• Published 6th Jul 2012
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Cutie Mark Catastrophes - Wintergreen Diaries

Cutie Mark Crusaders find their marks and look to new horizons; taming colts for themselves.

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The Pirate, the Child, the Treasure

Chapter 22: The Pirate, the Child, the Treasure

“Ach, I can taste the pomp in the air. How fare ye, Canterlot?” Grinning widely at the murmur of disapproval and indignation that instantly rose from a few nearby ponies, Silent Gale stepped off of the train while making no efforts to hide the excitement brimming within. If all went well, and he had every intention of making sure that it did, he would walk away that evening with all the paperwork finished and the legality of his adoption pending only on the colt’s agreement. While there was an inherent danger in making any kind of assumption, Gale was fairly confident Pipsqueak would find the idea of housing with his commodore to be more than agreeable, and with a light heart, the stallion continued on his way with an undeniably cheery gait.

Despite the air of superiority many of the so-called “nobles” put forth, Gale really did find Canterlot to be enjoyable. With so many ponies about, one of lower standing like himself was practically invisible, and being ignored made it incredibly simple to prank the ponies who wouldn’t so much as pay him a passing glance. Misplacing a hat, doctoring a pony’s tea without the butler even noticing, and generally taking foal-like glee in adding a little excitement to the lives of the Canterlot elite, he was halfway to the castle when he froze midstep, not budging a muscle.

Something’s amiss. Slowly lowering his raised hoof, he remained still for a time before slowly continuing on his way, his eyes darting to and fro as trained senses confirmed that he was being watched. His ear twitched as a faint noise registered as out of place, and he whirled in time to see the tip of a hoof disappear behind a nearby building. I heard wings, but that sure wasn’t one of the weather team. Those shoes... Resuming his trek, Gale closed his eyes and filtered through the hustle and bustle of town, searching for even the slightest variation of the norm. Cart wheels, hooves on the cobblestone, the clinking of fine china: none of this mattered.

C’mon, make another move, I dare ye. Clank. His eyes snapped open as the lead he’d been waiting for revealed itself in the telltale chime of metal striking stone that pinpointed the stalker’s locale. Gale caught just a brief glimpse before the pony fled, but it was enough to know exactly what he was up against. Heh... So, yer highness, ye sent yer guards out t’ play, did ye? Ye sure know how to entertain far better than the snobs ye oversee! Knowing what to listen for made pinpointing the location of the other guards foal’s play, and it quickly became clear that the Lunar Princess wasn’t sparing any expense for her entertainment.

“Ten, maybe twenty guards? That’s all ye can spare?” the stallion mused aloud, staring pointedly at a window where a guard quickly came to the conclusion that his mark was clairvoyant. “Wee bit insultin’, that is... Luna must be sore ‘bout somethin’! All right, come on, you lot!” Gale shouted with a hearty laugh, scoring the ground with a hoof and taking fiendish delight in the startled cries of the other townsfolk. “I’m already halfway t’ the castle gates, an’ ye haven’t even made a move! I’d hate t’ think that a princess is guarded by cowards!” Admittedly, he’d probably get an earful from his fillyfriend for provoking the lunar guard for no reason other than that it sounded like fun to stage an escape, but he was soon left with no choice as the doors on a nearby portico burst open and out dove a bat-winged pegasus, one of the defining features of the night guard.

“Tch, manners, lad; I’m sure the princess doesn’t pay ye fer layin’ down on the job!” Gale chortled, neatly sidestepping and shaking his head as the overly eager guard woefully underestimated his quarry and landed with a face full of cobblestone. Not even turning to look, Gale listened to the rapid beat of approaching hooves and ducked, turning around with a bemused look to find his second attacker had landed atop the first due to a body tackle that didn’t connect. “Away with ye, foals. That ain’t proper behavior fer those guardin’ royalty, so I’d ask ye take yer cuddle time somewhere else.”

“Why, you...” the guard grit out, rolling off his partner and letting out a piercing whistle, bringing the rest out of hiding and quickly surrounding the stallion who nonchalantly examined a hoof as the ring formed. “By the orders of Princess Luna, we are to escort you to the castle for questioning. If you do not come willingly, you will be arrested and taken by force!”

“‘Taken by force,’ eh?” Gale murmured, shaking his head in disapproval. “What ye do in yer own time is between you and yer mate, but mine would be right disappointed if she found out I had a wild mornin’ in the streets of Canterlot with no less than twenty fine gentlecolts.” Startled whispers spread round the ring of guards like wildfire until silence by the fearsome growl of their captain, unwilling to let such disrespect slide, but as he opened his mouth to deliver the meddlesome stallion’s sentence, formality was banished by another jibe. “Aye, the pain of rejection is far from easy t’ bear, but fortunately, ye seem pretty close with just about everypony; ye’ll get along just fine.”

“Take him down!” the captain shrieked, pointing a trembling hoof at the stallion, livid with visceral rage. Dropping to a crouch, Gale vaulted off the back of an eager guard and gracefully landed with ease outside the constricting ring.

“Sorry, mates, I don’t mean ye any disrespect, but group hugs aren’t my style.”

“Don’t just stand there, you fools! After him!” Trusting in his talents with all things elusive, Gale waited playfully until the guards were all but on top of him before dodging to the left, feinting to the right, and playing trampoline with an unfortunate stallion’s head to spring free of the encroaching horde once again. Urged by their captain's cries and spurned by the stallion trotting backwards through the streets with a cheeky grin plastered on his smug face, a tumultuous cry arose as they rushed forward with one accord, dashing through the streets.

Relishing the rush of toying with disaster and grateful for a chance to do something other than patrol the quiet streets of Ponyville, Gale was having a grand time tempting fate as he led the guards willy nilly, evading capture with ease. However, no game of chase tarries long before one party tires. Gale knew that if he played too long he would eventually be captured and treated a good deal more roughly than if he had simply followed their orders, and he decided with some reluctance to cut things short: returning to Cloudburn covered in bruises would probably result in far worse torment than a night in the castle dungeons.

Vaulting off of a table, the nimble stallion launched onto a nearby balcony before spreading his wings and gliding to the adjacent building, leaving his pursuers with looks of abject confusion; their quarry was reported to have flightless wings, and by the time they shook the shock and started pursuit, a length of time numbered in mere seconds, the stallion was lost from visual range. Grateful that his wings had recovered enough with time that gliding was even possible, the stallion found a safe spot and allowed himself a short breather. Plying his trade and sticking to the shadows, he soon resumed his trek while being wary of the ever-present danger of being spotted by night guards, but it to his surprise, he didn’t spot any. His trip to the castle seemed to go perfectly fine up until he actually arrived at the castle gates where he quickly realized why he hadn’t seen any more guards along the way.

“Princess, you’re makin’ me feel like some stuck up celebrity with all the attention I’m gettin’,” Gale murmured, his searching eyes darting from pony to pony arranged before the shining citadel. He could hear the distant barking voice of the captain doling out commands to twice the force he’d encountered earlier, and after a few moments the guards scattered, some patrolling the skies while others made rounds of the castle grounds. The captain ain’t captain fer nothin’, it seems. He’s done a right good job o’ cuttin’ off every entrance, both by air and the land. This is going to take some careful thinkin’, oh aye...

After a few moments in contemplation, Gale hung his head and let slip a rueful chuckle as his “plan” came to him. I must be gettin’ soft in me age, lettin’ ‘em have it so easy... Ah, well, Cloudburn would have a fit if I came back lookin’ like a rag doll. Prancing out into plain sight, Gale adopted a laid-back canter as he made his way up the road and straight towards the steel-eyed vanguard standing to attention with weapons ready. Stopping as the front rank brandished their spears, Gale adopted a look of injured innocence and looked up at the captain.

“Ye wily dog. How’d ye know me plan was to waltz through the castle gates? I’m ashamed o’ meself, but I suppose that’s not bein’ very fair,” he lamented, pausing and letting a slow grin spread. “After all, what chance could a flightless pegasus have against the mighty captain o’ the night guard?” The captain said nothing, nor gave any orders to the stallion who couldn’t seem to stop smiling. “I’ve got a meet n’ greet with royalty, but wouldn’t ye know it, I can’t seem t’ find me way. I don’t suppose one of you fine lads could show me t’ the Princess?” There was just a few seconds of silence as the captain scowled at the one who’d single-hoofedly stripped him of any sense of victory with vexing nonchalance before he gave the order with a growl and the wave of his hoof.

“...arrest him.” The whole process of getting leg irons on an obedient stallion took way longer than it rightfully should have due to the guards jumping every time Gale so much as wrinkled his nose, but eventually after many nose wiggles and wing twitches, the elusive stallion was properly restrained. Marched between four guards and followed by two more in front and behind, Gale continued along in his usual manner even as he realized the direction he was being taken meant Luna was serious indeed. Despite the castle’s outward splendor, a dungeon just wouldn’t be a proper dungeon if it wasn’t dank, dark, smelly, and slimy, and all it took was a single doorway for everything to shift.

“Oof! Captain, ye can’t just waft something our way without some kind o’ warnin!” the stallion wailed with juvenile glee, averting his face and pretending to cough as the day guards standing to attention swung open the thick, reinforced doors. “Didn’t yer mother ever teach ye t’ bathe? Her Highness must be patient indeed t’ tolerate such a lack ‘o manners. Now, meself?” Gale continued, swishing his mane. “Cleaner than a fresh spring shower. Ye could stand t’ learn a thing or two-”

“If it weren’t for the fact that we were ordered to detain you without harm...” the captain growled, thrusting his face close and glaring for all he was worth. Gale eyed him, noticed the fire with which he was playing, and gave a respectful nod.

“Did ye come to catch a whiff o’ me mane?” A snicker from somewhere down the line spurred the crimson rising in the captain’s cheeks to greater conquest, and the stallion plied his calm audacity with pride as he bowed his head. “Ye seem teachable, an’ that’s a fine trait fer a captain t’ maintain. Here ye are, lad. Go on, take a sniff!”

“Unharmed, deliver him unharmed. Unbuckingharmed...” Repeating this mantra to himself as he straightened up and gave the order to march, Gale maintained a cool demeanor even as the rising urge to fall to the ground and fill the narrow chambers with uproarious laughter sound more and more gratifying, but no, there was a time and a place, and descending the steps as they were was neither. There was yet a little more fun to be had, and in the close confines of the tight corridor, one of the guard’s spears brushed the stallion’s flanks. It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“Ouch!” Gale yelp, yanking hard on the lead and causing a small avalanche of ponies to tumble down the last few stairs. Half buried, Gale peered up at the unamused captain, shot him a wink and turned to the stallion on his left. “Watch what you’re doin’ with that spear, lad. I don’t know what kinds o’ things you’re taught in the night guard, but here’s a tip: not everypony likes t’ take it up the ar-”

“Silence!” the captain bellowed, well past his limit as he hauled the stallion upright. “Shut your gob, prisoner or I’ll-”

“Shut me what now?” Gale replied, cocking his head to the side. “Ye’ve already got me in chains, lad. Would ye really be so heartless as to-”

“Gag him.”

Ah, great. Now ah went an’ made the poor sod a wee bit peevish. Knowing that his freedom of speech was indeed about to be forcibly revoke, Gale let slip a soft sigh that his fun was to be cut short so soon, but not before having one last laugh at the captain’s expense. Besides, between himself and Luna, Gale was fairly sure he could smooth out any ruffled feathers after the day was done. As the a guard approached with an unintimidating strip of white fabric, Gale looked at the article, back to the captain, and grinned wide. “...you’re a kinky one, captain.”

It was fortunate that the humiliated officer was wearing armored hoofwear, because the force with which he bucked the wall would surely have done more damage to himself had he not. Laughter erupted amongst the disheveled ranks, though they quickly quieted as a deathly hush swept over the captain who would likely be a little late reporting for his shift later that evening on account of all the booze he was planning to consume. Gale’s hopes for a picturesque setting were graciously fulfilled as they came to the bowels of the castle, with unlit torches in rusty sconces, a single dark chamber, and ground that squished with every step. After the one pony prison was illuminated by the ignition of parched wood, he was set in an unfinished wooden throne fit with metal clasps, and once he was properly bound, the gag was removed.

“Seems mighty strange t’ reward a brigand with his own throne, doesn’t it? Luna’s a mystery, aye?” To his surprise, the captain’s scowl slowly grew into a grin creepy enough to make even Gale slightly uncomfortable.

“You there!” the captain barked, turning away, “inform the Princess that the subject has been successfully detained! You, check on the leeches!”

“Leeches? Ye don’t say?” Gale mused, snuggling up to the chair and pretending it were cushioned.

“You three, round up the spiders. Oh, and try not to get bitten? The same goes for you lot, and for the sake of all that is right, be careful with the snakes! I’ve no idea if they are poisonous or not.” Assumptions of the captain being a blowhard fell down hard as the first stallion returned with a pail, looking quite uncomfortable and glad he was wearing armor. Prying a large, black creature from his breastplate and dropping it into the bucket with a plop, Gale quickly came to the conclusion that he may actually have landed himself in a bit deeper trouble than he had imagined. This notion was amplified as a crate of both spiders and snakes were set down near the door, and with a look of smug satisfaction, the captain gave one last order. Gale closed his eyes long before the sack placed over his head blocked out the faint light of the torches, determined to meet the coming storm in the same manner as he always had: with pride and dignity. There was nothing else for him to do but wait.

Meanwhile, high above the underground chamber in a room flooded with sunlight, a listless Luna lay atop her bed, waiting for word from her guards. As wonderful as the idea of a good interrogation sounded and as much anticipation as she should have felt that Celestia had actually gone to the trouble of locating her precious leeches, her sister’s reproving words hung over her head. With a sigh, the princess laid her head atop her hooves and closed her eyes, acknowledging within herself the truth; she had no lawful grounds for the arrest of the pony eluding her guards.

I cannot say that I may take pride in this thing that I do, but what other choice to I have? I cannot bear the thought of entrusting my treasure into the hooves of just anypony... Cracking open her eyes, she glanced over at the file sitting at the edge of her bed. In truth, she hadn’t bothered to even read the name of the one requesting the adoption, only read far enough to know they were coming to Canterlot, and without a thought she’d handed the matter over to her captain. Then again, if she were simply being moody or flippant, Celestia would never have offered her assistance, and it gave her some measure of solace that her dear sister understood exactly why she couldn’t just let Pipsqueak go.

“Your Highness!” Startled from her contemplation, Luna regarded the excited guard with no small measure of annoyance. While it did serve to put a damper on his enthusiasm, his confidence remained intact as he collected himself and delivered an official report straight from the captain himself. “Ten minutes ago, the pony you requested for questioning was captured and is now being detained in the innermost cell of the royal dungeon.”

“The one who made a mockery of my guards?” Luna asked, her tone dangerously calm.

“The same, your Highness.”

Finally, after a dreary morning of sleepless day, I shall have a chance to teach this pony a lesson for his audacity! Not only would he purpose to steal away my favorite colt, but to taunt my sleep-deprived guard as well? The pain shall be doubled! Trembling as a flash of rage twisted Luna’s features into a fearsome scowl, the guard nervously awaited orders while hoping the sudden spell of vexation would pass quickly. Composing herself after a short time, Luna returned her attention to the guard and spoke with calm. “Tell me, who is responsible for his capture? I would reward them for a job well done.”

“Err... actually, that’s, well... everypony.”

“...I do not understand.”

“He just sort of... walked right up to the gates,” the guard replied, every bit as confused as he sounded and Luna looked.

“Art thou serious? I should warn you now is not the time for sarcasm. This pony has offended me greatly, and I’ll not stand for any more of his games.”

“It’s the truth, your Highness.”

“Hmph, such insolence,” Luna muttered, dropping her gaze as she turned away. “Thank you for your service. Tell my captain I shall be to see him shortly, and then we shall have our rest. It has been quite a long morning for all of us.” Bowing low, the pegasus excused himself and went about his business while Luna wrapped the file in a gentle blue aura, staring at the folder for a moment before setting it aside. It is not by a name that you shall be judged worthy, but by the strength of your resolve. Prepare thyself, whoever you are; you have yet to pass my trial.

Sweeping out of the room, Luna made straight for the holding cell, speaking kindly to her guards and dismissing most of them to rest. After having come back into the world with nought but bitterness and loneliness to guide her home, the notion that anypony would swear fealty to her at all made each and every one of her guards a friend, and her gaze darkened as the light faded and she heard the distant voice of the one who had humiliated her closest subjects. As expected, her captain stood to attention by the door, and with the wave of her hoof, Luna signalled he should remain at ease.

“So then, the pony in the file I gave you is behind these doors?”

“That is correct, your Highness. He-”

“Ach, away with ye!” a muted voice called out. “Ye can’t expect me t’ believe that load o’ sea bilge, lad! Ye don’t even have hooves!” There was a moment or two of stunned silence from the two as the voice continued chatting away before Luna cocked her head in abject confusion.

“Is he...”

“Talking to the leeches? Yes,” the captain confirmed, covering his face with a hoof. “He hasn’t stopped talking since he arrived.”

“An’ you! What’re ye hissin’ about?” the voice behind the doors continued, proving the captain’s point. “Don’t tell me you’re hungry? Away with ye. I’ve a fillyfriend t’ return to an’ a colt who needs a place t’ call home. What, ye don’t believe me?” Rather than storming in and putting the prisoner in his place, the captain held his tongue as Luna leaned closer to the door, listening quietly.

“Listen, up, the lot of ye. There’s a lad by the name o’ Pipsqueak that’s won a special place in me heart, but the sad part is... he has no home: no father t’ teach him t’ be a proper rogue, no mother t’ hold ‘im close when he’s scared, an’ hardly a friend t’ spar with. If ye don’t mind, I’d like t’ live long enough t’ give ‘im that. And, if ye do mind... then ye’d best be ready t’ leave this life, because I’m not givin’ up mine.” In the wake of the silence that followed, one captain was left to reassess his desires for retribution while one princess stared at the doors in disbelief.

No, it cannot possibly be... Bursting through the doors and nearly smashing open the crate of spiders, Luna peered for a split second at the captive’s dark blue coat, one that resembled her own, before yanking off the sack and staring not at the face of a stranger, but a friend. “I cannot... but... Gale?” The stallion blinked a few times, glanced down at his bonds, and then back up at the princess with a warming smile.

“Yer Highness?”

“I don’t... but... why are you... here?”

“I was meanin’ t’ ask ye the same question. What did this sorry excuse fer a pegasus do t’ ruffle yer feathers so mightily?”

“Would that the answer were simple,” Luna said with a sigh, turning towards her captain. “Release him.” Despite his own opinion of the sharp-tongued stallion, the captain knew that Luna would not just dismiss an interrogation after so much preparation without good cause, and he diligently obeyed, being careful not to deal roughly with Gale.

“An’ that’s why ye have the lofty title o’ captain. Well done, lad.” Taken aback, the captain paused and stared at the enigma grinning back before removing the last of the leg irons and undoing the clasps.

“Thank you, captain. Rest now, and do not worry. I happen to know this stallion, and am quite confident he will behave in my presence.”

“As you wish, your Highness...”

“Make sure ye reward that one double,” Gale commented as the wearied stallion’s hoofbeats drifted off in the distance. “I gave all yer guards trouble today, but that one most of all.”

“Oh, I am certain it was all in good fun,” Luna replied confidently. “It’s not as though I’m impartial to a prank or two myself when the mood takes me, though I admit I am still not entirely comfortable that my sister has granted Discord sanctuary. I do not enjoy all of his ‘pranks.’ Come, Gale. Let us return to my chambers that we may speak in greater comfort.”

“After all the trouble ye went to gatherin’... leeches?” he shuddered, peering into the bucket. “Remind me never t’ get on your bad side, Princess.”

“You would have lived,” Luna teased in a casual tone, leading the way up the stairs, through the halls, and finally into her personal chambers. It was one of the few places where there weren’t guards regularly stationed, and a simple ward would easily let them talk in peace. “I must admit, I am grateful that I had no need to threaten you with leeches,” Luna commented, smiling faintly as she pulled over a chair for Gale, crawled atop her bed, and drew over the file. “It seems it would do me well to not blindly order somepony’s arrest. I do hope you weren’t harmed?”

“Sorry? Ye have no reason to apologize, yer Highness,” Gale chortled, vigorously shaking his head. “It’ll make a fine story t’ tell me captain in trainin’ with a few fanciful touches later this evenin’.” Gale quieted himself and shed his ever-present mirth in the face of a somber princess. “It seems I’m gettin’ ahead o’ meself. This tale isn’t finished, and I know ye didn’t invite me here fer tea. What ails ye, Princess?”

“It seems that... a day I hadn’t hoped to face draws nigh,” Luna said softly, wrapping the folder in a faint azure aura and setting it in the stallion’s hooves, where he found a file on himself, Cloudburn, and the legal forms for Pipsqueak’s adoption. “Gale, do not be mistaken; of all the ponies that could raise Pipsqueak as their own, you are, perhaps, the only one that I would feel comfortable with. Know too that I have no grounds for which to refuse you should you sign those forms. However, I would... make one request of you.” There was no hesitation in the stallion as he closed the folder and set it aside, fixing his attention on the pony seated before him.

“Ask me anythin’ ye want, yer majesty, but ask me as a friend, not a subject.” Gratitude brought solace and a smile to the alicorn as she nodded her understanding and responded in turn.

“As you wish, Gale. All I would ask of you is that you listen to what I have to say.” Ordinarily, the pegasus seated just a ponylength away from royalty would have replied to such a simple request with cheerful sarcasm, but there was a gravity in the mare’s words that couldn’t be denied.

“Ye have me ears, Luna. Whatever needs t’ be said, let it be said.”

“You wouldn’t imagine that I, the very one who raises the moon, would live her life in fear, would you?” Luna started, speaking in a soft tone that failed to conceal the hurt. “You were in Cloudspire, so you would have no recollection of the events of which I will speak, but they are of the utmost importance, so please... listen well.” It was not a pirate that now sat before her, but friend who wished to be a father.

“I have not been back for any great length of time,” Luna continued, standing and beginning to pace. “I spent much of my first year in hiding here at the castle. Even after one thousand years, my very first impression upon the Equestria I’m coming to know now was one of fear. Consumed by bitterness, I left the town you now call home shrouded in darkness, and its residents trembling in fright.”

“Steady, lass...” Gale soothed, casting aside ceremony as he drew near to the princess, not for the sake of royalty, but for the good of friend. Luna accepted the gentle hoof on her shoulder and paused, collecting herself before continuing.

“Thanks to the efforts of Twilight Sparkle and her friends, I was able to reconcile with my sister. And, testament to their worthiness of the Elements of Harmony, the very ones I had fought with accepted me as well, but they were just a few of the ponies I had wronged.” Luna graced the stallion before her with a weak smile as she sniffed back the moisture rising in her eyes. “I’m sure thou art wondering what this has to do with thine desires for a child, are you not?”

“If I must speak truthfully, yer Highness, I am a wee bit curious,” Gale replied with an encouraging, though subdued, laugh. “I cannot imagine what kind o responsibility ye carry on yer shoulders, and if ye simply need somepony to listen, then me ears are yours.”

“And for that, I thank you, Gale. Your kindness will not be forgotten. However, there is a point in all this,” Luna assured the stallion, straightening up and placing a hoof over his for just a moment before brushing it away. Being revered was a heavy burden, and just that simple touch had brought more comfort to the Lunar Princess than any silver tongue ever could. Not knowing how long she could maintain her composure, Luna recalled one of her most cherished, bittersweet memories and jumped the timeline a year.

“The next time I returned to Ponyville was during one of their festivals: Nightmare Night. It was a curious thing, wishing to be scared, but if there was ever a time when I could present myself to them and have a chance at acceptance, I was convinced it would be then. I was... quite terrified myself, going back...”

“Ach, Ponyville is one o’ the most acceptin’ places anypony could ask for,” Gale commented with a grin. “Got yerself wrapped up in some crazy adventure, did ye?”

“If only that were the case...” The somber reply bid the stallion curb his enthusiasm, and Luna slowly shook her head before continuing. “Many things change in one thousand years... what was once acceptable no longer was, and within a very short while, I had frightened my subjects all over again. And yet... that evening is, to this day, one of my most cherished memories. Do you know why, Gale?” Levity prompted a joke within his mind, but the stallion cast it aside and shook his head. “Coming from one thousand years of isolation only to be met by further rejection was too painful for me to bear. And it was then, when I was longing for acceptance, that a certain young colt said something to me I’ll... never forget.”

“Now what could a up an’ comin’ rogue like Pip say t’ melt the heart of a princess?” Gale pondered aloud, looking up into the face of the night and finding it to be gentle indeed.

“‘You’re my favorite princess ever.’”

I thought I’d be ready t’ take on anythin’ the princess threw at me an’ overcome any obstacle that would stand between me an’ givin’ that colt a home, but ah wasn’t expectin’ that... Gale closed his eyes as the full weight of Luna’s words came down hard, and behind the veil of darkness, the stallion felt his spirits sink further as the delicate plip of a tear drop splashed onto the stonework. Vibrations in the floor accompanied soft hoofbeats along with the shuffling of papers and the scribble of a feather quill. Without a word, the folder was set on the armrest of Gale’s chair, and having been overcome by the tides, Luna excused herself from the room to shed her tears alone. It was some time later when Gale cracked open his eyes only find himself alone in the room with a terrible choice to make.

“Princess, ye don’t fight fair,” Gale whispered, staring crestfallen at the the signature portion of the adoption forms that had been set nearby. With a heavy heart, Silent Gale gathered them together, sank into the chair, and glossed over the legal drivel of the first page before moving on to the second. There, he found that all his personal information, and Cloudburn’s as well, had been hastily filled in. She wouldn’t have filled all this in out o’ guilt. Pipsqueak is too precious fer her t’ just cave, so this... must be her way o’ sayin’ I pass. But if that’s true...

Gale sat poised over the papers. His head felt like lead as he signed his name, dropped the pen, pushed the papers away, and moved his hoof to cover the his eyes. With a few quick strokes, he’d just taken his deepest desire for himself, but there was no triumph in the stallion’s heart as tears of his own began to fall. There was no honor in stealing treasure from a princess, and where there was no honor, there was no victory. Even as his conscience cried out in desperate opposition to the ink still fresh on the page, his heart shouted back just as loud, trapping the stallion in the middle.

“Luna, what would ye have me do? I wouldn’t dream o’ takin’ what ain’t mine if... if I could...” A trickle became a stream as the walls crumbled in the quiet of the castle study. It had only been a matter of days since the doctors had confirmed that the terrible accident that robbed him of flight and left Cloudburn only able to stay airborne for minutes at a time had taken something much greater from both of them: the ability to bring a child into the world. It was a knife to the heart that couldn’t be removed, and Gale could feel the choice he had made twisting the hilt. Lifting his tear-streaked muzzle, the stallion pulled the papers close with one hoof and reached into his satchel with the other.

“Cloudburn, I’m... I’m sorry. I can’t take from another what we’ve... had taken from us.” With a few drops of a flammable substance and a few swipes of flint and tinder, the adoption papers burst into flames. Startled by the smoke, the doors of the chamber burst open as Luna barreled in, where she met Gale’s tear-streaked muzzle with horrified confusion.

“Gale? I... what have you done?”

“Yer Highness... I appreciate yer sacrifice, but I cannot accept it,” Gale choked out, unable and unwilling to lift his head.

“I do not understand. Why would you... simply give up after being chased through the streets of Canterlot, and even jailed by my orders? All you had to do is sign the documents, and-”

“And with my name, I’d have thrown away me honor an’ taken what’s not mine to take!” Gale cried, leaping upright and glaring back through glassy eyes. “If what ye said is true, everything ye told me about how much the lad means to ye, then why would ye tempt me with makin’ such a choice? I could never take somethin’ so precious fer meself, even if it’s everythin’ my heart longs for! What both our hearts long for...” Unable to restrain the tides and ashamed of acting as if Luna were in the wrong, Gale bowed his head and lowered his voice, barely managing to rise above a choked whisper.

“I couldn’t take a child from anypony, yer Highness. Not when... when mine have... been taken from me.” Seconds ticked by where the only sound in the room was the quiet weeping of a grown stallion who rarely shed tears. Slowly did Luna approach her friend’s quaking form, and just as he had done for her, so she too place a hoof on the stallion’s quaking shoulders.

“I am ashamed to say I never realized it before, after seeing so many signs in your dreams. I thought that my fears may be correct, but I did not want to do you this dishonor of asking. Gale, you and your fillyfriend are... unable to conceive?” A shudder, a pause, and finally a nod confirmed Luna’s suspicions, and she bowed her head in solemn lament for his heartbreak.

“Truly, it was never my intention to bring such painful thoughts to mind. However, dear friend, I must admit I am wounded you would think me so cruel as to use my own past to dissuade you from giving Pipsqueak a home. When I told you those things, it wasn’t because I hoped you would simply walk away, much less burn the documents.” Taking a few deep breaths, Silent Gale wrestled his composure back to a point he could speak clearly, and Luna’s gentle hoof under his chin raised his eyes towards her own. “I told you all those things so you would know... that when I entrust Pipsqueak into your care, you would understand that you have been tasked with guarding the most beloved treasure of a princess.”

“Ye... would give me such a gift?” Gale said softly, unable to restrain the hope welling within his chest. Like stepping under the cool of a waterfall on a searing summer’s day, relief swept in to wash away the stallion’s tears as Luna chanced a smile and a little humor, hoping that the it would be well received by the friend she drew into a gentle embrace.

“Assuming you do not burn the documents a second time, then... Pipsqueak shall be yours.” Amongst the tears a chuckle arose, and just as the stallion had done for her a time or two, Luna tried her hoof at encouraging sarcasm. “It seems that I may yet have things to teach you, Silent Gale. Arson is not fitting treatment for royalty, much less the one who would become guardian of my treasure.”

“Aye,” Gale laughed, wiping his eyes, “an’ neither is weepin’ like a babe an’ blowin’ snot all over a princess, but ye don’t seem too sore about that.”

“Well, as long as you do not make a habit of this...” Luna replied with a royal giggle, releasing the stallion and floating over a box of tissues. “Dry your eyes, Silent Gale, and cry no more. You mustn’t return to Cloudburn looking as you do now.”

“Funny, I was thinkin’ about just that,” Gale laughed, pausing to blow his nose and take a deep breath. “I was just imaginin’ how she’ll respond when I tell her about all this. I’ll be sleepin’ on the couch fer weeks, I’m sure.”

“The couch? Pray tell, why would she punish you thus?”

“Ach, the lass can be a touch fickle,” Gale replied, waving a dismissive hoof. “Somethin’ about being alone in another mare’s chambers and cuddlin’.”

“We were not cuddling. I do not simply cuddle; there are procedures one must observe before engaging in such a thing,” Luna declared officiously holding out a hoof as if making a royal decree. There was a pause as she lowered her hoof, and Gale had himself a little moment of actual fright as Luna adopted a coy smile and shot him a wink. “Wouldst thou be interested in knowing such procedures?”

“Thank ye kindly, princess, but I really would like to live long enough t’ see tomorrow’s sunrise,” Gale chuckled nervously. Luna’s sarcasm was still unrefined and quite frequently couldn’t be distinguished from her usual speech, but Gale didn’t bother asking her to elaborate.

“Thou art prudish, Gale. If thou shalt not accompany me to bed, then get thee gone. I require rest.”

“As ye wish, yer Highness,” the stallion replied with a sweeping bow, trotting towards the door and pausing as a voice called out behind him.

“Gale?” He paused, regarding the princess with waiting eyes. “I would... make one more request of you.”

“Ask away, Luna. I’ve no right to withhold anythin’ that’s in me power t’ give.”

“If it is possible, could you... bring him to visit every now and again?” Turning around to fully face the one who had granted his deepest desire, Gale trotted back inside and made the mare a promise.

“On me honor, from now until the day he’s no longer in my care, ye shall see the lad at least once a month.” Decided not on paper nor scrawled in ink, the pact was struck between one stallion and one princess that a royal treasure be appointed a guardian, a father, and a family. The afternoon passed in a blur as the overwhelming fatigue of emotional exhaustion lulled Gale to sleep on the train ride home. Waking with a groan, the stallion made straight for the little cottage on the edge of town, nearing his one little piece of heaven that was destined only to grow.

“Cloudburn? I’m h- whoa!” Were Gale not so worn to the bone as he dragged himself through the door, he would have gratefully accepted the leaping tackle of an eager fillyfriend with a good deal more grace than simply toppling over in the doorway. However, his trip to Canterlot had been draining in every way, and despite the insequential pain of hitting his head on the ground, Gale chose to enjoy laying prone and heaved a sigh as his muscles began to relax.

“So, how’d it go?” Cloudburn asked, beaming brightly from her perch atop his chest. “Something obviously happened, ‘cause you’re about as spunky as a damp rag.”

“I’ve just made it back an’ that’s the first thing ye have t’ say t’ me?” Gale laughed wearily, reaching up as if to pull the mare close before playfully shoving her away. “Away with ye, lass. Ye’ll not hear a peep from me until I’m restin’ in me own bed and sippin’ the finest grog ye can fetch fer a tired rogue.”

“Couch and a glass of cold water?”

“Close enough!” Gale affirmed, pulling himself inside and heaving a joyful moan as he stretched out on the couch. He couldn’t help the affection radiating from his features as the mare neared, and after a deep draft of refreshing spring water and a few smaller sips to fully sate his thirst, the stallion lay back and closed his eyes, smiling at the sudden warmth around his side and chest. “I missed ye somethin’ fierce, Cloudburn,” Gale murmured, loosely draping his hoof around the mare pleasantly cuddled up next to him. She didn’t doubt his words, and it made the mare fear the worst. Gale could hold his own physically, so for him to be as drained as he appeared, then it had to be emotional exhaustion.

“I’m sorry it was so awful...”

“Not all o’ it was weepy, lass,” Gale said cheerfully, though the underlying tone in his voice made it clear that something had indeed happened. “Ye don’t need t’ ask, Cloudburn. I’ll tell ye everythin’. It started just before noon, when I stepped off the train in the royal city...” His tale needed no embellishment to capture the mare’s attention, and she listened intently as he moved her to laugh, cringe, and shed a few tears of her own, but as he drew the story to a close, it was joy that flowed down her cheeks.

“So then, we really...” the mare started, drawing closer to the one who had proven yet again the depth of his devotion, both to her and to his honor.

“Aye, lass... we get to be parents, the two o’ us.”

“Have you told him yet?”

“Nay,” Gale murmured, closing his eyes and laying back with a treasure just as great held within his hooves. “I’ll talk to him about it soon, but fer now, I’d... like to rest. Would ye... stay with me?” His answer came not with words, but a tender kiss, and two broken pegasi held each other tight as each pondered the treasure that had just been bestowed upon them. It was something of no monetary value, nor a trinket to be toted around for status, but a treasure cherished by Princess Luna herself, and relinquished unto them. They had Pipsqueak. They had a son.