• 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 26

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 26

It took one week for the Canterlot party to organize, a stunning testament to both Eveningstar’s meticulous organizational skills and Morningstar’s terrifying motivational skills. It also helped that Countess Sky Shock had returned to Canterlot from Stalliongrad, and was available to describe in as much detail as necessary to any pony who would listen exactly how much trouble Griffonia was in.

Voltaire, having nothing useful to do while Lifter was busy printing up several hundred copies of “The Frog Princess of the Fomalhaut”, took to reviewing his repertoire. In the heady days of his youth, he had earned his keep in the very expensive city of Paris through his wit, and for his ability to recite and act out various bits of the plays of Corneille and Moliére from memory. For a similar reason, Voltaire had near-perfect recall of his first few books, because he had found that the best way to promote them was to recite them. He picked out the ones that required the least amount of explanation, and got to work translating them into fluent Equine like he had “The Frog Princess”.

~ ~ ~

The whole city of Canterlot turned out to watch the official departure of the Griffish Relief Expedition of 6764, waving their forelegs fondly in farewell.

They eventually tired of this, as it took the group seven hours to completely leave sight of the city, so large had it grown.

~ ~ ~

The Expedition, while initially immense in size, quickly dwindled, as it began to dawn on the ponies that they would indeed be walking the entire 150,000 ponylength distance between Canterlot and Trottingham. There was another factor as well that factored into the decision to turn back: the price of supplies.

~ ~ ~

“This price gouging is unacceptable!” exclaimed Cogs to the others gathered around the cooking fire on the fifth night of travelling. This group tended to be made up of the core members of the Wig Party: Voltaire, Morningstar and Eveningstar Sparkle and Blue Belle, plus the apolitical Cogs Sparkle and finally Pensive Thought. They gathered together each night to exchange their opinions of how best to advise Princess Celestia when they finally arrived in the Northern Provinces, to share the old political stories that the ponies knew so well and Voltaire knew so little, and for Voltaire to practice his act upon.

Two members of this group stood out among these: Pensive Thought and Voltaire. Pensive Thought was a member more out of pity rather than for any other reason. He was in a sort of political limbo after the loss of the Robe Party’s majority in the Royal Council, and it was unlikely that Blueblood would have any use for him until such time as he regained that majority. Theoretically, he was the pegasus representative to the Council, but since he had grown up around unicorns his entire life, the number of times he had raised motions that had actually been acknowledged as useful by his constituency could be counted on one hoof. He rarely had anything to say during these dinners.

Voltaire of course stood out in any group of ponies. Besides the usual contribution of his inestimable wit, his dexterity made him the group’s cook, especially since a long day of walking usually left the unicorns disinclined to use their magic. He had introduced the practice of making shish kebabs of the vegetables they had bought from the farmers each day. This practice of using spits to cook their food was something that humans had in common with griffons, and Sky Shock had shared a knowing smile with him the first time she had spied him doing it—they both knew quite well what kind of food was best suited to cooking on a spit. It was because of this practice that the informal group decided to call themselves the Kebabbers.

Three members were conspicuous by their absence from this little dinner group: Blueblood, Princess Celestia, and Jester Gordon. Blueblood had elected to stay in Canterlot, to demonstrate his ridiculous opposition to the entire relief operation (and to run the Equestrian government in the absence of the Princess, but most ponies failed to notice that fact). Princess Celestia supped with a different group every night, in order to maintain harmony. And Gordon wasn’t about to leave the mages in Canterlot that were his only hope of being reunited with his daughter.

“Do the human nobility have a standard method to deal with price gouging?” Morningstar asked Voltaire in response to her son’s outburst.

Voltaire scratched his head. “Well, they usually slaughter a dozen peasants at random.” The others looked at him in total shock. “In fact,” he continued, “that tends to be their default solution to any time the peasantry do something they don’t expect.”

Eveningstar shook her head. “The way you say such things with a smile on your face really makes me question your sanity sometimes.”

“Well, you’re not the first,” Voltaire admitted. Seeing the griffon countess flying overhead, he flagged her down to join in the discussion. “Countess,” he asked her, “do you by any chance have any problem with the rates you are charged for provisions?”

“Oh I have no problem at all in that area,” Sky Shock replied. “In fact, most ponies try to give me their possessions without accepting payment. To be fair to you ponies, however, I always insist on paying the fair Canterlot price for everything I get.”

“That’s extraordinary!” exclaimed Cogs. “However do you manage such an equitable rate of exchange?”

“Oh, I just give them one of these,” the griffon replied laconically, before displaying her best predatory grin.

Voltaire started to laugh out loud, but was stopped short by the sight of all of the ponies automatically offering their kebabs to the Countess.

Morningstar groaned. “Are we ponies, or sheep?” she asked herself. The fact that her kebab was the one being most earnestly presented sort of answered that question for her.

“Well,” Voltaire concluded, “it appears that the griffon approach to price gouging is based on the same rationale as the human approach. It just differs in leaving the seller alive at the end of the transaction.”

“Perhaps we should ask that griffons take care of our purchases going forward,” Cogs suggested.

Eveningstar shook her head. “No, we’re trying to improve the nobility’s reputation for honest dealing, not stick us with the terror most ponies associate with omnivores. Uh, no offense, Countess.”

“None taken,” Sky Shock replied.

“Well, you’re our wily finance minister,” said Blue Belle to the human, entering the conversation. “What do you suggest in that capacity?”

“Hmm…” pondered Voltaire. “How much per day are we losing to this practice?”

“I’d say about 1000 bits with the current size of our group,” said Cogs.

“And we’re buying from how many ponies during that day?”

“Fifty or so.”

“Ah. Well in that case we need to concentrate our corruption,” replied Voltaire. “Give me a bag of 500 bits and a day’s lead time for each village we’re passing through, and I’ll find one pony willing to get us everything at or below Canterlot prices. As that pony continues to deliver a good value, I’d continue to ‘feed’ him from the bag. In this way I’d be able to cut our losses to half or less of what we are currently paying. Of course, we’ll never be able to get a completely fair deal. The opportunity for a peasant to pay back the distant nobility that he blames for all of his problems is simply too great to ignore.”

Blue Belle grinned. “I assume that you never tell your selected agents of corruption exactly how much you have in that little bag of yours, correct?” she asked.

Voltaire nodded. “You’re getting quite good at thinking like a human,” he replied.

Once this exchange was complete, Sky Shock flew off to join her fellow griffons at their separate camp.

“I wish we had something better to eat than this green garbage,” muttered one of her guards.

The Countess sighed and pushed over a small barrel. “No meat-eating in Equestria. I’ve made that perfectly clear on multiple occasions. Supplement your vegetables with the bone meal, and you should be fine.”

“How much longer will it be until we reunite with our brethren?” asked a male nobleffony, as he sprinkled white flakes from the barrel onto his salad.

Sky Shock made a conscious effort not to look at the bone meal as it was being applied. “Ten days, Lord Whirligig,” she said.

“I can’t wait,” the lord replied. “Stalliongrad has nothing on the Aerie. Being stuck in the lowlands knowing that the menials are overrunning my estate is just so…galling, you know?”

“Indeed!” chimed in the lord’s wife. “The ponies have assured us of their support when we march across the border to seize what is rightfully ours! We will make that rabble pay for what they have done to us, to the royal family, and most importantly, to the innocent multitudes in the Bakery! My uncle was spending his retirement there after he broke a wing fighting for the Diamond Dogs!”

Sky Shock winced. She struggled to keep her breathing steady.

“An eye for an eye, and a beak for a beak!” the nobleffony continued, not noticing the effect of her words on her countess. “No, ten thousand eyes, and ten thousand beaks, for are we nobles not ten thousand times better than any of the base-born? Don’t you agree, Countess? Countess?”

Sighing deeply, Sky Shock turned in for the night. She found herself forced to admit that the pony government was handling this crisis far more realistically than what was left of the griffon government. That’s when she made her decision: she’d continue to travel with her own kind during the day, but from now on, she’d be eating her dinners with the Kebabbers.

The next day, the Expedition received word of the results of K’s timely warning: the griffon peasantry had risen up en masse, formed their own army, and had liberated the dragon peasant army from the need to take orders from the dragon nobility. Rather foolishly, the panicking Orange and Purple clans sent in two more armies, only to see the same thing happen to them. The liberated armies, accompanied by the griffons as “advisers”, had then overrun the Orange Clan’s territory, and a revolutionary government of peasant dragons on the model of the Griffon Republic had been established. The parallel with the establishment of the Thunderwing Dynasty 126 years earlier by griffons and their pony advisers was lost on nobody. The fleeing Dragon nobility then moved in with their former slaves, the Diamond Dogs, creating a thoroughly uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.

Not so coincidently, by this point the weather over Griffonia had completely stabilized.

Author's Note:

There was a three-week gap between Chapters 25 and 26, which I explain here in an utterly uninteresting way (unless you're curious what other stories I'm working on when I'm not writing this one).