• Published 11th Feb 2013
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Velvet Sparkle and the Queen in Stone - Tundara



Myths and Birthrights side-story: Velvet Sparkle recounts her younger years in a nation north of Equestria and the events leading up to her becoming the mother of Shining Amour and Twilight Sparkle

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Part One

Velvet Sparkle and the Queen in Stone
A Myths and Birthrights Side-Story
By Tundara

Part One

Mid-spring covered Equestria in a comforting blanket of sunlight and pleasant breezes, the air filled with the laughter of youngsters playing and couples whispering sweetly into each other's ear. From Vanhoover in the west down to the new settlement of Los Pegasus across the vast mid-western deserts and plains and into the nations heartlands and the old cities clinging to the eastern shores the scene was repeated.

Including in one small unremarkable village; Sparkledale.

Built between the capital and the city of Baltimare, the small village, no more than a dozen homes, an inn, and train-stop, was known for only two things; the bright red flowers used to make potions that helped with aches and pains, and as the ancestral home of the Sparkles. Sparkle Manor dominated the village, looking over the smaller houses and the two story inn. A smattering of rain-clouds hung over the village, a consequence of the local Weather Officer not being very proficient with mathematics or reading missives from the head office located in Cloudsdale.

The manor had seen a resurgence of activity in recent weeks as its mistress and her herd vacationed away from the hustle and intrigue that hung about Canterlot since the coronation of Twilight Abigail Sparkle. The new princess had grown up in the soft wood halls of the manor, her early love of magic and history formed among the moderately sized library and the many paintings and busts that lined the walls. Princess Twilight herself hadn't returned to the manor; rather her older brother and his family had decided to escape the city, and the spot-light Twilight was attracting from the other noble Houses. Along with Shining's herd had also come a contingent of Crystal Guards, the royal protectors of the Princess of the Crystal City, and his parents. The remainder of House Sparkle would arrive over the next week.

His herd-mothers, their assorted daughters and sons, had elected to stay behind to spend more time with Twilight.

Once they arrived, the manor would be filled to the brim with ponies, both laughing family and stoic unmoving protectors.

It was amid this sea of joviality, in a nation basking beneath the sun as it celebrated the ascension of a Princess that a single holdout was located.

Her name was Tyr.

Appearing to be a normal unicorn filly, Tyr was stubborn, aloof, anything but normal, and very set in her ways. Which in Tyr's case meant being treated as a goddess made flesh, rather than as a petulant child, by her caretakers. It had only been a couple weeks since she'd been taken in as a foster-child by Cadence and Shining. Using ancient magic known only to the Royal Herd, Tyr had been altered, her true nature as an alicorn hidden. Gone were her wings, and she still felt their absence. Little motions and gestures she'd taken for granted suddenly becoming impossible.

At a hundred and thirty five years old, no pony had been certain if the spell would work or last. It had, on both accounts, but had also come with an unexpected side-effect. With her divine nature suppressed, Tyr had become susceptible to illness. It was nothing serious, just a mild unseasonable cold bug that left the filly's nose running and her sneezing continually.

Her fluffy golden mane, broken only by a streak of cobalt blue bordered by cotton bands, hung limp and listless in her summer-blue eyes. Hooves crossed in front of her chest, she gave a little huff of annoyance as her foster mother tucked her into the plush, thick covers. Cadence hummed a gentle tune as she plucked a thermometer from its dangling position in the corner of Tyr's mouth.

"I hate this," Tyr grumbled as Cadence checked the thermometer.

"Oh?" was all she got in response.

"Yeah. I've never been—," the remainer of Tyr's complaints were shattered by a series of sharp sneezes and coughs. Laying back into the goose-down pillows, Tyr just groaned, all ideas of complaining drained from her.

"Aw, there, there," Cadence cooed softly, leaning down to kiss her foster-daughter just below her soft pink horn.

"Knock-knock," came a voice from the hallway, both Cadence and Tyr looking over to see Velvet Sparkle step into the room. "I just came to see how my favourite grand-filly is doing."

"She's your only grand-filly," Cadence pointed out.

The older looking mare's face brightened a bit as a bemused smile touched the corners of her eyes. "'Grand-filly', I was once honestly afraid I'd never be able to say those words."

There was a very brief moment of sadness that flickered across her face, breaking the smile and leaving a more neutral expression behind. Trotting into the room, her hoof-beats becoming muffled as she transitioned from the shining wood to intricate, thick woven rugs, Velvet came to the bedside and sat down across from Cadence.

"You were afraid you'd never have grand-foals?" Cadence arched a brow, her eyes squinting ever so slightly at her mother-in-law. "But you had Shiny when you were young. Not to mention all your herd-daughters..."

"Oh, hush," Velvet snapped softly, waving a hoof. "It's a long story, and you jumping to conclusions won't help. It's a story I've wanted to tell for many years, but haven't been able to repeat to anypony. Not my beloved Comet, not my own foals, not even to myself."

An idea flashed behind Velvet's powder blue eyes.

Jumping up fully onto the bed, legs folded beneath her, Velvet said, "How about I tell you the story. It is a long one, about the lost years of my foal-hood. Filled with adventure and danger, old wizards and cruel sorcerers, and a Queen trapped in stone."

Tyr's eyes lit up with interest as Velvet began her story, the middle-aged mare's voice filling the bedroom and filtering out into the entire manor.

I was young when my parents died, still very much just a little filly. Much smaller than you are now. I had yet to earn my Mark and was so naive and innocent. Everything was a big game and I was so excited when Father told me he'd be bringing Mother and I with him on one of his expeditions.

For some time he'd talked about going north beyond the Crystalspine Mountains in search of the mysterious and reclusive Halla. It had been his dream to create a modern comprehensive book detailing the life, customs, and history of arguably the most isolated race in all the world. Even when he returned from visiting the distant lands of the Zebras and Camels across the eastern ocean, having seen some of the oldest cities on Ioka, all he could talk about was the Halla. My sisters, brothers and I would gather at the bottom of his old chair, as Father relaxed with a pipe and glass of apple brandy, to listen to his stories.

And what stories he'd spin. Pieced together from rumour and scraps of half-forgotten Pegasi history, he would have us enthralled as he spoke about the Eternal Herd and how the earth would shake for miles in any direction heralding their approach long before the dust plume could be seen. His voice would go low and soft as he created an image of a singularly proud and unfathomable civilization. We'd laugh and clap our hooves at the silly voices and accents he'd put on while he repeated the only song believed to be of Halla origin. Then the room would fall silent as he regaled his foals with the legends of the Halla's queen, and the war she waged against the early pony settlers of Equestria.

You can imagine my glee when Father told me that he'd be letting Mother and I join him on his expedition to the north. My younger brothers and sisters would be staying behind, along with Father's two other wives. I can't tell you how much I annoyed my siblings as I pranced around the manor in the weeks leading to our departure.

It was a wonderful early spring day when we boarded the stage coach to Vanhoover. The Celebration of Life was close at hoof, not that I cared. Missing out on the two weeks of birthday parties stacked one on top of the other was worth it to travel with Father on a real expedition.

With teary eyes, we were wished good luck, and Mother and Father said their final farewells to the rest of the herd.

It took us a couple weeks to reach Vanhoover, a pleasant city sitting in the shadow of the western edge of the Crystalspine Mountains. From there we met up with the rest of the expedition; a couple of Father's colleagues from Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, our guide across the mountains, and several sturdy earth ponies to help transport the equipment and supplies. I was so excited, leaping back and forth around our guide until he made Father promise to keep me calm and out of his way.

Eventually we made it over the snow swept pass and I saw the Taiga for the first time. An endless sea of Cypress and Firs that covered valleys and sweeping plains; the single largest forest in all the world, and the most mysterious. We ponies know more about the Everfree Forest than we do the Taiga. My hooves could barely stay still as I thought about the Halla that could have been watching us even then as we descended the northern side of Mount Harper.

The Blizzard Singer Legion tried to warn the expedition off as we passed their ancestral fort. Their commander went so far as to plead with Father to make me stay with them in their mountain fortress. But he refused, said he could handle the dangers and protect me, and she gave up.

I was trotting alongside Professor Gem Swirl of House Swirl when we approached the forest's edge. He was a kindly middle-aged dark toned unicorn who often snuck me little treats or would tell me all about the different gem formations we encountered while crossing the pass. I can't recall now what we were discussing at the time, only that he grew quiet and smiled the widest most brilliant smile when we found ourselves beneath the snow capped tops of the trees.

Deeper and deeper we made our way into the forest, Father and his colleagues turning over every rock and looking behind every tree for any sign of the Halla.

They found none.

The forest was beautiful, primordial, and pristine. Not one hoof print in the snow, or disturbed branches, or campfires did we find.

By the tenth day father was beginning to grow despondent, wondering if the Halla even existed, or if they were nothing but old Pegasi tales.

Then we encountered the Frost Wolves.

Frost Wolves are not unlike the Timberwolves that live in the dark and old forests of Equestria. Instead of being made of branches and leaves, they are formed from magical ice and snow. Their breath can freeze the hairs of your coat, and their bite steal all the warmth in your body. Unlike the Timberwolves, Frost Wolves love to hunt and stalk living prey, especially foalish ponies tromping through their homes.

My memories of that day are a confused blur. I know I woke early and played around my parents tent, chasing a couple squirrels and a racoon. The specifics of what happened next are lost. All I remember are the screams and the sight of crimson stained snow around Gem Swirl and our guide as the wolves attacked, followed by running as fast as I could through the forest while Mother screamed my name.

I ran and ran, my little legs carrying me of their own accord as pine branches slapped across my face. Green, brown and white flew passed in a dizzying swirl of trees and snow.

Three of the wolves chased me farther and farther from the camp, their breath chilling my hooves. I tried everything I could to lose them, darting around trees, under logs, and across frozen streams. Nothing worked.

The wolves were toying with me, enjoying the chase. Their barking laughter echoing through the forest along with my ragged gasping sobs.

Tripping, I tumbled down a sharp embankment, breaking my left back leg and cracking my skull terribly in the fall. Dizzy with pain and unable to stand, I was going to be easy pickings for the three hungry predators slinking down towards me.

I cried and wept, shouting for my parents as the wolves drew closer until they surrounded me.

Terrified out of my young mind, I closed my eyes not wanting to see the wolves' hungry faces and frost blue glowing eyes.

And just as I was certain I was about to be eaten, he arrived, crashing through the low shrubs sounding a bugling war cry. I'll never forget the sight of him as he landed above me, legs spread for balance and his head held low.

He was much larger than any pony besides the princess, his legs and body covered in armour tinted a dark green with bronze detailing in the shapes of bears running through twisting branches and leaves. He wore an open faced helm, a rack of antlers reaching up from his brow and his dark brown eyes burning with uncontained rage at the wolves. From my position I couldn't see his Mark, or if he even had one.

The wolves hesitated only a moment, then they leapt towards my would-be saviour. The first he caught on his steel tipped antlers, the sharpened metal tearing into the elemental's chest and neck. Tossing his head high, my rescuer hurled the wolf through the air, the beast shattering into shards of ice when it struck the stout trunk of a pine. The two remaining wolves struck from either side, their icy teeth searching for a crack or fault in the green and bronze armour he wore. With a pulse of greenish-white magic, both wolves were forced back and my saviour again lowered his head, hooves pawing at the ground as he snorted in anger.

Out of the shadows another Halla emerged, a bemused smirk showing beneath his helmet. He began to taunt the wolves, his voice deep as the roots of the trees. Unlike the Halla that had saved me, his posture was relaxed almost to the point of carelessness. But his antlers glinted with the same steel tips and he wore identical armour. Puffing out his broad chest the new Halla again taunted the wolves.

Turning tail, the remaining wolves disappeared back into the forest, unwilling to risk injury or death for the sake of a wounded filly, not when easier food was nearby.

It was at that point exhaustion, shock, and the effects of adrenalin leaving my system sent me falling into the deep black of a dreamless sleep.

"Do you know what those two were saying?" a voice gentle as the rolling spring hills surrounding Sparkledale asked.

Broken from her reverie induced by the story, Velvet looked over to the door and found Shining Armour leaning against the frame. Velvet gave her son a bittersweet smile, old faded tears resting in her eyes.

"No, Shiny. Both died before I ever saw them again. I never even learned why they had rescued me. I wish I had been given the chance to thank them myself."

Shining Armour seemed unmoved, though those that knew him well understood that it was a combination of his training and his desire to always seem strong that gave his face a cold demeanour. Pushing off the doorframe he crossed the room to give his mother a hug.

"I met a Halla, once," Tyr said between sneezes.

"Oh, did you," Cadence's words danced with bemusement.

The sick filly just nodded her head quickly, then broke down into a fit of groans as she grabbed her head. "Ugh, how do mortals put up with disease? Hecate, help me and this body." Wiping her nose with a warm cloth, she asked, "What happened next?"

Taking a deep breath, Velvet fell back into her story, Shining joining the herd on the bed, Cadence leaning into his shoulder and wrapping a hoof around his leg.

I slept in fitful spurts that night, coming to awareness several times before Celestia brought the dawn. Each time I saw a different Halla standing over me. One time I was brought screaming awake when they set my leg, only to drift back to sleep immediately.

As the sun shone down from high overhead, slanting through a small window, I finally woke properly. My entire body ached, but I was alive at least. From my leg I felt only a dull throb. It was my heart that hurt the most.

I had no idea what had happened to my parents, and I clung to the faint hope that maybe they had escaped and were looking for me. But the fear and worry that they hadn't survived and I was alone among strangers refused to leave. Unable to hold back the dread clinging to me, I cried.

A board creaking made me lift my tear stained face and finally examine my surroundings.

I was in a smallish room of plain wooden logs. Bits of moss hung down from the ceiling and a simple lantern hung beside a featureless door. I was laying on a cot covered with a blanket that smelled strongly of mildew. At the foot of my cot sat a bench, and on the bench was an old Halla hind.

This was the first really good look I had of the Halla, and my eyes were drawn to the hind. She was larger than I expected, with a broad chest, thick powerful neck, and a rack of antlers. Her coat was a muddy brown and she had a mane of silver hair that flowed like a waterfall, and a short stubby tail. But what I found most interesting was her cutie mark. It was all sharp lines and sweeping curves of white in the image of a howling wolf. My young mind tried to figure out what special talent or skill a howling wolf would mean.

"You're awake," the hind said in heavily accented Equestrian, standing from the bench to trot over to my side. Her hoof brushed aside my mane as she checked my eyes and forehead. "Tis good to see you awake at last, little one."

She gave me a faint smile as I shifted around on the cot, one that fast became a scowl that could freeze warriors in their tracks when I tried to stand.

"No, no, little one. Your leg needs time to mend, else you become lame."

'Lame', the word stabbed my heart as deep as the worry for my parents. I had seen a lame, older pony once. I had pitied the way he had trouble walking and how he couldn't run or jump. My fear must have been evident on my face as the hind wrapped me into a hug and made calming noises deep in her throat.

"Shh, shh, little one, no need for worry now. You are safe, and your leg will mend given time. You just lay down and rest. I will go tell the Eagle that you are awake."

Mute with fear and confusion, I just laid back down, being extra careful of my broken leg. Terrified of becoming lame as much as my parents being missing, I made sure to listen to the old Halla hind. After she left me I laid in silence for several minutes before she returned with a large Halla bull.

"So, this is the unicorn foal from the invaders?" the bull Halla asked in his native tongue, nostrils flaring as he snorted and glared down on me. Shivering a little at the intense dislike being directed my way I tried to slink deeper into the old covers. "Why my eldest thought to save such a pathetic thing, I cannot fathom."

"You are scaring the poor thing. Can you not see she is but a filly? She is hurt, scared, confused, and not a threat. Whatever you and the other Eagles may believe."

"Pah! The Bears should have let the ice elementals have their meal. They had earned it fairly."

"It is not in a Bear's nature to refuse battle nor to let an innocent die," the old hind pointed out, a dark frown making her eyes crinkle.

Snorting again, the bull continued to glare. "Not innocent. They sought the Queen. None but looters and treasure seekers cross the Fangs of the North. We have nothing else the ponies deem of value. Not gems nor metals nor can they grow their crops up here."

"Oh, I am sure that Mother Earth has many of those things you listed hidden in her bosom throughout the Taiga," laughed the hind.

During their conversation I looked from one speaker to the next completely baffled by their strange dancing language. The Halla rolled their 'R's and drew out their 'I's creating a rich musical sound that alternated continual between deep burrs and high lilting notes. It is one of my favourite languages to speak, up there with Prench and Buffalo. Equestrian is plain and boring in comparison. But I did not yet understand the Halla, and so I continued to try to hide in the rotten covers they'd provided.

"So, One Horn," the bull said switching to barely understandable Equestrian. "Did you seek the Queen? Did you seek to again unleash her upon all the Seven Races?"

"Q-queen? The Queen of the Halla? Um... Y-yes? I think?"

The bull laughed in triumph, stamping a large hoof and tossing his head as he bugled.

"See, Blue Winter, she even admits they sought the Queen."

"Oh, shush, she doesn't understand the question. She thinks with the ideals of the ponies and their flawless princesses," Blue Winter snapped to the bull, then to me she asked, "Tell me, little one, what do you know of the Queen?"

"N-nothing," I whimpered. "F-Father told stories of an a-ancient Queen. B-but she would be l-long dead. He'd hoped to find and speak to your c-current Queen, Ma'am."

"And I hope you see," Blue Winter countered back at the bull, her face contorted into victory. "The ponies believe she died centuries ago. They don't know the truth. And if they did, do you think any of them would cross the mountains and look for her?"

"Yes. It is in the Ponies nature to try to control. Look at how they bend Sky and Earth to their whim. If they knew of the Queen, they would seek her out." The bull snorted, his small black eyes boring into me. I could feel his anger and hatred rolling over me like the damp old blankets I clutched desperately too for protection. Too young to understand why he hated me, all I knew was that he did. "We cannot let this viper stay in our midst. She is a danger to us all with every breath she draws."

"That is your right to believe, however wrong you are," snorted a third Halla from the doorway. Switching to Equestrian as he stepped into the room, the new speaker asked, "So, this is the little one creating a commotion?"

He stepped around the other two Halla without hesitation, owning the small room with his presence despite being shorter than Blue Winter. His once grime-black mane was flecked with white, as was the long combed beard perched just below his large nose. Around his neck sat a thick chain of silver with a clasp engraved with a flying raven, small garnets set into the metal as eyes. Bunched around his shoulders was a simple grey cloak, the hood pulled back. On his antlers were hung feathers and charms, gold bands sitting snug at the base of his prongs.

"I am in agreement with Mistress Blue Winter of the Wolf Lodge, as are the rest of Raven Lodge, this filly is no danger or threat to the Halla, and certainly not the Queen," the new Halla said, giving me a smile a grandfather would give his grandfoals. Soft white-green light flickered along his antlers, a similar light grabbing hold of my blanket and gently pulling it away from my desperate grasp. Whimpering and confused why he was taking away my only protection, I looked between the Halla. I quickly found the blanket replaced by his cloak, the soft woolen cloth far warmer and comforting than the old blanket could have ever been. As he swapped the blanket for his cloak, he said in his native tongue, "The Ravens will take full responsibility for her actions, if it will bring you comfort. Or are the Eagles so stubborn and afraid of a foal that they would murder her through heartlessness?"

"That is not the issue! For sixteen centuries we have guarded the Queen. I will not broke any threat to her."

Face contorting into a sneer, Blue Winter leapt back into the argument, snarling, "Listen to yourself and then look at her! What possible threat could she be? Her herd is gone because of us."

"Not because of us. Because they tromped about places no pony should tread. It was the Taiga that took away her herd, not us," roared the old bull in response, his bellow driving me deeper beneath the cloak and shivering with fright. "Crisp Winds, you know our oaths are first and foremost to Protect the Queen."

"You may be able to comfort yourself with the delusion that it was the Taiga and duty that killed the interlopers, as it has done every pony, griffon, or buffalo that has crossed the pass, but you know it is a lie. We should have turned them back, not left them abandoned and alone." Turning his back to the Eagle, Crisp Winds surrounded his antlers with magic again, gently lifting me from the cot. "I am taking the foal to the Raven Lodge, there she will be—,"

"I forbid it!" The Eagle slammed his hooves onto the old wooden floors, his nostrils flaring, rage burning like the flames of Tartarus in his eyes.

Crisp Winds slowly shook his head, a sad frown playing at his lips as he gently deposited me on Blue Winter's back. Slowly he turned to the larger Halla, his jaw set as his magic become cold and deadly.

"I no longer recognise you, brother, that you would sentence a filly to death just because she is not of the Halla. Try to stop us, and I will defend this little one as if she were my own."

"Bright Briar, Husband, do the right thing," Blue Winter said, shifting her posture so that I was further away from the angry bull Halla.

Shocked by the cold fury in Crisp Winds' voice and the gentle pleading in Blue Winter's, he shot me one last look of dark rage before turning and stomping from the room.

"Mark my words, she will be our downfall!"

His final words, purposefully in Equestrian, echoed through the Hall as he left. Confused by the nonsensical shouting match, I just shivered in fright on my protector's back.

"Velvet, look," Cadence whispered, her soft tone forceful enough to snap the mare from her memories and story.

Blinking away the old images, Velvet looked over to see Tyr sleeping, her small chest rising and falling in slow rhythmic motions. A matronly grin on her face, Velvet gently kissed her foster grand-daughter on the brow before slipping off the bed. Cadence and Shining both repeated the gesture before the three closed the curtains and gently slipped from the room before shutting the door with a soft little click.