• Published 16th Apr 2020
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If You Would Friend a Tiger... - Coyote de La Mancha



Long ago, Princess Luna gave birth to a son from her own mystical essence. His name was Jack. She also made Jack a stuffed tiger to sleep and play with. This is his story.

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Epilogue.

The princess rummaged through her old wardrobe, humming to herself contentedly.

The empire had been at peace for many years, and its alliance with Equestria was stronger than ever. Her people were prosperous and happy, and the Crystal Heart grew more powerful with every season.

Intellectually, of course, she knew that the artifact’s magic had become steadily stronger over the years because of the love her ponies poured into it. But in her own heart, it felt more as though her empire’s ancient talisman had gotten stronger as her own life had grown brighter.

Of course, it hadn’t been easy since her mother’s abdication. No matter one’s training, nothing could truly prepare a pony for running a kingdom. But just the same, advised by Sunburst, she and her prince had…

Flurry Heart stopped, her smile irrepressible at the thought.

Yes. Her prince.

Her smile grew as she allowed the memories to flow over her like a warm spring tide, pulling her into their embrace.

* * * *

One pleasant summer afternoon, around the age of nine, young Flurry had asked her mother why they were so different from her father.

“Is it because he’s from Canterlot?” she’d asked. “Does that mean Aunt Twilight an’ Luna an’ Celestia are from here?”

“No, dear heart. It’s... here,” her mother had said, leading her to an ornate stone bench in the royal gardens.

That day, Cadence had sat her daughter down and explained things to her as gently as she could. What was known of Luna and Celestia’s transformation, Twilight’s, and her own. That Flurry Heart was the only pony known to have been born an alicorn.

And, reluctantly, that while Shining Armor would one day age and die – assuming he didn’t die defending the realm from some future threat first – the two of them never would.

Years later, a fifteen-year-old Flurry had sat across from her mother at dinner. It was just the two of them, Shining Armor being away on a diplomatic mission to Griffonstone. Something had obviously been troubling the young alicorn for weeks. But Cadence had forced herself to be patient, having learned years ago that her daughter would speak when she was ready.

This night, her patience had been rewarded.

“Mom, I have a question.”

Cadence had smiled. “And I have an answer. Shall we see if they match?”

But Flurry Heart had only sighed, staring at her plate.

Cadence had frowned. “Flurry?”

At length, and with obvious difficulty, her daughter spoke again.

“Mom... why did you marry?”

Clearing her throat, Flurry went on, “I mean, why did you marry Dad? Why did you marry anypony when you know they’ll... I mean...”

Her voice trailed off into silence.

For a moment, when her mother had stood, Flurry Heart had been afraid that she’d hurt her. As difficult as it was to ask, she could only imagine how hard it would be to answer such a question.

But Cadence had only crossed to where she’d sat so anxiously and gathered her into her arms, holding her close.

“Oh, sweet heart,” she’d said. “Is this what’s been bothering you?”

Returning the embrace, Flurry had nodded.

“It’s just... he’s always hurting, now,” she’d whispered into her mother’s mane. “Every morning when he wakes up, every day when the weather changes. I know you and Sunburst try to help with potions and stuff, but, I mean, you had to know that someday...”

“Yes. I was young when we married, but I knew.”

“Then, why?”

They had parted then, Cadence considering her daughter with a sad smile, gently moving her mane away from her eyes.

“I married your father for the only reason to marry anypony, my dear,” the elder immortal had said. “I married him for love.”

At length, Shining Armor had returned, and time had continued to roll past. The prince had only been in his thirties, but his pain continued to be near-constant, a lifetime of fighting and strain having taken its toll on his mortal form. Flurry had watched her mother’s heart break again and again with each new difficulty he’d faced over the next year. And as she had, the young princess had taken a silent vow.

Never. Never would she bind her life to a pony she would outlive.

Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, Shining Armor had died. And even as she’d held her mother through heart-wrenching sobs, even as the snow had begun to fall on her father’s tomb, Flurry had sworn anew. Never would she put herself through such heartbreak.

Princess Cadence had not abdicated immediately. But in retrospect, the funeral had been the beginning of her reign’s end. The transfer of power had been gradual, Cadence’s role moving from monarch to co-regent, and then to advisor over a period of three years. Then, at age eighteen, Flurry had been coroneted as princess of the empire. Her mother had remained at the Crystal Palace for the next six months, and then moved back to Canterlot to stay with Princess Twilight and her family.

It had been scarcely a year into her reign when Flurry had made her first visit to Canterlot as the Crystal Empress. That was when she had met Vorpal Blade.

And that very night, she’d understood.

A visitor to the palace himself, he’d gotten lost in its maze of corridors almost immediately… and then stumbled over a pair of terrified foals who’d also gotten lost, becoming separated from their parents in the process.

So, he’d done the logical thing, at least to him: he’d begun telling them stories to cheer them up. Making up silly poems to help them forget their tears. Singing songs that might help them laugh.

By the time the three of them had found a palace guard and been escorted to the guard office, Vorpal Blade had been improvising so many funny songs about golden scales and battles over rattles that even the foals’ parents had been laughing as they’d joyfully embraced their children.

Shortly thereafter, when the laughter had wound down and the reunited families had departed, Flurry and Vorpal had begun talking. Then, they’d both looked up and realized that several hours had passed.

Somehow, that had led to dinner. And then to a serenade, Vorpal Blade kneeling before her, his baritone voice weaving itself around her heart as they fell into each other’s eyes.

And then…

Well…

When she’d been a filly, Flurry Heart had always thought she would have a long courtship before marriage, like her parents. Later, at her father’s funeral, she’d resolved that she would never marry at all. Oh, she might take a lover now and then, she’d thought firmly, but nothing with an illusion of permanence.

And yet, in defiance of all her expectations, there she’d been. Exchanging her vows with the pegasus she adored in the summer afternoon, a mere six weeks after their first meeting, scarcely a mare of twenty. More determined than ever to have no regrets as the years flew swiftly into decades, swearing to herself that she would live such that every moment she spent with her husband would be a treasure. A jewel she would keep forever safe within the palace of her mind. Not a single instant or opportunity to be with him wasted.

And when the kiss was over and the crowds were cheering, there had been Cadence, standing alongside Vorpal’s parents. Smiling through her tears, even as she had wept in perfect understanding.

Vorpal had been raised in a large family, and the couple had agreed early on that they should have as many foals as physically possible. Less than a year after their wedding, Flurry had given birth to their first son.

A pegasus, like his father.

Vorpal Blade had been prepared for the look of exhausted love on his wife’s face as she held their weanling to her chest. But as their child had nursed, she’d also seemed sad, sighing as she’d gazed down on him.

Vorpal had frowned. “Honey? Are you okay?”

“I guess being an alicorn doesn’t necessarily breed true,” she’d whispered, caressing her son’s short mane. “Twilight was right. Even tribe is a matter of chance.”

Another stallion might have thought that she’d been disappointed in their son, that she’d been upset that he wasn’t more like her. But Vorpal had just sat down on the bed next to her and kissed her gently on the base of her horn.

“Then he’ll be an only foal,” he’d said softly. “There’s no need to risk having one immortal sibling watch the other die from old age.”

Flurry had nodded silently, and then continued to gently stroke her son’s mane. And as the sunset had slowly painted the room in fiery colors through its ornate crystal panes, Vorpal Blade had held them both, softly singing them to sleep.

* * * *

Back in the present, the door to the royal bedroom flung open, Flurry Heart prancing in happily.

Vorpal Blade looked up from playing with their infant son and grinned. Other mares would have needed more time to recover after giving birth, but his beloved was back to her usual self after just a good night’s rest.

And food, of course. Sweet Celestia, but a worn-out alicorn could eat.

“Hey, look who’s here,” he said excitedly to the weanling on their bed. “Who’s that? Is that Mommy? Why, yes it is! That’s Mommy! That’s Mommy!”

The weanling burbled happily, laughing and waving his legs.

“And what’s that?” Vorpal went on. “What’s that Mommy’s got?”

Flurry gave a smile and pulled the tiny object off her back with her hoof, showing it to them both.

“This, my love,” she said, “is a tiger.”

The weanling’s eyes grew big and round, and he started kicking excitedly, his blanket quickly sliding off his rear legs.

One of Vorpal’s ears went flat, and he gave a slight confused frown. “I’m sorry, a… what?”

“A tiger.”

Vorpal gave a helpless gesture. “Which is…?”

“The tigers are a noble people,” Flurry Heart explained, more to her son than her husband. “Fearsome warriors and mighty hunters. They are slow to anger…”

Her eyes narrowed, taking on a strange light as she continued, “…yet they are terrible when defending their friends.”

Vorpal’s frown of puzzlement deepened, but he said nothing. The environment of the room had changed while Flurry had been speaking. He might never have studied magic to the degree that his wife had, but he knew a ritual when he saw one.

Or, more properly, when he felt one. For the atmosphere of the room had distinctly changed, as though somehow the plush toy in his wife’s hoof had become the center of an ancient rite. And while he didn’t feel like an intruder, exactly, he sensed it was something he would never be privy to completely. No matter how forthcoming his wife might want to be, he simply wasn’t part of what was about to happen.

And yet, whatever it was, he was being allowed to witness it. Thus, Vorpal Blade remained silent, determined to respect its sanctity.

“To friend a tiger,” Flurry intoned, now addressing their son exclusively, “is both a simple thing and a great one. For you must learn his special name, that one name among many that is only for his friends to know. And, you must love him. For so long as you hold his name in your mind, he will hold yours in his heart. And so long as you love him, no matter what, he will always love you back.

“So it’s up to you, dear one,” she concluded. “Do you want to be friends with this tiger?”

The weanling squeaked happily, extending all four legs towards her.

Flurry laughed joyfully, the tension in the room immediately dissipating.

“I’d call that a yes,” she said.

Vorpal smiled. From the first moment they’d met, he had treasured his wife’s laughter. It always made him think of silver bells on freshly-fallen snow. Now, their infant laughed as well, a tiny, sweet sound, blending with Flurry Heart’s merriment.

“So, wait a minute,” he asked. “He’s not going to remember any of this, is he?”

But Flurry gave her husband a smile full of secrets, saying, “I always did.”

She put the toy tiger within her son’s reach, and the infant snatched it up with an “Mmm!” hugging it close.

Then, still smiling her secret smile, Flurry Heart leaned over the bed, and whispered into her son’s ear their tiger’s special name.

Author's Note:

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So, yes, to those of you who may have been wondering, the little toy tiger survived his earlier battle just fine. And, so long as ponies love him and Princess Luna remembers how to sew, likely he always will.

I am of the opinion that if every child had a special plush toy to sleep and play with, the world would be a happier place.

This tale is therefore fondly dedicated to Gwendalyn: the little stuffed dragon that I slept with as a child, and with whom my own Magnificent Offspring slept years later.

And, of course, special thanks to Bill Watterson: both for his immortal series in which he remembered so well what childhood was like, and for tigerishly standing by his convictions and his dreams… even though that meant ending the strip when he did.

Comments ( 1 )

10232263

"And then the changelings capture the Mane Six, Shining, and every alicorn offscreen."
"How do they do that?"
"By doing it offscreen."

Oh, dude. Agreed. Thorax is a fine character, but, geez... :facehoof:

Anyway. Unless another story clubs me over the head, I’ll fill in some gaps betwixt this one and Reunions and Laments, finish one or two for the Elsequestria timeline, and then move back to this one for The Last Changeling War, this world’s parallel to To Where and Back Again.

Unless, of course, another story clubs me over the head.

Not that that ever happens around here. :scootangel:

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