• Published 20th Feb 2014
  • 1,981 Views, 248 Comments

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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The Trial

“On trial for treason?” asked Max in astonishment. He couldn’t believe his ears.

“Well, it is not technically a trial, more an inquest into my actions during the longest day, when Corona returned. The preliminary hearing is today.”

Could it be that Fragrant had in some way collaborated with Corona? thought Max. That couldn’t be possible. “What did you do?”

Fragrant cocked her head to one side. “You really don’t know? It was in all the papers.”

“Well, we normally don’t get them in Nulpar until a few days after they’re published, and with all the chaos we missed a week or so.” Max rubbed the back of his head awkwardly.

“Ah, well, with the Princess missing and most of the court trapped in Canterlot I was one of the few court members free. I was visiting family at the time. I took it upon myself to take command of the rest of the country to provide stability and minimise panic.”

Max thought for a moment, and then his jaw dropped. “You ruled Equestria!”

“Only in a very technical way and for less than a day.” She seemed a little embarrassed at her actions. “I renounced all additional power once Corona was defeated by the elements and Luna returned.”

Max grinned. “Wow! I didn’t know I was talking to a princess, your Majesty.”

“I am glad you find the matter humorous, but unfortunately there are others in the court that believe my actions to have been incorrect and in fact even illegal – treasonous. Hence the inquiry. Today is the first of no doubt many meetings, so I fear you will not see much of me for the next few months. I am likely to be very busy.”

Max felt an unexpected stab of pain at her announcement. He had been enjoying her company and now he wouldn't see her anymore. “Surely you just have to explain why you did what you did. It sounds like you had Equestria’s best interests at heart. It won’t take that long, will it?”

“Thank you Max, Unfortunately inquests such as this can be very long winded and bureaucratic – several months can be positively quick in comparison. Not all the court feel the same way as you about my innocence, and it is right that my actions are reviewed, so that others do not follow in my hoofsteps. We would not want a repeat of the Quick Fix incident.”

Max wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but he put it aside for the moment. “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

She gave a little chuckle. “Thank you, but I fear there is little you can do.”

“Could I at least provide moral support? Plus just being there would give me experience of how an inquest works.”

Fragrant looked thoughtful for a moment. “The inquest is being held in open session. There will be various members of the,” she shuddered and made a face, “Press there. As well as other interested parties. I doubt it will be very interesting, but if you want I may be able to arrange for you to watch the proceedings. Your current position may make it difficult, but I can talk to the court secretary about it.”

“Thank you,” said Max.

“No thank you, it is nice to have someone else in my corner, as it were.” She gave a genuine smile and Max felt a flush pass through him.

“Wait here,” she said standing, “I should be back soon.” With that she casually walked away. Max watched her go, noting the sway of her hips under the tight fabric of her dress, then turned away, aware he was staring. Internally, he slapped himself. He had to stop doing that, he was acting creepily towards his only real friend here at court.

He looked around the room again. It was starting to fill up with various nobles and their staff.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” came a voice to one side.

Max turned to face a new pony, a short brown stallion with a rather livid red mane and a plate of sandwiches resting on his back. “Oh,” said Max. “Of course not, help yourself.”

“Thanks, I don’t think I’ve seen you around before?”

“I’m Mounty Max... Baron Mounty Max. I’m new.”

“Oh yes, I heard you were arriving soon. It’ll be nice to not be considered the new guy any more, I’ve only been around for a few years myself. I’m Count Greengrass, by the way, and this is my assistant Notary.” He gestured to a white mare standing next to him. Max blinked. Had she always been there? He hopped off his chair and pulled out a seat for her. She looked at him strangely for a moment then murmured her thanks and sat down.

Max thought he’d heard the name Greengrass somewhere recently. “Oh, I was told you were younger.”

“Younger?” Greengrass looked confused. “That’s hardly likely, I’m already one of the youngest members of the court. Most expect me to be older.”

“Sorry, it was something Baron Fields said to me.”

“Ah, yes, Fields does get a little confused about that sort of thing. A fine fellow but his mind isn’t what it used to be.” He waved his hoof in a circle next to his head.

“Oh,” said Max, his ears drooping.

“So what are your thoughts of the old place so far?”

“It’s very grand, I’ve got a lot of things to learn but Fragrant has been very understanding.”

“Duchess Posey, an excellent mentor. It is a shame she’s likely to be so busy, but I’m sure you’ll have no problem to find someone else to show you the ropes. If you do want a hoof, you can ask me. We new colts should stick together.”

“Well, there is something I hoped to talk to Fragrant about, relating to my ennobling ceremony next week.”

“Yes?” said Greengrass, leaning forward.

“Well, I’ve done some reading about it.” Max brought out a battered book and showed it to his companion. Greengrass laid it out on the table in front of him, and noted that it was over a hundred years old. “I was wondering about the Vigil, it says it optional but do most ponies do it?”

“Vigil?” asked Greengrass.

“A ceremony carried out prior to the ennobling ceremony, my Lord,” said Notary. “The noble to be spends the day before the ceremony meditating on his coming role, to prove his character. It is said that the most worthy would be blessed with visions of their future role and might even be visited by the Princess.”

“Oh, that Vigil. Well,” said Greengrass, looking thoughtful, “It’s not universal but many of the better court members do it.”

“Ah, thanks, I’ll have to get ready for it then,” said Max. “One other thing, the private meeting with the Princess after the ceremony, it says I can bring a guest to speak to her, can it really be anypony?”

Greengrass smiled widely, “Oh yes, most bring family and I think Baroness Cat’ady even brought one of her pets, but she’s a bit strange. It’s actually a good way for a new court member to get a hoof in the door as it were, a chance to get somepony to owe you a favour or two. There are any number of important ponies who’d pay quite a bit to get a chance to talk to the Princess even for just a few minutes. If you don’t have anypony in mind, I might have a few suggestions.”

However, Max didn’t seem to be paying any attention. “Is there a telegraph station near I could use?” he asked.

“Canterlot itself has eleven public stations, though they can be rather costly. But for official business the castle has a free link,” said Notary. “It is not too far in that direction,” she said, pointing towards a door.

“Thanks,” said Max, standing to leave. “If you don’t mind, could you tell Fragrant that I should be back in a few minutes?”

“Not a problem,” said Greengrass. “But what are you doing?”

“I think I know who I’m going to invite to see the Princess,” said Max as he ran off.

“Notary,” said Greengrass, a touch of worry in his voice, “Why did you tell him about the telegraph in the castle? Now we may have lost our chance to influence his choice.”

The white mare gave a small smile. “Going by the schedule the castle telegraph is currently closed for maintenance, and will be for at least the next two hours. The new Baron will not be able to send a message.”

“And meanwhile we can explain to Posey that he had to dash off somewhere, then we can spend all morning with our new friend putting ideas in his head,” continued Greengrass. “Whatever would I do without you, Notary?”

“Let us hope you never have to find out my Lord,” she said demurely. “However, I thought we were planning to just get a feel of the court's newest member rather than starting a game with him.”

“I know, but it was just too easy, pulling out your seat.” Notary shifted a little uncomfortably. It had been nice to be treated like a mare, rather than a piece of office equipment. “The vigil, his outfit, it’s like he’s begging me to mess with him. Wherever did Luna find him? Maybe I should at least do him a favour and point him in the direction of a decent tailor.”

Max galloped down the corridor towards the official telegraph station, weaving between servants as he went. Then a thought hit him and he screeched to a halt. His message was certainly important; there would only just be enough time for his guest in Nulpar to receive the message (and then only if Piste was still sticking to his normal schedule when collecting messages for all of Nulpar) and make their way here. But was it really an official correspondence? He didn’t think so; it was personal, so he had no business using the castle facilities. He might delay something important.

Spinning around, he rushed at full speed towards the front gates of the castle, and more by luck that judgement he reached them in only a few minutes. “Where is the nearest public telegraph?” he asked a servant.

“Stallion Street,” came the reply. “It’s a tier down and then left off Castle Way, then right, then right again, my Lord.”

With a quick cry of thanks, Max set off, trying to read his map and run at the same time. The street ahead was much more crowded now in the middle of the night than it had been earlier, and he had to struggle against the mob of ponies. This could take forever! he thought, glancing around and consulting his map again. The post office was actually only a few hundred feet away, but it was on the tier below him, dozens of feet down. A smile spread across his face. That shouldn’t be a problem, he thought.

“I’m afraid Baron Max just rushed off,” said Greengrass, trying to look sincere. “I guess something must have come up.”

Fragrant frowned. She didn’t trust the shorter stallion; in fact she found him a little creepy, the way his smile never quite reached his eyes, but Max was not here and she had to appear before the tribunal in only a few minutes, so she could not wait any longer or she would be held in contempt. She couldn’t imagine what had caused him to disappear after she had put so much effort in on his behalf; it was surprisingly painful, and she sagged slightly. She suspected Greengrass might have had a hoof in it but she had no evidence. “Very well then...” she began.

“Fragrant! Fragrant!” came a cry from across the room. Her ears shot up, and she and many of the other ponies around looked up to see Max skid across the floor and come to a stop just in front of her. His new costume was lightly speckled with dust and he was panting.

Fragrant tried to force down her unexpected joy that he had not abandoned her. “Calm down, Baron Max. In public, a noble must always maintain decorum.” She looked him up and down for a moment, trying to hide how attractive the slight flush to his face and the sheen of sweat on his brow made him seem. She couldn’t stop herself from brushing the worst of the dirt off him with her wings.

“I’m sorry about that, I had an important message to send, but I’m all done now.”

Greengrass’s jaw dropped in surprise. Even Notary looked shocked. “Very well. I have talked to the court secretary and he has agreed that you can observe the proceedings of the inquest. If you come with me I will show you where you need to go. However, later we can talk about your timekeeping.”

Max nodded and quickly turned to Greengrass. “Thanks for passing on my message, I owe you one,” he said.

“No problem,” stuttered Greengrass, blinking several times.

Fragrant led Max down several corridors to the inquest room. “You should go in there and take a seat,” she said, pointing to a small door. “I need to go in via another entrance.” Now that she was here, despite her careful plans, she felt butterflies start to multiply in her stomach. There were many things that could still go wrong.

Max picked up on her mounting apprehension. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m sure everypony will see that what you did was totally justified.” He slowly, tentatively raised an arm and when she did not object placed it around her shoulder. The same as last night, she felt herself weaken and leant her weight against the stallion for a moment. Feeling his heart beating strongly through their clothes, she let her eyes close.

“Thank you,” she breathed before pulling away, feeling strength and resolve flow through her again. “I appreciate that.”

They stood staring at each other for a moment. “We should be going now,” noted Fragrant.

“Oh, um, yes. This door right?” said Max, pointing at the only door present.

“Yes. Now remember, you are just an observer, you are not allowed to speak or take any part in the actual proceedings,” said Fragrant with a smile.

“Got it,” said Max and gave a small wave before opening the door and stepping into the room. Fragrant watched him go, then turned and walked resolutely – and with a slight skip in her step – towards her entrance to the inquiry room.

Max gazed around the room he had just entered. It was large, not a big as the main court chamber but still enough to hold several hundred ponies, although it wasn’t full. At the far end was a semi-circular table, around which sat about half a dozen ponies. In front of that was a long bench with a few ponies sitting on it. Tiered seating rose up the walls; covering part of it were various noble ponies, most of whom he did not know. He recognised both Fisher and Puissance sitting at the top tier of seating on opposite sides, along with a few other presumably very important ponies. Behind the rest of the seating, cordoned off from the rest of the chamber, were rather less grand seats, mostly filled with a mix of visitors including several ponies carrying notebooks. Scattered around were a few servants and a number of guards who turned to him as he entered, but presumably decided he should be here and relaxed. Above him, attached to the wall at the very back of the room, was a box with dark blue curtains hiding its contents. Looking around the crowd, he recognised Baron Fields and Buttercup among those seated. Glad to see a familiar face, he shuffled over, trying to make as little noise as possible.

“Can I sit here?” he whispered, pointing to the seat next to Buttercup.

The mare smiled up at him. “Of course you can,” she said in her silky voice, shuffling up slightly.

“Ah, Mix my boy,” said Rolling. “Of course, sit down. Are you here for the show as well?”

“I suppose so,” said Max uncertainly as he removed his hat and sat down. Did the old pony actually think this was a play or something?

“I do so like these inquiries. They can get quite heated sometimes.”

“Oh, I’m here to support Fragrant.”

“Ah, I don’t doubt Duchess Posey will be found quite innocent… it just may take a few months to prove it. You see that mare there?” He pointed at the pony sitting at the centre of the curved desk. “That’s Archduchess Nobility, the chairpony. She can be a bit harsh but she’s normally fair in this sort of thing. Now that,” he pointed to another inquiry member a light grey pegasus mare with a short green mane, “Is Marquis Jet Stream, much less impartial, she’s certainly not keen on Posey or any of her family. And that next to her is Baronet Slime Ball, one of her supporters. I wouldn’t expect a single original thought to come out of his mouth while she’s here. Over there we have...”

His explanation was interrupted as Posey entered the room. She gracefully flew across the room and came to a halt in front of the board before giving a curtsey. “If it pleases the tribunal, may I take my seat?” she asked.

“Duchess Posey,” said Archduchess Nobility. Her voice was surprisingly deep and scratchy. She checked the clock. “Prompt as always. Please be seated, we can get the inquiry started now.”

Giving a bow, Posey turned, walked to the bench and took a seat next to Notebook and another pony Max didn’t recognise. They whispered to each other. Max wondered how Mrs G was doing if Notebook was here. Maybe he should try and get a message to her somehow.

“I now open the preliminary stages of inquiry into the actions of Duchess Fragrant Posey of Cloudsdale on the first day of the year 1000 NLE,” announced Nobility. Off to one side a dull grey unicorn scribe started to record her words. “Duchess Posey, it has been raised that you attempted to overthrow the rightful rule of Princess Luna and replace her as the ruler of Equestria, an act of treason. This inquiry is to investigate the events that occurred and the lawfulness or otherwise of them. Do you understand?”

Fragrant stood stiffly in front of the board. “Yes your ladyship.”

“Good. Now in this and the following sessions we will be interviewing various witnesses and interested parties. You yourself have submitted a written report, in admirable depth, as to your actions. However, to start the inquiry I would like to hear in your own words what occurred. Once you have finished, members of the board of inquiry may have further questions.”

“Of course, Lady Chairpony.” Fragrant cleared her throat and started explaining how she had been one of the few members of the night court who had not been trapped in Canterlot when the city’s shield had been raised to protect it from Corona. Upon realising the seriousness of the situation, she had taken on a leadership role in not only her own province but the rest of country in order to organise a counter attack against the solar tyrant. The situation had continued for a little over a day before word that Luna had returned and Corona had been defeated had reached her, after which she immediately handed the reins of power back to Luna and the Night Court. She spoke slowly but strongly and made frequent reference to the bravery of the various ponies under her command.

When she finished, she sat again and took a drink from a glass of water placed next to her.

“Thank you, Duchess,” said Nobility. “I have a few questions that I feel you have not fully covered. Now, I see that you also started a plan to try and minimize the effects of the continuous sunlight on Equestria’s climate by utilising the various weather factories controlled by your family, and you have charged the cost of this plan to the treasury, is that correct?” Max raised his eyebrows. Something else he had not been aware of. He supposed it made sense. The devastation the increased temperature would have wrought on Nulpar would have been immense if the sunlight had continued; as it was, there had been a few avalanches and a little flooding at a lakeside village.

“Yes, as the plan was to the benefit of the whole of Equestria, I felt that the cost should be covered by the state. In the end the cost was minimal as it was only implemented for less than a day and all services were provided at cost.”

Jet Stream leant forwards. “If Princess Luna had not returned, how successful do you think your plan would have been at stopping the Tyrant’s eye?” she asked.

“Luckily we did not have to find out, but it probably would have only been effective in the short term.”

“Interesting. I have a report here produced by leading climate experts from your rival weather companies, which shows that your efforts would have been effective for less than a week and would have been so expensive as to ruin the country. Do you have a comment on this?”

“It has, I agree, come to light since the events that the plans made at the time would be largely ineffectual at changing the effect of the Tyrant’s power. However, that extra week would have been crucial if we were to move against Corona, and more importantly would have prevented injury and even death to many ponies affected by the weather change. I was working on the best information available at the time.”

“And this information came from your own experts, did it not?”


“And due to their incompetence you expect the people of Equestria to foot the bill? I do not think that is fair.”

“This is all well and good,” noted another member of the council, “But I feel we are getting off of topic. We can talk about the cost of this project later.”

The Archduchess considered for a moment. “I agree, we can discuss this matter in depth at a later date. For now, we should stick to the matter at hoof. I feel this issue comes down to a single question. Why you? You had not been granted a letter of proxy. Why did you think it was your responsibility to take over Equestria at this time of crisis, rather than maintain your own holdings as many other nobles away from court did?”

A letter of what? thought Max. His expression must have been clear as Buttercup moved her face near his ear. “If the Princess is away from court for an extended period, she appoints a representative to be a sort of acting Princess with her authority. It normally rotates between the Viceroys. They can even make laws but they must be ratified by the princess within a few days of her return.” Max nodded his thanks; the mare seemed to know what she was talking about.

At the front Fragrant was still explaining her actions. “I felt that given my rank I had a greater responsibility to the people.”

“Your rank of Duchess is significant,” noted Nobility, “But there are other higher ranks.”

“At the time I believed that it was likely that I was the highest ranking noble still at liberty.”

“But you did not know that for certain, did you?” pointed out Jet Stream. “And indeed the Archduchess here was away from court at the time.” Nobility shuffled a little uneasily. She had been at her family estates due to illness and had slept through much of the incident, only able to rouse herself for the last few hours before the sun had finally dipped.

“No, I did not know that at the time, but given the tradition that the court remains ‘snowed in’ at winter it seemed likely.”

“And you decided to break with tradition and visit your estate for the longest night festival, did you not? That turned out to be a very happy coincidence, didn’t it? Should you not have waited until you knew for certain there were no other higher ranking nobles free before staging your coup?”

Nobility shot a harsh glare at Jet Stream who ignored her.

“I felt that the country needed stability to prevent chaos. It would have been days, if not weeks, before a full search for any other nobles could be carried out. If I had later discovered the Archduchess’s situation, I would have happily passed over power to her. However, her province is quite some distance from both Canterlot and Cloudsdale’s location at that time. Given the chaos, it would likely have taken several days at least for a message to reach me.”

“Do you have any evidence of such a plan to relinquish power?” asked Jet Stream.

Fragrant gave a humourless laugh. “I had very little of a plan for anything at that time. I was mostly flying blind.”

“There is of course also your brother Thunderous Posey’s part in this matter to investigate,” said Jet with a wide smile. “There is some evidence that he may have suggested the plan to you in the first place.”

For the first time Fragrant’s calm seemed to crack. “There is no need to bring my brother into this matter,” she hissed. “I am the Duchess of Cloudsdale; I hold full responsibility for any actions I or my people may have undertaken, no other.”

“It has already been agreed to limit the scope of this inquest to your own actions,” agreed Archduchess Nobility. “Depending on the outcome further investigation may be required.”

For a moment Jet Stream looked like she might argue, but then she shut her mouth and nodded.

“Now you have argued that a leader was needed to stop panic from spreading and to allow a counter attack against Corona. What plans did you have to attack the Tyrant?”

“I am afraid I do not have the military skills to have planned such an operation, if it is even possible. Instead I planned to hold a civilian government together and let the military deal with any fighting. Although many of their most senior officers were trapped in Canterlot, their strength was still spread throughout the country and would have been easier to organize.”

“Did you give any thought to the effect of your actions on your people?” asked Slime Ball, speaking for the first time.

“I do not understand,” said Posey looking confused.

“You very strongly announced your opposition to Corona by making yourself ruler of Equestria. Did you not think it would be likely that the Tyrant would try to make an example of you and thus your people? That they may have had to pay the price for your actions?”

Fragrant looked distressed for a moment, then steadied herself. “Somepony had to stand up to Corona,” she explained. “Yes, the Tyrant may have attempted to attack Cloudsdale, but the city has some advantages over most others; as a cloud city it is capable of moving, making it a harder target than ground based dwellings. However, I do understand that the city would be unlikely to resist an assault from Corona, but I felt it was a risk that needed to be taken.”

“In fact could it be that you had another reason for wanting to gain control of Equestria just as Corona had returned, why you happened to be away from court on that fateful night, and why you were not afraid that your own people would be punished by the Tyrant for their ‘defiance’? Could it be that you intended to pass control of our nation over to the Solar Tyrant?” said Jet Stream. There was a gasp around the chamber and the various journalists started to scribble on their notebooks.

Fragrant staggered back as if slapped. She paled, but her eyes blazed. “I would never...” she stuttered.

“That’s not fair!” came a loud voice from near Max. He looked around for a second before realising it was his own. “Stop bullying her!” he continued.

“Silence!” cried Nobility, staring daggers at him. “You do not have leave to speak in these proceedings.”

For a moment Max considered following the order, but then he shrugged. He was already in trouble, so he might as well get everything off his chest; Fragrant needed his support. “I am sorry, but she,” he pointed at Jet Stream, “Is twisting Fragrant’s words. She did the best that she could in the circumstances!”

“Silence!” cried Nobility again. “Or I will have you removed from this chamber and arrested for contempt of court.”

“She didn’t know that the Princess was going to return! She’s not perfect but she did what she thought was for the best and risked her life to do it! You should be thanking her, not putting her on trial!” His mouth finally seemed to run out of steam and reality caught up with him. “Thank her, she’s very nice,” he mumbled.

“Max!” hissed Fragrant. “Be quiet!” She turned back to the board. “I am sorry, Archduchess. The Baron is new to court, he may not fully understand the situation. Maybe leniency would be in order?”

Looking into the disapproving faces of the board of enquiry, and worse, Fragrant, Max wondered how the day could get any worse. His thoughts were interrupted by the quiet whoosh of fabric from behind him, and he saw the eyes of all present widen. Max spun around; the curtains covering the box above the door had opened to reveal a tall blue mare, her wings spread and her horn glowing. Max thought he recognised her. Then he realised he’d seen her profile and mark on every bit he’d ever spent. Oh, that was how it could get worse.

Princess Luna gave a nod to the ponies in front of her who returned her attention with deep bows or curtsies. “Rise, my little ponies,” she announced. She lowered her head to Nobility “Lady Chairpony, if it pleases the tribunal, may I speak?”

“Of course, your majesty,” said Nobility looking a little shocked.

The Princess leapt from her box, and gently glided down to the front of the court and landed, silently facing the members of the board.

“My thanks. It seems to me that there may not be the need to spend any more time or bits on this matter. There are only really two matters to decide on. Did the Duchess have the authority to act in my stead? And were her actions in the best interest of Equestria? The first is somewhat questionable; I did not expect to be... out of contact, so I had not prepared an official transfer of power or any instructions for anypony filling my position.” She looked around the chamber. “That was remiss of me and it is a situation I have taken moves to prevent in future. However, ultimately Equestria is ruled by the Night Court. Every member holds a responsibility to the people to wisely administer the land, and I believe that Duchess Posey’s actions were an extension of that responsibility. As for the second, the Duchess's ultimate aims are between her and her conscience. However, her actions did prevent panic and stabilized Equestria during a very trying time, and it must be remembered that upon learning of my survival she immediately returned full control of the country to me. A pity, otherwise I might have finally found the time to take the holiday to Cavallia I’ve been planning for the last few centuries.” Polite laughter rounded the chamber. “I would thus request that, unless the tribunal have any further questions of Duchess Posey, they consider my words and judge if any further investigation is needed.”

Nobility looked at the other board members. None of them seemed keen to speak. “Very well, your majesty, this tribunal will come to recess to discuss these matters in private.” She slammed her gavel into the desk, and she and the rest of the tribunal rose stiffly from their chairs and trooped into a door at the back of the room.

Once they had left, the seated ponies broke into a hubbub of whispering. Luna herself stood casually in the centre of the room for a moment before, with a flap of her wings, returning to her box at the back of the room.

Max gulped. It seemed like everypony had forgotten about him. He looked over and noticed to his surprise that Baron Fields’ head was slumped on his chest, and he was letting out a quiet whinnying snore.

“He gets tired easily,” explained Buttercup, gently moving her father into a more comfortable position.

“You take very good care of him,” said Max, trying for a moment to get a look at Fragrant. She was talking to Notebook at the front of the chamber and didn’t turn to him.

“It’s only fair, he looked after me when I was a foal.” She sighed. “He should have retired a long time ago, but he’s stubborn.” She gave an indulgent smile. “I think he’d rather die in court than give up.” Max rested a consoling hoof on her shoulder.

“Whu?” mumbled Rolling. “Is it over already?” he asked. “Oh, the Princess is here, that should liven things up a bit.”

“They’ve just called a recess,” explained Buttercup, “Now the princess has spoken, I doubt it will take long.” Indeed, even as she was speaking, the door at the back of the chamber opened and the board walked back in. Nobility’s face was blank, but Jet Stream was poorly hiding her anger.

“Duchess Fragrant Posey, approach the board of inquiry,” ordered the Archduchess.

Fragrant gracefully stood from her seat and stepped forward.

“After deliberation, the board has decided that although not technically lawful, your actions on the Longest Day were carried out in good faith, and as such we will recommend that no further investigation be required and the charges of treason again you be dropped.”

“Thank you, my lady,” said Fragrant bowing low.

“However, it has been decided that your plan to affect the climate of Equestria was ill conceived and as such the cost should not be borne by the state; that burden will have to lie on your own shoulders.”

If this upset Fragrant, she did not show it. “Very well.”

“Good. Now, on to other matters. You, whoever you are,” she pointed at Max, who swallowed nervously. The grey coated court reporter scuttled over and whispered in Nobility’s ear. She frowned. “Baron Mounty Max, you are to be punished to the fullest extent of the law for your disregard for this inquiry and its personnel.”

“Actually, if I could ask leave to speak again?” said Luna from her box, causing Max to cringe even more. It was one thing to be punished by the Archduchess, but he had hoped his supreme ruler had forgotten about him.

Gritting her teeth slightly, Nobility nodded. “Of course, your highness.”

“I would suggest that we can forgo the normal punishment for his actions. He is new to his role and may not have known better. He was certainly passionate in his opinions and did make some reasonable points in the discussion.” She glared briefly at Jet Stream, who flinched.

Max’s ears pricked up, “Thank...” he started.

“Still,” continued Luna, “He did break the rules of this tribunal and as such should be punished.”

Max’s mouth snapped shut.

“As his crime was due to ignorance, I think the punishment should include an element of education. There used to be a tradition where a new member of the court was attached to a more experienced member who would act as a mentor for a period of time to allow them to learn their role. The student or Squire was required to follow their mentor and would, after a certain period of time, be required to submit a report on the events that occurred to show they understood their role. I think we should restart this procedure. Now, who could act as the mentor? It would be time consuming, so it would need to be somepony with quite some free time. Duchess Posey, I understand that due to the inquiry being cancelled, your calendar for the next few months will be rather sparse, is this not correct?”

Posey looked confused for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, your highness.”

“Good. Then I suggest the board appoint Baron Max your Squire until the court breaks up for summer. In addition to both of your normal duties, you will be required to spend time together learning the protocols of the court. At the end of this time period, the Baron will be required to submit a report to me about what he has learned, and you a report on the Baron’s progress. I trust that is acceptable.”

“Yes, your highness,” said Posey.

“Err, yes of course Princess, err Princess Luna, your highness, Ma’am,” stuttered Max.

The inquiry muttered amongst themselves for a few moments. “The board accepts this as a fair punishment, your majesty,” announced Nobility, before slamming her gavel on the desk. “I proclaim this inquest closed.”

“Baron Max,” snarled Fragrance through gritted teeth, once they were away from the inquiry room.

Max gulped. She was obviously not happy. His ears laid down, rubbing against the material of his hat.

“I understand you were trying to protect me, and that was very swee… noble of you, but I am an experienced member of the court, a Duchess. I am not some helpless filly tied to the train tracks, needing a heroic stallion to rescue her.”

“I’m sorry,” stuttered Max, “I thought...”

“No, you did not.” She took a deep breath. “I had everything under control. There has long been a feud between Marquis Jet Stream’s family and mine, she does after all control the second largest cloud city in Equestria. Once I knew she was on the inquest I realised if given enough rope she would hang herself. She has always lacked self-control. I was in no danger – I had already been discreetly informed by the Princess of the crowns position on the matter, although I was not aware that she would be present in person.”

Max looked shocked. “So you knew what was going to happen? You were baiting Jet Stream? You were faking? But why?”

“The opportunity was there to embarrass her and gain some support in sympathy at her wild allegations.”

“But.. but.. if she’s so out of control could you not bring the matter to the court? Can’t you just settle the feud in private?”

Fragrant opened her mouth, then closed it again. She looked confused for a second, then she spoke. “It appears that you really do have a lot to learn about the court, Baron Max. I will start your lessons tomorrow.” With that she turned on her hooves and stalked away, leaving Max to watch her go.