• Published 25th Apr 2016
  • 3,346 Views, 77 Comments

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.

  • ...
0
 77
 3,346

Chapter 13: The Crystal King

Celestia let out a long, slow sigh. Finally.

Together, while still in the carriage, Luna and Celestia had helped each other with their regalia. After all, it wouldn’t do to look like road-weary travellers; these ponies expected princesses, and princesses they would have.

And, though the cheering crowds lining the streets had been something of a relief—after all the awkwardness along the road, at least—all Celestia wanted was for it to be over. She wanted to talk to Luna. And she wanted to see this King Sombra. She wanted to see the face of someone who would allow his subjects to starve, who forced ponies to work his fields under guard, and who—judging from their faces—forced his citizens to turn out en masse for visiting dignitaries, to line the streets and cheer hollow cheers with fear in their eyes.

They had been given a half-hour or so to clean up. And, though Celestia desperately wanted nothing more than a hot bath and a soft bed, she had to make do with a quick splash of water and some carefully-applied makeup. When the two of them had finished, Andradite—apparently more than just a messenger—led them through the corridors of the Spire to an enormous, gleaming door. Here, he bowed and backed away.

Finally, they would get some answers.

Celestia pushed the door open, and the two of them stepped inside—Celestia proud and tall, Luna doing her best to hide her limp.

After the gleaming splendor of the city itself, the salon they found themselves in was… well, simple might be the word. Like everything else in the Spire, the room was built of glowing crystal, with three tall, narrow windows looking out over the city. In the center of the room was a low table, plush pillows on the floor beside it. And, standing at one of the windows with his back to them, stood the King.

He stood tall, for a unicorn, at least—but even at his full height, he would barely come up to the Sister’s shoulders. His coat shone, not pink or blue, but a burnished steel, and his dark, wavy mane ran down to his shoulders. He wore a plush cape, scarlet with ermine trim, and a severe steel crown that matched his coat. He turned to face them, and a smile spread across his handsome face.

He bowed his head. “Your Highnesses,” he intoned in a deep, velvety bass. “I am King Sombra.” He stepped forward, then lifted Celestia’s right hoof with his, and gently kissed it. “And you are…?” he asked.

Celestia felt her heart flutter. “P-Princess Celestia,” she stuttered. “And this is Princess Luna. Of Equestria,” she added lamely.

Sombra turned to kiss Luna’s hoof as well. As he did, Celestia bit the inside of her cheek. Quit acting like a little schoolfilly, she chastised herself. You’re here on business. Keep it professional.

But, all the same: she did have to admit that King Sombra made quite the impression.

“Princesses, you say?” Sombra asked, shaking Celestia from her reverie. “Not Queens?”

Celestia shook her head. “No. We prefer the lesser title. It’s not as… imposing.”

He nodded. “And there’s no king, then? Or princes?”

Luna smiled a little. “Not as such, no.”

Sombra raised an eyebrow. “Curious,” he said. “A kingdom without a king.”

Celestia smiled wryly. “No more curious than an empire without an emperor, Your Brilliance.”

He froze, then laughed, a warm, rumbling laugh. “Fair point, Your Highness,” he said. He gestured to the table behind him. “Please, have a seat, both of you. You’ve had quite the journey.”

Celestia stepped forward. “Indeed,” she said, lowering herself onto the cushions. “Though it would have been longer without the… hospitality of your citizens.”

If he heard the edge in her voice, he did not react. Instead, he sighed. “Andradite is known for being rather…” he gestured vaguely. “...difficult. But he has a good heart, at least...” He sat. “...and he’s a good servant, too.”

Luna sat in the remaining spot, but grimaced as she lowered herself onto the cushions. Sombra frowned. “Is everything alright, Your Highness?” he asked.

“It’s nothing,” Luna said, with a little shake of her head. “It’s… it’s been a long journey, as you said.”

“No,” he said firmly, “It’s not nothing. You are my guests, here on important business.” He paused thoughtfully. “...I had hoped,” he said slowly, “that we might be able to get to business right away. But if you’re in no fit shape…”

“But I am,” Luna protested weakly.

Sombra nodded, but continued nevertheless. “Let’s hold off for a day or two. We have the time, after all.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Andradite was rather insistent that we make it here right away,” she said slowly.

Sombra rolled his eyes. “Andradite is not the king,” he said, a hint of steel in his tone.

Luna let out a long, quiet sigh, and a little smile crept across her face.

Suddenly, the doors swung open, and in walked three crystal ponies, each dressed in white and carrying a covered tray. These they set down in front of Sombra, Celestia, and Luna, and, at some invisible signal, whipped off the covers and retreated. Thick steam billowed up from the plates, making Celestia smile and her mouth water.

“I’ve had my chefs try their best to recreate authentic Equestrian cuisine,” Sombra said mildly, “And, Princess Celestia, Andradite has informed me of your preference in portion sizes.” He picked up his fork.“I hope you find it all to your liking,”

The steam cleared, revealing a simple dish of roasted vegetables—potatoes, carrots, summer squash—and plain rice. Artfully arranged—but simple, and, mercifully, in normal-sized portions. Celestia realized she hadn’t found herself so eager to dig into a meal in weeks.

The food was as delicious as promised. Sombra and the sisters chatted a little, mostly small-talk, but they were too absorbed by the meal to say much. After dinner, came dessert (berries and cream), and, after dessert came coffee, and, with it, a small musical ensemble, playing on crystal harps, violins, and cellos. When their performance concluded, Celestia and Luna clapped politely, and Sombra dismissed the musicians with a nod.

“Well, Princess Luna, Celestia,” he said with a little bow, “I believe that’s all I have for you tonight. If you’d like, my servants can draw a bath for you, but, otherwise, they will show you to your rooms.” He smiled a little. “And don’t worry about tomorrow. I’ll arrange for some entertainments.” He hesitated. “That is, unless you’d prefer to rest...”

Celestia and Luna then looked at each other. For a moment, they said nothing. Slowly, Celestia spoke. “I think…” she said, “that… entertainments might be… nice.”

Sombra smiled. “Excellent. I will ask my servants to make arrangements, and, if I can find the time, I think I will join you.”

Luna nodded. “That would be most kind of you.”

Sombra bowed again. “Of course. It’s my pleasure.” He stood. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few things to take care of before I retire. Emery will show you to your rooms.”

* * *

An hour later, Celestia lay in bed, still awake. Emery, a dignified, black-coated mare, had led them to their assigned bedchamber, a luxurious suite towards the pinnacle of the Spire. Luna had asked about that bath, and, within moments, it seemed, servants had appeared holding great ewers of steaming water.

Now, lying in bed, muscles still a little sore, clean of road-dust for the first time in what felt like months, Celestia wanted nothing more than to simply drift off to sleep.

But her mind would not let her.

“Lu?” she whispered into the darkness.

“Hm?” Luna replied, sleepily.

“What do you think of Sombra?”

“He seems… nice. A lot nicer than Andradite, anyways.” A pause. “Why?”

Celestia opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came. “...I’m not sure,” she said, finally. “He’s been very gracious, but…” she shrugged. “Something’s not right.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” she said, rolling over. “I can’t put my hoof on it.”

Silence.

“Cece?”

“Hm?”

“Think you might be getting paranoid again?”

Celestia sighed. “No.” A pause. “It’s just… I want to be sure of him before we try to bring the Empire into the Alliance. And I don’t think a stallion like Sombra would hire a servant like Andradite, especially not to go fetch foreign dignitaries.”

“Dunno,” Luna murmured sleepily.

Celestia rolled her eyes, but said nothing. Finally, she sighed again. “I guess it doesn’t matter,” she said. “As long as His Brilliance agrees to the Accords, it’ll sort itself out. Right?”

Luna remained silent.

“Lu?” Celestia asked again.

Luna did not reply. After another moment of silence, she began to breathe deeply.

Celestia sighed and rolled over again. Perhaps Luna had the right idea. Just concentrate on getting a good night’s rest, and leave the troubles for the morning.

* * *

After breakfast—a simple affair of chopped fruit and yogurt—Sombra clapped his hooves twice, summoning Emery again. “Your Highnesses,” he said, “I know you must still be weary from the road. As such, I have arranged a visit to the local hot springs. My attendants there will see to your needs.”

Celestia glanced at Luna, who had a slow smile spreading across her face. “We’re looking forward to it,” Celestia said to Sombra.

Calling it merely a “hot spring” was an understatement. The Princesses luxuriated in a massive pool—almost a lake—Luna practically gurgling with pleasure. Afterwards, servants toweled them off, and massaged perfumed oils into their coats. Celestia smiled as she watched Luna practically melt under the servant’s hooves, smiling as they finally worked out the kinks that had been plaguing her.

After they had finished, a new set of servants came in, carrying brushes, combs, and mirrors. They plaited the sisters’ manes in a traditional Crystal Empire style, weaving in tiny slivers of glowing crystal. When the servants gave Celestia a mirror, she took it, then simply stared. After a moment, she turned her head this way, then that. She had to admit, though she preferred to let her mane hang free, there was something to be said for the Crystal Empire style—put up, with tiny lights shining throughout. Celestia found herself smiling in a way she hadn’t done for a long, long time.

When they left the spa, Sombra was waiting outside in a carriage. He helped the sisters in, murmuring compliments as he did so, and earning shy little nods in return. The sisters made themselves comfortable, and they set off. After a moment more, Sombra began to gently narrate the ride—the history of this or that place, or function or purpose of that building—earning little delighted gasps from Luna. Celestia remained silent, but watched Sombra himself; as they worked their way through the crowded streets, on a slow, lazy circle around the city, she saw the pride in his voice and the swelling in his chest. Sombra—whatever his faults—loved his city. And, it suddenly occurred to her—loved its citizens.

Celestia started. It seemed that, perhaps, they had been wrong—that, despite the problems with his staff, his kingdom would be a valuable—and welcome—addition to the Alliance.

That evening—after another simple dinner and musical performance, this one a soft flugelhorn band, Luna glanced at her sister. “Well?” she asked simply. Celestia stared for a moment, glanced at Sombra, then nodded.

Celestia took a deep breath, then turned, laid her hooves on the table, and smiled. “Your Brilliance,” she said softly. “You have been a most gracious host—and, with all the effort you’ve made to ensure our comfort—you’ve proven yourself a good friend.”

“Of course,” he rumbled in return. “Any good king would do the same.” But Celestia saw his chest puff out a bit, and a little smile tug at the edges of his lips.

Luna nodded. “We are, nevertheless, grateful.”

He made a little bow in return.

Celestia hesitated, but pressed forward. “My sister and I would like to extend a formal invitation to you,” she said, “to become a valuable member of the Equestrian Alliance—to allow for greater unity of ponykind, to increase your access to goods and trade routes, and to ensure the happiness and safety of your citizens.”

Sombra was smiling wide now.

“Of course,” Celestia continued, signalling to a servant, “We do ask, as an act of good faith, that you accept and implement the Equestrian Accords.”

His smile faltered. “The Accords,” he repeated.

She nodded as the servant approached bearing a silver tray, and, on it, a tightly-rolled scroll. “Yes,” she said. “A simple bill of rights, guaranteeing fair and equitable treatment of your citizens. As we said, it’s the very reason why we do this—to ensure good lives for all ponies under Alliance rule.” Celestia offered Sombra the scroll. He took it, cracked the seal, and began to read. “Of course,” she added, watching the creases on his brow deepen, “We also ask that these Accords be integrated, swiftly, into Empire law, in order to show a willingness to cooperate—”

Sombra suddenly rolled the scroll again, revealing a frown. “I apologize,” he said, cutting her off. “I recognize you would like me to sign these Accords tonight, but I would like time to study them in detail before I commit.” He set the scroll aside. “May I give you my response tomorrow morning?”

Celestia hesitated, his sudden change in tone catching her off-guard. “O-of course,” she stammered. “You may have as long as you like—”

“No,” he repeated, firmly. “Tomorrow should do. Your time is valuable, and I would hate to waste it.”

Luna cut in. “We respect your caution in this matter, Your Brilliance,” she said. “We will be pleased to hear from you tomorrow.”

“Indeed,” he said with a nod, then took a deep breath. “Your Highnesses, if you please, Emery will show you to your rooms now. I would like some time to read these in detail.”

“Of course,” Celestia said, standing. “And—thank you for today. It was…” she thought for a moment. “...wonderful,” she finished with a smile.

“Yes, it was...” he murmured absently.

Celestia stood quietly for a moment, but already, Sombra was deep in thought. Once again, out of nowhere, it seemed, Emery appeared at the sisters’ side—and, with a gesture, led them from the room. Celestia glanced over her shoulder as the door closed, and saw, through the crack, Sombra reading the Accords again, eyebrows drawn together in concentration.