• Published 21st Jan 2018
  • 938 Views, 35 Comments

The Apple Jamboree - Coyote de La Mancha

A stranger comes to the Apples' annual folk music festival, carrying a silver-stringed guitar and an understanding of their songs' traditional roots to rival that of Granny Smith. Inspired by Magpie Pony’s 'Son of Princess Luna' video.

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Chapter One: Arrival

“…calcaire gossier, how well you remember.

You are the past of the world, made present.

Which is the future.

But not ours.

Because we’re present.

In the past.

Which builds the future.

Where we are.

For the present.

…Thank you.”

The barn of Sweet Apple Acres burst in applause, and Maude Pie gave one of her rare, slight smiles. Applejack smiled as well as she approached the stage. Since around the founding of Ponyville, the Apples had held the Apple Jamboree every year on the weekend between Nightmare Night and the first snowfall. Time was, the place would be packed to the rafters. Over the last few generations attendance had waned, drawing just the more immediate family, and maybe the occasional relative from Manehattan or someplace further away.

But in recent years, that had changed. With Applejack making friends with Rarity, Rainbow, Pinkie, and Twilight, more and more ponies had started showing up again. Not that Spike was ever unwelcome – the baby dragon would always have a special place in Applejack’s heart – it just generally went without saying that wherever Twilight went, he followed. But with four more ponies coming in, they brought occasional friends with them, especially Twi. Once a friend came by, they were generally inclined to come back. And then Pinkie Pie ended up being kin, by blood or no, which somehow meant that Maude usually managed to stop by. And then came the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and their friends… and when Rainbow became a Wonderbolt they got invited, and then between them and Twilight becoming a princess, more and more folks started just showing up, till there were more ponies than an Apple family reunion…

And right about then, last year or so, Granny Smith had looked around, nodded, and said it was starting to look like a proper Jamboree again.

Over the summer, Apple Bloom and Big Mac had expanded the barn. Applejack was right glad they had. Otherwise, nobody would have had room to even drink and feast, much less dance. But as it stood, there was room for all. Even setting up had been a snap. Twilight and Spike took care of the guest list, Rarity made the arrangements for supplies, Pinkie had taken care of the decorating, because just try and stop her, and well, in its own quiet way, everything just fit. Not that everypony invited showed up, Applejack acknowledged to herself, nor was that a bad arrangement. Fluttershy had been happy to come the first year she was asked, but after that there was just too much noise and folks crowding in on her.

That had worked out later on, though: gave Discord someplace to be besides here. And that suited Applejack right down to the ground.

The stage was simple and sturdy, with room for folks who played, various microphones, Vinyl Scratch’s equipment off to one side, and a chair for Granny off to the other. The mics had been Pinkie’s idea, and like most of her party plans it was a good one. Vinyl was making her way down the side stairs as Applejack went up, and they shared a hoof bump as they passed. Octavia was still on stage, cello at the ready and viola nearby, along with a few Apples there who were musically inclined. As the night went on, folks would trade in and out… and as the little ones dropped off, and other folks made their good-byes, the circle would get smaller, dancing would be traded in mostly for sitting and talking, trading stories and poetry in a quieter tone, ranging from historical to funny to downright terrifying.

But for now, it was still early. The moon was just out, and things were still kept foal-friendly. Apple Bloom and Babs were both determined to make it to the end of the party this year, and hear all the tales they’d missed years before. Thinking back to when she was a little filly, Applejack was ready to cover her sister’s chores the next day, in case the foals pulled it off.

In her heart, Applejack hoped they would.

School’s important, she thought, but some things they just don’t teach you in class.

Every song had a lesson, and not all the lessons they taught were pleasant. Granny Smith had forgotten more of the legends and country traditions of Equestria than most anypony would ever learn. She knew the old, old versions of things, how they came to be told that way, and why. And if you were an Apple, a good half of your education came from the Jamboree.

Lately, Granny had been telling Applejack stories and singing songs late at night, when the rest of the place was asleep. She never told the same tale twice, and what she couldn’t remember one night, she’d likely recall the next. Disturbed by Granny’s recent urgency in sharing what she knew, Applejack had done her best to memorize every word, every night. It was a challenge, and no mistake. But it was part of being an Apple. And anyway, few good things came easily.

As Applejack approached the microphone, she caught a snippet of conversation between Vinyl and Maude:

“Hey. That was deep. In, like, every way.”

Maude smiled again.

“You wanna… go somewhere and talk?”

The slight smile stayed. “Sure.”

Applejack blinked. Well, as I live an’ breathe.

Then she turned her attention back to the assembly. Looking up, she was glad Pinkie had insisted on their re-enforcing the beams holding up that high, high ceiling. They were full of pegasi now, with unicorns and earth ponies milling around beneath them. “Alright, y’all,” she said, “Let’s give it up again fer Maude Pie.”

After the applause had died down, she said, “An’ now, if’n ye don’t mind, there’s somepony here who needs no introduction… Granny Smith!”

Applejack gestured over to the rocking chair, where the old green mare sat, dozing. Under the cover of applause, Applejack covered the mic with her hoof. “Granny!” she hissed.

Granny woke with a start. “Eh—what? Am I on fire?”

“That’s your cue!”

“Oh, oh, right. Alright. I’m comin’.”

Painfully, Granny Smith shoved herself out of the chair and made her difficult way to the microphone.

“Well, now,” she smiled. “This here is what I like t’see. Y’all havin’ a good time?”

The crowd’s cheers filled the barn.

“Glad to see it, an’ glad t’know ye,” Granny said. “This here’s… shoot, I dunno how long we’ve been a’doin’ this. The Jamboree was old when the Apples were young. An’ I don’t just mean me.”

There were a few chuckles as she went on, “No, the jamboree goes back a powerful long time, before Ponyville, before Equestria. But this is how we keep the old ways alive, even as new ones come up t’help ‘em out.”

She poked at the microphone. “Like this newfangled contraption. Tell me again how it… no, never mind. Anyway, speakin’ a’ new, I’d like t’innerduce one a’my granddaughters, not countin’ a whole mess a’ greats in-between. She comes to us now all the way from Manehattan with a song older’n any of us, and I couldn’t be prouder. Please welcome… Babs Seed!”

Babs came up to the stage, her pink mane cut short as the city fillies were doing that season, while Applejack lowered the microphone for her. As she left, Applejack whispered to the filly, “You got this, girl,” and stepped off the stage.

She herself had no idea what Babs was going to perform. All anypony knew was that the foal had talked to Granny in private to learn all the words when she’d got into town on break, and been practicing in secret ever since. Applejack admitted to herself that she was a little worried. Babs was a little young to have the stage to herself. But one of the lessons of Jamboree was how to stand alone, and a body learned that in their own time. It kinda made sense that Babs would take that leap sooner than her peers.

The young foal walked up to the microphone. Her cousin and friends whispered a few words of encouragement, but she didn’t seem to hear. She was concentrating, and even the rafters’ feathered flutterings grew quiet as she stood.

“Foolish are those who don’ understand,” she intoned in her Manehattan accent, “the tale of a legend, olduh than the hills we now call home.”

By this time, Applejack was off stage, with her sister and her friends. She wondered what song this was going to be. It didn’t sound familiar so far.

“Love has many forms, and not all of ‘em kind. And some things that call themselves love are nothin’ of the sort at all. Those who learn this lesson, live well. Those who don’t, if fortune favuhs ‘em, perish…”

Whereupon her city accent vanished, replaced by a voice as clear as a bell, a young alto playing the hall as if it were her instrument.

Once, a foolish mare called forth the moon,

And cried with all her soul;

To marry her heart’s desire

Upon the coming day.

The moon said, ‘I shall grant this boon,

You shall have your stallion of coal,

‘But in return, the foal shall be mine

That from this bond is sown;

For whoever would give up their own

Would barely love them anyway…’”

“Princess Luna said that?” Apple Bloom whispered, aghast.

“She was prob’ly still Nightmare Moon,” Skootaloo whispered back.

“It’s just a story, sugar cube,” Applejack hissed. “Let’s not get carried away.”

The hall was still as Babs sang the refrain:

“Moon, you want to be a mother, when none will have you

Who can give such a gift to the moon?

Tell me, dark lady, what would become of him?

What would you do with a son of the moon?”

Listening, Applejack couldn’t help but wonder what Princess Luna thought of such songs. They’d been around a long time, since at least when she was locked up. Applejack had always made it a point to invite the Sisters to the Applefest, ever since that first Nightmare Night when Twi had broken the ice with Miss Luna. They’d always declined, and for the first time, Applejack was glad they had. They were odd ladies, but good people. Applejack could only imagine what these kinds of songs must sound like to them, especially Luna. A glance told her that Twilight was thinking the same thing.

The rest of the song just got worse. The mare gave birth all right, and at midnight of course. But her husband didn’t know about the mystical pact between his wife and the princess. So when he took the newborn colt into the moonlight to look at him, and saw the little one’s coat of purest silver with mane and tail black as a starless night, he assumed his wife had cheated on him. He stabbed her to death in a fit of jealous rage, and then left the weanling to die from exposure on a mountainside.

Applejack stared at Granny. What the hay was she thinking? Other folks were looking around, too. But Babs was lost in the music, and either didn’t see or didn’t care as she finished the piece:

“As the winds blow, the stones grow cold,

Hear the poor weanling cry;

But down from the moon she flies,

To gather him up from the stone.

‘It’s all right, I am here, little colt;

There will never be a day or night

When I do not love you more than the skies.

I am your mother, my son.’

From her own self she formed a crescent,

To embrace him warm and sound.

And now, whenever her son cries,

From herself his cradle is hewn;

He plays in the sky in his mother’s ascent,

When he laughs, she is full and round.

She grows dark with his pain when he cries;

And from that day even to this

Luna’s contentment is motherhood’s bliss.

He is the son of the moon.”

With that, the song ended. Despite the troubling lyrics, the applause came easy; Babs had a great voice, no mistake.

But when the filly bounced up to her and asked, “So, whad’ya think?” Applejack had to settle for, “You did great, sugar cube.”

“Thanks. Whad’ya think of the song?”


Babs looked down. “You didn’t like it.”

“No! No, it ain’t that. Look, Babs… it’s just that—”

The barn doors, closed against the cold, resounded with three slow, powerful knocks.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Immediately the Cutie Mark Crusaders were together, hugging each other, fearful.

“Is it Princess Luna?” Sweetie Belle whimpered. “Is she mad?”

Two more knocks. Boom. Boom.

The barn was all but silent. “Of course not!” Twilight said. “She isn’t like that. Right, Applejack?”

“Uh, right,” said Applejack, staring at the doors. To the foals, she didn’t seem afraid, though. More… astonished. She turned to her brother. “Big Mac?”

Her brother’s expression equaled her own. Not afraid, but serious. Amazed. He nodded. “Eeeeyup.” Likewise the Apples who were on the stage had gone still, eyes wide, instruments forgotten. The huge red stallion made his way easily, the crowd parting for him in silence as he reached the doors.

“Granny?” Applejack called. “I don’t think I remember the words.”

Twilight gave her a quizzical look. “Words?”

“Like Granny said, Jamboree is an old tradition, Twi. Traces its way back to ages gone. An’ if this is somepony from someplace they still do things in the old ways, we gotta honor that.”

Granny Smith, meanwhile, had nodded to Big Mac, who raised a massive hoof and knocked on the doors himself. The barn echoed again. Three times. Then two. Then three more.

From the other side, three powerful knocks. Big Macintosh seized hold of the doors and pushed them open, revealing the stallion without.

He was an earth pony. Almost as big as Big Mac himself, but leaner, and built for speed. A pale mint coat with dark brown mane and tail, tossed and tangled by the wind. Over his shoulder, he had a guitar case, well-worn and well mended. His eyes were a brown so dark they were almost black. He stepped to the threshold and waited.

With difficulty, Granny Smith stood. “The winds have changed and the moon has arisen,” she called out. “The night has grown long and dark. Who comes to us now, with his face in the shadow, let him answer by voice or by mark.”

“Ah’m called John,” said the stranger. His voice was strong and clear, and carried easily.

“And how do you come here, John?” the old mare demanded.

“Ah come here in a spirit of love an’ trust, an’ of my own will. Never shall I bring fire to your house, unless it be to warm you an’ keep you safe. Should Ah remain here, your enemies are mine till we part, even as Ah’ll fight for the walls of your estate an’ all who dwell here.”

Twilight stole a glance at Applejack. “Wait a minute,” she whispered. “Did he just invoke the laws of hospitality?

“Yep,” Applejack whispered back. “Tol’ja it was old.”

“Very well, John,” Granny intoned. “We welcome ye here, that our fires may warm ye an’ keep ye safe. Our grain is your grain. Our bed is your bed. Our water is your water. ‘Till free will or good circumstance give us parting of our ways. Come. Join our dance.” And with that, she collapsed back into her chair.

John bowed slightly and entered, and Big Mac closed the doors behind him.

Instantly, there was a pink, bouncing blur, and a pair of intense blue eyes were inches away from the new stallion’s own, staring into them.

“Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie!”

The stranger blinked.

“Well,” he allowed. “Ah guess you’d better be.”

“Let ‘im by, Pinkie,” said Granny, though her voice was kind. “That young feller jest invoked The Path from East to West, an’ he owes us a tale or a song fer it.”

The barn was silent as he approached the stage, and, unhurried, climbed the short stairs and went to the central microphone. When he turned to unpack his guitar, Applejack could see his cutie mark: a dark brown crescent moon, the color of his hair, with a sheaf of barley between its horns. Then he turned to the assembled there.

“Ah wasn’t sure y’all still practiced the festival,” he said, while fine tuning his instrument. “Ah’m right glad to see you do. Ah also heard somepony singing Son of the Moon as Ah was comin’ up the trail. Who was that?”

A little reluctantly, Babs raised her hoof.

He nodded. “Ya’ll got a sweet voice, ma’am, and that’s a fact.”

“Um, thanks,” she said to the floor.

“The song ‘bout the son of the moon is an old tune,” he went on, “an’ Ah hope y’all don’t mind, but Ah travel around and collect stories, songs, an’ music. An’ Ah find out what Ah can about where they came from, an’ where they’ve been. Most times, there’s history behind ‘em. An’ sometimes, there’s a connection most folks don’t know.”

“Wait,” Twilight piped up. “Are you saying Son of the Moon is real? That Princess Luna—”

“No, ma’am, not at all. But stories have a way of growin’ an’ changin’ over the ages, and sometimes a song only tells part of the tale.”

“Well then, what happened next, John?” asked Granny. “Can ye tell us that?”

“Well, now,” he smiled. “Some folks say he’s still there, an’ the crescent moon is his cradle. When the moon is full, him an’ his mama play together, an’ when it’s new, he’s cryin’. Other folks say he turned evil, an’ collects all the stars he can; when he’s got ‘em all, then the world’ll be plunged into eternal night. But Ah think that’s just ‘cause a’ Nightmare Moon. Ah’ve not found any sign of such a shameful thing said before her fall, an’ Son of the Moon is older’n that. Not to mention the princesses wouldn’t stand for such, anyway.

“But others still say he grew up, grew curious, an’ came down to the world to see it for himself. He had a love for music in him, it’s said, and all the love of life his mama’d taught him. So he went on to become the Lord of the Dance.”

He turned to the others at the stage. Aside from Granny Smith, still in her rocker, everyone else there had some instrument or other. So he addressed them all and asked, “You folks know that one?”

Octavia nodded yes, even as the Apples around her readied their instruments and grinned. “What key?” she asked.

For the first time, he looked a little uncertain.

“Um,” he said, then he strummed a chord. “This one.”

She smiled and nodded. “Lead the way.”

John began to pick his guitar, easily, beautifully, every note singing with a voice of its own. After a moment, Octavia joined in on her cello. Then the others joined in as well. It was a wandering melody, and as he played, the tapers seemed to burn a little brighter, the shadows receded slightly away.

Then, there was a sudden shift. A quick chord, and a second of silence. And in that silence, Octavia’s eyes narrowed mischievously and the Apple musicians’ grins broadened.

In an instant, as one, they all went into the tune again, faster, more lively, demanding, commanding motion in anything and everything that breathed. And when John sang, the wind stopped to listen and the barn exploded with dancing. His voice was somehow the smell of pine and oak leaves, the feel of summer sun as it raised and whirled around them all:

She danced in the shadow, in the wind, in the hours

The Lady laughed, and she scattered all the stars

She raised the moon, the sky unfurled

The Lord of the Dance entered our world!”

Twilight paused in mid-step, surrounded by whirling, laughing ponies all around her.

“What’s the matter, hon?” Applejack asked as she whizzed by.

“Just making sure I can stop.”



Meanwhile, the song went on as John leaped down from the stage, still playing, still singing, his voice still heard easily over everything else:

“So live, laugh, dance and be free

The Lord of the Dance calls to you and me

To laugh and love, wherever we may be

To live is to dance, so come dance with me!”

By this time he was next to Applejack, and she wasted no time in singing another verse while he played on,

“I dance in the orchard, in the field, in the grain

I dance in the leaves and in the autumn rain

I dance in the bounty that the harvest will bring

So dance and feast, and dance and sing!”

Then, the entire barn joined in the refrain, filling the building to the rafters with music, live, laugh, dance and be free…

Big Mac’s voice boomed out the next verse,

“The trees they dance when they’re stirred by the sound

Of his song while he sleeps in the kernel underground

When the warm winds blow o’er the grass and the dew

The Lord of the Dance rises green and new!”

Now ponies weren’t waiting for John to come to them anymore. They were leaping up on stage one by one, grabbing the microphone, singing whatever verse they knew… or maybe even had invented. After a few verses, to everyone’s astonishment, Ditzy Doo even landed momentarily on stage:

“I dance in the nighttime and the secrets it keeps

I dance in your dreams when you’re laughing in your sleep

To live out your dreams is the greatest delight

So come dance in the daylight, let your dreams take flight!”

…And then she was off again, up and around, while the barn filled with the refrain: live, laugh, dance and be free...

The rafters were filled with flying pegasi. Earth ponies threw their dance partners up and caught them. Unicorns created light shows. And through it all, they sang, they laughed, and they danced. Twilight had never done much research in music, but it was hard to fathom one song having so many stanzas. She had frankly lost count. And how was all this happening? Everyone dancing, all together, all at once? She couldn’t detect any magic, so nothing should be—wait, was that Trixie and Starlight on stage…?

“I dance in your magic when your heart’s in the spell

I dance in the book, in the candle, in the bell

I dance when your will and your mind set you free

The music is the magic is the dance, said he!”

The two clasped hooves and bowed, then leaped down again, glowing with delight, joining the dance once more. As the dance went on, more and more ponies shared verses, and Twilight realized this was an entire source of lore she had been neglecting. In fact, hadn’t John talked about songs dating back to before Luna’s exile? He could know songs older than her books… plus the events that had inspired them!

Suddenly, her thoughts were completely derailed as she was grabbed from above and swooped into the air.

“No wallflowers here, Twilight!” Rainbow laughed, tossing her. “Show us what you got!”

To her surprise and delight, Twilight found that dancing with the pegasi was easier for her than dancing on the ground. After a few false starts, she was joining them in swoops, dives, rolls, and tumbles… the ponies below them dancing in two dimensions while the ponies of the air danced in three. Countless verses went by. She lost all sense of time, laughing, dancing, immersed in the song. Finally, John leaped on stage again. He had Babs with him, and the two sang together, his tenor and her alto blending like silvery water:

“The music of the hours and the days and the years

The sound of our laughter, the rhythm of our tears

Are the song of the magic and the land and the sky

The promise of the dance that is you and I!”

The entire barn filled with the refrain now, louder and more joyous than ever before:

“So live, laugh, dance and be free

The Lord of the Dance calls to you and me

To laugh and love, wherever we may be

To live is to dance, so come dance with me!”

The refrain repeated a few times, and as one the voices stopped. The instruments’ own melodies wound together, bound the song in their notes, and ultimately carried it away into silence.

The barn exploded into thunderous applause, John and Babs both bowing. A little winded, Applejack made her way over to where Twilight had landed. When she reached her, the princess was looking about ready to keel over. She was standing with hooves far apart, head hanging low, eyes closed, gasping for breath.

“Hey, hon, you okay?”

Twilight managed a nod, eyes still closed. “I’ve just… I’ve… never seen… anything like this…”

Applejack put a foreleg around her. “Here now, lean on me for a sec. Y’all been to plenty of Jamborees afore now. You’ll be fine in a minute.”

“No, I mean, the whole… thing that… just happened,” Twilight struggled to control her breathing. “How long were we doing that? How was everypony just…”

Then she frowned, considering. “Maybe… is his guitar magical?”

“Nope,” Applejack grinned.

“Then how? How were all these ponies just…?”

Twilight paused, frowning again. By this time, she was steady on her hooves again, her alicorn’s stamina already compensating for her exertion. “He’s not a unicorn… so it wasn’t a spell…”

“Huh-uh,” Applejack’s own breathing was almost back to normal as she moved a sweat-soaked forelock out from her eyes. “He ain’t a unicorn, nor a wizard, nuthin’ like that. But he may be the last of a dyin’ breed.”

Twilight arched an eyebrow. “Meaning…?”

Applejack’s smile was full of delight. “He’s a bard.”

Then, at Twilight’s quizzical look, she asked, “How ya feelin’?”

“Great! I mean, tired, but… oh, wow,” Twilight said, eyebrows going up. “Wow, my wings.”

Then, her expression turned apprehensive as she added, “Oh, my back is going to be killing me tomorrow…”

Applejack nodded. “An’ yer shoulders an’ yer chest, I reckon. Like as not, that’s why he stopped: so nopony’d get hurt. We mighta kept dancin’ all night if’n he hadn’t. So it’s a kinda magic, I guess. But it ain’t a spell. You might say it runs deeper than that. Him ‘n’ music, it’s like you an’ friendship. It’s magic, even though it ain’t.”

“Applejack,” Twilight’s eyes bore into Applejack’s as she grabbed her marefriend by the shoulders, “I have got to talk to this guy!”

The orange-colored mare glanced at the stage. “Um, well, it looks like him n’ Granny are talkin’ while the rest of us take a breather. You may have ta wait. Tell you what, you hungry?”

Twilight’s stomach growled. “After that? Starving.”

“Let’s get some vittles. We got all night. I figure this fella’s gonna hang around a bit. An’ even if he takes off, you can always fly after him.”

Twilight groaned as they walked towards the feast tables. “Not tonight, I’m not. Owww…”