• Published 26th May 2020
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Tales from Everfree City - LoyalLiar

Princess Platinum and Celestia's first student face changelings, a magical curse, the specter of war with the griffons, and the threat of arranged marriage in early Equestria.

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2-1 Queen Platinum and the Stable of Nobles


Queen Platinum and The Stable of Nobles

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II - I

A Breakfast of Champions

“Oh gods…”

I briefly considered opening my eyes, but in the groggy hours of the early morning, it was much easier to pretend the young stallion’s voice was coming from somewhere off in the distance. I suspected it might have belonged to Tempest.

“Shh.” That voice was unmistakably Blizzard. “Look how cute they are.”

“Uggh. Morty sleep so much!” With an ursine growl to his squeaky voice, Graargh elected to shatter the silence with an outright shout. “Morty! Gale! Wake up now! No more sleep! No more sleep for ten thousand years!”

I only came to enough consciousness to realize I was sleeping on a couch in Gale’s living room, her back held close to my chest, when her starting awake involved stabbing me in the neck with her horn. I found myself suddenly grateful for my patch of ‘bad zombie’ exposed muscle, when the layer of transparent metal deflected the painful blow from outright impaling my jugular. Instead, I just got a nice bruising for my trouble.

“Ow!” I hissed.

“What the fuck, Graargh?!” Gale collapsed into a flailing mass of limbs on the floor off the couch, where my own starting had tossed her, and struggled to find her hooves.

Too much asleep!” the little bear insisted.

“Graargh, it would be nice if you didn’t shout so much.” Blizzard, whose sympathy was only rivaled by her constant nervousness, gently laid a wing on Graargh’s back. “It’s very early, and that’s not a very nice way to wake up.” Then, looking up at us, she added, “Grandfather almost has breakfast ready, though.”

Tempest, Gale’s ‘big brother’ (though by blood, her half-nephew) rolled his eyes. “Grandpa would never delay breakfast this late for me. But I guess ‘the Queen’ needs her beauty sleep.”

Gale’s horn lit, and I was shocked when I realized her magic had grabbed her ‘big brother’ by the throat, not so much choking him as yanking him forward to where she could glare into his eyes without herself moving where she was standing. “Keep that shit up, Tempest, and I’ll ask Ty to assign you to courtroom guard duty. Then instead of flying around, you can be just as fucking bored as I am all the time.” Gale rolled her neck. “Morning, Blizzard. Graargh.” Then she turned back to me. “Well, get up, Morty. Let’s eat. Don’t want to keep everypony waiting.”

I have never been a morning pony (the solution, for those magically inclined, is to give up on sleeping altogether), so I was the last to stagger from Hurricane’s sitting room into his villa’s lavish dining room.

I’ll spare you all of the good mornings, because there were several. Seated at the long table I found Commanders Hurricane and Typhoon, Queen Platinums I and III, Blizzard, Tempest, Graargh, and a mare I recognized from the party the prior night whose name I didn’t know. Guardian Angel floated behind the seats before finally taking up his favorite place, hovering just about a leg’s reach up and to the right of my head. And to top it all off, sitting on the floor instead of in a seat at the table in order to get her head at the right height, even Celestia had joined us.

Only one introduction in the whole mess was worth mentioning.

“So… Can I call you Morty, or is that a personal thing?” said the unfamiliar young mare, sitting comfortably at Gale’s side. She was a unicorn of about my age (in fact almost three years older than I thought), but with a friendly chestnut face and a coltish short-cut yellow mane. Her palace servant’s uniform, tight fitting but modest, dyed a muted purple with gold accents, made her occupation obvious. But I think more than anything else, I noticed both the edge of keen intelligence in her brown eyes, and how rapidly they seemed to jump around the table at the slightest movement.

I shrugged. “Help yourself, ma’am.”

Ma’am?!” The unicorn gasped in shock, her horn shaking her glass of apple juice and nearly splashing it onto Tempest at her other side. “Is he making fun of me, Gale, or—”

Queen Platinum (the one I actually call ‘the Queen’ sincerely, not Gale) harshly rapped a hoof on the wooden table. “You should address Her Majesty with appropriate respect, even in less formal gatherings.”

Gale sighed. “You can ignore that; that is an order from the reigning Queen.” When Queen Platinum donned a small frown, Gale showed incredible regal presence by briefly sticking out her tongue toward her mother, before turning to me. “Morty, this is Lark. She’s my hoofmaiden. Lark, you can call him whatever the fuck you like.”

I raised a brow. “You have a hoofmaiden?”

“She is the Queen-Regent,” Lark answered, in between bites of runny yellow eggs. After a moment to swallow, she added “Not that I’m new; I’ve been with Gale for years.” Then she turned to Queen Platinum, actually winked at the older mare, and smiled. “With apologies, I have to defer to the crown.”

“Quite,” Platinum answered tersely.

“So… what are you going to do, now that you’re Queen?” I asked Gale. “Gonna go declare some laws or something?”

“Parliament passes laws, Morty; not me.” Gale… well, I can really only describe the motion as impaled a sausage on the blade of her butter knife, then took a rather feral bite off the side of it as her magic held it aloft.

“So… what, you judge some criminals?”

“Your case was somewhat exceptional, Morty,” Platinum told me as Gale chewed. “Normally, the thrones defer criminal trials to appointed judges.”

“Like Iron Rain,” Gale added after swallowing. “Being Queen officially means I just appoint nobles to the Stable and assign them to domains, plus I have one vote if something gets decided by just the thrones, instead of parliament—you remember what I explained when we met Aunt Chrysoprase?”

“Sort of.” I shrugged. “It was a lot to take in.”

Gale sighed. “Well, it doesn’t really matter yet anyway. In addition to all the hoof-kissing and brown-nosing bullshit last night, a new monarch has to go get ‘recognized’ by the five Great Houses of the Stable; there’s a whole fucking ceremony where I’ll have to answer some questions and all the nobles have to bow to me or something.”

“You remembered.” Platinum smiled. “Though to be fair, the recognition only takes an hour or so at most. Since the Stable was already meeting today, even before our little surprise, I imagine Grand Duchess Chrysoprase will want to discuss the Stable’s part in the Settlement Bill so that it can move forward.”

Gale genuinely smiled in reply. “Thank fuck; it won’t be a total waste of time then. What’s the debate on, Mom? Is there actually something with two real sides, or am I just cutting through the Stable’s usual tribalist bullshit?”

Hurricane and Typhoon both chuckled at that, sharing a knowing glance, while Platinum frowned. “Gale, the Stable are your subjects; you answer directly to them. And they could vote to depose you—”

“The day Star Swirl and Clover are dead, I’ll be worried about that,” Gale interrupted. Gale glanced down the table to where Blizzard was looking just about as confused as I was, and spoke in both our directions, slowly moving her gaze between us. “There’s five ‘great houses’ in the Stable of Nobles, which is basically just a fancy name for the collection of all the noble families. The great houses get to make rules for the other noble families, and if all five of them are unanimous, they can depose a ‘tyrannical‘ monarch. But since Star Swirl is an actually decent pony, and he’s the Duke of House Zodiac, I don’t have to worry about them pulling some backroom political bullshit to get rid of me.”

Blizzard cocked her head, but it was Graargh who spoke up over the clean plate his grizzly cub maw had utterly devoured. “If they bad ponies, Gale, you and Morty fight?”

“Sweet goddesses, no!” Platinum cried out. “Poor Count Halo was bad enough!”

Gale chuckled. “They’re not like Wintershimmer, Graargh. They’re more like Morty’s ex—you remember her, right? With the metal claw?”

Graargh nodded proudly. “I remember! Bad fuck!”

I narrowly managed not to spray a swallow of juice out of my mouth at the room reacted with similar displays of shock (and more than a few disapproving glances in Gale’s direction. After a hurried swallow, I cut in “Her name is Silhouette, Graargh.”

“That hard to say,” said Graargh, without the remotest hint of self awareness.

“The point is, there’s a difference between saying somepony is bad and needing to arrest them.” Gale shrugged. “Or in Wintershimmer’s case, outright kill him. And unfortunately, unlike Halo those crotchety old bastards are smart enough not to pick a fight with Morty.”

“Gale, I know we’re just family here,” said Hurricane, “but there’s a big difference between not liking other ponies and wishing them dead, even if you aren’t going to act on it.”

“Thank you for that rousing correction, husband of mine…” Platinum sighed, before turning to her daughter. “If you want to succeed as Queen, like them or not, you need their support.”

“Doesn’t mean she has to like them, though,” Typhoon noted.

The glare Platinum gave her step-daughter could have curdled water.

“What’s so bad about them anyway?” I asked Gale directly.

Gale waved a hoof to clear the air. “They aren’t all that bad. Duchess Glass—that’s Spicy’s mom—is kind of an elitist bitch, but I think she’s more worried about keeping her alchemy secrets in her family than she is about ‘unicorn supremacy’ or that sort of shit, so I guess she’s fine. You already met Aunt Chrysoprase, but for Blizzard’s benefit: she’s obsessed with nobles being somehow better than ‘commoners’, as if all the noble families didn’t just start with some king or queen pulling a title out of their ass. Duke House might be the best of the lot besides Star Swirl; at least the read I get on him is he actually cares about all unicorns instead of just the Stable. But he also probably gets off on re-reading the rules of procedure… he’d be a damn good judge, but instead he’s ruining my fucking life along with the rest of them. And then there’s Fire Power.”

Duchess Power,” Platinum corrected. “No matter your opinion, you ought to refer to the nobles by their proper titles.”

“Ah; sorry Mom. Greedy Little Bitch Fire Power, because she doesn’t deserve a noble title, isn’t even in it for the Stable. She’s just in it for herself; she shuffles around domains with her banners so she’s always raking in the most taxes she can, and she doesn’t even live on her own land.”

I couldn’t help but quirk a brow. “Wait… but don’t those other nobles we visited also live in Everfree?”

“Grand Duchess Chrysoprase’s domain is just past the eastern edge of the city,” Platinum explained. “And as chair of the Stable, it is more important for her to be near the Stable building in any case. And both Duchess Glass and Archmage Star Swirl have elected to forgo domains due to their other duties as head of the alchemist’s guild and court mage, respectively. But Her Majesty is correct; they are in the minority as exceptions. Most of the nobleponies live on their respective domains, and only gather in Everfree once a season for a week as the Stable meets to discuss business.”

“Anyway, they’re all tribalists,” Gale finished. “So if I want anything that isn’t actively screwing over the pegasi or the earth ponies, I’m fighting an uphill battle.”

Platinum took a long slow breath. “Your Majesty, isn’t that a bit reductive? Could you at least call them ‘traditionalists’, and be a bit less aggressive?”

Blizzard glanced between mother and daughter. “What does that mean? Traditionalist and tribalist, I mean?” When Platinum turned toward her, not even particularly aggressively, Blizzard shrunk back. “Um… sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt.”

“Stand up for yourself, Blizzard; it’s fine.” Gale took another mighty bite of the sausage still speared on her knife and shot it down in a single swallow like as much hard liquor. “A tribalist is somepony who thinks we ought to keep the three kinds of ponies—the ‘tribes’—separate. They say all kinds of bullshit like ‘it’s the only way to preserve our cultures and our traditions’; that’s why they like to call themselves ‘traditionalists’. But all the biggest tribalists are ponies in power, in all three tribes; the Stable, half the command structure of the Legion—you fucking know it, Typhoon, don’t even try to deny it—and the whole fucking city of Lubuck where all the bankers are.”

“Can I use this for a learning opportunity?” Platinum cut in. “Your Majesty—”

“It’s Gale, Mom.”

“Seeing as you’re criticizing your pegasus peer for her leadership, Your Majesty, you might find it is an appropriate time to be more formal.”

“She’s my sister!” Gale put a hoof on her forehead, shook her head fully, and turned to Typhoon. “Right, Ty? We’re just having fucking breakfast; this isn’t court.”

“We are,” Typhoon answered slowly, sternly. “But your mother and I had an agreement not to discuss politics unless we both agreed to it, and I would suggest we do the same.” Then, with a gentle sigh, the substantially older sister set her forehooves—both the still-natural one and its supernaturally mist-wreathed steel prosthetic counterpart—onto the table. “Since you brought it up, my first responsibilities as Commander are to keep my soldiers alive, and to keep Equestria safe. I don’t make promotions based on the officer’s politics.”

“Sorry,” Gale muttered. “I’m not trying to accuse you of anything, Ty.” Gale rolled her eyes, and then turned back to Blizzard. “My point is, there’s lots of tribalists who are in it to get rich or make themselves powerful, and don’t actually give a shit about traditions, or about unifying Equestria.”

“And the opposing philosophy is…?” I prompted.

“Dad, you wanna tell him?” Gale asked, turning to her father.

Hurricane cocked his head. “Why me?”

“Uh, because you fucking invented it?” Using what little remained of her breakfast sausage, Gale pointed straight at her father.

“I think you’re giving me too much credit, Gale,” Hurricane muttered. “Besides, I haven’t been a politician for twenty years.”

“Oh, so it’s somepony else’s retirement speech the unitarians quote in Parliament… when they’re getting their asses kicked.” Gale tossed Tempest a wink when he chuckled, then did her best impression of her father’s deep but notably smooth voice. “In every trial I have seen in my lifetime, I have witnessed our kind—pony kind, not pegasi, nor unicorns, nor earth poniesat our strongest when we unite.”

“You know I had Pan Sea write that, right?”

“I’m sure history will remember how inspirational ‘Private Pansy’ wrote that speech, and not how many grown-ass soldiers were sobbing when you gave it” Gale countered.

“How would you know?” Typhoon asked. “You weren’t even born yet.”

“Ponies like to write books about the founding of Equestria,” Gale answered. “Or biographies of Dad. Which didn’t mention that Pan Sea wrote the speech either. Funny how that works, isn’t it?” Gale took the final, decisive bite of her sausage, and again swallowed it almost whole.

“Well, perhaps they’ll have somepony else to quote, now that the queen of unicorns is among their number,” Hurricane answered dryly.

“Perhaps we should let Her Majesty’s actions speak for her, instead of deciding her political affiliations, and giving her potential opponents reason to dislike her early.” Platinum tapped her hooves together. “Now, this little discussion has been delightful, but I’m afraid we should think of being ready for an extremely important day. One never gets a second chance at a first impression.” She produced from inside the fur collar of her dress a letter and an ornate wrought iron key set with a single ruby, and to my surprise when she set them onto the surface of the table, her hoof flicked them in my direction.

“Per our agreement, that contains a set of Letters of Credit from the treasury. I took the liberty of dividing them up for you into more practical pieces, but the full sum is accounted for. And I understand you’re already familiar with the property, but that key goes to Twenty-Four Ridgeline Road.”

I raised a brow. “That doesn’t mean anything to me…”

Typhoon, thankfully, clarified—though perhaps not by intention. “You’re giving him Solemn Vow’s house?”

“Yes, Commander,” Platinum replied. “It’s an advance payment for his services; a personal matter, not an affair of state. When you… dealt with the prior owner, shall we say, because I had purchased it for the young baron, the property reverted to my name. And because of his history, popular perception is that the home is haunted. But I happen to know that a few intrepid young ponies recently went exploring around its basement—” Platinum shot a knowing glance… well, basically around the whole room; Blizzard, Gale, Graargh, Angel, and I had all been in on the trip. “—and while I don’t know if it is actually haunted, if there are ghosts there, I couldn’t think of anypony more suitable to deal with them.”

I shook my head. “There’s no such thing as ghosts like that, and I doubt there are any spirits. Just rubble now, and a big old block of ice… Once I get those tunnels excavated, Commander Typhoon, could I get your help melting that—”

“You could not pay me to go back into that damn house,” Typhoon cut me off with a scowl. “If you let me burn it down, I’ll pay to build you a new one.” I should perhaps emphasize that there wasn’t anger in the autumn-colored mare’s voice. Like nearly every hint of strong emotion I had seen from Typhoon, the words were icy, businesslike, and above all else, deadly serious.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t encourage arson, Commander,” Platinum muttered. “Especially in the middle of Everfree’s most valuable real estate. Coil, I’m sure Hurricane can assist you with this ice problem when the time comes. But for now, I must have a bit of time to speak with my daughter and the other statesponies here before we meet with the Stable of Nobles. So if you, Tempest, Miss Blizzard, the bear cub, and your flying rock—”

“Guardian Angel, Your Majesty, though just ‘Angel’ is perfectly fine,” Angel chimed in.

Queen Platinum looked more than a bit perturbed for a few long seconds, blinking blankly, before muttering under her breath “Of course it can talk…”

I heard Gale gag on a bite of ham she’d stolen (sans silverware, directly with her magic) before she shook her head and donned her formal voice. “That was quite insensitive, Mother. You should really apologize; you’ve hurt Angel’s feelings.”

“I… very well, yes, Angel, I apologize—”

“I believe Gale is teasing you, Your Majesty,” Angel replied, moving to hover above the table where he was more comfortably in her line of sight. “I assure you, compared to how Master Wintershimmer frequently referred to me to my ‘face’, as it were, a bit of surprise on your part is hardly going to hurt my feelings. I’m well aware my voice puts me in the minority of minerals.”

“You’re no fun, Angel,” Gale muttered.

“Perhaps not,” the golem answered. “I was not created to serve as a toy, but an assistant for Master Coil, and a store for his excess mana. In both those capacities, seeing as Master Coil is still alive, I would say I have performed more than admirably. Shall we compare to that the purpose you were created for?”

You could literally see Angel hit a nerve by the reaction on Gale’s face. “Listen, you little—”

Before she could curse him out (or something worse), I decided the time had come to intervene, which I did by dropping a hoof as hard as I could on the tabletop. “Angel.”

“Master Coil?”

“I didn’t realize you had followed along when Wintershimmer was teaching me verbal conflict. That was an impressive blow, but you shouldn’t talk that way to our friends. Especially when you know you’re going to hit a nerve like that.” I waited for a solid moment, and then nodded my horn toward Gale. “Well?”

“My apologies,” Angel hummed—not because of any particular joy the way you might use the word ‘hummed’ to describe a pony’s voice; I mean more so that his tinny artificial voice sounded more like a hum than usual. Coming from the flying rock, it made him sound more than anything like a foal who’d had a ruler broken over their face by a scolding teacher not paying enough attention to the force they were wielding.

“I… forgive you,” Gale forced out, in a way that would have made ‘yeah, sure’ sound like a moment of compelling redemption, if you believe in that sort of thing.

After a moment’s silence, I nodded to Angel. “Why don’t you head upstairs. I’ll come find you in a moment, when Celestia and I are ready to head out.”

“Ah, I’m afraid not,” said the Queen as Angel hovered toward the door. “Lady Celestia will be otherwise occupied today.”

I dared to raise a brow in Celestia’s direction—remember in my day, she wasn’t the all powerful monarch of Equestria. She was just a widely worshipped demigoddess with a thriving church, so such a show of demanding expectation was really acceptable in a way it isn’t anymore.

“You have my apologies, Morty,” said Celestia. “Today, Gale is being recognized by the Stable of Nobles, and my endorsement of her ‘divine right’ may not be comfortable, but it is… useful.”

“So you’re going to claim you’re a goddess when it’s convenient?” I had thought I came across with a friendly tease, but judging by how Celestia’s brow furrowed, it was obvious I hadn’t hit that jovial note.

“I made a promise to Hurricane and Platinum, when Gale was born and I became her godmother. I didn’t make it lightly, Morty, and I intend to keep it. If one day of delay in your lesson is too much to bear—”

“I’m sorry,” I interrupted, holding up my hooves. “It’s fine. Didn’t realize I was getting to you that bad. Go help Gale. I can keep busy.”

Celestia nodded. “Just because I’m busy doesn’t mean I can’t still teach you something.” And then, lighting her golden magic, Celestia passed me a scroll bound tightly in red ribbon.

“What’s this say?”

“It’s a letter to Mrs. Aspirations. She teaches a class of foals about Graargh’s age in the palace district. I’d like you to take Graargh and go deliver this.”

“And then?”

Celestia nodded to the letter. “She’ll tell you what to do next. Graargh is likely going to be a new experience for her, so I trust you’ll help her if she needs it.”

I raised a brow, but nodded. “As you wish, Master.”

“Do I get to call you ‘Mortal’ now?”

I felt a knot form on my brow, just under my horn. “No, Celestia.”

In the next few minutes, I left Angel with Blizzard, Tempest headed off to whatever his duties were with the Legion, and Graargh and I made our way towards the palace in search of Mrs. Aspirations. But that sordid story of espionage, terror, extortion, and murder most foul will have to wait for another Tale.

For now, our focus remains with Gale, around the only slightly less crowded table of one Commander Emeritus Hurricane.

I will remind you just this once, reader: I am the foremost necromancer in the world, and probably sit comfortably in the top three mages of all time. So while I wasn’t present in the room for these conversations, or for many conversations to follow (I wasn’t even on the same continent as our next Tale), my accounts here are first-hoof testimony.

The aging Platinum looked down at her plate, which she’d barely touched, and then sighed. “Gale, since you feel this situation is suitable for informality, I shall oblige you. But I need you to understand this isn’t a joke. I have no intention of rescinding your regency unless you cause catastrophic harm to this nation. So please, understand that your image matters more now that it ever has.”

Gale nodded, spearing a piece of ham (poor creature; but remember, future reader, that she was half pegasus) with probably more force from her fork than was strictly necessary. “You could have warned me.”

Lark nearly spat out her eggs, though thankfully the threat of spit-take artillery remained merely a threat. “You didn’t tell her?!” After a very brief pause, she added “Apologies, Your Majesty… But seriously?”

“Nopony told me either,” Commander Typhoon noted. “This does kind of change my job a little; the slightest notice would have been nice. I assume you didn’t tell Puddinghead either, Platinum, since there weren’t any balloons for it?”

“Correct, Commander,” Platinum nodded. “Your father and I have been discussing this for some time.” It wasn’t clear whether she was speaking back to Typhoon or had turned her attention again to Gale, but since ‘your father’ was the same pony for both the forty-something leader of Equestria’s armies as well as its new Queen-Regent, the point was moot.

Hurricane paused midway into lifting his glass of milk to his lips, and slowly lowered it back to the table. “So I should be grateful I got any warning at all? Or am I allowed to be disgruntled you didn’t tell me you were actually going forward with it?”

“Wait, seriously, Dad?” Gale’s jaw dropped.

Glancing back to Platinum for a moment, the old graying stallion just raised a brow. “I was under the impression your mother had meant this was happening in a year or two, not right now.”

Gale set both her hooves firmly on the table, rattling her silverware. “Okay, time-the-fuck-out. Raise your hoof if you knew what was going to happen last night.”

Besides Queen Platinum, only Celestia raised a hoof.

Gale set her left foreleg atop the hoof of her right foreleg, and massaged the bridge of her muzzle as she squinted at the table. “Aunt Celestia… and let me guess, that was just so when Mom made the announcement, you could stand behind the throne and raise your wings? What’d she give you, two hours warning?”

Celestia nervously glanced to Queen Platinum, who shrugged. Then, with a resigned sigh, the alicorn shook her head. “Not much more than half an hour. Your mother had just finished telling me before Morty and Count Halo… had their disagreement.”

“Right before Morty kicked Halo’s ass?” Gale let that question hang in the air for a moment, then leaned back in her chair and sighed. “This is one of those things we talk about privately, where you try and give me some dumb fucking metaphor about chess or flower arrangment or something, isn’t it, Mom?”

The Queen frowned. “At least you’ve learned to recognize the situations. Though I would hope by this point you wouldn’t need to ask in front of everypony assembled.”

“The rest of the family? And Lark, I guess?” Gale shrugged.

Queen Platinum closed her eyes and drew a brief breath. “Gale, why don’t we retire to your bedroom and look after your mane?”

Gale sighed. “I guess I’ll be reading about it in the newspaper if I don’t do something fancy… Fine.”

Lark nodded. “I assume this is why you had me visit this morning, Your Majesty? Should I go prepare the brushes and perfume?”

“Ah, no.” Platinum shook her head. “You guess correctly, Lark; that is why I asked you here. However, Gale and I need to speak privately for a few moments. I’m certain my dear husband can keep you entertained, or at least well fed, until we’re ready.” With that note, Platinum and Gale rose, one noticeably more enthusiastically than the other, and headed up to the top floor of the family home.

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