• Published 9th Mar 2013
  • 3,217 Views, 170 Comments

Hearth's Warming Eve: A Princess Promenade - Cloud Wander

Ponyville Playhouse presents a bold, new interpretation of Hearth's Warming Eve. Music! Adventure! Intrigue! And a few surprises!

  • ...

The Mysterious Stranger and the Ride of the Valkyries

To her credit, Madam Mayor Marigold did a great job of getting the play started.

Almost everypony in Ponyville that wasn't in the cast or crew was there in the audience. Yet, she wasn't intimidated a bit. She trotted onstage full of confidence. Octavia's quartet quieted.

Spike had, happily, talked Madam Mayor out of the bells-and-motley that she had originally selected for her costume. "A jester isn't quite the same as a minstrel," he had explained, patiently.

Marigold, clad in emerald and sporting a smart cap with a jaunty red feather, hit her mark and declaimed:

"Playgoers, I bid you welcome! On this Hearth's Warming Eve, let us reflect upon our history and rejoice! For this is the tale of all of us, of you and I and everypony you know. And it begins with no more than this:

"Once upon a time...."

And so, Marigold spun the tale of Hearth's Warming Eve. Of the distrust between the tribes, when the Earth Folk desperately courted the favor of the Sky Folk in hope of rain and lived in terror of the Magic Folk, who controlled the day and night.

(Diamond Tiara broke character and waved to her father, Filthy Rich, who waved back, proud of his little girl.)

Marigold told of the onset of the Fimbulwinter. Of the desperation of the Earth Ponies, bowed under the weight of snow. Of the confusion of the Pegasi, lost in a sky that had suddenly become hostile and strange. And of the bewilderment of the Unicorns, who burrowed into their books but could find no answers.

Then the tumultuous Summit, the hope of the three tribes, which ended in confusion and rancor.

At last, the painful decision to abandon home, hearth and field, and strike out to new lands.

"Yet even as the Great Migration of the Three Tribes began, the fate of all of ponykind turned on events in Unicornia where, in a black cavern beneath the Castle of the Unicorn King, dire deeds were unfolding...."


The stage was black. Slowly, a gray light illuminated a still figure center stage. The figure, bound and hooded, stirred slowly, then jerked as awareness returned. The figure struggled uselessly for a time, then calmed. It tilted its head, as if listening.

"Whoever you are," she shouted, "I suggest you untie me! I am Clover, advisor to the Unicorn King and apprentice to Star Swirl the Bearded! I caution you, they will be angered by my abduction! And I, blinded and bound though I am, I am not without resources! You would be well advised to release me at once! Do you hear? Answer! Are you there? Do not risk my anger; it is terrible!"

A feminine voice, silky, mocking, floated across the stage. "Threats do not suit you, Clover the Clever," she said. "You are well-known to be reasonable and kind-hearted. Your threats have no teeth."

A heavily-cloaked shape, vague in the dim light, paced slowly behind the helpless Clover. There was a faint sound of jingling bells.

"Do you know where you are?" asked the stranger.

Clover turned, trying to track her captor. After a moment, she replied, "I am in the long-abandoned mines beneath the Great Keep of Castle Unicornia."

The stranger laughed and stamped a quick tattoo of approval. "Well done, child! You caught the distinctive scent of mining dust and felt the worn ruts of the mining carts under your hooves. Well done! I am proud of you!

"And also, do you not, sense the heavy resistance of the walls around you. Resistance to your magic. A trick and a trap in these ancient mines. It's the residue, you see, of the gems that we tore from the flesh of the land. Stone is obdurate, enduring. And spiteful. The land hates us, you see."

The stranger circled Clover, passing between the prisoner and the audience like a dark moon, eclipsing her.

"We have always been diggers, we unicorns. Poking, prying, cutting, seeking the treasures in the darkest depths, the secrets in the black places. Arrogantly unconcerned that something in the black places might be hungry for us."

The stranger stepped nearer to Clover, not so much advancing into the light as drawing the shadows closer.

"In the dark, I discovered a great secret. And it devoured me. And I rejoice in this, because I am relieved of foolish hope."

"Oh, be silent, fool!" cried Clover. "Begone! You tire me. Your cant is less than that of a novice, terrified of her first glimpse of the Realm Undying."

"And yet, here you are, helpless," sneered the stranger. "At my mercy."

"What is it you want of me?" demanded Clover.

The stranger orbited close to her prisoner now.

"What do I want of you?" she asked. "Why, nothing. Precisely nothing. No secret. No spell. No word. No movement. All I need of you is your absence. Then all of my plans are complete."

There was a soft jingling of golden bells.

"Who are you?!" shouted Clover. "You cannot be who you pretend to be, monster!"

The stranger walked into the light at center stage.

"Of course I am. I can always be who I pretend to be," she hissed. "And now..."

The stranger abruptly snatched off her hood to reveal her face. The face of Clover the Clever, twisted with madness.

"I'm you! Ha ha! Bah ha ha ha! Bwah ha ha ha ha ha!"

The stranger stalked into the darkness, followed by the jingling of bells.

In an instant, the stage went black.


While the audience gasped, the crew ran to pull Clover off the stage.

Big Macintosh pulled off her hood. “Okay?” he asked, as the rest of the crew removed her “bonds.”

Minuette flashed her brilliant smile and nodded. “How did I do?”

Director Dash smiled. “Pretty well. The hood helped muffle your voice just enough, so that the audience never noticed the switch.”

“And my next scene?” asked Minuette.

Director Dash winked. “Your next scene will be historic.”


The house lights were down, but the stage was brilliantly lit. A thick carpet of fog moved uneasily over the boards while heavy clouds drifted slowly on wires across the set. Mister Breezy's effects crew wafted tufts of smoke over the stage, giving the set a sense of space and movement.

From a great distance, came the howl of the windigos.

Up in her sound booth, Vinyl Scratch set needle to turntable. Thunderbirds are go! she thought, gleefully.

Down in the orchestra pit, Octavia grimaced. Pre-recorded music! The idea! Still, she glanced at the other members of her quartet, let's add some richness to the production, shall we? Ready? And... now!

The Ride of the Valkyries swelled and filled the hall.

Commander Hurricane (Derpy Hooves) and Private Pansy (Scootaloo) swooped into the set, leveled off and soared.

As a practical matter, although both actors were pegasi, both "flew" on harnesses. One good, real flap would carry a pegasus completely off-stage and hovering in place would look ridiculous to anypony with wings. So the pegasi relied on skillful wirework to move them to their marks on stage while the actors mimicked convincing flight postures.

From the wings, Rainbow Dash watched intently, looking for flaws. Beside her stood Twilight Sparkle, ready, as ever, to lecture.

On stage, Commander Hurricane soared proudly. "Be alert, Private Pansy!" she ordered. "You never know where enemies might be lurking!"

Alarmed, Private Pansy fluttered this way and that, searching for enemies. But in the end, she returned to Commander Hurricane, puzzled. "I don't see any threats, Commander. Just... snow."

Hurricane turned. Her expression was masked by her great helm. Sotto voce, she said, "Private, we have been hunted since we left Pegasopolis. Prepare to fight well and, if necessary, to die well."

Out of the vapor that covered the stage, there arose... monsters. Lumpy, bumpy shapes (Snips, Snails and Twist, in costume) capered beneath Hurricane and Pansy. From behind the clouds, deformed creations of tooth and claw (Miss Cheerilee and Silver Spoon) threatened and mocked the travelers.

Other distorted animal shapes drifted across the stage, modeled by Rarity and Pinkie Pie, propelled by Mister Breezy's fans.

Commander Hurricane hefted her spear and stabbed at one. It burst like a balloon. But then others came, two, four, then a dozen, swarming towards the pair. Hurricane and Pansy hovered back to back, striking furiously with their spears, while the cloud monsters pranced and guffawed at their struggle.

"You understand," whispered Twilight Sparkle, in the shadow beside the stage, "that there were no real cloud monsters. Hurricane made no mention of them in her Apologia. They were the invention of later writers."

"I think I know about clouds, Twilight, sheesh!" replied Rainbow Dash. "When you spend as much time as I have working with them, you get to know them pretty well. But here's the thing: the shapes of clouds are funny sometimes. You look at them and see things. This one looks like a bunny, right, and that one looks like a tree. Eventually, you realize that their shapes aren't out there, they're in here," she tapped her head. "Maybe I don't know the right way to say this, but look what's going on here: Pansy sees only clouds and snow, okay. But Hurricane sees monsters: her failure, the shame to her family, the death of her tribe. Her mighty spear is useless, because she fights Fimbulwinter, a monster that cannot be slain, because it has no heart. Her soul is painted everywhere across the sky, because she can't escape herself."

Rainbow Dash hugged herself. "I've felt that way, sometimes. Like everyone can see who I am, except me."

Twilight looked at her friend. "You've thought a lot about her, since you played the role," she whispered.

Rainbow Dash nodded. "Originally, I just wanted to write this little story about Hurricane and Pansy. About their relationship at this moment. They are separated by rank, class and caste," Rainbow Dash said softly, spreading her forehooves. "Yet they have eaten together, berthed together, fought and bled together. Strangers, yet closer than sisters. Hurricane, driven by duty and fear, is plunging into the depths of her soul and probably to her doom.

"And Pansy follows her. Quiet, mysterious Private Pansy. Pansy followed her, into the storm. Hurricane leads, not knowing where to go. And Pansy follows, knowing only that her place is beside Hurricane."

Rainbow Dash shrugged. "I dunno, maybe that sounds stupid. But that seems very romantic to me. I guess I stink as a writer, so I went back to a re-telling of Hearth's Warming Eve. That's close enough, for me."

Twilight Sparkle was thoughtful for awhile. "I would like to read that story, Rainbow," she said.

Rainbow shrugged. "Maybe later. I've got work to do now. Look!"

Commander Hurricane was charging about the stage, stabbing, thrusting and slicing frantically with her spear at the cloud shapes. Private Pansy struggled to stay near Hurricane's side and poke at anything that looked threatening. But her most frightened looks were directed towards her commander.

The cloud monsters danced and mocked. The windigos roared. And still the strange cloud shapes came on, even larger and more twisted than before.

At last, Commander Hurricane could tolerate no more.

"Enough!" she shouted, tearing off her tall helm, glaring at the uncaring storm, tears streaming down her face. "Come at me! Kill me, if you will! But spare my people!"

The clouds parted and from the heavens a shaft of light shone upon Commander Hurricane and burned upon her brow. She hovered worn and gaunt amidst the clouds. Her eyes were amber; her mane, gold; her coat, the gray of thunderclouds. She held aloft the Spear of Bellerophon and screamed:

"My blood for my tribe! My heart for my family! My spirit for their safety! What ransom can I pay, that will let my people live?! I will give you all that I am: flesh, bone and honor! I, Hurricane of the House of Bellerophon, pledge this, if only you will spare my folk!

"I beg you! I... I beg you. Please!"

But the cloud monsters just laughed and danced about her while the windigos bellowed.

The clouds shifted. The light dimmed. Commander Hurricane grimly set her jaw and put on her heavy helm. She motioned to Private Pansy with the spear of her illustrious grand-sire. And the two of them flew on, into the endless, merciless winter.


The stage went dark.

After a heartbeat, everypony in Ponyville Town Hall began to stamp. Not raucously, not loudly, but slowly and with quiet dignity. They applauded Derpy and Scootaloo. But also they honored the memory of the doomed Commander Hurricane and her faithful Private Pansy, both of whom now lived again in their hearts.

Twilight was breathless. "I still can't believe that's Derpy! I thought she was joking when she told me that you had cast her for the part of Commander Hurricane. But I was so wrong! She's amazing!"

"I knew that Derpy was perfect for this role as soon as I heard her first reading," whispered Rainbow Dash. "Do you know why? Because Derpy is not afraid to make a fool of herself in public. She will take risks, put everything she has inside of her on stage and dare anyone to laugh.

"Derpy is braver than I am," admitted Rainbow Dash. "She's not afraid to lose."


"Derpy? Hi!" said Twilight Sparkle, approaching the little pegasus backstage as she rested.

"Miss Sparkle! Hi!" said Derpy. For a moment, she was her usual self, smiling cheerfully, amber eyes bright. Then Derpy faded and shrank back into herself. She nibbled at a crust of bread and sipped some water.

She's lost so much weight! thought Twilight. Derpy had always been delicate, but now she looked so frail.

"I was very, very moved by your performance, Derpy," said Twilight hesitantly.

"Thanks, Miss Sparkle! I did my best! For you and for Ponyville!" said Derpy. And, again, the embers in her eyes flared up feverishly then faded away.

Scootaloo galloped up. "Miss Hooves! I found some apple juice for you! You should drink this! Apple Bloom brought this down tonight just for you, fresh from the farm! She added a few things Miss Zecora gave her to make you strong! Please! Just drink a little!" Scootaloo danced around Derpy with a worried look. She glanced up at Twilight. "Make her drink this, Your... Twilight! Please!" Scootaloo looked desperate.

Derpy gently pushed the cup away and cradled Scootaloo's face between her hooves. She smiled. "You have been such a good friend! In my worst moments, you have made me laugh! When I fall, I beg you, take my spear! For one sunrise only, hold it high, in memory of me. Then cast it aside and forget. Forget me, because I have killed everything I have ever loved."

Scootaloo looked confused and scared.

"Commander Hurricane! Attention to orders!" said Princess Twilight Sparkle.

Derpy, tired, sad and drawn, pulled herself to attention.

Twilight Sparkle looked down on Derpy sternly. "As your Princess, I command you! Drink!"

Without a second thought, the good soldier drank Zecora's potion.

After a moment, Derpy smiled. "Wow! That was good!"

Finally, the lights in Derpy's eyes came on and stayed on. Scootaloo rushed forward to hug her.

"Ha ha ha! Hay, Scoots," laughed Derpy, hugging her back. "We did okay, didn't we? You were great!"

"Miss Hooves..." Scootaloo began.

"Derpy," corrected Derpy Hooves.

"Derpy, you were awesome!" exclaimed Scootaloo.

"Ha ha! Thanks, Scoots! Hay! Why don't you get yourself a fritter and some cider? Right over there, go on!"

Scootaloo cast a backward glance at Derpy, smiled, then trotted towards the concession table.

"She is such a good girl," sighed Derpy, looking after her.

Twilight Sparkle approached Derpy Hooves. "How did you do it?" she asked. "How did you immerse yourself so much into the character of Commander Hurricane?"

"It was easy, Miss Sparkle," said Derpy. "I just imagined those mean ol' windigos trying to hurt my family and I got angry. Really, really angry. Angry enough to just throw myself at them and do, well, bad things. So I guess I understand Commander Hurricane a little bit.

"Still, I'm happy that this play will be over soon, 'cause I'm kinda tired of being so angry and upset all of the time. Commander Hurricane must have felt like this through all of her trials. Imagine that!

"Muffin top?" Derpy offered. "I can't eat this. The role, you know."