• Published 24th Jan 2012
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The Conversion Bureau: The 800 Year Promise - Chatoyance

An ancient manuscript written in Middle English, the only surviving artifact from long lost Earth, may hold the true reason for the emergence of Equestria.

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2. The Wayward Minstrel Of Eslaforde


800 Year


A Story From The Conversion Bureau Universe
By Chatoyance

2. The Wayward Minstrel Of Eslaforde

When Celestia's golden sun had long already risen, Mrs. Starshine rolled over to kiss her husband, as she always did during the Off Shift, when he was home and did not have to sleep at the Fire Hall. The other side of the bed was cold, and it was clear that Wildfire had never joined her. This caused her some slight worry; because of Wild's occupation as a firepony, their time was precious and it was not his way to miss their 'mornings' together. Morning was a relative term in the Starshine household. Because of their odd occupations and schedules, the day tended to start at noon, and end late in the night.

Perspicacity rolled back and lifted the comforter off of her with her magic. Rolling out of bed and standing up, she automatically made the bed, her horn glowing as the corners neatly tucked themselves in, while the pillows politely fluffed themselves and settled into place.

Where could that mad stallion be? He was such a caution, sometimes, and needed more than a little looking after. Perspicacity made her way to the kitchen; perhaps he was there. He did tend to get snacky... well pretty much all the time, so it was a reasonable place to start. She noticed her distorted reflection in the elaborate girandole mirror that overlooked the table. Despite the oval, domed reflective surface, she could tell she desperately needed to comb her mane. That would have to wait.

"Wild?" Perspicacity wasn't yet ready to shout. Perhaps there had been a call from the station last night. That had happened before, because had been a huge fire. She desperately hoped there hadn't been such a conflagration; the last one, two years ago, had destroyed an entire farm in lesser Fetlock. "Wildfire?"

She heard some clunking, shifting sounds from above. The attic. The fool stallion must have stayed up there all night. Thank Celestia that she had moved the heaviest things while she had him out getting ice cream. What was with him? Perspicacity wondered if all newfoal stallions were as determined to prove something they didn't need to prove as her Wildfire. He'd probably cleaned out the basement entirely, and spent the rest of the night wearing himself out tidying everything up. Despite the fact she had already done just that.

Her husband was dedicated to her to a fault. Sometimes that fault was... something she put up with as gracefully as possible. How could she not - it was obvious how much he loved her, and she loved him so very much in return.

Still, he was a silly pony sometimes.

Perspicacity made her way to the narrow stairs that led up to the attic. It had been a bear -a big hairy bear- to get the shelves and the two old chests up there by herself. She'd had to turn the shelves all sorts of ways to get them through the stairwell. The weight was such that it had strained her magic almost to the limit - she'd had a headache for most of the afternoon, until dinner.

At the top of the stairs she found Wildfire laying on the floor, scribbling furiously on a sheet of paper. Several sheets of paper, actually, all of them completely covered with lines of text. On the pages, numerous words had been crossed out and others written in, with arrows and circles pointing to hastily scribbled hoofnotes. He'd been a very busy little pony last night.

Beside him on the floor was his old box of letters that he had written to his long lost friend from earth but never sent. "Dearest, what in Equestria are you up to? I was all alone when I woke, with no cuddly stallion to kiss. What has captured you so..."

"Pers! You won't believe this! You have to see it." Wildfire looked up, exhausted but strangely excited. "First, you have to tell me, where did this manuscript come from? How long has it been in your family?" Wild's eyes were wide, like a child with a new toy. It was kind of enchanting, really, Perspicacity thought. Stallions are all just big colts.

She noticed the old booklet in front of Wildfire, and tried to remember anything about it. She hadn't paid it much attention, to tell the truth, it was just another unwanted old thing from one of her relatives. They always sent her their unwanted heirlooms, probably because she was the last telescope maker in their entire clan. The mare keeping the tradition alive. They just assumed she was interested in anything involving the family history.

Hadn't the manuscript come from the Trotsdale Starshines? No... well maybe. There were those cousins in Manehattan, but no... not them. Had she seen the thing in her foalhood? She couldn't remember something like that. It had always just been around. Perspicacity had no idea which part of the family had sent her the old, tired booklet. It might have belonged to her uncle. He had made telescopes. He was the reason she decided to continue the family tradition. Probably him.

If so, she would have ended up with the manuscript when her maternal uncle Star Diagonal had gone with the Pale Mare. Star Diagonal Starshine! She had been his favorite niece. He had shown her all of Luna's wonders, and he had never believed the tales of Nightmare Moon. He couldn't accept that something as beautiful as the night could ever have been made in anger or jealousy. If he had lived, he could have told princess Luna of his steadfast devotion to her true heart, himself. It must have been his. He was the one that had taught her to value the family history, and to imagine one day having the Starshine clan again be Royal Telescope Makers to the Crown.

If anypony in the clan would have kept an ancient manuscript, it was Uncle Star.

"I guess it's always been in the family, Wild. I probably got it when my uncle joined the Great Herd. What is it that's got you so excited, anyway?" Perspicacity carefully stepped over her husband, and peered down at his work.

"Pers, what if I told you I know how to read your uncle's manuscript? It isn't easy, because it's really, really old, but I can, and get this: it's written in human." Despite looking completely exhausted, there was wonder and excitement in Wildfire's eyes.

"Human? Impossible." Perspicacity tried to think of a kind way to put things. "You've been up all night, and when a pony gets very tired, sometimes their mind can wander and..."

"Look, Pers, this is an 'S', see? And this is an 'H' and here's an 'E'. That's an 'A'. These are English letters, just like they used in the Northamerizone." Wildfire stuck his muzzle into his old box of unposted letters. "Wait, look... see, here's a letter I wrote six years ago. Look at the lettering in it. There's an 'A', and an 'S' and see... that's an 'H'. Just like in the manuscript!"

Wildfire waited, expectantly, for realization to dawn. "Just look. Compare for yourself!"

There was no doubt. It was impossible, but... those symbols, those human symbols were the same.

Perspicacity stepped to the side and folded her legs and lay down near her husband. "Alright, then, what does it say?" Her mind spun, she wondered if she was dreaming. Maybe she had only thought she had awakened. She hated dreams like that.

"It's written in something called Middle English, Perspicacity. That's a really old, old form of the language I grew up speaking on Earth. It's a little different, but I can make out what it means, even if some of the words have changed, or were used differently. It's still my old language." Wildfire bent his head and arranged his notes more neatly.

"If you think that's amazing, just wait until you hear what I've found so far. Here's the original, alright?" Wildfire gestured with his pencil held in his teeth.

she was a fairye hors, white and faire.
And she was cleped the princesse Celestea.
And Anglish she spak ful faire and fetisly
Entuned in hir nose ful semely.
But for to speken of hir conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous,
And al was conscience, and tendre herte.

Perspicacity looked up at Wildfire with puzzlement "I'm not sure what most of that means, dear."

"That's not a problem. I just translated the original Middle English into the equivalent Old Equestrian. You had a book on your shelf there that made it possible: "The Rede Of Hooves" Wildfire craned his neck down to his far side and lifted an old tome up with his teeth. "Thee? Ith's a thook on Olth Ethwestrian!" Her husband laid the book down and made faces. "It tastes terrible, too! But it's been invaluable. What you just read was the exact equivalent, as best I can do, of the Middle English version here."

Wildfire pointed his nose at a sheet written in the human symbols. They made no sense to Perspicacity.

"Now, this is the translation of what I just showed you. I'll read it for you." Wildfire cleared his throat, a little raspy from being up all night without any rest, and began.

"She was a magical horse, beautiful and white. And she was named Princess Celestia. And she spoke English beautifully and correctly. But what I really want to tell you is that she was compassionate, conscientious, and very tender hearted."

Wildfire grinned at his wife as if he had just discovered the lost continent of Gaskinlantis. "Don't you see? These are the words of a human from Earth, written something like seven or eight hundred years ago, in English - well, Middle English - and this man, this human met princess Celestia. Celestia visited Earth before the Emergence of Equestria!"

Perspicacity didn't know what to say, because she didn't know what to think about any of this. "Write down a correspondence between those English symbols and common Equestrian for me. Then I'm putting you to bed. I'll come back and go over your work myself. I want to check this independently."

Wildfire was already writing down a simple correspondences chart, pencil in teeth.

"After you've gotten some sleep, we can talk about this a lot more. I'm concerned for you, up all night, wearing yourself out!" Perspicacity watched Wildfire scribbling away, nearly finished. "If you're hungry at all, we can have something to eat before I put you to bed. Hungry?"

Wild dropped his pencil. "Sweet Luna, yes. I'm starving. I hadn't even noticed until just a moment ago. I am really tired, and I'm really hungry, too. It's just... this is such an amazing thing, Pers. It's just amazing!"

"Come on, my clever stallion. You've done enough for one night, let's get you fed and comfy in bed. Come with me, come on, it's time for num-nums and night-nights." Perspicacity stood up and gave her husband a nuzzle.

After a quick but satisfying meal of hay and eggs - Perspicacity reckoned that Wildfire needed the extra protein after such a long night, and in any case, as her mother had taught her, eggs are always good for keeping the coat shiny - she put her considerably calmed husband to bed.

What a strange thing, to find out that an old family heirloom might just document the first meeting between Human and Equestrian. Even more bizarre was the notion that the meeting was being described from the Human side. How could such a thing even be possible? Then again, she had seen the Human symbols with her own eyes. They certainly matched up with Wildfire's old unposted letters.

After cleaning up the mess of the meal, Perspicacity performed her morning ablutions, combing her mane and tale, and brushing her teeth. Ready for the day, she headed up to the attic. The telescope order from Clydesdale could wait; she herself was curious now at what her husband had discovered.

Settled in the same spot where Wildfire had lain, Perspicacity looked over his notes and translation efforts. She studied the manuscript, and the English To Common Equestrian symbol chart Wild had made for her. She began checking to see if what was in the manuscript truly was composed of human symbols, and checked her husband's conversion of them, as best she could.

She could find no fault. It was absolutely clear that the old manuscript that had been in her family for generations was written in Human. There could be no doubt.

Perspicacity began to examine the ancient book in earnest. She found that Wildfire had skipped some writing on the very first page, what was most likely some kind of title or introductory statement. She suddenly wished she knew Human-speak, because she was curious what the block of text said. All books had authors; this likely contained the name of whoever had written the manuscript. It might indicate clearly whether or not the work had been written by a pony... or by a human.

She would have to wait for her husband to wake up. She had at least convinced herself that her stallion was not deluded. Whatever else, his process was valid, and the manuscript did use the script of the Humans. The thought of this made her feel lightheaded and a little unsure. That it concerned the princess herself was somewhat disturbing. The very idea that Celestia had met with humans long ago was not a part of known Equestrian history. It felt vaguely dangerous, but also thrilling.

Later, after Wildfire had rested, dinner was eaten around stacks of paper, assorted pencils, reference books on Old Equestrian, and of course, the manuscript. The kitchen table was now given over to the project, and Perspicacity and Wildfire worked together to unravel the story of what turned out to be a very human, itinerant performer.

Heere is the book of the tale of
Willelmus Learmount, an honeste Minstrel,
of whos soule may Goddesse Celestea have mercy.

"This is a very big deal, Pers. You have to understand that in those days - it was England, it just has to be England - you couldn't be anything except 'Christian'. Anything else and... um.... " This was one of those moments when the remarkable change of Conversion was most noticeable for Wildfire - he was unable to clearly think of the horror and awfulness that he was trying to discuss. "... ah... really, really bad, bad, awful things would be done to you. I mean, if you even hinted that you weren't totally, completely part of that religion, they would take you and..." Once again the new configuration of Wildfire's brain found itself unable to go into the darkness of human behavior any longer. "... well, how do I put this? Our author was risking losing his very life, and in the most bad, bad, terrible way possible, by writing that he worshiped Celestia and not the common god of that time. That he'd even do such a thing, dare such a thing, is... it's unthinkable, Pers. Unthinkable."

Perspicacity had wanted very much to find out the name of the author of the manuscript. She had been sure it would turn out to be a pony. She was expecting a pony name, not 'Willelmus Learmount'. She didn't quite get the whole idea that the human's dedication to Celestia was as important as Wildfire had made out. "Alright, love. So... humans would actually have... hurt or even... killed... this man for writing this? It's hard to believe."

"Worse than that. I can't even tell you how much worse. Yes. Humans did that, and more. They were kind of... actually they were really bad. Worse than wild, uncivilized dragons. Worse than Griffons before the Pact." Perspicacity noted how her husband described what had once been his people, as 'they'. She smiled, softly. He had finally, unconsciously accepted himself entirely as the stallion he was. That was probably connected to how he had gradually overcome the nightmares that woke him, shaking, in the middle of the night, and the shame that had made him cringe whenever he had heard the term 'newfoal'. He was fully Equestrian, now, and so much gladder for it. She just wanted him to be happy, to be content.

"But it's more than that, Perspicacity." Wild was contemplating the introduction. "For our Willy here to write about 'Goddess Celestia', and for him to commend his soul to her, that implies something more. Something very curious. I mean, we don't even refer to Celestia that way. Well, mostly. She raises the sun for us, she is the guardian of the world around us, deep down we all know what she really is, but she herself prefers just to be called 'princess'. She doesn't like too much formality. She doesn't want to be worshiped or prayed to... though I guess we all kind of do that sometimes, anyway. I wonder if she minds?"

Wild seemed lost in thought. Perspicacity considered his question. "I've always believed that she doesn't mind as long as we don't rub her muzzle in it. Wouldn't a human just assume she was divine back then? I mean, she is Celestia and all."

Wildfire woke from his reverie. "No, no beloved. A human of that time would see her at best as a creature of faery, a magical being like... like a brownie or an elf or a spirit. Maybe a sidhe or something. But more likely they would consider her an ordinary mare enchanted by witchcraft and possessed by an evil demon or devil. And that would have led to some... very unhappy consequences."

"Demon? Devil?" Perspicacity was learning a lot of new human words lately.

"Human mythology. But humans really believed in them once. Kind of like all the anger in Nightmare Moon mixed with the fury of the Windigos and all the selfishness and cruelty of a Diamond Dog, only as a kind of spirit that could possess things. They were supposed to be rebels against the god that the humans believed in... and they had been cast down to this awful place called 'hell' where anypony that didn't exactly believe in precisely the same thing that..." Wildfire looked a little ill. "It's all very complicated and really mean and cruel, and kind of stupid too. Basically they were evil spirit... things... from a bad place. Like monsters from the Everfree, only worse.

"If Celestia had been thought of as that sort of creature, then... the humans wouldn't have treated her very nicely, would they?" Pers was getting it, little by little, Wildfire thought.

"That's what I am saying. They would have been very, very mean to her. Probably tried to kill her... eventually. So that means that our little human here is an unusual sort of stallion, for a human. He saw Celestia with adoration, and not fear or hate, and he ultimately came to follow her, despite the terrible risk of doing so in his time. He must have learned things from her, and he must have spent quite some time with her to come to such a conclusion. He wrote all of this after the fact. That means that the introduction tells us what he came to believe, in the end." Wildfire turned back to the translation and started scribbling once more.

"If the human wrote this after his time with Celestia, how did the manuscript end up here, in my family's stuff, in our attic?"

"I don't know, Pers. I don't know. Yet." Wild was now checking through Raggedmane's Guide To Early Equestria: After The Founding, Volume One. Perspicacity had spent the afternoon, while her husband slept, visiting the Greater Fetlock library. She had brought Wildfire's oversized saddlebags and loaded up.

"Maybe we will find out, once we have this thing completely worked out. I've still got five days Off Shift before I have to go back to the Fire Hall. I'm going to do everything I can to finish this translation by then... if that's alright with you." The look on Wildfire's face would have melted the hardest heart. Perspicacity hadn't seen anything catch her husband's sense of wonder like this since the time they'd gone all the way to Canterlot to see princess Luna raise the moon.

She remembered how upset he had been at the small turnout, compared to what Celestia got. It was everything she could do to keep him from causing a scene the next day. Wildfire could be such a passionate pony.

Of course, that was one of the reasons she loved him.

From then on, life at Starshine Telescopes And Instruments Of Vision revolved around a gray, blue-maned pony working tirelessly and obsessively at the kitchen table, while his wife managed, somehow, to keep him alive and functional enough to keep going. It was a little like taking care of a child, she soon realized; if she didn't force him to eat, he would just forget and go without. But the manuscript was gradually revealing its secrets, and Perspicacity found herself caught up in what appeared to be a most extraordinary tale.

But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space,
Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun
To telle yow al of my wonder time
With the white hors princesse.
Greet Celestea, ful faire of al wit and al goodnesse,
Of all of our aventures, so as it appeared to me.
and thus will I first begin.

Some hours after dinner, Wildfire looked up from his labor and called to his wife, who had gone to their bedroom to read her unicorn newspaper by a lightsprite lamp. "I think I have enough to read to you! Pers! Perspicacity! Don't you want to hear?" Wildfire bounded into the bedroom, sheaves of paper in his mouth. He clambered onto the bed, and set his sheets down. "Pers?"

"Of course I want to hear, love!" Perspicacity finished setting her paper down on the table by the bed and adjusted the lamp for her husband's benefit. Her horn stopped glowing as she settled in. "Please, read me what you have!"

Wildfire grinned, and leaned over his work on the bed. "I've taken old Willy-colts words and re-written them in a more modern way. I've kept all the meaning, it's just a LOT easier to follow, alright?"

"I have full confidence in your abilities. Please, enough introduction. I've been waiting all day!" Perspicacity gave Wildfire a nuzzle.

"Very well then." Wildfire Starshine cleared his throat, and began.

"My name is Willelmus Learmount, an honest minstrel. I make my living by song and by the telling of stories and poems, traveling the land from one place to another. Occasionally I am retained by a landowner for a time, and do my best to cheer his court. I have heard many strange tales, and told many more, but nothing so strange as what happened to me on my passage through Eslaforde, on the way to the Stow Fair.

It was near Mareham Lane that I chanced to take my leave of the road to do my business in the trees, and at the conclusion of it came the most wondrous encounter of my life. She stood there on the green, the largest mare I have or ever will see, towering above my head. She was purest white and bedecked with jewelry, crown and stones like a queen, and her hooves were shod with fine gold.

Of her mane, I can say only this; it was not a mane as men know of such things, but color pure and bright, and it waved even when there was no breeze nor wind.

To say that I was brave or that I faced this with a stout heart would be false; I fell upon the ground and wept in fear and also at the sight of such beauty. I felt a strange touch upon my head, and my thoughts were filled with such pictures and songs as I could never hope to tell, most beyond my understanding, and I have traveled far and seen much.

I was from this somehow rendered without fear, and sat myself up so that I could look once again at the beauty I had glimpsed. The proud and regal mare then spoke to me, in English as plain and true as that spake by any man, and I was called by my own name, and told to be of comfort and good cheer.

It was then I understood that I faced not a mare, however well shod and groomed, but instead a queen of fairyland, in the form of a white horse, come to visit our land and far from her own.

She told me of things I was ill equipped to comprehend; claiming that there were many worlds and not just the one the Creator made for us, and that occasionally these worlds did drift through the air like clouds and sometimes they grazed each other, and other times they might even mingle, as clouds do in the sky.

She called herself Celestia, and explained to me that her fairy world was now briefly touching my own, and that this was a rare and splendid opportunity to see how the neighbors, as it were, lived and worked and did all things. Curiosity had brought her through a tiny hole which had been born from the rubbing of the two worlds upon one another, and that in the time the hole would last, she might walk upon the Earth and enjoy its splendors.

But, she counseled, she could not travel far from the door of her arrival; for there was that of her own world which streamed forth and sustained her, as warmth from a fire keeps man safe from the cold death of winter, and that without that warmth, she should equally suffer and perish despite being a queen of heaven.

She said of our world that it was like unto a desert, devoid of the very essence of life itself, and that from the moment she first stepped forth into Creation, she feared for any who might live within it. She confided that she had been as surprised to make my acquaintance as I had been to make hers, for the very reason she had just given; and she asked of me how I might walk and think and move upon the earth at all.

To this I had no answer, for the mysteries of the world were unknown to me at that moment, though in time she did relate them to me such that I now regretfully understand her curiosity and even amazement.

I should make mention of why I then agreed to be her guide and companion; for you would surely think me mad to offer such - for it is widely believed that consorting with the fairies is a hazardous prospect at best and a peril to the soul even if all else goes well. Please allow me to explain.

In the presence of Queen Celestia, I felt such kindness and joy as I have never felt before or since, and in her every manner and every action did she present unto me a personage of the utmost compassion and gentleness. There was in her nothing that was not good, and everything that was, and it is my claim that no man of good heart could stand before her and not weep with joy as if standing before the very pleasures of heaven itself.

It was therefore no burden to me to offer my services to her, but rather my greatest pleasure merely to remain in her company, and to be permitted to gaze longer upon her, or to hear her melodious voice. And I tell you that none of this was a fairy enchantment; rather it was all entirely her character and the truth of her self that affected me so. If anything in the world is good, then it is the fairy queen I met here, and if anything in the world is beautiful, then also it is her.

But now I was sore afraid, because I knew that my wondrous patron would be instantly seen for what she was by one and all, and that not every man would be as pleased by her beauty nor as swayed by her delicate kindness, and that there were those who would flee in terror or worse. I expressed my terrors to her majesty, and she did hear them and take council from them, and judged fit to use her fairy ways to clothe herself in common guise.

And so it was that I, Willelmus Learmount, came to travel with a splendid white mare far above my station at my side, my lute in my hand, and her secret in my heart."

At that tyme, for we go forth abouten oure viage
In the gyse of an commune mare riche for to see
And an this sely gleeman
Willelmus Learmount aboven al his name thus;
Bothe lute and all her privetee in his herte.

"Goodness!" Perspicacity seemed both impressed and somewhat shocked by what Wildfire had read to her. "Oh... my. This is even more... complicated than I imagined." The silvery white mare thought for a while, relaxing against the pillows. "Wildfire... I think we should keep this entirely to ourselves, at least for now, and possibly... well we'll see. I have never heard of the princess changing her form in all my days. Luna, yes, we have all heard the story of her salvation. But that our princess would walk that... place... transformed to appear as a common animal..."

"I take it that this wouldn't go over well with some ponies?" Wildfire roughly tidied his sheets of paper with his hooves.

"There are some that might see this work as, well, subversive is too strong a word, but... discomfiting." Perspicacity leaned over onto Wildfire and nuzzled him gently. "Shapeshifting was strongly associated with the princess Luna, specifically, and while nopony would doubt that Celestia would be capable of anything that her sister could do and more, it is a delicate issue as to whether..."

"I think I understand, honeycake. I know how to keep my muzzle shut." Wildfire gave the love of his life a soft, slow lick on the cheek. "I may be personally excited about this, but it's our little secret, unless you say otherwise."

"You know," Perspicacity said softly, her lids half open "It's late, and there is more to life than translating ancient manuscripts. In fact..." She ran her foreleg gently down his own. "... a clever stallion might find all sorts of interesting discoveries to be made right here in this bed."

The rest of their evening was not spent deciphering Middle English.