• Published 21st May 2016
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Discourse on Fillies - Daedalus Aegle



Diamond Tiara and Princess Luna have a talk over tea.

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Etiquette

Diamond Tiara had a very clear idea of what it would be like the first time she were invited to the Royal Palace to dine with the Princess.

She would be a young adult mare, maybe in her mid-twenties. By then she was going to be the name on everypony's lips. She was going to be the hot new investor-manager in Canterlot, known for grabbing young entrepreneurs that everypony else ignored and turning them into stars. She was going to catch failing businesses and make them rise again, with her name on the door. Ponies would learn to watch her every move, hang on her every word, because hers was the voice of the future.

Ponies would flock to her and beg her for her blessings. If she liked something, everypony would want it. If she ignored something, it was dead. She would make and break whole industries. Even the Princess would want her advice, and she'd get to push this relic of the middle ages into the modern world.

That's what was supposed to happen. This wasn't it.

“Well, there are three score different types of tea from everywhere in the world to choose from. I cannot make heads or tails of them myself, they all taste like hot water to me,” Luna said as she ran her eyes down the list the Royal Tea-Master had provided for her. “My sister swears by the things, and will not stop pushing them on me. You can have any of them. Or would you like something else? A soft drink, perhaps, or a juice?”

The Princess of the Night looked faintly ridiculous as she ducked and weaved her way around the overcrowded refreshments set up for their benefit. Diamond Tiara sniffed at the display, caught herself doing so, and winced.

I'm a good filly now. I don't watch for flaws.

She turned away before Luna could see the look on her face, put on a smile, and said, “a grape juice would be nice, if you have it.”

“Certainly,” Luna replied and grabbed a crystal carafe of purple liquid.

While she got everything ready, Diamond Tiara let her eyes run over the opulent decorations of the Princesses' dining hall.

Diamond Tiara knew what wealth looked like. She lived in a mansion, although its exterior didn't betray much of what lay inside. Her parents had servants, and a butler waiting on her whims. She had accompanied her mother on social visits to her network (“friends” never seemed appropriate, even though they were her old classmates from boarding school). She had been brought along to parties hosted by her father's business associates. She knew all the usual styles the wealthy used to display their status to those around them.

The Palace was very different. She doubted that Celestia had ever thought for even a moment about how best to impress other ponies with her home, and Luna had not been there to participate. The Palace was a gift, built over centuries, rather than a display. It was a type of richness no other pony Diamond Tiara knew could match.

It didn't follow the rules, and she felt somehow irritated at that.

“There we are,” Luna said, pouring a glass of juice for Diamond Tiara and a cup of tea for herself simultaneously. She put down the glass in front of the filly and then immediately sipped her tea, and began measuring out sugar. “I hope it's good.”

That's not how you treat a guest, Diamond Tiara thought as she smiled. You're supposed to have the same thing as your guest. You're supposed to serve them first – horsefeathers, a servant is supposed to serve them first. Then you're supposed to wait until they take a drink before you take one.

But I guess you don't have to follow those rules.

Diamond Tiara cringed inwardly at her thoughts. I'm having tea with a princess. Alone. In private. I should be grateful.

'Grateful' was not something that came easily to her.

She cast around for some niceties to play, but all the stock phrases she had heard her mother use – Is that new? Who designed that? How much did that cost? – all seemed woefully inappropriate. She cleared her throat. “Thanks for the invitation, Princess. I've never been inside the Palace before. It's… beautiful in here.”

“Please, call me Luna.” Luna didn't look up at Diamond Tiara while she carefully sugared her tea. She sipped it again, and grinned. “That's much better. But there's no need to thank me. Twilight Sparkle told me about recent events in Ponyville, and when I heard you were visiting Canterlot today I thought it would be nice to say hello. And besides,” Luna chuckled, “Us reformed fillies should stick together, don't you think?”

I was supposed to command respect. I was supposed to be invited because there was no way they could not invite somepony as important as me. I was supposed to be generously giving them my time, not the other way around.

I wasn't supposed to be invited because they felt sorry for me, or because I'm a friend of a friend, or because me and Princess Luna have something in common.

The last thought hung in her head: Me and Princess Luna have something in common.

A vision of herself as a mad cackling monster filled her thoughts.

Luna watched her and Diamond Tiara suddenly noticed she was drooping. She quickly corrected herself and smiled, but Luna frowned. “Is something the matter?”

Diamond shook her head. “No, highness, everything's fine.”

Luna stirred her cup slowly. “To tell the truth, it was my sister's idea. She was rather adamant about it, saying that I had been spending a lot of time indoors lately and could do with meeting some more new ponies.” She waved a hoof in circles. “Big sisters can be so… let's go with 'protective'.”

Princess Luna was joking with her, telling her gossip about Princess Celestia. Diamond Tiara had to remind herself to keep her mouth shut, lest it hang open in a completely undignified fashion.

Luna did not miss it, and gave her a curious glance. “You seem unsettled. Are you sure everything is alright?”

“I guess I wasn't expecting you to tell me gossip about Princess Celestia, your highness.”

“Please, there's no need to be so formal,” Luna said. “It is a hard habit to break, believe me. Better that you not let it set in to begin with.”

“That's easy for you to say,” Diamond Tiara said. “You're a princess. It doesn't matter what you do, you're still going to be a princess and everypony else will just have to deal with it. If I do something wrong I'll never be able to show my face in Canterlot again.”

Luna looked at her curiously. There was a moment of silence. “There are only us two here,” Luna said. “And nothing that happens here need leave the room.”

Diamond Tiara began silently counting loopholes in that statement. She was at seventeen when her thoughts were interrupted.

“How is the juice?”

Diamond Tiara realized she had yet to touch her glass.

That's another insult. You don't ask somepony how they like the thing you see they haven't touched.

Diamond Tiara sipped it. It was delicious, as fresh and rich and tangy as anything ever bought on the first day of the season in Ponyville.

“How are things in Ponyville?” Luna asked, taking Diamond's face as an answer. “I haven't had time to visit as I should have liked – not in waking life, anyway. How have you been since the student election?”

“It's fine,” Diamond Tiara said. “Well, mostly. Me and Silver Spoon are spending more time with the other ponies out of school. Somepony suggested that we should start an activity group for young ponies, and that I could run it.”

“That sounds like an excellent idea.”

Diamond Tiara winced. “I don't think I could.”

“Of course you could,” Luna said. “I heard you did an excellent job leading the playground renovation.”

Diamond Tiara remembered going with her mother when she was a little foal to visit her mother's friends, or when they came to visit her mother. She remembered the rules her mother had made her carefully memorize for these visits: smile, look ponies in the eyes, mind her posture, and look for weakness. In the meantime her mother and the other mare or mares would discuss what they were doing, what their husbands were doing, and what their other friends and their husbands were doing.

Her father, meanwhile, would excuse himself whenever these visits came to the Rich house, and suddenly find some reason to head down to the store. Usually it was inventory.

The talk about other ponies in particular, Diamond Tiara gradually noticed, was generally polite but often sharp: gossip and vicious rumors, tales of mistakes, embarrassing moments, false paws, arguments overheard through closed doors. Her mother would lean in close to listen, share a story of her own in kind, the two would be close as sisters as they talked about how horrible some other pony was – and then a week later her mother would meet some other pony and talk about how horrible last week's pony was.

The act exhausted Diamond Tiara at first, and she didn't understand why it was so important that she behave so differently from how she was at home with Silver Spoon. It took her a while before she realized that these other mares with lovely homes who welcomed them so graciously and offered them tea and crumpets, mares her mother knew from when she was a foal, who had all been in school together, were not her mother's friends at all.

They were the competition, and these visits were their way of keeping tabs on each other.

So when Diamond Tiara herself began school that was how she knew her classmates.

“They don't trust me,” Diamond Tiara said quietly. “My classmates I mean. They say they do. But they don't. When I go to talk to somepony I can still see the fear in their eyes, and their smiles have that forced look for a split-second before they relax. Like they're still thinking about how I treated them all that time. I can't really blame them.”

“Nonsense,” Luna said cheerfully. “Just keep trying and it will come. If I could do it, so can you.”

You have no idea what you're talking about.

The Princess continued to drink her tea without a care in the world as Diamond Tiara felt her smile grow strained.

She wanted to say “If you say so, Princess.”

It came out as little more than a grunt.

Luna raised an eyebrow. “Is something the matter?”

Diamond Tiara sighed. “No, Princess.”

Luna halted the cup by her lips, and gently put it down on its porcelain holder. “You do not seem very happy with me,” she said. “Is something wrong?”

“That's unfair,” Diamond Tiara said. “I can't say anything bad about a Princess. I can't refuse to answer your question either. So all I can say is 'no, your highness, nothing is wrong'. No, your highness. Nothing is wrong.”

“Do you keep your thoughts hidden often, Diamond Tiara?”

Diamond Tiara didn't answer. Luna looked at her curiously, thoughtfully. She rapped her hoof on the table three times. “Feelings are like muscles,” the Princess eventually said. “The ones you exercise will grow strong. The ones you neglect will wither. Even if the desire to do harm is burned away, the ability remains. The habit will make itself felt.”

Diamond Tiara waited for the princess to tell her this tea party was over and that she would never be welcome in the palace again. Luna spun her spoon in her tea cup as she watched the filly. “It does you credit that you do not want to hurt or insult anypony, but allow me to say it's not necessary. I swear that there will be no consequences: this is not the society pages, and I will not be offended.” She sat back in her chair. “How do you feel, Diamond Tiara?”

“You have no idea what the world is like,” Diamond Tiara blurted out. “You have everything anypony could hope for, and the only thing you ever have to worry about is that your sister is more popular than you. No matter what happens you'll still be one of the richest, most powerful creatures in Equestria. You've never had to work to get anything, and you don't have to worry that you'll ever lose it because of a mistake. You're talking to me like a friend but you don't have to worry about the consequences. You can't understand me at all.”

Luna sat as if frozen in her chair, her eyes blinking, her mouth slightly open but not saying a word. Diamond Tiara sighed, and looked down. “No need to call the guards. I'll be going now.”

She stood up and turned away, her head hung low as she made for the doorway.

“Wait,” There was a clatter of porcelain as Luna rushed to her hooves. “You don't need to go.”

“I don't need to stay either,” Diamond Tiara muttered.

She heard the hoofsteps of the princess, swift and heavy compared to her own, behind her. “I ask you to stay,” Luna said quickly. “I told you there are no consequences for speaking your mind to me.”

“Yeah, well. I don't believe that,” Diamond Tiara muttered as she walked. “There are always consequences.”

“You're not going to be kicked out,” Luna said. “Nopony else need ever know what we talked about here. What do you think will go wrong?”

“Good grief, where do I begin?” Diamond Tiara halted and raised her head, her voice now angry. “You can entertain me here today and let me go home with all your assurances afterward, but the next time I stop by Canterlot you're not going to invite the pony who called you a fool for a tea party. When I grow up and apply for business school it won't be on the Princess scholarship. When I have a nightmare I'm gonna be on the bottom of your list of things to do that night by default. When I'm trying to start my own business in a few years the Royal Palace isn't going to be interested in a contract. When I'm trying to raise my name in Canterlot somepony's going to notice that the Princesses are giving me less interest than everypony else and they're going to wonder why! And when you won't tell them they'll come up with their own ideas that will be even worse than what I just did!”

Her voice grew louder and stronger with each word, and Luna's eyes grew wider as she listened. “I can never come back to Canterlot again because everything in this town depends on you and your sister's whims and even if you tell me you're not offended you're not going to forget that I'm the girl who told you to your face that you're useless!

There was no sound in the room but Diamond Tiara's heart pounding in her ears, and the heavy gulp of her breathing.

All the while Luna had only stood by listening, stunned, her eyes wide. “You don't believe I can forget that and treat you fairly?” There was sadness in that voice, and surprise, but mostly there was concern.

Diamond Tiara struggled to keep her voice under control as her stomach turned. She shook her head. “Not even if you wanted to. And why would you want to? You're a Princess! You're entitled to be treated with respect and I haven't.”

“Forgetting,” Luna said softly, with a smile, “comes easier with age. I promise you.”

“Okay, so you're treating me like a stupid kid,” Diamond Tiara replied. “That's not much better. I'll be the stupid kid who insulted the princess, instead of the stupid pony who insulted the princess. Great.”

“I don't think you're stupid,” Luna said.

“I'm not stupid. I'm top of my class.”

“I believe you.”

“Great.”

They were both standing still now, Diamond Tiara still facing away from Luna.

“...When was the last time anypony said something like that to you?”

“More than a thousand years,” Luna whispered. “Look, I – I'm sorry if you felt I was talking down to you. I did not mean to, and I did not mean to dismiss your feelings. I—” She broke off and turned around, took a step to the side, shook her head as she thought. She cleared her throat. “Diamond Tiara? Would you please stay, and have a biscuit? I fear I have been a bad host to you, and I would not feel fair if you left like this. I'd like to try to get to know you. And I'd like to try to show you that I don't mind those things you said.”

“Well, maybe you should mind,” Diamond Tiara said, her voice little more than a breath. “Maybe I don't deserve forgiveness. Maybe I should take responsibility for what I do for once. That's what a good pony is supposed to do, isn't it?”

“Well,” Luna said, “how about you take responsibility by talking it out, and helping me see where it came from? Would that be acceptable?”

“...I don't know,” Diamond Tiara admitted.

“You can try,” Luna replied. “That counts. Trying always counts.”

Diamond Tiara slowly shuffled around, and they returned to the table and sat down.