• Published 26th Feb 2018
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A 14th Century Friar in Celestia's Court - Antiquarian

Providence is an odd thing. Friar Jacques de Charrette, warrior monk of the Hospitallers, will learn this the hard way as a vision leads him to Equestria, where he and his newfound friends will face a diabolical threat.

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History Lessons

Celestia rolled onto her side and shuffled the covers for the umpteenth time in an effort to find a comfortable position to lie in. She curled her legs up close to herself and shifted her neck to conform to the natural contours of her pillow. Her wings were tucked tight to her body, pressed into the bed on one side and nestled in the blanket on the other. Even her tail and mane were gathered close to her, their ambient magic dampened so as to subconsciously signal to the rest of her body that it was time to rest. She lay still, and waited for sleep to take her.

And waited.

And waited.

Well, this is a futile effort, she realized with a huff. There was nothing wrong with the position she’d chosen to sleep in, or the bed, or the pillow she’d so carefully broken in. No, the trouble lay in the disquietude of her mind, and no change in position could change that.

Grumbling rather un-princessly things to herself, Celestia threw off the covers and rose to her hooves. If I can’t sleep, I may as well be productive. Before Luna had returned to her nightly duties, the two sisters had discussed the next steps which needed to be taken with Jacques and the Bearers. It was decided that they should be told fully of the dark terror that had attacked Jacques’ slumbers, and that they should be given more details on the Shades of old. To that end, Luna departed to attend to the former while Celestia left instructions to postpone or delegate a number of meetings, thus freeing up time to continue her search for an insider account of the War of the Shades. I suppose now’s as good a time as any to start, she reflected as she made her way to the washroom.

The solar princess briefly considered venturing forth as she was, but quickly quashed the idea. It was one thing for Kibitz or Raven to see her disheveled; it was another thing entirely for anypony else to see her in such a state. Her ponies depended on her to seem in control at all times. She could show a lighter side, a more personable side, even a mischievous side, but not weakness; not to the public, at least. Sometimes, she mused wistfully, thinking of Twilight, not even to my friends. More sourly, she added, And, if there truly is a traitor in our midst, it would not do to give the enemy an advantage by appearing out of sorts.

After taking a quick moment to make herself presentable, she departed her chambers and made for the Secret Archives. The name always made her chuckle inside. ‘Secret Archives’ was exactly the sort of name to drive the conspiracy theorists wild, but what everypony seemed to forget was that everypony knew about the Secret Archives. ‘Secret’ simply meant that they weren’t open to the general public, most often because the texts were ancient, fragile, and irreplaceable.

Sometimes, however, it was because the texts were dangerous in the wrong hooves. The diary of a witch hunter, while historically valuable and of great importance to anypony in that vocation, might contain descriptions of the methods used by the enemy; it wasn’t the sort of thing one wanted to leave out where a foal, or a foalish adult, might stumble upon it.

She acknowledged the salutes of the Archives’ guards, making sure to project an air of calm and regality. Once she was inside and suitably buried in the stacks, she lowered herself into the search. I’ll just search for a little while, she told herself. Just few minutes, and then I’ll go back to bed.

Three hours of fruitless searching later, Celestia was beginning to despair of ever finding what she sought. She’d combed nearly every inch of the Archives and found nothing that Twilight didn’t know already. “How is this possible?” she murmured aloud. “I know that accounts of the war exist!” With a tug of her magic she pulled down another set of tomes. “True, we wrote far less in those days, but for me to find nothing at all…” the sight of a familiar codex lying behind the tomes cut her off. Gently, almost reverently, she lifted the battered book down.

It was a sad little thing, fire-blackened and tattered, but she recognized the script well enough – a title in two languages, both written with the same flowing calligraphy. Taking utmost care not to disturb the delicate contents, in case the old protection spells had failed, she opened the codex.

The left page was written in Prench, the language of the author’s forebears. The right page was transcribed in Ponish. If memory served, the entire book was formatted this way. You were nothing if not thorough, old friend, she thought, emotion tugging at her throat as the memories washed over her. Taking a shuddering breath, she read.

Praise be unto the Author of Life, the Creator, Source, and Fire of Existence. On December 31st, in the Year of Unification 291, I, Argent Martel, Duke of Normanedy, Lord High Marshal of Unicornia, Steward of Equestria, and most humble servant of the ponies of Equestria and Their Royal Highnesses Celestia and Luna, do undertake to record these Fell happenings which have blighted our fair land. Perhaps another may find my effort to do so presumptuous, as this conflict has only just begun, and our enemy is still known more by rumor than by witness, but I sense a great darkness on the horizon, and I fear that the evil it shall bring will cover the land in shadow. Thus, mindful of the sacrifice that all warriors must be prepared to make, I begin this account now, while I am still able to do so. It is my hope that my words, meager and unequal to the task though they are, may suffice to instruct future generations in the history of this travesty, even if I should not survive to pass along the account.”

Celestia swallowed her grief. “Oh, my faithful Marshal, I wonder if even then you knew how it would end.”

This tragedy began on the 3rd of December, Anno Coniunctionis, in the northern reaches of Equestria where the Coltic Clans of the Earth Ponies make their abode. I and the knights of my house had been given the honor of escorting Their Royal Highnesses Celestia and Luna in visiting the ponies of the region as part of a grander quest to strengthen relations between all cultures and tribes in our fair land.

Never before had I visited the Coltic Clans, and seldom have I crossed paths with their warriors and traders. Certainly, I had never met them in any great concentration. As such, I was taken aback by the fierceness of the ponies. Whether in singing, fighting, feasting, or farming, they do all with a burning passion the likes of which I have rarely seen. Truly, it is no wonder that my ancestors never succeeded in subjugating them in the days before the Unification. If a people like this were ever to be truly beaten, it would be by their own values becoming corrupted, not by some external force bringing conquest; suicide in lieu of murder.

The night of the 3rd we were reclining at the table of Granite McÚll, Chieftain of Clan Úll and perhaps the most massive earth pony I have ever seen. My own stature is such that I have been mistaken many times for an earth pony, but McÚll stands so tall that I am convinced he is descended from the mighty Rockhoof himself.

Not for the first time, Celestia lamented that she and Luna had never had the chance of knowing of the Pillars before their disappearance. Still, she remembered McÚll fondly, and smiled at the memory of how annoyed Luna had been when she discovered McÚll was taller than her.

Her smile faded as the account continued into darker recollections.

The Princesses, Chieftain McÚll, and I were discussing a greater cooperation between the soldiery of the three races when the doors of the great hall burst open. At first, I thought that the blizzard which had been raging outside had decided to make its fury felt within the hall. Then I saw the wounded earth pony who shivered, silhouetted in the door. Breathless and bloodied, little more than a colt, he stumbled into the hall, crying out in a jumbled mix of Ponish and Coltic as he tracked crimson snow into the hall. The entire assembly leapt to their hooves, myself included, and ponies hastened to help the poor lad. Celestia and Luna themselves flew over to his side, forcing my knights and I to sprint after them. When we reached their side, Her Royal Highness Celestia was cradling the young stallion and stroking his mane while an earth pony cleric hastened over. The bloodied pony was incoherent with horror, his eyes darting in all directions while he shook, muttered, and cried, speaking of monsters in whispers and screams. My first instinct was that some horrible beast had attacked and savaged the lad. It was then that I saw the blade cuts upon his flesh, and the black-bladed dagger buried in his side.

While the healer took the lad to the table and called for the apothecary to assist him, Chieftain McÚll grimly told me that the pony’s name was Learunner, from a hamlet called Rose-upon-Ford, some six miles distant.

The cleric and the apothecary managed to calm Learunner and ease his pain, but there was little else they could do. His wounds were mortal. But in the safety of the haven, he had at least regained enough of his faculties to deliver his message. The message he had run six miles through blizzard and blood to deliver.”

Celestia had to wipe her eyes to prevent her tears from damaging the page.

His voice had grown so weak that he could only speak in whisper, and so his testament was heard only by Princess Celestia and the rugged Chieftain McÚll. He then requested the cleric’s ear for his final moments. As he spoke those last words and heard the consolations of the chaplain, Learunner’s face, so stretched with terror, now softened into peace. Having said his part, he gave up his spirit.

“Then shall the righteous one be able to say, ‘I have faithfully done that which was asked of me,’” whispered Celestia, instinctively quoting the Codice de Harmonia.

Bataille, Hache, Glaive, my beloved sons, when you should read this, I want you to take note of brave young Learunner. If I may one day die half so well as him, I should consider it a privilege.

Celestia bowed her head, knowing that his desire had been granted.

I do not know precisely what passed between Learunner, my sovereign, and the Chieftain, but it was one of a very few times in my life where I had seen the princess turn ashen-faced. While McÚll called his warriors to arms in his own tongue, Princess Celestia ordered me to have my knights armored for battle. We were going to Rose-upon-Ford. When I asked what we might find there, she replied with a voice made flat untold fury and sorrow. Even these many days since coming to know the enemy, I shudder to write what she told me.”

“‘My ponies have been butchered,’” said Celestia, not needing the book to remind her, “‘by ponies pledging their souls to the Fell powers.’”

The journey to Rose-upon-Ford was swift and arduous. Though I had questions, I was unable to ask them, as the punishing pace set by the furious earth ponies left even the fittest of my knights without breath. I could not blame the ponies of Clan Úll for their speed, however. Whenever I flagged, feeling that I could not take another step, the face of brave Learunner gave me strength to go on.

The blizzard had settled by the time we reached Rose-upon-Ford, allowing us a clear view of the horrors that awaited us. In my mortal frailty I wish it hadn’t, for there has not been a night since that the dead have not haunted my dreams. Source be my strength as I write this, for the enemy had spared none. Not even—"

Celestia closed the book as the weeping overtook her. She had found what she needed.

Argent Sabre’s armored hoofsteps echoed off the cold stone of the mausoleum in metallic staccato. She shivered against the underground chill of the place. With the sun just rising, it was hardly warm on the surface, but in the Halls of the Dead, buried deep in Canterhorn Mountain, it was enough to chill even one who had been born to Trottingham’s clammy coldness.

She kept her eyes down as she walked, lost in thought. The captain had passed this way so many times that she had no need to look where she was going. The grand mausoleum was a bewildering maze of corridors and passages, catacombs carved into the living rock of the mountain and decorated with frescoes, statues, and hewn arches; yet, for all their complexity, Argent was not lost. The Hall of House Argent, LaSalle D'Argent in her ancestors’ tongue, was well-known to her. Each bend and turn, each step and stop was embossed in her memory.

Given the early hour, it was unlikely that the REF captain would encounter any other visitors to the mausoleum, and she stepped briskly, confident that she would reach her destination without encountering another living pony.

Which was why when she rounded the corner to La Salle D'Argent and saw Celestia, she stumbled to a halt, staring in shock.

The princess was standing statuesque, her ethereal mane rippling around her as a banner hung from a monolith, drifting in an unseen breeze. Her eyes were hidden by the sway of the pastel rainbow, but she seemed to be staring ahead at the far wall. A real statue was the object of Celestia’s gaze – a grand marble sculpture of the ancient pegasi style, portraying three great figures. The leftmost form was a titanic earth pony stallion in Coltic garb and headdress bearing a claymore, a fierce smile on his bearded features. To the right reared a fleet pegasus mare clad in legionary’s armor, her wings spread as though in flight, a confident smirk brightening her features. At the center of the two was an armored unicorn knight in grand plumed helm, with grave eyes and stoic countenance, leaning upon a massive warhammer. A plaque beneath the statue named the figures in three languages: Prench, Coltic, and Pony Latin. In Ponish, the title was rendered “The Companions.”

Argent held her breath. She had no idea why the princess was here, but whatever the reason she was not keen to disturb her immortal ruler. Cautiously picking up one rear hoof, she made to edge her way out, but Celestia’s voice froze her in place. “Good morning, Argent.”

Her voice was quiet, unusually so, and there was a raspiness to it; almost as though the princess had been crying. Argent bit her lip and did her best to speak normally. “Good morning, Your Highness,” she replied, bowing deeply. “I hope I didn’t disturb you.”

Celestia laughed. “Argent, I am in your family’s hall. I’m the one who should be hoping she didn’t disturb you.”

“It’s no trouble, Your Highness. I was just coming to visit my father.” She started to inch back. “I can always come back later—”

“Stay,” ordered Celestia. Argent obeyed. The princess inclined her head slightly, watching Argent out of the corner of one eye. “Tell me, Captain Sabre, what do you know of Argent Martel?”

Argent blinked rapidly, desperately fighting off her confusion as she tried to process the question. “I know he was the last Lord High Marshall of Unicornia before the Umbrayan Accords further stratified the armed forces of the earth ponies, unicorns, and pegasi, and that he was posthumously awarded the title of the first Lord High Marshal of Equestria. As such, he’s regarded by many as the grandfather of the EUP Guard. His son, Argent Bataille, would later become the first Lord High Marshal to command the Combined Forces, the direct predecessor to the EUP, and ultimately the EUP itself.”

Celestia said nothing, and Argent fought the urge to fidget. Just when she was about to say something to break the silence, Celestia asked, “Anything else?”

Argent swallowed. What on earth is going on here? I’ve never seen Celestia act like this! Why the history lesson? Think, Argent, you must remember something else! “I… I seem to recall he fell in battle,” she finally added, “fighting alongside leaders from the earth ponies and pegasi. It was a major step towards overcoming rivalries and prejudices between the descendants of the Three Tribes, especially amongst the soldiery.”

Once again, her answer was met with silence. When Celestia at length spoke once more, it was so softly that Argent almost didn’t hear her. “And who did he fall fighting?”

The captain bit her lip. I think I owe my old tutor an apology for all the times I told him it was a waste of time to learn my entire lineage. “Forgive me, Your Highness. I remember that he fought the griffons and the minotaurs, but where he fell, I do not recall.”

Celestia made a single noncommittal sound, then returned to her statuesque silence. Argent remained at attention, unconsciously adjusted her armor to rest a little straighter. When Celestia spoke again, the captain almost jumped. “It’s not your fault that you don’t remember, Argent. After all, your family has such a long and proud history of service that it is hardly possible to remember it all. Even I, who knew them all personally and called most of them ‘friend’, must take care to keep them straight in my mind.” The princess’s horn flared, and a tome, burned and battered, rose into view. “To make matters worse, some stories were not passed down as they should have been, in part from neglect, and in part from destruction. There have been many fires and disasters over the years which resulted in the loss of knowledge, particularly… that cursed burning.”

Argent didn’t need to ask which ‘burning’ the princess meant. In the years following the fall of Luna, a cabal known as the Nightmare Court had risen up in opposition to the rule of Celestia. For the most part they’d been foolish young ponies of great words and small deeds, but there had been some genuine monsters in their midst. Several years after Luna’s banishment, one of them had set fire to the great Library of Alhocksandria, annihilated accumulated centuries of lore in a single night. The loss of so much knowledge was a tragedy still lamented by modern historians, and Argent speculated that the mention of it still had the power to bring Twilight instantly to tears.

The princess’s voice broke in on her musings. “Neglect, sabotage, and destruction have deprived us of much, my friend,” she continued, “but that is not the only reason Argent Martel’s name is not remembered.” Celestia took a deep breath, her face once more hidden by her mane as she stared ahead at the ghosts of the past. “No, I fear that his disappearance from history is, in part, my own failing.”

Swallowing her fear, Argent ventured, “With respect, Your Highness, the arson of the Nightmare Court was not your fault, and likewise was the loss of lore in the unrest that followed Luna’s disappearance beyond your control. It is not as though you could simply have restored the lost knowledge from memory afterwards. Even Twilight Sparkle couldn’t have managed such a feat. And say you could have remembered, what then? You had a kingdom to run! Could you have taken time off from reorganizing the government, reforming the military, calming the populace, staving off foreign adventurism, and surviving, how many coups attempts was it? Four? Five?

Four,” answered Celestia, a hint of a smile in her voice. “That business with the false Lord Exchequer and the Maruvian Brandy doesn’t count.”

“My point remains,” persisted Argent.

“Perhaps it does,” replied Celestia, her voice at once humored and sad. “And I thank you for your candid effort to assuage my guilt. But you misunderstand – I am not blaming myself for the destruction of the histories committed by others, or even for my inability to recreate what was lost.” The princess turned to face her, a sad smile on her face. “I am blaming myself because I, Princess Celestia, deliberately concealed the last great campaign of Argent Martel and his comrades-in-arms.”

Argent recoiled. “Princess?”

“You are correct in remembering that Argent Martel fought the griffons and later the minotaurs, but it was in war against ponies where his most valorous acts lay, and to ponies that he fell.” Turning her head to face the Three Companions, Celestia continued, “These bold ponies were Argent Martel of the Chevaliers du Trône, Chieftain Granite McÚll of Clan Úll and,” her mouth quirked in a half-smile, “the unusually named Legate Bifrost of the Ninth Royal Legion. They were my battle commanders, my trusted advisors, and my dear friends in one of the most horrific conflicts ever to mar the face of Equestria.” She turned back to Argent, and the captain felt as though the sovereign’s eyes were staring straight through her. “The War of the Shades.”

Argent felt the warmth drain from her body. “Your Highness… you mean…”

“Yes, Argent. Your ancestor died saving Equestria from the Shades. And it is my fault that nopony remembers it.”

The unicorn mare sat in the bottom front row of the tiered lecture hall on the far left. It was her favorite seat in the room. The curvature of the hall enabled her to watch her fellow students’ faces without having to crane her neck, while her placement close to the professor let her observe him without needing to strain. Sitting up front let her obvious attentiveness be on display, yet sitting to one side meant that ponies’ gaze would not be drawn to her unless she tried to gain their attention. In essence, her front row seat was a blend of visibility and anonymity, both largely in her control, with the added bonus of being able to discretely watch everypony in the room.

She was older than the other students – perhaps in her late twenties or early thirties – but her pleasant smile – open and energetic – was the sort to shave off some of those extra years. The mare was lightly built, though more lean than skinny. Her mane and tail were a black/crimson mix, and her eyes were a lighter shade of crimson. A cutie mark depicting a rose of the same color palette adorned her flank. She wore a paired hoof-knit stocking cap and scarf that matched her eyes and contrasted beautifully with her pale blue fur. A set of dark-rimmed glasses were perched on her muzzle, just above a small black beauty mark. The coffee cup at her side was obviously homemade, but decorated with the Starrybucks logo; it smelled of pumpkin and spice. Her name was Scarlet Rose, and most ponies who met her would not think twice about it when she introduced herself as a grad student at the Manechester College of Arts and Science.

It was all a lie, of course. The mare’s real mane and tail were blonde, she had no beauty mark, icy blue was her proper eye color, her vision was better than perfect, and she had magnifying glass for a cutie mark, not a rose. Even the coffee was a lie; the mare behind ‘Scarlet Rose’ liked coffee, and she liked pumpkin, but she had never been persuaded that they belonged in a beverage together. Even if she had, she wouldn’t have purchased it from Starrybucks or poured it into a hoof-wrought mug with their logo on the side.

Truthfully, there was little of her appearance that wasn’t false. Her coat was pale blue, as she’d discovered dyeing it was usually more trouble than it was worth, and she really had made the hat and scarf herself. (In fact, they’d turned out so well that she considered keeping them for personal use after she left). Beyond that, Scarlet Rose was an affectation – a coat thrown over the real mare.

First Lieutenant Close Watch of Equestrian Military Intelligence had worn many such coats in service to her country, some more elaborate than others. Scarlet was a simple disguise, a collection of stereotypes that nopony thought to question because they were so ubiquitous. Like her choice of seat, it was a means of hiding and observing in plain sight without anypony paying her mind if she didn’t want them to. In all, it was one of her easier personas to slip into.

Except for this infernal coffee, she thought with a mental grimace as she took a sip of the horrid liquid. With practiced ease she transformed her gag reflex into a shudder of pleasure, a warm smile on her face as she listened to the lecture.

“… and thus Equestria would remain unstable for some time after the first defeat of Discord and the fall of the old monarchy,” the professor was saying. “This complex web of factors would create an environment ripe for a new power to rise. Taking advantage of the situation, the young alicorns Celestia and Luna were able to step in to assume rule of the country. They did this, of course, intending to restore order, though there had been no precedent for their rule over Ponykind…”

Close Watch kept her face attentive and open as she listened. Professor Page Turner (unicorn, white-coated, greying brown mane and tail, fashionable green turtleneck) had been the academic advisor to a certain Specialist First Class Bound Glyph, who just so happened to be Close Watch’s chief suspect in her investigation of the Shade incursion into Canterlot Castle two weeks ago. Glyph’s records, sparse as they were, indicated that he’d listed Turner as a reference on every resume since university; moreover, he’d cited the professor as an inspiration and mentor in virtually every essay and write-up requesting such an answer, including his application to Fort Lemon Wood’s Magical Ordinance Disposal program. With Glyph’s military career a dead end until and unless Colonel Query could find more ponies who’d served with him, Close elected to turn over a few rocks in his private life, starting with Page Turner.

“… Fearful of attacks by other races, and desiring to maintain their own authority within the new system, the lords of Equestria would agree to provide increasing numbers of troops to shore up the Diarchy. Such edicts as the Charter of the Combined Forces and later the formation of the Earth-Unicorn-Pegasi Guard are shining chief examples of rising executive power…”

The professor had a knowing smile on his face as he spoke. He held forth on the subject with the confidence of somepony who’d been there.

“… common ally of the Diarchy in this process was the Argent family, an old unicorn noble family who maintained authority and influence through the military. Many of them would be named Lord High Marshalls of Equestria, including Argent Bataille, Argent Cavalier, and Argent Crusader, all in the first century after the Unification. The Argent family’s power could also be seen in the political realm, where they promoted policies of military expansion which, conveniently, was essentially the family business.…”

There was a pattern to it, Close Watch quickly noticed. Through loaded wording and implication, Page Turner managed to suggest that Celestia and Luna had used the tumultuous conditions following Discord’s defeat to rise to absolute power in Equestria; yet he avoided ever phrasing it in such a way that came across as a direct attack on the princesses. He was always careful to frame what might seem as a criticism with pleasantries about how they’d operated with Equestria’s best interests in mind.

“… which led to the peace talks with the griffons breaking down, an outcome which favored Argent Cavalier’s expansion of the military establishment…”

Meanwhile, he more directly suggested that the leaders who had shaped the new government with the Diarchs had done so with less-than-ethical motives. The Argent family, in particular, had apparently manipulated the ponies of Equestria with Marechiavellian gusto.

My, my, Argent Sabre, thought Close with a smile of genuine amusement as she pictured REF captain’s reaction to the professor’s lesson. It would seem your family has been quite naughty.

“… of course, the exact nature of the terms is unknown to any but Celestia, as the original copies were lost to history, but the story we’re told is that the terms were agreeable to all parties…”

Such a subtle way of implying that the real terms were different and that the official narrative is white-washing Celestia’s rule, all without actually saying it. He has skill. And that knowing smile plastered on his face really helps sell the bit.

“… The princesses had, understandably, selected nobles who would be loyal to them and would support their agenda. However, this had the regrettable side-effect of creating a body of yes-ponies who possessed tremendous power in the government, which set precedents which we continue to feel to this day…”

Most of the students were listening with rapt attention, many of them nodding with knowing looks that mimicked Page Turner’s own air of superior understanding. Other students simply kept their eyes down, either out of boredom or a desire to avoid attracting attention. A few, however, were becoming progressively more annoyed as the lecture wound on.

One stallion in particular (stoutly built, green coat, functional black manecut, bifocals) looked to be grinding his teeth. After more than an hour of Page Turner’s history, the student finally had enough. “Professor Turner,” he said with forced courtesy as he raised a hoof.

Turner gave him an indulgent smile. “Yes, Carter?”

This should be good, thought Close Watch.

“With respect, Professor, I don’t think you’ve been entirely fair in your presentation.”

“Oh?” asked Turner, his tone humored.

“Oh,” replied Carter flatly. “Firstly, you seem to imply that the princesses used the turmoil following the Discord’s defeat and the fall of the old monarchy to gain tremendous executive power. This falls flat, however, when you consider that, though the executive gained more concrete authority, the result was ultimately more equitable than the previous system because of heavy counterbalancing by a system of checks—”

“Checks by the rest of the ‘nobility’?” scoffed one of the other students. “Oh, yeah, that’s really balancing out the power inequality there, Carter.”

“Checks by the nobility and the Common Courts,” Carter finished, his eyes narrowed in annoyance, “which Celestia specifically instituted to give the peasantry a voice. This more egalitarian system was the first of its kind in the world, I might add.”

Another student snorted. “Yeah, because throwing in a few little consolation courts really gave the working ponies a voice.”

Carter blinked. “I mean… yeah. It did give them a voice. What, you think our representative system just came out of nowhere?”

“If Celestia really wanted to give ‘commoners’ a voice, why didn’t she just do it from the start?” cried a third voice.

The heavyset stallion sighed. “Because systems of governance take time to develop. You could think of the Common Courts and the early days of the Diarchy as an prototype or proof-of-concept—”

“And what about Luna!” interrupted another student. “She really pushed for the Combined Forces, which gave her and her sister a personal military!”

National military,” corrected Carter, “which was more efficient than having to ask for troops every time we got invaded, was quickly divided from the constabulary to prevent military rule, and actually reduced the danger of civil war which had always hung over Equestria since the Unification, what with rival lords of the three pony races keeping their own standing armies—”

“Standing armies!” spat another. “You mean like the War Dogs of the REF? Celestia’s personal little army, for spreading the Equestrian Empire!

“Yeah!” agreed another. “‘Helping the Koniks’ my left hoof! Like we had any business in a foreign war – she saw a chance to get herself an army and spread Pax Equestria and she took it!”

Close Watch felt her grip instinctively tighten around her coffee mug. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to relax. That was sloppy of me, she thought, brushing back a lock of her mane. Thank heavens everpony’s too busy watching the show to notice.

“Sheesh, Carter, I didn’t realize you were a Primarchist,” one student was sneering.

What?” exclaimed Carter, offended. “Are you kidding me? I’m a Centrist, not a Primarchist! And even if I was, that’d have nothing to do with the facts—”

I just think it’s suspicious that Luna showed back up just when the Populists were forwarding a motion to reduce Celestia’s excess of power!”

“No kidding! And do any of us really think that the Crown Loyalists and the Primarchists are separate parties? I don’t care what Fancy Pants says about them throwing out those hide-bound reactionaries; it’s all a cover for his real agenda! It’s just like the Argents and the First Lords of Equestria, pretending to be rivals while keeping all the wealth and power for themselves!”

The conversation, such as it was, deteriorated rapidly from there. Carter’s objections were routinely interrupted, talked over, or ignored in favor of a collective diatribe of outrage. The actual period of history the lecture was supposed to cover was only referenced as a means of criticizing the modern government and its unwilling proxy, Carter. Close Watch kept waiting for Page Turner to step in and stop the verbal mauling of the beleaguered student, or at least to bring the class back to the original topic, but he didn’t. Instead, he simply watched, his quintessential knowing smile never wavering. Close had expected as much, but it still hurt to watch. I’d jump in, she thought grimly, but that would rather defeat the purpose of my being here, wouldn’t it.

Mercifully, Page Turner did eventually put a stop to the abuse. Less mercifully, he waited until the harried Carter was in the midst of a rather angry comeback to do it, leaving the poor stallion to look like he’d been the instigator. “Alright, everypony,” the professor said with a pointed look at Carter, “I think that’s quite far enough.” Once the students had settled down, he continued speaking broadly, though it was clear to everypony that he was specifically addressing Carter. “I’d like to remind you that one of the most important parts of college is considering other viewpoints. I’d invite you all to broaden your way of thinking.”

Carter gaped back in horror and outrage, and opened his mouth to shout a retort, but in the end, he slumped back in his chair and put his head down. Satisfied, Page Turner resumed his lecture, unaware of the calculating gaze of Close Watch.

Loquacious, persuasive, manipulative, and single-minded in his beliefs, she thought. The dissenters are silenced, and the ideology spread, all with him barely lifting a hoof. You may be a revolting stallion, Page Turner, but you’re darn good at what you do. Taking another sip of her loathsome beverage, Close Watch regarded him through narrowed eyes. The question is, are you just a conceited professor, or something else entirely?

After class, Close Watch wound her way up to Professor Turner’s office. His door was open, and he was unpacking some papers and books from a satchel. He seemed to be pondering where to put them all, and had a half-focused look on his face. Good, thought Close. Distraction makes this easier.

She rapped a hoof on the door frame. Turner looked up and smiled. “Ah, Scarlet. How did you enjoy the lecture today?”

‘Scarlet’ smiled, her face showing a deliberate half-blush as she stepped into the room. “Oh, Professor, it was simply wonderful,” she said with a carefully metered gush. “I’m so thankful I transferred here to finish out my Masters.”

Turner grinned. “I’m glad you liked it. And, please, call me Page Turner.” He turned back to his packing. “‘Professor’ makes me sound like one of those stodgy old fossils in Victor Hoofson’s crowd.”

The slight against Victor Hoofson was to be expected. A noted military historian like Victor is probably Turner’s idea of the Boogeymane. “Well, Page Turner, I must say that I admire your work. I’m glad there are some ponies who are bold enough to challenge Celestia’s empire-building.”

“Oh, I’m sure Celestia means well,” laughed Turner. “She just needs a little push in the right direction.”

“With all the cake she eats, that’ll be a hefty push,” teased Close Watch. I am so sorry, Princess!

Turner laughed. “That’d be a sight to see.”

While they talked, Close examined the room. It had the standard trappings of a history professor (books, maps, a globe), but the most eye-catching contents were pictures. Pictures of Turner with students, pictures of Turner at rallies, picture of Turner at anti-military protests, pictures of Turner with the bespectacled founder of the Populist movement (now deceased), pictures of Turner with Populist MPs… and a picture of Turner with Specialist First Class Bound Glyph. In uniform.

I love it when they make it easy.

Feigning confusion and borderline horror, Close pointed to the picture. “Page Turner, I’ve gotta say, I’m surprised that a pony who knows as much as you do about the corruption of the military establishment would have a picture with a soldier so central on his desk.”

“Mm? Oh, that,” smiled Turner. “Yes, I get that a lot.” He picked the picture up with his magic and passed it to Close. “Bound Glyph is something of a special case – a pony who believes in the need for a reformation of the government and military establishment.” Pride was evident in his voice as he spoke, along with a certain smugness. “He wants to restore power to the common pony, and was bold enough to set out to change things from the inside.”

Close examined the picture. Bound Glyph was a pleasant-looking stallion, with a ready smile and a youthful passion that showed even in the still shot. He looked like he’d stepped out of a recruiting picture for the EUP. The Guard’s always run quite the gamut of ponies. I’ve met ponies who thought like you, Glyph; they’d argue politics for hours, to the point that I wondered why they joined. Then, when it hit the fan, they’d have my back.

The picture smiled back at her.

Maybe that was you at one time. Maybe there’s nothing else to this picture. She gave herself a mental shake. But there are just too many dead around you to ignore; too much coincidence and suspicion.

Her eyes moved to the professor beside him. And you, Turner. You’re an awful professor and your version of history is laughably narrow and revisionist, but that’s no crime. Honestly, I’ve known worse. So, is there more to you than a bad teacher, or am I just jumping at shadows?

Smiling, Close passed the picture back to Page Turner, saying, “I can honestly say I’d love to see what he can accomplish.”

Author's Note:

“History is written by the victors.” An old expression, and one that is perhaps true to a point. But why do the victors write the way they do? For what purpose do they record, or fail to record, the narratives they tell? Celestia has her secrets. What are they? Why does she keep them? We’ll just have to see.


I would like to note that I am not someone who is blindly in favor of war. I’ve studied too much of it and have too many soldiers who are dear to me to wish unnecessary bloodshed on anyone. And, though I am an ardent supporter of my military, I am also openly critical of the ways my military has been misused at different times in history. The decision to have the lecture take the bent that it did was based chiefly on the setup for Page Turner and Glyph, as well as to show a little about the Argents and how they are viewed in conjunction with Celestia (and, to a lesser extent, Luna). It was also to give folks a better idea of how history can be twisted to give ponies (like the Vox) the impression that Celestia is the head of some nefarious cabal bent on keeping them down. I didn’t put it in to start crap in the comments section; there are parallels between Equestria and Earth, yes, but I’d encourage you to be mindful of how much you read into specific parallels; not all is as it seems, and this chapter is meant to further the narrative, not to make a definitive statement on a complex aspect of said narrative. More is coming.

I do, however, have an ax to grind with the Page Turners of the world – not so much what he specifically believes (as people are entitled to their opinions), but the manipulative way he spreads that belief. That classroom scene was based on numerous true stories at a variety of colleges and other educational institutions. I’ve known entirely too many professors who remind me of Page Turner. Frankly, this scene is toned down from some of the nonsense I’ve observed.*

Over the years, I’ve known many teachers from many systems of belief and all points along the political spectrum. The good ones facilitated conversation, played both sides of any debate (often as devil’s advocate), and ensured a respectful dialogue between all students, even those with unpopular ideas, and even those with ideas the professors disagreed with. These good teachers went out of their way to hide their political beliefs in class and, when it was necessary to give their opinions, always strove to do so in such a way that would allow for open discussion. In classes where a specific set of principles was being promoted (like an ethics class), they strove to make it a class of messages rather than agendas (i.e. they invited students to come to their way of thinking rather than imposing their way of thinking on the students). Whether liberal, conservative, or anything in between, I have nothing but respect for teachers who live and work this way.

In contrast, we have the Page Turners of the world, who have all the trappings of a mob leader minus the pitchforks and torches (these days, facebook and twitter mobs are much more practical for ruining lives anyway). Whatever their political affiliation or personal beliefs, whether liberal or conservative or anything else, there is something profoundly repulsive about any teacher who belittles students, segregates students, allows or promotes the disrespect of students, or fails to allow for debate and freedom of thought.

Academia is supposed to be a place where people are exposed to new ideas. This challenge to their beliefs forces them to think about what they hold to be true, to change when they find themselves in error, and to hold fast when they find themselves correct. Perhaps most importantly, it’s where they learn to befriend and respect people who hold views opposite their own. A true teacher fosters this.

Those who silence debate, particularly in the houses of learning, harm all their students. The ones who agree with their professors are taught to be narrow-minded, reactionary, and intolerant. The ones who disagree are taught that the world is full of hostile and unreasonable people, and to give up on free debate. Both sides end up radicalized and convinced of the impossibility of compromise, understanding, respect, and conversion.

And we wonder why everyone is at each other’s throats these days?


On the note of being at each other’s throats, don’t start crap in the comments section. I know people probably have some feelings about this chapter and that it will be interpreted many ways; that’s fine, because I want people thinking, even debating. What I don’t want is personal attacks or disrespect for people. Most of ya’ll have been good about not being jerks in the comments section and about being respectful even when you comment on a charged issue (and for that I am very grateful), but every once in a while, people start crap.

Just don’t. Courtesy is part of honoring the human dignity and rights of those around you, so please be respectful in your posting, even if you’re making a firm statement about something. Thanks again to all who’ve been doing this already – you’re a credit to humanity, and we need more people like you on both sides of every debate.


This was a fun chapter to write – a first look at the original Shades and the ponies who defeated them, along with the investigation into the sabotage of the Canterlot anti-teleportation wards. The hardest part of it was choosing Page Turner’s name; literally took months.

Victor Hoofson is a reference to Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian who I greatly respect, even if I don’t agree with him on certain particulars. For context, he believes that conflict is inevitable and that we must understand it if we are to deal with it (much like how a doctor must understand disease to combat it). If you’re curious, I recommend his book, The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern, or some of his videos online.

Here’s an Easter egg hunt for you: Argent may have had the most direct lineage exposition in this chapter, but there are hints of more besides her. If you spot the hints, you’ll get a Metaphorical Muffin** when the truth comes out down the road.

Shoutout today goes to The Commander’s Shilling by Carabas. On top of being an interesting look at why Commander Hurricane would keep Private Pansey around, it’s a fascinating take on conflict, tribes, and culture in the pre-Equestrian era. A moving tale of desperation, survival, honor, the purpose of soldiers, and the true meaning of courage, The Commander’s Shilling is one of my favorite stories on this site. It’s worth your time.

Happy reading!

*The university in this story is not based off of any real-world university. Though, frankly, Page Turner types can be found anywhere, so I could have based it off a real university, even one I like, and left the scene unchanged.

**Metaphorical Muffins (trademark Antiquarian Enterprises) are not actual muffins. Antiquarian Enterprises is not legally obliged to provide actual muffins to the winners of the contest. Contents of the Metaphorical Muffins are entirely subject to the whims of Antiquarian Enterprises.

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