• Published 19th Jul 2012
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The Best of All Possible Worlds - McPoodle

The philosopher Voltaire finds himself in the most-frustrating place imaginable: Equestria

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Chapter 9

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 9

It really shouldn’t have surprised Jordan that the donkey was able to sabotage the knot he tried to tie in the rope around her neck. A hoof coming up at just the right time, and suddenly he was tying a slip knot instead of an overhand. He decided it would be best for him to pretend not to notice—if the jenny was just a donkey, she wouldn’t be clever enough to get out, and if she was...something else, then it might not be prudent to get on her bad side. He pulled the crucifix by its chain out from inside of his shirt so it rested where he could easily grab it. Just in case.

Taking the coil of rope in his hand, he started walking out the door, only to be pulled up short when the animal refused to move. This of course was the expected behavior for a donkey under the circumstances.

“Come on, jenny,” he addressed her in a friendly tone. “We’re going to a party. You’d like to go to a party, yes?” He finished with a great big smile—this had always worked well on his daughter when she was younger, and he figured it ought to work nearly as well on a domesticated animal.

The donkey tilted her head sideways at him as he spoke (shifting her ears to keep the paper crown from falling off), before finally deciding to follow him.

Of course, she didn’t smile back at him. That was physically impossible. He must have been seeing things again.

~ ~ ~

Genevieve allowed herself to be led out of the padded room and down a long, poorly-lit corridor, past doors with barred windows. The smells and sounds around her were very disconcerting. This was most definitely a human place and, she hoped, not typical of their kind. The rope around her neck was not a good sign. It meant that these humans didn’t trust her, or that they were worried that she might wander into places they didn’t want her to go. Even though the circumstances were completely different than the throne room visit she had been prepared for this morning, Genevieve realized that her father’s instructions to her applied just as well here, because the goal in both cases was to keep from making her hosts mad at her: be polite, watch and listen, and don’t speak unless spoken to. The language problem took care of the third instruction. In fact, Genevieve considered it most likely that she was being led to wherever the humans kept their version of the white cap.

She stopped short when she saw that the human she called Number Two was attempting to lead her down a narrow and poorly-built staircase. The human turned to address her, again using the bark that Genevieve was certain was the human translation of her name, but this time she refused to do as he wished. Instead, she leaned forward, grabbed the coil of the rope that he was holding in his foreclaw in her mouth, and gently tugged it free. Then she used her head to motion him to go down the staircase first. She had to repeat this motion many times before he got it, causing her to doubt his intelligence. But finally Number Two made his way all the way down the stairs, keeping his head turned and his eyes on her the entire way.

Once she was sure that the way was safe, she walked carefully down, keeping the rope in her lips. Then when she reached the bottom she passed the coil back to the human. Number Two quickly made to rub the rope off on his trousers, before looking surprised to discover that it was dry. Evidently, he knew nothing about how equine mouths worked. Either that, or he thought she was a drooler.

Number Two led the filly through another dark corridor and through a door into late-afternoon sunlight. Genevieve raised a forehoof to shield her eyes while she adjusted, then was led a short ways down a dirt path to a grove of trees. A blanket had been spread out next to a table with very narrow benches, and lying down on her stomach on the blanket was a miniature human with long brown hair. There was a pad of paper in front of her and some jars of paint, and she was dipping a brush into the paints one at a time in order to draw on the paper. On her head was a conical paper hat, brightly colored and decorated with unknown symbols. She was wearing what appeared to be a fancy pink dress.

It’s a baby human, and it’s her birthday! Genevieve realized. Then she looked around. And she doesn’t have any guests at her party! She looked back over at the human who had brought her here. He had what looked like a broken-hearted smile on his face, looking not at her, but at the girl human, at...his daughter? Genevieve understood.

“Happy birthday, little human!” she cried out. She hoped that the human would understand her feeling of goodwill, even if she couldn’t understand the donkey’s words. The human girl turned to look, and a great big smile broke on her face. She rushed over and hugged Genevieve, and Genevieve hugged her back.

In the corner of her eye, she saw Number Two talking to his employee, Number One. Number One was excitedly gesturing back to the large building she had come out of. In response, Number Two adjusted his clothing, and then tied the other end of Genevieve’s rope around a small tree before walking away.

Genevieve didn’t mind that she’d just been chained to this spot. She was here to make this human happy, and that was the only thing that mattered.

Besides, not only did she have the slip knot, she knew she could easily pull the tree up by the roots in about ten seconds if she really needed to.

Number Two didn’t understand equines at all.

Voltaire couldn’t sleep. He never was very good at sleeping in a strange place, and Equestria was about as strange as you could possibly get.

He reviewed his situation, and he didn’t like it. In Europe, he had an extensive network of correspondents and admirers, many of them quite influential. If somebody in power ever wanted to get back at him for something he had written, they would with any luck be held back by fear of the wave of protest that would erupt from his legion of friends.

He had no such legion here.

His existence depended on the goodwill of a very small number of individuals. Worse, they were individuals belonging to a species and a culture he knew next to nothing about. How did he know they didn’t turn savage on the nights of the full moon? What if they considered looking over your left shoulder to be the height of blasphemy? What if Princess Celestia got tired of him? He was awfully prone to tiring out monarchs.

Voltaire had his wits to protect him, and under normal circumstances that would be more than enough. But these were far from normal circumstances. He needed to form some backup plans. Lots and lots of backup plans.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire got out of bed and put his old clothes on. As he was opening the door to his apartment, he found that he had to push a bundle out of the way. That bundle turned out to be several days’ worth of new clothes made by Rossignol.

Voltaire smiled for a moment, imagining his Émilie trying to ride the Royal Tailor. Then he picked up the package and brought it inside.

A few minutes later, looking almost perfect in his own estimation, he finally exited his apartment. All that was missing was a shave. Considering that ponies appeared to never shave, this meant two things: under no circumstances should he allow a pony to shave him if he wanted to keep all of his blood inside of his neck, and there was a good chance that none of the ponies would even notice his stubble.

~ ~ ~

One thing that would be useful for any backup plan was information. Voltaire got directions to the public archives. Walking down shelves of cubbyholes each holding one to a dozen scrolls, the human picked one at random and unrolled it. He was disappointed to discover that the powers of the white cap apparently did not extend to written languages. He tried a few more scrolls, on the unlikely chance that he had picked the only work of gibberish in the collection.

He could certainly ask a pony to read one or more scrolls to him, but part of the point of going into a library in the middle of the night was to find out things that you didn’t want anybody else to know you knew. He figured he could ask Eveningstar to accompany him here later, but for the most part, this part of his plan was a dead end.

~ ~ ~

The next thing to do was to learn the layout of the castle. He doubted that he’d discover any of the secret passages that all castles had on his first night of exploring, but then again, he might get lucky.

On his travels he made the acquaintance of the night cooks, the night cleaning staff, and the night dentistry crew. He got away from the last group as fast as humanly possible.

He was walking by the entrance to the guard barracks when the back of his leg was bumped by a small object. He looked down to see a rubber ball on the ground. As he picked it up, his eyes were caught by those of a small dog that was looking at him expectantly.

“Is this yours?” he asked the dog.

At this point, he would not have been surprised in the slightest if the dog had replied to him in Equine, followed by a string of curses to punish him for his patronizing tone. Well, he might have been surprised a little.

“I hope you don’t think dogs can talk,” remarked Captain Hardheart. “Because if you are, that would make you even stupider than you look.”

“Good morning, Captain,” said Voltaire, standing up. He glanced back and forth between the waiting dog and the pony guard. “Company mascot?” he asked.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” the stallion replied. “Steelteeth here wants his substitute toy back.”

Voltaire bounced the ball a couple of times off of the floor, driving the dog utterly bonkers. “Substitute toy?” he asked.

“Yeah, he used to have a genuine unicorn throwing ring. Floated at the perfect height for throwing, came back to you if you whistled, and tasted like the finest corn meal...or so I’ve been told.”

“Of course,” replied Voltaire with a knowing smile. “What happened to it?”

“Somepony stole it. One of my stallions tells me he saw it snatched right out of thin air a couple of weeks ago. Like it had been pulled into another world. You wouldn’t happen to know what happened to it, do you?

Voltaire knew that look quite well from human guards. When one of them was in that particular mood, it didn’t really matter if you were innocent or not of whatever they were accusing you of.

Voltaire pulled out his watch. “Look at the time!” he exclaimed. “I need to head over to that place to do the thing, with somepony really, really important!”

“Uh huh,” said Captain Hardheart skeptically.

Voltaire took another look at the watch, and then glanced out of a nearby window. The darkness of the night was fading, and it would soon be dawn.

Voltaire smiled craftily. “On second thought, do you think the Princess would allow a humble visitor during the raising of the Sun?”

Author's Note:

Blog entries that go with this chapter: "The Anonymous Author's Bibliography" for the delay between Chapters 8 and 9, and "Luna Story #1" to go along with Chapter 9 itself. That last one is my second-favorite blog associated with this story, probably because it had no narrative purpose whatsoever.