• Published 25th Apr 2016
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For the Good of Equestria - brokenimage321



In the wake of a great tragedy, Celestia tells, for the first time, just how much she's had to sacrifice for the good of Equestria.

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Chapter 1: Dramatis Personae

Some are born great,
Some achieve greatness,
and some have greatness thrust upon them.

-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 5


The morning of the funeral, it rained.

Silver Lining stood hitched to the carriage, waiting. He stood tall and slim, his slate-gray coat matching the clouds above. He wore a thin, clear raincoat over his black suit and matching cap—the uniform of Their Highnesses’ chauffeurs. This morning, he’d taken care to ensure that his suit was sharply pressed and wings were carefully preened—as he did every morning—but he’d even taken the time to polish the brass buttons on his jacket. Today was important.

Silver Lining looked up into the clouds. The raincoat offered precious little protection against the wet, but it could have been worse; they could be flying today, rather than walking. And the cooler weather would make the job a little easier, too. Not to mention he was eager to try out that friction-dampening charm he’d slipped Corky a twenty for.

Despite the rain—despite the day—he found himself smiling.

Without warning, someone kicked him. He yelped, then turned to stare at Whirligig, next to him in the harness. “What was that for?” he whined.

“Shut up, Sill,” she hissed. “And wipe that stupid grin off your face. She’s coming.”

He turned to glance up the palace steps. “I happen to quite like my grin, thank you,” he whispered. “I think it’s—”

And suddenly, he fell silent, and the grin melted away of its own accord.

Down the stairway came a small troop of ponies—palace guards in shining armor, attendants holding out umbrellas—even Princess Luna, subdued, treading the steps carefully. But that wasn’t what made him stop.

What made him stop was Princess Celestia.

She wore a black dress and matching wide-brimmed hat, pulled low. She walked slowly down the stairs—not with of the deliberate grace of a princess, but with the fumbling steps of a child. She walked with her head down, her wings just barely slack, her tail low. Sill wasn’t very good at reading ponies, but if he were to put a word to it, she looked… broken.

Sill straightened up as the entourage approached the carriage. He nodded greetings to Princess Luna as she stepped inside, and, as Celestia began to board, he cleared his throat.

“Highness,” he said, carefully.

She glanced at him from under her hat—and her expression sent a chill down his spine.

Sill remained rooted to the ground until Whirligig nudged him. “Si-i-ill,” she groaned.

Sill shook himself, then glanced at her. “We’re ready?” he sighed.

“We’re ready.”

Sill nodded, and started pulling.

They walked in silence for a minute or two, before Sill cleared his throat. “Did you see her?” he whispered.

Whirligig scoffed. “Of course I saw her,” she said. “Be hard not to.”

“No,” he said. “I mean—did you see her?”

Whirligig paused. “I didn’t,” she said. “But, you know…”

“I know,” he replied, turning to look at her. “But… I didn’t think…”

Whirligig shot him a look.

“I know, I know…” he murmured, looking forward once more. “Keep your eyes on the road.”

She nodded. “We’ll have plenty of time to chat once we’ve gotten to the cemetery.”

* * *

Corkscrew—“Corky,” to his friends—fidgeted. He stood behind his table, filled with glass bottles, wearing a sharp-pressed shirt and dark vest, with a green tie contrasting nicely with his white coat. His vest was a little tight over the belly, but he, at least, stood by the old adage—never trust a skinny cook. Or, in this case, barkeep.

He sighed, then looked down and, with a glow of magic from his horn, rearranged the bottles for the fourth time. He didn’t like just standing around like this—but, then again, most ponies weren’t exactly in the mood for a drink at the moment.

He glanced around the reception. The assembled ponies were quiet, subdued—understandable, given the circumstances. True, it was a little unusual for the Palace to be catering a funeral, but, from what he had gathered, the deceased was a close friend of someone important. Maybe even the Princesses. He’d heard murmurs of financial trouble too—mounting medical bills, and on a teacher’s salary, no less—and, well, it was the least they could do to help give her a proper send-off.

On the surface of it, this event was similar to the many others Corky had worked: punch and cookies on the tables, the older ponies standing around in small groups chatting, a few of them alone or in couples, crying—and, of course, the foals and grand-foals running around making nuisances of themselves. But a weight hung over this crowd: he could see it in their faces, hear it in their voices. It seemed they had all known this day was coming—but they were still stunned that it had actually arrived.

As Corky watched, a mare broke off from her group and started walking towards his little table. Corky straightened up and flashed a subdued smile. “Afternoon, ma’am,” he said, his voice cool and professional. “What can I get for you?”

The mare sighed heavily. Her dark dress was somewhat plain—functional, almost—but it complimented her orange coat nicely. Her blonde mane, shot through with silver, had been pulled up into a simple bun. She didn’t look like she had been crying, but she did look tired—as if this was not the first time this week she had lain awake through the night.

“Whaddaya have?” she asked, the exhaustion in her voice audible, even through her accent.

“We have a very good selection today,” he said, launching into his practiced spiel. His horn glowed, and a number of bottles lifted themselves up. ”Some excellent Bour-doe and Sauterne from Prance; a rose from Ponyville itself—1247, excellent vintage—a zinfandel from Rainbow Falls..."

She sighed heavily. “Pardon, but Ah’m not in the mood for wine,” she said. “Do ya have any hard cider?”

Corky blinked. “Yes, we do, actually,” he said, setting the bottles back down. “By the request of the family, in fact.” He began to search through the bottles, pushing them aside one by one.

“By the request…?” she repeated. She sighed, and a little smile crossed her face. “Just like her…”

Corky looked up. “Sorry? Didn’t catch that.”

The mare hesitated, then shook her head. “Nevermind.”

Corky nodded and turned back to his search. “Ah!” he said, suddenly. “Here we are...” He levitated a silver can up from behind the bottles. “Buckwild Apple Cider,” he said, showing her the label.

She reflexively made a face. “Thanks,” she said, “but Ah’m not a Buckwild mare myself. Would ya have anything else?”

Corky glanced at the can and made a face as well. “Wise choice,” he said, setting it down. He thought for a moment, bit his lip, then glanced around conspiratorially. “If it’s cider you want,” he whispered, “I happen to have something in my personal reserve you might find interesting…” His horn glowed yet again, and a dark bottle levitated from under the table. “Old Appleoosa Select. Hoof-crafted in small batches, aged in oak casks—”

“Sounds good,” she cut in. “I’ll take it.”

“Very good, ma’am,” Corky said with a smile. He popped the cap with a little spark from his horn, poured the bottle into a glass, then pushed it towards her. “You have excellent tastes,” he added, with a note of slight admiration.

“No,” she said, taking the glass, “Ah just know my apples.” She took a long drink, then set it back down.

Corky watched her for a moment, then swallowed. “My condolences,” he said, quietly, bowing his head.

The mare glanced at him, then looked away. After a moment, she sighed. “Sugarcube,” she said quietly, “You don’t know the half of it.”

Corky nodded, then, after a little pause, lifted the bottle and topped off her glass. She gave him a grateful look, then took another sip.

“Ma?”

Corky and the mare turned. A slim, red stallion, wearing a sharp black suit, stood off to one side. “Sorry ta interrupt,” he said quietly, “But we got a train ta catch here in a minute, and Lil’ Jonah wanted ta say bye ta his Momma Jackie ‘fore we go.”

The mare smiled a little. “Tell him I’ll be there in a minute,” she said.

“Okay, Ma,” the stallion nodded, then stepped away.

The mare watched him go, then turned back to Corky with a sigh. “…how much do I owe you?” she asked.

Corky hesitated. “No charge,” he lied.

The mare looked up at him again. She studied him for a moment before her expression softened. “You know what?” she said, “You’re decent.”

She turned to dig in the small purse she carried, and surfaced with a couple coins. She dropped them in the tip jar, then turned and left, almost missing Corky’s murmured “Thanks.”

Corky picked up the bottle and dropped it in the wastebasket. He really should have charged her; he’d actually been saving that bottle for himself, and Old Appleoosa wasn’t exactly cheap. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it; these ponies were hurting, and, if he could do something to make their lives a little easier—even if it was just a little glass of wine to help ease the hurt—then, that was good enough for him.

Plus, his manager would kill him if she knew he was serving off-menu drinks.

Corky straightened the bottles a little, then looked up, scanning the crowd for any more potential customers. He was on his second sweep of the room when the crowd parted a little—and, suddenly, he froze.

There, sitting motionless in a folding chair in the far corner, was Princess Celestia.

She sat, hunched over, staring at the floor. On the chair to her right sat her black hat, abandoned, and, on the left, an untouched slice of cake. Though she was, indeed, the Princess of the Sun, a gloom seemed to hang about her—and, though many uneasy glances went her way, none dared actually approach.

Corky swallowed. He realized suddenly that this was the closest he had ever been to the Princess. And, if he was honest with himself, this was the closest he ever wanted to get. But...

He glanced down at the bottles around him. He, for one, was quite proud of the wonders a little drink could do—his pudge was more than enough witness of that.

But even he had to admit that a glass of wine wouldn’t be enough to help Her Highness this time.

* * *

Posie was polishing the face of the grandfather clock just off the main foyer when the clock itself struck three. She yelped, glared at the clock, then began polishing harder. Her own face stared back at her in the reflection of the glass—her coat cream, her mane brown, her housekeeper’s dress back and her apron white. Cleaning the clocks was her least-favorite chore: she stood just a little too short to do it comfortably, and had to stand on tip-toe on the top rung of the stepladder to reach all the little nooks and crannies.

She gritted her teeth. Only three more months of this, she thought, and she was off to Fillydelphia Technical College.

To be fair, the job hadn’t been all bad, but, despite all those things she wrote in first grade, she didn’t want to grow up to do what her mom and dad had done. There was nothing wrong with housekeeping, of course—the pay was alright, and the work wasn’t hard, though the hours were long—but, pardon the cliche, she was meant for something better. Mom had thought she was crazy for wanting to leave the Palace, but Posie could feel herself slowly losing her mind every day she stayed.

Though, she had to admit—there were certain benefits to working so close to the Princesses…

At that moment, the front doors opened. Posie glanced over, yelped again, and scrambled down from the stepladder she was using. She had been working here for close to four years—and she still hadn’t quite got used to seeing them.

Princess Luna was first in the door, but she stopped just over the threshold. She hesitated, then turned, looked back, and watched her sister uneasily.

Princess Celestia stepped inside with her head bowed, her eyes half-shut and unseeing, her step slow and mechanical. She stood easily twice as tall as Posie herself, but today, she seemed somehow smaller, almost as if she had collapsed in on herself. She hadn’t aged a day since Posie had first seen her—but, for the first time since Posie had started coming to the palace, all those years ago with her parents, Princess Celestia looked old.

“That was a nice service,” Princess Luna offered hesitantly. “And it was good to see our old Ponyville friends again, wasn’t it?”

Princess Celestia closed her eyes and made a small, noncommittal noise.

Princess Luna bit her lip. “...Maybe we could invite her family over,” she suggested. “I mean, they’re probably still in town, and—”

“No,” Princess Celestia said, her voice trembling. “Just… no. I’m… I’m going to…”

And, with that, she walked down the hall. Posie bowed as she passed, barely daring to glance up at her. After a moment, Posie looked up again; Princess Celestia had already disappeared around the corner, and Princess Luna stared down the hallway where she had gone, her expression anxious and uneasy.

Posie turned to follow her gaze. As she did, she felt something stir within her. Ever since she was a little filly, her folks had told her about working at the Palace—and about how wonderful it was to work with the Princesses. And, ever since then, she had wanted to work at the Palace, too. Of course, it had turned out to be far from the bed of roses she had imagined—hence the whole college thing—but seeing the Princesses, even as often as she did, still took her breath away. Of course, they were the Princesses—they deserved some respect by nature of their positions, at the very least—but for her, it was more than that. For her, it was a sense of awe. Admiration. Maybe even a little love.

And now, for the first time—empathy.

Posie glanced up at the clock, then down the hall, and back up at the clock. She was being stupid, she knew—she couldn’t just walk away from her responsibilities. Not to mention, she was just a regular pony—she’d never even left Canterlot before. How was she supposed to help?

And yet, all the same, her Princess needed someone. Needed her.

Posie glanced down the hallway again, then sighed. Her Princess needed her—but she needed a paycheck. After only another moment’s hesitation, she climbed back up onto the stepladder and resumed polishing, trying very hard to not look her reflection in the eye.