• 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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2-2

II - II

The Lesson of the Cruel Mirror

“So what do I have to wear today?”

Platinum sighed. “Whatever Your Majesty wishes.”

Gale whirled. “What?”

“I can offer my suggestions, if Your Majesty would like them, but I won’t—”

“Can you stop?” Gale shook her head. “I get you want to teach me to do the job… and honestly this is a lot better than just making me sit next to you all day. But everypony knows you’re still the one calling the shots.”

“Is that what you think?” Platinum wandered over to the humble wood-framed mirror Gale had hung on her bedroom wall. In it, she saw what she never allowed anypony else to see. “What would it take to convince you I’m serious? Should I send you to the Stable of Nobles alone? Take a vacation? I hear the new settlements you’re about to be debating over are lovely in summer. A few weeks at the lagoon sounds lovely.”

“Bullshit, mom. You’re not going to just leave me.”

Platinum shook her head. “No. No, I suppose not. But you must be prepared that some day I won’t be here. Suppose I choked on a cherry stone, or—”

“That’s the best you could come up with?”

“Will you stop fighting me for five seconds?” Platinum’s temple throbbed as she rounded on her daughter, and her shoulders rose and fell as the motion seemed to have stolen her breath. Only after a few long lonely moments did she finally find the air to speak again. “I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye, Gale. And I know at times my methods trying to prepare you for rule have driven a wedge between us. But I promise you, and I pray you can trust me: this isn’t some trick. I hope you’ll have an ear for my advice, but if you decide to go your own way, I’m going to let you.”

The extent of faith Gale had in her mother was evident when her brow remained lowered, skepticism overflowing in the resounding flatness of her voice. “Really? So you’re not going to hover over my shoulder the whole fucking time? No ‘royal tea filly’ shit?”

“You were eight. Did you honestly expect me to let you make decisions when lives were on the line?”

Gale huffed when she failed to come up with an answer that matched her distrust.

Platinum, for her part, gently moved a cushion to the front of Gale’s vanity, and gestured with a hoof for the younger mare to take a seat. “I am going to be by your side, yes, but you are the Queen of Equestria now, Gale; not me. You may consider me an advisor… albeit the only one who actually knows the weight of the crown.”

Gale took a long second to stare into the mirror while she was still standing, and slowly a hint of a grin appeared in her cheeks. “Holy shit, you’re serious.”

“I… well, I have on a few occasions been as serious as I am now, my daughter. But never more. The crown is your burden to bear.”

Gale struggled to contain her grin as she took the offered seat, recalling the accessory in question. “With how much everypony goes on about it, I was kind of expecting it to be heavier.”

The Queen lifted a mane brush from the surface of the vanity, gently moving it up to Gale’s head. “It’s a metaphor, dear.”

“I know, Mom,” Gale chuckled as she retorted, pulling away from the brush to face backwards. “I wasn’t born yesterday. Give me a little credit?” Then she turned back to mirror and closed her eyes. “I can finally do something.”

“Oh? And what exactly are you planning on doing with your newfound power?” Platinum shook her head. “Changing the apparel requirements of the Stable? Perhaps having more exciting music at our galas, or—”

“Seriously, Mom? You think I’m that… fuck, I don’t know, petty? Thin-skinned?” Gale rolled her eyes, not wanting to shake her head if only to keep the brush her mother was using from tugging at her scalp. “I want to break down the tribal walls; get Typhoon to let non-pegasi into Legion command positions, break the earth pony lock on the banks in Lübuck, and appoint some non-unicorns to the Stable.” As an afterthought, she smiled and added, “Though you’ll never catch me dead in another one of those fucking high collars. I do need to able to breathe if anypony wants to hear me give a speech.”

“That…” Platinum blinked a few moments in shock as her mind processed her daughter’s abrupt announcement. “That’s a bold strategy, Your Majesty.”

“It’s literally just the two of us, Mom. Just call me Gale. And I know it’s not going to get done overnight; I’m not pretending I’m just going to clap my hooves and have it all done. It’ll probably be like pulling teeth with the whole fucking Stable… well, except Star Swirl.”

“Indeed… as you so succinctly observed over breakfast, they do tend to trend traditionalistic.”

A painfully awkward silence settled between the two as Platinum combed through the tangled mess of Gale’s mane in silence. I cannot say how long it might have gone on, had Platinum’s horn not sparked and dropped the brush. Tangled in Gale’s mane, though it wasn’t an especially heavy thing, it yanked her head to the side, and the young Queen-Regent hissed as she jolted.

“What the fuck, Mom?”

“I… I’m sorry; my grip slipped. Here, I’ll—”

“It’s fine,” Gale snapped. Then, turning fully around, she seemed to make a point of staring into Platinum’s eyes as she yanked out the brush from her own mane. “Lark can get it. Just tell me what was so important that everypony else had to be gone.”

“There are a few things. Firstly, the last time I addressed the Stable, while you were away on your… trip... we were settling the Settlement Bill. The earth pony delegation in parliament is demanding gem mining on domain lands be decreased in exchange for their support of the bill. But since—”

“Mining is part of land rights guaranteed by the Equestrian Constitution, so parliament can’t legislate it away from the Nobles without their consent.” Gale nodded. “So Aunt Chrys and House are for it because they have banners who don’t have domains that aren’t under six feet of permanent snow who’re begging for land, and Fire Power is against it because she’s a greedy bitch who wants her gems?”

Platinum coughed into her hoof nervously. “Again, a blunt description, but an accurate one. Chrysoprase alerted me that the earth ponies delegation in parliament might come to a point like this about a year ago, so we’ve been working through negotiations since.”

“How the hell does Chrysoprase know? She’s not in parliament.”

“No, but the Great House Gullion has the most banners of all the houses in the Stable. And she personally finances campaigns for her banners who want to get into either body of parliament. She controls quite a bit of the unicorn delegation; she’s a very valuable ally.”

“And a pain in the ass enemy, I’m sure.”

“On occasion, when we haven’t seen eye-to-eye, yes. In some ways, she holds much more power than the crown. So I would encourage you to cultivate that friendship as quickly as possible.” Platinum hesitated for a moment, and then added. “If you married High Castle—”

“Mom, I’m not using my cunt as a bargaining chip.”

Gale!

“See? You can use my name.” Gale rolled her eyes. “Same goes for Spice Menage and Grayscale. Though I’d be an idiot to pick Grayscale, because Star Swirl couldn’t give two shits about whether or not I marry his great grand nephew, and he votes on our side every damn time anyway.”

“Perhaps…” Platinum mused. “But he is also over one-hundred years old.”

“I might not have talked to Clover much, but everything I hear about her makes her sound like she’s just as good a pony as he is. She’s his noble heir, right? Not just his… ‘wizardly’ heir?”

“That is correct, But don’t make the mistake of conflating somepony being a good pony with them being allied with your cause; just like your assumptions about traditionalists, you’ll find that many ponies who disagree with you really do believe in the things that they say. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

“If you say so.” Gale rolled her eyes. “So why are you telling me all this about the vote? Why not wait until it was settled before abdicating?”

“It is settled; the vote is just a formality. I already made the relevant arrangements. And an easy win like this should set you off on the right hoof for your rule. Much easier than trying to found Equestria a week after you put on the crown, at any rate. You should win three to one. We expect only Duchess Fire Power to vote against us.”

“There are five great houses; who’s abstaining?”

“As the chair, Chrysoprase’s vote isn’t counted at all unless there’s a tie. Sometimes she announces what she would have voted, and the newspapers take it down assuming she actually did, but on the official record, most Stable votes only have four counts.”

“Right… Alright, for the record, why do the earth ponies claim they want to spite the Stable?”

“Mass mining causes inflation, dear.” The dismissive term made Gale frown, but at least this time she held her tongue. “Equestria is still rich with gems and gold, in no small part because years ago the earth ponies were able to enforce a quota on how much any domain could mine across the nation per year. But as we’ve added new domains, the total amount of gems has grown, and it's starting to have a noticeable effect again; even on simple staples like the price of bread.”

“Oh!” Gale frowned. “Huh… so the earth ponies are actually right?”

“It isn’t that simple, Gale,” Platinum insisted again. “Life is rarely so black and white.”

“Seems like it to me; the nobles want to get keep getting rich while they fuck over the rest of the country, and we have to convince them to think of somepony else for once in their shitty lives, and if we don’t we piss off Puddinghead?”

Platinum shook her head, but she wore the grin of a mare too far removed from being able to speak her mind, having finally heard somepony else with the audacity to admit what she’d been thinking for years.

But what she said was, “I doubt Chancellor Puddinghead understands economics enough to be upset. However, I did signal to Secretary Peanut Gallery that he should be optimistic about our negotiations, so he might be irritated if this somehow fell through.”

“So the problem for Equestria doesn’t actually factor into the calculus?” What Gale had asked obviously wasn’t a question.

Platinum’s shiny legs dug at the carpet of her daughter’s bedroom in an uncharacteristic show of hesitance. Finally, though, she found the steel to swallow and face her daughter through the vanity mirror again. “I know you understand swordplay much better than the ‘great game’, Gale. I don’t know much, but I hope this makes sense. Even the greatest warrior, even your father—” When Gale rolled her eyes, Platinum wasted no time correcting “—or Typhoon or Iron Rain, or whomever else you look up to; even they are mortal ponies. They can’t hold their swords aloft forever. Politics may stretch different muscles, but you still cannot win every fight. Wise Queens know that sometimes, letting your opponents tire themselves out on a fight you can afford to lose is the only way to win the fight that matters.”

Gale said nothing, and so I cannot claim to know what went through her mind. But for a rare moment, her eyes were closed, and her face grew smooth and calm indeed. And then, decisively, she gave a single nod. “Alright. What else?”

“Hmm?”

“You said there were a few things, and the Settlement Bill was ‘firstly’; what else?”

“Ah.” Platinum returned to brushing her daughter’s mane. “I wanted to talk to you about trust.”

“Trust?” Gale shifted her weight back onto her hind legs, and her shoulders tensed slightly. “Oh boy, here we go…”

“Who at the table at breakfast are you sure you can trust?”

The question seemed to slap the new queen across the face. “What?!” Then, all at once, she collected her thoughts. “This is about Morty, isn’t it? You don’t like him.”

“No, but he’s the least of my concerns in that room.” Platinum nodded. “You presented yourself as ‘Gale’ instead of ‘Queen Platinum’, and drew attention to the fact that I had kept your regency a secret until the very last possible moment. I want you to think about that: was it responsible to say those things in front of those ponies?”

Gale let her mouth hang open for a moment, and then she shook her head. “So it’s about Typhoon? Because she’s a ‘rival’, even though she’s my sister.”

“In part,” Platinum nodded. “Typhoon is responsible for the pegasi first, and if she is doing her job well that responsibility will come before family ties. You two will be at odds often, even if it is usually over minor matters. It would still be unethical of her not to use any information she gives you for the good of her kind. You could think of it as a matter of respect that you don’t discuss business of state with her, unless you’re being formal in your capacity as the Queen.”

Gale rolled her eyes. “It’s not like putting on the crown turns me into a different pony.”

“Yes, it does,” Platinum chided. “Perhaps not literally, not in any magical sense, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Did your tutors ever have you read Mirror’s Mirror?”

They did…” Gale answered through gritted teeth. “What, do I owe you a book report now? In the Oxidium dynasty, Queen Apnea was betrayed by Archmage Nefarious because she didn’t realize he was obviously evil. She shouldn’t have even needed Archmage Mirror’s warning.”

“Apnea was the Duchess of Pearl Point from Divine Rights, not Mirror’s Mirror. You’re thinking of Queen Chroma. And yes, that’s a fair summary, but you’re missing the point of the story.”

“There was no point! It’s a made up story about a made up queen who died because she was made up stupid!

Platinum sighed. “That may be true, but it was written by a real Queen as a real warning of a trap you are dangerously close to falling into, my daughter. Why does the story call Archmage Mirror the Cruel, when Nefarious is the villain of the story?”

Gale waved off the question with a hoof. “Because self-reflection feels shitty.”

Platinum shook her head, and gestured to a box on the vanity. When Gale moved to open it, she discovered the lid was locked. With a chuckle, Platinum’s horn lit to lift the key from within her dress; though her magic stumbled a moment, it did not fail enough to drop the key. With a gentle click the lid popped open and she once more stowed the key.

Gale stared at the crown, and the crown stared back at her, freshly polished from a visit to the royal jewelers.

“This is the cruel mirror, Gale. Because when you look at it, you see somepony you don’t necessarily like. Somepony who at times may make you suffer, may steal from you, may drive away your friends. And you must let her, if you wish to be a good Queen.”

“Bullshit,” Gale muttered. “You don’t suffer all the fucking time. You’re happy.”

At times,” the Queen replied. “The mare in the cruel mirror isn’t always spiteful, or wicked. But she is always there. Always watching. And while you must always let her win, you also must not become her.”

Gale stared long into the polished metal as her mother spoke. But sitting at an angle on the vanity, when Gale stared into it, she did not see her own reflection, but her Mother’s behind her.

“I thought the whole point was to be Queen?”

“Yes,” Platinum nodded. “I did say it was a metaphor, dear; not magic. You will be the Queen. But you cannot be ‘Gale’ at the same time, running across the world and meeting… I shall gently say ‘renegades’ dear.” Gale rolled her eyes, but she didn’t speak. “Not anymore than I can be Platinum, who loves a good book and a box of chocolates and going to bed early. The Queen takes precedence. She wants nothing more than to devour your entire life. Either you can guard yourself from her, and keep her as a separate pony on the opposite side of the looking glass—a mask, if you prefer that metaphor—or you can give in and let her devour you completely. Both paths will lead to success as Queen, but the latter will destroy you, my daughter.”

“So clearly that’s your preference.”

Platinum!” the elder mare snapped, before shaking her head. “Gale… you know that isn’t true. I love you, no matter how often we might not see eye to eye. That is why I am trying to teach this lesson... though I can see I am irritating you.” When Gale’s brow furrowed at the accusation, Platinum shook her head. “I know you do not want to hear this from me this way, but there are only two ways to learn that lesson, and discovering why it matters firsthoof is incredibly painful. Trust me. That’s exactly why I made you Queen while I am still alive, here to guide you.”

“So why the fuck didn’t my tutors explain that was what Mirror’s Mirror was about?”

“Likely because they did not know,” Platinum answered. “Anypony can buy a copy of Mirror’s Mirror at a bookbinder’s, of course, but few understand what it means to carry the weight of the crown. When I was your age, my tutors taught me much the same as what you learned from yours. That was one of few lessons I got from my father before… Before he passed.” Platinum swallowed as the painful memory of her father’s murder, by a stallion who was now her step-son no less, hung like the acrid fog in a smoking den. “And even then, I didn’t understand it. I had never worn the crown. As I said, I learned that lesson the hard way.”

Gale nodded, extended a hoof, and flicked closed the lid of the crown’s cushioned box. With a click of finality, it locked shut again. “Fine. Don’t mix court with family with Typhoon. I get it.”

“Good.” Platinum took a moment to collect herself and then nodded. “Who else?”

“Who else?” Gale turned fully on her seat, actually facing her mother instead of the mirror. “What, you mean Blizzard? Because Cyclone is ‘evil’ and it’s in her blood or something? Cause she hasn’t left the fucking house, except that one time to help Morty, since she got to Everfree. She doesn’t meet anypony else to talk even if she wanted to!”

“True. I would advise you not to be too casual with her simply as a matter of discipline, but you are right that she poses little risk.”

Gale scoffed. “Graargh thinks I’m his mom, or at least his big sister. As far as I’m concerned, he and Morty are both completely trustworthy.”

“I cannot speak for the bear… cub… thing.” Platinum sighed, muttering “Life was so much simpler once…” under her breath. “But Coil clearly has an agenda, and even if he is your ally for the moment, he may not always be.”

“Yeah, sure,” Gale muttered.

“But again, no.”

“No?” Gale stopped and actually ticked in the air with her hooves as she thought through who was at breakfast. “Tempest. Of course. Since Ty is his mom and his boss, he’ll tell her anything.”

“True.” Platinum nodded, and Gale dared to sigh. Only a moment later, another word escaped the silver lips of the elder mare. “But—”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake; that just leaves Dad, and Lark, and… no. Not Aunt Celestia. I refuse to believe—”

“I wouldn’t besmirch Lady Celestia’s devotion to you,” Platinum interrupted, shaking her head. “She has been a faithful godmother from the day you were born, and loved you almost as dearly as your father and I have. I would not expect her to show you favor as Queen over the other two races, but if ever you need a confidante, I believe she will be there for you.”

Gale huffed. “So I guess the point is Lark.”

Platinum nodded. “Your hoofmaiden has unique access to you, and her loyalty is measured in bits, not blood.”

“Screw you, Mom; it’s not just for the bits! She’s been my best friend for like… my entire life.”

“Three years, dear. Try not to be so dramatic.”

Gale groaned. “So what’s your point with her then? I’m supposed to lie to her? Just not talk to her?”

Platinum shook her head. “Quite the contrary. Some of the most fulfilling parts of my mornings are the times I spend with Marigold. I simply don’t speak on matters of the Crown with her. When I am with Marigold, I am not the Queen, and so I do not speak of what the Queen knows.”

Gale stomped a hoof. “Look, I know you get off on this political bullshit—”

“Gale!”

“—but I need somepony to vent at when I’ve been through a day of putting up with noble bullshit and flower ceremonies and debates. So forgive me if I trust my friends. And while you’re at it, send her in.”

Platinum stood her ground.

“What?”

“Lark was only part of my point.”

“Then what— wait, Dad? Ok, no, now I know you’re full of shit.”

“Your father was the Commander of the Legion and the leader of the pegasi—”

Was!” Gale slapped a hoof down on the vanity, and the mirror rattled, sending shockwaves over the reflection of the back of her head. “I trust him to give me advice about being a leader a fuck of a lot more than you; he didn’t bend over and let his nobles caravan his asshole—”

Gale!

“—and if you think I’m giving that up because he used to be your rival ruler, then you can fuck right off!”

“Queen or not, you will not address me so crassly!” Platinum took a moment, breathing ragged and shoulders clenched, to collect herself. “Remember. your father knows the weight of the cruel mirror too. Why do you think he hates to be called ‘Emperor’?”

“But it’s not his job anymore. And he’s my dad. He’s your fucking husband! Or do you pretend you’re not fucking him when you put on the crown? Is that your ‘great sacrifice’ for ‘the Queen’?”

“That’s quite enough! You have no idea what I’ve sacrificed for Equestria!”

“It can’t be much, or I’d be able to see it! Dad’s missing a fucking wing and he can barely walk for Equestria! So if I have to pick sides, I know where I’m going!”

“Princess Platinum—”

“Get the fuck out of my room!”

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