• Published 11th Jun 2012
  • 4,215 Views, 180 Comments

Renaissance Pony - Dafaddah

In the late middle ages, Celestia foresees trouble for humanity and seeks help

  • ...

Born again

Renaissance Pony
Based on the The Conversion Bureau by Blaze

Chapter 1: Born again

The first thing she noticed about the Maestro was his eyes. Bright blue eyes under bushy white eyebrows, full of mirth and warmth. He had a tender expression that spoke of a gentle soul, and yet his glance missed nothing, going hither-thither and alighting but a moment on any one thing in the bright, busy studio. And then he looked into her eyes. She felt a penetrating intelligence instantly taking her measure, seeing more deeply into her than she would have either desired or thought possible. She was relieved when he merely smiled and greeted her.

"A good morning to you, ma donna. I trust your displacement to my studio was a pleasant one?" He gave a small bow from across the studio while speaking, never looking away from her eyes.

She was fascinated with his long fluffy white beard and mane. If ever a human's hair deserved the title 'mane' this one's surely did! Yet for a great master he was certainly dressed in old fashioned clothes, wearing a short tunic and hose. Practical, she had to admit for one who spent his time in a studio full of paints, oils, wood chips and marble dust.

"Indeed it was, Maestro, and such a beautiful morning can but gladden the heart." She bowed in turn, her flowing dress typical of the current Florentine style for a lady of her station. Or so she hoped. She had upon occasion erred in costume or custom, one such mistake leading to pursuit and accusations of witchcraft. She certainly hoped this 'visit' would not be so eventful. Especially after all she had read of the Maestro.

His smile grew broader and he approached, waving to a rather tall bench near the window. "A day blessed with both beauty and excellent light with which to gaze upon it! Please sit here. My assistant Gian will help you take the proper pose, so do not be offended as he may need to move your limbs or position your clothing, at my request of course."

With this introduction a very handsome young man approached, bowed, and offered his hand to assist her in sitting on the bench. She nodded and took his proffered arm, and managed to get seated more or less without incident. A lady sitting down was a simple activity frustratingly fraught with protocol in these clothes and in this society. She hoped the unconventional nature of posing for a portrait gave her some latitude in order to cover any blatant mistakes on her part.

She looked back at the Maestro as Gian busied himself minutely adjusting her pose at his prompting. The Maestro was a very handsome man still, despite his advanced age. Living beyond one's fiftieth year was a rare occurrence amongst these people, but then as one of Italy's greatest masters he had no shortage of patrons and wealth, and the uncommon wit to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Imagine! A vegetarian amongst all these carnivores. How her sister would laugh!

The Maestro had begun sketching in charcoal on large ragged-edged parchment. "Ma donna, you have happy thoughts this day. Pray share them with this old man to brighten his." He was indeed as sharp as the reports from her informants had related. This old painter was not easily played the fool. Best she be as truthful as possible.

"I was thinking of my sister, Maestro, and how she would be perplexed upon hearing that you have disavowed the consumption of victuals." That was safe enough, and had the added virtue of being the unvarnished truth.

"So you have heard the rumors that circulate about me and my studio." Neither his voice nor his smile expressed any bitterness as he sketched. In fact he seemed to be pleased. "And pray tell what else wagging tongues have attributed to this old man."

Aha! A golden opportunity to get right to the quick! "Signore, I have heard tell that you have comprehended the inner workings of all beings of flesh, and have even invented great machines to fly as a bird in the air and swim like a fish in the sea!"

His body seemed to tighten up even as he sketched. Then he visibly came to a decision and relaxed. "As a boy my uncle taught me how all living things have special parts to do important tasks, such as eating, digesting, running and flying. These things are all there, one but has to look. And I have looked, to the great benefit of my art. When I draw your face, ma donna, I know how all the proportions must fit together, because I have studied how the jaw bone connects to the skull, and the skull to the neck, and the neck to the body. In the same way I have looked at countless ears and noses, lips and eyes, cheeks and chins. All have their own geometries and places on the head."

He glanced up at her eyes to read her reaction. Noting the lack of shock or outrage, and her expression of rapt attention, he relaxed even further. "Undoubtedly you have heard more about this, ma donna?"

"Indeed. It's been said that you cut up dead things to look at their insides. Is this how you discerned these proportions?" she asked.

He looked at her with interest anew. She knew that this particular topic had gotten him into trouble afore. "I would fain try to hide such facts from one such as you. Yes, and I have noticed many similarities in the internal constitution of most living beings. Men have much in common with cats, cows, birds and even reptiles. It is as if the same basic plan is the foundation of all creation."

"Yet even if a man, or a bird or a horse should all have common parts, these are all very different from each other. How can you still know them to be the same parts?" she asked.

He looked piercingly at her a moment. "When one looks at these parts closely enough, let us say the leg of a man and that of a horse, one can see how each one is but a transformation of the other, with the same elements in different proportions."

Yes! The rumors had been true. This man might hold the key to understanding and perfecting the transformation of body types. She smiled inwardly at her success. And something of her internal musings must have shown in her expression.

"That was quite a good question. And that is quite a smile, ma donna. You seem wise beyond your years," said the Maestro.

Ouch! She blushed in embarrassment. She had to be more circumspect if she did not want this to end badly. "I am flattered that you might say so, Maestro. And as to the machines that fly?"

He again gave her a probing look and then shrugged. "It is easy to make a small model flying machine. One that can convey a man aloft is a most frustratingly different matter. My success in such things is certainly less than I would have hoped. I suspect I will need to continue trying."

He seemed frustrated. Perhaps this was an opening she could use. She came to a sudden decision.

"It would be a great boon would it not, if one could simply - continue trying - to one's heart's content." She focused all her considerable attention on the old man to gauge his reaction.

His smile faltered for a moment. "I have many projects left unfinished, and I have no desire to leave any of my obligations too long ignored. Perhaps I might consider such pleasurable pursuits when I am older and wiser." He put down the charcoal and wiped the dust from his hands. "As to your portrait, we are finished for the day, ma donna. I have the sketches I need, including that pretty smile of yours." His own smile returned, tinged with a little sadness. "I have truly enjoyed your company this morning," he added with a glint in his eye.

Gian offered her his arm again and she rose from her bench. She curtsied. "I am sure we shall meet again, Maestro."

Leonardo da Vinci looked at this person before him who was most obviously not donna Lisa di Gherardini. "I look forward to our next meeting." He left the studio.

Gian turned and gave her a strange look. Rather roughly, he used the common contraction of her title. "M'onna Lisa, I will lead you back to your coach, please."

Princess Celestia nodded and followed da Vinci's young assistant out of the Maestro's workshop.

It was a beautiful spring morning in the Loire. Celestia's coach pulled up to the main entrance at Château de Cloux. She was met at the door by an attractive young man in his late twenties.

"A good morning to you Count Melzi," said the Princess holding out her hand, which he took and kissed.

"It's so nice to see you again, Princess Celeste. You are as lovely as always." He offered his arm and led her into the Château.

"Still the charmer Count. And tell me, how is the Maestro?" she asked.

"Sadly, the doctors tell me that he is in his last days. I did as you had instructed me as soon as they informed me to make preparations for his passing. I am most curious as to how burning a letter in a fireplace conveys it to its destination. Even the ashes disappeared." He smiled conspiratorially. "There were priests about the entire Château. I wanted to avoid them seeing me send a letter to hell!"

Celestia laughed, a sound like bells ringing. "I can imagine. I had pause to use this method of correspondence out of just such a misunderstanding. But under the circumstances, days, even hours, might matter."

"Nevertheless, You must have been already on the way from Paris in order to be here in less than a day" said the Count.

The Princess ignored his implied question. "Is he lucid, Francesco?" she asked, concern clouding her familiar and ethereally pretty face.

"Yes, but he knows his time is short. I know how he looks forward to your visits." He looked at her with a sly grin. "You are the only young lady to ever capture his heart." His smile faltered. "But I must advise you that he will only be able to say a few words at most. You must not tire him out, Princess. I beg of you." The usually suave counts was now quite uncharacteristically earnest.

"Do not worry, Francesco, I shall be brief. Please give me five minutes without the presence of anyone, and by anyone I mean no living soul, not even the Maestro's chamber attendants."

"You have my word, Princess." The Count open the door to da Vinci's bedchamber and she strode into the dark room. He shut the door behind her.

Celestia looked at the bed with the old man immobile within it. She thought he was asleep, but then she heard a whispered invitation: "Approach, child."

She felt a weight lift from her heart, she was not too late! "Good morning Maestro. I have returned, but it saddens me greatly that your time may be so short. I will be brief. I beg you again to consider my proposal. Join me in my kingdom, as I and my subjects have desperate need of one such as you."

"You flatter an old man who can but offer days of remaining life. The bargain would be a poor one for you." His breath was shallow, as if so many words had taxed his fast dwindling resources.

"And if I could offer you many more years of life, and even of vitality?" replied the Princess.

"What would I do with these years?" asked the ailing artist.

Celestia felt dread that even on death's door, he might still refuse her offer. She would make one last attempt.

"I have foreseen the end of the human race, Maestro, as I have told you before. I have a plan to save it from a dismal fate and bring true happiness to all. But I need two things to make this possible. The first is a less taxing way to transform human bodies to those of my people, the pony folk, so that humans can live in my domain. The second, and much greater task is to make a systematic study of the magic of my realm." She paused and considered. She was not being entirely truthful.

"And Maestro, I must admit to a third and most selfish need." She approached the bed and reached for his skeletal hand. "I have grown fond of our discussions. You have taught me much of how to think, and how to see the world and thinking beings. I still need your guidance, now more than ever."

To her own surprise, she began to shed tears. She had let herself get close to a mortal again, and the extent of the attachment had come upon her unawares, as had happened before.

The limp hand in hers made a weak attempt at a reassuring grip. "This is the first time I have ever seen you weep. Do not weep for me, child. I will ask you one thing. That I might have time to work on my flying machines." His voice was getting weaker with every word.

Celestia was overjoyed. "You will have it, my dear Maestro." She clutched his hand to her lips and kissed it. "Do you then agree to become one of my subjects?"

"I do, dear Princess." She almost could not hear the words, but hear them she did. Instantly the room glowed purple, and the form on the bed changed to that of a pony. There was another flash, and the pony was gone, replaced by another human, freshly dead and made to look like da Vinci.

She went to the door and opened it. When Melzi saw the tears still on her face, he swallowed once, unable to find his voice. She merely nodded. The count rushed in and clutching the hand of the corpse on the bed also began to weep.

Celestia let herself out. The carriage was still at the front door, and the coachman helped her step up into the conveyance. Inside she found a sleeping unicorn stallion with a long flowing white mane and tail, and most rare amongst ponies, a long white beard. He woke as the carriage moved off.

"Have I died and gone to heaven?" he asked, and looked up at her. There was a purple flash and Celestia reverted to her true form.

"No, Maestro. You are very much alive. Although in a new form as one of my subjects. You have much to learn about being a unicorn, and about magic." She considered a moment. "But perhaps we have a simpler task first. Leonardo da Vinci is not a conventional name in my kingdom. Perhaps you should choose a new one. How would you like to be called?"

The unicorn thought for a moment. "I was observing the night sky last summer, and admit that I very much liked to view the milky way spanning the firmament. I find the swirl of stars the most pleasing of sights."

"My sister would definitely agree! Very well then." She looked at da Vinci's ever present flowing white beard. "Starswirl the Bearded it is."

He looked up at her in amusement. "Indeed. Now please tell me about this magic."

Celestia smiled at her new little pony.