• Published 27th Apr 2015
  • 952 Views, 52 Comments

Family - Talon and Thorn

A series of short stories and extended scenes featuring various characters from the Lunaverse all on the general theme of families.

  • ...

The Sweat of her Brow

“Happy Hearth Warming, Carrot Top!” cried Trixie as her friend opened her door.

“Happy Hearth Warming!” replied the farmer frowning slightly, “I didn’t expect to see you until tomorrow’s party.”

“Ah, well I saw the perfect present for you up in Canterlot, but I don’t think it will keep long so I thought I should deliver it now.”

“Oh! Thank you,” Carrot Top looked around, the representative was dressed in her normal performing costume of star covered hat and cloak but she didn’t seem to be carrying any packages. “Where is it?”

Trixie spun around on the spot causing her cape to flare out. “As you can see I have nothing under my cloak, or in my hat.” She levitated the millinery off her head and up ended it. “Oh wait, what’s this?” she gasped in mock surprise as a long thin wrapped parcel appeared from the hat, it kept growing until it was about as long as Trixie with a lump at each end. “Ta da!” declared Trixie.

Carrot Top stomped her hooves in appreciation. “Wow! What is it?” she asked.

“Open it and find out!” enthused Trixie, floating the present over to Carrot Top.

Carefully, Carrot Top started to peal the wrapping off the gift. She would have torn it away but she didn’t want to damage whatever was below. “It’s a... tree,” she said once it was revealed. She supposed it made sense, but it wasn’t the kind of present she would have expected from Trixie.

“It’s a peach tree! You mentioned that you liked peaches when we went to that restaurant last month, and how expensive they were. I saw this and a few others like it at a market up in Canterlot yesterday, and I thought 'well, if Carrot Top likes peaches so much why not get her something that will grow them?' It wasn’t very expensive either... not that that’s important,” she said, quickly backtracking.

Carrot Top blinked. A peach tree! Why did it have to be a peach tree of all things? But Trixie couldn’t know, she was just being nice. She put on her best fake smile. “It’s lovely, thank you.”

“Don’t mention it! After all, you did give me that shampoo to send home to my family. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be up to your ears in peaches before you know it!”

Carrot Top sat slumped in one of her old chairs, staring across the room at the peach tree leaning against the far wall. She and Trixie had chatted for a while before the magician left to carry on spreading Hearth Warming cheer to other ponies.

Why a peach tree? thought Carrot Top. There had never been a peach tree successfully grown at Golden Harvest farm, never! Her grandmother, like her, had always loved the taste of the fury fruit, but there was something about the soil; it was wholesome and nutritious to almost every other type of plant, but peaches, peaches didn’t grow here.

One of her first memories of the farm was her grandmother burning the rotted remains of a peach tree. The old mare hadn’t given up though, it had become something of an obsession for her; year after year she’d tried again and again to grow one. Every spot on the farm, every fertilizer known to pony kind, shade, wet, dry, her grandmother had tried all of them without success. If the original Golden Harvest hadn’t managed to grow a peach tree, how could she? Most of her farming skills came from her grandmother’s books, this tree was no doubt destined for an early grave. Was it even worth planting it? She glanced over at the unfortunate tree, already its few leaves were wilting; if it wasn’t planted soon, and in something larger than the small pot it had been sold in, it would die.

Sighing she got off her seat and trotted over to get a better look at the sapling. It was a young tree, it probably wouldn’t produce much fruit for a year or two at least, even with the benefit of earth pony magic. Still, it looked healthy, it wasn’t a bad length and quite thick, no sign of disease or parasites. It was rather late in the year to plant it according to her grandmother's carefully annotated journals; it should have been in the ground a month, maybe two ago. Carrot Top tutted as she examined it near the root, it seemed to be one continuous plant; most peaches were grafted onto a different rootstock to improve their hardiness, this wasn’t. That would make it so much harder to grow, that was probably why Trixie got it so cheap; still, it shouldn’t be...

No, she thought; she couldn’t be considering planting it, she would merely be delaying the inevitable. She should get rid of it, maybe pass it on to another farmer? Somepony who could grow the thing, Applejack would no doubt be able to produce record crops from it in a few years. That thought caught her, it would just be another example of how much better the Apples were than her, she snorted. Besides she couldn’t just give away Trixie’s thoughtful gift, what if she asked about it?

Carrot Top sighed, she was going to have to plant it now. It was too late to start tonight so first thing tomorrow then. She should check through her Grandmother’s books to make sure she did things correctly. Motivated, Carrot Top spent a moment straightening the sapling before trotting off to get her books.

“Good morning everypony,” cried Carrot Top as she stepped out into her fields. No pony replied, which wasn’t surprising as she was talking to her plants. “We’ve got a new family member starting today.” They might not be very talkative, but when she worked alone it seemed less insane to talk to the vegetation than to just talk to herself. In some strange way she even considered herself as a mother to her plants; she fed and cared for them, helped them grow up strong, just like a mother. Although mothers didn’t eventually tear up and eat their children. Well, not good mothers anyway.

Even in the midst of winter there was some life on Golden Harvest farm. Trees and larger plants slept away the winter, even young carrots could keep through the winter allowing an early harvest, as long as they were prevented from freezing, as the piles of warming straw placed here and there were intended to do.

Carrot Top had spent a good chunk of last night reading up on peaches and her grandmother’s previous attempts to grow them. They actually seemed quite cold resistant; in fact, they needed to be kept cold for a while in order to grow properly. Which was just as well, she thought, glancing at the thin layer of snow on the ground. Still, she would probably need to wrap her new arrival to stop it freezing. Peaches apparently also needed full sun and good ventilation; after a bit of thought she’d decided to put it in the north western corner of her land which should cover those requirements. Although it would be outside her irrigation system, but she could water it by hoof without too much effort.

Shivering slightly in the cold, Carrot Top tightened the straps on her padded saddle, then took her trowel in her mouth ready to start. It didn’t take her long to excavate a hole large enough for the new tree. She packed the bottom with a layer of fertilizer including her own secret ingredient, a few of her own hoof shavings. Her grandmother used to swear by them, it was generally agreed that earth pony magic was expressed in their hooves, and well it couldn’t do any harm. She had heard rumours of some earth ponies in remote areas having their remains shredded after death and being used to fertilize their crops. Although gruesome, it did touch a chord in her; after pouring all your life into helping the plants it did seem fitting that your death would help them as well. Still, that was going a bit far. Her grandmother was buried in Ponyville cemetery alongside her husband; Carrot Top did have to admit the grass there did grow very lusciously but that was probably due to all the care it got from the visitors rather than any property of those interred there.

Shaking herself from her thoughts, she returned to the house and got the sapling. She removed it from its pot and carefully shook off as much of the old soil as she could without damaging the roots before lowering it into the ground and covering it all up with layers of soil and fertilizer. Finally, she carefully circled the tree three times changing direction each time. It was an old superstition about earth pony magic, that such a walk put extra power into the ground to nurture the vegetation. Just a superstition, but still, she knew enough old ponies around here that took the walk around their whole property each morning and evening and their gardens or farms did well.

“There you are Peachy, welcome to Golden Harvest,” she said gently patting the tree, before standing back to admire her work. To her eye the tree look happier already, it was still rather bare but it didn’t look quite as wilted. “Now how about a drink?” She walked over to her watering can and carefully started to empty it about the roots.

She considered for a moment, a watering can will only get you so far. To really nourish a plant you needed rain and the pegasus magic it contained. She thought about her worryingly small weather budget for the season, a few clouds wouldn’t be that expensive would they? She shook herself, she couldn’t really be considering throwing away money on Pea... on this plant, could she? It was going to die anyway, why throw away good money after bad. She glanced up at the tree again and its wilted leaves.

“No, be careful, don’t flood it!” cried Carrot Top rushing forwards to try and block part of the rain falling onto the soil.

“Carrot Top! I know what I’m doing! This is my speciality remember?” said Raindrops carefully massaging the cloud beneath her.

“Sorry, but he’s new, only a foal really,” said Carrot Top fussing at the bottom of the tree.

“A foal? Are you sure you’re not spending too much time alone up here?” asked Raindrops with a raised eyebrow as the last water was wrung from the cloud. “Well, that’s that done. You're lucky we had this still in stock, it’s mostly snow from now on.”

“Thanks for coming up here so quickly, I owe you for this.”

“It’s my job. So you ready for tonight’s party? Done all your Hearth’s Warming shopping?”

“All ready,” said Carrot Top sounding a little distracted, “So that was forty bits then,” she counted out the coins carefully from a distressingly small bag.

“Call it twenty, they were old stock we needed to get rid of anyway.”

“Are you sure?” asked Carrot Top looking up.

“Yeah,” said Raindrops taking the coins. “See you tonight!” she cried as she took off into the sky.

“Bye!” cried Carrot Top to her retreating friend. “That was very nice of her, wasn’t it Peachy? I’ve got some really good friends. Now we better get you wrapped up and out of this cold.” She began to add a layer of fresh straw around the bottom of the sapling and to gently wrap an old burlap sack around its branches.

“And how is everypony today?” asked Carrot Top of her plants. Winter wrap up had just passed and it was time to get down to some serious farming. No more free time for her for a few months at least. Still, she wouldn’t give it up for anything.

She carefully started to uncover her young carrots to see how well they had done over the winter. The pegasus had promised no more frost from here on and she hoped they were true to their word. She sighed as she noticed that one bed of plants had gotten drowned during the thaw, its poor inhabitants were probably rotten mush by now. Still, it could be much worse, it was only one bed.

“And how are you Peachy?” she asked turning to the tree, as expected there wasn’t an answer. She dreaded to see what was under the warming wrap she had put around the tree the month before last. She’d done what she could for it but she feared she’d just been tending to a corpse all this time. The curse of Golden Harvest would claim another poor peach tree; if her grandmother couldn’t grow one, what hope did she have?

She gingerly started to uncover the sapling trying not to look at it. She opened just one eye to peer at the carnage, but to her confusion the tree looked quite good! It had lost a few leaves and those that remained were yellowed, but that seemed to be due to the lack of light rather than any infection; in fact the surviving greenery looked rather succulent. She quickly circled the tree. The trunk was unblemished, the soil was a little dry but that was easy to remedy, her first rain of spring was due the day after tomorrow.

She sat back for a moment ignoring the mud under her, she hadn’t expected this. Could she... could she have broken the curse? Done what her grandmother could not? No, she shook her head. So the plant had survived the winter, now was not the time to celebrate' there was so much else that could go wrong, would go wrong. Still it was hard not to feel a little proud.

“Looks like the two of us will be together for a bit longer Peachy,” she said with a grin.

Carrot Top’s eyes shot open at the sound of the wind slamming against the window shutters. What was going on? No storm was due for weeks! She looked around her bedroom, it was still dark and the wind was howling outside. It must be a storm in from the Everfree; Granny Smith had been muttering something about her hip acting up yesterday that was a good indication of wild weather, well 50/50 anyway. She blinked a few times; the storm seemed to be mostly wind, and it didn’t sound like the rain was very heavy. The house could take it, it had stood through worse over the years. The advantage of mostly grounded plants like carrots was that wind didn’t affect them much, the Apples would have a bigger problem she grinned, then felt bad about grinning. Maybe she’d lose a fence or two but most of her crop should be fine. She crawled back under the nice warm thick covers, she could get back to sleep for a few more hours and check out the damage once the storm had blown itself out; she could probably even offer a hoof to anypony else who needed it then. Her eyes started to drift closed again...

Peachy! Her eyes snapped open again, what about Peachy? She’d had all sort of problems with the peach tree over the last few months, as expected the soil was wrong in some way, and he hadn’t been growing well. She’d put all her, and her grandmother’s knowledge into helping him; she’d tried lime, manure, gravel, everything to try and put things right for him. He was a tough little tree and he’d managed to limp through so far. She thought she might have figured things out with the latest mix, but it was still touch and go. He’d just started growing a lush crop of leaves and a few new branches, this wind could destroy all of those! It could even uproot him! She struggled to her hooves shivering in the cold and the sound of the wind whipping past, then paused. Maybe this was for the best? Maybe a quick death at the hands of the elements would be cleaner, more honourable, than a slow poisoning as she kept tinkering with the soil?

No! She stamped a hoof on the wooden flooring, no! She was not going to give up on him, he’d managed to fight through all her treatments so far, she was not going to give up on him now! She rushed down through the house, pausing only to throw on her rain cape and boots before pushing the door open. The wind caught her almost straight away trying to throw her back into the house. Struggling, she staggered out into the grounds and heard the door slam behind her. It was worse than it seemed from the inside; the wind whipped her mane into her eyes, and the ‘not very heavy’ rain would have made it hard to see even if it hadn’t. Squinting, she looked around for Peachy. There he was, still clinging to the ground but bending at a dangerous looking angle in the wind. He was still intact, most of his leaves remained as well.

Pausing for a moment, she considered what to do; she’d need rope to tie him down with to stop him snapping, then some sort of windbreak to protect him? It would need to be tough to stand up to this weather. With a plan in mind she pushed her way to her small storage shed which seemed to be surviving the storm so far and gathered the tools and equipment she thought she’d need.

Gritting her eyes against the wind she staggered over towards the sapling. “Don’t worry Peachy, Momma’s here!” she snarled, and then blushed, very glad there was no one else around to hear her. Quickly, she stomped several pegs into the ground and used them to tie off some ropes to hold Peachy's trunk steady. Satisfied, she turned to the next part of her job just as a further gust hit her, reaching icy fingers under the cloak and tearing the garment from her back. She spun and tried to catch it with her teeth but it was already gone, flying high into the sky. She shivered as the rain started to soak into her coat. “So you want to play it that way, eh!” she screamed at the sky shaking a hoof, “Fine then! But I’m not letting you win, you’re not getting Peachy!”

Gritting her teeth and working like a mare possessed, she slammed more pegs into the ground and using all her strength drove wooden posts into the soil as deeply as she could. Finally she started to spread a thick tarpaulin between them, angled to deflect, rather than resist, the force of the wind. She was just about to place the last section when a strong gust ripped the material from her grip and sent her sprawling into the mud. Worse, from behind her she heard a shocking crack of overstressed wood.

For a moment she screwed up her eyes not wanting to see the damage, wanting to pretend everything was fine, then she steeled herself and looked. It could have been worse, just. Peachy’s trunk remained intact, for the moment, but his largest branch hung at an awkward angle held on only by a thick strip of bark. She took a step forwards to investigate further when she was jostled by a further gust. She would have to finish the windbreak first or any further work could be for vain.

Quickly she threw herself back into her work dragging out and securing the last section of tarpaulin. The wind howled its impotent fury, but her work held, for the moment. In the area of calm she had created she finally took a breath and realised she was shaking, the cold and wet and shock were catching up on her. Why was she trying so hard for this one little tree? It would at best make a hooful of peaches in several years’ time, probably not even enough to sell. Why was she even trying?

Because she wanted to prove to herself that she could! Because she wanted to be able to do something her Grandmother couldn’t, as heretical as the idea seemed, because she wanted to prove to herself she wasn’t going to be a quitter, and because her friend had gotten her that tree!

Taking a deep breath she staggered to her hooves and plodded over to the injured tree. It was worse than it had seemed at first glance, the branch had torn away a large chunk of the wood splitting the tree to its heart. In better conditions she might try to secure the damaged section and prop up the branch hoping the tree would heal by itself, but this was not better conditions. If the windbreak failed the branch would be torn off and the tree ripped in half unless something drastic was done. There was no other option, she would have to amputate the branch, cut it as high as she dared and cover the injured section with tar to keep out any rot, even so she didn’t rate the tree’s chances. It seemed so unfair, she’d tried so hard! She wanted to stamp the ground, to shout at the storm again, but she knew neither would help, so instead she reached down and took her saw in her mouth.

She blinked the water from her eyes as she positioned the tool on the injured limb. “I’m sorry Peachy,” she mumbled as she started her gruesome work.

“Who’s a handsome tree then?” asked Carrot Top, “Look how strong your branches are! Why, they’re thicker than my hoof! You’re such a big guy aren't you?” She paused, was she really flirting with a tree? Maybe it had been too long since she last had a stallion in her life, she should accept one of Cheerilee’s offers to go ‘prowling’ down at Berry’s one of these days. Still, everything she had said was true.

It was almost a year since the storm and Peachy was growing great. She’d finally figured out how to deal with the soil problem, although it was hard work keeping the conditions right. Peachy was probably going to remain an only child, she wouldn’t have time to care for any more Peach trees. Still, it certainly seemed to be working. No longer was Peachy a sapling, he was on his way to becoming a full grown tree. The scar from the lost branch was still visible on his side but the rest of his foliage was starting to burst forth, buds were even forming. If she was lucky she might even get some fruit this year. With a smile she leaned forwards to water his roots, then she frowned, the lower leaves seemed rather yellowed and wilted. Dropping her watering can she started to examine the leaves in more detail, there were several small semi-circular holes at the tips of the youngest leaves. Something was making a meal from Peachy!

Quickly, she moved from leaf to leaf; most of the newer leaves seemed to be affected and some of the buds as well. She couldn’t see anything actively eating now, it was too early for caterpillars and the marks were wrong. What could be doing this? She paced backwards and forwards for a minute. Maybe this was some sort of judgment for her hubris, for thinking she could grow peaches, that she could in a few years do something that had foxed her grandmother for half her life? No, no, she could do this, she was a good farmer! Maybe there was something in her grandmother’s notes about this? No, she’d read them all, and few of the trees the older mare had grown had ever made it this far. If she was going to find a solution she would need another source of information.

She patted the tree on its trunk. “Don’t worry Peachy, Mamma’s going to go into town and make everything better.”

“Good morning Carrot Top,” said Twilight Sparkle brightly, “I don’t often see you at the library.”

“Yeah, sorry, I don’t have much free time on my hooves,” admitted Carrot Top.

“A common problem around here,” said the librarian a little sharply. “Anyway,” she continued with a smile, “How can I help you?”

“Um, do you have any books on farming?”

“Oh lots, I don’t understand why but half of the books here when I started were about crop management. I’ve had to work quite hard to diversify the collection, we didn’t even have many of the classics you know...”

Carrot Top’s natural reaction told her to just sit quietly and wait for Twilight to finish her rant before interrupting, but time might be of the essence. “Peach trees,” she said.


“I’m looking for a book on growing peach trees, particularly what might eat them.”

“Well I’m partial to them myself,” giggled Twilight before noticing Carrot Top’s expression, “Sorry, let me have a look.” She led Carrot Top through the stacks and began to pull out a few books with her aura. “This one’s on fruit trees in general, this one about garden pests...”

With a sigh Carrot Top dropped the large pile onto a desk and cracked open the first one, this could take a while.

Carrot Top blinked her tired eyes. It had taken most of the day but she thought she’d solved the mystery. She also know a lot more about Peach trees than she used to, maybe she should visit the library more often, it seemed her grandmother’s books weren’t the only source of information available to her. Apparently it was earwigs eating Peachy; they started early in the year and caused the semi-circular bite marks she’d seen. They were mostly nocturnal so she wouldn’t see them feasting on the young tree. Now she only needed to think of a way to deal with them. The books had a few suggestions, but most seemed too expensive for her farm.

She glanced into the growing gloom outside. She better leave soon, heavy rain was due all night. She watched as Raindrops shoved a large mass of clouds into place.

That was it!

“I’ve talked to the earwigs, Miss Toppington,” said Snails, “And they say they’ll keep away from your tree as long as you put out some scraps for them every day.” He glanced back and forth a little nervously and lowered his voice. “If they do come back try smearing a little grease on the trunk, they don’t like that.”

“Thanks Snails,” said Carrot Top dropping a few coins into his hoof, that colt certainly had a bright future ahead of him in pest control. She watched as the happy foal trotted off towards town, and probably a rendezvous with Bon Bon’s place. “Right Peachy,” she said turning to the tree, “That should be that dealt with, you should start feeling better soon.” She grinned as she saw a fat honey bee buzzing towards one of the small flowers that had burst open on the trees branches over the last few days.

“Is this for me?” asked Carrot Top, “Oh you shouldn’t have!” The gift in question was one of the first fruits from Peachy. Although not overly laden, the young tree had produced roughly half a dozen peaches this year. Maybe they were a little small, but to Carrot Top’s eyes they were just perfect. She reached up and hardly needed to touch it before it fell into her hoof; she slowly turned the pinkie fruit looking for any sign of rot or infestation, but no, the fruit seemed intact and unharmed.

She let out a sigh, almost two years' hard work all for this fruit. For the longest time she hadn’t thought she could do it, that she was doomed to fail, but she had never given up. She had thought that because her grandmother couldn’t do it she couldn’t, but she had learnt an important lesson: she wasn’t her grandmother. She still loved the old mare, and knew she still had much to learn from her, but she didn’t have to spend her whole life following in her hoofsteps, she had it within her to exceed her ancestor’s accomplishments. She was her own mare. She closed her eyes and imagined the kindly old mare’s smile, she was sure she would have been proud.

Opening her eyes again she glanced around at her leafy family, lit by the late afternoon sun, all grown by her own hard work, by the sweat of her brow. It might not be the most productive of farms but it was her’s, like it had been her grandmothers, like it would, hopefully, be her own foals’ one of these days.

She turned back to Peachy and examined the other fruit, maybe another few days and they’d be ready and she could expect even more next year. She might even have to pick off some of his blossom to stop him breaking under the weight of his own fertility, but that would be next year’s problem. In the meantime a fruit salad, she thought, add some apple, carrot, grape and she could share it with her friends, Trixie probably deserved a whole peach to herself for getting her Peachy in the first place, maybe Snails too.

However, the first fruit was hers. She lifted the peach to her muzzle and sniffed enjoying the smell. Perfect.

She opened her mouth and bit into the succulent fruit.

It tasted sweet.

Author's Note:

I think this might be my favourite story of the collection, it's a rather strange look at family and came from the idea of Carrot Top talking to her plants and grew into this mini epic of a mare and her tree. I think Peachy could do with his own spin off series, maybe we could even petition for his own character tab on the site? :pinkiecrazy:

Thanks to Rainbow Double Dash and Grass and Clouds 2 for their suggestions on this story and to docontra for editing.

Comments are always welcome.