• Published 8th Jul 2019
  • 1,562 Views, 362 Comments

The Rains of Vanhoover - kudzuhaiku

It was raining in Vanhoover. It was always raining in Vanhoover.

  • ...

And into the vegetable bin of sin

A palace. The rains fell upon a palace. His ward had called it such, the tremendous building that was the library and the carriage house. Of course, his ward had never actually seen a palace, and only had the barest of descriptions to go by. The brick building had started out as a factory, but if he squinted in just the right way, and tilted his head off to one side, and then the other, Nut too could sort of see a palace. But only if one went by verbal descriptions.

There was a tower rising up from the middle of it all, a belltower. Once, long ago, the bell rang out to announce shift changes. Now it served as an observatory for the library, and several telescopes could be found up there. The structure, once open to the elements, now had windows, shutters, and was really a cosy place. Alas, the bell was now long gone, and Nut had no clue as to its fate. Perhaps it had been melted down for scrap.

With his new perspective, Nut had himself a look around. Black Maple’s Alehouse & Inn made up the other half of the ‘horseshoe’ that surrounded the cul-de-sac that was Carriage Row Lane. These buildings alone were larger than anything in the Widowwood put together. The sheer enormity of these structures were more than enough to swallow up everything that Tater Blossom had known growing up.

Nut had a glimmer of understanding that he was unprepared for.

He’d always taken these structures for granted. They were ugly, hideous by Canterlot standards. Crude. Big and boxy, with hard edges and sharp corners. These places had never been constructed with aesthetics in mind, but practical, utilitarian concerns. For being an eyesore by Nut’s standard, they were a palace for Tater Blossom.

There was mold in the mortar between the bricks. Some of the bricks had crumbled a bit. In some places, the wall had been damaged, and new, different bricks were added as replacements. Lichens and moss could be seen. Hardy fungi, sparse grass, and weeds grew in the narrow bands of dirt between the brick walls and the cobblestone road.

“Food, Mister Nut.”

His companion sounded more than a little cross.

“Oh, yes. Of course. Dreadfully sorry. You mentioned that it looks like a palace.”

“And then you went all still and was a-starin’ upwards. If it wasn’t for the umbrella, a bird coulda pooped in yer eye. Or a pegasus with wicked intentions.”

Oh, he knew a pegasus with wicked intentions; Tater Blossom was about to go and meet her. She was still damp from her shower and given the state of the weather, it was unlikely that she’d dry until she stood near the massive fireplace in Black Maple’s Alehouse & Inn. But going there meant facing Black Maple, and Nut, he was quite unprepared for that.

“Come, Miss Blossom, we must be going.”

Intense warmth struck Nut in the face as the door was opened. It made his skin feel taut, his eyes watered a bit, and then he caught the smell of what could only be described as home. Fried potatoes. Garlicky pretzels. Clam chowder. The somewhat bittersweet perfume of ale. Coal burning in the grate. Hot wood, which couldn’t be described exactly, but one knew it when one smelled it.

The only thing not welcome here was the chill.

Tater Blossom had frozen up in the doorway, so he pulled her through and shut the door behind her. A moment later, she pressed up against him, and he felt her tremble. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light. This place was dim, a bit smokey, and there was an immediate quiet that both alarmed and disturbed Nut.

“Why, ‘allo, Nutter.”

“Greetings, Mister Easton. How goes the fishing trade?”

“Can’t complain. Much.”

“Good to hear, Mister Easton.” Nut raised his closed umbrella in greeting. When he heard his companion murmur something about griffons, he waited and listened, ready to reassure her if necessary.

His eyes searched the room, trying to see if anything had changed, or if anything was out of place. The picture of Princess Celestia hung over the fireplace mantle was sporting a roguish mustachio and muttonchop combo—which really wasn’t her style. It would have to be cleaned, and, if he found the culprit, a word would be said to them in private.

There was no sign of—

Oh. There she was. In the doorway behind the bar. When he saw her, he felt a peculiar, curious sensation of disgust, revulsion, and relief. His feelings for her were quite complicated, and he feared that sorting them out might prove impossible. She was as black as wet soot, with a mane and tail that looked like whorls of frothy maple syrup fluffed into clouds. He looked at her, she stared at him, he felt a spark, a live coal that went bouncing about in his innards, and at that moment, he wished that he’d never met her.

She was just that kind of mare.

“When my nethers moistened up rather suddenly, I knew you’d come back. I felt the sap and knew I needed a tap.”

“Miss Maple—”

“Who’s your lady friend, Nutty?”

“Miss Maple, we can—”

“She has wooden legs!” Tater Blossom blurted out as the sooty, glistening mare with suddenly-moistened nethers moved out from behind the bar.

“Miss Blossom, would you mind—”

“Wooden legs! What happened? Why do you have wooden legs?” Tater Blossom hurried forward before Nut could stop her, and made a beeline for the pegasus mare with two wooden legs.

Several of the patrons began to chortle into their drinks. Almost seething, Nut maintained his calm outward demeanour somehow. This meeting was inevitable. Unavoidable. He almost hoped that Maple and his ward wouldn’t get along, but life hated him far too much to allow for such good fortune. All of his pent up emotion, his frustration, all of his everything came out as a gentle, polite sigh of resigned stoicism.

“Well, one day, I was delivering me some growlers out to other islands, and I was flying over the deeps. You know how your mother tells you not to do something, because it is dangerous, and you could get hurt?” Expectant, crazy-eyed, Black Maple waited for a response.

And sure enough, Tater Blossom gave her one. “I sure ‘nuff do. My Ma told me all kinds of things I shouldn’t do, and I’m already doin’ some of them. I came to the big city, and now I’m in a house o’ whores.”

When Black Maple laughed, Nut was certain it must smell like acerglyn, or maybe rye. Nut immediately regretted trying to delicately explain to Tater Blossom what sort of tavern this was. He’d tried so hard to put it into polite, civilised terms, and it was all for naught. Even worse, the two of them seemed to like one another, and this was awful, just plain awful.

His life might very well be over.

“Well, my mother, she told me to never fly low over the deeps. But I did it anyway, because I’m that kind of gal. I love skating over the surface of the water, and out over the deeps, the water is so calm and placid. When my hooves trail over the surface, it kicks up a spray of diamonds. It was something that I loved.”

“So what happened?”

“An orca happened. A big killer whale. It comes up out of the deeps without warning, just a few bubbles that I didn’t notice until it was too late, and CHOMP! My front legs go right down his gullet! I’m positive that he wanted to bite me and drag me under, but he bit too hard, and my legs were snipped right off! I almost crashed into the water, but I saved myself, and I flew off. But at a proper altitude, because I’d just learned my lesson. Now, I have wooden legs up front. And I use them to kick Nut in the leg.”

“It’s true, she does do that,” he said as he approached.

“Usually when he’s being long-winded.”

Now silenced, he glared daggers at Black Maple.

“That’s just awful.” Tater Blossom was clearly horrified. “I’m so sorry that happened.”

“Eh, I’ll live. Now. I’ve told you a story, it seems only fair to give you a chance to explain why you’re with my Nut.”

“Oh, I didn’t know—”

“We are not a couple,” he interjected.

“Shut it, Nut, or it’ll be your shins.” Black Maple leaned in closer to Tater Blossom, and looked at the filly up and down. She sniffed once, then twice, and then with a smile, she scooted just a little bit closer. “Nut hasn’t tapped your source of sap, so you’ll live.”

Tater Blossom’s face turned a very ruddy shade of red.

“Miss Maple, I would love to explain everything that has transpired. My ward is hungry, and truth be told, I am as well. It has been quite a trying time and—my shins! Bother and blast, why must you do that, mare?” Baring his teeth, he went fumbling about while trying to rub his front legs together to ease the sting. “Vulgar whoremonger!”

Throwing back her head, Black Maple roared with laughter as she wrapped her wing around Tater Blossom’s neck. After a brief hug, she said to the young filly in her embrace, “Go take a seat. I’ll bring out food and drink. You owe me a story, but it has to be you, Miss. If Nut tells it, we’ll be here all night.”

“I would love a drink of water.”

“Oh.” Mindful that his shins faced mortal peril, Nut backed away as he spoke to Tater Blossom. “I am reminded. You must never drink the water that comes out of the faucet here.”

“Why?” Tater Blossom asked.

“Because if you do, you’ll have the explosive splatters, that’s why. Potable water is an expensive luxury, love. Beer and wine are cheap. Fermentation kills the bacteria and germs in the water.” With her wing still around the filly’s neck, Black Maple offered up another gentle squeeze. “I’ll bring ya some soft fizzy cider, so you won’t be smashed, Miss.”

“Why, thank you, Miss Maple. That is considerate.”

“Go sit down, Nut. I’m itching to hear this story.”

He nodded, and felt oddly jealous as Black Maple pulled her wing away from Tater Blossom. All of his worst fears manifested; they seemed to like one another. As terrible as this was, he was relieved, there was no denying that. If anypony could help Tater Blossom adjust after all of the bad things that happened, it would be Black Maple.

Whatever good cheer Black Maple once had was now departed. Nut ate his chowder in near-silence, saying very little. Across the table, Tater Blossom scarfed down yet-another plate of fried potatoes, and she showed no signs of slowing. He was quite proud of his pupil; she had done a fine job of recounting the tale, even the parts of it most painful to her.

The pegasus beside Tater Blossom was now a pissed-off thunderhead, an angry stormcloud that spewed vile, ear-rending profanities like thunderbolts. Black Maple was a passionate mare who had little in the way of self-control. Had she been there, violence would have been the only outcome. Of this, he was certain.

As he licked his spoon, he realised just how much he loathed her lack of self-control.

She did whatever she felt like, at the spur of the moment, with no thought of consequences. It was amazing that she was even potty trained. She drank copiously, scratched herself in public, had atrocious manners, and possessed a thoroughly ribald sense of humour. He watched as she gulped some of her rye, and couldn’t help himself; there was something about her that intrigued him.

“Nut… Nut… Nut—”

“What is it, Miss Maple?”

“What the fronk is wrong with you, Nut?”

“Excuse me, Miss Maple, I don’t follow what you—”

“You wordy bastard!”

“I assure you, my parentage is not in question!”

“You dense, wordy bastard… how could you?”

“How could I what? Make sense, mare. You accuse me of being wordy, but it is you that fails in their proper application of basic communication!”

She glared at him over the top of her glass of rye and he saw thunder in her eyes.

“Look at her, Nut. Just look at that shiner. That’s no common black eye, that’s gotta be bone bruising. I’ve had shiners like that, and the fact that she is up and moving around mystifies me. I’d be lying in bed bawling if that was me. I’d be too woozy to walk. She’s got bruises all over. Her lip is split, and I don’t understand how she’s eating the spicy potatoes. And you… you—”

“What about me?” Nut demanded.

“Why didn’t some heads go rolling?” Black Maple shouted.

“Because enough violence had been done already,” he replied with total calm. “The last thing she needs is to watch me eviscerate her family and everypony she’s ever known or loved. Think about what you are saying, Miss Maple. Do you really want her traumatised in such a fashion?”

“Yes!” Black Maple snapped. “Trauma or no, she needs to know that there is some justice in the world, you thoughtless lout! You didn’t have to kill nopony… maybe just carve the word ‘shame’ into her mother’s face or something. I don’t know. Anything is better than nothing! Show some feeling, damn you!”

There was a loud thump that turned heads as Black Maple dropped her wooden front legs upon the table to rest them there. He sat watching her face contorting with her rage, twisting, grimacing, scowling, every awful colour in the horrible rainbow of impotent fury. At this moment, Nut was positive that eggs could be fried on her forehead, and her ears had to be on fire.

“You said Nut was yours.”

Black Maple’s mood shifted with whiplash speed. “He is. Make no mistake. I’ve marked him. Which means he’s mine.”

There was no point in arguing it; she would just go back to her state of fury. Instead, he ate more of his clam chowder while wearing his most passive-aggressive expression of disapproval. It would drive her nuts, him not responding, and he found that he rather liked that notion—sometimes. If he maintained his calm, she would soon be shoved right over the edge.

“Well, I’m his ward, I guess, so what does that make me and you?”

“Besties,” Black Maple replied without hesitation.

The sound of Nut’s spoon clattering in his bowl was almost as loud as his snort.

“I’m gonna help fix you up, and you’ll be pretty. But not in a whorish way. Mrs. Oleander would get her tail in a knot. I’m gonna teach you about girly things, because I’m pretty sure all that was neglected back home. You know, this is my chance to show Nut that I can be a nurturing, loving, attentive type. And maybe he’ll come around, who knows.”

“Dubious, to say the very least—”

“Shut the fronk up, Nutty! You will come around!”

Watching her squirm in her chair was almost as satisfying as drinking the ale she made. Black Maple Ale. Sweet. Smokey. Comfort in a mug. He reached out, raised his mug in salute, and had himself a drink. Still she squirmed. She hadn’t even noticed the appreciative gesture. Squinting, he leaned in to study her, and pulled his monocle from his pocket. Oh, she wasn’t squirming, not exactly. Oh, she was squirming, but she was wiggling her stumps inside of her prostheses again.

“Miss Maple, do you require some assistance?” As he spoke, her ears pinned back.

“I need you to tap my sap trap.”

All of her usual bluster and boisterousness was now absent. Nut was certain that she needed his assistance, but sexual innuendo and perversity were her only coping mechanisms. As much as he disliked her, he hated how she suffered even more. Tipping his mug, he had himself another swallow, spent a moment to savour its sweet, smokey flavour, and then he was suddenly lost. How had he ended up with these mares? Well, one wasn’t quite a mare, but she wasn’t exactly a filly. What was his life? He sat his mug down, licked his lips, and tried to figure how how he’d ended up in this situation.

With his voice low, he asked, “Do you need me to apply some medicine to your stumps again? Do you need bandaging?”

In response, Black Maple mocked him, and repeated what he’d said in a shrill, nasal whine. “Do you need me to apply some medicine to your stumps again? Do you need bandaging?” She snorted, and made a dismissive wave with her wing. “Do you ever listen to how you talk? You could have asked if I needed help, or if I needed help with a private matter, even. But you have to go dragging it out—”

“Just like you’re doing right now?” he asked.

“Oh, fronk you, you pretentious jerk.”

“You’re unbearable when you’re injured—”

“And you… you’re just unbearable. Period!”

With her cheeks bulging with fried potatoes, Tater Blossom watched the exchange.

“My stumps are a little raw.” Black Maple’s eyes dropped down to the table. “Been on my hooves a bit too much. You were gone, Nut… and I don’t trust nopony else to look after me. I can’t appear weak.” She was whispering now, and it was raspy and faint, like dry leaves blown through a trash-strewn ally. “I have to look tough enough to take it. You know how things are.”

“Indeed, I do,” he said with gentle patience.

“I don’t understand.” Tater Blossom spoke around a mouthful of her namesake.

“We’ll speak in private, Miss Blossom.”

“Dinner’s on the house.” Some of her boisterousness returned, and Black Maple smiled at the earth pony sitting beside her. “You told me a good story, and I think it’s cute what Nut’s doing. He’s a great guy, you know? He really is. You’ll be safe with him, sweetie. You have nothing to worry about, because he’s mine, and he knows it. Denial makes it true, you know.”

“Thanks, Miss Maple.”

“Call me Blackie, sweetie.” Stretching out her wing, she slipped it around Tater Blossom’s neck. “You stay close to him when you’re out and about, you hear? We have a slasher running about, and gangs, and young fillies just like you go missing all the time. It’s an epidemic. When they do find the missing fillies, they’re usually floating face-down in the water, or washed up on a beach. Trust me, honey, I lost my legs because I didn’t listen to my mother. You’d be wise if you listened to me.”

When Tater Blossom turned her head to look at him, Nut nodded. Everything that Black Maple had said was true, and he’d not yet had a chance to say anything about it. His ward seemed to take it well though, and he admired her bravery. Tater Blossom had remarkable resilience.

“See, that’s what I do here, sweetie.” Black Maple pulled Tater Blossom just a little bit closer and placed her lips against the filly’s ear. “I keep others safe. I might just be a low rent madam, but I keep my workers safe. The gangs can’t hurt them here. That’s why I gotta look tough. I have a reputation I gotta uphold. Can’t show no weakness. I gotta look after my workers, because nopony else will. They’re whores, but they still have value.”

“Who looks after you?” Tater Blossom asked, her ear quivering.

“Nut does. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll see it soon enough. Sweetie, there’s something about giving another creature safety. Every creature deserves it, but so few have it. Now, those rich ponies in the Upper City, they have private security to guard their mansions. And the constables, they spend more time up there than they do down here. Nut and I, we give safety. It’s what we do. It is a rare and precious thing down here, and it makes me sad that you’ll be learning all about that.”

Something in the fireplace popped, and a stream of embers was jettisoned.

“That is, indeed, something that Miss Maple and I share in common. We both understand the costs of keeping others safe. It is, perhaps, the only thing we have in common, and might very well be the only reason why I tolerate her presence at all.”

“Nut, I’m not even gonna make fun of you for talking like a pretentious twat after saying that. That was sweet of ya.”

With a roll of his eyes, he had himself a slurp of ale, and then licked the foam from his lips.

“Want to take me upstairs and shag me?” Black Maple asked.

“Merciful Celestia, no. Miss Maple, you are my orca, and I am avoiding the depths of your waters.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Asshole. What an asshole.”

“Maybe it’s you,” Tater Blossom said in a meek, helpful manner. “He treats me nice.”

For a moment, Nut worried that Black Maple would be angry—maybe even furious. For a few seconds, she had no expression at all, her face was utterly blank. But then she laughed. This transitioned into a giggle, then back to a laugh, and as she pulled Tater Blossom into a tender hug, the sooty black pegasus chuckled.

It occured to Nut that he didn’t understand mares, nor ponies in general.

“Welcome to my boudoir,” Black Maple said as she waved her wings about. “One day, I am going lure Nut in here, and churn some Nutter Butter in my crack. But for now, I’ll settle with having my stumps doctored.”

As he passed through the doorway, Nut shuddered with revulsion.

Tater Blossom froze in the middle of the room, awestruck. Her eyes were wide and her senses clearly overwhelmed as her gaze darted from one thing to another. Watching her made Nut consider just how impressive all this was, and how little attention he paid to it. What was once miraculous was now practically wallpaper to him, just something that was there, but not noticed. Visual clutter.

“What is it all?” Tater Blossom asked.

“Eh, some of it is complex maths, some of the scribbles are my notes for my yeast breeding, some of this mess are changes and tweaks to my ale recipes, and that, that right over there”—she pointed with her extended primaries—“that is a list of all the dirty, dirty things I am going to do to Nut when he finally comes around and beds me.”

Again, Nut found himself shuddering from his intense revulsion.

“Where’s the bed?” the farm filly asked.

“Oh, Miss Maple sleeps in a cupboard, like a randy and quite perverse teacup.”

“You’ll get yours, Nut,” Black Maple said dismissively. “We’ll have fillies, and they’ll all turn out like me.”

For the third time, Nut convulsed with repulsed disgust.

“Yer smart,” Tater Blossom said to the pegasus mare who sat down in a pink velvet chair.

“A little.” Black Maple leaned back, smiled, and gazed at Tater Blossom through half-open eyes. “Smarter than most, maybe. All self-taught, too. After I lost my legs, I couldn’t run around and play. I was about your age when it happened. Had to stop being a filly and grow up fast. Lots of infections. I stayed sick. Since I couldn’t be outside playing, I hid out in my nest box and studied. What choice did I have? With my front legs gone, I was gonna have to use my brain to make a living.”

Head tilted back, Tater Blossom studied the stained glass lampshade that hung from the ceiling. Nut finally came away from the door to approach Black Maple, who sat in her hot-pink velvet chair like a princess on a throne. She had trouble dealing with the straps that wrapped around her body and held her legs in place. It was complicated, just as Miss Maple was complicated, and she was not one to ask for help. Sleeping with her prostheses on made everything worse, as her stumps needed to breathe.

“May I look at yer bed?” Tater Blossom did her best to look sweet as she asked.

“Go right ahead. Just pull the door open.”

There was a soft creak as the nest box door was opened by Tater Blossom, and then the filly poked her head in. Nut heard her gasp, and as much as he wanted to smile, he didn’t want Miss Maple to think that he was enjoying himself. That… would be a catastrophe. If she happened to get the wrong idea, that is.

“It’s all sinfully red in here!”

“Oh, she’s a treasure,” Black Maple whispered to Nut whilst she pointed with her wing at the filly exploring her nest box.

Committing himself to his task, he began to undo all of the straps and buckles that held Black Maple’s legs in place. He didn’t fully understand why she had these. They were archaic. Heavy. Practically antiques. Each leg was made of wood and brass, which was as fashionable as it was stylish, but this made them heavy. Bulky. They made her front-heavy, and interfered with her flight. At least she could walk with them, but at such a cost. They caused her pain and if she wore them for too long, they rubbed her stubs raw.

“Miss Maple,” he began, prepared for the tussle sure to come. “You have unicorns in your employ. Surely you could ask for help. Why do you allow this to happen?”

“If they find out that I can’t take care of myself, they’ll think I can’t take care of them, Nut. We’ve been over this. It is a matter of perception, confidence, and trust. I’m the scrappy whorehouse madam that had her front legs nipped off by an orca in search of a tasty pegasus snack and I lived to brag about it every chance I get. That’s an image, Nut. A powerful image that others believe in. Advertising that cost me a leg and a leg. That’s a bit too expensive to risk.”

He wanted to tell her how flawed her logic was, but Miss Maple could not be assailed by mere logic. If she could survive orcas, she could survive any logic he battered her with. While he tried to wear her down with reason, she would just sit back and bat her eyelashes at him, just like she was doing right now, at this very moment.

Her eyes were the colour of pale ale.

There was a soft creak as the nest box door closed, and far too late, Nut realised that Tater Blossom had crawled inside. Just as he was about to say something, he felt a soft touch of feathers, and he heard Black Maple say, “Leave her be, Nut. She’s sleepy, that poor thing. It’s clean in there. If you really must know, I’m celibate.”

“You…”—he found himself whispering—“you’re celibate? Impossible.”

Her response was unexpected; in a quiet, soft voice she replied, “No, it’s true. I’ve been that way since… well, about a week after you and I got to know each other.”

“Excuse me if I am doubtful, Miss.”

“No, it is true, Nut. See, when you finally come around, and you will, I am going to fronk you right in half. I want to be pent up and ready, Nut.”

Harrumphing softly, he undid the last strap, slipped it over her neck, and with a gentle tug, he pulled both front legs off at the same time. When he did so, he heard a sigh of relief from Miss Maple, and he gave her a chance to enjoy the moment before he had himself a better look at her poor abused stubs. When he dared to look her in the eye, he saw that hers were glassy with tears. Both legs were set down on the floor, in the corner. If Miss Maple would not be stood in a corner, at least part of her could be.

Frustrated with her, he thought about lecturing her, but wasn’t sure what could be accomplished. Instead, he focused on her nest box. Tater Blossom was probably already asleep. He envied her. She was no doubt comfortable right now, on an impossibly plush bed, in a dark little cupboard that was shut off from the world.

“Blow on them, please? They’re so hot… I’ll behave, I promise. At least for a few minutes. Until the burning stops.”

Brows furrowing to the point of leaving deep grooves in his forehead, Nut obliged her. It was a silly thing, ridiculous in the extreme, but it did bring her comfort. She claimed that it helped to cool them off after all of the friction caused by her wooden legs. As he blew, she wiggled, and waggled, and squirmed in her chair, almost as if she was lost in orgasmic throes.

This… this was her behaving.

Pegasus ponies were impossibly visceral creatures, and he wasn’t sure if he could stand them. All of the portions of grey matter typically assigned to impulse control were re-purposed to assist flight-related functions. At the moment, her tongue lolled out and she waved both of her stumps around as he blew on them, all while wearing an expression of intense ecstasy.

It bothered him in some weird fundamental way that such a simple action on his part could leave her so happy. The whole thing was illogical. Inconsistent. It suffered a dearth of sense and sensibility. When he caught a whiff of something foul, he allowed himself no outward reaction. He hoped that she did not have yet another infection. He’d only been gone for a few days… a few days had been enough to cause this.

A part of him wanted to smack her upside her head with her own wooden leg.

“You showered with your legs on, didn’t you? Or you went outside into the rain?”

“Both,” she panted while her stumps bobbed up and down. “There’s experimental rye in the liquor cabinet. I’ve been trying out mild opium extracts and somewhat stronger cannabis extracts. I’m trying to make an analgesic without too many side effects, other than the booze. I can handle the booze. I’m not so good at handling the pain. It kinda hurts, Nut.”

“I suppose you want me to pour you a glass?” he asked.

“Why else would I bring it up?” she responded.

Reaching out with his mind, he pulled open the ornate wooden cabinet, and then grabbed the bottle labeled as ‘Formula 477’. No other bottle was marked as experimental, so this had to be the one. Then he grabbed not one, but two glasses, and performed a neat pour. Never one to miss a chance to strike a blow while sparring, he smiled at her while holding her glass up high, out of reach.

“Would you like a sippy cup so you don’t spill?”

“Asshole,” she whispered. “Just you wait. You’ll get yours.”

The rye… was quite dry. Spicy, a bit violent, and with a nuance that corn whiskey thoroughly lacked, he found that he rather liked Black Maple’s rye. A second sip left him tasting maple notes, as if a phantom of maple syrup had passed through his drink. When she wasn’t acting like a lecherous tease, Miss Maple was a brilliant alchemist, chemist, and brewmaster.

“You’re quite a dashing figure, standing there in your tweed vest, sampling my rye.” She gratefully accepted her glass and with marvellous dexterity, held it in her primaries. “I have my eye on the finer things in life, Nut… and you’re fine enough for my plebeian tastes.”

“Oh, I say. I’m flattered.”

“Yeah. That. Do that. Talk like that. It butters my buns, Nut, and leaves me with a slippery squish betwixt my southbound canyon.”

For now, he ignored her while he had another sip of rye.

“Nut, what are you doing with that girl?” Black Maple asked in a tone of voice that Nut had never heard from her before.

“I have no idea,” was his straightforward answer. “I was made to swear an oath as a noble. A pony whose faith had been stricken with doubt was in need of something to believe in. What else was I to do? Walk away? Do nothing? What is the idiom? That for evil to triumph—”

“Sexy stallions who wear tweed must stand aside and do nothing?”

One eyebrow went as rigid as a stone arch, and he replied, “Indeed.”

“Well, I am proud of you, Nut.”

“You are?” His stiff eyebrow relaxed a little. “Why, thank you, I suppose.”

“No, you don’t understand, you tweed-wearing, insincere, overpolite jackass.”

He waited; perhaps she had a point.

“A lot of my working girls come from places just like that one. Some of them had rescuers too. Noble gents that swooped in, saved them, and then shagged them the first chance they got. A lot of those girls felt obligated. Like they couldn’t say no. So they toughed it out. Now, I am not gonna say anything bad about my girls, but Tater is too damned smart to end up in a place like this. She don’t belong here. Instead of a happy fronk, she’d be a sob story. Don’t let her end up here, Nut. No matter how tempting it might be, do not abuse her trust. See, if it was anypony else but you, Nut, I’d be worried… she’s a cute little earth pony. But with all the times you’ve turned me down flat, I figure that she has to be safe.”

“Why, Miss Maple, I do believe that might just be the kindest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“Don’t be a jerk about it. Not now. Not ever. This is too serious, Nut.”

“Very well, then.” He had himself another sip of rye, and enjoyed the pleasant warmth.

“When you talk like that, with no emotion at all, no passion, I can’t tell if you are being an insincere twit or not. I never know when you’re being real with me. You have these responses that are so bland and indecipherable that I can’t make out what you’re really saying. It’s gonna be hard for Tater to have any idea how you feel about anything.”

This gave him pause, and his brows formed a wedge over his eyes.

“Yeah, that got your attention, didn’t it, ya jackass.”

He bit back an irritated response.

“Some little fillies,” Black Maple began in a low, sing-song voice, “don’t need a lick of attention. They go off and do their own thing. Never once do they suffer in need of another’s opinion. Other little fillies, well, they’re projects. They desperately want approval. Need it. Crave it. They’ll do anything to get it. Some of them go on to be models, or movie actresses, or singers, anything to get them the praise and adoration they so desperately crave. Others… others become whores.”

She drank down the contents of her glass in one gulp, and then grimaced at Nut.

With no need for a request, he filled her glass, then the two of them eyeballed one another. This was the reason why he valued her company. He didn’t like her language, not at all, or her blunt turn of phrase, but he valued her insights. She knew ponies. Ponies were like books to her. This foul-mouthed, booze-chugging, perverted whorehouse madam was a pony reader. A reader of creatures. Already, entire volumes of understanding had just been shared with him, and it had not yet been an hour since entering this room.

“I don’t get it, Nut. You’ll take her in, but you won’t settle down with me. I’m a little offended, so I am.”

“You and I are complicated,” he said, hating himself for saying it aloud.

“Oh… oh… oh my… okay, you have my attention. Sincerely. I’ll be a good filly for the next few minutes if you continue with that line of reasoning. Tell me how we’re complicated. Talk to me about us.

He finished off his own glass, and then poured another, all while looking at a shopping list of some kind. “I have plans, as you know. A future. First chance I get, I’m leaving.”

“Yes, the islands.”

“The Gallopagos.”

“Yeah, those.” She raised her glass. “To impossible dreams, Nut. It’ll cost millions of bits to fund an expedition. A lot of living can be done between now and the time you finally leave.”

“Perhaps,” he replied. “But… entanglements. Miss Blossom will be an actual mature adult in a few years, and well-prepared, she’ll make it on her own. Other entanglements are more difficult to disengage from. Settling down. Having a family—”

“This isn’t complicated at all, Nut.”

“Do explain. You have my attention for once. Must be the rye talking.”

“You give me what I want. As much of it as I can stand. You give me so much of it that I can’t take it anymore. So much that I burst. Leave me in a constant state of pregnancy. Never leave me alone. Fronk me silly when I least expect it, or when I’m not looking, and never give me a chance to recover. I’m positive that after a dozen or so foals, and me never getting a moment’s rest, I’ll be happy to send you on your way to those damned islands, just so I can have a blissful moment of peace and rest my weary womb.”

“That’s not funny.”

“I wasn’t joking.”

“You… you’re not funny.”

She raised her glass and examined the golden liquid within. “It is possible for both of us to get what we want from life. You can have your islands. I won’t hold you back. I respect the dreams of the empowered individual far too much. As important as your dreams are—and they are important, don’t you ever let go of them—there is nothing stopping you from having a few little dreams along the way. Live a little. Give yourself over to passion. Let go, Nut.”

Something about her words left him shaken, but he would never admit it.

“I want to reach a point where I am with foal and I wearily say to myself, ‘Oh no, not again. This can’t be happening.’ See, I want things that will provoke my passions and make me feel something. I want to be tired of it all, and fed up, and get cranky… so that way, when relief comes, it is overwhelming. I want to be swallowed up and overcome.”

“You’re mad.”

“And you… you’re so anally retentive that you had to of been potty trained at swordpoint. I want to see you let go, Nut. I want to see all your walls give way. You… you’ve walked into riots without flinching. I’ve watched you tangle with a sea monster without even breaking a sweat. All this calm of yours isn’t natural, Nut. I want you to be happy… but I also want you angry. It would make me happy to see you feel things, and I want to be the one who makes you feel them. And make no mistake, Nut. Somehow, some way, I will find a way to get under your skin, and you will feel something. Come Tartarus or high water, I will see your fine control slip up one day. I figure it will be when I give you our first foal to hold. That’ll be the day you crack, I think.”

He found himself at a loss for words.

“Don’t make me fight dirty, Nut.”

It was time to change the subject. “Allow me to have a look at you, Miss Maple.”

“It might even be on the day you leave for those islands.” Her face hardened and her eyes turned flinty. “Saying goodbye to his family has been known to break a stallion.”

Turning off his emotions completely, Nut stood passive while waiting so that he might examine Black Maple. She looked up at him, and he down at her, and when she sighed, he knew that she knew that she’d been defeated. At least for now. They would spar again later, because that was what they did. His defense was far too perfect, and her offense was just too strong.

They remained at an impasse; at least for now and for the immediate future.

Author's Note:

Black Maple. I can't stand her. Honestly, I detest her. But I am stuck writing a story where she is a major supporting character. I hate my life. Have questions? I might have answers. Wait, allow me to clarify. Questions about this story, and these characters.

Next chapter will introduce Sterling Note, who will somehow turn Nut's on his ear even more so than Black Maple did. I like Sterling Note. He's not Black Maple, so that makes him infinitely more likable.