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



Celestia's first student and Princess Platinum conspire to cheat the princess out of an arranged marriage.

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2-3

II - III

The Hoofmaiden

The hoofmaiden to the newly minted Queen peeked her head into the door of Gale’s room, taking in the rather drab furniture. (Gale would have called it Nimban, after Iron Rain’s home city in old Cirra, but I hesitate to lean too hard on a term that’s fallen not only out of favor but history as well.) “So, do I call you Your Majesty in here too now, or—”

Not funny, Lark.”

“That bad?” Lark slowly approached Gale, who was resting her head on her hooves, forelegs braced against the vanity. “Well… maybe I can at least help?” Without so much as waiting for a hint of permission or a word of direction, Lark rose up onto her hind hooves, placing her forelegs on Gale’s shoulders and beginning to massage them.

Gale lit her horn and slammed the door behind her hoofmaiden. After a second of silence, a second surge of magic signaled another spell off her horn. “There. We can fucking talk, even if Mom’s eavesdropping or some bullshit.” With a sigh I wouldn’t call contented so much as comfortable, she leaned into Lark’s ministrations.

“You really think your mom is going to eavesdrop on us?” Lark leaned forward to put her muzzle just beside one of Gale’s ears, and then with just a hint of teasing mirth, nibbled gently on the soft skin. A shudder of surprise and pleasure traveled down Gale’s body as Lark ceased the teasing to whisper. “Come on, Gale. She’s not that petty.”

Whatever good faith the tease of a bite had earned vanished in an instant as Gale pulled forward from Lark’s hooves, then turned to match her eye-to-eye. “That bitch thinks I can’t talk to my dad because he used to be in charge of the pegasi, and he’ll sell me out.” Gale accompanied the bitter summary by slamming a hoof on the flat surface of her vanity. “So yeah, I do think she’s that petty.”

Well…” Lark swallowed, then with her magic gently grabbed onto Gale’s shoulder, pulling her back to sitting with her face toward the vanity mirror and her back to her hoofmaiden. “Here, I’ll do your mane, and we can talk about something else.” Then, as she investigated the mane in question, her brow rose. “Um… what happened? Your mane got worse since breakfast. Your mom didn’t... yank on it, did she?”

“No.” Gale sighed and scowled. “Well, she did—but not like she was pissed at me and trying to hurt me. It was an accident. I think there’s something distracting her, or she’s getting old. She keeps forgetting to keep up her magic.”

Lark frowned. “Whatever happened, it looks like it hurts. But...” Lark took a moment to roll her neck. “Nothing a mare trained for life to be the Queen’s hoofmaiden can’t fix.”

The comment put a bit of a smile on Gale’s face, though she shook her head dismissively. “You’re not fooling anypony, Lark.”

“I’ve been fooling the entire palace for three years running,” Lark answered as her horn lit to lift Gale’s brush. “So I beg to differ, my queen.”

“Didn’t I just say to lay off that shit?”

The brush dragged down Gale’s golden mane, straightening tangled threads into the beginning of order. The tension in Gale’s shoulders made no show of loosening, but she drew a much steadier breath and allowed herself to close her eyes.

“You said no ‘Your Majesty’,” Lark replied, making sure her muzzle was close enough that as she spoke, Gale could feel her breath on her neck. “But I remember a certain filly liking it when I called her ‘my princess’, and now that she’s got a new title, it seems like ‘my queen’ is what comes next.” Then she chuckled. “Or is Morty the only one who gets to call you that now?”

Gale blushed rather flagrantly for a mare I thought at the time had no sense of shame. “N-no…”

“If you’re about to try and tell me you aren’t into him, Gale, I will smack you with this manebrush, Queen or not.”

“No, it’s not—” Gale stumbled with her words as Lark tended to the knots in her mane. “Fuck, Lark, I’m the gods-damn Queen of Equestria, and you want me to sit here gossipping about colts with you?”

“Seeing how shitty it was making you feel to talk about being the ‘gods-damn Queen of Equestria’?” Lark asked with a raised brow. “I think sitting here gossipping about colts is the much better option—for you, and for Equestria. And if I happen to get some juicy details, well, that’s just an added bonus.”

Gale exhaled slowly. “I already told you all about him.”

“In front of your mom,” Lark nodded. “This is the first time we’ve been able to be alone. So tell me what actually happened. How’d you dig up the best ass in Equestria?”

Yes, she really said that. I only record it to be accurate to the conversation, since the hindquarters attached to me now are no more original than the other half of my face will be shortly.

“I don’t really think there’s that much else to tell than what I already said. I got pissed at mom’s bullshit, stole dad’s sword, met Morty in Manehattan—”

“Manehattan?” Lark asked.

“It’s a dirt farm in the middle of nowhere,” Gale explained. “I thought Morty was a bandit because he was acting sketchy as fuck… and if we’re being honest, he looked way too clean to belong there... but he proved me wrong. Well, really, Graargh beat the shit out of me.”

“The little bear cub?”

“He’s magic; he can turn big for a couple minutes. Like a full grown bear. Or into ponies, I guess… I don’t really know how it works. The bears we met outside River Rock called him a ‘skinwalker’ and Aunt Celestia said something about a ‘changeling’, but I don’t think Morty even knows what his whole deal is.”

“Weird…” Lark shrugged. “Okay, so what happened after that?”

“He convinced me he wasn’t a bandit, and then he wanted to travel together because we were both going to River Rock, and I told him to go fuck himself.” At Lark’s shocked expression, Gale chuckled. “I ran into him again in Lubuck, and for some fucking reason he decided to help me fight Tempest and his squad. And holy shit you should have seen the look on Tempest’s face.”

Lark looked up from her brushing to shake her head. “I heard most of this before, if not from you then from the gossip in the palace; Tempest’s report back wasn’t exactly secret. That’s not what I mean.”

“Then what do you mean, Lark?”

Lark actually leaned out from behind Gale’s head to make sure her reflection could be seen in the vanity mirror. “I mean how is he in bed, Gale. Do I have to spell it out for you?” Lark paused to wink at Gale’s reflection. “Was he better than that servant colt we cornered a few years ago?”

Gale slammed a hoof down on the vanity, releasing a wooden crack. “I haven’t fucked him, okay? I tried one time, in the Crystal Union, but Aunt Celestia walked in on us, and then Morty went off to go plan how to get himself killed, and since then he’s only been awake two fucking days.”

Lark raised a brow. “Weren’t you with him for like… two months?”

“Whatever it was.” Gale sighed. “Hiking through the woods of bumfuck nowhere on the way to Lubuck, and then on a freezing ass boat to Neighvgorod, and then hiking and rafting in the eternal snowstorm the rest of the way to River Rock. But we didn’t have a bed out in the middle of nowhere, and even if we did, Graargh was with us.”

“Ah.” Lark nodded sagely. “Yeah, I guess having a kid around kills the mood. But there must have been something, right? I mean, renting out the dance hall for a party with just your real friends was a pretty classy move. Is he usually like that?”

“He’s usually insufferable,” Gale answered. “But occasionally, he makes up for it. In River Rock, after he let slip that he knew who I really was and picked a fight with Cyclone—”

“He what?!

“Picked a fight with my brother, Lark; use your ears. Anyway, after that, I was pretty pissed at him, and I—”

“How is he alive?!

Gale groaned with growing irritation. “Maybe I didn’t make this clear. He was raised by ‘evil Star Swirl,’ and the only real skills he knows in life are how to kill monsters and how to talk to dead ponies. He’d probably be better off if he didn’t look good; every time he opens his fucking mouth, he gets into some shit like making Cyclone almost light him on fire or having to rip Count Halo’s soul out in the middle of court. So what’s a fucking miracle is that Cyclone is still alive—if I had to bet on Morty fighting anypony short of my fucking aunts, I’d bet on Morty. Got it?”

Lark nodded.

“Good. What I was trying to get to was that I got real pissed at him; I thought he was trying to take advantage of me like my suitors, and I told him to fuck off. Morty told me he only had a couple of minutes to talk before Cyclone kicked him out of River Rock, and when I told him I wasn’t gonna forgive him that fast, this idiot’s idea of a romantic gesture was to slow down time.”

“What, like… for everypony?”

“Well, he told me it was really just a trick for the two of us… but then he actually did it when he was bleeding to death after I chopped off Wintershimmer’s horn, so…” Gale shrugged. “We were out standing on the walls, and all the snowflakes just… slowed down. You could see the crystals in front of you. And he explained he doesn’t give a shit about me being Queen. He proved it too, letting me help him with Wintershimmer, even if it probably was a bad idea.”

“That sounds sweet,” Lark replied. “Romantic, in a way.”

Gale made a show of rolling her eyes. “It was a nice gesture, Lark, but I’m not six.”

“No, no, how could I forget? Real romance isn’t for the Princess—sorry, the Queen. Her Majesty just wants to get held down by a stronger pony and—”

“Lark, you’re going to shut the fuck up right now,” Gale snapped.

“Fine,” Lark answered, sticking out her tongue. “See if I’m free next time you need to blow off steam. Or am I out of a friend-with-benefits now that you’ve got this new would-be lover?”

“Why are you being such an ass, Lark?”

“Because if I try to be honest and genuine with you, you tell me I’m acting like a foal for not swearing and being grim and making everything as stark and absolute as it can possibly be.” Lark gently worked her brush through Gale’s mane. “So do you want to hear what I have to say the easy way or the hard way? Or do you actually want me to just shut up?”

Gale sighed. “Just say it.”

“Aww, and here I was hoping you’d pick the hard way.” Lark chuckled to herself. “Two things. First, I don’t know how serious you feel about him, or how serious he feels about you, but if you can’t get over your swearing, bad-filly act around him, you’re going to throw away a chance at something better.”

“So what, I should be the prissy princess everypony expects?”

“I’m not saying anything. You’re the one who dragged him home with you. But if you keep wearing this other mask around him, eventually one of you is going to get hurt. So I guess I am actually saying something: be honest with him. Doesn’t matter if that means you think you’re in love, or you just want a friend, or even just a piece of nice ass; I’m just saying you should tell him the truth.”

“I have.”

“Have you?” Lark pressed.

Gale groaned. “Fuck it. Fine. I’m gonna marry him.”

Lark’s brows rose, and then she let out a long whistle. “Oh.” Then, a few long brushes of Gale’s mane later, the slightly older mare cocked her head. “So… what noble house is he from, I guess?”

“Morty? A noble?” Gale scoffed. “He’s half-crystal.”

“What?!” Lark narrowly avoided yanking on Gale’s mane, and slowly removed the brush from her hair before she paced around to stand next to the vanity, where she could stare into Gale’s face as she spoke. “I heard he’s supposed to be Lady Celestia’s ‘chosen one’ or something from all the palace gossip about the damage he did to the wizard school. But… Is that honestly enough for your mom?”

“She doesn’t know,” Gale answered.

You could have kept time to a poco allegro marche by the twitching of Lark’s eyelid. “Your mom is going to have a heart attack. Honestly. You’re literally going to murder her.”

“I know.” Gale grinned. “Isn’t it perfect?” Then, closing her eyes, she took a solid breath. “Is that enough? Can we stop gossiping about colts like we’re fillies in our first heat? I know it sounds crazy, but I am actually trying to figure out how to rule—”

“Absolutely fucking not.” Lark shook her head. “This is literally the most interesting thing that has ever happened in the palace. You think I’m letting that go? Speaking of which, my second thing: I’m calling in my favor.”

“Your… fine.” Gale folded her forelegs across her chest stubbornly. “You did help me get out of town with Dad’s sword. What do you want?”

“When you do finally get with Morty, I need you to write it down for me. Like a diary.”

“A journal, you mean?” Gale then frowned. “You want me to keep a sex journal?”

“It’s a thing with nobles,” Lark nodded. “They’re called ‘pillow books’.” Then she winked. “But I want to hear about every gritty detail. And I want it written down, so I can come back to it if I want, since I might not have my best-friend-with-benefits anymore.”

“Ugh… fine.” Gale rolled her eyes. “If it’ll get you to shut up about Morty.”

“Well, I never promised that. Come on, tell me more.” Lark’s grin seemed to stretch passed the edges of her face, saccharine and cheshire and shameless.

“Like what? You already heard the story. I really didn’t leave anything out in front of my Mom. Except I guess that Cyclone was actually super nice to me.”

“Cyclone the Betrayer?” Lark asked. “Who murdered your grandpa and tried to enslave the unicorns?”

“He’s also my half-brother,” Gale reminded Lark. “Tempest is fucking terrified of him, which is hilarious.”

“Why? I would be too.”

“He’s not your uncle,” Gale answered, some more tension vanishing from her shoulders as she closed her eyes and leaned into the work of Lark’s magic.

Only a few strokes later, Lark set down the brush and went to work weaving Gale’s mane into a sort of braided headband. Lark, it should be noted, did not ask for Gale’s approval, nor her opinion. Gale, for her part, didn’t even open her eyes to see what Lark was doing, what style she had chosen.

“He’s fucking giant,” Gale observed. “Like, it’s weird. Cause Dad’s kinda big for a pegasus, you know, but Ty isn’t actually that tall when she takes her helmet off. So I guess I always assumed their mom was kinda smaller. But maybe not. Cyclone is really big though. Like bigger than Rain big.”

“Does your dad ever talk about her?” Lark asked. “His first wife?”

“Swift Spear?” Gale shrugged. “Not much. Not to me at least. Sometimes he and Ty do a little bit. But he hates talking about the past about anything.”

“You could ask Morty to introduce you,” Lark observed.

“What?”

“Well, he talks to dead ponies, right?” Lark observed. “You could meet all kinds of interesting ponies like that. Swift Spear. Your grandparents.”

Gale chuckled as she leaned back into her mane benign braided. “If I wanted somepony interesting, I’d have him call up Solemn Vow. Or maybe Warchief Halite.”

“Uh…” Lark swallowed. “Maybe don’t pick the most evil ponies anyone can remember?”

“Well, Cyclone was nice enough; maybe Vow’s nice too.”

“Cyclone’s your half-brother. I doubt he’s nice to everypony. Or even anypony.” Lark nodded. “Does… what’s her name from breakfast? His daughter? Does she like him?”

“Blizzard? Not really.” Gale shook her head. “But his other kids do. At least, the ones close enough to our age that I could talk to them. Sirocco and Maelstrom seem to at least respect him.”

Gale opened her eyes when the pressure of Lark’s magic on her hair disappeared, and smiled at the elegant but simple manestyle the older mare had chosen for her. “Don’t mention that Blizzard is Cyclone’s daughter. She’s super nervous about it. She’s hardly left the house since she got to Everfree.”

“So we should take her out for drinks?” Lark asked.

Gale chuckled. “My thoughts exactly. But somewhere quieter; I don’t think she’d have much fun at Pit’s.”

“Well, we’re almost done here,” Lark noted, moving to open the box that contained the crown. The box, however, resisted. “Um… Is it magic or something? Do you have to open it?”

Gale glanced to the box and dragged a hoof down her brow. “No, it’s just locked.” With a flick of her horn, she turned an ornate decoration of the royal crest on the front of the polished wooden box to reveal a small keyhole. “Mom keeps the key on her. I guess I have to go fucking talk to her again—”

“Well…” Lark glanced at the door nervously. “We don’t have to…”

“Hmm?”

Lark’s horn ignited, lifting a hoof file from Gale’s beauty kit, inspecting it skeptically, and lowering it in favor of a more delicate file. “Think I’ve still got it?”

Gale answered with a frown. “Lark, this isn’t some door in the slums. That’s the crown’s box.”

“You mean it’s magic?” Lark asked.

“No, I just mean it isn’t cheap,” Gale answered.

Lark scoffed, bringing the thin implement up to the keyhole and letting the magic on her horn grow brighter. “Even if you spent a thousand bits, you can only fit so many tumblers in that thin of a piece of wood…” The hoofmaiden squeezed one eye closed, lowering her head to stare into the hole of the box, along the thin edge of her hooficurist’s ‘weapon’. And then, seemingly lost the world, she began to hum a little ditty to herself.

“♫ All around the ferrier’s bench,
The busker teased the lockbox… ♫”

“Lark, seriously; how long has it been since you did this? A couple years?”

“♫ The lockbox thought its lock would hold, but… ♫”

Pop supplied the little wooden case.

“♫ …goes the lockbox! ♫” Lark finished, replacing the hoof file. “I’m not as out of practice as you think, Gale.”

Gale blinked briefly as Lark fully opened the lockbox, revealing the crown. “Why? Is Mom not paying you enough? I’ll make sure you get a raise, and—”

“No, no, nothing like that.” Lark shook her head. “My friends downriver would kill to be making what I’m getting taking care of you. But you of all ponies ought to know sitting around the palace all day is soul-crushing. Especially when your… closest friend decides to run off and ditch you.”

Gale fully turned around to face Lark. “Okay, that’s the second time you’ve brought it up. What’s wrong? Are you jealous? Are you worried I’m not going to have time for you or something?”

Lark shook her head. “No! I mean, if you’re gonna marry him and it’s not just having fun, you don’t want to cheat on him with me. But I’ll be fine. I’m happy for you. Besides, we both know a Queen can’t just fuck her hoofmaiden on the side her whole life. We were never going to be a ‘thing’. And it’s not like I can’t find somepony else.” Then she winked. “If you want to treat him to a threesome though, I’m just saying… Just don’t forget where you learned… well, everything you know.

“You’ll be the first pony I think of…” Gale added “Horny bitch.” under her breath, just loud enough she could be sure she’d be overheard. “Just pass me the crown.”

Lark’s horn lit, and then paused. “Uh… do you want me to just put it on you, or are you supposed to use your hooves or something?”

“Do I look like I give a shit?” Gale rolled her eyes. “It might ‘represent’ a lot, but it’s a fucking fancy accessory. Just make sure it doesn’t fall off.”

“As my queen commands—”

No, Lark.” Gale sighed. “Do you think I need something else too? Ear rings?”

Lark hesitated. “Well… the crown isn’t exactly subtle, so more jewels would probably just be distracting. I kind of always thought your Mom was going overboard. We could do some light makeup…”

“Forget it.” Then she let out a frustrated growl as she considered her options. “I assume I have to wear a dress?”

“I don’t know if you have to wear anything. You’re the Queen, Gale.” Lark gestured to the closet. “But I did grab a few options from the palace before I came over.” As she spoke, Lark pulled open the closet doors with her magic. She revealed three dresses.

The first was elaborate, the color of emeralds, and I’m certain it would have looked beautiful on Gale if she ever gave it a second glance; however, even I could tell with a look that its heavy collar, so tall it could have been mistaken for a headdress, and its somewhat puffed, quilted shoulders would never garner that second glance.

“I know you didn’t like this one when your mom ordered it, but since it’s more formal—”

“Fuck no; next.”

The second, a platinum-gray gown with long sleeves and a slight train, had what I would have assumed were Elkish inspirations, had Equestria actually made diplomatic contact with Rivendelk at that point in our history. Touches of silver maille (purely decorative) and triangular cuts near the fetlocks and at the back of the garment, drew attention not by bold colors, but by subtle variances in texture and hue on an otherwise deliberately restrained outfit.

“That’s not bad,” Gale noted. “How long have I had this?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s new,” Lark answered. “I, uh, picked things you haven’t worn yet. I know you don’t care, but the other hoofmaidens and servants in the palace can be real pricks if I let you show up to an event in a dress you’ve already used before.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll tell whoever the fuck your boss is that you’re promoted and they can kiss your marks—”

“I think that’s a bad idea...” Though the words might come across as calm, a painful urgency lurked in the undercurrent of Lark’s voice.

Gale turned, brow raised, at Lark’s outburst. “Why?”

“It’s one thing to claim I belong in the palace when I’m only doing my job in front of you. But the moment I’m in charge of somepony else it’s all going to fall down around my ears. I’m making more money than I ever dreamed of as a filly just being your hoofmaiden; can we just let things stay the same?”

“Of course!” Gale threw a hoof around the other mare’s shoulders. “I mean, you’re probably going to have your work cut out for you now that I’m in charge, but we don’t have to change anything. I didn’t mean to freak you out. I mean, come on, Lark! I’m not gonna fucking get rid of you; I’d have to put up with some snobbish asshole!”

“Yeah.” Lark nodded, chuckling. “Right. Sorry. I just…”

“It’s totally ok. Come on, what’s the third dress?”

“Well, it isn’t really—”

The third ‘dress’ Lark had acquired won the second Gale set eyes on it. This time, I’ll let Lark’s description summarize it.

“It, uh… well, I made myself.” Sheepishly, the hoofmaiden scratched behind her ears with a forehoof. “I saw it in one of the shops on the way home. It’s actually a stallion’s tunic, but the red reminded me of your eyes, and I figured I could probably take it in to fit your body a little more. The pauldron is from some spare Legion armor I got from the armory, but I had the edges gilded like the trim on your sister’s black. And I added the feathers around the edge of the pauldron to make it look a little more like an accent and less like… you know, like you’re wearing armor.”

“Did Dad and Ty actually lend you their feathers?”

Lark shook her head. “Just regular bird feathers; crow and… well, I don’t know where the pony in the market got the brown ones that look like your sister’s; maybe eagle? But it was kind of the idea that it looked like them.I thought the little touch might look good; I know you like the Cirran look—”

“It’s bad ass! Gale’s horn lit and snatched the outfit in question from its hanger. “I can’t believe you made this, Lark! I didn’t know you were this good with a needle!”

Lark shrugged. “Kind of… I mean, I just got a bunch of pieces and bits together like I used to in Leftend…” the thought just trailed off. “Anyway, it’s, uh… well, it was my idea of a birthday present, and since you’re probably going to be busy constantly this was the only chance I had to give it to you. But you probably don’t want to wear it in front of the Stable; I mean, it’s not like it’s from a proper seamstress’s shop.”

“No.” Gale smiled. “Lark, it’s perfect. It’s me.”