• Published 30th Oct 2011
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Canterlot Follies - LadyMoondancer

Young Birdy is sent to Canterlot to steal an artifact and bolster Prince Blueblood's reputation.

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Chapter 1: The Aunting Hour

Chapter 1: The Aunting Hour

Lord Coltington’s body bobbed gently in the pond, the darkness of night drawing a veil over eyes that stared unseeingly into the waving duckweed below; tomorrow the maid would announce his discovery with a scream.

Now that is the way to begin a story, and coincidentally the first line in The Mystery of the Pink Cupcake. What I mean to say is . . . it’s a satisfying start. You nod to yourself and think “That’s the ticket!” and flip rapidly to the next page.

I’m dashed if I can think up an equally fruity intro for my own tale. I suppose it would help if somepony had kicked the bucket, but since all players survived, instead I find myself dithering about where to begin.

I suppose it’s all thanks to Bingo, really. Leave it to Bingo to mistake a cue ball for an orange during a rousing Drones Club food fight.

“I say, Birdy! Birdy, are you all right?” He waved a hoof in front of my face as a few of the fellows helped me to my hooves. “Awfully sorry.”

“Ah... quite... quite all right.” I accepted apologies from the three of him and rubbed my head, checking for any indentations. “I’m fine, I think. My head feels like a herd of elephants just trampled over it, but there doesn’t seem to be any permanent—”

“Terrific! I say, old bean, could you lend me twenty bits or so?”

A babble of voices broke out. Bingo began to explain the run of bad luck he’d had with the bookies, Barmy broke in with a ramble about an aunt who’d nearly been run over on a racetrack, and Gussie began very earnestly talking about newts because that’s all the chap ever does talk about. And suddenly I felt that I’d had it up to the gills with the club and needed a bit of peace and quiet.

So with ears still ringing, I staggered homeward from the Drones at much earlier than my usual hour. And that’s how I happened to see my valet, Adder, slinking up to a street vendor and selling him a good percentage of my socks.

Well, I mean to say... I like to think of myself as a generous employer but I couldn’t let that slide. Once a servant starts selling off your undergarments, what’s next? I gave him the boot in a cold and haughty manner and within a few hours he’d cleared out of my Londun flat, leaving in his wake only an empty bedroom and, I would later find, a lack of silverware.

Frankly I was relieved to be rid of him. Socks aside, a black snake is a straight out creepy cutie mark for a servant, in my opinion. Whenever I got home I half-expected to find the fellow wearing a boa constrictor around his neck or some such. Half a drawer of socks (and all the silverware) was a small price to pay for peace of mind.

So it was due to Bingo, in a way, that the next day I was settled at home with my feet up, an ice pack on my head, and The Mystery of the Pink Cupcake opened to Chapter 3. Just as the killer was slipping a cobra into the room of Lord Coltington’s daughter, there came soft knock at the door.

“Who the blazes is that?” I muttered as I set the book aside, leaving Bonnie Coltington frozen on the page.

I answered the door and found a tallish earth pony on the other side, a blue-grey chappie with smooth black hair, white sleeve cuffs around his hooves, and a black and white tie-and-lapel ensemble around his neck.

“I was given to understand that you are in need of a valet, sir,” said he in a smooth, polished voice. “I was sent by the agency.”

“Oh, right-ho!” Those fellows at the referral office certainly didn’t let the grass grow under their hooves. “The name’s Rooster, Birdy Rooster. With a W in between,” I added as an afterthought.

“Greetings, Mr. Rooster. My name is Greaves.”

“Greaves?” My mind harkened back to my Uncle Pom’s armour collection “Those are bits of armour that strap on the old corpus, aren’t they?”

“Precisely, sir. My father had the lofty ambition of having a general in the family.”

“But it wasn’t your ambition, eh?”

“Alas not, sir.”

“No alas about it whatsoever,” I said, feeling cheered. The last thing I wanted was some ex-army pony bellowing and saluting at me while I was trying to read the racing results. I glanced at his flank and was relieved to see that his symbol was a pair of white velvet evening gloves. A bit unusual, since ponies lack digits, but very servant-y. Not a snake or a rampaging badger or whatnot.

“Well, come in by all means,” I said genially.

He shimmered through the portal (quite a feat for an earth pony) and gravitated towards the kitchen with unerring aim. A few minutes later he emerged holding a drink on a small tray. “I noticed you’re suffering from a contusion on your forehead, sir. If you drink this, I think you’ll find it will neutralize any aches and pains.”

“I’m afraid I do have an egg on the old cranium,” I confessed, tipping the ice pack off. “All right, I’ll have a go.”

I picked up the cup, emptied it in a gulp, and nearly doubled over. My stomach was galloping around my rib cage in protest as the liquid burned and kicked, and I was fairly sure my ears were issuing forth puffs of steam... but do you know, a minute later the pain in my head had disappeared like the melting winter snows and I felt most incredibly bucked, as though all was right in the world. I may have given the old heels a bit of a kick.

“What an amazing concoction, Greaves! You’re hired!”

“Thank you, sir.” His lip tilted slightly upwards, which I would soon learn to recognize as a smile. “Would mushroom quiche with rosemary biscuits be sufficient for lunch, sir? Unless you would rather dine at the club.”

“No, I think I’ll dine in today. That mushroom thing sounds just the ticket.”

“Very good, sir.” He paused. “I couldn’t help but notice, sir, a lack of silverware in the kitchen.”

I put two and two together and arrived at the correct sum. “Blast that snake-in-the-grass Adder, he stole the silver! Of all the bally nerve!”

“If you’d like, Mr. Rooster, I can pick up a new set at the silversmith’s.”

“No, no, Greaves, I’ll do it. I’ve got to go there anyway, to pick up a birthday present for my cousin Angel. You get on with lunch.”

“Very good, sir. I’m sure Mr. Sterling will have some suggestions appropriate for a gentlecolt of your position.”

“Oh, quite! Corking chap. Well, pip-pip, Greaves!” I breezed out the door.

Perhaps an hour later I returned, my saddle bags full of the fruits of victory.

“Luncheon is almost ready, sir. Did your excursion go well?” asked Greaves. He was setting the dining table, minus cutlery.

“Positively smashing, Greaves. That smith certainly knows his stuff.” I levitated the saddle bags onto the coffee table, levitating out a small jewelry box.

“Oh, very nice, sir,” he approved as I floated out a silver brooch. “I’m sure your cousin will be most pleased. And did you also purchase—”

“Ah, the silverware! Yes, well, I don’t want to boast, but I think I’ve rather outdone myself.”

“Oh... oh yes, sir?” Greaves didn’t actually step back as I levitated the box out, but he did lean aftwards. “Those are... from Mr. Sterling’s shop, sir?”

“Not exactly. I looked his stuff over, of course. Ye-es, the typical bland knives and forks. But then I spotted the most amazing display in the shop across the street. I was positively knocked off my hooves.”

“I am sorry to hear that, sir.”

“No, no, Greaves—it’s a figure of speech. As I was saying, there was this novelty shop across the street with THESE right in the window!” I set them on the mantle in proud display. “Only 50 bits, can you believe it?”

“In truth I cannot, sir.”

“Ping-Pong Thistledown and Bingo Skittle will be sick with envy when I invite them to dine!”

“I will endeavor to seat them near the washroom, sir.” Greaves tilted his head slightly, eyeing my new purchase first from one angle, then from another. “Will you be requiring a red rubber nose as well, sir?”

“A red rubber... What on earth would I need that for?”

“I presume that, having been invited to entertain at a small child’s birthday celebration, you will want to be fully garbed in the traditional clown ensemble before passing out these party favours.”

A thought struck me, so hard that I reeled from the blow. “Greaves... do you not like this silverware?”

“The cutlery is very... different, sir.” He gave the box another look, which one might call “pained.”

”Why do you dislike this silverware, Greaves?” I asked sternly. “Is it deficient in some way?”

“It’s really not my place to say, sir,” he answered in a tone that bally well DID say, if you know what I mean. “I’m sure there are many venues where purple utensils bedecked in glitter are entirely appropriate. But for a gentlecolt’s table, if I might suggest, a traditional Chantilly pattern cast in silver—”

“You are speaking absolute rot, Greaves.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Which is to say, utter poppycock.”

“Just as you say, sir.”

“I’ll have you know that the most vibrant violet stripe from a rainbow was used to attain this glad hue. And the so-called ‘glitter’ is—well, it’s actual glitter, I think.” I paused, having lost my train of thought. “This is fine silverware!” I reiterated. “The finest!”

“I’m sure you are correct, sir. Perhaps I should store it away for now, sir, for use during the holidays. I would not want it get worn out.”

I had a feeling if my new silver went into a cupboard, it would never see the light of day again. “Not at all, Greaves. Not at all. I am stepping out for the paper and upon my return I expect to see my new dinnerware ready to leap into action!”

“As you wish, sir,” I heard at my back as I stepped out the door.

I really didn’t want the paper so much as an excuse to pace about along the street a bit and snort derisively here and there, and give Greaves room to do his equivalent of pacing and snorting. No doubt he was smarting after losing our battle of wills. Such conflicts are inevitable when two strong personalities collide, but I was determined to keep my hoof down on the matter. First because I didn’t want to be the type of fellow who’s an absolute slave to his valet, second because that silverware was positively brill.

I could have dismissed him from his post, of course, but what could he actually do about my choice in silverware? “Nothing,” was the answer that sprang to mind. Soon he would learn that I was a pony of iron will and see the futility of airing his questionable taste in cutlery.

Besides, his mushroom quiche smelled positively mouth-watering and it’s hard to find a valet who can really cook. Yes, the best option was to establish firmly who was the master, thus allowing the household to settle into peaceful stability, et cetera and so forth.

After letting an appropriate amount of steam wisp away, so to speak, I returned home with a lighter tread.

“What-ho, Greaves,” I said, keeping my voice buoyant to show there were no hard feelings on the Rooster side of things. I’d forgotten to buy a newspaper, but such is life. “Is lunch ready?”

“It is, Mr. Rooster. Also, you received a telepathogram while you were out, sir.”

“I say, really?” Sure enough, on the little table by the door was a silver tray with a sealed envelope on it. “Well, I’m dashed.”

Telepathograms are a bit of a recent fad. Basically, a brace of unicorns talented in long distance telepathy got together for drinks to moan about how their specialized magic wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, since Aunt Butterscotch or Uncle Horseshoe were all around alarmed and displeased when their niece or nephew started chattering away in the noggins of their elders and betters whilst the latter were pruning flowers or in the bath.

Then they hit on a sterling idea—if these unicorns each moved to a different metropolis, they could bounce messages back and forth to each other while other ponies paid for the privilege of nearly instant communication between, say, Londun and Manehattan. They scribble down the incoming messages and then send runners to deliver them to the appropriate address in the recipient’s metro. Thus, the telepathogram.

They’re beastly expensive, of course, and they charge by the word and the line, so that instead of “Hello, can you make it to Manehattan next month? Hope to see you then. I can’t wait to see how little Glory has grown!” you are more likely to get a curt “Manehattan April, y/n?”, with little Glory excised completely.

Who did I know with enough moolah and ooph to send me such a message, I wondered. I turned over the envelope to see who had authored it.

“Good heavens!” I cried out. “Do you know who this is from?”

“Yes, sir. I could not help noticing the sender is a Duchess Agate Blueblood.”

“Also known as my Aunt Agate, who eats broken bottles and freely crushes nephews under her cloven hooves!”

Greaves cleared his throat. “I have observed Duchess Blueblood before and must confess I do not recall her hooves fitting that description, sir.”

“When you’ve viewed them from the underside as they grind down, Greaves, it is evident.” I gloomily opened the telepathogram. Scanning the lines, my heart sunk still lower. “This blighted aunt is arriving in Londun tomorrow and commands one Birdsong Rooster to provide her luncheon. Are you prepared to make a dish to sate an aunt’s unholy appetite, Greaves?”

“I will do my best, sir. Perhaps cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches with muffins and fresh fruit on the side.”

“Quite. Mind you, you should probably have some broken bottles on hand just in case.”

“I will keep that in mind, sir,” the fellow said, gliding back to the kitchen.

I sat down to dine, but the unhappy tidings of the telepathogram overwhelmed all else, even the realization that Greaves had hidden my silverware under a napkin folded into a sort of fabric rosette. So low were my spirits that this slight on my taste in forks and knives merely produced a slight shake of my head and a faint “tuh!”

After lunch (which was, I must say, superb) I tried to return to The Mystery of the Pink Cupcake, but the upcoming visit from the most formidable of my aunts kept looming in my mind. By the time the morrow arrived, I was almost eager to get this bally luncheon rolling so I could get it over with.

Aunt Agate arrived punctually at 11:30. Physically, the agéd a. is a pink unicorn piled with blue and lavender hair. In spirit, she is more like a cross between a cockatrice and a manticore, freezing equines with her stare before rending them apart for light recreation. Yet rather than being banished to the outer reaches of Equestria (and perhaps locked in a dungeon there for good measure) she lairs at her country estate, occasionally emerging to prowl Londun Town and terrorize the populace. On this day she sailed through my front door like a steamer ship intent on sinking any sailboats and bathers that crossed its path.

“What-ho, Aunt Agate!” I said, trying to make the best of things. “Nice round of weather we’re having, what?”

She fixed me with an expression so eagle-eyed that some poor sap of a griffon was probably wandering around weeping out of bloodied sockets. “Kindly do not talk nonsense, Birdsong.”

“Right-ho, Aunt Agate.”

“And regulate your speech. I did not come here to listen to the ghastly slang you and your do-nothing friends indulge in.”

“Right-h... Right, Aunt Agate.”

She seated herself at the table, snorting in a lady-like manner. “You’ve pawned your spoons to bet on some racing-pony, I suppose.”

“Er, no Auntie, they’re...” I looked down at the table and noted an utter lack of silverware. Dash it all. I mean to SAY, dash it ALL. “They’re being cleaned. You see—”

“Never mind about that.” She waved a dismissive pink hoof before fixing her eye on me over a cup of tea. “I have come here to give you a chance to redeem yourself.”

“Oh yes? What from?”

“For some time now I have despaired of you, Birdsong. You are nothing more than a parasprite living off the fat of society.”

“Oh, I say—”

“Kindly do not interrupt!” she growled, with a look that chap who had his liver eaten by eagles all the time would have found strikingly familiar. “I had hoped that you might in time distinguish yourself and regain the title stripped from my poor brother when he married a chorus-filly...” She closed her eyes for a few seconds, allowing me to roll my own. “But I can see this was a futile dream. Since you lack the gumption to improve yourself, you shall instead apply your admittedly feeble talents to help another, more deserving pony.”

“Oh really,” I said, and I will not deny a note of huffiness, not to say pique, entered my voice. “And who is this wonder-horse who needs my ‘admittedly feeble talents’?”

“Your cousin August has found himself,” the aunt heaved a sigh that made her jewelry tremble, “in an unfortunate situation.”

“Oh yes?” I said, not exactly abuzz with enthusiasm.

“Yes. He attended the Grand Galloping Gala and some seamstress girl was there making a scene. A gatecrasher, no doubt. Dear August unwisely tried to lend a helping hoof... I could have told him it’s a mistake getting involved with the lower classes.”

I was still fogged, and indicated as much. “The Grand Galloping Gala was a month ago. What does he need help with? Some decorations still strewn about the place, what?” I offered a light chuckle.

“Stop blithering. As I say, this filly made a scene and, most unfortunately, Princess Celestia witnessed it. The dear Princess is a most compassionate pony, Birdsong—”

“Oh, quite!”

“—but unfortunately this very nobility of spirit renders her vulnerable to fraudulence and deception by base sorts. Your job, Birdsong, is to travel to Canterlot and help the Princess appreciate the innumerable admirable qualities of your cousin August.”

“But... how...”

“I leave the details to you.” The agéd aunt stood. “Do not fail me, Birdsong,” she said in a tone of subtle threat that would’ve left a gangster-pony agog with admiration.

“Right-ho,” I sighed, and Aunt Agate began lecturing yours truly on the evils of slang again.

Later, with the aunt headed off to stalk other victims, I staggered into the kitchen. “Greaves, you have pained me.”

“I am most sorry to hear that, sir.”

“I expressly told you that I wished to use that new purple silverware. Yet when Aunt Agate arrived, what did I espy on the table? Not a single fork, Greaves. Not one spoon or knife.”

“I took the liberty of omitting them, sir. I feared that Duchess Blueblood would not have the same exuberance of taste that you and your friends exhibit when it comes to flatware.”

“Possibly, Greaves, possibly,” I acknowledged.

“If I might remind you, sir, I also sought to provide foods readily eaten without utensils. Sandwiches, you will recall, and a fine selection of fruit, not to mention—”

I waved a hoof to silence him. “Well, yes. You did your best, I’m sure. And it’s true the aunt might have kicked. She does that. But in the future I expect to be consulted, Greaves.”

“Of course, sir. I am always most interested to hear your opinion.”

“Unfortunately, we have more to worry about than forks and knives. We must journey to the capitol city post haste.”

“Yes, sir. I could not help overhearing Duchess Blueblood’s plea for assistance.”

“Plea!” I snorted, and I did so sarcastically. “More like dire threat! But we must look on the bright side, Greaves. The closer to Canterlot, the further from the dreaded aunt.”

“Very true, sir. I will begin packing for the trip immediately. Do you propose to make the journey by boat or by air-chariot?”

Airiot was the faster option of course, but I said, “By boat, Greaves. We shall take the train to the port of Drover, with one brief stop along the way. Are you familiar with Twinkly Court?”

“The country estate of Duchess Dahlia and Duke Pomegranate Traverse, is it not?”

“It is indeed! Another of my auntly relatives. And uncle-ly, respectively. Also the abode of my cousin Angel, who, you will recall me mentioning, has a birthday coming up. We shall journey there, Greaves, a festively wrapped offering in hoof.” I nodded towards the brooch, currently vegetating on the mantle. “I refuse to plead the case of my odious cousin August whilst neglecting my favourite cousin Angel.”

“An admirable sentiment, sir,” Greaves said with that almost-smile. “I’m sure she will be most appreciative.”

“Birdy, you young ass, you should’ve told us you were coming,” Aunt Dahlia said, perched on the steps of Twinkly Manor. “Angel’s on a trip to Fence with some school chums.”

“Oh, blast it all... do you mean to say she’s entirely gone?”

“Well, you’re free to snoop around the corners searching for the spare limb or ear she might have dropped in her rush, but I’m inclined to say yes, she’s entirely gone. Oh, put away that pout and come inside, you young blot. Canapé’s just serving lunch.”

She turned tail and trotted inside the manor house while I hurried to keep up. As I’ve given you a description of Aunt Agate, I suppose it’s only fair to sketch a quick picture of Dahlia Traverse, who is an aunt of another breed. An earth pony, to be exact, yellow with purple hair and a floral symbol of a species appropriate to her name. While Aunt Agate looms large as the stuff of nightmares, Aunt Dahlia is the kind of aunt a nephew can rely on for a helping hoof in a crunch. And vice versa, I should hope.

I regard her with affection, but make no mistake, she is an aunt to the core and therefore formidable when roused. She may not be the largest of ponies, but her eyes are exceptionally keen and she will run like billy-o, frothing at the mouth, if she sees somepony about to tread on her prize-winning flowers.

According to Aunt Dahlia, her swiftness of hoof and brain are due to the tending of this very flora. She competes with them, you see, at the annual Market Snodsbury country fair. “And the competition there is not for the faint of heart,” she once told me. Apparently the weak and frail are quickly winnowed out, weeping quietly as the pluckier competitors engage in whatever subtle campaigns of backstabbing, deceit, and sabotage are necessary to earn their roses and chrysanthemums the blue ribbon.

Over a superb luncheon (courtesy of Aunt Dahlia’s brilliant Fench chef, Canapé) I explained my destination to this aunt of mine.

“So you’re off to Canterlot, Birdy?” Aunt Dahlia said, passing the salt. “You delightful child. Go with an aunt’s blessing.”

Aunt Dahlia and I get along quite well, but I was nonetheless surprised by her enthusiasm for this trip of mine. “You seem quite excited at the prospect, dearest a.,” I ventured.

“It’s fortuitous, that’s all. The gods have finally looked down on us and smiled.”

“Have they really?” I cast a glance out the windows.

“Stop craning your neck around like a voyeur at a five-carriage pile up and listen to me, Birdy. You have noticed your Uncle Pom’s absence from this meal?”

“By jove, now that you mention it...”

Uncle Pomegranate and I have never exchanged much in the way of pleasantries—I will say “what-ho!” and he will respond by glowering and muttering about the trials of hosting ponies in the manor house. Sometimes, under his breath, he’ll calculate the expense they cause when taking hot baths. Although this luncheon was more peaceful than it would’ve been with him muttering into his soup about The Wretched State Of The World, I still felt a pang of concern for the old flesh-and-blood.

“I’ve never seen him miss one of Canapé’s meals,” I said. “Is he ill?”

“Not ill, but depressed.” Aunt Dahlia dabbed her mouth with a napkin held in a yellow hoof. “You know Sir Catkin Basket?”

“Er... no.”

“He’s a pony. Named Catkin Basket. Who was knighted, and therefore is a ‘sir’. Anyway, it’s all his fault.”

“What is?”

“That Pom is depressed, you ass. Do try to keep up, Birdy.”

“Well, what did this Basket blighter do, exactly?”

Aunt Dahlia laid down her napkin, looking across the table with a sort of grim smile. “I’ll tell you what he did. Sir Cat-skin Baseless broke Pom’s heart when he snatched up an ancient centurion helmet with perfectly preserved bristles for a pittance at auction. What did you say, Birdy?”

“I said ‘tchaw’! An expression of dismay on behalf of a fondly regarded uncle. Tell me more about this auction, it sounds like it came up a perfect cropper.”

“Between the way you mumble and the way you talk, it’s a wonder anypony can understand you. Yes, anyway, this auction. That rat Basket told Pom it was on Wednesday of last week, when in fact it was on Tuesday. Pom took the louse at his word and missed the whole thing.”

“Oh, I say, that’s low.”

“Ex-actly! It was a low, creeping, conniving act!”

“I take it Sir Catkin is also an ardent collector of armour and armaments?”

“Absolutely soppy about the stuff. Colts... I’ll never understand them.”

“I’m a colt and I’m not sure I understand this obsession with the tin cans of yesteryear either,” I said. “So Uncle Pom is sick at heart thinking of this objet de la guerre in the hooves of this fiend in equine form, is that it?”

“Completely correct. Some may say you have no brain, Birdy, but I’ve always said there was one rattling around in there somewhere.”

“Wait a minute now, who says—”

“I’ve been wondering all week how to lift Pom out of the dumps. And then you appeared on my doorstep, dear boy, my favourite nephew on his way to Canterlot.” She smiled.

“Yes... but how is that going to cheer up Uncle Pom? Do you want me to pick up a helmet from a shop or something?”

“Close, very close. “ The relative trotted over to one of the bookshelves looming ‘round the walls and brought back a thick volume that looked as though it deserved a cushy retirement for its many years of service. She flipped it open. “You see this, Birdy?”

I blinked down at a page featuring a grubby drawing of a rectangle with various lions, birds, forests, et cetera, prancing around on it. “Some kind of painting?”

“Not a painting, you ignorant savage. It’s a drawing of the famous Border Blanket. Centuries ago the elite guards of Equestria wore them to prevent their armour from chafing in unmentionable places. This particular style of blanket was worn by a small band of ponies who guarded the farthest borders of Equestria. They were said to be the best of the best, the bravest, most skilled, and most loyal of soldiers.”

She snapped the book shut. “Well, you know how that always ends. They were all slaughtered at some obscure mountain pass. Legend has it that the enemy left one pony alive so he could return to Equestria to bear witness to the carnage, and the one remaining blanket still in the hooves of ponykind is supposedly his.”

“How gruesome! I assume someone else swooped in and saved Equestria?”

“Who cares? Not me and, more to the point, not Pom. What matters, Birdy, is that there’s only one of this blanket anywhere, and years ago Sir Catkin Basket let it slip through his hooves.”

“Oh yes?”

“Yes. Not knowing its worth, some merchant had bundled it up with a lot of old rugs. The miserable Basket spied it and rubbed his hooves together with foul glee, thinking he would get this precious artifact for few measly bits. He was eager to cheat the honest merchant—”

“Who had not noticed the whole hoof-rubbing and cackling on display, I take it.”

“Hush. As I say, he swooped in to buy it when who should stumble past?”

“Uncle Pom?”

“No. The curator of the Royal Museum in Canterlot. She took one look at this piece of fabric and said, ‘Ho!’ (or words to that effect), ‘Ho! This is the Border Blanket or I’m a two-headed spider monkey!’”

“Which, presumably, she wasn’t.”

“Indeed she was not. She dumped a hefty load of bits into the carpeteer’s hooves and whisked the blanket away to the safe confines of the Royal Museum.”

“Leaving Sir Basket empty-hooved?”

“And crushed, Birdy, absolutely crushed.”

“Well, I thank you for the story, dearest a., but I’m still fogged about how this blunder from years past is supposed to help Uncle Pom’s mental health in the here and now. Are you proposing to write up the story and stick it under his nose to remind him of his enemy’s frailty? Perhaps with a snappy picture of his foe weeping in front of the blanket?”

“Nooo, I’m not going to give him a picture of it.” Aunt Dahlia smiled widely. “I’m going to give him the real thing.”

“You’re what?”

“And you, Birdy, are going to get it for me.”

Next chapter: On to Canterlot!