• Published 1st Mar 2019
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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 7: The Passenger

Twilight leaned against the ship’s rail- this pose makes me look like an idle midshipman, Hornsparker grumbled in her head- and stared out at the busy roadstead of the harbor of Panamane. The city of Panamane connected two trans-continental trade routes- the hazardous road through the Forbidden Jungle that led northeast, and the even more hazardous caravan path through the Scorching Deserts to the southeast- with the coastal trade of Maredrid’s settlements. Creatures from around the world walked the quays, rowed the boats that surrounded Lydia, walked the streets of the tropical port city less than half a mile off the Lydia’s bow.

Twilight didn’t want to be there. She wanted to be safe in bed in her castle in Ponyville, but failing that she wanted to be either halfway back to the Cape or back on the Nickeraguan coast hunting down Cumpleanos before Xipe Totec could hurt any more ponies. But Hornsparker had made the case that she needed the latest news before she tried to put things right, lest she risk making things worse. That meant a courtesy call at the viceroy’s palace, and Twilight would need Hornsparker’s spell-crafted knowledge of the fictional protocol of the setting to get through it.

Not that Hornsparker was much help at the moment, because of course not. The fictional unicorn captain spent half her time moaning about how her naval career was over. No, it didn’t matter that she followed orders to the letter and performed better than anyone else could be expected to. The Admiralty would seek a scapegoat to distract ponies from the foolish, selfish orders they had given, and that meant Hornsparker would be hung out to dry once she returned home, laid up onshore, never to command again.

The other half of Hornsparker’s thoughts, even more futile and useless (and therefore annoying), centered around the personal letter that had come with the coast guard lugger. Twilight had read and re-read it, and it still didn’t make any sense:

Gran Coral, Panamane

Lord Iron Press presents his compliments to Captain Hornsparker of the Equestrian frigate Lydia. He requests that she will be so good as to convey himself and his servant back to Equestria via sail, as owing to an outbreak of boogie fever in the continental interior he cannot return home as he came.

The letter, short as it was, made no sense. Hornsparker recognized the name: Iron Press was the sole surviving male of three children, the other two being the Marquess Wroughtiron and the Equestrian general Lady Cold Iron. The Iron clan claimed descent from Princess Platinum herself, and thus represented the top tier of Canterlot aristocracy. But what was a top-rank Canterlot lord- and a non-combatant, non-diplomat, moreover- doing on this side of the continent at all? How did he even get here, since the pony tribes of the Forbidden Jungle were perpetually hostile to outsiders, and half the oasis cities of the Scorching Desert lay in the hooves of Neighpoleon?

Of course, once he got here, not wanting to go back through a plague zone was perfectly understandable. Twilight had been born (in the real world) shortly after the last major outbreak of boogie fever, a dreadful disease that combined thick nasal runoff with an exhausting compulsion to literally dance until you dropped. (The disease also made otherwise perfectly sane ponies think massive lapels, bell-bottom cuffs, and massive gold-chain necklaces were fashionable.) In Twilight’s time, of course, the disease was treatable, but a century before it had been the terror of the tropics, with ponies falling dead from exhaustion or dehydration (or embarrassment).

But disease or not, putting the lord on a ship about to go into battle was just plain crazy. Hornsparker might be terrified of crossing the Iron clan, with the damage that would do her already-doomed career. But Twilight had grown up in Canterlot and, at Celestia’s side, had seen the worst the unicorn nobility had to offer. She didn’t fear it. Sure, if you let one of the aristocrats get the upper hoof they’d make your life miserable, but if you started out with a firm but polite refusal to be bullied, they’d back down.

And sure enough, just as Twilight, in her slightly jungle-damaged best uniform, was about to order her barge to row her ashore, she spotted a figure standing in one of the dozens of boats going back and forth across the harbor between shore and ships. The unicorn in question was unmistakably a Canterlot noble, with his pristine linen shirt and the rose in a lapel-hole that matched his cutie mark. He wasn’t as blatantly handsome (or foppish-looking) as Blueblood- his muzzle was a little too long and narrow, for one thing- but his long blonde mane and his light-colored blue-gray coat enhanced the comparison.

But Twilight spotted one very clear difference; where Blueblood would either wear a superior smirk or an expression of pure horror at being exposed to so many plebian ponies at once, this stallion barely appeared to notice the world around him. His eyes remained fixed with what might be determination or annoyance (or just possibly gas) at the Lydia, though not at Twilight herself.

Twilight felt a sudden rage and revulsion at the sight- totally illogical, without any apparent reason. She stepped back from the railing, wondering what had caused the ungenerous feeling towards the newcomer. Then she sensed the muttering of the Hornsparker memories: just another useless noble, incompetent and arrogant, knowing we ordinary ponies must bow and scrape and dare not tell the truth to them, how dare this dog-faced idiot demand passage as if he owns this ship, probably swiving his way around the world in the middle of a war for the survival of all Equestria…

Twilight leaned back over the railing to look down in the boat, which had drawn quite close to Lydia’s sides by now. She took a second look at the unicorn, who was chiding a donkey manservant for some reason or other. She noticed how the surroundings seemed to blur away into nothing unless she forced herself to look away from the presumed Iron Press, and how Hornsparker’s angry, frustrated mutterings in her head seemed to increase in volume the more she looked into that boat.

And then it clicked. Ah. Enter the novel’s love interest. The romantic subplot.

Romantic? HAH! Hornsparker barked sarcastically.

Twilight turned to a nearby crewman- Dipple-Dapple, one of the sailing-master’s mates- and said, “See to the needs of that pony. He will be joining us.”

Over my dead body! Hornsparker shouted in Twilight’s head.

Listen, Twilight snapped back. Do you want to be in a romantic entanglement with him?

The wave of negative reaction made her head feel swimmy, almost costing her control.

I didn’t think so, she continued, regaining her mental balance. Well, guess what? Neither do I. So you just leave this to me, and I’ll see to it that you’re never anything more than friends. If that.

Hornsparker’s thoughts gave out another derisive snort, but subsided, choosing for whatever reason not to push for control. Mental calm arrived just in time, for the unicorn came over the side at that point, followed by the miserable-looking donkey, who had apparently missed his grab for the boarding-ladder and taken a dunking in the bay for his troubles.

Dipple-Dapple, alert to his duty, stepped forward and saluted the noble. “Welcome aboard, sir,” he said. “Shall I see to the loading of your dunnage?”

“If you’d be so kind.” The voice was steady and confident, but not the supercilious drawl of the most toxic variety of Canterlot aristocrat. “But first, would you please present me to your captain?”

Dipple-Dapple gestured to Twilight, who stood a mere five hooves away. “Here she is, sir,” he said. “If you’ll pardon me, please?” Without waiting for dismissal, he began bellowing orders to some idle seaponies, who began rigging a cargo net for the multiple trunks and crates waiting in the boat below.

Twilight ignored Hornsparker’s desire to stand to rigid attention and present the minimum accommodation to the visitor. She instead smiled and extended a hoof. “Captain Tw… Captain Hornsparker, commanding Celestia’s frigate Lydia, at your service, sir.”

Blueblood might have stared in incomprehension or revulsion at the hoof of a commoner, or (if the commoner was a couple grades more attractive than Twilight thought herself to be) might kiss it in a blatant and transparent first overture to seduction. The visitor did neither. After a moment’s surprise, he raised his own hoof and met Twilight’s, shaking it firmly if not with any particular warmth. “Iron Press, social secretary to my sister Marquess Wrought Iron, governor-general of the Equestrian mission in the Far East.” Releasing Twilight’s hoof, he continued, “I trust you received my note requesting passage.”

“Yes, I did,” Twilight said. “But before we accept you on board, I have to warn you. This ship is going into combat soon against another ship of twice our weight of arms.”

“The Cumpleanos, yes,” Iron Press nodded. “I heard the gossip as I was hiring the boat.”

“And assuming we survive that, we then have to go back around the Great Southern Cape, past the reefs of Mount Aris and the treacherous weather of the Stormlands,” Twilight continued. “Considering the dangers, I advise that the cross-country trek is the less dangerous road home.”

“I mentioned boogie fever in my note, you know,” Iron Press said. “We heard this morning that two oasis towns are all but wiped out because of it. We expect it in Panamane at any time. I myself saw ponies dancing the Magic Slide and shearing pollies for their polliester to make clothes.”

“Yes, and that’s another thing,” Twilight asked. “Pardon me asking, but how in Celestia’s name did you even get here?”

“The packet which was to carry me to the Far East met with a Maredrid privateer,” Iron Press said, matter-of-factly. “I was imprisoned for a month in a Maredrid trading post on the eastern coast when the boogie fever broke out there. My captors sent me, my servant, and my personal baggage overland to Panamane. Halfway here we heard of Maredrid’s changing sides.” With a glint in his eye and a half-smile, he added, “And that, captain, is how I spent my summer vacation. Do I get an A?”

Twilight couldn’t help but laugh. “Okay, you got me there,” she said. “If you really think a ship in battle is safer than a fever outbreak, then welcome aboard. I’m giving you my cabin- sorry it’s not much, but-“

“I’ve sailed on a frigate before,” Iron Press said. “This is my third time around the Great Southern Cape, and I’ve journeyed to Mareitania and the Far East a couple of times as well.”

“Then you’ll understand that most of that,” Twilight added, pointing to the net full of luggage which was just being swayed over the rail towards the deck, “will have to go into the hold. You’ll need to separate out only your barest essentials until we make a friendly port.”

“Already done,” Iron Press said. “The green sea chest-“ He pointed to one near the bottom of the net, almost the smallest of the dozen or so pieces of luggage. “It holds everything I need while on board. Store the rest wherever is convenient for you.”

“Very good!” Twilight almost turned to go, then stopped. “One more thing, before I leave you in the hooves of my second in command, Lieutenant Thornbush.”

“Yes?”

Twilight’s smile faded. “Can you give me any hints on how to get through a meeting with the viceroy?”

Iron Press tapped his chin. “That depends,” he said. “How good are you at staying sober?”

I’m showing far too much familiarity and indiscipline in front of the crew, Hornsparker muttered. This will lead to disrespect. And I can’t believe I’m flattering this… this…

Reasonable and well-adjusted pony? Twilight remarked mentally. Suffer. I’m making you a friend whether you like it or not. Because I don’t have time right now to deal with a romance, especially not with a character in a book.

Bah, Hornsparker muttered. By the way, the answer to his question is: not very. If drinking is expected, then it will be a long interview indeed…

Author's Note:

1/3 written waiting on tires in Liberty, TX (until the bench became too uncomfortable for me to focus), the rest written in the past hour in my hotel room in Ocean Springs, MS (after a lot of driving, booth setup, and an hour driving around for a non-burger fast-food option, including twenty minutes in line at Whataburger).

The next couple of chapters are going to be quite short- not just because I'm busy, but because there's a lot of stuff in the original book I'm going to skim over or miss altogether. I'm pretty sure you're not interested in me rewriting the gripping "Hornblower Unhooks an Anchor From a Reef" scene, nor do I particularly care to rewrite historical details when this whole historical period is pure fiction in Twilight's "real world". We'll see if I get back to the Cumpleanos before I get back to Texas...

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