• Published 26th May 2020
  • 2,549 Views, 346 Comments

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.

  • ...
5
 346
 2,549

PreviousChapters Next
2-5

II - V

The Five Questions

“Mares and stallions of the Stable of Nobles, all rise in honor of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Platinum the Third.” The herald’s words had only just left his lips, before Gale even had a chance to speak, and already the day was on a path to chaos.

The Stable rose, stepping to the fronts of their booths and bowing their horns, as was tradition. Hundreds—not quite a thousand, but almost—of heads were bent toward Gale in unison. But one, at least, did not.

“I will not serve a half-breed Queen!”

As you can probably imagine, those words were disruptive enough that all the bowed heads snapped upwards, searching for the speaker. Whispers and gasps turned the once pure acoustics of the chamber into chaos.

Grand Duchess Chrysoprase, scowling at the disorder, produced a massive gong from the back of her especially elaborate booth, and slammed a hoof against it. “There will be order in the Stable! Quiet!” Then she waited for a very long moment before nodding to Gale. “My apologies, Your Majesty.”

“Not your fault,” Gale answered with a shrug, before tilting her head back to stare up the voluminous chamber. “Who said that?” she shouted. “Come on, don’t be a bitch! You’ve obviously got a lot to say; let’s hear it!”

“I am not afraid of you,” answered the firm voice of a withered gray old stallion standing at the front of a blue and purple striped booth with a crest picturing a bucket of blueberries.

“Lord Prance, the Stable did not recognize your outburst,” announced Chrysoprase. She, unlike Gale, did not shout; instead, her voice was magnified by some spell she held in the emerald glow of her horn. “You will offer your redress to the Queen.”

“I will be glad to when she arrives,” Prance answered. “But not to this abomination—”

In a testament to how short a few moments it had been between Gale’s entrance and the chaos that swept the Stable, it was only at that moment that Platinum and Celestia finally caught up with the young queen. Gale, however, seemed not to have even noticed them entering behind her. In a burst of violent cerise magic, her horn ignited, and a moment later her whole body disappeared.

Teleportation was advanced enough magic that it took the room by storm. But just as quickly as Gale disappeared from her place on the Stable floor, she appeared in hoof’s reach of Lord Prance. Her hoofing was unsteady on the thin railing of his booth, and for just a moment she stumbled as she found her balance. Then, staring down at the old stallion, she offered him a glare. “That’s better. Now, come on; say it again, to my face.”

“I—” Lord Prance, who looked a bit like a blue Wintershimmer if he hadn’t been quite so exaggerated in his skull-like gauntness, stumbled backward toward the butler and the niece or granddaughter or other relation he had brought to his booth that morning. “Queen Platinum—”

“Oh, no, you made it quite clear that was my mom.” Gale’s horn ignited again, and her voice projected through the chamber at speaking volume, just as Chrysoprase’s had. “Come on. I want to know exactly where I stand with you, Lord Prance. Let’s not mince words. Tell me how you really feel.”

“You…” Prance swallowed as his stuttering and mumbling reverberated through the room—also the work of Gale’s amplifying spell. “Just like a half-pegasus to threaten violence to solve problems.”

“Wow. You actually grew a spine. I’m impressed.” Gale paced forward into the booth, taking a bit of obvious pressure as Prance stepped back. “You’re mad that I’m half-pegasus? That’s it?” When it became obvious Prance wasn’t going to speak up, she stepped up to the exposed point of his booth and looked out at the Stable. “Anypony else feel the same way?”

In the absolute silence that followed, Gale’s horn burst into magic again, and she teleported back to her own intended place on the ground floor of the stable. “I know some of you are thinking it. Even Mom thinks about it.” Still, absolute silence reigned. “Alright, no takers. Well… let’s clear the air then. Because I’ve only been Queen for twelve hours and I’m already tired of talking about this. Nobleponies, you’ve basically got two choices. One of them is you grow up, admit that being ‘pureblooded’ is elitist bullshit, and be glad that me being half-pegasus means I don’t have the Scourge of Kings in my blood. I’m proud of my pegasus heritage.” Gale gestured to the feathers adorning the pauldron on her shoulder, and waited a moment, before she slowly lifted her hoof to her horn. “But I am a unicorn.

“If that isn’t enough for you, though, your other option is bending one of the Royal Vows.” This claim seemed to create some confusion amongst the gathered nobles, who spoke in hushed whispers between themselves. “Since you don’t seem to get it: if blood purity is what the Stable really cares about, more than vows and traditions there is another option I’m prepared to offer you.”

Ponies leaned over the edges of their booths trying to get a better look at this audacious new Queen, wondering if she was perhaps proposing some sort of abdication only a few hours after taking up the throne. Chrysoprase, who was next in line behind Gale to the crown, looked especially intrigued. Surely, her abdication so early would violate her vows, and that was what she was offering…

Judging by how many eyes shot to the leader of the Stable, she was hardly the only noble who had followed that train of thought.

Gale couldn’t resist donning a shit-eating grin before she explained her thoughts. “There is somepony in line to the throne with pure unicorn blood,” she continued.

“Daughter,” Platinum whispered forcefully, “you can’t seriously be considering…”

“It would be unprecedented. But if the majority of you agree with Lord Prance, then I’ll have no choice but to bow to the will of the Stable. I’ll even go get her myself. I’d just need somepony to lend me a shovel.”

“A… shovel?” asked Chrysoprase, who seemed to only just resist adding ‘I’m right here.’

“A shovel,” Gale repeated with a nod. “If we’re more concerned with blood than vows, the easiest vow to bend is ‘I accept my own mortality, and will take no action to preserve my life or my rule beyond my years.’ So if you want my mother’s pureblooded daughter, I’ll have to go dig her up.” Gale concluded that thought by standing up on her hind legs, extending her forelegs in a sweeping motion, and collapsing back onto the cushions of her throne. “Your choice.”

I am not certain I can convey the level of scandal carried in that proposal, except to say that the Stable (the building, the room, and the ponies in it) were far, far louder than they had been at Lord Prance’s words.

To remind those who have forgotten, Gale was Platinum III, and her mother was Platinum I (the ‘Princess Platinum’ from the Hearth’s Warming pageant, as much as one can say it portrays real ponies and not a fairytale). The name ‘Platinum II’ had been given to Platinum’s first daughter—not Hurricane’s foal, but some other noble Platinum had married just after taking the crown. Platinum II died an infant to an unusually rapid case of the Scourge of Kings, the hereditary disease of the royal line. Hurricane’s introduction of pegasus blood into their lineage spared Gale the inherited condition, though it was not without its corresponding costs to her political capital amongst the nobility.

In some sense, Gale’s move was brilliant. The Stable seethed, a pot of pasta on the verge of boiling over, all rage and heat and what nobles call ‘starch’ because pride is only a sin when ‘the rabble’ have it. Platinum stared wide-eyed at her daughter’s audacity. Gale simply steepled her hooves in front of her muzzle and grinned at the chaos. For almost three minutes, she just wallowed in it, letting condemnation from her mother’s whispered words slip in one ear and out the other. Only when the momentum of the scandal started to die down did she again light her horn and speak up, magically amplified so that her voice could cut through the noise.

“You done?” Then she waited a few more moments before nodding to Chrysoprase. The much older unicorn sighed, but rapped her hoof against the gong that served a gavel-like purpose to the Stable. As the reverberating note rang through the booths, Gale sat forward in the throne and firmly placed her forelegs on its arms, heightening her posture and focusing her forward. “Now, we’ve had our racist bullshit debate, and I’ve given you your options. It sounds to me like nopony here is interested in dipping their hooves in necromancy. That means you’re stuck with me. So let me be fucking plain.” Gale made a show of drawing in a breath, letting the air inflate her chest and build up her shoulders in her already tensed posture. “This topic is not going to come up again. You can tell me I’m being a shitty Queen, or that I’ve embarrassed the court because of something I’ve actually done any time you damn well please. That’s your right. But if you’re going to play the ‘blood’ card to me, I invite you to just stay home instead. Because if this topic does ever come up again, for as long as I live, I will tear the banner off your booth. I’ll burn it right here in the middle of this room.”

The implication was, as you might guess, that the seated monarch had the right both to appoint and to remove noble titles from unicorn families; to burn a banner wasn’t merely an act of petty arson. It was an act of tyranny, at least historically speaking, but the room (or at least the part that mattered, namely Grand Duchess Chrysoprase) seemed to be on Gale’s side with the threat.

“If anypony wants to challenge my divine right, well…” Gale gestured briefly toward Celestia at her side. “I’d say you’re an imbecile, but sure. I’ll even invite you to cross swords with me, if you want to test me the old way. Just remember that having pegasus blood means I’ve grown up around Equestria’s greatest swordsponies. So, with the exception of Archmage Star Swirl there,” Gale gave the hairy wizard a short nod, and got a tired huff in return, “if you want to duel me, the blood we’re going to see on the ground is yours.”

Slowly, laboriously, Gale brought her hooves back to that same steepled position in front of her muzzle. Then, just as slowly, she separated them… perhaps an inch or so. And with a dragging motion, she brought them together again.

Once.

It wasn’t a clap; more like the tick of a clock. There was barely any noise at all.

And apart again they went.

Her eyes moved faster than her hooves, though that isn’t to say they were darting or swift. First, she swept the five booths on the ground floor of the Stable, home to the five ‘great houses’ of the Stable. On her far left was the star-studded banner of the House Zodiac, represented by Star Swirl the Bearded. The old wizard was obviously amused by the level of chaos Gale had created in so little a time since her rise. He grinned around the mouthpiece of his pipe, flanked on his left by Mistmane the Beautiful (who wasn’t even half his age, though you couldn’t tell by looking at her) and on his right by Archmage Grayscale, looking far less amused behind his studious glasses.

Next was the House of Three, represented by Spicy’s ‘foremother’, Duchess Glass Menage. Widely held to be the most beautiful mare in Equestria, Glass’s almost distracting appearance and her personality both matched her name, possessing sharp edges that were likely to cut anypony who dared get too close. Her shimmeringly shiny sapphire coat (not literally made of gemstones, though, unlike a crystal pony) matched her piercing eyes, which she had given to all three of her daughters: Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice. None of the alchemist family’s members seemed nearly as amused as Star Swirl.

Twice. Gale’s hooves tapped together, and parted again.

The center booth, as mentioned, was home to Grand Duchess Chrysoprase and the House of Gullion. Her son High Castle, as well as the couple of servants and Stable staff she kept on hoof to help administer the proceedings of the Stable, were obviously irritated at Gale’s outbursts, but the Grand Duchess herself may as well have been trapped in amber for her forced neutrality amidst the proceedings.

The next of the booths held the House Divided, whose bureaucratic-looking stick of a leader, the frustratingly named Duke House, looked up from above a pair of half-moon pince-nez with mismatched green and blue eyes. They were the only quality of interest on the otherwise brown stallion with his graying, perfunctorily-styled mane. Seeing him by his complete lonesome in his booth, one might not have suspected his house was the largest of all the noble houses, or that his dozens of offspring had given him an unduly massive influence in the chamber.

A third time, Gale’s hooves clicked together and parted.

The last noble of the great houses who met Gale’s gaze as it swept the floor was the cinnamon-candy red Duchess Fire Power who took her first name from her family, the infamous House On Fire. Rather than dressing in an outfit that subdued her naturally vibrant color, the red duchess clad herself in a dress of what was essentially scale or mail armor, if one were to replace the links and plates of metal with rubies and fire opals. Though I didn’t meet her that day, our future interactions always reminded me of my youth spent in the Crystal Union, and the fact that crystal ponies were the first to invent sunglasses for a reason. To somepony less prone to the trap of surface appearances, her exorbitant outfight might just have alluded to her near monopoly on the richest gem mines of the old Compact Lands. Her constant warring with the Equestrian earth ponies over mining quotas could be the subject of a history unto itself—and I suspect, one with a higher body count than the story I am recording now.

After that, Gale swept her slow wandering gaze up the chamber, quickly making eye contact with the ponies at the head of each booth her attention passed in turn. I would have been lost in the colors, both of the unicorn nobility and the brilliant tapestries of their banners and awnings. But to Gale, they were all old hat. No blues and greens and reds and yellow; only Mice and Manes and Cruels and Cauldrons and whatever the other dozens of noble houses were named.

The fourth time her hooves clicked together, they did not part.

“No takers? Good. Just remember, we’re never discussing this subject again. I’m glad the Stable is done wasting my time.” Leaning fully back in her seat again, Gale nodded to the mare directly in front of her. “Aunt Chrysoprase, get started. Let’s actually do something today.”

Grand Duchess,” corrected Chrysoprase curtly.

“Hmm?”

Platinum sighed to the new Queen’s left. “There are always family ties in the Stable, Your Majesty. As a rule, we do not use them to refer to one another when in session.”

“Fine. Grand Duchess Chrysoprase, I’m not getting any younger, which says a lot for everypony else sitting here. Let’s get a move on.”

There were a few chuckles, but they passed quickly against the superior forces of dozens of wrinkled glares.

“Very well, Your Majesty.” Chrysoprase sighed. “Scribe, do you have the address?” A heavy book, bound in cloth framed by silver, floated up at the horn of another unicorn; Chryosprase took hold of it in her own emerald magic and glared down at it with the withered eyelids of a politician too stubborn to do society the decency of dying. “With the passing of—” Then the Chair of the Stable of Nobles paused, shot a burning glare over her shoulder toward the scribe who had handed her the book. The poor pony could only shrug. “With the resignation of another of our Royal Line into Celeste’s embrace…” She looked up, briefly making eye-contact with Celestia, and sighed. “I suppose that’s still accurate, even if it isn’t how the authors intended it.”

The comment earned a sensible chuckle from the room. Chrysoprase waited the brief second it took to settle before continuing. “With the resignation of another of our Royal Line into Celeste’s embrace, it is once again time for the Stable to recognize a new monarch. Before us, as she has been named by her mother before her passing… or rather, abdication… is a unicorn we know as Platinum, the third to carry that name. As has been the custom of this body, we Dukes of the Diamond Kingdoms…” Chrysoprase scowled at the ancient book, and then abruptly slammed it shut. A moment later, without even turning her head, her magic carried it over her shoulder back into her booth.

“It seems today is a day for the breaking of countless traditions, and the making of just as many new ones. I will not make a mockery of this occasion clinging to a narrative that no longer applies to us. Your Majesty, you are the first for this body in so many ways. When your Stable recognized your grandfather, King Lapis the Fourth, no unicorn of our lands had so much as heard of a pegasus, Lady Celeste was only known in the statues and windows of our churches, and the Stable still gathered in River Rock, as it had for centuries.

“When I led the Stable in recognizing your mother, though the building was freezing, we still gathered in what remained of River Rock, and we knew enough of the pegasi that their recent wounds had taught us to hate them.

“Now, twenty-three years of her rule later, we gather again to recognize your rule in a city that did not exist, on a continent our maps told us was plagued with monsters, beneath the gaze of a goddess in the flesh.” Celestia opened her mouth, only to shut it and wilt back a moment under the glares of both Platinum I and Chrysoprase. “Upon a new throne, wearing a new crown, and ruling over the unicorns of a new nation. And you, by your own admission, carry pegasus blood in your veins, though you are a unicorn. In your lifetime, and in all of ours, the entire world has changed. And now the unicorns look to you, Platinum the Third, as a leader, and as a defender, and a rock to cling to in uncertain times. As our Queen.

“It is by the grace of Celeste that you have been given to us—and I will do our Lady of the Sun the honor of not asking her to confirm that, as in her humility I can see it makes her uncomfortable. But the Stable acknowledges her presence and her support.” Briefly craning her neck to glare upward toward the booth of Lord Prance, she added “In a time of so many changes, I fully intend to keep this one tradition alive, to keep some continuity to our beliefs. Your Majesty, as you have learned in your studies to take the throne, each of the Dukes of the Five Great Houses shall now ask you a single question.

“These questions are not a test; we do not threaten to try and deny you the throne you sit in or the crown you wear, Your Majesty. Your answers are not to be taken as facts, but oaths. They are our way of seeing what kind of Queen you are, and will become. Do not speak rashly. Wise were your forebears who answered slowly and carefully. But remember your history; those kings and queens who answered these questions poorly, or who cast aside their answers, were seen to rule poorly, and more than once the Stable has had to cast them down.” Chrysoprase let that threat hang in the stuffy air for a moment before she raised a hoof to rest on the railing of her booth. “Are you ready, Your Majesty?”

Gale, bless her soul, put even my confidence to shame when she leaned forward in her seat and nodded. “I was born ready.”

“Very well. The floor goes to Duke House of the House Divided.”

Duke House nodded. “I thank the Chair for the right to question our new Queen first.” Despite the words, there was no thankfulness, nor any emotion at all except perhaps an omnipresent hint of annoyance in his voice. “Your Majesty, I am not interested in opening with a clever riddle that forces you into wordplay in reply. I simply want honesty about the most basic of your duties. The Queen-Mother, in tandem with your father and Chancellor Puddinghead, created a new nation. You are the first unicorn to rule it who has never lived without it. So, in plain language that any unicorn can understand, what future do you wish to see for our tribe during your reign?”

Gale leaned back at the frank question, as if she had honestly expected something more complex, or more threatening. “Well… To start with, just worrying about ‘our tribe’ is a mistake. Obviously, I’m not the queen of the pegasi or the earth ponies, and it’s my responsibility to care about the unicorns first, but trying to raise up the unicorns at the expense of the other two tribes is a mistake we can’t afford to make. I might not be old enough to remember River Rock, but I know most of you in this room do, so you understand me when I say that our tribe should care the most about keeping Equestria together. Because if the tribes go our separate ways, we don’t have the strongest army or the biggest food supply.”

Some voice overhead, belonging to a noblemare whose historical significance couldn’t get me bothered enough to look up her name, broke into Gale’s answer. “Are you suggesting unicorns are inferior—

A violent gong of the onomatopoeous instrument signaled Chrysoprase’s irritation. “The Stable will respect Her Majesty, and we will hear her out.”

“Thanks Aunt… Grand Duchess.” Gale huffed once through her nostrils and cast her gaze up, looking for whoever had interrupted her. The speaker wasn’t obvious, having retreated back to her booth, but Gale also didn’t really care. “I’m going to answer that question, and I’m going to be completely blunt doing it, so if you brought any foals cover their ears. Okay? Good.” She took a slow breath, and then raised her voice to a controlled shout. “No, you fucking idiots. The only superior kind of pony is that one—” Gale thrust a hoof in Celestia’s direction. “And if she wants to take this crown, I’ll fucking give it to her, because I damn well couldn’t stop her if I wanted to. But since that’s obviously not happening, I’m in charge now. And I’m not a big fan of long roundabout speeches, so here’s the point. Just two days ago, the Grand Duchess and I were talking about wanting unicorns in officer positions in the Legion, and if anypony has a chance of fixing that, it’s me. I may not have blood ties with the earth ponies who own the banks in Lübuck, but that’s the same trade for them. All three tribes are holding onto our stupid monopolies, and the best thing I can think of to make life better for the average unicorn—for my subjects if that’s what I’m supposed to say now—is getting rid of them. And I know there are ponies in this room who aren’t going to like it, but the cost of that is that we have to give up our monopoly too. That means letting non-unicorns have domain and noble titles.”

The gong rang quite a lot, to very little effect. The Stable boiled over, its burning will cloying together more than any single mortal body could hope to contain. Chrysoprase’s poor gong was out of its league. Even the Bewitching Bell would have had no hope in that room on that sunny summer morning.

In the center of it all, Gale grinned at the storm she had made (an expression which, I am sure, only made the chaos worse). Platinum I shifted closer to her daughter’s side and tried to offer some kind of advice, but the words were lost in the tempest of voices and hooves beating on wood.

It ended, finally, when Chrysoprase turned to Star Swirl. The old wizard, who was decidedly silent as he smoked on his pipe amidst the chaos, answered a silent nod with a silent nod, rose from his chair, and stepped through the gate in his booth and onto the floor of the Stable. There, he walked slowly up in front of Gale as his horn began to glow.

The glow of Star Swirl’s horn quickly became the only thing in the room. ‘It does not take a wise pony to pay close attention to a naked blade, or bared fangs, or the glow of a wizard’s horn.’ Those were words Wintershimmer taught me as a foal, which he learned from his own teacher, Comet the Furious, in his youth. Since Star Swirl was also a student of Archmage Comet, I assume he too knew those words, though his application of their lesson was infinitely different. Where Wintershimmer would gladly have cast his infamous Razor and threatened death by an icy feeling in the spine for the crime of wasting his time (or actually killed somepony he deemed least important as a way of sending a message), Star Swirl cast no harmful spell; in fact, he cast nothing at all. He was merely filling his horn with magic for the sake of the visual effect of the glow.

For the Stable of Nobles, that was enough. As the sheer power of Star Swirl channeling even a fraction of his full might created a light wind that tousled his age-whitened beard, the storm of voices collapsed to a mere murmur, and then like ripples on a lake, faded completely.

“For ponies who call yourselves nobles, I’m disappointed by your lack of composure,” the old wizard announced. “Most of your parents, or grandparents, had the decency to scheme quietly in their booths when the Queen, or the King before her, or the Queen before him, said something they didn’t like.” The infamous curmudgeon concluded by letting his horn’s glow fade. “So, if I may be so blunt, shut your traps! You might learn something...” he glanced back briefly to Gale. “Even if it’s only how to make a sailor blush.”

Platinum whispered something in her daughter’s ear, this time apparently more audibly, as Gale nodded and leaned forward. “The Crown thanks the Court Mage for his assistance.” Then she glanced to the Duke whose question had started the whole chaos. “That a complete enough answer for you?”

“I believe so,” he answered tersely, adding “and I hesitate to imagine what would happen in this room if I asked you to elaborate further.” Then he turned to Chrysoprase. “The House Divided is satisfied.”

“Very well. Duke Swirl, since you are already on the Stable’s mind, would you care to go next?”

Chrysoprase was perhaps the only pony who ever bothered to refer to Star Swirl as ‘Duke Swirl’, and even the stallion himself answered it with a dry chuckle. “May as well.”

“The floor goes to Duke Swirl of the House of Zodiac.”

“Well… I really ought to have been thinking of something while Duke House was talking, shouldn’t I?” A few of the less stiff nobles chuckled at the old wizard’s admission, though knowing the question he was about to ask, I suspect the joke was a lie entirely. “Since Everfree City has been full of hearsay for the better part of a month over what happened to the roof at my grand-apprentice’s school, I suppose I should set the record straight before I ask my question. A pony who used to be my best friend, Wintershimmer, attempted to kill Celestia.”

A few shocked gasps echoed in the room. I might like to pretend all were from shock at new information, but I am disappointingly certain that at least a few must have been from the fact that Star Swirl addressed Celestia by her given name, without a title or honorific.

“He might very well have succeeded too, if it weren’t for our then-Crown Princess, who I understand ultimately landed the decisive blow. I don’t want to praise Wintershimmer; he was a wicked stallion, but he was also an incredibly powerful mage. Facing him would have been dangerous for even another trained archmage, and it certainly was for Celestia, to say nothing of a young mare like yourself. So my question is this, Queen Platinum: if it happened today, would you do it again?”

“Of course,” Gale answered, failing I think to even comprehend the implication of the question.

Star Swirl waited a moment for some further elaboration, but Gale had nothing else to add. It was the truth, perhaps more than any other words she would say that day. At times, I wish it weren’t… but then, if it weren’t, she wouldn’t have been Gale.

Star Swirl stood stoically for a few more moments, and then turned to Chrysoprase. “The House Zodiac is satisfied.” Then, with legs both burlier than a hundred-year-old pony ought to have had, but just as slow moving as that age suggests, he returned to his booth.

“Then the floor goes to Duchess Glass Menage of the House of Three.”

Duchess Glass moved with a defined, perhaps practiced efficiency, and she spoke in the same way, refraining from long oratorical pauses in favor of a swift clip that conveyed a sense of (perhaps false, but compelling) urgency to the room. “Queen Platinum, you have conveyed to us a desire for unification over the culturally distinct co-existence that what you must be aware most members of this stable prefer. You must be aware, however, that there are some forms of unification that are practically impossible. There will never be an earth pony wizard not due to racism or exclusion, but as a matter of biological fact. Other aspects of our culture are not restricted by horns, but I suspect blood ties are no less a restriction for your purposes. I suspect you will find that few here are willing to marry outside our tribe purely in support of your objective. I for one have no intention of sharing the secrets of alchemy that my family has guarded for generations to use as a bargaining chip with the other tribes.”

Glass swept an upward-turned hoof symbolically toward the booths above her in the Stable, filled with nobles who were still her lessers. “I confess I fail to see how on a practical level your dreams of unification, of bringing non-unicorns into landed domain and titles, can be seen as anything but a political nonstarter—no matter how benevolent the idea might sound in speeches.”

As the nobles’ eyes shifted to Gale, she donned a slight frown, and a little bump appeared on her cheek—her usual sign, rather than a knot in her brow or steepled hooves, of being deep in thought. She didn’t close her eyes, though; she kept her eyes locked on whoever had brought about that depth of thought. In the numerous occasions I sat in front of Gale’s thinking gaze, I found it to be more than a bit intimidating; though as a young, newly crowned queen I suspect the stare carried less weight against Duchess Glass.

“I… Look, I don’t know. Duke House asked for what kind of future I wanted, not a step-by-step plan. I’m not stupid enough to think I’m going to sit down with Ty—” When Platinum tapped Gale on the side, she sighed. “With Commander Typhoon and Chancellor Puddinghead—and just make this all happen overnight. I know there’s some ponies in the room clutching their pearls and shaking in their shoes that I’m going to launch off on some kind of… ‘tyrannical escapade’, or whatever you’d like to call that, and I get the sense that’s what you’re really asking about. So to those ponies: calm down. Even if T—Commander Typhoon and Chancellor Puddinghead were on board tomorrow, I wouldn’t do everything I just said overnight. The point is to make life better for…” Gale rolled her eyes, and pantomimed quotes with her hooves. “‘...my subjects’. There’s a big difference between breaking a few eggs for an omelette and killing the chicken.”

The twisted idiom got another sensible chuckle out of the gathered nobleponies, though they quickly grew quiet as Gale made herself more comfortable.

“But since that’s a total cop out answer, I’ll tell you step one. Typhoon’s building a series of forts to try and secure the land we’re claiming over to the west coast. That much new land creates all kinds of new postings in the Legion, and I can think of a few knights who I think would fit in well in those posts. And in exchange, instead of assigning the land around those forts to new domains for the lesser banners here whose only land is still around River Rock, I’m planning on setting one—just one, before you all shit yourselves—aside and establishing a noble title and banner for some pegasi. I’m thinking the House of Rain would be a great start…”

Gale’s words trailed off when boos and stomping hooves filled the Stable. With a tired shake of her head, she turned briefly to her mother. “How do you say ‘shut the fuck up’ politely?”

“Your Majesty, perhaps you should consider how this proposal looks from one of the nobleponies’ shoes.”

“I’m not an idiot, Mom; I know how it looks. I don’t care; I’m not backing down, especially not the first day. They’ll walk all over me my entire rule, just like you.”

Platinum gritted her teeth. “Then clearly you don’t need my advice, daughter.”

Gale closed her eyes and bit down on her own cheek to keep from cursing. Then, resting her cheek on a hoof and bracing the attached leg on her chair, she waited for the noise to stop.

In retrospect, drawing a little ‘get on with it’ circle in the air with her hoof probably did not help the noise.

Chrysoprase let the noise go on far longer than she had any prior interruptions before she sounded her gong. “Mares and Gentlestallions of the Stable, I repeat, we will have order!” The elder emerald mare allowed a few moments to pass as she refilled her lungs and caught her breath before continuing in a calmer pace—the time also providing a chance for the last murmurs of the audience to settle. “I am certain Her Majesty now fully understands that the Stable objects; I would encourage anypony with more to say to seek out a more subtle audience. Duchess Glass, are you satisfied?”

Glass Menage scoffed, keeping her icy eyes on Gale even as she answered Chrysoprase. “Hardly. But in the interest of tradition, the House of Three is satisfied. Your Majesty will have to do me the honor of allowing me to host you for dinner.”

“You give up so easily?” The voice that spoke up out of line belonged to the fourth as-yet-unrecognized leader of a great house. Duchess Fire Power glistened like a crystal mare as she stepped forward from her booth, refusing to match Gale eye-to-eye and instead keeping her head on a calm swivel between the other four of her peers on the ground floor as she began to speak. “I find that I cannot agree more with the sentiment the Grand Duchess voiced when we began; most of the ponies present here today, and certainly the chairs of all our houses, were born in the Diamond Kingdoms, swearing our fealty to King Lapis. And in our lifetimes, we have watched as his descendants have bled away the inheritance, the lifeblood, of unicorn kind in service to some ideal of the unification of three cultures, three tribes, that could not be more culturally disparate. And we, the nobility of the unicorns, lent our aid to that cause as a matter of survival. Nopony would be fool enough to deny that Equestria was necessary, but a necessary evil is still an evil.”

Tiredly, Chrysoprase shook her head. “Though it seems that it no longer matters, the floor goes to Duchess Power of the House On Fire.”

A few ponies called out in muffled displeasure, and at least one clear voice announced approval with “Here, here!” Gale leaned forward harshly, only to have her shoulder caught by her mother’s hoof. “You’ll have your chance to speak,” the older mare whispered. “Don’t undercut your position by disrespecting her before she has her chance to finish.”

“She wasn’t even recognized; how would I be the one in the wrong?”

“Because the room is already against you, and you’d be giving them an excuse,” Platinum whispered back. “Be the bigger mare.”

The whisper truly was inaudible to the rest of the room, and Fire Power continued on with her words. “My blood tells me that to let unicorns be ruled by any other kind of pony—save, as the Court Mage rightly pointed out, a divine alicorn—is a travesty we should not suffer. But because we sought to preserve the lives of our subjects, we bowed our heads—just as the first Queen Platinum did—to the necessity of destiny.

“But now, my fellow nobles, I hear this mare, barely more than a filly—”

Her Majesty will be shown respect,” interrupted Chrysoprase, and though her face remained as neutral as one could possibly expect from a patient mare, no amount of discipline could hide the slight throbbing of a vein in her temple.

Fire Power barely paused; her sentence didn’t even lose its cadance. “—Queen Platinum the Third, a mare who has never known a world without the mistake of a united Equestria, tells us openly, unashamedly, that she intends to drive this unwanted, unwarranted unification further—and this time without the greater evil of a windigo, the threat of the slaughter of our nation at the claws of monsters and the spiked hooves of the crystal barbarians; no, she announces this is her intention because she thinks it is somehow right. Right that we should be beholden to those who are not like us, those who will never understand us. Right that we should bow our heads and pollute our blood.”

Careful…” Gale whispered, brow furrowed not in thought but fury.

Fire Power whirled on Gale; her dress glittered as it moved in the magical lighting of the Stable chambers with such force that she appeared to live up to her name by spontaneously combusting (though tragically only in a metaphorical sense). “Your Majesty, my question to you may be very blunt, but I suggest you give it more than a second’s thought. Why should the Stable support you in this fool’s endeavor? Why should we support, even permit you to further blur together our history, our culture, our very ways of life with the pegasi and the earth ponies? What compensation will this madness offer for the expense of our families’ histories, our wealth, and the future we’re building for our foals?”

Gale did not rush to answer. Leaning forward, tapping her hoof on the arm of her seat, she had listened quietly, but anypony looking could see that just behind her eyes was a building firestorm. And when the final question was asked, it took only a moment to burst forward, feeding on what little oxygen dared to linger in the room.

“Are you stupid, Duchess?”

A hiss of gasps suggested the last of the oxygen had been sucked out of the chamber. The pot itself had melted. The silence that followed defied the words of petty silvered tongues.

“You think if I put a couple pegasi in a booth, suddenly your foals are going to be out on their asses begging? Freezing to death on the streets? Maybe you think they’ll die of cooties? Or are you afraid I’m going to take away titles from the other nobles to give them to my pegasus friends? Does anypony actually think that?” Gale tilted her head back, looking up and sweeping her gaze over the booths. “Anypony?”

Gale did give more than a chance for the room to answer that question, but nopony did.

Then her focus returned to the Duchess On Fire. “Now, I’m probably not as good at debate as my mother, but if you aren’t stupid enough to think that, but you said it anyway, it seems like you’d have to have a reason. And, honestly, I’m tired of pretending it isn’t obvious, so instead of asking the room, I’m just going to say it. You’re stoking bullshit fears because you don’t want to admit the real reason you don’t want non-unicorns in the Stable is you’re afraid they’ll get in the way of your power games.”

“How dare you—”

“I dare because I’m the Queen, bitch.” Gale chuckled as the room somehow managed to suck in its collective breath again. “Apologies,” she clarified, entirely insincerely. “But I waited my turn, Duchess, so now you’re going to shut your mouth and wait yours.”

Gale pushed herself forward from the arms of her seat and rose fully to her hooves. A mere stride took her took the edge of the throne’s little podium, and when she reached it, she turned to pace along the precipice as she spoke—her magically amplified voice filled with unyielding sharpened steel in lieu of soft, precious silver and gold.

“I hate playing these games. I hate dancing around what we actually mean instead of just getting to the point. I might not give great speeches or dress with the kind of money most ponies would spend buying a house. I’m not interested in tea and flowers, and I won’t remember all your kids’ names. I know I’m not polished and… primrose or whatever, the way Mom is.”

When she had reached House Zodiac’s side of the horseshoe shaped room, Gale rounded and lowered her head in the same motion. It left her glaring directly into Fire Power’s eyes, and I suspect one might have found the space between their gazes as sharp as razor wire.

“But don’t think that means I’m going to be some figurehead queen. I know what’s going on; I’m sure it’s some kind of scandal, but I’ll say it too. I know some of you genuinely do care about our traditions, our culture, our history. I also know some of you are honest-to-Celestia unicorn supremacists, and even if you’re holding your tongues, you’re disgusted my half-pegasus marks are sitting in this chair. And I know some of you couldn’t even give two shits about blood and heritage, and that’s just your excuse because you don’t want to admit you’re only interested in money and power, screwing over whoever you possibly can to build up your family name.”

When Fire Power’s muzzle twitched at the blatant accusation, Gale smiled just enough to bare the back of her teeth, thirsty for blood.

“I don’t really care, to be honest. I’m more than willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, if you bring your issues up in good faith, like Duke Divided or Duchess Glass did. But don’t let yourself think I’m going to ‘play the game’ when you try and sell me a steaming load about how you’re worried your family’s going to be out on the streets overnight. Don’t waste my time.”

Gale finished her speech with her shoulders rising and shrinking with each subdued breath. Nopony spoke. Nopony even moved. Most faces were frozen, waiting for somepony else to make the first, tiniest move.

The new queen turned back to her throne, and was halfway through leaning back to relax when a flash of focus danced over her face. “Ah, crap. I guess I didn’t actually answer your question.”

“I think you rather effectively did, Your Majesty…” Chrysoprase noted drly.

Gale waved off the comment. “‘Why should the Stable support what I’m trying to do?’ is a good question, Aunt.”

“Grand—” Platinum tried to interrupt.

“Grand Duchess, right, sorry.” Again, Gale obviously wasn’t. “Well, the obvious answer for some of you is that it’s the right thing to do. But like I said, I know not everypony agrees with me on that. And some of you even mean it in good faith. But at the end of the day… I don’t care. I don’t need the Stable to support me.”

Platinum I staggered at that announcement. When the room began to stir, Chrysoprase sounded her gong preemptively. It didn’t silence the grumbling, but it did keep it far below a volume that Gale’s amplified voice could easily speak over.

Gale nodded when the ringing faded. “Thanks, Grand Duchess. Nobles, I’ll get to the point. I have the power to grant titles and domains; that power isn’t beholden to the Stable. My negotiations with the Triumvirate aren’t subject to anypony in this room. So when I say I don’t need the Stable’s support, what I mean is: if you want to stop me, you’re shit out of luck. If you want me not to have those powers, the only thing the Stable gets to do is try to force me to abdicate. Unfortunately for anypony thinking that, I’ve been watching Star Swirl nod along out of the corner of my eye here for the past couple minutes, and unless my memory of history is wrong, it’s only legal to force an abdication if the five great houses are unanimous.” Then she sat back with a full smile. “Plus the usual wording is that the Great Houses feel the monarch has lost their divine right, and it would be awfully embarrassing to have to tell Aunt Celestia what her opinion of me is supposed to be.”

Platinum drew in a short breath. “Lady—”

Gale briefly dropped her voice amplification charm to cut off the correction. “Mom, believe it or not, I did that one on purpose.” Her horn quickly snapped back to life, and her voice rose with it. “Is the House On Fire satisfied, Duchess Power? Or should I keep going?”

Fire Power sat down in her booth in fuming silence, which Gale chose to interpret as a victory.

Chrysoprase glanced with a hint of sympathy towards the other mare, and after a moment of their eyes locking, the green statesmare nodded. “Then at this time, as Chair of the Stable and Grand Duchess of the unicorns of Equestria, I find myself asking the final question. Before I begin, however, given the events of the very beginning of this session, I must warn you, Your Majesty: I ask this question in good faith, but I feel I must voice it in order to lay to rest a fear not only of the Stable, but of our entire race.”

“Alright,” Gale nodded. “Hit me.”

Chrysoprase kept her gaze locked on the young Queen, but she braced her forelegs “What will you do if your firstborn foal is not a unicorn?”

Gale winced. “Well, I guess I’ll have another kid?”

Though the room chuckled, Chrysoprase’s posture remained deadly serious.

“And if they aren’t a unicorn?”

“Point taken.” Gale sighed. “Look, I’ll give you my word: I’m not going to put a non-unicorn on the throne, since that’s obviously what you’re getting at.”

Chrysoprase pressed onward with the same calm, steady pressure to her voice. “Yet you would put them in the Stable, whose members vie for the throne when succession grows… less clear? Who, in the event of ill rule, remove the crown from an unworthy head?”

“I’m not going to supplant one of the Great Houses!” Gale protested. “I was just thinking a barony or something—”

“Perhaps your Majesty is too young to remember how close a baron can come to claiming the throne. Queen-Mother Platinum, can you remind me… was Her Majesty already born when you elevated the House of Cards?”

“He died before her birth,” the elder Platinum answered firmly.

“Who?” Gale asked, her voice ringing out in the room.

“I’ll tell you later.” Platinum placed a calm hoof on Gale’s shoulder. “It’s a long story, and not one we need dragged out in front of the stable.”

Chrysoprase waited for Platinum’s whispers to obviously end, and chose not to try to answer Gale’s direction, instead pressing her again. “As you put it, I wish to speak in good faith, Your Majesty. As the Chair of this Stable that has already seen so much change in my lifetime, it is my legacy that will be thought of when both of us are long dead, if some future king or queen is asked who will wear the crown and sit in the throne, and whether our tribe will be brought to kneel before somepony who is not one of ours. Given how you answered at first, I must suspect you see the massive difference between accepting non-unicorn nobles and accepting a non-unicorn ruler. But as you answered Duke Star Swirl, you have no hesitation to put yourself into danger when there is a need. What happens when the House of the Rising Sun is headed by a pegasus? Even if you yield their claim as your firstborn to the throne and I, or whoever else is next in line, takes the throne, what then? If the House of Gullion becomes the Royal Family, does the House of the Rising Sun become a Great House, headed by a pegasus?”

“What do you want me to say?” Gale snapped back. “Yes, it’s possible I’ll have pegasus foals. I can’t change my blood any more than I can change being a unicorn. If you want my word I won’t name a non-unicorn as my heir, you’ve got it. Happy Hearth’s Warming! What else can I do?”

Chrysoprase nodded, and with all the same calm pressure that had guided her words to that moment, she calmly pressed her dagger straight into Gale’s heart. “You could give the Stable your word you will marry a true-blooded unicorn.”

Though the Stable breathed easy, all the air was sucked out of Gale. Without making a show of it, she found herself leaning heavily on the arm of her seat, as her father might his cane-braced foreleg.

Platinum took a bold step forward. “Grand-Duchess, you know the matter of Her Majesty’s suitors is still an open question—”

“This is not your recognition, Queen-Mother,” Chrysoprase cut the former Queen off. “Her Majesty is under no obligation to forswear her suitors of other races. She must only tell me the truth, as is my right as Grand Duchess.” Chrysoprase nodded to Gale. “I would hope that, like Duke Swirl’s question, mine is one which does not require much thought. But hesitance is its own answer to the Stable.”

Gale gritted her teeth as Chrysoprase’s words ended and the silence settled in. Her hoof dug into the arm of her seat, pressuring her frog on the polished wood. Her brow furrowed, and she held her eyes closed for a few long seconds.

And then, with the Stable watching, all those tells faded away. It took effort; that much was obvious if only from how slowly the changes spread on the coat across her face. But her jaw evened, losing all expression. The knot in her brow vanished. The little pinch in her cheek from her habit of thinking popped back out. And when her eyes opened, her expression was a practiced neutrality. All save her eyes; though they locked on to Chrysoprase, they danced up and down the Grand Duchess’ outfit, distracted by each tiny motion in the other mare’s booth, struggling to meet the other mare’s willful gaze directly. “I will give the Stable my word that I will not give the crown to a non-unicorn. I don’t owe you anything more than that.”

“Very well.” Chrysoprase slowly lowered her hooves from the railing at the front of her booth, and she neither smiled nor frowned. “Then you have answered my question with honesty, and the House of Gullion is satisfied.” Chrysoprase opened her mouth, then hesitated. “Duchess Power, for the record, could you state your stance?”

Fire Power scowled. “The House On Fire is satisfied. If nothing else, Her Majesty’s answer was obviously honest.”

Chrysoprase nodded. “Thank you. Now… with all five Great Houses satisfied, and with the rights of our questioning of the new monarch fulfilled, we recognize Queen Platinum the Third, Heir of Platinum the First, Head of the House of the Rising Sun, Scion of the Royal Line of Electrum the All-Seer, as our rightful monarch in the light of Celestia. Long may you reign, and may it bring your subjects peace and prosperity.” The green mare concluded her words by bringing her hooves together in a gentle, formal applause. The room seemed to echo the sentiment, as seated ponies clapped and standing ponies stomped, but with an utter lack of fervor or feeling to the performance.

It only took a few moments to die down, and when it did Chrysoprase wasted no time in gathering the attention of the Stable. “And now, as Her Majesty has requested, let us move on to more tangible business.”

PreviousChapters Next