• 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 8: In the Soup, Split Pea or Otherwise

Chapter 8: In the Soup, Split Pea or Otherwise

I recall a poem I learned in secondary school that went:

Something something something
Something something something
“The curse has come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Something.

Replacing “Lady of Something” with “Prince Blueblood” may give you some notion of the expression on my cousin’s face at this point. He looked like a pony who not only has had the curse come upon him, but has received the curse via the post and has signed for it and paid cash-on-delivery before realizing what’s in the box. No sooner was Rarity’s name echoing off the walls than August’s pupils shrunk to pinpoints and his body tensed as though an electrical current was taking a shortcut through it. With a slight shudder, I turned from this unpleasant spectacle to take a gander at the Princess’ guest.

Up to this moment, I’d had a vague idea that Miss Rarity would have slightly mussed hair, a smattering of freckles across the nose, and generally resemble the sort of pony who appears in dimestore novels with titles like Only a Factory Filly, giving brave speeches after her love interest discovers she’s of humble birth. You know the sort of thing—“I may be only a worker in the Detrot Carriage Factory,” Bitsy Daisy said, raising her head high and looking at Lord Thoroughbred-Mannering with her green eyes flashing, “but I’m proud to have supported my dear old father on my wages ever since he lost both left legs!”

In reality, however, this filly was less along the lines of a Humble Heroine than a Fashionplate. “Elegant” would be the primary adjective to describe her, a pony who was, no question about it, rather a looker . . . a white unicorn with deep purple curls framing her map. And really, this made more sense than the version I’d expected; Lord Thoroughbred-Mannering might ultimately declare that “Be her origin ne'er so humble, any good mare is the equal of the finest lady in the land!”, but Cousin August was unlikely to share his sentiments. I could well imagine the royal fit he’d thrown when he learned he’d been hobnobbing with a tradespony all night.

Rather silly of him, because—tradespony or no—she fit right in with this crowd, from horn to heels. I don’t know how she was outfitted at the Gala, but at this royal shindig she was engulfed in a gold dress with blue flowers twiddled about it and wore a necklace weighed down with blue gems.

I speculated that this last might be the Element of Harmony which, according to the Londun Times, had been awarded to her by Princess Celestia herself after the dreadful business of last year’s Summer Sun Celebration. But possibly it was mere jewelry after all; to be honest, I was a bit fogged about all this E. of H. business. According to the papers, the Elements were flashy medals of honour iced liberally with gemstones, but I had a vague memory of coming across a reference to them in my formative years, when I won the school prize for Mythological Knowledge. Whatever the case, there were definitely six Elements of Harmony that matched up with six mares who had—somehow or another—helped Great-Aunt Celly when the sun fizzled out on the morn of the summer solstice. . . though nopony, when giving their post-mortem of that event, agreed just how the fillies did it or even what the problem was to begin with. Most agreed they had fought something, but that “something” was reported as everything from a giant space turtle to Nightmare Moon to Father Solstice. As you may have noticed, some ponies are given to rather silly speculations.

This Rarity didn’t look like she was built to wrestle space turtles, dragons, or even alligators—she was rather on the dainty side—but of course you never know, especially with unicorns. I recall accidentally treading on a small filly’s book as a lad (but really, was it my fault that she had carpeted the library with her reading materials?) and, although she was a wee little thing, she was not so wee that she was unable to magically bring about four shelves of books down on my head in a fit of wrath. It was entirely possible that Miss Rarity had equal magical prowess.

Despite the fact that she was one of those who tread more and more slowly the closer they get to their destination, the unicorn in question eventually reached the table. Taking her place by the Princess’ right side, she offered a deep bow. “Your Royal Highness!”

“Rarity, it is such an honour to have you here,” Princess Celestia said with a smile, nodding down at her. She sat down at last and everyone else sank off their hooves.

“Oh no, Princess, the honour is all mine, believe me,” Rarity said earnestly, bowing a second time for good measure before taking her seat. “I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to be invited to this lovely dinner in CanterlaaaAAAAhhht!”

She had spotted Cousin August—evident not only from the sudden distortion in her speech, but also by the way her smile froze on her face, as though it had been evicted but forgotten to vacate the premises, and had just returned home to find all the furniture repossessed. August, for his part, continued staring across the table in a frozen sort of way, looking more than ever like a pony living out his worst nightmares.

“I don’t believe you’ve met Princette Royal Ribbon, have you?” Princess Celestia said, interrupting their little contest for Best Horrified Stare of the Year. “Royal Ribbon, may I present Rarity the Unicorn.”

“Charmed, my dear.”

“And this is Prince Star Gleamer . . . Prince Crystal Crown . . . Princette Precious Gem . . .”

“Hello . . . so pleased to meet you . . . how do you do?” Rarity recovered enough to murmur politely as the Princess presented each noble in turn.

After exhausting the ponies within close range on her side of the table (which did not include me, unfortunately—she would’ve needed a megaphone), Great-Aunt Celly began drawing Rarity’s attention to the ponies on the opposite side. As this assembly line of introductions drew closer and closer to August’s seat, his eyes darted right and left and I half expected to see him dive under the table. But after doling out the name of elderly prince on his right, Great-Aunt Celly’s eyes glided right past Cousin August and fixed on the pony to his left.

“And this is Princette Royal Purple,” she continued without missing a beat, nodding regally towards an earth pony wearing a wig that must have been causing her considerable neck strain.

“So very nice to make your acquaintance, Princette.” Rarity held her head high as she followed Princess Celestia’s example, focusing on the purple mare rather than the adjacent, cowering unicorn colt.

I turned towards the salad in front of me, which a servant had slid into place sometime during this little melodrama, feeling not a little relieved. Aunts may glower and sneer at nephews as a matter of course, but great-aunts can be relied upon to show a more gentle and generous nature, even to a blister of a great-nephew like August. With any luck, the princely Blueblood’s reputation would be patched up before the evening wore to a close. In this optimistic frame of mind I worked my way through both the soup and salad courses.

But as the meal progressed, I began to have misgivings. Every time I cast a glance down the table, I was greeted with the sight of my cousin hunching over his plate like a vulture with a bad back or, no better, staring sightless into the middle distance. His entire bearing was that of a condemned prisoner who has ordered a last meal and found the waiter has got it wrong. Frankly, he was beginning to annoy me. How did he expect anypony to form a good opinion of him if he did nothing but mope? If the local aristocracy had had to put up with a month of this, no wonder they were pipped at August. “Weep, and you weep alone” and all that.

Of course it’s unpleasant to find that you’re breaking bread at the same table as a filly you’ve had a spat with. I understood that. Believe me, I understood . . . I once strongly advised Lala Blossom to bet every spare cent on Speedwell, a pony who subsequently came in seventh in a six pony race. “Awkward” does not begin to cover my run-ins with Lala immediately after that unfortunate event. “Horrifying” would be more the thing. What her reaction would have been if I’d also seen fit to shove her into an eight-layer apple cake . . . Well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

But August Blueblood, in my opinion, was getting off easy; this Rarity, far from seeking vengeance by tossing a cup of salt in his soup or dropping bugs in his mane like some fillies would have, was no longer paying him any attention whatsoever. Indeed, she was engrossed in an animated discussion about flight-friendly dresses with a couple pegasi and, judging from her excited tone of voice, had forgotten that a Prince Blueblood ever existed.

Furthermore, Great-Aunt Celly continued to let her eye glide past my cousin without pause, as though he was in a perpetual blind spot, and this must have had the desired effect on the rest of the company, for not a single aristocrat was booing, hissing, or hurtling food at August. They, too, simply chattered amongst themselves without sparing a glance for him . . . and when you consider their chilly reaction to his entrance and the abundance of bread rolls and other potential missiles readily available, that was surely the best one could hope for. If these circumstances didn’t call for August Blueblood to raise his eyes heavenward and give thanks, then what did?

But no, the gloomy cove just sat there dissecting his cannelloni and pushing its contents around his plate with a fork. Having determined that the pasta’s entrails foretold prophecies of doom and destruction, he opted to return to his other exciting activity, staring across the table with glazed, empty eyes.

I started to give a snort at his antics, but as I followed his gaze it turned into a small whinny of surprise. “I say!”

Of course, I didn’t get a response from anypony, except the sullen child glared a bit harder. Princette Snow Shimmer was heavily invested in a conversation with the prince to her starboard and the hedge of exotic flowers still separated me from all else. So I was left to ponder the latest mystery on my own—to wit, the fact that although the blue and silver throne stood across the table from my cousin in all its splendor, Princess Luna was nowhere to be seen.

The Rarity-Blueblood situation had taken up so much of my attention that only now did it strike me that Princess Celestia’s sister had never made her grand entrance. Aside from personal disappointment on not being able to take a gander at her, her absence seemed dashed odd. Granted, she might be attending some duties as Princess of the Night (or was it “of the Stars”?), but surely that wouldn’t take all evening? I mean, Great-Aunt Celly was the one wheeling the sun about, but that didn’t take up her entire day.

I pondered this for a while, but by the time the last course rolled around it was obvious that speculation on Princess Luna’s whereabouts would have to wait; my cousin’s crisis needed my full attention. His demeanor showed no signs of improvement; he fidgeted and winced all through Great-Aunt Celly’s closing remarks (thanking the gathered assembly in general and dropping a few compliments on Miss Rarity in particular). As the Princess rose to her hooves, I was laying good odds on August making a dash for his private quarters, but no . . . When the nobleponies followed the Princess into the Grand Ballroom, August was swept along with them.

To my surprise, the ballroom had undergone some significant changes since I’d last seen it. The huge marble columns which had once been set along the perimeter were gone, although the broken-off bases of a few of them remained. In addition, the gleaming alicorn statue at the far end of the room must have suffered some misadventure, as its wings, head, and tail were fixed on its body at strangely crooked angles. Later inspection would reveal that these appendages had broken off and been welded back on.

Oddly, a buffet was set up near the statue. I didn’t see much sense in this, after a seven course meal, but there it was all the same—a long table replete with petit fours, truffles, miniature apple tarts, and so on. A few nobles trotted over to sample the fare, but most drifted towards the lounging cushions set up near the windows, stepped out into the garden, or wandered around the marble dance floor, chattering like flocks of sparrows. I looked around hopefully for my great-aunt, but to my disappointment the gentry had crowded around her three deep, a mob mostly composed of the more elderly examples of the noblesse, whom the Princess was introducing to Rarity, and vice versa.

With less enthusiasm I glanced about for August. I spotted him sneaking off behind a curtain with several bottles of dessert wine and decided was all for the best—it would be easier to work on his behalf if he weren’t present anyway. The time had come to spread lavish compliments about my cousin, no matter how fundamentally inaccurate. To this end, I wedged myself into a batch of young ponies clustered around a pink unicorn of advanced years, who was all but dripping with jewels.

“So wonderful to see you again, Princette.”

“Can I refresh your drink, Princette?”

“Did you hear about Lord Bitterbrush’s run in with those tourists, Princette? Quite an amusing little story.”

I gathered the elderly mare was a princette.

The rest of the congregation was still a mystery, however, as the old unicorn didn’t bother to respond to most of these remarks and inquiries, merely running her gaze around her little court in a self-satisfied way. As for the other nobles, they paid me no mind and took hardly any more notice of one another, except when tossing a quick but heated look at an apparent blood enemy. Clearly it was going to be hard to break the ice with this crowd, and the grande dame looked far too aunt-like for my comfort. I was about to effect a quiet retreat when I heard a voice behind me yelp a familiar cry of “You!”

I turned ‘round and, sure enough, there was Duke Sun Shimmer, straight-out boggling at me.

“What-ho, Duke Shimmer,” I said civilly.

“H-how did you get in?” the Duke sputtered. His sister, trotting up behind him, gave me an “I told you so” sort of look.

“Oh, I have my methods,” I said in my most mysterious voice, adding an enigmatic smile to boot. In theory this should have left him speechless and impressed, but perhaps he hadn’t read the same books as I had.

“But how? HOW?” he persisted. “I looked in Snow Shimmer’s stupid book—”

“Without my permission,” she contributed sniffily.

“—and she was absolutely right, you’re just—”

“Of course I was right, dear brother, and if you listened to me more often—”

“Shut up, I’m trying to—”

“You shut up.”

“What is all this?” a sharp voice interjected from behind me. The Shimmer siblings’ row ground to a halt as they stared past me like ponies blinded by an inconvenient bolt of lightning on the way to Dam-ascus. A glance to the aft revealed that the elderly pink pony had entered the scene from upstage and was fixing all three of us with a stare. Her entourage accordingly gathered ‘round to better view the show, and some minor pushing and shoving ensued as each pony fought for a house seat.

Snow Shimmer recovered first, aiming a low bow at the unicorn mare. “Good evening, Princette Cloud Dreamer.”

The mare eyed her and her brother. “Princette Ice Shimmer and Lord Sun Shimmer, correct?” demanded Cloud Dreamer (a name far too drifty and soft for this wizened old pony, I assure you).

After a moment of tortured silence the yellow colt muttered something about being a duke and Snow Shimmer just nodded feebly.

“And then there’s you.” Cloud Dreamer turned her attention to me, causing me to back up several paces. “I haven’t seen you before. Are you a lord?”

“Well, no, I’m—”

“A duke?”

“No, actually—”

“Well, you’re not a prince,” she said with finality, giving me a suspicious look.

The crowd murmured nothings, not the sweet variety but the more gossipy kind, while Princette Cloud Dreamer scoured me with her eyeballs again. I took off my hat and bowed, partly because I’d remembered my manners, but mostly so I could avoid her gaze. “Ah . . . yes. I’m . . . quite pleased to meet you, Princette. The name’s Birdso—”

“Ah, I have it. You must be related to Fancy Pants,” she said, trampling over my intro and raising a buzz amongst her little swarm of admirers.

“Fancy Pants?” I had vaguely heard of this pony—he was a diplomat or a minister or something. “Ah ha ha, no, I’m not—”

“Mirror Mirror.” Princette Cloud Dreamer beckoned to an equally wrinkled mare walking by, followed by a miniature crowd of her own. “Look at this pony.”

“What about that pony? Don’t think I’ve forgotten how you stole my lozenges, Cloud!”

“Never mind about your lozenges. What do you notice about him?”

“He’s a unicorn,” said Mirror Mirror, who happened to be an earth pony.

“He’s not a unicorn.”

“Yes, he is.”

“Yes, but that’s not the point. He’s Fancy Pants’ son.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Cloud. Fancy is too young and this colt is too old. But he does have the same colours. Maybe he’s a nephew.”

“Ridiculous. If he’s too old to be a son, he’s too old to be a nephew.”

“Then he’s a cousin.”

“Ah, a cousin. How right you are, Mirror, how right you are. That’s just what he is.” And they both looked at me, Cloud Dreamer going so far as to focus her stare through a jeweled lorgnette.

My jaw had been working soundlessly through all this, as they assigned me familial ties to a pony I’d barely heard of and had certainly never met. Internally, it was a race between indignation and bewilderment, with bewilderment ahead by several lengths and rocketing towards the finish line. So I think my next remark would have been a confused “What?” or possibly even “What? What? What?” rather than a more abrasive “Hoy!”

A moot point, as it turned out, because Sun Shimmer found his voice first. “What a load of tripe!” He didn’t speak that loudly, really; it was a remark meant only for his sister, I think. It was merely unfortunate that his comment coincided with a lull in the ambient noise, and that the acoustics in the ballroom were so good.

A collective gasp ran through the gathered ponies, and Cloud Dreamer and Mirror Mirror swiveled in tandem, aiming stares at the Duke that threatened to melt him into his base components on the spot. While he didn’t actually turn into a molten puddle, he did immediately begin to quail.

“Uh, that is . . . Obviously a very g-good theory, princettes, but he’s not . . .” The minor aristocracy, too shocked by this blatant contradiction even to whisper about it, goggled at him, while Snow Shimmer subtly edged away and tried to look unrelated. The mares kept up their twin glares, apparently trying to melt a hole through Sun Shimmer’s face.

“No, look, it’s true!” the Duke said in increasingly frantic tones, stabbing a hoof in my direction. “He’s not Fancy Pants’ son or whatever, he’s not a lord, he’s not even a knight! He’s just, he’s just—”

“That is quite enough, young colt—”

“What a disgraceful display—”

“HE’S BLUEBLOOD’S COUSIN!!”

Mirror Mirror inhaled sharply through her nose, Cloud Dreamer dropped her jeweled lorgnette, and the crowd did what it did best, namely gave another collective gasp. Everypony was staring at me in utter horror.

Everypony, that is, except Sun Shimmer. His face was that of a pony who has just fallen off a fifty foot cliff, only to find a municipal dump specifically for mattresses, balloons, and feather pillows operating at the bottom of it. “That’s right! Blueblood’s cousin! Didn’t tell you that, did he? No, he came crawling up to you under false pretenses—”

“Hoy!”

“—pretending to be related to Fancy Pants, pretending to be on the Council—”

“Look here!”

“—when all this time he’s nothing more than a lowly, treacherous worm, like his cousin—”

“Oh, COME now!”

“Do you deny it?” Sun Shimmer pointed his hoof so dramatically I had to leap backwards to avoid being smacked in the nose. “Do you DENY that you’re Prince Blueblood’s blood relation?”

“Well . . . well no! But really, I wasn’t trying to—”

Sun Shimmer tsked as he paced back in forth in front of the crowd, most of which was now visibly leaning away from me. “A sad day in Canterlot, a sad day when an upstart of a unicorn tries to hoodwink sweet, elderly ladies!” (A line that earned another round of mute jawing on my part.) “And to think, nopony would’ve been the wiser if I hadn’t had the foresight to look up this blackguard’s lineage in . . . in . . .”

“Crème de la Crème’s Equestrian Peerage?” Snow Shimmer suggested acidly.

Sun Shimmer returned a venomous look. “Yes. That.”

“But look here, I . . .” To my horror, Princette Cloud Dreamer was levitating her lorgnette off the floor; the last thing I wanted was to be confronted with that again. “I am his cousin, certainly—” Another collective gasp. “—but he’s really not such a bad pony, you know!” The fourth collective gasp since I’d run into this lot, and one pony in the back fainted.

As I desperately tried to remember some of August’s good points—all I could think of was the time he’d put slugs in my bed as a kid—Cloud Dreamer did indeed pin me with a glare through her jeweled glasses.

“Well.” The unicorn princette gave me the kind of a look that a mosquito might receive just before the life is slapped out of it. “I think we’ve had enough of this company, don’t you, Mirror?”

“Definitely,” Mirror Mirror sniffed.

“Come along, Sun Shimmer, my dear. I’m sure Prince Star Gleamer will be interested to meet you. He’s over by the windows . . .”

“No, he’s not, he’s in the garden. And don’t think I’ve forgotten how you stole my lozenges, Cloud!”

And with that the princettes swept away, with an elated Sun Shimmer by their side and the whole procession trailing after them (even the pony who’d fainted, who underwent an abrupt recovery), leaving nopony behind except myself and Snow Shimmer.

I turned to her, gibbering gently, hoping for some show of sympathy. Instead I got a look coated with hoarfrost. “You started too big, you fool,” she said, “and now see what you’ve done.” And having uttered these comforting words, she huffed and exited, stage left.

I retreated to the buffet table, feeling that I was not only out of my depth, but out of my depth in a boat that was rapidly taking on water. At this point August’s strategy of waiting out the remainder of the evening in some secluded spot, accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol, was beginning to look like a good one. But no, I reminded myself sternly, a Rooster does not run up the white flag so easily. Sighing, I scanned the room wistfully for Great-Aunt Celly. But she was introducing Rarity to another mess of ponies and I hadn’t a hope of fighting through that crowd. Reluctantly I returned to the Blueblood Dilemma.

Scathing though Snow Shimmer’s remark had been, she had a point. What had I been thinking, I asked myself, expecting to impress a couple of elderly mares of aunt-like bearing? Whether they were actual aunts, I could not say—one doesn’t like to make rash accusations—but they clearly bore enough of a resemblance to the breed to make them a lost cause. Nor did I kid myself that it would go any better with the elderly stallions on the scene; not a one of them walked by but he didn’t have eagle-eyes, a serious expression, and, in many cases, a monocle. Monocles, in my opinion, were no better than lorgnettes. The only reason an old stallion wears a monocle is so he can make others feel like they’re a bacterium caught on a glass slide.

No, my only hope was to blend in with some of the younger ponies and then sort of work the conversation around to August and then hope that his improved reputation would filter up to the higher ranks of the Council of Peers . . . somehow. Clearly this plan would require a certain amount of ad libbing. With a sigh, I inhaled a petit four and, spotting a group of likely ponies, leapt into action.

Things kicked off to a good start; this bunch, principally composed of lords and ladies, seemed civil enough. I slipped into their midst and pondered how to guide the conversation around to my cousin’s virtues. Currently they were giving a full autopsy of the meal they’d just consumed.

“The hors d’oeuvres were perfection, simply perfection.”

“Yes, but the soup was a tad too salty, in my opinion.”

“Nonsense, it had exactly the right amount of salt. I do feel it was lacking something, though. Perhaps if it had more carrots . . .”

Not exactly the ideal set up to introduce the subject of August Blueblood. The only opening line that occurred to me was “Speaking of food, did you see how Prince Blueblood shoved his around his plate for the entire meal?”, which was not really the tone I wanted to set.

I was wracking my brains for something better when a finely dressed pegasus colt said, “I wonder what the Princess thought of the apple dumplings. Such . . . unusual fare.”

I brightened, for this was the perfect lead-in. “I say! I know just the pony to ask!”

All heads turned. “Who’s that, . . . ?” The colt trailed off in a meaningful way to hint that I should drop my name and station into the blank space provided. Which I didn’t.

“I’ll tell you who. A pony who was sitting within a metre of Princess Celestia. A pony of high rank—the highest, as he’s reminded me many times—who was right across the table from—Oh, honestly.”

This last remark was in reference to Duke Sun Shimmer, whom I had just spotted sauntering in my direction. He was no longer in the company of the princettes, but was leading a small herd of the well-dressed, nonetheless.

“Well, well. Good evening all,” he cooed as he strolled up. “Hello Lord Rosin, Lady Silver Song. Lord Featherfall, you’re looking well. And yooooou, I can’t quite place—oh yes, you must be Prince Blueblood’s cousin.”

You can guess the aftermath, I’m sure. Gasps, of the collective variety, from all and sundry, including from some of Sun Shimmer’s cohorts whom I recognized as having already heard this info. the first time around. In fact, the pony who had previously fainted gave an encore performance. But I was less concerned with these repeat offenders than I was with my new round of acquaintances, who were shrinking away. Sun Shimmer could not have caused more of a stir if he’d said, “Oh yes, you carry that deadly, highly contagious plague, don’t you?”

I turned quickly to one of the culinary-minded ponies—Featherfall, I think—and entreated him. “If you’ll just listen to me for five minutes—” But the flighty thing just shot me a panicked look and took wing, literally.

“Well, I must be moving along. Have a wonderful night!” said Sun Shimmer, and the gastronomically-inclined ponies who hadn’t already fled for the hills were quickly absorbed into his little herd as he pranced off, leaving me once again alone and stymied.

Stymied, in fact, nicely summed up the rest of the evening. At first I clung to some shred of hope; I wasn’t about to give up on my strategy just because it didn’t immediately bear fruit. Unfortunately, Duke Shimmer wasn’t about to give up either, and his strategy continually trumped mine. Every time I managed to strike up anything close to camaraderie with a cluster of the gentry—at one point several of them went so far as to commit themselves to being pleased to meet me—he would come ankling along with his band of admirers and casually trace my family tree back to the Blueblood branch. And every blasted time, the ponies I’d been chatting with scattered like chaff in the wind—often attaching themselves to Sun Shimmer’s brigade as he marched off in a self-satisfied way.

After the fourth or fifth repetition of this scene, I dragged myself back to the buffet table to regroup. I’d been toying with the same petit four for going on ten minutes, wishing August had left some of the wine, when a gentle cough sounded near my ear. I spun around, wondering what new horror the night held, but my panic quickly melted away.

“Greaves!”

“Good evening, sir. I’m sorry if I startled you.”

“Not at all, not at all!” I don’t know when I’ve been happier to see anypony. “Have a petit four?”

“No thank you, sir.”

“Have an apple tart? Mango gelato?”

“Thank you but no, sir. I had a bite in the Servants’ Hall, just before the feast started.”

“Good fare, I hope?”

“Extremely, sir.”

“Good. Good. Good.” I toyed with a spoonful of gelato before absently dumping it into the punch bowl. “You were there, then? At the feast, I mean.”

“Oh yes, sir.”

“Really? I didn’t see you.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said, sounding well-pleased.

“Not at all,” I returned cordially. “Well, I don’t mind telling you that I’m glad you’ve made yourself more visible. Things are getting a bit thick around here.”

“Indeed, sir?”

“Indeed, Greaves. As thick as . . . as . . . pudding.”

“Pea soup is more typically part of the idiom, I think, sir.”

“Pudding or pea soup, the fact remains we have serious problems, Greaves. There is a fly in the ointment, a snake in the grass, and a spanner in the works when it comes to the Blueblood situation. You observed the adversity I faced out there on the dance floor?”

“No, sir.”

“Right, well—no?”

“I absented myself after dinner, sir, and only just returned. I was—”

“Never mind, Greaves. Never mind. I don’t require an itinerary of your every movement, of course,” I said, a little hurt by this lack of the old feudal spirit. But if he wanted to chat with parlourmaids or something while the young master suffered, well, that was his decision. “You’re here now, at least. Let me give you the footnotes on this miserable chapter in my life. You see that unicorn out there, the one with the smug expression and the band of camp followers?”

“The brightly hued one? Yes, sir.”

“That, Greaves, is none other than Duke Sun Shimmer.”

“Ah yes, the gentlecolt who—”

“Who alerted me to this function to begin with, yes. I wish he hadn’t,” I said fervently. “And apparently he wishes the same, for he’s been taking the most unholy pleasure in scuttling every move I take on August’s behalf.”

“Possibly he has a grudge against Prince Blueblood, sir?”

I paused, processing this. “Possibly, Greaves, possibly. If so, he’s not alone. The situation is dire. Not only is August’s name mud, but the moment Sun Shimmer lets drop the fact that I’m a cousin to the princely Blueblood, my name, too, becomes mud. And Duke Shimmer is not reticent with that info., let me tell you!”

“Most disturbing, sir.”

“Most disturbing is right! You have not known ‘most disturbing’, Greaves, until you’ve seen mares sweeping their skirts away from you like you carry a contagion and stallions leaping away as though you’re a manticore about to go for the throat. Possibly, given time, I could have exercised enough natural charm to overcome the conditioning that makes them roll their eyes and fall into fits when the word ‘Blueblood’ is heard, but thanks to that blasted Sun Shimmer . . . If I never have the opportunity to speak with that blighter again, Greaves, it will be too soon.”

He coughed. “Won’t that make things a little difficult, sir?”

“I don’t follow—Oh blast.” I flung my hoof over the bridge of my nose as a figure bedecked in armor began making a beeline towards us. “Don’t look now, but there’s a rozzer headed our way. What now?”

“Well, sir, I believe that would be—”

“Hello, Mr. Rooster!” the grey and white colt said, giving a cheerful half-rear as he reached the table.

Well, who else. It was Seeker.


Next chapter: Does Duke Sun Shimmer, in fact, have poetry in his soul?


Sometimes I walk downstairs for a can of something and can’t remember what I went down there for. Then I walk back upstairs and remember. Then I walk back downstairs and forget. I imagine that is pretty much how Birdy’s mind normally works.

Oh, a note on Fancy Pants . . . I figure his social circle is different from that of the nobleponies. His friends are high-society, but tend to have jobs (museum curator, auctioneer, etc), unlike most of the nobles. So that's why he's Mister Not-Appearing-At-This-Dinner-Party.