• Published 15th Sep 2012
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An Old Mare's Tale - realbrickwall



What really happened one thousand years ago

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4
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Chapter 10

Celestia scrambled for words. Surely as the goddess of the sun, she should have had some kind of explanation for why, despite her complete inability to use magic, the sun rose into the sky on its own course. After a solid minute of stammering, she fell to the phrase that she always did when explanations did not come to her.

“Um…Sage?”

The sunset-colored unicorn made a grumbling noise. “I don’t have anything for this one.”

Shimmerdust popped up beside him. “It kinda reminds me of that old mariner’s tune.” All eyes turned to her. “You know? Blackest sky? Cry the four winds?” Blank stares. “Let me sing it for you.” Flash Burn looked around nervously, but Shimmerdust’s tune was much less rough and rousing than those the two had shared earlier.

Sail we under blackest sky

Heave the lines and hoist the main

Cry the four winds rage the tide

Heave to, ho

The flag of freedom still shall fly

Heave the lines and hoist the main

Thirteen sunsets ‘ere we die

Heave to, ho

There was a brief pause, as everypony continued staring at the blue unicorn. Shimmerdust looked around.

“It’s a song for when you’re hoisting the mainsail.”

“We know!” shouted all the other ponies.

Celestia stepped forward. “That sounds like a song from the war. How is that related to this?” Shimmerdust grabbed Flash Burn by the tail and positioned her in front of the sun, then pushed her onto her hind legs. Flash Burn spread her wings for balance.

Shimmerdust pointed. “Look familiar?”

Celestia stepped back. “That’s the flag of Equestria, the symbol of freedom since before I was even born. Shimmer, do you know where the mariners learned that song?”

Shimmerdust shrugged. “They probably made it up. Seafaring ponies are very prolific songwriters you know.”

“I don’t think so.” Celestia tapped her hoof on her chin. “Twilight Sage, correct me if I’m wrong, but most archaeologists agree that, before the war, there were twelve Divine Ages?” The unicorn nodded. “And one ended since the war. That means thirteen. Thirteen divine beings have parted from this world. Does that seem like a coincidence to you?”

Twilight Sage mimicked Celestia's pondering stance. "I'm having trouble imagining how sailors ran across something that could very well be a prophecy."

"Sailors travel to lands we know little of. Who knows what they may have run across?"

Sage shook his head. "Still, it makes sense. The gods have always been responsible for raising the sun and moon. Some of their essence still remains in the mortal world, so it's not unreasonable to think that the patterns of magic over the world have the power to raise the sun."

Morning Glory frowned. "If you two have this figured out, then maybe you know where the moon and stars have gone?"

Celestia nodded. "Actually, that part's easy. Luna and I weren't completely divine when this happened. I may have power over the sun, but it's not part of my being. When Luna became Nightmare Moon, the celestial objects of the night became truly a part of her. So, while she's disabled, they are too."

"Seriously?" Morning Glory's confused face was reflected by the other ponies.

"Quite. In fact, I suspect that the infusion of the moon's essence is what caused the shift in personality. I underwent a similar experience when I tried the spell that she was using to enhance her power. However, I only tried it once, so the effects were…not too drastic. From what I could tell, Luna cast that spell very many times."

"But, Your Majesty-" Celestia shot Flash Burn a glare. "Oh. Umm…Sunny. Why did the moon and stars make her evil? Neither ever seemed particularly evil to me."

Celestia shook her head. "They didn't. She became obsessed with the night, of course, and the vast power gain made her desire even more power, but they didn't make her evil. It's more like a combination of temporary insanity and a terrible mood." The other ponies didn't look terribly assured. "Don't worry. We have thirteen days now. We just have to get one of the Elements of Harmony, and then we should have enough power to cleanse the moon essence from her. I'm sure that her regular pattern is still rejecting the foreign magic, so we just have to get past her defenses."

"Okay," Flash Burn sighed. "Thirteen days to get to Griffonmont and back? We'd better get a move on, then. Come on, everypony!"

The other ponies continued down the path after Flash Burn, but Twilight Sage hung back next to Celestia.

"I'm sorry. This whole thing is my fault. If I hadn't tried meddling with things like I was, Luna would still be safe."

Celestia didn't look at Sage, but she responded. "You're wrong. There's something I haven't told anypony." Sage looked at Celestia with wide eyes. "When Luna was being taken by the magic, she had this look to her. But it wasn't the first time she did. Whatever caused it…it's been in her for many, many years."

"So it's not the moon?"

"I don't know, but whatever it is…I'm not sure we'll be rid of it once this is all over."

"Then what will you do?"

Celestia said nothing, and continued on after the other ponies.


It was past noon when the first of the orchards that made up Sweet Acres came into view. It was surrounded by a rather low fence, which looked to be in significant disrepair. As the group drew nearer, a soft thumping sound started coming at irregular intervals. It became louder the closer they got, until finally, they came into view of the source of the sound. A lone mare with a coat of greenish yellow like a ripe golden delicious apple and a vibrant green mane was bucking apple trees. Each kick knocked loose a number of apples into carts that were already wheeled into place around the tree.

Celestia waved her front hoof. "Hello!" The farmer turned around and gasped. She instantly galloped off into the orchard.

Flash Burn frowned. "Should I go get her?"

"No," Celestia said with a hoof on Flash's shoulder. "We don't want to make trouble. Let's just go to the front gate." Nopony raised a voice in protest, and they continued on the path. It took only a couple minutes until they were close enough to read the sign above the gate. "Sweet Apple Acres." A voice called out from behind the gate.

"All right, whadda y'all want!" The voice sounded like an older stallion, definitely not the farmer from before.

"We're here to buy food!" Celestia called back. There was a murmur from behind the gate. From the sound of it, there was also an older mare there, and she and the stallion were quietly arguing. After an uncomfortable minute, the gate slowly swung open.

"Alright, y'all can come in," grumbled the stallion. He looked as old as he sounded, though he was still broad and muscular, and colored a deep red. The mare appeared to be a bit younger, and her coat was deep purple. Both their manes had gone silver. The stallion wore a frown, but the mare had a soft smile.

"Oh, don't listen to him, dears. We've just all been a bit on edge since last night. C'mon in!" She stepped out to walk alongside the other ponies. "My name's Plum Juice. This here's my husband, Appleseed."

"Hrmph."

Plum smacked Appleseed as she walked by him. "And y'all have already met our daughter, Apple Juice. I hope you weren't too put off by her runnin' off like that. She only thought you might be apple bandits."

Celestia smiled. "It's alright. My name's Sunny, and these are my friends Twilight Sage, Captain Flash Burn, Amaranth, Morning Glory, Shimmerdust, and Hurricane." The other ponies waved and nodded as their own names were spoken. "We're traveling really far, but we left in a hurry, so we didn't pack too well. We need to pick up food."

"Refugees from Everfree, huh? Yeah, we seen the paths lit up with lots of ponies headin' away from that place. What all happened over there anyway?"

Celestia looked away. "Some kind of magical accident. We're actually out looking for a way to fix it. The city's still safe, but it's only a matter of time."

"Official business, huh? Explains the armor, though I thought all the guards wore the same uniforms." Plum Juice continued on nonchalantly, but Celestia noticed that Amaranth was slouching low to the ground.

"Yes, well, it's a bit complicated. Anyway, if we could buy some apples from you, we'll just be on our way."

"Sakes alive!" yelled Appleseed. "If y'all are goin' anywhere you can't just eat grass, you ain't gonna solve your problems with a pack fulla apples. Ain't none of you ever traveled before?" The group of ponies shook their heads.

"Appleseed, these here are payin' customers and you will be polite!" Plum Juice turned back to the group. "Beg pardon, dears. Before we were married, Appleseed used to be quite the wanderer. He helped a lot of settlements get their farming up and running, especially apple orchards and nurseries. So, of course, now he thinks he's some sort of expert."

"I am an expert, woman! I been just about everywhere in Equestria, and I'm none worse for the wear."

"Last time somepony took your advice, he threw a shoe, you old coot!"

"And how is it my fault your brother's a sissy won't use nails to put shoes on?"

Celestia cleared her throat loudly so that both the older ponies looked at her. "I don't want to be a bother, but we really need to be quick. We've got a limited amount of time, and the journey won't be easy."

"Of course, dears. Follow me." Plum Juice began trotting, but stopped suddenly. "Oh, I have an even better idea. Whatever I may say, my husband does certainly know how to pack for a journey. How about y'all stay here while he goes about Sweet Acres getting' some real packs together for y'all."

"Oh, we don't want to be any trouble."

"Nonsense, he'd be happy to."

"Hell I will, woman! Any far journeyer's gotta have prunes, and you know the horrors I gotta face if'n I want those."

Celestia raised an eyebrow, and Plum Juice rolled her eyes. "He means my mother."

"Mother nothing!" protested Appleseed. "Plum Jerkum is a vicious mule who could never be related to the sweet little filly I met on the farm she just happens to own."

"You better mean me, you old coot."

"Maybe," grumbled Appleseed.

"Oh, just get the wagon and git!" Plum Juice smacked Appleseed again, though he didn't show any noticeable increase in speed as he slunk to the barn. "Don't worry 'bout him, my little ponies. Only thing he loves more'n being ornery is helping other ponies. It's not like he went out traveling for his health. Now, c'mon, I got something for y'all to do while you wait."

Celestia looked back at the others. They looked as confused as she was, but none of them said anything as they fell in behind Plum Juice. None of them except Flash Burn, who leaned in to whisper something to her.

"Does the name Appleseed sound familiar to you?"

"Not really. Why?"

"I dunno. It's just…something bugs me about it."

Celestia peeled away from Flash Burn and tried to look as if she hadn't just been having a surreptitious conversation. The unease in her stomach made the walk to the mysterious objective seem like it took forever.

After a short walk, they came to a part of the orchard where many of the trees had no apples left on them. Plum Juice pulled a number of harnesses out of a cart.

"Y'all take these. You two girls might wanna be takin' off your armor. Apple bucking can tire a pony out quick."

Amaranth tried to say something, but Flash Burn cut him off. "Wait, you want us to buck apples?"

Plum Juice nodded. "We've gotta get all the Macintosh apples in today, and with my husband out doing up those packs, we can't possibly finish. I figure the seven of you might be able to replace him. I'll put your farmhands' wages towards what you owe us for the food, of course."

"But we don't know how to buck apples properly," protested Morning Glory.

"Aw c'mon," said Hurricane, "how hard can it be? Anypony can buck, and you just gotta hit a tree, right?"

Plum Juice shook her head. "Ain't that simple. But I ain't the one to show you. Hey, AJ!" she called. Within seconds, the green-maned pony from before.

"Yeah, ma? Oh! Uh…hi." Apple Juice kicked at the ground shyly.

"You show these city folk how to buck apples. I'll go and make y'all some lunch."

"Okay ma." Apple Juice watched as her mother disappeared back into the orchard. "Listen, y'all, I'm powerful sorry about running off earlier. Pa's just been scaring me with stories about bandits. Thinks we're gonna be getting a bunch since the stars went out."

Celestia sighed. "Some ponies have certainly been acting up since then, but you don't have to worry about us."

"Glad to hear it!" Apple Juice started helping fasten the harnesses onto the other ponies. "You girls gotta get out of that armor. It's gonna get hot out today."

Amaranth sighed. "I'm not a girl."

Apple Juice blushed. "Oh." She looked around nervously. "Right. Uh…well, I just can't tell with that crazy armor of yours. I mean, it looks nice! Uh, but I ain't seen anything like it before. Not that that's bad!" There was a short pause. "Right. Well, why don't I show y'all how to buck so I can go off and die of embarrassment nice and proper?"

"Oh come on!" Hurricane shouted. "What's there to it? You just buck!" He went over to a full apple tree and kicked back with all his might. The tree shook, and two or three apples fell down. "What? Oh, come on!"

Apple Juice pushed him away from the tree. "Sorry, kid, but it ain't so simple after all. It's more than how hard you kick. You gotta kick right, too." She bucked the tree, and the apples fell out cleanly, filling the carts. "See? I'm half my dad's size, but I get just as many apples."

Hurricane grumbled. "How is that different than what I just did?"

Apple Juice blushed. "I guess I'm not much of a teacher. It's harder for pegasus ponies and unicorns, though. Y'all just do what you can, alright? It'll go faster with extra cart-pullers too."

The ponies all started bucking trees. Surely enough, most of them had trouble getting more than a couple apples at a time. Morning Glory started getting the hang of it, and was soon getting a tree finished in only three or four kicks. However, the real surprise came when Amaranth finally finished getting out of his armor. On his very first try, he finished a full tree in one kick. The same with his second try, and his third.

"Land's sakes!" cried Apple Juice. "You a secret farmer or something?"

Amaranth looked around, noticing that the other ponies were not faring nearly so well. "Well, I tend the castle gardens, but that's not quite the same. I don't actually do any harvesting."

Apple Juice shook her head. "All the same, I guess plants like you something fierce. Took me years before I could get a whole tree in one kick every single dang time." She took a breath. "Okay, I think I got us a system. Me, Amaranth, Glory, an' the Captain will do most of the bucking, and the Captain can fly up and get any stragglers. Hurricane, Sage, Sunny, and Shimmerdust can get the carts. We might get finished even faster than if Pa were here instead."

The ponies got back to work. Things went quickly, as surely as Apple Juice had predicted. By the time they were finished, Plum Juice had a stew ready, and Appleseed was folding cloaks to fit in the tattered saddlebags he had gathered. He looked as grumpy as ever, but he was very quiet as everypony had dinner. Shortly afterwards, they had apple pie.

Celestia stood up first. "Well, we appreciate your hospitality, but we should go. It's a few miles yet to Cloudsdale."

"Now hold on, girl," said Appleseed. "You been lucky so far, but I guarantee you that you ain't making it all the way to Cloudsdale without running afoul of some nasty folks. Don Corleoaty an' his boys been quiet recently, but with all the problems coming about, you can bet your soft city flanks that they'll be running down every pony taking the roads 'round here at night. I know you're in a hurry, but you best wait until morning."

Flash Burn stood up. "I'm the highest-ranking member of Equestria's military. I think I can handle a couple thugs."

Appleseed smirked. "That so?" He stood up as well. "You got horseshoes on, right? Come out back to the corral. I wanna see."

Plum Juice stood in front of him. "Appleseed! I know you mean well, but you are not picking a fight with our guests. I forbid it in my house!"

"That's why I'm going outside. Come on, Miss Captain. I just wanna see it for myself, so's I don't feel guilty about letting you go off on your own." He brushed past his wife and disappeared out the back door.

Plum Juice frowned. "You don't have to follow him. I'm not sure what's gotten into him."

Flash Burn started towards the door. "You said you're just barely on schedule, right?" Plum Juice nodded. "And without Appleseed, you get a lot less work done, right?"

"Yeah, but I don't see."

"And if I don't show him I know what I'm doing, he'll insist on coming with us to Cloudsdale, won't he?"

Plum Juice sighed. "I suppose he will, stubborn ol' mule that he is. Just…just be careful, alright?"

Flash Burn laughed. "Don't worry, I won't hurt him. I've done plenty of sparring matches. And even if he catches me off guard, he looks like he can take a strong hit."

Flash disappeared out the door too soon to hear Plum Juice say "He's not the one I'm worried about."


The corral was suspiciously empty of any signs that cows had been kept there recently. Appleseed was already at the center, stretching. Flash Burn flew over the fence and faced off with him.

"Okay, so how are we doing this?"

"Pretend like I'm a thug and I'm trying to hurt you and your friends. Plain and simple."

"No, but I mean-"

"Hey! You foals get in here too. You can't see a thing over that fence." Celestia looked at the other ponies. Hurricane had already hopped over the fence, and one by one, the other ponies hesitantly hopped over. Celestia went last.

"Good! Alright, let's get started." With little other warning, Appleseed charged straight at Flash Burn. The Captain of the Day Guard deftly dodged and gave a counter kick, however, her hooves hit empty air. "Land's sakes, quit pulling your blows!" Appleseed was standing just two inches away from where Flash's hooves had stopped. "I said pretend I'm trying to hurt you and your friends. You got wax in your ears?"

Flash Burn growled. "I was trying to take it easy on you!" She kicked again, but Appleseed had already begun circling behind her. "Argh! How do you move so fast?"

Appleseed smirked. "Lotta practice. You're doing great, though. Best kicks I've ever seen."

"Shut up!" Flash sprung into the air and dove to plant a hoof into Appleseed's head, but he sprang backwards, forcing the spectator ponies to take a step backwards. Flash stared daggers at Appleseed, who looked perfectly calm. "Now I know where I heard your name. You're an outlaw! My father faced off against you once."

"WAS an outlaw. And anyway, I prefer the term 'freedom fighter'. Not all the Guard are kindhearted, hard-working ponies like you, Miss Captain. Some of them ain't no better than the thugs they're supposed to be facing."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Flash took off again and turned herself to take an aerial loop so she could hit Appleseed from the side. He reared onto his hind legs and she sailed right under him.

"I can't count how many ponies I saved when I was out on my adventures, but I know that more than a few of them were being attacked by those very ponies who should have been protecting them."

"Well of course you think that, criminal!"

"Look, girl, I'm sure your daddy was a right upstanding fellow just following orders, but if you can tell me you ain't never seen one of your number picking on somepony who couldn't fight back, you forgot on purpose."

Flash stopped fighting. "Well…I-"

"Any case," Appleseed gently placed a hoof on Celestia's forehead. "You lose."

"Wait, WHAT?" Flash resumed her crouched stance.

"I told you, pretend like I'm trying to hurt you and your friends." He looked at his hoof. "If that were the case, your friend Sunny here would be seeing stars, and that's if she got lucky."

"Get off her!" Flash practically disappeared into the air, and everypony heard the splintering of wood as she took Appleseed straight through the corral fence. He hit the wall of the barn with a thud. After a short few seconds he got back on his feet, and smiled again.

"That's more like it. But that's not important. I could tell you were more than good enough to fight Don Corleoaty's thugs halfway in."

"Then why did you keep antagonizing me?"

"Were you listening, girl? I didn't want to see if you could fight, I wanted to see if you could protect your friends." Flash slumped. "Look, peaceful times like we've had, I bet you can count the number of times you've had to worry about bystanders on one hoof. But it's gonna be different from here on out. You gotta make your TOP priority the protection of others. Somepony's life is gonna depend on you looking out for them." Appleseed turned and disappeared into the farmhouse.

The rest of the ponies looked at Flash to see how she would react. The fire-maned pony didn't turn back to face them. "Miss Plum Juice, I'm tired. Where can I get some sleep?"

"Apple Juice has plenty of space in her room, dear. Why don't you girls all stay there for the night.

"But Ma!"

"No buts, young lady! You've never cared about sharing your room before. What reason could you possibly be raising a fuss for."

Apple Juice's eyes drifted over to Amaranth, but quickly snapped back. "Uh, no reason, Ma. I'll go get them some extra sheets." The golden delicious pony disappeared into the farmhouse as well.

Amaranth tilted his head. "So, where do the rest of us sleep."

Plum Juice sighed. "I think that's all the room we have. I don't suppose you can sleep in the barn?"

Hurricane groaned, but he was the first to turn off to the barn. The other stallions followed without complaint.

"Well! Such polite young men. I tell you, my husband can sleep on the street, but if I tell him to sleep in the barn, he raises such a fuss."

Celestia approached Plum Juice. "So, Appleseed didn't really go around planting orchards?"

"Oh, of course he did, dear. He just ran into so many problems, since he was always on the road, or in places where ponies were less fortunate. It was rough. As much as I wish it, I ain't the reason he settled down."

"So you were seeing each other while he was still traveling?" Morning Glory was on Plum's other side.

"Oh, yes, dear, he came back every month or so. Why do you think my mother hates him so much?" Celestia laughed. "Alright, off to bed with you, dears. Early wakeup on this farm."

Celestia and the other mares headed upstairs to Apple Juice's room. The farmgirl was already under a blanket on the floor. The bed was empty, and after negotiations, Celestia wound up getting the bed, which could not have fit two ponies lying side by side. No amount of coaxing would get Flash Burn or Morning Glory to take the bed instead, so she had relented. However, voices coming from below alerted Celestia that the window she was lying next to was right above the barn.

"So, dude, was it awesome?"

"Was what awesome?"

"Dude, you were there with the girls while they were bucking all day. Tell me you weren't watching."

"Is not one of those 'girls' your sister?"

"Yeah, well, I don't care if YOU look. Come on, seriously, man, were you checking them out or not?"

Apple Juice sat up in her bed and yelled. "By the way, Sunny, the barn walls are real thin, so you might hear it if one of the boys snores." There was a long period of silence. She laughed and plopped back down. "Sorry 'bout that, Sunny. Boys will be boys, but I don't care to hear anything about my haunches."

Morning Glory waved a hoof in the air. "Oh, none of us do. I appreciate being admired, but there's a line, you know."

"Oh yeah?" Flash sat up. "As I recall, you once told me a story of when you heard somepony whispering dirty things about you, so you just shook your haunches so that he would faint."

"That was retaliatory. Like this!" Morning Glory pounced on top of Flash Burn and started tickling where the shoulder met the neck.

"Ah! Hey! Nooooo!" Flash was kicking in the air, but clearly not trying very hard to stop her assailant.

"Alright, you two, we need to go to bed now."

"Fine," both of them said in unison. They crawled back under their blanket, and Celestia blew out the candle next to her.

Very soon, the last of the sun's rays disappeared below the horizon. Celestia said nothing, but in her head, she counted it off. "Twelve left."


Author's Note: I don't do these often, but I felt like a particular topic in this chapter needed one. At a couple points, the ponies talk about horseshoes. From discussions in the brony community, I gather that it is totally unclear of how ponies do horseshoes. Since I don't feel like awkwardly wedging in exposition, I would just like to note that, in my fanon, ponies use horseshoes sparingly. Only those ponies who have hooves weakened from hard work (cargo hauling, pulling trains) or inactivity, or who want weapons for fighting would use them. Most of Equestria's farriers are probably the equivalent of pony podiatrists, really. Also, to those bronies who think nailing a horseshoe would hurt a horse: NO. Hooves are keratin. That's what your hair is. The only issue that can occur is that an improperly applied nail could hit the quick. This does hurt, but if it happens, the nail is swiftly removed (because, let's face it, it's easy to tell when a horse is upset with you) and the shoe is refixed properly.