• Published 14th Sep 2022
  • 8,465 Views, 220 Comments

The Harem Noses - Irrespective

A stallion, three immortal Alicorn mares, and a healthy competition. What could go wrong?

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2. Introductions

* * * *

The principles of flight were a mystery to Baked Bean. Falling he knew all too well.

He had learned about lift, drag, and other such related mechanics in school, of course. But he was an earth pony, and that made it rather difficult to understand how a pegasus obtained lift from their wing’s central vane, or how magic enhanced their overall airfoil. The only thing he had really retained was that winged ponies fly, training made a pony fly harder, better, faster, and stronger, and that Princess Celestia was believed to be the preeminent flier in all of Equestria due to her unsurpassed wing span.

So, as the Royal Carriage of said Princess banked slightly to point towards Canterlot, Bean found himself scouring his mind for any information that he could scrape together on how the four pegasus guards in front of him managed to keep themselves, the carriage, two princesses, and one common nitwit in the air.

The effort kept him from thinking about the near-marriage experience he’d just endured, to say nothing of how on earth he’d never explain it to his parents.

It wasn’t working very well, especially since he was seated directly behind said princesses and had an unparalleled view of Luna’s lithe form and Celestia’s soft curves. And both tails, which the breeze of the carriage gave a tendency to sweep over his nose and tickle.

“I believe we will have you stay in the north tower this evening, Mister Bean, once Doctor Horsenpfeffer has concluded a full medical examination and is confident you are uninjured,” Celestia called out over the rush of the wind. “It’s a bit drafty in the winter, but in this summer heat it’s really the best spot in the whole palace.”

Frantically trying not to think of ‘heat’ in the other context, Bean managed, “Thank you, I guess. Are you sure—”

“Lulu, I have a private chamber prepared for you as well, right next to mine,” the Princess continued. “I think you will find it to be tastefully furnished and very familiar, but if you want anything adjusted, added, or removed—and I mean anything—I will have it taken care of immediately. I have the very finest artisans and craftsponies in Canterlot on call, and they will attend to your every desire, no matter when or where.”

“Thank you, Celly, but I do not believe all of this is necessary,” Luna bashfully replied, her gaze firmly on her hooves. “I have done nothing to deserve such kindnesses.”

“You are my beloved and long-lost sister,” Celestia said, wrapping her wing around Luna and pulling her in for a warm and comforting hug. “This is the least I could do. Once you have had a chance to acclimate, I shall proclaim a week of feasts to honor your return, and all of your former titles, honors, powers, and positions shall be restored to you as soon as the ink from your signature is placed upon the parchment. I will atone for my mistakes, dear sister, even if it takes me an eternity to do so.”

“You have nothing for which to atone,” Luna softly murmured. “I alone chose the Nightmare.”

“Perhaps it would be best if we discussed this in private.” Celestia glanced over her shoulder again, and her piercing gaze made Bean wish he could shrink himself down to nothing, just to get away from the intense scrutiny.

Then again, Bean was rapidly becoming convinced that everything about Princess Celestia was intense. “How long is this medical exam going to take?” he squeaked.

“It shall be brief. Perhaps only half of an hour, at most.”

“So, why do you want me to stay in Canterlot tonight?”

“It is at my request,” Luna answered, turning her dark eyes on him with a slow blink of her long lashes. “I have offended thee greatly with my actions, and seek to offer you some sort of recompense for the singular and troubling events of today. You have been injured and deserve compensation.”

For a moment, Bean had a very uncomfortable idea that would never be spoken of in polite company, and for the second time in under a day, he prayed deep inside that alicorns could not read minds. Instead, he focused on trying to make a counterargument, but quickly gave it up. It would be rude to turn down the polite request of an alicorn princess that had absolutely no possible ulterior motives or physical intentions on his body at all.

Money. That was a far easier subject to focus upon, and with far fewer distractions obviously caused by the close proximities of two alicorn tails. Besides, wasn’t that why he had gone to the Castle of the Two Sisters in the first place? “So, what could I ask for, in theory?”

“Name your desire, good sir. Whatever you wish, within our power, shall be given unto you as a gift of forgiveness. With my Sister’s blessing, of course.”

“If your request is reasonable, Mister Bean, we should be able to come to terms,” Celestia added.

“Perhaps there is a barony we can grant him, Sister,” Luna asked. “A small one, to be sure, but a nice plot of land where he will have an abundance of nature to stimulate his writing career.”

“Ah yes; he did mention that back in the dungeons. You wish to be a writer, Mister Bean?” Celestia asked with another appraising glance that lingered uncomfortably long on his rump and his blank book cutie mark. “Forgive me for being presumptuous, but at a glance, I would assume that you are a chef or cook of some sort. However, the only unclaimed barony that I can think of at the moment is that of Fen.”

“Oh, not that one, Sister. I doubt Mister Bean is much of a swimmer. I daresay his lean musculature is more of a runner, one who is used to the steady pounding of hoof against unspoiled earth.”

“True. The Barony of Fen is entitled to another, at any rate.” Celestia hesitated, like she was thinking of the peculiars of the situation, before bringing herself back to the present with a slight sniff. “But all things in due time. You need not make your decision now. When you have settled upon your desire—”

“I really don’t desire anything,” said Bean reflexively, although he quickly took refuge in his memory of his looking for loose coins in the ruined castle. Cold, hard bits that were nothing like Luna’s soft inviting eyes. “but I’ll think it over.”

“Now, when we land, we will be greeted by Mi Amore Cadenza, my niece,” Celestia said to Luna, but she had to stop when Luna gave her a delighted grin.

“Niece, dear sister? Does this mean my line has not come to total ruin?”

Celestia nodded, but she also drew in a heavy sigh that Bean almost didn’t catch. “Indeed, your progeny is well-established and well-represented in the courts, for good or ill. However, Mi Amore is not one of your direct descendants. Or at least I don’t think so,” she added with a short frown. “They did get around. But no, nothing that we have been able to ascertain beyond question.”

“No? A shame, but she is sure to be delightful.”

“Indeed, and she will be overjoyed to meet you. Both of you.” Celestia’s gaze then turned to Bean, and he had the distinct impression that his first encounter with Mi Amore Cadenza would be beyond anything he could possibly imagine.

Still, there was something in the back of his mind that fairly screamed about him missing something. Celestia was Princess of the Sun. Luna was Princess of the Moon. So Mi Amore Cadenza would be Princess of…

Oh, no.

“Auntie Celestia! You’re back! What took so long? I thought you would be back hours ago.”

“I am afraid there was a complication that arose just as we were leaving my old home,” Celestia answered as she accepted the bear hug from her beloved niece. “Luna, this is Cadence…”

Baked Bean promptly lost track of the conversation as he stepped down from the carriage and studied the ornate marble pillars and stained glass windows around him, torn between looking for a quiet escape route and admiring the impressive furnishings. This had to be a private hanger, given the expensive trappings and the armored guards. He had always wondered what the interior of the Royal Palace looked like, but time had prevented him from taking the tour during his last visit.

Besides, focusing on the architecture helped to suppress the overwhelming weight of being in the presence of royalty, and especially the royal She Who Brings the Day and She Who Was Nightmare Moon.

“Mister Bean?” Celestia interrupted his thoughts, and she motioned for him to approach yet another alicorn. “I’d like to introduce you to Mi Amore Cadenza, Princess of Love. Cadence, this is Mister Baked Bean, recently of Salt Lick.”

“How do you know that?” Baked Bean asked. “I never told you anything about where I was from.”

“It’s not too difficult to discern individual lilts and drawls after a few centuries of travel,” Celestia replied with a wink.

Mi Amore Cadenza offered a pleased grin as Baked Bean turned back to her and bowed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mister Bean. Tell me, what brings you to Canterlot with my aunts?”

Bean stood, and for half a second, he studied the princess before him. Mi Amore was pink, with a colorful mane of vibrant purples. She stood as tall as Princess Luna, and her violet eyes glittered with a never ending well of love unbounded. The gradient coloring of her wings was a bit peculiar, yet also fitting; and her horn glowed with a cyan aura that merely hinted at the unused potential.

“It is my honor to meet you,” he said with all the respect he could find. “I am here at the invitation of Princess Luna, who is concerned for my well-being.”

The end of Princess Mi Amore’s nose twitched ever so slightly. “Is that so? Were you in Ponyville before she was saved by the Elements of Harmony?”

“Not exactly,” Celestia answered for him. “Why don’t we escort Mister Bean to the infirmary, and while Doctor Horsenpfeffer performs an exam I can explain everything to you.”

“Boy, I could get used to living like this.”

Baked Bean wiggled a bit on the plush, princess-sized bed, and he took a moment to look over his opulent accommodations once more. This ‘plain’ and ‘simple’ guest room—so-called by the royal guard who had escorted him here after his checkup—was easily three times the size of his room back home. The silk sheets felt smooth and relaxing against his back, and there was a very good chance he wouldn’t be able to escape its pillowy bliss. A large bay window looked out to the east, offering a fantastic view of the surrounding environs, and as the cherry on the cake, he was delighted to find a large desk, complete with a ream of paper and an ample supply of quills, ink, and parchment. A matching oak wardrobe in the corner rounded out the room, an imposing piece that could hold all of his worldly possessions and have a vast empty space remaining.

It was too bad the royal doctor had found nothing more than a few bruises and a couple of scratches. Maybe he could twist his ankle on a staircase somewhere and prolong his stay. With luck, the princesses would forget about him for a few months and he could spend his time writing productively for a change, telling about the glitter and majesty of the palace from beyond the tourist areas. Maybe even spend a few weeks in their private library, which was rumored to contain only the best and most precious of all books.

A knock came at his door, but it was so soft that he almost didn’t hear it. With a long grunt, he threw his legs to one side to roll onto his tummy while calling out for the knocker to enter.

“Fair eventide, Baked Bean.” Princess Luna slowly entered the room, but stopped halfway to hold up a hoof as Bean scrambled to his unsteady hooves. “Please, do not trouble yourself with a show of deference; I wish for you to remain as you are.”

The request wasn’t easy to follow, but Bean held himself down. “Good evening, Princess. I wasn’t expecting to see you.”

“My sister asked me to inquire after your health. I trust your appointment with the local physician was satisfactory?”

“No serious injuries, Your Highness. Just a few bumps and bruises.”

“Good. I was concerned that I had harmed you.” Luna paused and licked her lips nervously. “Is this chamber adequate? I am sure We could find you a larger one, if you desire.”

“It’s more than enough, thank you. I’ve never been anywhere more posh in my life.”

The princess tilted her head in confusion. “Praytell, what is this ‘posh’ you speak of?”

“Oh. Um…” Bean’s eyes darted to the floor as he tried to figure out how best to describe the word. “It means that everything here is way more luxurious than what I’m used to. Believe it or not, but my house is not a gilded marble palace.”

Bean wasn’t sure what had prompted him to offer the small joke, but his heart did a small backflip in his chest when he saw the corners of Princess Luna’s mouth twitch upwards.

“Indeed, this place is exceptionally exquisite, even for me.” Luna’s eyes drifted up and over the decor of the room. “The Castle of the Two Sisters was built to be defensible, not ostentatious. I suppose my sister’s efforts to conquer our enemies with diplomacy proved successful in the end, despite my predictions to the contrary.”

It was impossible to miss the note of resigned defeat in Luna’s voice, even for a simple commoner like Bean. It was just one more proof of Celestia’s superiority, one more barb to remind the younger sister of her own failures.

“Forgive me, Princess, but I have to say that I’m impressed that you’ve picked up so quickly on modern language.” Bean said, with the hopes that pointing out a success, however minor, might cheer up the depressed diarch. “Even back at the Castle, I didn’t have any problem understanding you.”

Luna stood just a bit taller, and Bean felt a tickle of delight in his chest that his plan had worked. “I appreciate your compliment, but I must confess to some subterfuge on that account. I am not actually speaking modern equish, since one day is hardly enough time to learn the intricacies of any language. I am speaking in the long-dead tongue of ancient equish and using a translation spell to convert my words. Additionally, when you speak, your words are converted to those which I am familiar with.”

“Really? That’s pretty cool.” Bean leaned back, his gaze moving to Luna’s mouth. “But, wait. So why do your lips match what you’re saying?”

“An additional effect of the spell, since ponies use both sight and sound when speaking. ‘Tis but nothing more than an illusion.”

“You gotta show me how you do that; it would make life back home so much easier. If that’s something earth ponies can learn, that is,” he added.

Luna smirked and tilted her head as she thought. “Perhaps. I would have to rewrite the spell to account for your unique magic, but I believe it could be done. But pray, how would my spell be of benefit to you?”

“Dealing with customers,” he started as Luna casually made herself comfortable in the available chair. “See, my parents own a restaurant in Salt Lick, and I work there too. It’s popular enough that we get tourists and visitors in from all over, and there’s been quite a few times when I have no idea what a foreign pony is trying to order off the menu. It makes for a really frustrating night.”

“Night? Your family operates their restaurant under the watch of my moon?” Luna asked, her tone suddenly eager and her eyes alight with anticipation.

Bean scoffed. “Oh, sure. We stay open well past midnight most of the time, and our busiest hours are typically after sunset.”

A small squeal of delight came with this, and the Princess clapped her hooves together in joy. “Truly? Do not sow falsehoods with me, Mister Bean.”

The surge of happiness in the room was palpable, and Bean couldn’t help but be carried away with it. He knew, like every other pony knew, that Luna had fallen because ponies played during the day and hid from the night during her time, so he was delighted to be the one to tell her how things had changed. “Honest, Princess. Ponies love to do things at night now. No restaurant would dare to close at sunset because they’d lose too much business. Ponies still have to work during the day, but we’ll party and play nearly every night.”

The news was almost too much for Luna to handle, it seemed, if her cackle of delight was any indication. A broad smile reached from ear to ear, and her gaze moved to the nearby window. “Can it be?! Could such a wondrous wonder have come to pass? Do ponies no longer fear my glorious nights?”

“Cross my heart, bake a pie, make a cupcake out of rye,” Bean said.

“What an odd phrase.” Luna giggled like a little filly, which sent more tingles dancing down Bean’s spine and to his hooves. “May I assume that you have just offered this peculiar oath to solidify the authenticity of your statements?”

Bean simply nodded to this with a huge grin of his own.

“Hmm.” Luna tapped her chin playfully and studied the stallion before her. “While I have no reason to doubt you, it is always wise to verify. Unfortunately, my sister insists that I retire after moonrise, as I must do battle with a foul beast known as Bureaucracy come daybreak, and his miserable minions who are referred to as Red Tape. But, if I should emerge victorious from this struggle, perhaps you would do me the honor of providing your services as I tour Canterlot? I am unfamiliar with modern customs, after all, and I will need somepony to help me understand this strange new world I find myself in.”

“If you’d like me to, Princess, then I’d be honored.”

“Thank you, Mister Bean.” Luna stood and moved to the door, but her gaze remained on him. “I am most grateful for your willingness and kindness.” She hesitated for a moment in the doorway, but turned to face him once she was in the hall. “Would you… um… would you care to watch the moon rise with me? It is a simple and silly request, I grant you, but… well…”

“Of course!” Bean said cheerfully. “It’d be amazing to be one of the first ponies to see you raise the moon after all this time.”

“I shall return in two hour’s time, then.” If Luna’s smile grew any larger, she was going to pull a muscle somewhere. “Until then, Mister Bean.”

“I’ll be waiting right here, Princess.”

Princess Luna nodded, then strode away with a bit of a prance in her step. Bean shook his head in amazement as he shut the door. He never could have guessed that he would be among the privileged few who would see history in the making when Luna resumed her duties for the first time in a thousand years. It would make for a wonderful story, if he could somehow capture the emotions of the moment with mere words, but he wanted to try, so at the very least, he’d have a way to remember exactly how he had felt during these twists and turns of fate.

However, a knock interrupted his intentions, and he moved to the door with some confusion. Did Princess Luna leave something in the room? Or did Princess Celestia need to talk to him, for some reason?

He soon found that neither was the case. Instead, he found Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, who flashed a bright smile as the door swung open.

“Good afternoon, Mister Bean!” she said in a pleasant, almost playful tone. “I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m disturbing you.”

“Not at all, Your Highness. Would you like to come in?” He swept a hoof to the room behind him, stepped aside so she could enter, and quickly tried to remember everything that he had ever been told about how to interact with Royalty.⁽*⁾ “How can I help you?”

⁽*⁾Why he had not had this same problem with Princess Luna was a question for another time, but he suspected it had something to do with Nightmare Moon.

“Oh, that’s very kind of you, but I don’t need anything at the moment. We didn’t get a chance to be properly introduced earlier, and I wanted to get to know you better. It’s not every day that one of my aunts brings home a handsome stallion, after all.”

Bean’s cheeks began to burn, and his eyes went to the floor. “Oh, well… see, Luna just felt bad about what happened, that’s all. I could never… I mean, I would never…”

“I have no doubt you have been nothing but a true gentlestallion to Princess Luna. I do tend to be a bit of a tease, I’m afraid. Just tell me if I’ve gone too far.”

Baked Bean doubted he could ‘just tell’ a Princess anything like that. “Um, sure. I’ll let you know.”

“So!” Mi Amore plopped her rump in the middle of the room and gave him a slightly manic grin. “Auntie Celestia tells me you are a former chef from Salt Lick who is trying to become a writer, and that’s why you were in the Castle of the Two Sisters when Nightmare Moon returned.”

“More or less.”

“Why did you decide to change careers? Personally, I think being a chef sounds interesting, but it could get monotonous after long enough, I suppose.”

Bean let out a short huff. “It’s a bit complicated. I guess the easiest way to explain it is that I don’t do well under stress, and I don’t multitask well. Bad combination in a kitchen. You have me do one thing, like make one soup all night, then I’m fine. Ask for five different soups, seven entrees, twelve appetizers and nine desserts and everything goes to Tartarus. Everything just gets jumbled up in my head, and no matter what I try, I just can’t handle it.”

“My parents, however, never believed that I have no skill. They both think that I just haven’t found that mystical ‘something’” he said while making air quotes with his hooves “that would make me a world-renowned chef. So, about a week ago, they decided that I just needed to take a vacation, to go tour Equestria and experience all of the culinary delights that the Kingdom has within it. They both think that, after a few weeks of this, I’ll figure out how to get past the mental block and return to them ready to cook up a storm. They’re going to be sorely disappointed,” he finished in a soft, dejected tone.

Mi Amore nodded. “I think I understand. You clearly don’t have any love lost for what you’ve left behind. Why writing, though? I don’t mean to disparage your decision, but it seems a bit random at first blush.”

“I bet it does.” Bean sat on the bed again, and he felt a calm ease come over him as he continued to talk. “But I’ve always liked to read, so I thought that it might be fun to be the one who writes the thing to be read, for a change. I even have an outline in my head for a dumb little story about some dragons, but I know I need to take some creative writing classes first or something. I went to the Castle of the Two Sisters looking for inspiration, and to see if I could write a travel brochure about it. I figured if I can convince a pony to visit a place based on an article I wrote, then maybe I have a chance at moving up and writing a book of some sort.”

“Interesting. If you do write something, I would like to see it. But since you mention writing, maybe there is something you could help me with.”

“What? I’d be happy to help, if I can.”

“This is going to sound a bit strange. At the moment, I’m currently working on my doctorate degree at the University of Canterlot, and I need to do some case studies for my dissertation. Would you mind if I followed you around while you are here, and recorded some observations?”

“What kind of observations?” Bean had to ask, his ears splaying backwards.

“Nothing intrusive or invasive, of course. You see, I’m researching the different types of love that ponies feel, and how it affects their day-to-day lives. A case like yours would be very beneficial to me; you’re a pony who didn’t love what he was doing, so now you’re trying to find another thing that you do love. By following you, I’m hoping to see what drives your decisions, what motivates you to take one action over another. How will love affect you, if at all?”

“Wait. You’re studying to be a love doctor?” Bean asked while leaning back with a bit of wariness. Princess Mi Amore seemed sincere, but he could pick up just a tiny hint of something she was concealing behind her request.

“Oh, not like that.” Mi Amore tittered and waved a dismissive hoof. “I’m not looking to become one of those. Ever since I got my cutie mark, I’ve had an intense interest in all the different types of love we feel—the love between special someponies, for example, isn’t the same as the love we feel towards a pet, or our favorite meal, or even the love that motivates us to help a stranger in need.”

“Really? I mean, I’m sure there’s some sort of altruism in being kind and helping others, but I wouldn’t think that I do something nice for a stranger because I love them.”

Mi Amore nodded in understanding, her smile warm and compassionate. “Most ponies don’t. When I say the word ‘love,’ the mind instantly thinks of either the romantic love between special someponies or the love that parents have for their children, and vice versa. In my thesis, I want to present the argument that, even if we don’t realize it, there is love in nearly everything we do. See, we offer help to others because we care about their well-being, and that is a form of affection, which is a type of love. We forge friendships of all types because we like a pony for this reason or that reason, and that is a type of love, too. It’s a highly neglected field of study, and I want to rectify that.”

“It’s an interesting concept,” Bean admitted. “Didn’t Princess Celestia say you are the Princess of Love, too?”

Mi Amore bobbed her head. “Yes, but again, that doesn’t mean I just make ponies fall in love. I can sense the love that ponies have for one another, and I can encourage or remind them of that love. I can not and will not force ponies into relationships, but I love to help foster and build on what does exist.”

Bean started to reply, but he hesitated slightly when he saw Princess Cadence’s nose twitch ever-so slightly. Hadn’t that happened when he’d first met her, too? He couldn’t quite remember, so he pressed on with what he originally was going to say. “So, for your studies, are you just going to follow me around, then?”

“That’s it. I’d be happy to share my observations with you, if you’d like, and discuss my interpretation of them. For the most part, you won’t even see me. That helps to keep your responses authentic,” she added with a wink.

“Well, I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with the idea, but I guess it’s okay. Just don’t be too judgemental, please?”

“No judgment whatsoever, I promise. I’m simply going to observe and report on how love influenced you, not if what you did is right or wrong.” Mi Amore stood, and Bean followed her to the door. “Thank you, Mister Bean. I have a few things I need to go take care of, but I look forward to talking more with you in the future. Did Aunt Luna invite you to the moonrise tonight?”

“She did, yes.”

Both regal eyebrows slid up by a few degrees, and her smile took on a hint of secret delight, like she was hearing the beginnings of a good story. “I will see you then! Enjoy your afternoon, Mister Bean.”

“You as well, Princess.”

“Ah, Mister Bean!” Luna’s cheerful greeting rang out in the hallway. “I see you were anticipating me. I hope I have not kept you waiting long.”

“Oh, I just stepped out a minute ago,” he replied, his hoof twiddling on the floor in front of him. “I’ve been trying to write down some thoughts, but I hit a block and stepped out of the room to try and get the creative juices flowing again.”

“It is fortunate that I came along, then. In my experience, a stallion’s creative juices can be invigorated quite thoroughly by the presence of an attractive mare. Would you not agree?”

Baked Bean couldn’t offer a reply. He was too busy fighting back the mental image of how the new Princess intended to invigorate his juices, and it was giving him a nosebleed.

“Did I err?” Luna’s magic produced a kerchief from thin air, and she passed it to the distressed stallion with a worried frown. “I seem to have said something that has greatly displeased you. My spell may have mistranslated my intended meaning, and I offer my apologies for what I have said.”

“Id otay.” Bean hoped that putting pressure on his snout would get his mind out of the gutter, since it had no place being there at any time, let alone when one of his Diarchs was speaking to him. “I dink I mishrrd oo.”

“I am afraid the spell does suffer from some limitations at times. I shall endeavor to speak more plainly in the future. Are you well enough to watch my moon rise? I will understand if you cannot.”

“I think I’ll be okay.” Bean rubbed his nose, sniffled loudly, then realized what he had just done and retreated a step in embarrassment. “Sorry.”

“For what?”

“For… um… never mind. We should probably get going; I don’t want to be the reason why you’re late.”

Luna nodded, her magic zapping the kerchief off to only she knew where. “Indeed. Just this way, Mister Bean.”

Baked Bean had never been a witness to a major historical event before.

At least, not as far as he knew of. Big things happened in big places like Canterlot or Manehattan, not in small places like his hometown. Before meeting Nightmare Moon, Bean had reasonably believed that his life would be a rather common, uninteresting one.

But now, as he stood next to Princess Mi Amore Cadenza on an ornate balcony in the Palace of Princess Celestia and waited for the long-lost Princess Luna to once again raise the moon, he found he rather liked being a part of it. For the first time in a thousand years, it would not be Celestia’s responsibility to usher in the night, and Bean was going to take in every tiny detail so he could commit the memory to paper once the event was over.

The only hiccup to his plan appeared to be Princess Luna herself. Her cropped tail lashed at her haunches as she started at the eastern horizon, her muscles taunt and her breaths coming in short, ragged snorts.

“Luna?” Celestia gently interrupted, resting her hoof gently on her sister’s shoulder. “Are you ready?”

“No, and it may be several years until I am,” Luna replied with deep concern in every word. “You should bring it up, Sister.”


The whispered nickname caught Bean’s attention, and his focus went to Celestia while Luna glanced up with tear-rimmed eyes. “Celly?”

“The moon is rightfully yours, and I will not touch it unless I absolutely must.” Celestia’s horn lit, but her head dipped slightly as the sun slid below the western hills. “You said, once, that I never gave you the respect you deserve. Over the last thousand years, I have had much time to ponder upon how right you were, and how wrong of me it was to treat you that way. I refuse to do so again, dear Sister. I will honor your position as Princess, and I will give you the respect you are owed. You have always been my equal, and it is high time that my actions reflect that truth.”

Luna nodded slightly, and Bean could see the confusion—and the building delight—in her eyes at the words from her elder sister. It was clear that he needed to be completely reeducated in ancient Equestrian history, since he had never been given a solid reason for Luna’s jealousy. Every account he’d ever read presented Celestia as infallibly right and Luna as a greedy, power-hungry mare who just wanted more and more. The truth, it seemed, was far more nuanced than that, but at least he could obtain the truth straight from the source.

Or, the truth according to Luna, at least. While he had to admit that he had not retained much information from his high school literary classes, he did remember that a pony’s view could be tainted by bias and emotion. Luna would, doubtless, have her own version of what happened, and it would be just as valid as Celestia’s version, or any other version that may exist.

“Go ahead, Sister,” Celestia gently urged, with a quick hug. “Day is done. Let your moon rise to its proper place in the heavens.”

Even Bean, being the idiotic, common plebeian that he was, could feel the weight of destiny that came with those words. A thousand years ago, Celestia had been forced into combat—and had her sister banished—because the Moon refused to yield to the Sun.

Now, the Sun was willingly offering the sky.

With a hard swallow and a small nod, Luna turned again to the east. For several long moments she remained motionless, but Bean somehow knew she was questioning herself. He wasn’t sure how he knew—perhaps it was because her ears were splayed back against her head, or maybe it was how her cropped tail continued to flick and twist—but he knew, all the same. Would she be able to control the moon, after so long? Would the Darkness again overtake her? Could she trust herself to correctly perform her duties?

The last seemed to be the weightiest of all. It was certainly one Bean was more than familiar with, and not in a good way.

With a gentle clearing of her throat, Celestia again prompted Luna. The Princess of Eventide closed her eyes tightly, lit her horn, and ever-so carefully reached out. She began to mutter through clenched teeth, and though he could not clearly hear her words, she seemed to be rebuking herself, with severe admonishments to do what she needed to do without screwing it up.

Well, that last bit was probably what he would be saying, but the idea was similar.

A sliver of silver moon began to peek over the hills, unsure if it was really allowed to come out to play. By inches, it slowly continued, as if it was ready to beat a hasty retreat at the slightest sign of trouble. It was, in all likelihood, the slowest moonrise in the history of Equestria, but Celestia said nothing about the delay.

After what felt like several hours and with a few whimpers of fear, Princess Luna finally finished her task, and the full moon hung heavy and somewhat proudly in the vast field of summer stars. With a smug grin of deep satisfaction, Luna turned to her sister and puffed out her chest.

“How was that, Celly?”

“I could not have done it better myself,” Celestia said with a pleased grin. “Welcome back, Sister.”

Bean leaned back slightly as Luna began to prance in place with a joy unbounded. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him, but had the Princess grown an inch or two while the moon was rising?

It didn’t matter, he decided. Despite everything that happened over the last forty eight hours, he did have to admit that seeing the Princess of the Night cheering like a schoolfilly made him feel warm inside. For the first time in a thousand years, she had performed her appointed duty, and the glee that flowed from her quickly washed over everypony and brought smiles to their faces.

“Sister!” Luna tackled Celestia and wrapped her in the biggest bear hug that Bean had ever seen. “We have done it! We have raised the moon!”

“Thank you, Your Highness, for escorting me back to my room,” Baked Bean offered to Princess Celestia with what he hoped was a minimum of nervousness. Being this close to the Alicorn of the Sun was not something most mortals could even contemplate, so for him to be by her side was extremely overwhelming, and even that was an understatement.

“You are welcome, but it’s no trouble,” Princess Celestia replied with a warm smile. “To be honest, I wish to make sure you are recovering both physically and mentally. Your encounter with Nightmare Moon must have been traumatizing, and I want to ensure you are recovering from the event. Besides, I have not had an opportunity to speak with you privately, even though my sister and my niece have.”

“That’s very generous of you, Princess,” Bean said slowly. There didn’t seem to be a good way to tell his liege that her fallen sister had been somewhat attractive, in a horrifying way, so he decided to stuff those thoughts into a mental lockbox and to deflect Celestia’s concern. “Meeting Nightmare Moon was, um, interesting, and maybe a little scary… well, a lot scary, but not that scary,” he hastily added. “I think the best thing for me now is to get some rest. Besides, I’m sure it’s been a busy day for you, too. I bet I can’t even begin to imagine half of what needs to be done to get Princess Luna reestablished.”

Celestia laughed lightly, her magic summoning a rather lengthy scroll. She then unfurled it, and as the end of it bounced down the hallway, Bean could see that it was a lengthy checklist.

“Oh, there might be one or two things that need to be done,” Celestia replied with a note of joy. “But to me, it is no trouble at all. I have been waiting for this day for a long time, Mister Bean. I’ve agonized over how to reclaim Luna from Nightmare Moon, how to show her how terrible I feel about my role in her downfall. I’ve spent decades in planning, revising, and worrying, but now, I feel as though I could leap over the moon with joy. Her return and redemption is all I have wanted for a thousand years.”

“And I thought waiting for my Hearth’s Warming presents was agonizing,” he quipped.

Celestia snorted in a way that divine rulers of entire countries probably should avoid, and rubbed at her lips with a fetlock in order to hide a gleeful smile. “Oh, you have no idea. I suppose the major difference is how long we’ve been forced to wait. Now that the Ordeal is over, these last thousand years feel like no time at all.” An involuntary giggle of delight escaped from the daytime diarch, and Bean couldn’t help but be delighted himself. It was like a great boulder had been lifted off of Celestia’s back, and her fabled stoicism had been taken with it. This was not the Celestia he had heard about; the one who always seemed to be serious, taciturn, and slightly depressed. This mare was alive, and it was astonishingly heartwarming to see her in this state. “But I do have to admit that all of this excitement has left me feeling fatigued. I’m sure you must be exhausted as well, given everything you have endured.”

It was like Bean was obligated to yawn at that point, so he did. “Since you mention it…”

“Perhaps we will save our conversation for tomorrow, then. Is there anything you need before retiring?”

The two stopped in front of his guest room door, and he shook his head. “No, but I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, Your Highness. It’s been a pleasure to be here today; to be a part of everything that’s happened. I’ll never forget it.”

“The pleasure has been mine, Mister Bean,” Celestia offered with a smile that filled Bean with light and joy. “And, from what I have seen, my sister has greatly enjoyed your company, too. It is a shame that you will be leaving tomorrow.”

“It is, but I certainly don’t want to impose on your hospitality,” he said before yawning again. “Good night, Princess.”

“For the first time in a thousand years, it will be. Good night, Mister Bean,” Celestia offered, the end of her nose twitching as Bean entered his room and shut the door. “Pleasant dreams.”