• 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 4: A Cousin in Need Is a Cousin Indeed

Chapter 4 – A Cousin in Need Is a Cousin Indeed


Now, if you listen to my aunts—which is not something I would ever recommend—they will describe my next actions with scorn, disdain, or possibly both. Unkind words such as “feckless”, “irresponsible”, “imbecile”, and “mentally negligible young blot” will likely be employed as they vent their ire. Let this be a lesson to you on the gratitude of aunts; they have none.

I do not deny that, for the next few days, I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the arts and culture of the fine city of Canterlot. I viewed such triumphs of the stage as “Too Many Fillies” and “Twelve Gentlecolts of Brumby”—both of which featured some dashed good tunes, I might add—and discovered a crop of new nightclubs that had popped up in my absence.

In the afternoons I strolled around the castle gardens or plunked down with an improving book, finally finding enough leisure time to finish The Mystery of the Pink Cupcake. (The gardener did it.) And of course, because I couldn’t neglect the noble sporting traditions of Equestria, you could frequently find me cheering on the racing-ponies at the track.

Perhaps I was not exactly actively engaged in the Two Labours of Birdsong which my aunts had foisted upon me, but had I not already been on a valiant mission to scout out the Border Blanket and concluded it was futile to try to pinch it? And was I not hobbled in my attempts to chat with Great-Aunt Celly about Cousin August, thanks to the metric-loving Royal Organizator, Pinstripe Tock? And despite these time-consuming missions, had I not also found time to help my school chum, Plinker, navigate the tricky rapids of love?

The answer to all these questions, by the way, is “yes”. Do not listen to ponies who try to tell you otherwise and walk away with quiet dignity if they call you “a complete and utter fathead.”

Anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable week slid by. Greaves oiled into my room with a breakfast tray every morning, apparently still enjoying the blessing of the royal cooks. And thank goodness for that, because when a chap staggers home in the wee hours of the morning with his mane in disarray and his legs wavering, the last thing he wants is to have to awaken at an only slightly less wee hour for breakfast. It’s much better to break the fast at a civilized hour, like 11 or 12.

On the morning I have since dubbed Doom Tuesday (or possibly Doom Wednesday, I really can’t remember which it was as I write this), Greaves entered the bedroom as usual, bearing a tray with naught but a small glass on it.

“Good morning, sir,” said he.

“Mmmruhhh...” moaned I, pushing the pillow off my head and peeling one gummy eyelid open.

He cleared his throat respectfully. “I have brought your morning restorative, sir,” he said, setting the glass on the bedside table.

I shakily brought the old unicorn telekinesis to bear and drained the glass. The liquid had its usual violent dispute with my stomach and, as usual, triumphed over the uncooperative organ and calmed it. My head cleared, the birds rang out their morning ditties, and the world seemed like a livable arena once again.

“Ah, you’ve come through with the goods again, Greaves. Someday you must tell me what’s in that concoction of yours.”

“I am glad you approve, sir. Worchester sauce and red pepper are among the primary ingredients.”

“So you say, but its effectiveness causes me to suspect more occult fixings. You sure you aren’t slipping some eye of newt and/or toe of frog in there?”

“That would hardly be hygienic, sir. One can achieve amazing results with purely natural ingredients.” He set the glass back on the tray. “Did you have an enjoyable evening, sir?”

“Oh, topping! I put thirty bits on Yesterdaisy to win, and win she did, at odds of twenty to one! You should’ve seen it—she was trailing Comet Tail and Skedoodle almost the entire race, but as they rounded the corner she put on this amazing burst of speed, drew neck in neck with Romperooni, and shot down the home stretch like a—”

“Most fascinating, sir. I wonder, sir, if you recall at what point your bow tie became knotted around your left ear.”

“Bow tie?” I glanced upward, flicking my ear. All seemed in working order and free of accessories. “Don’t be silly, Greaves, there’s nothing there.”

“I took the liberty of removing it when you came in last night, sir, fearing it would cut off your circulation.”

“Oh, I see! Well, having won all those bits on Yesterdaisy, I thought it was only right to show my appreciation by knocking back a few drinks with her and her friends, and one round led to another, you know how it is. No doubt one of them looped it there at some point as a jolly wheeze. Spirits were running high, let me tell you!”

“And flowing constantly, I’m sure, sir. I’m afraid the misadventures of the night have left the object in question in a state of disrepair.” He picked the bow tie off the bureau, and it’s true that the strip of fabric looked rather limp and frayed. “If I might point out, sir, this is the third of our bow ties that has met an untimely end this week. If we do not start being more careful with them, we shall have to buy more.”

“Well,” I suggested, “I could stop wearing them when I go out on the town.”

“Sir!” He drew back with a violent shudder, eyes actually showing the whites. “A gentlecolt does not appear in public without proper attire!”

I could tell he was genuinely distressed (I had never heard him make remarks with such fervor—or ANY fervor—before) so I took pity on him and said, “Quite so, quite so. I should feel naked without one anyway. I suppose I could—”

“If you’ll pardon me, sir, I believe I hear the door.”

I hadn’t heard a bally thing, but a minute later Greaves shimmered back in with an envelope. “A telepathogram just arrived for you, sir. I have detained the messenger in the sitting room, should you wish to send back a reply.”

“Thank you, Greaves. Now who could this... Oh, Aunt Dahlia.” I felt a knot of foreboding in my stomach, somewhere beneath the pancakes and eggs, but there was nothing to do but open the envelope. I unfolded it and read it out loud.

‘Dear idiot’—Oh I say, that’s not a very promising start—‘Dear idiot, Regret that you were not eaten by sharks on voyage to C. What is meaning of blathering about guards and dungeons? I will make you wish you were in a d. if you don’t fetch the object pronto. Note I say ‘object’ instead of mentioning it by name like a silly ass. You make a terrible spy. Get it or an aunt’s curse be upon you. Angel sends her love. – Dahlia Traverse.’

“Duchess Traverse is a pony of strong opinion,” Greaves observed. “Will you return a reply, sir?”

“Ummm, yes. Yes. Take this down, Greaves.” I ordered my thoughts as he pulled a pad of paper from the desk. “‘Dear Auntie, I say, look here. You tell me to grab object but how on bally earth can I? Object not available for grabbing. You say to stop blathering about g.’s, but g.’s are exactly what stand in way of Birdsong grabbing o. in question. Simply impossible, I’m sorry, but there it is. How did Angel like Fence? Love, Birdy.’

“Very good, sir. I will instruct the messenger to see that it is sent as soon as he returns to the office.” He slid out of the room and hadn’t been gone more than a few minutes before returning... bearing another sealed envelope.

“Good heavens, she can’t have sent back a reply already!” I yipped.

“No sir, a second runner arrived just as I dismissed the first runner.”

“Well, let’s see what it’s all about. I suppose it’s too much to hope Aunt Dahlia felt a pang of regret for the harsh tone of her first missive and quickly issued this one to apologize...”

My voice trailed away, and why? Because my tongue had disengaged from my brain the moment I’d spotted the sender’s name on the envelope: Duchess Agate Blueblood.

“Sir?” Greaves inquired as I gaped at the envelope, doing my best dying fish impression.

“Read it aloud, will you, Greaves?” I hovered the missive over to him, quivering slightly. (If you are wondering if the quivering applied to the envelope or to self, I can assure you there was plenty of the adjective available to go around.)

“Certainly, sir.” Greaves’ voice was smooth and calm; it would be hard to hit a less strident note without being dead. Thus his recitation no doubt lacked some of the vigor and force that the writer had intended.

Despite this, I felt my anxiety rising as he read the bally thing, as follows: “‘Birdsong. No news from you in weeks. Most upset. Have you arrived in Canterlot or haven’t you. Vital that you speak with Princess immediately. Vote imminent. Dear August in dire straits. Relying on you. Respond immediately. – Duchess Agate Blueblood.’”

“Thank you, Greaves.” I took the telepathogram and looked it over. It was more or less as he’d said. He’d kicked the curly bit off the top of a question mark after “have you arrived or haven’t you” and had smoothed down “VITAL that you speak with Princess”, “RELYING on you”, and “Respond IMMEDIATELY” to a uniform volume so that they sounded more like entreaties than threats, but his speech otherwise matched the text to a T. Though why it should be expected to conform to a T and not some other letter is beyond me.

“Do you wish to send a reply, sir?”

“I’d better, hadn’t I? Before she sends her winged monkeys after me... Let’s see. How about... ‘Dear Aunt Agate, Am safely ensconced in Canterlot. All going swimmingly. Having close personal chat with Princess tomorrow—’ No, better make it ‘day after tomorrow’ to allay her suspicions. ‘No worries, everything under control. Yours, Birdy.’

“Very good, sir.” He stepped into the sitting room to relay this to Messenger #2 whilst I ruminated, if ruminated is the word I want.

“You know, Greaves, I can’t quite make out what Aunt Agate is on about with this ‘voting’ business,” I said as he stepped back in.

“I believe that is Duchess Blueblood’s oblique way of referencing the activities on the agenda at the next meeting of the Council of Peers, sir.”

“But the Council doesn’t vote on anything. Well, except personal matters like what colour of carpet to put in their HQ or which catering company to use at their next ball, I suppose...”

“And membership, sir.”

“Well, yes. But Cousin August is already a member, being a prince and all that.”

Greaves cleared his throat again, meaningfully it seemed to me. “Their Royal Highnesses Celestia and Luna will be finalizing the budget for the year soon, sir. Including the amount of money apportioned to the Council of Peers.”

“Go on, Greaves, I can see you’re headed somewhere with this.”

“The Princesses’ generosity directly effects how many members the Council can retain, sir, since the Council allots each member an allowance in proportion to her or his station.”

“Except the knights.”

“Just as you say, sir. Knights are given accolades and nothing more. But they are not unaffected by these machinations, sir, as this is also the time of year when ‘a noble’s fancy turns to thoughts of promotion’, if I might paraphrase Lord Tenneighson.”

“You might, Greaves, you might. I think I begin to see your meaning.”

“That is most gratifying, sir.”

“But you have overlooked one vital fact, my good colt. Cousin August is a prince, and therefore already at the top of this heap of nobles and gentry. Alicorn princesses aside—and he is just out of luck if he wishes to become one of them—he has no further peaks to ascend.”

“Actually, sir, the point I was endeavoring to make—Excuse me, sir, the door.”

I was unsurprised when he returned with yet another telepathogram. “Which one is it this time?

“Duchess Dahlia Traverse, sir.”

“Read it, Greaves, read it,” I sighed with a weary gesture.

“Very good, sir. Ahem... ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no. You are not wriggling out of this duty, so put that right out of your brainless head. Go in dead of night instead of sauntering in during visiting hours, you blighted fool. Regret that ocean separates us, as unable to kick you into cactus garden. Angel enjoyed trip to continent aside from small bout of food poisoning. - Dahlia Traverse.’”

I groaned and buried my head in my hooves. When I lifted my eyes, Greaves was standing there patiently, pencil poised and eyebrow raised.

“Oh right, a reply,” I said, heaving myself out of bed and dragging a brush moodily through my hair. “Tell her... Tell her...” The fighting spirit of the Roosters flashed, then puffed out like a birthday candle. A pony has to admit when he’s outmatched. “Tell her ‘Right-ho.’

“Very good, sir,” said Greaves, slipping off to send the missive on its way while I washed the sleep out of my eyes.

“Well Greaves, I have a thorny situation here and no mistake,” I said a bit later, pacing up and down the sitting room. “It seems to me that my first goal must be to locate my cousin. I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of him since I arrived.”

“I believe I can shed some light on that matter, sir. The word in the Servants’ Hall is that Prince Blueblood has confined himself to his quarters, sneaking into the larder late at night for sustenance. This information comes by way of his valets.”

“Did you say valets, plural?”

“Yes, sir, though they were in his employ consecutively, not concurrently. Prince Blueblood has had three valets since our arrival to Canterlot.”

“Good grief! Fired or fled?”

“They chose to seek employ elsewhere,” Greaves said delicately. “My understanding is Prince Blueblood has always suffered from a high turnover of staff, though not normally approaching this volume.”

“Well, are we surprised, Greaves? There’s August, hunkered down in his room day and night for reasons unknown, and there’s his hapless gentlecolt’s personal gentlecolt trapped in the same flat with the odious lump day after day. It’s a wonder none of them threw themselves out the window.”

“Perhaps they felt looking for other employment offered a better future, sir. In any case, I have ascertained the location of Prince Blueblood’s suite.”

“Excellent work. Lead on!”

As we tracked through the hallways, he asked, “Am I mistaken in thinking there is a certain amount of coolness between you and your cousin, sir?”

“Not mere coolness, Greaves, but a vast and trackless field of ice. Let me tell you a tale of the abominable August Blueblood that will chill your very soul.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Imagine, if you will, yours truly aged five or six or some other significantly small digit. There I was, not a care in the world, bobbling down a garden path whilst my many, varied aunts chattered amongst themselves on the distant horizon. For my pleasant demeanor on the ride over, I had been rewarded with an ice lolly, lemon-flavored. I levitated it along in front of me as I trotted past the flower beds in my second-best suit. Can you picture this scenario?”

“I think I have a good mental approximation of it, sir.”

“Brace yourself, Greaves, for this pleasant pastoral scene is about to be rudely disturbed. With a crunch of gravel, my cousin August stepped onto the garden path. He was somewhat larger than I, being what is known as a 'stocky' foal. His eyes lit up with envy as he witnessed young Birdsong enjoying a frozen treat on this hot and humid summer day. He stepped forward menacingly and said in a tone that did not in the least acknowledge our mutual familial ties, ‘Hey Birdbrain, gimme that lolly!’”

“Most distressing, sir.”

“Of course in the true Rooster spirit, I put my ears back and refused. The promise of a lemon ice lolly was the only reason I had silently suffered the long, hot, and all around miserable carriage ride. So I retorted, ‘No, it’s mine!’ Did the rotter give up and push off? Far from it! In a trice his horn lit up and he tried to wrest it away. I don’t suppose you have ever been involved in a levitation tug-of-war, Greaves?”

“No, sir. Being an earth pony, that particular experience has eluded me.”

“Well, it’s not so different from regular tug-of-war, except you’re using magic instead of muscles. The ice lolly ping-ponged between us until August got the upper hoof and yanked it out of my control with such force that not only did I stumble forward, but also tripped right into a rather deep mud puddle. And how did Cousin August react to this turn of events? Did he apologize like a civilized pony, perhaps holding out a hoof to help his blood relation out of the muck?”

“I am agog to know, sir.”

“I am sorry to inform you that not only did he not come to my aid, but he laughed most heartily. Even when I lamented aloud the scolding I would undoubtedly receive for the ruination of my second-best suit, even then he showed no remorse, merely smirking over his stolen treat. No, it is no surprise to me, Greaves, that servants feel an overwhelming urge to give notice when stuck in close proximity to this blister.”

“Could one not put down the episode you describe to foalish folly, sir?”

“Not at all, Greaves, not at all,” I said firmly. “Can the chimera change her spots or the dragon her scales? No, not only did this incident foreshadow the deeply flawed personality that August has since revealed in full, but it also unveiled the sweet, gentle nature of my other cousin, Angel, for all to see.”

“Indeed, sir? I had not noticed her partaking in your narrative.”

“She was not present for the first bit, Greaves, but she happened along as I dragged myself out of the mud, disheveled and (between you and me) shedding salty tears while August laughed himself silly. Upon viewing this scene, she correctly surmised what had happened and punched August so hard that he ran off crying with nosebleed.” I sighed fondly. “A saint, that girl.”

“A tale to warm the heart, sir. If you’ll pardon me interrupting, I believe this is the residence in question.” He made a slight nod towards a wooden door.

“Ah, thank you, Greaves.” I knocked on the portal. A few minutes passed, and I knocked harder.

“Who’s there?” The door opened a crack to reveal a narrowed blue eye.

“What-ho, what-ho, cousin of mine!” I greeted it, guessing it belonged to August. This was confirmed when he opened the door a bit wider.

“Oh, it’s you, Birdy.” There was a well attended congregation of shadows gathering under his eyes, and the ends of his bow tie straggling sadly like strands of seaweed, though granted it would have to be upside down seaweed to really give that effect. “What are you doing here?” he asked without enthusiasm.

“Just visiting, you know. I thought we might talk of this and that. May I come in?”

One might ordinarily consider this question a friendly formality but my cousin, brow furrowing, seemed to be giving it serious thought.

“Ohhhh... very WELL,” he said at last, unfastening the door chain and opening wide the portal. The interior of the room was what I believe is technically known as “a shambles.” Ties, suits, and cravats were strewn over various items of furniture, empty bottles crowded every end table, and a pile of dirty dishes huddled on, under, and around the dining room table. Behind me, I heard Greaves make a faint, pained sound; at the time I assumed it was due to the disorder, but since then I have had reason to think it may have been due to a few excessively bright cravats.

“Who’s that?” August said as he aimed a suspicious stare at Greaves, who was now exercising his blankest expression.

“Oh, just my valet.”

“Well, send him away. I’ve seen enough valets to last me a life time. They’re all unreliable, untrustworthy, and un... un... un...” He paced back and forth, apparently searching for another derogatory adjective starting with that particular prefix, whilst I looked on appalled. Not only was he rambling, but he was in a state that could only be described as “slovenly” and “unkempt.” Whatever August Blueblood’s faults—and I’m not saying it’s a short list—I knew that under normal circs. he took almost obsessive care of his appearance. Clearly, something was rotten in the state of Dunmark.

I raised an eyebrow at Greaves, by which I meant to convey, “You’d better shove off for the mo. while I deal with this blighted relation” and he inched a corresponding eyebrow upward, which I interpreted as “Right-ho, sir, I’d be happy to oblige in the old feudal spirit” or perhaps “Very good, sir.”

“Very good, sir,” he murmured, gliding away.

As for August, he merely strode into his sitting room, shoved a cummerbund and pair of spats off a chaise lounge, and flung himself onto it in a world-weary way.

“So, August!” I said, gingerly levitating a greasy plate off a chair. “How are things with you, old bean?”

“As I’ve told you about a thousand times, my name is not AUG-ust. It’s Au-GUST,” my cousin replied in his usual dulcet tones, levitating over a bottle and sloshing a goodly amount of the drink of the vine into a dirty glass.

“Oh yes? Well, August—” I thought I heard him grind his teeth, but he tossed back the drink without replying. “Aunt Agate sent me to look in on you. Seemed to think you were in a spot of bother.”

“A spot of bother? A spot of bother? My life is ruined, that’s all! RUINED!”

“Oh, is it? What seems to be the prob.?”

“The ‘prob.’ is that a common WENCH of a unicorn has made me the laughingstock of all Canterlot!”

This rang a bell in the old noggin. “Something to do with the Gala, wasn’t it? And a seamstress?”

“I suppose you’ve heard about it. I suppose every pony in Equestria has heard about it.” He hid his face in his hooves, which was frankly an improvement. “That boorish filly turned on me like a rabid raccoon, and after I deigned to grace her with my royal presence all evening!”

“What does that mean, exactly? Did she bite you? Knock over your rubbish bin?”

He lifted his eyes, his visage both grim and, I would venture, haunted. “Is that a joke?”

“Not at all, not at all! I’m just trying to decipher what actions this unicorn took against your royal person, August.”

“Au-GUST!” he snapped. “She threw most of a cake at me,” he added in a sulky tone.

“Oh dear.”

He looked at me narrowly. “What was that?”

“Nothing, nothing. Just wrinkling my muzzle. I had an itch,” I explained, “on my nose.”

“It looked like a smile.”

“Definitely not, old thing. Just an itch.” I scratched my nose. “So this unicorn girl biffed a cake at you. A bit embarrassing, but surely nothing to be hiding in your room about a month later?”

“I’m not hiding! I don’t have anything to be embarrassed about!” He leapt to his hooves, wobbled on them a bit, and collapsed back onto the chaise lounge, burying his nose in the cushions. “It wasn’t my fault! I’m an innocent victim of circumstance! If that stupid Rarity hadn’t—”

“Wait a moment.” I held up a hoof. “Did you say Rarity? Not the same one who helped Great-Aunt Celly fix the sun last summer when it was determined to stay forever dimmed and dead? Well, well, you had a cake thrown at you by a national hero. You should’ve sold it or framed it or something.”

August replied with some heated words about the lady which I won’t repeat. The gist was that he did not care two figs if she personally rolled the sun across the sky each day (which is of course nonsense since every pony knows the Princess moves it about with her horn), he considered her personality deeply and fatally flawed.

“So where does the seamstress come in?”

“She was the seamstress, you idiot. She... works.” He shuddered. “Can you believe it? A mere tradespony treating me so shamefully! But worst part, the worst part, Birdy, is how everypony looks at me now.” He emptied the rest of the bottle into his glass and stared into its depths as though he’d lost a contact in it.

“How do you mean? Who looks at you?”

“Everypony.” He swayed slightly, like a pony put under a hypnotist’s power at a street fair. I half expected him to start flapping his front legs and clucking like a chicken, but instead he just continued in the same mesmerized tone. “Lady Roster and Duke Finch-Freely and Lord Spoon... all of them. Last week Duchess Carnation caught me in the hall and told me she hoped she would continue to see me at the annual Winter Ball.

“Oh yes?”

“And then she smirked at me.”

“Oh yes?”

“I could tell what she REALLY meant!”

“Oh yes?”

“I’m so glad you dropped by, Birdy. If any of my enemies spot me I can push you into their path and make a getaway while you babble ‘oh yes?’ at them.”

I gave my brow a bit of a furrow. “What enemies?”

“Haven’t you been listening? They’re all circling around me,” he intoned, staring into the distance with one bloodshot eye twitching, “Circling around me like sharks...”

My eyebrows climbed towards the heavens. Twitching, bloodshot eyes are rarely a good sign, partic. when combined, as in this case, with mumbling and a slight rocking motion.

“Sharks...” my princely cousin continued to mutter, proving my point nicely. “Sharks... sharks...” His eyes refocused to catch me boggling at him and he rather abruptly drew himself up and cleared his throat in a self-conscious sort of way. “Er-HEM. But I... I have everything perfectly under control, of course. I’m fine. Fine.”

“Come off it, cousin. I can see you’re in straits of the direst variety.”

“I am not! Just because the Princess—” He snapped his mouth shut, clearly wishing he could reel his last words back into the larynxal regions.

“What about the Princess?” I prompted.

“Nothing.” He heaved himself up and started pacing with a heavy tread. “Nothing.”

“How can I help you if you don’t—Oh now, put the bottle down, August! You’re getting positively sloshed.”

“Good.”

“Isn’t that against the... code of princely dignity or somesuch?”

“None of your business.”

“Well, getting juiced up isn’t going to help you any.” I had a brief but vivid vision of Aunt Agate breathing fire at me for letting her son drink himself into an early grave. “Come on, August—”

“Au-GUST!”

“—I am trying to lend a helping hoof here!”

“Ha! YOU!” He added an offensive sort of sneer to the word. “Why Mumsy sent you, of all ponies, I can’t begin to imagine. You aren’t even titled!”

His demeanor, not to mention sheer ingratitude, put my back up. “I don’t have to be titled to bally well know the Council’s voting next week!” I returned with vigor.

“So what! I still have time to turn things arou—” He stopped in mid-sentence. “Wait, you know about that?”

“I certainly do,” I said with haughty dignity. Perhaps I was still a bit fogged on exactly what they were voting on, but that was beside the point.

The info seemed to give my cousin pause. “I didn’t know you followed the Council’s doings, Birdy,” he said slowly.

“Ah yes,” I said in stately tones, raising a hoof to my chest . “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, August.”

His brows lowered and his eyes, not to be outdone, narrowed. “Apparently.”

The way he was staring at me was putting an unpleasant itch between my shoulders. His manner was reminiscent of a guard dog asking itself “friend or foe?”, just at the point when it seems to be leaning towards the “foe” side of things. We Roosters are bold ponies, but we know when to make an exit. I got to my hooves and strode solemnly doorward. “Well, I must be going now, August, but I hope you will give serious thought to my words.”

“Oh, I will,” he said, brow still scrunched and eyes following me in the manner of that unpleasant species of painting that roosts in gloomy manor houses.

As I made my way down the hall, trying to work out my next step, I turned a sharp corner and ran right into a pony. As luck, or rather the opposite of luck, would have it, the pony in question was once again Duke Sun Shimmer, the yellow unicorn.

“Ow! Watch it!” He caught a good look at me. “You again?”

Princette Snow Shimmer paced up—either she’d been walking a ways behind her brother or she’d been pulled to the scene by some mysterious force that alerted her when her sibling was in an embarrassing sitch. “Once again my brother makes an impression on a poor, innocent bystander,” she said to the hallway at large before turning to me. “So sorry; he’s such a clumsy pony. Of course it takes a great degree of grace to be a princette, but relatively little to be a mere duke—”

“He’s the clumsy one!” Duke Shimmer snapped, pointing at self.

“Sorry about that, old chap,” I said, pulling myself to my hooves. “Got a lot on my mind, what?”

“Tchah!” the colt responded, turning to prance off.

“Wait! Wait a moment, if you please!” Here was a chance to get some info from somepony who wasn’t pickled to the gills. “You two belong to the Council, don’t you?”

“Of course we do,” Snow Shimmer said, reaching up to primp her curls.

“What about it?” said the duke.

“Well. I was wondering... about that vote next week...”

Have you ever seen one of those pictures that shows an old pony wearing a bonnet if you look at it one way and a young maiden with her snout in a lily if you squint at it another way? The conversational equivalent occurred at this juncture. I let the end of my sentence trail away simply because I’d run out of info. But the Shimmer siblings squinted their eyes—metaphorically speaking—and interpreted Birdsong’s further lack of speech as a “lapse into a meaningful silence.” That is my theory, anyway, bolstered by the way their ears pricked and the knowing looks they threw at each other, then hurtled in my direction.

“I see,” the lavender filly said with a smirk.

Her brother didn’t look so pleased about it, whatever “it” might be; in fact, he was giving me something of a scowl. “You? I haven’t seen you at the meetings. Are you one of the knights? Who are you?”

“Well, I’m—”

“He’s nobody. Just some orphan,” Snow Shimmer said, studying her hoof in a critical way. “A relation of Blueblood’s, according to Equestrian Peerage.”

“Hoy!” My jaw unhinged itself at the pure cheek of this remark. Technically accurate in some aspects, perhaps, but I mean really! REALLY!

The duke was either better schooled in etiquette or—more probably—quick to pick up on my reaction.

“Oh ho ho, who’s lacking in manners and tact NOW? ‘Just some orphan’, what a charming way to describe somepony.” Sun Shimmer’s triumphant expression melted into one of sorrow as he turned towards me. “You must excuse my dear sister... She has a rare medical condition; she was born without feelings.”

“I was not!” the princette hissed, turning red. “I was merely stating a known fact available to anypony resourceful enough to pick up a book and—”

“It was always annoying putting up with her, but lately she’s become absolutely insufferable. Mother and Father are thinking about putting her in some kind of asylum.”

“ERGH!” Princette Snow Shimmer turned on her heel and stalked down the hall, the flounces in her dress, well, flouncing.

The duke, however, remained, giving me a speculative look like one wondering if the rather weedy looking racing-pony that the stablecolt swears is hot stuff can really win the Derby. “Are you really one of the Bluebloods?”

“No, I am bally well not.” I drew myself up. “I happen to belong to the noble and laurelled House of Rooster. The aforementioned prince is merely my cousin.”

“Well, I’d avoid him if I were in your horseshoes. He’s not a pony you want to be associated with right now.”

“Why not?” I asked, assuming there was more behind this than the obvious fact that August was a bit of a blister.

Duke Sun Shimmer gave a chuckle and a shake of his head. “Go to the feast tonight. You’ll see.” And away he trotted, still chortling to himself.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” I said to myself. Because, after all, you can’t go wrong with the classics.

Next chapter: The return of Lyra and Bon Bon!