• Published 10th Jul 2014
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Sleipnir's Big Adventure - BlackRoseRaven

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

  • ...

A Bardic Battle

Chapter Twenty Nine: A Bardic Battle

Two weeks had passed since the Harbinger had been defeated, and they had crawled their way up out of the caves. Blueblood was honestly very thankful that they were now done with crawling around caves and mines and dungeons, and he had already made Sleipnir promise they wouldn't try and cut through the Mines of Horsia or any other subterranean hells on the way back to Canterlot.

Unfortunately, they had run into a problem that Blueblood had never expected: they had actually managed to get lost.

It had all started a few days ago, when Sleipnir had realized they might have a problem crossing into Equestria. The border of the griffin territories was fairly heavily defended, after all, and they had a tendency to search ponies attempting to pass through and relieve them of any valuables they could get away with: and while they hadn't been hassled too much on the way through, Blueblood was worried that not even a letter from Princess Celestia would stop the griffins from seizing the mythril once they figured out what it was.

So that meant they had to sneak through the border, and the best way to do that was to go where the griffins weren't: Sleipnir had been able to quickly figure out that there was an entire swathe of thick forest that sat between Equestrian and griffin territory that was left completely undefended, likely because of how wild and dangerous it looked.

They had made camp near the highway, then slipped off the main road one night to avoid being spotted by any griffin aerial patrols, slipping down a narrow cliff and into a shallow valley. From there, it had been an easy walk to the forest, and they'd made camp beneath the trees for the night.

In the morning, Blueblood had awoken to find Sleipnir happily playing fetch with a timberwolf pup, as the rest of the wood lupine family only watched curiously. The unicorn had stared at this until Sleipnir had finally realized Blue was awake, and then he'd happily dragged him over to try and introduce him to the timberwolves... but the magical animals had taken the moment to snatch their pup and flee from the odd earth pony, much to the consternation of the enormous stallion.

So there were definitely dangerous animals here, but Blueblood had realized that danger, unfortunately, was also relative. Sleipnir talked as readily to animals as he did to plants and trees, happily chatting away with them and seeming to understand them perfectly well, even if Blueblood had his doubts that most of the animals understood Sleipnir nearly as clearly. All the same, they had made good progress...

Except then they'd gotten turned around somehow, and now, here they were. Walking in circles through the forest. The beautiful forest of beautiful trees with beautiful multicolored leaves that made it look like they were in endless autumn...

Blueblood sighed a little, lowering his head sulkily. All this beauty was starting to annoy him. Sleipnir seemed as cheerful as ever, but ever since the earth pony had healed up, he'd been unbearably bouncy: it made Blue wonder if Sleipnir enjoyed having near-death experiences. It would certainly explain a lot about his personality, after all.

Sleipnir paused at a familiar bush, and Blueblood looked sourly at him before the earth pony turned around and smiled, saying cheerfully: “I know precisely where we are now!”

“Yes. So do I. Where we were about half an hour ago.” Blueblood said tiredly, and Sleipnir gave him an amused look. “Well, excuse me, but this stopped being funny yesterday. Very early yesterday. We're walking in circles and for some reason, I can't seem to understand why.”

“Aye, nor can I. But look at this bush, Blueblood: what is unnatural about it?” Sleipnir questioned, and Blueblood scowled: he really didn't feel like playing twenty questions right now.

Sleipnir only looked at him insistently, however, and after a moment the unicorn sighed before looking grumpily at the bush. He remembered that Sleipnir had eaten about half the forest when they'd last passed through here, but it looked like he'd missed this bush, at least... it was covered in lush berries that looked...

Blueblood frowned after a moment, then he looked quickly around at the other nearby bushes, studying them intently before his eyes widened slightly. “But... but I saw you eat all these!”

“Aye, I did. They are very delicious, too, I think that thou should try some.” Sleipnir said positively, reaching out and plucking up a berry before he tossed it into his mouth. Blueblood only looked at him sourly, but Sleipnir shrugged, saying cheerfully: “Well, we may as well take advantage of the enchantment if we are to be bound by it. 'Tis quite good.”

Blueblood sighed tiredly, and then he shook his head slowly before grimacing a bit as he rubbed a hoof against the grasses. He should have picked up on this sooner... “What kind of magic is this? What's trapped us here?”

“I do not know if we are precisely 'trapped,' Blue: 'tis more that we are... unable to leave.” Sleipnir said delicately, reaching up and plucking another few berries from the bush, and the unicorn gave him a foul look. “Oh, shush, there is indeed a difference, my friend. There is no sense of being bound or held here, 'tis more that we are stuck in a living riddle. The spirit of this forest is a mischievous one, not spiteful.”

Blue scowled, as Sleipnir continued placidly: “There is no great need for haste, anyway. We have access to good food and 'tis plenty safe to make camp here. Do not mistake a labyrinth for a prison, or even a gilded cage, my friend.”

“You know, ponies used to die in mazes. Even in Canterlot, in that stupid little hedge maze, ponies would get lost and make themselves sick and the Royal Guard would have to go and carry them out.” Blueblood paused, then added dryly: “And before you say anything, Sleipnir, no. I never got lost in the maze myself.”

Sleipnir shrugged innocently, saying seriously: “As if I, the mighty Sleipnir, would ever make such silly accusations. Why, 'tis not as if I expected his great lordship the prince to have ever graced some ridiculous hedgebushes with his presence, after all.”

“I despise you. Can we please focus on this?” Blueblood asked in exasperation, gesturing out at the forest around them, as the leaves in the trees seemed to ripple and giggle of their own accord. “I don't want to be stuck here forever.”

“Oh, we shan't be.” Sleipnir said kindly, plucking up a few more berries and tossing them into his mouth: by now, he had eaten his way through most of the bush, Blueblood noted sourly. “But if thou feels we must rush out of here, then there is clearly but one thing we can do.”

The prince already knew he was going to regret this, even as he asked hesitantly: “And what precisely is that, Sleipnir?”

Sleipnir winked, and then he threw his head back and simply roared, Blueblood wincing and covering his ears as he shouted a useless, unheard volley of swears at the earth pony.

But Sleipnir simply continued to yell wordlessly to the air... until Blueblood gaped in shock as a bipedal figure ran out of the trees, slapping wildly at the earth pony and screaming back at him; Sleipnir didn't seem surprised in the slightest, however, as he warded off the blows and continued to cheerfully yell purely because he could.

Finally, the strange creature managed to grab Sleipnir's muzzle and force it shut, although from the twinkle in his eye, Blueblood knew that Sleipnir was just playing along and had some horrible further mischief in mind.

The unicorn's eyes were drawn to the newcomer all the same, though, studying him with a nervous frown, even though he didn't sense any danger or hostility from this weird... thing. Was it some kind of Draconequus? No, it couldn't be: his arms and legs were all the same, long and gangly and covered in short green fur. He had talons for feet and long, pale-skinned fingers, and his body was thin and a deep blue.

Thick feathers covered his shoulders and flowed back behind him to form an enormous cape that dragged over the ground, while his bird-like head was raised high, beady, dark eyes glowering moodily down at Sleipnir. He had a frill of feathers that stood up awkwardly out of the middle of the wooden crown he was wearing, and after another moment Blueblood realized he was looking at some kind of... giant, bipedal bird. And the worst part was that this wasn't even close to the weirdest thing he had seen on this little adventure.

“Are you done? How rude!” snapped the creature, crossing his arms and glaring balefully down at Sleipnir: he was taller than him by a few feet, but with how terribly thin he was and his awkward hunched posture, it made him look much smaller and shorter than he really was. “First you tromp into my forest, and then you eat all my food, and then you start yelling your head off! What kind of guest are you, anyway?”

“A very fun one.” Sleipnir said positively, and then he smiled and stomped a hoof, saying cheerfully: “We apologize for intruding upon thy domain, but we are on urgent business. We seek to return to Equestria, for we have an important meeting with Princess Celestia.”

“Equestria has no authority here!” declared the creature as he thrust an arm into the air, and then his cape suddenly burst upwards and became a massive fan behind him, Blueblood staggering backwards in shock... and then staring in disbelief as he realized that it wasn't a cape at all. The fan was made of enormous, gaudily-patterned feathers. “Do you know who I am?”

“The biggest peacock I've ever seen.” Blueblood said before he could stop himself, and then he cleared his throat awkwardly and looked away when the creature slowly turned on his heel towards him, glaring at him furiously.

Sleipnir covered his muzzle and giggled like a child, and the giant peacock clenched his hands into fists before he threw his arms into the air, shouting: “I am the Forest King! And this is my domain, the Enchanted Forest! And you will never leave this place alive!”

Blueblood honestly had no idea what to say, as the Forest Peacock King breathed hard in and out and Sleipnir only continued to giggle, then suddenly blurted: “Peacock!”

And then Sleipnir fell backwards, laughing loudly, and the enormous bird-thing twitched before glaring down at the stallion, pointing at him and screaming: “Shut up! I am the Forest King! The Forest King! And you'll wander this place until the timberwolves feast on your bones!”

Sleipnir grinned widely as he sat up, asking through his giggles: “Oh? Only... my bones? But what about my flesh, and everything else? What will feast upon that? And will they be doing it with their mouths or their eyes, for am I not a handsome sight to behold?”

The earth pony gestured cheerfully at himself, and Blueblood sighed tiredly before turning moody eyes back towards the strange bird creature. But he was far from intimidated by the shrieky, flaunting Forest King, and he only hesitated a moment before saying carefully: “We didn't mean to insult you, and... well, we certainly can't order you to do anything, we both recognize that. But wouldn't it be in your best interests to try and forge an alliance with Equestria? I'm sure our kingdoms could-”

“No.” the Forest King interrupted in a surly voice, and Blueblood scowled before the bird creature sniffed loudly and raised his head proudly. “Both the ponies and the griffins fear me and fear the endless stretches of my foresty kingdom.”

“'Tis not endless at all! Why, when thou walks halfway through a forest, thou art already out the other side!” Sleipnir said positively, and the peacock looked dumbly at the enormous stallion before he popped up to his hooves and added kindly: “Now, friend. I am in no position to tell thee any of thy business, I recognize this. But honestly, can we not learn much from each other? Give me but a moment to bend thy ear, and I am sure I can convince thee to let us pass through thy beauteous forest.”

“No! Never!” the peacock shouted, clenching his hands into fists at his sides and stomping his feet childishly. “This is my forest, and you ponies are now stuck here, forever! You might as well just give up now and... cry!”

“Why would I cry? There are far worse places to be trapped in. And besides, thou strikes me as neither malicious nor cruel. Why, I think we may get along quite well.” Sleipnir said kindly, smiling up at the Forest King. “And I believe that-”

“I don't care what you believe.” the Forest King said pettishly, crossing his arms and scowling moodily down at the earth pony as the fan of feathers finally settled behind him. “We'll see what you ponies think after the forest drives you mad! Then I'll let you go, but only after you're stark raving crackers! Crackers, I say!”

“I thought the forest was going to kill us. Not make us... crackers.” Blueblood grimaced a bit, and then he winced when the peacock spun towards him and shoved a finger into his nose.

“It will either kill you or drive you crackers, and either way you'll like it!” threatened the peacock, and then he halted and frowned before correcting hurriedly: “I mean, you won't like it! At all! Because you'll be... crazy or dead or both!”

“I am not so certain I can be both crazed and dead. 'Twould be very awkward. One needs some awareness to be mad, does one not?” Sleipnir asked curiously, and the peacock looked stumped by this before the earth pony simply shrugged and smiled beneficently. “But no matter. I am sure thou art quite right in these regards, and 'tis a fate I wish to avoid, my friend. I am sure thou does not want our corpses cluttering up thy pretty forest, either, so perhaps we can negotiate.”

The Forest King scowled, and then he leaned down, putting his hands on his hips as he asked waspishly: “And what, pray tell, would make me want to negotiate with you? You're lucky that I'm here at all, you annoying miniature horse!”

“There is nothing miniature about me, knave!” Sleipnir retorted in an outraged voice, stomping a hoof firmly as he rose himself to his full height, and the peacock immediately quailed backwards before the enormous earth pony huffed. “And well, thou art here and we are here. Is that not reason enough for us to speak? If thou desires us to be gone, we shall be gone with much greater the haste if we know the way out... and if thou desires us to stay, well, thou need only ask and we shall help thee with whatever thou needs. Thou need not act like a great silly foal.”

The peacock glowered, then he sniffed loudly before turning his head away, crossing his arms and regaining some of his bravado as he replied grouchily: “Well, this 'silly foal' doesn't want anything to do with you little ponies. As a matter of fact, I think I'll just leave you two here to... to pout. And die. And go crazy.”

The Forest King spun around on his heel and began to march away, and Blueblood scowled at his back... then was almost knocked over as Sleipnir threw back his head and began to yell wordlessly, his wild howling making the trees quake as the Forest King stumbled back and forth, tripping over his own tailfeathers as he spun around and bolted towards the earth pony.

He grabbed at his face, but Sleipnir only continued to yell and shake his head back and forth, dodging and ducking under the hands of the Forest King as the peacock yelled back at him almost desperately. And then, finally, he managed to cover Sleipnir's muzzle, forcing it shut as he dropped his head forwards and wheezed for breath, glowering horribly down at the stallion.

Sleipnir looked placidly back at the Forest King, then smiled before reaching up and gently pulling his hands away, saying cheerfully: “I know! Let us make a wager! And should we win, thou must show us the way out of thy forest. But if we lose, we shall stay here forever and be thy humble servants. For it seems thou art rather short on servants.”

“I... I am not. They're... on vacation.” the Forest King said awkwardly, and then he cleared his throat before looking warily down at Sleipnir, adding moodily: “And why should I lower myself to taking part in some kind of contest with you? I am a King! Kings don't play games with their prisoners, they... they just throw them in the dungeon!”

Sleipnir shrugged, saying mildly: “Well, I mean no offense, my friend, but thou seems rather short on dungeons here. And if thou does not desire to play, then I shall merely keep yelling until thou decides to set us free.” He paused meditatively, then added cheerfully, as the Forest King looked at him with a wince: “Oh, do not fear. My other idea to attract thy attention was to pee upon every tree. For that is how one claims territory in the forest, aye? Thou must pee upon it. Blueblood, thou may pee upon things too, but watch thy aim. If thou wets me, I may feel the need to wet thee back, and I am sure my hose will be much more voluminous than thine.”

Blueblood slowly dropped his face in his front hooves, rubbing painfully at his forehead as the Forest Peacock King leaned back with a look of horror and revulsion, while Sleipnir merely smiled cheerfully. And then the earth pony began to open his mouth again, but both the Forest King and Blueblood reached up and shoved hoof and hand against the stallion's muzzle, making him huff.

The two traded looks, and then the Forest King huffed before drawing back and saying grudgingly: “Very well. But I will choose our contest! And it will be a contest of wits, not muscles and brawn, is that understood?”

“Well, if thou art choosing the contest, thou art free to set any rules thou likes.” Sleipnir said amiably, before he added kindly: “I believe we should employ judges from one-another's camps, though... Blue, will thou act as a judge? And Forest King, does thou know any honest creatures thou could use as judges?”

“Honest? As if I would have to cheat to win!” The Forest King said grumpily, sniffing loudly as he looked grouchily at Blueblood. “But he had better be honest himself.”

Blueblood scowled a little, although he did feel an odd shift of guilt inside him. After all, it would be difficult to be entirely honest: he wanted to get out of this forest himself, and the only way that was going to happen was if they won the contest.

But all the same, Sleipnir smiled cheerfully and shook his head, reassuring: “If thou feels so strongly, Forest King, Blue does not have to judge. He may sit back and watch, and act as my second should the contest require it. Fair?”

The Forest King looked moody, but then he crossed his arms and nodded grumpily. “Very well. Then I say we shall be judged by beasts of land and the birds of the air. Come, children!”

The Forest King rose his arms and beckoned several times as he posed imperiously, and Blueblood stared as several small songbirds flitted down and landed on his arms. For a moment, the Forest King smiled... and then an entire mass of crows and jaws and even a few hawks seemed to appear out of nowhere, landing in one writhing mass over the King's entire body.

Sleipnir immediately began to giggle as Blueblood stared, then winced when the King shook his arms violently, sending a few birds fluttering away as the rest cawed and squawked and only clung tighter. “Get... get off me! Get off me, you idiots!”

The birds clung stubbornly only for a few more moments, and then they finally rose up en masse, floating in a squawking cloud above the King's head. Then the King winced as a distinct goop dropped from the mass to plop loudly over his head before the birds separated, winging up to the safety of the trees.

The King twitched a few times as Sleipnir giggled... then smiled brightly as a large falcon winged around and calmly settled on his head. He looked happily up at the Forest King, but the peacock was busily glaring around before he pointed at a rabbit that emerged nervously from the underbrush. “Come here!”

The rabbit visibly winced, but then approached miserably, and Blueblood stared: even as other small animals began to emerge, the peacock swept up the bunny and then used its back to busily scrub the droppings off his head. Then he huffed and dropped the abused, frazzled-looking lapine back to the ground, letting it scurry away as he grumbled: “Ingrates, every one of them.”

A tired-looking bear rumbled as it shoved out of the bushes, and Sleipnir looked back and forth with delight on his face. Blueblood was rather amazed himself: in a moment, the whole forest had come alive with animals that looked surprisingly intelligent, as the birds seemed to gossip eagerly between themselves in the trees and the smaller beasts arranged themselves into clans and families...

The large, old bear waddled over the Forest King, then flopped down with a very distinct sigh. And without looking behind him, the peacock leapt backwards to sit back in the bear's flabby body like he was resting back in a throne, stretching his arms out so one hand rested on his head and the other near the bear's heavy rump. “Well, is this to your liking, Sleipnir? An entire audience, composed of my loyal subjects... I mean, loyal but completely aloof, ready to give a fair and measured judgment.”

“Oh, aye, 'tis fine.” Sleipnir said cheerfully, although Blueblood couldn't help but wince, doing his best to repress a groan. This wasn't clearly going to turn out badly for them... “I am ready to begin whenever thou art. Whatever thou suggests, I shall gladly do.”

Sleipnir nodded firmly, and the falcon seemed to nod along with him as the peacock studied the earth pony suspiciously... but then a slow, crafty smile spread across his face before the Forest King held up a hand and declared: “Very well, Sleipnir, then we shall play three rounds, and whoever wins two out of three shall be the victor... in our poetry contest!”

Blueblood heard what could only be described as groans from around the field as animals half-hid and covered their faces... and then he winced and looked with something like fear at Sleipnir as the earth pony's eyes twinkled and he giggled loudly behind his hooves, dancing back and forth on the spot before he burst out enthusiastically: “This is a grand idea! Aye, Forest King, I agree wholeheartedly! Let this great clash begin!”

The Forest King looked a little put off by this, but then he simply shook his head and leaned back as Blueblood looked nervously at Sleipnir. He had a horrible feeling that Sleipnir's idea of poetry was going to be far different from the usual pony's... “Very well, uh. Well, Sleipnir, I will begin with a short verse. We shall tally the votes in the applause and approvals we receive. The more yays, the better, obviously.”

Sleipnir simply nodded a few times, looking so cheerful that Blueblood was now wondering whether or not the idiot had completely forgotten about the fact they were competing for their freedom. And it wasn't that he didn't trust in Sleipnir... but well... alright, maybe in this case I really don't trust Sleipnir at all.

Blueblood nervously looked over at the earth pony, opening his mouth... but before he could speak, the Forest King loudly cleared his throat, then held his head up high and declared: “I shall begin with a short poem that I wrote about my beautiful kingdom. The forest kingdom.”

The Forest King slowly stood, then held his arms out to either side with a smile before his tail puffed out, standing tall and straight and slapping the tired-looking bear in the face. The bear only mumbled as if he was used to this, however, and the King didn't seem to notice as he glared balefully back and forth, then loudly cleared his throat again.

Several birds flitted their way over to land on his limbs as adorable little animals scurried up to his feet, and the Forest King smiled magnanimously... even as he booted away one ugly little rat, then tapped his toe against the ground until a much-cuter little little duckling toddled its way up into the semicircle.

The Forest King pretended to look down over his subjects benevolently, even though his beady little eyes were clearly glaring challengingly at Sleipnir as he recited in a lilting, painfully-exaggerated cadence:

Oh, beautiful Forest of Enchantment, ruled over by a handsome king;
Are you not so glorious and so wondrous, and so fortunate, too,
To be the realm of the Lord of Fantasy, who can command the birds to sing.

Oh, beautiful Forest of Enchantment, aren't you a heaven come true?
Here in this place, hidden away, where no one has a clue,
Except of course, for your King, who knows the way here, there, and through.

Oh, beautiful Forest of Enchantment, I will while away my days,
Happy here in your emerald feels, beneath the skies of blue,
Ruled over forever by the Forest King, who in your meadows frolics and plays.

The Forest King rose his head proudly, his eyes gleaming brightly, breathing hard and looking absolutely jubilant. There was only a smattering of applause, however, and the animals that had been forced to be part of his show were leaning awkwardly this way or that, one of the songbirds distinctly covering his face with a wing as a squirrel on the ground covered his ears and another little pig-thing was rolling back and forth, as if pained.

Then the Forest King flung up his arms, and several unprepared birds arced off his arms to thump to the field as the rest of the avians squawked and cawed, flapping their wings wildly and veering back and forth as the peacock looked dumbly up. Meanwhile, the small animals took this as their cute to skitter wildly in all directions for the safety of the bushes.

The Forest King began to grind his teeth together, raising a fist... and then he looked dumbly down as Sleipnir clapped loudly before declaring happily: “A most noble poem! Thou spoke very well, I am glad to have such a determined adversary!”

Immediately, the peacock unclenched his fist and instead gestured outwards as he made a showy bow towards Sleipnir, replying kindly: “Oh, well, don't give up so soon! Please, Sleipnir, by all means. Grace us with at least one poem, will you?”

Sleipnir smiled warmly and winked, replying easily: “Oh, do not expect me to give up at all. For aye, even if thou outmatches me, let it be known I plan to recite all three of my poems, if only so that I may sing my praises to those whom deserve it!”

The Forest King smiled indulgently, and then he gestured at Sleipnir again, saying patronizingly: “Then why don't you tell us your first poem, will you?”

“Thou hast my thanks. Aye, this poem is about something very near and dear to me, and 'tis entitled 'An Ode to the Plow.'” Sleipnir declared jovially, and for some reason, this gave Blueblood a horrible premonition of coming pain.

And then Sleipnir began, in a proud, booming voice, looking just as excited as the Forest King had been:

Oh mighty plow, thou scepter of kings, thou bringer of life,
How great thou hast swelled with pride, how solid thy mettle!
The pillar trembles with the anticipation of the sowing,
The delights of forging pleasure-iron anew in the blissful furnace!

Blueblood gaped in horror, his mouth working slowly as he wished he didn't understand what Sleipnir was talking about. The Forest King was only frowning curiously, while many of the animals had expressions that varied between disbelief and the same shock that paled Blue's cheeks, as Sleipnir continued with happiness and yet a seriousness that told them all this poem wasn't some stupid joke:

Thy steel knows no compare, pulsing with the heat of life,
And even when sheathed, the weapon is vast, commands respect,
Thrums with the need to plunge fertile fields, to feed the hottest forges,
To pour its blessed elixir forth and whet new flame in place of old!

The true king wields his great sword with pride and respect,
For this great and glorious tool is not meant to serve as his weapon;
Nay! Such cruelties make it wither and weak, kill the heat of the blade:
And may cursed may the wielder of such a weapon stand!

Nay, the plow is meant only for the field that spreads before it,
Needy for the seed to be planted, calling for the heat of the blade,
Begging for the burning firesteel that brings life to be plunged deep;
Crying out for the release of the king's holy oil to birth the phoenix!

Oh, a thousand blessings upon the blade that thrusts with life,
That makes us sing, that makes brave stallions of cowards,
That goes to war, smashes down gates, delves deep into the cavern beyond,
But brings not death but ecstasy, and does not pillage, but gives!

Great spear of Heaven, I am proud to wield you,
Proud when you are sheathed, prouder still when bared,
Proud that you bring life, and pleasure, and warmth;
Proud to till the field with your noble, caressing thrust!

Sleipnir came to a halt, grinning brightly as he looked back and forth... and after a few moments, several animals began to cheer away, chittering. This was joined by laughter and delighted sounds from other birds and beasts, as the Forest King looked dumbly back and forth before blurting: “That doesn't even make any sense! You don't use swords to plow fields!”

Blueblood had turned beet red, and was currently rubbing slowly at his face as Sleipnir grinned cheerfully... then frowned up at the falcon as it gave a short, unamused caw. “What? Nay, 'twas not a silly poem! I am not very good at rhyming poems... or rather, I have none in my memory. This poetry I recite comes from mine heart!”

Blueblood didn't think that poem had originated from Sleipnir's heart... but the animals were getting a giggle out of it, and the Forest King was still staring blankly around before he suddenly leapt up to his feet, waving his arms wildly before declaring: “Very well, Sleipnir, so... so your prose may have gotten you some... amusement, but I think I still won that round.”

There were a few loud grumbles and squawks at this, and the Forest King huffed and glared around the field, gesturing angrily at the animals before Sleipnir said cheerfully: “I agree.”

Everyone went silent, looking dumbly at the earth pony, who only smiled happily as he said kindly: “'Twas more of a personal poem than anything else, and I fear that I may have spoken one or two words wrongly. Nay, I shall concede this first round to thee, Forest King.”

“Yes. Yes, that's good. Because my poem was much better.” the Forest King retorted, huffing loudly before he sniffed and straightened, adding primly: “And it's time for me to get serious, anyway. Serious, with this next poem I wrote, all by myself. It's called the Legendary Hero. The... the Great Legendary Hero.”

Sleipnir smiled encouragingly, and after a moment, the peacock grumbled before his tail fanned out again and he posed dramatically, beginning:

Oh alas! The Forest lays in ruin and danger, and no one can do a thing,
Listen to all the animals crying for help, as this song I sing!

The Forest King halted, then glared pointedly around at the animals, and there were a few weak squawks and barks, and what sounded like a squeaky fart from the bear. The peacock was visibly and understandably less than thrilled with this, but then he turned around and posed dramatically again, continuing in a woeful voice:

Is there no one here who can save us? My beautiful forest hurts!
It needs a real hero to sweep in and save us from these imperts!

Blueblood was pretty sure that making up your own words so you could rhyme was frowned upon with most poetry.

I suppose it's up to me, the great Forest King,
To travel far and wide and find a hero to do the saving!

So I'll travel through my kingdom wise, running near and far,
I'll cross the mighty mountains and the great pits of tar!

I'll leap the rivers and the streams, searching for this savior!
I'll look under every root and rock, for someone who can stop this misbehavior!

The Forest King pranced back and forth, and Sleipnir giggled and clapped, looking like a delighted foal. But he was just about the only one, since the peacock kept nearly tromping on his own subjects and was taking himself far, far too seriously.

I'll fight off evil and beat the bad guys, all to find a clue,
I'll try and find the hero who must exist, even though it's not you or you or you!

The Forest King pointed at several of the larger, fiercer animals, and then he suddenly gasped and grasped his face with both hands: Blueblood was reminded of that famous portrait of a screaming pony for some reason.

Wait a minute! It was me all along, the mighty Forest King!
I beat up all the evils and sent them away scurrying!

But I was so humble that I never dared to think,
I was the hero who all the legends spoke of saving all life from the brink.

But now I know, and so from here on out, I'll be the Heroic Forest King,
Here to save the day from evil, darkness, and everything!

The peacock posed mightily, and was greeted with dead silence. Something coughed, and then Sleipnir cleared his throat before quickly applauding, as the Forest King looked dumbly back and forth.

There were a few other scattered, weak attempts at applause, and the peacock slumped for a moment before suddenly huffing and reaching up to adjust his crown, saying grumpily: “Well, as you can see, I have... I have amazed everyone into silence! That's. That's all.”

Sleipnir simply smiled and nodded kindly a few times, and then he said warmly: “I shall recite a short poem, if thou does not mind. It is in honor of my Father. He was also a king, a great and proud jarl... and while I will be the first to admit that he made his mistakes, I also know best of any stallion that he did all he could to mend his ways, and he died... honorably. He died well.”

The peacock grunted and dropped back in his bear-throne, gesturing moodily, and Sleipnir closed his eyes as the falcon on his head flapped its wings once, then gave a sharp cry, silencing the few noisy birds that were still gossiping. Sleipnir smiled wryly, but after a moment he rose his head and began in a strong, firm voice:

Falcon, thy wings have spread;
Away from the golden mountain thou has flown,
Sailing into the endless sea, beyond her foam and silk:
Headed past Sol's chariot, and beyond the veil,
Yet still thou sings to me; yet still I hear thee sing.

Art thou among the candles of other gods?
Does thou ride my sisters' chariots, or are thee beyond?
Or does Gungnir sleep in Yggdrasil's grasp,
As thou drinks with Mimir, and thy fore-father of old?
And yet still thou sings to me; yet still, I hear thee sing.

Blueblood reached up and silently rubbed a hoof at one eye, and the animals were quiet for a few moments in respect as Sleipnir smiled faintly, looking back and forth with twinkling eyes. Even the Forest King shifted awkwardly, not speaking, not mocking, not even trying to proclaim his victory before a bird hesitantly whistled a cheer.

There was quiet, and the other birds began to sing, and the animals over the ground stomped and applauded. And Sleipnir laughed loudly before he bowed his head with a blush, saying warmly: “'Tis... 'tis nothing! I... all of thee, thou all hast my thanks!”

“I... yes. I suppose it was a fairly nice job you did there. That's all.” mumbled the Forest King finally, and then he cleared his throat before leaping to his feet and shouting over the din of applause: “But this final poem will decide everything! Yes, Sleipnir, I will now bring forth my finest and greatest poem, and...”

The stallion was looking attentively at the peacock, but many of the other animals were ignoring him, some even still applauding and praising Sleipnir in their odd ways. The Forest King twitched a bit at this, and then he threw his arms out, howling: “All of you, shut up!”

The animals all went silent and looked awkwardly towards their master, and the peacock huffed loudly before stomping one foot and saying flatly: “Now. As I was saying. This is my greatest poem. And I'm afraid that after I read it, you will be in such awe of me that you may well just give up!”

“We shall see. Go ahead, tell us thy poem, Forest King. I am eager to hear it.” Sleipnir said kindly, and Blueblood couldn't help but reflect that only Sleipnir could manage to be so honest and gentle without being patronizing.

The Forest King huffed, but then he cleared his throat before gesturing slowly upwards with one hand: but even though he was clearly trying his best, his reedy voice was far too self-serious, his posing too dramatic, and he quickly became less regal and more self-parodying without even realizing it. Blueblood couldn't help but wonder wryly if this was what he had used to look like.

Here, beneath the boughs and birds, there is a sacred place,
A hollow, where sits the Lord of the Forest, resplendent in his glory;
He who rules over all in the forest, treating equal every race:
He, whose duty is to defend and protect the forest's neverending story.

I am the Forest King, and today I will tell you of our history,
How many hundreds of years ago, this place began with a single tree:
A sapling, frail and small, that took root among rock and quarry,
From a seed that had flown wild along the wind, seeking to be free.

But that tree grew against all odds, it became tall and strong:
Its roots broke through the stone, and bared soil to the air;
Its branches caught other strays that the wind had carried along,
And it set them to the earth, where they could stay beneath its care.

And as they tree grew ever higher, and more saplings joined its ranks,
Rock gave away to soil, and grass began to spread:
That is why today to the Father Tree all of us give thanks,
Because without his bravery, this land would still be dead.

Blueblood was surprised. The poem wasn't exactly the greatest in the world, but it could have been much worse, too, all things considered. And even if the Forest King was being a little... gaudy, for lack of a better word, he wasn't doing the worst job in the world, either. His poem might even stand half a chance against Sleipnir's... at least, assuming Sleipnir decided to recite another poem about his penis, or worse.

But then whatever little positives the King had earned was all lost as he suddenly thrust his arms above his head and declared:

“But the forest by itself couldn't get very far all alone,
It needed someone strong to protect it from its foes!
And that is where I come in, I, who sits upon the Forest Throne:
I, the Forest King, protector of all the forest from its woes!”

Yes, I am mighty, my enchantments know no bounds no law,
I stand here, ruling from my place of power, looking after you all.
I am the King of the Forest, by right and decree, for I am without flaw,
And to protect you all, around the Forest, I have made a magic wall.

You all know the tale, how I defeated a hundred thousand monsters,
Evil wretched beasts that wanted to cut down our trees at night,
And then I wove my spells and built a barrier to keep out imponsters,
And keep safe inside all the citizens, as is only right.

Now you know the story of how the Enchanted Forest came to be,
And I hope that you will all celebrate here with me,
The founding of our forest by one single mighty tree,
And it's continued protection by none other than yours truly.

The Forest King rose his head proudly, and there were a few grumbled cheers and a smattering of applause. The peacock growled in frustration at this, gesturing wildly with his hands, and the applause picked up a little... but then immediately died flat again, and the Forest King huffed loudly before saying grouchily: “Well, Sleipnir. I suppose that now it's your turn.”

“Aye, and I shall do my best to honor thee as thou hast honored me.” Sleipnir replied kindly, bowing his head low before he closed his eyes and thought for a moment. He tilted his head back and forth, then looked up and said honestly: “I have not yet completed this poem, so I may stumble along the way. But I would like to recite it all the same for thee, or at least what is finished.”

The Forest King looked strangely relieved, gesturing quickly, while Blueblood frowned over at the earth pony, wondering why he would choose something incomplete to end up. But when Sleipnir gave him a reassuring look, the unicorn sighed a little before shrugging and saying finally: “Good luck, I suppose. Just remember, it's both of our lives on the line here.”

“Fear not. All shall be well.” Sleipnir promised, and then he smiled before looking back and forth and taking a slow breath, facing his audience as he began in a calm, strong voice:

Beneath the twinkling gemstones of the black waters above was born a daughter of the moon,
A falling star who fell into the clutches of beasts, who dared the fangs of foes as her first act.
To her rescue came dawn's sharpest kiss and the thunder-bringing avalanche,
And found a family who had fallen apart, joined together in the tapestry once more.

And after the wolves had chased Sol and Mani for four thousand seasons,
A poet was born, in a nest not his own, unbound and free of the three who watch.
He wandered, restless, until he came to the pearl upon the mountain,
And within the pearl, he found the star of the glorious moon, and stole it away.

Poet and star were joined by the flower of the dusk, and together the three intertwined:
Three warriors of three realms, all firm as gianttooth, but not half so hard of heart,
Bereft only of the goblin's bile, sharp as eagles, standing taller than the mountains;
They would cut the eternal sea in twain were they to raise their heads any higher.

Together, they fought wolves of flesh and wolves of steel, defenders of field and hearth,
And even when the blossom was crushed, the violet all the same rose with strength renewed,
And even when star and poet fell, martyred by a puppet in his ashen, forgotten kingdom,
Still, they returned: still, their spirits stayed strong, and their bonds grew ever stronger.

The worst of storms they weathered more valiantly than any ship,
And the cruelest of dragons they brought low, then humbled with outstretched hoof,
For it was with warm hearts and open eyes they chose to save the world, not cutting axe:
For more potent than any spear is the arrow that flies to the heart with love, not poison.

Sleipnir stopped for a moment and visibly gathered his thoughts, breathing slowly in and out before he looked up with a proud smile, his eyes glimmering with unshed tears as he declared firmly:

Hear this tale, and know their names! Brave Valkyrie true, Luna Brynhild of the Moon!
Hear this tale, and know their strength! Dragon-hearted Poet, Scrivener Blooms of the Rose!
Hear this tale, and know their honor! Pure-souled Battlemaiden, Twilight Sparkle of the Night!
Hear these names, and etch them in thy soul, and learn from them true virtue and sacrifice!”

And may they live on forever, bound but never captured, wild and unbending to all;
May they live on forever, and may they be honored and loved, and their story told to all;
And may they live on forever, where the sword and shield sing only praises, not pains;
May they live on forever, beyond the veil, beyond need, in endless Ithavoll...

Sleipnir took a slow breath, and then he closed his eyes and lowered his head, murmuring quietly: “And that is my poem, and I thank all of thee for listening to this long-winded stallion and his fumbling adulations.”

There was silence for a moment more, and then Blueblood smiled faintly as he began to clap. And only moments later, the animals began to applaud and cheer as well, becoming a growing storm of sound and cawing and stomping.

Sleipnir only smiled warmly and bowed his head, closing his eyes in visible gratitude. And eventually, even the Forest King sighed before clapping a few times, then saying loudly: “That's very good, that's... very nice. I suppose that you... did better than I expected you to. I... excuse me. Excuse me!”

But the animals only continued to cheer happily away, until the Forest King twitched, then leapt up and shouted: “All of you, shut up!”

The animals grumbled down into silence, and the peacock glowered for a few moments back and forth before he crossed his arms and said grouchily: “Well, since I believe we have a tie-”

Immediately, the animals and birds all began to boo and hiss, and the Forest King looked dumbly back and forth as Blueblood gritted his teeth. Sleipnir only looked up curiously, however, unfettered and unafraid.

The Forest King gestured violently for silence, and then he cleared his throat before holding up his hands, saying with all the sincerity of a natural born liar: “I can't help the fact that so many of you adore my poems, even if plenty of you seem to think that Sleipnir has managed to at least raise his head high enough to deserve a second chance. Or fourth chance, rather.”

There were growls and grumbles from the Enchanted Forest's citizens and Blueblood narrowed his eyes before he said sourly: “Not to step on any toes, oh mighty Forest King, but maybe you should just have your citizens vote.”

“No, that's stupid.” the peacock retorted, crossing his arms and huffing. “Because clearly plenty of these silly little beasts are going to vote for Sleipnir just so he doesn't feel bad instead of being objective and voting for the truly better poet here. But let us not forget, you two invaded our kingdom! And as King, it is my duty to deal with you both, however I please!”

There were more growls and boos at this, but the Forest King huffed and rose his arms, his tail fanning out as he declared: “I am the Forest King! My word is law and my law is that the poem battle is over and it was a tie!”

The falcon on Sleipnir's head spread its wings and gave a threatening cry, and the peacock winced away from this as other animals rose in volume and anger. But then the earth pony suddenly rose a hoof, calling out clearly: “Friends! Hear me!”

The animals all fell quiet, a few grumbling away as the Forest King frowned uncertainly over at Sleipnir, but the enormous earth pony only smiled and said kindly: “I am willing to listen to thy King, and what suggestion he has to make to remedy this situation. I still have faith he shall make a good and fair decision.”

The peacock brushed at himself several times, looking placated as Blueblood sighed tiredly and the animals shifted moodily, before the King announced: “As a matter of fact, I do indeed! I... I mean that I have indeed made a decision, and it is that there is no need for another contest because...”

The Forest King halted, looked nervously back and forth, then said in a rush: “Because they are trespassers and they were given the chance to win, and as they did not win, but tied, then I declare the contest invalid and instead they will remain imprisoned here!”

Cries and yells rang up, and the Forest King winced as several birds dove in towards him, swatting wildly at them. A snake twisted forwards, then wrapped itself firmly around one of his legs as the old bear grumbled and yanked itself to its claws to step slowly away, and the peacock squeaked as he tripped over the snake before landing on the hard ground instead of his makeshift seat, grabbing immediately at his rump as his eyes watered.

“Friends, friends! Peace!” Sleipnir cried, and Blueblood looked with surprise at the enormous earth pony before the huge stallion smiled and stepped forwards as the animals slowly settled, the Forest King looking up awkwardly. “The Forest King has made his decree. I will not pretend I am not disappointed by it, but I will certainly do my best to understand it. Know that I do not desire to be his foe, but if he leaves me no other choice, then I shall accept that we must stand on opposite sides of the field here and now.”

The peacock looked uncomfortably down at Sleipnir, then hurriedly climbed to his feet and glared down at him, saying quickly: “Then if that is the case, I order you to submit and bow to me!”

“I cannot do that.” the earth pony said gently, and the peacock looked dumbly down at the enormous stallion before Sleipnir said kindly: “Instead, I must insist that thou allows us to go free from this forest. I have no quarrel with thee, Forest King. Blue and I merely desire to return to Canterlot. 'Tis not so great a thing to ask, is it?”

“Well, no one can leave the Enchanted Forest! Not without my express and explicit permission!” The Forest King glared down at Sleipnir, then stabbed his finger against the stallion's nose, Sleipnir crossing his eyes to peer at this thoughtfully. “And I will not give permission to an invader to take down the barrier, especially when this may all be part of some nefarious plot against the Forest Throne, where you selfish ponies plan on instilling your idea of order over the natural and beautiful chaos of nature that runs rampant through all these-”

Sleipnir's large tongue twisted out of his mouth and wrapped around the peacock's finger, and the Forest King stuttered to a halt, staring disbelievingly at the enormous stallion as the earth pony looked innocently back up at him, his tongue writhing and squeezing around the single digit. And then he suddenly rose his head slightly as he yanked down with his tongue, pulling the finger into his mouth and suckling on it with a smile.

A strange, high pitched whine began to rise in the peacock's throat as he stared down at Sleipnir, eventually reaching a feverish, shrieking pitch before he pounded madly on the stallion's head with his free hand as he tried to yank his finger back, but Sleipnir clung gamely on with his mouth, making a horrible slurping sound and wincing only slightly at every impact.

Finally, the Forest King grabbed Sleipnir's nose, and the stallion wrinkled up his muzzle as he blinked several times before sneezing and spitting out the peacock's finger. The Forest King staggered away, holding his hand up in front of his face with a look of utter horror as it dripped with spittle, and Sleipnir smacked his lips several times before childishly rubbing at his nose with his wrist, saying mildly: “Well, 'tis not the worst taste in the world.”

He paused, then giggled like a foal before looking over at Blueblood and blurting: “I have suckled upon a peacock!”

Blueblood groaned loudly as Sleipnir threw his head back and laughed, and the Forest King glared furiously down at Sleipnir before raising his hand high, a crackle of energies bursting up his arm before he screamed: “Well, why don't you suck on this?”

The Forest King gestured violently down at Sleipnir, green lightning leaping from his hand and bursting over Sleipnir as the enormous earth pony flinched and the falcon hurriedly took flight with a cry of betrayal. Blueblood shouted, but he was helpless to do anything as the Forest King cackled.

Magic danced across Sleipnir's body, sizzling and flashing... and then the stallion blinked dumbly several times as the energy suddenly dissipated, leaving him steaming faintly as Blueblood gritted his teeth and quickly drew his sword, the animals and birds scattering in all directions in fear.

But the Forest King looked unperturbed, crossing his arms and declaring as Sleipnir swayed on his hooves: “I wouldn't do that if I were you... for now this stallion is my servant! Yes, servant, come here! Come and bow before your king, the Forest King!”

The earth pony looked up with a faint frown, and then he strode forwards with a huff. He halted in front of the peacock, who still looked so proud and so sure of himself... and then Sleipnir simply slammed his head forwards into the crotch of the Forest King, and Blueblood winced at the fleshy thud the impact made.

The peacock's eyes bulged as he clutched his crotch, whimpering weakly as his fan of tailfeathers immediately flopped down, and then he slowly, slowly lowered himself to his knees, gasping weakly for breath as he began to turn a pale shade of green beneath his feathers. Sleipnir was only scowling at the Forest King, however, before he said grumpily: “Now that was quite uncalled for! What an act of silly cowardice, bah. Attempting to control my mind... as if there is enough of that left in mine skull for thee to lasso with thy silly magic!”

The Forest King gurgled weakly, then leaned forwards and retched loudly, and Sleipnir winced a bit and stepped backwards, saying awkwardly: “Although perhaps... I was a little extreme in mine own response. I apologize, my blood still boils from our contest, although 'tis no excuse. Art... art thou alright?”

The peacock whimpered as Blueblood slowly approached, moodily keeping his sword at a loose ready position. “I think he deserved it, Sleipnir. There are few better ways to understand you're no better than the lowest peasant than to be punished roundly by one.”

“Oh, shush. Thou art so cruel at times, Blue.” Sleipnir said wryly, smiling slightly over at the unicorn before he returned his eyes to the Forest King, adding gently: “'Twould be most appreciated if thou would point us on our way towards the nearest town. I think 'twould be in the best interests of us all if thou would simply point the way.”

The Forest King whimpered weakly, then looked up and nodded a few times, gasping for breath before slowly, carefully crawling up to his feet. He shivered a little, one hand still covering his groin as he pointed shakily, mumbling: “T-That way.”

Blueblood frowned, and Sleipnir gave a chuckle before saying gently: “I do not wish to cause any offense, my friend, but I fear we will need more than a direction. 'Twould be very easy for thou to send us wandering into the maze again, after all, and I would rather not be forced to waste time searching thee out. Furthermore, I think thy subjects may wish to have an unkind word or two with thou, and 'tis probably in thy best interests to try and keep them happy.”

The Forest King looked slowly over his shoulder to see several rows of animals glaring at him, and he gave a weak giggle before swallowing thickly and turning his eyes lamely back towards Sleipnir. “I uh... yes. I'll guide you out, certainly, that sounds... very good. I'll... I'll even give you directions to the nearest pony settlement!”

Sleipnir smiled warmly, and Blueblood nodded slowly before he calmly sheathed his sword. He still looked suspicious, but the earth pony only slapped his companion on the back and invited: “Now come, there is no need to be so stuffy, Blue! The King has learned his lesson, or at least what little we can teach him on our short passage through his lands. And look at this wondrous place! He takes good care of it, for all his dandyish qualities.”

The Forest King scowled a bit, but didn't really dare to say anything to the earth pony as he finally seemed to regain some of his strength, rubbing at his stomach slowly as he mumbled: “Let's just go. You've caused me more than enough trouble, pony. Oh, this will be a day they'll never let me live down... the day that the Forest King was beaten by a brute.”

“I have not really beaten thee. And thou art escorting me from thy domain, aye?” Sleipnir pointed out positively, smiling up at the peacock. “Therefore thou art driving me out of thy lands, to ensure that I do not cause any more mischief. For I must admit, I oft drove my sister mad with the pranks I would play upon her.”

The Forest King looked thoughtful at this, and then he huffed before crossing his arms and saying grouchily: “Of... of course! That is precisely what's going on! Now... now I demand you to march. Let's leave, both of you!”

Blueblood glared, but Sleipnir simply shrugged amiably before turning around, and the Forest King proudly rose his head and waved to his subjects as he guided the ponies away, calling clearly: “Fear not! Spread word that I have defeated these intruders and am now seeing them out of the kingdom, to make sure they will never, ever return again!”

Sleipnir only shrugged and winked over his shoulder as Blueblood sighed, and the animals watched with mixed entertained and exasperation as the peacock waltzed away with his head high, his arrogance restored. They traded looks and shrugs, and then birds took to the air, and animals scurried for cover, and the bear simply flopped down with a yawn.

It was too bad that their visitors had only stayed for such a short time... but at least they could hope that the strange earth pony and his friend might come back in the future, and spend some more time with the young, self-proclaimed 'Forest King.'

Above, a falcon winged high before seeming to smile as it looked down at the three traveling towards the edge of the Enchanted Forest. It watched with warmth as Sleipnir laughed, lingering for a moment... and then it suddenly twisted in its flight, shooting up into the sky, rising faster and higher than any bird could go...

And then, with a single bright flicker of light, it was simply gone... and far below, Sleipnir smiled as his eyes flicked upwards, as a far-off falcon's cry sang out, and he felt that everything was going to be okay.