• Published 3rd Feb 2012
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Dames of the Tea Table - Gabriel LaVedier



Luna: Princess, Goddess, Hostess

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Sexless in the city

Dames

Of The
Tea Table

By Gabriel LaVedier

Sexless in the city

The week after the establishment of the Dames of the Tea Table, the three members were back into a reasonable rut as they had been before. Luna stayed out of the limelight and simply walked around the background of Canterlot, not interacting with anypony save for her maid. Lime Sherbert, for her part, worked hard, keeping the princess’ chamber clean, her bed straightened and her body fed. Fleur did all she could to tag along with Fancy Pants, being around him, doing all he wanted, though with never any indication he was trying to take advantage of her.

Nothing was unusual at all, as Fleur went home to her apartment. She lived in the second terrace, the home of the landed gentry and other non-peers of high monetary value. Fleur herself had a trust fund of significant size and was the eldest daughter of a landed Baronet that made money from collecting on rents as others did.

Her home was a third-story walkup in a beautiful marble building, polished to gleaming perfection, though not as ostentatious as the grand and glittering creations on the first terrace. Her home was made of teak midway up the walls and granite beyond that, with cream carpet. All of her furniture was in cream and white: a large couch, a smaller loveseat, a chair, a coffee table, side table and large television, as was the standard for rich ponies. Her apartment had two rooms outside of the main room, a large bathroom, small dining area with an intimate rosewood table and low cushioned stools and a full though cramped kitchen.

She sighed softly while shuffling through the mail that had been in her box. Meaningless bills that would be paid automatically by her money managers; pro forma responses to pro forma letters of greeting and thanks for party attendance; and a single large letter. The envelope was heavy high-cloth paper, with gilt lettering announcing “Miss Fleur de Lis.” Inside the envelope was a heavy-bond paper note, decorated with beautiful floral filigrees around the border, like an illuminated manuscript. The lettering was heavy, curled and black, outlined in gold. Though the script was archaic, the message was clear enough. “The presence of Dame Fleur de Lis is requested at the castle of Canterlot in three days’ time for a formal gathering of the most august and secret convocation, a gathering of the Dames of the Tea Table. Attire optional, sweetmeats graciously appreciated.

Fleur smiled as she ran her hoof over the message, another hoof tapping at her chin. She set the letter down by a small collection of photographs, all of them of Fancy Pants and herself. She took up one of the photographs and smiled at it, lightly giving it a little kiss. “I’ll figure out something to do about you sooner or later. Until then, I have this.”

- - -

“Will you be taking any suits this day, your majesty?” Lime slowly strode beside Luna, a pace behind her head’s forward level and two body-widths away. She was attired in her usual black-and-white maid outfit, with black net stockings and soft cloth shoes, all the mark of a higher-ranking maid in the palace.

“Nay, my maid. Why would I need to face such horrid aggravation? My humour be not suited to such, and my sister hath agreed to take on any serious responsibilities that may arise. Just as when the holder of my most beloved aubergine in nature arrives in our palace and I am allowed to take all my time to lie abed, as well THOU knowest.”

“Yes… delay the tidying and change the sheets. Twice a day. Three times if needed.” Lime shook her head with a smile on her face. “The letter was sent out as you requested your majesty. The third of our Order will arrive at… some point during the day. I have already instructed the gate guards to escort her to the proper receiving chamber upon her arrival and to have your majesty summoned immediately.”

“Excellent. Most excellent. Yes. I have been considering this since the last conclave arrived and departed with such base informality. As seen in other organizations, rites and rituals must be brought to the fore. Thus I have been contemplating such things, concocting the proper actions and activities to be performed that would truly mark our august organization and display its purposes and constitution.”

“Oh majesty. It sounds so… formal and mysterious. Will this become like some sort of secret society, like the ones I read about in those magazines I swear I only look at when I’m on line at the market?”

“Oh nay, nay my maid. ‘Tis naught so occult as such. Our Order has grandeur inherent in it. Our ways and actions must reflect as much. Thus, I have been endeavoring to concoct the proper activities and intonations to show it, though we three be the sole ponies to hear or see such things.”

“I do so admire your dedication to this activity and the serious focus you put on something.”

“Ah, my maid, when the garden is bare of its most precious fruit and the soil lies fallow, awaiting the rough stroke of the porphyric plow, I have naught but time to spend on whatever trivialities I may. ‘Tis why I take the suits I do. Truly, they madden me. Yet, they let the minutes and hours tick past. Tempus fugit when some noble opes their maw to disgorge some triviality. Thusly I find this grand activity diverting and good for the soul, and so I put in as much of mine heart as I am able, to bring it greatness. Should it grow enough, perhaps I need never feel so in need of diversion.”

“Good for the mind and soul. I rather like how this organization is working, and we’ve only met once!” Lime nodded her head with a smile. “May I see what your majesty has created in the name of this noble organization?”

“But of course! Thou wilt be required to know such and repeat such at the opening of our session. Thou wilt find such activities most diverting, as thou hast the humour. Thou art most sanguine, in all the best meanings of such. Come to the chamber, I have brought all my writings and creations. Thou must be prepared that we may both teach the third of our number to perform thus.”

As the two of them walked on to the room, Fleur appeared at the front of the palace, balancing a tray on her back, containing gourmet sweets. She faced the guards and smiled, showing off the envelope she had received containing her name. “Hello there, Fleur de Lis here to…”

“Yes, yes. Princess Luna is expecting you.” The slightly larger guard nodded his head quickly, regarding Fleur with piercing golden eyes.

“We have been instructed to lead you on to meet her. Please follow us.” The other guard was slimmer, more lanky, with the hint of a blush running over his cheeks even without anything to create it.

Fleur followed the two guards through the palace, pausing only as they informed a third guard that she had arrived; they turned quickly from the main halls to the maze-like collection of corridors that led to the various private chambers. She was directed through the passages until she finally arrived at the chamber she had been at previously. “Thank you, gentlecolts.”

“We serve Princess Celestia, but she personally informed us of this and we are honored to serve.” The bulky one bowed grandly.

“Besides, we rather like Princess Luna too. Life’s all ‘go’ around here. If she isn’t cutting ponies down to size she’s having… oh!” The slender one blushed dark cranberry and turned away quickly. “Enjoy your stay at the castle, miss!”

“Cranberry! Ugh… Yes, enjoy your stay, miss de Lis.” With that, the other guard took off after the first.

Fleur looked back at the retreating guards, head tilted, a quizzical look on her face. She then shrugged and opened the door. Within, the table was set for tea, with two steaming pots of tea, a small tray of cookies, and Luna and Lime sitting around. Both were dressed in dark hooded cloaks, with papers beside their teacups and saucers.

The door slammed shut behind Fleur and was sealed with a magical ward. A third cloak levitated out and was slipped over Fleur’s head.

"Welcome to thee, third of our order and completion of the most secret and mystic enumeration. The triangle circle be complete and whole. Now may we begin the ritual, that it may grant our convocation respectability and honor."

"What?" Fleur slowly approached the table, to an empty place with a cup, saucer and pile of papers. "What's going on?"

Luna levitated the papers before Fleur and magically highlighted a portion, third down on the page. "Await thy moment, and listen to what will be intoned." That said, the princess took a deep breath, her horn glowing and summoning music from the air. Jaunty folk music. "I hath got mine aubergine, what need have I for more, for more, what need have I for more? For I gobble, gobble, gobble mine aubergine, what need have I for more?"

Lime suddenly burst out in song, just as strong and fearless as the princess. "I have got a zucchini, what need have I for more, for more, what need have I for more? For I gobble, gobble, gobble my zucchini, what need have I for more?"

Both mares looked expectantly toward Fleur, who desperately looked down at the sheet. After the lyrics of what had been sung, there was only the notation, 'Insert the "fruit" of thy lover as thou singest.' She drew in a deep breath and gamely sang out, "I have got my butternut, what need have I for more, for more, what need have I for more? For I... I... I gobble, gobble, gobble my butternut, what need have I for more?"

Luna lifted her head and slid the hood off of her head. She smiled and nodded to the other mares. "Well met, my fellow Dames. I welcome thee, Dame de Lis, and I hope thy trip to this convocation was not too troublesome. And I thank thee as well for these sweetmeats." She levitated the tray of gourmet treats to the table and uncovered them. "How fine! The finest morsels of the upper crust. One of the few good things they have produced."

"You came around just in time. The tea is good and warm." Lime poured out three cups and distributed them around the table. "Those DO look good. I've had similar many times, but only because palace staff get the surplus of food after formal meals. That's one reason I love it when there is a... visitation."

"I can't get enough of these. You have no idea how much work it takes to keep this Celestia-like figure. Ahh, the fashion of power." Fleur levitated a small raspberry-sauced pastry to her mouth and nibbled gingerly on it.

"'Twas not always so, Dame de Lis. The sometime style, a thousand years afore, wast reflected in the old name of the fine ponies. Popolo Grasso. The fat populace. In those days, only the wealthy and privileged could afford to truly grow fat, as they ate much and worked little. Rump-fed wretches. They give those of thicker figure a poor name. How curious and ironic. In this new age these new stallions and mares starve themselves for naught, and country ponies now resemble these old ponies. I am unashamed of mine own thickness. Not only am I proper in mine own shape, but this thickness be preferential to... the gardener whom doth tend my field. Yes... the gardener with a porphyric plow."

"He's the one that grows those really big... eggplants, isn't that right, your majesty?" Lime sipped her tea and nibbled on a cookie. "And what did you say once? His honeycrisps are also especially well-grown?"

"Aye, aye, Dame Sauce. But mind thy tongue and beware lest thou should speak beyond thy level and state what must needs be silent." Luna waved a hoof and sipped her tea with a thoughtful look. "I may as well speak of thine own gardener. Thou didst say thou had chosen the noble zucchini, not merely for thy preferential savor but also as the flesh of the zucchini be dark as pitch, and thou hast a great hunger for such MEAT as thus. Dost thou enjoy the contrast, as his gleaming pelt roughly works thy field with a pure-made cold-iron tool? Sweat drips and breath pants, the soil is tilled and run under until..."

"Your majesty!" Lime dropped her teacup, but from only a small height, clattering it on the saucer and spilling only a little tea. "I do apologize for my loose tongue. But that seemed hardly fair." She cleared her throat and adjusted her sitting position, surreptitiously fanning herself with a hoof.

"I almost feel left out. I wish I knew what was going on." Fleur sipped her tea with a small smile on her face, as if to indicate she had an inkling about some of the broad strokes.

"Tch and tush, Dame de Lis. Fancy thyself not so innocent. Thou art no blushing new filly on the cusp of thy marehood. Thou beest a grown mare, ripe in thy fruitfulness, and having had thine own encounters with what may be surmised a butternut of some species. Thou hast seen thy land used well and often, so long as thou art the plus-one of thy tender. Presume not that thy novelty protects thee from our scrutiny and our wit. Be this not so, Dame Sherbert?"

"Yes indeed, your majesty. We're just very used to one another. But you aren't immune. We're only here because of you after all. Well, you and the tea. And the treats. That reminds me..." Lime levitated one of the small morsels, chomping it with great hunger and passion. "Forgive my lack of manners. But this is how we did it back down on the lower terraces."

"Yes, I did forget thou wert birthed and reared in the lower terraces, though thy family wast connected to this palace. Thy uncle did right by thee to get thee thy position sweeping. And now witness thyself, see how thy position hath changed. And not merely thy stance beneath thy husband." Luna laughed heartily and gamely gobbled down a sweet morsel as Lime had done.

"It must have been really interesting down there." Fleur politely passed the gag on Lime's husband and pushed on with actual conversation. "I live on the second terrace because my father is a Baronet, just enough to be rich but not a peer like the first-terracers. Nice place but I haven't been far below. I really wish I could experience what I've been missing. All the parties were first and second exclusive, if not in the palace itself. I've heard the clubs are very interesting."

"They're not as fancy as the ones up in first and second but they're kind of fun. I've been out there with some of the ponies from the palace; they like to "slum it" down in terraces I've been around before."

""Slum"? Thy supposed friends doth have a most curious comprehension of thy home terrace. Surely 'tis no slum and such speech be a grave insult! Tell me of these ponies that I may smite them with great slices of mine eely member!"

"N-no, your majesty!" Lime quickly waved her hooves with a somewhat panicked look. "That's not what they mean. It's more of our modern slang, like 'clubbing.' It means for ponies of higher station to go to a place that's lower than that normal station. For example, when hereditary peers go to the second terrace to the shops or such things they say they are 'slumming it' because that's a step downward for them. And palace workers, well... they have a pretty high estimation of themselves, with good reason. We are here, inside the palace of Canterlot, something not even the majority of the nobility can claim, and certainly not so often or for so long. They often get free passes into second-terrace clubs when they show their palace uniforms. And on lower levels, they never even have to see the wrong side of a velvet rope. They are EAGERLY shoved inside."

"Pah. Vanity. Caprice. Status. Such cheap trinkets sought by the majority of ponies. And how they use thee so basely! Seeking to steal thy notability and position to increase the standing of whichever tavern thou hast chosen. Such naked policy." Luna munched a cookie, and guzzled her tea, looking quite stern and serious.

"I still say I would dearly love to see one of those exciting, flashy clubs down below the second terrace." Fleur quickly cut in, attempting to defuse Luna's anger. "I wouldn't even see it as slumming. I'd see it as seeing something truly new and exciting. It would be a whole new thing! And that just might get my mind off of Fancy Pants. At least for a while."

Luna gained a very thoughtful look, taking a more measured sip from her cup, nibbling thoughtfully on a cookie and an apple pastry bite, at the same time. "Thine idea doth have great merit, Dame de Lis. Why should we three vital, quick ladies of fine taste and breeding be confined to this single room? Let us away, then, to these lower terraces. Indeed, I too have a desire to experience this 'clubbing' that doth exist sans heavy sticks and battery."

"This sounds perfect! There is only one problem. I think the bouncers at the clubs would notice that we are traveling with Princess Luna, the goddess of the night and co-ruler of the Principality. We'd hardly have a good time being mobbed by ponies and the paparazzi." Fleur stroked her chin thoughtfully as she regarded Luna.

"Cavallino or no, small midges be hardly distraction to sufficiently wise gentlefillies as we. Come then, let us devise some clever ploy; we be all wits and not wittols, so far as we three know. But CERTAINLY let that pass. We may trust fidelity. Come then, think!"

Lime was the first one to speak, clopping her hoof firmly on the table. "A disguise! Of course, it's brilliant!"

"A disguise? Well, certainly makeup artists can work miracles with tones and highlights and with a big enough cloak you can hide your Cutie Mark and shape. But it all only goes so far for a famous mare with an ethereal mane and tail."

"Oh, her majesty can do SO much more than that. She has capacities beyond even the most talented unicorns. Observe."

Luna posed dramatically, her horn glowing brightly. A sparkling wave enveloped her body, compacting her body slightly, changing her color to a pale pink, her mane and tail turning into a powder-blue tone, and settling into fluffy ringlets falling around her face. Even her Cutie Mark altered, becoming a dark crescent moon beside a shepherd's crook. She stood there, seeming to ask for comments. "Doth it not suit the royal shape?"

Fleur looked on with a slack-jawed expression, casting her eyes disbelievingly up and down along Luna's new form. In stature and shape her very much resembled Fleur; they could have been twins. There was another great change: She had no wings. They had been pulled in or hidden somehow, leaving her an ordinary unicorn. "Goodness... that's quite remarkable."

"Pah, 'tis but a trifle, a tiny bit of magical contrivance made to preserve mine identity when I wish to move about unmolested. Only the most sensitive of mages may even detect mine elegant subterfuge, and then may not know what manner of magical glamour I have applied. In this borrowed shape, I am inviolable."

"The problem is, we can't just go around calling your majesty "Luna." A bit too on the nose. Someone's bound to pick up something." Lime examined the disguised princess with a nod, tapping her hoof lightly on the floor.

"Thy words be true. 'Tis not to mine advantage to be known by my proper name. Perhaps... perhaps Selene! Oh nay... Too simple. Too direct. Perhaps... Ishtar! Oh nay indeed. Goddess of the night so they thought her but so many things did she do beyond mere shepherding of the moon and stars." She looked back at her Cutie Mark and smiled, as though connecting what she had just said to a thought. "Of course. Cynthia."

Fleur tilted her head lightly. "How did that name come about?"

"There's an old play about the moon goddess Cynthia falling in love with the shepherd Endymion. Now, that play ended with the two unable to bridge the social gap, which is why I wonder why her majesty has chosen to emulate such a tragedy..."

"'Tis a comedy, as well thou know'st. Thou hast sat through many a private performance. 'Tis true, that relation dost not bloom. But... let that pass, let that pass. It suffices that the story be one I know well, and that MINE Endymion hath naught to fear from the sharp divide. Very well. I am thusly named Cynthia. I have come from the first terrace, Lady Cynthia of a house that need not be named. That doth explain how I know a most elegant mare and a chambermaid of the palace."

"Sounds perfectly reasonable. But... what about the diction? I have heard some of the finer ponies speaking in tones like that, but not often. And it sounds out of place on the lower terraces." Fleur tapped her hoof lightly on the table, finish off the last of her tea.

"Pah! I find that such speech is like spices to the ears of these modern ponies. It makes one sound cultured and most greatly advanced. But be that as it may, I have been practicing the many tongues of the times of history, thus I may sprinkle proper terms into mine excellent speech. Very well, let us go then to have a little hooch at the gin-joint, my bearcats. Let us hope we do not get into some kind of donnybrook." Luna-as-Cynthia smiled, looking proud of her temporally-confused slang.

Fleur and Lime just looked at one another, not certain what to say. Lime broke the silence with a smile and a game, "Well, let's be off."

"Halt!" Luna's voice boomed loudly, held inside the room by her magical warding. "Raise thy hoods. Let us leave this chamber with a proper chant. Find it on the next page of thy notations."

The three ladies raised their hoods over their heads, looking properly mysterious and intimidating. The three lifted their heads, holding up their papers as they chanted, "Then up she rose and donn'd her clothes,/ And dupp'd the chamber-door;/ Let in the colt, that out a pure/ Never departed more." (*)

- - -

Not much longer after the final chant of conclusion, and a quick cleanup, the three mares parted company, to dress and return to each other that they might travel down the terraces together in style, in a carriage hired by Lime, and paid by the alleged Cynthia. Lime opted for what she already had on. She was unashamed of her maid's attire; on the contrary, she was proud of the status of which it spoke. Fleur, who normally went about unclad because of the elegant simplicity she felt it displayed (and because it showed off her hard-won figure), had opted for something simple and understated. It was a pale pink dress that hugged her figure beautifully and set off the colors of her mane and tail.

Cynthia was the last to be dressed and appear. Having no practical experience with fashions for all the time between her banishment and the present, her choice was a comforting throwback to a time which made sense to her, and, additionally, one that Lime knew excited her choice in stallion. It was dark red, a muted shade, at least on the outer shell of fabric. The core, revealed at the chest down, was the color of properly-aged parchment, which managed to look somehow elegant. The middle was laced up lightly, a corset that did not compress but enhanced the thickness present on her body. Atop her head was a circular hat, floppy and slightly creased, like a giant beret that had been allowed to swell and deflate, also in dark red. There was an additional accessory, but the other two talked her out of the ruffled collar.

The three ladies prepared, they took their hired carriage from a location near Fleur's home down the pathways of Canterlot to the fifth terrace. As the scale of notability and affordability slid down, the surroundings grew less "enchanted nobility" and more "big city square." The profusion of high apartment blocks and neon-lit clubs reminded those passing through of nothing so much as Manehattan.

The carriage deposited the three dressed-to-thrill mares outside one of said neon-bedecked clubs. The buzzing, multi-hued collection of tubes proclaimed the place to be named Electric Buzz. There was a small queue of ponies, and others, stretching along the sidewalk, waiting for assessment behind a velvet rope guarded by a rather large, burly unicorn stallion. Bass thumped heavily from inside the club, the rest of the music screaming out each time the door opened, announcing that the pony in question had been admitted.

"Ok, there's a certain order to these kinds of things. Don't think ill of me or my friends. This is just how it goes around here. We're going to get out of the carriage and walk to the front. It's kind of expected of those that look like us. We flash a smile and show a little foreleg and the bouncer lets us in. There may or may not be free drinks at the bar waiting for us. Don't mind what they give you. It's neon, glowing and made mostly of fruit and hard liquor. But don't take anything from somepony else. Or someone else. Taking it means they have the right to harass you all night." Lime enumerated the rules as the three prepared themselves to leave the enclosed carriage.

With a nod from the other mares all three stepped down from the carriage, drawing a soft gasp from some of the denizens of the queue. They sauntered slowly to the door, looking supremely confident and exuding an aura of belonging, despite the incongruity of the place and their attire. However, that was not considered a problem as far as the bouncer was concerned. He saw them approach and swiftly allowed them in, getting a smile from the trio for his trouble. He smiled back, but quickly scowled again on hearing complaints from the ones at the front of the line. Somepony was looking to be rejected outright.

Inside the club was dim, with flashing lights and swirling strobes of all colors. Lime found it rather standard; Fleur found it amazing; and Cynthia found it almost overpowering. Her poor, precious night, reduced to this! Just as she had told her Gala companion so long ago.

The three approached the bar, finding a smiling electric blue unicorn stallion with a bright yellow mane and tail. He had three drinks lined up, all of them the most unearthly shade of glowing green. "Fillies! Compliments of the management! We just wanna thank you for giving our little place a good touch of class."

Cynthia was the one that fielded that one, winking to her compatriots and saying, "Thank you kindly, pally. My muffins and I really like your little juice joint and I'm sure this giggle water will be the bee's knees."

The bartender, Fleur and Lime all looked completely nonplussed. Fleur recovered first and laughed musically. "Well isn't that simply droll? Our dear friend has opted to make a game of verbiage! I think we can all understand her. So let us take these drinks to a table. Thank you very kindly for this generous gesture." With that, the drinks were levitated and borne away, the bartender still looking as though somepony had punched him in the cerebellum.

Once settled at a table Cynthia gave a broad, proud smile. "Huzzah! I do believe we have successfully hoodwinked the tapster. How fortuitous that my studies of modern language have paid such rich dividends so soon! Truly I am well pleased."

Lime smiled and toasted with her drink. "Indeed your maj... err, Cynthia. Indeed. You have mastered the language you have studied." She took a quick sip and contemplated. "The freebies are good tonight. I doubt one could hurt. More than that and you're looking at a case of severe 'probably going to wake up with a warrant for your arrest.'"

"Mmm, mine aubergine doth serve warrants for pay. Mayhaps I would fall into his clutches and enjoy being the Wild Mare."

"How exciting! A bounty hunter. Why that seems just below Treasure Hunter on the list of dramatic and exciting careers for a stallion or mare. Not that I dislike Fancy Pants' own occupation. But it makes for most excellent fantasy."

"Sounds like somepony likes to lay around reading Harlequine Romance Novels and tap out dit-dah code." Lime smiled cheekily at Fleur and sipped her glowing glass.

"This code be known to me. I saw it in reports on rising technology. But how doth it meet with the royal court jesters and stories of their chivalrous deeds and dalliances?"

Lime smirked, feeling, at last, like she had the upper hoof. "Our slang may not be as rich and diverse or involve as many languages but it can turn a phrase. When a mare... handles her own excitement there is rubbing and some measure of tapping. Because it looks like sending a message they call it that. As for the Harlequine, well... that's the name of a big publishing company that puts out cheap, trashy novels about 'romance' in the loosest sense of the word. It's classy smut for stallions and mares too nervous to buy Playmare or Stablecolt. There's usually some wild adventure between scenes of intercourse. And that new line of theirs, Harlequine Crossups, is made explicitly for pony and non-pony stuff. They used to have it in the regular ones, the odd griffin or donkey or zebra, but this is explicitly for that. They even started using Diamond Dogs and Buffalo."

"Most fascinating! Most fascinating indeed. To think such is considered so scandalous. In my own day such dalliances met with official approval. After all, we have hybridized many of the population. I did give fertility to many couples. Perhaps those who worshipped Ishtar were well aware of what I would do... ah but let that pass. But society hath never been fair. Even in this day there are those that trust not these vital members of our lands. What good doth this do? Pah! A pox on such hatred. The right honorable and well-honored Ponyville-Adjacent Everfree Nightwatch contains Constable Clear Facet and his love the Diamond Dog Emerald, now Emerald Facet. And a buffalo maiden by name of Little Strongheart hath been legally bonded to one Braeburn Apple. By all tales 'twas a most beautiful nuptial. And by the rights this union doth make them... oh but I do speak too freely. This strange liquor doth disorient me so. It be not becoming for such aqua fortis to glow as though 'twere touched by glamour."

Lime sipped her drink and considered. "But we are getting off topic. Are you one of the regular readers?"

Fleur hesitated a moment but finally nodded while sipping her drink. "Yes indeed. I have indulged in reading such things. Crossups even. "Diamond Harvest" was so moving. A lonely farm mare, mysteriously helped by a Diamond Dog that eventually came to know her and saved her from the advances of an evil land speculator... but my primary joy is to imagine Fancy Pants in the lead roles, especially in stories of espionage. After all, he already looks the part of the suave, debonair spy. It takes very little to cast him in the role."

"Really? I always saw him as the non-Caballito version of The Most Interesting Pony in Equestria, that cheesy stallion advertising Dos Equus."

"But thou shalt not escape the scrutiny of thine own inquisition. Thou hast asked thy fellow dame about her proclivities in literature. What of thee? Hast thou taken to... 'tapping out dit-dah code' to these tales thou hast called cheap and trashy? Methinks thou dost protest more than is seemly for an innocent mare. Confess, Dame Sherbert." Cynthia stared hard at Lime, with a smile on her face. She was joined soon enough by a smiling scrutiny from Fleur.

Lime shifted back a bit, stricken by the intensity of the gazes, but recovered well and took a sip of glowing cocktail. "It's true. In times before I used to indulge in a bit of split-leg tap-dancing with the help of a cheesy scene of two paper-thin characters getting interpersonal. And I know they've gotten better lately but that doesn't matter. See, I stopped needing them. I got married; and not just to a pegasus, but a Royal Guardspony. That's up there on the fantasy list. It's exciting and wonderful, not to mention pretty hot, because he's built like a proper guard and has all the stamina. And he can fly. So... well, any fantasy I want, he can play. From 'bed and breakfast customer without money' to 'country bumpkin and the city slicker.' There's a lot to be said for having a ready guy available." She chuckled a bit and leaned back, looking as casual as could be.

"Be this thy posture with thy compatriots?"

"Indeed it is. I'm not a lightweight but it takes very little alcohol to help me just relax and get casual with my friends."

"I must say, I rather enjoy this side of you. You're a good maid but so much better as a casual mare. And it's such a rare thing. Those uptight first terrace types wouldn't know a casual time if they were paid to know. I have longed for the chance to just sit in a club like this and listen to... well what is it?"

"The name of this piece of sound and fury be not known to me. However, the authors of this audio ambiance are most notable. Witness, Vinyl Scratch and the inimitable Octavia Philhamonica. Those mares have performed at private palace functions. How strange they would need to reduce themselves to such things as performing at a random club. Hath the economy of Canterlot picked their pouches? Mayhaps they require additional royal support..."

"No, I don't think so. Vinyl talked to me once, while they were setting up that little garden surprise. She gets Octavia to perform at places like this to reconnect with the old days, to get back to how it was when she first started out. Sure, she's got a marefriend now, and a good income, nice house on the third terrace, some notoriety. But she didn't start out that way. It keeps her humble. And it ruffles Octavia. They're one of those 'playful' couples that occasionally annoys one another for the sake of keeping things fresh."

"Fancy Pants never annoys me..."

"Didn't you seek a royal audience because he wouldn't formally say he was your stallionfriend? That's something a high school mare does when the captain of the rugby team doesn't give her a hoof ring after homecoming."

Fleur stiffened and looked hurt by the accusation, but eventually hung her head and sighed. "Admittedly, it DID seem like a silly thing to do at the time. But I can't say I am disappointed with the results." She toasted her table companions with her drink and took a sip.

"Aye, 'tis so. This conclave hath removed me from the palace that I may savor the life of an ordinary mare. Truly, I do profit from thy stallion's devotion that lacks structure."

"I'm his closest companion and the eternal plus-one. But I want to date more casually."

"Just date?"

"Oh sure, I'd love to marry him. Or at least move in with him. But I'll settle for him at least recognizing that we're a serious hot-and-heavy item."

A glass tinked lightly against Fleur’s, the magical aura around it showing it to be Cynthia’s. “There are some secrets we all keep. By the State Secrets Act some things are occluded and unknown to thee. Keep the secret of why. Understand that I understand. My love be unknown, for he hath declared it so. That he may not put his reputation upon, as he saith, mine innocent head.”

Fleur re-clinked glasses with Cynthia and nodded. “He’s a bounty hunter, as you said. Not exactly the most socially-acceptable of occupations. The scandal that would arise.” She tapped a hoof on the table and sipped her neon beverage. “I wish you’d do it. Just to shake up the stodgy nobility. They need a good shock now and again.”

While the three contemplated their words, two new arrivals came in, looking to be experiencing a bit of culture shock. One was a male booted eagle griffin, thin and pale who looked at the accoutrements and all the bottles at the bar. His traveling companion was a unicorn mare, bright orange with a darker orange mane and tail and a cut wheel of cheese on her flank. She was just staring at the lights and the intense musical happening. “Jeepers! Oh hon, look at this place. How could we ever be as flashy as this?” The mare spoke with a very heavy Equestrian Lakeland accent.

“Hey now…” The griffin male gave the mare a hug and a kiss on the neck. “We don’t need to be flashy. I know we brightened the place up to more Equestrian standards. But it’s still what it is. It’s a little place for a quick drink beside the road. We don’t have to get flashy and crazy. We just need to keep it working.”

The mare nodded slowly, kissing the griffin’s beak lightly. “Oh Swallow, I just hope we can compete with something like this. Ya know there aren’t many griffins coming by.”

Swallow chuckled, patting the mare on the back. “Hey now… Come on, Aggie. There’s a reason I’m along the road to Cloudsdale. If griffins are coming they’ll pass. Flying or not they can tell a griffin place. Besides, I’ve always done alright. Don’t worry, dear. Come on, enjoy yourself. I saved up for a Canterlot vacation so you could take your mind off of the wedding. I thought it was important.”

Aggie chuckled lightly, resting her head against Swallow’s face and nodding a touch. “Oh fer cryin’ in the corn… ‘Course you’re right, hon. We’ll be just fine.”

As they passed the table containing the Dames Lime sighed and rested her head on a hoof. “Look at that. Speaking of Crossups, there’s a sight to gladden the heart.”

“Aye, aye. A griffin and his mare. They make a right handsome couple. He beeth of the Booted Clan. In my time they were largely ascendant and had designs on the throne of the High King. Their small stature and crafty nature gave them much success. However, our historians and diplomats hath told me their power waned after a bloody civil war. Now power be held by the Bald Clan, having been taken from the Golden Clan, Black Verreaux Clan and Eaglehawk Clan at other times. As far as is reported, such males emigrate from their lands to be free of hardships which cometh of being the least.”

“I applaud his taste in ladies and his boldness. To be so free with love AND to escape his situation to become his own male. There is a story there indeed.” Fleur noted that, as the two got drinks at the bar a trio of Pegasus ponies were coming up through the crowd. “Oh my. Looks like there’s a complication…”

“So I figure, we can replace the support beams with some granite ones and polish them up. I know there’s some Cannonite places that have good deals on uncut granite, and all we need to do is square it off, good compromise between Equestrian and Griff- Hey!” As Swallow was speaking, one of the larger pegasi, a muscle-bound blue stallion with dark purple mane and a dark cloud on his flank ran into him, jostling his newly-received drink.

“Watch it, chickenpuss! Can’t you things see behind you? You ought to know when ponies are walking around you.” The stallion spoke with a low growl, but loud enough to let other patrons hear the slur, which brought a laugh to his two friends.

“Hey, you ran into me! Back off, I’m just here to have a nice night with my fiancée. Do you mind?”

“Do I mind? You bet your flank I mind, chickenpuss! Like we need you coming into our land stealing our mares to join your freaky harems! Go back to your kingdom and stay with your own kind!” To add emphasis to his words the stallion shoved Swallow just enough to spill some of his drink but not knock him down.

“Hey! Screech and squawk, I paid good bits for that thing! What is your major malfunction, hoochbrain? Just get out of my face and I’ll leave you alone.” Swallow tried to go back into bartender mode, remembering that drunks were just idiots. He could get through it.

“Buck you, griffin! And buck your freak of a marefriend too!”

“What did you say?” Swallow’s unoccupied talons curled into a fist.

“You heard me! You’re a sick freak, slobbering over some lady that’s not even your own kind. And she’s just as bad, letting you put your filthy, disgusting claws all over her body.”

“One… more… word…” Swallow had forgotten all about Bartender mode. His talons were pressed tightly, balled up and ready to be used.

“Filthy. Disgusting. Who-” That was as far as he got. Swallow took a swing at him and clipped his chin. But it wasn’t his hit that did the damage.

Aggie shook her fore hoof, and glared hotly at the staggering Pegasus. “Great day in the mornin’! Shut yer donut hole already. We got it. These Canterlot pegasi… are they always such a pain, there?”

“You freak!” One of the other pegasi, a smaller but still bulky green and white stallion lunged for Swallow, meeting his fist in the face and Aggie’s hoof to the belly.

“Dames, to the fore. Chivalry demands we become aegis to the hearts of these beleaguered lovers who suffer for their passions.” Cynthia was up and away from the table immediately, followed by Lime and Fleur in an instant.

“Hey you! Eat it, flyboy!” Lime lit her horn and roughly shoved the third pegasus, a white stallion with a black mane, stopping an attempt at blindsiding against Swallow.

“You ruffian! How dare you do such a thing in such a place as Canterlot? You give our fair city a terrible reputation.” Fleur, a most dainty and proper unicorn, did not assault any of the pegasi. She merely grabbed the second attacker with her horn’s grip and pulled on him hard, holding him back from any action.

“Beat it, hood, or I will be forced to give thee the bum’s rush out of this club!” Cynthia, far less restrained, and FAR more powerful, flexed only a portion of that power, grabbing the instigator in her horn’s grip and yanking him down to the floor with enough force to knock the wind out of him.

“Hold it! Stop it! That’s it, out of here. All of you, out right now!” Cutting through the crowd came a small earth pony in brown and green, with a clipboard on his flank. He was followed by two hulking earth ponies in sunglasses, one a dark red mare with a brown mane and the other a black stallion with a navy blue mane and tail. “You five, all of you out of here right now! Not gonna have brawlers like you in this place.”

“Now hold on there, Joe. Just what kind of clip joint art th… are you running here? Tossing them all? You and the house dicks ought to know that it was those three…” Cynthia indicated the battered pegasi, “Who instigated this dust-up. So toss the crumbs and leave these two fine folks.”

“Indeed!” Fleur cut in quickly, drawing the attention of the confused bar personnel. “Why just look at us. Would we three clearly high-terrace ladies act on the side of questionable or improper beings? Of course not. We can assure you all that they did was in self-defense.”

The lead stallion considered it for a moment then indicated the three pegasi. “Toss ‘em. And tell the constables out there. I don’t need them causing trouble outside.” He nodded to Aggie, Swallow and the three Dames. “Folks, enjoy your evenings. I hope this doesn’t negatively color your ideas about this establishment.”

“Not at all! Justice is served. So, it’s really a nice place after all.” Lime smiled brightly and gave a mocking wave to the pegasi being rushed out the door.

“You alright honey? Any of those drunken muscle heads hurt you?” Swallow started looking over Aggie’s body, searching for signs of harm.

“Oh hon, I’m just super. That wasn’t so bad. But we really need to thank these ladies. Jeepers, jumping up for us, that was really sweet of ya, there.” Aggie gave a short bow to the trio of mares looking at the couple.

“It was a distinct pleasure to show such ruffians what proper ladies think of their backwards thinking. Where do they think they are? Pegasopolis? Shameful! Scandalous. And not even in the good sense. Hmph! So sorry to intrude on your evening but we felt it necessary.” Fleur acted as spokesmare for the group, all broad smiles and polite nods of her head.

“Oh not a bother at all, there. Sure, Swallow probably wanted ta punch their heads into their necks. He’s no fighter, donchaknow, that’s why he’s here. But he’s still a griffin and griffin men protect their hens ahead of all reason. Isn’t it cute? And here in Equestria we mares always back up our man. We always did back home. Just makes me know I made the right choice, there, when I decided to marry him.” Aggie lightly unruffled Swallow’s feathers with her horn’s magic.

“Culture dies hard. But believe me, I’d much rather be here than in the Kingdom. But no matter what, I’ll always protect my hen… my mare. I may not be much to look at but I’ll do what I can. I’m a bartender, after all. I deal with drunken griffins, stallions and jacks all the time.”

“Ahhh, a tavern-keeper. How noble. A provider of hospitality along the long and dusty roads. Whereabouts be thy ta… gin joint?” Cynthia moved ahead of the other two unicorns, looking very interested.

Swallow and Aggie both shrugged at the strange speech. Nobles. Then Swallow replied, “It’s sorta tucked in there, visible from the road or sky. It’s kind of on the crossroads, along the path to Ponyville, the earth pony portion of Cloudsdale, and vaguely on the road to Hoofingdale as well. Heh. That’s how I met Aggie. She wanted to get to Hoofingdale and she stopped for directions. We got to talking and… she just stopped. I don’t think she ever actually made it to Hoofingdale.”

“Didn’t really seem to matter all that much after a while. He’s got a cozy little place over the bar and we live pretty good.”

“Hast thou a calling card?”

“Yea, I’ve got my corporate office address on it and all- oof!” Swallow rubbed his side, following a quick elbow from Aggie. “I’ve got a few that I made up when I thought it might actually made a difference.” He reached into a pouch at his side and pulled out a smudged and slightly folded business card. Though there were tears on it, it still gave a location clearly.

Cynthia nodded slowly, taking the card and sliding it into a ribbon on Lime’s maid attire. “Do keep that safe. I thank you again. And hope your evening in this fair city be most pleasant.”

“Uh, thanks…” Swallow and Aggie smiled to the trio and went back to the bar for another drink.

“Was that not a most pleasant and heart-warming diversion? To be of service to others in love be the most heartening experience in all this world.” Cynthia sat behind her drink again, all smiles.

“I must confess… it was rather bracing! Oh the exhilaration! Is this what thrill-seeking ponies experience? Most delightful. The nobility never have such activities. No wonder Princess Celestia allows those six Element bearers their freedom in Canterlot.”

“Aye, my sister doth give them leave that they may make all our lives far more tolerably energetic. Particularly the impending Mrs. Twilight Sparkle. Never have sugar and party games created such a fracas, or ruction. It be most pleasant and refreshing. Why dost thou think I take my Nightmare Night in Ponyville?”

“Ladies…” Suddenly there came a voice that practically dripped with sleaze. It was as though the vocal cords of the speaker had been doused in cheap aftershave, cheaper deodorant and no-quality mane oil. All three mares turned to see the one who had spoken. He was a unicorn, with a deep roan coat and flaxen mane and tail. He had on a pair of button-up shirts, both collars popped. He was wearing moderately-tinted sunglasses, which showed off the lascivious gaze in his eyes. His Cutie Mark was seen to be a martini glass and a shaker. “Can I join this fine, FINE collection of natural beauty?”

“Err, no. That’s alright but we’re quite fine as we are.” Fleur smiled politely and motioned dismissively with her head.

“Hey now, I read you loud and clear.” The stallion inserted himself into a gap in the seating between Fleur and Lime, levitating over two glasses of brown liquor. “And here’s a drink for inviting me.”

“But, we did not…” Cynthia began.

“Majesty…” Lime leaned in as far as she could, speaking quietly into Cynthia’s ear. “He doesn’t care. He’s one of the sleaze balls I was warning you about. He’s not going to take no for an answer.”

“So, I see you’re on a diet. That’s good. Get yourself nice and thin. Bet you’re going to get your mane styled, too.” The stallion had all his focus on Fleur, critically eyeing her up and down. “And really, your horn probably needs a polish.”

Fleur spluttered loudly, eyes wide. “Well I never! Sir, I will have you know my mane was personally tended to by Señor de Cabello in the first Terrace high street, the finest Caballito mane stylist in all of Canterlot. And as for my weight I am quite thin enough. In fact I may be too thin; I have considered adding weight, as Princess Luna has made the fashion. And as for my horn, well…”

“Fleur.” Lime turned to her companion and shook her head. “Don’t listen to him. He’s negging. Saying all the bad things he can think of, true or not, to try and hit your self-esteem. Give in to his negativity or get defensive and he thinks he’s won. Just let it roll off you. You know you’re better than him.”

“Oh yea? Well, you know what, I don’t even have to make stuff up about you. Look at that frumpy outfit. Looking like a maid is something you do in the bedroom, not in public. Unless you really are a maid, then you’re just some servant. Why even bother with you? Just leave us to talk, ok, chickie?”

Lime faked a yawn, tapping her hoof over her mouth. “Oh! Sorry. You’re so boring I can’t even muster the energy to pretend to care. Besides, I’m married. I already have a guy. I don’t need some slime-soaked scumbag like you. I’ve got a QUALITY man waiting for me at home.”

“Huzzah, good Lime! Thou art aces, kid! Tell off this dingy crumb so we may get back to our little wingding.”

“Hey! Stuff it, toots! Just look at you. Listen to you! It’s just pathetic. One of those inbred nobles that can’t dress themselves without looking like an idiot, trying to be classical and just showing off you don’t know anything about fashion. And the way you talk, trying to learn slang and failing, mixing up all that old junk with slang from when your granny thought she was cool.”

“Now sir, thou speakest out of turn, and it is understandable that thou wouldst…” Cynthia began, trying to be calm and even, remembering her disguise.

“Shut up! You’re never going to get a stallion or mare. And even if you got one they’d be another inbred noble with no quality, probably some small-schlonged loser that would mean you needed a stallion like me, or some buck-toothed third-countess of…”

“SILENCE!” The shout ripped through the air, impacting the stallion with almost a physical force. “Thou! Thou baiez-mon-cul! Thou art overfull of the distemp’ring draughts and thine own sauce! Thou clapperdugeon! Thou talk’st too much on subjects on which thou art empty! Think us not some First-Terrace drab that have cod’s head and salmon’s tail! A partner! Tush! Such a partner have we, as thou may never know or realize! He be made forever, and there always be a business of some heat whene’er he arriveth to our chamber! Go to, go to back to the slime from which thou wert spawned, thou catso! Becco! Egregious wittol! A fig! A fig to thee and all that thou masy’st do!” So saying, Cynthia flipped her left hoof at him several times with great violence and sternness.

For a long moment the club was still. Not silent, as the speakers still blared a low-level repetitive beat. And then the crowd erupted with boisterous cheers, stamping their hooves in thunderous applause.
As the insulted unicorn slinked off in genital-crushing defeat, Cynthia remained standing, trying to look relatively calm. “Shall we… depart?”

“That would be for the best, yes.” Lime stood up quickly, followed by Fleur.
The three ladies dashed through the crowd, just ahead of the bouncers called in to handle the strange situation. Through the doors they broke into a gallop and leaped into their waiting carriage, which took off immediately, no questions asked.

“Huzzah and double huzzah! Surely the fun hath been trebled! Truly a night worthy of our wonderful order!” Cynthia fell back into a cushion, all smiles.

“I join her majesty’s enthusiasm! Is this the kind of fun you have at such places? Surely I could not take it all the time, but as a diversion is was most diverting! One can hardly think of troubles amidst ruffians, noble hearts and horrid scoundrels.” Fleur fell back into her own cushion, panting softly.

“The night is usually much quieter. But I have to say, it’s seldom that much fun.” Lime smiled, with a tired expression, then looked aside at the card tucked in her uniform. “Why did you save this, your majesty?”

“Such loyal hearts, strong and sure, even faced with villainy of a most evil sort. Such must be rewarded. And I know well how that reward may be delivered…”

- - -

“So, I guess things are on track for the wedding we wanted, right?” A few days later Swallow and Aggie were back at Swallow’s Swallow. Swallow was setting chairs and benches back into place, while Aggie was in the back looking over finances.

“Oh youbetcha! We’re doing well, there, for a small service anyhow. It’s all we need. But, we have family to consider. I know you wanted ta bring yer family in from the Kingdom, and I wanted at least my parents ta come down from Lake Whinneybago. If we keep making bits like we have been we should be ready in three months or so.”

Swallow sighed a little bit but kept a smile on his beak. “It’s a long wait. But I want to do this right. You deserve it. You’re worth it all.” Once the chairs were back in place he went to the front door. “Time to open it up and see what we… get…”

Right outside the door was amassed an army. Or a portion of an army. Well-regimented lines of ponies marched and lined up along the road. They were the standard white, black and green of Royal pegasus, unicorn and earth pony guards, but dressed in the silver barding of Luna, rather than the gold of Celestia. One particular unicorn marched smartly up to the open door and gave Swallow a smart salute. “Good morning, mister Swallow. This is the third Canterlot Guard Detachment, in service to her majesty Princess Luna. It was suggested to us that we, during our period of rest, use your tavern as a canteen. Worry not, sir, we are fully prepared to pay.”

“Jeepers! What is all that noise out there?” Aggie poked her head out from the back, unable to see out of the door.

For a long while Swallow was completely unable to speak. His beak worked but nothing came out. At long last he called back inside, still eyeing the guards as though not looking would make them disappear. “If nothing gets broken, I think our wedding fund just arrived!”

To be continued...

*: This is a modification of a bit of Ophelia's mad rambling in "Hamlet." In the original it was a man not a woman, and a "maid." It was a bit more amusing in the original. "Let in the maid that out a maid never departed more" is punchier but this has the proper form.