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



Luna: Princess, Goddess, Hostess

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The Bechdel Test

Dames

Of The
Tea Table

By Gabriel LaVedier

The Bechdel Test

Tea was steaming, treats were vanishing into mouths and there were cheerful conversations all around inside the secluded side-room used as a meeting place for the Dames of the Tea Table. Fleur de Lis, Lime Sherbert and Princess Luna were having a good time, their hooded cloaks on and hoods flipped back. Besides the usual accessories there was also a pair of sound systems, one phonograph, one boom box. At present time the phonograph was in use, letting out a stream of bright jazz, heavy on the trumpet.

“Thus my reasoning for my selection.” Princess Luna was holding up the cardboard sleeve for the record, tapping her hoof on it. “Why, I do not speak in fancies when I tell thee both the first time I encountered the beauty of Louis Fortinbras du Satchel, heard the wondrous timbre of his horn, I nearly begged to be sent upon a diplomatic mission to the Grand Veldt to thank the Zebras for giving rise to such a musical magician.”

Fleur tapped on her own cardboard sleeve. “I must admit, Fortinbras has undeniable skill, but there is much to be said for one who can play well and lead well. Thus my loyal adoration for the griffin phenom Glade mac Miller O’Harpy. There was not much time between those two luminaries but to hear him and his whole band play…”

“I do not wish to belittle thy tastes, but O’Harpy hath not the singular skill of Fortinbras. The griffin and his modified sackbut art not equals of a trumpet well-played.” Luna puffed her chest proudly, pulling the needle off the cord and levitating the record over to the sleeve.

“But that’s the point, your majesty. It’s not just about a solo player, it’s about choosing talented musicians and arranging them around you, then making them perform as a well-ordered unit. It takes true skill to perform such a feat. While Fortinbras can play with a magical skill he was most often thrust into any random group that wanted his skill; not a single, cohesive unit.”

“Ahhh, if I may insert a dissenting opinion and time period…” Lime opened up a CD case and slid the disc into the player on the boom box. With the press of a button she unleashed a loud, bombastic, yet amazingly coherent burst of a mare screaming and singing all at once. “Puce is a great example of how to be a loud, screaming-mare singer with a brash attitude that can still get a message across, speak intelligibly and make the whole thing enjoyable.”

“Tush, Dames, why such a ruction betwixt us? Clearly we do all appreciate some thing that may be called uniquely ours. Mine own adoration of a singular talent, Dame Fleur’s desire for a well-marshaled band of talents under great leadership, and Dame Lime’s love for a singer of limitless talent in the subtle and audacious.”

“Too true, too true. I think this was a most SMASHING idea. None of those stuffy nobles or moneyed aristocrats can dare leave the grip of their classical music. Oh not that anything is wrong with it, I have heard some fine performances. But as the great Octavia Philharmonica has proven, even the performers have appreciation for more than just that. And I can’t help my great love of swing and big bands.” Fleur sighed and hugged the record to her chest.

“I agree. I never get a chance to talk about music with anypony else. The other palace maids are starting to shun me because I’m no longer a chamber maid, strictly speaking. They seem to think that I think I’m too good for them. I wish I could tell them that I still want to do things with them, if they’ll let me. It’s a bit jarring, losing friends like that.”

“Think not on such things, Dame Sherbert. Whate’er else may happen thou shalt always have we, thy fellow dames, conspirators in this grand, occluded organization.”

“That’s very kind, your majesty. And I really need this kind of camaraderie. So…” Lime cudgeled her brains for further conversations. “So, I have plenty of free time, though I DO enjoy my time with you, your majesty. I have a few hobbies. Did either of you watch the jousting last weekend? I’m all about jousting. And can’t forget the rugby and hornball. I love sports when there’s a good contest.”

“Which joust do you mean, Dame Sherbert? As I understand there were several broadcast on the television plus the local inter-terrace tilt. Though that was on the television too. I was at the local tilt and my WORD that was exciting. Did you see Battering Ram practically burst Hammer Blow out of all of his armor? That mare is unstoppable! I do believe the fifth terrace is in good position to take the Caterlot Series this year.” Fleur looked eagerly to Lime, clearly now on a subject that captured her full attention.

“Do not be so sure, Dame Fleur. I have heard tell the fourth terrace hath been holding Stonewall in reserve, as a strategic maneuver, that their opponents may be complacent before a great fall. And besides that, the sixth terrace hath been ascendant, so far as I have been aware. The trainer hath been a member of many successful inter-city organizations.” Luna gobbled a cookie, then a brownie, daintily sipping tea after her gluttonous gobble.

“Oh even so, I’ve seen the pre-season tilts. Stonewall was no match for Battering Ram. She knocked him OUT. Literally! He’s not in reserve just for strategy, they had a medical sideline on him.” Lime cheerily slurped from her cup.

Fleur looked impressed. “You have pre-season access to the Canterlot tilts? I had no idea.”

“Palace connections. I also follow Sky Jousting and the occasional bit of Lightning Jagging. But I much prefer the Canterlot Inter-Terrace League. And we’ve got cable, so I can follow all the Principality Teams. Trottingham looks good this year but I have to admire the fan base of Coltchester United, jousting AND rugby.”

“Gadzooks, Dame Lime, hast thou said much in few words! I have seen the cheering mass of Coltchester United partisans. Such tumult! Such hurly-burly! Truly, not even if mine own personal guard wert all arrayed as a unit of jousters or rugby players would I dare show such madness.”

“That is why I will never sit in the lower stands at a tilt or match. I mean no offense to those below the high-terrace crowd, but it looks like such a raucous and boisterous thing. As I said, I can handle occasional excitement, but surely not the space of a whole tilt or of a regulation match.” Fleur bit daintily into a thick brownie, unashamedly eating the high-fat treat with all her cultured propriety, seemingly making good on her promise to put on more weight.

“Oh but that is SO half the fun! All those screaming madmares, some of them painted up in team colors or waving the pennants and number ones like weapons, eating the expensive soy links and drinking the expensive cheap beer, the occasional stallion screaming his head off as well. It is a near riot when it’s a close match or when the judgment on a run is too close for their liking. That is some exciting stuff. Sometimes I think I miss out on more than I gain for having seating in a private box.”

“With all this talk of sport… nay. NAY! Let that pass. This talk of sport be good physic for the repetitious nature of our gathering. It doth stir the moist vapors in my fancy. I do have a notion! Dame Lime, hath the guard’s marshaling field been cleared of corps, of both services?”

“As far as I know, the field is clear. No training is planned for a while and nopony should be anywhere near it.”

“Huzzah! Dames, a most glorious notion hath beamed upon mine agile brain. Let us away to the marshaling field. I shall retrieve tilting equipment from the armory and procure a rugby ball by some means. Let us leave off such stodgy doings as becoming the rumpfed wretches we oft slight and the conversations on business of some heat. Let us have our cakes and ale, now that we are well stuff’d with tea and sweetmeats.”

“Why that is a most FABULOUS idea, your majesty! There is no better way to be completely unlike those terrible First Terracers than to perform actual physical labor. And to engage in sports? Why the very idea. I EAGERLY await the chance to tilt. And rugby? The scandal of being involved in an earth pony game. Please, let us away immediately!” Fleur was on her hooves, practically dancing on their tips in unmitigated excitement.

“Come on, Dancing Queen. I’ll show you the way to the field along the paths that nopony will notice.” Lime stood up and gave Fleur a smile, motioning towards the door.

“You know, I love them too. Oh it’s campy, as they say, and rejected by even non-nobles as out of fashion. Maybe that’s another reason I enjoy it.” Fleur trotted around the table, and looked back at Luna. “Shall we intone, your majesty?”

“Nay, Dame Fleur. We be not disbanding this convocation for any reason, merely shifting location to one more propitious to our intentions.” Luna released the ward from the door and opened it up. “We reconvene anon, at the marshaling field.”

- - -

“So I always thought we relied too much on the trains and didn’t use airships nearly enough. I know they’re slower, but they can be just as effective at cargo hauling, and they don’t work on a set track. That creates a node-based culture that can exclude oddly-placed communities. Her majesty has been very in favor of more expansion in airships and river shipping.” Lime and Fleur were out at the field, sitting calmly and conversing. The field was a board, flat expanse of tamped dirt, perfectly flat and very smooth, with no dust eddies or other such things.

“I like the out-of-the-box thinking, I truly do. However, I was once at a parlor discussion on that topic and the conclusion was that there is some merit to the regularity of trains, unloading at a node and outbound trains from that node feeding other nodes, not to mention the need of creating airship mooring fields, merely another means of making a node-based culture. Perhaps a balanced mix of airships, river barges and trains could equalize matters, so long as there were overland services to non-standard townships.”

“Plus there’s the overlooked matter of direct-shipping to sky-based cities, as opposed to arrival at a node and later raising by whatever means. Perhaps a Pegasus-specific network of shipping, just to reduce cost in Pegasus-dominant areas.”

“It certainly bears investigation. I know a few airship makers. I’ll have to discuss… Oh, here she comes.” Fleur went from contemplative to enthused at the sight of an approaching magical aura, which looked like a large dome of darkness.

The dome moved along at the speed of a trotting pony, sliding smoothly, if somewhat strangely, across the field. Once it had reached the two mares the dome dissolved from the top down, revealing Luna, who had with her two sets of full jousting barding, several lances, shields and a collection of poles that looked like they could be attached together. “Behold, Dames! Furbished barding suitable for a tilt or three, and a cunning collection of spars that combine to form the rugby post!”

“Two sets of… oh, right. Even if you wanted to participate, and you probably do, as the embodiment of all the races you’re stronger than the strongest earth pony, and would win every time. And probably destroy us. Literally.” Lime looked slightly embarrassed by her initial misunderstanding, eyes closed and smile wide, almost looking as though she was missing a bead of sweat from the side of her head.

“With but a single blow I might rend thy raiment, whether ‘t be metal or no, and crack thy bones to powder. But ‘tis of little consequence. As Princess I do serve as jurist over cases of serious wrongdoing; in this spirit may I be then called to be arbiter of tilts and bouts of all stripes.” Luna dropped the equipment and set to with her magic, building up an earthworks dividing line to indicate the jousting course.

Fleur was already applying the barding to her body, carefully turning and adjusting the pieces such that they resembled the coverage she had seen on professional jousters. The thick forward plates and full-face helmet, the heavy throat covers that had a triangular forward point and swooped back to direct blows backwards, which was repeated on the chest. From the forward left side of her armor she attached the traditional jousting shield, with its scoring zones clearly marked. On the right side of her armor, angled sharply to the left she attached the lance system, a series of pulleys using metal wires that translated neck motion into slight movements that altered the positioning of lances cradled in it. “No wonder professionals have crews to do this. It’s a bit much to do by one’s self.”

“Beats having your body involuntarily turned into a skewered treat ready for a barbecue. As far as it goes, I’d prefer to remain well-armored and without gaping puncture wounds.” Lime suited herself up with a bit more speed, seeming to know how it all worked.

“Very good. Now, as in professional tilts thou shalt begin with the lighter lance. Points for contact as marked upon the shield, full honors for removing the shield or breaking the lance, and the taking of the tilt for bringing thy opponent to ground.” Luna took to the sky, slowly circling over the jousting area. Dames! To your positions. Dame Fleur over yon, Dame Lime, hither.”

The two mares took up their positions and gave their heads a few light twists and angles, moving the lances around while eyeing their opponent. The height, the lean, the way they held themselves. It all meant something. After a flash from Luna’s horn the two took off at one another, hugging the edge of the earthen divider, lances in constant adjustment. The lances thudded heavily into the shields, Lime’s low and angled in, Fleur’s a bit high and straight. Both hit areas of equal points, but Fleur’s bent and broke against Lime’s shield, making her stagger a bit, while Lime’s bent but did not break, instead her angle causing Fleur’s shield to fly off and clatter to the ground.

“Equality! Full honors for ye both! Lances struck thy positions in equal measure. Ye both be on even ground. Replace thy lances and thou thy shield for thy second tilt.” Glowing figures appeared in the air, Fleur’s name and Lime’s name, below which appeared slashes, Fleur’s to the left, Lime’s to the right.

The two unicorns quickly trotted back to the starting positions, Fleur quickly reattaching her shield to her armor, both mares tossing their lances and replacing it with a fresh one. Reequipped and ready, they charged down the lanes again, doing more adjusting of their lances as they approached one another. Fleur hit dead-on again, aiming for another break, while Lime hit at a sharper, more acute angle and added a quick flick of her head to try and lift with her lance. The wood was too light, and only snapped off, flinging shards everywhere. Sadly, Fleur’s lance only staggered her back, not breaking but making her stumble badly enough to send her to the ground through the action of unsteadiness and armor weight.
“Ground! Though thou hast staggered thyself thou was stricken by thy adversary! The tilt to Dame Lime!” Below the first set of scores appeared two new symbols, a dash under Fleur, a circle under Lime.

Fleur was slow to rise, but eventually returned to her hooves, shaking her head a bit. “My word, those groundings are quite an ordeal. I have a new admiration for those brave souls who dare to perform this for a living.”

“Can you go on? Do you want to take a break or something?” Lime was slow to replace her lance, fixing it in the cradle while looking to Fleur with her visor up and a concerned look on her face.

“No, no, I am perfectly fine. Come along, Dame Sherbert, try that again!” Fleur slid her visor down and set herself at the head of the lane, scraping at the ground with a hoof, eager to charge again.

The pair tilted over and over again, the typical fifteen hits. Five with the light softwood lances, five with the heavy hardwood lances, and a final five with bamboo lances, with all the flexibility of the lighter lance with the strength of the heavier, and such a high tensile strength that they were almost impossible to break, being more suited to points or staggers.

At the end the scoreboard was a mass of numbers, a few slashes of various types and a couple of circles. Luna tallied quickly and nodded her head. “Very well! Thy positions be unsure! A last tilt to complete thy contest!”

Though they were sore, and panting, both mares loaded new bamboo lances, took up position and made one last run at one another. Bamboo lances clanged tremendously on their shields, both mares putting all their strength into that one last run. Both lances bowed equally, putting a double strain on each as they fought the force of their opponent and the stored energy in their bowing lance. Both pressed forward hard, heads still as they made their best effort to hold on. Fleur’s hooves trembled, then slipped and finally she lost traction, all the energy opposing her stability finally hitting her and sending her tumbling to the ground in a clattering metal heap while Lime ran on, purely from momentum.

“Ground! The final tilt hath been taken by Dame Lime!” The scoreboard reflected the final outcome, a dash for Fleur, a circle for Lime. All the scores then grouped themselves in the air, numbers tallied together, slashes arrayed by direction and circles and dashes compared against each other. “By pips, thou art even; by breaks and unshielding advantage doth belong to Dame Fleur; but by ground, final arbitration doth grant Dame Lime be victor overall! Huzzah!”

While that was happening Lime had practically torn the armor off of her body and run over to Fleur, who was removing her own barding and getting back to her hooves. “Hey! You doing ok? That was quite a toss.”

Fleur succeeded in getting her helmet off, groaning lightly but slapping a smile on her face. “Oh just a bit of a tumble. Compared to the horrors of a tedious upper class evening with the likes of Jet Set or Upper Crust it is hardly a concern.” She slowly stripped the rest of her equipment, softly groaning and looking over her body. “Physical labor is quite a thing, is it not? I suppose your familiarity with it carried this contest. I applaud your terrace heartily!”

“I guess it’s true. Even as a unicorn if you’re not from the high terraces you have to do a bit of work. Even chamber maids like I used to be have to work hard. I’m gonna feel all this in the morning.”

“Nay, Dames. Thou shalt not.” Luna came down, her horn glowing with power. She gingerly tapped the two unicorns on their horns and smiled as their expressions went from puzzled to pleased. “In the purview of the night is physic to heal the hurts of the body. The domain of Hypnos and Morpheus, where pain vanishes into mere dream, and many wounds art healed. But my sister be she who may make thee whole shouldst thou be grievously maim’d; the day and mighty sun be arbiter of growth of such great strength.”

“Oh, that is nice. Beats the heck out of recuperating on the couch in front of the TV with a pint of Hoorsen-Das and really bad movies.” Lime worked her limbs and grinned broadly, stretching out with a sigh.

“Oh, you mean the terrible romances with wooden dialogue and zero chemistry between the stars? I cannot accept those. They make a mockery of love. But I DO enjoy the comedy that tries so hard it succeeds in the most unintentional of ways.” Fleur tested her limbs and probed at areas that had been bruised before. Perfect.

"Exactly! Like, the ones with the stars that are either way too good for the role but their last real movie did poorly so now they need pay to afford their house, or that are just new and trying to make a mark by being extra weird or quirky but they fail to be charming and come off as teat-chafingly-obnoxious or ridiculously creepy and it's funny because in either case it's slightly pathetic but they just try so hard."

"Oh my word, we have such a similar taste! I do feel some sorrow for such legitimate thespians but they took it upon themselves to play foil to some screaming psychotic or foal actor." Lime laughed heartily and trotted to Luna.

"Great minds think alike. I've gotten her majesty to watch a few… though thanks to the high annoyance factor she has expressed her displeasure with them in very direct ways. We've had to purchase more than a few televisions, and one new movie screen." Lime looked a bit sheepish and took up a place by Luna as well.

"Hmph! My tastes in entertainment came from an age of great literary lights that hath blazed 'cross the sky as legends and muses upon all that have stood in their shadows that they might come close to their grandeur. And we had TRUE comedy: scatology, misunderstandings, cuckolding, drunken revelry and witty turns of phrase made of elements of many languages and composed of most cutting jibes concerning wit, fidelity and prowess with one's partner. Ahhh, the long-ago days…" Luna looked wistful for a moment, then cleared her throat and smiled, “Very good! Now, for this.” Luna flattened the ground back down, then wrapped her mystic tendrils around the wooden pieces that had been neatly stacked beside all the jousting equipment. They flew into the air and attached together into two large, solid rugby goals, which were buried securely into the ground a regulation distance from one another.

"Goodness, that's right. We were also going to do a bit of two-mare rugby. I'm glad I know we may be healed if we are injured. I will be far less restrained." Fleur looked proudly out at the field, then lifted the ovoid ball to her, cradling it against her pastern as was proper for a player.

"That was you RESTRAINED? Why do I get the feeling I got conned on that jousting bit? Nothing to it but to go at it. Should be a good time, even without a team to back me up." Lime stretched her legs and rolled her shoulders, grinning big and bright.

"Meet ye in the centre of the field of contest, set down the ball and prepare to contest with thy bodies, as they do now in what they call the 'scrum.'" Luna took to the air once more and flew to the center of the field. "Be ye not caitiffs in his contestation. Strike hard and battle well for thy prize!"

Fleur set the ball down at the area that was approximately the center of the field, then backed up a bit, facing down Lime with a smile. "This is going to hurt. A lot. Isn't it?"

Lime smiled right along with her, dropping down and looking at the ball set between them. "It always looks like it does. But what the hay? You looked like you were having fun with the physical activity. Let's keep that up. Maybe we can ignore the bad parts."

"And… begin!" A whistle pierced through the air, Luna's horn producing the sound from the air.

Both mares threw caution to the wind and threw themselves at each other, striking chest to chest, slightly shifted to the right such that their left shoulders were also mashed together.The shocking smash knocked them into a small coughing fit but they persisted, baring their teeth and lightly grunting as they shoved hard. Both had to suppress the desire to use their horns to grab at the ball; it was an earth pony game, no magic or flight allowed. They scrabbled with their forehooves, trying to shove as hard as possible, while also scrabbling to grab the ball and bring it up to start their run for the goal.

By some miracle of battering, twisting and shifting Lime managed to bend down and scoop up the ball, thrusting herself hard against Fleur's chest and breaking into a run as the fancy mare tottered on her long, spindly legs. Lime broke into a desperate dash, crushing the ovoid vinyl thing to her chest and doing her best to go full-out.

The wind rushed through her mane, horn parallel to the ground for an extra, added dash of an aerodynamic profile. She was chugging along nicely, a smile on her face. She was going to run away with this one again. It almost seemed unfair but, she had the skills and showed it. Her great cheer and feeling of impending victory completely blinded her to anything around her, which is why it was such a surprise when she was stricken from the side by Fleur's body, making her stagger and slow down. She looked to the side and saw the other unicorn there, trotting along with all her strength, and throwing herself aside repeatedly and into Lime's body.

The battering was quite effective, eventually making her bobble the ball to the ground. Lime was upon it in a second, diving down for it and covering it with her body as Lime slammed into her side in a late attempt to recover. With a great push against the ground Fleur surged upwards, tossing Lime away, if only a small bit, taking off on three hooves afterwards.

"Not on my watch!" Lime picked herself up off the dusty ground and tore off after Fleur. The white unicorn, who was no longer quite as pristine as usual, was cantering carefully, making up the distance to her goal. Fleur came up like a steam engine, chugging away with all four legs. But as she was about to slam Fleur to the dirt, the nimble, gracile pony deftly spun out of the way with almost a pirouette.

"You can imagine, I took a lot of ballet…" Fleur executed a grand jeté over another of Lime's attempt's at tackling. Though her speed was lower, and she was no great physical threat, Fleur was a dodging, twisting, leaping machine. She even waited until she had given another huge jeté over Lime and gotten her off-balance before she dropped the ball and gave it a kick.

"A score! A score! Three points to Dame Fleur!" Luna marked the air with a three in glowing white, beside a lime green zero. She retrieved the ball with her magic and brought it back to the field of play, with a slight nagging at the back of her head. Had they all forgotten something? It seemed like something had been missing from their conversation. After dismissing it, she dropped it to the field with a smile. "Kick, Dame Fleur! Dame Lime, prepare to receive!"

The End