• Published 11th Dec 2011
  • 6,522 Views, 73 Comments

Letters from Canterlot - wanderingbishop

Fancypants relates his early years as a young businesspony making his first steps into high society.

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1st Letter

My dear friend Rarity

As I sit down to write this letter, I find myself reflecting on my past with a surprising amount of nostalgia. One forgets how the passage of time amplifies the emotions one associates with certain events. As such, this tale will probably take a few flights into romanticism. I'm sure you won't mind my embellishing of the tale with a little artistic rhetoric. Also, this story will have to be sent in more than one letter, as there is a lot to tell – and in any case, you may want to ask for elaboration on certain points. For now, here is the start of the story.

I began my career much as any son of the upper class does – a bright-eyed young stallion, with a newly printed degree in economics, a small inheritance from my parents, and a desire to make my name one to remember. My family was not one of the prestigious families, but they were well liked within their social circle. My family have always valued learning and education very highly. My father especially, was an avid tinkerer, and instilled in me a deep appreciation for invention and progress. I feel it is this, more than anything, that determined my business choices in those early years.

I began my career by investing in the airship industry – airships have always been a passion of mine, as you will remember from the trip Fleur and I gave you on our personal air yacht. Most investors were focusing their attention on land development and textiles that year, and so I had little competition – I was able to drive a good bargain, and made my money go as far as I could. Meanwhile, I started to make myself known in society. I attended dinners and races, paying attention to which ponies set the trends and which ponies followed them. Strange as it may sound, I was a nopony back then – a bright-eyed newcomer, eager to make a mark, but ultimately inexperienced (and to be perfectly honest, more than a little headstrong). I chose my friends carefully, keeping clear of the ambitious business tycoons and social climbers who would be willing to put aside gentlemany conduct to advance their careers.

It was here that I made one of my first and best friends – Rapier Wit, a handsome, charming young unicorn who always seemed to have a mare hanging off his shoulder. He was a picture of aristocracy – about the only thing bluer than his blood was his coat, and to this day, I'm not entirely sure how he was able to style his white mane so expertly when he was a self-described gentlepony bachelor. When I first met the pony, he was at an outdoor soiree, regaling his friends with his latest attempt to woo one of the wealthy socialites who had arrived in Canterlot that month. I was impressed by his unfazed attitude - his attempt had been an unmitigated failure, from what I could hear, but he still related the tale with all the energy and enthusiasm of someone who had won a lottery. Then, to my consternation, he noticed me eavesdropping and ushered me over, asking for my name and including me in the conversation as if I was an old childhood friend. I was suspicious of his motives at first, but from his mannerisms and the way he talked to everyone at the party, it quickly became apparent that he simply had an gregarious, extroverted personality. Not only that, but he had been to the same college as myself, and we were soon trading anecdotes about infamous lecturers and classes we had endured. We became firm friends, and I became one of the regulars at his fortnightly games of Blackjack.

At this time, I also began to establish my business headquarters, renting an office in the middle district of Canterlot. It was a touch on the expensive side, but I was confident that the social prestige would pay dividends in the long run. I spent the next year branching out my portfolio, investing in a number of places outside of my main focus, which remained the airship industry. One company in particular caught my eye – they were working on a prototype of a new design of airship which, if succesful, would result in a faster, more affordable model for future generations. Naturally, I was quite enthusiastic about the project, and went out of my way to pull strings in the background, opening avenues for the company, putting in a good word for them at the right place to the right ponies, and so on.

My workload quickly became more than a single pony could manage. As much as I wanted to oversee every aspect of my business, the need for a personal assistant became unavoidable, and so I employed a unicorn by the name of Crystal Curl – a teal mare with a cream-coloured mane that was always tied up in a very prim, proper hairstyle to match her prim, proper manner. She was the picture of professionalism, and a skilled businesspony. Leaving the more mundane aspects of my investing to her, I concentrated on my main projects and my attempts to advance in society.

Of course, not everypony welcomed my entrance into the business sector. Many looked down their noses at the upstart young businesspony trying to climb the ladder. Most simply settled for haughty disdain or pointed indifference, but a small group of ponies from more prestigious families decided to nip a potential threat in the bud, so to speak. There weren't very many pegasi in Canterlot at that time, but those that did exist were quite ambitious. One such pegasus was Silver Podium, a steel-gray stallion with a mane the colour of slate. He was a proud sort, and didn't take kindly to competition. He and his friends made it a point to be belligerent, hoping to goad me into making some manner of social faux pas – alas, even in high society, schoolyard bullies have their corner. Rapier Wit was a boon in these situations – his unflappable attitude did much to deflect Silver Podium's attempts at goading. There were many nights when we took turns imagining what ridiculous insult the pegasus would come up with next, eventually making it a running bet between us to see who could most accurately predict his entourage's next insult. I'm sure I ended up funding the majority of Rapier Wit's wine cellar in those days.

One night, I was accosted by Silver Podium at a formal dinner being thrown in the palace ballroom, the night before a grand airshow, where the latest airship models would fly for the amusement of the spectators, and to showcase themselves before potential investors from the more prestigious firms. The company I had invested most of my shares in was trialing their protoype airship, participating in a regatta intended to show off the maneuverability of the craft. Silver Podium and his tagalongs started to call my business sense into question, making veiled insults about everything from my choice in companies to my choice in neckties. Unfortunately, Rapier Wit was not at that dinner – had he been there, I might have held my tongue. As it was, I took the bait, and said to them that at the regatta tomorrow, I would bring the airship over the line faster than any airship had ever gone before. This was, of course, what they had been hoping to achieve – goad me into making a rash promise that I would be unable to fulfill, embarrassing myself and calling my judgement into question, thus scuttling my fledgling reputation.

It would be misleading, however, to make out that I had spoken without thinking. I had in fact been intending to have the airship try to break the course record, and I had been following the ship's development quite closely. It was a truly remarkable design – not only were the propellors carefully shaped to provide as much power as possible, but they were enchanted to withstand the high stresses they would experience during operation. The enchantments in the dirigible to make it lightweight enough for the envelope to lift were supplemented by the envelope itself – the shape of the craft was designed to act like a sail, catching wind under the main body of the airship and funneling it between the bulges of the airship's skin to create an effect not unlike that of a bird's wing.

A truly remarkable piece of work, as I have said – but ultimately an untested one. The craft had taken some basic flight tests, but an attempt at the speed record was a risky gamble. Before, I had intended to keep the attempt a secret, so that if it turned out that the airship couldn't handle the speeds and sharp turns needed, we could ease up and go at a slower pace, playing it safe and still impressing the investors. Now, however, we had to break the record – Silver Podium had made sure to spread the news that I was making the attempt and would be piloting the airship in person. The crew of the airship were less than impressed when I arrived the next morning – most saw me as an upper class fool who had no business poking his nose into more technical affairs, and even the captain, with whom I was on speaking terms, thought that I had taken leave of my senses. I was able to smooth things out enough for him to agree to race, but he wasn't convinced that it would end in any way other than tears.

A few airships ran through the course ahead of us, giving the crew time to prepare, tightening up the rigging and oiling the engines. If they were going to be made fools in front of everypony, it wasn't going to be because they didn't do their jobs, as the captain told me at the time. When our turn came, tension on the ship was thicker than treacle. The captain fairly shouted at the skipper to go to full power. Now, I would be lying if I said that the airship tore through the course like a Wonderbolt – airships are not exactly known for their speed – but compared to the other entries, it was positively sprinting through the checkpoints. As feared, however, the ship struggled with the tighter turns. The rigging creaked ominously as the dirigible swung about beneath the envelope, and everypony struggled to stay on their feet. However, it was paying off – we were beating the course record on each and every checkpoint we went through. I was going to win my bet after all.

Then, on the last corner, the rigging on the main rudder jammed. The airship was now stuck in a gentle left curve which would result in it missing the finish line completely, and probably crashing into the auditorium. The captain was ready to give up and bring the ship to a complete stop, but I was having none of it. I had too much riding on this race – not just my reputation, but the survival of the company. If this failed, they would never get their design off the ground, and I would not be responsible for scuttling their project. I had a wild idea – it was chancy, but I was well acquainted with the airship's design and the principles on which it worked, and was confident that it would work .I didn't have time to explain it to the captain, so with a brief apology, I pushed him out of the way and took the wheel myself, pulling the airship into a sharp roll to starboard. The deck lurched to the right, nearly everypony on board lost their footing – I myself only stayed up by holding onto the wheel for dear life. An almighty groan came from the port rigging as it took the entire weight of the airship. The rudder was still stuck in position, but now the airship was tilted at steep angle – the lifting properties of the airship's envelope were now counteracting the pull of the rudder, keeping us almost straight. There was a terrible screeching crash as we passed through the finish line posts – the port stabilizer fins had shredded themselves on the posts, causing the airship to veer dangerously close to the auditorium. As the ship swooped over the crowd, I got a brief, tumbled view of a hundred stunned faces as the airship skimmed past the last of the auditorium seats. Now clear of obstacles, I let the airship roll back into a level position and cut power to the engines. The crew got to their feet, looking back in amazement as the crowd erupted into furious cheering and the announcer called out what I'd been waiting to hear – we had beaten the course record.

From there, things snowballed. Quite aside from our beating of the record, the dramatic display of the prototype's ability to handle extreme stresses resulted in a flood of new investors. The company's stocks boomed overnight, and soon I had amassed a fortune. I spread out my investments, putting money into a number of projects – residential and trade as well as technology. With my first big break, I was able to command a degree of attention at social gatherings, and soon began climbing the rungs to the next set of business contracts. The company with the prototype airship was a stunning success, and as gratitude for my part in getting them that success, they gifted me the first production model of their new airship – in fact, this was the very airship I invited you on during your stay in Canterlot. Every time I get behind the wheel, it's like I'm reliving that first breathtaking race all over again.

Now, that may seem to be the entire story, but I assure you that is not the case. I had become an important pony, true enough, but I was still very much in the middle of the social ladder. And, if you have been astute, you will note that I have not mentioned Fleur-de-Lis. Indeed, I had not even met her at this point in my life; that came later, after what may very well have been the hardest time of my career. And that part of the story will, unfortunately have to wait until next time.

I trust you have found this interesting so far – do let me know if you wish me to elaborate further on any points. And at the same time, be sure to tell me how life is going for you – I have had little experience socializing outside the city, and I am dying to hear what life in Ponyville is like.

Until my next correspondence,

Yours faithfully,


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