• 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.

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1-4

I - IV

The Earth Pony

The only two earth pony guards I had seen in my time in Everfree City stiffened and stepped aside from the gates of a luxurious walled home, planted just past the edge of the city proper. Chancellor Puddinghead’s home (his ‘party pad’, as Gale claimed he was willing to describe it with a straight face) was honestly a more tasteful structure than I had anticipated. Wooden walls rose, slanted into angled roofs, and then rose vertically again, up and up, narrower and narrower until the whole structure culminated in a flat roof that no doubt was home to two swimming pools and a shuffleboard… board. Huge windows in a variety of shapes decorated the exterior, and grand balconies stuck off the sides of various floors, trailing flowering vines and plant life. The whole thing was built in different expensive woods, coloring it in beautiful shades of brown and red, white and gray, and even a few tasteful touches of purple, all without the need for paint or fabric.

In short, it was a beautiful, elegant structure that, while certainly grandiose, lacked the outspoken exuberance I expected from the leader of the earth ponies.

As we walked away from the chariot that had carried us down from Cloudsdale, and watched the two pegasi who pulled it fly away in total silence (though the younger dared to give Gale an awkward wave goodbye), we got quite the moment together to experience the view of the structure.

“I’m surprised,” noted to her.

“About the house?”

I chuckled. “About how egalitarian the Queen is. That she lets you have non-unicorns as suitors.”

Gale rolled her eyes. “Even letting Peanut ‘pretend’ was a political favor to Puddinghead; Mom doesn’t take him seriously. And she’s told me to my face I shouldn’t either. As for the pegasi, Dad actually put them forward.”

“Pegasi? Plural?”

“We’ll meet up with Gray Rain later.” Gale pointed forward. “For now, let’s humor Peanut. At least we can get some good lunch.”

Gale led us further into the grounds with no shortage of familiarity, but instead of heading for the door, she followed the wall around the exterior to the walled gardens. There, under a small gazebo surrounded by wildlife, I found two ponies talking over a wide glass-topped desk. One, a stallion about our age, seemed rather distracted as he plucked away at a harp. He wasn’t playing a particular song, at least unless he was so especially avante garde that I couldn’t follow any structure whatsoever; instead, I guessed he was concerned with trying to find the right notes for something he was composing. I think his most notable trait was that he was a particularly flaming hot shade of pink, with an only slightly darker mane. Thankfully, mercifully, he chose to wear a slimming gray vest and a similar bowtie that helped to restrain somewhat his aggressive colors.

His companion who stood with her back to us was an earth pony mare, not terribly older than us but certainly not a peer of ours; she had a forest green coat and wore a thick canvas jacket with a fur collar that seemed a bit warm for summer in Everfree.

Gale smiled and waved a hoof as she approached. “Good morning, Peanut!”

Peanut looked up from his conversation for a moment and donned a friendly grin. “Gale! Good to see you.” Then he looked at me and both his brows rose just slightly. “And who is this fine gentlestallion?”

It was the mare beside him at the table, turning at our approach, who answered. “Secretary, that is Mortal Coil, the stallion from Archmage Travail’s report regarding the… incident in Lubuck.” Then she offered a brief bow to Gale. “Your Highness.”

Gale answered with a swift nod of her own head. “Morty, let me introduce Secretary Peanut Gallery and… Grainwood, what is your title these days?”

“Miss,” Grainwood answered with a chuckle. “Being on the Taghfahrt doesn’t come with a title.”

“You seem to show up around Puddinghead a lot for a ‘miss’, Grainwood,” Gale observed.

“I own a shipping company,” Grainwood responded flatly. “So I have a lot to win or lose based on how parliament sets taxes on shipping up or down river, to say nothing of trading with Neighvgorod.” Then she nodded once to each of us and smirked a knowing smirk. “Sometimes you get opportunities in the capital that you wouldn’t in Lubuck, like lending a ship out to the crown to get a runaway wizard across the ocean to River Rock, in exchange for lessened tolls on harbor taxes.”

I nodded as I finally understood how the mare knew of me. “You own the Little Conqueror then? Thank you for helping our escape.”

“The what?” Gale asked.

I cocked a brow. “You don’t remember the Little Conqueror? The ship we took to Neighvgorod when we were running away from Lubuck? Come on, Gale, it wasn’t that long ago.”

Gale shrugged. “I guess I didn’t really bother remembering the fucking name. Sorry I forgot your boat, Grainwood.”

“Well, Captain Winterspell works for me, but it is actually his ship. Water under the bridge either way, your highness. Now, I’m sure you aren’t here to talk to some merchant, and I’m afraid I don’t outrank the crown princess when it comes to the importance of guests. Secretary, I’ll return later to finish up our business.”

Peanut chuckled, leaning back in his chair and briefly glancing at Gale before taking a… perhaps unexpectedly long look in my direction. “Well. Mortal Coil, the hero of Platinum’s Landing… I thought the statue was exaggerating.”

“Statue?” I asked, before remembering the time I had spent posing after my first battle with Wintershimmer. “Ah, right.”

“You get on my case for not remembering the name of a ship, but you can’t remember having a statue carved of you?” Gale massaged her temple with a hoof. “What the fuck, Morty?”

“Well, in my defense, I was interrupted by your sister accusing me of mass murder, and then getting the shock of my trial being prosecuted by the goddess Luna, so you’ll forgive me if some of my time in Platinum’s Landing escapes my memory.”

Peanut chuckled. “Please, both of you, have a seat.” His hooves gestured emphatically to a trio of cushions on the opposite side of his desk, before they returned to his harp, plucking a few strings at random. “Despite my father’s idea of good taste, I can’t bring myself to offer hard liquor while the sun’s still so high—”

“Damn,” Gale whispered.

“—but if you care for some cold pressed apple cider, I’d be glad to share a glass. As well as something for lunch.” Saying this, he stroked a series of strings in a piercing minor chord, and shortly thereafter I saw out of the corner of my eye an earth pony butler wearing a formidable beard nod once in silence toward Peanut before vanishing from sight. “Now, where are my manners?” He removed his right hoof from his harp and extended it over the desk toward me. “I’m Peanut Gallery, currently enjoying the title of Secretary-General of Equestria. I’ve heard a lot about you, sir, but the stories don’t do you justice.”

“...Thank you?” I frowned for a moment as I cleared my head at the unexpected (and frankly, unclear) compliment. “Um… ‘general’? I thought Gale’s sister was the head of the Equestrian military.”

Peanut chuckled. “Ah, ‘secretary-general’ is moreso about the title applying to all the races, generally. I understand you’re acquainted with my predecessor, Secretary Smart Cookie?”

“More than I’d like to be. I took care of his comatose body for twenty years.”

Peanut grimaced. “Yes… nasty business, that. Well, for ages we earth ponies have had a government centered around a Chancellor, elected by the general populace, and a Secretary elected as the head of what was then an all-earth parliament. When Father negotiated an earth-pony style parliament into the new government of Equestria, that title was amended to ‘Secretary-General’, since it would be a title voted on by all three races. Generally, you see?” Then he shrugged. “Because we earth ponies have the largest population, it stands to reason the Secretary-General would be one of us, but as for why it fell to me…” He shrugged, and plucked two odd notes that came out slightly sour on his harp. “I can only suggest nepotism. But I have to ask about you, Mr. Coil; is it true you survived being hung… sorry, hanged in the Crystal Union, and just walked away?”

I didn’t notice at the time that Peanut wasn’t quite meeting my gaze when his words slipped there.

I leaned back in my seat, grinning unabashedly at the praise. “Well, to be fair I teleported away. But in the spirit of the thing yes. I don’t recommend it; the rope burns are… Ow!” The latter noise was the result of my half-conscious massaging of my neck coming into contact with the stitched wound from my most recent battle with Wintershimmer.

“I see you weren’t uninjured, though,” Peanut observed, plucking a couple more notes, and then smiling. The same pair of notes rang twice more, and his muted expression grew wider by just hints each time.

“Well, this is actually more recent… The leader of the crystal army got into me with her claw.” As I explained, Peanut’s hooves suddenly began actually playing, and I caught his two repeated notes at the end of a particularly lilting phrase in waltz time.

“Claw?” he asked over his own music. “Is she… not equine?”

“Oh no, she’s a mare. All but one hoof, anyway. It’s a long story,” I answered.

“Well, I would certainly love to have you for dinner some time, Morty—can I call you ‘Morty’, or is that too personal? I wouldn’t want to intrude.” The music halted for a moment, though I hadn’t heard a wrong note, and then repeated with just a single note different, giving it a more solemn air.

I shrugged. “Whatever you like.”

“Wonderful. Are you free Thursday for... Ah, I see our drinks are here.” The comment was accompanied by Peanut’s face growing sour, and the next two notes he plucked on his harp got along like liquor and milk, curdling in my ears into something thick and sour and repulsive. “Good day, father. I don’t recall sending for you.”

Gale and I both turned on our cushions to see that, rather than the servant we’d witnessed before, the stallion approaching our place at the gazebo was Chancellor Puddinghead himself, deftly balancing four glasses, eight triangular sandwiches, and a large pitcher of cider on just one hoof. “Mornin’, Pea Pea! I heard Gale and Morty were here, and I just had to come say ‘Hi!’. So ‘Hi’, Morty and Gale!”

Something that often gets lost in historical representations of Puddinghead is his size. Whereas Commander Hurricane’s military stature often gets overstated in statuary and so forth (he was decently tall for a pegasus, but the ‘for a pegasus part’ is a big qualifier), Puddinghead, portrayed (accurately) as a bit of a dandy and a nincompoop, usually loses the fact that he was actually quite tall for an earth pony. I was reminded of this fact because he flopped down on the last remaining cushion, and even reclining on his flank he could easily look me in the eye, to say nothing of the extra height afforded by his bowl-shaped hat full of quite edible chocolate pudding.

“Hi, Pudding,” Gale answered, for a moment making me question the informality.

The tune Peanut Gallery picked up on his harp was much faster than its predecessor, in a minor key, but so presto that it came across more angry than sad.

“I’m super glad you’re coming to visit Pea Pea,” Puddinghead told Gale with a wide smile, using his free forehoof to pass out glasses, and then pour our drinks. I had to grit my teeth to avoid a chuckle at the incredibly terrible nickname. Still, I shot Peanut a look of silent sympathy. He nodded back to me with tired resignation in his eyes as he continued to play his harp, letting his apparently oblivious father continue to speak. “Stars knows he’s not brave enough to make the effort himself.”

“I’m plenty brave, Father,” Peanut snapped. “I’m just practical; we both know Gale isn’t a big fan of any of her suitors. And I don’t recall asking for your advice on romance.”

Puddinghead scoffed. “No, but you obviously need it; you hardly bring anypony home at night. You don’t even have any kids yet, Pea Pea!”

“Father… I’m nineteen.” Peanut rolled his eyes. “And it’s Peanut; I’m Secretary-General of our entire Parliament, not some four year old whose cheeks you can pinch!”

“Exactly! Look how stuffy you got; you’re not getting any younger or any hotter!” Puddinghead sighed and placed a hoof on his forehead. “Look at Morty here.”

“Believe me, I am,” Peanut whispered under his breath; I don’t know if he meant for me to catch it, or if it was only for Gale’s benefit, but she masked a small chuckle behind her hoof.

Puddinghead, apparently, didn’t hear his son over the harp marche. “He spent his whole foalhood learning from some geriatric jerk who probably died a virgin, but he still got the crown princess to give him a horn job in the middle of court, when he only met her like a week earlier! That’s almost as much game as I had when I was your age!”

That was one of the very, very few times that I had the joy of seeing Gale turn utterly red, ears to jaw, at the mention of her antics.

“I, um…” I hesitated to offer any useful comment, though the sinking in my gut made it all too clear I ought to have come up with something in Gale’s defense. At least Peanut’s music kept there from being an awkward silence.

“There’s no need to be humble, Morty. Live it up a little. I’ve got a couple of daughters you might like, since Pea Pea’s gonna end up with Gale. One of them is even almost as legitimate as Pe—”

Father!” Peanut snapped, accompanied by the sour twinge of an off-key note. The same hoof flew from his harp and crashed down onto the glass desk; spiderweb cracks spread in the transparent surface from the show of force, sending our drinks sloshing in their glasses, and outright spilling mine. “Firstly, given that she’s carrying a bag of letters, I suspect Gale is not here looking for a date, let alone a—”

“A threesome? Given she brought Morty?” Puddinghead suggested. Winking to Gale, he continued “I don’t mind sparing a bedroom for you young foals to have some alone time.”

Peanut fumed silently.

Gale groaned, and then dug into her bag with her magic. “Sorry, Pudding, but he’s right. I’m just here delivering an invitation to my birthday party; it’s tomorrow, so sorry for the short notice.”

“Oh, I know,” Puddinghead told us with a smile. “I might be Chancellor, but I’m also the best party pony in Equestria. You think I’m not helping decorate?”

Peanut took the invitation, tore it open deftly with a dexterity of hoofwork I have rarely seen on a pegasus or a unicorn, and retrieved the letter inside. As he read the lacy script that I assume Queen Platinum or one of her scribes had actually put down, he lifted his glass of cider and took a sip. Abruptly, his face contorted again, and he turned to the side to spit out the sip before lifting the whole glass and flinging it out of the gazebo and into the gardens. A moment later, the sound of glass shattering once again filled the grounds of Puddinghead’s home.

“I thought I made no liquor perfectly clear, father. It isn’t even noon yet!”

“Well, maybe if somepony would stop being so picky and make a pass at a perfectly beautiful young mare, I wouldn’t have to try and lubricate things,” Puddinghead answered. “Maybe she’s not a perfect ten, but she’s certainly an eight or a nine. For goddesses’ sake, she gave you an invitation to her birthday and you actually opened it before you agreed? I know I taught you better than this!”

“Oh, forgive me for not offending her trying to mount her the second I met her like you do with every mare who passes your field of view.” He rolled his eyes, and with some obvious struggle for willpower, looked away from his father. “Forgive me, Gale; I’ll be glad to attend. And I’ll even spare you any pathetically unsubtle attempts at romance; is there anything you’d like as a gift?”

“I—”

Gale’s brief attempt at an answer was trampled by Puddinghead, who shot his entire apparently alcoholic cider in one swig and then leaned forward. “Really, son? Which one of our methods had actually gotten us laid at your age?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Gale snapped. “If my future is marrying you and listening to you two bicker about me like I’m a hunk of meat with a hole in it, for a birthday gift, I’d love a crossbow bolt. You can shoot it straight through my fucking eye! Come on, Morty; we’re done here.”

Though Gale dragged me away, over both Peanut’s apologies and Puddinghead’s pleas for us to stay, their ensuing argument once we were out of sight was not at all hard to hear; in fact, I doubt I could have avoided eavesdropping on them without the aid of earplugs, or a particularly large marching band.

“I told you I’m not interested in her!” Peanut shouted.

“You’re so self-centered, Pea Pea! This isn’t about you! It’s about getting the earth ponies in on that action, since Ricky and Queen Platty already got together! This is for the good of Equestria! So you can absolutely go mount Morty, or whatever stallions you want, on your time. But as your father, I expect you to put away one too many beers with that filly, make some ‘bad choices’, rut her without protection, and give me a couple of grandfoals.” I could quite literally hear the sarcastic hoof-quotes around ‘bad choices’ in Puddinghead’s voice, but my attention was on Gale massaging the throbbing veins on both her temples in unspoken fury as we left the gardens around the earth pony estate.

“Do you want to—”

“No,” she snapped. “I do not want to fucking talk about it. Let’s just go find Gray Rain.” She leaned into my side, and I did my best to support her as we walked on, but without Peanut’s harp music or any kind of discussion, the silence that hung over us was as painfully rigid as Gale’s tensed shoulders.

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