• Published 4th Sep 2012
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Gobbling and Other Traditional Pursuits - LadyMoondancer

Nightmare Moon was once considered an "old pony's tale." But what exactly did those old s

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The Two Sisters and the Spirit of Strife

The Two Sisters and the Spirit of Strife

Once upon a time, the Two Sisters wandered the wide world. Big Sister was tall and brave and Little Sister was small and cunning. One day Little Sister said, "Let us have a race," and Big Sister agreed. So off they went, tearing through the forest on their strong legs, leaping mossy logs and splashing through the streams.

Neck and neck, nose and nose they ran, and who would have won cannot be said, for as they galloped the third mile they woke the Spirit of Strife who lived in the woods. He was a handsome creature in those days, but he had a cruel and capricious heart. He slunk out of his home—he lived in the knothole of a tree that was still an acorn—and cackled as he saw a chance to cause trouble.

He raked his left hoof on the ground and it became deep, thick mud. Big Sister and Little Sister lost their footing and down they went, their legs sliding in every direction. When they picked themselves up out of the muck they were dripping from head to hoof. They looked around, but the Spirit had run far into the woods by then, although they heard his laughter echoing among the trees.

“A curse on that one,” said Big Sister, annoyed.

“Ignore that troublemaker. Come, Sister, let us race,” Little Sister said, and they took off again.

But the Spirit came trotting back, eager for more mischief. He flapped his wings and a sudden gale sprung up, blowing so hard and fast that Big Sister and Little Sister were tossed off their hooves. The wind rolled them right through a patch of briars and the sharp thorns tore their coats and stuck in their hair. They had quite a time getting out, too, but finally they managed to untangle themselves—though not without leaving many snarls of hair behind in the thicket. By that time that Spirit had galloped away again, though they could hear him in the distance, laughing as though someone had told him the best joke in the world.

“Three curses on that one,” said Big Sister, angry.

“Ignore that troublemaker,” said Little Sister. “Come, Sister, let us race.” And so they took off again.

They ran a few miles, putting the Spirit out of their minds. But he had not put them out of his mind. He waited until they were running under a bee hive, then whipped his tail to make them look like marauding bears. The bees angrily swarmed out of the hive to defend their honey. Then Big Sister and Little Sister found their true speed, racing so fast that the world spun around and around under their hooves, like a top. But for all that they still received many painful stings. The Spirit did not even bother to hide this time, just stood by rolling with laughter as the Sisters ran frantically to and fro. In the end they had to hide under the ocean to escape the bees.

“Three times three curses on that one!” Big Sister shouted, furious, when she finally burst from the ocean. Her hair was dripping, and the salt water stung all her scratches from the briars.

Little Sister struggled out of the water, just as bedraggled. “Come, Sister,” she said. “Let us go home.”

They were in a very bad mood by the time they reached their palace, which stands with front doors that open onto Dawn and back doors that open onto Dusk. For three days they remained there, tending their wounds and putting the planet back in order, for the last leg of their race had spun some creatures and trees right off the surface of the world, and the rush of wind from its rotation had even knocked a few stars loose.

When they had fixed the world, they began to debate what should be done about the troublesome Spirit of Strife.

“We should kill him,” said Big Sister. She was a very direct and forthright sort of person. “That will end his tricks.”

But Little Sister disagreed. “He is a trickster,” she said. “And if he learns to trick Death, it will mean trouble for the whole world. No, the only way to defeat a trickster is to trick him back. Listen, dear Sister, for I have a plan . . .”

The Spirit was surprised when the Two Sisters arrived on his doorstep at dusk the next day. “What do you want?” he demanded as he slid out of the knothole of the acorn. “Have you decided to gather more honey?” And he tossed his head back and laughed heartily at his joke.

“No, Spirit,” Little Sister said, very swiftly, for Big Sister’s expression had grown dark and ominous as a thundercloud. “We have come to challenge you to a race. If you win, we will give you the highest mountain spire, and from there you may watch all the world. But if you lose, we will give you all our magic and our palace of Dawn and Dusk.”

The Spirit’s tail swished back and forth in confusion. “If I lose you will give me all your magic?” he repeated, surprised.

“Yes,” confirmed Big Sister. “And our palace of Dawn and Dusk. We swear to it.”

“Only choose wisely which prize you will seek,” added Little Sister.

Then the Spirit was filled with glee, for he knew the Sisters would honor their vow—no matter that it was made to a charlatan like himself. And win or lose, he would come out ahead.

“Very well!” he agreed with a smirk. “Let us race, then!” So the three of them set out for the starting line.

Now, the Spirit knew himself to be fast, fast as lightning. He was confident he could outrun the Two Sisters and gain the tallest mountain peak in the world—had he not kept up with them before as they raced? But what he really coveted was their magic and their amazing palace. And so when both Sisters tore away from the starting line like two shooting stars, he sauntered along at an easy pace. He would have lounged in the grass and perhaps never moved again, except that the Sisters had stipulated that he must cross the finish line by sunrise, or else he would forfeit the race and get nothing at all. Nevertheless, his pace was leisurely as he strolled along.

After a long time, he reached a rocky gorge with sharp, craggy rocks rising in arches and needles, a maze lit by moonlight. Little Sister was standing at the bottom of it, leaning forward and gazing pleadingly into the distance. “Sister! Sister!” she was calling. “Don’t leave me behind!”

The Spirit laughed sneeringly. “Well, little half-pint. Abandoned, are you?”

She frowned at him. “Big Sister will wait for me, you’ll see! But as for you, go ahead!”

“Not likely!” The Spirit wanted to make sure to be last. Besides, he was intimidated by the canyon, with all its outcroppings of sharp rock. He wondered how to get through it without tearing his beautiful wings. “Hurry along, half-pint!”

Little Sister said, “Very well.” She stepped forward, then paused to tap her chin with her hoof. “Ah! But I was forgetting!” She plucked off her wings, one, two, all of a piece, and put them in her saddlebag. She used her magic to change them into hummingbird wings and drew them out again. “Yes, these will do nicely,” she said, pretending they were a new pair. She twisted around to fix them to her back. “I carry them always, in case of just such an emergency.”

And to the Spirit’s astonishment, she fluttered forward, her tiny wings buzzing as she picked a careful path through the labyrinth of rocks.

“If she can do it, so can I!” said the Spirit, and with that he tore off his beautiful wings and looked around for a replacement. He grabbed a falcon, but only managed to get one wing off it before it slashed at him and escaped, so he had to make due with a second wing from a mosquito. He could barely fly with his two mismatched wings—even the falcon’s was four times too small for him—and he weaved through the air gracelessly, often knocking quite painfully into the towering stones.

“But it doesn’t matter,” he thought to himself. “It will be worth it when I lose, and gain the Sisters’ magic.”

After a long time, he got out of the canyon and was able to walk normally. He was just congratulating himself, very smugly, on having navigated such a challenge when he reached the bottom of a sheer cliff, hundreds of feet high. Little Sister was standing at the bottom, her neck stretched upward as she called, “Sister! Sister! Don’t leave me behind!”

“Well, well, half-pint, abandoned again,” smirked the Spirit.

“Big Sister will wait for me, you’ll see,” Little Sister frowned. “But as for you, go ahead.”

“I’m not falling for that! You first!” He had to be last—and furthermore, he was wondering how to get up the cliff. He had forgotten his real wings back in the canyon, and anyway the cliff was so steep he did not think they would have worked properly near the top, in the thin air.

“Very well, I shall go first,” Little Sister said. She stepped up to the base of the cliff. “Ah! But I was forgetting!” Little Sister plucked off her legs, one at a time, and put them in her saddlebag. She used her magic to change each one to a scaly, clawed lizard’s leg before drawing it out again. “Yes, much better,” she said as she screwed the last leg into place. “I carry these with me always, in case of just such an emergency.”

And to the Spirit’s astonishment, she began to scamper up the cliff just like a lizard.

“If she can do it, so can I!” he thought, and he began tearing his legs off too. Only he did not have any extra legs with him, so he had to settle for what he could grab—an eagle’s talon and a rat’s leg in front, a puma’s leg and house-fly’s leg in back. Although these all gripped well individually, getting to the top was a struggle since they were all different sizes. The Spirit was panting breathlessly by the time he pulled himself over the top. He’d been forced to leave his old legs at the bottom—he had no way to carry them—so he had to walk along on his new ones as best he could. No easy task!

“Well, it doesn’t matter if I’m slow,” he thought to himself, “as long as I come in last.” Still, he began to wonder how long this race course was, and if he could reach the finish before sunrise. That is why he was hurrying a little when he reached Little Sister again.

Little Sister was standing on the seashore, pacing along the edge of the breakers and looking out to sea. “Sister! Sister!” she called out to the waves. “Don’t leave me behind!”

“Your Sister has no use for half-pints, it’s clear,” chuckled the Spirit nastily.

“Big Sister will wait for me, you’ll see!” she retorted. “But as for you, go ahead!”

“Oh no,” the Spirit said firmly. “You go. Go catch up with your Big Sister—as if she cares about you! Ha!”

“Fine! I will!” Little Sister strode forward into the sea, but a huge wave broke over her, tossing her straight back to the shore. “Hmm, this won’t do!” said Little Sister. She rubbed her chin a moment. “Ah, but I was forgetting!”

She lay down and unscrewed the lower half of her body, just behind her barrel, and placed her hindquarters into her saddlebags. Using her magic, she turned them into the tail of a dolphin, which she drew out. “Yes, yes, I am glad I remembered to bring this along,” she said as she put on her new tail. “Though of course I often do, in case of just such an emergency.”

And as the Spirit watched in amazement, she dove into the water and began swimming with powerful thrusts of her tail.

“If she can do it,” he declared, “so can I!” But being stuck on land he could not reach a dolphin, of course, or any fish either. However, he did manage to capture a water snake made dull-witted by the chill of night. He ripped off his tail and replaced it with the snake’s, but in the end he had to replace his chest and barrel as well, since snakes use the wavy motion of their entire bodies to glide and swim, not just their tails.

Well, it was no easy task swimming across the vast ocean, body of a sea snake or no. The Spirit panted and gulped down seawater and swam and swam and swam. All the time the moon was sinking lower and lower in the West and the sky was getting lighter and lighter in the East. He swam frantically, hoping to lose the race, but not to forfeit.

At last, he dragged his serpentine body out of the ocean on his four mismatched legs, his two tiny wings dripping with seawater that made all his cuts and bruises sting. Little Sister was already on the shore, shaking the salt out of her mane in the false dawn, and even as the Spirit watched she stepped across a line in the sand, the finish line.

“Aha!” cried the Spirit, forgetting all his aches as he galumphed across the finish line after her. “I have lost the race! Keep your promise, then!”

Little Sister looked at him. She was an odd sight by that point, with her two tiny wings, her dolphin’s tail, and her craggy lizard claws spread against the sand. “I swore, and I keep my promises,” she said, “and my Sister does also. But remind me, Spirit, what did I swear?”

“You swore that if I won I should have the tallest mountain in the world,” he replied triumphantly, “and if I lost, I should have all of your magic, and your Sister’s magic, and your magnificent palace! And look, the sun is not yet over the horizon!”

“The sun has not yet risen, nor have you won the race,” agreed Little Sister. A glow surrounded her and she used her magic to return to her proper form. “Nor have you lost the race.”

And she turned back towards the sea, calling:

“Big Sister, Big Sister,
You waited,
You watched,
Now run.”

A flare shot up from the other side of the ocean as Big Sister leapt out of her hiding place by the entrance to the canyon. She charged forward, her wings spread. She blasted a path through the canyon. She bored a tunnel through the cliff. She ran across the ocean atop the waves. That was her kind of magic; she was a very direct and forthright sort of person. She sprinted across the finish line just as the first rays of dawn dazzled over the horizon. Wet sand flew as she drew to a halt behind the Spirit.

“What trickery is this?” the Spirit screamed as his head swiveled back and forth between the two Sisters. He was tying his body in knots, he was so angry. “Give me your magic! Give me your amazing palace! You swore! You swore!”

“We swore, but you failed, foolish Spirit!” cried Big Sister. “You did not win the race. You did not lose the race. Little Sister won and I lost. And you, you came between us!”

“Yes,” said Little Sister, rearing up. “And that is a dangerous place to be—between the Two Sisters! Nevertheless, we shall give you a reward. The highest mountain shall be yours!”

And as the Spirit writhed and raged, the Two Sisters stretched their wings until they touched at the tips. The earth trembled, the ground shook, and a sharp mountain spire burst from the earth, climbing high, high into the sky, like a needle through the clouds.

So tall was it that the Spirit of Strife had no hope of climbing down its steep, sleek sides, nor could he fly down—for the fool had torn off his fine wings, and Big Sister had trampled them to dust when she charged through the canyon. And so there he remained, watching the world go by beneath, without him.

But down on the seashore the blazing pink and purple sunrise spread across the sky and dazzled across the ocean. Big Sister and Little Sister drew back the curtained entrance to their magnificent palace and stepped through the front door. To this day nopony knows which is the faster of the two.

But we still say somepony is "between the Two Sisters" when they are in a difficult dilemma.