• 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 5

The arrival of moonset, Celestia noted to herself, felt not unlike being very hopped up on sugar. There was an incredible need burning inside her to just DO things, and it was also impossible to actually sleep. Without stirring from her pillow, she willed her divine magic into the sky and pushed the sun into the heavens once more. In her more philosophical moods, the princess often reflected on the fact that she and Luna were probably to only ponies capable of feeling glum while exercising powers beyond imagination. Changing the night into day did nothing to make Celestia feel any better after yet another night of attempting to appease nobles. Groaning, she pushed herself off her bed.

The princess walked over to her mirror and levitated a brush. She could hardly even get it through the tangle of pink on her head, and after half an hour, she decided that her tail was good enough that most ponies wouldn't notice. She would be sitting down most of the day, after all. Besides, today would be a good day. Flash Burn would finally relax a bit with Everfree's most wanted behind bars, Groza the griffon ambassador was coming by for the first time since winter, and Sage would probably be coming back to spend some time with her. Her close friends were happy, and that made Celestia happy.

The first thing that Celestia noticed upon entering the throne room was that her younger sister, Luna, was decidedly not happy. In fact, she had not seen such an angry glare from the other princess since the only time they'd ever had a real fight. Neither of them could even remember what it was about afterwards, but they had promised to never fight again, not even if the sun burnt to cinders and the moon was lost amongst the stars. Unable to bear the expression on her sister's face, Celestia looked out the eastern window to make sure that the sun was, in fact, in the sky.

"Did you sleep well, sister?" Luna had descended from the silver-and-midnight throne to stare her sister right in the face. Her horn was dangerously close to Celestia's head.

"Ah…no?" Celestia tried to manage a big grin, but it did not soften Luna's expression the slightest.

"Would you like to know how holding court went for me last night?" Celestia stepped back as Luna's face grew closer, but the younger princess pressed in without a delay.

"Not well?"

"I had three petitioners." Luna's glare faltered a bit as she looked off to the side, but it resumed quickly.

"Well, those three ponies must have really had urgent business with you, since they must have either skipped the ceremony or stayed up to come in after." Celestia breathed. That made sense, didn't it? It wasn't about the number, but the importance. And, surely, anypony who would come in that late or miss such an event must have had much more important matters that Celestia's own average petitioners.

"Two of them asked me if I could maybe please make the night start a bit later."

"Oh, that's nothing." Celestia rolled her eyes. "Do you know how many ponies come in asking me if I could put off sunrise so that they could sleep in easier on weekends? I tell you, sometimes I'm tempted to just post a sign. What was the third?"

Luna raised her voice to a shout, "The third one asked me to pose for naughty pictures!"

Celestia stepped back. "But we…Equestria has had no nudity taboo since before even we were born. What could that possibly entail?"

Luna narrowed her eyes, "You can see why I'm a bit upset."

There was an awkward silence, and Celestia sighed. "Luna, I'm sorry. But one bad night doesn't mean that they'll all be like this. You have to keep trying."

"ARGH!" Luna stamped a hoof down. "You just don't get it, do you?" The younger princess fled into the corridors.

"Oh no you don't, young lady. We are going to have a serious-" Celestia began to give chase, but she rounded the corner to find that Luna was already gone. "-chat," the princess said mostly to herself. She took a deep breath and willed magic into the walls of the castle. "This conversation is not over." She knew that Luna heard the message. With no further way to resolve the matter, she sat upon her throne.

Many minutes passed before the Day Guard marched into the throne room. They all bowed ceremonially. "Captain Flash Burn and the Day Guard reporting for duty, Your Majesty"

"At ease, everypony." The Day Guard stood up stiffly. For them, that WAS 'at ease'. "Anything to report this morning, Captain?"

"Yes, Your Majesty. The agricultural advisor was found stranded in the Foreign Quarter sometime last night, Your Majesty. He said…" the captain trailed off, looking to the side. Celestia's stomach leaped. She should have remembered that Amaranth hadn't the first clue how to navigate a paper bag, much less the lower areas of Everfree. And he certainly would have had no problem saying that Celestia had been the one to leave him there without a way home.

"Please tell him that I would like to see him and apologize." Flash Burn tilted her head in a small bow. "Is there anything else?"

"We recovered most of the objects stolen by Dark Blur from pawn shop dealers, Your Majesty, but we have been unable to locate any of the money he received from selling them, or any objects he may have purchased with such money, Your Majesty. We plan to follow up by finding any gambling houses he may have had debts to, Your Majesty, but-" Flash stopped suddenly. The guard pony bit her lower lip, and some of the other guards were trying their best not to stare at her.

"Out with it, Captain."

Flash sighed. "Your Majesty, I don't think we'll find answers there. The only pony who knows where that money has gone is the criminal himself, and he is in no state for interrogation, Your Majesty."

"That's all right, Captain. Is that all?"

"Yes, Your Majesty."

"Then you are all dismissed."

Flash stood up straight. "Day Guard! Stations!" The other ponies hurried off to their jobs. "Your Majesty, I know I screwed up-"

"You did nothing of the sort." Celestia stepped down from her throne. "Still, I'd like you to tell me why you think looking into the gambling houses is a bad idea. I've met enough criminals to know that the debts those places rack up can drive a pony to desperation."

"I just have this unshakable feeling, Your Majesty. There's something more to him." The two ponies pondered in silence.

"You said he can't be interrogated now? Surely his wing is well-mended enough that he can move, at the very least."

Flash Burn shook her head. "I stopped by the infirmary early this morning, Your Majesty. His wing will heal properly, they think, but they had to re-break it. I got there just in time for the procedure. It…if I didn't know they were healing him-"

"Stop blaming yourself, Flash." Flash gasped and looked the princess right in the eyes. Nailed it, thought Celestia to herself. "Feeling guilty won't get you anywhere. I'm sure he'll be fine."

Flash turned away again. "It's just…when I was taking ballet classes, Your Majesty, there was a girl. She made a bad landing, and she broke her wing. They tried so many things to fix it, but in the end, she couldn't fly at all. She was my friend, but as time went on, I couldn't see her anymore. Nopony could, because her parents never let her out. And one day, she-" Celestia heard a sob in Flash Burn's voice, but before she could assuage her, a voice rang out from beyond the gates.

"That, young lady, is why we took you out of those infernal classes." An alabaster pegasus and a deep orange unicorn were walking in the gates, both dressed in finery. Their age was only just starting to show on their faces.

"Mom? Dad?"

"In front of the princess, you will call me SIR, young lady." The white pegasus glared angrily at Flash Burn.

Celestia cleared her throat. "Duke Cirrus, the throne room has not been opened for the day. What are you doing here?"

The white pony and the orange pony both bowed. "Your Majesty, I apologize for intruding, but Lady Spring Dance and I must speak with our daughter about an urgent family matter." Flash Burn was looking at Celestia with a pleading expression.

"I, um, am afraid, Duke Cirrus, that the captain has a very important prisoner to attend to today. In fact, she needs to see him as soon as possible."

The white pegasus glared back over to his daughter. "You have work to do, and you were wasting both your time and the princess' with your daft sob story about that filly offing herself? If we weren't in the throne room, I would-"

"Cirrus Fluff!" The older pegasus bared his teeth upon hearing his full name, but backed down quickly.

"I am sorry that you had to see that, Your Majesty, but my daughter-"

"Is the leader of over two-hundred of Equestria's most fearsome ponies, and the most honorable member of my circle of advisors. You have no right to speak to her that way." The princess and the duke glared at each other.

"With all due respect, Your Majesty, she is my daughter. It is my duty to make sure that she remembers her standing and does not submit to the sentimental behavior of the common riff-raff." Celestia felt her muscles tense, and her magic surge. Perhaps it was because sunrise was so recent, but she still felt the need to unleash her power, and the duke was presenting a very fine target.

“Why Duke Fluff," came an androgynous voice from a corridor, "how wonderful to see you again." Amaranth trotted into the throne room to stand beside the collapsed form of Flash Burn. “I am so sorry that I missed you at the ceremony last night. It's lucky I caught you. I heard that you were discussing arranging a marriage between your daughter and the Princeps Minor, Azure Blueblood." Everypony's eyes opened wide, including Celestia's.

"Er, Lord Amaranth. How well-informed you are. Princess Minor Decadence seemed to have no intention of telling anypony." The duke looked a bit nervous.

"Yes, well, I only heard because apparently she also had to discuss it with the Duchess of Cloudsdale. Apparently she was supposed to marry Blueblood too. You know, that would have made your daughter his second wife? It's a good thing I stopped you in time, Duke Fluff. It would have been a shame if you had traded your vote away for something like that." The duke looked much more pained than if Celestia had actually thrown him across the room.

"Excuse us, Your Majesty." Duke Cirrus and Lady Spring Dance trotted out of the room quickly. Flash Burn looked up from behind her hooves.

"Amaranth? Why-I thought-but-"

"I figured I owed you for yesterday." The green pony and the pegasus smiled at each other, and Celestia felt all the tension in the room melt away.

"You didn't. But thank you."

"Just promise me that you won't let that old blowhard decide on a husband for you?"

Flash blushed a bit. "I won't. As long as you promise to stand up to him for me."

"No problem. Besides, you seem more like a mare's mare to me anyway." The green pony stuck out his tongue.

Flash brought her hoof to her mouth to stifle a chuckle. "Oh, don't tell me you were planning on proposing?" That broke the dam. Both ponies collapsed to the ground laughing. Even Celestia felt that she had begun to chuckle.

“Okay, you two, enough joking around." She nudged them both off the ground. "Flash, I think you have paperwork to do."

The pegasus shot up into the air. "I forgot! Crap!" She looked down at the princess. "Er. Your Majesty." She disappeared into one of the corridors. Celestia let herself giggle. She then knelt beside Amaranth.

"Amaranth, I am so sorry for abandoning you at the restaurant. It was stupid of me."

"Yes, it was." Celestia winced. Brutal honesty could be brutal. "But I forgive you."

"You were okay, right? I mean, I know you were lost, but other than that?"

"I was not." The green pony turned to let Celestia see his right back leg, which had notable swelling on one of the joints.

"What happened?"

"I was in some alleyway when a gang cornered me. They wouldn't believe that I didn't have any bits left on me after the restaurant. Thankfully, somepony heard the commotion and found the guards. Honestly, if I hadn't been mugged, I might not be here right now."

Celestia frowned. "We never used to have muggers. Not even in Everfree. How are so many ponies so poor when Equestria is the richest land in the world?"

"Princess, if you want to know about economics, you are asking the wrong pony. However, I think the situation may have been alleviated somewhat yesterday."

"Why? Did something happen in the Senate?"

"No. I just think that spending my entire week's stipend ordering every item on the menu at that restaurant must have had some effect on the local economy."

"You didn't." Celestia inched closer to Amaranth. "Tell me you didn't."

"I couldn't decide on what to get. I was going to ask you, but you left."

Celestia looked at her hooves. "I'm sorry. It's just…my sister has been feeling poorly lately. I saw an opportunity to cheer her up, and I took it. I wasn't thinking."

Amaranth nodded. "You can be a bit singleminded when it comes to Princess Luna. Amazing that after centuries, she is still more important to you than anything else in Equestria."

Celestia squinted. "Was that an insult or a compliment?"

"It was a statement." Celestia laughed in spite of herself. She knew that Amaranth had not meant to be funny, but his offhand deflection of the question amused her.

"Alright, alright. You haven't seen Morning Glory today, have you?"

Amaranth looked behind him with a gasp, which made Celestia laugh again. "No, Princess, I have not.," he grumbled.

"Strange, she's always in before it's time for court."

"Oh, goodness, is it that late already? Should I go?" Amaranth stood up, but Celestia placed a hoof on his.

"Let the nobles wait a bit. Why don't you tell me what it was like to have real zebra food for the first time?"


Celestia rubbed her forehead with her hoof. "Decadence-"

"Princess Minor Decadence." interrupted the blonde-maned grey unicorn mare before the throne.

"Explain to me what you mean when you say 'secessionists'," grumbled the princess, heedless of the correction.

"Well, it's a very simple political concept. You see, when there is a state-"

"I mean, why are there any secessionists in Maredrid?"

"Oh, I see." The unicorn laughed. "Well, it seems that the recent tax increase has upset a number of the ponies there. Apparently they don't think that they can run their businesses with a tax placed on official document paper. It's utter nonsense, if you ask me. I think sending a little military presence down there will have the issue resolved swiftly."

"You are in charge of the taxes of that province. You could just lower them."

"Oh, Princess," the unicorn chuckled, "the taxes are to benefit you. The more money I make, the more goes into the royal treasury. We both come out on top."

"Ah, yes," Celestia rolled her eyes, "because I was just thinking that my sprawling palace have enough luxuries. Why, with more money, I could renovate the swimming pool to have diamond studs all around and change colors. Surely that's worth hundreds of Maredrid farmers being unable to afford licenses to sell their produce."

"That's the spirit, Your Highness!" The mare reared up excitedly.

"Out."

"What?"

"OUT!"

"Princess, please recon-" the unicorn mare stopped. A giant bird talon was on her shoulder. Feathers brushed against her mane.

"Mmm, it's been ages since I've gotten a pony in my talons. And you feel so…tender." The voice dripped with predatory lust and hunger. Decadence Blueblood galloped from the room screaming, leaving an elderly griffon standing alone before the throne. Celestia rose to her hooves.

"Lady Groza of the griffons. Are you threatening a noble in my court?" She glared at the intruding griffon with lethal intent.

"Oh, only a little." The griffon chuckled to herself.

"That could be considered an act of war." Celestia narrowed her eyes.

"Yup." The griffon also narrowed her eyes. There was a moment of silence. And then both of them began laughing.

"Wow. I have never managed to make Decadence shut up that quickly."

"Well, everyone knows that griffons have more charm and charisma, of course." They both laughed again. Celestia moved in for a hug, but was stopped as she saw Groza's front foot held up, talons curled in.

"Uh…huh?" She raised one eyebrow and tilted her head. She had no idea what to make of the gesture.

"Ugh, Celestia, you are so unhip." Groza put her foot down and hugged the princess.

"How are you hip? You're over 200 years old."

"And still way more hip than you, so you should feel pretty bad." The two of them stared at each other for a moment. "So, how was winter?"

"Beautiful, as usual. Some days I wish I could have snow all year."

"If you like it so much, you could come live up in the mountains with me."

"No, Groza."

"Just the two of us. A nice log cabin…"

"Groza-"

"Snuggling up for warmth when the storms hit…"

"Enough, Groza. I'm a goddess. We're not interested in cuddling, or anything related to it, you know that."

"Hmph, maybe you aren't." Groza paced to recline onto Celestia's throne. "Your little sister's a different story."

"What do you mean by that?" The griffon silently preened her feathers. "Groza? What do you mean about my sister?"

"Don't worry about it, I was just teasin'." Groza waved her front foot in the air. "Say, where is the little tyke? This is the first time I've made it all the way to the throne room without her tackling me."

"She's really upset about something. A lot of things. I think it's my fault."

"Hey." Groza placed her foot on Celestia's shoulder. "It's not. I know you, and I know her. If she's mad, it's not at you. Remember the last fight you two had?"

"I try not to."

"Yeah, well, it wasn't your fault either. You can't take responsibility for your sister. She's gotta own up to herself."

"I know, but she's so young."

"She's older'n me."

"It's different for goddesses," Celestia protested, but she could see that the griffon was unswayed by the argument. ”Oh, Groza, it feels like Equestria is falling into ruin and I'm just failing to stop it. What am I doing wrong?"

"How much control do you still have over Equestria?" Celestia felt her heart sink. It was too good of a question. "I rule over my lands absolutely, but you, with your Senate…I don't think you have enough power anymore to accept responsibility."

"Maybe. But it's my responsibility anyway." Celestia felt a sharp sting in her shoulder, and realized that Groza had smacked it affectionately.

"And that's why I like ya. Now, I expect that you have a cake ready?"

"Yes, Madamoiselle Gateau has been working very hard. I hope you like strawberries…" the pair walked out of the throne room and off to the kitchen.