• Published 1st Mar 2019
  • 1,256 Views, 470 Comments

Haycartes' Pluperfect Method - Kris Overstreet

Twilight Sparkle has trapped herself in a shelf full of books. Will she survive- or will she lose herself to the story?

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BRAY TO QUARTERS Chapter 9: the Talents of Iron Press

Dawn found Twilight Sparkle pacing the captain’s usual patch of the quarterdeck, trying to put her thoughts in order. She still couldn’t remember how Haycartes’ spell went, with or without her modifications. More than anything, she wanted to remember that spell- remember how to break that spell to end this nightmare and make it just a story in a book again, just words on a page instead of living ponies, bleeding ponies, dying ponies…

Dipple-Dapple stepped carefully around Twilight’s bit of the deck, carrying the log line over his shoulder. Casting the log happened several times a day during a cruise. The master’s mate (Dapple) hurled a bit of wood tied to a line (the log) off the stern of the ship and into the ocean. Another mate would stand by with a minute-glass. As the ship sailed on, the ocean would grab and pull at the log, causing the line to run out. The log line had knots tied into it at regular intervals; as the line paid out. Dapple counted each knot that passed until the sand in the minute-glass ran out. That gave the ship’s speed in nautical miles per hour… or knots, as they were actually recorded.

It was all arbitrary and ridiculous, even if it did work. But the ritual fascinated Twilight, so she stopped and watched as the log went over the stern, as Dapple and his assistant watched the glass, counted the knots, and then hauled the soaking wet line back into the ship.

“How fast?” Twilight asked.

“Seven and a half, ma’am,” Dapple answered.

“Thank you.” That didn’t sound very fast- on land, it was a hair slower than a trotting pace most ponies could keep up indefinitely. But Hornsparker’s memories resonated with pride; seven and a half knots was a respectable speed for a sailing ship of war. Cumpleanos was slower and much clumsier, being by far the older and heavier ship. Given a decent wind, Lydia could sail rings around her.

And she’d need to. Fifty guns of heavier caliber than anything Lydia carried would perforate the frigate like a sheet of stamps given half a chance. And the Cumpleanos carried half again as many ponies as Lydia, which meant they could swarm the frigate in an organized boarding action. Twilight had captured the Maredrid ship more from force of surprise than anything else- an advantage she wouldn’t get a second time. Her best hopes for victory lay in staying well clear of Cumpleanos and peppering her bow or stern while avoiding her broadsides.

Hornsparker’s mental mutterings rose to intelligibility, talking about contingency plans for which ship lay closer to the wind, the strength of the wind, wave motion, and the presence or absence of land. Twilight resumed her pacing, listening carefully to the voices in her head nopony else could hear, forgetting any further work on Haycartes’.

Then a smooth voice broke through the mental conference: “Anything I can do to help, captain?”

“YAAAAAHH!!” Twilight nearly jumped over the rail from surprise.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Iron Press said, having come right up next to Twilight before Thornbush or the other officers could think to stop him. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Of course, at this delicate and embarrassing moment, Hornsparker made a sudden push for control. Sorry? SORRY?? Does this useless ornament of the Canterlot society circle have any notion how difficult it is to find a private moment to think on a warship? The presumption! The utter gall! Why, I’m going to-

It was all Twilight could do to keep Hornsparker from taking control of her voice, and from Iron Press’s point of view the ship’s captain worked her jaw without a sound, obviously speechless with rage. Had Twilight known it, her expression at that moment bore a passing resemblance to Xipe Totec’s default face.

“Ah.” The blond unicorn took a step backwards and bowed to Twilight. “Obviously I’ve broken a rule of the ship. Nobody told me you were not to be disturbed. I’m deeply sorry.”

The calm voice, and the sight of a Canterlot lord bowing to an untitled ship’s captain, soothed Hornsparker’s rage enough to allow Twilight to regain complete control again. “Please do not disturb me before eight bells in the morning again,” she said, forcing herself to use a calm, quiet voice. “This is my private thinking time.”

“I’m very sorry,” Iron Press repeated. “And I completely understand. My brother is similarly, er, displeased when others disturb him before he’s had his morning coffee.” Before Twilight could ask why Iron Press had done just that, he continued, “I was going to invite you to breakfast. Your cook says he has some preserves he traded for with a fishing boat in Panamane harbor-“

“I breakfast alone,” Twilight said hurriedly before Hornsparker could erupt again. After a moment she added, “But perhaps you would permit me to host my officers for dinner in the after cabin this afternoon? You, of course, would join us.”

“I would be delighted to be a guest at your table,” Iron Press said, kneeling again.

Dinner was a success, satisfying everyone- except Hornsparker. The phantom personality sneered at Iron Press’s literary preferences (he favored romantic poetry, while Hornsparker strongly preferred serious nonfiction and carefully structured classical prose) and mocked his natural ability to guide a conversation without dominating it, drawing out Thornbush, Clay and Mustang and subtly squelching Wildrider.

Then the cards came out for whist, Thornbush and Mustang abstaining, and the first hand made Hornsparker a believer. Twilight drew Iron Press for her partner, and the stallion played boldly and surely, leading the partner ship to grand slam, catching every trick even though they had no spade tricks in hand. Several more rubbers followed, and Hornsparker’s opinion rose with every hand. By the time the game broke up, Hornsparker had begun complimenting Iron Press’s erudition and intelligence.

… and you notice he never places himself on his dignity as a lord of the realm? He can draw Thornbush out on his time with Admiral Patcheye on the Shadespony, gloss over Clay’s childish outbursts, and evade Wildrider’s bawdy talk. He was the soul of the party! I’ve never seen a stallion so clever and so modest at the same time!

Twilight grumbled. The mental gabble had been loud and nonstop since the party, and she couldn’t work on breaking the spell or planning for the battle ahead while it went on. Fine, she thought as she lay on her cot in Thornbush’s cabin. I agree. He’s perfect, because of course he is. Wonderful. Let’s marry him.

That changed the note of the babble. My Plum Dumpling, poor plain thing he is, couldn’t have done a tenth as well. He’s too plain, too blunt-speaking, too class-conscious. And he hasn’t got the intelligence to debate literature with Wildrider or play whist on my level…

And then the babble trailed off. Hornsparker apparently didn’t like even thinking about Plum Dumpling. For the first time, the spell-memories resisted Twilight’s demands for information.

Oh, no. You don’t get off there. How did you get married in the first place?

Flashes of memory got pried out, one by one: a landlady’s son, worshipful of a young war-hero, even one on pay stoppages during the brief peace; a moment’s whim based on pity and, apparently, Hornsparker’s cross-grained nature, leading to the altar, regretted frequently ever since; a dutiful but loveless marriage on her part, to the extent of birthing a son- wait, what??- who caught pox while Hornsparker was away on a command, dying the very night she returned from a patrol of the Dragonland coasts. Another son, born shortly thereafter, currently in Plum Dumpling’s care back in Baltimare.

Twilight groaned louder. Oh, Celestia, she thought. An absent spouse of a loveless marriage with a child, and then thousands of miles away the literal perfect stallion shows up. How stupid can this get?

The heck of it is, if I were only reading this, I might enjoy it. But I’m too close. I can’t enjoy Hornsparker’s character development because I’m Hornsparker! I’m the one living all this! And it’s not fun!

And the worst part is, I can’t put the book down. I can’t even try to change the story. And every decision I make seems to be the wrong one…

Groaning louder, Twilight put out the little safety-lantern and let herself fall asleep. She needed rest: after all, they might find the Cumpleanos at any moment.

Or vice versa.

Author's Note:

There's a loud, drunken party in the hotel room next to mine- nothing, I add, to do with the convention. The convention is a good ten miles away.

And yes, this is pretty close to how Hornblower changes his opinion of Barbara in the original book; he's impressed by her conduct at dinner, but it's the whist game which turns his opinion positive for the first time, and by the end of the chapter it's obvious that, for all his internal grumblings, he's totally infatuated with her... and doesn't know it.

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