked newly minted Baron on the back.

“But.. But...” stuttered Max, “How did this happen?”

“Well I guess being a certified hero didn’t hurt and there’s all your work with the roads. Plus I might have mentioned a few things to that Moonbeam mare who was snooping about last week. I think she might have been a spy for the court.”

Still stunned Max continued to read through the letter, trying to concentrate despite the racket, most of it was technical language he didn’t really understand, he’d have to ask Conn about it later, but there was one section that stood out. ‘The Baron is summoned to take his place in the Night Court and is required to travel to Canterlot by the end of the next moon after receipt of this missive.’ A quick calculation proved that that gave him less than a fortnight.

He had a long trip ahead of him.


It took Max over half an hour to gather together what he half seriously referred to as his cabinet, and everypony else referred to as Max’s posse. They were the almost dozen ponies who helped him run Sadlzburg and now he presumed would help him run the new province. Once they had all gathered they filled up most of the space in his office. Mrs Gobhar, Max’s goat assistant, had provided tea and biscuits to them all and Max had passed on his news, no doubt some of them had already heard courtesy of the rumours now spreading through the town like wildfire. They took it better than he had.

“Well I guess you won’t be hanging around with us peasants any more your majesty,” announced Sealbhach, Mrs G’s youngest son, in a mocking tone, “You’ll be spending all your time with the nobs.” His announcement earned him a glare from his mother.

“It’s not like that. I’m sorry I’m leaving you in the lurch but there’s not much I can do I’ve been summoned by the Princess herself,” said Max holding out his hooves. “I’ll be back in the summer.”

“We know Max,” said Piste gently, “This couldn’t have happened to a better pony. We’re all thrilled for you, really.”

A rumble of agreement spread around the room. Max looked around, even the eternally grumpy looking unicorn Dr Housemartin looked almost cheerful.

“And think of all the good you can do for our new province,” said Conn, Mrs G’s middle son. “We’ll get access to an emergency fund to help Innsbuck and possibly grants to help with the road building.”

“Yeah!” cried Sparks the only crystal pony present, her ruby mane glittering with excitement, “I’m sure you’ll be the best Baron ever!”

“Don’t forget our crops,” noted Greenleaves, “We only just grow enough to keep going up here. A bit of help wouldn’t go amiss. Maybe a bit more weather, something different from snow would be nice.” She glared at Sunbeam the local weather chief who shifted uncomfortably, a lot of the area’s weather had to be hoof made and ironically, given his name, he was best at making snow clouds.

“This change can only be good for business now that we’re a proper province,” announced Welcoming Hearth the hotelier, bit signs lighting up in her eyes. “You can advertise this place in court.”

“And Canterlot isn't a bad place to live, I was stationed there for a few years, back in my guard days,” said Arctic Breeze.

“Max! Max!” cried Chill Breeze, Arctic’s foal. Lacking a foalsitter she and her husband, Sunbeam, had brought her with them. The filly was too young to understand what was going on but recognised that it was something to do with the Mayor.

Max laid a hoof on the excited filly’s head tousling her mane with, “Thanks all of you, but I can’t do this all alone. I’ll still need your help to run Sadlzburg and well I suppose all of Nulpar now.”

“Actually,” said Conn, “You don’t run Sadlzburg anymore.”

“What?”

“As you’re titled you can’t act as mayor, you have to think of your whole province, not just this town, even if we do make up over a tenth of it.”

Max slumped back into his seat, he hadn’t thought of that, he’d always really considered the surrounding areas extensions of his town. The idea of not running Sadlzburg, he’d done it for most of his adult life, was going to take some time to get his head around. Then a thought struck him. “Piste,” he said, “You’re in charge now.”

The brown stallion looked shocked, “Whoa,” he cried, “Let’s not get hasty here, I’m fine doing what you tell me Max, but run this place by myself, that’s big.”

“You are the deputy, it’s your responsibility. Plus you’ll do fine, everyone else will help you.” He glanced around most of the audience were nodding although a few looked unsure. “I have full faith in you. Look the next elections less than a year away, you can stand down then if you want.”

“For who? No pony’s ever run against you.”

“Honeybun did last time.”

“She was drunk when she applied.”

“She still did well, the promise of free booze swayed a lot of the electorate,” said Max with a grin.

“If by a lot you mean about twenty.”

“That’s a lot around here, in case you haven't noticed we’re not exactly knee deep in ponies,” said Piste gesturing around at the quite full room.

“Anyway you should take over the mayor’s residence, I won’t be needing it anymore.”

“I’m not kicking you out of your house Max!” said Piste, looking shocked.

“I’m going to have to spend most of my time in Canterlot now. I’ll find somewhere else to stay when I’m in town.”

“Maybe we could build a castle or something?” suggested Sparks, she was ignored by the rest of the company. “With a moat and towers and everything,” she carried on without a care.

“You should have the residence it goes with your new title ‘Lord Piste’,” pointed out Max, “Seriously,” he said laying a hoof on his friends back, “You’ll do fine. Mrs G can help you,” he said gesturing at the old Nanny, “She does most of the work around her anyway.”

The goat put down her knitting and looked up, “I’m afraid not,” she said. The rest of the room looked shocked. “I’m going with Max,” she said calmly, “He’ll need someone to look after him.”

“But Mum!” cried Brian, Mrs G’s eldest son.

The large goat got to his hooves but he was cut off by his mother, “No buts. I’m almost...” she paused for a moment, “Well let’s just say I’m quite old and I’ve never even left this area. I think I’m quite ready for an adventure or two. You boys don’t need you mother getting in the way anymore. You’ve got your own lives.”

“Don’t I get a say in this?” asked Max.

“Of course not, my mind is made up.”

“Well I guess I know where I stand. Of course you’re welcome to come with me Mrs G, I’ll need some help. But Piste will need someone to help him too.”

“Conn can help,” said Mrs G, “He’s got a level head on his shoulders, most of the time, and he’s good with writing and numbers and the such.”

The goat opened his mouth for a moment, then shut it, “Yeah, I think I’d like that,” he finally agreed.

“Good it’s all settled then. Now we’ll need to sort out our trip.”

“I’ve got the train schedule,” noted Hearth, “Piste can head off tomorrow to get the tickets while you two pack.”

Max slumped back while around him plans were made. Now he only had one more pony to tell and he was sure it would be much harder than his friends.


By the time everything had been sorted out it was quite late and Max thought about putting off telling his mother about his new status until tomorrow, but given the way news travelled around town it was likely she would already know by then, if she didn’t already.

A little nervously Max knocked on the door of the small but immaculate cottage his mother lived in. He wasn’t sure how to break the news to her.

After a short delay Max’s mother, Early Delivery, opened the door and blinked up blearily at her son. He hoped he hadn’t woken her up. She was a short earth pony mare with a light orange coat and a dark brown mane now tinged with grey. “Mounty? What brings you here this late at night?”

“I’ve got news mother,” he said shuffling his hooves.

“Good? Bad?”

“Good... I think.”

“Well you better come in then,” she turned and limped away. She’s gotten hit by a runaway cart a few years ago and the break had not healed properly. Previously she had acted as a midwife for the local area and the injury made it difficult for her to get around so she had retired. She still helped in births around the town though.

The old mare led Max into the cramped kitchen and passed him a large steaming mug of cocoa. The Baron sat clutching the hot drink, feeling very much like a foal again.

“Now what is this all about?” she asked.

Max produced the letter he had received earlier and passed it across to his mother, who peered at it myopically.

“Oh, Max! A Baron! I’m so proud!” she jumped to her hooves and squealed sounding a fraction of her age. “I knew you were special.”

“But it means I’ll have to move to Canterlot for most of the year,” he said gently.

The older mare’s face fell, “Oh, well I suppose I always knew this day would come.” She sat down heavily. “Remember when you were a foal and you used to keep climbing? Higher and higher, the tables, my cabinets, the roof, hills, mountains. I always knew that one day you’d climb so high I wouldn’t be able to follow.” Tears started to flow, “Oh do be careful not to fall, like your father.”

Max rushed over and hugged his mother tightly, “I’ll be careful, but I have to do this, it’s for the good of the whole of Sadlzburg and Nulpar now.”

“You know you think of others far too much,” she said drying her tears, “You need to think of yourself sometimes. That’s why Zephyr left you.”

Max grimaced at being reminded of his, until recently, betroved. “There were lots of reasons for that,” he mumbled.

“Maybe you could find yourself a nice mare over there in Canterlot? Perhaps one without wings this time?” She smiled hopefully.

“Mother!”

“I know it’s old fashioned but there are three tribes for a reason. No good comes from letting the blood mix too much.”

“You must have delivered dozens of foals with mixed tribe parents over the years, hundreds even.”

“Well it’s not the little mite’s fault for the actions of their parents,” said Early crossing her fore legs.

Putting aside their long running argument Max looked around the cottage. “I’ll ask Piste to pop in every so often to make sure you’re alright and you ask Brian if anything needs fixing.”

“I can still look after myself you know, I have plenty of friends. I even have male company.”

“Be that as it may... Wait what?” cried Max his mouth dropping.

“Your father’s been gone for quite a while now, I’ll always love him but, well I have certain needs.”

Max dropped back into his chair his mouth wide and his mind blown, “Who? When? How?”

“Me and Dr Housemartin have a certain understanding. It started when I hurt my leg, well we spent a lot of time together and got to playing Doctors and Nurses, so to speak,” she blushed, “As to the how, there are some things I don’t want to discuss with you, my boy.”

Still stunned Max tried to think back to the grumpy Doctor’s behaviour over the last few years, he had seemed a little sprightlier than he used to.

“Anyway, you better be off,” she said taking the now empty mug away from him, he didn’t remember drinking it. “I’m sure you’ve got lots of packing to do. When do you leave?”

“It’ll take a few days to get ready. I’ll see you before then and I’ll be home in the summer.”

“As I said I’m so very proud of you Mounty,” she gave her son a hug. “I’m sure you’ll go far, right to the top. You’ll even get to meet the Princess.”

“Thanks Mom,” Max said hugging her back, “I’ll write when I can.”


With Piste off arranging his travel plans Max decided to throw himself into his packing, he wanted to get everything sorted away to allow the new mayor to move in before he left. He did not think his possessions were excessive, but he had picked up a few knick knacks over his thirty or so years of life.

His rock collection taken from the peaks of the area’s mountains he decided would be too heavy to bring so with some regret he packed it away. He also decided to leave his climbing gear, until he remembered that Canterlot was located on the top of mount Canterhorn, it would really be something to climb that, to follow the hoofsteps of those ancient pilgrims who would look for wisdom on the peak and maybe even a chance to see one of the, at that point, near legendary alicorns.

Looking through his wardrobe he felt a bit ashamed, it was rather bare. He had never been much for clothing. He had a few winter coats and other practical outfits but not much in the way of fancy or formal wear. He imagined that the court went clothed most of the time, oh well, he could always buy something when he got to Canterlot.

Under a pile of bedding he found an old hearts and hooves day card from Zephyr, carefully opening it he found a pressed flower. He dithered for a few minutes not sure whether to pack it, leave it or throw it. He supposed moving was a chance to make a clean break from the past, but he still had to learn from it. He decided to put it in storage for the moment.

Clearing out a cupboard he found a stack of maps and diagrams. Opening them out he found his original plans for the road network, first imagined so many years ago now. There was the rail link he had abandoned as unfeasible and even the planned tunnels through the hearts of the mountains. Maybe now he was a Baron he could revisit those original ideas. Carefully folding them up again he packed the plans in his luggage.

Looking around his room it now seemed so empty. All his life reduced to a dozen or so bags and boxes. Still he supposed Piste would make his own stamp on the place soon enough. He wondered where he would live in Canterlot and what it would look like, he had a vision of a luxurious mansion with almost a dozen rooms all made of solid silver, maybe even with a spiral staircase going nowhere just for show. With a sigh he shook his head, now he was just being silly, still he doubted his new lodgings would be as cosy as these.

He took a last look back at the now bare room before hefting a box onto his back, as he was moving into the town hall Piste had offered to let Max store his things in his place. The deputy mayor was not known for his tidiness so Max’s first task before packing had been to clean up Piste’s house to make room for his stuff, which might have been the cunning ponies plan in the first place.

Closing the door behind him Max sighed, he would certainly miss this place.


“Come on Max! It’s your last night in town for Luna knows how long. Who knows what type of muck they serve in Canterlot.” said Piste trying to drag Max out of the town hall door. He had returned from Praris a few hours ago with all the tickets and bookings Max needed. He was glad the larger town had a telegraph installed, it made such planning much easier.

“I need to read all of that letter and look up what my new duties are, I don’t want to mess up.” complained Max digging in his hooves.

“Just a pint of two, to say goodbye to the old place,” insisted Piste.

“Fine but just the one, I’ve got...”

SUPRISE!

The area in front of the town hall was totally packed with ponies, it looked like most of the population of Sadlzburg were present and some from beyond. He recognised the mayors and headmen from the other settlements within a few days travel, even Talonmaster Bloodstrike from the eyrie was there, her two tiny chicks balanced on her head. A banner had been hoisted up with ‘Good Luck Baron Max’ emblazoned on it. Tables of food seemed to have appeared from somewhere. There was even a band playing. It was amazing how much had been done in the last few hours while Max had been inside.

At the front of the crowd stood his cabinet and other important figures. He couldn’t help but notice his mother standing next to Dr Housemartin, the stallion even had a hoof thrown over the old mare’s withers. How had he not noticed that before? He dragged his attention back to the crowd, “You organised this?” he hissed to Piste.

“I didn’t need to do anything. The town came up with it all by themselves when they found out you were going.” He replied before stepping forwards. “Thanks guys. As you know we’re all here to wish our friend Mounty Max here good luck on his long journey to Canterlot and to thank him for all the hard work he put in as Mayor and for the harder work he’ll have to do now that he’s a baron.” The crowd gave a cheer. “Now I’ve known Max for most of my life,” continued Piste, “I liked skiing, he liked climbing we tended to hang out together. But the thing is I was always skiing away from things while he was climbing towards things. He’s a stallion with a plan. Course a lot of his plans are half baked.” Gentle laughter emerged from the crowd, “But he’s always working towards something, trying to make things better, trying to get to the top. Well now he’s got an even higher peak to climb and I wish him the best of luck. So stamp your hooves for Mounty Max.” Piste slammed his hooves into the ground and the crowd followed his lead.

Max felt a stinging in his eyes, there were so many of them, all wishing him well. He couldn’t let them down. He stepped up and waited for the sound to die down, it took a while. “Thank you all, thank you my friends,” he cried. “I’m still not sure why the court chose me for this role, I keep thinking that I’ll suddenly wake up and this will all be dream.” The crowd laughed again, “Piste said that I’m a stallion with a plan, and yes, I have plenty of plans but they would all be dreams without you, I only planned our new roads, our postal system, the clinic, but it was you, all of you that made those dreams reality. You who donated the time, money and effort needed to create them. But there is only so much we can do by ourselves eventually even the best of us needs to ask our neighbour for some help and that is what my new position allows us to do. Now I can go to Canterlot and show the court, show Princess Luna herself, what we have done and say, we did this with nothing, imagine what we can do with just a little bit of help?” The crowd cried out their support stamping their hooves even harder. “Now there will be other changes as well, some good and some bad. We can no longer think of ourselves as just Sadlzburg or just Sadlzburg and the surrounding area, no now all of us, every pony, every goat, every griffin, hippogriff and mule, we are all part of Nulpar and we need to work together to make it the best province in the whole of Equestria, to make the Princess proud.” The roar of the crowd rose again, Max felt something trickle down his cheeks and realised he was crying, he looked out into the crowd and many of the faces there, faces he’d known all his life were crying to, at that moment he felt so very proud of his people he thought his heart might rip its way out of his chest. “Well enough of me talking,” he cried over the sound of the crowd, “Let’s all have a drink.”


It was hours later, Max felt like he had shook the hooves of everybody in the whole province. He had chatted with the various community leaders and they had given him advice and made a few demands on his new role. Now the night was coming to a close and he just wanted to have a little peace for a while. He had managed to hunker down near one of the tables set up for his party and just relax. This party, it was incredible, there was so much love and energy here. For a moment he wondered if they did really need the rest of Equestria. It seemed like these people could move mountains on their own; why would he ever want to leave? Of course that was crazy talk, as he’d say there were limits to what they could do, but these were still great people.

His thoughts were interrupted by a soft rush of air as a pegasus touched down next to him. Her coat was so pale a yellow as to be almost white and her light blue mane hung around her face highlighting piercing green eyes. Max knew her well, in fact he had spent many an hour tracing every one of her lines and curves. “Zephyr,” he breathed.

“Hi Max,” she said shyly, “I guess if things had worked out differently I’d be Baroness Zephyr by now.”

“Well... I...” he stuttered.

“No I don't think I would be. If you’d stayed with me you wouldn’t have gotten so far.”

“Look, I’m sorry but you know I couldn’t..”

She cut him off again, “No I know you couldn’t, it wasn’t fair of me really. I asked you to choose between me, between us and your work. There was only one way that could have ended.”

He leaned forwards and put an arm around her, it felt so familiar, “I’m sorry but there were so many ponies depending on me, I had to give them my all.”

“I was one of those ponies, Max! Why couldn’t you give me your all?” she cried, then quieted. “I’m sorry, I didn’t come here to fight. I wish you luck.”

“So do I, I really hope you can find somepony who will give you all they can, all you deserve.”

She pulled away. “I hope so too. Good luck Max, I hope you’re happy in Canterlot.” She turned and without looking back flew into the frigid sky.

Max watched her go until she was just a spot in the sky. He sighed, maybe there were a few reasons he should get out of town. He rubbed his weary eyes, around him the party seemed to be dying down. It was probably time to get some sleep.


With a yawn Max staggered out of the town hall, he had stayed up far too late last night for the early start he had planned. The town around him seemed empty and quiet. He casually slammed the door then stopped. This would probably be the last time the building would act as his home. For a moment a feeling of utter loss passed over him. What was he doing? Was this really his destiny? Surely somepony would work out there had been a mistake? That there we far better ponies than him for the job.

He enjoyed his life in Sadlzburg, he knew almost everybody and he had plans, things he could do. What would Canterlot be like? How would he cope?

“Morning,” came a voice from near him. He turned to see Mrs G standing there next to a wagon packed with their luggage. “Second thoughts?” she asked.

He nodded. “It’s just hit me how big this all is.”

“You’re a big fish in a little pond Max, it’s easy to be a hero here. But Canterlot, well that’s going to be a big pond, almost an ocean. Even a big fish looks small there. A small fish could easily get drowned out there, but you know what happens to small fish sometimes? Sometimes they grow.”

Max digested this for a moment, then a smile spread over his face, “Thanks Mrs G. I think I needed that.”

“Any time dear. Now we better be off.”

Max hitched himself up to the wagon and started to pull, “What have you got in your luggage?” he asked as the vehicle started to inch forwards, “Rocks?” He’d never seem Mrs G or any goat come to think of it wear clothes.

“Some books, a few keepsakes and a lot of wool,” she said. “I don’t know how easy it is to get your hooves on in Canterlot.”

With a grunt the cart got going and Max and Mrs Gobhar set out on their journey together through the empty streets towards the capital of Equestria.

Author's Note:

Part two and we all say Hi to Max and his gang. More about Max and some of these ponies can be found in Max's day: Doing Something part of Longest Night, Everypony.

I think this is the weakest of my first three chapters, decidedly filler.

As always comments are appreciated.