• Published 11th Dec 2011
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Letters from Canterlot - wanderingbishop



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

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3rd Letter

My dear friend Rarity

At the end of my last letter, I left you with a picture of a pony broken and defeated, everything he had relied on ripped out from under him. My business was not completely dead, but I was starting from scratch – I had not had so little to work with since before my first major break with the airship prototype. The total extent of the collapse took a month to be fully realized, and at that point it became clear that I had lost so much that I could not even afford to keep my office anymore. I sold off most of my extraneous possessions, aware of the fact that every bit of finance would count now. My airship I kept, however – it served as a symbol of my past success, a reminder that even now, there was hope of recovery.

My social contacts dried up along with my money, and I was thankful that I had stayed friends with Rapier Wit – his support did a great deal to bolster my confidence and in the end it was friends of his that gave me my first significant break since Silver Podium's victory. Silver Podium himself quickly advanced into the highest ranks of Canterlot's aristocracy, and we ceased to see each other – a state of affairs I was quite happy with. My drive to take the fast, risky path had been killed by the whole affair, and I began to expand my business at a safer, more sedate pace.

For several years, nothing of note occurred - I felt I had aged a great deal in a short space of time, and was determined not to make the same mistake twice. I withdrew from most social contact, attending events only when I thought it necessary, and relying primarily on Rapier Wit's circle of friends for company – as always, his extroverted personality was a source of much strength. Time passed me by, and I was unconcerned; without realizing it, my business had all but stagnated. And without someone of Crystal Curl's caliber by my side, I had no-one to goad me into action. I was, to use the vernacular, in a rut.

After surviving the collapse of my early business, I did not attend another Garden party for a very long time. When I finally did, it was more for Rapier Wit's sake than my own – he had been quite concerned about me over the last few years, and he had made it his personal mission to ensure I did not succumb to apathy. It was a pleasant, albeit underwhelming, evening; indeed, it would not be worth mentioning, were it not for a certain meeting that took place.

An hour or so into the party, a hubbub swept the assembled guests, and attention seemed to focus on a point at the entrance to the gardens. Eventually the crowd parted enough to reveal a tall, thin unicorn, pearl-white with pale pink hair. I leaned over to Rapier Wit, asking if he knew who she was, that the guests were making such a fuss over her. He informed me that she was a new, up-and-coming socialite who had arrived from Mareseille – no-one knew anything about her past, but she spoke with a cultured, Canterlot accent so she must have been educated. Her name was as mysterious as the mare herself – Fleur-de-Lis.

You will be disappointed to hear that our eyes did not meet across a crowded room – indeed, I would have gone the entire night without giving her a second thought, had Rapier Wit not decided to try his infamously poor luck with mares yet again, and gone to offer her a drink. Fleur seemed, if not interested, at least amused by Rapier Wit's advances – she had no problem entertaining his offer of a drink, nor of staying to talk with him for a time. As was polite, Rapier Wit introduced her to me – I gave her a cordial nod and went back to my own drink. During the occasional lulls in her conversation with Rapier, she made some small talk, and I replied as civility demanded, but made no attempt to engage. As I said, I was there primarily for Rapier Wit's sake, and I was still a sober, embittered pony with no interest in socializing. To be frank, I found Fleur somewhat vapid, lacking in any real substance. Fleur eventually moved on to another section of the party. Rapier Wit and I finished our drinks, and made our separate ways home. By the next day I had completely forgotten about Fleur.

It was several months before our paths crossed again, and this time it was across a business table. I was bidding for a majority share in a company, and was surprised to find myself across the table from Fleur. The bidding process took several days, and during the intermissions, I voiced my curiosity – after all, from what I had seen, she was a purely social member of the elite. It turned out that she was in fact a resourceful, competent businessmare, and she had been buying up companies and shares from one end of Canterlot to the other. I was begrudgingly impressed, but was confident I would win the bidding – Fleur was young, and I had the advantage of years of experience.

The negotiations lasted longer than anyone, even the owner of the company, expected, and by the start of the second week, everyone's endurance was beginning to wear out. The company owner declared a day off negotiations, for everyone to regain their stamina. I, however, was still bright-eyed and eager to continue, so I took the opportunity to ask around the pony's staff to find out what his plans for the day off were. It turned out he was intending to go to one of Canterlot's more upmarket casinos with his wife, and I took the opportunity like a fish after a worm. I arrived at the Casino around lunch the next day, intending to bump into the owner, treat him to a few friendly rounds of Blackjack and get on his good side, improving my chances of getting the deal.

I was surprised (and a little annoyed), to discover that Fleur was already there, and had already challenged the owner to a game of Blackjack. I was about to make a surreptitious exit, when Fleur spotted me and waved me over to the table – "we're all friends here," as she put it. After my initial displeasure at being beaten to the punch, I decided that the afternoon wasn't a total loss – my skill at Blackjack was formidable, and beating Fleur at her own game could only be good for my chances with the company. So, with a cheerful smile, I took my place, added my first bid of chips to the pile, and the game began in earnest.

At first I did as well as I expected to, winning the majority of the hands. But then, inexplicably, Fleur began to pull ahead. As the game went on, her lead increased inexorably, despite my pulling every trick in the book to try and throw her off. By the end of the match, she had cleaned out the owner's stack of chips completely. Now marginalized, I watched on with as much good grace as I could muster while the owner congratulated Fleur on a game well played. The owner didn't say so at the time, but I knew that at that point Fleur had all but won the negotiations. Once he had left, I confronted Fleur. Her run had been too perfect, too exact – I suspected foul play. Fleur was disdainful, and at first didn't even acknowledge my presence. Then, swivelling the chair round to look at me, she asked the dealer to deal out the remaining cards, and put the unplayed hands of all the players next to them. Without once looking around, she recited exactly which cards were on the table.

She had used card-counting – a technique of play that involves memorizing which cards have been dealt out, and using that knowledge to guess which cards the other players have. As one would imagine, it is a very difficult technique to master. However, it is also frowned upon by most players of the game – while not technically against the rules, it is bad sportsmanship, and I personally saw it to be just as reprehensible as fixing the deck. Fleur, of course, saw differently, and was about to argue the point when the company owner's wife came back, shook Fleur by the hoof, and thanked her for recommending that she get her husband to take time off at the casino to clear his mind. Once she had left, I fixed Fleur with a look of utter contempt. Fleur was unashamed, lifting her chin defiantly and wordlessly daring me to call her out, all pretense of being an ineffectual social climber dropped to reveal the razor-sharp intellect beneath.

Earlier in my career, I might have congratulated Fleur on her canny business sense and ingenuity. However, I had still not recovered from Liquid Satin's betrayal, and in Fleur's ambitious, resourceful nature I saw all the manipulation and deceit of my former fiance. I declared that I would not let someone of such base morals and unprincipled character get the better of me. Fleur retorted that she would become a cafe waitress before she let a stale old nag like me stand in her way. With both of our tempers fully flared, we parted ways as enemies, each viewing the other as worse company than mildewed hay.

Fleur informs me that personally she would have said "worse company than a mattress stuffed with rusty tacks." Either way, I am sure you get the picture that we thought very little of each other.

For the next few years, I enaged in an aggressive campaign of economic expansion. Fleur had rekindled a flame of ambition in me. Granted, said flame was focused on keeping her downtrodden, but it had nonetheless been re-ignited, and Fleur kept it burning bright. She was not just a competent businessmare, she was a master – even though I had a decade of experience and business contacts on her, she matched my every move, keeping me off balance with aggressive takeovers of her own. Our business deals became something of an elaborate battle dance – we circled each other, tested for weaknesses and openings, striking hard at one area to expose a vulnerable spot in another, making a directed attack on one of our opponent's companies while shielding one of our own interests from a multi-pronged assault. And no matter how hard I tried to get ahead or hold her back, Fleur stayed neck and neck with me – indeed, if I swallow my pride, I will have to admit that more often than not, she was ahead.

Almost without my realising it, my business had grown past its previous levels, and was now one of the main middle-tier corporations in Canterlot. My deep rivalry with Fleur became the talk of the town, with many in the social elite speculating over the outcome more than the Wonderbolts' derbys. It would be disingenuous to say that I was truly at peace during those years, as my contempt for Fleur was constant and unending, but after the years of apathy following my great defeat, I was the closest to happy I had been in recent memory. For the first time in years, I felt truly alive.

This state of affairs continued for another year or so. Then, all at once, Fleur's company ceased expanding. The sudden drop in activity was so sudden and unexpected that it took a week before I realised that all my businesses' competition had dried up. In such a situation, most ponies would have capitalized on the lack of activity and expanded as much as possible – I on the other hand, was unable to shake the feeling that something wasn't right. Fleur and I had been at loggerheads for neary twenty months – why had she suddenly conceded defeat? It was completely out of character. Leaving the day to day running of my business in the hands of my subordinates, I began to investigate what had happened.

After a week of probing Fleur's business dealings, and talking to a few ponies who worked in her city office, I discovered that her employees were as puzzled as I was. Fleur had suddenly become withdrawn, tired – they would have said she was stressed from work, but they had been with the business for long enough to know that Fleur never got stressed from work. Something was distracting her. Finally, I got the break I needed – one of Fleur's closed warehouses in the industrial section of Canterlot had recently had its water and electricity reconnected. It was being used, but there was no record of its owners or employees – at least, none that the secretaries could find. Clearly, Fleur was up to something.

I was determined to confront Fleur – find out what she was doing and put a stop to it, whatever it was. And so, I began to stake out the warehouse, renting an apartment down the street under an assumed name and keeping watch. It was a small building as warehouses went, but it was a two-story affair perched on the edge of Canterlot, next to a steep drop down the mountainside. An ideal place for a clandestine affair. After a few days keeping watch, Fleur arrived late one afternoon. I almost missed her – she was wearing a cloak, and only a brief flash of pink mane gave away her identity as she slipped into the building.

Smiling in satisfaction, I left my rented aparment, striding purposefully into the warehouse ready to walk in on a secret production line creating contraband merchandise, or some similar scandal-worthy scene. Instead, I walked into an empty space – the lower floor of the warehouse was utterly bare. Confused, I looked around. The only sign of occupation was an office at the far end of the warehouse floor, taking up the end wall. I was cautious, and made my way to the door while keeping as quiet as possible. Had I not made my approach silent, the events that followed might have proceeded very differently.

I opened the door, and was immediately greeted with the sound of a stallion talking. Slipping through the door, I crept through the office area. It was a small room, with bookcases and stacks of paper everywhere, and a small fireplace set in one corner, a small pile of coal glowing deep red. On one wall was an open entryway to a tea room at the back which had an open balcony looking over the mountainside. Hiding behind the doorframe, I observed what was happening. Fleur was talking to an earth pony, a bone-white stallion with jet black hair. He had a sallow, conspiratorial look, and spoke in a sibilant, grasping manner. Fleur was standing opposite him, and I was shocked at what I saw – she was no longer the ambitious headstrong mare I had known for over a year. Nor was she the vain, glamorous socialite that she presented herself as at social functions. Instead, she was meek, submissive, her ears drooping back, her neck barely upright. She didn't make eye contact with the stallion – she was looking down at the ground, with a look of apathy and defeat on her face.

The stallion was lecturing to her in a drawling, condescening manner. He was dictating a set of instructions to Fleur, to do with some kind of transfer of assets. Every now and then he would pause, look at Fleur expectantly, and ask her if she understood. Her response was always just a meek nod. As the conversation continued, I came to the inescapable conclusion that he was enjoying this charade – that he derived great satisfaction from belittling Fleur. I had seen enough. I strode through into the room, startling both of them, and demanded in my most imperious manner to know what was going on. The white stallion was utterly flabbergasted, and Fleur's expression could only be described as blank panic. The stallion recovered first – indeed, he seemed delighted at my appearance. Ignoring Fleur, he gave an exaggerated stately bow and introduced himself as Silver Snake. He seemed completely unconcerned by my presence, or my demand for information, and introduced himself as an old friend and business associate of "Elizabeth". Naturally, I was confused by this statement, as Silver Snake had expected, and with a cruel smile at Fleur, he began to tell his story.

He informed me Fleur-de-Lis was an assumed name, and that her true name was Elizabeth. She was indeed from Mareseille, but she was not an heiress as everyone had assumed. She had made her fortune in the casino, using the same card counting technique that I had lambasted her for. At this, I gave a satisfied nod and glanced at Fleur, vindicated in my view of her as an ambitious social climber with no respectability. If he had left it at that, Silver Snake might very well have gained me as an ally against Fleur. But instead, he chose to continue revealing Fleur's history. And what I heard next was utterly astonishing.

Fleur had made her fortune in the casinos of Mareseille – but in order to do so, she needed a significant sum of money to begin with. Well, she had gained it, by way of "a high paying job serving the aristocrats of the city". I was puzzled by this cryptic statement, and looked at Fleur for some kind of clarification. The expression on Fleur's face sticks in my mind to this day. All trace of the young, strong businessmare I knew was gone. In her place, was a scared, pleading filly, wordlessly begging Silver Snake to stop, even though she knew he wouldn't. I faltered at that, and for the first time I began to suspect that there was more going on than a clandestine business deal.

Silver Snake didn't elaborate further on his cryptic statement, instead leading me through to the office. There, he took his time bringing out a set of papers, even stopping to stoke the coals on the fire at one point, he was so assured and confident. Putting the last piece of paper on the stack, he offered it to me for my perusal. I took the stack, levitating it through to the tea room as I scanned the pages.

They were a series of invoices, business contracts and letters – a legal paper trail of some kind. At first, I could find no common thread, other than most of them mentioned the name Elizabeth. Eventually though, I noticed references to an agency of some kind, that went by the name "Hazel Street". It was strange that there was no reference anywhere to what kind of company they were, but I could find nothing inherently suspect about the information. I gave a quick glance at Silver Snake. His expectant expression told me I hadn't reached the part of the documents that he wanted me to, so I continued.

This continued for another five minutes or so, with nothing new surfacing in the pages – the rest of the papers were merely there to cement the fact that Fleur (or Elizabeth, it seemed), had been employed by this "Hazel Street" company, and seemed to get a great number of their clients. Finally, I turned over the last piece of paper. This was not a receipt or invoice – it was the front page of a newspaper, with the headline "Mayor Declares Hazel Street an 'Unseemly Bordello'."

Hazel Street was an escort agency. A high class one to be sure, that served only the most exacting and discreet of clients, and whose employees were also well versed in more traditional forms of social interaction such as elocution and education – but still an escort agency. Scarcely believing what I was reading, I looked at Fleur. She was looking at the ground, head hung limply in wretched defeat. Silver Snake, knowing now that I knew what he wanted me to know, explained his presence. He had been an associate of Fleur's back during her more disreputable years – indeed, he had been the one to introduce her to the Hazel Street establishment, when he found her as a young mare who had run foul of the world, destitute and up to her mane in debt. As is often the case with people such as Silver Snake, he had magnanimously "offered" to pay her intial debt – in exchange for a few years of indentured service while she paid the money off.

But the young Elizabeth had not given up on what many would have seen as a hopeless situation. She saved every penny she could, surviving on water and barley sugars for the most part, while honing her skills at card counting. Finally, she took her savings to the casinos and broke the bank. Now with a small fortune to call her own, she paid off her remaining debts, handed in her resignation, and left Mareseille far behind, changing her name and scrubbing out all trace of her history, before coming to Canterlot to start a new life. But Silver Snake was not finished with her. As he put it, he was responsible for getting her the job that let her earn that good fortune in the first place, and so he felt he deserved to reap the benefits.

And so, he had been meeting secretly with Fleur, using his knowledge and evidence of her past as leverage to get her to sign away a significant portion of her business empire. He dressed it up as repaying an old favour, but it was obvious to all three of us what was really happening – blackmail and extortion of the most heinous, underhanded kind. Silver Snake, knowing of my famed rivalry with Fleur, had been delighted to reveal the entire sordid affair. Quietly, containing my emotions as best I could, I inquired if these papers represented the only evidence of Fleur's past. Silver Snake happily confirmed that the papers in the office represented the sum total of the evidence against Fleur, of which there was a great deal. He was confident in his success, fully expecting me to help him in financially ruining Fleur now that I knew who she was. Judging from the look of resigned despair on Fleur's face, she expected no less from me either.

So I can say with certainty that neither of them saw my next action coming.

Setting the papers down on the table, I straightened my collar, stood up, and walked alongside Silver Snake. Then, I turned and kicked the blackmailer squarely in the barrel, sending him sprawling against the balcony. Overturning the tea table to clear my path, I lowered my head and charged straight at him, catching him in the chest and sending him head-over-hocks over the railing. Fortunately the balcony was not as far out over the mountainside as it could have been, or I might have very well killed the pony. As it was, he landed with a painful thud, and rolled away down the mountainside in a cloud of dust, dazed from the fall. I'm not sure how far down the mountain he ended up rolling, but it would not surprise me if he had got all the way to the base before he came to a stop.

Once I was sure he wouldn't be back any time soon, I turned back into the room, levitating up the papers that had been scattered when I overturned the tea table. Fleur attempted to talk to me, but I didn't respond – I was still on a warpath, and in no mood to stop and talk. Marching through to the office, I fed the papers into the fireplace, letting the first layer catch before I placed the next stack of papers on. Before long the glowing coals had become a roaring bonfire, into which I fed every single scrap of paper I could find in the office. Fleur again attempted to talk to me, but I ignored her, pulling out every drawer and shaking it over the fireplace, opening every cupboard, lifting up every filing cabinet to make sure that not a single page of evidence had escaped the fire. Finally, satisfied that I had disposed of everything, I turned and looked Fleur right in the eyes.

While I don't remember the exact words I used, Fleur remembers them to this day, and insists that I quote them verbatim. I said to her that I knew what it meant to lose everything, and to be humiliated and brought to nothing. Losing my business had been bad enough, but at least I had been able to recover. I might have been willing to hold Fleur back in an honest, above-board capacity, but to destroy the reputation of another beyond any hope of repair... that was an evil I would wish on nopony, not even my most bitter rival. And besides, I had to admit that while I disagreed with her methods, I had a begrudging respect for Fleur – she seemed to be the only pony in Canterlot who didn't treat me like a foolish colt.

With the physical evidence destroyed, Silver Snake had no more hold over Fleur – she returned to her business in high spirits, and before long we were back at it again, fighting each other for control of our corner of Canterlot's economy. Our business exchanges took on an altogether different tone, however – we were still just as aggressive, but we were more willing to give the other breathing room, and our directed attacks to damage the other's companies became more like casual jibes and prodding. Not only that, but we actually began to associate with each other socially, and found that we had more in common than we had first thought. As a pony who had not grown up in an upper class household, she drank up every detail of the aristocracy I could provide, and I was quite taken with her dry wit and sharp intellect – and in time I even grew to appreciate the subtle cleverness of presenting herself as little more than window dressing at social events in order to lull competitors into a false sense of security. This continued for nearly six months, with the two of us growing closer as the weeks went by. We became friends almost without realising it (and I was more than a little reluctant to admit to the fact).

Finally, one day, nearly three years after I had first met her, Fleur walked into my office for a friendly conversation. We traded banter for a few minutes, before Fleur leaned over the desk, looked me in the eye and asked why we weren't married. I tried to think of a reason, only to find I couldn't. Did our personalities clash? To a degree perhaps, but we actually liked it that way. Would we be constrained or hampered by such an arrangement? Hardly. Consolidating our companies would make us one of the largest conglomerates in Canterlot. Some members of Canterlot's elite would even put that forward as a good enough reason to marry on its own. Did we trust one another? After the incident with Silver Snake, that question wasn't even worth answering. The closest I could come to a reason was that we weren't in love – and as my experience with Liquid Satin had taught me, being in love was one of the most unreliable and dangerous justifications for marriage in existence.

After several minutes of pondering, I admitted that I couldn't think of a good reason. Fleur smiled, and said that she'd been trying to think of a reason for well over a fortnight, and the only one she could come up with was that I might not like the idea. And now that option was completely out the window.

We were married by year's end.

At this point, I shall finish the letter – it has gone on a full two pages longer than I anticipated, and the story is far from over. In my next letter, I shall relate how Fleur and I overcame the final set of hurdles in our rise to the top, and how I was finally able to lay claim to the title of "Canterlot's most important pony".

Yours faithfully,

Fancypants

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