• Published 23rd Oct 2012
  • 3,305 Views, 85 Comments

Princess Luna Picks Up Hitchhikers - horizon



And learns important life lessons, somewhere in between everything going wrong.

  • ...
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Granny Smith

"Fair citizen of Ponyville! I offer you a chance to ride —"

"AAAAAAAAAHHHH!"

* * *

"Salutations, fair citizen! Would you like —"

"AAAAIIIIEEEEEEEEE!"

* * *

"The yellow one with the carrot mark?"

"Yeah, her," Fireball whispers. "She's been waiting in front of City Hall for ten minutes, looking at her watch."

"Alright." I hesitate, tapping my chin in thought. "Polar Star? Perhaps you should instigate the inquiry this time."

He stands up from the bush when she's not looking and saunters over.

"Pardon —"

"BWAAAAAAAAHHHHH!"

* * *

"You are certain." I am dubious.

"I walked right in front of her and she didn't even blink. She won't gallop away."

"Everypony has." I do not mean it as an accusation, but Fireball's mouth guiltily closes anyhow.

"Even if she does," Polar Star chimes in, "she couldn't outrun a turtle. Just walk alongside her as she totters and explain yourself."

"No. I should fear to send the poor mare into cardiac arrest." I sigh and begin to walk away. "We shall move onward. There must, somewhere in this town, be a pony who desires an audience, even after hearing of the fearsome visage of the Lunar Knight guarding the arugula cart."

Polar Star and Fireball share a brief glance whose meaning I cannot discern.

"From the looks of her," Polar Star counters, "she couldn't hear a marching band explode."

"Polar Star," I chide mildly, "did not thy dam and sire teach thee to respect thy elders?"

"You should see me when I don't respect somepony."

Fireball quietly rejoins the conversation: "Mistress Luna?"

There is an unexpected gravity to his words that causes me to pause and turn back. "Yes?"

"I think you should at least try."

I fix him with a lengthy stare. He shifts uncomfortably, closed wings rustling past the bandages swaddling his torso. I squint and lean forward. He stands his ground, trembling, and holds my gaze.

I have come to prize the openness of speech which my Night Guards bring to their station, but I brook precious little disagreement — no matter how trivial — in matters on which I have made my opinion clear. This ensures that any dissent proffered carries the threat of retribution, and hence the weight of genuine conviction.

This is one of those times.

After due consideration, I nod and walk up to the elderly green mare.

"Fair citizen!"

She does not gallop. "... Eh? What's that, young lady?"

"Fair citizen! You appear to be in need of a ride!"

"The beer's already inside, we age it in the barn."

"A ride!"

"Well, ain't that lovely of you! Big Macintosh, give the filly her coach fare."

"I ask no charge! I offer transportation and conversation, that I might better understand the concerns of the common pony."

"Big Macintosh?" She looks away. "Consarnit, where did that boy go."

"I saw no other ponies here when I approached."

"Well, ain't that a shame." She turns back to me. "Oh, hello there! What kin I do for ya?"

"A ride!"

"I don't drive, young lady, but there's a coach station right down the block."

I restrain my temper. "I offer unto thee. A ride in my chariot. Fair citizen of Ponyville."

"Ooooh-hoo-hoooh." She croaks out a giggle. "You flatterer, you're gonna set me to blushin' with all that courtly talk from my youth."

"Dost. Thou. Desire. A. Ride."

Her face brightens. "Why, sure!"

I blink.

"… Really?"

"A'course, and if you don't mind me sayin', you're a sweet young thing for askin'."

I brighten. "Polar Star! Fireball! To the harnesses!" I aid the elderly mare into my chariot with a flourish. "Where might I take thee?"

"It's Wednesday!"

"Yes," I say, "it is."

"That means pinochle at the Mason's Hall!"

"My faithful Night Guards! To the Mason's Hall!"

They do not move.

Polar Star coughs and discreetly wingpoints at the building we're parked in front of.

"Oh! We're here!" the elderly mare cries in glee. "Thank ya, young filly, that was as smooth as zap-apple marmalade!" She backs out of the chariot on shaky hooves, and then in a shockingly fluid motion, digs her mouth into her saddlebags and flings me two bits as a tip.

I stare, at an utter loss for words, as she hobbles into the building.

* * *

A muffled voice from outside breaks my concentration: "Is the Princess still in there?"

"She doesn't want to be disturbed," Polar Star says, his voice similarly dampened by the closed door separating my room from Twilight's basement.

"It's been eight hours," says Twilight Sparkle, apparently undeterred. "I'm starting — we're all starting — to get a little worried."

"Yeah."

I do my best to ignore the dialogue, staring at the darkened ceiling. Focus is the key to a good sulk.

"You've been standing here for eight hours," Twilight continues.

"Yeah."

"Eight hours."

"Yeah."

"Aren't you a little worried about her too?"

"Yeah."

"Let me go in, then. I just want to check up on her."

"I reeeeally shouldn't do that," says my loyal and dutiful guard.

"Does this have anything to do with why Fireball transformed back into that monster thing and is rolling in that patch of itchweed behind the library?"

Polar Star's voice rises to an uncomfortable squeak. "Maybe."

"Oh, stars," Twilight mutters, then raises her voice: "Luna! Please come out! I want to talk with you!"

I make a mental note: If I am to be staying here for any appreciable length of time, I ought to see what might be done to further soundproof the room.

"Oooooo-kay," Twilight says, and leaves. I sigh in relief and return to my sulk.

Five minutes later, she has returned, amid the clopping of several more pairs of hooves.

"Let's try this again," Twilight Sparkle says. "Princess Luna's friends are very concerned about her and we want to make her feel better. Let us through, please."

"Pretty please!" Laughter adds.

Polar Star clears his throat. "My orders were very specific. Nopony else is allowed in."

"I brought cake!"

"Still no."

"This is for her own good," Loyalty says. "You want what's best for her, right?"

"I know the last pony who second-guessed Mistress Luna to do what he thought was best for her. Three words: 'Rolling in itchweed'."

"Alright," Twilight concedes, "this is getting us nowhere. Huddle, girls."

Hooves gather. There is the murmur of whispered voices, then a brief silence.

"Um … Polar Star," Honesty says, "it havin' been eight hours and all … don'tcha need to go to the bathroom?"

I hear Polar Star's hooves shift. "… Yeah."

"Well, tell ya what —"

"This is one of those plans that ends with somepony impersonating me because I'm allowed through, isn't it?"

"Oooh," Laughter says, "he's good."

"Let's just call that one a no in advance."

More whispers.

"Oh!" Twilight says brightly. "Why didn't I think of that?" She runs off upstairs. "Spiiike!"

"Where's she going?" Polar Star asks suspiciously.

"Don't worry about it, darling," Generosity says. "You just stay here and keep at your duties. Oh, you poor dear, your posture. You look like you could use a neck massage …"

"Look, lady, whatever it is you've got planned … hrrk. Nnnn. BLEARGHK!"

Generosity shrieks. Hooves thunder away upstairs, her wailing fading like a receding siren.

There is the dull thump of teleportation just outside the door. "Well," Twilight says triumphantly, "the Princess got some mail, so I guess you'd better … um. Where's Rarity going?" There is a brief pause. "Oh, ew!"

The door slams open. Polar Star stands in the doorway with smoldering eyes. "Scroll for you, Mistress," he snarls with poor grace, green slime spraying from his muzzle as he speaks.

A pink head pops up into my peripheral vision next to the bed, without covering the intervening distance. "Oh look the door was open so I guess we can come in how are you doing ohhhh you're all frowny I know what'll fix that a PARTY," Laughter blurts out in a single stream.

Four other ponies wedge their way past Polar Star toward me. "What she means, Princess, is that we haven't seen you since this afternoon and we're gettin' right worried," Honesty clarifies.

"I am sulking," I say with regal dignity, spread-eagled across my mattress. "It is an ancient and honorable method of seeking emotional equilibrium amid unfavorable circumstances."

"I used to do that," Twilight says, "but my friends have taught me there are better ways of dealing with your problems. Friends can help cheer you up when you're feeling down." She leans over me and gives me a hopeful smile. "And we can help fix what's wrong!"

I sigh and sit up, consoling myself that conditions had been inopportune for a sulk even before the interruptions. "I doubt that, Twilight Sparkle. I am rapidly approaching the conclusion that this is a difficulty inherent to my station."

"That's not true!" Twilight says, a bit of desperation creeping into her voice. "Ponies like you, Luna! They need a little bit of time to adjust, sometimes, but they do like you. Remember Nightmare Night?"

"Oh, yes indeed!" I say, perhaps a bit more caustically than she deserves. "The one night of the year when ponies allow themselves to enjoy being scared. I am the world's most accomplished expert in that field, certainly! The citizens of your town have been showing the highest respect at my skill, so much so that I cannot utter a single sentence before they scream and flee."

"There, um," Twilight parries, a smile etched onto her muzzle, "there have been some … misunderstandings, yes —"

"The Arugula Monster," Loyalty clarifies.

Twilight shoots the blue pegasus a sharp stare. "Rumors. Unfounded assumptions, which we've been trying to correct —"

"Your guards are actually undead zombies who go feral if they aren't fed pony flesh every three hours, and —"

Twilight jams a hoof into Loyalty's mouth. "Not. Helping," she whispers.

"Um," Kindness says, shifting uncomfortably, "maybe it was a little scary when Leafy Greens made his first sale, and the big, fangy, Fireball-monster tackled Bon-Bon and took the lettuce back —"

"What?!"

"Fluttershy!"

"Eep," Kindness squeaks, and backs away.

"Ooh!" Laughter chimes in excitedly. "Or when Leafy Greens tried to flee town with his cart, and the monster chased him over the edge of Ghastly Gorge!"

"Blessed stars!" I say, eyes widening. "Was he injured?"

"Nopers! He jumped off the cart before it went over the edge!"

The small knot of guilt at the back of my throat loosens. "Oh. Good."

I can see a subtle twitch developing at the corner of Twilight Sparkle's eye. "Girls," she says with false cheer, "we really should focus on the solution instead of the problem."

"Yeah, he was fine," Honesty adds. "But he wouldn't stop talkin' about it the entire time I was givin' him a ride back into town."

I feel the corner of my own eye twitch. Twilight and I exchange a glance — a singular shared moment of mutual powerlessness.

"Girls," Twilight pleads.

I whirl on Polar Star, wings flaring and hoof raising in royal posture. "Why did you not inform me of the full extent of this incident when you returned with Fireball?"

My guard's pupils contract to points and his posture goes rigid. "You … didn't ask?" he ventures, slinking backwards.

"Perhaps because I foalishly believed the topic self-evidently germane to my complete inability to assist the citizens of this village!"

Polar Star's backpedaling carries him into the cowering form of Kindness, who squeaks in shock. He yelps and leaps. They both dash out of the room.

"Lunapleasewait!" Twilight yelps as my righteous frustration begins to shimmer off of me in waves of energy. A gust of wind spirals around the basement. The wall begins to sparkle in the soft glow of the room's magelights as tiny ice crystals begin to seed.

"What."

"I asked them not to say anything."

My wind dies down. "… Thou what?" I query, shocked.

Twilight cringes. "I knew you wanted to help ponies. That's a really good thing! But if you'd known how much they were afraid … you would have gotten discouraged … you wouldn't have even tried." Her gaze gradually lowers to her hooves. "We've been trying to talk to ponies, calm them down, get them to listen to you. But it's slow work — every time we squash a rumor a new one pops up. I didn't think you were going to be back out on the roads so quickly. I just wanted a little more time before you heard what it was like and gave up."

I float back down to the bed and hop down to the floor. "Twilight …" I fold my wings and grope for words. "We are … touched. Upset at thy lies of omission, yes, but … even in that, thou showest a wisdom far beyond thy youth." I allow myself a sigh. "We fear — I fear you have the mark of me. Knowing now the truth, mine efforts seem a waste of time."

"They're not!" Twilight protests.

"Um …" Loyalty says, swinging a hoof, "to be honest, Twilight, maybe they kinda are."

"We're not saying she shouldn't be talkin' to ponies," Honesty hastily adds. "But maybe, we're goin' about this the wrong way."

Laughter gasps. "A party!" She bounces. "I've still got my chicken suit!"

"Nightmare Night has come and gone," I remind her, "and furthermore, I confess that Canterlot has left me with a profound distaste for being the center of attention at social gatherings."

Twilight taps a hoof to her chin. "Not a party, then … but." She gasps. "I think they're onto something, Princess!"

"Oh?"

"Night court!" she says brightly.

"… Night … court."

"Yes! I was reading up on it last week after your offhoof reference to it on Nightmare Night. There's ample precedent for holding court out of the palace to deal with regional issues. What better way to connect with the citizens of Ponyville and help everypony out?" She grins at me hopefully.

Her eyes are desperate. I fake a toothy smile.

A thousand images swirl to mind unbidden: self-entitled nobles demanding, at great length, preferential royal treatment for their projects; an endless stream of petitioners whose requests are too banal for the legislature, too esoteric for the bureaucracy, and too intricate for the general-welfare fund; estranged couples certain that external mediation will kindle a flame of love which both continue to vigorously quench; and that one peerlessly uncomfortable moment of explaining to an inconsolable filly that not even a princess can return her housepet from the Ever Upward.

"There is precedent," I allow, stalling, mind racing for a method of deflecting the idea without crushing the spirit of one of the few ponies whose affection I genuinely return. Ah: "But if the citizens of Ponyville already fear to speak with me, I hardly expect they shall summon the courage to approach me with grievances."

"That's where we come in!" Twilight says with unbounded enthusiasm. "We'll get everypony there. Then all you have to do is give a little speech — explain how the arugula cart thing was a huge misunderstanding — and then you can help ponies out with what they need." She beams. "Everypony! All at once! Isn't Night Court the best idea ever?"

More images: The eight-pony brawl over my inability to state my favorite team of the National Hoofball League; that startouched pegasus who requested relaxation of the lese-majeste laws so that he might attend future Night Courts for the sole purpose of insulting my parentage to my face; the innocent request to correct a minor spelling error in the university's most recent Pony-Zebran dictionary; the six-month diplomatic nightmare that resulted.

Twilight and the Elements lean forward, faces aglow.

I wilt. "I shall make arrangements."

* * *

I pace restlessly, the age-faded wooden floor of the Mason's Hall creaking under my feet.

"This was a poor idea," I say.

"We don't have any better ones," says Polar Star, who is lying sprawled on his back across an uneven pile of the theatrical props and chairs stored backstage.

"Except, perhaps," I observe, "for giving up."

"I don't think —" he starts, then cuts himself off. When I wheel about at the far end of my pacing, I realize he is staring uncertainly at my face.

"Thou m— you may speak freely."

Even so, he appears to choose his words carefully. "Thank you, Mistress. Have you considered that maybe there was something to what Fireball and Twilight said? You …" He shifts, sits up, looks at me earnestly. "Even counting how excited you got before this trip, I've literally never seen you as happy as when you sent that second letter back to Princess Celestia. Sure, things have been a royal mess since, but it's good to see you chasing that feeling. Believing in it. Wouldn't even one more moment like that be worth all this trouble?"

I feel my lips curl into a genuine and involuntary smile. "Perhaps so. Thank you, Polar Star."

"Sure." He settles back onto his uneven pile, prodding some wadded-up costumes into place to keep a box-edge from poking into his back.

I walk up to the stage curtains, horn shimmering to draw them back far enough to peek through. I stop myself at the last moment. I will have faith in the Elements.

The side door slams open, and Twilight's bound companion dashes backstage, wheezing for breath. "Princess!" he gasps. "Need … brass … monocle."

Polar Star and I exchange a quizzical glance. "… Pardon?" I ask.

"Rarity … sent me … ask … monocle." He gulps in air. "We need one fast and she thought. You might have brought one. From Canterlot."

"It is hardly the sort of apparel which either fashion or necessity would dictate for my station," I say. "Have you tried the stallions-wear store in Town Square?"

"Can't find. It any more."

"'Any more'? What do you —"

"Ah," Polar Star says, rummaging through his pile of props, grasping a small shining object in his teeth and flinging it at the dragon. "Here you go."

Twilight's companion whirls to catch it, eyes lighting up. "Thank you!" Then his eyes widen. "Uh … this has a silver rim."

"Sorry, munchkin," Polar Star says. "Best we can do."

"Glrk. Maybe it'll work anyway. Wish us luck!" The dragon dashes off again before I can inquire for an explanation.

"What an odd little creature," I say.

Polar Star shrugs and lies back down.

A wandering thought percolates through my mind as I return to my pacing. "Polar Star," I finally ask, "what are you doing backstage with me?"

"Resting," he says immediately.

"I can see that," I say. "However, it occurs to me that I directed you and Fireball to stand at the main entrance to this building, in accordance with Court tradition."

"Six twenty-four," he says.

"… Pardon?" I ask again.

"Legislative Regulation 624. We played Rock-Scroll-Scissors and I won."

"I have not yet memorized the hundreds upon hundreds of regulations instantiated since mine exile," I say, ears flattening, "and I am greatly unamused with thy casual dismissal of thine orders. I suggest thou explainest."

At the tone of my voice, he bolts upright. "Oh, no. There's nothing casual about it, Mistress. Twilight showed us the rule. 'At any official Canterlot-sanctioned event held within 30 leagues of any Equestrian border, all nobles attending in an official capacity must be accompanied by a guardspony at all times.' Since the rule was passed over Celestia's veto, after she got kidnapped at the Summer Sun celebration, we're obliged to follow it despite any orders to the contrary."

I frown. "But it is a breach of court protocol to have a single guard controlling access to any event."

"Yeah, she mentioned that too when she led Fireball away."

"But why would she … oh. Clever." I sigh. "I shall have to have words with her regarding her methods after this event, but once again I find wisdom in her approach."

Polar Star lets out a breath, gives me a hopeful smile, and begins to lie back down. "Yeah, she's a smart —"

There is a distant rumbling. The building rocks gently back and forth.

"Stars and feathers!" I cry, dashing for the side door to exit the building and investigate.

With a bright flash of light, Twilight Sparkle appears in my path.

"Six twenty-five!" she blurts out, wild-eyed, throwing herself across the doorway.

"… Pardon?" I say, beginning to dislike that word.

"If the civic division providing the venue is unable to provide for adequate security as defined in subsection (B) —"

"What is going on, Twilight Sparkle," I snap as dust showers from the ceiling.

"We're taking care of it!" she pleads.

There is a low and distant roar, followed by several dull thumps and another rumble.

"I will not sit idly by as disaster strikes the ponies I am here to assist."

"No!" she wails. "You have to stay right here or Night Court could be … cancelled!"

"But —"

"Please," she begs, eyes wide, lower jaw trembling.

I stare at her helplessly, then let out a long sigh. "Very well."

"Thankyou thankyou thankyou we'll fix it see you in fifteen minutes everything will be fine. By the way," Twilight adds hurriedly, "do you have a brass monocle?"

"Your companion already asked," I say.

"Oh," she says, crestfallen. "On to Plan C. Polar Star, I can activate your transformation if you let me, right? Let's go save Ponyville."

At his name, my faithful guard sits up, raising an eyebrow. "Um," he says uncertainly, "but six twenty-four?"

Twilight's pupils shrink to dots. "Oh fudge! But Fireball's still hurt, and on top of that, swollen up from the …" She gasps. "Of course! Polar Star, you're a genius."

"Um …? Thanks?"

There is a flash of light, and Twilight is gone again. Another distant rumble sets the racks of stage lights to swaying.

Polar Star sits on the props, jaw hanging open.

"But …" I say, then shake my head and resume pacing.

There is the rumble of a distant building collapsing.

"… I will have faith in the Elements," I say.

After several long minutes of rumbling, roaring, thumping, and swaying, there is one final crash, and then stillness.

I sigh in relief. "Ah, good." I check the time: Ten minutes until Night Court.

Polar Star, who has been pacing alongside me, looks up. "Do you think we should —"

"No," I interrupt. "We will have faith in the Elements."

A long, quiet rumble builds up, and does not recede.

"Okay, to thunderbanks with this," Polar Star says, marching toward the side door. "That sounded like the Ponyville Dam. Mistress, let's go — hrrk. Nnnn. BLEARGHK."

I snatch the scroll out of the green slime on the floor. "Everything's fine! See you in ten. -T.S."

"Faith in the Elements," I repeat faintly.

The minutes drag by. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Finally, at one minute to the hour, Twilight's companion staggers in through the side door, scales waterlogged, leaving a trail of puddles in his wake. He shakes himself off and gives me a smile which, in its false cheer, borders on a grimace. "I, uh, think we're ready to get started," he says.

"Faith in —" I say before my brain catches up with me. "Yes. Thank you. Of course."

The clock ticks to the hour. Underneath the curtains, I see the house lights dim. A spotlight snaps on at center stage. The little dragon grabs a stack of cue cards, slips out through the curtain, and clears his throat.

Polar Star glances at me nervously. "Faith in the Elements," he repeats.

"Fillies and gentlecolts," Twilight's companion announces, "thank you for attending this special session of Night Court. By special arrangement, Her Royal Highness Princess Luna has come to Ponyville from Canterlot in order to hear greev." Pause. "Grievings."

"Grievances," Twilight stage-whispers from somewhere in the auditorium.

"Right. Grievances. Also to aduh. Adjuh."

"Adjucate."

"Adjucate problems. Right injustices. And grace us with her immortal wisdom." He clears his throat nervously. "Please give a warm welcome to Her Highness."

I step out through the curtain into the spotlight … and dead silence.

Then a single pair of hooves clops together from the front row, echoing around the room.

I squint against the light, then abandon all pretense of dignity and raise a hoof to shield my eyes. The darkened auditorium is empty, save a single pony in the front row and a huddled, miserable cluster of seven ponies in the last.

The Elements are sprawled out in their chairs, muddy and dripping. Twilight Sparkle has a small green alligator clamped to her left ear and is desperately flipping through a waterlogged law book. Honesty is slumped low, attempting not to be seen; she is wearing a silver monocle, and her normal headwear has been replaced by a black velvet top hat. Loyalty, tangled up in a fishing net, is upside down in her chair, hinds undignifiedly flailing. Generosity — coated horn to hoof in cake icing, glitter, and macaroni — is rocking back and forth, eyes fixed forward in a thousand-cubit stare. Laughter is seated upon Kindness's shoulders in an awkward slant suggesting adhesive, wearing a clown wig whose hair has straightened into a limp and sopping multicolored mess; Kindness is sitting with forelimbs awkwardly outstretched, desperately whispering to a horde of rats which are clinging to them and refusing to be dislodged.

Fireball, sitting amid them, is coated head to toe with thin green dragon-saliva, sprigs of itchweed stuffed haphazardly through his armor straps and threaded through his mane and tail, attempting not to move a single muscle, eye twitching every time one of the Elements jostles him in his seat.

My eyes return to the front row. The sole Night Court attendee is an elderly green mare with an apple mark, squinting at me through clouded eyes, her white mane drenched but remaining tight in its bun.

I clear my throat uncertainly and address her directly: "Welcome to Night Court, my little pony. How is it that we might assist you?"

She stops clapping and sits up, startled. She looks around the room. "Night Court?" she asks nopony in particular. "Isn't this Wednesday?"

I open my mouth. I make my most valiant attempt to form and speak words. "…" is what issues forth.

"Um," Twilight's companion says, "no. It's Thursday."

"Oh," the mare says, disappointed.

She stands and hobbles out of the building.

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