• Published 19th Mar 2017
  • 1,278 Views, 51 Comments

Respect and Respectability - bookplayer

Princess Platinum is going to throw a party, whether Clover likes it or not.

  • ...

2 - Orders of the Princess

Clover took a breath as she stepped into Princess Platinum’s throne room and prepared to be frustrated.

The throne room actually wasn’t that grand when compared to the ballroom or the dining hall, with a kind of elegant simplicity that Clover might have respected if it hadn’t been for the ponies in it. The walls were white and unadorned, the floors and columns were white marble, and Platinum’s silvery throne stood at the end of the room. Only the Monoceros banner behind it and the dark purple runner leading up to it provided a dash of color.

But there were ponies, and on the days set aside for castle business and petitions it was full of only the most sycophantic and competitive of Platinum’s nobles.

Today was one of those days, and Clover could feel their eyes on her as she made her way up the aisle to kneel before Princess Platinum.

“Rise. What can I help you with, Clover?” Platinum was smiling as Clover straightened.

“Your Majesty.” Clover nodded. “I’m here today to make a request for some additional funding for my studies.”

Platinum tilted her head slightly. “What for?”

Clover pulled several scrolls out of the pockets of her robes with her magic and floated them to Platinum. “I’ve been trying to advance teleportation, you see, and there’s a fellow at one of the schools along the coast who claims to have gotten some excellent results with thaumic pulsing. But Star Swirl always said thaumic pulsing was only good for parlor tricks, so I’d want to see it for myself before I begin experimenting.”

“Teleporting? But can’t you already teleport?” Platinum furrowed her brow, setting the scrolls aside unread. It was just as well, one of them was nothing but dirty limericks Clover had encoded in ancient symbols anyhow. But it looked properly magical, which was the important thing.

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Clover nodded and considered her next words. “But I would like to be able to teleport better. Longer distances, more ponies. And there’s a pony I would like to meet who might have ideas about how.”

Princess Platinum seemed to accept that. “And you’d require funds for visiting this pony?”

“I’d need travel expenses and—”

A voice cut in from the crowd of courtiers, “Something to wear that doesn’t look like an oat sack?”

“— and room and board for an assistant if I do begin experiments.” Clover glared at the crowd.

“How much do you need?” Platinum asked.

Clover cleared her throat. “Three hundred bits for the travel, and if I can’t find a student assistant I should need about fifty bits a month wages, and a room here in the castle for her.”

Platinum frowned, considering. “I’m afraid the budget is very tight this season. The Winter Ball is coming up, you know.”

“Well, that seems appropriate, being as it’s winter,” Clover said with a nod. “However, I should hope that advancing magical knowledge is more important than ponies dancing.”

“This is the Winter Ball, my dear. I’m afraid I can’t grant your requests.” Platinum pursed her lips. Then all at once her eyebrows went up and a grin flashed across her face. “Oh! I could offer you an invitation to the ball, of course!”

Clover just stared at her. “Yes, I’m sure that will do just as well. Very few ponies realize how similar getting one’s hooves stepped on by clumsy young lords is to teleportation.”

A mare in the crowd stepped forward. “Your Majesty, with all due respect, you can’t be considering—”

Platinum smiled at the mare. “It is perfectly proper for our royal mage to attend. Everypony knows mages are a queer lot, anyway. I’m sure she has lots of magical things to discuss, and there must be somepony interested in hearing them.”

Clover narrowed her eyes, considering how nice it might be if that pony was her blasted patron.

“But look at her!” another pony called.

After a considering frown at Clover, the smile returned to Platinum’s face. “You will need appropriate attire of course. I’m sure I have something that can be altered—”

“Your Majesty.” Clover sighed. “Look, I’m sure the Winter Ball is quite amusing if you have nothing better to do and more dresses than sense. But we mages are a queer lot, as you know, and I have magic to study. For that I need funds, not a blasted ballgown.”

Platinum’s face fell to a regal and not at all friendly line. “Well, you’re getting no funds.”

“Your Majesty, please,” Clover pleaded through gritted teeth. “I’m trying to do my work here. If I manage a breakthrough, it will be a credit to us both, not to mention practical applications of improved teleportation spells like—”

“I can easily imagine all of the benefits of supporting your research. I do offer you space, and a room, and meals, and a stipend.” Platinum looked at Clover pointely. “But I have more pressing concerns as well, and right now the most important one is the Winter Ball. Which I take it you are not attending, so I believe there’s nothing else to be said here that concerns you.”

“Right.” Clover gave a sharp nod. “Of course. Well, perhaps we can get to advancing magical knowledge after you finish dancing.” She turned around and started back up the aisle. “Thank you for your time, Your Majesty.”

As she stepped out the door she heard somepony say, “How can you be so kind to that pony?”

About an hour after they returned to the unicorn camp, Clover found herself once again hurrying to keep up with Platinum. The princess was a whirlwind; after announcing the party to the common ponies she’d caught up Clover again and spun her off to see the steward, the cooks, and the court musicians.

Their next stop seemed to be yet another tent with the royal seal on the flap. Or it might have been the same one, Clover wasn’t entirely sure they weren’t running in circles while ponies quickly changed the occupants of a single tent.

Stepping through the flap behind Platinum, Clover could see looms, skeins of threads, and bolts of fabric. She remembered the conversation earlier about visiting the seamstress and glanced around cautiously, preparing to teleport to safety. Just outside the tent would do—

“Don’t even think about it,” Platinum said, not even glancing back.

Clover raised her eyebrows. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, Your Majesty.”

Platinum grinned as a short, stout mare stepped forward. “Nimble Thimble, how lovely to see you again!”

“The honor is mine, Your Majesty.” Nimble Thimble bowed.

“Thank you.” Platinum smiled and nodded as the mare straightened herself. “Now, I have quite a bit of work for you and your ponies. We’re having a festival!”

Nimble Thimble cocked her head. “Oh? When is this?”

“In about four hours.”

A few months before, back in Monoceros, Clover had teleported herself to a balcony that she quickly realized was actually on the other side of the castle, leaving her several stories up in midair. She instantly recognized the feelings behind the wide eyed expression of surprise and terror frozen on Nimble Thimble’s face.

“Don’t worry, everypony knows we’re a bit rushed.” Platinum gave the pony a sympathetic look. “Now, first of all, we are founding a new nation, so we shall need you to design a flag—”

Clover also recognized the strangled cry that Nimble Thimble let out, though Clover had followed hers with an impressive string of curses and a flash of magic.

Platinum laid a hoof on the mare’s shoulder. “Just put together something attractive and inoffensive. If you design a better one later, we can replace it.”

Nimble Thimble swallowed and nodded. “Anything else, Your Majesty?”

“Of course we shall need decorations. Banners, bunting… it should be colorful, I think we’ve all had enough of that dull snow and ice.”

“I’m afraid I may not have what you need, Your Majesty.” Nimble Thimble glanced around at her stock. “We haven’t received any shipments of cloth or threads after what happened to Girthshire. To be honest, I don’t know if we’ve got the right fabric for the flag…”

“I’ll take care of that. I’m sure it will work out.” Platinum gave a wave of her hoof. Then she looked around, her eyes landing on a stallion standing nearby. “Now, Top Stitch, I have a special job for you. Tell me, what do you think of Clover’s robes?

The yellow stallion looked at the robes. He looked at Platinum as if this might be a joke. He looked at Clover as if she might be insane. Then he looked at the robes with a frown so deep that Clover got the sense that he was personally offended by their existence.

Clover narrowed her eyes. “What do you think of them knowing I can teleport you into the river?”

He looked at Clover with the same frown. “Not an improvement.”

“Exactly.” Platinum gave Clover a pointed look. Then she turned to Top Stitch. “But she’s rather attached, you see, so perhaps you could do something with these?”

He sighed and gave Platinum a look. “I’m not the royal mage...”

“Actually, I am the royal mage,” Clover noted quickly. “And I think my robes are fine.”

Platinum ignored Clover and smiled at Top Stitch. “I’m sure you can at least improve upon them.”

He nodded. “I’m not sure how I could fail to, Your Majesty.”

“Perfect.” Platinum nodded to Clover. “Clover, give Top Stitch your robes.”

Clover frowned and shifted back a step. “No.”

“Oh, come now.” Platinum sighed. “Everypony is very busy. Just give the pony your robes and—”

“I said no. I like my robes the way they are.” Clover held her head high and looked at Platinum with a challenge.

“Well they are unacceptable,” Platinum said, rolling her eyes.

“To whom?”

Platinum motioned around the room. “Everypony agrees they’re awful.”

Clover shot a glare around the room that seemed to make every pony there fascinated by the nearest object at hoof.

Turning the glare on Platinum, Clover stomped her hoof and shouted, “Everypony can discuss exactly how awful my robes are on their way to Tartarus!”

Platinum pursed her lips, then looked at the ponies around the room. “Excuse us.”

Platinum walked over to a dressing screen and motioned for Clover to follow. Once they had that small bit of privacy, she whispered, “Clover, you are making far too much fuss over this.”

“Well I think it’s worth making a fuss over,” Clover whispered harshly. “These are my robes, and they’re none of your business.”

“As a matter of fact, they are very much my business.” Platinum raised her eyebrows. “There are a number of ponies here who do not have a high opinion of you. We must fix that, and the very first thing those ponies will notice are those robes.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Clover said, locking eyes with her. “I know what you think of me, you and that lot of poison butterflies. And allow me to make this perfectly clear: I do not give a flying feather.

Platinum’s face softened into a pitying smile. “Oh, Clover… that’s just darling, but I really do not have time right now. We’ll have a talk later. In the meantime, I am your friend, your patron, and, until tomorrow, your Princess. You may decide the reason for yourself, but you will give Top Stitch those robes.”

Clover lit her horn to teleport away, which she figured she should have done as soon as they got in the tent, or possibly when they got back to the camp. She wasn’t entirely sure she shouldn’t have done it the minute Star Swirl brought her to that blasted castle in Monoceros years ago.

“You do want Monoceros to join Equestria, don’t you?” Platinum did not arch an eyebrow. She didn’t look like she was making a threat at all. She simply looked completely and utterly serious, which did more to turn Clover’s stomach to ice than any glare or hoof stomping ever could have.

Clover let her horn cool and stared at Platinum for a moment. Then she closed her eyes and lit her horn again, this time pulling her robes from her body and flinging them at the princess. “Fine. Take the blasted robes.”

Platinum looked at Clover with pity. “Why don’t you go relax for a bit? I’ll find you when things are ready.”

With only a sigh for a response, Clover turned and walked out of the tent with her head hanging nearly as low as she felt.

The throne room was freezing, and Clover couldn’t stop shaking. Those were correlated, but not actually causative, as Clover’s robes were quite warm. But outside the freezing and, most importantly, magical blizzard howled. Clover knew perfectly well why she’d been summoned, but she wasn’t exactly sure why she had shown up rather than hiding under her bed.

She forced herself to walk up the aisle, step by step. She wished the throne was a gallows; at least being hung was a fate ponies didn’t have to live with afterwards.

When she got to Platinum at the end, for once she was glad to bow; it let her avoid looking at the princess for a blessed few moments.

“Rise. Thank you for coming, Clover.”

“You summoned me, Your Majesty?” Clover looked up to see the Princess smiling gently.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed the weather.” Princess Platinum’s smile turned to a frown. “I’ve had to cancel my garden party for snow. And we also seem to be running out of food.”

Clover swallowed and tried to delay the inevitable. “Yes… Yes, I noticed.”

“The pegasi say it’s not their magic,” Platinum said, raising an eyebrow.

“Of course it’s not.” Clover gave a shaky smirk. “I can’t imagine why they’d want these blizzards, they must be murder to fly in.”

“I’m sure.” Platinum nodded. “But if it isn’t their magic, what kind is it?”

Clover closed her eyes and swallowed again, this time trying to keep the tears that were stinging her eyes from making her look like even more of a fool.

Biting her lip, Clover opened her eyes and answered the wall behind Platinum. “Well… you see, finding a signature on wild magic can be… I mean to say, it’s not a simple… that is, there are many magics we understand very little about, which is why we focus on study, categorization, experimentation—”

“Yes,” Platinum cut in. “So what have you found?”

Clover took a deep breath. “… I don’t know, Your Majesty.”

The courtiers began a rustle of whispering that soon grew to a racket of murmurs. Clover was sure she could make out bits and phrases: “Worthless... Waste of space... Pretends to know magic…”

Princess Platinum’s voice cut through them, clear and calm. “Clover, may I speak with you privately?”

Clover cringed. “Of course.”

Platinum stood and led Clover to a doorway on the side of the room, stepping inside. Clover followed and found a small comfortable room with paintings of flowers on the walls and two sitting pillows on either side of a low table.

On the table was a crystal decanter and two glasses. Platinum sat on a cushion and filled one of the glasses. She motioned to the other cushion, and Clover sat uncomfortably. Not that the cushion was uncomfortable, of course. Clover’s very existence was uncomfortable at that moment.

“Wine?” Platinum nodded to the decanter as she floated the full glass to herself.

“No, thank you.” Clover shifted on her cushion.

Platinum took an un-princessly gulp of her drink. “Now, what do you mean, you don’t know?"

“I don’t know.” Clover hung her head. “I have no information on it, no way of testing, not a blasted clue where to start. If Star Swirl was here—”

“Star Swirl is not here, Clover.” Platinum looked at her, pleading. “You are the royal mage.”

Clover swallowed and nodded. “I know. I’ll keep searching. There must be a clue, somewhere… some hint, some methodology for testing, some… thing!” Cringing, she covered her eyes with a hoof. “Perhaps if I had more books, or better equipment…”

“Just tell me what you need to stop this, and I’ll arrange it,” Platinum said, leaning forward.

Clover stared at her, mentally running through every book she’d ever heard of, every item she had the vaguest idea how to use. “...I don’t know! I don’t know if anything would do any blessed good.”

“Very well.” Platinum took a breath and drained the rest of her wine. “I have a summit with Girthshire and Hippocampus regarding the issue, and I shall have to tell them that. They’re going to think we’re liars or fools.” She frowned, and her magic floated her glass and refilled it from the decanter. “And if this continues, we shall have to evacuate Monoceros.”

“I’m sorry, Princess.” Clover gave her sympathetic look. “I know how you feel.”

Platinum took a long drink from her fresh glass, then sighed. “Clover, you have no idea how I feel. Please just return to your laboratory.”

Clover swallowed and nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“If you’ll excuse me…” Platinum rose to her hooves and took another drink of wine before setting the glass aside. She floated a handkerchief to her face and wiped the red from the corners of her mouth.

The princess took a deep breath, and as she let it out her usual bright, gentle smile fell over her face. She walked out the door into the throne room, leaving it open behind her.

“What did she say?” one of the mares outside asked.

Clover edged to the door to hear more clearly. Her face was already burning with humiliation, she might as well hear exactly why. She stood to the side, just out of sight.

“Oh, the problem is very complex, she’s still working on it.”

A different voice spoke up. “She really isn’t—”

Platinum ignored it. “In the meantime, I’ve decided we shall have a concert instead of a garden party.”

Clover frowned. While she hadn’t exactly wanted to hear the rest of that, this didn’t seem quite the time to be concerned with parties.

“But what will you tell the other tribes?” a stallion asked.

“The truth: That our musicians make music more lovely than flowers anyway.”

“I meant about—”

“I think my gown shall be pink velvet… something bright if we’re to have no flowers this year.”

Clover glared through the wall at the general direction of Platinum’s voice. At least they’d be able to spot her dress when they had to evacuate the country through a blasted blizzard.

“That will look lovely on you, Princess,” one of the mares said happily.

Clover sighed and slipped out into the throne room, staying close to the wall. She left without a word and made her way back to her laboratory,

Walking into the small, dimly lit room full of her books and equipment, she selected one of the books and went back to work. She knew perfectly well it was useless. She wasn’t going to find an answer, the princess didn’t give a flying feather, and if this kept up they’d either starve or freeze to death.

But she also knew perfectly well that she was the royal mage, and this was a magical threat, and if the worst happened it wouldn’t be Platinum’s fault. It would be hers.

So she kept reading, praying to the stars, and generally trying to be useless in the right direction.

Clover felt naked without her robes. Which she was, obviously. Of course, so were most ponies, but as Clover walked down the street between the row of tents she couldn’t help feeling she’d lost some kind of desperately needed armor.

“Clover!” a stallion’s voice called out, vaguely familiar.

Clover cringed. She was fairly sure she didn’t know anypony she wanted to speak with right now. She looked over to try to see who might be about to bother her, and her entire demeanor softened as she saw Smart Cookie walking towards her.

“I’ve been looking for you,” he said as he caught up to her. “Puddinghead sent me with the carts of food, primarily to make me stop talking to her since she can no longer order me to shut up.” He tilted his head. “Where are your robes?”

Clover sighed. “Abducted by a tailor. Orders of the Princess.”

He gave her a wan smile. “That’s the problem with monarchy. In Girthshire we have to use taxes to steal the shirt off your back, which at least takes a bit more time.”

She chuckled and smiled back. “And in Equestria?”

“It’d be nice to know, wouldn’t it?” Cookie rolled his eyes.

“Yes, it would.” She frowned and shook her head. “Perhaps we hadn’t ought to be allowing the ponies who got us into this mess to be directing things?”

“Well, we’ve been promised politics tomorrow. I’ve got dozens of ideas, none of which involve leaving those three in charge without oversight.” He gave a resigned shrug and continued, “But for now they are still in charge. At the very least Puddinghead has stopped treating me as a dog she fears might get rational ideas all over the carpet, and Pansy got her promotion and a shiny new pin on her uniform to go with it.”

Clover was quiet, looking at the tents they passed.

Cookie raised his eyebrows at her. “What about you? Has your lot improved?”

She raised her eyebrows back. “Have I got my robes?”

“Surely Platinum appreciates that you saved her blessed life.” He frowned in confusion.

“Perhaps she does, who can tell?” Clover rolled her eyes. “I don’t believe there’s room in her head for more than one thought at a time, and she does her best to make sure it’s always dresses and teas and parties. She drives me batty.”

Cookie nodded in sympathy. “At least it’s harmless enough. I’m sure her entertainments have racked up far fewer casualties than Hurricane’s warmongering, and bound ponies’ freedom less often than Puddinghead’s deals and agreements with the guilds.”

Clover gave a snort. “Directly, perhaps. But I’m a student of Star Swirl the Bearded, I’m meant to be making magical advances that might benefit all ponykind, not begging for scraps in a dungeon while the princess worries what wine goes best with squash saute.”

“Red. Probably something earthy.”

Clover eyed him suspiciously.

“I’m an earth pony. We know food.” He leaned in to brush her side. “In any case, we’ll see to it you have your own library. Having been founded on an unknown spell, I’ll happily argue that getting a grip on this magic business might be useful to Equestria.”

“Thank you.” She leaned into him as well; the first time in years she’d felt a friendly touch without her robes. She smiled up at him. “I mean it, I’m not used to having a pony who supports me.”

He smiled back. “We’re all your friends, Clover. Even Platinum. I’m sure she means well, even if she doesn’t know how to show it.”

Clover hadn’t noticed they were approaching the center square until she looked up and noticed the princess’s tent. She eyed it, wondering if she should turn around and avoid the area, when a voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Why Clover! I hardly recognized you without your rags!” Lady Radiant said, trotting towards her with Lady Sorbet.

Clover glared at them.

Lady Radiant smirked. “Oh. Now I do. Same lovely expression.”

“Perhaps whatever magic saved us saved her from those nasty things.” Lady Sorbet snorted a laugh at herself.

Cookie frowned and drew himself up, with an unamused look at the mares. “Since she was in part responsible for that magic, a better use might have been to save her from the nasty things before us.”

Lady Radiant smiled. “How perfect, she’s gotten herself a mud pony suitor!”

In a flash of purple magic, Clover had Lady Radiant dangling upside down in her magic. Teleportation and levitation made a damnably useful combination. “Say that again and I’ll—”

“Excuse me.

Glancing over, Clover saw Platinum frowning at the scene with a package in her magic. Her eyes went wide and she dropped Lady Radiant in a heap.