• Published 18th Dec 2018
  • 3,023 Views, 92 Comments

The Weary Travelers of Caelum - Monochromatic



Princess Rarity thought her life in the castle to be perfect. However, when tragedy strikes, she and her beloved must face the fact that sooner or later, whether they want to or not, all little princesses must one day become queens.

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~ 01 ~ The Great Snowstorm ~

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In the depths of despair, you look towards the suffocating crevice lying before you. You can turn back, coward that you are, and return to a life of certainty. Or, if you so choose, you can take a step forward and fall; knowing not if you'll live or die, but knowing you did what many fear.

What will you do, Your Majesty?

✶✶✶✶✶

The Weary Travelers of Caelum
by Monochromatic

It had been five weeks since the Great Snowstorm had made the Kingdom its home.

From inside the warm royal chamber, Princess Rarity’s bodyguard stared out the window in silence, her brow creased. She watched as snow rained upon the castle grounds, painting the gardens in a thick coat of white and visibly impeding the three guards pulling a chariot full of logs from the East Gardens.

Her eyes traveled over the gardens and beyond the castle walls, focusing on the distant town filled with mares, stallions, fillies, and colts that had not been prepared for such an unforgiving storm; one of such intensity that not even the pegasi could hope to stop it. She thought of the the increasingly bare cupboards in the homes of the townsponies, emptying out day by day, and it certainly didn’t help that the castle’s own larders were not faring any better.

Winter, it seemed, refused to leave.

The fire crackled at her back, and a quick glance showed her it was all but dead. A flicker of magic carried a fresh log from a nearby basket and deposited it over the fire’s remains. She watched and waited until it crackled to life before returning her gaze towards the city.

How many were ill, she wondered.

How many did not have the luxury of having their rooms kept warm without even having to request it?

She was not privy to the affairs of the king, but she knew the rumors. Heard them in the armory as she sharpened her weapons, heard them from her fellow soldiers as she instructed them on the princess’s routine, heard it whispered amongst the servants as she trotted through the castle.

Illness was spreading, quickly and lethally, with the Great Snowstorm as its jury, judge and executioner.

“Twilight?”

Her ears twitched, and Twilight Sparkle turned her sights towards the bed upon which Princess Rarity lounged in complete comfort. A book floated before her, which she read as her hoof reached for another chocolate truffle from a plate.

“Yes?”

The princess did not immediately reply, instead taking a moment to savor the delicacy in her mouth.

“Would you consider me ‘beautifully beautiful’?” she asked after finishing her treat. “Thin Oracle is confessing his undying love to Lady Frost in this chapter, and he just said she was ‘beautifully beautiful’.”

Twilight smiled. “I would consider telling the author that his dialogue could be better,” she replied, turning back towards the window. “That seems to me like lazy writing.”

After a moment of silence, Rarity asked, “What are you thinking about?”

“That you’re beautifully beautiful,” replied the guard and smiled when her princess giggled.

"That is true," she replied, and latter added, "but that was not what you were thinking about, was it?"

Twilight's smile faded and her gaze returned to the city. "The chocolate truffles you're eating," she said, "cost more than two weeks’ worth of food for a family in the Eastern City District."

A theatric sigh left Princess Rarity's lips. "Are you trying to guilt me, Twilight? Even though father is ill, he’s done everything he can and arranged for everypony in the city to be fed and clothed for as long as the storm shall last. We can’t exactly vanquish a storm, now can we?"

"I know," Twilight said, ears lowering. The king was not known for neglecting his ponies in times of need, but…

Her friends were down there. Her ponies, the ones that actually bothered to know her - unlike the majority of the nobles littering the castle. They were surviving, not living, and it pained her to think she was above it all.

It pained her to know there was more they could do.

“Beloved,” said the Princess, “is standing there brooding really a productive use of your time? You could be cuddling me, after all.”

This struck a nerve in the bodyguard.

“Worrying about our ponies,” she said shortly, turning to Princess Rarity with a raised eyebrow, “isn’t ever a waste of time.”

This, in return, seemed to hit its mark, and Twilight watched as the little princess’ cheeks turned red with shame.

“I was only offering,” she said, cross.

“And I was only refusing, Your Highness,” Twilight replied, turning back to her window before guilt crept in. If only Rarity loved her kingdom as she loved Twilight, the princess wouldn’t be sitting there reading romance novels all day.

A long silence passed, and the princess spoke again.

“Are you upset with me, now? Considering you’ve switched to honorifics and all.”

Twilight swallowed and looked back at her. “No. Yes. I don’t know.”

“You don’t know.”

“No. I’m not upset, I’m just…” She turned back to the window, pressing her forehead against it and breathing out, a patch of fog covering the crystal. “I feel there’s more we could do than… reading books and eating chocolates.”

“You want to do something other than reading books?” Rarity asked with a gasp. “Goodness! This storm is getting to your head!”

Twilight’s ears lowered when she turned to the princess. “Rarity…”

The princess’ smile faded and she composed herself. “All right. Would you like me to request I’m assigned a new temporary personal guard so you can go out and be in the city?”

Twilight faltered. As much as she wanted to go out and help, she didn’t trust anypony with Rarity’s life.

“I… No.”

“Would you like me to go and ask father if we can double the double-rations we are already sending into town every three days?”

Twilight bowed her head. “No.”

“Then what do you want us to do?”

Twilight faltered again. “I… I don’t know,” she finally said, and when Rarity beckoned her over, she quietly obeyed and unceremoniously rested her chin on the bed. “Ugh.”

“Darling,” said Rarity, scooching over close enough to brush Twilight’s bangs back. “As much as I know you dislike it, right now the only thing you and I can do is simply wait and bear the storm until further notice.” She took a truffle from the basket and showed it to Twilight. “A single box of truffles I bought two months ago is not going to be enough to feed the whole town, either. Speaking of which…” She levitated the chocolate right in front of Twilight’s mouth. “Try one. They’re very good and will make you feel better, I promise.”

With a plaintive groan, Twilight opened her mouth and allowed the chocolate to float in, which she then slowly chewed.

“Oh, uh, wow,” she said rather eloquently. “Those are really good.”

“Of course they are!” exclaimed the princess cheekily. “Haven’t you heard? They cost two weeks worth of food!”

“Rarity...”

“Oh, have a sense of humor, really,” she chastised, grabbing her book and going back to her reading. “Now hush, the scandalous scene is coming up.”

Twilight remained in complete silence for some time after that, her eyes only opening in order for her to guiltily levitate more chocolate truffles into her mouth. It wasn’t until she was on her fourth that suddenly Rarity began to move, throwing her book to the side and jumping off the bed.

Twilight sat up. “Rarity?” They didn’t have anything scheduled for that afternoon, and Princess Rarity’s spa session wasn’t due for another few hours. “What are you doing?”

“Leaving my room,” the princess said helpfully, going to the door and opening it up. “After that, I think I shall head to kitchens and ask Étoufée to make me something for dinner.”

“Make you something?” Twilight asked, getting up. “Rarity, it’s only three in the afternoon!”

“Oh, I’m well aware,” said the princess with a smile. “I’m giving her more than enough time to cook me what I want.” That said, she stepped out and acknowledged the guards outside before looking back into the room. “Hurry up, Twilight! We mustn't waste more time.”

Though she still felt there were better things to do than bother the chef with complicated dining requests, Twilight protested no further, putting on her helmet and stepping out to follow Rarity and the other guards.

“Geez, this is the longest we’ve been on the Princess’s private guard without rotating,” muttered Knight Wind after a few minutes of walking, one of the two guards who’d taken the rear with Twilight. “Two weeks already? The others must be having the vacation of a lifetime.”

“The others are helping out in town,” Twilight informed him. “It’s much easier to mug ponies when everypony’s too cold to defend themselves.”

“This storm’s being a pain in the flank,” he replied, shaking his head. “Rift Shield told me he had security duties at Tarrey Clinic yesterday, and he thinks they’re going to start having to turn folks away if things don’t get any better. Why isn’t the king opening up more shelters, y’know?”

“King Platinum is doing what he can,” said Twilight, even if she’d wondered the same thing earlier.

“He’s not doing so well, either, though, is he?” added River Lily, the guard on the other side of Twilight. She made sure Rarity wasn’t listening before turning back to Twilight and Knight. “Did you see him at dinner last night? He looked whiter than snow!”

Knight nodded his head. “Yeah, yeah! And didn’t he cancel that big meeting with Lord River Run and his staff on Monday?” He narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice even more. “You know, I bet that’s why we haven’t rotated! They don’t want too many ponies knowing the king’s sick!”

“How sick is he, Twilight?” River Lily asked, peering at Twilight with wide-eyes.

“I don’t know,” Twilight whispered back, growing uncomfortable with the conversation. “And even if I did, that’s the king’s business, not ours. This is exactly how rumors start.”

The two guards sheepishly backed off, but only for about a minute before they went back to their gossiping.

“Imagine if he really is sick, though,” continued River Lily, and then let out a soft gasp. “What if he… you know…”

“River,” interrupted Twilight, sternly, “this isn’t some—”

Knight cut her off. “Wouldn’t that mean that Princess Rarity will take—”

The loud clearing of a throat silenced them, and the three guards found that not only had they reached the kitchens, but Princess Rarity herself was staring them down with a brilliant smile.

“Now, really, you three should know it’s rude to gossip and not include your Royal Highness,” she chastised, making a clicking noise with her tongue.

“N-Never, Your Highness!” exclaimed Knight and River Lily, quickly bowing to the unicorn while Twilight simply offered her a raised eyebrow.

Satisfied, the princess turned around and opened the kitchen doors. “Étoufée! ‘Tis I, your shining beacon of fabulous light in this dreary and dark world!”

From behind Princess Rarity, Twilight saw the kitchen grind to a halt. Cooks and their assistants freezing in place, soup bubbling out from unattended pots, and the elderly grand chef blinking at the princess from behind the plethora of vegetables she was about to cut up.

“Your Highness,” she drawled in a thick Prench accent, smiling at the princess before turning to her paralyzed kitchen with a fierce stare, “is not something to stare at! Get back to work!”

A chorus of apologies rang out in the air, and in an instant, the kitchen roared back to life and its head chef trotted towards the princess.

Ma chére Princesse,” she said, putting her spoon down and bowing her head. “Tis a little early for you to be lighting up my world entire, non?”

“I have a dinner request, Touffy,” said the princess, her tail swishing behind her like an excited puppy. “A challenge, you might say. It’ll take you only four or five hours to achieve if you’re lucky.

If she was intrigued by the idea, Étouffée’s expression did not betray her. “Princesse, love you as I may, we are not your personal kitchen,” she said with the familiarity that came with serving the family since the princess was a filly. To Twilight’s recollection, the cook was one of the very few ponies who could get away with not giving the princess what she wanted.

“But, Touffy!” Rarity whined piteously, and Twilight rolled her eyes when the princess bowed her head and let out a single, soft sniff. “It would mean ever so much… I’m so awfully hungry…”

A moment passed, in which the elderly mare regarded the princess before turning her sights towards Twilight, who did nothing more than hope her eyes expressed their shared sentiment.

Princesses…

Allez, donc,” said Étouffée at last, unable to repress a smile at Rarity’s delighted squeal. “What is this challenge?”

Rarity stood up straight, flipping her mane back. “One moment, please,” she said politely before turning back to her guards and shooing them away with a gesture. “Step outside, please! This is not for gossiping ears!”

Twilight watched as the four other guards quickly moved back, and yet when she tried to step into the kitchen, she found a smiling Rarity blocking her way.

“Ah ah!” she said, fluttering her eyelashes at the guard. “That includes you too, Twilight.”

Twilight frowned. “What? But, Princess, I—”

You,” Rarity interrupted, “will wait outside with the others, all right?”

But, Princess—” Twilight protested, only to find Rarity’s hoof now delicately pressed against her mouth.

“Twilight, I do admire your dedication to your duties, but I can assure you that the only threat to my person in this kitchen are the calories.”

Without allowing Twilight time to list off the many sharp and pointy objects in the kitchen, the princess politely moved Twilight back with her magic before marching into the room and closing the doors behind her, leaving her personal escorts at a loss for what to do.

“Right,” said Twilight.

If she had Knight and River Lily guard the east entrance of the kitchen, she could have Sea Draft and Gravel Edge guard the kitchen’s garden windows while she took care of the main entrance.

“All right, everypo...ny…”

Rather than being ready to protect their princess at any cost, Twilight was sad to see that three of the kingdom's best guards been permanently affected by Princess Rarity’s influence; they were huddled around gossiping , the fourth non-gossiping one standing awkwardly to the side.

“What should we do, boss?” asked Gravel Edge loudly, drawing the attention of his nosy companions, who quickly yelped and got into position.

“Besides getting muzzles for your mouths?” she asked, and allowed herself a smile at the wide-eyed expression her friends now sported. “Let’s cover all the entries and exits.”

Once everypony had been firmly planted at every exit, Twilight made her way back towards the dining room, stopping only when a voice called her out.

“Twilight!”

With a barely concealed start, Twilight turned to see King Platinum himself walking towards her, his guards and own personal bodyguard coming with him.

“Your Majesty!” exclaimed Twilight after bowing down to the king whom she noticed looked quite, quite pale.

“Sparkle,” grumbled Iron Accord, the King’s bodyguard, as his eyes narrowed. “I wasn’t told you’d been relieved of your duties to our princess.”

“Don’t bully the poor child, Accord. I’d trust nopony else with Rarity’s life,” said the king, offering Twilight a broad smile. “She’s in the kitchens, isn’t she? I saw Gravel Edge posted by the garden windows.”

Twilight nodded. “Er, yes, Your Majesty. I have guards posted on every exit, and I was headed to the main one right now. The princess, er, insisted I didn’t follow her in.”

“Well! So much for swearing she doesn’t have snacks between meals!” the king joyfully exclaimed, the laughter that followed soon turning into a worrying coughing fit.

“Your Majesty,” Iron said gravely. “Please, you—”

“I am hungry, is what I am!” the king interrupted forcefully, and then made a noise Twilight was unsure was him clearing his throat or another cough. “Maybe I’ll join my daughter on whatever she’s snacking on!”

“Your Majesty,” continued Iron, relentless. “He didn’t come all this way from Griffonstone for—”

“Yes, I know,” the king said, and the glee he’d been sporting vanished. He offered Twilight a gentle smile. “Carry on, Twilight, and don’t let her raid all our supplies. This storm won’t be filling them back up, hm?”

✶✶✶✶✶

“So,” Twilight asked, the cloak she wore over her armor doing little to protect her from the courtyard’s biting cold, “what exactly are we doing?”

“Waiting for dinner, of course,” explained the princess, her face peering out the window of the small carriage she was hidden away in.

“Of course,” Twilight said, followed by a sneeze.

Rarity giggled. “I’d say bless you, but you are already dating me!” she exclaimed, and then stuck out her tongue out when Twilight rolled her eyes. “Aren’t you cold out there?” she continued. “You should have brought the other cloak!”

“The one that you ripped while trying to run away from me after sneaking out of the castle?”

“What?! Pardon-me! I didn’t rip it! I simply gave it a… a… a more rebellious design! Modernized it!” She looked away and harrumphed, closing the window and muffling her voice. “It’s avant-garde!”

“If you say so, Your Highness,” murmured Twilight, looking around for… whatever they were waiting for.

Even after they’d left the kitchens, Princess Rarity had refused to tell Twilight what she’d asked for, and then even went as far as cancelling her spa sessions, which gave Twilight plenty of opportunities to start anticipating the worst possible scenario—anything that led to Rarity willingly canceling a spa session was either very good or very, very bad.

A knocking sound interrupted her thoughts, and she turned around to see Princess Rarity looking at her from behind the window. As soon as they made eye contact, the princess fogged up the window with her breath and Twilight bit down a smile when a white hoof drew a heart in the fog.

When it disappeared, the window opened again and Rarity poked her head out, scanning the courtyard.

“Where are they?”

“Lady Fluttershy and Applejack?” asked Twilight. “You asked Gravel to tell them to come here at half past five. That’s still ten minutes away.”

“I know, which is why I’m not looking for them,” Rarity replied. “I asked Étouffée to bring me dinner at a quarter past five.”

“Dinner?” Twilight looked around, suddenly very concerned for their dining place. “To eat in your carriage? Rarity, will you please tell me what’s going on?”

“Very well,” said the princess and nodded towards something behind Twilight. “That’s what’s going on.”

Twilight turned around and her jaw went slack at the sight of Étouffée guiding two cooks pulling a chariot filled to the brim with what seemed to be stacked baskets of prepared meals and a large pot, steam slipping out from the slight open spots in the lid.

Rarity came out of the carriage, lifting her hoof to close Twilight’s mouth before smiling brightly at the elder mare.

“Well, well! Challenge accomplished?”

Étouffée grunted. “Of course.” She looked back towards the chariot and patted it with her hoof. “That soup won’t be hot for very long in this weather, so we made cold dishes to go with it. It should serve about a hundred or so ponies if rationed carefully.”

“But of course!” She gestured to Twilight. “I’m sure Twilight here will be more than happy to take charge of that, and we’ll be sure to get it to the city before the soup is cold. Dear Fluttershy should be here soon, and her guard will help us, too, won’t she, Twilight?”

Twilight wasn’t altogether sure what to say. She was pretty sure Applejack hadn't been given a choice in the first place.

“Yo-Your Highness, I—” She cleared her throat and offered Étouffée an apologetic smile. “Er, please give us a moment so I can go over the logistics with the princess.” She politely guided Rarity behind the carriage before giving her a stare bordering between confused and bewildered. “Rarity! What are you doing?!”

Rarity blinked innocently. “Helping,” she said plainly. “Is that not what you wished for?”

“No! I mean, well, yes, but the king and queen—”

“Will be hard-pressed to scold me for feeding our people.”

“But the castle’s larders—”

“Can afford to give us enough food to make simple sandwiches and soup for a hundred ponies,” Rarity again interrupted. “Furthermore, the stuffy aristocrats here at the castle can stand to eat decent-sized portions for a week.” She tilted her head. “Any other questions?”

“I…”

Twilight was overwhelmed with many feelings, but none more than pride.

Finally, it seemed, the Princess was willing to direct her generosity towards her kingdom, rather than only those she cared about.

And yet she had to know.

“Why?” she asked, finally.

Rarity seemed surprised. “Isn’t it obvious?” she asked. “Can’t have you be upset, now can we?”

And just like that, Twilight’s pride diminished, and noticeably so.

“What?” Rarity asked, her winning smile vanishing. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing! Nothing,” said Twilight, recognizing that was not the place and time to discuss her feelings. Her princess still clearly had a long way to go in being ready to rule a kingdom, but even if her motivations were misguided, this new event was a start. She offered a smile. “Thank you for doing this.”

Immediately, Rarity’s disposition changed, beaming like a praised filly. “But of course! It is my pleasure.”

They made their way back towards Étouffée and were surprised to find Fluttershy and Applejack had arrived early, the duchess practically invisible in a mountain of coats and scarves.

“Oh! Fluttershy! Applejack!” Rarity exclaimed. “You’ve finally arrived!”

“Eeyup. A lil’ bit early, mind, but we’re here as you asked, Your Highness,” said Applejack after a bow. She then turned to Fluttershy and frowned. “Well, Lady Fluttershy’s somewhere in that pile of coats, I reckon’.”

“Applejack,” weakly protested the pegasus, “you know I don’t like the cold…”

The towering bodyguard grinned at her charge. “I’m just teasin’.”

“It’ll be alright, dearest,” Rarity said, moving aside and gesturing to the carriage. “Why don’t you wait inside while I sort out everything with Twilight and Applejack?” She looked at the latter. “I trust you read the note Gravel gave you?”

“Eeyup. Ponies down in the city need feedin’. ”

“Fabulous!” Rarity exclaimed, stomping her hoof against the snowy ground and then promptly yelping when it seemed to have gotten her boots all wet. She cleared her throat and then turned to Étouffée. “It seems we’re all set! I shall have all your baskets returned to you tonight.”

The mare laughed. “Ma chére, that’s what you said of the twelve Saddle Arabian porcelain tea sets we had, and now we only have ten.”

Rarity didn’t even flinch. “W-Well, you know, I didn’t want to say anything, but Twilight’s ever so clumsy,” she said, very pointedly avoiding Applejack’s raised eyebrow and her own bodyguard’s piercing stare.

Étouffée turned to Twilight. “Is this true, Twilight?”

Twilight smiled politely. “If I want to keep my job, yes it is.”

Twilight Sparkle! What impertinence! From all of you, in fact!” Rarity turned away with a harrumph. “I should have you all thrown into the dunge— Fluttershy, why are you smiling?!”

“O-Oh, I wasn’t smiling,” quickly said the pegasus, adjusting her scarf over her face and coughing politely.

Applejack whistled, looking up at the sky. “These winds make ponies see mighty strange things, Your Highness.”

“Oh, I’m sure they do, Applejack,” said the princess, making quite a show out of indignantly stepping back into her carriage.

After waiting for Fluttershy to board and relaying orders to the guards pulling the carriage, Twilight and Applejack were all set to lead the way, at least up until Étouffée discreetly pulled Twilight to the side.

“Twilight,” she said with much more severity than was expected from the family cook. Her eyes hardened and after a quick glance towards the carriage, she leaned in and whispered, “I hope you’re taking care of the princess.”

Twilight’s first instinct was to straighten up, her ears shooting up at what sounded very much like a threat. It was only the many years she’d known the cook that stopped her from holding the hilt of the sword within her magic.

“Of course,” she said instead, trying her best to neither smile nor scowl in reply. Nevertheless, a thread had revealed itself now, and it was her duty to pull on it until it came undone. “Is there a reason you’re worried?”

“Yes,” said the cook, and her eyes drifted up towards the winter sky. “This storm has bedridden two of my staff.” Her expression changed and her eyes softened, a sudden maternal-like aura about her. “You make sure our little princess doesn’t stay outside too long. Wouldn’t want her sneezing herself to death in bed.”

Twilight's posture relaxed, and she allowed herself a smile. “No, we don’t.”

A polite cough caught their attention, and they turned around to find Rarity sticking her head out the window. “Well?” she asked, staring them down. “Are you quite done gossiping about me?”

“Why would we gossip about you, Your Highness?” Twilight asked politely, and Rarity grinned.

“Darling, whyever would you not?”

✶✶✶✶✶

Though the meals they brought only fed a hundred ponies or so, the celebration that they created brought about many more than that.

Old and worn-out tables had been placed all over the Lunar District plaza, every single one filled with ponies of all ages who’d come out to greet the princess and her escorts. Many of them had not gotten a chance to even taste the royal meals whose ingredients cost more than they earned in two weeks, as they had willingly refrained so as to let the children and elderly enjoy the food.

Torches had been placed all over the plaza, illuminating the dozens of ponies still gathered around and keeping warm whoever sat beside them. Campfires, too, had been set up, the biggest one tasked with keeping the cauldron’s broth warm for newcomers to try.

A large sneeze sounded off next to Twilight, and she looked away from the inside of the pot and towards the bodyguard planted beside her.

“Dang weather,” muttered Applejack, rubbing her nose with a hoof and fixing her gaze on the duchess seated at a nearby table, the poor pegasus doing a terrible job at hiding how badly she was shivering. “Might be a good idea to start packin’ up soon before we’re bringing pegasus-shaped ice-cubes back to the castle.”

“I agree, but the princess says she wants to keep ‘bonding with the commoners’.” She glanced back towards the nearly empty cart. “Though the kitchen staff is probably waiting for their things already. I’m going to go get Rarity and we’ll leave before the storm comes back.”

“Good luck there,” Applejack said with a snort, gesturing towards Rarity and the crowd of fascinated ponies surrounding her. “I reckon you ain’t going to get past all them admirers anytime soon.” She nodded towards a colt seated next to Rarity, timidly stealing glances at her. “Seems like that little one’s already fantasizin’ of growin’ up and marrying her.”

“He’s got as much of a chance of that as I do,” Twilight noted, yelping when Applejack whacked her with a wooden soup spoon. “What?! It’s true!”

“This storm’s already sourin’ my mood enough, so I don’t want to hear none of that talk,” she scolded. She then looked up and glared at the sky as though if she did so hard enough it would cause the cloud and snow to clear. “I heard some folk earlier sayin’ this storm’s the Goddesses punishing us.”

“Punishing us?” Twilight asked. She didn’t much believe in tales of goddesses watching over the land, but even if such beings were real, she could hardly think of anything that would warrant their wrath. “I don’t think so,” she said. “Maybe it’s a test?”

“A mighty harsh test,” Applejack added. She paused and continued, “Is it true?”

“Is what true?” asked Twilight.

“The king. Something ain’t right with him.”

Twilight furrowed her brow. “Why do you think something’s wrong?”

“Folks yammer all the time, Twi,” said the bodyguard. “Some yammerings I’ve been hearin’ a lil bit more often than others.”

“Well, right now we have bigger things to worry about,” said Twilight, not feeling inclined to dwell too much on the king’s health when she already had to worry about his daughter’s.

As if it had heard them talking, the storm decided to reassert its presence again, and a large gust of snowy wind traveled down into the plaza, coldly and enthusiastically greeting the citizens with loud howling sounds. Such was its excitement, it swept up plates, baskets and whatever it could into the air, conducting a symphony of panicked cries with its every windy move.

“Twilight!” called Rarity, fighting her way towards her and yelling over the sound of the storm. “Twilight, socializing with the commoners was delightful, but perhaps we ought to consider going home now!”

“Ya think?!” called out Twilight, belatedly realizing she was not in private quarters when a nearby elderly mare looked appalled by how she addressed the princess. “Errr… I mean, yes, of course, Your Highness! Please wait in the carriage with Lady Fluttershy!”

While Applejack escorted the princess and Fluttershy to safety, Twilight tasked herself with helping the cooks get back the baskets that had flown off everywhere. Once this was done, everything was secure, and everypony had taken refuge in their homes, they set off towards the castle, Twilight and Applejack taking the lead.

It felt like a terribly long walk, the fabric of her clothes plastered against her body and only barely protecting her from her freezing armor and chainmail. Her steps were heavy against the wet snow, and when they stopped briefly so as to re-adjust their armor, her eyes landed on a small worn-down shrine set out for the goddesses of the realm.

Two small alicorn statues looked back at the guard, and were she a believer, she might have been inclined to ask them if they were really being punished for some unknown transgression.

They set off again after that, the shrine left alone to be buried in the snow.

It wasn’t until an hour later that Twilight finally found herself back inside the warm castle halls, her bones still complaining at the cold they’d been subjected to. Her mind, too, was complaining quite a bit, for even if what they had done was good for the ponies in the city, she still couldn’t help but dwell on Rarity’s intentions, so to speak.

“Well, I think that was a very fun afternoon,” said the princess as they trotted down a hallway, the other members of the private guard having been instructed to take the night off.

“Yes. An afternoon of you bonding with the ‘commoners’,” clarified Twilight shortly.

The princess stopped.

“Oh good, you’re using the tone now,” she said, looking at Twilight and clearly suppressing a sigh.

“What tone?” Twilight asked quickly.

“Don’t play innocent with me,” Rarity said, raising her hoof and lifting Twilight’s chin. “The tone.”

Caught, Twilight sighed. “Princess—”

“Ah ah.”

Rarity,” Twilight corrected, reaching out and moving Rarity’s hoof away. “That wasn’t supposed to be fun. Also, commoners? Really?”

The princess let out an exasperated sigh. “What? That is what they are, isn’t it? They’re not nobles,” she defended.

“Princess, that’s not my point. My point is that—”

“That there’s no pleasing you!” Rarity huffed. “Really, Twilight! I do these things to make you happy, and they only seem to upset you instead!”

“That’s my point! You shouldn’t be doing these things to please me! You should be doing them because you want to!” Twilight clarified. “Not because you don’t want to feel bad for upsetting me.”

“Twilight,” Rarity said, setting off again with a more hurried, determined step, “the second I sit on that throne, my entire life is going to be putting the needs of others over mine, so please excuse me if I’m not yet jumping through hoops to serve the entire land. Now, if you’re done trying to turn me into Princess Rarity the Selfless, I have a box of chocolate truffles waiting for me in bed.”

That being said, the princess stomped off and disappeared around the hallway corner, leaving Twilight behind.

“Ra—Princess!” she called back, running after her and finding her stopped right around the corner. “Princess, that’s not wha… What’s going on?”

There, in the distance, Twilight saw guards standing in front of Princess Rarity’s room. Though this was not something unusual, what made them stop was just whose guards were planted outside.

The king’s.

“Why is Papá in my room?” whispered Rarity carefully, her irritation vanished. Her eyes widened and she grabbed Twilight’s foreleg. “Twilight, you don’t think—”

“He seemed fine this morning,” Twilight quickly said. “He looked like he had a cold, that’s all.”

“Yes. Yes, you’re right. I’m sure it’s fine. He’s gotten better, even!” Rarity said, the sudden brightness in her voice doubtless able to deceive anypony but the guard that knew her like the back of her hoof. “Onwards!”

And without another word, Rarity resumed her walk and Twilight quietly followed her, unable to find any of the cheer Rarity was trying to display. It felt like a very long, long walk, in which Twilight for once did not go over all the many scenarios a visit from the king implied.

In truth, there was only one she was concerned with, and if that was what awaited them, a few minutes would never be enough time to prepare.

“Princess Rarity!” Iron Accord and the guards saluted as soon as they saw her.

“Hello, gentlecolts,” Rarity greeted, the smile on her face intact. “What brings you here to visit me? Does father want to see me?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” said Iron Accord, another guard opening the door to Rarity’s room, inside of which Twilight caught a glimpse of the king looking out the window. “He’s waiting for you inside.” He then eyed Twilight, who was ready to follow Rarity in, and said, “Alone, please, Your Highness.”

Rarity faltered, her smile cracking ever so slightly before turning to Twilight.

“A-Alone?” Rarity said, and her laugh did not fool Twilight. “Must be quite the scandalous goss—”

“Please, Your Highness,” said the third guard.

Rarity’s playfulness died. Quickly.

“Ah. All right.” She turned to Twilight, their eyes meeting, and she lifted her hoof towards the guard before forcibly putting it down.

“I’ll be here,” Twilight said and lowered her voice. “It’ll be fine.”

“Yes. Yes! Of course! Yes. Perfect. Splendid. Fabu—”

“Rarity?” called the King.

“Coming, Papa!” With one last pained look to Twilight, she turned around and marched into the room, one of the guards closing the door behind her.

None of them spoke to Twilight after that.

They simply stood there, waiting in position, and Twilight did little else but glance at the door, quietly take her position next to them, and wait.

The door opened moments later, however, much sooner than Twilight had anticipated, and she felt a knot in her stomach when Rarity came out looking rather pale and stricken.

“Twilight,” she said with as much joy as one would express in a morgue. “Will you please join us? It seems this little affair involves the both of us.”

The both of them.

In a single second, Twilight’s entire world screeched to a halt.

If it wasn’t because he was sick, there was only one other reason King Platinum would need to urgently speak to both of them, and that reason was possibly the one thing Twilight feared most in the world.

He knew about her and Rarity. Somehow, they’d been caught.

“Right,” said Twilight. “Right. Yes. All right.”

As she followed Rarity into the room, the door closing behind them with a slam much like a judge’s gavel, Twilight Sparkle reflected on all the ways they had brought this on themselves. They could have been more discreet. They shouldn’t have ever trusted the personal guard. She should have known someone would betray them. If she’d been smart, she’d have never told anypony at all.

In fact, if she had been truly smart, she would have never engaged the princess in such ways to begin with.

“Twilight. Grand to see you again,” warmly greeted the King, turning away from the window and towards the guard. He gestured towards a sitting pillow on the floor. “Thank you for joining us. Won’t you sit?”

The king, as far Twilight could tell, did not look angry. He did not look ready to exile her, or throw her in the dungeons, or have her branded a traitor for contaminating the kingdom’s purebred line.

If anything, he simply looked as he had this morning.

Tired. Very, very tired.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” she said after a bow, and when she took her place next to Rarity, the two young mares shared a glance that Twilight hoped expressed how much she loved her and how sorry she was.

The king walked back to the window and stared outside, at the city, and the houses, and the storm that refused to leave.

“What weather!” he exclaimed and then went back to contemplating the outside.

It was harrowing.

“Papá?” prompted Rarity, finally, her voice more than a little nervous. “Is something the matter?”

“Yes, there is, Rarity. I’ve heard rumors,” began the king, still looking out the window. “Rumors concerning both of you.”

Rarity, somehow, turned paler, and Twilight could already see the young princess being punished. Reprimanded. Sent away. Because of her.

And wasn’t it her duty to protect the princess?

“Please!” she blurted out despairingly, standing up. “Please, King Platinum! It was my fault! I convinced her to do it! If you’re going to punish somepony, it should be me!”

“Twilight?! Have you gone mad?!” gasped Rarity, and soon enough it was her that was standing up. “No! Don’t listen to her! It was me! I roped her into it! It was my idea! Punish me!

“Why would I punish you?” the king interrupted, finally turning to them with a gentle smile. “Feeding our people isn’t a crime. Asking for permission to might have been nice, however.”

Twilight Sparkle liked to think she had a grand vocabulary, and yet no word in the dictionary described the relief that crashed through her. She fell down on her hindlegs, taking on an entirely new appreciation for life.

Rarity laughed, out of nerves or relief, Twilight couldn’t tell.

“Well... Well, you know what they say! Better ask for forgiveness than permission!”

The king laughed, and then coughed again, but smiled as soon as he composed himself. “Isn’t it? Great kings often can’t wait to ask for permission to do what is needed,” he said. “Kings must do what is needed no matter the cost.” He paused. “Queens, too.”

“Papá,” Rarity began. “Wha—”

“How are your lessons with Inkwell going?” the king interrupted, returning to the same window Twilight had earlier looked through. “Good? You haven’t fallen asleep in the middle of political science again, have you?”

“No, of course not,” protested the princess, despite having done just that three weeks ago.

“Good, good! Good,” said the king, and then nothing more for a minute until he tapped a hoof against the window. “Damn weather.”

“Papá?” Rarity asked carefully. “Pa—”

“A doctor from Saddle Arabia came to see me today,” he said, and what a haunting sensation when his voice cracked slightly. “I’m sick, as you know.”

“But you’re getting better! Aren’t you?” Rarity said, smiling as brightly as she could. “That’s what the doctor said? Didn’t he? You’re getting better.”

The king said nothing for a moment before turning back towards his daughter, and what horror Twilight felt at seeing the expression in his wet eyes.

His eyes flickered towards her.

“Twilight. I’m sorry. I’ve changed my mind. Will you please give me a moment alone wi—”

“No!” exclaimed Rarity, her own eyes now wet as she grabbed on to whatever she could grab. “No! No, let her stay! Please.” Gripping Twilight’s armor with the little strength one could muster in such a scenario, she turned to her father. “Are you dying? Are you? Are you dying? Father, are—”

“Yes,” he said, quietly. “It would seem so, yes.”

Silence followed. Loud, screaming, deafening.

“No,” Rarity said.

The king moved towards her. “Rar—”

“No!” she exclaimed, sitting up and stamping her hoof against the ground and then pointing said hoof at him. “No, you look fine! You look fine! Papá, you look fine!”

He stepped towards her. “I know it’s hard to accept, my diamond, but—”

Rarity stepped back. “No,” she said, her tears clouding her eyes. “No! There must be something you can do!”

“Not everything can be fixed, Ra—”

“Yes, it can!” she yelled, her voice cracking. “Everything can be fixed! Where’s the doctor?! I want to see him! I want another one! You can’t die!” And with that, she rushed out the room, calling out despairingly. “Mother?! Mother?!”

“Your Highness!” Twilight called out, rushing towards the door. “Your High—”

“Twilight.”

Twilight froze in spot and then turned around to face the stallion, who only offered her the same gentle smile he’d somehow managed to sport all day.

“Stay, please,” he said, gesturing towards the pillow.

Twilight could do nothing but obey, walking towards the cushion and sitting down like a child waiting for the adult to speak. She felt strange. Everything felt disconnected, as though her body was moving but her mind was somewhere far, far away.

The king trotted over to a nearby bookcase and looked over the books, finally taking one and examining it for a moment before putting it back.

He turned to her.

“Your duties will change when I’m gone,” he said. “Iron Accord will be with you during the transition process.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

The king walked over and sat in front of her, and it baffled Twilight how somepony could remain so collected in such a situation.

“You’ve grown,” he noted. “Certainly much more than my daughter has, at le—”

“Your Majesty,” Twilight cut-off, the words tumbling out her mouth before she could stop them. “How long…” She drifted off, finding herself unable to even voice it.

“That depends on what you mean. How long have I been sick, or how long do I have? The latter, very little. Very, very little time,” he said and then stopped to cough again. “The former… Months now. I knew this was coming for a long time. There’s a reason Fancy Pants has been taking my place in so many meetings. I might have had more time if this storm hadn’t hit us, perhaps.”

The news hit Twilight like a sword plunged into her heart.

“Do you think she’s ready?” he asked.

“Yo-Your Majesty?”

“My daughter,” he said, getting up and walking towards a desk on which there was a little porcelain figurine of the crown princess herself. He delicately took it in his hooves and asked again, “Do you think she’s ready?”

Twilight swallowed. “I… Your Majesty, I…”

“You may speak freely, Twilight. You are the only pony in this castle that knows her better than perhaps she knows herself.”

“No,” Twilight said, and guilt swept through her. “I don’t know.”

She didn’t know if Rarity was ready, and in truth, she wasn’t certain she herself was ready for Rarity to be queen.

The moment Rarity put on that crown, what they had would be almost impossible to continue. It was a miracle they’d gone so long already, but with every kingdom in the land now having their eyes on Rarity, well…

“I don’t know if she’s ready,” Twilight repeated, slowly.

“This will make her ready,” the king said and grinned. “She takes after me! Only learning the hard way.” His smile faded and tears again wet his eyes as he turned the figurine around in magic. “Damn weather.”

“Yo-Your Majesty,” Twilight said, “I’m sorry.”

“It is what it is, Twilight,” he replied. “Sooner or later, whether they’re ready or not, all little princesses must one day become queens.”

✶✶✶✶✶

Author's Note:

Have an early Xmas present in the shape of the first chapter of the last ever installment of my take on the Bodyguard!AU.

This AU has played a large role in my growth as a writer, and as I transition out of fanfic and into original content, it's only fitting bodyguard!AU is given a BANGING SEND-OFF in the shape of a probably 50k multichapter.

Updates will come as soon as THE GODS ALLOW IT, which should hopefully be once or twice a month.

As always, if you see any typos, let me know please (preferably via PM) <3