• Published 5th Jul 2014
  • 6,553 Views, 539 Comments

The Halfling - Scarheart



On a clear night, a certain changeling mother makes her way while under hot pursuit to the newly built Temple of the Sun in the Crystal Empire. Her kingdom is shattered, her loyal followers are few and scattered. What does she want?

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2. Tolerance

Edited by shadowblades

The sun broke through the horizon, bathing the world fully into another morning, like the countless mornings before. For the Crystal Empire, it was another day without Sombra, another reason to greet the day with hope. For its small community of changelings, it was another day to bask in the love of the Crystal Heart. Granted a haven by none other than Princess Mi Amore Cadenza herself, they gratefully uttered her name in their prayers and taught their offspring to revere her. For the ruler of the Crystal Empire, being adored by the small black creatures had always left her feeling uneasy, but they meant well.

Princess Mi Amore Cadenza was reading the letter sent to her for the upteenth time from the Temple of the Sun, complete with an added note from the Priestess Zeala. The pink alicorn stared with her violet eyes shrunken to pinpoints. The words she was reading was not at all something she had expected in her wildest dreams. Father Sun Cloud’s letter was polite as he was always polite whenever he wrote. His monthly assessment of overall morale and spiritual well-being for her subjects was always a delight to read, even if he tended to go off topic. The old stallion was a dear and Cadence considered him to be a solid religious advisor. He was open-minded, friendly, and often discussed with Luna’s head priestess some of the newer trends of the younger generations. Cadence was always included in the discussions as they always asked her for her thoughts.

Shining Armor, however looked forward to religious discussions about as much as he enjoyed discussing frilly dresses.

Breakfast had only been half eaten when the letter appeared just above her horn. Noting the seal, it was odd as a letter from Sun Cloud was not due for another week. Shining Armor was busy with his morning paper and cup of coffee, not exactly awake enough to even ask his wife why she was staring with open-mouthed horror at the parchment in her magical grasp. She inhaled a deep breath and rolled up the paper. She drank her lukewarm cup of coffee and found her eyes falling upon her husband.

“Hoofball season,” he said, scanning the sports section. “Can we get a professional team here? Cady?” Shining lowered the paper and looked at his wife. Her expression was… unsettling. “It’s not that bad of a sport, honey. I mean, we need to generate revenue and if we can lure a team here, that’ll mean more…”

“Shiny,” she croaked, levitating the damning letter.

“What’s this?” he asked as it was floated over to him. “Fan mail?”

A weak smile threatened to erupt. “Not...exactly.” The titter from her lips was less than jovial. “Read it, honey. Please.”

Just then, a guard hurried into the dining room, his eyes seeking out and zeroing in on the Prince Consort. “Majesties!”

The letter was forgotten.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” Shining told him. “Approach, captain!”

“There was an attack near the religious district.” The guard came to a halt and bowed deeply. “We’ve found the bodies of seven dead changelings in the streets! Witnesses report a large changeling being pursued by an unknown number of attackers, also believed to be changelings.”

“What?” Shining and Cadence blurted at the same time.

This time the newspaper fell away to the ground as the stallion was already moving. His wife was right behind him. “Why wasn’t I told sooner?” he demanded.

“There were no civilian casualties,” said the captain as he trotted to keep up with the Prince Consort.

“Notify Canterlot,” Cadence said, dragging the letter along with her magic. To her husband she began, “Shining—”

The letter was thrust in front of his fast in the blink of an eye. “What is this?”

“It’s related to the incident,” she said. “We know the changeling in the temple. Father Sun Cloud says there’s a queen in the temple’s infirmary. It’s her, Shiny. It has to be!”

The unicorn stopped dead in his tracks. “No…”

“Shiny, there’s a foal.”

He read the letter carefully, his jaw working back and forth as he was suddenly grinding his teeth. “Foal?” he looked at his wife woodenly.

“Yes, Shiny. Priestess Zeala confirmed this is the same queen from Canterlot.”

Shining Armor didn’t trust the tall changeling who represented the odd religion of her race. She was always wearing black robes and felt more like a villain than anything else. Yet, she behaved in the best interest of improving pony-changeling relations. The pseudo-pony did her best to intermingle her own kind with ponies and other races who visited the city. Sure, Zeala appeared to be a peaceful mare. Appearing too similar to that monster who had impersonated his wife sixteen months ago, she gave him the creeps. Maybe it had something to do with the way she smiled.

“Ready my chariot,” Cadence informed the captain. Her eyes never left her husband. The soldier bowed and hurried off to do her bidding while she drew up to her husband and nuzzled him lovingly. “Shiny? Are you okay? Let’s go see her together. Hmm? Let’s confront her together and find out what’s going on. Let’s be sure... Shiny?”

Numbly, Shining nodded. “Foal?” croaked the question from his lips. It was a pale echo of the first time he said that word. The poor stallion looked suddenly very lost and very guilty. “Nooo...” he moaned, pleading with his wife as he slumped against her. “I wanted us…”

“Shh, I forgave you a long time ago, my husband,” she assured him softly, dressing his face with soft kisses. “Let’s go make sure. It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault, Shiny. Look me in the eyes.”

He did so, his lower lip quivering.

“It was not your fault. I love you. I will always love you. Nothing will ever change that.”

Shining Armor opened his mouth to say something. She clamped it shut with a hoof.

“If this colt is your son, then I’ll love him as my own.”

“Cady?”

“And you’ll love him, got it?” she commanded playfully in an attempt to lighten his dour mood. “But we need to hurry,” Cadence added seriously. “The mother is in serious condition. Her wounds are grave. She might not live out the day.”

“If it’s her,” grumbled Shining Armor with a sigh. “A foal… By the Maker, Cady!” He cleared his throat and straightened himself to his full height. “Ready my chariot!” he roared, breaking out into a trot.

Cadence sighed and rolled her eyes as she went after him. “I already summoned for mine, you big goof!” she called out.

Husband and wife made their way to the stables. Their chariot awaited them and within minutes, they were aloft over their beautiful city, their crystalline structures gleaming in the light of the early morning sun. Below them, they could see their subjects beginning their day and going about their business. Quite a few paid heed to the alicorn and the unicorn, as it was not uncommon for one or the other to visit sections of the city. Of course, it did not prevent a few from taking notice and waving at them like old friends. The pair of pegasus guards pulling the chariot were well used to the smiling Crystal ponies looking up into the sky. As they flew towards the religious district of the wagon wheel design of their fair city, the fresh spires of the two newest completed temples shone like welcoming beacons.

The Temple of the Sun was a graceful example of Canterlot architecture. The Temple of the Moon boasted the same quality work and was every bit the Sun’s equal. Nestled between them was the Temple of Love, a far more modest structure dedicated to Cadence (much to her profound embarrassment). Behind it was the beginnings of an even more modest, and even simple, temple for the changelings. It was tucked into the corner of the grounds, unassuming and out of the way. Dotting the grounds were various buildings for various purposes. The building of interest was the small infirmary meant for the care of the ponies who served the religious orders.

There was quite a crowd already gathered at the front doors.

Cadence waved off her guards. Weapons were forbidden on holy ground. The winged pegasi veered off, leaving just the two pulling the chariot and their two passengers. Curious nuns and monks gawked as the royal chariot landed smoothly and the princess wasted little time in hopping off. Shining Armor was a bit more reluctant to follow suit, but he wore a determined mask and forced a smile through it.

Cadence at first made her way straight towards where she thought Father Sun Cloud might be, but a sound not normally associated with sacred ground reached her delicate ears. A nun was cooing little foalish words to somepony. The princess found herself making a slight detour and followed the sounds. Light hearted laughter from other ponies indicated a small gathering.

“He’s so cute!”

“Those eyes! So blue!”

“Have you ever seen a foal so tiny?”

“Oh, let me hold him!”

The princess cleared her throat as she approached a small wooden bench. Upon it lay a wicker foal basket. It was obviously occupied. Three older nuns were busy clucking over a very tiny creature swathed expertly in a soft blanket. A bottle not originally meant for feeding a foal had been requisitioned for such a purpose, complete with a rubber nipple fashioned from an object the princess could not identify at first. Upon closer inspection, she blushed a bit, then cleared her throat politely a second time.

“Princess!” one of the nuns cried. All three bowed to Cadence. One of them hovered over the little foal—he couldn’t be anything else!—and smiled warmly as she minded the bottle and concentrated on letting the little fellow breathe as he drank.

“Please rise,” she bade them, eager to see for herself what had been described in Sun Cloud’s letter. “May I see him?”

The eldest nun nodded, offering a modest smile as she turned the basket to offer Cadence the best view. The pale little face was focused on the meal, his hooves latched on the bottle nearly drained. One of the nuns was holding the bottle up for the little fellow while looking expectantly at the approaching princess.

“One of the changelings knew a way to infuse pure love into the milk,” explained the elder nun as Cadence found herself leaning forward for a better look. “He’s still needing love to grow, but he can also take some milk. One of the local mothers donated some as soon as word spread of his need. Once we had the milk, one of the more recent changelings, also a mother, offered to infuse the milk with love. Oddly, she seemed a bit frightened when we described the nature of this foal.”

“Nearly refused to help,” piped in one of the other nuns. All three were nodding sagely. “It took words in private with High Priestess Zeala to convince her. It appears half breed changelings are considered ill omens to them.”

The princess felt her heart go out to the little foal. He made the little feeding noises, easily associated with happily feeding foals. The bottle was pulled away and she was encouraged to pick him up. It was easy to see she wanted to. He seemed to sense her presence and sought her out. Her face was but a few feet from his. A toothless smile found her. She smiled right back.

“Oh, you’re precious!” she cooed as her magic wrapped around him. Lifting him from his basket, she moved him to her chest where she could wrap her hooves around him.

He was a little frightened at her strange magic. It wasn’t mommy’s! An uncertain sound came from him, a little whimper.

“I won’t hurt you,” she promised, leaning down to nuzzle him. “Not your mother’s magic, is it? You know, don’t you? Such a smart boy. Such a cute boy!” Cadence noted the foal’s eyes, how blue they were. Those were pony eyes and only one other pony in the world had eyes like those in her mind. “Shiny?” She peered at a spot next to her where she expected him to be.

He wasn’t.

“Shiny?” she repeated, looking behind her. He was sitting on the ground, slouched with wide eyes and a guilty conscience. “Come here!” she beckoned, smiling warmly at her husband.

With terrified reluctance, he obeyed, straightening himself only because of the eyes suddenly upon him. Sigh, not this again, he came towards his wife as her smile grew larger and larger with each step. Swallowing hard, he found himself meeting a little face that had suddenly gone quite serious in his estimation. “Um...hi?” he managed to squeak out.

Those blue eyes held his own and he froze in place.

“Well,” Cadence broke the silence with a nuzzle to her husband. “I think at this point any blood testing would be a formality to this point.” She pressed the foal into the stallion’s hooves, forcing him to his haunches as he yelped in surprise. “I can feel he’s yours in my heart, Shiny. I just know it.” Her eyes became moist, while Shining held the child in his hooves.

“What of the mother?” Shining asked, still focusing on the squirming little guy in his grasp. “Where is she?”

“Still in the infirmary. Her wounds were quite bad, I’m told,” said the elder nun. “Father Sun Cloud is in the waiting room. He is expecting you, your Highness.”

With an unexpected reluctance, he handed the foal to the nun, his mind a jumble of confusion and emotions, the former captain of the guard stood and gave his wife a determined look. “Let’s go see what he knows. I also want to talk to that changeling priestess—”

“Zeala,” offered Cadence helpfully.

“Thank you, dear,” Shining deadpanned. “All right, let’s get this over with. I want answers and I have no idea why she’d want to come here of all places. Nor do I know why she’d suddenly have this kid and think I’d… Cady, I just don’t know what to think!” He sighed, throwing his hooves up in frustration, and began walking.

Cadence nodded in agreement. She could not help but wonder what exactly was going on. Too many variables and factors were currently at play and she had no idea where all of this would eventually lead. At least the foal was cute, she reasoned. There was no love lost for the changeling who had placed her in the crystalline catacombs deep within the heart of the mountain Canterlot was built upon. It was a distant memory now, but one that was a permanent part of what made the princess who she was. Rather, it was a defining moment of what she wasn’t.

She could not hate this changeling who had nearly stolen her world and her identity. There was simply nothing like that for her in her heart.

The grounds were rather sprawling, she noted and maintained beautifully. The monks and nuns who lived here tended everything themselves from their own gardens to the flowering plants, to plucking unwanted weeds growing up through the paths. It was always quiet and peaceful here, with conversations carried in hushed, respectful tones. Uneasily, she felt more and more uncomfortable the closer she came to the infirmary.

It felt like she was approaching death.

Inside, she heard an old voice cry out, “What do you mean she’s gone?”

Husband and wife shared alarmed expressions before they broke into a gallop. Within moments, they moved through a loose crowd of ponies (and even a changeling or two) where frightened words were whispered harshly all around them.

“What is going on here!” Shining Armor demanded once he was inside. He was immediately drawn to the tall changeling in the black robes. Zeala’s head whipped around, breaking from the intense discussion —even argument— she was having with Father Sun Cloud.

“Prince Shining Armor!” she sighed silkily. “So good of you to come!” Her fangs flashed in her smile as she bowed politely.

He did not like this mare. The stallion could practically hear his wife’s hackles rise as she drew up against him and leaned in protectively. “Father,” Cadence greeted the old stallion warmly. “Priestess,” she added with icy reluctance.

“I’m afraid you’re too late,” sighed Sun Cloud.

“Did she die?” Cadence asked, admittedly torn as a conflict of emotions railed within her.

“Her wounds were grave,” said Zeala, boring her eyes into the princess intensely.

Shining Armor whispered, “She’s dead, then?”

“On the contrary,” replied the priestess as Father Sun Cloud fixed her an accusing stare. “My acolytes were able to heal the worse of her injuries. What we had not anticipated—”

“She’s...decided our accommodations were no longer required,” the old stallion harrumphed.

The alicorn and her husband both gaped. “What?” cried Cadence. Too many possibilities swam through her mind. None of them were appealing. “Alert the Guard!”

“Don’t bother,” Zeala said airily. “You won’t find the queen, even if she’s is but a shade of her former power. Once she had enough magic healing done to stabilize her condition, the queen was quick to make quick her departure. You just missed her.”

“Oh, no!” Cadence put a hoof over her mouth.

Shining Armor was suddenly livid. “How could you let her go? She’s a wanted criminal!”

The priestess fixed him a condescending glare. “She was granted Sanctuary, my prince. I do not detain those who come willingly against their will. They are free to come and go as they please, so long as they come in peace and depart in peace. The good Father here would agree, wouldn’t you?” she smiled like a cat in the cream at Sun Cloud.

“She is most correct,” sighed the old stallion as he tugged his cowl over his head. “Now, if you pardon me, I have some very nervous ponies out there wondering about our recently departed guest. Please, excuse me.” Sun Cloud bowed deeply to the princess and her husband, before shuffling out the door to speak to the gathering.

“Holy ground,” reiterated Zeala as she inclined her chin. “A most useful tool for those in need. Cry but a single word ‘Sanctuary’, and hearts will open and charity will flow like a wellspring. This is a place of love and all those within these walls have it to spare. None of my acolytes want for nothing and the small number of changelings who do live in this city of love are fattened because of it. What would I be if I did not extend our good fortune to those less fortunate than us? What would I be then?”

Cadence softened her expression. “I did not mean to offend, High Priestess.” She tugged meaningfully on her husband’s hoof.

“She is a criminal,” stated Shining Armor, but backed off from a warning glance from his wife.

Zeala smiled. “Of course she is. Her kingdom is no longer hers. Royal houses fight for power even as we speak. She is no longer relevant to her own people. Her choice to depart is her own reasons and she has harmed no innocents. She escaped an assassin’s team and lost all of what was left of her guard. She is alone. She can do nothing, my dear prince.”

“What of the foal?” asked Cadence. “Is he abandoned?”

“Mixed blood changelings are forbidden by our most ancient of laws,” Zeala told her seriously. “I will not touch him. No doubt some pony will take him up and raise him, though I would strongly recommend against letting him near other queens or any royals for that matter.”

“That’s terrible!”

“Be wary,” the priestess warned. “You must be made aware the child has been marked for death. If any other ponies were to take him up, no doubt they would wake up to find a dead foal in their crib and nothing else in the house disturbed. He is dead already. Those seeking his mother's lands will send assassins.”

“No!” shouted Shining Armor with determination. “We’ll take him in!”

“I think that was the queen’s intention,” supplied Zeala with a smile. “It’s for the best and I think the two of you are better for it.”

“Shiny, are you sure about this?” Cadence asked her husband in a small voice. Her heart had already leapt in her chest the moment he spoke.

“The nuns of the Sun and the Moon will no doubt look after him until you can make all the necessary arrangements,” Zeala said as she ghosted past them. “I have my own duties to see to. Though it might mean little to you, I bless you both in the name of the Ancients. May the path of shadows guide you to boundless love.”

They waited until she was gone before taking a side door back into the open garden. Or was it a courtyard? It felt more like a small park, really. On the city map, it was listed as simply The Sanctuary. It was a place of quiet meditation and communion with nature. Numerous little shrines were placed about and each one was immaculately cared for. At a small pond, the couple sat down and watched the ducks swimming.

Cadence was the first to speak, repeating her earlier question. “Are you sure about this?”

“I can’t let him die,” he stated firmly. “It’s not fair to him. It’s not his fault his mother is a monster. He could also be mine, Cady. My son. My responsibility.”

She leaned in, cupping his chin with a hoof and turning his muzzle to face hers. “This is why I love you,” she whispered, her eyes full of love. They kissed deeply and parted, seeking out each other’s souls in their gazes. “Any son of yours, I will love unconditionally.”

Author's Note:

This is actually the second part of the first chapter. It went longer than I thought it would and I'm trying to avoid making marathon chapters.

Hope this answers a few more questions!

Comments and suggestions are always welcome!

EDITS: Someone pointed out a bit of an inconsistency in my story...it's not every changeling who wants the Halfling dead, just those who seek his mother's kingdom. Just to clarify, the common everyling doesn't give two wits about Reign Cloud's lineage. If he were to be placed in the care of a changeling mare, she'd defend him like he was his own. Placing him in the care of his father puts him under the sphere of influence of all the alicorn princesses.

To the reader who pointed that little inconsistency out to me, I thank you! I would have totally missed out on that.

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