• 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 3: Fillies, Fiancees, and Fiances

Chapter 3: Fillies, Fiancées, and Fiancés

As mentioned before, my legs were complaining after the long trek up and down several million steps in the Royal Museum. Now, as I followed Plinker down the street and into the marketplace, they were threatening mutiny. I gamely weaved through the teeming masses anyway, doing my best to keep up with her.

“Plinker, old friend. I can’t help but wonder where we’re going.”

The mint green unicorn puckered her brow. “Birdy,” she said finally, “I’m engaged.”

“Engaged? As in ‘let me not to the marriage of true minds admit whats-its’? Well, well, WELL, congratulations! This is spiffing news!”

“No, it’s not. I mean, it is, but it’s more complicated than that.” She sighed and gestured to a bench parked along the side of the boulevard. When we were planted on it, she said, “It’s my parents that are the problem. As usual. They’ll never approve.”

“Because of their scheme that you should marry ‘upward’, so to speak?”

“Pretty much.”

“Point out that the fellow might get inducted into the Council of Peers’ merry ranks any day now. Problem solved.”

“It’s not a fellow, it’s a filly.”

“Oh! Well, the principle of my previous statement stands.”

“It’s a nice thought, but there’s no way, Birdy. It takes money and connections to get into the Council and she hasn’t got either.”

“Hmmm, that does make things tricky.” I strained the grey matter. Vaulting Plinker’s fillyfriend into the upper ranks of the peers was the surest way to secure her parents’ blessing, but that looked like an uphill battle. Still, I saw a glimmer of hope. “Sometimes they do open the doors for impoverished types, Plink. Knighting poor but brilliant artists is practically their favourite past time, especially since knights aren’t due an allowance. Perhaps if your fiancée writes a particularly genius-ladened opera...”

“She’s not a poor but brilliant artist. She’s a waitress,” she said gloomily.

“Oh. Hmm.” Suddenly the uphill battle turned into the impossibly steep slope that one chap continuously rolls boulders up. The Council of Peers has never been known for knighting waitresses, poor or otherwise, and on occasion they have actually booted out members who married beneath their station. This very thing happened to my father when he married a chorus-filly from a musical comedy, despite the fact that he was from the noble and laurelled House of Rooster.

“What am I going to do?” Plinker sighed. “I don’t care one whit about titles and pedigree, honestly I don’t, but I don’t want my parents to disown me! And I’m sure they’ll be so rude to Bon Bon if I tell them. What if they treat her so badly she doesn’t even want to marry me? What if—”

“I take it this Bon Bon is the filly of your heart?”

“That’s right, Birdy. And there she is.” To my surprise, Plinker pointed through the window of the cafe behind us. A sign over the door identified it as the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, which the architect had whimsically modeled after a giant, lacy shoe.

I moved to the take-out window, which was currently free of staff, and peered in.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Plinker sighed. “I brought you here so you could see her in person.”

I refrained from saying that she might have shown me a photograph in the park and let me to rest my poor legs. “Very nice! Quite a lovely filly.”

“You aren’t even looking at her, you dolt! She’s the earth pony.”

“Oh, right. The blue one?”

“No.”

“The purple one?”

“NO! How could you even think it would be one of them? She’s the one who’s radiantly beautiful!” Although it was not the most lady-like behavior she might have exhibited, Plinker put me in a headlock and wrenched my head towards a cream coloured filly with pink and navy blue hair.

“Extremely radiant,” I wheezed. “Absolutely topping.”

“Oh, I know!” she giggled, letting go of me to clap her hooves together. “I’m the luckiest filly in the world... if only I can figure out what to do about my parents. Oh, she’s seen us. Bon Bon!” Plinker waved.

The (radiant) earth pony Bon Bon tucked her notepad into her apron pocket and moved over to the open service window. “Hello, Lyra,” she blushed.

“Hello, Bon Bon,” Plinker returned, gazing deeply into her eyes.

“You... you look beautiful today.”

“You look more beautiful.”

“No, you look more beautiful...”

This might have gone on all day, but just then I noticed a peculiar reflection in the shop’s windows and turned around to eyeball the bushes. “I say, Plinker, isn’t that your mother?”

“What?!” she gasped, trading in her glazed look of love for a glazed look of terror.

“Over there, in the bushes.” I squinted. “I think she’s got opera glasses or binoculars or something.”

“She’s following me AGAIN?” she groaned. “Quick, Bon Bon! Grab a box of candy, any candy! We’ve got to make her think I’m just here to buy sweets!”

“I’m on it!” Bon Bon said firmly. “I’ll get you a box of our chocolate covered cherries, or maybe an assortment of caramels that are hoof-crafted by the finest—”

“Go, go, go!” Plinker said frantically.

“Eep!” Off Bon Bon went.

“Argh, she does this all the time!”

“Bon Bon?”

“No, my mother! Sneaking around. Following me. Spying on me. I figured she’d leave me alone for a couple hours if she thought you were royalty, but nooo. I feel like I’m in a cheap spy thriller! And if she finds out about me and Bon Bon... Well, there’s a right way and a wrong way to break the news that you’re marrying a waitress, and I’m pretty sure that would be the wrong way.”

At this juncture Bon Bon popped back into the window. “Here, Lyra, I got the mixed assortment of truffles for you.”

“The perfect choice,” Plinker breathed, her expression besotted once more.

“Nothing is too perfect... for you.”

“Ah, good. Here you go.” I glanced at the price emblazoned on the box and pushed forward the appropriate number of bits, hoping to snap the fillies out of their romantic reverie. It worked, as Bon Bon looked down at the coins on the counter.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that. It’s on the house, Mister... ”

“Birdy. We were in school together,” Plinker supplied. “I wish I could have lunch with you, Bon Bon, but my mother...” Both fillies sighed heftily and got that lovelorn look again.

“I understand, Lyra,” Bon Bon said with what I believe a novel would call a brave, enduring look. “Come visit after you’ve thrown her off the scent, okay?”

“I promise.” Plinker leaned forward a bit like she wanted to swoop in for a kiss, but apparently realized this would not exactly be the best way to keep up the subterfuge with Ma Heartsong. Instead she merely issued another sigh before turning away from the sweet shop.

I tossed out a “Pleased to make your acquaintance” to Bon Bon before catching up with Plinker, levitating the box of candy along with me.

“I say, don’t forget your purchases,” I said.

“You paid for it,” she pointed out, but nevertheless took hold of the box and balanced it on her back. “Look around real casually and see if my mother’s still watching, will you, Birdy?”

I glanced to the left and caught a telltale flash of pink hair and glint of opera glasses from behind a tree. “’Fraid you’re still under surveillance from the master spy.”

“I thought so. She doesn’t give up easily.” Plinker frowned as we walked along. “Well, I’m going to try to shake her off. Oh, but first tell me where you’re staying! We can catch up later.”

“In the castle.” I explained my room’s proximity to the western garden, the stone lions, and the bulgy round turret thing.

Her brow wrinkled. “I don’t know if I can find that.”

“Well, it’s right above that fountain in the garden. Just chuck pebbles at the fourth floor window.”

“Oh Birdy,” she laughed and shook her head. “Fine. But you’ve got to break me out of the dungeon if I get arrested for throwing rocks at the palace. Bye for now!”

“Tinkerty-tonk!”


“What a day, Greaves, what a day,” I sighed as I returned to the suite and wandered into my room.

He looked up from hanging suits in the wardrobe. “Did you lose your way, sir? You were out a considerable length of time.”

“I ran into an old school chum,” I explained. “She is one half of a romantic relationship, Greaves, and it is not going smoothly. Or rather, the relationship with her romantic half is, but her relationship with her parents isn’t. Due to the aforementioned romance.”

“The course of true love never did run smooth, sir.”

“Aptly put! Did you come up with that just now?”

“It is from The Bard, sir. Would your friend’s difficulty be due to a difference of station between herself and the object of her affections?”

“As a matter of fact it is! Plinker Heartsong, that being my friend, is affianced to a waitress. How on earth did guess?”

“Such is often the case, sir. I take it that because of this Miss Heartsong’s parents are not amenable to the match?”

“Ah, they don’t know about it yet, but they’ll froth like rabid Diamond Dogs once they do. They’re not like me, Greaves. I know that ‘the rank is but the five-cent stamp.’”

“The guinea stamp, I think you’ll find, sir. The poet was referring to the manner in which raw gold is transformed into coinage by stamping it with—”

“Never mind about poets, Greaves.”

“No, sir.”

“This is not the moment for poets. This is the moment for action!”

“Indeed, sir?”

“Indeed. Nothing gives us Roosters the pip, Greaves, like seeing two loving hearts kept apart. Plinker’s mother, on the other hand, does not give a fig about loving hearts as long as her daughter marries no less than a lord—or a lady, one supposes. You should have seen the predatory gleam in her maternal eyes when she thought I was a prince.”

“Indeed, sir? Did you correct her misconception?”

“Hm? Oh... no. Plinker gave me the stink eye, thinking perhaps her maternal unit would stop hovering over her like a vulture who’s spotted a particularly ripe carcass if she thought I was from the upper tier of the noblesse. But said mother continued to machete through the bushes and peer at us through the undergrowth anyway.” I shook my head and paced about the room a bit. “Well, a Rooster does not let a school chum wallow in misery when a chance at happiness is at hand. Somehow I must help this worthy member of the old alma mater to—Greaves. What is this?”

“Sir?”

“I am referring to this box of silverware which somepony has egregiously planted atop my bed.”

“Oh my, how did that get there?”

“That is precisely what I was wondering, Greaves.”

“It was most remiss of me, sir. I meant to put it in my room.”

“Greaves, I cannot help but feel this is part of a plot to supplant my own silverware.”

“Oh no, sir!” He looked shocked, meaning his eyes widened a fraction of an inch. “This set is merely for my personal use in the kitchen, sir.”

“I see.”

“Although I will be glad to supplement your extremely colourful cutlery, sir, should a flock of magpies, drawn by the glitter, steal some of the set.”

“Now look here, Greaves—!”

“If you’ll excuse me, sir, I’ll remove it immediately. You’ll find the stamps and writing supplies on the desk.” Out of the room he shimmered.

“Honestly!” I said. Clearly this valet of mine was not going to admit defeat re: flatware without a fight. Still, time would show him which of us was master of the house (or flat or suite, as the case might be). At the mo. I had other matters to attend to, like writing to my Aunt Dahlia.

After a few false starts and various pages tossed aside due to misspellings or ink blots, I surveyed the finished product.

It went like this:

Dear Aunt Dahlia,

You will be pleased to know I arrived safely in Canterlot. The weather is clement, though the pegasus ponies have scheduled scattered showers for later in the week.

I’ve been sniffing around the Royal Museum and I’m sorry but snatching the Border Blanket is just out of the question. The amount of guards frothing about the place is absolutely ridic. Extremely sorry and so on, but you wouldn’t want your favourite nephew to spend the rest of his days languishing in a dungeon, now would you?

Love to Cousin Angel.

Your affectionate nephew,

Birdy

As for Aunt Agate, she would just have to hold her horses, so to speak, while I waited for a chance to chat with Great-Aunt Celly.

I sealed and stamped the missive, but when I entered the sitting room Greaves was nowhere to be found. Presumably he was in his own room, either putting away his luggage or looking over his blasted Chantilly patterned silver with a gloating eye. Well, we Roosters are independent types. I decided to mail the ruddy letter myself.

As I trotted down the hallways, the shiny gloss of paper caught my eye, looking rather out of place between two old and muted tapestries. I coasted over to take a look.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you can tell a lot about an upcoming event by the fliers, adverts, and posters strewn about for them. It’s all in the colour scheme. If the printer has restrained herself to black, white, and grey, the event is going to be a snoozer. If the entire spectrum is present in all its supersaturated glory, then brace yourself for hoards of screaming children and harried parents. A careful balance of bright colours against a black background is what I look for, a combo that promises a lively yet full-grown crowd of ponies, hopefully at a venue with singing, dancing, and an open bar to boot.

This particular poster, unfortunately, was a black-and-white affair; it showed the silhouettes of several ponies with tubas and cellos and such standing in front of glaring footlights while a giant rose (the only splash of colour on the thing) hung ponderously over their heads like the sword of Dam-ocles—if he’s the fellow whose sword I’m thinking of. The surrounding text announced a concert to be held shortly in the Royal Concert Hall—there’s a Royal Everything in Canterlot, don’t you know—and gave top billing to some ponies I’d never heard of. Octavia? Treble Clef? Don’t ask me.

Just as I was concluding that this event looked like a good cure for insomnia, an angry voice snapped, “You!”

I turned to see Pinstripe Tock bearing down on me. “What-ho, Tock.”

“Are you the one who keeps hanging these things all over the palace?” He slapped the poster with a hoof.

“Not at all, I was merely—”

“It’s completely against castle regulations!” He pulled down the poster and stuffed it in his saddlebags. “All decorations, decrees, and advertisements have to be approved through official channels by filling out the appropriate paperwork, to be cataloged in triplicate on Form 2833-10C, listing their purpose, location, name of designer, date of event (when applicable)—”

I’ve suffered enough visits from my Aunt Agate to recognize an endless tirade when I hear one. Therefore, the minute Tock turned away to scrape tape residue off the wall I sidled away and made good my escape, edging around the corner and breaking into a trot. Luckily the heavy carpeting muffled my hoofbeats.

Then Luck decided it had something better to do and wandered away. As a result I made a sharpish left turn and ran smack into another pony. Once I stopped seeing double I determined that he was a unicorn colt who’d been conversing with a filly of the same breed.

“Oh, dreadfully sorry,” I said, picking myself off the floor as he did likewise.

“Watch where you’re going!” snapped the object I’d collided with as he dusted off his suit. The fellow was bright yellow with red and orange hair. I refrained from pointing out that good manners cost nothing and gave heartfelt apology another shot.

“Didn’t mean to trouble you, old chap, but that’s not exactly the best place to stand, you know—just around a corner. Creating a road hazard, one might say. Still, we’ll say no more about it. All is forgiven.”

The colt merely snorted, derisively if I’m any judge, and aimed his nose towards the ceiling. The unicorn filly, on the other hand, was looking at me with a kind of icy gaze, like a cat that's just been offered an inferior brand of cat food. She was pale purple with white and pink hair, and all in all was a frosty looking chippie. When she aimed her eyes at the yellow unicorn she kept up the frigid gaze, which seemed to be her natural expression.

“Don’t mind my brother,” she said in a cool voice, looking back towards me. “He has neither manners nor tact.”

Well, what does one say to that? In this case nothing, because the yellow colt instantly retorted, “At least I’ve got more feelings than an ice sculpture!”

The lavender pony affected not to hear this, although she must’ve because he was practically bellowing in her ear. “I am Princette Snow Shimmer and this lout is my brother, Sun Shimmer.”

I suppose I’d better pause here for a quick of an explanation of noble titles. A lot of ponies are surprised to find that, in Equestria, the equivalent of a prince is not a princess. This is a common misconception among the masses, but in fact the only princesses in Equestria are my many-times-Great Aunt Celestia and the recent Luna. The supreme rulers, don’t you know.

Princes are firmly below them on the social scale, and the female equivalent of a prince bears the title of “princette”. I imagine this is to minimize confusion between the two alicorn princesses, who more or less run Equestria, and the noblefillies, who more or less don’t.

At any rate, it’s been like that as long as anypony can remember. I imagine it came about something like this:

NOBLEFILLY: What-ho!

CELESTIA: What-ho!

NOBLEFILLY: I hope you’ll attend my marriage to Prince Whats-It. I am so looking forward to trading up from being a mere duchess to a princess.

CELESTIA: Hang on a tick. That’s going to be dashed confusing, you being a princess and me being a princess.

NOBLEFILLY: By gum, you’re right! Next thing you know ponies will be asking me to raise the sun and so forth. Tell you what, why don’t I call myself a princette instead.

CELESTIA: That sounds just the ticket! Well, cheerio!

NOBLEFILLY: Tinkerty-tonk!

Getting back to the encounter in the hall, Princette Snow Shimmer continued her little speech.

“I apologize for Sun Shimmer,” she said, brows drawing together. “He’s rather temperamental. No doubt this is why I am a princette and he is a mere duke,” she added in an aside to me that was, frankly, dashed loud.

“I don’t have to stand here and listen to your insults!” the yellow unicorn snapped before marching away.

“He always has to make a grand exit,” the princette said, without a glance at her sibling’s dramatic departure. “Don’t let his histrionics bother you.”

“Well, we all have our little moments of temper,” I said, waving the matter off. “What did he have for lunch?”

“What?” She stared.

“For lunch. I’ve noticed my Uncle Pomegranate often gets a bit hot under the collar if he eats anything with nuts in it. Or coconut. It unsettles his stomach and then he snaps at anypony and everypony. My Aunt Dahlia has absolutely excised macaroons from the house as a result.”

“I think it’s more likely ill-temper my brother suffers from than indigestion,” the purple unicorn said. She may have added a subtle sneer, but it was hard to tell because her voice was so even.

“Oh well, no pony likes to unexpectedly be knocked on his caboose,” I said. “I’m Birdy, by the way, Birdy Rooster.”

“Mmm,” said she, not seeming especially enthralled by this information. “Good day, Birdy Rooster.” And she turned and walked away without another word, if you can believe it. Whatever etiquette lessons had been given to those two, they came to naught in my opinion.

Well, I returned to my original mission and soon came to the letter box, decorated with scrolls and suns and stars all over its gold-plating. It was at that very moment being emptied by a grey pegasus pony with light yellow hair. From this action and from the postal saddlebags over her flanks, I deduced she was a mail-pony.

“What-ho,” I said. “I have a letter here for you!”

“A letter!” the grey pegasus squeaked. “Happy tirings to friends far awash!”

“Er, I see. I put on enough postage, didn’t I? It’s going to the UQ, so...” (The UQ being, of course, the United Queendom. I’ve never heard of us having ownership of an actual queen, so I’m a bit fogged by the name, but there it is. One of life’s little mysteries.)

The pegasus looked at the letter and nodded happily “Muffins arriving in freshest condition,” she enthused, taking it. “Fastest delivery in three colours where available!!”

“Quite. Quite. Well, I must be off! Pip-pip!” I steamed off towards my room, reflecting that half my auntly troubles were at an end.


The next morning I awoke with that out of place feeling that sometimes crops up when you’re in a strange bed. This was especially discombotchulating, if discombotchulating is the word I want, because I’d been dreaming that I was at Ping-Pong Thistledown’s birthday party, and if I had been to one of Pongo’s festivities, there’s no telling where I might have found myself when I pried the eyelids apart. (The day-after the last three of Pongo’s wingdings I awoke to find myself, respectively: sprawled in the aisle of the Londun Opera House, tangled in the uppermost branches of an oak tree, and in a row boat in the middle of a pond, the rocking of which did nothing for my pounding head. Nor did the discovery that the oars were missing.)

Of course, once I sat up and swiveled my eyes ‘round the room, I got my bearings. The sun and moon designs plastered on all the furniture all but called ‘Canterlot!’, and I remembered all. I went through my morning ablutions and brushed the mane and so forth, then sauntered into the sitting room.

“Greaves? Are you about?” He didn’t seem to be, so I trotted out of the room and down to the dining hall for some grub.

As I’m sure you know, it isn’t just the Princess—or, nowadays, Princesses in the plural—who live in the castle. Various nobles are entrenched in the palace and there are always diplomats and such coming and going.

My childhood memories of breakfast in Canterlot involve of a certain amount of noise and bustle, but at a relaxed pace... ponies (and other creatures) queuing up along long tables stocked with oatmeal, omelets, tofu sausages, and fresh fruit, gabbing with one another, trying to push a fried egg onto their plate and attempting to keep their dignity intact should it slide off onto the floor, as so often happens. Servants continually hauled empty platters and tureens away and replaced them with full ones, much like “new lamps for old” in Aladdin, if the magic lamp had contained orange juice instead of oil.

These fond memories from days past were rudely shattered when I reached the dining hall on this fateful day. The polished wooden tables were free from any tureen or dish—completely barren, in fact—and the only signs of life were a few servants rolling through the room like tumbleweeds. Not a noblepony or diplomat was to be seen and not a smidge of food either! My stomach groaned at this news, with my mouth following suit.

“What on earth?” I said.

“Can I help you, Mr. Rooster?”

I looked behind me to find Pinstripe Tock, Royal Organizator, looking at me rather coldly and raising a sardonic eyebrow. No doubt he felt I was Suspect Number One in the department of Illicit Poster Hanging.

Nevertheless, I felt the hour was too early to be faced with eyebrow raising, especially on an empty stomach, so I replied in steely tones. “Yes, you jolly well can help me, Tock! You can point me towards breakfast! Did they move it to another room or something?”

“Breakfast is over, Mr. Rooster.”

“Over? How do you mean, ‘over’?”

“I mean over. It is 11:08, Mr. Rooster.”

“What about it? What does that have to do with anything?”

“Breakfast,” Tock said as he clicked across to a table to dispose of a crumpled napkin, “begins at 7:30 a.m. sharp and runs to 9 o’clock.”

“Nine o’clock? Do you mean to say it ends at nine? Who on earth is up by that ghastly hour?”

“Well, the other guests seem to have mastered it, Mr. Rooster. After a period of... adjustment.”

“But I mean to say, this is positively obscene!”

“Luncheon begins at 12:30 and runs until 1:45... 1:45 precisely. If you’re timely, you can get some food then.” And the hateful blighter clicked off.

“They used to run breakfast straight through ‘till lunch sauntered onto the table,” I murmured with a drooping head and heavy heart as I trudged back up the stairs to my room. Clearly the retirement of the good mare Sprinkles Featherdown had dealt a blow to Canterlot’s fabled hospitality.

“Good morning, sir.”

I looked up as I entered my suite. “Ah, Greaves, you’re back.”

“I am most sorry I was not present when you awoke, sir. I felt it would be wise to attend to other matters.”

And then, if you can believe it, he whisked a cloth off a tray on the table to reveal blueberry pancakes, toast, and scrambled eggs. I had trouble believing it myself. I would have pinched myself, had I fingers.

“But... how?” I sputtered.

“This morning when I sought out Mr. Tock to inform him of our room number, as he requested, I discovered the limited confines of the breakfast hour, sir. I hesitated to wake you, feeling you would rather sleep in.”

“Too right I’d rather sleep in! So you scooped up some of the leftovers, eh?” I let the nostrils flare and drew in the smell of the nectar of the gods, by which I mean pancakes with syrup.

“Not exactly, sir. I dropped by the kitchen and convinced them to supply me with fresher food, sir. The leavings in the dining hall were looking somewhat limp by the time I arrived.”

“Jolly good show, Greaves! I’m surprised you pulled it off; I seem to remember the kitchen staff being quite miffed whenever I stuck my nose in their domain and tried to cadge food off them, fresh or otherwise.”

“It is an art, sir. Would you care for milk or orange juice?”

“Orange juice, if you please.” I seated myself at the dining table. “Well, well. I don’t mind telling you that this has put a better complexion on the day.”

“I’m very pleased to hear that. Shall I fetch the paper for you, sir?”

“That would be topping, Greaves,” I said, dolloping some extra syrup onto the pancakes. “And dig up some jam, if you can.”

“Certainly, sir.” Away he slid, leaving me to ponder how an earth pony could move like he was on rollers.

I was well into breakfast when I faintly heard sounds from the entryway, knocking followed by indecipherable babbles. Greaves projected himself back into the sitting room a moment later. “There is a young lady here to see you, a Miss Heartsong.”

“Good old Stinker Plinker! Show her in, Greaves, by all means,” I said, hoisting the last piece of toast into my mouth.

He nodded and a minute later ushered her in. “Miss Lyra Heartsong.”

“What-ho, Plinker!” I greeted the unicorn filly as she emerged into the sitting room. “So you found my abode after all.”

“Yes, but it wasn’t easy. I wandered up and down the halls for a half hour until I bumped into this earth pony wearing a side-saddle organizer.”

“By the name of Pinstripe Tock, perchance?”

“Something like that. He snorted and said, ‘Oh, THAT one.’ What have you been doing to that poor pony, Birdy?”

“Ask rather what he has been doing to me, Plinker.”

“Maybe later. Actually, Birdy... I have a favour to ask you.”

“Ask away, old thing.”

“Can I lay low here an hour or two? My mother is trailing me again. But I figure even she won’t stand in a hallway for two hours staring at a closed door. And if that doesn’t work,” she added with some desperation, “I’ll sneak out the window.”

“Steady on, old fruit! It’s four stories down, you know. And four stories up. Eight stories in all. But to answer your query, you can certainly camp out here. Care for some breakfast? Greaves, please fetch Ms. Heartsong some eggs and pancakes.”

“No, that’s all right. I ate hours ago,” she smiled as she sat on the sofa in her own unique, slumping fashion. “But thanks for the offer.”

“Perhaps some lemonade, miss?” Greaves murmured, floating out of the room.

“Sure, lemonade would be—oops, he’s gone already... Oh hey, you have a piano?” Her eyes lit up, being another connoisseur of the musical arts.

“I most certainly do. One of the reasons I targeted this specific room for my base of operations.” I seated myself and tapped a few keys to warm up. “Any requests? I could play the old school song or—”

“No, no, do Minnie the Moocher!

This just goes to show how a good education can broaden the mind. When Plinker first came to Wheaton, all she knew where those wordless instrumental pieces for flutes and lyres and violins and things. Good enough tunes in their way, I suppose, but not exactly the kind of thing to set one rollicking, if you know what I mean.

But after a few short months at Wheaton, this previously quiet and reserved mint-green unicorn was singing along with the rest of us (especially after lubricating the vocal muscles with a few drinks), roaring out the words to classics like Forty-Seven Ginger-Headed Sailors and the aforementioned Minnie the Moocher, which has an absolutely corking refrain that really gets the hooves tapping.

Of course I acceded to the lady’s request and hammered out the tune. We were just belting out that bit that goes “she was a low-down hoochie coocher,” when Greaves popped back in with a pitcher of lemonade.

He didn’t go so far as to look startled, but a subtle twitching of his left eye suggested he was perturbed—probably dismayed at not knowing the words of the song, which is always embarrassing. I’ve run into the same situation at the Drones Club and I generally choose to fake it by mouthing along, and then rush out to buy the music later. But of course it’s not so easy to disguise such ignorance in a sitting room where only two ponies are harmonizing rather than a whole crowd, so out of consideration I quickly wrapped up the song. Greaves moved to set down the lemonade on the table and, sure enough, his eye twitching had already lessened considerably.

“My mother would have a fit if she heard me singing that,” laughed Plinker. Then she gave an especially wide grin. “I wonder where I can buy the sheet music. I could play it at the royal concert... ‘Minnie the Moocher, as adapted for the lyre by Lyra Heartsong, accompanied by interpretive dance.’ That’d scare off those mouldy old stallions my mother keeps shoving in my path.”

“A-hem.”

“Did you cough, Greaves?” I asked, a bit startled. He didn’t seem like the kind of pony who could cough, let alone would.

“Yes, sir. I believe I have come up with a solution to the problem to which Ms. Heartsong alludes.”

“What?” Plinker said, sitting up straight for once.

I was, if anything, even more surprised. I positively reeled. “A solution? But how? And what?”

“Well, sir, the idea occurred to me after you mentioned that Dame Heartsong laboured under the misapprehension that you are a prince. The elder Heartsongs are ambitious, sir.”

“I’ll say they are,” Plinker said in tones of bitterness. “But that doesn’t help us. Heck, that’s the problem!”

“That is true, miss. But should you become affianced to a member of the upper echelon of nobility—for example a prince—your mother would likely stop keeping you under such close surveillance.”

“I see,” she said thoughtfully.

“But how would we arrange that?” I asked.

“Birdy, you dummy, my mother thinks YOU are a prince. I would get engaged to YOU.”

“Oh!” The light dawned, then dimmed down a bit. One doesn’t just tell a girl flat-out that one isn’t interested in marrying her, member of the old alma mater or no, so I took the subtle approach. “But, ah, I thought you wanted to marry Bon Bon, her being so radiant and all that.”

“I do.” She gave a light, airy sigh—no doubt imagining she was saying it on the altar to her one-and-only. “I’m afraid you’re right, Birdy, it’s a no-go. It would probably make my mother even angrier when I finally told her the truth. Not that I don’t appreciate the effort, Mister, er... ”

“Greaves, miss. And if you’ll pardon me for contradicting you, I believe the plan would work. It hinges on one vital fact.”

“Oh?” I inquired. “And what’s that?”

“That you are not a prince, sir. Should Miss Heartsong wish to end her engagement to you without arousing her mother’s ire, she need only run to Dame Heartsong—weeping and crying, if I might suggest, miss—lamenting that you are a scoundrel and a rake who misled her innocent heart.”

“Misled her—?”

“Innocent heart, sir. If, at this juncture, Miss Bon Bon stepped forward to comfort Miss Heartsong and soothe her aching heart, I fancy the elder Heartsongs would be more kindly disposed towards their courtship and eventual marriage.”

“That might just work,” Plinker breathed, eyes widening as she clopped her hooves together. “It might just WORK!”

“Well, well, well.” I eyed Greaves with frank astonishment. That he could rustle fluffy pancakes out from under the noses of irritable cooks, I was aware of. That he could stir up potions to soothe head and stomach, I knew. That he had no appreciation for fine cutlery, I had learned the hard way. But I had never expected him to author such brainy plans as this. “How do you do it, Greaves? Do you eat a lot of spinach?”

“Sir?”

“I read an article that said spinach revs up the brain enormously. Do you devour it by the bushel?”

“I enjoy it in moderate amounts, sir.”

“Birdy, will you please stop yammering about spinach and tell me if you’ll go along with the plan? Please say yes. Please! Pleeeease!” Plinker pleaded, putting her hooves together in supplication.

“Of course I will, Plinker old chum,” I said, patting her shoulder. “Consider yourself engaged.”

“YAY!” she squealed, prancing around the room. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, this is so great! Wait till I tell Bon Bon!” Then she stopped in her tracks so quickly the rug rumpled under her hooves. “But... what if my mother DOES keep spying on me? I mean, she followed me to the candy store even though I was with you! If she spots me meeting with Bon Bon all the time, it’s all over!”

“I am inclined to think Dame Heartsong’s surveillance will end once she is of the opinion that you are safely engaged, miss. Her thoughts will naturally become embroiled in wedding planning instead. But if rumor had it that the ‘prince’ highly valued his privacy and took a stern view towards voyeurs and oglers, I believe that would provide further insurance against her tendency to spy.”

“But as far as I know, there aren’t any such rumors about me, Greaves,” I said doubtfully.

“I am sure I can arrange the matter to your satisfaction, sir,” said he with a slight smile.

“Well! Arrange away, Greaves, arrange away.”

“Oh Birdy, thank you so much!” Plinker looked on the verge of tears, the happy kind. “I’m going to go tell my mother right now!” Out she rushed.

“Well, well. That was gratifying, what? I daresay it’s clear sailing ahead, for me and Plinker both. I don’t see how it can possibly go wrong.”


Next chapter: Things go wrong!