• Published 10th Jul 2014
  • 2,106 Views, 215 Comments

Sleipnir's Big Adventure - BlackRoseRaven

A hero makes an unlikely alliance with a stubborn prince, and they adventure across Equestria together.

  • ...

The Prince

Chapter One: The Prince

The two armored ponies looked less than happy: normally, they were as strong and stoic as any of the Royal Guard, the proud defenders of Equestria... but it was a boiling-hot summer's day, and they were currently on the worst possible duty that any of them could imagine. Being forced to lug along the massive, overdecorated carriage was bad enough, after all... but far worse was the fact that it contained His Haughtiness, Prince Blueblood.

Blueblood had been bad enough before Twilight Sparkle had gotten her wings: now he was downright unbearable, clinging to his title and exercising every miserable little bit of power he had... which, in reality, wasn't a whole lot. But Auntie Celestia loved her nephew very dearly and continued to look past all his gaping, glaring flaws, promising Equestria he'd one day be a capable and worthy prince.

One day. One day, in the far, far... far... future.

For now, here they were. Two of Canterlot's elite, about to get sunstroke from dragging this cart all the way to Manehattan for a half-hour shopping spree ending in Blueblood screaming at some poor clerk for daring to mix up caramel with toffee. Both of which were supposed to be flavors, not colors, and had made both guards hungrier because Blueblood wouldn't even stop to let them eat. It was go-go-go, while he glared at them out of the safety of his gold-plated carriage and ate and drank, while doing his best to hide his flab with his male corset and flowy cape.

And of course they were the ones who got all the dirty looks. Like they were hired muscle or something, instead of guards just doing their jobs. That was the worst part of the job, how it made all the Royal Guard look bad because Blueblood used them like his personal mercenaries, and constantly threatened to have people arrested or thrown in the dungeons that didn't exist or just beaten up between all his other threats of ruining businesses and running names through mud and suing them because the tag said 'hoof wash only,' so he had a maid rub her hooves on it, but it hadn't washed it in the slightest.

It wasn't their fault. And they couldn't do anything. The last guard who'd said something mean to Blueblood was now working permanent toilet duty, thanks to Blueblood going and throwing a tantrum to Auntie Celestia.

Both guards flinched as Blueblood suddenly shoved the window open, leaning out in the dry, hot summer air... not that he noticed at all, since his carriage was insulated and magic-cooled. “Stop dragging your heels, both of you! I want to be home now, this has been a terrible, awful day and I have no idea how it could be any worse! It's like... like Heaven above is trying to punish me!”

The guards traded looks, both wishing wryly that it was true... and then both frowned for a moment as a loud whistling filled the air before they started to look up, Blueblood doing the same-

Something fell from the sky like a meteor, smashing through Blueblood's prized cart and reducing it to a pile of splinters. Blueblood was ejected from the window with a squeal, streaking like a meteor over the stupefied heads of the guards as they both stared over their shoulders at the remains of the carriage, half-concealed in a cloud of dust.

It looked like it had taken a direct hit from a catapult... and both Royal Guard looked dumbly in the direction of Canterlot, then back at the carriage. No, Canterlot was way too far away and none of the Royal Guard hated Blueblood that much... okay, that was a lie. But none of them were willing to lose their job over a glorious revenge like this. Wonderful and amazing as it was.

Blueblood wriggled around in the dirt, then managed to yank his horn out of where it had gotten stuck in the road: his perfect white coat and glorious golden locks had both been stained with dirt, and the stallion was mouthing wordlessly, his big blue eyes staring with disbelief at his... “My... my carriage! My shopping! My food! No, no, no!”

Blueblood staggered forwards... and tripped over the slack harness drooping around the Royal Guard, who were still attached to a now useless set of broken timbers that no longer connected to the carriage. Neither made any move to help him up, but Blueblood didn't notice as he wiggled himself back to his hooves and only half-tripped again past the Royal Guard, stepping up to the edge of a crater that was filled with debris. “Who... who did this?”

Blueblood gritted his teeth, then spun around, dancing back and forth and shouting like a furious child: “Who did this? I demand you find out who did this! I demand justice, revenge! I demand answers! Find them, go find them right now right now, right now!

Both Royal Guard traded looks... but before either of them could speak, there was a loud clanking from the crater of rubble, and then a loud groan that made the Royal Guard start in surprise and Blueblood squeal and scuttle quickly around to hide behind the soldiers.

There was a clanking... and then all three ponies stared in disbelief as the rubble shifted before a head shoved up out of the debris, followed by a pair of broad shoulders. The bruised features of a massive earth pony looked back and forth, his big brown eyes curiously surveying the surroundings before he reached up and pawed one large hoof carefully through a mane that appeared to be made of vines and plant life.

Then he gave a loud sigh of relief before straightening with a pleased smile, the massive chestnut pony shaking himself out and looking warmly down at the guards as he said brightly: “Well, my mighty mane is intact, so all must be well.”

“W-What?” Blueblood blurted, and then he stepped forwards, shaking his head in disbelief before he twitched, then all-but-howled: “My carriage! Y-You... you destroyed my carriage!”

“Oh?” the enormous earth pony glanced over his shoulder as he advanced, and both Royal Guard winced and awkwardly tried to turn around. But with the harness still on them both and the timbers catching on the ground, it made it difficult.

That was, until the huge pony chuckled at their predicament, then reached one hoof forwards and simply tore the leather harness loose like string. He towered over the soldiers,easily twice their size... yet he radiated a childlike gentility as he smiled at the three ponies, saying kindly: “Fear not, my friend. Give me but five minutes, and I shall mend what I can: enough, I assure thee, that I shall then be able to take thou and thy friends easily back to... oh, Canterlot? Is that Canterlot there in the distance?”

“Yes, it is Canterlot, you great dumb oaf! Do you know who I am?” raged Blueblood, and both Royal Guard winced: this pony had apparently just fallen from the sky, was much larger than them, and was unlike anyone either of them had ever seen before. And they were out here, alone, fields on all sides and Canterlot still a speck in the distance... how had he even known about Canterlot?

Not that Blueblood cared: all Blueblood cared about was making it clear... “I am a prince! I am Prince Blueblood, Prince of Equestria! Guards, I demand that you arrest this stallion at once and... and have him dragged before Princess Celestia for judgment! And I'll personally be calling for your execution you... you great, stupid peasant!”

“Well, 'tis very nice to meet thou. My name is Sleipnir.” the stallion replied kindly, as if oblivious to all the other nasty things that Blueblood had said, and the prince's jaw dropped as this huge, strange pony looked thoughtfully back and forth. Then he reached up and rubbed absently at the battered breastplate he was wearing: little-by-little, both guards were starting to realize that it wasn't just the crash alone that had caused all that damage to the giant pony. “I do not mean to be rude, but where can I find a mage of great power? 'Tis rather urgent.”

“You'll... you'll find a mage when... they torture you in the dungeon!” Blueblood spat, glaring furiously at Sleipnir as one of his eyes twitched. But Sleipnir only looked complacently back, before the ivory unicorn pointed at him as he turned his glare on the guards. “Now! Arrest him, I demand that you arrest him immediately!”

“Uh. How?” one of the Royal Guard finally asked, and Blueblood blinked before the soldier gestured awkwardly at the broken carriage. “With all due respect, your highness... we have no restraints that would fit him, and no way to actually make him come with us. We're at least ten miles away from any outposts and we... don't even know how he got here.”

“Oh, I fell from the sky. Did thou not see?” Sleipnir asked curiously, pointing upwards, and both Royal Guard simply stared at him. “Or does thou mean before that?”

Prince Blueblood twitched, then he leaned forwards and shouted: “I am the Prince of Equestria! You... my Auntie Celestia will-”

“Wait, yes! Thou art correct, in every realm, Celestia is a most magnificent mage, and ruler of the land! I must make my appeal to her!” Sleipnir said positively, raising his head high and nodding fervently, and then he pointed in the direction of Canterlot with a warm smile. “And if the fall has not knocked all sense from my mind, she resides always in the great white castle, does she not?”

“Uh. Yes. We can... escort you to her, if you want.” one of the Royal Guards said slowly, as Blueblood fumed angrily behind them. “I mean, uh... you will have to submit to questioning as well, and we have to work out this... whole...”

“This crime! This absolute, atrocious crime!” Blueblood shouted angrily, stomping his front hooves violently.

“Oh, yes, of course! And well, urgent as this is, 'tis no excuse not to honor a promise and mend the damages that I can.” Sleipnir said cheerfully, and then he looked thoughtfully down at the broken harnessing before turning his eyes back towards the wrecked cart, and he gave a benevolent smile as he spun around and strode into the crater, digging quickly through the damaged debris.

The Royal Guards both shifted awkwardly as Blueblood only glared at the stallion. But Sleipnir ignored all of them for the moment, humming to himself as his rump switched back and forth, long tail of vines swinging almost doggishly, giving them a good view of the cutie mark on his hip: a large tree with four bare branches, somehow almost ruinic in its design.

Then he stepped backwards, yanking several large pieces of the broken carriage with him as he called cheerfully over his shoulder: “This won't take but a moment, and then we shall be off!”

“You two are making me look like an idiot! Grab that... that moron and tie him up or something!” growled Blueblood to the two soldiers, and they both shifted uncomfortably, knowing that if they didn't do what the Prince ordered, he'd go right to Auntie Celestia, who would then inform one of their superiors...

But what were they supposed to do with the giant stallion? Sure, he was plenty friendly now, but they were both sure that could probably change pretty fast. And then both they and Blueblood would probably all end up being trampled, and how were they going to explain that to Auntie Celestia? The last time Blueblood had gotten a boo-boo, the entire Royal Guard had gotten a performance review and a lecture, and the unfortunate soldiers who had been watching Blueblood that day had all had been suspended from duty...

And then the attention of all three ponies was drawn by an exuberant shout from Sleipnir: they all drew their eyes to the stallion, and found themselves staring with amazement at the sight of the cart the enormous earth pony had somehow rigged up from the wreckage in only a matter of seconds. “Here, friends! And there is enough room for all three of thee!”

The soldiers traded awkward looks as Blueblood mouthed wordlessly, and then he reared back and almost howled: “I cannot ride in that... that makeshift atrocity! I am a Prince!”

“Aye, yes, thou hast made that very clear.” Sleipnir said benevolently, smiling across at the unicorn and looking completely unperturbed, before he said kindly: “And I assure thee, 'twill do a fine enough job of bringing thy royal posterior back to its cozy throne in but a few lashes of a hydra's head.”

Blueblood scowled at this, opening his mouth, and then Sleipnir added in the same friendly voice: “Unless thou would prefer the walk... or I suppose that I could always carry thee upon my back like a foal. Would thou prefer that?”

The prince mouthed slowly... then slumped and growled before he glared daggers at the guards and said distastefully: “My soldiers will escort us, then, and I will ride in your... wheelbarrow.”

“Oh, there is no need for that. I fear if thy soldiers attempt to stay with me upon hoof, they will shortly find themselves alone. After all, thou desires to return to Canterlot posthaste, and I have mine own reasons to make speedy travel.” Sleipnir reasoned, and Blueblood scowled at this as he clambered up into the back of the cart.

“Then they will just have to walk on their own. But I doubt that you can move quickly enough to lose them, dragging this loathsome wreck behind you.” Blueblood slapped the front of the wagon's frame, then yelped a little as he pulled back his hoof, sucking at a splinter and glaring angrily at the giant horse, as if this was his fault.

But Sleipnir was only grinning now, his eyes twinkling with mischief before he asked cheerfully: “Well, if that is a challenge, I shall be more than happy to get thee to Canterlot within...” He paused, turning and looking off into the distance as he squinted a little at the vague shape of Canterlot among the mountain peaks, and then he smiled benevolently and spun around, declaring: “Within a quarter hour's time. Will that be acceptable?”

Blueblood gave a short laugh at this as the Royal Guard traded surprised looks, and then the ivory unicorn snapped: “Do you think I'm an idiot? No one can reach Canterlot that quickly from here! Why, it's... it's hours away by hoof, still!”

“I suppose if thou wert walking slowly, aye. But nay, I shall wager it will take me but fifteen minutes, and not one moment more.” Sleipnir reiterated genially, and then he winked over his shoulder at Blueblood as he calmly knotted the torn harness around himself. “And I shall even make it a proper bet, my young new friend! If I am even mere moments past the deadline we set for me, then I shall be thy servant for... well, for as long as thou pleases. Be it days or years, I shall serve thee faithfully. But if I win this wager, then thou must do what thou can to bring me an audience with Princess Celestia forthwith. Fair?”

Blueblood looked thoughtful at this as the Royal Guard traded dubious looks. It was a strange bet to make; after all, there was no way a normal pony – let alone an earth pony – could make that trip in only a few minutes. Even Sleipnir had to realize it was miles away... and sure, he was big and all, but lugging a cart and running an unknown road...

Except... “Sir, uh... have you ever even been to Canterlot before? It just seems like you aren't from around this part of Equestria, that's all...”

Sleipnir smiled over at the Royal Guard who'd spoken, nodding once easily and replying placidly: “Oh no, I admit thou art quite right in that regard, aye. 'Tis no lie to say that I have never been to this Equestria... but all the same, I know the area quite well. Oh, I am sure there are many differences, aye: the faces of stone bear different wrinkles, and Mother Nature already whispers stories to me of wonderful and silly things I have never imagined before!”

Both Royal Guard looked uncomfortably up at Sleipnir as he smiled benevolently down over them, and then he chuckled before straightening and saying with that same unflappable optimism: “But fear not, friends! I shall see this mercurial jarl back home and set his rump securely upon his throne. Art thou sure thou shan't join us? I am sure if we asked together, the young stallion would not deny thee the right to ride alongside him. Why, I am sure once we are moving, he would welcome the company!”

The two soldiers winced and traded looks, then both sat back and held up their hooves awkwardly: sure, they were no doubt going to get a lecture about this, but Blueblood was the one demanding that this big weird stallion cart him around, and the stallion seemed trustworthy enough. If he'd wanted to, after all, he could have attacked them a hundred times by now... and he seemed eager to meet with the Princess.

“Well, very well then. If thou art fine with walking, I shan't deny thee the privilege. 'Tis such a beautiful day, after all!” Sleipnir said cheerily, raising his front hooves to the air and taking a deep breath, before he sighed and smiled. “Aye, 'tis almost too easy to lose myself and forget my duties. But, duty calls. Young Prince, art thou ready to begin our little wager?”

“I've been waiting for what feels like hours to get moving, you dolt! Yes, let's start so you can lose and-”

And whatever else Blueblood was going to say was cut off by Sleipnir's loud, cheerful laughter before he dropped himself to a ready position, the two guards stumbling out of the way... and then gaping in shock as Sleipnir shot forwards like a rocket, Blueblood squealing in terror and clinging to the wagon as they streaked down the road at what felt like the speed of sound.

In moments, they had already streaked to the base of the mountains, and Blueblood couldn't even imagine how they were moving so fast, clutching to the wagon and staring with horror over the edge of the cart, in spite of the fact that the wind felt like daggers in his eyes and his stomach felt as if it had been abandoned back beside the crater.

The unicorn tried to yell for the stallion to stop, but all he could manage was a squealing that vanished into the wind as Sleipnir continued to race along at a speed that seemed to defy all reason. All Blueblood could really do was cling to the cart and hope that the makeshift thing didn't vibrate apart beneath him as Sleipnir sped onwards down the road.

They were in the mountains in minutes, streaking past a caravan and a patrol of guards that were both left staring and bewildered when a squealing blur shot past them and left them in a cloud of dust. A second later, they hit a sharp series of treacherous turns that led steadily upwards through the mountain, and Blueblood's blood turned to ice as he expected fully to be dashed against these rocks and reduced to nothing but a puddle of royal jelly...

And yet by the time these fears materialized, fleet-hoofed Sleipnir had already gracefully darted his way through the twisting and turning pass and was now once more running along the mountain road, heading ever higher and higher as he bolted fearlessly along narrow ledges, and ran the twists and turns as if he'd come this way a thousand times before.

Blueblood's brain could barely process what was going on before Sleipnir suddenly skidded to a halt, and the unicorn was half-flung over the front of the cart, shivering and staring disbelievingly around before Sleipnir called warmly: “Here we are, my friend! The gates of Canterlot castle! And... I fear that I have been a little unfair in our wager, it seems, for it has taken me well-less than the quarter hour we agreed upon.”

Blueblood whimpered weakly, then he slowly, disbelievingly rose his head to stare at the rear gates of Canterlot Castle. There were several Royal Guard gaping in disbelief at the huge stallion who had seemed to simply appear out of nowhere, dust slowly settling behind him as Sleipnir only smiled benevolently over his shoulder at the cart.

Slowly, Blueblood pried himself up out of the wagon, then he half-fell out of the cart before whimpering and staggering drunkenly past the stallion. Sleipnir looked at him with honest concern, leaning down and asking: “Art thou alright?”

Blueblood looked up at Sleipnir, opened his mouth... and then leaned forwards and vomited. Sleipnir only smiled kindly, however, reaching up and almost tenderly patting Blueblood on the back as he said kindly: “'Tis alright, young prince, we all have our worser days. Aye, get it out now, 'tis no shame in it.”

The Royal Guard hurried forwards, stumbling over each other as Blueblood retched loudly, but Sleipnir only chuckled and waved a hoof at them, saying kindly: “The young prince merely needs his rest, methinks, for it has been a trying day for him.”

“Uh... who are you?” asked one of the soldiers awkwardly, as another carefully pulled the whimpering Blueblood away from the enormous stallion.

The prince tried to rasp out something, but he wasn't able to form the words: even more frustrating, before he could get the attention of the guards at all, Sleipnir proudly posed and declared: “I am Sleipnir, and I have rightfully won an audience with Princess Celestia, as I have brought the young prince back from the wilds in but a flick of a hare's tail! And 'tis a good thing, too: look at his pallor, how he trembles so! I feared from whence I first laid eyes upon him he was sick of body, but I did not think 'twould strike so dire as it has!”

Blueblood tried to whimper out something, and just managed to choke and retch a little again. Sleipnir, meanwhile, was smiling and nodding seriously, seeming every inch an honest idiot, but even through his illness Blueblood was convinced this was a nefarious, evil pony who had designs on the throne... on his throne! Oh, sure, he put on an act and seemed as guileless as a small child, but Blueblood knew better, and he was going to have this big oaf thrown in the dungeon and-

And then the guards were already half-carrying him away, and Sleipnir rose a hoof to the whimpering prince, saying cheerfully: “I am sure we will meet again soon, young prince! Rest thy head and hooves for now, and fear not, I shan't leave without a proper goodbye.”

Prince Blueblood gurgled weakly, trying to point back at Sleipnir, but the guards didn't notice: they were too busy hurrying off with the prince towards the hospital wing, terrified of what would happen if Princess Celestia found out her nephew had gotten ill and they had just let him suffer.

Sleipnir, meanwhile, only waved in response to Blueblood's pointing before he remarked cheerfully: “There, I knew he would warm eventually! I am sure his sour mood 'twas only because of his sour stomach. Now, friends. I would dearly appreciate seeing Princess Celestia as soon as possible, 'tis a matter of gravest urgency.”

“Well, uh...” The remaining soldiers traded uncomfortable looks. On the one hoof, there was always a long list of ponies waiting to see the Princess... but on the other, whoever this strange pony was, he had apparently just brought back her nephew, even though... “Where are the Royal Guard who were assigned to protect Prince Blueblood today? Did something happen?”

“Oh, aye. I landed on their carriage, 'twas a rather wretched accident.” Sleipnir said casually, gesturing absently over his shoulder at the cart as he shook his way out of the harness, and the guards stared in disbelief as they realized it was made from the pieced-together remains of what had once clearly been the gaudy carriage of the prince. “But the prince was most understanding and asked me to return him home, and said if I did so with enough haste, he would see to it that I was given an audience with Princess Celestia. And as I said, 'tis a most urgent matter. Although I do apologize that I did not bring thy brothers-in-arms with me, but they were most insistent on walking themselves.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the Royal Guards traded nervous looks before one of them said finally: “The... well... you can wait for an audience inside then, I suppose.”

“Most excellent! Fear not, I shall find mine own way to the throne room! I remember Canterlot well enough, I suppose, and her stone feels the same as it always has to me!” Sleipnir said cheerfully, striding past the surprised guards.

But before any of them could ask again who he was or if he'd ever been here before, the giant stallion had already reached the huge gates across the wide bridge... and the Royal Guard were left gaping as he simply shoved them open with one hoof, humming cheerfully to himself and striding inside... then after a moment, returning to the gates with a chuckle, saying cheerfully: “Aye, look at me, acting as if there is not time enough to be polite! Thou must think I was born in a cave!”

And with that, Sleipnir reached up and firmly shoved the gates back closed. He smiled to himself, then turned around, chastising himself gently: “Aye, Sleipnir, do not be a fool, do not rush headlong and forget all the little things along the way. Thou must not simply do, thou must do things right. Even if thy heart is heavy and mind swaddled with worry.”

Sleipnir nodded firmly to himself as he strode through the stone halls of Canterlot, nodding politely and calling out kind greetings now and then to the ponies he passed. They stared at him, but the stallion didn't mind: he understood well enough he must be quite a strange sight for them, especially with how they were all in regal garments or polished armor, and he, well... he looked perhaps a little bit disgraceful, in his own battered raiment and covered in dust and bruises as he was.

But, presentable or not, he had to see Princess Celestia. She would hopefully have some idea of what to do, how he could get back... well, either back home, or back to the battlefield. Although by now, he thought ruefully, his greedy sister would have cleaned up the enemy and left precious few pickings for him.

Sleipnir chuckled, then turned a corner before cocking his head in surprise as he ended up in a crowded hallway. It was stuffed with ponies, most of them nobles, and all of them looking impatient as they gathered near an enormous set of golden double doors.

Sleipnir cocked his head curiously as he strode up to the end of this mob, and then he leaned forwards and asked a young unicorn mare politely: “Pardon me, miss, but pray answer a question: why are all these ponies gathered here?”

“To see Princess Celestia, of course.” the young mare said haughtily, looking up at Sleipnir with a mix of contempt and surprise... and then doing a double take when she realized how enormous the stallion was, shrinking a little in front of him. “I mean... are you not from around here?”

“Nay, and 'tis very important that I meet with the princess...” Sleipnir looked thoughtful, and then he smiled suddenly, looking kindly down at the young mare. “Why art thou meeting with her?”

“Why, to get in her good graces, of course! Because I am of age and it is my right to meet the princess.” the young mare said firmly, nodding, and Sleipnir laughed loudly at this, which made the unicorn glare at him. “What? What?”

“Oh, 'tis a strange thing to say, that is all. Thou wishes to be in her good graces... and yet at the same time, thou, a citizen of this nation, demands to meet with the princess only to meet with her.” said Sleipnir cheerfully, shrugging, and the young mare looked up at him dumbly. “I am sure thou art a brilliant diversion, young miss, but there are many, many ponies here. I am certain the princess can nary afford a minute to spare today on thee... and it may be a minute that will be sorely remembered for many days to come.”

The mare shifted uneasily back and forth, biting her lower lip. “But... but I've had this appointment for ages, and-”

“Well, aye. But sometimes the face that is absent is the face that is remembered best.” Sleipnir smiled kindly, shrugging easily. “Now, I am no noble. But when I worked the forge, I would grow very busy, and oftentimes ponies would come in with further requests to be made. But it was always the ponies who were polite enough to recognize that I had not the time for buttons and frills that I would remember later, and when time allowed, I would not only remember them, but seek to reward them by giving them my very best work. Does thou see?”

“I... sort of.” The young mare shifted from hoof to hoof, then winced when Sleipnir reached up and patted her head kindly.

“Good. Then be off with thee, and thou can braid thy curls and take today to better prepare for meeting the princess tomorrow. Why, thou can bring her a scrumptious treat! The way to my sister's heart was always through her stomach, after all.” said Sleipnir benevolently, and the young mare's eyes widened at this.

“Oh, of course! I should have thought of that! Excuse me, I have to hurry down to the bakery right now!” The young mare hurried off, and Sleipnir smiled amiably before he turned his eyes out over the crowd, wondering who else he could help.

Half an hour later, a pony in a flowing robe emerged from the golden doors, a scroll floating in front of him... before he almost dropped this and gaped as he saw the entire hall was empty, apart from an old mare and an enormous stallion who were laughing together.

He spluttered in disbelief, and Sleipnir looked up before smiling warmly and waving at him. “Hello!”

“I... hello. Are you... where did everypony go? The Princess had a full schedule today...” the unicorn attendant said slowly, looking back and forth with disbelief. “Did... something happen?”

“Oh, nay, fear not. They merely all came to understand their troubles were but splinters, and that they do not need a princess to kiss away their pains. But this old mare, well, she has a most frightful condition, and I think her urgency is far greater than mine.”

The old mare only laughed loudly at this, then slapped Sleipnir on the shoulder, saying kindly: “Oh, dearie! No, no, I'm perfectly content, young stallion. You go on ahead, you've already made me feel young again. I may just go home and enjoy this feeling, and try this recipe you gave me.”

Sleipnir only smiled kindly at this, then he reached up and squeezed her shoulder, saying warmly: “Then Þakka fyrir, pretty young mare. Why, if thou weren't married, I would hail kisses upon thee like rain! And remember now, the recipe is two snakeroot, and a single piece of bark pulled from the bitterest of apple trees thou can find. 'Twill ease thy pains.”

“Oh, you've already done that, young stallion.” The old mare smiled again, and then chuckled when Sleipnir gave her a quick, one-legged hug and a kiss on the forehead.

Then the stallion turned and strode easily over to the attendant, who gazed blankly up at the towering earth pony before Sleipnir said politely: “'Twould be most welcome if I could meet with Princess Celestia now. I fear 'tis a matter most urgent.”

The unicorn looked uncomfortably up at the pony, then began to nod... and Sleipnir gave a wide, beaming smile before he simply strode past the attendant, who winced and scrambled uselessly around in a circle, squawking: “No no no, you have to be officially announced and-”

Sleipnir threw the golden doors wide and strode into the throne room, an ivory mare with a flowing mane of rainbow color looking up in surprise from her throne as the stallion declared cheerfully: “We are well met, Princess Celestia! I am called Sleipnir, and whilst I am honored and delighted to be in this Equestria, I come with a request most urgent.”

The Princess sat slowly up in her throne, frowning uncertainly as her attendant hurried past Sleipnir, the unicorn babbling: “Sorry, I apologize, Princess Celestia, he... there was no one else out there, and he just barged in-”

“Oh, there were many ponies out there. But I spoke to them all. I mean no offense, Celestia, but 'tis all they needed, really: another pony to speak to.” Sleipnir smiled warmly, stopping a few feet away from the steps leading up to Celestia's raised throne.

The attendant's eyes went wide at this, and then he stormed around in a huff, furling his scroll and shaking it angrily back and forth with magic as he snapped: “You will refer to the Princess as Princess Celestia, keeping in mind her status at all times, and you will speak to her with respect instead of so... so...”

“I speak to her with all the respect in Midgard!” Sleipnir said in an injured voice, frowning and rearing back before he touched his breast with a hoof. “Aye, perhaps I do not speak the false and flattering tones of idolaters, but there is no true respect in that! And thou art the one insulting her by preening her as 'princess,' forcing that ungainly title in front of a name that holds esteem enough on its own! Princess, bah!”

The attendant looked like he was torn between fury and utter disbelief at this sentiment, but Princess Celestia spoke before he could, saying quickly: “You don't seem like any pony I've ever met before... Sleipnir, correct?”

Sleipnir smiled warmly at Princess Celestia, nodding to her politely. “Aye, I expect that I am not. And gladder for it, I might add... for 'tis always easier to charm when one may appear so exotic.” He winked at her, adding easily: “Although there are certain other things that I see thou art in full possession of that can lure the eye and heart alike...”

Celestia gave the slightest of smiles at this, meeting his chestnut, childlike eyes with her own amused amethyst. “It's rare that a pony talks to me like that, Sleipnir. I am a princess.”

“Thou does not hold thyself like any princess I have met, Celestia. And I mean that in only the very best of ways.” Sleipnir replied pleasantly. And while her attendant looked like he was about to choke on his own tongue, glaring furiously at the stallion, Celestia only smiled again.

She reached up and absently touched the golden peytral plate on her breast, as if she had to check it was still there, as she asked kindly: “What can I do for you? You mentioned urgent business.”

“Aye, I did.” Sleipnir became more solemn, and then he rose his head and explained in a calm, rational voice: “I was fighting a terrible foe in Valhalla alongside my family when he struck at myself and my beloved wife with a powerful curse. It flung us both from Asgard, and from each other: I have fallen to this Equestria, a realm of Midgard I am unfamiliar with... and I have seen many Equestrias across many different worlds. I require a way to get back home.”

The attendant and the Royal Guard at the door were all simply gaping at the stallion, barely able to comprehend what he'd just so casually said. Princess Celestia, meanwhile, was only surveying Sleipnir thoughtfully, frowning a little as she sat back in her throne before she asked slowly: “And why should I believe such a fantastic story?”

Sleipnir smiled kindly, shrugging and replying easily: “Oh, thou does not have to believe me at all. All I ask is a way back home, nothing more, nothing less. And if I am insane and end up in Helheim or an even worse pit, well. It shan't be any fault of thine, shall it?”

The stallion shrugged easily, and Celestia looked meditative, rubbing at her chin slowly before she said finally: “You said... there were different worlds. We have some knowledge of other realms apart from our own, but... what you're speaking of, it sounds like it goes beyond that. I'd like to know more... if you have the time, that is.”

“'Tis a request well-within thy rights to make, Celestia.” Sleipnir smiled benevolently, nodding firmly. “And there is no urgency so great that it overrides basic decency. We must never forget ourselves and our other duties in haste... especially as I know that by now the battle is over. And I have faith that the day has been won.”

Celestia looked thoughtfully at Sleipnir as he gazed warmly back at her, and then he held up a hoof suddenly, adding quickly: “Oh! And this reminds me, I encountered a young prince upon the road today. Well, rather, his carriage was kind enough to break my fall, although I fear I most rudely broke his carriage. In recompense, I brought him back here to Canterlot, but he seemed rather ill.”

“Blueblood?” Celestia's eyes widened slightly as she leaned forwards, asking in a concerned voice: “Is he alright?”

“Oh, I am sure he shall be fine. And he has been very kind to me! I shall admit his mood was rather prickly, but one cannot blame him for that, considering the circumstances by which we met.” Sleipnir smiled kindly again, shrugging easily. “But perhaps 'twas fortune, really! For 'twas because of our wager that I am here now, and I am most certain that he and I shall remain as good friends for so long as the stars shine in the sky.”

Celestia looked surprised at this, leaning back in her throne before she nodded hesitantly. Sleipnir only continued to smile at her almost childishly, and she shifted a bit before the stallion asked inquisitively: “Now, if I may ask one more question before I answer thine own... do thee and thine have any knowledge of spells to portal between worlds, or must a gate be constructed? I only ask because even if Mother Nature tells me thou art very strong, she also whispers there are few winged unicorns here... and moreover, that the Bifrost has not once touched this soil.”

“Yes, but we have a very special alicorn as well: one who in time will grow stronger than I am.” Celestia said gently, smiling briefly before she added hesitantly: “I'll be able to better answer your question after you answer some of my own... but if I had to guess, I would say that a gateway may be necessary. But even then, I don't know if I have the knowledge to build such a thing...”

Sleipnir nodded thoughtfully, looking down and pawing a hoof at the ground before he smiled warmly, friendly eyes rising up as he exclaimed: “Well, fie and damnation! Now both my sisters shall laugh at me and scold me for having to take so long to return home... and I know not which shall be worse! But fear not, Celestia. 'Tis an easy feat to build such a thing. The difficulty will be in gathering the necessary materials for such a gateway... but come, let us speak more of this in better quarters, shall we?”

Celestia couldn't help but smile despite herself, leaning her head on one hoof and gesturing calmly out at her throne room. “You do understand that seems a little strange for a guest to say, don't you? Unless they have much different social standards where you happen to be from.”

“Oh, they do, I assure thee, but 'twas not an order, dearest Celestia. 'Twas rather a helpful suggestion. For it feels all stuffy in this throne room, and thou looks so uncomfortable, stuck up on that wretched-looking seat. Besides, thou has no one else to see today, does thou? Unless the old mare is still seated out there, she has a sore affliction that I cannot cure, but perhaps thou can.” Sleipnir said cheerfully, nodding a few times. “And thou can speak to her as we walk to a more comfortable locale!”

“I... suppose there's no harm.” Princess Celestia said after a moment, then she shrugged as she stepped down from her throne, smiling at her assistant even as he stared up at her almost pleadingly. “Now, don't worry. I'm sure our conversation won't last that long, and it's only a few hours before evening anyway. You can always let Luna know about anything else that has to be finished.”

The attendant mumbled something, nodding awkwardly as Sleipnir clapped his front hooves together with a warm smile. “There! And there, thou does me another service, as 'tis been far too long since I have been graced by such a pleasant sight as a mare's strides. Now come, thou must lead me to a comfortable place. Both because 'tis rude to lead a mare to her own room, and because I would like to walk behind thee and watch thee a while.”

The soldiers and attendant all stared in horror: by now, the unicorn aide was almost literally steaming with anger, grinding his teeth together as he danced angrily on the spot. But then he gaped in shocked as Celestia only laughed; no, it was almost a giggle at the charming Sleipnir. He was just so... so innocent and friendly and warm. It was hard to be offended by anything he said.

All the same, Celestia chastened gently: “I'm not used to ponies talking to me that way, Sleipnir... and neither are my guard or the many scholars and assistants who work in this castle. You might want to be careful about what you say.”

“Why, I am very careful about what I say! I say only what is true, and only what I mean!” Sleipnir replied seriously, nodding a few times before he winked over at Celestia. “But aye, I suppose that I must be careful with what I say. There is no need to make other ponies all the more jealous of thy radiance, now is there?”

Celestia laughed again, then she shook her head and strode past him, smiling over her shoulder in amusement. But he winked at her, stepped up beside her fearlessly, and for all his size there was nothing intimidating about him, nothing forceful. Even covered in bruises and wearing damaged armor, even clearly every inch a warrior, there was just something... tender about him. “Well, come on. We'll see where we go from here.”

“The very best places, I expect.” Sleipnir replied with a wink, and Celestia couldn't help but laugh again before he nudged her easily, treating her so casually, so pleasantly, making her feel so...

No, she wasn't a schoolfilly, and he was a married stallion, and they had business to discuss. And that was strictly what it was going to be. Business. All business. Nothing but business.

She looked back at him, and saw his charming grin, his friendly eyes, his handsome, handsome features... and asked before she could stop herself: “Would my quarters be fine?”

She didn't wait for his answer before all-but-grabbing him and half-dragging the stallion along, and Sleipnir smiled childishly as he fell in step with her, shrugging easily and deciding, as he always did, to just go wherever the journey ended up taking him. He trusted in nature and the universe to lead him right, after all, like it always did... and that his family would be fine until he managed to wend his way back home.