Hoe Down

by Talon and Thorn

First published

Octavia isn't finding it very easy to adjust to her new life in Ponyville. The place is full of crazy ponies! How will she cope when the inhabitants decide to throw a part in her and her fellow element bearers honour? A Cadenceverse story.

Octavia isn't finding it very easy to adjust to her new life in Ponyville. The place seems so different from what she is used to and seems to be full of crazy ponies!

However, the population seem to have plans of their own and invite her and her fellow element bearers to a party in their honour. Octavia is used to formal dances and the like, surely this Hoe Down thing can't be much different. Can it?

Oh and maybe she might have just the teeniest bit of a crush on a certain red stallion who might happen to be at the dance, but that shouldn't be a problem.

A Cadenceverse story set about a week after The Music of Ponyville.

Thanks to Grass and Clouds 2 for his help in making this story.

Household Strife

View Online

Octavia Philamonica third daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cheineigh awoke in a minimally furnished room and for a moment didn’t know where she was. Her eyes flicked open and tried to take in her environment, barely illuminated as it was by the pre-dawn light. The lack of decoration to the room was not unusual to her, she preferred a spartan existence, it was the size of the room that surprised her. It was smaller than her room at Princess Cadences School for the performing arts, where was she? She stuck a leg out from beneath the covers and the hurriedly retracted it, the room was cold. Turning to one side her momentary panic was alleviated by the familiar picture of her family gazing down upon her from the sideboard. Her father was smiling warmly with a hint of mischief in his eyes, her mother’s gaze was calm and loving, her sister Viola was dressed in her usual outlandish garb and her eldest sister, Melody, was as stiff and composed as always. The familiarity of the scene relaxed Octavia enough to allow her brain to fully reboot and memory returned to her. This was the room she had rented above the sweet shop in Ponyville. I was no wonder she hadn't recognised it, she had lived here for less than a week now.

For a moment Octavia considered burrowing further into the sheets and returning to dreamland, she was still tired. One of her new friends, Vinyl Scratch, had unexpectedly requested that she help her move her equipment to the train station in preparation for a concert or ‘rave’ as she called them. That had resulted in a severe upset to Octavia’s schedule and she had not gotten to bed until much later than planned. However, the sun would rise soon and she considered it her duty to play for the princess at dawn each day, the physical distance between her and her mentor did not alleviate that need. Plus now that she was more aware her body was informing her that certain biological needs had to be met urgently, or she would embarrass herself, maybe that second cup of soothing tea last night had been a mistake.

Mumbling quietly to herself Octavia threw off her blanket and shivered, despite being spring mornings were still decidedly nippy in Ponyville. The door to her balcony did not shut properly and let in a draft, she would have to raise the issue with her landlady, Bon Bon, when she remembered. Her bladder once again raised its objections to further ruminations at this time and she staggered out of her room and towards the bathroom with an awkward gait. As she approached her sensitive ears picked up the sound of running water, it appeared Bon Bon was currently using the facilities.

Upon reaching the bathroom door she dithered around for a moment, she was not sure of the protocol in this situation having never had to share in this way before. Her sense of propriety insisted that she wait rather than cause a fuss, but judging by the sound of the water hammering down like a waterfall within the neighbouring room her landlady could be some time. Octavia crossed her hind legs and tried to think of something else. As she had been assigned to Ponyville to report to Cadence on the towns musical culture she felt she should start a survey of that music, maybe question some of the locals. She could visit the farms that ringed the town itself, she knew a downpour was scheduled for this afternoon but she could visit at least some of them before the rain began to hammer down from the sky forming temporary rivers of liquid, flowing...

Giving a little whimper of discomfort Octavia began to trot backwards and forwards. How much longer would Bon Bon be? The persistent sound of water behind her continued, seeming to burrow into her mind, becoming her whole world. Almost out of her control her hoof shot up and rapped smartly on the door. “Bon Bon!” she cried trying to keep her voice under control. “How much longer are you going to be?”

For a moment she wondered if the cream mare was ignoring her, then she finally heard a reply. “Just a few more minutes Octavia.”

“Please hurry,” she replied desperately, not sure if the other mare heard her. She once again tried to clear her head, to focus on music. There was a new tune she was trying to master well enough to play for Cadence’s sun rise. It was an interpretation of a spring morning, the feel of plants pushing through the earth in musical form. The feel of those plants rising up to try and touch the sun, leaves drenched in early morning dew rolling off their leaves and splashing onto the ground below... oh dear.

Octavia’s situation was almost at a level where she was willing to throw away her dignity and find herself a bucket when the door finally opened and Bon Bon stuck her head out wiping her two tone mane with a thick towel. “I’m sorry I took so long, there might not be much hot water left I’m afraid.”

Octavia rudely shoved past the chatty mare and slammed the door behind herself before rushing towards the toilet.

“You’re welcome,” mumbled a somewhat shocked Bon Bon staring at the door as she absently continued to towel off her mane.

My little pony...
Ah ah ah...
(My Little Pony)
Friendship sounded so off-key to me.
(My Little Pony)
But now you're here, and now I see...
A loyal backing
Honest melodies!
Songs to share
With loving harmonies!
Joyous dance --
Such a lovely feat --
And magic makes the perfect beat!
You are my little ponies...
Friends make the best music of all!

“I’m sorry about the bathroom,” said Bon Bon as Octavia made her way down to breakfast. “I’m not used to my lodger being up so early, most ponies aren't unless they have to be.”

“I like to rise early to play for the princess when she raises the sun,” noted Octavia. “I get up even earlier come mid-summer.”

“The Princess! She was here?” said Bon Bon her eyes flicking around the room as if Cadence was suddenly going to pop out from the bread bin shouting ‘surprise!’.

Octavia sighed, “I mean I play in tribute, although I have had the honour to play in the princess’s presence as she carries out her duties on a number of occasions.” She straightened and allowed herself a moment of pride for her hard won skills.

“Oh, well I have to get up early to prepare my stock for the day, some of my treats keep for a while but others have to be made fresh each day. Maybe we could work out some sort of roster for the bathroom?”

“That might be just as well, although I am paying for the use of the facilities,” Octavia cringed a little as the words left her mouth, she hadn’t meant to sound quite that harsh.

If she was offended Bon Bon didn’t show it. “I made you breakfast,” she said pointing at a plate piled high with pancakes dropping gooey syrup.

Octavia felt her mouth water, it looked so good but she was probably gaining pounds just looking at it. She shook her head exercising her will power. “No thank you, I am afraid I will have to pass. I have a balanced diet, to keep me in perfect shape for my craft.” She compared her own form with the somewhat plusher Bon Bon. “I will be having oats this morning.”

“Are you sure? It doesn’t hurt to treat yourself now and again.”

“I am sure, thank you,” said Octavia scowling a little. She took a bowl and spoon from a drawer and a box from cupboard before half filling the bowl with oats, she stared at it for a moment before returning a small amount back to the box before packing it away.

“Not in there,” announced Bon Bon. “Make sure you put it back where you found it, I have a system.”

Octavia frowned, “Really?” she said sitting down to her breakfast. When she had first tried to cook she had found the ingredients and implements to be scattered all around the kitchen with no order she could make out, she had meant to get round to rearranging them to make more sense.

“Oh, yes. Ask me where anything is.”

Octavia took a mouthful of oats and thought for a second. “Flour?”

Bon Bon closed her eyes for a moment. “General flour, second cupboard along third shelf up third package from the left, a full bag. Self raising, fourth cupboard bottom shelf furthest on the right, a quarter of a pack left. Teff flour, under the stairs, fourth shelf behind the salt.”


Bon Bon rolled her eyes. “There are over a dozen types of sugar in this kitchen, care to be a bit more specific?”

“Um, demerara?” Octavia didn’t know that many types of sugar even existed.

“First cupboard, second shelf in the middle, not much left, oh the delivery was late again I’ll have to get some more from somewhere,” she mused. “Like I said I have a system. All the ingredients I need for my most common recipes are kept in the same place,” she said with a smile.

“Very well I will make sure to return things to the position I found them in,” said Octavia testily taking her bowl over to the sink to clean, she subtly opened one of the nearby cupboards, there was the flour just as Bon Bon had mentioned, even the amount was the same as she described. She dried the bowl and put it in a nearby cupboard with the rest, behind her Bon Bon made a noise in her throat. Octavia closed her eyes and tried not to grind her teeth. “Where does it go then?”

“Well you were close but there are already a dozen bowls in there so it goes next to it.” Octavia opened the relevant cupboard and added it to a slightly shorter stack. “Thanks!”

“I shall be off for a jog this morning,” said Octavia. “I intend to have a look around town and maybe arrange to interview some of the locals about their musical skills.”

“Ok, maybe you could try the Ponytones, they’re a local group, or your friend Bluenote must know most of the local musicians. Oh, or maybe you could try Sweet Apple Acres, Applejack holds dances there each month. Wait a minute and I’ll draw you a map.” The cream mare grabbed some paper and a pencil in her mouth and started to scribble away.

“There really is no need,” noted Octavia.

“Not a problem,” noted Bon Bon spitting out the pencil.

Octavia took the map, it seemed to consist of a number of symbols seemingly placed at random, she couldn’t make head or tail of it. Her confusion must have shown on her face at Bon Bon moved next to her and started to point them out. “This is here, so I drew a sweet and that’s Rarity’s place so I drew a dress and that’s the library so I drew a tree.”

“Because books are made out of trees?” asked Octavia raising an eyebrow.

“No silly, because the library’s in a tree.”

Octavia frowned she had noticed a large tree near the town centre during her previous trips through the town but she had not considered that it was an actual building. Tree dwellings had been somewhat of a fashion almost half a century ago now but the time and effort required for even the most talented earth ponies to make them meant that they remained rare. It appeared that the town had at least one of them. “Thank you,” she said politely, “I will see where my hooves take me for the moment but those seem good ideas. I shall be off now.”

“See you later,” said Bon Bon with a wave as Octavia headed out of the house. She looked at her own empty plate and the pancakes she had made for her boarder, there was no sense letting them go to waste, she thought digging in.

Octavia took a deep breath of the fresh air outside the house. She couldn’t believe how picky Bon Bon was being, it was only kitchen supplies after all, what did it matter if the flour was in the wrong place? It was not like a few seconds extra to find something would be disastrous. The white mare was being far too possessive of unimportant ingredients. Anyway all the fuss had made her several minutes late, she would now have to pick up the pace if she wanted to keep to her schedule. Maybe she should consider different accommodations, there had to be other places to live in this town. She could keep an eye out while she was jogging. Although she had spent several days in town she was yet to visit much of it, despite its small size. In a way she found it unnerving, her previous homes had been in large cities and although she had tended to cloister herself away from company she had been aware that lots of other ponies were around. Here in Ponyville even in the town centre there were less ponies than she was used to.

Octavia’s train of thought was suddenly derailed as a green blur rushed into the periphery of her vision. “Morning!” cried Lyra causing Octavia to jump. The mint unicorn seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

“Gh.. Good Morning,” said Octavia trying to keep her racing heart under control, it was probably halfway to Sweet Apple Acres already despite the rest of her body not having started jogging yet. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, I was in the area, just going to make sure Bon Bon got this demerara sugar, the delivery was late and my lady is almost out, she can’t make some of her sweetest treats without it.” Lyra was carrying a large brown package in her aura.

“How do you..?”

“I keep track of everything she makes. Could you put it in place for me? It’s the first cupboard, second shelf...”

“In the middle,” finished Octavia taking the box, her face a picture of confusion.

Lyra smiled widely, “You picked up her system! It’s really easy once you get used to it isn’t it? Her last lodger never bothered to learn it, she was always putting things away in the wrong place.”

“Last lodger? What happened to her?” Maybe she was driven away by Bon Bon hogging the bathroom, thought Octavia.

“Oh she wasn’t nice at all,” said Lyra a dark cloud passing over her perpetually sunny face. “She wasn’t right for Bon Bon, didn’t appreciate her breakfast pancakes, even took advantage of her. In fact she almost left town owing Bon Bon quite a bit of rent. Just as well she had a change of heart at the last minute and came back to apologize, and pay what was due.” Lyra’s smile was just a little brittle making Octavia feel a little nervous. “Anyway, after you take the sugar in is there anything you want to do? I’ve got nothing planned this morning.”

“Why don’t you take it in?” asked Octavia. “I’m sure Bon Bon would appreciate it.”

Lyra looked down, “I am not yet worthy to openly send gifts to my lady, it might seem like I’m trying to buy her affections rather than doing it out of the power of my burning love.” She looked up with doe eyes. “Please do it for me!”

“Very well,” said Octavia sighing at her friend’s behaviour and quickly popped back into the house. Bon Bon had her back to her and was working on some sweet or other. She was whistling rather off key, which caused her lodger to flinch slightly. Octavia was just placing the package in the right place when Bon Bon noticed her.

“Oh, the sugar, did the delivery arrive?” she asked.

“Um, I don’t know I just found it outside,” said Octavia, it wasn’t exactly a lie.

“Maybe I missed it, oh well, thanks for bringing it in.”

“You are welcome,” said Octavia as she returned outside.

“Thanks,” said Lyra. “Now what do you want to do this morning?”

“Well, I have been meaning to explore the town and maybe meet some of the other musicians that live here to start my mission for Cadence.”

“Oh, I can help you with that!” said Lyra enthusiastically. “I will accept this quest and not rest until you have seen every corner of Ponyville and have met every one of its inhabitants. Follow me, Ponyville’s such a lovely town, particularly on a nice morning like this one...”

Morning in Ponyville shimmers, sang Lyra as she and Octavia trotted through the streets
Morning in Ponyville shines,
And I know for absolute certain,
That everything is certainly fine,
There's the Dentist en route to her office, she nodded to the professional who responded with a wide smile to the show off her glimmering teeth.
There's the sofa clerk selling some quills,she playfully bounded over to the stallion and threw herself onto a large chaise lounge bouncing a few times before leaping off again and carrying on down the street. Octavia galloped along behind the prancing unicorn “Wait, what? Why would the sofa clerk...“

“Octy, you're breaking the rhythm!” complained Lyra before continuing her singing.

My Ponyville is so gentle and still,
Can things ever go wrong?,
I don't think that they will,
Morning in Ponyville shimmers, getting into the song Lyra grabbed hold of a street lamp and began to spin around. “Wait Lyra, is that safe?” called Octavia running to keep up with her friend.
Morning in Ponyville shines, continued Lyra ignoring the warning.
And I know for absolute certain, she released her grip on the lamp and her momentum threw her into the air.
That everything is certainly... and slammed into a white coated unicorn who had just staggered around the corner knocking both of them flying in a random collection of legs.

This town is full of crazy ponies!

View Online

“Vinyl! Lyra!” cried Octavia seeing her two friends collide and rushing over to try and help them.

“Wow Lyra,” gasped Vinyl her glasses askew and her limbs intertwined with Lyra’s. “I thought you only had eyes for Bon Bon. I know I’m sexy but you don’t have to jump me.”

Lyra gave her friend a quick squeeze before untangling herself. “You might not be my lady but that doesn’t make you any less huggable Vinyl.”

Both of the unicorns picked themselves up and checked themselves over, there didn’t seem to be any serious damage. “How was your concert Vinyl?” asked Octavia politely.

“My rave in Canterlot was awesome Octy. Big Club said we should talk about giving me a monthly set, his cousin’s a record producer so I might have an in there. I went out to celebrate, then things got a little fuzzy. I remember dancing on a table with a pair of really skinny unicorns, brothers I think, they really knew their magitech. But hey I seem to have made it back here so everything's worked out fine.”

“Do you need a hoof to get your equipment back to your home?”

“Well,” said Vinyl awkwardly rubbing the back of her head. “It was a really awesome rave and most of it didn’t survive.” Octavia looked shocked, she couldn’t comprehend even damaging her instrument on stage, let alone destroying it. “Hey, it gave its life in the service of the wubs, and I know how I can make the next batch even better.”

“You really should take better care of your instruments Vinyl!”

“Anyway,” said Vinyl changing the subject. “Why were you leaping all over the place Lyra, finally worked up courage to talk to Bon Bon?”

“It is not time for that yet. I have taken on a quest to show Octavia around town and introducing her to the ponies living here,” said Lyra.

“Ponywatching eh, I can dig that, Ponyville is a cool place. Follow me,” she began to trot through the streets towards her home while breaking into song.

Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as, sang Vinyl as she swaggered through the marketplace.
Ponyville.sang the farmers and traders putting out their wares.
And you can find anything you want if you take a route straight through what is known as
The flower mares are scaredy ponies they even get intimidated by the dark cloudsshe gestured at three earth pony mares, two pink, and one white who were setting up a display in from of a flower shop while keeping a nervous eye on a solitary storm cloud approaching them.
They’re afraid of everythin’the cloud let out a loud rumble causing the mares to leap into the air and run for cover letting out matching piercing screams A blue mare with a rainbow mane emerged from the cloud and began rolling around on it laughing loudly.
That’s our weather manager up there... you should cut down on your pranking Dash... Do your job! scolded Vinyl with a smile

All the ponies
So many ponies
They all go hoof in hoof
Hoof in hoof in the town of Ponyville

Know what I mean, Vinyl gave a large yawn.
I get up when I want except some days when I get rudely awakened by Red Tape, She nodded at a middle aged white unicorn stallion with a red mane walking purposefully towards the town hall who scowled back at her.
I put my shades on, have a cup of coffee and I think about leaving the house, a small herd of foals ran towards the school house, shouting and screaming at each other. Not paying attention to what was going on a blue unicorn filly with a purple mane failed to notice as a cart rumbled towards her its driver chatting to his neighbour.
I help the foals, I sometimes help their teacher too, it gives me a sense of enormous well being, Vinyl’s aura yanked the foal out of the way just in time and gently dropped her at the hooves of the fuchsia school teacher who glared down at the foal before looking up at Vinyl who winked at her causing the mare’s coat to redden slightly.
And then I'm happy for the rest of the day safe in the knowledge there will always be a bit
Of my heart devoted to

All the ponies
So many ponies
They all go hoof in hoof
Hoof in hoof in the town of Ponyville


The trio bypassed a cordoned off street where workponies were still fixing some of the damage caused by the twin tyrants only a week ago now.

It's about living in this community you know
And it's not just about you joggers who go round and round and round
Ponyvillechorused the workers.

All the ponies
So many ponies
They all go hoof in hoof
Hoof in hoof in the town of Ponyville

All the ponies
So many ponies
They all go hoof in hoof
Hoof in hoof in the town of Ponyville

“So yeah, I like this town it’s got some spirit,” said Vinyl as they stopped outside of a strange building, it looked rather like an egg with a bulge near the top on one side. “Some fun ponies live here.”

“So you’ll help me show Octy about?” asked Lyra.

“‘Fraid not, I’m knackered.”

“You’re tired? But it is still early!” exclaimed Octavia. “The Princess has only just raised the sun.”

“Not to me, it’s only just time for me to go to bed, I didn’t get any sleep last night. You still want to be shown around town in about ten hours I’m your mare. Till then good ‘night’,” said Vinyl entering the building and closing the door.

“She keeps some strange hours,” noted Lyra casually.

“I just do not know what to make of that mare,” muttered Octavia. “She lives in that building?”

“Wait until you see the inside, it will blow your mind. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and Ponyville is very spicy,” said Lyra with a grin, “We have all sorts here.”

Octavia looked up as a shadow fell across her. The sky was full of clouds scooting here and there. She frowned, she hadn’t thought rain was due until the afternoon. Looking closer she noticed that the majority of the work was being done by a single pony, the weather manager Rainbow Dash apparently making up for her earlier prank by getting the job done a fifth quicker than was needed. For a moment Octavia admired the blue mare’s work then she noticed a small grey spot gently floating down towards the ground, it resolved itself into a pegasus mare with a blond mane and tail streaming out behind her. The mare bobbed and weaved around the clouds as they shot past, it almost looked like Dash was aiming them directly at the new arrival, but seemingly without effort she avoided them, by mere inches in many occasions. Her movements were almost balletic.

“Who is that?” asked Octavia pointing.

“That? Oh, that’s Ditzy Doo, she’s one of the local spices.” said Lyra. “Hey, Ditzy, down here,” she cried waving a hoof.

The grey pegasus turned towards Lyra and waved back, bobbing to avoid another rain cloud then flipping over a second before inverting herself to dodge a third.

“Why is Dash doing that? Another prank?” asked Octavia.

“Not quite, both Dash and Ditzy want to be in the Wonderbolts, they’re very competitive about it. Ditzy’s got nothing on Dash’s speed but Dash can be a little clumsy while Ditzy’s so graceful. They keep trying to outdo each other, pushing themselves to work harder and harder.” She lowered her voice, “Personally I think they should just kiss and be done with it.”

Octavia raised an eyebrow at her friend giving relationship advice.

“Morning Lyra!” came a cry from above as Ditzy approached, she seemed a little out of breath. “How are you?”

“I’m fine. How’s Dinky, no more nightmares?” Lyra sounded concerned.

“No, thank the princess. Your bedtime stories seem to have done the trick. I never would have thought tales of the twin tyrants would have helped her nightmares about their return, but they seemed to have done the job.”

“Well a good story doesn’t just tell you about monsters, it reminds you they can be beaten.”

“Oh, hi,” said Ditzy turning to face Octavia, one of her eyes locked onto the earth ponies face while the other seemed to rotate around almost causing the earth pony to flinch back. “You’re Octavia aren't you? I’m Ditzy Doo, mailmare and future wonderbolt, I guess I have you to thank for saving us from the tyrants.”

Octavia shifted a little uncomfortably, a few locals had approached her about this while others remembered what she had been like before Nightmare Moon and Burning Sun had turned up. “It wasn’t me alone, Ms Doo, I have all my friends to thank as well.”

“Oh, I’ll get round to them soon enough, and its Ditzy not Ms Doo.” Suddenly Ditzy staggered forwards as she was hit from behind by a lump of cloud hurled by Dash from above. Some of it disintegrated throwing gobs of water over Lyra and Octavia.

“Dash!” squealed Lyra her mane sticking to her face.

“Sorry! But Ditzy’s fat flanks were too big a target to miss,” said the weather manager.

“I’ll show you fat flanks,” cried Ditzy wiggling the aforementioned body parts, in the air a flush grew over Dash’s cheeks. The mailmare grabbed one of the surviving lumps of cloud and threw it up the blue pony.

“To slow!” cried Dash as she sidestepped to avoid the projectile.

“Wait for it,” said Ditzy with a grin. The ball of cloud ricocheted off a larger cloud sending it drifting into a third which floated up behind Dash just as she was gathering up another hoof full of sky cotton. It gently bumped into the weather manager releasing a loud rumble of thunder causing Dash to leap into the sky with a loud ‘eep’.

Ditzy stuck out her tongue. “And that’s why I’ll be first into the Wonderbolts,” she boasted.

“You certainly seem skilled,” said Octavia, not entirely sure what to make of the strange mare in front of her.

“Thanks, I’ve wanted to join them since someone first told me it would be impossible. Now excuse me I have to teach Dash another lesson.”

“As if,” cried Dash from above, having recovered her composure, “I’ll fly rings around you.”

“You can try!” said Ditzy as she floated into the air.

“You’re on!” yelled Dash rocketing towards her rival.

“Should just kiss,” noted Lyra shaking her head as she smiled at the playing pegasus above.

“Aren't you worried that the weather manager spends her time playing tricks on members of the public and fighting with the mailmare?” asked Octavia.

Lyra thought for a second. “No. The weather still gets done, and Dash never really hurts anyone. Rose and the girls would get bored if they didn’t get a shock every so often.”

“It just doesn’t seem proper to me,” said Octavia stiffly.

Lyra shrugged. “It’s just the way Ponyville is. We do things a little differently around here. Maybe it’s something to do with the Everfree or just because we’re small but we’ve always been a little less, uptight, than other towns. I’m sure you’ll love it once you get used to it.”

“Maybe,” said Octavia feeling uneasy, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to get used to such chaos.

After an hour of Lyra showing her about Octavia felt like her head was spinning. She had been introduced to pony after pony, seemingly more than the town could comfortably hold although she had a feeling she might have met some more than once, unless the town contained a number of doppelgangers. She was shown around numerous shops and stalls some with very strange inventories, scrolls and hoes, screws and shrews (why anyone would want to purchase a rodent was beyond Octavia, although they were rather cute), cutlery and cupboards. When asked about this Lyra had mumbled something about tax breaks before dragging her into another shop.

“Can we stop for a moment?” asked Octavia as Lyra began to drag her into yet another building. She was used to strenuous jogging but for some reason she found this flitting between ponies and places more tiring. “I think I need a few moments to rest my hooves.”

“Of course,” said Lyra, “Maybe we could stop for a snack or a drink?”

“That sounds nice,” said Octavia looking at a nearby cafe slightly longingly, a nice calming cup of tea sounded very appealing.

“I know!” announced Lyra dragging Octavia in the opposite direction. “Sugar Cube Corner!”

For a moment Octavia’s legs locked and she flashed back to the auditory assault she had suffered at Vinyl’s hooves the last time she had entered the building. She tried to calm herself, the DJ would be fast asleep by now. She didn’t have anything to be afraid of...

“Here we are! Pinkie Pie works here you know.”

Or maybe she did.

“Her employers, the Cakes, are nice enough. A little deranged, but nice enough ponies.”

“Deranged?” asked Octavia worriedly, by the standards of this town they must be really bad.

“Yes, they have this strange delusion that their paltry cakes are better than Bon Bon’s sweet works of art. I find it best to just humour them,” said Lyra airily as they entered the building.

“Hiya girls!” cried Pinkie piercingly as they entered the shop. The pink mare was standing behind the counter and had just finished serving a now rather shell shocked looking brown earth pony stallion. “What can I get for you?” Seemingly without moving she was over the counter and standing only inches from Octavia her eyes looked like they were stretching from their sockets. The grey mare staggered back.

Pinkie was suddenly catapulted into the air as her hind legs twitching wildly. “Oooh! A party!” she squealed. Her left ear flapped excitedly followed by her right eye spasming. “Aww! But I’m not going to organise it,” she said dejectedly, her tail spun around like a corkscrew and she perked up. “Ooh, well I’ll organise part of it, and a party is still a party.”

Octavia looked on mouth open in shock. “Wha.. what?” she stuttered.

“Don’t mind Pinkie, she’s;” began a rotund blue mare with a swirly pink mane as she trotted in from the back of the shop.

“Pinkie,” said a tall thin yellow stallion following her with a tray of donuts on his back.

“Welcome to Sugar Cube Corner;”

“Ms Philharmonica,” continued the pair, Octavia’s head flipped back and forth between them.

“We are the owners of Sugar Cube corner, Cup cake;”.

“And Carrot cake. We are honoured that you are;”

“Gracing our humble shop with your presence. May we offer you a sample.”

“Of our goods?” said Mr Cake kneeling to present the freshly baked donuts to Octavia. She licked her lips a little nervously, she really shouldn’t but they did smell nice and her stomach rumbled quietly. Maybe one wouldn’t hurt, and they had offered so politely.

“Thank you,” she took one of the offered treats in her hoof and took a bite enjoying the warmth of the batter as it entered her mouth. The doughnut was sweeter than she was normally used to but the texture was just right. She swallowed, “This is very nice,” she said politely.

Mrs Cake smile proudly. “Now as the bearer of the element of honesty, would you say;”

“That it’s better than anything Bon Bon has served you?”

“Err.. Well I...” started Octavia sweating a bit as the two older ponies looked on expectantly.

“Of course she wouldn’t,” interjected Lyra. “As you said she’s honest, Bon Bon’s sweets are clearly much better. Isn’t that right Octy?”

“Well, you see...” Octavia’s eyes darted from side to side as she looked for a way out without upsetting anypony, they came to a stop on a clock, “Look at the time, I really must be going if I want to see the rest of the town before this afternoon’s rain,” she said before bolting for the door. The whole of this town really is crazy, she thought. Lyra blinked for a moment before following her friend.

“Come back;” said Mr Cake waving a hoof.

“Soon,” completed his wife.

After her rapid departure from Sugar Cube corner Octavia set course for the farms surrounding the town with Lyra still in tow. She recalled that Bon Bon had mentioned that Sweet Apple Acres hosted regular dances, although she couldn’t grasp why such formal gatherings would take place out here, and had used that excuse to persuade Lyra to leave the town. In fact she was more interested in the journey rather than the destination, as frazzled as she currently felt she thought that a gentle trot through the countryside would soothe her nerves and it did seem to be doing the job.

By the time she reached the gates of the Sweet Apple Acres she felt almost equine again. However, to her displeasure the farm itself didn’t seem to be the haven of peace that she hoped it would be.

“It just ain’t natural I tell you,” came the raised voice of the farms green matriarch Granny Smith.

“But Mrs Smith I can guarantee that this will increase your apple harvest by at least 10%,” said an orange mare waving a beaker containing some discoloured liquid. A complicated looking set of goggles rested on her head. “Just let me use it on a small part of your holdings and I can prove its benefits.”

“I’m sorry Carrot Top,” said Applejack standing beside her grandmother. “You know how I feel about your ‘science’ stuff, it just ain’t the way I’m going to run the Acres. If you want to use this stuff on your own farm that’s fine but I don’t want it on mine. Oh, mornin’ Octavia, Lyra.” She nodded at the visitors as they approached.

“Oh, Miss Philharmonia. I didn’t see you there,” said Carrot Top turning to face Octavia. “I was just trying to get Applejack to try my latest invention.”

“Invention? Miss..” she asked.

“Oh, sorry, I’m Dr Carrot Top, I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I work here in Ponyville trying to find new ways of improving crop production.”

“There ain’t no need for new ways to grow things, there’s nothing wrong with traditional methods, we don’t need your fancy ‘science’” said Applejack with a scowl.

Carrot Top sighed. “You already use science Applejack, where do you think you're pesticides and weedkillers came from? Or some of your breeds of apples? It’s not all smoking beakers you know.”

“What is it you are working on at the moment, Dr Top?” asked Octavia.

“I am studying the farming methods used locally,” explained Carrot Top. “I’m trying to find out why they work, then make them better.” The orange pony stood tall as she got into her stride. “I’m also working on new ways of growing crops, methods nopony has ever tried before, hydroponics, the science of growing plants in a liquid medium, controlled mutation, new uses for earth pony magic. The other tribes may look down on us, no offence Lyra, but I know earth pony magic can be just as powerful as the mightiest unicorn and I intend to prove it. Simply increasing the growth of crops is the merest tip of the carrot.” She reared up on her hind legs, holding out the flask, “Behold! Earth magic in liquid form!”

Octavia took the proffered beaker looking rather unsure, “What exactly is it Doctor?” she asked.

“As you know earth ponies such as ourselves generate a magical field which aids the growth of plants. This is a more targetable form of that power.”

Octavia uncorked the beaker and took a cautious sniff, it did have a certain earthy scent to it.

“You see I collected certain of my excretions...”

Octavia’s eyes widened. “Excretions!” she gasped holding the vial as far away from herself as possible and turning a greenish colour closer to Lyra’s than her own natural coat colour.

“Oh no it’s not like that, this contains a sample of sweat. There’s no need to worry,” said Carrot Top taking the flask back. “It has been sterilized, purified and concentrated. Why you could even drink this, if you wanted to.”

“Not that anypony with a lick of sense would,” muttered Applejack looking disgusted. “Look Carrot, I know using this stuff up here would be a powerful boost to you, lots of the other farmers try to copy us but we both know your place isn’t big enough to have tested this stuff properly.”

“And that is just why I need you, I’m selling at below cost so I can get more data on its effects.”

“So you don’t know what it does, it could make our trees grow legs and walk for all you know.”

“I have carried out all the tests I can, and it is highly unlikely that that would happen... again,” she admitted.

Octavia backed away from the arguing farmers, maybe visiting the farm hadn’t been such a good idea after all. As she retreated her hind quarters collided with something hard and warm and with a little unladylike cry she missed her hoofing and toppled to the ground

She looked up at the thing she had collided with, and up and up. Past unshaved fetlocks, past legs as thick as tree trunks, past a heavily muscled chest (it took quite some effort to get past that part), up to a lightly freckled crimson face, framed by a shaggy blond mane, looking down at her with a concerned expression on its handsome features.

Octavia had been trained from an early age by some of the finest tutors money could buy to always be proper and to speak with correct diction. Her every utterance was carefully crafted to get across precisely the meaning she intended with the minimum of effort. “Whaaaa carvuk,” she muttered tongue lolling out of her mouth.

“Big Mac!” cried Applejack turning to her brother as Granny Smith and Carrot Top continued to argue. “Look what you’ve gone and done you clumsy gallute, help that poor girl up.”

Turning an even darker shade of red the titanic pony (he must be as tall as the princess, thought Octavia, maybe even taller), held out a hoof and gently but with no apparent effort lifted her back to her hooves, her skin tingled where he touched her. Avoiding eye contact he looked aside shyly. “Sorry Ma’am,” he muttered.

“Are you alright?” asked Applejack brushing off Octavia’s coat.

“I.. I am my fine, thank you, very fine,” murmured the cellist unable to take her eyes off the red stallion in front of her.

“This is Big Macintosh, Applejack’s brother,” noted Lyra with a smile, noticing her friend’s preoccupation.

“Big Macintosh... yes, very big.”

“He should be more careful,” snarled Applejack causing her brother to back off a few steps.

“No, no, the fault was entirely mine, I was not looking where I was going,” said Octavia finally managing to look away.

“Sorry,” rumbled the stallion again the sound reverberating from somewhere deep in his chest almost seeming to enter Octavia through her hooves rather than her ears. “Guests,” he said pointing at two ponies approaching from the gate. A tan earth pony mare with a grey mane was being followed by a white unicorn stallion with red mane.

“Well then bring them up here then,” said Applejack.

Big Mac shuffled his hooves nervously. “Got work, ploughing,” he mumbled.

“Fine!” sighed Applejack. “I swear your darn shyness is going to be the death of you one of these days. Git, I’ll see them up here.” Applejack trotted over to her guests and started to talk with them.

“I should be off as well,” said Carrot Top. “I have other farms which might be interested in the farming of the future.”

“Eeyup.” Nodding thankfully the stallion started to turn and, after giving Octavia a quick appraising gaze, or at least she thought he did, he turned and began to gallop away mighty flank muscles propelling him quickly into the fields.

The view was even better going than coming thought Octavia lustfully before shaking herself, a blush beginning to spread over her entire body. She felt a little stab of jealousy as Carrot Top set off in the same direction as him.

“Nice isn’t he,” whispered Lyra. “He’s no Bon Bon, but well nopony else is.”

“I do not know what you mean,” said Octavia trying to regain her composure.

“Of course you don’t,” grinned her friend.

“Ah Lyra,” said Ivory Scrolls the Mayor of Ponyville with a smile as she approached the group escorted by Applejack. “Granny Smith, Miss Philharmonica,” she gave a slight nod to Octavia her features otherwise blank. During her few meetings with the Mayor over the last few days Octavia had gotten the distinct impression that Ivory had not forgiven her for her actions prior to the equinox, and with good reason, Octavia’s behaviour had been atrocious. The official had not said anything out loud but her interactions had been decidedly icy. “I don’t think you have met my assistant before,” she continued gesturing at the middle aged stallion standing just behind her. “This is Red Tape.”

“Please to meet you Mr Tape, I am surprised I did not see you at the equinox celebrations,” said Octavia.

“Ah, well you see..” began the stallion.

“I am afraid Red worked rather too hard preparing the celebrations and made himself ill. It was unfortunate that much of his work ended up being wasted,” said Ivory pointedly. Octavia shuffled a little uncomfortably.

“It was just a touch of flu,” explained Red looking awkward.

“I didn’t know you were sick Red,” said Lyra.

“Well it wasn’t much,” the stallion pulled himself up to full, not entirely impressive, height, compared to Big Max he looked like a stick figure. “The Doctors decided to keep me in for a few days just to make sure.”

“Oh if I’d known I would have visited.”

“Really?” a large smile spread over his face. Was there something between him and Lyra thought Octavia absently.

“Oh yes, I’d do the same for anypony in town.”

“Oh,” said Red deflating, “Of course you would.”

“Anyway,” said the Mayor clearing her throat. “It is fortunate that I found you up her Miss Philharmonica. I had meant to talk to you earlier but I needed to confirm something with Applejack here.”

“No problem Mayor, as I just told you Sweet Apple Acres will do all it can to help Ponyville,” said Applejack.

“Thank you Applejack. Now it has been brought to my attention that many of the town feel that the bearers of the elements, yourself included Miss Philharmonica, have not been properly thanked for their actions in the defeat of Nightmare Moon and Burning Sun. So I have agreed to arrange a formal event so that the townsfolk can show their appreciation of your actions.”

“Formal nothin’,” crowed Applejack, “We’re going to have a Hoe down right here at the Acres, next Saturday night. I’m going to invite all the family that can make it in time and the whole town and more as well. It’s going to be the biggest party in the history of Ponyville since it was founded I reckon.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Granny Smith her eyes a little unfocused. “That party were really somethin’.”

“So were going to have to work real hard to top it then.”

“A true knight of Equestria needs no such reward,” noted Lyra, but her eyes shone bright. “Still I would love to take part in such a legendary party.”

All eyes turned to Octavia who allowed a gracious smile to cross her face. “I would love to be a guest at your ‘Hoe Down’ Applejack, it is an honour that the ponies of Ponyville want me to attend,” she gave a little bow to the mayor who responded in kind a little unwillingly. At least this was something she knew about, as a daughter of nobility she had spent enough time at formal dances and parties that she knew just how to behave.

“That’s great!” enthused Applejack. “I’m sure you’ll be happier than a pig in mud at the dance.”

“I am sure I will,” agreed Octavia with a little distaste. “What is a hoe down anyway?” she whispered to Lyra.

Unlucky in love

View Online

“So a hoe down is a type of music?” asked Octavia. It was several hours later, upon hearing about the celebration in their honour she and Lyra had visited all of their friends with the good news, now they were all gathered around a table at Fluttershy’s house, the vet having generously offered it as a meeting place. Even Medley had been persuaded to take a long lunch, shutting up her shop for a while. Outside the afternoons scheduled rain had begun to fall and meant that few ponies would be keen on shopping.

“Well technically it’s a fiddle tune played in fast 2/4 timing,” said Bluenote. Octavia raised her eyebrows in surprise, the music teacher had never seen particularly knowledgeable on such things before. “Hey don’t look at me like that, I studied music as well you know. I didn’t sleep through all the classes!”

“But here it’s just what we call a barn dance, the Apples host them once a month,” said Fluttershy.

“A ‘Barn dance’? Doesn’t Ponyville have a proper dance floor?” asked Octavia.

“Actually we do, but the Apples barn is bigger, and it’s traditional to hold them there,” said Medley.

“Yeah,” said Vinyl lifting her head from the table and taking a slug from a fizzing can she had brought with her. Octavia had spent twenty minutes hammering on her door before she had roused the DJ to come to the meeting. “They even let me hold my larger raves there, they’re good ponies.” She slammed the can down and a few drops splattered on the table where they hissed and smoked.

“What is that stuff?” asked Octavia staring on in horror.

“I don’t know what’s in it, Carrot Top makes it. I call it ‘Wake up juice’, it’s got me through a lot.” The beverage seemed to be doing its job as the DJ was sitting up straighter.

“I think it really is nice that the town wants to honour us in this way,” said Fluttershy looking nervously it the damage Vinyl’s drink was going to her table. “But they really didn’t have to, there are so many better causes they could hold the dance for.”

“I don’t know,” said Lyra accepting a sandwich from Fluttershy’s pet rabbit, Angel, who was hopping around serving the guests snacks. “I don’t think we should be getting rewarded for just doing our duty, but a celebration in our honour does sound nice. Maybe they’ll release dozens of white doves or scatter our path with flower petals.” She gazed into the distance for a moment.

“Uh, I don’t think they’ll go quite that far,” noted Medley. “Just a dance sounds fine.”

“Well there’s normally food as well,” pointed out Bluenote. “The Apple’s sure can cook, even if the menus a little limited. You can do a lot with apples, but sometimes you feel like a pear or two. A pair of pears so to speak.”

“So there will be some sort of formal banquet as well as dancing?” asked Octavia ignoring Bluenote’s silliness.

“Well less a formal banquet, more a buffet, but that’s more or less right.”

“Well I have received significant tutoring in dance at home and further instruction at the Princesses school, on occasion at Candence’s own hoof.” She smiled for a moment thinking back to her schooling, although Viola had always been the better dancer in the family she was still skilled in the area. “Although I do not know the exact style of dance expected, surely it cannot be that different from a waltz or foxtrot, although a little faster from what you say Bluenote. Maybe you could give me a few lessons on the exact style?”

“I’m not the dance expert here, I’m afraid,” said Bluenote with a shrug. “I’ve not exactly got four left hooves, more like three, maybe three and a half. It’s Medley you want to talk to about dancing.” Octavia turned to the pegasus in surprise.

“You don’t have to look so shocked,” grumbled Medley face darkening. “My music is all about natural rhythm and most dances are the same, letting yourself go with the flow of the music and the other dancers.”

“I am sorry but I find it difficult to picture you at such a well, frivolous activity.”

“Hey, I may work hard, but once the day is done I can play hard as well.”

“Yeah, you should see her when she lets it all out,” Vinyl whistled. “Mothers lock up your sons and daughters.”

“I’m not that bad,” scowled the teal pegasus.

“You are once you’ve had a few in you, you can’t hold your booze. Remember last Hearth’s warming eve? How you got Caramel and Rose to the top of the town hall I’ll never know.”

“Anyway,” said Medley hurriedly changing the topic, “You might find the hoe down is a little different to the types of dances you’re used to.”

“Really?” Octavia sounded nervous, she wouldn't want to embarrass herself in front of the whole town, and one particular pony especially. “Would it be possible for you to tutor me? I can pay if you want.”

“Keep your money, you’re my friend, I’d like to help you.” Medley considered for a moment. “I have a few hours free this evening, once the shop closes.”

“Thank you Medley, I would not want to embarrass myself at an event in my own honour.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry Octy,” said Lyra. “Most of the ponies there won’t be expert dancers, it’s just a bit of fun after all.”

“Still, I feel I have to at least have adequate skills in this endeavour.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to impress somepony? A certain stallion?” said Lyra with a grin.

“I do not know what you are talking about!” said Octavia quickly her face beginning to colour.

“What’s this? Octy’s interested in somepony?” said Bluenote with interest.

“I think she’s rather taken with a certain big red stallion up at the Acres,” said Lyra her eyes twinkling with fun.

Vinyl whistled, “Wow, Octy you’re setting your sights high there, half of the mares and a fair number of stallions in town would give their hind legs for a shot at Mac. I don’t think he’d ever dated before.”

“He went out with Dash a few years ago,” noted Medley.

“Well that was more like she went out with him, I don’t think he had any say in the matter. He was probably too shy to say anything to her.”

“I don’t know, he’s got an interest in things from outside of Ponyville and she’d just arrived from Cloudsdale. Plus he wasn’t shy that time you and him were dancing in that fountain,” said Bluenote.

“Oh, I found his weakness all right,” said Vinyl with an evil grin. “About a hogshead of hard cider. He’s a lot less shy once he’s liquored up.”

“I would not want to get him drunk just for him to dance with me,” said Octavia.

“I never said you would. Why, is there some reason you’d want to loosen up his inhibitions?” Vinyl waggled her eyebrows.

“I think Big Macintosh is a very nice pony,” said Fluttershy, “But, errr, I wouldn’t think he would be your, err, type Octavia. I thought you might be more interested in, well high class ponies, rather than, well Mac? But of course it’s none of my business.” She hid her face.

“Yeah, you just looking for a bit of rough?” asked Vinyl.

“I.. I have to admit to a certain attraction to ponies who are not afraid to get their hooves dirty. Some of my peers can be rather boorish. But I do not currently have time for a suitor and my.. my previous attempts at romance have not been very successful.”

“Have you seen the new gardener, sis?” asked Viola pouring a glass of lemonade. “What a hunk! I could watch him ploughing for hours.”

It was summer and Octavia had returned from Canterlot to visit her family for a few weeks. It had been several years since she had first joined the princess’s school and although it cut into her practising time it was nice to see them again, even if her sisters often teased her. She would have preferred to spend her time practicing in her own room but it was high summer and the temperature was sweltering, the conservatory was much cooler but even here it was warm enough to cause her to sweat as she ran through a new tune on her instrument.

“Don’t you have a coltfriend?” asked Melody raising an eyebrow.

“Who? Jet Set? No, we broke up last week, he was such a bore.” She dropped a few ice cubes into the glass before resting it on a silver platter.

“What no mourning period?” said the eldest sister with a raised eyebrow.

“Got to strike while the iron’s hot and this one sure is hot, hot, hot. Hey Tavi!” cried Viola to her younger sister. “Want to come out into the garden, the view sure is nice today.”

Pausing in her practicing Octavia looked at her older sisters. She had to admit she was somewhat curious about the new member of staff, she had heard her mother admit to one of her friends that the temperature wasn’t the only reason she had taken to working from a desk in the garden recently, apparently she liked to admire the view as well. She couldn’t understand what her sisters saw in colts, after all they had cooties, didn’t they? “Very well. Maybe a breath of fresh air will help my concentration.”

Carefully packing her instrument into its case Octavia slung it over her back staggering slightly. Over the last year her body had suddenly decided to stretch itself almost an extra foot in height, there were some advantages, she could better hold her instrument now but she was still getting used to controlling her now lanky body. Straightening herself she followed Viola out into the gardens, behind her Melody trotted along intrigued by her sister’s description of the new help as well.

The grounds of the Philharmonia estates stretched for several acres in all directions and required a sizable staff to keep in order. The youngest member of the team, about the same as Melody, was standing only a short distance from the house with his back to the sisters as they approached. He was a large dark green earth pony stallion with a long blond mane currently plastered to his head with sweat. As they watched he was struggling to move a new sculpture into position, every one of his many muscles stood out, from his thick neck to the solid slabs of his flanks, as he used all of his considerable strength to shove the marble block into place. Suddenly with a final burst of energy he slid the statue onto its plinth.

“Wow!” gasped Melody her eyes wide as dinnerplates.

“Uh, hu,” mumbled Viola almost drooling.

Octavia, forgotten by her older sisters, found her hind legs suddenly weakening and her plot slammed into the ground as a whole herd of butterflies erupted in her stomach and the temperature seemed to rocket, causing her to break into a sweat. Suddenly she decided that maybe cooties weren’t that bad after all, she wanted, no needed to get a closer look at the new employee.

“All that work must give him quite a thirst don’t you think?” said Viola. “Now I’m sure he’d be appreciative if somepony brought him a cooling lemonade. Oh, look I just happen to have one with me.” She grinned.

“Give me that!” said Melody trying to dislodge the drink from Viola’s back. “As the heir apparent, it falls to me to see to the needs of our staff.”

“That’s your excuse for everything, you don’t have to tidy your room because you’re the heir apparent, you shouldn’t have to spend as much time with the tutor because you’re the heir apparent. I saw him first, he’s mine!” said Viola stepping aside and placing the tray on a table for safety.

“That’s not fair!” complained Melody, “I’m older.”

“Well I’m prettier,” said Viola sticking out her tongue.

Octavia frowned at her quarrelling sisters for a moment, she’d like to talk to the gardener as well, for some reason the thought of him smiling at her, grateful for his drink, made her feel sort of squirmy, in a strangely good way. Apparently unaware of the sisters antics he had trotted over to a hose pipe and with a quick turn of the tap had begun to spray himself with the chilled water, it ran in rivulets across his chiselled body and Melody and Viola quickly forgot their disagreement as their eyes locked onto the scene in front of them. Screwing up her courage Octavia snuck past her stunned sisters and took the tray onto her back, if somepony was going to take him a drink it was going to be her. She tried to remember her posture teacher’s lessons and trotted as gracefully as she could into the garden trying not to spill a drop of her cargo. Her nervousness only increased as she approached the gardener but she felt drawn on. She came to a stop only a few feet away him, he noticed her and turned, his mane flaring out throwing small droplets of water in all directions.

“Hi little one,” he said in a slow deep voice. “Is that for me?” His face broke into a huge grin revealing a mass of gleaming white teeth.

Octavia stood staring for a moment as a blush broke out over her whole body. She opened her mouth but found to her horror she seemed entirely unable to speak. She froze for a moment before closing her mouth again and nodding vigorously.

“Thanks,” said the stallion reaching over and taking the glass before pouring it down his throat in a single gulp. Octavia found her attention drawn to a single droplet of water as it rolled down the curve of his flank and slowly flowed down his leg, for a moment she wanted desperately to be that drop.

“Aaahhh! That hit the spot,” he gasped, returning the glass to the tray. “Thanks little one. I’m Tap Root, what’s your name?”

Octavia struggled to drag her gaze back to his face. She had to actually think for several seconds before she could work out the answer to his riddle. “Oct.. Octavia,” she stuttered.

“Nice to meet you Octavia. I don’t think I’ve seen you out here before.”

“No, practising,” she managed to say.

“Practising what?” he asked.

“Music!” she squeaked.

“You play an instrument?” he asked. She nodded animatedly. “I love music, would you play for me?”

Her eye’s widened and her ears stuck straight up, she suddenly wanted to show him her skills more than anything else in the world, even playing for the Princess would pale in comparison. Not replying she scampered off to her case, sitting between her two rather jealous looking sisters, and quickly extracted the instrument within.

The handsome stallion lay down in front of her as she prepared her cello. Still giving her nasty looks her sisters sat down one each side of Tap Root, significantly closer than would normally be considered proper, although the gardener did not complain.

As she prepared her cello she noticed that Tap Root looked less than infused. A tiny trickle of panic started to well up in her but she pushed it down, she knew she was a great player she would impress him with her skill and he’d want to spent more time with her. Trying to control her breathing Octavia brought up her bow to the strings and... her mind went completely blank. She could not think of a single composition, not even a single note she could play. Sweat started to bead on her brow, for a moment she wanted to run but then almost out of her control her limbs started to move sliding over her instrument with a precision built by hour after hour of practise. She couldn’t even remember what the piece was called just how to play it and she put her all into doing just that.

Finally the music came to an end and Octavia slumped slightly, drained by the energy she had put into her performance. She blinked and looked up, her sisters set there looking stunned and between then still sat Tap Root a slight frown crossing his face. A frown!

“Wow! That was very nice,” he said. “I’m not much for old music but it was very good, I just thought you’d play something a bit more modern.”

How could he not like it! She had poured her whole self into that music, it was perfect. The music had been perfect, in that case there must be something wrong with her, she was not good enough. “I... I am sorry, I will have to practice more,” she said hollowly before turning her back on the gardener and lugging her cello back into the house. After a few moments her sisters pursued her, congratulating her on her performance, the gardener forgotten for the moment.

Octavia spent the remainder of the summer hard in study, hardly leaving her room except to eat and spend time with her family, trying to improve herself enough to get Tap Root to notice her again. She occasionally caught a glance of the gardener through the window but never worked up the courage to talk to him again. The next summer she didn’t return home instead staying in Canterlot. She never saw the gardener again.

Octavia shook herself out of her recollection, her friends were looking on in concern, her face must has betrayed her feelings as suddenly she was engulfed as Lyra drew her into a deep hug. “Don’t worry there’s somepony for everyone, Octy.”

“Than.. Thank you Lyra,” said Octavia gently prising the mint unicorn off of herself, “But I am quite content, how could I not be when I am surrounded by such good friends?”

Practice, Practice, Practice

View Online

“I hope I am not too early?” said Octavia as she walked into Medley’s music shop.

“A little,” said the blue pegasus peering out the window to examine the homemade sundial set up outside. “I’m not due to close for another ten minutes.”

“It doesn’t look like you are very busy,” said Octavia looking around the empty shop.

“Business has picked up a bit, saving the world helped, and you never know anypony could arrive in the next few minutes. I’d hate to shut early and force somepony away.”

“Very well, I will just browse for a few minutes then,” said Octavia turning to the shelves of instruments. “I must say that you do have an excellent selection given your limited space.”

“I can at least play the scales on each of them as well,” said Medley puffing her chest out with pride.

Octavia looked up and down the shelves. “That is most impressive.”

“Well there’s no point in selling an instrument you don’t understand, how else could I explain it to my customers? And I owe it to them to be able to tell them all they need to know to look after their purchase.”

“Most admirable.”

“Thanks,” said Medley giving a genuine smile for a moment before checking the clock again. “Closing up time,” she announced giving a little sigh. Octavia frowned slightly she couldn’t help but wonder how her friends business was doing. Should she purchase something? She had no need of extra supplies at the moment but Medley could no doubt use the money.

“Come on out back,” said Medley as she flipped the sign at the door around, “We’ve got a few hours of light left.”

The two ponies trotted through the back of the shop past the stairs leading up to Medley’s living space above the shop and out into the yard itself. Medley’s aeolian harp, the element of loyalty, was protected from the elements by a small tent and had been shifted to the side to open up just enough room for the two ponies to move freely. The grass was cut short and still damp from the earlier rain. Octavia feared that her friend might have been grazing from her own lawn, she hoped Medley wasn’t forced to fall back on that poor a fare. Maybe she really should purchase something from the store.

Medley looked around the area. “Yes, that should do,” she noted. “Right now the Hoe down has a range of different dances, square dances, lines dances, contra, sometimes even swing.”

Octavia nodded. She had heard of these styles although did not know much about them, come to think of it she was starting to realise how limited her understanding of different musical styles actually was. She knew almost everything about classical but very little on her friend’s styles, she would have to question them more about them later.

“Now,” continued Medley, “The main thing about the dance is that they’re controlled by a ‘caller’ it’s a bit like a conductor she announces what moves will be used and in which order. There’s not really a fixed dance just a set of moves what you carry out as the caller directs so each dance is a bit unique. Applejack is normally the caller up at the Acres, she’s good at it, always wants to be in charge I suppose. I’ve always wanted to have a go myself actually. Princess help you if Granny Smith gets a go, she uses names for the steps that noponys heard of and in orders nopony’s considered, you either end up tripping over each other or looking amazing, sometimes both at once.”

“This sounds rather complex, are you sure I will be able to master it tonight?”

“Master it? I’m hardly an expert myself, but I should be able to run through the basic steps with you and let you try them out.”

“Will that be sufficient? We will be guests of honour.”

Medley sighed, “It’s just a bit of fun, a chance to let our manes down, if you get it wrong then nopony will care.”

“Are you sure, it does not seem right to put anything less than my all into this.”

“Well if you want to practice at home you can. Look do you want to start tonight or not?” the blue pegasus sounded exasperated.

“I am sorry, thank you again for agreeing to be my teacher.”

“That’s all right, now we’ll need is some music,” said Medley. She briefly went back to her shop only to return with a record player perched on her back. She lowered it to the ground and set up a small windmill next to it before attaching the two together. She carefully adjusted the blades before rising into the air and summoning a stiff breeze with a few flaps of her wings. “Vinyl helped me make this thing,” she said with pride. “I’m sure it’ll be a big seller once I’ve ironed out all the bugs.” She picked up a record, the sleeve had a picture of a stallion with a very intricately styled mane on it, and placed it carefully in the player before starting up the device. The record began to turn, powered by the windmill, and the tinny warbling of a stallion complaining about a heart defect could be heard.

“What is that noise?” complained Octavia lowering her ears.

“Blue-ray Citrus, of course,” she stared at Octavia’s blank face. “You’ve never heard of him?” She picked up the record sleeve and gave it a hug. “I had the biggest crush on him when I was a filly. I saved up all the money I got for chores for a whole year to be able to go to one of his concerts. It was one of the best nights of my life, it felt like he was singing to me alone. I snuck backstage after it was finished, I even managed to make it to his dressing room. Then I saw it.” She shuddered. “His mane just sitting there on his dressing table, it was a wig! I was so heart broken.”

Octavia couldn’t help chuckling. Medley glared at her for a moment then her face softened. “Well it was a long time ago, now let’s get down to work.”

“Ok, well most of the dances require partners, and from what Lyra said you’ve got one in mind.”

“I... I believe she might be mistaken, although Mr Macintosh is a fine figure of a stallion, very fine, I have no interest in becoming romantically involved,” she wondered if she should still say things like that now that she was the bearer of the element of honesty, she hadn’t been struck down so she assumed small falsehoods were allowable.

“But you would still like to dance with him?” asked Medley with a smirk.

“Well, yes,” said Octavia lowering her eyes and blushing slightly.

“The size difference might cause a few problems, he is rather large or so I’ve heard, but I’m sure you’re... accommodating enough to deal with that;”

Octavia’s eyes shot up again and narrowed, she wasn’t sure if Medley was teasing her or not.

“Anyway, I’ll act as the caller and your partner for these examples, normally they’re be four or more couples dancing at once but we can work around that. Ok, now the first move we’ll work on is the Do-si-do, you just circle your partner back to back, make sure you get far enough away to stop your flanks colliding.” Medley walked carefully around Octavia, “You can crane your neck to watch your partner if you want, but it doesn’t look as good.”

Octavia tried to copy her friend’s movements but misjudged how long her body was, bumping into her. Her second attempt was better.

“Good, now we’ll move on to the Gypsy, I’m sure you’ll enjoy that if you can get Mac to be your partner, now you rotate around your partner gazing into their eyes...”

The next few hours flew by quickly for Octavia, Medley ran through several dozen different moves explaining their names and how they might be linked together. Finally as the sun was just starting to sink beneath the horizon they ran through some sample dances putting the moves together. Here Octavia found it hard going, partially she still had difficulty remembering the names of the moves, getting her Star Through mixed up with her Box the Gnat, but mostly she had difficulty with the improvised nature of the dances. It was like playing a piece without knowing the score. She could improve in her own music, of course, but she had never been a fan of it, how can you do your best when you don’t know what is coming? And at least if she was improvising she would normally have some idea in mind, here she was in the hooves of someone else making things up as they went. Medley apparently didn’t have this problem.

“There’s always a sort of current to a dance, the caller can’t help it even if they try to mix things up,” she explained. “Ponies are just like that. It’s like a storm or a river, they might look chaotic but there’s an underlying rhythm, you just have to look closely to find it. Once you find it everything becomes easy.”

“I will try,” agreed Octavia her brow furrowing, she didn’t really understand the concept.

“I think we should call it a night,” said Medley looking up at the moon as it was raised into position in the sky. ”I have to get up early for a delivery tomorrow.”

“I am sorry for having taken up your time, but would it be possible to do this again tomorrow? I don’t think I have everything down yet.”

“The dance is only two days away now, you’re not going to be perfect.”

“Still, I do want to get as good as I can. Please!” begged Octavia.

Medley sighed, “Ok, I’ll see you again tomorrow at the same time. I’ll see if I can put together some more sample dances.”

“Thank you,” said Octavia with a bow.

“How are your dance lessons going?” asked Bon Bon. It was the next day and Octavia had returned early from her morning jog, the shop wasn’t due to open for a while.

“This style of dancing is more complicated than I’d imagined,” said Octavia. “But I have made some progress, I have another lesson tonight.” She frowned, “How do you know about that?” Was her landlady spying on her?

“Bluenote came around while you were out last night, we got talking and she mentioned it. Most of the town will be going to tomorrow’s dance, me included. I’m not very good but if you want to practice some more I’ve got some free time tomorrow.”

“Thank you, I may take you up on that offer.” She noticed a strip of cloth beneath a pile of washing. “Is that one of my bow ties?” she asked. “Have you been in my room?” she asked suspiciously.

“Well yes, they don’t get clean by themselves you know and you just leave them lying on the side,” replied Bon Bon sounding annoyed.

“That is so the servants can... can...” she closed her mouth, as her eyes widened. There were no servants here, just Bon Bon. She began to blush, “Is cleaning my room and clothes in our contract?” she asked her voice small. It hadn’t occurred to her to check the agreement before signing it, she’d never had to do that sort of thing before.

“Well no, but I don’t mind really,” the flicking of her tail showed the lie in the statement.

Octavia thought about her room, each day she’d found it cleaned and the bed clothes made. She’d just taken it for granted, it was just something that happened by itself. In her family estates and at the princess’s school there had been servants for such menial tasks. She had prided herself in her tidiness compared to many of the students, but still she had expected her rooms to be cleaned for her. And without payment, without agreement, Bon Bon had just taken on that role, she felt shame welling up in her belly. “Bon Bon, I am... I am truly sorry I did not think, I...”

“Hey that’s alright, I know this must all be different to what you’re used to, right? Look if you want me to keep cleaning your things we can work something out, increase your rent by a bit.”

“No! No, I must learn how to do things like this for myself. All my life I have expected others to look after me. Now I am supposed to be making friends and part of that should include learning how other ponies live and how to help them. I have taken advantage of you and I need to make amends, I will... I will clean my own things and your things as well,” she looked around the room blankly.

Bon Bon waited for a moment. “You don’t know how to do you?” she asked with a gentle smile.

“No,” squeaked Octavia, she didn’t think she had ever felt so embarrassed.

“I’ve got a while before I have to open up so I’ll show you. You’re in luck, it’s only last week that we stopped using rocks down at the stream...” she joked.

After Bon Bon showed her how Octavia spent the morning doing the laundry, it was harder than she expected, she gained a certain appreciation for the servants who had previously had to clean up behind her. It took several attempts until she had reached her own exacting standards of cleanliness. She was just about to head out into the garden to get some further dance practice in when she passed Bon Bon coming out of the back of the shop front.

“I’m going downstairs to work on a new recipe, the early afternoon’s normally quite quiet so I’ve closed up for a few hours,” she explained.

“Why not use this kitchen?” asked Octavia looking confused.

“I do most of my experimental work downstairs, it’s got some more specialised equipment,” she said mysteriously. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

Shrugging Octavia went into the garden to carry out her practice.

The next few hours passed quickly and Octavia found the day to be unexpectedly hot, the weather patrol having used up their cloud supply in yesterday’s downpour. Or possibly in playing games with each other, though Octavia. She found she had worked up quite a lather and returned to the house in search of a cooling drink. She had just finished when she heard a rhythmic hammering sound from the shop. Frowning Octavia tracked the sound towards the front door, there was still no sign of Bon Bon. Opening the door she looked down to see a light blue unicorn filly with a yellow mane. “I am afraid the shop...” began Octavia.

The filly zig zagged past Octavia’s legs and into the shop before looking excitedly from jar to jar.

“DO YOU HAVE ANY LEMON DROPS?” yelled the foal almost shocking Octavia off her hooves.

“Err, I think so,” said Octavia spotting a container of the yellow treat, her ears ringing.


“If you give me a moment I will get Bon Bon,” she turned to the door then stopped. The mare must still be busy if she had not returned and probably didn’t want to be disturbed, Octavia herself hated being interrupted when practising and Bon Bon was probably the same. Besides how hard could it be to serve sweets? Bon Bon had been tidying up behind her all week, maybe she should return the favour. “Actually I will be able to help you,” she said reaching for the jar, it had the price per ounce on the front. Octavia started to run through the maths as she started to measure out the sweets when a further two foals entered, a grey filly with glasses and her pink friend with tiara on her head. Octavia cursed herself she had forgotten to close the door again. Both of the filly’s blinked at the grey mare for a moment, obviously expecting Bon Bon.

“I’ll have a box of chocolates, my daddy says I can have anything I want because I aced yesterday’s test,” announced the pink filly.

“Just a moment, I am serving this customer,” said Octavia starting to sweat, she had only expected a single customer.

The filly opened her mouth to reply when the door opened again and a white filly entered, then an orange pegasus, then a pale grey pegasus colt and finally a grey unicorn with a blond mane. Octavia’s eye widened as more and more foals started to fill up the shop, the local school must have just turned out for the day. The door opened again and even more foals spilled into the room. They all started to talk at once demanding various treats and calling to each other. One reached up to a jar over balancing to, Octavia rushed over and just caught it before it could spill onto the floor. “Be more careful,” she admonished but the child was already sticking his snout into another jar.

The door opened once more and to Octavia’s joy her friend Lyra entered carefully stepping past the heaving mass of foals. “Octy what are you doing here?”

“I was trying to help Bon Bon, but this has gotten...” she began trying to make herself heard over the sound off all the foals.

“QUIET DOWN!” came a cry from the back of the shop. Octavia turned to see that Bon Bon had returned. The herd of foals seemed to freeze for a moment and all eyes turned to the shop keeper.

“Good, now line up and you can all get what you want quicker,” she continued commandingly.

Suddenly the chaos abated and the children, and Lyra, formed a reasonably straight line stretching from the counter to the door with only the minimum of shoving, mostly from Lyra as she tried to position herself closer to Bon Bon.

“What were you going?” whispered Bon Bon.

“I was hoping to help you out as you had been helping me,” muttered Octavia eyes downcast.

“Well that was nice of you, but retail work isn’t as easy as it seems, you just can’t take over like this,” she hissed then her face softened. “I suppose it’s not all your fault I lost track of the time. Now,” she turned to the crowd of foals, and Lyra who was trying unsuccessfully to push past the pink filly, who was apparently stronger than she looked, “Who’s first?” she asked out loud.

With Bon Bon’s organisation the foals, and Lyra, were soon dealt with and the shop closed for the day, the shopkeeper did a quick count of the daily takings and popped the money into the small safe at the back of the shop before turning to Octavia. “You really didn’t need to try and do that you know.”

“I am sorry I was trying to help you...” then she thought back to the time in the Everfree when she had tried to guide her friends despite her lack of skill. “No, that is not correct. I was trying to make myself feel better. I apologize, I tried to make this all about me rather than thinking about what you would truly want. I am sorry for having been such a pain.”

Bon Bon looked at her strangely for a moment. “That’s all right, no harm done I suppose. You’re actually better than some of the lodgers I’ve had.”

“No, I do not take into account others feelings, I put myself first. That has recently cost me the friendship of somepony close to me.” Her thoughts turned to Pageturner, she wondered where the mare was now, she hoped she was well.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. If you were that bad you wouldn’t have cared that I was cleaning up after you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were cleaning up after me?”

“Well I knew you were just settling in and you probably aren't used to things like this and it just seemed such a little thing, I didn’t mind.”

“You are too kind.”

“That’s what mum always says, that I let ponies walk all over me. But you know what? You saved the world last week, I think you deserve a break.”

Octavia smiled at the statement then looked up at the clock. “It is time for my dance lesson,” she said. “Thank you again for all the help you’ve given me.”

“That’s all right, I hope it goes well.”

“Right, so have you had much of a chance to practise since yesterday?” asked Medley. She and Octavia were once again in her yard after she had shut up her shop.

“A little,” said Octavia shuffling her hooves. “But not enough. I am afraid I have been busy today.”

“Doing what?” asked Medley a little harshly.

“I had some cleaning to do and I took it upon myself to help Bon Bon in her shop, it did not turn out that well.” For a moment she thought Medley might be angry she had wasted her time.

“Fair enough,” said the greenish mare. “I’m glad to see you’re not obsessing about this dance. Now what shall we try this evening?”

“I was having some difficulty remembering the names of the moves, maybe we should go through those again and then maybe we could try a complete dance or two?”

“Very well, let me just set up this thing again,” she started to prod the record player and its windmill power source. She flapped her wings a few times but the blades remained obstinately immobile. “Still a few kinks to work out,” she growled before picking up a screwdriver in her mouth and started to adjuster something.

Octavia looked on with incomprehension, she hadn’t a clue how the device worked. “How did you get into dancing?” she asked to have something to say.

Medley spat out the tool and prodded the blades with a hoof. “It was just something my family did for fun. We were never very well off. Not that we were poor,” she said defensively, “We just didn’t have many spare bits. We couldn’t afford to go to the theatre or the like, but dancing is cheap so the whole estate would gather together, everypony would bring some food to share and we’d have a dance and a sing song.” She sat back, lost in her remembrance for a moment. “That’s what dancing always means to me, community, being part of something greater than yourself. Like I said yesterday dancing has rhythms and flows of its own. So many ponies moving together all becoming part of something bigger, I like it. Plus I find it a good way to blow off steam and have a laugh,” she looked up at Octavia, “With my friends. I entered a few competitions back then but it wasn’t for me.” She twiddled the windmill again, this time it moved freely. “Ah, success! Right let’s get down to work.”

The pair of them once again ran through the various moves, this time Octavia was more confident. Her experience with holding her instrument meant that she was used to moving about on her hind legs which helped her with some of the more difficult moves, although she found it difficult to loosen up in some of the quicker and closer moves. However, her real problems were not in the individual moves but in putting them together into a full dance.

“You keep trying to second guess the caller,” said Medley grinding her teeth in annoyance.

“I thought that was what I was supposed to be doing? Sensing patterns?” replied Octavia her cheeks colouring a bit.

“Yes, to an extent, but you keep doing what you think is best rather than what you’re being told. Look the caller is like the conductor, you’d do what you were told as part of an orchestra wouldn’t you?”

“Well yes but I would still know what I was going to play, the tempo or timing might be changed a little but not the whole score.”

“What about cadenzas? They’re improvised, and if they’re good enough to be named after the princess...”

“That is not the same, they are solo sections. I can improvise by myself, it is guessing what somepony else will do that I find difficult. I do not know their capabilities and preferences in the same way as I know my own.”

“You’re trying to think it through too much, don’t think about what’s going to happen just keep loose and go with the flow,” suggested the shopkeeper gracefully leaping into the air with a flap of her wings before landing and converting the movement into a pirouette past Octavia.

“I will try, should we start again?”

Medley looked up, the sun had set and the moon was high in the sky. “I think we’ve had enough for tonight.”

“But the dance is tomorrow, and you yourself have said I still have problems.”

“You’re good enough, it’s only a social dance, it’s not like you’re be scored on your skills or anything.”

“There is no such thing as ‘good enough’” she stamped her hoof. “You must always strive to be the best.”

“Octavia!” growled Medley warningly.

“I am sorry,” said Octavia her ears drooping, “It is just, this is important to me.”

“I know, and I understand your sentiments. Ponies say I take things too seriously sometimes, but this is just a dance, you’ll do fine.”

For a moment it looked like Octavia would keep arguing but she stood down. “Thank you for your training.”

“That’s alright. I’ll see you tomorrow, Lyra popped around earlier she and the other girls thought we’d come round to your place before the dance so we could go together as it’s all in our honour.”

“That would be very nice I will see you there.”

“Yeah, and stop worrying, everything will work out.”

“I am sure it will,” said Octavia, but she didn’t sound convinced.

The sweet shop was dark by the time Octavia got home, it appeared that Bon Bon had already gone to bed. To her surprise there was a note from her landlady noting that she had put aside some food for her in the panty. Expecting to find something piled high with calories Octavia was surprised to find a light salad that would near perfectly match her diet. She felt her eyes mist a little as she eyed it, whatever had she done to deserve Bon Bon’s friendship? This small act of kindness was perfect and matched her needs whereas when she tried to help Bon Bon she couldn’t help but mess it up. Why couldn’t she be better at this?

Quickly chewing her way through the greens Octavia crept up to her room and prepared for bed, but sleep was not forthcoming. She lay awake for several hours tossing and turning. Her mind refused to quiet, visions of how the whole town, and a certain red stallion in particular, would see her humiliation at tomorrow’s dance, how they would know that she did not fit in. That she did not deserve to live among them. She had treated them all so badly at the equinox, had put her needs above theirs and assumed that she was right and they were wrong. And despite all that she had found friends, true friends, willing to forgive her and now it seemed the whole town was willing to put her slights behind her. How could she accept such gratitude if she couldn’t even put her all into their dance?

She couldn’t! Throwing aside her sheets she rolled off of the bed landing on the floor with a slight thud. She had to perfect her dancing even if it took all night, and she couldn’t do it alone. She would need help.

“Medley!” hissed Octavia as she hammered on the music shop door. She looked around to see if she was disturbing anypony else but the town seemed quiet, nopony was in sight.

“Medley!” she repeated.

With a scraping sound the window above her head opened and the pegasus’s sleepy head popped out covered by an old fashioned sleeping cap. “Whaz’it?” slurred Medley with a yawn.

“I need your help.”

“What? Did the sisters turn bad again or something?”

“No I need more dancing lessons, I have to get it all right!”

“This again! What time is it?”

“It is about midnight.”

“Go talk to Vinyl then, she’s probably up.”

“Can she teach me how to dance?” asked Octavia hopefully.

“I’ve never seen her at a hoe down but she dances at her raves, well throws herself about in a rhythmic fashion, which is almost the same thing.”

“No I need to be able to dance at the hoe down. Please!”

Medley heard the desperation in her friend’s voice and with a sigh flew through the window and landed next to her. “Why are you taking this all so seriously?” she asked.

“I need to show Ponyville that I’m willing to change, willing to put in the effort to fit in with it. To be part of its community.”

“Community, eh,” sighed Medley. She stood there for a few moments looking Octavia up and down. “I must be mad,” she mumbled. “Fine, let me get some coffee and I’ll meet you out back.”

“Thank you, thank you!” cried Octavia joyously as she rushed towards the back of the shop.

“Crazy, totally crazy,” muttered Medley as she watch Octavia go.

Medley met up with Octavia in her back garden a short time later, clutching a steaming mug of coffee, she almost wished she could borrow some of Vinyl’s wake up juice but she knew from previous experience when she’d tried to finish a rush order that that stuff gave her the runs. The grey mare was already working on some of the moves she had been taught. Medley started to set up a few firefly lanterns around the area to they could see what they were doing, she decided against music this time, she didn’t want to wake her neighbours, she’d just have to count out the beat instead. She looked up longingly towards her bedroom and the rapidly cooling bed within then gave a sigh. “Ok, let’s try to keep this short. We’ll run through a version of the Neighdon Races first, so we start by chasseying...”

The night drew on and Octavia continued to insist that they practice the dance moves again and again to make sure she could do them perfectly. Although she did improve slightly fatigue quickly ate away at her gains and her moves became sloppier and sloppier finally the inevitable happened as she and Medley were do-si-doing their hindquarters collided and Octavia stumbled landing painfully on one of her knees, she let out a cry of pain.

“Are you alright?” asked Medley worriedly.

“Stupid dance!” shouted Octavia before clapping a hoof to her mouth. “It’s hopeless, I can’t get this right. I’m going to go to the dance and get it all wrong and everypony will laugh and say how I don’t fit in and how I behaved atrociously when I first got here and the Princess will send me away and I won’t have any friends anymore,” she began to sob.

Medley paced on the spot for a moment her face a picture of awkwardness. Hesitantly she stretched out a wing and gently rested it on Octavia’s back. “Look I’m not very good at this sort of thing, back home we’re not big on sharing our feelings, maybe I should get Lyra or Fluttershy?”

Octavia leaned against her friend tears starting to fall. “It’s just all so different, I don’t know how anything works and the ponies are so strange and I don’t know how to wash clothes or make beds or anything.”

Medley frowned for a moment then smiled. “You’re home sick, I understand that. I’m from Lancantershire its half way across Equestria;”

“I thought I recognised the accent, my mother knows your count,” sniffed Octavia.

“Well, when I first came to Ponyville it all seemed so odd to me as well, I didn’t know anypony, they did things differently. When I came to get my small business licence I was in a queue for hours and I got so worked up by the time I got to the front. Now in Lancashire mayors assistants normally wear cravats for some reason, tradition or something,” she waved a hoof in the air vaguely, “And you know how the mayor likes those things. So anyway I got into the office and she and Red Tape were there so I stomped up to Red and began to rant about how hard it was to get anything done, Ivory tried to get a word in but I yelled at her to get me some coffee. You know what she did?”

Octavia shook her head.

“She got me some coffee, then politely told me I was talking to the wrong pony. I was so embarrassed, I just wanted the air to open up and suck me away, but you know what happens when I meet her now? She always gets me coffee. Ponyville is a really friendly place, a little too friendly sometimes, but most of them don’t hold grudges.”

“But I could humiliate myself at the dance,” said Octavia getting to her hooves and drying her eyes.

“Then you’ll humiliate yourself, like I said nopony will care. Even if they do laugh then you’ve got me and Lyra and Vinyl and Fluttershy and Bluenote to have your back. When I first arrived here I went to a dance, I didn’t know anypony and most of the moves turned out to be different to what I was used to, but they took me in and showed me how it’s all done. Like I’m showing you now. Don’t worry.”

“Thank.. thank you Medley. I am sorry for being so silly, I am rather tired and distraught.”

“Don’t mention it. Really don’t, I’m not very comfortable with this sort of ‘emotional’ thing.” She stuck out her tongue for a moment. “It’s probably a good idea if we both get some sleep, the dance is tomorrow, well today now.”

“Yes, that is probably a plan, but can we please go over the moves one last time?”

Medley sighed, but held out an arm to Octavia. “Ok, let’s try the Lucky Seven again.”

The Dancers all in place

View Online

Octavia awoke to a beam of light shining directly only her face through a crack in her curtains. For a moment she tried to bat away the distraction but the photons remained annoyingly unaffected by her flailing hoof. Then she realised what the light meant, the sun was up! Rushing to her hooves she threw open the doors to her balcony. Below her a view of Ponyville opened up with a smattering of ponies going around their daily business. Up above her sun was well along the way in its journey across the sky. She had overslept, the sun must have risen hours ago, she had missed playing for the princess! She tried to calm her racing heart, such an occurrence was rare but not entirely unknown, indeed last year there had been an entire week she had been unable to perform due to illness. This understanding didn’t make the matter any more distressing though, she would have to try extra hard in her performance tomorrow to make it up to the princess. The thought almost made her laugh, it was unlikely that the princess was even aware of her habit although that made her no less worthy of her efforts. Her thoughts turned to Medley, she had kept the pegasus up so late last night and no doubt she would want to open her shop today as normal. She would have to apologize and thank her once again for her kind words as soon as she had the chance.

Worry about tonight’s dance still gnawed in her guts as she showered, but it had somewhat abated. She recognised that her fear was largely unfounded but it was still there. She considered spending the rest of the day practicing her dancing but she felt against the instinct it would just heighten her anxiety and she was probably as good as she could be given the situation and that the dance would now only be a few hours away. She had previously found that further practice would likely be counterproductive beyond maybe an hour or so. Maybe she should spend the intervening time helping Bon Bon?

After spending time making sure her sheets were straight again Octavia trotted down stairs to try and find her landlady. As expected she was in her shop, however she waved away Octavia’s offer of help. So instead Octavia decided to mostly focus on practising her cello which she neglected beyond an hour or two a day for the last few days due to her focus on dancing. She found slipping into her old habits helped to calm her and the hours slipped away without her noticing. She realised that he had left herself little time to prepare for the hoe down, time even further reduced when she found that Bon Bon was also preparing to go out so she would once again have to wait to use the bathroom. In fact her mane was still wet when her friends arrived.

With all of them gathered together Octavia’s room was very crowded in fact the pegasi had to remain hovering very near the ceiling to allow their earth bound companions space to move. Most of her friends had clearly dressed up for tonight’s event. Fluttershy looked stunning as always in a red and white checked gingham dress with both her silky mane and tail platted into pig tails. As she tried to force her own damp mane to cooperate Octavia felt a burst of jealousy at how well behaved the activist’s hair was. Bluenote was wearing a plain white dress and fancy boots on all of her hooves but attention was drawn from most of her clothes to her hat. It was a Stetson, similar to applejacks but an eye watering hot pink in colour and easily three times the size. Vinyl had forgone anything to cover her body and was only wearing a Stetson tightly tied to her head and although it was of normal dimensions it was a fiery red with her spiky two tone mane sticking out from under it. Lyra’s dress was huge, taking up almost as much space as another pony, it was mostly peach with a pink bodice made of silk. Only Medley was completely naked although she had made some effort, her normally curly green mane and tail having been straightened and platted. The pegasus didn’t look any the worse the wear for her late night.

“Is there some sort of dress requirement for the hoe down?” asked Octavia worriedly after seeing her friends outfits.

“Not really,” said Bluenote, “Although most ponies at least make the effort to dress up a little. Why what were you planning to wear?”

“I only have my formal sari,” said Octavia with drawing the black cloth item from her cupboard, “I rarely bother with anything more extravagant.”

“What’s a Sari?” asked Medley poking at the dress.

“It’s a Cheneigh dress made out of a single piece of fabric wrapped around a pony,” piped up Fluttershy.

“That is correct,” said Octavia. “I did not know you were conversant in such things.”

“Oh, well, I sort of make my own clothes,” she explained. Octavia examined the pegasus’s outfit closely, it did appear homemade, Fluttershy must have not insignificant skill in that area.

Her friends milled around as Octavia carried out the complicated task of wrapping and folding the sari around her, although long experience made the task easier than it looked. When she was finished she admired herself in the mirror, turning slightly to note how the dress accentuated her curves. Not that she was worried about such things, it was just that if a certain red stallion happened to see her dressed like this she hoped he would appreciate what he saw.

“Oh, that makes you look so beautiful Octavia,” said Fluttershy.

“Very nice,” agreed Vinyl. “But it’s missing something,” she mused.

“Well um, I made this for you,” said Fluttershy reaching into her saddle bag and retrieving another Stetson. This one was made of a soft felt and was pure white with its sleek edges covered in silver braid around the edges.

Octavia took the offered item of millinery and tried it on her head, it fitted perfectly and stood out amongst her black mane. “Thank you Fluttershy, this is a very kind gift. I will wear it with pride.”

“Oh, it’s nothing really,” squeaked the butter coloured pegasus. “I made one for Medley as well.” She withdrew a second hat from her bags, although in the same style this one was made of thicker more practical material and a plainer brown in colour. “I know you can’t normally afford anything fancy to wear to these dances,” she began.

“It’s not that I can’t afford it, it’s that I don’t need fancy clothes,” huffed Medley although her eyes ran over the hat. “It is nice, but I can’t accept your charity. Maybe you can sell it at the market and use the proceeds for one of your causes.”

Fluttershy seemed swayed for this argument for a moment but she rallied. “Oh, it’s not charity, its... it’s a reward. A reward for helping to defeat the twin tyrants, you worked really hard dealing with those kelpies in the Everfree and you deserve something for that.”

“Well maybe, I did have to do a lot of fighting,” muttered Medley weakening slightly.

“And I’d really appreciate it if you wore it, I wouldn’t want my work to go to waste,” she hunkered down and looked up into Medley’s face, her big blue eyes seeming to grow.

Medley struggled for a moment but the soft blue eyes in front of her seemed to such away her will, she glanced over at the hat, it did look good and she felt undressed compared to her friends. Unable to withstand the onslaught of cuteness Medley capitulated. “Very well,” she said gruffly taking the offered hat and carefully placing it on her own head. “Just because it’s you,” she muttered before giving herself a sideways glance in the mirror and adjusted the hat slightly.

“Yay!” cheered Fluttershy quietly.

“There’s still something missing,” noted Vinyl examining Octavia. She reached into the wardrobe and picked out one of Octavia’s many bow ties, a pink one. “Here you go, you know you’re not quite Octy without one of these.”

Accepting the strip of cloth Octavia tied it around her neck, not an easy task for an earth pony.

“Perfect!” exclaimed Vinyl.

“I’m sure a certain stallion won’t be able to keep his eyes off of you,” noted Lyra with a sparkle in her eyes.

The rest of the mares nodded their agreement.

Octavia eyed the mirror for a moment, she felt the bow tie was a little over the top with the dress and hat but then shook her head, she should accept her friends judgement in this matter, no doubt they understood this sort of thing better than she did.

“We should head off,” noted Bluenote, “We don’t want to be late for our own party.”

The friends made their way out of Octavia’s room and towards the stairs when Bon Bon stuck her head out of her room. “Are you girls off to the dance now?” she asked. “Do you mind if I tag along?”

“I would be honoured if you could join us,” said Octavia.

“Thanks,” said Bon Bon as she stepped out of her bedroom, she was wearing a pair of tight cut-off jeans and a red checkered blouse tied into a knot. Lyra’s head shot round as her sweetheart came fully into view her eyes growing large and a smile starting to spread across her face. Unfortunately she had been trying to navigate the stairs in her dress at the same time and she tripped flying head over tail and landing in a heap at the bottom.

“Oh my! Lyra!” cried Bon Bon rushing down the stairs after the fallen unicorn. “Are you alright?” She reached out a hoof to help Lyra to stand.

“Fine, I’m fine,” muttered Lyra accepting the hoof and pulling herself to her hooves. Then she seemed to realise what was going on and pulled back her hoof with a touch of regret. “It will take more than a few steps to see off a seasoned kraken rider such as myself,” she boasted.

Bon Bon giggled, “Of course, how silly of me.”

Lyra smiled beatifically and absentmindedly rubbed the hoof that Bon Bon had touched.

Knowing that the mint unicorn would probably be happy to spend all night staring into Bon Bon’s eyes Octavia cleared her throat. “We should make our way to the dance now.”

“Oh, of course,” said Lyra pulling herself away from Bon Bon. She swung open the door. “After you,” she said gesturing to Bon Bon who gave a small curtsey and walked through it. The rest of the group grinned to themselves at Lyra’s behaviour only to follow Bon Bon through the portal.

Outside a thin line of ponies could already be seen making their way towards the Apple farm, it looked like the whole town was going to be there thought Octavia and the warm feeling of companionship started to fade to be replaced by her fear of rejection.

The walk to Sweet Apple Acres seemed to end almost before it had begun, the distance having been eaten up by the pleasant company surrounding Octavia. All too soon the large red mass of the barn came into sight. Around it was a herd of ponies rushing around getting everything ready, several tents had been set up to provide more space for the guests.

“Looks like the Apples have called in the whole family,” said Bluenote gazing around at all the ponies rushing around.

“Well there aren't that many Ponyville natives who don’t have some Apple in them somewhere,” said Bon Bon, “The clan did found the town. I’m,” she did a quick mental calculation, “Three sixteenth Apple, give or take. It doesn’t come up much apart from the odd family reunion. Most of you aren't from Ponyville but I bet if Lyra or Bluenote checked their family tree’s they’d find a few apple seeds here and there.”

“Humm,” said Bluenote looking up, “Yeah, I think I’ve got some Apple on my mother’s side, a great grandmother I think.”

“Hi cus’,” said Bon Bon with a smile waving at Bluenote.

Swinging her head around Octavia looked for a certain Apple amongst the crop below but there was no sign of Big Macintosh. She was uncertain whether this was a good or bad thing. She did not want him to see her dance in case she make a fool of herself, but on the other hoof she did want him to want to see her dance, maybe, she was a little confused on the subject.

Medley must have seen the look of trepidation on Octavia’s face as she moved back slightly to stand alongside the grey mare. “Don’t worry,” she whispered, “You’ll do fine, you were a quick learner, and nopony is going to judge you.”

“Come on everypony,” cried Lyra from the front of the group, “Glory awaits us!”

They trotted down the hill towards the barn through the toiling ponies still putting the last preparations for the night’s festivities together. The group of attractive mares dressed in their finery got several appraising looks from the Apples as they past. One petite mare wolf whistled loudly as Bon Bon passed causing the cream pony’s coat to turn pink and Lyra to glare at the whistler looking like she was ready to challenge her to a duel.

The barn itself was larger, and cleaner, than Octavia had expected. It was well lit with firefly lanterns and a stage had been set up at the far end where a small band was setting up. Behind them was a bulky shape covered by a tarpaulin, some form of farming equipment? A large area had been cleared in front of the stage, the dance floor she assumed, its size was rather intimidating, well over a hundred ponies would be needed to fill such a space. Around the walls were various tables covered with a smattering of snacks. Off to one side a mound of barrels had been set up and tapped. There was a short queue of thirsty ponies waiting to get drinks, Octavia recognised Rainbow Dash waiting impatiently among them.

They were early but the barn was already starting to rapidly fill up, it looked like the half the town was here already as well as Applejack’s relatives. Octavia felt her mouth go dry, all of these ponies watching her! She fought against her feelings, she had performed to larger groups. But the butterflies in her stomach reminder her that then she had been using a skill she had practiced for years, not just a few days.

“Well, howdy, girls,” called Applejack catching sight of them from the stage and galloping over to meet them. “Glad you could all make it, seeing as this whole shindig is in your honour.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Vinyl.

“I must thank you again for such an honour,” said Octavia with a bow. The rest of the party also gave their thanks.

“Well, it’s not everyday somepony saves the whole entire world is it? Now the music's going to start in about half an hour so you’ve got time to get a bite to eat, have a drink, take a load off. Bluenote, you might want to stick your head into the foal’s tent I know there’s some young fans who’d like to thank you.”

“Foal’s tent?” asked Octavia.

“Over yonder,” Applejack pointed at one of the tents near the barn. “Pinkie, Cheerilee and a few others are running a party just for the little ones. Keeps them out of our manes for the night so their parents can have fun without having to worry about them.”

“That seems a good idea.”

“Thanks, plus it keeps Pinkie busy, that girl’s a real firecracker she’s got the energy to keep up with the foals. Well I got some organising still to do, I hope you all enjoy yourselves,” Applejack passed Octavia a paper cup before rushing off back to the stage.

“Octavia, sniffed the drink before taking a sip, it had a strong taste of apple and made her tongue tingle a little. “Is this alcoholic?” she asked.

Medley took a gulp from her own drink. “Oh, yeah!” she sighed visibly relaxing. “This is some of the Apple’s hard cider, it’s the good stuff alright, probably just out of storage. I’m surprised they’re giving this away for free.”

“You might want to go steady on that stuff,” said Vinyl. “We don’t want you falling down before the dancing even starts.”

“This is a night for fun you know, but don’t worry. I’ll pace myself,” said Medley taking a smaller sip of her drink.

For a moment Octavia considered taking a swig, it might calm her nerves, but getting drunk was unlikely to help her dancing. She put down the glass, “Do they have something non-alcoholic?”

“There is some pop over there,” said Fluttershy pointing to a number of bottles near the drinks table.

“I’ve got some ponies I want to chat to,” said Bon Bon. “I’ll see you girls later.” She wandered off into the crowd.

“Mum and Dad are probably about somewhere,” said Lyra waving a hoof in the general direction of a large group of ponies. “I’d better tell them of my latest exploits before things get loud.”

“I should probably check on my parental units as well,” nodded Vinyl. “They were supposed to make it, although Dad probably can’t drag himself away from work.” She scowled.

“I’d like to check on the foals,” said Bluenote with a smile. “Pinkie’s probably worked them into a frenzy already.”

“Oh, I see Mr Rich,” said Fluttershy hovering about the crowd. “I want to talk to him about a donation to the phoenix sanctuary.” She slowly bobbed away through the crowd.

Octavia watched her friends disappear into the crowd on their own errands and suddenly felt very alone. The barn was packed with ponies and she knew so few of them.

“Hey cheer up,” said Medley noting Octavia’s expression. “They’ll be back soon, let’s go check out the band while they’re tuning up.”

Octavia tried to put on a smile. “Thank you, I’d like that.”

“Whoo-we did you get a look at that Octavia in her fancy dress? She sure is a classy mare,” whistled Caramel Apple leaning on a tree.

“I haven't noticed,” muttered Big Mac hefting a basket full of apples onto his back as easily as if it were empty. The big stallion was dressed in his finest, a white shirt covered by a brown jacket, his harness was sitting unused in his bedroom for once.

“Really, ‘cause from what I heard Applejack gossiping about earlier she’s sweet on you.”

“Really?” asked the big stallion in surprise, then he seemed to shrink slightly. “It don’t matter none.”

“Well I hear she could hardly keep her eyes off of you.”

“You know I don’t like folks staring,” said Mac shivering slightly.

“Look there’s staring, and there’s staring, I’m sure this was the good kind cus’.”

“I don’t like standing out all the time. I want to be just like everypony else, just like you”

“Yeah, that’s me alright, just a face in the crowd,” exclaimed Caramel angrily.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way,” said Mac leaning down to the smaller stallion.

Caramel sighed, “Yeah I know you didn’t mean anything by it. I owe you and Applejack a lot for taking me in, I’m real thankful.”

“We needed the help and you’re family, we couldn’t leave you hanging.”

“Yeah, I’m still going to pay you back one day.” And maybe today could be that day, he thought. “Look, if you’re not going to make a move on Octavia I think I might. Like I said she sure is classy, and easy on the eyes. I’ve heard stories of what those repressed noble types are like when they let their manes down.” He turned towards the barn, suddenly there was a pain in his hindquarters and he was yanked back.

“Enope!” growled Big Mac through a mouthful of Caramel’s tail almost lifting the smaller stallion off the ground.

“Looks like you do care then,” said Caramel as Mac dropped him.

“Just don’t want to see her get hurt, she just saved us all.”

“Hey, I know how to treat a lady!”

“Yeah, until you get bored and find another, you’re a heartbreaker, Caramel Apple. She’s not a local gal, she don’t know what you’re like. She’ll want more than you can give.”

“Well if you don’t want me to have her why not ask her yourself?” said Caramel with a sly smile.

“I... I... I wouldn’t know what to say, I can’t talk,” muttered Mac.

“You’re talking to me now aren't you?”

“That’s different, you’re family.”

“Well play your cards right and maybe she’ll end up being part of the family,” he winked causing Mac to blush even more. “Look, just walk up to her and say, I like you. That’s always a good start.”

The giant stallion shook his head.

Caramel sighed. “You’re hopeless you know. This is a dance, just ask her to dance. Come on, you know you want to,” he teased.

“I... I’ll try.”

“Good, now just take that last basket to the kitchen and we can both get to the barn, it should be starting anytime now.”

The band had finished warming up and had started to play a few tunes. A few ponies were already trotting around on the dance floor but the formal barn dancing had not yet started. Octavia looked up at the band, they were clearly amateurs but had a reasonable skill level. A yellow mare with a carefully styled brown mane was playing a lively fiddle tune, she was very good, she could probably go professional if she put a bit more effort into her craft. She even looked a little familiar, had she seen her around town recently? thought Octavia, or maybe even in Canterlot? “Do you know that mare?” she asked Bluenote who had returned from meeting the foals and was now chewing her way through an apple pie. Medley had finished her first drink and had gone for a refill, if that was pacing herself, it seemed to be a very fast pace.

The music teacher looked up, “She’s one of Applejack’s family I think...” then she blinked and looked back and forth between her friend and the fiddler.

“Say Octavia, you have a sister right?”

“Yes, two of them, Viola and Medley, why?”

“Have you counted them recently?”

“Counted?” said Octavia frowning. “What do you mean?”

“Never mind.”

“Hey Octy, come and meet the folks,” called Vinyl grabbing Octavia by the arm and dragging her across the floor. Octavia blinked, she was suddenly surrounded by a herd of ponies, all tribes and colours were present but the majority were white coated unicorns and all had a certain resemblance to her friend, a common muzzle shape. There were dozens of them, maybe fifty or even more, surely they couldn't all be related to Vinyl, could they? They she thought of the apple clan, maybe they could. “Are these all your family?” she hissed to Vinyl.

“Yep,” she replied with a grin, “This isn’t even all of them, the Scratch clan more or less run a lumber mill a bit to the west. Dad’s always found it easier to employ family than pay a fair wage. Course, most of them are cousins and the like.” About two thirds of the crowd waved a hoof at this. “But these are my brothers,” she pointed to a herd of white unicorns of varying ages from their thirties to foals of maybe only one or two years. “Octy these are,” she took a deep breath, “Douglas, Alder, Yew, Spruce, Ash, Hemlock, Oak, Beech, Birch, Popular, Persimmon, Cedar, Teak and Hickory Scratch. Say hi to Octy guys.” There was a chorus of greetings. Octavia did not have a clue which one was which, in fact her head was spinning just from the names.

One of the brothers, maybe a few years younger than Vinyl, stepped forwards, “And this is our sister Vir...”

“Before you finish that sentence ‘Simmon you might want to remember I’ve still got those pictures of you in mom’s dress, and didn’t that lipstick just suit your mane?” said Vinyl leaning casually against a beam.

“Err, Vinyl Scratch,” said Persimmon, his brothers chuckling at him.

“Good boy. Now did I forget anypony?”

“You forgot your littlest brother,” came a mare’s voice and the crowd of ponies parted as an older white coated unicorn with a dark blue mane speckled with grey walked up, resting on her back was a sleeping colt only a few months old. “Mahogany.”

“Oh, yeah! How could I forget little Mogwy,” said Vinyl trotting over and tickling the foal who twitched in his sleep. “Octy, this is my broodmare, I mean mother, Fruitful Garden.”

“Virola Yvonne Scratch!” exclaimed Fruitful causing her daughter to shudder. “That is no way to talk any me in front of your friend.”

“Sorry Mom,” although she didn’t seem very embarrassed.

“Besides, I think Mahogany might be the last brother you get.”

“You said that after Hick, and Titchy and Cedar, they stop being a baby and go all broody again. Face it, you just can't keep your tail down, Mom.”

“From the talk I've heard around town you might have the same problem my girl. Am I going to hear the pitter patter of tiny hooves from you any time soon?”

“Mom! I use protection, never ride bareback, always use a saddle,” she gave Octavia a wink.

Octavia blushed, she could not imagine discussing such things in public with her parents. In fact her parents had been too embarrassed to discuss such things in private, resulting in a somewhat exaggerated lesson from Viola. Luckily the Princess of Love herself had been in place to sort out the misunderstandings after Octavia had refused to play an instrument previously handled by a colt for fear of getting pregnant.

“Vinyl!” came a further call as a tall muscular white unicorn stallion stomped up to her. “Don’t back talk to your mother. You’ve got to pay more respect to the plank you were cut from, my girl.”

“Dad!” cried Vinyl in joy, for a moment Octavia thought her friend she was going to nuzzle the stallion before she seemed to bring herself under control. “I didn’t think you’d be able to make it.”

“Well,” the older stallion fidgeted a bit. “Sometimes you have to cut against the grain to get the best edges.”

Vinyl frowned as the stallion turned to Octavia. “You must be Octavia. I’m Sawdust, I believe I have yourself and my daughter’s other friends to thank for saving the world.”

“We couldn’t have done it without your daughter,” said Octavia modestly.

“Yes, she is a unique timber all right,” he smiled at his daughter.

“You betcha, there I was fighting the evil twin of the Princess herself and I was throwing out some sick beats at the same time. She zigged left so I zagged right, it was awesome, epic.”

“‘Sick beats?’ were you ill?” a little worry started to edge into the stallions tone.

Vinyl sighed at her father’s confusion. ”No, it means my wubs were awesome.”

“You know I don’t understand your music Virola.”

“Dad! It’s Vinyl, and my music is where it’s going to be. Ponies love it. You’ll see, I’m gonna be famous. Big Club’s going to introduce me to his cousin.”

“I don’t know Vinyl, are you sure you don’t want to move back home? The things you can do with machinery we could find a place for you, and you could do your music thing in your free time,” said Sawdust hopefully

“We’ve talked about this before, dad. I have a good thing in Ponyville, I’ve got friends and it’s easy to get to Canterlot and other big venues. Hang around and later you’ll see how good my music is.”

Before Sawdust could reply Applejack’s megaphone amplified voice boomed out across the barn. “Ok, folks. It’s about time for us to kick off this shindig. Now if you clear a space we can get the dancing started.”

“Come on Octy,” called Vinyl grabbing the grey mare’s arm. “We better get up there.”

“Maybe we could sit out the first dance?” suggested Octavia looking nervously at the dance floor. “It looks a little crowded.” Indeed the dance floor area was rapidly filling up as ponies started to partner up and get into position.

“Come on, this party’s in our honour, we can’t sit it out. Are you still worried about messing up?”

“A bit,” admitted Octavia, “But not as much as I was, Medley told me nopony would care but I’m worried I am not prepared enough, the ponies deserve my best.” Octavia’s ears drooped.

“Octy, you won’t get it wrong, you’re awesome, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you play a note wrong and even I get the wrong beat sometimes.”

“That is different, I know I am good with my cello, I have practiced long and hard to reach my current skill level but I have only had a few days to practice this dance.”

“You’ve got to step out of your comfort zone occasionally. No one will be on your back about your dancing, well unless Mac can’t control himself.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

“Vinyl!” gasped Octavia sounding shocked.

The white unicorn stuck out her tongue. Causing the grey mare to giggle slightly, she could count on her friends to try and make her feel better.

The crowd opened up and suddenly Octavia found herself standing not far from the stage with what seemed like the entire town looking on at her. She knew intellectually that she had performed in front of bigger crowds but for a moment she felt so small and flashed back to her first public performance as a foal. For a second she wished her mother and father were here to make her feel better. Then she pulled herself together, she was a grown mare. Still she was glad she had worn a bow tie, that always reminded her of her father and the confidence he had given her for her first performance.

“Now this party is in aid of a certain group of heroic ponies who braved the worst the Everfree could throw at them, and even the twin tyrants themselves to save not only us but the whole of Equestria. Some of them have lived in Ponyville all their lives while others first arrived only a week or so ago,” cried Applejack from her place on the stage. “Now I’d like you to all put your hooves to the planking for our very own heroes, the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony.”

The racket was incredible as every single pony in the barn almost was one began to stomp their forehooves on the ground. Some hooted and hollered or otherwise shouted their thanks. The sound struck Octavia like a blow but instead of driving her down she felt like she was lifted into the air. Vinyl stuck out her chest and grinned at the attention and even Fluttershy, although looking slightly overwhelmed, seemed to enjoy the attention.

It took several minutes for the noise to die down. “Now that’s enough of that for the moment,” said Applejack once she could be heard over the cheers, “We don’t want their heads to get too big to get out of the door. Still we got some other things arranged for later to show our appreciation, but for the moment I think we should just let them lead us in our first dance, come on down here girls,” she called.

The six element bearers started to form up into pairs while the rest of the crowd started to disperse into their own circles. To make up the eight ponies needed for a square dance the bearers were joined by the mayor and a light red coated stallion with a curly black mane that Octavia had not seen before. The mayor nodded to each of the other mares as she took her place, Octavia thought the nod given to her was a little curter than the others.

From the stage the band started to play and Octavia tried to stop the butterflies in her stomach, maybe a glass or two of the cider would have helped? After a moment’s hesitation Medley strolled over and took up a place to Octavia’s left, she was glad for the other mare’s companionship. The two of them had the most experience dancing with each other and Medley had taken the ‘stallions’ role in the dance. Meanwhile Fluttershy and Vinyl and Bluenote and Lyra had paired up positioning themselves in a rough circle.

“Ok, folks were going to start with an easy one as some of our guests might not be used to how we swing the Ponyville way. So first up is what I like to call the Apple Star. First up join hooves.

All of the dancers reared up and locked their forelegs together leaning into each other to remain stable. To Octavia’s right Vinyl gave her arm a squeeze to show her support.

Circle up big ,” ordered Applejack as the dancers tottered back, “Circle to the left and you don’t be late.

Swing your partner high and low,
Now promenade with heel and toe. ” The ponies all dropped back to all fours and Medley swung Octavia around before the two of then trotted around in a circle.

All four mares go into the middle and a’back to the bar .” Octavia moved to the centre of the circle with Ivory, Fluttershy and Bluenote only stopping long enough to bump hooves before retreating again.

Colts go in with a right hoof star ,” the designated ‘stallions’ moved in and spun around, one leg held out. ““Now left hoof back.” The smoothly turned and headed back the other way.

Now switch partners take the next right by your side. ” Rearing again the circling dancers held out a hoof to catch their partners and draw then in, Octavia staggered slightly as Vinyl linked hooves with her but no one seemed to notice.

Colts swing out and the mares in,
Its once and a half and you’re gone again. ” Vinyl hurled Octavia around grinning at her crazily, the earth pony was only just able to keep her hoofing, being forced to hold on to her new hat, but oddly she couldn’t feel bad about it, something about the atmosphere was contagious.

Break that star and swing. ” Once again Vinyl twirled Octavia around. “Promenade around the ring. ” They trotted around the circle at a more leisurely pace for a moment.

Join hooves and circle to the left eight steps you go, the other way back and you don’t be slow. ” Once again the dancers all linked up Lyra joined Octavia on her left.

Couple one go down the centre hoe and plow. ” For a moment Octavia froze, what was hoe and plough? Medley hadn’t taught her that move. Then Vinyl pulled her forwards through the outstretched legs of Ivory and Lyra and then under as the whole chain turned itself inside out.

Couple two go down the centre,
Couple three go right on through,
Couple four you know what to do. ” In turn each of the other pairs repeated the move.

All four mares go into the middle and back to the bar
Colts go in with a right hoof star
Now left hoof back
That’s that mare, now take the next. ” Once again the dancers switched partners leaving Octavia in Lyra’s hooves.

Now inside out and outside in
Now do that Apple star again
Break it apart then swing
Now promenade
Join hooves and circle to the left,
Eight hooves are out “ The mint unicorn’s style was different from her white tribe mate whereas Vinyl seemed to put the greatest possible effort into her moves Lyra was gentler but faster hopping in place whenever there was nothing else for her to do. Octavia found it a little distracting.

Other way back or you’re going wrong. ” Prompted Applejack, Octavia realised she had missed a turn and spun around her cheeks burning. Her eyes flickered here and there, nopony seemed to have noticed.

Couple one Go hoe and plough
Couple two you cut ‘em up short
Now Couple three
Last ones, Couple four go through that door
All four mares go into the middle and back to the bar
Colts go in with a right hoof star
Now left hoof back from where you are
Here comes the next one by your side .” This time Octavia linked hooves with the unknown stallion. He seemed a little nervous his eyes flicked back and forth between her and Ivory who was pointedly looking away from them.

Colts swing out to the Everfree
Once and half now gone again
Break it apart then swing
Now promenade
Join hooves now circle to the left then right
The other way now, now another way around
Couple one Go through that door hoe and plough around the floor
Couple two your lead ‘em on through
Now three
And now were through to couple four
All for mares go into the middle and back to the bar
Colts go in with a right hoof star
Now left hoof back
Take the other one by your side, ” Octavia found herself back with Medley who grinned at her reassuringly. Now they were back to their original partners the dance must be almost over and no one seemed to have noticed her mistakes, a wave of relief washed through her.

Now inside out and outside in
Break it apart and swing
Promenade two by two
Now join your hooves that’s what you do
Now circle to the left eight hooves
Other way back the best you can
Go into the middle with a great big shout, ” The entire barn seemed to break out in a yell, “Yehaa!” surprised Octavia staggered back slightly.
Couple one go hoe and plough
Couple two you know what to do
Now three
And couple four go through that door. ” Still off balance Octavia lost her grip as she and Medley passed through the ring of dancers and she staggered forwards onto a tan stallion with a well styled brown mane sending them both tumbling to the ground. Recovering Octavia cringed awaiting the hash laughter she deserved for believing she belonged here. To her surprise the laughter, although immediate, was light. “If you wanted a dance you only had to ask him,” called one spectator.

“I guess she’s the forward type,” replied another with a grin.

“Are you alright?” asked the stallion helping her to her hooves.

“F-fine thank you,” stuttered Octavia.

“You better get back to your dance,” he gently pushed her towards her waiting partner.

And when you’re home you swing her high and swing her low
Now promenade around the floor. ” Continued Applejack as if nothing had happened.

“See I told you no pony would care if you made a mistake,” whispered Medley.

“I... I see, I apologize,” muttered Octavia, still surprised.

“You’re far from the worst dancer here,” she said indicating a white coated teen aged unicorn mare with a curly red mane who was stomping around with much more enthusiasm than skill. Her blue pegasus partner looked rather nervous as he struggled to avoid her wildly flailing hooves.

That’s all there is there ain't no more, ” exclaimed Applejack and the music behind her stopped. “Woo wee, now that got the blood pumping. Now we’re all warmed up, in fact it looked like Octavia might have gotten a little too excited. There was a ripple of laughter through the crowd. “So let’s move on to something a little more interesting...”

The Ballad of Tavi and Mac

View Online

Several dances later, Octavia had lost count of the precise number, she was feeling rather overheated. The warmth generated by so many energetic ponies in a relatively small area was overwhelming and had left her panting. Despite the lightness of her heart she felt she needed a few moment to rest her tired hooves. So apologizing to her current partner, she didn’t know his name, she staggered out of the dance floor to try and get a few breaths of fresh air. She considered loosening her tie but that seemed to be a little too informal. An unknown aura levitated a glass into her hoof and she gratefully downed it without thinking. The tingling in her mouth returned, it was cider. To her surprise it tasted good, she had never been a big drinker and when she did it was normally wine. She generally preferred to abstain, although Pageturner had occasionally dragged her from her rooms to socialise with the other students. Of course, Octavia now knew that her assistant had been desperately trying to get her to make friends, without success. Still this cider did have an interesting taste, although she should probably pace herself. Then the crowd seemed to open up in front of her and a familiar red stallion was visible. Mac seemed to be trying to push his way through the crush without actually touching any other pony. Octavia felt her pulse race as he drew near, his jacket highlighted his barrel chest and his mane had been styled drawing her eyes to his face, she found herself trying to count his freckles. Her hoof shot out to grasp another drink automatically pouring it down her throat.

“Evening Miss Octavia,” mumbled Big Mac as he drew close, his eyes fixed on the floor.

“Good evening Mr Macintosh,” said somepony, it took a second for Octavia to realise it was her.

“Saw you dancing... good,” muttered Macintosh, his supply of words seeming to dry up.

“Tha.. thank you.”

“Would...” Sweat started to pour from Mac’s brow.


“Would...” repeated the stallion his jaw seemingly stuck.

“Yes?” said Octavia hopefully leaning forwards slightly.

“Enope,” cried Mac suddenly turning and fleeing through the crowd.

Octavia’s face fell as she saw the stallion push his way through the crowd away from her.

A short distance away Caramel facehoofed.

Lyra sat staring up at the dance floor as Bon Bon was being spun around by a purple maned mare wearing a gleaming white cowpony costume inlaid with rhinestones. She let out a long sigh as she saw her lady gracefully cavorting about.

“Why don’t you just ask her to dance?” asked Octavia standing next to her, her romantic ambitions, not that she had any, might not be fulfilled but she could at least help her friend. “It won’t mean anything, everypony is dancing with everypony else.”

“It would mean everything to me,” murmured Lyra. “But no, to properly court my lady I must do everything in the right order, she deserves no less. I cannot dance with her yet.”

“Do whatever rules you’re following say anything about when in your relationship you should save the world for her?”

Lyra thought for a moment. “Well no,” she admitted, “But I must carry out mighty deeds for her anonymously.”

“Does it specifically say when you should deal with the twin tyrants?”


“I would say that was above just a mighty deed, it was almost super equine. I think you might deserve a single dance for that, don’t you?”

“Well,” she looked longingly up at Bon Bon. “Maybe...”

“Thank of it as a reward for a job well done,” said Octavia pushing a little harder. She was sure Bon Bon would enjoy a dance with Lyra and it could be part payment for the various difficulties she had heaped upon her landlady.

“I don’t know...”

In front of them the dance came to an end and Rarity and Bon Bon curtseyed to each other. “Excuse me Rarity,” said Octavia striding onto the floor, “Can I have this dance?”

“Of course Lady Philharmonica,” said the designer looking pleased.

Bon Bon looked around for a moment and Octavia gazed significantly between Lyra and her.

Screwing up her courage the mint mare stepped onto the floor and faced Bon Bon. “May I have this dance?” she asked.

“Oh, of course,” replied Bon Bon with a smile that almost caused Lyra’s legs to melt. Octavia swore she almost heard a ‘squee!’ sound as the unicorn smiled.

The bard stepped forwards and put an arm gently around her lady.

“You can grip a little tighter you know. I won’t break, plus I don’t want us to fly apart once we get going.”

“Indeed, once we start I would want us to stay together, forever,” murmured Lyra as the music started up again.

“Would you like a drink?” asked Octavia gesturing with her glass to Vinyl. She had just gotten away from the dance floor again and had felt the need to hydrate. She might have been just a little more tipsy than she thought as the glass sloshed a little throwing some of the drink to the ground. There was something about the cider than was a little bit moreish.

“Just the lemonade for me thanks,” replied Vinyl. “I don’t touch anything harder before my set. I can’t perform to my best if I’m buzzed. Course once I’m done I’m going to party like it’s going out of fashion.”

“What do you mean your set?”

“You’ll see, it shouldn’t be much longer now.” Octavia frowned, it was getting rather late, may of the foals and ponies with families had already left although it didn’t seem to have deadened the mood any, hordes of ponies were still swinging across the dance floor. “Hey, did I see you with Mac earlier?”

“He began to talk to me but he suddenly needed to be somewhere else,” said Octavia scowling.

“Yeah, well he’s just shy. I’ll see if I can help him work up his courage.”

“Please don’t try to get him drunk.”

“Hey, I have other weapons in my arsenal. You’ll see.”

“Alright everypony,” called Applejack from the stage. “Now the band needs a bit of a rest you’ve plum tuckered them out.” There was a round of boos from the crowd. “Don’t worry they’ll be back in a bit, but we got something a little different for you to pass the time. Our very own element of Magic, DJ-PON3 is going to take over for a while!”

“Vinyl?” asked Octavia.

“Applejack asked me to fill in. I hold raves here sometimes so I’ve got some equipment here,” her horn glowed and lifted the tarpaulin off of the shape at the back of the stage revealing a turntable and a number of speakers she quickly spread out.

There was a grumble from the back of the hall. “We came here for a hoe down, not some modern nonsense,” came a cry. There were some boos against the comment.

How rude through Octavia, she was no fan of her friend’s musical style but she would never be as crass as to point it out in front of the crowd of fans.

“Well this here is ma, and these girls, party, so I can have whatever music I want,” called Applejack gesturing at the element bearers. “It’ll last less than an hour, if you don’t like it you can go for a walk for a bit, maybe get something to eat, we got plenty left.”

“Hey Red,” called the stallion to Red Tape, “Can’t you get her shutdown? You ain’t no fan of Vinyl.”

“Applejack has an entertainment licence and none of us paid, she can play whatever she wants,” replied the Bureaucrat getting to his hooves a little unsteadily. “Unless Vinyl’s equipment is dangerous in some way, my hooves are tied.”

“You’re free to check it all Reddy,” cried Vinyl from behind her turntable, her horn began to glow as she powered up the equipment. Red made his way through the crowd and came to a stop in front of the speakers. His horn in turn glowed red and there was a burst of feedback from the speaker stacks making much of the audience jump. The two unicorns talked quietly for about ten minutes as they tested the equipment. Red getting more and more worked up while Vinyl had a small smirk on her face.

Finally Red announced defeat. “I can see no legal reason why Vinyl cannot play her ‘music’ here,” he admitted.

“Come on, there must be something you can do,” said the original complainer.

“I don’t like it any more than you do,” he shrugged, “But I don’t have any choice. Rules are rules and Vinyl’s equipment meets all of them. Like Applejack said I suggest we just go get something to eat for a while.”

“Thanks Reddy,” yelled Vinyl her voice amplified by magic causing the stallion to jump. “Now that I’ve been certified as safe and all the fuddy duddies are off to stuff their faces, are you ready to PART-IE?”

“YES!” came the reply from the crowd.

“I can’t hear you!”

“YES!” roared the crowd.

Pinkie pie bounced up and down almost hitting her head on the roof, “Yes, yes, yes, yes!” she cried.

“Oh no,” thought Octavia as the ‘music’ started.

Octavia was not a fan of Vinyl’s ‘music’, even covering her ears it still thudded its repetitive beat through her. Still the white mare was still her friend so she tried her best to grin and bear it, hopefully it would be over soon anyway. So she made her way to the back of the barn where the noise was just about bearable. The majority of the ponies present didn’t seem to agree with her view of Vinyl’s music and were happily throwing themselves around the floor.

Off to one side she noticed Red Tape surrounded by a number of empty glasses staring up morosely at Lyra threw herself around the dance floor.

“Not enjoying yourself?” asked Applejack. The party’s host was chewing her way through a few apples as she waited for Vinyl’s set to end.

“I would not say that,” said Octavia, “But Vinyl and myself have rather different tastes in music.”

“I hear that, I’m afraid I’m not much of a fan of your classical music.”

Octavia bit her tongue, only a few days ago she would have considered Applejack deluded in her beliefs but now she could try to see the orange pony’s point of view. “I suppose each pony has their own preferences,” she managed.

“True, true,” nodded Applejack watching the dancing crowd.

“If fact the princess has asked me to study Ponyville musical styles, maybe I could talk to you about this music more later?”

“I don’t see why not, I play a little fiddle myself. I’m not as good as cousin Fiddlesticks of course.” She nodded towards the yellow mare then frowned and looked back at Octavia. “How the heck didn’t I notice that before?” she mumbled.

“Notice what?” asked Octavia.

“Uh, nothing. Now course if you really want to understand music you gotta learn to play it not just talk about it.”

“I... I believe you are right,” said Octavia in surprise, why hadn’t she thought of that.

“We’ll I suppose I can try and give you a few lessons, I’m sure you’ll pick it up quick enough, your cello ain't anything but a big fiddle after all.”

Octavia struggled to stop herself pointing out how wrong that statement was. “That is very kind of you,” she managed.

“It’s nothing after what you did for Equestria.”

Shuffling slightly Octavia decided to try and broach and uncomfortable subject while she had time with Applejack. “Applejack, I would like to apologize for my actions during the equinox. I should not have stopped Bon Bon from hosting her own stall, it was good of you to share your space with her and I know it must have hurt your own takings.”

Applejack chewed over the matter for a moment. “You’re right you shouldn’t have, but it’s mighty big of you to admit it. So I forgive you. Put it there.” She held out an arm.

Octavia gazed at Applejack’s hoof warily for a moment before linking arms with the farm pony who shook it vigorously almost knocking Octavia over.

“Thank you,” said Octavia holding her aching arm out for a moment, then her ears pricked up as the sound of the ‘music’ suddenly reduced. She looked over to Vinyl who was propped up behind her turntable grinning as always.

“It’ almost time for DJ-PON3 to go,” cried Vinyl over a chorus of boos. “But for my last tune I’d like to try something a little different. I know some of you out there are crazy enough to not enjoy my wubs.” She made a face. “So I thought I’d try something new, something a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. So I’d like you all to stomp your feet for Fiddlesticks.” The yellow mare with the fiddle from before walked onto the stage and bowed. “And while I’m at I’d like to take the time to spread a little looovvveee.” A beam of light shot out from her horn illuminating Big Mac where he was hiding at the back of the barn, he stopped gently swaying from side to side to the beat and his eyes began to shoot from side to side as if looking for an escape. “Now I’ve been told that a certain somepony wants to dance with a certain red stallion but they're too shy to ask each other.”

Octavia felt her cheeks burn, it felt as if the eyes of a whole barn full of ponies were on her. What was Vinyl doing? she thought, she couldn’t think this would actually attract her shy suitor could she? Next to her Applejack began to seethe, “What does she think she’s doing?” she demanded. “Picking on Mac like that!”

“So these beats go out to the two of you,” continued Vinyl nodding to Fiddlesticks who brandished her instrument and began to play while Vinyl sang, a heavy beat thudding from her equipment.”

If it hadn't been for Apple eyed Mac
She'da left town and not come back
Why don't cha speak out? Why holdback?
Who do you dream of Apple eyed Mac?

The whole party took up the cry again and again whooping and hollering as they cavorted across the floor. Mac still caught in the unicorn generated sport light tried to join in but it was clear his heart wasn’t in it. Octavia felt pity for him, couldn’t Vinyl see how nervous he was?

He came to town like a Hearth's Warming storm,
Ploughed all our fields, so strong, bright and warm
His muscle was his tool and his smile like the sun
But there’s more to life than apples, just have fun!

Mac’s eyes locked with Octavia’ across the room and for a moment she thought that the large stallion might actually act upon Vinyl’s prompting but he broke the gaze and turned away.

He broke hearts wherever he went
No mare could resist him, they all did lament
What shall we do now? We can’t go back
None could compare to Apple eyed Mac

Several mares detached themselves from the crowd and draped themselves over Mac’s form making him look even more uncomfortable than previously and bringing a sharp stab of jealousy to Octavia’s heart.

If it hadn't been for Apple eyed Mac
She'da left town and not come back
Why don't cha speak out? Why holdback?
Who do you dream of Apple eyed Mac?

As the final chorus died down and the music came to an end an expectant hush passed over the crowd as all eyes seemed to settle on Mac. He looked for a moment like we would faint away where he stood but instead he turned on his heels and rushed out of the barn as quickly as he could.

On the stage Applejack moved over to replace Vinyl giving the white mare the stink eye as she passed. “Well now that DJ-PON3 has done quite enough for the night I think we should get back to some less interferin’ music. Let's all stomp our hooves for the band as we start our next dance the flower of Ponyville...”

“Vinyl! What did you do?” hissed Octavia as she met the DJ coming off of the stage.

“Tried to give Mac a little push,” said Vinyl wiping her brow and levitated a glass over. “Not sure why it didn’t work though. Who wouldn’t want a song in their honour?”

“Someone who isn’t an egomaniac? From what I’ve seen Mac is shy, he doesn’t want a lot of ponies staring at him, he isn’t you.”

“Oh! Sorry Octy, I guess he’d never work up the nerve to talk to you in such a crowded place,” said Vinyl in mock surprise.

“Yes. I feel sorry for him, he’s probably mortified.”

“I suppose somepony should go and out and make sure he’s alright out there with only the stars for comfort, all alone, by himself.”

“Yes, you should.”

“I wasn’t thinking of me, those stars can be rather romantic don’t you think?”

Octavia glared at her grinning friend for a moment, then slowly the bit dropped. “Oh.”

“Yep, now run along Octy, your bit of rough is waiting.”

“But what if I don’t...,” she grimaced for a moment before turning and rushing to the door.

“Just call me the DJ of Looovvveee,” muttered Vinyl to herself as she watched her friend go.

Octavia stepped out into the cool night air and took a deep breath her eyes swinging around for a sign of the red stallion she had been pursuing. Her head was buzzing from the heat of so many bodies dancing together, the noise of the music and she suspected maybe just a little too much of the Apples hard cider. Her ears twitched as she heard a soft moan from off to one side. Brow creasing with confusion she following the sound and turned a corner to find two pegasus mares embracing. Their mouths were locked together, tongues duelling violently. As Octavia watched open mouthed the mare with her back to her pulled her head back before starting to nibble her way down the others wing. Giving a growl of pleasure the other mare rested her head on her partner's shoulder, her blue coat standing out against the other mare’s blond mane, and her eyes fluttered open before locking onto Octavia’s and a look of panic flashing over her face.

With a whoosh of displaced air the blue mare shot into the air so quickly she almost seemed to leave a flickering image behind. Surprised the other mare staggered forwards for a moment before a quick twitch of her wings turned the move into a flip, for a moment she hovered upside down staring at Octavia before, face glowing, she also fled, at a much slower rate, in the same direction as the first pegasus.

Octavia blushed, hoping that she would not get a reputation as a voyeur. Still it looked like Dash and Ditzy had taken Lyra’s advice. Now maybe she should take Vinyl’s, turning towards the orchards that dotted most of the landscape she noticed a single moving figure amongst them and started to gallop towards it, before remembering herself and slowing to a more stately pace.

She found Big Mac leaning against a tree methodically smashing his head against it while intoning, “Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.”

Octavia took a moment to straighten her dress before stepping into the stallion’s line of sight, she winced at the amount of damage he seemed to have done to the tree. “Mr Macintosh,” she said watching his eyes suddenly go wide before dropping to the ground.

“Miss,” he mumbled.

“I should apologize for Vinyl’s behaviour, she did not mean to embarrass you so much.”

“Enope, not her fault. Just don’t like folks staring.”

“I hope I am not being too forward, but your looks are rather striking.”

“Just a big lump,” muttered the stallion shying away.

Octavia stepped forwards. “You should not say that about yourself, you are an attractive stallion, very attractive.”

The stallion raised his head making eye contact for the first time. Octavia blushed.

“Thanks Miss. The foals at school didn’t think so.”

“School?” she asked.

“Never did fit in, too different, too big.”

“Oh! Well you are not a foal anymore, you are a grown stallion. Very much a stallion,” she muttered before shaking herself out of her revelry. “Now was there something you wanted to say to me earlier?” she asked hopefully.

“Errr, eyup.”

“Yes?” she took another step forwards, she was only a few feet away now and she swore she could feel his body radiating heat into the chill air.

Big Mac’s mouth opened but no sound emerged, his gaze dropped again.

“Yes?” asked Octavia again beginning to get frustrated.

“Not good with words... Sorry.”

Octavia sighed, maybe this was for the best. There was obviously a physical attraction, he was a tall, chiselled, muscular, mouth wateringly attractive stallion but did they really have anything further than that in common? The state of her hormones was not a good basis to build a relationship on, and had he really shown any sign that he reciprocated her feelings? She could well be making a complete foal of herself. “I am sorry I have disturbed you Mr Macintosh, I really should be getting back to the party. I wish you a good night.” She turned and slowly started to make her way back to the barn.

Watching her go Big Mac took a step forwards then stopped one hoof held out towards her. He opened his mouth but again words refused to come. Stamping angrily at the ground he closed his eyes and opened his mouth again. To Octavia’s surprise singing washed over her from behind. She turned slowly open mouthed to check that the sound was actually emanating from the stallions mouth. Gone was his previous nervousness he stood tall although his eyes were screwed up tight. Octavia found that her legs seemed to have turned to jelly and she slumped to the ground, her mind completely blank apart from the words flowing into it. Finally almost a minute after Max had finished singing she found she could speak again.

“That... that was beautiful. I did not know you could sing like that,” she said in astonishment.

“Singin’s easier than speaking,” he explained.

“Mac, I... I am not looking for a suitor now, I am just settling in and although you are handsome, very handsome,” her voice trailed off as she became distracted, admiring his apple cutie mark and thinking how nice it would be to just bite into it. She shook herself, yes she’d definitely had too much to drink.

“You’re pretty too.”

She blushed. “Thank you. But what I am saying is that I do not see our relationship going far at this time but... butwouldyouliketodance?” she squeaked.

Mac nodded his head bobbing up and down in a blur. “Eeyup.”

A wide smile broke across Octavia's face and she shivered slightly not entirely due to the temperature. Mac stepped forwards gently hesitantly raising a forearm before gently placing it over her shoulder. She could feel the vast muscles moving under his skin despite the minimal force he was using, she was sure he could crush her if he so chose, but still it made her feel oddly safe. Without further words the two of them made their way back to the barn.

Praise these Mares

View Online

Several hours later a very tired but happy Octavia staggered away from the dance floor. Mac, it turned out was not the most skilled dancer, as her somewhat bruised hooves could attest. But he was surprisingly passionate once he got started twirling the two of them across the floor in a manner which suggested that they were about to go flying away, but not quite right now. She had had a few more glasses of cider, the taste was starting to grow on her and her eyes were starting to feel rather heavy. How much longer was the dance going to continue? Surely it couldn’t be long until the sun would rise.

“Thank you Mac,” she said surprising herself by giving the larger stallion a peck on the cheek as they separated. Cursed cider! Cursed hormones! His sweat tasted faintly of apples, she licked her lips to collect every drop.

Mac grinned widely and a blush showed even through his red coat.

“I... I think I need to have a little rest now,” she stuttered looking away.

“Almost over now, Applejack’s got somethin’ planned.”

“Really? What?”

“Secret,” muttered the stallion.

Looking around Octavia saw her friends were also enjoying themselves, Vinyl was dancing with the school teacher while levitating a drink behind her. As Octavia glanced at them the DJ leant forwards and whispered something in the magenta pony’s ear which caused her to blush and giggle. Lyra was sitting in the doorway of the barn having produced her lyre from somewhere and was strumming it absently as she narrated some tale of glory to a small crowd that had gathered around her. Bluenote was sitting not far away chatting happily to an Apple family member while she chomped her way through the last of the apple fritters gesticulating wildly with both forehoves. Even Fluttershy seemed to be enjoying herself dancing with a hugely muscled white stallion with tiny wings, was he one of Vinyl’s relatives? Medley was the biggest surprise she was swaying drunkenly on the dance floor with a brown earth pony stallion under one wing and a light blue unicorn mare under the other, occasionally stopping to kiss one or the other.

Applejacks amplified voice echoed around the barn. “Ok folks it’s getting late so it’s about time for the last dance.” To Octavia’s surprise the entire room seemed to perk up and a wave of murmuring passed around the barn. She looked over at Bluenote who seemed equally surprised. “Now before we start I want to get all of our guests of honour here up front, everybody stomp for them.” To a thunderous round of applause Octavia made her way to the stage, the other element bearers joining her, Medley, bereft of her harem needed to be supported by Lyra.

Ivory Scrolls joined them on the stage and took Applejack’s place at the megaphone. “Now as you all know this whole party has been in your well-deserved honour. I and all of the town, all of Equestria, are in debt to you six. Your brave actions in going deep into the Everfree to reclaim the Elements of Harmony will be recounted for the ages. Your defeat of Burning Sun and Nightmare Moon saved every Mare, Stallion and Foal in our land. Some of you have been born in our fair town whereas others only arrived recently but you all showed the true Ponyville spirit when you all worked together as a team, as friends, to defeat the many dangers on your path.”

The major turned and bowed deeply to each other them an action duplicated by the population of the room.

“As an expression of our thanks I would like to present to you all the key to Ponyville,” the mayor presented a glistening silver key about the length of a foal’s leg.

“So what does that actually fit?” cried a wit from the crowd.

The mayor’s smile slipped slightly. “It is a symbolic freedom of the town and a symbol of our gratitude for your actions,” she explained.

“Well on behalf of me and my friends, I except this doohickey,” exclaimed Vinyl grasping the key in her aura and lifting it above her head.

Octavia was about to put to voice her thanks for the gift and the actions of all the population of Ponyville when she was interrupted by Applejack. “Now we got one more surprise for the heroes of Ponyville,” she cried. “Everypony get on your hooves like we practiced,” she yelled. “We got a little musical number we all put together to thank you.” Opening her mouth she began to sing quickly joined by the whole population of the barn.

Praise these mares, Praise these mares
Jazz, Wub, Nature
Together, we should Praise these mares
Ball, Bard, Classic

To Octavia’s astonishment the whole barn, even those that had stood out of the dancing so far partnered up and began to sway in front of them. It took a moment for her to work out what they were singing about, them! It was their styles of music! Next to her Fluttershy gasped as she also worked out the townsfolk were praising them. Octavia suddenly felt both very small and ten feet tall at the same time.

Great Legends of gallantry
Sung with endless empathy
Turn 'em round quick by the left elbow
Grab a new partner, here we go

Lyra humbly returned the dancers bows with a slight blush on her cheeks her eyes not leaving Bon Bon who was singing along with the rest of the town.

Praise these mares, Praise these mares
Jazz, Wub, Nature
Together, we should Praise these mares
Ball, Bard, Classic

Wubs she makes, no mere trick
Technology in her magic
Turn 'em round quick by the left elbow
Grab your partner, here we go

The verse thundered through the barn bellowed by the whole herd of white unicorns that made up Vinyl’s family, from the youngest to the oldest they all sang along. She reared up and waved at them all, her glasses glinting in the light. “That’s guys,” she cried, unheard over the music.

Praise these mares, Praise these mares
Jazz, Wub, Nature
Together, we should Praise these mares
Ball, Bard, Classic

She always has a helping wing
And her birds can really sing
Turn 'em round quick by the left elbow
Grab a new partner, here we go

The vet seemed to be overwhelmed by the sound and spectacle in front of her. She gazed out into the barn full of happy ponies with a gentle smile on her face one hoof gently waving back at her supporters.

Praise these mares, Praise these mares
Jazz, Wub, Nature
Together, we should Praise these mares
Ball, Bard, Classic

Behind then the band suddenly fell silent and for a moment Octavia looked around in surprise, could something have gone wrong? Then to her surprise the crowd opened up to reveal a second shorter band, made up of foals! Many of the group looked rather drowsy, which was to be expected given the lateness of the hour but all were glowing with excitement. They took up their instruments and began to play. Several were out of tune but even Octavia couldn’t bring herself to complain given the cuteness of the spectacle.

Look at us, we're just foals
'Learning’s fun’ she extols
Our teacher, we are proud to say
Taught us how to play this way

Bluenote stood overcome with emotion, happy tears rolling down her cheeks. “My kids!” she mumbled before rearing up and cheering on the tiny band just as the main group started up again.

Her craft gives us such glee
She serves us all so loyally
Turn 'em round quick by the right elbow
Grab a new partner, here we go

The shock seemed to have sobered up Medley for the moment and she stood proudly forwards to receive the praise she had worked so hard for. She smiled happily at the townsfolk below. Among the crowd Dash turned from the grey mare she was dancing with and gave Medley a salute.

Praise these mares, Praise these mares
Jazz, Wub, Nature
Together, we should Praise these mares
Ball, Bard, Classic

This honest cellist is renowned
We welcome you to this town
Turn 'em round quick by the left elbow
Grab a new partner, here we go

Octavia thought that she heard Mac’s beautiful voice rise above the others but it might have been her imagination. She struggled to keep her emotions under control as she had been taught. Part of her wanted to rush forwards and hug each and every one of the ponies before her. Ponies who only a week ago had never even heard of her and now were willing to accept her into their lives, and how could be ever have doubted they would? That a simple thing like not knowing how to dance would turn them against her. She had so much more to learn about friendship and the ponies around her, and she was so glad that she would learn here in this wonderful town. She felt a tear run down her face. The music slowed and all the ponies turned to face her and her fellow element bearers.

We praise these mares, we praise these mares
Yes, we do
Together we sure praise these mares
Yes, we do
Being together counts the most
We all came here to be good hosts
We welcome them all to be
Part of the Ponyville community

All of the ponies below them, seemingly the whole town gave a deep bow to the group on the stage. From the back a camera flash went off immortalising the scene. Octavia’s eyes darted from face to face; there a couple so close they finished each other’s sentences, there a pair of pegasus passionate about their flying but trying to hide the same passion for each other, there an earth pony dedicated to improving local farming, there foals eager to congratulate their instructor, there a family congratulating their famous daughter, there a pink pony dedicated to giving everypony a good time even if they didn’t want one. All of them and more, they were her community, her family.

It took several moments before any of the bearers could bring themselves to act. Octavia stepped forwards but found herself too overwhelmed to speak. Vinyl was instead the first to be able to reply. “That... that was awesome!” she cried voice thick with emotion. “Thank you! Thank you all!”

“Thank... thank you all for your welcome to your community,” managed Octavia at least. “I truly am honoured. I will do all I can to help you all.”

“Remember that the next time we need a hoof with winter wrap up,” cried somepony, causing a wave of laughter to run through the crowd and the mayor’s ears to prick up.

“Don’t worry I’m sure Octy can’t wait to be hooked up to a plough,” said Bluenote with a grin.

Octavia wondered for a moment what she had agreed to before the worry was washed away by the emotions running through the building.

“Thank you,” added Fluttershy, “But remember we’re not the only cause you could all be supporting, remember the plight of those left homeless by the twins, or the lesser spotted land warbler.”

Medley, apparently her brief recovery at an end staggered to the front of the stage. “I love you all!” she announced. “All of you, but especially you,” she pointed near her blue companion, “because you’ve got awesome flanks and you,” she pointed at the brown stallion, “‘cause you can do that thing with your thing, you know the thing.” She giggled surprisingly girlishly as Bluenote carefully moved her back from the edge of the stage before she fell into the crowd.

“Can we have one last cheer for our heroes?” cried Applejack. The response was thunderous and raised Octavia’s spirits so high that she felt like her hooves had left the floor. This must be what it feels like to be a pegasus she thought.

“You would like us to play at your Winter Wrap Up?” asked Octavia suprisedly. She didn’t think that any towns still brought in spring manually.

“Yes, we traditionally have a musical number at the beginning to get everypony’s spirits up,” said the Mayor. “And I thought you would all be the perfect choice to arrange it next year. It might help to smooth over any disagreeable behaviour of yours earlier.”

Octavia winced slightly. “I would be honoured although I cannot speak for my friends but I will ask them when I next see them. It would certainly be a challenge to merge our different musical styles.” She looked around the rapidly clearing barn, ponies were leaving in small groups and Apple family members, including Big Mac were beginning to tidy up. The only bearers she could still see were Medley who was taking a winding route to the door still supported by her two companions and Vinyl who was apparently attached to the face of the school teacher.

“Thank you. I would ask Vinyl myself but I try not to think about what she is doing to my daughter right now,” said the mayor with a grimace. She turned to the red stallion she had been dancing with earlier. “Come on honey, we better head home,” she said as she linked forearms with him and walked away.

Sighing slightly, it looked like the mayor still held a grudge, Octavia turned to the barn door. She should be heading home, it would only be a few hours before the sun arose. She took a few steps staggering slightly on her still tired hooves.

“Do you want somepony to walk you home?” asked Bon Bon trotting over to her.

“Thank you! I think I may have had a few too many to drink, I am a little inedbre... inedbri... drunk,” managed Octavia. “I am not used to this cider stuff, although it is quite smooth after a while.”

“You might not agree tomorrow,” said her companion with a smile, edging up to Octavia to allow her to lean on her.

“Thank you, you really are too kind to me.”

“I would do the same to anypony who saved the world.”

“No really, giving me a roof above my head, tidying up after me, cleaning my things.”

“Well you pay me for most of that and we’ve sorted out the rest now. See you Medley,” she grinned waving at the blue mare as she and her companions staggered past. “I swear she’s going to end up on top of the town hall again.”

Octavia frowned. “What?”

“It’s a long story, I’ll tell you later. Now we’ve got a bit of a trot in front of us so why don’t you tell me what Chenneigh is like, I’ve never visited...”

The two mares continued to talk for the whole of the walk back to their shared home and once there Octavia couldn’t see a reason to stop so they continued. Talking about each other’s pasts, their families, their hopes, it all seemed to come rushing out. Before she realised it the sun was beginning to rise. Octavia leapt to her hooves and rushed up to the stairs and ran to her room.

“What’s wrong? Are you feeling ill? To much cider?” asked Bon Bon sounding concerned as she followed her boarder.

“No, well maybe, but I try to play for the Princess each sunrise and it is almost time,” she called picking up her cello from where it rested. Bon Bon followed her into her room and shivered.

“It’s a bit chilly up here.”

“There is a draft,” replied Octavia opening the door to the balcony and looking out over the town, it seemed deserted, which was to be expected as many of its inhabitants would have only just gotten to bed. She glanced over towards the town hall, was that a pony on top of it, three?

“You should have told me,” said Bon Bon, “I’d have gotten it fixed.”

“I did mean to,” said Octavia setting up her instrument.

“Well I’ll get right on it,” the confectioner yawned. “Well maybe after I get some sleep.”

The yawn was contagious and caused Octavia to gape as well, sleep did sound good, once she had finished honouring the Princess.

“Do... Do you mind if I listen?” asked Bon Bon.

“Of course not.”

Bon Bon sat herself down on the bed and watched as Octavia took up her position. As she slowly drew her bow across the strings Octavia considered her feelings. All of her morning performances were special to her, she tried to put her all into her music for the princess as thanks for the new day but there was something different today. As Bon Bon started to quietly hum along with the tune she realised what it was, for the first time she was not only playing for the princess also playing for a friend, and that felt even better.