• Published 14th Feb 2017
  • 1,979 Views, 244 Comments

Sun and Hearth - bookplayer

Princess Celestia and Smart Cookie have watched Equestria rise. They share a dream that’s entwined their hearts for two thousand years, and a love that’s given them the strength to see it realized. Now they face the ultimate test of that love.

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1 - Power and Strength

Canterlot’s restaurants and nightclubs were emptying their ponies onto the already crowded street in the dim light just before dawn. The throngs all headed in the same direction, towards Grand Square in front of the palace. Most of the ponies were already late for getting a spot with a good view of the Summer Sun Celebration.

A beige, brown-maned earth pony known as Chocolate Chip walked through the crowds with a purpose. He wasn’t a young stallion, somewhere in middle age by appearance, but he had an energy about him that fueled a swift, sure pace. A yard behind him stumbled his friend Wrightwood, a short, stocky pony to begin with and currently bleary-eyed and well in his cups.

“What I’ll never get about raising the sun is why Celestia’s gotta do it so early,” Wrightwood muttered loudly over the sound of hooves and voices around them.

“Perhaps she’s a morning pony,” Chocolate Chip said with a smile, not bothering to glance back.

“She oughta have a little mercy on the rest of us then. Especially at the Summer Sun Celebration.”

“She might be more inclined to mercy if you’d had less to drink.” Chocolate Chip chuckled and took a turn down an alley with no outlet. “As is, I think she’d find it as amusing as I do.”

“Thanks, Chip. Glad somepony is laughing.” Wrightwood frowned. “Where are we going? We’re never gonna be able to see from over here.”

Chocolate Chip was already standing in front of a door well off the street between two trashcans. “Trust me, I know where I’m going.”

Wrightwood raised an eyebrow. Both ponies had traveled there from Rainbow Falls. Wrightwood had been born in the small town, and Chocolate Chip had lived there since before that, even. But Chocolate Chip had assured his young friend that he could show him around Canterlot, and he wasn’t lying; he knew the town like the back of his hoof.

He opened the door into a stairwell in an office building, and started up the stairs. Chocolate Chip knew the building was about a hundred years old, dating back to the construction after the rockslide that led to the closing of the Canterlot mines. At the time, the captain of the guards had proposed several buildings around Grand Square be built with balconies so that he could keep an eye on crowds. More recent guards had other methods, but the balconies remained and were open to the public if one knew how to access them.

When they reached the third floor, Chocolate Chip opened a door onto one of those balconies. There were a few other ponies there. A father and two foals stood towards one side of the balcony, one of the foals perched on his back for a better view, and on the other side was a group of three mares dressed to the nines. Still, there was plenty of room for Chocolate Chip and Wrightwood to take a spot against the rail of the balcony between the groups.

From there the view to the stage in front of the palace was clear, well over the heads of the shadowy sea of ponies filling the square below. The royal heralds were already taking their places at their instruments.

“Wow.” Wrightwood blinked and leaned his head over the rail. “How’d you know about this?”

Chocolate Chip smiled. “I know a pony who lives around here.”

A few moments went by as the heralds tuned their instruments. Chocolate Chip watched the crowd below, occasionally glancing at the other ponies sharing the balcony.

He tilted his head to one side and asked Wrightwood, “What is the meaning of the Summer Sun Celebration, to you?”

Wrightwood cast a sideways glance at him. “What do you mean? You party all night and then watch the sun come up.”

Chocolate Chip shook his head. “I mean the true meaning. If you had to state it.”

“Like the true meaning of Hearth’s Warming? What ponies would learn in stories?” Wrightwood turned to him, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes.” Chocolate Chip smiled. “I’m well aware of the true meaning of Hearth’s Warming, so what is the true meaning of the Summer Sun Celebration?”

One of the mares to their right spoke up, “It celebrates when Princess Celestia defeated Nightmare Moon, right? She said that last year, or something. But now it’s also when Princess Luna turned good again.”

“And what does that mean to you?” Chocolate Chip asked her, glancing over with a smile.

The mare, a unicorn in an orange party dress, squinted in thought. “That Equestria is safe?”

Chocolate Chip raised an eyebrow. “Are you aware how many monsters have nearly destroyed it in the past several years?”

She shrugged. “Well, yeah, but they didn’t destroy it.”

“‘We aren’t dead yet.’” Chocolate Chip chuckled. “I suppose that’s a valid reason for a holiday.”

“What’s it mean to you?” another of the mares asked, this one in a purple dress.

Chocolate Chip looked over at the palace. “I’ve always thought it celebrates Celestia herself, whatever she means to you as a princess.”

“I could see that,” the mare agreed. “I’ve always liked Princess Celestia. She seems really nice.”

On the other side of the balcony, the filly grinned from her father’s back. “She’s beautiful.”

“I’m sure nopony could argue with that.” Chocolate Chip grinned back.

“I wanna be a princess when I grow up,” the foal announced to the gathered ponies.

“I suggest becoming an actor instead.” Chocolate Chip smirked at her. “It’s roughly the same thing, but far less stressful and fewer monsters kidnap you.”

The purple-dress mare looked at the palace, then back at Chocolate Chip. “What does she mean to you as a princess?”

Chocolate Chip raised his eyebrows. “As a princess? Power and strength. The power to defeat Nightmare Moon, to judge and command the finest ponies in Equestria, to take action when action must be taken. The strength to bear the world, or at least the sun on her shoulders, to forgive her foes and move forward, and to overcome any number of disappointments without flinching. Whatever happened the day before, and whatever might lay ahead, the sun rises each day in all of its glory, and today we see the princess who makes that so.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say.” Wrightwood nodded solemnly.

“That’s remarkable, considering you couldn’t repeat a word of it in your current state.” Chocolate Chip gave him a sideways glance.

“I woulda said it anyway.” Wrightwood said with another nod.

Chocolate Chip smirked. “I have no doubt about that.”

The fanfare began, and the ponies on the balcony all focused on the ceremony. Towards the back of the stage Celestia, Luna, and Twilight Sparkle entered. Chocolate Chip had never seen Twilight Sparkle in the flesh before, though he’d heard enough about her, so he watched her as the three made their way to the front of the stage. He had to smile; she made a common contrast to the regal older alicorns with their flowing manes, but in his personal opinion it was just what such a scene needed.

Then Celestia stepped forward, and Chocolate Chip gave her his attention. His smile grew soft, and he could easily imagine the warm breeze of her mane floating around him and the scent of lilacs that clung to her coat.

She offered the crowd a warm smile, and spoke clearly enough to be heard at the back and probably down the side streets as well.

“Citizens of Equestria. The past year has brought many challenges to our great nation, but it brought opportunities in equal number. As I raise the summer sun this year, it warms my heart to know that it shines its light on not only the ponies of Equestria, but on so many friends, old and new, all across the world.”

Stepping back, Celestia gave a small nod to Luna. Luna rose into the air, her horn glowing, and the moon lowered in the sky behind her, framing her in its dim light. It had been a very long time since the last time Chocolate Chip had seen this magic, and he studied Luna with distant curiosity.

On the stage, Celestia’s wings gave a strong beat and she soared up next to her sister. For a moment, he forgot he was Chocolate Chip, and smiled for her alone.

As her horn glowed, and the sun lit the horizon and traveled up the sky behind her, an awe swept over him. It was a crown larger and grander than any gold a pony could place on their heads, and it fit her so naturally and gracefully that the pony seemed to disappear into the princess. It was a bittersweet moment for him, this Celestia wasn’t his Celestia, but she deserved all of the admiration it inspired in him and every pony present.

Even with Luna in control of the moon, and Twilight Sparkle making a quick flythrough to shine the six-pointed star in the sky like a firework, this was Celestia’s day; the day she demonstrated the power and glory she held, so that ponies could celebrate it as the strength of Equestria itself.

All three alicorns landed on the stage in the fresh sunlight, and the crowd gave a loud cheer as they nodded to everypony. Chocolate Chip joined in, stomping his hooves and grinning.

He caught sight of Wrightwood next to him, wincing at the noise, and gave a chuckle. “Well, now that you’ve seen it, let’s get you back to the hotel so you can sleep it off.”

“That sounds great,” Wrightwood said earnestly.

As they traced their path back the streets weren’t empty, but they had beat the mass of ponies that would be along any moment. Chocolate Chip slowed his pace to walk beside Wrightwood.

Wrightwood appeared to be thinking very hard, but eventually he spoke, “What do you think it’s like, raising the sun?”

Chocolate Chip raised an eyebrow. “Impossible.”

“Well yeah, for us.” Wrightwood rolled his eyes. “I meant for her.”

With a sigh, Chocolate Chip looked into the distance ahead. “I think it’s difficult, especially doing it every day, for thousands of years. I’m certain there are mornings she’d rather be sleeping in her warm bed. But she does it to care for her subjects, and I think she enjoys that.”

Wrightwood shrugged. “Looks easy when she does it here.”

“Everything she does looks easy.” Chocolate Chip smiled. “But if it was easy, we wouldn’t need her.”

“I thought you always said we didn’t need a princess?” Wrightwood smirked and gave him a shove.

Chocolate Chip raised his eyebrows with a smirk. “I’ve never thought that we do. But we undoubtedly need Celestia.”

The fine tapestries inside the tent were dusty. Everything was dusty in Everfree, as refugees from the three great cities trotted dirt paths, sawed wood, and laid stones. On those common occasions when different ponies tried to do all three in the same place, they wound up at the tent in question to work it out. Technically the large, magical tent belonged to Platinum of Monoceros, but since it already had a table for six it was now serving as the council chamber for the new city.

At that moment, the council was supposed to be having a meeting, pending the arrival of Puddinghead.

Smart Cookie stood towards the head of the table, by the entrance to the tent, examining the much-edited official map of Everfree. He was a young stallion with a coat the color of a chocolate chip cookie and a deep brown mane, and the intensity with which he studied the paper on the table bespoke a nervous excitement he’d felt since he stepped out of the cave and into the new world of Equestria.

On a stool next to him sat Pansy, pale blue with a neatly cropped white mane. A scroll was laid out flat in front of her and a quill at the ready. She habitually wore the flat expression and military posture her career demanded, but she caught Cookie’s eyes and nodded towards Clover with a smirk.

At the foot of the table scrolls were shoved haphazardly in front of Clover, her purple-maned head bowed over one as her magic floated three more from the large pockets of the mage robes that covered her green body.

Cookie chuckled. “By the stars, Clover. Did you bring your whole library?”

“Just enough to turn a nosy earth pony into a teapot,” she said absently, scanning another scroll. “Here it is!”

“I think you ought to reconsider,” Cookie said, raising an eyebrow. “We’ve got quite enough teapots, but we’re still short an earth pony.”

Puddinghead shoved her way through the tent flaps. She was a small red pony with her mane in a huge bun which perched precariously on top of her head. The bun seemed to wobble with each brisk step she took, but Cookie had never once seen it come undone.

She took the seat at the head of the table with a huff. “Alright, you lot, I’m here. What’s boring today?”

The other ponies present all blinked or arched an eyebrow at her, but Cookie was far too used to Puddinghead to be even slightly surprised. “Clover’s got a load of scrolls over there, I’m sure she could pull together some paperwork for you.” He smirked. “I know how you miss it.”

Puddinghead chuckled, her bun wobbling. “I miss that I didn’t get a chance to burn the blasted archives to the ground before we bugged out of Girthshire, if that’s what you mean.”

Cookie just shook his head with the same smirk.

“Can we finally begin?” Hurricane asked, standing on the other side of the table from Cookie, his gray form hard and unmoving as if he’d been carved from granite.

“I have new business.” Clover stood from her spot at the foot of the table, the scroll she’d apparently been looking for floating in front of her in her magic. “I’ve had a letter from that stars-damned bastard who wandered off and didn’t so much as write when we were all freezing to death, though I know for a fact he’s got scrying magic and is probably watching right now, and if he is he can shove his blasted bells

Cookie cleared his throat. “Clover?”

“Sorry. So, I’ve had a letter from Star Swirl, and he might have a solution to our head of state issue. He’s been teaching two princesses—”

“That explains why Clover’s concerned about where his bells have been,” Puddinghead muttered, loud enough to be heard by all.

Clover frowned and pulled herself up to her full height. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, Puddinghead. Star Swirl is a grown stallion and he can do as he pleases. I got by just fine without him, despite nearly dying, and just because that son of a dog was spending that time in a cushy castle surrounded by beautiful young mares—”

“Clover.” Cookie tried not to chuckle.

“No, go on. This is much more interesting than government,” Platinum said with a wave of a hoof. She had forgone the table entirely for sprawling her white body across a cushioned bench against one wall, her long blonde mane and tail brushing the floor.

Hurricane frowned. “Princesses, Clover.”

“Right.” Clover nodded. “He heard about Equestria, and thought it might be a good idea for us to consider them as rulers. They’re sisters with a small kingdom to the east, which they’d be pleased to join with the land we’re claiming. The eldest has been ruling since her mother died, and is well regarded there.”

Platinum furrowed her brow. “I don’t recall any kingdoms to the east… what noble houses are they related to?”

Clover turned to Platinum. “Here’s where it gets interesting. They’re not unicorns, they’re alicorns.” She turned back to the council members at the table. “They’ve got a horn and wings and more magic than a whole city block in Monoceros. The younger one only just got her cutie mark and can move the moon herself. The eldest can raise the blessed sun.”

Platinum sat up, her eyes wide. “That’s impossible.”

“Not for alicorns, apparently,” Clover said with a shrug.

Cookie rolled his eyes. “So not only are we discussing handing Equestria over to two unknown ponies and giving them royal positions, but they’re powerful mages as well? It should be fascinating to witness the magical destruction of yet another nation.”

Hurricane glared at him. “You can’t still think we ought to try democracy.”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” Cookie met the glare with a stubborn frown. “I mean, having recently displayed our stunning lack of foresight, I question the wisdom of putting two ponies in charge for a lifetime, right from the start.”

“It wouldn’t be a lifetime, Cookie.” Clover shook her head. “Alicorns are immortal, so it’d be more or less permanent.”

Cookie stared at her, then looked around the tent at the others. “Are you all out of your blessed minds!?”

Clover gave him a sympathetic look. “I wouldn’t even consider it, but Star Swirl speaks so highly of them.”

“And you speak so highly of Star Swirl,” Cookie said dryly.

She frowned. “I’ve got some personal things to work out with him, but I trust his judgement above anypony.”

“But his is the only judgement we have.” Cookie shook his head and paced across the back of the tent. “Every other pony we’ve discussed has a sterling reputation throughout at least one of the old nations, and in those cases we were talking about their rule for only a lifetime.”

“Yes, but one of the problems with that is we can’t know the nature of their heirs. That isn’t a problem here,” Pansy pointed out, her flat, relaxed expression unchanging.

Cookie raised his eyebrows as he paced. “The problem here is that we don’t even know the nature of the ponies.”

“Star Swirl says the eldest is well regarded by her subjects; she’s known to be intelligent, just, kind, and honorable,” Clover said, glancing at the scroll.

Pausing for just a second, Cookie waved a dismissive hoof. “They hail from some backwater kingdom, who knows what the ponies there expect of a leader.”

“Cookie, our ‘nation’ is currently a tent city.” Platinum rolled her eyes.

Cookie shot her a disapproving look. “Not for long…”

Puddinghead smirked at him. “Yes, in another few weeks we may move up to being a shantytown if it rains.”

Cookie returned to the table and tapped the map of Everfree with a hoof. “I’m pointing out that while we might not have much in the way of settlement, we have quite a lot of ponies. Ponies who, until very recently, were more than willing to spit on a pony of another tribe unless he happened to be on fire. Maintaining our ideals is going to require a pony with a fine mind for diplomacy, and the respect and support of the ponies who live here.”

Clover nodded. “Which is Star Swirl’s point. Alicorns are ponies, but not of the tribes.”

“Then perhaps she could run for office,” Cookie said with a shrug.

Puddinghead gave a laugh. “This is why I was Chancellor and you got all of a hundred votes. You have to be wearing your tail for a hat to be this blind to an electorate.”

Cookie shot her a dark frown, but Puddinghead went on, oblivious, “The tribes are each going to run a pony. Say she did run, she’s going to pull a number of the unicorns, they like princesses—”

“With good reason.” Platinum ran a hoof through her mane.

“—and a hoofful of bloody-minded earth ponies. The sort who actually voted for you. All the while, the pegasi are going to vote how they’re told, every blasted feather—”

“Watch your tongue, Puddinghead,” Pansy said with a dry stare.

Puddinghead didn’t miss a beat, “Every blasted pony. Apologies. Anyhow, we might as well put Hurricane in charge right now.”

Hurricane snorted. “Who said I want to run this mad house?”

“Well you’re not going to have a choice if Cookie gets his way.” Puddinghead gestured to Cookie.

Cookie shot Puddinghead a glare. “He doesn’t have to run for office if he doesn’t want to. And besides, there are other methods. Perhaps we could have each tribe select the leader for, say, two years. Then the next tribe gets a go.”

Puddinghead raised her eyebrows, but her face softened. “Cookie, every blessed pony in charge would be facing two thirds of the population who don’t want him there, and that’s assuming the whole tribe wanted him there in the first place.”

Frowning, Cookie looked around the tent and gestured with a hoof. “We could rule. As a council.”

Clover offered a sympathetic smirk. “We’re so good at coming to conclusions.”

“We came to one last week,” Puddinghead pointed out. “We voted that Cookie needed to shut up about democracy."

Hurricane raised an eyebrow. “Effective government there.”

Cookie shook his head. “I’m sorry you lot are tired of this—”

“Apology accepted.” Platinum smiled. “Next business?

“—but answer me this.” He rested both forehooves on the table and leaned towards the other ponies. “How are we to promote a nation based around respecting all ponies equally, when we begin by raising two ponies above all others? How are we to say that neither wings nor horns nor their lacking mark a pony as superior, yet a crown and a castle do just that? How can we say that ponies are free to live their destiny however they like, except for one position, the highest in the land, that we’ve selected for them indefinitely?”

“Use your words to tell ponies that, Cookie,” Clover said gently. “You’re never short of them. Explain why we’re doing it this way, but that the foundation of Equestria is that unity.”

“Why we’re doing it this way?” Cookie raised an eyebrow. “Because Star Swirl had a couple of spare princesses lying about?”

Pansy looked at him with her even expression and said plainly, “Because we need leadership that ponies can look up to. This is new for all of us, and a lot of ponies are going to be nervous. We need a pony who’s not going to try to remake Monoceros or Girthshire or Hippocampus, who’s not going to be accused of playing favorites among the tribes. And we need that pony to be stable and powerful and intelligent, to make sure that ponies feel secure, and noble and honorable and good so that ponies can have a sense of pride in her, and in Equestria.”

She looked around the table and motioned to Clover. “Star Swirl offers us two young, powerful princesses, one of them already experienced in rule. She’s not of any tribe, not of the three nations, and he vouches that she’s honorable and intelligent and true. If we meet her and find that’s the case, she and her sister may be just what we need, and anypony ought to be able to understand that.”

“They are ponies, Pansy.” Cookie rolled his eyes and gestured with a hoof. “What you describe is a commander and mother and statespony and statue all in one. What pony can live up to that?”

Clover frowned and looked down at her scroll. “Well, she’s right that it’s what we need at the moment, stars help us, so let’s hope Princess Celestia can.”

Cookie hung his head with a sigh. Then he felt a friendly pat on his shoulder.

“Now Cookie, there’s going to be a charter,” Puddinghead said. “You can write it up, if you want, and we’ll see if we can keep negotiations under a decade. And we can set up an advisory council with all of us on it. Even if we can’t agree on anything, she’ll at least hear what we have to say about it.”

“Does everypony agree that I write the charter?” Cookie looked up, raising his eyebrows at the other ponies.

Clover smiled. “Just keep it under four feet of scroll.”

“Well in that case, by all means!” Platinum nodded with a smile.

Cookie chuckled, and after a long pause he gave a nod. “Very well. Have Star Swirl bring them. Let’s see what this Celestia pony can do for our beautiful mess of a nation.”