• Published 4th Mar 2015
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The Traveling Tutor and the Royal Exam - Georg

A simple test with an unexpected result sends Princess Twilight Sparkle’s life in an unexpected direction, accelerating a high-speed collision course with the young magic tutor she met and fell in love with just over a year ago.

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Chapter 24 - Clock Is Ticking

The Traveling Tutor and the Royal Exam
Clock Is Ticking

Six days before the wedding

Dawn greeted Canterlot a little late with a somewhat unsteady sun wobbling up into the sky, much as if the one doing the lifting was regretting a certain extravagance at the buffet table last night. Even the Royal Presence at Morning Court was substantially muted with both the Princess of the Sun and Moon yawning at inopportune times during several of the more boring petitions for action, and one young stallion who was knighted on the spot when he condensed his thirty-seven page request down to a simple “If Your Highnesses could read this sometime next week and get back to me, I would deeply appreciate it.”

The guest quarters in the Stellar Royal Tower were no whirl of morning activity either. Visitors who could not prove an absolute need for the bearers of the Elements of Harmony by reason of perhaps a loose malevolent monster eating the city were quietly sent away after having their requests recorded by an impassive female Night Guard, who was in full armor and at her post despite the rising of the sun.

Nearly two hours after sunrise, a somewhat mussed green unicorn and a yawning sky-blue pegasus walked into the guest towers and were stopped by Specialist Grace’s rather solidly extended armored hoof and a grim question.

“Did the two of you have a good time last night?”

Running a hoof through his normally immaculate mane to press down quite a few disobedient strands, Papercut nodded cautiously, although Crosswind only giggled.

Grace lowered her eyes and floated out a clipboard, which she flipped through in a calm and calculated fashion. “Very well. Her Highness expressed concern in that regard, and for good reason. It seems there was an outbreak of petty crime last night. Lady Lightningbug reported that a pair of 'nefarious scoundrels' grazed her prize multiflora rosebush to mere nubs.”

“You don’t say,” responded Papercut, trying to ignore the giggling pegasus at his side.

“Correct,” said Grace. “I didn’t. The scoundrels seem to have quite a wide range, because I just received a report from the Las Pegasus Police that a prize water hyacinth grown by one of their upstanding citizens was likewise grazed nearly to the roots the same evening, and witnesses report the color scheme of the suspects matched the police report from our Canterlot criminals.”

“Quite a coincidence,” said Papercut, staggering a little as Crosswind buried her nose in his mane to stifle the increased volume of her giggles.

“Quite.” Grace flipped another page. “In addition, the Royal Post in Las Pegasus had a rather sketchy report of a pair of ponies jumping onto one of their express mail wagons headed for Canterlot early this morning, shouting something on the order of—" she flipped ahead a page and cleared her throat "Floor it, girls. They're gaining on us."

Crosswind lost it, throwing herself over Papercut’s back and laughing until she could not breathe, while the supporter of the sudden weight only grunted, deeply grateful that the undesired exercise program had given him the strength to hold up the healthy young mare.

Floating the clipboard back into her sidesaddle, Grace nodded at the mismatched pair. “I expect your charges to sleep at least another hour this morning, which is plenty of time for you to freshen up before going back to work.” Grace’s horn glowed softly and a small hyacinth leaf floated out of Papercut’s rumpled mane. Disposing of the leaf, she continued, “There are only six more days until the wedding, and I believe my colleagues in the police department would appreciate it if you were to restrict your dining choices to purchased food until then.”

“Thank you, Specialist Grace,” said Papercut, dispatching with the traditional short bow of dismissal out of a suspicion that he would just collapse to the ground with the laughing pegasus on top. “Miss Crosswind and I shall go ‘freshen up’ at once. When we return, we shall even pass through the staff dining area to get properly situated with calories and nutrition for the day. Should we bring you back anything?”

“No, I’m fine,” replied Grace, with a tiny twitch forming at the corner of her lips as if a smile were begging to come out and enjoy the morning. “I just have one question.” She lowered her voice and glanced in both directions. “How were the multiflora roses?”

“Delicious,” giggled Crosswind.

“True,” agreed Papercut. “But far better when shared.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Morning had long since passed by the time Green Grass and his shadow boarded the Royal Guard carriage which was to convey them to the activities of the day. Princess Twilight Sparkle and her shadow were right behind, with a brief kiss (between Twilight and Green Grass, that is) exchanged before they went their separate ways for the day. The cheerful smile that his annoying boss normally wore faded a little as the carriage reached altitude, with the little dips and wobbles that Papercut had grown somewhat inured to over the last few days. The morning schedule had slipped just enough to be too late to drop in on the first appointment, and just a little early to drop in on the second, so the drivers were taking a slow and scenic route, which gave them both a little extra time to look over the schedule. Green Grass seemed distracted this morning, taking his normal morning humorous jabs from Papercut without a response until he took a deep breath and pushed the schedule away.

“Papercut, I have a very important task for you to do today.” With unusual seriousness, Green Grass produced a sealed note and allowed his servant to float it out of his grasp for closer inspection. “Take that note to my father while I’m at my next appointment. Stay with him while he reads it, and then bring the note that he gives you in return back. Tomorrow you will need to take his note to the First Equestrian Bank and withdraw twenty thousand bits in large denomination coins.”

“Twenty thousand—” Papercut’s jaw dropped. “Sir, are you in some sort of trouble?”

“No. Not if you follow my instructions to the letter. Do not speak to anypony about this, not Princess Celestia, not your friends, and certainly not Twilight. Do you understand?”

“No, sir.” The slim green unicorn tucked the note away in his jacket and nodded. “But I shall obey your wishes to the letter.”

“Good.” Green Grass seemed to be chewing on a small knot of something, pausing while working his jaw until he finally blurted out, “Thank you, Papercut. It has been… interesting working with you.”

With one eyebrow raised, Papercut responded, “There are still six days until your nuptials and my emancipation, sir.”

“Well, if this goes wrong…” Green Grass trailed off and swallowed. “Just do what I said, and everything will be just fine.”

~ ~ ~ ~

By the time the day was over and the mismatched Royal Couple vanished behind their respective doors (whatever they did afterwards was their own business, and the connecting door between their suites was never discussed), both appointment secretaries were dragging their hooves as they headed home. Crosswind leaned up against Papercut and lifted her hoof for closer inspection.

“I’m starting to have my doubts about scheduling so many activities for the love birds,” said Crosswind, rotating her ankle and wincing. “Alicorn endurance and all. I think Twilight can walk as fast as I can gallop. My hooves are killing me. How about you, Cut?”

“Yeah,” said Papercut. “Six more days. Five now, I suppose.”

“Hello,” caroled Crosswind, waving a hoof in front of her co-worker’s face. “Equestria to Papercut. You having a low blood sugar fit or something? We could stop off for a quick bite on the way home.”

“That sounds nice,” said Papercut, pulling out the sealed note from his bag and inspecting it.

“Princess Celestia has this amazing Millennial Floribunda out in the Private Royal Gardens that’s supposed to be delicious. We could eat it right down to the roots.”

“I suppose,” said Papercut, tugging gently on the flap of the note and turning it over in his magic.

“And afterwards we could bang ourselves silly in Luna’s bedroom.”

“That sounds… Wha—” Papercut jerked his attention up to where Crosswind was observing him with hooded eyes.

“I thought I was going to have to bite one of your ears off to get your attention,” she muttered. “So what’s in the note that’s so important?”

“Nothing!” He tucked the note away despite Crosswind’s good-natured attempt to nip it out of the air, pausing once he had latched down his sidesaddle. “Did Princess Twilight seem… off today?”

“No, of course not. A little preoccupied, but that’s probably because the Griffon Emperor is arriving tomorrow, and there’s that State dinner tomorrow night.” Crosswind paged through her notes. “Rarity’s having some color matching issues with the bride and groom’s outfits, something about how much easier it would be if she could just borrow the green goober and dunk him in a vat of dye for a few minutes first. Normal pre-wedding jitters, I presume. So what’s going on with the green goofball?”

“I’m not sure.” Papercut frowned and lit up his horn to open his saddlebag, then closed it again very firmly. “I promised not to speak about it, but… You don’t think he could be being blackmailed, do you?”

“Any reason why you’d ask?”

“Twenty thousand of them,” growled Papercut. “I’m not sure what’s going on, but he specifically told me not to spread it around… which means I shouldn’t even be telling you this.”

“Blackmail? Blueblood, I suppose,” said Crosswind.

“It doesn’t fit,” said Papercut with a vicious scowl. “He wants Lord Green Grass dead or otherwise ineligible to wed Princess Twilight. Twenty thousand bits may be a lot of money, but it’s loose change for him and far too trivial a sum to attempt extortion.”

“Well, I’m not going to swap theories with you while standing around on my hooves any more.” Crosswind swatted Papercut on the flank with one wing and made him jerk forward into a brisk walk. “Let’s go pick up some Quilinese take-out and discuss things at your place.”

“That sounds— wait a minute. Quilinese is a little spicy.”

Crosswind responded by gently smacking him with one wingtip along the flank again as they walked. “Thought you were going to object about sneaking me into your place. You know, we could always use Luna’s room while she’s in Night Court this evening. She’s supposed to have a huuuuuge bed.”

Behind them, the two Night Guards guarding the Royal Guestchambers exchanged glances until they were absolutely positive that the mismatched couple was out of earshot.

“You don’t think they were serious about using Her Highness’ bedroom, do you?” asked the first guard.

“I’m not sure,” said the second, raising a hoof to the communication crystal by his ear, “but it’s a good idea to be prepared. I’ll let the inner security ring know to leave the door unlocked tonight and stay out of the way in case they try. Plus we need to have an unofficial discussion with Princess Luna.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Two days before the wedding

“Just think of it, Twilight,” bubbled Rarity as the group strolled through the central Canterlot streets. “Only a few more days until the wedding. Just yesterday it seemed that you were dunking him in the town fountain, and now you’re going to be walking down the aisle with him.” She gave a sideways glance at Rainbow Dash, who was floating along at a lazy glide while bouncing a soccer ball from one wing to another. “I guess there’s hope for everypony.”

“Oh, yes,” said Fluttershy in her normal whisper. “Why, this whole wedding has given me so much confidence that I may just ask…” She trailed off with a faint squeak and a bright blush.

“Now, Flutters,” said Applejack, who seemed to have been determined to be Best Pony To Hide Behind. “You ain’t gotta be ashamed of yer coltfriend, whoever he is. We all can keep a secret, can’t we?”

“Nope,” said Rainbow Dash, bouncing the soccer ball off her left wing and bumping it back up in the air with a rear hoof. “If Fluttershy wants to keep a secret, it would be silly for her to start telling other ponies.”

“Are you nervous, Twilight?” Rarity patted her friend on the shoulder as they and the other element bearers trotted through Canterlot, a small cluster of colorful mares on their way to a meeting that they should have had over a week ago, or even two if a proper number of changes were to be made to the wedding dress and the bridlemaids’ outfits before the wedding. Even Cadence trotted along with them wearing no more clothing than the average Canterlot resident. It made her horn itch for charcoal and a sheet of paper, or even an entire sheaf to fill with sketches of the Crystal Princess done in sparkling gems and shimmering silk.

Not to disparage her best friend, but Twilight simply did not have the same royal magnificence in creamy satin and silk as her older princess/foalhood sitter, despite the wings. Her friend still reminded Rarity just the teensiest bit of an adolescent lilac swan, still filled with pinfeathers and with a considerable amount of growing to do, although the nearly infinitesimal swelling around her waist showed yet another direction her growth was about to take her. Still, if she could not be royally magnificent at her wedding, she could be cute and adorable in a way that would melt the hearts of every pony present, plus the photographs that would run in all of the papers and fashion magazines.

“There’s still two whole days left, Rarity,” scoffed Rainbow Dash, floating along above them like a captive cloud. “I don’t see why we can’t just try the dresses on right before the wedding like last time.”

“I cannot believe you would suggest that, Rainbow Dash,” huffed Rarity. “These things simply take time to do properly. There are so many colors to coordinate between the participants, the flowers, the surroundings—”

Rainbow waved a hoof in dismissal. “So the groom has to wear a suit so he won’t blend into the lawn. Big deal.”

“He is not grass-colored,” insisted Rarity. “He’s about two shades up from Kale or a shade down from Mesclun, in that nasty little notch in the color palette that absolutely nopony wears. All it would take is a teensy bit of dye—”

“No,” stated Twilight most emphatically, totally ignoring her little suggestion as she had the last several times Rarity had made it. “He is what he is.”

“But I had everything all planned before he got his mane and coat cut,” protested Rarity in a familiar refrain to the argument they had several times now. “His undercoat is at least three shades off from his topcoat, and they trimmed his mane so short it can’t even be braided. I mean you can do so many things with extensions, but at his present shade, it would look horrid! You wouldn’t even have to tell him. Just slip a few drops into his bath this evening—”

“And we’d both come out looking greener,” said Twilight.

“I had forgotten that the guest bedrooms have Princess-sized tubs,” said Cadence with a small flick of her wings. “Much more private than going to the Royal Baths, but you just can’t do the backstroke in them. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever shown all of you the castle baths before. Miss Crosswind, is there time in Twily’s schedule for all of us to schedule a group visit sometime in the next few evenings? Without mane dye, that is.”

“I’m afraid not,” said Crosswind, flapping along just slightly behind Rainbow Dash. “It’s crammed full of tea parties, meetings, and the odd flugelhorn recital.”

“We could move one of her tea parties to the baths,” bubbled Pinkie Pie as she bounced along. “Bubble bath and tea go perfectly together, and we could all sit around in the hot tub and get all wrinkly. We could even have bubble tea!”

“I’m not supposed to spend too much time in the hot tub,” blurted out Twilight. “It’s bad for the foal, even though I love it so much. And I’ve been trying to cut down my caffeine consumption without falling asleep at the meetings, but it’s been difficult what with all of the tea served at all of the tea parties even though the hosts have been very good about making non-caffeinated blends available and stock my plate with every kind of healthy and nutritious snack and they all ask about foal names and how I’ve been doing until I swear I could send Crosswind and I’ve missed you girls so much!”

The procession stopped in the middle of the street for an impromptu group hug that even encompassed a few random passers-by until Twilight Sparkle finished blowing her nose and the walking continued.

“Y’only got a week more ‘till you come home after the honeymoon,” said Applejack. “Tell ya what. A bunch of the townsfolk was wonderin’ what we could get you for a wedding present anyhow. What would you say if we all pitched in and got the library one of those big fancy tubs. We could install it while you’re in Canterlot and on your honeymoon to wherever, and have it all ready for your first shower when you get back.”

“There’s not enough space in the library,” said Twilight Sparkle almost immediately, although all of her friends patiently waited until she continued after a few more paces. “Unless you moved the laundry hamper, which I really don’t use anyway, and took out the towel closet, which I don’t think I’ve opened twice since I moved in. You’d have to run a larger line out to the sewer main, but that’s something I’ve been meaning to get done for almost a year so we won’t have to deal with any more clogs.”

“You know if you would clean out the feather filter after your shower, I wouldn’t have to keep dealing with the aftereffects,” scoffed Spike from his perch on Applejack’s back. “You became Princess of Friendship about the time I became Prince of Plumbing.”

“Well it’s settled, then,” said Applejack, reaching for the door to House Chrysanthemum. “We’ll start the ball rolling when we go back home this evening, and by the time Ponyville’s Royal Couple move back into the library—”

The door to the mansion glowed a soft blue and opened to reveal an elderly unicorn servant with impeccable creases in his spotless black suit. His eyes lit up at the sight of Twilight and her friends, and Friday Haystings swept into a short bow.

“Good morning, Your Highnesses. Ladies. Gentledrake. Perfectly on time, as expected. Lady Spring is awaiting your arrival in the Grand Ballroom where the gowns have been placed for your approval. If you will follow me, please.”

The stroll through the mansion was short, as it was a little more of a mansion-ette than a full-fledged monstrosity of the upper-upper classes. Still, it seemed to be quite tidy and organized to Rarity’s expert eye, much as a museum’s display of fine artwork in a well-dusted cabinet would be a completely misleading indication of the life and times of some primitive pony tribe. There were no scribbled artworks from grandfoals or marks on the walls indicating the children’s progress in growing, zero indications of patched plaster where young hooves had trod the walls, or any other clue that five young ponies had grown up here. Green Grass had mentioned that even his youngest sister stayed at the dormitories in Celestia’s school, and now she had a much better idea why.

That was not to say that Baron Chrysanthemum had failed to make a mark upon his home. The wall hangings and decorations had a distinct Griffon Empire taste to them, from the occasional decorative piece of armor to an entire glassed-off wall of wing primary feathers. But try as Rarity might, she could not see any distinct impression of Lady Spring on the house other than the absence of anything that might be tied to her.

The ballroom of House Chrysanthemum was a small but discrete space with enough room for a string quartet and perhaps four couples to dance, but only if they were cautious of each other’s hooves and the mirrors on the wall. Friday explained that in the several centuries that the house had been in the family’s hooves, the room had been remodeled several times, from a weapons salle, to a ballet studio, and now to its present temporary purpose as a Royal Wedding fitting room.

As Lady Spring made her entrance and exchanged small talk with the bride and her fellow princess, Rarity took a few moments to look around the room. The illumination was sufficient, she had to admit, with large windows and modern lighting that could be adjusted to match the shades of the evening. Seriously, if Twilight Sparkle were not her best friend, Rarity would have thrown her hooves up at the impossibility of matching colors for a wedding that would take place between Day and Night, but then again, her name was Twilight. Normally it was stallions who made technically impossible decisions about weddings, and as much as she wanted to blame Green Grass for her difficulties, it had proven to be a masterful challenge to rise above.

There was just one little problem.

“Lady Spring, I can’t help but notice that there are far more gowns here than the selection I sent.” Rarity looked over the wide variety of wedding gowns and matching bridlemaid outfits with a concealed shudder. A full critique of them would have taken simply weeks, but ‘overpaid by the pound of lace’ would be a good summary, as well as ‘flammable.’

Not that Rarity was considering doing away with her rival’s products with fire. A long association with her younger sister as well as a certain romantic young drake had given Rarity considerable respect for the ability of a fashionable outfit to withstand certain environmental dangers, including fire, sprinklers, mud, and peanut butter. However, she did consider subjecting a few of the more extravagant ones to extensive testing, or perhaps allowing her little sister’s friends to launder them afterwards.

“But of course,” said Lady Spring with a thin smile on her narrow face. “There have been so many designers who wanted to be a part of the wedding and who offered their services pro bono that I just could not bring myself to send them all away without allowing Princess Twilight to try on their offerings.”

A quite descriptive word for them. A proper disposal of them would be to incinerate them upon the altar of fashion in order to gain favor from— No, Rarity. Focus.

She could tell Twilight Sparkle was conflicted between her natural instincts about being honest and her social responsibilities. It was fairly obvious, after all, since she had been picking up certain nervous tail-twitch and ear-flicking cues from her impending spouse over the last year. Sending Twilight back to Ponyville until this week had been a masterful stroke by Celestia, allowing her to be among a vast number of friends and companions while undergoing the initial shock of her oncoming motherhood and keeping a certain degree of new bridal nerves at a minimum. And Princess Luna’s scheme to keep Green Grass squarely in the reluctant position of ‘responsible adult’ in Canterlot during the day and ‘panicked prospective partner pamperer’ at night had paid off well for both of them. And for the insurance rates for all of Ponyville.

Still, Twilight was here now, and only needed to keep things together for two more days until the Royal Couple would be whisked away into the night to some romantic honeymoon location like Neighgra Falls or the Haywaiian Islands where they could finally relax.

Who am I kidding? They’ll probably wind up in a library somewhere.

“Twilight, darling,” said Rarity, moving forward to place a hoof on her friend’s trembling shoulders. “I think that’s a positively marvelous idea.”

“You do?” asked Twilight, mirrored by a faint echo in the room as if one or more of their other friends said exactly the same thing.

“Of course! Why, I’m simply dying to see how you’ll look in all of these dresses. Particularly this one.” Rarity gestured to a swept ball of lace and satin strung with seed pearls and tiny flecks of glitter. There had to be a ponyquin under all of that cloth, but for the life of her, she could not see it, or even determine which end was supposed to be the head and the other the tail.

“Well…” Twilight Sparkle hesitated before moving forward and lifting one edge of the dress, perhaps looking for the concrete and steel structure supporting it. “If you say so. I suppose it won’t hurt to just try on a few. We have enough time in the schedule. Do you think Green Grass is going to have any trouble fitting his suit?”

Rarity tried to put on her best and most convincing smile. “If it were a dress, I could have completed it simply weeks ago, but I’ve always had just a teensy problem with getting a stallion’s suit just perfect. Don’t worry, Twilight. Princess Celestia told me that she had arranged for a ‘favor’ from one of her friends in regards to your fiancé’s suit, if I would assist him with a wedding dress that has been giving him fits.” The smile trembled, nearly fading out of view. “Although I cannot think of anypony in Equestria who could do as good a job as myself.”

* *

As he stood in Twilight Velvet’s dining room and tried not to think about how his future wife was dealing with her future mother-in-law, Green Grass remained locked in place to allow the gentle hooves and magic of the fashion stallion to arrange his wedding tuxedo just so, putting a tiny tuck in here and letting out a single stitch there in his endless quest for perfection upon a very imperfect subject. What was worse was that Elusive seemed familiar in some way, although a cutie mark of three umbrellas was not totally unheard of in ponydom. Neither was the creamy white coat and dashing violet mane, but when put together, there was still something… off. Twilight Velvet’s kitchen was playing host to both of his brothers and the rest of the groomstallions, who were probably eating his future mother-in-law’s cookies just as fast as they came off the plate if he remembered Graphite and Regal’s tendencies correctly, so he had time to think while being fitted, but one of the pieces in this mental puzzle had all of the right colors with the wrong bumpy bits.

The fashion stallion certainly had Rarity’s eye for the proper cut and fall of a seam, as well as the same niggling little tendency to glance at his new hat as if he were overjoyed the old one had been replaced as an affront to proper fashion. And the care that Elusive had put into his own mane was astounding, with the burnished glow of many hours spent with a brush and the faint scent of—

Green Grass leaned over and took a quick sniff, straightening back up almost instantly with a knowing smile. “Is there something amusing, sir?” asked the fashion stallion, gently adding a line of pins down a seam with the look of intense concentration he had only ever seen on one mare.

“Oh, nothing,” he replied, taking a shot in the dark. “I was just thinking how much trouble Gardenia must be having with her dress.”

Elusive’s snort nearly caused him to inhale a pin. “Oh, don’t get me started. I just wish she hadn’t gotten a trim and changed her whole color scheme. It’s been terrible, just awful. If only I could get that mare to see reason and add just a teensy bit of dye to her bath, just one or two shades towards Kale or Mesclun, although Kale fits her much better…” The stallion trailed off and gave Green Grass a rather worried look and a nervous smile.

“Are Dusk and Gardenia having their wedding at sunset in your world also?” asked Green Grass, unable to restrain himself in that regard but determined not to even bring up any mention of his counterpart’s maternal status.

There are some things a stallion just doesn’t need to know.

“Yes,” said Elusive, turning back to his pins with a restrained masculine chuckle. “They took over the Royal Lawn too. I swear, you two are determined to make my life difficult wherever or whenever you are. I just wish I knew what I was going to do with her dress. Nothing I do allows the colors to match correctly.”

“I wouldn’t worry,” said Green Grass. “Princess Celestia and Prince… Um…”

“Solaris,” prompted Elusive.

“Right. They’re probably both conspiring to make everything work on both worlds. I think you can expect a little fashionable help on my otherworldly twin shortly.” Green Grass sighed as he shrugged his shoulders in his tuxedo to check for any stiff seams. “I swear, sometimes I just feel like one of her chess pieces.”

* *

In her private study, Princess Celestia paused with her teacup almost to her lips and one eyebrow cocked in surprise. The similarly tall alicorn stallion on the other side of the table looked up, holding a captured chess piece in his magic and with an expression of similar concern.

“I think our charges are talking about us again,” said Celestia, sitting her teacup down with a distinct click and regarding the chessboard with renewed interest.

“It’s for their own good,” said Prince Solaris, sitting the captured rook to one side and picking up his own coffee mug. “Keeps them on their hooves. Checkmate in seven moves.”

“Really,” said Celestia, moving a knight and tapping the chess clock to reset the timer. “Checkmate in six moves. And a wedding in two days. Any more on my hooves and I’ll be able to dance ballet for Swan Lake.”

~ ~ ~ ~

“Hey mom! We’re home!” The tramp of hooves mixed with the scratch of griffon claws through the corridors of House Chrysanthemum as Green Grass and his guest breezed past Friday Haystings. There was a faint flare of Friday’s magic as they passed, and Green Grass’ new hat floated over to the hatrack as the elderly servant swept into a respectful bow.

“Good afternoon, young sir. Your Grace. Your mother is in the Grand Ballroom andisthereanythingyouneed?”

His voice faded into the background as Green Grass kept trotting, calling back over his shoulder, “Thanks, Friday! We’re good.”

“Lord Green Grass, this is most improper,” protested the young Griffon hen trotting alongside, dropping to a slow walk as her escort slowed. “I must communicate my father’s delay to Princess Celestia at once.”

“Which would take you at least two hours after working through the security at the castle, being properly introduced, et al. Not to mention the faux pas of forgetting your luggage. Shocking.” Green Grass clucked his tongue while stopped in front of a door, his face arranging into a much more somber expression.

“<My apologies, young hen,>” he clucked and chirped in cautious Griffon. “<Your father seems to be having some difficulties, and I wanted just one unheard moment to offer him whatever assistance he might require of me.>”

“<You could have bent his ear-tuft yourself earlier,>” she chirped back as quietly as a sparrow. “<What of Princess Evening Dawn?>”

“<My word of honor does not bind her actions,> he carefully replied, picking his way through the Griffon language like a minefield. “<However, all of the Equestrian princesses have generous and caring livers, and will give to the bottom of their craws to any in need.>” Green Grass paused and thought back through his sentence. “Did I get that right?”

“If you wished to pledge your first-hatched into Imperial services, yes, that was quite appropriate,” said Sophia with a sharp nod that bobbed the feathers in her crest. “I will speak with him,” she continued quickly as the sounds of Papercut’s polite pursuit grew. “That does not mean he will listen. I accept your word of honor, Prince By Marriage of Evening Dawn, as will my father. And no, we will not request your first-hatched.”

“That’s a relief,” said Green Grass. “Now, before we go into the ballroom, I would humbly suggest that you don’t say a word about your missing luggage until I prompt you.”

“Why?” asked the young griffon with her head tilted to one side and a distinct frown.

Green Grass grinned in response. “Because that way you’ll get to see the First Wonder of the Fashion World at work.”

* *

Twilight Sparkle was lost. Well, not totally true. She knew she was in House Chrysanthemum's ballroom underneath about the seventh wedding dress she had tried on, but exactly where the rest of the universe was in respect to her position was a complete mystery.

“Spike? Do you see a way out?”

The massive pile of fabric shifted slightly and Spike’s voice filtered through. “I think I see light. Should I come back and get you?”

“No! Save yourself! I’ll survive somehow. I think I have an oat granola bar tucked in my mane for emergencies.” She thrashed around a little in the fabric for effect, hearing her friends muffled chuckles far outside the sea of taffeta and lace she had become marooned inside.

“Young mare,” snapped Lady Spring’s sharp voice, muffled by the expanse of fabric but still far too audible. “Please stop with this nonsense at once. This is a serious event, and—”

“Honey, I’m home!” caroled Green Grass’ voice through the ballroom in a welcome sound that still made her heart feel lighter every time she heard it. “Hi, mom. Where’s the second most beautiful princess in the world?” The snarky comment was topped with a noisy kiss that only made the older mare splutter in frustration even as her husband-to-be continued with, “Oh, and this is Königstochter Sophia of the High Nest, mom. Sophia, this is my mother, Lady Spring.”

“<Your Highness!>” protested Spring in perfect Griffon before switching to Equestrian. “I’m so sorry about the behavior of my son. Please, allow me to apologize.”

“No need, Lady Spring,” replied a second, vaguely familiar voice. “Lord Green Grass has been a most droll companion on my trip to your beautiful home. He informed me that Princess Twilight Sparkle and the Great and Honorable Spike the Brave and Glorious were here, and that I might ask Spike to deliver a message to Princess Celestia for my father.”

“Dear Princess Celestia,” quipped Green Grass. “Dad’s going to be about two hours late. Signed, Princess Sophia of the Griffon Empire.”

“Just a minute,” said Spike as he slowly began working his way towards the edge of the dress in a mobile lump. “I need to get a quill and some paper.”

“Greenie!” By the exasperated sound of his mother’s voice, Lady Spring was about to have a stroke right in the middle of the ballroom. It was time to put a firm hoof down on his tail.

“Oh, Greenie!” called Twilight. “Catch.” With a whoosh of released magic, the heavy mass of cloth and lace vanished in a teleportation spell and reappeared directly above the snarky green stallion, with predictable results.

Now that Twilight Sparkle was out from under her imprisoning dress, she could see Lady Spring standing near a young griffon hen who had the sleek musculature and leonine grace of an athlete, as well as a few freshly-dried patches of perspiration that showed a recent high-speed flight. Genetic indications of Griffon ancestry were fairly obscure to ponies, but it was completely believable that she was really the emperor’s daughter, from her height if nothing else. The only thing missing were the golden eyes of a griffon Royal, but the penetrating green gaze that snapped in her direction when the dress had vanished showed an alert mind behind that athletic body regardless of her low official position in the Griffon Empire due to an accident of eye color.

“Princess Twilight Sparkle, I presume,” said Sophia, stepping forward with an extended claw. “Your fiancé could not stop talking about you, and now I see why.” After the hoofclasp, she looked down and extended the same claw with the same respect to the little dragon at Twilight’s side. “And Spike the Dragon. Your reputation among the Crystal Empire is amazing, Spike. When Princess Twilight and Prince Grass… I mean Prince Green… When Twilight and Greenie come to the High Nest on their honeymoon, I would be honored to be your companion when we visit the Great Wyrm’s lair.”

“We haven’t quite nailed down a honeymoon spot,” said Green Grass from somewhere in the middle of the relocated dress. After a brief thrashing around in a vain attempt to escape his cloth imprisonment, he added, “We’ve just been putting all of the suggestions into a big jar and we’ll have Discord pull one out after the Ponyville Post-Wedding Party.”

“First things first, Greenie,” chided Twilight Sparkle. “Spike, if you would please send a letter to Princess Celestia for our guest.”

“No problem, Twilight,” said Spike with paper and quill ready.

“Lady Spring, I believe I have tried on every dress in the collection except my friend Rarity’s design.” Twilight took a pointed look at the heap of cloth and lace that concealed her future husband, who was still struggling in search of an exit while Papercut stood nearby and called out encouragement. “And even though we seem to have a few extra hours in our schedule, I think it would be advisable to get started. Now.”

Author's Note:

Credit for Gardenia goes to Conner Cogwork’s excellent Alternate Universe fic, On Cross And Arrow.

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