• Published 31st Jan 2018
  • 2,043 Views, 77 Comments

Equestria Mares: The Secret Apprentice of Princess Celestia - Coyote de La Mancha

Twilight is full of apprehension as she approaches the first Princess Summit. But no one expects that she will soon be fighting for her life and her people, beneath the falling sky of an alien world...

  • ...

Chapter Five: On Suns, and Moons, and Starless Skies

The western sky was streaked with fiery shades of crimson and orange when Princess Luna stepped gently out onto the balcony. She contemplated the horizon’s splash of color, cleared her throat.

“Um… you have given us a beautiful sunset tonight,” she started, glancing at her sister.

Princess Celestia said nothing, merely nodding her thanks.

After a moment, Luna sighed. “You are thinking of the past.” She turned to her sister, adding, “And what might have been.”

“What should have been.” Celestia continued staring at the far horizon, then, quietly, spoke again. “She was my first pupil.”

Luna hesitated, uncertain. Then, mustering her courage, she stepped to Celestia and leaned against her. “She was not your first pupil, my sister. I was.”

Celestia paused, then cautiously nuzzled her sister. When Luna didn’t move away, Celestia dared to relax again.

“We taught each other,” she said into Luna’s mane. “I may have led, but only because I was older. You were so little when our parents died. Yet somehow you were always there, seeing what I could not, saying what needed to be said…”

Celestia sighed. “We had to grow up so fast.”

“I remember.”

“Even when we battled Discord, we were so young.”

Luna frowned a little. “Not so young as that.”

“Well, younger than we are now.”

“That is true enough.”

“I remember when you first made the moon rise.”

“And you, the sun.”

“It seems so long ago.”

Luna’s voice was quiet and sad. “Not to me.”

By now, the sunset had gone from crimson and orange to a more purple, violet, and blue. Celestia looked out at the sky again, her sister’s own melancholy adding to her own.

“I can’t help but think that if you’d been there, things would have turned out differently with Sunset. When I first saw her, I thought…” She shook her head. “I don’t know what I thought. That it would be easy? In retrospect, I suppose I did.

“But more than that, I knew that such power desperately needed training. She reminded me of how we were, when we were foals. Only she was so alone, no one knew where she came from. Just a unicorn weanling, found alone and shivering in the wake of an unexpected storm. And the family who took her in, though they meant well, had quickly come to fear her. No one else seemed up to the task of such a pupil. So, she became my apprentice.”

Luna gave her a knowing look. “Apprentice? You took in a weanling and raised her to young marehood. That is more than apprenticeship; you loved the girl.”

Despite herself, Celestia smiled again. “It was impossible not to. Even on that first day, tiny as she was, she viewed everything with such wonder, such determination. I wanted so much to be there for her, to protect her, to help her grow. And as the years went by and she began to find her own potential, she wasn’t just a gifted magician. She was a poet, a dreamer, a painter… ”

She chuckled, adding, “not to mention headstrong, stubborn, fiery-tempered... and completely incorrigible.”

Luna’s eyes widened. “The paintings. In your chambers.”

Celestia nodded. “Hers. I never found out how she was doing it, either. I would just come in from court some night, and there would be another painting on the wall.”

Her smile became wistful as she went on, “It became a kind of game between us, one that she always won. She sometimes spoke of wanting to paint a complete mural in my rooms together, but somehow we never got around to it. There was always so much to do. Affairs of state. Her studies. She was always eager to learn more; her power becoming matched, in time, only by her precision. She offered once to make the sun rise. She nearly succeeded.”

Luna’s eyebrows went up slightly as she glanced at her. “Indeed?”

“Yes.” Celestia sighed again, the smile dying away. “I was really looking forward to introducing you.”

Luna cocked her head at her. “You were so certain of my redemption? Even then?”

Celestia started to answer, then looked away.

“I… told myself I was,” she said reluctantly. “I wanted to be. But after I… exiled you… hope was… everything was…”

She swallowed, eyes screwed shut.

“I knew you were still there, trapped inside Nightmare Moon,” Celestia managed at last. “Sleeping, half-dreaming, even as you were trying to get out. But I also knew that whoever reached you, it couldn’t be me. After all, I was the one who’d driven you away, so long ago.”

Luna’s eyes narrowed, hooves on her sister’s shoulders. “That was not your fault.”

“I’d promised to always be there for you--”

“And I promised to return to you!”

“You did return to me!”

“And you sang to me in your dreams, while I was gone!”

Celestia blinked through her tears, looking into Luna’s eyes at last, her voice quiet. “I thought you couldn’t hear me.”

Luna’s smile was loving, and she caressed her sister’s cheek with her wing. “I heard thee. Every night, I heard thee. And every night, my truest heart ached to see thee again.”

Their wings rustled gently as the two embraced at last.

At length, Luna spoke again. “You mentioned that hope had become difficult. Did Sunset Shimmer rekindle hope for you?”

“For a time,” Celestia said. “Before Sunset, I’d taken what little faith I had left and put it in the Elements of Harmony. Synchronicity is at the heart of their magic, after all. So, I set patterns in motion so that the Elements would find new bearers, ponies who could do what I could not.”

Luna shook her head. “A foolish risk. The Elements formed themselves from chaos itself. They cannot be controlled. Nor, in sooth, can lives.”

“No,” Celestia agreed. “They can’t. But they can be directed.”

She looked at her sister again. To have you here again, and whole, she thought to herself, no risk would have been too great.

But out loud, she said, “When Sunset began showing her true aptitude in magic, I thought she was the one I was waiting for. I was so certain.”

Then, she sighed. “Stupid, really. Such a destiny can’t be taught, it has to be chosen with one’s soul.

“I had all but given up when Twilight became my apprentice. No, let me be honest. I had given up. But then this rambunctious little filly and her adopted dragon exploded into my life in a burst of synchronicities, leaving me no choice but to train her. It was impossible to be empty in the face of her determined optimism, even before she and Cadence started double-teaming me with their antics.

“Then, years later, when she sent me her letter about the Mare in the Moon that fateful night, it was like seeing the last tumbler fall into place in a centuries-old lock. So I encouraged her to reach out, trusting that she would find the right ponies and choose well when the time came. And she did.”

Another smile. “Not because she was my student, or because she was a powerful mage. But because she was Twilight.”

“But that was not why you took in Sunset Shimmer, any more than Twilight.”

“Of course not. Sunset was a child in need. Believe me, I tried to find somepony else to help her. What did I know about raising a filly? Nothing. It was only later, when I truly saw her potential as a magician, that I thought she could be the answer I’d sought for so long.”

Celestia smiled again, this time with sadness. “She was thirteen when she tried to raise the sun. I was so amazed, so proud. She was actually disappointed, even angry. She expected everything from herself.”

“Pride in such a pupil is understandable.”

“I suppose. But my pride in myself as her teacher was ultimately misplaced. ”

Celestia raised her head, looking outward again. Not at the sky, but at the past.

“As Sunset entered her adolescence, it seemed as if every choice I made with her was the wrong one. When I encouraged her, she grew aloof. When I sought to discipline her, she only grew more enraged. I tried everything I could think of to get her to make friends, to meet ponies, but she only became more estranged. She needed structure, but whenever I tried to give it, she only became more uncontrollable. In retrospect, what she needed was a mother, not a mentor. But I didn’t understand that. And I didn’t know how.

“Then, we… had our final argument. Sunset had always been volatile. In the last year, she had become more so. But I had never seen her as furious as she was that morning.”

“When she found the papyrus?”

Celestia nodded. “She confronted me with it, and demanded the Elements of Harmony.”

She sighed. “Her plan was… insane. To use the Element of Magic to channel an unstable dimension’s power, and force the transformation onto herself. The attempt alone would have destroyed her.

“I should have guided her, helped her to see… but I was too angry. Angry at her arrogance, her selfishness, her lust for power and prestige. So instead of explaining the risks, I… I punished her. I cast her out from my apprenticeship.”

Celestia lowered her head, eyes screwed shut. “It was the single worst thing I could have done. She stole a few books on the Elements, overpowered the guards, and fled through the Mirror of Phaedra.”

Immediately, Celestia felt the comfort of her sister’s wing over her, and when she moved her head over towards her sister, Luna placed her neck over Celestia’s.

“You would have understood her,” Celestia sighed. “She could have talked to you.”

“Be not so certain,” Luna pointed out. “Recall my own mistakes.”

Celestia shook her head. “Even without your talent with dreams you were always seeing what I couldn’t, playing devil’s advocate, making sure my ideas were sound. Ponies look to me for leadership, but it was your wisdom that I relied on. I kept asking myself, ‘What would Luna say, if she were here?’ But somehow, I could never guess the answer. I was so lost without you. Not just with Sunset. With everything.”

“Daylight does not always allow for clear vision, my sister.” Luna looked to the side, eyes full of regret. “But neither does the night. And you are correct, I should have been there for you—”

“No! No, that’s not what I meant at all!”

Celestia shifted out from under her sister and embraced her with her wings. “You’ve been back such a short time! Sometimes when I wake, I’m afraid that it was all a dream somehow, that you’re still trapped—”

Luna hugged her back. “I know.”

“I know you do. I can feel you in my dreams sometimes, and it helps. Just let me know you’re still here with me now.”

Luna squeezed tighter.

Celestia’s embrace turned fierce, almost desperate, with wings and forelegs both. “I missed you so much, I’m so sorry--!”


Gently, Luna stroked her sister’s mane, still hugging her. “You know I forgave you when I was freed, even as you forgave me. Please, after all this time, forgive yourself.”

Celestia did not let go or open her eyes as she put the last touches on the sunset, allowing dusk to become true night. Of all her regrets, the greatest was still that her little sister was somehow no longer her best friend, the shadow of their past always casting itself over them both like a shroud. Not just Nightmare Moon, but the centuries of misunderstandings that had led up to the monster’s creation. It was a dilemma which, chosen by neither of them, seemed impossible to truly solve.

Celestia held onto Luna as long as she could, until, inevitably, she felt the fragile moment break and fall away. Luna sighed in the darkness, involuntarily tensing again. When Celestia released her, Luna looked to the side, moving slightly away from her sister.

The silence was more than either of them could bear.

“It’s a beautiful moon tonight,” Celestia tried.

“Thank you.”

“When you brought it out so early, I was hoping that meant we could talk before you guided the dreamers tonight.”

Luna looked away. “And I am glad we have. But I dare not stay any longer.”

Celestia frowned, seeing the tension in Luna’s shoulders, in her flanks. Why would she not even look at her anymore?

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I came initially to say farewell.”

Celestia’s frown deepened. “I don’t understand.”

Luna looked back at her again, her eyes full of sadness. “Yes. You do.”

Celestia’s eyes widened. “But… you can’t!”

“I can and I am. Do not try to dissuade me—”

“Dissuade you!? Luna, if you enter Phaedra with Twilight and the crown already there, you will destroy the balance completely!” Fear made Celestia’s voice louder than she had intended as she went on, “You might have minutes, maybe only moments before the realm falls inward and kills you all!”

“The risk is mine to take!” Luna snapped. “Twilight did not just save Equestria from Nightmare Moon, she saved me as well! Shall I do less for her!?”

Celestia stepped forward, insisting, “It isn’t that simple!”

The Princess of Night bared her teeth as she snarled, “Twilight Sparkle is more than a friend to us both! To dishonour such a bond is more than cowardice, it is cruel!”

“No!” Princess Celestia’s voice was full of anguish. “Even if you reach them in time, we don’t have the luxury to make that choice! We can’t! We have a responsibility to all of Equestria, greater than any one—!”


The darker sister’s power was rising with her anger. Celestia herself felt it through her hooves as the Crystal Castle rang with Princess Luna’s words. Her dark eyes blazed deep blue with her rage as her voice began to shed the centuries like an ill-fitting garment. Her voice slowly shifted back to the Old Speech, the speech so much more comfortable for the Princess of Night and Darkness, before whom Equestria had once cringed in ignorant terror.

“Always,” she said, “always have I deferred to your judgement, my sister… always, save for once. And for the shame of that betrayal alone have I feared to speak, from the day of my liberation until now. And that is my blame in this.

“But it must be said: you should never have sent Twilight Sparkle alone into an alien realm, against a foe whose current powers we know so little about!”

“If Twilight had thought she couldn’t handle—”


The darkness deepened around the dark twin, and Celestia took an involuntary step back. Even the shadows cowered before the Night Queen as she snarled, “You… fool! Think you that she dared the unknown realm and its mistress for a mere crown, or a stranger’s life, or even the duty she felt to her people? Such concerns pale in comparison to her love for you!

“Since her childhood, who has been her second mother if not you? Think you that any danger, any risk, can compare to her zeal for thee? You know it cannot! For does your own love for her not equal hers for you? Is she not thy child in all but blood!? Yet it was for you most of all that she is gone, and if we do nothing then surely it will be for thy sake that she. Will. Die!

As the last three words were bitten off. Celestia tried to speak, heard herself say “I…” But her sister seemed to fill the hall now; the world reduced to a pair of blue eyes ablaze with anger and pain. And Luna’s voice, despite being no louder, drowned out Celestia’s words and thoughts.

“All our years together, all our years apart, and still I cannot understand thee! How? How canst be so blind to those that love thee!? Think it coincidence that Sunset Shimmer desired so to become a princess, that she searched for such an unlikely rite? Thou thyself said she had no love for books! Of all the tomes in the palace library, finding the Alicorn Papyrus could be no accident! Thinkest thou ‘twas only for her own glory, and not to be thy equal? That she sought only power, and not to stand by thy side forever?

”Dost thou truly think this was not also for love!?”

This time, when Celestia opened her mouth, no sound could come through her closed throat.

Luna turned away completely. “No, of course thou cannot speak. Not to me, who have been by thy side through dangers unnumbered—not to me, who have known thee since before the founding of the very sky. Always so noble, so determined. Yet always so blinded by thine own light. And always, always bound in duty, like chains!”

Celestia, shaking her head, again tried to speak. And again her sister’s voice cut her off.

“And in these chains, thou hast become complacent. Thou hast devoured thine own heart for aeons, that thou and thou alone might maintain the very order of the world. Well, so be it. It is not for me to free thee. But it is thy prison, not mine, and it is of thine own making.”

Looking out at the moon, Princess Luna proclaimed, “Behold, how I have hung the moon above us! Behold, how I have sung the stars into their places across the aether! Thus do I honour my duty to thee, and to our subjects as well.

“But I wait no longer. Should I not return, thou wilt have to guide the night as well as day. But then, thou hast practice at that.”


Heartbreak had found Celestia’s voice where reason had not. When her sister turned to face her at last, Celestia could see the tears streaming from her closed eyes like stars falling down a moonless sky. Luna did not step away, or even fly, but simply dissolved away in a breeze of mist and shadow. Only her voice remained, a gentle echo reverberating sadly against crystal walls even as it faded away:

“I shall return thy heart’s daughter to thee, or I shall perish beside her.”


For only an instant, an all but shattered Celestia stared at the place her sister had just been. Then, for the first time in years, Celestia spread her wings… and truly flew.

Teleportation is a rare talent, even among unicorns, both for its difficulty and its strain. But contrary to what many earth ponies and pegasi may think, it is not instantaneous travel. Rather, there is anywhere from a half-second to a second and a half when the unicorn is in a state called Between, before reappearing at their destination. Nor is such range unlimited, being determined by the unicorn’s skill and power. Nevertheless, with such a short transit time, it is small wonder that skilled unicorns sometimes prefer such a tiring form of transportation.

But time Between is still time elapsed; time that Princess Celestia knew she did not have.

This was her sister. She had lost her once.

Never again.

Consider if you will, one of the large hallways in the upper floors of the Crystal Castle. Above an ornamental fountain, there is an individual droplet within a stream of water. Now, see how the droplet slows perilously on its way to the basin below, wobbling unevenly in the moonlight.

Now does Celestia burst through the great oaken doors, splinters of wood gradually fragmenting and tumbling away from their frame. Impatiently, she shoves her way through the slow-moving debris, reducing much of it to dust in her wake. Now she is past the drowsy guards by the doorway, their eyes only beginning to close in a startled blink.

The droplet gradually shivers, its motion decelerating further.

Celestia smashes through the next set of doors as if it were candy glass, while behind her, muscles ripple slowly beneath the ponies’ coats as they sluggishly began to wince, to fall, to open their mouths in as-yet unvoiced cries they do not intend.

Slowly, ever more slowly, the droplet shifts in mid-air as it begins to drift unevenly out from its pre-established course. Celestia pushes herself harder, the current of her wings reaching it well after she has passed through the opposing doors and down a wide set of gently curved stairs, faster, faster.

The droplet and its brethren no longer seem to move in the air at all, their quivers having become slow, lazy pulses. Stained glass windows flex and bend slightly inward from the fury of her passing. In another hall, she has already been and gone. A skylight in its ceiling gives a low, gentle groan, ripples only beginning to grow along each pane’s surface as they begin to warp downward.

To the ponies within the sleepy palace, a hundred windows shatter even as a hundred tapestries tear from their places on the walls. The palace fills with a pale-rainbowed comet for less than a millisecond, a dozen massive sets of doors bursting into kindling and powder in a single explosion of light. Celestia flies with a speed and ferocity never before seen in living memory. She does not notice the destruction wrought by her flight, and for the moment she does not care. Before her are the doors to the room she seeks, and beyond them, the Mirror of Phaedra.

The portal shatters as though it were nothing, and she is through.

Meanwhile, in Cadence’s sanctum, five ponies and a dragon were sleeping in front of an ancient, ornate mirror. They had not left the room since Twilight went through. The servants had not wanted to disturb them any more than needed, and Applejack, unused to being waited on, had assured them that if their help were needed, “we’ll give you folks a yell.”

Being unaccustomed to approaching the royal sanctum in any case, the servants had, with some relief, left the heroes to their pillows and supplies. Despite their anxieties, sheer exhaustion had eventually caught up with the six, and the friends had fallen asleep.

Fluttershy was curled up, her wings covering her like a blanket. She resembled nothing more than a baby bird in a nest of cushions, though in pony proportions.

Rarity, smiling, sighed contentedly in her slumber. The situation was dire, certainly. But still, what finer place to rest than within a wizard’s jewel?

Spike was splayed out and snoring.

At first glance, it might have seemed as if Rainbow was having a running dream. Or, perhaps one should call it a flying dream, since her wings were moving. But then her forehooves would twitch out, and it was plain that she was embattled against imaginary foes.

Applejack frowned slightly where she slept, her dreams deeply troubled. A mumbled word half-escaped her lips; it might have been a name. Then she moaned slightly, turning over again in her sleep.

Pinkie Pie giggled as she dreamed. For a moment, she was quiet, and then she rolled over and stuck out her tongue. “Nyaaaaaah…

Then, all six of the friends were started awake by the resounding explosion that shook the very foundation of the palace. Stained glass windows all along Celestia’s flight path simultaneously shattered inward from the gale of her passing, their beauty destroyed. A skylight on the building’s top floor burst downwards, raining shards across a great hall, even as the sanctum itself exploded with the door’s crystal shards and an immense, blinding white light, even as the droplets in the great hall finally sprayed the floor beside their fountain, even as the wooden fragments of other doorways finally fell.

Six ponies and a dragon were sent flying in all directions, while colored slivers from the ceiling exploded outward into the nighttime sky as though a bomb had gone off in the room, fragments scattering throughout the gardens outside. Screams and cries arose throughout the palace, as guards everywhere struck the ground, glass and splinters drawing blood from a hundred cuts and imbedded fragments.

Above it all, Celestia’s voice was heard.

“Luna, wait!”

As their vision returned, the gathered friends saw, not some enemy’s attack, but Celestia standing before the mirror, devastated. The mirror’s light was already fading again, the Princess of Night and Nightmare having already gone through.

Not even the purest beam of light can outrace a dream.

Rarity was the first to recover. “My stars, what—”

“No… No…!

“Princess Celestia?” Fluttershy moved towards her. “What happened?”

“What’s goin’ on?” Asked Pinkie Pie.

Spike stared around himself. “Where’s Princess Luna?”

The princess’ head was lowered, her eyes closed as if in pain. “Where I should be. Where I should have gone from the beginning.”

She looked up, put her hoof on the frame. “This is all my doing,” she moaned. “How? How could I have been so blind? And now…”

Princess Celestia looked skyward, through the shattered dome to the sky beyond. Then, frantically, to the ponies gathering around her.

By the time she could return, she knew, they would already be dead. All of them. Phaedra’s collapse would see to that. These newfound friends she had been talking and laughing with just a few hours ago, they would all die after she left. Slowly. Freezing to death in the darkness while she was gone, the world a lopsided piece of ice floating through the stars, nourishing nothing.

Alternatively, should she raise it before departing, they might perish somewhat more quickly from the heat of an unmoving sun. Their last days would be spent trying vainly to survive, while their planet turned into a barren asteroid, charred and lifeless.

Regardless, even if they found ways to survive for a time – and magic and tool use had both advanced greatly over the last century, so probably they would – there would be thousands of deaths, all over the world, in just the first week or two. Perhaps millions.

Then, the doomed, dying kingdoms of the world would suddenly remember their old myths and legends. They would blame Equestria for the sky’s stillness. Famine and death would lead to hate and fear, and thence to war. Conflict would consume every kingdom in the world in blood and fire, on a scale never before imagined. If there were still survivors when she returned, weeks, months, even centuries later, they would be in a wasteland of desperation and ruin.

Luna would never forgive her. Neither would Twilight.

Nevertheless, they would both be alive.

And these ponies she was sentencing to horror and death... all of them, even now, were looking at her with absolute confidence that she would make the right choice. That same damned faith that had put her and her sister both on pedestals and thrones aeons ago. It had kept them there throughout their lives. She tried to resent the six of them for that, even to hate them. It would have made things easier.

But then they stepped closer, ready to aid her however they could. Not as subjects, but as friends.

All my hopes for you, she thought, her gaze darting from one set of eyes to the next, all my hopes for the futures you could have. How can I betray you like this? You, your families, the world? How can I leave you all to such a fate?

Then, looking to the mirror again, But, Twilight!

Her heart stabbed. Luna!

There were no right answers left. Celestia saw that clearly. She herself had cast them away, somehow, long ago. Every wrong step that had led her to this moment, every poor choice that had brought her here, was entirely her own fault. And no matter what devastation she wrought or who she ultimately betrayed, she had no one to blame but herself.


Celestia started, then stared at the pegasus hovering before her. “What?”

“Go!” Rainbow Dash repeated. “Why’re you still here?”


“Yeah, we know,” said Spike. “Sun and moon. Dimensional balance. Kaboom. We get it.”

Fluttershy broke in gently, “But if you didn’t think you were needed there, I don’t think you would be so torn.”

Celestia blinked. “Yes, but—”

“And if they need you, you oughtta be there!” bounced Pinkie Pie.

“We shall find a way to manage things while you’re gone, Your Highness,” Rarity assured her.

Celestia stared at them, frantic. “But… but how can--?”


Applejack spoke quietly as she reared up, putting her hooves on the larger mare’s shoulders. Her green eyes locked onto Celestia’s with an intensity that would brook no argument.

“We got this,” she said. “I promise. Now, go on.” At Celestia's hesitation, she repeated, "Go on, now."

Celestia started to speak again, then stopped. She looked around at her friends, nodded her thanks. It was not stepping into Phaedra that was difficult. It was stepping away from Equestria and the world around it, leaving the well-being of all its diverse peoples in the hooves of others. Still, for all the trust her newfound friends had placed in her over the years, the least she could do was trust them in return.

She leaped through the mirror, and was gone.

“Man, I will never get used to that,” muttered Rainbow Dash when the strange energies had subsided.

“Okay, so what’s the plan?” asked Pinkie. “I mean, is this like a meticulous Twilight kinda plan, or is it more like an improv act with lotsa props and no time limit?”

Rainbow Dash glanced at Applejack. “I thiiink somewhere in the middle,” she said.

“Yeah,” agreed Applejack as she turned to the shattered doorway. “I reckon we got this, though. Jus’ one more pony we need.”

As Applejack began making her way carefully across the sea of translucent shards, Spike started after her, the others following suit.

“Do you think she’s awake?” he asked.

Suddenly, a bedraggled Cadence appeared in the doorway in a burst of blue. Her tangled mane flailed in all directions, eyes determined, horn blazing brilliantly through the azure flames that engulfed her.

“Woah, woah, woah!” Rainbow exclaimed, rearing back in mid-air. “Easy! Everypony’s okay!”

After a moment, Cadence allowed her spells of battle to dissipate. “Forgive me. The palace is a shambles, and we seem to be under attack. Are you all right?”

She glanced at the mirror. “And where’s Twilight? Didn’t she just come back?”

“It’s quite alright, Your Highness,” Rarity smiled. “In fact, you’re just in time. Not only is the palace not under attack, but I believe we were just talking about you.”

“Oh, of course,” blinked Fluttershy. “That does make sense.”

Princess Cadence looked at them all in frank bewilderment, and the ponies began to explain their plan.