• Published 31st Oct 2011
  • 1,393 Views, 14 Comments

Patchwork - Kegisak



Caramel runs away from Sweet Apple Acres, and finds a small village hidden in the woods.

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Chapter 1

Patchwork

Pt.1

Life is like patchwork. Tiny moments, barely connected...

It was a quote that Caramel had heard once. He couldn’t remember where he heard it, and he thought there might be more to it, but right now, as he readied himself for yet another verbal lashing, it seemed appropriate. Moment to moment, with no real connection.

“DAG-GUMMNIT CARAMEL, AGAIN?” Applejack shouted. Carmel simply looked down. Applejack fumed, starting and stopping to speak several times before she managed to calm down enough to continue. “Caramel, that’s the third time this month! This equipment is expensive, you can’t keep doing this!”

“I’m sorry...” Caramel mumbled, not looking up. Applejack sputtered again, very clearly trying not to explode at the young earth pony.

“Ah know you’re sorry,” she said pointedly, “But sorry ain’t gonna pay for a new plow, now is it? Y’gotta pay attention when yer working, boy!” Caramel shuffled his hooves. “Well?” Applejack demanded.

“Well, what?” Caramel asked sharply, looking up at her, “What do you want me to say? I already said I’m sorry, what else can I do?”

“You can do yer’ darn job, is what you can do!” Applejack shouted. She looked immediately regretful, as the colt hung his head in shame.

“Look,” she said patiently, “Ah get that you can’t always work as hard as Big Macintosh ‘n me. Ah kin’ handle yer wanderin’ off when y’finish yer chores. Ah can even forgive that thing in the barn - “

“I wish you’d stop bringing that up...” Caramel cut in. Applejack continued.

“But when Ah ask y’t’do something, Ah want y’t’do it. Y’gotta focus, okay?”

“I’m trying to!” Caramel insisted, “I am! I’m sorry, I just...” Applejack rubbed her eyes.

“Look... there ain’t much we can do right now, okay? Ah’m gonna head into town, see if there ain’t somepony who can fix a plow. You just rest up, be ready to work again, okay? Real work, no head in the clouds.”

“Yeah,” Caramel sighed, “Okay.” He turned away as Applejack stomped off, muttering to herself, and slunk to Sweet Apple Acres’ barn. He didn’t even really mean to, he just happened to wander there without thinking. Even when he was inside the barn he still didn’t pay much attention to where he was going - weaving in between the gossiping cows, and returning their greetings half-heartedly. He eventually found himself at a familiar place - a small stall, full of matted hay. There were comfortable memories there - even if some of them were a constant source of embarrassment. He lay down on the hay, folding his legs beneath him and staring off into space. After a while, he heard footsteps behind him.

“You’re back already, Applejack?” He asked, without turning around. It wasn’t Applejack who replied, but a deep, calm voice.

“‘Fraid not,” the voice said. Caramel turned to see Big Macintosh, who sat down beside him.

“You’ll have to deal with me, for a while,” the red stallion said. Caramel shrugged.

“That’s alright,” he said. “At least I’m not gonna screw that up, right?”

“I suppose not,” Big Mac nodded, “Odd thing t’say, though. It ain’t like you mess up that much.”

“Don’t I?” The yellow colt asked sullenly, “Then what am I doing in here, instead of plowing the field like I’m supposed to be? I busted up the plow - again. That sounds like a mess up to me.”

“Everypony makes mistakes - “

“Yeah, but they don’t make them three times in one month!” Caramel snorted. “I’m in here because I messed up. Heck, I’m in Ponyville because I messed up!” Big Mac sighed.

“That ain’t true, Caramel, an’ you know it,” he said. Caramel turned away and grumbled under his breath, drawing another sigh from Big Mac.

“Look,” the stallion said, “Yer’ folks didn’t send you here ‘cause you messed up. They sent you here ‘cause they were worried ‘bout you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Caramel grumbled, “‘Cause I never fit in back home. They thought maybe good ol’ Applejack could help me fit in... I’ve heard it all before, Big Mac.”

“Then you know that they wanted what was best fer you,” the big pony reasoned, but Caramel just snorted.

“They though she could teach me to farm better,” he said, “well, so much for that. I’m as much of a mess up here as I was there.” He flopped onto his side, facing away from Big Mac, and stewed silently. Big Mac stayed silent as well, for a while.

“Caramel,” he said finally, “you listen t’me. You might not be true kinfolk, but me, Applejack, Granny Smith and Apple Bloom - we all care for you just the same.” Caramel looked over his shoulder at the quiet pony, his sullen expression softening as Big Mac continued, “You’re apple clan, Caramel, and we want our clan t’be happy. And if y’can’t focus when yer workin’, then y’ain’t happy, y’ask me. What’s wrong, buddy?”

Caramel stared over his shoulder at the stallion for a moment, before rolling back onto his front. “I dunno,” he sighed, laying his head on his hooves. “I work fine after the harvest - I mean, candied apples, right? I like making those. But in the summer and spring I just... I dunno. I just start slacking off. I guess maybe the seasons just make me wanna goof off?”
“Ah don’t think that’s it,” Big Mac pressed, “Ah’ve seen y’work when y’wanna. Y’don’t slack off.”

“Well, what else could it be?”

“You tell me,” Big Mac shrugged, “you’d know better than Ah would.” Caramel frowned.

“I dunno,” he said, “I mean, maybe I just am a mess up? Maybe I’m just no good at farming?” He ruffled his mane, and moaned, “But I’m Apple Clan! How can I not be cut out for farming? It’s what we do!”

“Ah don’t know.” Big Mac said, “I really don’t. But listen, Caramel. It ain’t doin’ anyone any good for you t’keep goin’ on like this. You take a few days off, alright?”

“But-”

“No buts,” the red stallion silenced him, “You get some time t’yerself, y’hear? Y’just need some time t’think. I’ll cover fer you. Okay?”

“Yeah...” Caramel said slowly, “Okay.”

“Good,” Big Mac declared, standing up, “Feel better, okay Caramel?”

“Yeah,” he said, giving a weak smile, “Thanks, Big Mac.” The big red pony smiled back.

“Eeyup,” he said, “Anytime.”

Big Mac left, leaving Caramel on his own. The yellow colt lay in the barn on his own for a while, listening idly to the chatty cows, who were talking about “Apple Bloom and her friends’ exploits with the pigs, the silly dears”. Eventually, though, he stood up and walked for the large double doors. He wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do, but it sure didn’t involve farms, not today.

The sky had begun to cloud over when he poked his head out into the late afternoon air. It was early springtime, and even the most diligent of weather teams could only hold back the storms for so long. This one would have to be let through, he had overheard Rainbow Dash telling Applejack, and it was going to be a doozy. Not the sort of night to be outside, but Caramel couldn’t handle being cooped up in the farmhouse tonight.

“I can probably find somewhere in town,” he said to himself, “to wait out the storm tonight, at least.” Setting the thought in his head, he headed for Ponyville. It was quiet in the small town; most ponies had already packed up and headed inside for the day, out of the threat of the storm. The shops and restaurants were closing, shutting their doors to ponies like Caramel, but he knew one place that would still be open. It wasn’t a place he went often; Caramel wasn’t much of a drinker, nor was he one for dancing and socializing. But, the club on the edge of town was still a good a place as any. He flashed his ID for the bouncer who stood at the door, and headed inside.

The club was almost dead. It was the middle of the week, after all; most ponies would have things to do the next morning, and didn’t have all night to while away at a club. Still, the DJ on the stage played away furiously. Caramel tried to ignore the head-crushing music, and made his way across the sparse club to the bar. As he sat down, the bartender came over to greet him, saying something that Caramel couldn’t make out over the din of the music.

“WHAT?” He tried to ask, but this too was drowned out by the music. The Bartender appeared to sigh, and mulled in front of Caramel until the song ended. When it finally did, the pounding beat replaced by something much softer, and he spoke up again.

“What can I get you?” He asked.

“Um... I don’t really drink much,” Caramel admitted, “Can you recommend something cheap, that tastes good?”

“Cheap and good?” The Bartender repeated, “I can do that.” He walked to the shelf behind him, selecting a bottle full of a crystal clear drink. He poured a glass of it for Carmel, and set the bottle down on the counter. “Give it a shot,” he said, “Tell me what you think.”

Caramel sipped at the drink carefully. The sting of alcohol was strong, but there was a fruity taste to it as well.

“... Raspberries?” Caramel asked. The bartender laughed, and nodded.

“That’s right,” he said, “It’s called Himbeergeist. How do you like it?”

“It’s good,” Caramel said, “Thanks.”

“Don’t worry about it,” the bartender waved a hoof at him, “It’s my job. Speaking of, I don’t think I’ve seen you around before - you new in town?”

“No... well, I mean I’ve been here for a few years. But I’ve never really come here. I’m not really one for... this sort of thing.”

“Oh no?” The bartender asked. He looked up and down the bar, and seeing that there were no more customers, took a seat across from the yellow colt. “So what brings you here tonight then, huh?”

“Eh...” Caramel shrugged, “I dunno. I just needed to get away from work. I mean, Big Mac told me to take some time off, and I guess here was open, so...”

“Big Macintosh? You work on Sweet Apple Acres?”

“Yeah. My family is sorta, honorary Apple Clan. From a little place, up north. They sent me out here ‘cause...” Caramel trailed off, and took a deep drink from his glass.

“‘Cause?” The bartender prompted. He nudged the bottle, offering another glass to Caramel, who nodded.

“Cause they thought I might ‘fit in’ better out here,” he said, as the bartender poured him another glass. “They just wanted me out from under hoof, though.”

“That doesn’t sound like something your folks ‘ought to be thinking. You sure that’s it?”

“Not much else it could be,” Caramel sulked, “I kept messing up when I tried to help out on the farm, so they sent me out here.” He drained the glass again, and added, “And now I keep messing up out here! Can I have another?”

“Go easy, mate, this is strong stuff.” The bartender said, pouring another glass. “Maybe they just wanted you to get out a bit, see the world? There’re worse things for a young colt to do.”

“Then why just send me to another farm?”

“Hey, I don’t know your folks.”

Caramel sighed, and sipped at his drink. “Not like it makes a difference,” he said, “I’m just doing the same filler work I always was.”

“What do you mean, filler work?” The bartender asked, giving him a puzzled expression.

“Everypony in the Apple Clan has a specialty, right?” Caramel explained, leaning to show the candied apples emblazoned on his flank, “And mine is caramel apples. I can only make them in the fall, though, and it’s not like I can just sit around doing nothing all year. So I work the farm, like everypony else.” He gulped his drink, and added, “Problem is, unlike everypony else, I can’t seem to do anything but mess up when I try and help out.”

“Well, maybe you’re just not cut out for farm work, then?”

“You aren’t the first one to say that,” Caramel snorted, “But how can an Apple Clan pony not be cut out for farming? I mean, what am I supposed to do if I can’t farm? It’s all we’ve ever done!” He downed the rest of his drink, and beckoned the bartender to pour him another.

“Slow down there, colt,” the bartender said, “You said you don’t drink much, I’m not sure you can handle much more of this.” Caramel rolled his eyes.

“It hasn’t done anything yet, has it? Don’t worry, I know my limit.” The bartender shook his head, but poured another glass anyways.

***

Alcohol is an interesting thing. It can lead to some pretty awful decisions, but a lot of things do that. The funny thing about alcohol is that, like a bad decision, it can take a while before it catches up to you. And it can be very, very unpleasant when it does.

Caramel moaned into his hooves at the bar. His head felt like someone had stuffed it full of cotton, and was trying to shove more and more in, until his brain threatened to explode. He took another drink, just because he couldn’t think of anything else to do. He groaned again, and the bartender came back.

“Okay, that was a mistake,” he said, retrieving the half-emptied bottle.

“I’ll say,” Caramel grumbled.

“Well, don’t blame me. I hope you’ve learned something from this.”

“Yeah,” Caramel said, “Yeah, I think I’ve learned something.” He fumbled around, looking for some bits to pay with, but the bartender just waved him off.

“I know how to get a hold of you,” he said, “You probably couldn’t pay right now, even if you did have enough bits on you. Which I doubt. Go home, get some sleep.” Caramel mumbled something resembling a thanks to the bartender, and shuffled his way out of the club. The storm that raged while Caramel was inside had abated by now, leaving behind only a miserably cloudy sky and a soaked earth that squelched and leaked with every hoofstep. Caramel made his way for home, plodding miserably along, shifting from left to right and muttering to himself.

“No work tomorrow. Ground’s too wet. Applejack’ll still probably get mad at me anyways.” He grumbled, “She’ll be mad I left early. I’ll bet she didn’t even listen to Big Mac. Like usual. I’ll bet she’ll still be mad about the plow, looking for ways to take it out on me.” He stumbled off the main path, stepping into a muddy ditch and sliding off to the side, face-planting into the muck. He spat out a mouthful of dirt, and swore at the earth.

“I’ll bet Applejack blames me for this too,” he grumbled, “It’ll be my fault we can’t work tomorrow. Oh, yeah, Caramel screwed up again, ground’s to muddy to work. All his fault.” He grimaced, mocking the orange mare’s drawl for nopony in particular. “Gal-durnit, Car’mel, y’done screwed up good this time. Yer supposed ter sow d’seeds, not d’water!” He blew a lock of dirty hair out of his eyes, and snorted. “Like I could even get that far,” he said, “I’d have to be able to work without screwing up for five seconds to do all this.” He stood up and continued to make his way back to the farm, muttering all the while to himself, and becoming more and more angry as he did so.

“I learned something. Yeah, I learned my lesson alright. I’m no farmer. I was stupid to think I ever could be. Big Mac was right, I didn’t get sent here to get me out from underhoof, I got sent here so I could embarrass somepony else’s family.” He scowled into the dark before him, picking up his pace. “Well buck that,” he said, “They want to get rid of me, well, fine. I’m not cut out for this crap anyways, no sense in me sticking around and just screwing everything up for everypony else. I’m done with this crap.”

He stormed his way back to Sweet Apple Acres, and made his way for the farmhouse. Despite everything, he was quiet as he slipped inside. The house was dark, and he didn’t want to wake Granny Smith or Apple Bloom - or worse, Applejack. He didn’t need to get another earful tonight. He’d pack his things and leave, without a fuss. They’d probably never even miss him, he thought. They’d just notice that things suddenly got a lot easier. He snuck into the small room that he had lived in for the past couple of years, and gathered what little possession he had - a picture of his family, a few books, and a couple of the sweets that he had made last fall. Putting his meager effects into his saddlebags, he snuck back out of the little house. He sat on the front porch for a few minutes, wondering what he would do. He wouldn’t go back to Ponyville; there was hardly any point to that. The Everfree forest was to the north, so he couldn’t go that way, unless he wanted to take the long, long road around it. Manehatten was to the south, and he had never been to a city before, so he didn’t want to go there. Then it occurred to him - there was a small trail leading out the back of Sweet Apple Acres, to the east. He had never seen anypony take it, but Granny Smith had told him that travelers and traders used to take it all the time. Making up his mind, he set off for the little road, pausing only to take one last look at the place he had called home for almost three years now. A brief tremor of nostalgia passed through him, but he fought it down, glaring at the house.

“Buck this,” he grumbled, turning away. “Buck this place. Buck apples. Buck farming. I’m done.” He set off, finding the tiny road easily, even in the dark. It lead him out of the farm quickly, and out into the countryside. It started to taper downwards, trailing out of Ponyville’s mountain plateau. The decline was shallow at first, but it started to get steep quickly. By the time he looked back, after an hour of walking, he couldn’t even see the apple trees anymore. “Good riddance,” he growled, and pressed on. The open road soon started to close in, as sheer cliffs rose on either side of the path. The road was leading him back into the mountains, winding its way down. Caramel guessed through a fuzzy head that they would eventually lead to the foothills of the world he called home. It might have been the drink, but he didn’t think he had ever seen a horizon without those familiar peaks. The idea scared him a little bit, but he didn’t turn back. The road was turning treacherous now, with loose pebbles that slipped underneath Caramel’s unsteady feet. He tried to take the path slowly, but he could barely walk straight as it was, and it was a challenge just to stay upright. He took a wrong step, his hoof sliding out beneath him and sending him crashing to the hard ground. He swore again, and picked himself up.

“This isn’t working,” he said to himself, “I need to stop for the night.” He had been walking for hours, and even if he could walk the night was catching up to him. He needed sleep, and some place to rest. He looked around, searching for any place that might offer him a place to rest for the night, but all that he saw were those same sheer cliffs that had been there all the while. He looked farther up, hoping that there might be a ledge, or a cave. But as his eyes drifted higher and higher, all that he saw was the sky - the dark, evil sky. The storm had followed him from Ponyville, and the clouds hung low and heavy, creaking from the water they carried.

A single raindrop fell onto Caramel’s nose.

Another fell after it.

Two more.

“Oh, no,” Caramel moaned, “Oh, please, Celestia no...” But Celestia wasn’t listening. She, like any sensible pony, was tucked inside for the night. Caramel, silly, drunk Caramel, was not a sensible pony. He was out, in the open, as the rain came down.

Within moments, it was pouring. It was as if there were a hundred pegasi right above Caramel, pouring buckets and buckets of rain down on top of him. He searched desperately for somewhere to hide from the downpour, but to no avail. He ran down the mountain path, hoping that he might find a cave, or an overhang, or anything that could hide him from the storm. Nothing came, though, and as he ran the claustrophobic walls started to bend, and curve. He ran on, oblivious to the fact that they were beginning to widen out. He stumbled and tipped over the loosed rocks, falling into the ground more than once.

“Oh please, oh please,” he begged as the rain pelted down on him, stinging his skin, “Please, I’ll take anything...” Suddenly, the walls fell away on one side, revealing a drop into a forest below. The open air saw wind added to the storm, pushing and pulling the poor colt as he tried to run. He pressed himself against the wall that was left, trying to stay as far away from the ledge as he could. The road was winding dangerously now; even if it wasn’t storming he would have had to take it slowly. His hoof caught a loose piece of shale. It slid away from him, sending him to his knees. The wind caught him as he tried to stand, throwing him off balance. He stumbled away from the rock wall, dangerously close the edge.

“Oh Celestia, oh, oh Celestia, help me!” He wailed helplessly.

He missed his footing.

He lost his balance.

He tumbled over the cliff.

***

The next thing Caramel could understand were the lights swimming behind his eyes. And how much they hurt.

“Oooaw...” He moaned. He lifted a hoof to rub his head, but a sliver of pain rocketed through his side. His whole body was numb, but life was slowly returning to it, bringing with it a dull, throbbing ache all over. “Oh, Celestia,” he moaned again. He cracked an eye open, and shut it tight again as the light cut in straight to his throbbing brain. He just lay where he was, trying not to move and invite another wave of pain. Wherever he was. He could tell that he was in a bed, but not much else.

“Are you awake, or have you finally just decided to die?” An unfamiliar voice asked him. It was soft and sweet, and didn’t hurt too much to hear. Caramel tried to respond to it.

“I’m awake...”

“Awake ponies usually have their eyes open,” the voice said.

“Can’t,” Caramel replied, “It’s too bright.”

“Should’ve guessed. Here, I’ll turn them down for you.” Caramel could see the lights dimming through his eyelids, and peeked one eye open again. It didn’t sting, so he opened the other as well. Everything was blurry, but his eyes slowly came into focus, and he saw a pale purple unicorn with a deep blue mane standing over him.

“Better?” She asked. Caramel nodded slowly. “Good,” she said, and shone a bright light into his right eye.

“Aaaauugh!” Caramel screamed. His hoof flew to his eye, sending another shot of pain through his body. His back arched, and he started to shake before the unicorn put both her front hooves on his chest and shoved him flat against the bed.

“Hold Still!” She shouted, “Don’t be such a baby!” Caramel felt her magic restrict him, and she pulled open his eyes with her hooves, shining the light in one first, and then the other. The lights bored into Caramels brain, but she held his mouth shut as well, only letting him whimper softly.

“There,” she said, letting him go, “Was that so bad?”

“Oh, Celestia, my eyes...” Caramel moaned. The mare sighed.

“I’m not sure whether to be surprised or not,” she said, as she walked over to a desk across for the bed where Caramel lay, “One one hoof, you’re hung over. Bad. On the other, for the amount of alcohol you had in you, you should almost still be drunk.” She levitated a quill and began to write something, and Caramel looked back into his memories of the previous night. He remembered drinking, that much was certain. Everything after that was blurry. The mare set her quill back down, and turned to face Caramel.

“You’re a very lucky pony, either way,” she said, “How do you feel? Aside from the eyes?”

“Not very lucky,” he admitted, “Everything hurts - especially my side.”

“Left side?”

“Yeah, left side.”

“I can’t imagine you would feel lucky. You took quite a spill - do you even remember any of it?” Caramel shook his head.

“Only bits... I remember a road, I think. And a storm.” He concentrated, but nothing else came to him. “Sorry,” he said.

“It’s a wonder you can remember that much. Do you want to know how much alcohol I found in your system?”

“Um?” Caramel asked. The unicorn turned back to her desk, and picked up a sheet of paper.

“0.2,” she told him. He gave her a puzzled look from the bed, and she set the paper down. “Loss of motor controls, loss of reason, slurred speech - another drink and you probably wouldn’t have been able to stand up. Honestly, it probably worked to your benefit. The only road around here is the mountain path. As far as I can tell, you fell off a cliff - I found you curled into a little ball clutching this,” she pulled a small, broken branch out from under her desk. “You probably managed to stay awake long enough to try and save yourself. If you hadn't bounced off that tree, you’d be dead by now. As it is, you managed to get away with a few cracked ribs on your left side, and you tore your right shoulder muscle. No brain trauma, save for what all the alcohol did to you.”

“That’s... good?” Caramel said slowly. The unicorn mare walked over to him again, and bit the skin on his leg. “Ow!” He shouted, “What - “

“Sorry. I’m checking to see how hung over you are. You probably just need some water. I’ll go get you a glass.” She left the small room, and returned a short while later with a bucket full of water. She ladled it into a cup, and held it over Caramel. “Open up,” she said.

“I think I can drink on my own,” Caramel objected, but he was silenced by the mare.

“Every time you move, you shift the ribs and move the muscle. You could drink by yourself, but you aren’t going to. You’re going to open up.” Caramel gave up, and did as he was told. The mare poured the water into his mouth. It tasted clean and fresh, and it was wonderfully cool.

“There,” she said, “see? The less you fight, the sooner you’ll be up and about again.”

“Alright, alright,” Caramel said. “Who are you, anyways?”

“Powder,” she introduced herself, starting to write again, “How about you? What’s your name?”

“Caramel,” He answered. Silence fell over the room, save for the scratching of Powder’s quill on her papers. Caramel tried to look around the room, but shifting too much made his ribs object - not to mention the looks that Powder shot him if she ever heard him moving. After a while, he asked, “So... where is this?”

“This is my office,” Powder said sarcastically, “I’m the doctor.” She stopped, and rubbed her eyes. “Right. Sorry. You aren’t from here. We don’t really see a lot of visitors here. Welcome to Brumby.”

“Never heard of it,” Caramel said. Powder shrugged.

“Seems fair,” she said, “I’ve never heard of where you’re from.”

“How do you know where I’m from?”

“I don’t. But if it isn’t Brumby, I’ve never heard of it.”

“... Seriously?” Caramel asked, “what about Equestria?”

“Brumby’s in Equestria, so I’ve heard of that,” Powder rolled her eyes, “But I couldn’t tell you the capital, or any of the towns.”

“Don’t travelers ever come through?”

“You’re the first one I’ve ever seen.”

“Then how do you get supplies? Food, and books and stuff.”

“We make all our own food,” Powder told him, “And the books get handed down to the people who need them. Everybody here has a job to do, and we all do it. Like it or not.” Caramel thought he sensed a bit of bitterness in her voice. He looked over at her, and noticed something - her flank was blank.

“You don’t have a cutie mark,” he said.

“A what?” she asked, “Wait - hold that thought.” She walked out of the room and returned with a very, very old and worn looking book. She set it on the table and opened it with her magic, flipping through it and muttering to herself. “C... CS... CT... CU... Cutie Marks! I knew I’d heard it before. Small mark on both ones flanks, denoting... oh. That.” She closed the book, and pushed it away from her. She picked up her quill and began to write again.

“What is it?” Caramel asked.

“A small mark that appears on both flanks when a pony discovers what they want to do with their life, denoting their chosen purpose in life through personalized symbolism - two ponies can follow the same path, but develop completely separate cutie marks due to different thought on the subject. It seems to be magical in nature, rather than biological, as some foals have been documented to change cutie marks, though it’s nearly unheard of in older ponies. It - “

“I know what a cutie mark is,” Caramel interrupted her, “I mean, why don’t you have one? And why did you have to look it up?”

“I have a lot of medical books. I can’t know about everything, so I only look things up when I have to, and I’ve never had to look up cutie marks.”

“But... why didn’t you know about them to begin with? And that doesn’t explain why you don’t have one.” Powder sighed, and rubbed her eyes.

“I was the smallest, so I was the doctor. Those are the rules,” she said, “I don’t make the rules. You get a cutie mark when you decided what you want to do with your life. When you find your purpose.” She scowled, and turned back to her work. “We don’t get to decide what we want to do with our lives here. We get a job. And we do it. Like it or not.” Caramel just stared at her.

“You mean...nopony has a cutie mark here?” He asked. Powder sighed, and closed the book she had been writing in.

“I have to go,” she told him, “The blacksmith’s apprentice has burnt his hoof again, and I need to check up on the plough team, to make sure they aren’t getting fatigued. Try and go back to sleep - if you move as little as possible, you’ll be able to get out there and move in a couple of days.” She walked to the door, but stopped and turned back to him. “You’re lucky to be alive, Caramel. I know you’re hurt pretty bad, but if you try to be stubborn I’m going to put you in that bed for even longer. Got it?”

“Yeah...” Caramel said, intimidated by the small doctor’s intensity, “Got it.”

“Good,” Powder nodded, “I’ll be back to check on you tonight.”

***

Caramel had tried unsuccessfully to fall asleep as the day went by. The bed was stiff and uncomfortable, but whenever he tried to shift into a better position pain stabbed at his side. So he lay, completely still, an ache in his lower back slowly joining the pile. He had a vague idea of how much time had passed, but it didn’t help him to predict when Powder was coming back, because between the dimmed lights and lack of windows, he had no idea what time of day it was. He sighed to himself, and let his head flop onto its side towards the door. He heard a small squeak when he did so - it sounded like a filly. Puzzled, he spoke to the apparently empty room.

“Hello?” He asked, “Is there somepony there?” His answer came in the form of a little yellow head, with a white mane, that peeked its head around the door. It stared at him without speaking for a while, darting back whenever Caramel stirred, but always returning.

“Hey,” Caramel said to the head after a while, “Who are you?” The head peeked further out, far enough that Caramel could tell it was a filly, and it looked like she was about to speak when a clattering came from another room.The filly looked at the source of the noise behind the door, and darted away without a sound. The clattering, meanwhile, continued, and formed into the steady beat of stomping hooves, coming closer and closer to the room. The door swung open, revealing a none-too-pleased looking Powder.

“Caramel.” She demanded, causing the colt to flinch, “whatever you were drinking last night. Do you still have any?”

“Uh-um,” Caramel stammered, “N-no... it was from a bar. Sorry?”

“Urgh...” Powder grumbled, “Nevermind. I’ll just have to suffer through sobriety. I need to finish my notes anyways.”

“What’s the matter?”

“The Blacksmith’s apprentice,” Powder said, rubbing her eyes, “His hoof was barely singed - I swear, that oaf plays up every little thing just to try and see me. He makes passes at me every time I go near him.” She sighed again, but shook her head weakly. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Sore,” Caramel said, “Well, I guess that isn’t new...”

“Sore is still sore,” Powder said, “Is it the same sore? Ribs and shoulder? New sore?”

“Old sore, but my backs a bit stiff,” Caramel said shyly. Powder simply nodded.

“Figured as much. Not much we can do about that, though. That mattress is probably older than me. I’ll see if I can get a new one made, it was about time anyways.” She approached the bed, and Caramel felt her magic take hold of him once more. “Alright,” she told him, “I need to take a look at your back - we’re going to take this slow, okay?”

“Okay?” Caramel said. His upper body started to tilt, moving away from the hard mattress. He moved slow enough that his ribs weren’t disturbed, but as soon as pressure was taken off his shoulder a sharp pain rocked through it.

“Ah, Celestia!” He winced, “Stop, stop, stop!”

“Don’t be a baby,” Powder told him, “It’s going to hurt one way or another, and I need to check it.” She continued to push him up until he was in a sitting position. The pain in his back faded a bit. It still hurt, but it was tolerable. Powder lifted her hoof, and gave him another warning. “I’m going to check the muscle. It’s going to hurt, but it’ll help me see if you’ve strained it at all.” She gently touched his back - she hadn’t lied when she said it would hurt. Pain shot through him with every prod, but Caramel tried his best to stay still for her. She made a humming noise, marking that she was finished.

“You haven’t managed to make it any worse,” she noted, “Another couple of nights and you’ll be able to start putting pressure on it. I can probably get you walking with a sling tomorrow - this bed isn’t doing you any favours.” She put her hoof on Caramel’s back again, away from the injured shoulder this time.

“You’re a good patient,” she told him. “Where’s your back sore?”

“The, um, lower middle,” Caramel told her. “Why?” Powder started to rub his back gently, without answering. Caramel grunted as his spine popped once or twice, but the rubbing felt good.

“That’s nice,” he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a doctor do that...”

“I don’t know if it’s really medicine,” she answered, “I had to learn as much as I could, though. There isn’t anybody else in town who can.”

“So, what happens if you get sick then?”

“I don’t,” Powder said matter-of-factly, “I can’t afford to. How’s the back?”

“Much better, thanks.”

“Good,” she said, “You stay sitting here for a minute. I’m going to get some bandages and a splint. We’re going to get those ribs set tonight, so they don’t shift around while you sleep.” She left the room, leaving Caramel sitting on the bed. His eyes drifted down, to the three little apples on his flank, poking out from beneath the blanket. Those three little apples that had bothered him so much last night, and now, if Powder was right, they were the only ones in the whole village.

“Celestia,” he said to himself, “I feel like such a...”

“Such a what?” Powder asked, coming back into the room carrying a roll of bandages and a short plank.

“Nothing,” Caramel shook his head, “Never mind.”

“Suit yourself,” Powder said, “But it’s not like you’re going to get much of a chance to talk to anyone else for a while.”

“I thought you said I would be able to go out tomorrow?”

“You will,” she told him, pressing the plank against his side. Caramel winced, but Powder rolled her eyes, and proceeded to wrap the bandages around it, “For exercise. There won’t be anyone to talk to during the day, and you’ll be right back here at night. I still need to be able to keep an eye on you.”

“Why won’t I be able to talk to anyone during the day?” Caramel asked, letting Powder lift his front legs up as she worked.

“Because,” she said, “We...” She sighed, and tied off the bandages now wrapped about Caramel’s trunk. “Look, I had a long day, okay? I don’t really... like, making house calls. I’ll explain it tomorrow. Just get some sleep, it’s late. And try not to move too much during the night, if you can manage it.”

“Yeah,” Caramel said, “Okay.” The purple pony seemed to grow more and more weary as every second went by, and it was clear Caramel wasn’t going to get anything more out of her tonight. He decided it was for the best - he was still too sore and tired to really take in anything she could tell him anyways. He lay back with her help, and bid her goodnight as she put out the lantern on her desk.

“Goodnight, Powder.”

“...Goodnight, Caramel.”