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



Luna: Princess, Goddess, Hostess

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My Fair Fair

Dames

Of The
Tea Table

By Gabriel LaVedier

My Fair Fair

“Your majesty?” Lime Sherbert, her Dames of the Tea Table hooded robe on, with the hood pulled back, looked over at Princess Luna, who was similarly robed but not hooded.

“Yes my maid? What doth seem to trouble thee so?” Luna looked aside to the lime-green maid, a touch of concern on her features.

“I wonder, just a bit, if we’ve lost a touch of focus, vis-à-vis, our secret and wonderful organization.”

“How now? In what manner dost thou mean thy words?”

“It’s just a feeling I have. Something indefinable. Probably nothing.” She turned away from the princess and back towards the dartboard. With a squint and a few motions of her horn she flung a dart that hit just off-center.

“Excellent shot! But I do believe that I am still ahead.” Fleur, also with her hood back, took up a dart and likewise flung it after some looking through one eye. Her own dart was off-center, but on the other side of the center.

“That’s no trouble. We may be in a dead heat here but I was the one that seriously took the prize in bowling! Well, behind her majesty, of course.” Lime giggled softly and took up another dart.

The traditional meeting room of the Dames of the Tea Table had been changed, somewhat. It had been expanded with the removal of a wall and the co-option of the next room over with some further movement of the other walls of the room. Using the new length of the room, a bowling lane had been added, complete with thaumatomechanical pinsetter and ball return. On the other side near the corner, with space around it, was a billiard table and a rack with three pool cues. In another corner was a jukebox, which was pouring out a smooth stream of expertly-played trumpet music. A dartboard was occupying a wall, with a blackboard beside it to keep score. Remaining from the times before was the central table set with tea and sweets, as well as the door that led to the kitchenette, which had been modernized and stocked more fully, with a refrigerator and small wine rack. Luna looked around and tapped on her chin. “Mayhap thou doth speak well. But let that pass. What harm be there in our leisure?”

“Not a drop of harm comes of our appreciation of good leisure time. We ALL need it, after all. It has certainly done is endless mounds of good.” Fleur tossed a dart, landing it down and to the left. “Remember back so very long ago? I was nothing but a sorrowful, simpering trophy of the upper class, endlessly pining for a stallion that was just passionate enough but not giving me what I needed. And now, I have nearly everything I require, all thanks to the two of you.”

“Now… I was going to be smart and make a comment asking if you really needed bar brawls, jousting and foalnapping in your life but… I’ll say it outright, this has been wonderful for me as well! I still do my work, and then get a chance to relax with ponies I can really trust and whose company I can greatly enjoy and who I feel really understand me.” Lime threw her dart without much planning or preparation, the object impacting too high.

“Aye! Thy fellow workers wert treating thee with denigration because of thy new status. Pah! If they have not respect for thee thou hast no need of they! We art thy friends. Loyal, true, and glad of thy dear company. Fear not, my maid. As thou art thus, thou art also, my friend.” Luna, deciding on a whim, took up a dart in her grip and flung it with a great energy, sinking it deep into the center target on the board. “Triumph!”

“As ever, your majesty, you are quite on the mark.” Lime chuckled softly and had a seat at the table, preparing a cup of tea for herself. “This has been a fair distraction all around, I would say. And we‘ve still got much to do. I think we’ve discovered the secret appeal behind the new trend of the Stallion Cave.”

“Hold! Hold! I am aware of this reference… yes… a graphical novel of some stripe, correct? Dark attire and the fighting of crime.” Luna tapped her hoof on the table as she wracked her brain for details.

“An excellent guess, your majesty! But that is the Mare Cave, inspired by the antics of the element-bearers as the Mysterious Mare-Do-Well. Fictionalized accounts always go over well.” Lime presented Luna with a cup of tea prepared to her precise tastes. “No, the Stallion Cave is a trend among stallions who feel very dissatisfied with local entertainment and desire a place to be with their male friends. They dedicate a room or small structure to the things which stallions enjoy such as beer, electronic games and cards. Of course, as mares may enjoy such things as well, the point mostly seems to be fellowship among their gender, a very noble endeavor.”

“My partner doth prefer weak cider as to keep his mind sharp but doth profess a great love of cards. I do almost envy the lady Fortuna who doth ensorcell him ‘pon her golden wheel. Tit of tenpence. Sixpenny damnation. Accursed trollop.”

Fleur spluttered softly into her cup of tea, eyes wide at Luna’s strong words. “M-majesty! My word, even speaking of a fictional being… such language! It is quite a deal stronger than your normal declarations.”

Luna gave a soft laugh and placidly sipped at her teacup. “Worry thyself not, Dame Fleur. ‘Tis an old, old sport of words. Dame Fortuna showeth not partiality for any being, neither pony nor griffin nor zebra nor buffalo nor Diamond Dog; neither mare nor stallion not any other name of sex. She hath in her favor for all in her wheel’s time, and thus ‘twas oft said her lady Fortuna be all the world’s harlot.” Her concluding laugh rang out with bright clarity and almost overpowered the jukebox.

Fleur nodded a bit, wincing at the last word but giving a sip of tea and a soft laugh. “Most clever, majesty! I must confess, even with all the learning I have, especially of a classical era, I had not heard such a thing.”

Luna gave a small nod and levitated over a thick piece of chocolate cheesecake, taking a substantial bite and swallowing before responding, “‘Twas a mere twice-told tale in mine own time. These modern ages see so few of such things. Oh these peers and pretenders do put on great airs and graces and mime comprehension, filling their bellies with books while their minds lie blasted and bare. Thou hast great learning, Dame Fleur, and thou shalt know more than thy peers and the peers, if only thou wilt listen and comprehend.” A thought suddenly struck Luna, and she stroked her chin thoughtfully while she chewed more cheesecake. “To speak of grace… might we, the governance, offer thee grace-and-favor? ‘Twould doubtless make thy compatriots most vexed and green.”

Fleur nibbled with dainty bites at a cookie and considered. “No, your majesty. As grand as it might feel, I do so love the apartment I have. To pay for something, even with money from a trust, makes me feel more grown and responsible. I am an adult, independent and mature. A proper mare who may manage her affairs as she sees fit.” She cleared her throat and quickly added, “I mean, my business… no, my comings and… there is no graceful exit from this, is there your majesty?”

“None whatsoever. But I let that pass, for thou art not the sort to require the retinue of foregoers and escorts most mares of thy station would claim. Thou hast heart but for one stallion, a wonderment in thy sphere. I do admire thy great feeling.”

“Ahh, your majesty, how I do love Fancy Pants.” Fleur took on a moony look and nibbled away at her cookie, with some sips of her tea. “Love… I do not wish to speak out of turn, as it were but… you spoke of your partner. I don’t want any details, they are none of my concern. But I must know… is it all passion as I seem to get from Fancy Pants or is it… more?”

“I shall tell thee, for I trust thee. I need hide only name, for the sake of his worry his occupation may shame me somewise. Aye. Forsooth, he doth love me. And truly, truly do I love him…”

“Every chance she gets.” Lime’s quick cut-in line was delivered with a casual familiarity, though a smile rested on her tea-sipping lips.

“Ah! Dame Sauce! Such cheek!” Luna’s teacup lifted and a smile beamed across at the green mare. “Well spoken! Timely and sharp as a duelist’s blade.”

“The moment was feeling a little too “precious”, as they say. I have nothing against lovers and pining but I felt like taking the air out of that before it got to the point of sighs and sonnets. That seems a bit improper given my romantic status, I know but I think even you two would agree that it’s not good to just sulk about and bemoan things.”

“She doth speak good sooth, Dame Fleur. The snare of peaking and pining be ever-present while we be without they whom we desire. We must have more vigilance lest we fall into the slough useless misery. We must think on happier things and be worthy of these wondrous appointments!”

“One would think it would be easy to keep ourselves distracted. Our favorite music from the jukebox, many games to play, good food, good libations, and company nonpareil!” As soon as Fleur had said it, a small sprinkle of nonpareils fell upon her cookie, with an accompanying smile from Luna. “Thank you, Majesty. My comment stands. Who could ask for anything more, as the musical says?”

“We shouldn’t be TOO insular. It may be great fun here but, at the very least, it would be suspicious if we just vanished for very, very long periods of time. Somepony might figure something out. I know there’s a bit of a training binge going on, so my hubby, bring a Destrier in the palace guard, is very busy, and way too tired to do anything in the evening, and as far as anypony can know, her majesty is not expecting any kind of visitation. But you still have a chance at external entertainment. Fancy Pants can take you out to some kind of exciting party, or at least a party that involves other ponies.”

Fleur engulfed her entire cookie and chewed upon it sullenly, the usual indication that something was upsetting her. After a few sips of tea she shook her head sadly. “No, no… much like you two, I am a lone hen. Fancy Pants was called out of town for some reason or another. He will be unavailable for my personal… usage, if I may borrow from your majesty’s entendres. Thus, we are all on our own.”

“Dame Fleur... be thee not chapfallen. Thou art here with thy nearest that be not of thy blood! Ah wellaway! Mayhap we may find further means to divert the mind. Hast ye any notion that we may forget all save the glee of frivolity and sport?”

“Wait a moment, wait... I remember...” Lime tapped the table rapidly, rubbing her head with her free hoof. “I said something... yes! A fair distraction. A distracting fair! I saw some notice out in town, though not in the top terrace, about the grand, annual Ponyville County Fair. It's going on right now, and will be there for a while. We could go there and have a nice, long day of it! County Fairs, especially big ones like Ponyville's, are incredibly fun and distracting!”

“AYE!” Luna blasted her fellows with a wave of the Royal Canterlot voice. “Aye thou dost speak well and in good sooth, Dame Lime! Well do I recall in times afore we did have such harvest fairs and frost fairs and the grand Bartlemare Fair, all stuff'd with cakes and ale and puppet plays and vendors of sweetmeats and all manner of wondrous things. A spectacle of grand proportion! Do these modern fairs compare in any light?”

Lime looked to Luna, slicking her mane back into position and giving a slight laugh. “You majesty...” She raised her cup and grinned more broadly. “You will be astounded by just how much it is like what you remember. And so much more. We need to get there early, very early, to beat the crowds or at least take advantage of everything we can while it's going on. And then we can enjoy one of the live bands or comedians or whoever happens to be on the big stage.”

“Dame Fleur, canst thou be prepared for travel to Ponyville quite early in the morn? We stay not longer than be necessary and shall not dally longer than one day.”

“I can be anywhere you need me to be. Will we be taking a royal coach? I would imagine that we could get all the best stuff and the full VIP treatment. Oh! Not that it matters that much, but why not take advantage of what opportunities we may have?” Fleur smiled and fanned herself. She was not normally so greedy but the thought came unbidden.

“Nay. Thou beest correct that great honours and graces be laid at mine hooves should I deign to arrive. But, my maid be lost in such official honour, and thee... shalt thee be ignored and cast aside saving in the eyes of fortune-seekers and other lickspittle pickthanks. We would be rent asunder. Nay, my Dames. Let us be one. Shall I be Cynthia once more and ye shall be thine own selves. Surely we may pass unmolested.”

“Brilliant. This is going be a fantastic little distraction. I think we all need it, with our emotional turmoil, strange life situations and workaday world.” Lime looked around at her surroundings, mostly seeing the pool table as Puce's loud, quality singing filled the air. “My comment stands, environment notwithstanding. Your majesty, I will proceed to draw on your funds, get some of my own and arrange direct and speedy transport.”

“Thou hast little need to concern thyself with transport. Recall our... mistaken endeavour concerning the young filly. Easily may we reach Ponyville or lands in the vicinity and proceed to the fair incognito, as required.”

“Right. In that case, I will go to the palace accounting office and take out bits from the treasury for miscellaneous activities and toilet articles. That's generally the line item I put down when taking out money for these activities. I'm certain your sister knows what it means. But that accountant gives me the funniest looks. And sometimes it's not funny at all. I think that's when he tries to imagine how many bath crystals, bottles of bubble bath and scrub brushes we can buy. I'm not saying fire him, I'm saying send him to the sexual harassment classes.”

“In times of old were the intemperate flames of lust chastised and corrected with the application of judicious firing.”

Fleur nodded her head a bit and jumped into the conversation. “Does your majesty indicate that you used a careful policy of correction by firing the worst offenders and then seeing that the remaining understood the severity of the situation?”

“Oh aye, Dame Fleur. Those that held not their passions in check and did vex maid or stallion or any other wert taken, placed i'the body of a great culverin, protected from the flame, and fired into a great haystack.” Luna casually sipped her tea, suddenly extremely aware that both Fleur and Lime were looking at her with shocked incredulity. “How now? What doth trouble thy minds? We did never miss the haystack.”

- - -

The next day, barely after Luna had finished lowering the moon, and slightly after dawn, Fleur arrived at the palace, and was escorted to Luna's private bedchamber by Golden Stare and Rosy Cranberry, as per usual. At the room she found Lime helping Luna, in her 'Cynthia' disguise already, with a pink coat, fluffy powder blue ringlets and a dark crescent moon beside a shepherd's crook on her flanks. The supposed unicorn smiled at the new arrival, a broad-brimmed semi-floppy hat with colorful feathers placed on her head by a green magic aura. “Good morrow, Dame Fleur. I do apologize for my delay. But I wish a more modern appearance. Doth this chapeau suit the glamour which I present?”

“It suits your majesty's glamorous look, and the glamor on your body. I also brought a lovely hat.” Fleur lightly tapped her headgear, a simple pink pillbox hat with a white band around it. It matched her perfectly. Slung around her neck and hanging on her shoulder was a wide, pink purse that jangled lightly with her motions. “And of course, a classic purse.”

“Dame Lime, do bring the purse which may suit this tiring. And it be thy will, take any clothing thou may see fit for thyself, that thou may be as thou desirest.”

“Thank you very much, your majesty. There is one thing...” Lime vanished into Luna's voluminous closet and emerged again, holding up a tasteful bag that looked very like a snood with extra beading and some small feathers. It, too, jangled lightly with movement. On her head was a beret, in a purple shade resembling Luna's coloration. Unlike most days that was the only thing she wore, her maid uniform and cloth shoes nowhere to be found. “I know it is a cliché, given how the element of generosity made it a fad. But I still think it's lovely, and suits me.”

“It doth suit thee, Dame Lime. And what of a manner of carting thy bits about? Hast thou some purse that thou may take with thee?” Cynthia levitated the net purse over and slung it around her shoulder, admiring it in the mirror with a small nod, the feathers in her hat bobbing slightly.

“I have... something.” Lime lit her horn and brought out something from the closet. It was a semi-stiff and rather homely, blocky to a degree, slightly shiny, purple in color, marked with a crescent moon, and closed with buttons. It jangled softly as she slung it around and over her back. “Weatherized, sanitized, resinized, vulcanized Lunar guard corps ditty bag. It's my husband's old one, from before he was transferred to the Celestian corps.”

Cynthia nodded slowly. “So long as it be not marked with Vulcan's badge.” She laughed at her own witticism while the others regarded her oddly. “Forgive me... thy husband surely be secure in thy love. It doth suffice. Let any denigrate thy choice and shall I teach them the folly of harming my dear friends.”

“I'm sure the other ponies will understand. It has the look of a guard bag, so they will understand.” Lime adjusted the straps on the bag and gave her beret a quick adjustment in the mirror. “I think it looks just fine.”

Fleur came into the view of the mirror as well and lightly tapped her small hat. “Ah, we are quite a sight. A trio of lovely mares, out for a good time at the fair. We look the part to a T, as far as I know of fairs. But Ponyville, meaning no denigration to it, seems like such a small place. Is the county fair really as big and impressive as you make it sound?”

Lime gave a soft laugh and gave a wink into the mirror, so that it could be seen by both the other mares. “Don't you worry. It's once a year for a reason. It lasts for weeks, takes up a load of space and brings in the crowds because Ponyville is right next to Canterlot, so it absorbs a bit of glamor.”

“Goodness... I wonder how it is that I never heard of it or participated in it before. The upper echelons do so enjoy anything with glamor and large amounts of attention paid to them.” Fleur rubbed at her chin, looking quite thoughtful.

“Oh don't take that word too far. The glamor is in the proximity. The fair is very much a glorified country gathering and cheerful theme park. It's very much something for the middle class. The peerage and upper crust disdain such things. Same as it ever was, isn't that right, your majesty?”

“Oh aye and aye again! Dame Lime thou speakest more sooth than thou knowest. Such harvest festivals, maying, the grand Bartlemare fair... were they much attended by they low in standing or they with no title but some money. Professionals to cast off care and revel in revels! 'Twas always so the revels of the peers and others of that strata wert much unlike the “common rabble” as they so basely declared those not of their kind. Fie on they, and all their cursed sort! There be more greatness and joy in such festivals than in all their dull gatherings.”

“Well said, majesty! Let others say what they will, you are very well informed about how things are, simply knowing the true history of the nobility and wealthy!” Fleur clopped her hooves on the ground and nodded her graceful head. “Now, I do believe we are prepared. Dame Lime, shall we tell your uncles we will be departing?”

“Oh, let me. It's quick.” Lime dashed away from the mirror to the door. She stuck her head out of the door and called out, “Uncle Goldie! Uncle Rosy! We're going out for the day! See you later! Love you!” She trotted back into the room and back in front of the mirror. “There we are. Alright then, let's get going.”

Cynthia lit her horn, the magic flaring quickly and suddenly, filling the other two mares with the familiar feeling of magical transport. Before they vanished the disguised princess commented, “Very efficient. Thy uncles surely know well we will be gone. And all the palace besides.” Her laugh echoed around the chamber as they vanished.

- - -

The trio of mares popped into being on the outskirts of Sweet Apple Acres, in the direction of the fair which Lime had told them about. They saw a large group of ponies standing in long lines, which crested the hill beyond which the fair was supposed to be located. Because of the focus and attention paid to the line, nopony noticed the arriving trio. Lime gave a lopsided smile and opened her ditty bag, pulling out a few bits. “No skipping this line, I'm afraid. Unlike the nightclubs, the fair has no preferences. Pretty as we might be, we have to hurry up and wait our turns. Oh, and don't mind the quick unicorn scan, it's a security precaution.”

The three mares chose a line and stood in it, quite obediently, though Cynthia grumbled darkly about the indignity and injustice of it all. Being a princess, she was quite unused to having to stand in such lines, and to bear the tedium with good cheer and typical pony aplomb. Her dark thoughts and light reconsideration of Fleur's plan of getting the VIP treatment were put to rest by the good conversation of Fleur and Lime, with consideration of what to do, or what the other ponies in the line resembled. There was a great assortment of them, mixed in with the odd griffin, Diamond Dog and donkey. There were even a few buffalo in the line, including a cafe au lait cow with a mustachioed earth pony.

“By the Sybil, Dame Lime. Thou wert a true prophet in naming the scope of this grand gathering. So many wights, of all forms and beings. The full spread and divers clans of this great Principality! I must see this great fair that may bring such concordance to the vast lot.” Cynthia looked around again, and then looked to her companions. “And thank thee, my Dames, for thy gentle urging to patience and leaving off my tum-headed fondness. It be of great import I come to be as any other pony. My speech, tho' sweet, doth mark me as alien here. Thus my demeanor must speak more than my voice.”

“Are you not going to use more modern speech? You had much success when we went out to that club. It left a great impression on those that heard you.” Fleur looked curiously at Cynthia.

“Nay.” Cynthia shook her head and smiled a touch. “'Twas not to be. I mastered not the strange tongue. 'Twas great sport, to be sure. But no matter. I shall speak but little and act much. And it aide me, I shall speak, but such be not mine intent.”

The three mares lapsed into a cheerful silence, still watching the crowd and silently noting the variety of beings in the other lines. Eventually their line crested the hill and they saw the fair spread out before them. It was tremendous. Beyond the gates controlling the inward flow of beings there were numerous structures, from tents to floated-in modular rooms, hauled-in modular rooms, and set-up things like paddocks and rides and games and such. It was beyond the capacity to view, and very broad as well.

The lines moved along at a steady clip, the gates staffed by competent and efficient unicorns. Each arriving being was quickly scanned by a unicorn for barred items, such as weapons, glass containers or illicit substances. None were found in the time the three mares were watching. Though the unicorns were skilled in scanning, they waved Cynthia through without even an inkling of the glamour she wore. Past the security check were gates, to accept payment and give out helpful items, such as maps, a directory, and daily schedule and the overall schedule for the fair. Once those had been given they were allowed in, to the fairgrounds themselves.

There was a moment of awe from Cynthia and Fleur. While there were grand and glorious things in Canterlot, there was nothing to compare to the great spread of the fair. It was designed to be so. The milling crowds, the colorful decorations, the sounds of music and crowds, occasional screams of excitement and whoops of encouragement from off in the distance. Even as big as it was the crowds were still significant. Milling families, groups of friends, single creatures, all taking it all in.

“How awful... artificial...” Cynthia commented with a soft tone, a few of the ponies around her looking at her with a quizzical or shocked expression.

Lime leaned in close to Cynthia and whispered in her ear. “Majesty... while we may be aware of your meaning by such archaic usages, these other ponies are not used to such and may look at them in entirely the wrong light.”

Cynthia nodded her head slowly and gave a wink. “Dread naught, Dame Lime. I know well how I may keep myself secure and little-regarded.” At that moment a trio of very young foals dashed past, weaving through Cynthia's legs, giggling and carelessly bumping into others as they dashed around. Watching over them was a very unconcerned mare just casually strolling along. “Fie! Cotquean! Mind thy insolent, impudent scapegraces, thou d-” Cynthia caught herself, a hoof over her lips, as all eyes flew to her.

There was silence, from the ones who had heard the commotion, and a certain stillness from the ones who were not pouring in from the entrance gates. Fleur broke the still silence with a well-practiced laugh and a wave of a hoof. “Well now, let us be off to see... oh! This large tent here! How fascinating, there seems to be much to look on.”

Cynthia laughed heartily, shaking her head a bit as the three mares trotted away towards the large tent. “Huzzah! As before have we 'scaped the eyes of questioning ponies! Good wit and fast thought, Dame Fleur. Now what have we in this place?”

The large tent was packed to the gills with lines on lines of booths, with a wide aisle down the center and a very wide break in the middle, seeming to divide the tent into two separate areas. In the front, where the three mares had entered, looked to be a display of flowers, on several tables. Dahlias, roses, pansies, posies and more. They were grouped on individual tables by species, tagged with large labels, giving the name of a pony, a location, as well as a prize, colored ribbon level or numbered one.

“Oh my word. How lovely. It looks like they plucked the best of the finest Canterlot gardens and laid them on display for everyone who came through.” Fleur stood before the dahlia table, looking at the blue ribbon winner, a huge, black dahlia, puffed and perfect.

“That's right, I forgot to mention that the fair is not just about games and rides and performances. It's also a place to display things like prizewinning flowers, produce, art, gems and such things. It's a rather nice place to waste a little time, admiring all the beautiful things.” Lime was admiring a brilliantly white tulip, looking at her companions at the same time.

“Beauteous. I thank thee once more, Dame Lime, for this. Truly it is lovely...” Cynthia was looking at a tremendous sunflower, contemplating it. She would take up gardening, but there were so few moonlight-fed flowers. To think, her mad plan was to bring eternal night. Ridiculous.

“And what is that on the other side of the divide?” Fleur pointed to the further side of the perpendicular aisle.

“Looks like big display spaces. Boats and hot tubs and other big luxury items.” Lime motioned with her head. “Come on. Let's have a look. Might be interesting.”

The three walked down the central aisle, past more flowers and produce. Something beside them made them perk up and turn to the side. They had been walking in single file, Cynthia, Lime and Fleur. When they turned they were looking at three separate tables of prizewinning produce. Cynthia was faced with many fine examples of large aubergines; Lime, by many a dark-bodied zucchini; and Fleur by a bounty of sumptuously-sized butternut squashes.

After a long moment of staring at the tagged vegetables, praised for their perfection, the trio of mares turned quickly and quick-walked away, giant blushes burning on their cheeks. “Let us speak not of this e'er again.” Cynthia didn't need to turn her head to see that the other two were rapidly and enthusiastically nodding their heads.

Beyond the display space for winning flowers and produce was a vast display space. As Lime had said, there were some very high-end things on that side of the huge tent. Several hot tub manufacturers tried to attract customers, as did a few makers of motor boats and personal watercraft. Aside from them, there were some sellers of artificial siding, weatherproofing varnish, and luxury items for use in private coaches and airships. “Your majesty... do you think we could take out another wall and put in a hot tub?” Lime practically drooled as she looked over one of the large, fully-featured hot tubs. “Massage jets, fits six, wide temperature range, even has a port for a music player. We could be soaking in giant speakers.”

“Dame Lime...” Cynthia looked at Lime with a dark, hard gaze. But after a moment she broke into a smile and shook her head. “We may be capable of such but 'tis not good practice. Too many eyes and half as many tongues art still too many. Fear not, we may freely indulge in health baths, will full attendance from trained mares.”

“Yes, your majesty, I understand well.” Lime looked fondly at the tub and walked slowly away.

“Cheer up. If you like, I have a hot tub in my bathroom. It's a small one, good for two, but if you wish to use it, you may. Bring your husband, if you wish. I know Fancy Pants and I have had great fun in it.” Fleur dropped a saucy wink to Lime and gave her a nudge.

“Ah! Goodness. Thanks for the offer. But I would hate to impose. Or cause some... awkward moments of cleaning the trap or similar. I wanted to get the big tub for the place because, well, it's a mare cave. A hot tub seemed like a good idea. But to think of it... it's a bit much, isn't it?”

“Just a touch, yes. I think I can quite enjoy what we have there. It's a good place to escape from the mundanity and idiocy of the typical nobility and upper crust. And as a bonus, I get to say that I am going to the palace, and your uncles dutifully report my presence. It amuses me to no end knowing the others are fuming. You can't BUY entertainment that pure.” Fleur grinned a little grin and trotted on, followed by Lime shaking her head with an amused chuckle.

Beyond the giant split-use tent, was a slightly smaller one, which had a lower ceiling. The content of the internal space was much more purely-commercial. Arranged in a ring along the edge of the tent, and in an inner ring were tables and booths, containing ponies and others, hawking various wares. It looked to run the full gamut, from discount clothing, to regional and racial art pieces, to soft goods to various products, both from television and just from the minds of the inventors.

The three mares passed along the sellers, admiring some of the artwork and some of the odd and interesting inventions. Fleur and Lime stopped to admire a collection of buffalo-made carving, which was advertised as genuine carvings from the hooves of Little Strongheart, while something entirely different caught Cynthia's eye.

The banner over the small booth was not overly different from the others. It proclaimed, “Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 1000.” The two stallions manning the booth were lanky unicorns in blue-and-white striped vests and straw hats, one of which had a fine mustache. The two shared an apple as a Cutie Mark, one with a wedge, the other with the rest of the apple, angled to the side. All around them were boxes marked with the same name, as well as the faces of the ponies at the booth. What caught Cynthia's attention was a smaller mark on the banner, the boxes, and even on the small wooden and metal device set on the table. It was the flat image in plain black lines, of an apple with a stem, a leaf, and a pointed-oval wedge cut out of it directly in the center. “Ye 'mongers, tell me, whereby didst thou find this mark thou hast 'pon thy possessions and thy wares?”

The two stallions leaned in to converse with one another, looking curiously on Cynthia and noting well her net purse and fancy hat. “Well ma'am I'll gladly tell you.” The moustachioed one spoke, taking off his hat with a swift, shallow bow. “We were going about our usual business, with the grander, larger version of the fine household device you see before you. We were accosted on the road by a pony we at first presumed to be some manner of highwaystallion or hoofpad. But no, he was just the average riverboat gambler who knew of us from... certain activities which we had undertaken not all that long ago.”

The stallion's brother took over for him, likewise taking off his hat and giving a bow. “He had some personal stake in the matter though we were never quite able to determine just what that was. There followed that night a great flurry of card playing and conversations. While we tried our best he was like some kind of card-playing spirit, a sign we ought to have hung it up. After trouncing us and winning our fabulous machine, he gave it back, with a suggestion.”

The mustachioed one took up the story again. “This stallion, magnanimous in victory, suggested we cease being traveling cider salesponies and instead, as the adage goes, teach a griffin to fish. He told us to modernize, conceptualize and, most importantly, miniaturize. From a great, vehicle-sized Cider press suitable to be named the six-thousand, we were induced to invent the portable version, the one-thousand. And from there we advertised on television and radio, and at charming and grand places such as this.”

His brother finished off, tapping his hoof against the mark on the device. “His only stipulation for free advice and the return of our property was that this mark be placed on all machines and our advertisements, and that a small, almost token amount of bits be set aside to be given to charitable causes he had listed. Beyond that, we've had no further dealings.”

Cynthia knew well enough the author of their newfound success and fortune. But she still asked, “And what percentage be that amount?”

“Seven percent.” Answered the plain-lipped stallion.

“And also we were to remind folk that for best results, they should use only authentic Apple Family cider apples, from Ponyville. We expect brisk sales at this fair, close as we are to the source.” The mustachioed stallion smiled winningly at Cynthia and placed his hoof on a box. “Now that you know the secret, ma'am, would you be interested in purchasing one of these fine devices?”

There was a smile on the mare's lips, as she levitated out her bit pouch. “Gentlecolts, 'twould be an honor most great to possess such a clever contrivance.”

Lime and Fleur turned back to Cynthia after purchasing small necklaces, which had been carved into the shapes of prairie animals. “These are lovely examples of buffalo art. No wonder they are spoken of so highly. Would you care to purchase one your..?” The question fell to the ground when Fleur noticed what Cynthia was up to.

The unicorn brothers were carefully securing a box to Cynthia's back, using fabric straps common for such a purpose. Cynthia smiled to her companions once the box had been secured and gave a motion of her head. “Come, my Dames. We shall proceed with our endeavors.”

Lime trotted up beside Cynthia and eyed the box. “Your majesty, what is thi-” She stopped midway through asking, on seeing the small mark that was stamped onto a face of the box. “Oh. So... what is the connection?”

“As ever, 'twas his quest to aide the struggling. 'Tis the raison de etre of mine earnest black knight, as well thou knowest.” Cynthia spoke sotto voce to Lime, then spoke louder for Fleur's benefit. “'Tis a fine machine. We may have cider, all the days we may desire it. And it please us, we need naught but Sweet Apple Acres apples to produce all we may desire.”

Fleur nodded and looked at the large picture of the machine. “Seems a simple electrothaumatic device. We can certainly work it with ease as we like. And I certainly would enjoy a glass of Sweet Apple Acres cider. I have been told it is a special treat.”

“Aye, aye. 'Tis so.” Cynthia then muttered darkly, strictly to herself, “And not a cracked groat be bound for the avaricious, gluttonous hoof of that accursed old crone.” In a louder voice she said, “I have, by consent of that family, come to possess a fine Sweet Apple Acres cider apple tree. We may harvest to our contentment.”

“Delicious.” The three walked out of the tent and into a tent of similar size, where in they were met with a dazzling display of minerals. “My word! What have we found here?” Fleur rushed forward to one of the display cases, followed by Cynthia and Lime.

Behind the glass were numerous examples of beautiful and rare crystals, from the depths of the earth. Brilliant colors in combinations seldom seen or in configurations of a rare type or in a unique shape were carefully noted by cards. Many of the names looked to be of a Diamond Dog sort, testifying to the skill of the newest citizens. “A marvel. 'Tis like as we were in some crystal cavern far beneath the ground, where all this earth's secret treasures do reside...”

“Looks like it's another competition. And there looks to be folks over there selling rocks and gems and such things. That might be interesting. We could get some lovely souvenirs. And have a look at... the... displays...” Lime turned her head to check on an exhibit, and stopped cold, her voice winding down into an awed silence.

In a large, glass case was a huge, fan-shaped crystal growth. Through some quirk of mana and the minerals far in the ground, the seven spikes of the crystal fan were composed of seven different minerals. And each one was in proper order to look like a crystalline rainbow, which terminated in a base composed of white alabaster, which faded into black alabaster beneath that. “By the moon and all the stars in the sphere of heaven...” Cynthia looked in at the display, her eyes wide and jaw slack.

“It... it is... oh my word, I have no words. This is completely beyond anything. Why is this not in a museum in Canterlot?”

“Will be in museum.” All of a sudden a Diamond Dog came around to the front of the display. More specifically, he was a Dig Dog, the bulkiest of of all the races of Diamond Dog. His bulldog face was pulled into a smile, not covered by the usual helmet that most Dig Dogs wore. His broad, muscular chest was covered, not in armor but by a well-tailored white dress shirt, and a tuxedo jacket. “Wanted to show at fair. Win prize and make ponies happy.”

“Oh my goodness. Are you the one who found this magnificent thing?” Fleur looked down at the identification card, finding the name “Basalt.” “Mister Basalt, is it?”

“Yes. Found beautiful gems. Showed to ponies in big city. They not kind to me. All very greedy. But not Platinum. She kind to me.”

“And how could I not be?” A glamorous pony stepped from around the same corner as Basalt had come. She was a unicorn, as long and leggy as Fleur and Cynthia. Her coat was a fine silvery-gray color, while her mane was a pale pink with silver threads running through it. On her flank was a large bracelet in the silvery color of pure platinum. She looked like a model, stepped right from the pages of a magazine. “He was so earnest, so honest and real. I've never met anyone like him.”

“Wait a moment, wait a moment...” Fleur stroked her chin with her fetlock, eyes squinting slightly at the mare. “I've worked with you! You're Platinum Shine! Porcelain Shine's daughter! I was at a party of hers not that long ago. She didn't mention anything about you. I thought she'd talk my ear off about your career.”

“Fleur de Lis! I thought that was you! Oh my goodness...” Platinum came forward to grab Fleur up in a tight hug. “I remember that! The Photo Finish shoot for the new Carousel Boutique line for the fuller-figured! It was a wonderful time.” She stepped back with a sheepish smile. “My mother has been... silent about me lately. Because of my fiance.” She moved some of her mane from her horn, more clearly showing off a band of gold with a large diamond set in it.

“Fian... oh Platinum congratulations!” Fleur hugged the other mare again, then smiled at the huge Diamond Dog. “You lucky dog. How did you manage that?”

“Platinum not judge me. See more than big, ugly dog. See hard-working dog. Strong dog. Honest dog.” Basalt wrapped a thick arm around Platinum, drawing her in for a huge hug.

“Only a truly beautiful soul could have ever found something as perfect as this. I saw him trying to find a place for this, with only a picture of it. He cut a fine figure, in his helmet and armor, wandering the upper terraces. As soon as I saw it, I could see the wonder of it. Other ponies didn't believe it existed or that it was smaller than shown or worthless, for the sake of getting it at a low price. I started to talk to him. Every minute of it was magical. I had never met anyone like him.” Platinum leaned in and nuzzled at Basalt's neck, kissing it lovingly. “He wanted to give it to me. Just... give it to me. He never even thought twice about it. He thought I deserved it. That was when I knew he was really the one.”

“Must be dream. Dog like me not supposed to have pony like her. Going to wake up alone.”

“Going to wake up with puppies.” Platinum corrected him, affecting his gruff tone and mode of speech with a smile on her face.

“Well, we must be going, Platinum. But... it was a pleasure to see you again.” Fleur nodded to the pair, who seemed to be getting lost in their own world.

“See you around, Fleur. I'll probably be doing an ad for maternity-wear next time.”

“A delight to meet thee, madame Shine. I shall have to meet thee again anon.” Cynthia bowed as the three strolled away. “A most generous, beautiful and honest soul. She shall be in royal thoughts for a long while, this is certain.”

“Yes it was lovely to see her again.” Fleur paused a beat and added, “I hate her so much.”

“Dame Fleur!” Lime goggled aside at the white unicorn.

“I don't mean it in a cruel way, I just... We're the same age, and, your majesty's friendship aside, of the same status. Same job, same circles of society. But she's getting married. Marrying up, I'd say, becoming that stout dog's wife. To borrow your majesty's subject matter, if she wasn't marrying him, he'd do well to plant a giant set of horns in some inbred nobleman's eyes.”

“Thou art not half wrong indeed, Dame Fleur.”

“But that just makes it worse. Why can't it be me?” Fleur hung her head, pace slowing a bit.

“C-come on, let's not get consumed with this again. That's what we're here to avoid. Let's have a look at some of these wares.” Lime nudged Fleur over to the sales area, to a wide array of natural gems, minerals and fossils, carefully labeled to identify type and location.

“Mmm. Such things be common on the palace grounds. Pretty trinkets, to be sure. But naught that may truly impress.” Cynthia said, perhaps a bit too loudly.

“Maybe. But there's some value to it still. Some of these things aren't consider impressive enough for the palace, like this lightning glass. Or, oh! These magnetites! Look at that. And they just naturally fall into these shapes. They look like the dice for that Catacombs and Creatures game.”

“I suppose a bit of retail therapy wouldn't hurt.” Fleur browsed among the raw minerals and looked in at some of the things in small boxes. She nearly decided to buy a beautiful piece of line-filled galena, but she instead saw a lovely geode. It was cut in half with an inner core of white, with blue crystals growing up from there. It... reminded her of Fancy Pants. From his white coat to his blue mane. Her bit pouch was out before she even opened her mouth. “I'll take that geode half there!”

“Good bit of retail therapy?” Outside of the gem tent, Lime looked to Fleur, who was trotting along with a smile on her snout.

“I think I can be very cheery about the rest of today, yes indeed.” Fleur turned her head and pointed to a collection of much smaller tents. “Hey, what are those over there?”

“Looks like... oddities tents.” Lime squinted and held a hoof over her eyes, catching sight of large, painted posters beside the tents.

“How now? What be this that thou hast said?”

“Oddities tents are for single attractions. Pay a bit or two and walk in to look at, for instance, a rutabaga in the shape of Celestia's head, or some kind of multi-headed creature in a jar, from a species not known for having multiple heads. They can be good for a quick, cheap bit of entertainment.”

“Then come, let us witness these “oddities” as thou hast said. Mayhaps they DO have a vegetable in the shape of sister's head. Or mayhaps a fruit resembling some other piece of anatomy.”

“Butternut squashes are gourds...” Fleur noted, seemingly apropos of nothing.

The first tent they encountered was an unassuming red and white striped thing with a large, crudely-painted poster beside the entrance. It depicted a truly gargantuan pony rearing up, standing over the tops of trees with his head in the clouds. Written on the poster was the improbably hyperbolic name, “Gigantotitanohumungogargantomegasuperultrahugeosaurus. The biggest pony in Equestria.” Sitting beside the tent's entrance behind a podium were two fillies, wearing striped coats, fake mustaches and straw hats. The costumes could not hide the identities of Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo.

“Well now... this looks like a fascinating bit of oddity. How much must we pay, little ones?” Fleur looked down at the two, recognizing them instantly but trying not to betray that recognition.

“Ten bits to see our amazing oddity!” Scootaloo hit the podium and held out a hoof to the three.

“Scoots!” Sweetie Belle looked aside at Scootaloo, shocked and scandalized and... disappointment.

“I mean...” Scootaloo gave a sheepish and apologetic smile aside at Sweetie then turned back to the three ladies. “Two bits each. You won't be disappointed.”

“What a deal.” Lime stated, the first of the three to levitate bits out and onto the podium, others joining them.

“Please go in. And thank you.” Sweetie gathered up the bits into a jar, prompting Scootaloo and herself to squeal out, “Cutie Mark Crusaders Carnie Barkers YAY!” And then they kissed softly, mustaches swapping faces.

Chuckling softly at the display, the three ladies entered the dim tent, sunlight slanting in from holes in the roof. The air was heavy with humidity and the smell of hay and apples. Past an internal cloth wall that created a twist on the inside, and blocked vision from the door, was revealed the inhabitant of the tent. Huge red body, hay-blond mane and tail, a thick horse collar around his neck, and a Smarty-Pants doll cradled against his chest. “How now? Thou art... Big Macintosh. Art thou the great gargantua implied in the most misleading broadside 'pon the exterior?”

“Eeyup.” With that singular response, Big Macintosh changed his focus to the doll and seemed to largely ignore the trio of ladies.

“So... do you... juggle, or play an instrument or do math?” Lime turned her head to the side, brow perked curiously.

“Eenope. Can't juggle savin' fer apples when ah'm applebuckin', can't play nuthin' ceptin' fer a washboard, an' mah sister hates it when ah get inta them fancy mathematics.” He said it all without looking up, tickling Smarty-Pants under the chin.

The three mares shuffled around a little bit, looking around the tent, tapping their hooves, generally remaining silent. Cynthia looked at Big Macintosh curiously, watching him stroke the doll lovingly. There was a story there. And some explanation needed to be given.

Before anything could be asked there was a minor fracas at the front of the tent. “Hey! No freebies!” Scootaloo.

“Now y'all 're mah little sister's friends but you gitcher little flanks outta mah way right now!” That could only be Applejack, the element-bearer known to all the mares.

“Come on, we've gotta try and get our Cutie Marks!” The voice crack was pure Sweetie Belle. “Family discount? Half off. Just one bit. Come on Applejack. You were really nice at the Sisterhooves Social...”

There came a frustrated sigh from the farmpony, then the clattering of a bit on the podium and the rustle of the tent before Applejack appeared, looking quite upset. “Big Macintosh! Jes what in the hay do you think yer doin' lollygaggin' around in this here tent? There's a whole passle of customers, and Granny Smith and I are workin' our hooves to the bone ta keep up. Fer some reason them cider apples 're goin' like crazy.”

“Sorry, sis. But ah promised Sweetie an' Scoots ah'd help them with this, while Applebloom's off doin' her thing. Ah know why she ain't helpin' out.”

Applejack grunted and grumbled. She kicked her hoof and nodded her head a bit. “Well... y'all made a promise. An' ah know from loyalty. Hay, ah'm gonna be marryin' it. Jes... help us haul the things back tonight.”

“Ah always do. Thanks fer understandin' sis.” Big Macintosh strolled over to his sister and gave her a hug.

“Awww big brother...” Applejack hugged her brother tightly, then dipped her hat to the three mares. “Ladies, sorry fer interrupting yer oglin' of mah brother.”

“Oh no! That was not our intention. We were only curious about the sign.” Fleur spoke for the group, which was slowly moving backwards out of the tent. “We are all already otherwise involved.”

“And we did much desire to fee the younglings for hardships previous...” Cynthia stopped, both in danger of giving away too much and because Applejack was starting to look like she recognized the speech.

“Thank you again bye!” Lime bowed and then swept the toehr two out, leaving behind nothing but a rustling tent flap.

“Mine apologies, my dames. Too loose did mine eely member writhe in open air before they not meant to know the face behind my glamour.” Cynthia shook her head and grinned sheepishly at her companions.

“It was not your fault, your majesty. The element-bearers are a special case. With any other pony that would have been perfectly acceptable.” Lime motioned towards another tent. “Here's another likely oddity tent.”

The tent looked exactly like the one previously seen, but with far more professionally-made poster beside it. It was done in an ancient Hipposian style, in black and red. There was a figure depicted, a powerfully-flexing biped creature whose face was obscured by a scroll, on which was written a blurb. “SEE the mighty male of powerful physical perfection, born of the finest male and female and midwifed by a power that few can comprehend! HEAR the proud and wise words of the great male from across the sea. EXPERIENCE the wonder that is the presence of the great male.”

“Well, no more hyperbole than the last. I see now how they get their bits in here. Almost as though they are charging ponies to see how little resemblance there is between the poster and the reality.” Fleur examined the poster closely with a quirk of her brow.

“Hey now, hey now! You can't talk like that right here without seeing what's inside.” By the tent flap was another podium, with a white pegasus mare behind it. She was pure white, mane and coat, that mane very short but growing out a bit, like a military cut left to its own devices.

“A royal guard?” Lime stepped over and looked her over. “That's kind of unusual out here. And why is your mane out of style?”

The mare looked down at Lime and noticed the ditty bag on her back. “Well, you're green but no earth pony. You must be married to a Lunar guard. Miles Scutum or Miles Gladius?”

“Destrier, transferred to the Celestian corps not too long ago.”

“Well now, good rank and a nice lateral move. Miles Scutum, Celestian corps. Well, former anyhow. I am not here in an official capacity... for the guard. I resigned and moved to be with my husband. It's not a bad life. I got lucky. So! Want to solve the mystery of this fine fellow in the tent? Five bits per visit, and you will NOT be disappointed.”

After a few sidelong glances between the three mares they levitated out the needed bits, carefully stacking them before the former guard. They then entered the tent, the sounds suddenly muffling. The tent must have been magically silenced. Sitting in the tent was a gargantuan creature. A titanic biped in many shades of blue. His muscles almost seemed to creak as he flexed, which was almost a consequence of his very motions. His Diamond Dog-like physique was topped by a bull's head, with cloven hooves down on the ground. On top of his head was a gold band, set with several semi-precious and precious stones. He pointed at the trio and stuck up his thumb, smiling. “If somepony tries to block, show them you ROCK! Maybes are for BABIES!”

While the other two stood there nonplussed, Cynthia turned her head slightly to the side and looked at the figure. “How now? King Minos the 28th? Lord of the Aegeman Sea? How be it that thou art here in m- in these lands?”

“Ah! Someone official. Canterlot ladies, right? No one else seems to know who I am, other than Iron Will the seminar leader.” Minos flopped back onto a comfortable chair, putting his hooves up. “I had always planned some kind of state visit. But then my wife told me about this fair and I figured I could have fun with it. She set up the tent. And look, they gave me a pizza! Deep fried pizza, even!” The king pulled out a box and showed off a pizza, with several slices removed. All the remaining looked to be breaded and deep fried. “They don't have this kind of thing in my kingdom. But they will when I get back.”

“Your wife? You mean that pony out there? How did a royal guard happen to get married to a king of a foreign land? How would she even have met you? I'm very much a palace insider and I've never heard of you.” Lime looked curiously to the huge male, who was noisily eating a pizza slice.

“Mmmph! Mmmph! Mmmph! Ah, sorry about that. Still not used to the whole “kingly regality” thing. It was a while back. Two very nice ladies from Ponyville encouraged me to go back to my homeland to reconcile with my father. They had some guards to make it a diplomatic mission. Well, you know, there was a great mare that hated to admit she loved to see me flex and loved all my witting saying. She didn't even mind when Iron Will called himself Iron Will when Iron Will was...”

“Honey, too much.” The mare stuck her head into the tent, almost as though she could sense that her husband was going over the top.

“Yes dear.” Minos slumped in his chair. Then brightened up and gave a thumbs up. “But she's been a great queen. And my mother likes her. They're the same color so they share beauty tips. Yea, Queen Puffy Nimbus. That was a hard sell back home. Not because she's a pony, but the name. Some dogs and bulls felt it lacked Aegeman dignity. But that's neither here nor there. Should I share more of my pearls of wisdom? I've got a million of them!”

“Thank you no, thine excellency. T'was a most entertaining visit and most propitious use of our bits. Fare thee well, King Minos. May thou and thy comely wife see the courts of Canterlot, if only that thou mayest unite thy blood and love to forge an heir.”

The trio strolled back out into the light, all three of them thinking deeply, for several different reasons. Lime broke the stalemated silence with a nod towards a huge aisle of tents and other temporary structures together with tables and benches. “That deep-fried pizza reminded me of the best part of this fair. The deep-fried foods. They'll coat anything in batter and fry it up. You won't see food like that in the Canterlot restaurants. And if it's good enough for a king, it should be good for us.”

“By uniqueness alone I am eager to sample all that we can find. Let's not waste a moment more!” Fleur ran on, followed closely by her compatriots.

There was truly a vast and dizzying assortment of food, not all of it deep-fried and not all of it strictly suitable for a pony's stomach. Fowl and small rodents and other such non-sentient creatures for griffin palates and Diamond Dog tastes as well, though they were also served by small side-menus of gems. Though amusingly, those gems were also available for deep-frying. But aside from that, there were vast assortments of other available fryable objects, from pastries to pizzas and all other things. Including, of all things, pickles, in chip and whole form.

The mares took a load off under an umbrella, sitting on cushions before the table laden down their oily bounty. Fried cheesecakes, fried brownies, fried corn nibblets, fried vegetables, fried ice cream, fried cookies, fried candy bars. And for Fleur, a fried pickle spear.

“'Tis a strange repast, to be certain. But let us have no fear.” Cynthia lit her horn, bringing a cool breeze to sweep across the table of food.

Lime started to eat a slice of deep-fried cheesecake. She cut it with her plastic utensils, her attention focused away from her tablemates. She smiled as she munched on it, then noticed that Fleur was sitting there, mouth full, pickle spear entirely gone. “D-dame Fleur? Did you just eat a whole fried pickle spear?” She got a nod for her trouble. “That quickly?” Another nod answered her. Lime could only shake her head and turn back to her meal. “No wonder Fancy Pants likes you.”

Following the greasy spread, the three decided to give the games a miss, because they thought it would be unfair to others with the aid of a princess. They instead turned towards the rides. The strangely-formed, scream-inducing rides that loomed in their own section.

“I can promise that neither of you have experienced anything like this in all our lives. Begging your majesty's pardon for my presumption, but from what I know of your own era, they had nothing at all like these things. Every kind you might like. The small roller coaster, a rotating cup ride, the “flinging you up like a slingshot string” ride, and even the “whip you around like an idiot” ride.” Lime pointed out the various ride types, and the lines for them. “Just take a pick of whichever you like. The lines look brisk.”

Cynthia scanned across the field of choices, tapping her hoof on her chin while she considered the various reactions of the riders. Finally she picked out one of the centrifuge ride and led the three over. “What be the meaning of this curious appellation? “The Puke-a-tron five-thousand”? It doth sound greatly technologically advanced, as we have heard said of such things afore.”

“If I may, your majesty. As I understand it, 'puke' is modern slang for 'vomit.' This device appears to promise that its motion will be such that it will cause riders to disgorge their stomachs. A bold claim.” Fleur regarded the whirling device with a queasy eye, even as she stood in line for it.

“Aye, aye! Bold and most presumptuous. I do challenge thee, thou infernal machine. Try me as thou wilt, thou shalt not find me wanting.” Cynthia glared hotly at the machine, as if expecting a reply.

“Most bold, your majesty. I join in your confidence. I have an iron stomach. Land, sea or air, I have a steady bearing about myself. Strong as a rock, or solid or however the earth ponies say it.” Lime proudly patted her slightly-distended stomach, grinning in smug happiness.

The three stood patiently in line in their own particular modes: Cynthia with a determined furrowing of her brow and hard stare at the ride; Lime with a grin on her face and occasional smug nod as she heard a screech from within; and Fleur with the occasional shudder and cower, biting at her lower lip and rubbing slowly at her belly, cursing her full stomach.

In time they reached the front of the line, allowing themselves to be led in by the earth pony running the ride. It was like a giant flattened wheel on its side, with rectangular spaces dividing the place where each rider was to be place, with secure straps and bars that would hold them in a standing position, their backs to the inner wall of the ride.

The chose to not scatter themselves around the ride but set themselves beside one another, Fleur on the left, Cynthia in the center and Lime on the right. Other riders came in and were strapped in around the inside of the ride, as usual, mostly ponies, but with one Diamond Dog and one griffin also strapped into place on the ride. With all the riders secured to it, the entrance was closed and it began.

At first there was nothing much to it. The whine of an electrothaumatic engine beneath the base of the ride started to power up to full force. Each revolution took a little less time, some clouds in the sky providing a point of reference for the riders to judge their rotation speed. None of them were all that affected, and several started to give happy squeaks and whoops of delight.

Fleur's stomach stayed where it had been, and was not getting any more stable as the thing spun around faster and faster. She felt like her head was spinning as well, twisting around on her neck. The situation did not noticeably improve when the thing had spun up to what she presumed to be full speed. She was forced back by the centrifugal force, pressed uncomfortably against the poorly-padded surface of the ride. Then the machine move, tilting so wildly she thought it was broken and falling, ripping a scream from her throat that was far less cheerful than the happy cries from all the others.

All was well with the world, however, and it only took her two tilts before it entered her mind that she was not dead and scattered across the fairgrounds. But with that fear conquered, the nausea returned. And her stomach was even more blended up after all the tilting and terror. She could feel herself turning green. And she could hear a voice cutting through the rush of wind, likely by use of magic, “Ha-ha! Dame Fleur, thou hast the talents of a Changeling! Most impressive how thou hast attained the aspect of Dame Lime so easily!”

Fleur was about to respond in some manner when a loud retch broke over the scene. Her queasy stomach heaved and jumped, sending a fresh surge of nausea through her and making her regret everything, including the fried pickle, the fried ice cream and ever leaving bed that morning. She opened her mouth to let out a tortured moan, but was outclassed by a tremendous gag and the sound of splattering vomit. All eyes, and a few angry glares, were drawn to Lime, who was the same shade as ever, but was disgorging her distended belly full of fried foods. And in a most impressive stream.

The ride shut down with a deepening whine and a slight grind of the brakes as it slowed to a stop. A well-trained and efficient squad of unicorns with soapy water and fire magic washed down the ride and cleaned up any of the riders that required it. Lime was the central focus for scrubbing and drying, a deep blush browning out her green cheeks.

Cynthia and Fleur were waiting for her when she finally got back from her cleanup, looking utterly humiliated. No mare spoke for a long while, until Lime finally offered, “I guess twisting and tilting is easier to handle when you're having sex.”

The dam broke and all the nervous, embarrassed energy spilled out in a tremendous three-sided laugh-fest that rang out good and loud and long. “Aye, 'tis so, insofar as I am aware. Never had I had complaint of stomach or other part from mine dear heart as we wheeled. But let that pass. Thou art an echo-filled chamber, my maid, and 'tis a poor state in which to be. Let us fill thee again with what thou has lost. In undigested form.” Another laugh rang out as the three trotted back to the line of food stalls.

Back at their previous table, Lime was happily refilling her belly with more fried desserts and vegetables, when she pointed off past the other two. “Mm, look at that.”

Walking the broad aisle between the stalls of food was a singularly odd couple, even over and above the ones that had already been seen. The most noticeable member of the pair was a zebra, tall and strong, carrying a satchel on her back. Her mane was done up in a mohawk, and she had a spiraling sun symbol on her flank. Her companion was a bouncing ball of custard yellow energy. She was bouncing all around with all the exuberance of a draining youth, wearing a big red bow in her mane and a matching satchel on her back. She was chattering up a storm, her manic energy not bothering the grinning zebra in the slightest. “So after we get us some lemonade and some fried hay fries and fried okra can we get us some pretty rocks and then go see a show? Please?”

The zebra reached out to ruffle the filly's mane, nodding her head with a grand motion. “But of course my little dear/ I'll do all you like while we are here.”

Cynthia smiled brightly and held back her hoof from rising in greeting. “Ah, another treacherous relation. Well do I know her. She be a high and potent mistress of physic, knowing well how one may take herb and seed and make powder and draught. She hath saved a life near and dear. And thous seest her intended betrothed, fair Applebloom. Her brother was displayed as oddity, and sister vexed with her absence, but now I see whereabouts she hath been. Courting and chastely sporting with her beloved.”

Lime noticed, between swallows, that Fleur and Cynthia were looking at the retreating pair with wistful sighs and mooning gazes. So after a good drink of carrot juice and a pat to her settled and refilled stomach she rapped the table to catch their attention. “Let's head over to the entertainment area. There are small shows set up near the main stage. And tonight it looks like an all comedian lineup.” She levitated out her program and pointed to the section for that day.

“Well, your majesty, it would be most grandly diverting. We're here to be diverted, and so far it has been greatly so. Let us continued that wonderful streak.”

“Aye... Aye indeed! Thou speakest good sooth, Dame Fleur. We have but our selves to blame for any doleful look and dour gaze. Come, let us be cheered by the puppet plays, jugglers and troubadours.”

“Now that's the spirit! And your majesty, if you thought you had fun before, just wait until you see what they have in store for you.” With a wink, Lime led the others on.

As they trekked through the crowds to the main stage area at the far end of the fair, Luna read through the scheduled program of events. The fair persisted for quite a while, and boasted a fine suite of entertainers on the main stage and the slightly smaller venues. On the penultimate day, on one of the side-stages, was promised a griffin of the Bald clan, together with adjunct performer, a Trixie Lulamoon, which set off memories in the princess' mind.

That remembering was broken by the harsh shout of a familiar voice. “Alright! This is it! The local big time! Once a year, this fair comes around and a lot of big names come with it! So we've gotta really wow them, even if we're not on the main stage!” There in the staging area of one of the smaller stages was the element-bearer Rainbow Dash, dressed as a coach, with a towel draped across her neck, and a matching hat and sweatshirt from the Cloudsdale Flight School. She was shouting her encouragements to a large tortoise wearing flight goggles and a propeller on its back.

A small knot of the other element-bearers were there, seemingly missing only Applejack, who had previously been reported to be working at selling apples. Fluttershy spoke up quietly. “Oh, Rainbow... sh-should you really be, um, yelling at him like that? I'm afraid you'll hurt his feelings or make him nervous.”

Rainbow Dash dismissed the concern with a wave of her hoof and a confident grin. “Chillax, Fluttershy. Tank's got a thick shell. He's totally cool.” She tapped the tortoise's shell, looking quite proud. Then she took on a serious look and looked down at her reptile. “Alright, look here turtle...”

Fluttershy interrupted, “Tortoise.”

“Terrapin...” Rarity added, pressing against Fluttershy's side with a warm smile.

“¡Tortuga!” Pinkie Pie suddenly popped up with her own statement, for some reason using Caballito.

“Testudinidae.” Twilight offered, pulling Pinkie into an embrace with a laugh.

“Chelys!” All eyes fell upon Cynthia, who had been caught up in the moment and shouted out her own Equusian input. “Apologies. Thy verecund compatriot did move...” She clamped her mouth shut and scampered off with her two companions.

The eyes of four of the mares followed along, Rainbow Dash hmphing and looking away from it all. “Whatever.”

The three retreating mares laughed lightly, as a kind of pressure reduction. Cynthia grinned broadly and looked to Lime. “Dame Lime, have we passes to this stage performance of comedic workers?”

“No need. This one isn't a big time private show. The bigger performers have private shows, but for something like this the cost of the show is built into the cost of admission. We just need to find seats.” Lime led the trio through a metal archway of pipes that led to a large, well-populated area with numerous bench-type seats radiating out in a circular pattern from a large stage.

The seating area was not completely full, but it was a somewhat tight squeeze, the three mares forced to look up and down and around for a space that all three could occupy side-by-side. They found a seat at last, at the end of a row, with a very focused earth pony to the left of Lime, Cynthia to her right, and Fleur by the aisle.

Down on the stage there was a rotund brownish unicorn stallion, with a chocolate cake on his flank. According to the program he was “Gabardine Casas” and his set was almost over. He appeared to be telling a story about a friend, putting on a very heavily affected Caballitan accent. “¡Órale, güey!” He popped his shoulders and made a few motions with his eyebrows. “Pues... pero, ¡¿esta divertido, verdad?!”

The crowd broke into pockets of raucous laughter with some expanses of smaller chuckles. Cynthia herself was among those giving a huge guffaw, while Fleur gave a smaller laugh, but no less a real one. Lime, however, looked completely confused. She leaned over to Cynthia and whispered, “Your majesty..? Ahhh... I'm afraid that the humor slightly escapes me.”

Cynthia wiped at her eyes a bit and chuckled a bit. “At times, comprehending a plurality of languages doth pay rich dividends. The modern speech be strange but his point be made most clearly. 'Tis difficult to explain; know I only that it served as head to a larger jest told earlier in his narrative, and the correct thing to do was to laugh.”

Fleur leaned across and said o Lime, “It was essentially two stallions who knew each other well, the friend frustrating him but then rhetorically asking him if it was amusing. He was annoying but percieved his annoyance as comedy.”

Comprehension dawned on Lime's face and she gave a sharp laugh. “Ha! Fireclay on Nightmare Night and on Jester's Day! I know his pain.”

While the explanations had been going on Gabardine had made his way off stage and the next comedian had been announced. According to the program it was someone named Tealeaf mac Chard O'Clover. On the stage there was a full-bodied hippogriff, his griffonic portions clearly shown to be Bald while some slight feathering on his rear hooves gave some indication of his possible specific pony regional identity. His non-griffin colors were pure green, solidly, and a very bright green at that, somewhat unusual for a stallion but not truly strange.

“Hullo Ponyville Fair!” His voice was bright and cheery, a moderated tenor with a strong Capall brogue to more specifically identify his particular pony identity. “Now I know what you're thinking. Let me put your minds at ease. Yes, I do have a preferred skyball club AND I follow the lightning jagging but you won't hear bollocks about it out of me.”

A laugh rippled out around the crowd and a few cries of the popular clubs rang out. “Trottingham!” “Cumuli-stratus!” “Rangers!”

Tealeaf's head shot up at that last, eagle eyes casting over the crowd. “I heard that! Who was it? Who wants some of this? There's a lot of muscle somewhere under all this... eh, well, when there's goody and barmbrack that doesn't need to wait for Nightmare Night, these things happen.” He patted his stomach to the sound of laughter and a few cries of agreement.

“Aye then, for all you wondering yes, I'm a hippogriff. Mum comes out of the kingdom, da is out of Capall. Marriage made perfect, really. They speak the same second language, have the same traditions, and yell about the same sports clubs.” Another wave of laughter worked through the crowd.

“It DOES make things strange, though. Mum still has family back in the Kingdom, and I've lived there for long stretches. But you just... you never think about the fact that it's a whole new nation that often. But sometimes... when I send a letter to me granddam, it all starts out normal on the envelope. Grammy's house, grammy's peak, grammy's township, and then in giant letters down at the bottom, GRIFFIN KINGDOM. And when I take the letter to the post I have to wave at your stallion behind the cage and say, 'Oi! Mush! You see that? You see that stuff above the big letters? THAT'S NOT FOR YOU! That's just for the postbirds over there. You just get it over there and THEY can handle the rest, got it?'” The crowd exploded with laughter, thundering their hooves against the ground.

The comedy set went on for a good while, culminating in a hilarious story about accidentally telling an operator the words, 'pubic, thong and muff.' The applause was thunderous and the laughs just as loud. The three ladies rose from their spaces and slowly filed out of the stage area. Lime checked on the program and checked a nearby clock. “Well, there are fireworks just after dark...”

“Dark! Cul! We must away home 'afore the night must needs come! Sister will be most vexed should the moon be late in the dome of the sky! Come, my Dames, we away to the gate and home again.” With a very worried look Cynthia took off towards the front gate, occasionally bowling aside others, with Lime and Fleur in her wake offering running apologies.

- - -

The three mares popped into existence inside of the palace gates, before Rosy Cranberry and Golden Stare. Cynthia dropped her disguise with a shimmering wave of mana, becoming Luna once again. “Cavalier, Miles Scutum. Has my sister called upon me in mine official capacity?”

“Not at all, your majesty. She seems to have handled all matters herself.” Golden responded with a crisp voice.

“Shall I summon a carriage for you, miss De Lis?” Rosy looked to the whote unicorn with his usual small blush.

“No, thank you, Miles Cranberry. It is a lovely early evening. I think I shall trot the path to my home. It is perfectly safe.”

Luna snorted derisively and shook her head. “'Tis no such thing indeed, my dear Dame Fleur. Lascivious minds and impure flesh do stretch from this palace to thy port, with few exceptions along. Trust not the innocence nor nobility of the ignoble cullions and drabs that would hunger for thy tender and pure corse. Cavalier Stare, place notice 'pon the constables all along the way that they should guard her with their very beings.”

“It shall be done, your majesty.” With a small bow Golden was away, back into a small guard station tucked just inside the doors.

“And it please thee, let us here part 'pon informal ground. Duties must be tended, as, I suspect, must certain personal matters. Tender tending to personal matters with much focus in the careful tap of dit-dah, as they say.” Luna let out a raucous laugh that brought a smile to her friends and a tremendously scandalized blush to Rosy.

“The word has been delivered, my prin... oh Rosy... She's been in good form, I see. Come here, honey...” Golden gathered his husband up into a warm, comforting hug, while the three mares watching grew soft looks and little smiles. “You may freely walk home in security, miss De Lis.”

“Thank you very much, Cavalier. Your majesty, Dame Lime, until we meet again.” Fleur bower and trotted out towards the front gates.

“The day be done, in the main, and thus shall the birds of day come in to their vespers. Be in thy bedchamber, my maid, that thy questing rook may find roost in thy bosom. Let him bring devotion to thy secret chapel...”

“M-majesty...” Golden cleared his throat and tried to look fairly neutral. “I know you mean well, and are greatly comedic. But... she IS my niece. I don't need to hear these sorts of things. Even in your majesty's wonderfully colorful language.”

Lime and Luna looked to one another, a sly smile passing between them. ''Tis sauce made of apple well as orange, Cavalier. Surely thou knowest well this truth.”

Golden stiffened against Rosy, who grinned a bit. “They gotcha, sweetheart.”

The evening shadows lengthened as Celestia slowly dipped the sun lower and lower in the sky. Fleur had enjoyed a rather long, pleasant, but secure meandering trot from the palace, through the first terrace boutique areas, and down into her own home terrace. It was as it ever was. Clean and well-tended buildings, with far more homes and condos than above. It wasn't as glittery, but it was her home. And she smiled as she trotted along with a hum on her lips.

The hum faded away and died as she looked to the front of her apartment and saw a figure lurking just out of the reach of the light. Her hooves halted with a too-loud clop, alerting the whole street she was there. She gave a small curse as the figure turned towards her. She was too far off at at a bad angle to really see who it was. She could only cry out, “Constable!”

Immediately at the call a pegasus swooped down from the sky, heading right for the figure and tackling it to the ground. There was a brief scuffle, the constable mare subduing the figure with a bare minimum of activity. “Stand down! I am a constable protecting a Canterlot citizen on official order! Ma'am, please come forward to your home while I run this miscreant in.”

Fleur broke into a gallop towards her door, looking to the side at the constable and her prisoner. The shade of the body she saw seemed familiar. And the muscle. Not a bad looking... “Fleur! Darling! I believe there has been some sort of mistake!”

Fleur stopped on the porch, REALLY looking at what was visible. The thighs that were still so strong and potent, the hooficured hooves, slight feathering. It was him! “Fancy Pants!? Is that you?”

“Indeed it is, my dear. Would you be so kind as to please ask this charming mare to please stop twisting my limbs about like taffy?”

“O-oh! Yes! Please, let him go! This is my co- my friend! My dear friend! Please let him go.”

“Yes, ma'am.” The pegasus mare leaped off Fancy and gave him a quick brushing with her wings. “So sorry about that sir.”

Fancy got to his hooves and adjusted his attire, smoothing things out and reflexively fixing his mustache, making certain it was in perfect form. “Oh quite alright! You were only doing your job and protecting this delicate flower. I could not possibly begrudge you that, not at all!”

The mare blushed a bit at the stallion's polite bearing and good humor. She nodded to the two and took to the air. “Have a good evening you two.” The two ponies watched the pegasus soar off, then turned to each other.

“So, Fancy... ahh... what can I do for you tonight? I was not aware of any parties for this evening. And normally you send a letter. Very... very lovely letters.” Fleur swept her mane back, attempting to hide a tiny blush.

“No, no, no parties. You are quite correct that I would have sent a message beforehoof. This is strictly a social call. I assure you that is entirely appropriate. I mean nothing untoward. Though having been tackled by a constable I must say I do feel a bit like a common ruffian. Something to consider next time we have an evening in the hot tub.”

“Oh, goodness! Fancy!” Fleur laughed musically and shook her head a bit. “Charming as ever, Fancy... A social call, you say? Most unusual. Not that I don't appreciate it. But... why tonight?”

“Well, until recently I have been out of town, as you well know, at a very vital meeting. Many important matters were discussed, including matters of a personal nature. And they had a good point in what they said. Thus my presence here, on your doorstep. Like a gawky suitor after a third date, hoping to be invited in for some socializing. And tea.”

“That's not what a suitor wants on a third date. And this is hardly a third date for us.” Fleur did not add that they never really had any form of date, setting aside formal evenings. “However, Fancy... I think I can put a kettle on for you. Was there anything in particular you wanted to do? Aside, of course, from “socializing” in the manner I know you enjoy.”

Fancy smiled, and dipped his head a bit. “I know you quite enjoy it as well. But yes. There are things to discuss. All the parties and social events are lovely. And I want it to continue. Sometimes I think you need to feel more appreciated. And I think I know the best way.”

Fleur tilted her head a touch, horn glowing and opening her door. “Well then, come inside, and tell me all about it.” With a bounce of her mane she slipped inside, lighting up her apartment.

A/N: For full disclosure and to be sure no one accuses me of anything, the comedians are based on two of my favorite comedians. Gabardine Casas is based on Gabriel Iglesias, as is his joke. Tealeaf mac Chard O'Clover is based on Dara O'Briain, and his gag about sending a letter is based on one he did about sending a letter to Ireland. Also, the bit about saying things to an operator is another joke he did.