• Published 8th Jul 2019
  • 542 Views, 199 Comments

The Rains of Vanhoover - kudzuhaiku

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

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A couple of pricks

Eternal, enduring, everburning, the sun dared to pierce the veil of gloom, the shroud of suffocating grey rain left draped over the city of Vanhoover; so it was that sunlight, vivid, brilliant, precious sunlight, did shine upon the city streets, and there was much rejoicing from the sodden, soggy, waterlogged city-dwellers, who did revel during this moment of splendiferous respite.

Tater Blossom pronked through puddles and Nut awaited Mrs. Oleander’s harsh rebuke.

He marvelled at the infectious enthusiasm of youth, her vim, her vigour, her irrational exuberance. Tater Blossom existed in that strange place where she was not yet an adult, but she couldn’t be called a foal, either. Though watching her pronk about and listening to her hooves clattering against the cobblestones offered incontrovertible evidence of a juvenile stage of life.

So far, no telegram.

It would come. His patience would be rewarded. But he was nervous about the whole thing, or at least he thought he was. Was he? Try as he might, he had a hard time determining how he felt about this whole sordid mess. His faith and trust in his parents was absolute. They would come through for him—his parents would always come through for him.

Princess Celestia would raise the sun, and his parents would always come through for him. These were constants. He missed his mother, and something about Tater Blossom’s failed relationship with her mother made him miss his own mother even more. As for his father, their relationship had changed and Nut hadn’t fully sorted everything out. He and his father were drinking partners now, which was quite a different relationship altogether. They talked about things, discussed things in a wholly adult manner, and not necessarily as father and son.

A part of him wished he shared Tater Blossom’s unbridled enthusiasm.

She was pretty, winsome in her own way, a delight to behold. Even as battered as she was, there was something about her, something profound and good. She was a happy pony, even with her troubles, even with her pain, and for reasons he could not explain, he found this inspiring. As he stood watching her revelry, he thought about what he might write about her, what could be said. His vocabulary would need to be expanded to include words for happiness, for joy, for jovial jouissance.

If he was as troubled as she, he knew he would be quite dyspeptic.

“She’s acting like a mustang.”

“No, Mrs. Oleander, I beg to differ… she is behaving like a filly.”

“Mud.” The stern, older widow uttered the word as if it were a profane vulgarity.

“There is that,” he agreed most dryly. “You and I, we’re more restrained. We don’t comprehend her behaviour, do we?”

“I never had a foalhood.” Mrs. Oleander cleared her throat and then made an odd sound that sounded like a strangled wicker. “Surely, you had a foalhood.”

“Oh, but I did. I went running and shouting through the library once…”

When the widow snickered, it was an unexpected surprise.

“Not long after their marriage, when my mother and father were young… younger than Miss Blossom is now, they bid their foalhoods a fond farewell in grand fashion. Together, the both of them snuck out of school, pilfered a considerable quantity of soap, and then poured said soap into the fountain in front of the school. Headmistress Celestia had harsh words for them, and if their story is to be believed, she even gave chase as the two ne'er-do-wells absconded and made good their escape.”

“How old were your parents, Nut, when they were married?”

“Ten and eleven,” he replied. “My mother was older. She was supposed to be the mature one. She’s also the one who filled the school’s heating vents with garlic. To hear her tell it, she was trying to make the school smell better.

“Do you think it is good to marry young, Nut?”

“Oh, gracious… I don’t know. There is so much back and forth. Modern social mores and all that. If we say that marriage while young happens to be wrong, then most of our past, our history, that becomes wrong as well, and then history becomes a taboo topic that isn’t discussed in polite company. ‘Tis risky to hold history to our modern standards. I think it would be wrong for Miss Blossom to marry young, and I think I’ll leave it at that.”

“Hmm,” the widow hmmed.

“The circumstances of my parents marriage are quite different though. They were placed together by a matchmaker. Their union was entirely consensual. Marriage was treated as a learning experience. They were watched over hawkishly and instructed in how to make things work. Those first few years of marriage, they were just playmates, bound together at the hip. It was a time of education… not a time to start a household and family. That came later.”

“Ideally, all marriages should begin that way,” Mrs. Oleander said. “I do believe that would do much to help many of the ills of society.”

“Poverty and ignorance prevents this though,” he replied. “My parents were nobles. They had every need met. Every provision was provided. They were not mouths to feed. No dreadful circumstances pressed in upon our family to hurry my parents out the door and send them on their way. The circumstances for their marriage would prove impossible for most. That is something that I am only learning now, as I live among commoners.”

With a nod of her head, the widow agreed. “Miss Blossom is at the age where she consumes a prodigious amount of food. The poor find such expense a burden. Even the well-off still use it as an excuse though, for a variety of reasons.”

“No doubt.” He cast a glance at Mrs. Oleander. “Exigent circumstances should not dictate adulthood, but development. Tradition should not establish maturity at some given age, but rather, a measurable level of maturity. Unfortunately, reason remains at odds with tradition, and circumstances continue to be arduous for most.”

“Marriage freed me from the bonds that held me back,” the widow said in a voice now softened with sorrow. “My husband was good to me. Kind. Loving. Marriage, at least in my own mind, proved that I was desirable. That I still had value beyond that of a slave. While some husbands treat their wives as domestic servants, or even as slaves, mine did not. He was a bit like you, Nut. Cautious, slow, reserved… and kind. He could be harsh as well, but it cannot be denied that he had a kindness to him.

“But he could be hot-tempered, too. I will never forget him cutting down the diamond dogs that kept me and the others captive. There was so much blood… so much violence. I was terrified of him, at first. But his good nature won me over. He gained the trust of all of us.”

“So he did a little adventuring?”

“That’s a dirty word, Nut, and you know it. Don’t say that about my departed husband.”

“My apologies.”

“He saw the world for a while, and decided that he did not like what he saw.” Oleander’s voice was much, much softer now, stricken, sad, and trembling. “It bothered him, Nut. The awareness that the world was a terrible place. That it was filled with terrible things. The guilt stayed with him, Nut. He was aware of the wretchedness and the awful things that happened, but he couldn’t save all who suffered. He often said that the only thing that kept him sane was that he had at least saved one. And then he’d kiss me, and he’d be real quiet for a time.”

Though he wanted very much to be a source of comfort, Nut did not know what to say.

“Mind your ward, Nut. I have recordkeeping that needs attending. I’ll be in my office.”

Sunshine, like milk, did not keep for long. Now the weather was very much like something poured into coffee, a sort of half and half. Fog crept in, the feral storm clouds marched right for the city, and still the sun did try to shine. While one might expect for the overcast conditions to be bleary, the current state of the out of doors was quite the opposite: it was blindingly bright and the retina-searing fog had no mercy.

The overall effect was dazzling, which made Nut thankful to be indoors.

All of his hard work and effort was on the verge of paying off; the wagon was almost a wagon again. He’d secured a team, and filed all of the necessary paperwork to handle the transfer of a silent client, Marjoram’s father. She had paid in full, so all due return services were rendered. Mrs. Oleander seemed pleased with his handling of this case, so all was well. Even with the tedium, and the curious weather, it was shaping up to be a pleasant afternoon.

“Excuse me, but I am here to see Miss Potato Blossom.”

As he turned about, Nut put down his wrench on the workbench and was quite surprised to see Doctor Dogwood. She was a quiet sort, reserved, charitable, and frequently tended to Black Maple’s employees. Pokeberry Dogwood was an immigrant on the verge of obtaining citizenship, and was an all-around good pony.

“Mrs. Oleander secured my services, yesterday. I would have come sooner, but I had to attend to a fisher with a mangled claw.”

“Oh goodness.” Nut found himself delighted by her accent, which was very old-world and somewhat aristocratic, but also with a hair-raising case of the tingles because of the mention of mutilated flesh. “Do tell, did you save your patient?”

“Nothing was lost, but the healing will take time,” the doctor replied as she hefted her canvas oilskin satchel. “Now, about Miss Potato Blossom… do you have vaccination records?”

“Alas, I do not. I suspect that such things were not tended to.” When the doctor scowled, he frowned with her in a show of well-bred solidarity. “I was planning on a trip to your office, but it seems that Mrs. Oleander took matters into her own hooves.”

“Indeed she did. It is easy to procrastinate when it comes to dealing with these matters.” Like hounds seeking prey, the doctor’s eyes darted to and fro, pausing only to examine the scrapped heaps of rusty metal left upon the floor. “You work in a dangerous environment, Mister Nut.”

“Just Nut, if you please.”

“Alright, Just Nut. You work in a dangerous environment. When was your last tetanus booster?”

“I cannot say that I recollect an exact date, but some time has—”

“You will be getting one today. Prepare thine rump.”

He saw no point in arguing, but he did consider running. “Very well.”

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Doctor Dogwood said.

“Oh, it is, it is,” he agreed in a passive, halfhearted manner that lacked any trace of enthusiasm.

It was quite fortunate, really, that his job had medical benefits. Many did not enjoy such good fortune, and were not mercilessly shanked by a doctor who eschewed modern disposable medical equipment, but rather, favoured utilitarian, practical enduring tools of the trade that would no doubt exist beyond the downfall of known civilisation. Tools that would no doubt be excavated by the next sapient archeologists that would come along.

She favoured the one syringe for all model, with needles that could pierce even dragon hides.

“Mrs. Oleander is a model employer,” Doctor Dogwood remarked.

“Oh, she is, she is.” Nut found himself in polite, passive response mode.

“Increased heart rate, a high pulse, loss of fine pupil control, and sudden perspiration. Just Nut, do you find me attractive?”

“Oh, very much so.” This was a kindness, a flattering bit of social interaction, and as such, it did not count as deceitful, duplicitous, deceptive dishonesty. The doctor met all of the standard requirements for attractiveness in the base biological sense, as she was female, a unicorn, and at an age suitable for enthusiastic procreation so that the species might be continued.

Such perfidy was unbecoming; he deserved whatever misfortune that came his way.

“I prefer the devoted nesting behaviour of pegasus ponies,” the doctor said in neutral tones. “In fact, one is courting me right now. Quite an experience. He leaps into water features so he can croon and warble at me. Fascinating creatures, pegasus ponies. Like us, but not at all like us.”

“Oh, indeed, indeed.” He tried very hard to not think of Black Maple, and failed.

“Pegasus ponies have an exotic appeal, even though they are ponies. Ponies though they might be, they are distinctly different than we unicorns and earth ponies. The introduction of avian features and traits radically alters their nature.” Almost smiling, she heaved a sigh. “Let us do what must be done,” the doctor suggested. “Where might I find Miss Potato Blossom?”

“Oh, she’s in the break room, reading at the moment. We should go and catch her unawares.”

“Fantastic idea, Just Nut. I like the way you think.”

Tater Blossom, as it turned out, was engrossed in her new-to-her book, the gently used copy of Fundamentals of Familial Friendship. She had it on the table in front of her, and a pencil hung from her mouth so that she might turn its pages with the grippy eraser. It warmed his heart to see her reading, and doing so with such earnestness. She was an eager pupil, and he was glad to be her teacher.

It made him feel despicable that he was betraying her, but it was for her own good.

“Miss Blossom, this is Doctor Dogwood.” He stepped aside and gestured at the unicorn mare beside him. “Doctor Dogwood, this is my ward, Miss Blossom.”

“Oh, you poor girl!” With a sudden burst of movement, Doctor Dogwood shoved Nut aside and rushed over to stand near the injured earth pony, who was quite startled by the sudden attention. “Mrs. Oleander told me that you had injuries, but this is far worse than I anticipated!”

The pencil slipped from Tater Blossom’s slack lips as the doctor began her frantic examination. Nut was quite surprised by Pokeberry Dogwood’s unexpected display of emotion, and she had always struck him as being rather cold and clinical. So, the good doctor did, indeed, have a softer, somewhat more tender side—which made the stabbings yet to come somehow all the worse.

Before the book could close, Doctor Dogwood slipped in a conjured scrap of paper as a bookmark. Oh, she was good. An excellent doctor, as evidenced by her quick thinking. It was terrible to lose one’s place in a book, and the kind, considerate doctor had just prevented such frustration. Nut found himself liking her a little more, while still dreading the promised, perturbing, preordained unpleasantness.

Tater Blossom obediently allowed the doctor to examine her, and Nut could not help but feel a little proud. She was compliant, did not fuss or fidget much, nor did she cry out or whine when the doctor poked and prodded. But things would change, and he knew it. The anticipation was somehow worse than the actual act itself, and he knew that too. This waiting, it was torture.

“Have the constables been alerted?” the doctor asked.

“This happened elsewhere,” Nut replied. “The situation was dealt with through the application of local traditions and customs, and had a deeply unsatisfying outcome. The less said about it, the better.”

A tiny growl could be heard in the doctor’s throat, but her demeanour remained kind. “These are all wounds that should heal well-enough. A few lacerations, some scrapes, and a lot of bruising. Earth ponies are durable creatures, but durable as they are, they still feel pain. You poor dear.”

“Mrs. Oleander put some medicine on me earlier. Zebra stuff. It helped.”

“Jata the herbalist is a remarkable healer. He and I work together often. Though, I do worry sometimes about his trust in unexplained mysticism, he does get results.” Placing her bag upon the table, Doctor Dogwood then pulled out an auriscope and said, “I am going to look into your ears, dear.”

“Zebra mysticism and their application of astral-based medicinal practices could become science if they would just let us study it,” Nut remarked as the doctor peered into his ward’s right ear. “As I understand it, they prefer to keep it as a matter of faith, rather than that of science, for reasons of tradition and heritage. They fear that to understand it, they would destroy what makes it special.”

“Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm.” Doctor Dogwood’s head bobbed up and down in agreement for a short time, and then she peered into Tater Blossom’s left ear.

“There are wizards who prefer to keep their arts as wizardry rather than science. I’ll never understand this compulsion to keep things mysterious for the sake of tradition. It baffles the mind. A foolish resistance against logic and reason.” He allowed himself a polite snort, strode over to the table, and carefully placed the pencil against the book so it wouldn’t roll off the table.

“Dear, your ears are very dirty. It concerns me.”

“I hold my head beneath the water, what more can I do?” Tater Blossom asked.

“This is a common health issue among earth ponies. You’ll have to either seek out help when you bathe, or make regular visits to an aural hygienist. I suggest a bath partner, as it is far cheaper.” The doctor tut-tutted for a moment, wickered, and flicked her tail.

“I wouldn’t know who to ask.”

“Make friends,” was the doctor’s reply.

“But I…” Tater Blossom sucked in a deep breath, held it for a time, and then let everything out in a powerful huff.

“Look, I understand that it isn’t as easy as I make it sound.” Doctor Dogwood took a step back, put away her auriscope, and brought her stern gaze to bear upon Tater Blossom. “I have a responsibility to tell you what must be done. You have a responsibility to find the means to do it. Good health is something you labour for. If it means enough to you, you will find a way.”

Tater Blossom’s ears splayed out side to side, but she said nothing.

“Apply some of that earth pony work ethic, and everything will be right as rain.”

With a step back, Nut removed himself from the situation. He wanted to say something, but what to say remained elusive, unknown. While he agreed with everything the doctor said—her statements indeed rang true—he found himself in disagreement with how she said it. It bothered him, even if he lacked the means to put his quarrelous contention into words. Distracting the good doctor from her job would accomplish nothing, however.

“When was your last heat?” the doctor asked.

“Why must everypony know ‘bout that?” the now red-faced filly replied.

“It is an indicator of health.” The doctor now spoke in a monotone, and she waited.

“Mine start in the last days of spring and early summer,” Tater Blossom said as her face continued to redden.

“Was it normal?”

“What’s normal?” Tater Blossom’s ears stood up and she gave the doctor a neutral, blank look. “It wasn’t something we talked ‘bout. ‘Cept for when my Ma wanted to holler at me ‘bout how I should already be married. I don’t know a thing ‘bout my own body, how it works, or what it does. Whatever I was told ‘bout myself, I no longer trust. So tell me, what is normal?”

Doctor Dogwood said nothing, but she did pull a thin paper pamphlet out of her bag, and put this down upon the book that Tater Blossom had been reading.

“Oh… thank you kindly. You spared me some ‘barrassment. I ‘preciate that.”

“Read it. Re-read it. Read it again. When you’re done, read it once more. If you have any questions, any at all, no matter how embarrassing they might be, you come and you talk to me. The visit will not cost you anything. There will be an open and honest discussion, with no details spared… that is, if you need it. Understanding how your body works is empowerment. There’s no great mystery, no unfathomable miracle, there are only facts and basic biology. Be empowered.

“Right. And my Ma, she was always going on about mysteries and miracles. So I guess that is one more thing I need to sort out. Great.”

“It’s tough, but don’t get discouraged, Miss Blossom.” Then, quite abruptly, she said to Nut, “If you could please step out for a moment, there is an examination I must perform. I shall not take long.”

“Well,” Tater Blossom muttered, “I’m ‘bout to show off my foal-shooter and my tooter.”

“Oh… oh, I say. Excuse me, I’ll be just outside the door if I am needed.” And with that, Nut stepped out, all while attempting to prevent the new colloquialism from getting stuck in his memory.

Upon reentering the room, Nut paused to take stock of the situation. Miss Blossom seemed fine, so why had he worried? Just outside the door, he’d been fretful of how she might deal with this intrusion upon her privacy—nopony liked these examinations, did they—and he was relieved to find that she seemed mostly fine.

The room was on the verge of being warm and sunny fogshine could be seen just beyond the window panes. Nut knew what was coming, he dreaded it, but knew that he was powerless against the inevitable. He made himself think of pleasant things; fine linen, shiny brass, and the itchy comfort of exceptional tweed. Puppies, kittens, an adorable griffon stray that was now a bookstore heiress; these were good and wholesome things for one to think about.

“I trust that everything is as it should be,” he said in a somewhat strained, but also incredibly dry voice that lacked any sort of emotion.

“She seems to be in good health,” Doctor Dogwood said as she peered inside of her bag. “However, she could stand to be cleaner.”

“Cleaner?” Nut’s ears pricked.

“I told you…”—Tater Blossom’s voice cracked with awkward shame—“I was told I wasn’t s’posed to touch back there too much ‘cause it’d lead to sinful thoughts.”

“Preposterous.” Pokeberry Dagwood lost all traces of her professional demeanour. “Patently ridiculous. Absurd. Utterly unreasonable. Superstition is no excuse for a lack of good hygiene.”

“So I’ve gathered, but could you be nicer ‘bout it, so I don’t feel so ashamed?”

This caught the doctor off guard, and her mood visually changed abruptly once more. “Dear girl, I’m sorry. I… I never deal with these encounters well. It galls me.” She stood for a time, quiet, the muscles on her neck quivering, and after many seconds slipped away, she exhaled a shuddering breath.

What happened next was the most awkward hug that Nut had ever witnessed.

The two mares were sort of mashed together, with the older clinging to the younger, while both of them tried to endure the strange moment. Tater Blossom was the first to give in, and she went from rigid to clingy in the blink of an eye. This touching moment of closeness would make the moment of betrayal yet to come so much worse.

“I’m grateful that I have a friend to set me straight.”

“I’ll help you, I promise. We’ll talk more later. Under better circumstances. We’ll sort everything out, together.”

“I’d like that.”

There were a few sniffles when the two ponies disentangled themselves from one another, and Nut made it a point to look out the window, even though the curious brightness made his eyes sting. A new life in the city meant new learning, discovering new ways, and adapting. He suspected that he would write about this, eventually, not only for the sake of science, but to perhaps spread some much needed truth. Surely there were others out there who shared similar circumstances with Miss Blossom. If he could be objective and get over his hangups, he might be able to reach out to others—but first, he would discuss it thoroughly with his ward before committing pen to paper.

The struggle to be empowered—to be normal—after being held back with ignorance.

Doctor Dogwood pulled a wooden box from her bag, a piece of artistry really, engraved with many fine details, with little hearts and flowers and the sort of feminine frippery favoured by females. Then she also lifted out a smaller bag from within her bag, and Nut knew—he knew—that the end of all time, the termination of all things was upon him. He gulped, but something went wrong, and what he’d hoped to swallow remained lodged in his throat.

He started to say something, but suffered premature peroration. It made him feel less a stallion, as if he were diminished somehow. Premature peroration happened, his father had told him; sometimes things ended before they began. Occasionally, rousing words of courage failed, and one suffered embarrassing premature peroration. Sweating somewhat, he took a moment to adjust his choker collar while he dealt with his secret shame.

The box was put down on the table with a soft clunk, and Nut reminded himself that there was still time to stage a graceful retreat. He… he could sneeze and suffer the catastrophic loss of sphincter integrity. A sudden remembrance that he had pressing business elsewhere. At this very moment, he could be doing something incredibly foolish, like a sudden elopement with Black Maple—she would agree without hesitation, he just knew it. That was a small, but worthwhile price to pay for a hasty, sudden departure.

What was he thinking? Goodness no, a moment of discomfort wasn’t worth that. Or was it? He found himself lost in an internal debate that he had no desire of winning, yet losing didn’t seem too appealing either. Win or lose, this would end in a painful prick of the rump, which happened to be less than satisfying victory conditions, and unacceptable terms of surrender as far as loss went.

When the good doctor opened the box, there was a soft whine from the hinges, and he saw the flash of shiny, silvery metal within. Someone wickered—he had wickered—and now for the first time, Doctor Dogwood was alerted to the fact that something was amiss. As the lid lifted—seemingly in slow motion—the kindly but stabhappy doctor turned to look at him and he could see the cold, clinical violence in her eyes.

Was this what other ponies saw when they looked at him?

He was terrifying.

“What in tarnation is that?” Tater Blossom demanded.

In this moment, he loved her. It was a perfect love, the perfect love, an innocent, enduring love, the sort of love that Princess Cadance wanted all creatures to feel for one another. It was a unifying love, a love that bridged vast distances. Things like social class were trivial obstacles to this love, and this was the love destined to conquer the world.

“Plannin’ to do a bit of railroad work, Doctor?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Why would you keep a railroad spike in a box?”

“Oh, don’t be silly. This is a universal-species syringe. It simplifies things.”

Ears pinned back, Tater Blossom retreated, but had nowhere to go.

After opening the smaller bag, ampules could be seen, each of them clearly marked with an easy to read symbol that allowed for efficient categorisation. Ponies loved their pictoglyphs, as a substitute for written language. Their society depended upon marks of destiny—his was an umbrella—and their written language reflected that.

One was clearly, curiously marked: a pony’s head in profile with a padlock over the jaw.

At first glance, it seemed ridiculous, but it did manage to convey the condition. To anypony with reasonable intelligence, this was lockjaw. Uncomfortable without knowing why, Nut realised that he would rather have his medicines and vaccinations clearly and properly labeled, but this was the way of things. What hope did he have of changing them?

“I’ll die from that—”

“Oh, nonsense. I haven’t lost a patient yet.” Doctor Dogwood’s smile was, at best, described as disturbing.

At least, Nut thought so.

“No.” Tater Blossom’s refusal lacked any sort of meaningful conviction.

“Oh, come now—”

“No. You just told me that I have a right to say no—”

“Not for this,” the doctor said. “This is necessary. And for your good health. This is your civic duty. Nut, tell her.”

Though his throat was tight, he found the means to speak. “This is true. It is a matter of social contract. Societal obligation. We must endure this discomfort for the safety and benefit of all.”

“I think I’ll take a chance on getting sick.” Backed into a corner, Tater Blossom was now visibly sweating.

As for Nut, he was sweating as well, but he fell back on reason for reassurance. “You catching a communicable disease is exactly the problem. In doing so, you will act as a host for disease, for contagion, so that it might evolve, adapt, and potentially overcome the assorted resistances of those around you. For vaccinations to work, everypony, every creature must be vaccinated. It is a united effort. Even one sick creature poses a major risk to all. All it takes for the next plague to spread is just the right opportunity, the ideal set of circumstances.”

“We can’t do much about magical maladies, but we can prevent the mundane ailments that afflict us.” The doctor loaded the tetanus booster ampule into her universal-species syringe, locked it into place with a satisfying click, and then pointed the instrument of flesh-piercing horror right at Nut. “You first. Do set an example.”

Tater Blossom resigned herself to her fate. “I suppose I can handle one shot, if I hafta—”

“Oh no, you silly filly… I can only load one ampule at a time. A series of fourteen shots is required, and even more a few weeks from now.”

“But I don’t have that much rump. Look out, Nut, she’s comin’ right at ya.”

“So I’ve noticed, Miss Blossom.” The room was far too small, and the universal-species syringe had far too much reach; Nut found himself stuck with unfavourable circumstances.

“Oh, don’t be foalish.” A thin stream of liquid shot out of the spike of metal as Doctor Dogwood advanced. “Hold very still… gouging the bone is a distinct possibility if you don’t hold—”

“Madam, your bedside manner is atrocious.” Now was the time for curt words, Nut felt. A short, terse, brief sentence was just the thing to convey his current state of displeasure with this unfolding situation.

“I see no beds,” Doctor Dogwood replied.

“Oh, touché, I say.”

“I would put down my rapier so we could discuss this as reasonable ponies are wont to do, but doing so would work against my intended outcome.”

“The good doctor is eloquent, Miss Blossom. Take note. I find myself facing a worthy foe.”

“Surrender, and I’ll make this quick.”

“Madam, I am unarmed. I find myself at a distinct disadvantage. What of honour, might I ask?”

“I have none,” Doctor Dogwood replied as she brought her syringe to bear. “Now, turn about, face the wall, do not move, and think pleasant thoughts of Princess Celestia.”

“Is everypony in the city like this?” Tater Blossom asked.

“Only some of us,” Nut replied as he dutifully faced the wall and gave thought to Princess Celestia’s overall pleasantness.

“I recently vaccinated a dragon, and she told me that she didn’t feel a thing,” Doctor Dogwood remarked as she prepared to do the deed.

“Madam, thou dost prevaricate!”

“I did not lie; the dragon felt hardly anything.”

“Ah, but you attempt to deceive me with such words, for I shall surely feel—oh villain, I hath done thy mother!”

“Erudite expletives… exemplary.” Doctor Dogwood chuckled, then added, “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

Tater Blossom found herself quite unable to sit down and her every movement, no matter how slight, caused her to hiss with pain. Nut pitied her, but also himself, at least to a small degree. He’d only been pricked once, and it was bad enough to leave him smarting. She had been stabbed repeatedly; fourteen times in all.

As it turned out, Tater Blossom had all manner of colourful country colloquialisms, off-coloured metaphors, and the sort of vulgar, hickish vocabulary that was celebrated by authors and poets. For a brief time, she became the master, and he, the student. Was he enriched by the experience? Most likely, but if he repeated anything that’d he’d heard amongst the genteel, well-heeled nobles of his home city, Canterlot, there would be a recrudescence of shortness of breath, if not outright fainting.

She was a goldmine of descriptive metaphors involving barnyard fornicatery.

“I feel the need to have the walls scrubbed,” Mrs. Oleander remarked.

Sighing, Nut had nothing to say. As for Tater Blossom, who currently endured Mrs. Oleander’s intense scrutiny, she appeared to have exhausted herself of words. When Mrs. Oleander’s eyebrow arched, Tater Blossom cringed, but the sudden tension in her body made her hiss like an unexpectedly drenched alley cat caught unawares as a chamberpot was emptied overhead.

“For the record, I am not mad.” The arch of Mrs. Oleander’s eyebrow intensified to a level previously believed impossible by Nut. “But I am thoroughly disgusted and I fear these walls might never know cleanliness ever again. Now my establishment is as debased as the den of debauchery down the lane. Things were said that can never be unsaid. I fear these walls will have memory.”

“I can’t even say anything at all, ‘cause you’ve had worse done to you.” Tater Blossom sounded just like a filly sent to bed without supper.

“I have!” Mrs. Oleander replied, “And I cannot recall ever saying such… filth.

“Powerful sorry.”

“I am sure you are.” Eyebrow relaxing a bit, Mrs. Oleander sighed. “Nut, I have a task for you.”

“And what might that be?” he asked in the most neutral tone he could muster.

“Take Miss Blossom out for ice cream. I’ll fetch some bits from petty funds. Begone from this place and do not return until such a time that a civil tongue can be maintained. This place needs an airing out, and this cannot be done while the perpetrator of this heinousness remains.”

“Do I get ice cream?” he dared to ask.

Mrs. Oleander did not reply right away, no. With her eyes narrowed, she bored holes into Nut’s psyche with her scrutinous gaze, until at last she reached a decision. “Do you believe that you deserve ice cream? I heard what you said about Doctor Dogwood’s mother.”

“Oh, I very much do not deserve ice cream, but I would very much appreciate to have some in spite of my unmitigated crassness. In my defense, I allowed a lady to pierce mine derrière, and she did so, free of the threat of malicious physical reprisal.”

Tater Blossom started to giggle, but the sudden jiggle made her hiss.

“Sometimes, Nut, it is easy to forget that you are young.”

“I beg your pardon—”

“Nineteen, Nut.”

“A very mature nineteen. You would be hard-pressed to find a more respectable, more mature, more reliable nineteen-year-old.”

“Go be young, Nut. Get out of here.”

“I resent being judged for my youth.”

Smirking, Mrs. Oleander departed to withdraw bits from petty funds.

Author's Note:

With my batteries full to brimming, I think I can finally write the romantic aspects of Spring Broke without feeling suicidal despair.

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