• Published 14th Feb 2017
  • 1,981 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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2 - A Bitter Taste

It was a warm summer day, about a week past the Summer Sun Celebration, and Chocolate Chip didn’t look up from his garden as he heard the gate open. He would know the nature of his visitor soon enough by the name they used for him, so he continued weeding the crab grass from his carrot patch. It left an awful taste in his mouth, but left unchecked it would do worse than that to the carrots.

His small house sat an inconvenient walk from Rainbow Falls, surrounded by the garden, then a little white fence, then several miles of woods. Anypony who might venture from the village knew him as Chocolate Chip. It fit both his cutie mark of a cookie with wheat stalks crossed behind it, and the delicious baked goods he offered to guests or traded to the ponies in town.

But Chocolate Chip was not his name, and the few ponies who knew that would make for an entirely different kind of visit.

“So, Smart Cookie, you walk Equestria to this day.” Her cold voice was instantly familiar.

A calm, deep breath readied his wits. He didn’t fear her, he made it a point not to, but neither had made any attempt at contact since her return. Whatever her business was today, he would not be caught unprepared.

“So do you. It’s been a long time, Luna.” Smart Cookie looked up at her and smiled at her stony expression. “Not a flinch. I see a vacation has served you well.”

Luna frowned. “I do prefer Princess Luna.”

He wiped his mouth with a foreleg, the taste of dirt dulling the aftertaste of crab grass. “Yes, well I voted to style you two Maids of Equestria. It’s always seemed more fitting to me, as your job is to put the place in order, clean up the messes, and turn the lights on and off. But I never could sell anypony on it.”

Luna snorted and rolled her eyes. “Someday you will learn respect.”

“Someday you’ll understand it.” He smiled and walked to the door of the cottage. “But obviously we’re both out of luck today, so if that what’s you came to check on, I’m afraid you wasted your time. However, I can offer you some tea, if you’ll come inside.”

He held the door open while she hesitated for a moment before striding past him. Her floating mane brushing against him felt like a cool draft, an unsettling contrast to the warm breeze he was used to when Celestia visited. It had been over two thousand years, but Cookie’s coat still stood on end at a chill.

Cookie’s small house seemed spacious; a trick of the eye due to slightly raised ceilings and bright pale yellow walls. The house only had three rooms: his bedroom, the kitchen, and the sitting room they entered. They were all uncluttered, with no more than a few antique pieces of furniture, and low bookcases lining the walls.

Luna moved easily through the room to a large couch. She planted herself on it, straight and proud as a statue. Though she was very like her sister in face and form, Cookie always found the dark colors of her coat and mane to be stark and unnerving. Something did seem softer about her face, however, and he had to wonder if there might be a pony under the shell after all.

Cookie left her there as he went into the kitchen and put together a tea tray. He smiled as he added a few samples of the day’s baking; he hadn’t expected her, but the simple corn muffins were exactly what he would have made if he had. Balancing the tray on his back, he carried it out and laid it on the low table in the center of the room.

“Help yourself.” He motioned with a hoof. “So what brings you to see me?”

Luna paused for a moment, and Cookie waited for comment on his manners. But with a subtle quirk of her eyebrow, Luna’s magic poured her tea and brought her tea cup to balance perfectly on one hoof.

“I came because no books in the Royal Library make any mention of having learned the nature of your longevity.”

“That’s because nopony has discovered it,” Cookie said, pouring his own tea and adding milk and a lump of sugar. He took a seat on a floor pillow across from her.

Pausing, Luna took a small sip of her tea. “The books make no mention of you at all, save the ancient texts and history books.”

“Well, the stars know there’s enough about me in those.” Cookie rolled his eyes. “I’ve been enjoying the most recent ones, though. It seems I may have been a mare, or married to Platinum, or I didn’t even exist and was invented as some sort of propaganda to unite Equestria. Probably not all at once, though.”

“Why do you hide yourself?” Luna asked, raising an eyebrow.

Cookie took a long sip of tea. The milk washed away the last of the crab grass taste, but his expression was sour as he swallowed and shook his head at the question. “Living two thousand years in the public eye? I pity you and Celestia, expected to show infinite wisdom, patience, kindness, and the rest of it… ponies would be crazy to believe that of another pony, no matter how long they’ve lived. So, of course, they all do.”

Luna regarded him coolly, so he smirked at her as he went on, “I know I’m a fool. I was born a fool, and when I might die, I’ll die a fool. When Celestia needs my foolishness, she knows where I am. Everypony else has all the foolishness they’ll ever need without my presence.”

“You are anything but a fool,” Luna muttered. Cookie thought he could detect a flash of amusement in her eyes. Then she said to him, “So it’s true then, nopony understands how you’ve lived this long?”

He shrugged. “Every few hundred years Celestia brings by some genius she’s found. They poke and prod and glow, but none of them have worked it out yet. Honestly, when Clover couldn’t crack it, I gave up, myself.”

“Has she brought Princess Twilight Sparkle to see you?” Luna cocked her head. The ice appeared to be melting, she seemed more curious than aloof.

“No, I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting Twilight yet, though I expect it one of these days. Celestia speaks more highly of her than anypony other than me.” Cookie chuckled.

Luna finally broke a small smile. “Jealous?”

“Never tried jealousy. Maybe I’ll give it a chance someday.”

“Well, it needn’t be today.” Luna’s smile warmed, a curious occurrence to her host. “I see my sister’s dreams; when they are of love, it is for you, as ever.”

Cookie smiled back with equal warmth. “See what I mean about infinite wisdom being a lie?”

“You could be a prince if you wished,” Luna pointed out, taking a sip of her tea.

He raised an eyebrow with a smirk.

Luna nodded. “Perhaps it is for the best.”

Cookie relaxed into his cushion. “We still haven’t established why you’re here. You can’t think that I know the secret of immortality and I’m keeping from everypony in Equestria, including your sister.”

She shrugged. “I had hoped that perhaps some progress had been made.”

“I’m guessing you have somepony in mind as the beneficiary?” Cookie teased.

Luna snorted. “No. Not myself.” She paused and finished her tea, floating the cup to the table. “Have you met Princess Cadance?”

Smart Cookie leaned over and helped himself to a corn muffin. As he ate, he shook his head no, then said once he finished, “Should I keep a guest book, to make it easier for you to keep track of my acquaintances?”

“She’s the alicorn of love, and has been for some time. And she has a husband.”

“I know the name. I understand it was quite a wedding.”

“I wonder why you’ve not met her yet.” Luna’s brow furrowed.

He raised an eyebrow. “Does she normally go wandering around remote cottages looking for recluses?”

“My sister didn’t bring her to see you.”

“Have you considered that I’m not the pony you need to be speaking to?” Smart Cookie set down his teacup with a gentle clink. “Perhaps you should be asking your sister these questions.”

Luna’s expression didn’t change, but she cast her eyes down. After a long pause she said softly, “She may think I was meddling.”

He smiled. “I see. And you don’t care what I think.”

“That is not what I meant!” Luna said, glancing up so quickly that her tea sloshed in her cup.

“Isn’t it?” His smile turned grim. “Of course you wouldn’t want to offend your sister, you love her. But there’s no love to be lost between us, is there? Had I ordered you away you could have stomped off and soothed your ego that I was nothing but… how did you put it all those years ago? Celestia’s filthy mud pony plaything?”

“I would never—” Luna started to protest, then a slight cringe crossed her face. “I am sorry. I remember now, that was while the Nightmare courted me. It was wrong of me to speak that way.”

Smart Cookie shook his head. “Even then you didn’t care, Luna. I lived before Hearth’s Warming, I’ve been called a mud pony with more hatred than you could ever spare for me. You never cared to hurt me, you were trying to hurt Celestia by giving voice to what you’ve always thought: I am unworthy of her. Low born, ill-mannered, common. Not even a unicorn, but a mud pony.”

Luna closed her eyes and drew a breath. When she opened them, she looked Smart Cookie in the eye and said firmly. “You are one of the founders of Equestria, and one of the ponies who gave us our crowns. And you are special to my sister, which is more than enough to make you worthy of her. I realize now things I didn’t then, and I am sorry.”

He held her gaze, studying her face. There was something deep in her eyes of the nervous young mare he’d seen crowned so long ago, and the rest seemed modeled on the sincere formality Celestia used on state occasions. He could find nothing of the cold superiority he held as her flaw.

Finally he nodded. “I accept your apology.”

She nodded in return. “But, you should know that, worthy or not, my words came not from contempt, but from jealousy, as all my words and actions did in that dark time. Love was yet another thing my sister was granted which I was not.”

Biting her lip, she glanced down again. “That’s why I come to you. My sister might leap to the conclusion that I’m asking out of jealousy, and she would have every right to believe that of me. But I am not. I’m asking because I see the dreams of the others, I know their fears. They fear loss, and loneliness, and heartache. And you may have a cure for these things, even if you don’t know what it is.”

“What do you want from me?” Smart Cookie asked, regarding her with a curious suspicion.

“I want you to allow Princess Cadance and Princess Twilight to examine you,” she said, studying his reaction. “They are masters of magic that was barely known until recently. Indeed, Princess Cadance may be able to tell quite easily if Celestia’s love for you keeps you alive.”

Cookie considered for only an instant. “No.”

Her brow furrowed. “What do you mean, no?”

“You feared being perceived as meddling, so let me advise you: This is the point at which you are meddling,” he said plainly.

Luna’s head tilted, her eyes searching Cookie’s face. “But you’ve been examined before.”

“By ponies who thought understanding me might lead to medical breakthroughs.” He frowned. “For the good of other ponies, not to sate the curiosity of a few immature immortals who fear the natural order of the world.”

“This may still be for the good of other ponies,” Luna pointed out. “And it’s odd that you mock ponies for fearing the natural order, while refusing to look more closely at your own nature.”

Cookie raised his eyebrows. “I have fears, but death is not among them. I am nothing more than a very, very old mortal, and I have no reason to believe my end won’t come someday.”

“Yet you fear knowing when or how it may come,” Luna challenged.

“That is not among them either. If a pony could tell me the second I will die, I’d happily note the information. And it’s a fool who doesn’t take precautions to prevent his own end.” He shook his head. “That’s why I refuse, and if Cadance’s husband lives to be my age, it will be because he did the same.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “If Celestia’s love keeps you alive, you fear that knowing would break the spell?”

“I’m certain of it.”

Her eyes narrowed. “So you know more than you let on.”

Cookie shrugged. “I understand ponies, and I understand respect. You’ve always been blind to both of those.”

“I am learning.” Luna considered for a moment. “I know my sister, and her affection for Princess Cadance and Princess Twilight. So I shall have to bring my concerns to her, and see if she cares for them more than you do. And I know that, even if you have respect for no other pony, you have respect for her, so we shall see if she can talk sense into you.”

Cookie smirked. “That you think that will work shows how much you have yet to learn.”

“We shall see.” Luna stood and nodded to Cookie. “Farewell, and thank you for your hospitality.”

“You’re quite welcome,” he said from his cushion as she walked to the door. “Stop by anytime.”