• Published 13th Dec 2017
  • 778 Views, 159 Comments

Mister Cook Goes to Canterlot - Dave Bryant

Cookie Pusher travels through the portal to visit Canterlot during Hearth’s-Warming for a little cultural exchange. Where will he go? What will he do? Ideas and suggestions from the readers guide his foot—er, hoofsteps on this holiday junket.

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“What’ll it be, bub?” The rather portly butterscotch-and-caramel unicorn grinned at me from across the low counter.

“Coffee,” I said decisively. “That’ll give me time to figure out what to eat.”

A hearty laugh greeted this sally. “You got it!” With an amiable nod the stallion turned, then stepped over to a gleaming steel urn. I grimaced slightly. Coffee from an urn, in my experience, tended to be stale if not downright unpleasant; I’d learned long since the single most important ingredient in good coffee is clean equipment. With a sigh I turned my attention to the diagonal racks of baked goods standing against the wall behind the counter. At least the pastries looked—and smelled—fresh and warm. My mouth watered.

“Here ya go. Made up yer mind yet?” A ceramic mug settled to the counter in front of me, steam rising through the glow of levitation. It reminded me of navy mugs I’d seen back home, for use on ships that may encounter heavy seas. Here, the reasons were different, but the result was the same—a simple unadorned shape lacking any handle, filled with black liquid.

Well, at least it smelled good. “Hmm. I think . . .” I lifted a hoof to point out three or four different items. “That should do it.”

Around me the morning rush seemed to be in full swing. Low padded stools, nearly all of them occupied as far as I could tell, surrounded the large round tables standing in rows on the checkerboard-tile floor. The broad, surprisingly airy dining hall was filled with pale winter sunlight from the tall peaked windows, voices from the crowd, and delectable aromas from the ovens and carafes. The jingle of the doorjamb bell fell with hardly a ripple into the commotion.

After paying I half-turned to eye the thronged room; even most of the counter stools were occupied. “Busy season, or is it always like this?”

Joe chuckled. “Well, I usually do a pretty good business in the morning, but Hearth’s-Warming always brings out the crowds.”

“That makes sense.” I looked down dubiously at the steaming mug held in my levitation glow.

“The urn’s washed every morning and afternoon,” my host commented knowingly. “And that batch is less than an hour old.”

“Oh, well, in that case—” I took a cautious sip, not wanting to scald my mouth on the black unadulterated brew, and blinked. “Okay, I’m convinced. The cabbie said this was one of the best places in Canterlot.” After a moment I added drolly, “Why, according to him, even Princess Twilight Sparkle comes here.”

The stallion beamed. “That’s good to hear. ’Course, all the cabbies know about this place.” His expression took on a reminiscent air. “Ms. Sparkle—I mean, Her Highness—used to come in all the time, along with that little dragon Spike and her other friends, when she was in school, but we don’t get to see her much these days.”

I turned back and made interested noises, inspiring him to regale me with a couple of anecdotes I was sure would have said princess writhing in embarrassment, though Joe’s tolerant amusement made it plain he simply regarded the incidents as foals being foals. I chuckled and shook my head at his description of a battered and disheveled herd of fillies, chastened and disappointed, filing in one evening. “They were lucky I was still here that late, y’know. Business gets to be pretty slack during the Gala, so half the time I close up early. And then Princess Celestia herself came in to check on ’em! All alone, no less, without any bodyguard.” He looked bemused, his pleasure at his ruler’s visit apparently warring with his misgivings over her lack of protection.

I grinned, then started as a soft voice sounded behind me, barely audible over the ambient rooba-rooba. “Um, excuse me, but I’d like to place an order, please.” The tone was diffident but a bit irritated, and I glanced over my shoulder as I sidled a step or two to get out of the way.

A bespectacled young unicorn mare stood there in a dark shapeless sweater set off by a newer-looking, more colorful scarf. I guessed she was about the same age as Twilight; certainly she bore a surprising resemblance to the new-minted royal—though I wondered how much of that was the scholarly air they had in common, since her yellows and oranges were very different from Twilight’s purples.

In my most courtly manner I bowed a little and said, “My apologies, Ms.—?”

Taken aback, she blinked at me. “. . . Uh, Moon Dancer.” She turned back to Joe and gave her order, her tone precise and concise, and he filled it on the fly.

When she finished, I put in, “So are you a regular here, Ms. Moon Dancer?” And one who probably got pretty much the same things every time, I’d have wagered.

She stared, as surprised as the first time I addressed her. “Well, I do come in here once in a while. Today I was going to go out for breakfast with some friends, but I got held up returning some books to the library.” With intriguing haste she added, “They promised we’d get breakfast tomorrow instead, though.” A complex play of emotions crossed her face. She would not, I suspected, do well at poker.

“Is the library that busy?” I asked idly, moved by an obscure impulse.

“They’re short-staffed right now because everypony wants time off during the Hearth’s-Warming season.” Her wary glance at me finally snapped my nagging sense of familiarity into focus. I’d seen a filly with the same light coat, thick heavy hornrim glasses, and thick heavy eyebrows—currently knotted in a doubtful frown—in a few of the tintypes and albumen prints scattered around Twilight’s polished-stone domicile.

I concealed my sudden realization in a sage nod and the most reassuring smile I could offer; I was a simple tourist, after all, hardly a pony who would be acquainted with Her Highness. “That does make sense. I imagine it’s true all over town, not just there.”

“Oh. I didn’t think of that.” Indeed, her head cocked and an ear twitched in thought. “Maybe I could have avoided the problem if I had.”

“Now, now.” I raised a forehoof to wave dismissively. “There’s always tomorrow, and you said they did promise. It happens to all of us. I had to change my schedule around too, or I would have been touring Canterlot tomorrow instead.”

“Oh, are you visiting?” she asked politely. More of her attention was on her just-arrived order, and payment therefor, than on me, I suspected.

“Just for the day, alas.” A slightly plaintive note, not at all assumed, crept into my voice. “I’d like to make the most of what little time I have, but to be honest, I’ve no idea how to go about it, and I’m afraid the change in schedule means I’m bereft of guidance.”

“That’s too bad.” Moon Dancer turned, bag and mug following, and squinted at me; in turn I put on my best ingenuously hopeful expression. “Well . . . I guess I could help you figure out an itinerary for the day.”

“I’d be very grateful,” I told her sincerely. “I do have some maps and pamphlets, if that would help.”

“That depends on how good they are.” Her tone was dry, and I couldn’t help chuckling.

Author's Note:

Now here are a couple of familiar faces. We shall, of course, bid Joe adieu, businesspony that he is. But what of Moon Dancer? What advice does she have for Cook? How do they, and we, proceed from here?

Thanks to FanOfMostEverything, Fetch, and jqnexx for this chapter’s suggestions.

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