• Published 29th May 2020
  • 705 Views, 50 Comments

Mothering, Someday - Impossible Numbers



Mare's Day, a tribute to motherhood. Twilight Velvet is the ordinary mother of an extraordinary family; Derpy is the opposite. They normally wouldn't cross paths, but in a town where an outsider can become Princess of Friendship, anything's possible.

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Where Did Mare's Day Come From?

So they went along the curve of the street, moving from “Crescent Crescent” to “Bon Bon Boulevard”. Derpy zipped off to deliver each letter as she passed a door or a front gate, but then had several seconds to hover alongside and keep up her end of the talk, once they got round to one.

Meanwhile, Velvet levitated a stack of letters and frisbeed them each through a letterbox on the other side, stopping occasionally to let Derpy catch up. Before long, the two of them found themselves hovering or sauntering in almost perfect synchrony, a natural dancing pair learning as they crossed the grand floor together.

For Velvet, the physical exertion relaxed her. Her legs and lungs worked in and out, and her magical horn would never be ready to try that multi-letter trick again, but between the rush of blood and the flow of breath, her mind settled in comfortably, like a matriarch proudly enthroned on a sofa, surrounded by her bustling, bumbling, fawning family.

They worked in silence for a while, awkwardly learning where not to send off too early or walk too fast, but once they’d mastered that…

“So,” said Velvet after Derpy’s pointing leg signalled for them to turn off into a new street – a much straighter one this time, needing feeding with envelopes marked “Sweet Street” – “What’s it like in Ponyville?”

“The best!” Derpy said without hesitation – broke off, snapped a letterbox, hurried back – “I can tell you all about it, if you want. I know this place like the back of my hoof.”

“Sure, I’d be delighted.”

“First and best is Princess Twilight’s Friendship Castle!”

Velvet walked into a fencepost.

“Everyone wants to know about that as soon as they get here,” continued Derpy, who hadn’t noticed. “See it? See that big castly thing over there?”

Hurrying to catch up, Velvet almost dropped her letters and barely remembered to deliver a couple as she passed. Starting with that!?

“Er, ac-actually…” stammered Velvet, “I-I was wondering… about, um… about the rest of the t-town!”

Derpy didn’t even need time to switch gears. “Okie dokie. Ooh, I know what a unicorn like you might like. We got a library made out of an old oak tree, and the bark looks like shiny gold at sunset.”

Sounded promising, but not a huge departure from Twilight territory. “That sounds lovely.”

“Yeah. It got blown up by a monster way back, but you can still see the remains in the Princess Twilight Sparkle Friendship Castle. She used to live in it! The library, not the castle.”

Velvet’s mind rushed away in panic. Don’t think about Twilight! Think about something relaxing! There has to be something in this town she won’t be associated with!

Or maybe not. Royals got around. In Canterlot, you couldn’t move for the Royal Post Office and the Royal Galas and the Crown Jewels and the Throne Tavern and the Queen Street Parade and… What if Ponyville was like that too? Twilight Magic Emporiums and Twilight Cafés and Twilight Research Centres and so on?

“That’s why she kept it, I think.” Derpy shrugged, then started rubbing her chin thoughtfully. “If I ever leave one house and move into another, maybe I might do that too. If I can fit it in through the door –”

Change the subject! Change the subject!

“Mare’s Day!” said Velvet without thinking.

Derpy’s derailed thought crashed all over her face, leaving much confusion. “Mare what, sorry?”

“Today’s Mare’s Day,” said Velvet, now trying to think her way to something less idiot-sounding. “Isn’t that interesting?”

“Erm…” But Derpy had a clean-up crew of superpony proportions. In seconds, the smile had been restored, if anything grander than before the accident. “Yeah, you’re right there. Once I’ve posted my last letter – oh, hold on –” The letterbox rattled. “After that, I’m going to have the best day that isn’t called Hearth’s Warming.” She frowned in thought. “Or a birthday, or one of my daughter’s birthdays, or a day off, or some of the days at work can be quite fun too…”

Genuinely surprised, Velvet said, “Daughters? Oh. I didn’t know you were a mother too.”

“Well, yeah.”

“You look so…” Don’t say anything about the eyes! Velvet bashed her head with the thought. Don’t say anything about the eyes!

“Yeah?” A bit of worry as the train of thought took a darker turn in Derpy’s head.

Young, young! Velvet seized the word and flung it out: “Young!”

Derpy’s face was blank. Had the accident occurred? Had the train got out OK?

It came, rumbling and almost tipping off the track. “Young?” repeated Derpy.

“Well, uh –” Velvet wondered if she was about to be hit by something. “You look… good for your age!”

“I never told you my age.”

I’m going to crash, thought Velvet madly. I’m going to crash!

And instantly, the train bearing down on her righted itself and swerved back on course. “Why, thank you!” said Derpy loudly. “You look lovely too!” Then a pause. “How old did you think I was?”

“Oh… er…”

As if she’d heard it too many times to take offence anymore, Derpy added, slyly, “Not old enough, I guess?”

“I, er…”

“I think you don’t look older than me, but who am I to judge?”

Yet still alive, Velvet’s mind froze to the spot. She’d been this close, how could she have been so reckless, she’d been this close to the rushing steel of… Guilt, like hot blood, flooded through her.

“I’m sorry,” she said to make absolutely sure there were no casualties. “It wasn’t my place to presume, I mean.”

“It’s OK. I get that a lot,” said Derpy, and to Velvet’s astonishment the wonky-eyed face actually looked much more radiant than the sun for a moment. “In a way, it’s sweet. And you did say sorry, just because you thought it might hurt my feelings. It’s like they say in Cloudsdale: The sun’s always there, even if you can only see clouds.”

“Oh?”

“Uh huh. So, what was so interesting about Mare’s Day? You looked like you wanted to say something.”

Sheer hot embarrassment backwashed through Velvet, leaving relief stranded on the shore. “Y-Yes! Yes. I was just going to say it’s very interesting.”

Derpy nodded politely. After a while of silence, Velvet realized more was expected of her. Rather eagerly, judging from the encouraging smile.

Velvet’s mind coughed and elbowed her on. Say something! Anything! Put as much distance between you and that faux pas as possible! It’s only good manners.

“And the interesting thing about Mare’s Day…” Her tongue flailed about for words. “Is… that… it’s… a very… interesting… thing.”

Derpy’s smile was incredibly patient.

Velvet’s wanted to go home.

Finally, something latched on to Velvet. “My daughter told me some… interesting… things about it.”

“Ooh, do tell!”

Sighing with relief, Velvet pulled the thread and roped in more and more. “Yes, I remember she said once it all started with the Founding of Equestria.”

“Your daughter likes history, then?”

“You have no idea,” said Velvet, and she couldn’t stop the chuckle in time. “I used to have a collection of Horrid History Lessons for Horrible Little Horses, enough to last any sane pony a month. One week later, the little dear came up to me and said, ‘Mom, when’s the next book coming out? I’ve read all the others.’”

“Ha! It’s the same with my littlest little girl. She loves reading books and asking questions. Sometimes, she does both at the same time.”

“Writes in the margins?”

“And she sends curious letters to the authors. She asks things like, ‘I loved your book, but I would like to know: What was Commander So-and-So thinking when he declared war on What’s-Her-Face? Did he have any diaries?’ We never hear back from them, but that never stops her.”

Velvet wished Derpy hadn’t said that. Once Twilight became the protégé of a princess, authors fell over themselves to respond to her enquiries.

It jolted her mind.

“Anyway!” she said. “This interesting thing about Mare’s Day –”

“That your daughter told you,” Derpy reminded her, looking proud as a teacher’s pet.

“That my daughter told me, uh huh. Well… oh, what was it now?”

“I get that a lot too,” said Derpy sadly. “I wish I had a memory like my –”

“Ha, yes! I remember! It started with the founding. Not many ponies know that. Then there was the forty-day journey from the end of winter to the beginning of spring, when all the founders had to go back and fetch the ponies waiting for news about their scouting mission.”

Derpy’s face took on the faraway look Velvet often imagined on her own face after Twilight had explained something. It was no less disconcerting for being a look that went skywards and horizon-wards at the same time.

“Er…” said Derpy.

“Am I going too fast?” Velvet warily watched her face.

“It’s all right. I get there. Four-day journey, was it?”

“Forty-day.”

“Ah.”

“That’s how long it took to get to Equestria.”

“For the founders?”

“For the other ponies following them.”

“I think I got it.” But Derpy looked no less faraway.

Velvet had hoped to rush through this. Why was she even doing it anyway? Who cared besides history buffs? And her daughter, admittedly, and by the way, wasn’t Velvet supposed to be steering clear of that topic? Obsessing over her would just make things worse.

“It must have been a horrible journey,” said Derpy. “I’d get tired after Day Three.”

At once, Velvet’s urge to keep things pleasant leaped to her mouth. “There’s a good ending.”

“Yeah?” said Derpy, brightening up. Her faraway gaze snapped back to the here and now.

Darn it. She’d been hoping she could cut it short. Now she had to go full story mode.

Not that old Velvet would have minded. In fact, old Velvet – who hadn’t been let out of the mind’s cellar since Twilight left home – sat up and looked up expectantly.

“Yeah,” began Velvet breezily. “Once everyone was in Equestria, the other tribes didn’t like the idea of sharing it. They thought it meant one tribe would rule over the others. Apparently, there was going to be a big battle to prove who deserved control over the country.”

“I thought you said this had a good ending?”

“I’m getting there, don’t worry,” said Velvet, once more unable to stop the chuckle. She’d loved telling stories, long ago. Her old self crept up to the cellar door, testing the push. “It was Clover the Clever who figured out how to make peace. She invited everyone to what she called the Feeding of the Five Thousand, a gigantic feast in honour of the new Equestria.”

“Ooh, that’s clever.”

“I haven’t said the clever bit yet.”

“There’s a clever bit?”

“Yep!”

“What’s the clever bit, then?”

“I’m getting to the clever bit.” As she posted another letter, Velvet jogged her memory, hoping she could remember what Twilight had said. “Ah, got it! The plan was this: the earth ponies would work hard to make the food for the feast.”

“That’s the clever bit?”

“Give me a second!” Velvet chuckled. “The unicorns would raise the sun at the right dramatic moment, and cast spells to entertain the guests.”

“Right?”

“And the pegasi would lead the ponies in a grand military march and sing a new anthem that Clover had taught them.”

Derpy’s lips bubbled, fighting between the pool of calm respect and the turbid gas of blurting out her long-buried question.

Velvet’s old self had broken out of the cellar now. The rest of the house could hear the old voice shaking once more through its foundations and walls.

“The clever bit was this: partway through the preparations, just when everyone was happy practising, Clover switched their roles. Suddenly, the pegasi had to do all the cooking. The unicorns had to do the marching and singing. And the earth ponies had to practise raising the sun and doing magic tricks.”

Frowning, Derpy opened her mouth.

“Yes,” said Velvet, a slight smugness tugging at her smile.

“I didn’t ask anything…”

“You were going to say something like, ‘Wouldn’t that be very messy?’”

Derpy stared at her with newfound respect. “You can read minds?”

“Bless you, no. I did the exact same thing when my daughter told me. ‘Oh, Tw– My dear! That must have been a frightful mess!’ I said. And my daughter said, ‘It was!’”

“So that’s the clever bit, is it?”

“We’re getting there. After practising their strange new roles and feeling stupid, all the tribes complained about what a fiasco and a nonsense this was. So Clover switched them again.”

“She switched them back?”

“Nope. Now the pegasi did the sun-raising and entertainment, the earth ponies did the singing march, and the unicorns cooked the food.”

“That made a bigger mess, I’ll bet.”

“There was nearly a riot. All three tribes stopped respecting Clover and swore she’d either lost her mind or was making fun of them. So they all banded together, went up to the founders, and complained.”

“Why’s that the clever bit?”

“Because of what Clover did next. She said that she had been unfair on the three tribes who obviously couldn’t do each other’s jobs properly, and she would bow to the public will, accept responsibility for her mischief, and put it all right. And she meant all of it. She’d cook the food, she’d raise the sun, she’d entertain the guests, and she’d march and sing. All by herself!”

Derpy stared at the sun for a moment, or at least one eye did.

“She must be really dedicated, then.”

“But very clever.”

“How? There’s no way she could do all that by herself…” Derpy’s grin caught the side of her face. “Is there?”

“Well, she did her best. She did cook some food, and master some of the entertainment, and from all accounts, she wasn’t a bad marcher and singer.”

The grin faded. “But she didn’t do it all by herself, then?”

“How could she? She’s still one pony. But at least the other tribes had a moment to laugh at her and make fun of her.”

“This isn’t a good ending.”

“No, that comes next. What Clover did next was to mix all their efforts together.”

“Huh?”

Velvet realized she was warming up to her tale now. Apart from the cottages and the sun and the walking and the occasional letter-throw, this might have been a bedtime story in a certain little madam’s quarters. Even Derpy had the same traditional wide-eyed look, ignoring the direction of half her actual gaze.

It might have been the same look Velvet had worn when she was younger, and walked the country lanes outside Vanhoover, listening to her mother’s rambling stories.

Oh, in this case, Twilight might have supplied the facts, but Velvet was the one who wove the story. She could still see the wonder in Twilight’s eyes as cold textbook facts suddenly awoke from hibernation and danced in the spring of Velvet’s tale.

“What Clover did was: she took the good efforts of each tribe and spruced up the weaker efforts of the other tribes,” said Velvet. “So for earth ponies, she kept the good food but spruced up the food made by unicorns and pegasi. For unicorns, she let them raise the sun but added some of the rituals made up by the earth ponies and pegasi. And for pegasi, she kept the main march and song but added bits here and there based on how the earth ponies and unicorns did it. She kept in a little of her own modest contribution too.”

“That’s… kinda clever?”

“That’s just the start. Then, when the tribes thought the whole thing would be called off, she invited them to the feast anyway. Curious, they all turned up. Then she explained what she’d really wanted to do.

“By switching them around, she helped each tribe appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as how difficult each task was. By making herself the one to force them into such ridiculous things, she helped them to realize they could agree on something, even if they only agreed that she – Clover – was an utter pain. By doing so much work herself, though, she also showed her commitment to uniting all the tribes and helping them understand that they could share in each other’s work, even knowing they wouldn’t all be as good at it. She’d even watched them herself as she went to see how each tribe did it, the better to experiment and create new things when it was time for her turn.

“The three tribes then swallowed their pride, for they knew in an instant that they’d been wrong about each other, and about her. But she forgave them, and encouraged them to forgive each other. There and then, they held what was now called the great Forgiveness Feast!”

Then she looked at Derpy. So caught up in her own telling, she’d almost seen the book-filled bedroom, the walls that were almost entirely shelves, the lone bed with its lone occupant, wide-eyed and small-mouthed, not talking on and on, but listening with every fibre of her being to her mother, who’d listened to her own mother in turn, on gravel paths between comforting hedgerows under a sky as warm as today’s.

To Velvet’s amazement, she saw the exact same look in Derpy. The cosmetic differences were there – the two eyes pointing in opposite directions, for a start – but they were as thin as powder on her rich, fleshy face, her fresh-fruiting eyes, her mouth leading to the secret audience chamber of her soul.

Derpy stopped and beamed. Her hooved clapped and occasionally clopped as they hit each other with more enthusiasm than accuracy.

“Wow!” she burbled like a happy stream. “That was a good ending!”

“Thanks,” said Velvet, shyly glancing away for a moment. “But I can’t take all the credit. My daughter taught me the facts. I just made the story out of them.”

“Then you two make a great team.”

Velvet’s blushing joy subsided slightly. After all, as she recalled, Twilight had gotten over her clapping and slipped from wide-eyed awe to a more critical dissection of the tale.

How long before Derpy spotted a problem?

“Wow, you must have an amazing memory,” said Derpy.

And that was it, for a few more houses. Derpy zipped towards a few letterboxes. Velvet tossed her own letters.

Eventually, curiosity won out. “And that’s how Mare’s Day was made,” said Velvet.

“Uh huh,” said Derpy.

Velvet waited a few more houses, and as she did so, she learned one very important fact about Derpy: she wasn’t dumb. She’d ask the same questions any reasonable pony would. She was merely operating with a brain which liked to take its time getting anywhere. And for all the Canterlot praise about quick tongues and rapier wit, Velvet had to force her culture-simmered brain into acknowledging that speed was… well, merely a matter of time and where you were going.

Derpy’s smile slowly began to melt under the steady heat of realization, as did the high brow boosting her general pleasant expression. Like a chocolate left in the sun, the smile sagged into a much less beautiful, downturned slump.

“So,” Derpy said once she’d caught up, “what’s that got to do with Mare’s Day?”

“I wondered that myself when Tw– when my daughter told me,” Velvet confessed. Somehow, she felt she ought to stay on the same level as Derpy. “Long ago, it used to be called Motherland Day, then Motherland Day before the Day of the Sun.”

Derpy waited politely for the dots to be connected.

Velvet caught on and hurried on. “Things change over time, see. At first, it was to celebrate the Motherland on a day before the Day of the Sun. Then it became a more general Mother’s Day before the Sun Celebration. Then the two sort of drifted apart. One became Mare’s Day. The other became the Summer Sun Celebration.”

“Things change?” said Derpy.

“Yep,” said Velvet, and too late failed to stop herself from adding, “Too much, too soon.”

“Oh, I get it!” Derpy’s voice was so sudden it hit the realization about to hit Velvet. “Like how Hearth’s Warming didn’t used to be about hearths at all.”

She looked so inordinately pleased by this contribution that Velvet almost completely forgot her own slip-up a second ago. “I’m sorry?”

“Dinky taught me that one.” Derpy winked at her. “She looked it up once. I told you my littlest loves reading books.”

“Oh, I see! Dinky’s your –?”

“My joint-favouritest daughter of all time! And Ammy’s my joint-favouritest daughter of all time too. She’s my biggest little girl. And she’s smart too, though she doesn’t read as much as Dinky does. She helps me every Hearth’s Warming, with all the buying and gift-giving and stuff.”

“Huh, Twil–” Velvet scolded herself. Why did she keep letting it slip? Don’t waste this moment! “My girl likes doing that too, only more with her father. He thinks shopping’s a fun break from work.”

“Does he?”

“Because of prices and money.” Velvet caught the blank stare and grimaced. “He likes numbers.”

“I know my Ammy’s super-careful with money. Counts it to the cent.”

“So does he. Repeatedly. And so does… my daughter.”

To Velvet’s surprise, Derpy nudged her. “Between you and me, I think numbers are my worst enemy. They seem to hate me so much. They never do what I tell them.”

Velvet nudged her back. “Between you and me, I can’t deal with numbers either.”

“That’s why I let Ammy look after them.”

“Same here. Well, not with your girl, obviously! I mean with my husband. And my… daughter.”

Velvet felt the rumble of the question heading up Derpy’s throat. Surely it was so obvious by now, how much she kept dodging Twilight’s name. Derpy had already given both her daughters’. She had already thrown her coins into the fountain; of course she’d want to see Velvet do the same.

“So what’s her n–?” was as far as Derpy got.

Aaaannnddd every year for a thousand years,” Velvet announced in a rush, “a unicorn in Canterlot pretends to be Clover and honours Mare’s Day by hosting a feast and crying, ‘Rejoice!’ It’s a tradition! On Mare’s Day! That I just remembered! Yes!”

Derpy fluttered away briefly before roosting back into her role. “Um, OK?”

“I know lots of fascinating things about Mare’s Day, if you want to know! Sorry if I talk too fast! It’s just one of my favourite days!”

Derpy’s eyebrow jolted up with suspicion. “Um… OK…?”

“Like golden roses! I know flowers are traditional, but in Canterlot, it’s golden roses or nothing! And we eat Mother Cakes – they’re like simnel cakes, you ever tried that, they’re delicious but a bit too floury for me – and decorate our homes with a sprig of violets! I’m sorry I’m still talking so fast! I just had to get it out there! Isn’t this nice!?”

She had to stop to catch her breath whilst pretending she wasn’t heaving or in any sense out of breath at all. The way Derpy kept looking at her with the one eye roasted her more than the sun did.

In her chest, Velvet groaned. She’d underestimated Derpy, she knew it. Even a mare slow to join the dots knew suspiciousness when she heard it. And she was a mother. Mothers learned to tell suspiciousness as soon as the first cookie jar got smashed.

And then a miracle happened.

Derpy beamed at her and carried on delivering. “I understand. You’re from out of town. Anyone would be a little nervous visiting a strange place for the first time.”

Velvet wondered if it would be safe to reply. She settled for continuing the walk and letter-throw.

“You are nervous, aren’t you?” added Derpy, and then gave a good demonstration herself. “I’m not the best at reading some ponies.”

Velvet weighed her chances. If she was vague, maybe…

“I haven’t seen her in a long time,” she said, and then watched for the slightest curveball.

“Yeah,” said Derpy. “It’s like my Ammy said: The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Velvet didn’t bother correcting her at all. She was too busy worrying that was actually the case.