• 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 2: Canterlot, City of a Thousand Something-or-Others

Chapter 2: Canterlot, City of a Thousand Something-or-Others

“You can’t be serious!”

“Do I look serious, Birdy?”

As her mouth was a straight line and her eyebrows lowered, admittedly she did. “But Aunt Dahlia, it’s... it’s ridiculous. Laughable!” I gave a derisive laugh to illustrate this point.

“Stop that noise immediately, you insufferable young donkey. Is this the gratitude with which you repay years of hospitality at Twinkly Court?”

“I am always glad to express my thanks, Aunt Dahlia, but not by engaging in petty larceny!”

“How you do exaggerate, Birdy. I blame those drama-ladened musical plays you’re so fond of.”

“I will not do it! I simply will not!”

Aunt Dahlia gave me a look like a manticore about to charge. “Then you will never again darken my doorstep, young Birdsong.”

“Oh, come now!”

“No, I mean it. The familial bonds will be irreparably broken if you do not take this simple task in hoof.”

I tried throwing a jot of reason at her. “How do you think the Princess, not to mention the Royal Guard, will take to me waltzing into the Royal Museum and removing a priceless artifact?”

“Don’t get caught, it’s as simple as that. You’re always reading those silly mystery novels, why don’t you take some lessons from them?”

“But—”

“Your Uncle Pom will be so thrilled. You may well be saving him from an early grave,” she said, herding me towards the door.

“Look here—”

“Good, it’s settled then.” She knocked me outside with a headbutt to the ribs that nearly sent me nosediving down the stone steps. “Until we meet again, nephew of mine. Oh, and I’ll pass the present along to Angel when she jaunts back from Fence. Quite nice of you, remembering her birthday. Now go off and fetch that blanket.” Her smile suddenly evaporated. “Or return empty-hooved and suffer an aunt’s curse.”

The door slammed shut.


The walk back to the train station was short but it took me some time to get there, dazed as I was by this recent flurry of aunt. Greaves was waiting there with the luggage.

“Your arrival is well timed, Mr. Rooster. The connecting train to Drover arrives in ten minutes.” He paused as he looked at me, his impassive face hinting at concern. “I trust you had a pleasant meeting with your cousin?”

I turned my eyes to him and gave a sort of hollow laugh. This actually sent a mild furrow rippling between his brows.

“Are you unwell, sir? You look somewhat out of sorts.”

“Aunts, Greaves,” I intoned in a haunted voice. “Aunts. Some say there are good aunts and bad aunts, but they are all waiting for the right moment to bite your head off. Some are merely more obvious about it than others.”

“Sir?” He raised an eyebrow a fraction.

“Tell me, Greaves. Would you say it is a good idea to pinch an objet d’arte right out of the Royal Museum in Canterlot?”

“Mm, I would say not, sir. It would be a course fraught with peril. I would advise against it.”

“Well, clearly you are not my Aunt Dahlia. She unveiled this clunker of an idea in front of me with the air of one producing a dove out of a hat to please a crowd of foals.” I explained, in short order, the business with Uncle Pom, Sir Basket, and the rare Border Blanket.

“Perhaps she will find some other solution to Duke Pomegranate’s ennui while you are away, sir.”

“One can hope,” I sighed. “One can hope.” All during the ride to Drover the thought plagued me, but when I stepped off the train I began to feel a bit better. Alas, this feeling was short-lived. Almost as soon as I transferred self to the boat, my stomach got the jimjams and began heaving about.

“Urrrrrgh,” I moaned, hanging my head over the railing and praying for death.

“Drink this, sir,” Greaves murmured, producing a cup of some mysterious potion. As my stomach miraculously stopped its protests, I resolved to keep him in my service if at all possible. If this meant opening his mind to the validity of purple cutlery, I would somehow accomplish just that.

I will gloss over the remaining, uneventful days at sea. At last we reached the mainland and boarded a crowded airiot that had at least a half-dozen hefty pegasi harnessed in the traces. What with Canterlot perching in the mountains, pegasus-powered transport is by far the fastest way to get there. Most of the city is built into a steep valley, but the part you notice from the air is the castle, clinging to the side of the peak with its tall white towers glistening in the sun—quite the jolly sight, I’ve always thought, and one to lift the spirits.

“Shall I find a suitable hotel, sir?” asked Greaves as we departed the airiot.

“Oh, no need for that. We’ll bunk in the castle itself. Plenty of guest rooms in the old thing,” I assured him.

“Very good, sir,” said he as he followed with the luggage balanced on his back.

As I said, the castle’s architect must have had a distinct appreciation for the vertical; from a distance it rather reminds one of those stalagma-thingies you find in caves. (The kind that stick up). But when you get up close, it’s a mass of halls and doorways and you have to keep your eyes open so as not to trip over the multitudes of grey unicorn guards and white pegasus guards marching about the place. It gets a bit annoying at times, but I suppose they’re obliged to earn their keep somehow.

“The throne room, Greaves,” I indicated, pausing in a doorway with more than the usual number of guards massed by it, all staring determinedly at nothing in particular. A red carpet led up to the throne in question, which was so far away that the Princess looked like a distant white blob conjoined to a pastel blob. It was a good job the dais was so high or else the huge queue of ponies waiting to chat with her would’ve blocked her entirely from view.

“Despite the injunctions of my Aunt Agate, this does not seem like the right time to talk to her,” I said.

“No, sir.”

“It would be a bit distracting if I were to jaunt in and say, ‘What-ho! Sorry to interrupt this chatter about farms failing and diplomatic ties and whatnot, but I want to tell one and all what a corking fellow my cousin August is!’”

“I quite agree, sir.”

“Later, Greaves, after we have settled in and unpacked, we can—oh, hullo!”

This last remark was aimed not at Greaves, but at a hitherto unknown colt I found myself face to face with upon turning around. He was a grey earth pony with dark green hair and a pocket watch cutie mark. Not only was he wearing a rather somber tie, but he also had a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles pinching the bridge of his nose.

“If you are here to petition Princess Celestia, the line is over there,” this newcomer pointed, not returning my greeting and in fact aiming rather suspicious looks at myself and Greaves.

“Actually, we were just about to nose around the palace for Sprinkles Featherdown. Have you seen her? She’s a pegasus mare of advanced age with a lavender coat, rather grey hair, and a symbol of a flock of—”

“I know what she looks like.”

“Oh, good,” I said. I beamed at him. He stared back at me over his spectacles. The conversation had flattened out so I tried to pump some life back into it. “She’s the Royal... Well, the Royal Something-Or-Other. The long and short of it is that when a room is needed, Sprinkles always comes through with the goods. The goods being, in this case, a cushy suite with a sitting room and—”

“Ms. Featherdown will not be providing you with a room.”

“Say again?”

“She has retired.”

“Oh, I see! Still, they must have heaved the job over to somepony else when she left.”

“They did. To me, Pinstripe Tock, the Royal Organizator.”

“Oh, so you’re the chap we need to speak to! What luck running into you. Pinstripe, is it? Birdy's the name. As you may have guessed, I’m in need of an HQ while in Canterlot, and a guest suite would be just the ticket.”

“Hmmm. How many in your party?”

“Just two, myself and my valet here.”

He fished a notebook out of the thinnish sort of saddlebag he was wearing, which displayed notepads, quills, and pencils sticking out of the pockets in neatly ordered rows. “For two. Hmm, I think that can be arranged. For how long?”

I refrained from pointing out it should jolly well be a snap to arrange because I happened to know the palace was simply awash with guest rooms. I used to play hide and seek in them as a foal until I got stuck in a dumbwaiter for two days, after which the game lost its luster.

But I gave this fellow the benefit of the doubt, being new to the job and whatnot, and simply said, “Oh, not long, not long. I’m just going to pop in and chat with Great-Aunt Celly a few times, you know. Catch up, as it were.”

“‘Great-Aunt Celly’?” He set his pencil down on the notebook and eyeballed me. “Are you by some chance referring to Princess Celestia?”

“That’s right. I know, I know, technically there should be a lot more ‘Greats’ in there than the one, but it sounds rather ridic. saying ‘Great-Great-Great-Great-Great’—”

“Princess Celestia,” Tock said, louder than strictly necessary, “is a very busy pony.”

“Oh, quite. Raising the sun and all that. Not to worry, I’m never up at dawn anyway.”

“She has many issues of diplomacy and governance to attend to.”

“Jolly good. Can’t wait to talk about them over tea and biscuits tomorrow.”

“Mr. Rooster.”

“What-ho?”

“You are not going to see Princess Celestia tomorrow.”

“I’m not?”

“You’re not.”

“Oh, what bad luck. Well, perhaps the day after tomorrow we can—”

“Nor the day after tomorrow.”

“Next week maybe we could—”

“Nor next week.”

I paused. Tock paused. Greaves hadn’t spoken during this little dialogue so his silence didn’t technically constitute a pause.

After a few moments of discomfort where everypony waited for somepony else to kick the conversation back into play, Greaves cleared his throat. “When would Mr. Rooster be able to meet with Princess Celestia? It is really a most pressing matter.”

Tock took a different notebook, a small black one, out of his saddle-side organizer and skittered through the pages. “I can pencil you in five weeks from Monday, from 10:30 to noon.”

“Oh, I say! Five weeks!”

“And there’s a fifteen minute opening two weeks after that,” Tock continued, scribbling something down. “If you’d like a second meeting.”

“Nothing sooner than that? Really?”

“Nothing at all.” He snapped the book shut with such finality that I saw it would be fruitless to try to reason with him. Clearly he was one of those chaps who believes that noting an upcoming event in a day planner is the equivalent of zipping into the future and forcing said event to take place on that date, at that time... and woe betide the pony who lets it run ten minutes over or under schedule.

“As for a room,” he continued, “I can provide you with—”

Here I interrupted. I was not about to trust the sense of hospitality of a fellow who snapped notebooks open and shut like that. “I’d like that suite overlooking the garden with the stone lions,” I said in a firm voice.

This appeared to throw Tock off his script. His eyes bugged slightly. “What?”

“That one on the fourth floor with two bedrooms, a sitting room, and a piano.”

He took out a notebook rather shakily, struggling to find something to quantify. “What room number is it?”

“No idea, my dear chap. But it’s part of the west tower, that sort of bulgy circular part.”

“Well, no one is using any of the tower rooms on the fourth floor, so I suppose that would be acceptable,” he said in a pained voice. “IF you provide me with the room number as soon as possible.”

“Quite, quite!” I waved a hoof.

“All right. Get me the room number and I will reserve the room for your use for eight weeks. Now if you gentlecolts will excuse me...” Off he went, trotting away with a gait like a metronome.

And off I traipsed, followed by Greaves (who glided along rather than traipsing or trotting) to settle into my temporary home sweet home.


“This whole trip is a rather rum deal, Greaves,” I opined as I walked into the suite.

“Indeed, sir.”

“Still, things could be worse. Here I am, settled in one of the most spiffing rooms in the castle.”

“A cheering thought, sir.” Greaves pulled back a curtain, revealing a flowered garden several storeys below us. “I take it you are not unfamiliar with the layout of the castle?”

“Oh yes, I used to know the whole place top to bottom. I haven’t visited in quite some time, but of course a castle tends to stay the same over the years. No one is likely to knock out these hefty stone walls for a bit of light remodeling, what?”

“Very true, sir.”

I walked over to take a survey of the view, watching ponies below wander about the paths singly or in pairs. “Yes, despite this visit being kicked off by the unholy powers of aunts, I am determined to look on this as a holiday. Still, I suppose I ought to at least rest the old eyeballs on this Border Blanket that Aunt Dahlia was nattering on about. To the Royal Museum, Greaves!”

The Royal Museum was adjacent to the castle and built along the same lines, designed by ponies who felt that a building couldn’t have too much distance between the roof and the ground. It’s simply riddled with towers and turrets, and although this looks most striking from the outside, after a chap drags his hooves up approximately three million marble stairs, he starts to wonder why he didn’t just breeze into the gift shop by the entrance and buy postcards of all the exhibits. The armour display was, naturally, nearly at the top of the building.

I don’t think I’m particularly out of shape—I can keep up in any game of tennis or cricket—but still I was puffing as I worked my way up the last spiraling staircase. Even Greaves was oiling up it at a slower than usual pace when it came down to the final stretch. Unfortunately as I topped the staircase, my hind hoof caught on the top stair and I stumbled forward, straight into one of the Royal Guards.

“Watch it,” growled he, a grey unicorn in that gold plated armour they all wear. A matching guard stood beside him, with the exact same white and grey colour scheme and armour. But as luck would have it, I had knocked into the grumpier of the two.

As I tossed out an apology and pulled myself to my hooves, the second guard gave me a quite cheerful smile. “It’s a long climb, isn’t it?” he said.

“Seeker! You’re not supposed to talk,” hissed the other from the corner of his mouth.

“You talked,” Seeker hissed back.

“That was different.”

I nipped past them without further delay. Mannequins gussied up in armour were set all over the exhibit hall. Since they were all wearing different styles from different eras, they effect they gave en masse was not so much that of an army as of a group of ponies who had said to one another, “I say, how about a fancy dress party? Be sure to wear your plumed helmet, they’re all the rage this season!” Scattered among these rows of mismatched soldiers were glass cases containing weapons or medals or such.

“Well, there it is, Greaves.” I looked down into a glass case squeezed between two armoured mannequins. The blanket was, if anything, even grubbier and more threadbare than the version drawn in Aunt Dahlia’s book. “To think that this mere scrap of fabric is what sets Sir Basket and Uncle Pom’s eyes alight.”

“The whims of collectors are very mysterious, sir.”

“Truer words were never spoken. I cannot help but notice, Greaves,” I said in a lower voice, “that the museum is crawling with guards. Guards at every doorway, guards on every floor.”

“An accurate assessment, sir. I was just about to comment on the number and proximity of guard-ponies myself.”

“Well, as far as I’m concerned my nephewly obligations can go hang themselves if Aunt Dahlia expects them to include... you know what.” I glanced at the doorway where the pair of grey unicorns were stationed.

“I think your feelings on the matter are most wise, sir. It is best not to get involved in such things.”

“I’ll send her a letter explaining the sitch.” I strolled to the door, preparing for the descent down innumerable stairs. “Then she’ll have to see reason, won’t she?” I confess a note of doubt entered my voice.

By the time we hit ground level, my legs felt more like noodles than anything else. I sent Greaves off to buy some stamps and stationary while I hobbled towards the castle.

When I reached the park flanking the castle, I spotted a mint green unicorn with similarly hued hair sitting on a bench. Only one pony in Equestria could manage a boneless posture like that, sitting upright with her back against the bench but nonetheless slumping like a sack of potatoes.

“I say! Plinker, is it really you?”

She looked, her eyes wide with surprise. “Birdy? Birdy Rooster? What are you doing here?”

“Just taking a jaunt. Plinker Heartsong, well well well. It’s been a while, what?”

“A million years! Well, it seems that way, anyway.” She smiled. “So what are you doing in Canterlot, Birdy? Did you move here?”

“Oh, nothing like that. I’m just here visiting family, as it were. But what about you, Plinker? What brings you here?”

“To Canterlot, or to the park?”

“Either one. You don't live here, do you?”

“I do now. A few years ago Mother and Father moved the whole family out to Canterlot.” Her ears drooped a bit as she made this admission.

“What’s wrong? Not liking the capital metrop.?”

“Oh, the city is fine.” She slumped even further down the bench, looking to be in danger of melting away altogether. “I don’t have any problems with the city. It’s just...” She let loose a sigh.

A frown crossed the Rooster countenance. Clearly all was not well. “Come on, old chum. Unburden your saddlebags to a sympathetic ear.”

She freed a sigh even heftier than the previous one. “Well, to tell you the truth—”

“Lyra, THERE you are!”

“Mother!” Plinker aimed a strained smile towards an incoming green and pink unicorn of elegant dress and matronly build.

“I have been looking everywhere for you,” said this new arrival, whom I gathered was Ma Heartsong, as she marched over. She aimed a frown at her daughter. “What have I told you about sitting like that, Lyra? Such abysmal posture!”

With a distinct air of mutiny about her, Plinker slid off the bench and stood on her own four feet. “There. Happy, Mother?”

The older unicorn swept this question aside. “Duke Marbles is walking by the fountain right now. Alone,” she added, eyebrows speeding up and down as though they were trying to take wing.

“Good for him. Yay.”

“The fountain is surrounded by roses and weeping willows—very romantic,” Ma Heartsong continued.

Plinker turned to me with a sweet smile on her face. “I don’t think you’ve met Duke Marbles, have you? He’s about three times my age, has false teeth, and ponies say that his first name is ‘Lost His.’”

“Oh Lyra,” sniffed Ma. “I’m sure the rumors that he believes he’s a canary are grossly exaggerated.” She turned and targeted me with her gaze, looking me up and down with the air of a tiger debating if a deer is too small to be worth eating. “And who is this?” she asked in a suspicious tone that suggested she was afraid of the answer.

“What-ho, what-ho, what-ho!” I admit I rather garbled it out; the atmosphere between Plinker and her mother was what you might call “highly charged” and it made me jumpy. Sparks hadn’t actually started shooting out from their eyes yet, but if they did I was afraid I’d be caught in the crossfire. “Birdy’s the name!”

“Birdy.” Ma Heartsong repeated my name in a rather unnecessary tone of disbelief.

Plinker jumped in. “A-hem! Mother, this is Birdsong Rooster. He’s here visiting family.”

“Oh, yes?”

“Spot on. My aunt asked me to lend a hoof to my cousin August, so I—”

Ma Heartsong gasped. “Not August Blueblood! Prince Blueblood has a cousin?”

Well, I’m never thrilled to be reduced to “Prince Blueblood’s cousin,” but there’s no doubt the info worked some serious magic in this case. In a trice the mother’s suspicious expression melted away, leaving behind a simpering, honeyed gaze.

“Ohhhh, Prince Blueblood’s cousin, of COURSE. Oh, how EXCITING! Prince Birdsong, it’s so wonderful to make your acquaintance! I am Dame Flowerburst Heartsong.” She bowed so low her nose nearly hit the ground.

“Actually, Dame Heartsong, I’m not a...”

“Lyra, why didn’t you tell me you’d met such a lovely, noble young colt? You must invite him over to dinner sometime.”

“I met Birdy at Wheaton, Mother. You know, when I was there on the music scholarship you didn’t want me to accept because studying music was ‘a waste of time’?”

“Well, obviously I was mistaken. I would’ve thought differently if I’d known you’d be rubbing elbows with this caliber of pony. I’m sure Wheaton must be the highest quality school if you were there, Prince Birdsong. I’m so honoured my dear little Lyra was able to attend.”

“Ah ha ha, actually I’m not a...” Just then ‘dear little Lyra’ aimed a narrow look at me that indicated I jolly well WAS a prince for the remainder of the conversation, so I amended my protest into: “I’m not a bit surprised she got in. Brilliant pony, Plinker is.”

“Plinker?” Dame Heartsong asked with a vague smile.

“Lyra, I mean,” I corrected myself. “We used to call her Stinker Plinker because of the time she smuggled a skunk into the—” Plinker kicked me. “Yes, anyway, she’s a fine member of the old alma mater. This one time...” I chuckled at the memory. “This one time we—which is to say Plinker, Pongo Thistledown, Lala Blossom, and myself—snuck into Professor Query’s classroom the night before final exams and replaced all the ink on the desks with the disappearing variety. What a laugh we had, eh Plink? The answers all disappeared, of course, and the professor was so furious he swore if he ever found out who did it he’d expel—”

“Ha ha, yes, thank you, Birdy!" Plinker interrupted. "Those princes, huh? What kidders!”

“Y-yes,” Ma Heartsong agreed. For some reason she looked a little jiggered, but she recovered quickly and smiled. “I’m sorry I disturbed you, Lyra. You stay here and get to know the prince better.” She didn’t actually wink at her daughter, but certainly left the impression that her eye was dying to roll down the curtain.

As her mother trotted away, Lyra slapped a hoof to her forehead. “Arrrrgh.”

“Plinker, old sport,” I ventured. “Would I be wrong in guessing you’re having family problems?”

“You would be completely and one hundred percent right, Birdy,” groaned Plinker. “It all started when I got back from university. Suddenly Mother and Father announced they were moving to Canterlot, permanently. Well, okay, whatever. It wasn’t until we moved here that I realized what they really wanted.”

“Which is?”

“Didn’t you see my mother’s face when you said you were related to Prince Blueblood? Mother and Father are part of the knighthood, but that’s not enough for them. They don’t want to be on the bottom rung of the Council of Peers. Father’s been hoarding money for ages so they can grease the right hooves and buy their way up, but...”

“But it would be much cheaper if someone, like perhaps an eligible unicorn filly, married her way up the rungs?”

She grimaced. “Exactly.”

“But, I say. Even if you did marry a prince, there’s nothing to say that your parents would leapfrog up in rank. My cousin August clawed his way up to princehood a few years ago, but his mother is still a mere duchess (if I dare apply that adjective to Aunt Agate). Maybe if you told your parents—”

“Oh, I’ve tried that angle, believe me. But they think they have a better chance with somepony, anypony, in the family making it to a more ‘elevated station’, as they put it. To magically lower down a ladder for them to climb up, I guess. They’d be dancing with glee if the family dog became a lady or duchess, let alone their daughter. They’re driving me CRAZY!” This time she slapped both hooves to her face as she sat back sharply on her hindquarters.

“There, there, old thing.” I patted her shoulder.

“And the worst part of it is...” She hesitated.

“Is what?” I asked after a stretch of silence, when it looked like no more info would be forthcoming.

“Birdy, can I trust you? Really trust you?”

“Plinker! I am hurt that you even have to ask. We Roosters are the most trustworthy of—”

“Oh Birdy, you’re so ridiculous,” she laughed. “Come on.”

“Come on? Come on where?”

“To where I’m taking you.”

“Actually, my legs aren’t really feeling in tiptop—”

“Come ON,” she called over her shoulder.

“Oh, dash it all... Right-ho!”


Next chapter: Bon Bon!