• Published 1st Apr 2021
  • 3,098 Views, 138 Comments

Mail Order Groom - Irrespective

Applejack discovers that finding a husband is easy, but shipping and handling is not included.

  • ...

2. Quantities are Limited!

* * 🍎 * *

It was always amazing to see what a week’s worth of hard work could accomplish.

True, Applejack was beginning to both feel and think like she was an apple tree herself, but the south forty had been finally harvested, and now she could turn her attention to sorting what had been collected. She’d keep the finest for a batch of cider, the wormy and diseased ones would be tossed in the garbage, and the rest divided out depending on size, shape, and shine.

With a yawn, Applejack stumbled downstairs to begin making breakfast, but she missed the last step and tumbled into the kitchen. For a few moments, a fierce internal debate raged on the matter of getting up again, but the Pro-Rest argument was, once again, soundly routed by the Work To Be Done platform. With a grunt, Applejack slowly hoisted herself up, paused while the screaming protests from her muscles died down, and then limply dragged herself over to the icebox.

At least she was only cooking for herself this morning. Apple Bloom had gone to a sleepover with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, and she wasn’t due back until that afternoon when Applejack would need her help to load the sorted apples for shipping. Big Mac would be along… eventually, she supposed, but whenever he did show up, he would already be fed and ready to work.

Or, at least he’d better be, or Ah’m gonna strangle him.

“Ah! Good morning, my dear Applejack. Breakfast will be ready in just a moment.”

Applejack froze, all of her sleepiness and aches forgotten with the surprise announcement. There wasn’t supposed to be another pony in her house, but despite this, there was a stallion by her stove, with a large skillet being held over the flame in his magic.

“My, you look like you’ve had a rough night. If you’d like, I can whip up one of my famous energy protein shakes for you. Completely organic, of course, but loaded with essential vitamins and minerals to help balance and energize your day.”

“WHO IN TARNATION ARE YOU?!” Applejack finally found her voice, size large, and her question rattled every last window in the house.

“Me?” The light blue stallion chuckled and stirred whatever he was cooking with a quick flick of the pan. “Oh, forgive me. My name is Brambles, and I’m your new husband.”

Applejack’s mouth and jaw moved rapidly, but the only thing that managed to make it past her throat was unintelligible babbling. Five or six questions were trying to be asked all at the same time, but there was no way to sort out the jumbled train wreck that emerged.

“Don’t worry, I get that reaction a lot when I first meet a mare,” Brambles said with a chuckle. “Have a seat, won’t you? I’ll get everything dished up for us, dearest.”

“Hold it!” Applejack finally got her thoughts and her words straightened out, and she marched across the kitchen to go nose-to-nose with the intruder. “Hold on just one apple-pickin’ minute! You ain’t my husband! You ain’t even supposed to be in here! How’d you get in here, anyway?”

“Let’s not concern ourselves with the details, dear,” Brambles said with a charming smile. “The point is I am here now, to be yours for as long as we both shall live. Now, have a seat. The watercress will burn if I leave this on the heat any longer.”

“Oh no you don’t!” Applejack shoved Brambles towards the back door, and kept pushing over his protests. “Ah don’t know where you got such a plum idiotic notion, but Ah sure ain’t gonna let no trespasser stay in my kitchen and use up my vittles! Out!”

“But, Applejack, dearest!”

“Not listening!” Applejack gave Brambles one last heave, and she made a point of slamming the door in his face before throwing the deadbolt, and then wedging a chair under the doorknob for good measure. “Of all the insolent tomfoolery! Ah ain’t got time for addle-headed imbeciles running around in my home!” She paused to inhale, then glanced over to the skillet. “And what in Equestria was he cookin’? Smells like the inside of my muck boots.”

Applejack pulled the skillet off the stove, extinguished the flame, and studied the contents of the pan. To her, it looked like Brambles had dumped in a pound of seaweed—which was probably the aforementioned watercress—some weeds from the burn pile out back, a bunch of odd-looking spices, and a healthy dash of brown.

If it tasted the same as it smelled, then the intruder had made slop for the pigs, not breakfast. With a snort, she picked up the pan, marched back to the back door, and removed the obstructions before flinging it wide open. Sure enough, Brambles was still there, the morose look of defeat instantly melting into a grin when he glanced up to her.

“I knew you’d…”

“You made this, you eat it.” Applejack shoved the pan in Brambles’ face, and he yelped as he tossed the still-hot food from one hoof to another. “Once you’re done, leave the skillet on the stoop and get offa my property. Don’t you come back, neither!”

The door slammed shut once more, and Applejack grumbled to herself as she marched back to the icebox. “Where in the wide world of Equestria did he get such a ridiculous notion, anyway? My husband?! I don’t even—”

Applejack’s words cut off when her gaze moved to the table, and she saw that morning’s edition of the newspaper, unfolded and opened to the Gabby Gums article on page four. Which just so happened to be one page over from the classified section, where a certain advertisement had been placed last week…

“No.” She snorted again and shook the thought from her head. “Can’t be related. Ah wrote to an agency, and they ain’t replied to me yet. If them Flim Flam brothers sent me a stallion without talkin’ to me first, I’m gonna tan their hides clear from wherever they are straight to Canterlot. Then Ah’m gonna talk to Twi about getting a law passed against sending stallions unsolicited through the mail. That’s just…” She paused and shuddered. “No. Those two wouldn’t be that dumb. They couldn’t be that dumb. Could they?”

* * 🍎 * *

Mornings in Ponyville, for the most part, were almost as predictable as Applejack. Apart from the odd bugbear attack or plundervine invasion, most ponies had their own little routine that they followed, day in and day out, and there was a peaceful comfort in that repetition.

And after the unwelcome interruption to her morning, Applejack was grateful for that repetition. Today was Saturday, which meant that she was due to make a round of pre-dawn deliveries to the bakeries in Ponyville, so they, in turn, would have fresh apple strudels, apple fritters, and apple bread for their customers once Princess Twilight raised the sun.

The calm stillness was relaxing, and Applejack drew in a long breath of the cool nighttime air. The crunch of the wagon wheels over the gravel path was both familiar and relaxing, and she grinned when she caught sight of a small family of opossums, all strung upside down in a nearby tree and watching her with curious, but ultimately indifferent stares.

The peace was interrupted by a deep yawn, and Applejack shook some of the sleep from her head as she plodded along. Thankfully, her first delivery was already within sight, and she knew the proprietor of the humble little coffee shop would be able to provide her with the jolt she needed to stay awake.

“G’morning, Pep,” Applejack called out as she entered the brightly lit store. “Gimmie the usual, please.”

“One large size coffee, spare the fancy, coming up.” The creamy brown mare had already snagged a large foam cup with her magic and began to pour when Applejack entered, so the order was even faster than usual. “Sure you don’t want a squirt of hazelnut or chocolate in that?”

“Nope, never gonna do it, no matter how much you ask. Ah’ve already had enough excitement for one day as it is,” said Applejack. “But why don’t you give me one of those apple muffins, too. Breakfast was a bust, and Ah’m famished.”

“It’s a bit early for enough excitement to warrant an apple muffin,” the proprietor said, and she placed both items down on the counter. “I mean, this is Ponyville and all, but usually that much excitement waits for daybreak, at least.”

“Ah tell ya, it’s the durndest thing,” Applejack started before taking a bite from the muffin. Peppermint Chai had only recently refurbished and reopened the former Starbucker’s location, but she was a thoughtful and considerate mare, and one who Applejack had grown to trust with some of her personal problems. Pep was probably the only pony in the whole of Equestria who truly knew how overworked Applejack felt at the moment, and the Coffee Hutt now felt like a warm and peaceful oasis from all the troubles in the world thanks to her chipper attitude and friendly words.

The fact that she was the only other pony awake at this Celestia-cursed hour helped matters, too. “Ah had to run a trespasser out of my own kitchen this mornin’!”

“Somepony broke into your house?” Peppermint asked, craning her neck to look outside as if she was looking for a body flung over Applejack's wagon. “Do you have any idea who it was?”

“Some knucklehead callin’ himself Brambles. Ain’t never met him before in my life, but there he was all the same, struttin’ around like he thought he was gonna own the place!”

Peppermint leaned on the counter with one foreleg and gave Applejack a knowing grin. “Oh, really? And what, exactly, did he want?”

“That’s the worst of it! He was cooking pond scum in my kitchen!” Applejack snorted. “Can you believe that?”

“Oh, I dunno. I suppose I could, if he was trying to court you,” Peppermint said with a bob of her eyebrows, and Applejack leaned back.

“Has Rarity been talkin’ to you again? Or Rainbow?” she growled. “They sure the hay better not have sent him over.”

“I don’t think they had anything to do with Brambles,” Peppermint said. “But they may have been in here the other day, talking about how to help out ‘a friend’ and her woefully inadequate love life.”

“Shoot, last thing Ah need is for them two to get involved with my personal affairs. More than they have already, anyway.” Applejack threw back the rest of her coffee, then let out a groan. “Ah’ll have to hunt ‘em down later, though. Ah got too much on my chore list already; Ah ain’t got time to properly cuss them out for meddlin’.”

“I still don’t know how you handle doing everything by yourself,” Peppermint said as she refilled Applejack’s cup with more of the liquid sustenance. “Or even if you’re handling it.”

“‘Tain’t been easy, but Ah’ve slowly been gettin’ things caught up. If it does get to be too much for me, Ah’ll be sure to get some help.”

“It’s better than beating yourself into the ground,” Peppermint said as she passed the large cup back to Applejack. “No offense, but you look like you haven’t slept in a week.”

Applejack didn’t want to admit to her sleep-deprived condition, so she decided that it would be best to end the conversation there. “Best get movin’ on,” she said as she tossed the rest of the muffin in her mouth. “Where you want me to put your apples?”

“Just leave them out front; I can bring them in later. You sure you’re going to be okay?”

“Ah will be. Just a few more things to take care of ‘round the farm,” said Applejack, and she hoped that her tone was somewhat convincing. She really did believe everything would be fine, once she got caught up. The only sticking point was how she was going to get there. “Much obliged for the coffee. How much Ah owe you?”

“On the house today,” Peppermint said with a grin. “In exchange for ten percent off the next delivery.”

“Deal. Ah’ll even knock off the delivery fee. If you happen to see either Rainbow or Rarity, would you mind tellin’ them Ah want to discuss something with them?”

“I’ll be sure to pass your thinly veiled threat along when I see them.”

Applejack smirked, tipped her hat, and left the store with her cup of motivation. The caffeine jolt would help to limber her up, and by the time she got done with her deliveries, she would be ready to get down to brass tacks at the farm.

Or fight off the feeling of brass tacks stabbing her legs, either way.

* * 🍎 * *

Applejack drew in a deep yawn as she stumbled her way back to the farm, and for a few moments, she allowed her pounding head to entertain the treasonous thought of going back to bed. The deliveries had been easy enough, but they also had sapped what little energy she had gotten from Peppermint’s coffee, and her hooves felt like they were wading through concrete with each progressive step.

“Just a little farther,” she murmured to herself. “Don’t need to walk to sort apples. Ah can just sit there, and maybe rest my eyelids for a few minutes…”

If her legs hadn’t been in motion, Applejack would have fallen completely asleep right there in the middle of the road. Instead, she continued on her current trajectory, her body moving on memory since her eyes had fluttered shut and she was beginning to snore.

“Excuse me, miss?”

“Not until next Thursday!” Applejack bolted awake and slammed to a stop. With a groan, she rubbed her eyes, then glanced at the surprise speaker through blurred vision. “Wazzat now?”

“Are… are you okay?” the unfamiliar male pegasus asked.

“Rootin’ tootin’,” Applejack mumbled.

“Oh. I was just wondering if you could tell me how to get to Sweet Apple Acres. I always get turned around when I’m on the ground.”

Applejack yawned deeply again. “Just down this road,” she replied with a limp wave of her hoof. “‘Bout another couple furlongs or so. Big red barn, can’t miss it.”

“Thanks. Are you sure you don’t need any help?”

“‘Preciate the offer, but ah’m fine. Just need to walk this off is all.”

“If you’re sure,” the pegasus said warily. “Good luck.”

Applejack let out a snore, and the pegasus flapped away, obviously convinced that there was no further conversation to be had. The overwhelmed farmer straddled the line between sleep and awake for several long moments, but then another thought snuck into her quasi-slumber, and her eyes popped open.

“Wait just a country fried minute. Why was he tryin’ to get to my farm?”

The question was strong enough to suppress her fatigue, and she took off into a trot with the wagon bouncing along behind her. Normally, a stray visitor to the farm wouldn’t be a cause for much concern, but after the trespasser incident, she wasn’t willing to take a chance.

Applejack’s thoughts ran faster than her legs as she ascended the last hill before Sweet Apple Acres, but most of her concern centered on why there was such odd goings-on all of the sudden, and why she seemed to be at the epicenter of it all. It wasn’t so much that she couldn’t handle the strange or the unusual—being both a farmer and the Bearer of the Element of Honesty had conditioned her to accept strange as normal, and doubly so since her farm was adjacent to the Everfree Forest—but even she had her limits on the amount of strange she could handle in one day, and—

Her thoughts and her forward motion were suddenly stopped when she unexpectedly rear-ended another pony, and the force of the impact would have taken her off her hooves if she hadn’t been strapped into the wagon harness. The other pony in the collision wasn’t so fortunate, however, and Applejack offered an apology as she helped the victim to stand.

“Shoot, Ah’m right sorry about that. Didn’t mean to run into you.”

“No harm done, ma’am” the grey stallion said while brushing some dirt from his coat. “Are you hurt at all?”

“Nah, Ah’m fine.” Applejack took a moment to look over the pony before her, and she frowned when her eyes moved to the pony in front of him, and the next one in the line after that. “Say, you mind tellin’ me why all y’all are out here, standin’ in the middle of the road?”

“Oh, well, we’re here to reply to a personal ad that we saw in the paper,” the grey stallion replied as the ponies nearest to him turned to see who was talking to who. “Or, at least, that’s why I’m here. I’m just assuming everypony else in line is here for the same reason.”

“Aren’t you Applejack?” the next stallion in line asked.

Applejack didn’t answer the question. “Everypony else? Just how many of you are there?”

“Hard to say,” the first stallion said as a small gaggle of males began to surround the two of them. “Probably several hundred or so.”

“What?!” Applejack pushed through the crowd, then stopped at the crest of the hill. “Holy moly! That’s a lot of stallions!”

Even for all of the oddities that had happened in Ponyville, this was a sight that Applejack could never have possibly dreamed, nor thought of on her own. The farm was overrun with studs, no matter where she looked! From the barn to the chicken coop, from the pig pen to the house, and from the brook on the Everfree end of the property to the orchard treeline on the other, nearly every square inch was occupied by the widest and most diverse bunch of males that could ever be conceived of.

“So, since we saw you first, do we get first dibs?” a random yellow stallion on Applejack’s left asked.

“What in the Sam Hill is goin’ on around here?!” Applejack whirled and glared daggers at the speaker, who yelped and cringed in reply. “Why is my farm overrun with stallions?!”

“We’re here because of the ad you put in the paper!” the poor fellow whined.

“WHAT AD?” Applejack roared. “Ah didn’t put no ad in no paper!”

“You didn’t?” the first grey stallion asked, and he held out a copy of a newspaper. “Well, somepony did. Look. ‘Wanted: one awesome stud needed for a husband. Must like apples, pigs, apples, chickens, apples, pears, apples, and whatever else farmers like. If you think you've got what it takes to be the companion to best of the best, tryouts will be at Sweet Apple Acres on the 18th starting at nine. Be sure to ask for Applejack.’”

Applejack snatched the paper away, looked over the personal ad once more, then growled as her teeth began to grind. “Dagnabbit, Rainbow!”

* * 🍎 * *

Ms. Harshwhinny had just come to a very important conclusion.

Namely, that she didn’t take nearly enough vacation time. It was a fact that she was beginning to regret as her train chugged steadily towards Ponyville, but there was still time to correct the issue, and perhaps this trip would be the catalyst for future relaxation opportunities.

But, as always, there was business to attend to first. Normally, Harshwhinny would have passed off this particular task to one of her subordinates, but this was a special case, and she wanted to personally ensure that everything was satisfactory.

“Excuse me, Miss, but is this seat taken?”

Harshwhinny rolled her eyes, but a playful smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as a charming orange crystal pony plopped down in the seat next to her without waiting for a reply. “Yes. It’s already been taken, so go sit somewhere else.”

“Augh!” the intrusive but not unwelcome passenger let out a faux groan of agony while passing her a large foam cup. “I could have sworn that I heard you say that you wanted to spend as much time with me as possible during this little excursion, and now you cast me aside! Oh, the pain!”

“Knock it off, you goof.” Harshwhinny halfheartedly chided, and she gently smacked her guest in the shoulder. “I really don’t know why I put up with you sometimes.”

“That’s a question I ask myself every day.”

“You’d better keep asking it, too, buster.” Harshwhinny took a long sip from the offered cup, and she smacked her lips once she was done. “Perfect, as always. Thank you, Väs.”

“Anything for you,” he replied with a quick kiss on her cheek. “Gotta admit, I’m looking forward to seeing Ponyville for the first time. Think we might be able to stop by the School of Friendship and take a tour?”

“If we have time, but we must reach Mustangia on time for the inspection.”

“Do you really think this is going to take long?” Väs asked.

“It might,” Harshwhinny replied as she snuggled into Väs’ embrace. “Given how vague the letter was, it will be difficult to sort out what Applejack wants, exactly. I honestly doubt she’s serious, but if she is, we’ll make sure she gets the best of our selection.”

“I should think so. A good word from her would go a long, long way toward making our business respected.”

“Yes, but more than that. She was extremely helpful during the Crystal Empire games a few years ago. I’d like to repay the favor, if I can.”

“I’m sure you will.” Väs began to run a hoof up and down Harshwhinny’s foreleg, but then he paused and looked around. “Say, Honeybunch. Did you notice anything peculiar about our fellow passengers?”

“Like what?”

“Look around. You’re the only mare in this car.”

Harshwhinny sat up, and it only took a moment to confirm what Väs had said: every seat in the car was occupied by a stallion of some variety. “Odd. I didn’t even notice.”

“You didn’t tell them to come with us, did you?” Väs asked.

“No, I kept this assignment private, as always.” Harshwhinny tapped a hoof on the floor in thought, then turned and tapped the pony behind her on the shoulder. “Excuse me, sir?”

“Mm?” The dark blue unicorn turned with a small grunt. “Yes?”

“I’ve noticed quite a few young stallions on board today. Would you know where they are all going?”

The unicorn scoffed. “That’s easy. They’re all heading to Ponyville to hopefully woo the fair Applejack.”

“Applejack?” Harshwhinny glanced to Väs, then back again. “Why are they doing that?”

“Well, she put a personal ad in the newspaper,” the unicorn replied, and he passed over the newspaper he’d been holding. “See? Right there. ‘Wanted: one charming and handsome stallion for matrimonial bliss. Must be clean, well-mannered, and hold himself with the finest airs of sophistication and grace, and willing to work long hours in a horrendously hot apple orchard. Inquire at Sweet Apple Acres for Applejack.’”

“That is most peculiar,” Väs said while reading the ad over Harshwhinny’s shoulder. “Why would she employ us and place an advertisement?”

“I don’t know, but we’re going to find out,” Harshwhinny said with a small snort.

* * 🍎 * *

“Of all the pig-headed, nonsensical, and downright stupid things to do…” Applejack grumbled as she paced the length of her kitchen.

“Hey, how do you even know that I had anything to do with this?” Rainbow Dash replied from her seat at the table. “For all we know, Rarity could have put this in the paper.”

“I beg your pardon!” Rarity spluttered. “I would never write something so coarse and uncouth!”

“I didn’t write that,” Fluttershy added, but she shrunk back a little. “But I’m sorry it’s upset you this badly.”

“Upset? Upset?!” Applejack stopped and let out a slightly maniacal chuckle. “Oh, no. Ah ain’t upset. Ah’m positively peeved right now.”

Rarity gasped. “Language, Applejack! Nopony is going to want to court a pony with such a foul mouth!”

“Ah wouldn’t have to cuss if y’all hadn’t suckered every single stallion from here to Salt Lick to come to my farm!” Applejack replied. “Ah know you did it, Rainbow! Just admit it already!”

“What’s the big deal, anyway?” Rainbow replied. “So there’s a few stallions outside, so what?”

“The big deal, Rainbow, is that they came here under false pretenses. Ah only wanted a couple of stallions here, not half of Equestria! That’s why Ah was waiting to hear back from that mail-order outfit!”

“Wait. You actually wrote to them?” Rainbow asked.

“Ah said Ah would,” Applejack flatly replied.

“Well, yeah, but I didn’t think you’d actually do it,” Rainbow went on. “If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have—”

Rainbow clamped her lips shut, but the damage had been done. “Wouldn’t have what, exactly?” Applejack asked after a long, awkward pause.

Before Rainbow could be compelled to answer, a quick knock came at the door and Pinkie Pie let herself in. “Hey everypony! Boy, there’s a lot of boys out there!” she said with a snort for her own joke. “I even brought Starlight with me, too! She’s definitely not a boy, so I figured it would be okay to let her in.”

“Applejack, what is going on?” Starlight Glimmer quickly trotted into the kitchen, then kicked the door shut when a few stray males tried to stick their noses inside. “I’ve had at least a dozen stallions ask me if I’m you, and another dozen have tried to bribe me into putting a good word in! I can’t get anything done at the school with that much testosterone running around!”

“Ah do believe Rainbow Dash was just about to explain the whole thing.” Applejack leveled a death glare at her friend, and Rainbow cracked.

“Okay, fine. I admit it. I put the classified ad in the Cloudsdale Gazette.”

Applejack glanced to the newspaper that she’d confiscated from the yellow stallion on the hill. “This is the Canterlot Sun.”

“Oh, that’s mine,” said Rarity. “I may have also sent one to the Crystal Empire Times. You know. For diversity.”

“Phew!” Pinkie Pie wiped her brow. “That’s a relief!”

“Why’s that?” asked Applejack.

“Because I thought you were going to find out about my ad in the Ponyville Picayune! It’s nice to know you busted Dash and Rarity first.”

“Wait a minute,” said Fluttershy. “Did each of you put an advertisement in the newspaper for Applejack?”

“Sure!” chirped Pinkie Pie. “Which one did you put your ad in?”

“Um, well… that’s not important,” Fluttershy said as she tried to hide behind her mane.

“Element of Honesty,” said Applejack with flat glare.

“All right!” Fluttershy hunched her shoulders and looked down at the table. “The Bird Watcher’s Weekly, the Raccoon Report, Nuts and Trees, and Metaphysics Monthly. Twilight gave me a year’s subscription to that as a gift for Heart’s Warming,” she added with a baleful grimace. “It makes for a good birdcage liner, but don’t tell her.”

Rarity rested her forehead on one hoof and let out a sigh. “I believe Applejack is looking for a husband in the applied sciences, not the theoretical.”

“Right,” said Applejack, then quickly backtracked. “Now hold on there!”

“All right, so everypony is guilty,” Starlight quickly said before the situation got any worse than it already was. “But how are we going to get rid of all of them?”

“Can’t we just tell them to go home?” Fluttershy asked.

“And miss out on the chance to marry the one and only Applejack?” Rainbow scoffed. “Yeah, that’ll work.”

“Well, you’ve got to do something,” Starlight said over a knock at the door.

“Ah’ll get rid of ‘em, somehow,” said Applejack as she moved to the door and opened it without looking. “Go on, git! Ah ain’t got no need for you, and you can tell all your friends to beat it, too!”

“Missus Applejack, I am probably the only pony who can truly help you right now,” Ms. Harshwhinny replied with a deep scowl. “But if that is how you feel—”

“Miz Harshwhinny? Wait!” Applejack flung the door wide open, grabbed the newcomer, pulled her inside, and slammed the door shut before any males weaseled their way in. “You know how to get rid of all of them? What are you doing here?”

“Well, I initially came to discuss your request for a mail-order groom,” Harshwhinny replied, and she pulled Applejack’s letter from her saddlebag. “But I see you took matters into your own hooves.”

“What? Hold on,” said Rainbow. “You’re in charge of mail-order grooms?”

“I am a co-President of F.F. Services, yes. If you’lI permit me, I can explain why I’m here and what you need to do now. Oh, and if you could let my husband inside also, that would be appreciated.”

* * 🍎 * *