Princess Celestia Hates Tea

by Skywriter

First published

Seriously, a lot.

Seriously, a lot.

Part One

View Online

* * *
Princess Celestia Hates Tea

(Seriously, a lot.)

part one

by Jeffrey C. Wells

www.scrivnarium.net
* * *

"Tea, Highness?" said the tottery dun-colored unicorn mare, offering up one of the innumerable Royal Kettles for my approval.

"Of course, Mrs. Cozy," I said, plucking up my beautiful antique china cup from my beautiful antique mahogany tea table in a swirl of beautiful antique unicorn magic. "Unless my beautiful antique nostrils deceive me, this morning's selection would be a solid domestic orange pekoe, yes?"

"But of course, Highness," said Mrs. Cozy, "I know how you favor it. And just so Your Highness knows, we're going to have a wonderful jasmine ready for your meeting with the young Miss Sparkle, newly back from Hind. The little filly does love her flowers, doesn't she?"

"Yes, she does," I agreed, smiling pleasantly at the Royal Tea Stewardess. "She and I and jasmine tea go back many years."

"Always nice to have little rituals and traditions between friends, says I," said Mrs. Cozy, whimsically laying a hoof alongside her snout for a moment. "At any rate, after that I expect you'll be wanting tea with tea, so we'll have a nice simple oolong to go with the traditional watercress sandwiches. Then there'll be Earl Grey for your tête-à-tête with Princess Luna, and if you'll forgive an old mare her editorializing, the bergamot essence in the current tin is particularly fragrant."

"Glad to hear it," I said. "You do such an excellent job with Earl Grey, Mrs. Cozy."

She beamed at me, blushing a little. "Your Highness flatters."

"Nothing so base," I said. "Merely an accurate assessment of your prodigious skill."

"Thanky kindly, Highness," said Mrs. Cozy, with a little curtsy. "Ooh, and we've got something a little special cooked up for bedtime!"

"Oh?" I said.

Mrs. Cozy nodded. "Peppermint!" she exclaimed.

I perked. "Peppermint what?"

"Peppermint tea, of course!" said Mrs. Cozy.

"Oh," I said, settling back into my cushion. "Well, that all sounds positively delightful."

"I know, doesn't it?" said Mrs. Cozy. And then, "Ha, listen to me jabber on while there's tea needs pouring. Scootch your cup over here, Highness."

I did so, and with a gout of fragrant white steam, she filled my cup to the brim. I levitated it back over to my sitting-cushion, inclined my head downward at a delicate angle, and took a deep, sighing breath of the aroma.

"Ah," I said. "Heavenly, Mrs. Cozy."

"Again with the flattery, Highness," said Mrs. Cozy, backing respectfully away from me whilst taking hold of the tea trolley's handle in a flicker of deep brown magic. "Now, you just ring for me if you're in need of another cup, you hear me, Highness?"

"I might just take you up on that!" I called, laughing musically. "There just are some times when I can't stop at one!"

"At your honored disposal, as ever, Highness," said Mrs. Cozy, easing the tea trolley out of the salon doors. I nodded and smiled to her, my expression held aloft in a mask of beautiful poise until I could hear the latch click in the door and Mrs. Cozy's receding hoofsteps down the length of the hall.

My face fell. I magicked my beautiful antique china cup over to a beautiful antique fern specifically selected for this purpose and dumped the horrid ichor into the patient and forgiving soil beneath it, watching it glisten for a moment and then vanish into the earth.

"I so barking hate tea," I said, staring down at the dirt.

* * *

"And that's the story of how my friends and I defused an incipient international crisis and brokered a solid peace between the deer-folk of Hind and the Sky Kingdom griffins!" said my Faithful Student, taking a contented sip of her jasmine tea. "Mm," she said, closing her eyes in bliss and letting the steam wash over her. "Excellent as always, Princess Celestia!"

"I employ the best," I said, smiling. "Including, it seems, in the field of negotiation. I'm most pleased with the wonderful news from abroad, Twilight. I would like similar reports from each of the members of your diplomatic mission, if that's not too much trouble."

"My friends are right downstairs, Princess, field reports in hooves! We learned so much about both friendship and complex multinational treaty negotiation, and we're dying to share it all with you!" She grinned at me, wide and white, and then took another sip of jasmine tea.

I responded in kind, sipping at my own cup and, as always, commanding myself in the sternest possible terms not to retch at the taste of the stuff. Some days, it was all I could do to resist the temptation to delve into the time spells, go back to the dawn of pony, find the blackguard who first came up with the idea of boiling leaves and drinking it, and give her or him a good solid cuff. I suppose there's the odd chance that when I returned to the present I would find that pony civilization had crumbled and that the world now groaned under some sort of oppressive Diamond Dog regime, but it might just be worth the risk.

"Oh!" continued Twilight, heedless of my inner monologue. "And we learned a whole bunch of other lessons, too! Rarity would like to talk to you about something called 'Bollywood', Pinkie is planning on preparing a graphically-detailed report on why a pony should never eat too much cauliflower vindaloo in one sitting, and Rainbow Dash would like to petition you for an annual festival where ponies fly diamond-studded kites around in some sort of epic slash-everypony-else's-kite-up kite war, just like they do over there, which is a plan that can only end well."

"I cannot foresee any problems with that," I said, nodding.

"And there's something else here!" she said, mischievously, her horn flaring again as she rustled around in the diplomatic pouch resting lightly against her brisket. "I brought you a little surprise from Hind. Try and guess what it is!"

"Is it… tea?" I said, my eyes glinting and my mouth fixed tight in a gently amused princess-like rictus.

"It's tea!" Twilight exclaimed, producing a small tin and holding it aloft. "Boy, you'll never believe the stuff they let you carry across borders in a diplomatic pouch! No customs or anything, and best yet, it's all perfectly legal!" She pulled the tin back over to her and read the words stamped into the metal. "Super Fine Grade First Flush Darjeeling," she read. "Often called the 'Champagne of Teas', this light-bodied tea possesses an enticing floral aroma combined with muscatel-like spiciness. Perfect with breakfast, a light snack, or anytime you just want to relax." She beamed at me. "I tell you, Princess, nopony knows tea like the Hindi. I had so much tea while I was over there, you wouldn't even believe."

"Sounds delightful!" I said. "I can't wait to try it!"

"Hey, I know!" she said. "No time like the present, right? Lets get Mrs. Cozy up here and have her brew us a cup! If you don't mind opening your present right away."

"Oh, I don't know, I'm rather enjoying the jasmine right now," I said, delicately inclining the royal muzzle toward my student as I lied to her brazenly and without shame.

Twilight blinked. My Faithful Student is quick, eager, and perceptive, and furthermore pays altogether too much attention to me. An asset during lesson-time, to be certain, but when one is trying to pull the wool over her eyes, not so much. I could have sworn that I let nothing of my mien slip, but to my dismay, I saw her face fall a little at my words.

"Is… something the matter?" asked Twilight, her voice laced with an undercurrent of her omnipresent neurotic dread. "Do you not like Darjeeling?"

"I enjoy all tea, of course," I said, digging my nigh-infinitely-deep hole a fraction of an inch deeper. "I am pleased and touched by your gift, my Faithful Student."

"You've already got a lot of Darjeeling," she said.

I once had an entire wardrobe full of Darjeeling, I thought. Stuffed absolutely to the gills. But then, last week, I got in a mood, runically sealed it and carried it out to the hazardous magical-waste depository in the dead of night and was done with it. "No!" I therefore answered, in complete honesty.

"Then… what's the matter? Please, Princess, tell me!"

She did the eyes thing, then. Father in Eohippus, preserve me from the eyes thing, I thought, anchoring my soul against the gale-force wind of adorable, ingenuous pleading being emitted by my student. I remembered little filly Twilight turning those eyes on me many a time, repeatedly reducing the most powerful creature in all Equestria to marmalade. I am powerless against them.

So be it.

"Twilight Sparkle," I said, lowering my head conspiratorially, my voice dancing with a wholly engineered tone of secret glee, "I'm going to tell you something that I've never told anypony else in the entire world. Would you like to hear it?"

Twilight's face was like my beloved sun. "Yes!" she nearly cried, and I could see the wellspring of joy in her heart, joy that I would entrust little Twilight Sparkle with one of the hidden secrets of Equestria. "Of course, Princess!"

I hung my best, most polished smile on my face.

"I really actually don't like tea."

A sheen of ice instantly coated the surface of Twilight's sun, and I winced at my patent miscalculation. Twilight's face did not move, not even a smidgen, but the light in her eyes was instantly snuffed and buried in loose clay in her psychological backyard. I felt a trapdoor open in my gut and attempted to fill the newly-exposed pit with words. "It's a funny story, actually," I said, trying desperately to convince her of this fact. "Several thousand years ago, Princess Luna was stuck on an idea for a birthday present to give me. Consumables are always good for a mare of my age, of course; we've still got a team of royal archaeologists excavating one of my long-forgotten bric-a-brac vaults and discovering interesting new strata of decorative candle-holders, if you'll recall. Well, Luna somehow got it into her head that I was a tea-drinker, and so she bought me this beautiful gold-leaf porcelain tea service, complete with a lovely assortment of teas, and I was very touched by the gift, even though I can't actually stand the stuff. But I couldn't very well say that to her face – you know almost as well as I how delicate she can be – so I would occasionally brew up a cup while she was watching and pretend to enjoy it. And it did make her quite happy.

"It wasn't too long after that that we hosted a Qilinese envoy and his retinue on a matter of trade, and you know how fond the half-dragon unicorns are of their tea, so I had the idea that I would hire a really top-flight tea stewardess – incidentally, Mrs. Cozy's great-to-the-nth power granddam – and had her brew us all a cuppa. Everypony seemed to enjoy him or herself, and then I thought the matter closed.

"A month later, the first crates began arriving from Qilin, gifts of gratitude for my excellent handling of the trade negotiations. And then, the cheerful letters, wishing me health and long life and imploring me to please enjoy the gifts of tea. And it would have been something of a faux pas to scorn it entirely, wouldn't it? So I made up my mind that I would get over my silly distaste for the stuff, and began drinking it near-constantly in an attempt to build up a tolerance.

"After a time of that, tea and I became more-or-less indistinguishable in the minds of my people. Soon, my entire Court was full of grown stallions and mares who had never known the Princess to be without her tea. It became a symbol, of sorts. And maybe it was foalish of me, but once it had reached that point, I felt that to abandon it would create cracks across the public's perception of me as an unchanging bastion of light in the dark currents of time."

I wandered over to the small balcony of the Rosewood Salon and stared down at the happy bustle of Canterlot City, watching the little ponies and their pony carts trot back and forth along the streets like some toy model. "For all my thousands of years of drinking it, however," I said, "I cannot become accustomed to it. It makes me sick to my stomach. Literally, at times. It is my least favorite beverage in all history, even more so than that unsugared juniper beer gut-rot that was something of a fad in the early seven-hundreds. I'm sorry if this comes as something of a shock to you, but I just thought of all the beautiful souvenirs you could have purchased with the money you spent on that Darjeeling, and, well, I felt a bit guilty. So will you please excuse this old mare her little white lie, my Faithful Student?"

I turned back to where Twilight had been sitting, and she was gone.

I sighed.

"That could have gone better," I said. There came a bustle from the arched doorway of the Rosewood Salon, and a pegasus guard sergeant – Hoplite, by name – came into view.

"Ah, Sergeant Hoplite," I said, smiling at him. "Did you by any chance glimpse a distressed purple unicorn fleeing these chambers a moment or so ag—" And that was all the time I had before I was pinned to the floor in a dramatic flying tackle.

My eyes went wide, thoughts of treachery and assassination plots spinning before the eye of my mind. So it came as something of a surprise to me when Hoplite pulled off his helmet and snorted a single word into my face.

"Impostor!" he shouted.

Oh, dear.

"Sergeant Hoplite," I said, calmly, "my wing-muscles alone have the capacity to bend tempered steel, and so I assure you, this is a matter of politeness alone, but could you please remove yourself from my Royal Person?"

"I take no orders from false usurpers!" snarled Hoplite. "The Element of Magic is on to your deceit, trickster, and she is warning the royal guard as we speak!"

"Hoplite," I said, thunking my head against the hard stone floor of the Rosewood Salon and wishing that the overzealous guardstallion had had the decency to tackle me a few meters to the right, where there was a rather nice plush bit of carpeting. "Your commitment to duty is commendable. As was your father's. As was his father's before him. I have personally known and decorated ten generations of your family serving in this same post, and I can tell you, with levels of uncomfortable detail, exactly what rather embarrassing part of your great-great-great-grandsire's anatomy was injured to earn him his Purple Heart. So might you Pretty Princess Please release me?"

"Your words flow off me like water, Changeling Queen!"

"Oh, so that's what this is about," I said. "Sergeant Hoplite, I assure you that—"

"You will assure me of nothing!" bellowed Hoplite. "The Court doubted the suspicions of Twilight Sparkle once before, during the Royal Wedding Coup, and it was nearly the ruination of Canterlot! The Guard will not be so dishonored by you again, wretched beast!"

Another bustle at the archway revealed Shining Armor, my Faithful Student's elder brother and the captain of my Royal Guard. "Thank heaven," I said, trying to scoot the Royal Backside across the floor so that I could get a better angle of conversation with him. "Shining Armor, would you please call off your commendably zealous stallion-at-arms and then go find your sister? I believe she may be about to do something rather rash."

Shining Armor stood at full attention, seething quietly at me.

"You," he said.

Oh, oh dear.

"You!" spat Shining Armor, marching up to me. "You abducted my beloved Cadence and left her to die in a cold gemstone mine deep in the bowels of Canterlot Mountain! And then, you had the unmitigated gall to impersonate her and stand next to me at the altar! I will hear none of your entreaties!" With a deep scowl and a flash of magenta-hued light, Shining Armor plucked Hoplite off me and then surrounded me in a durable shell of pure aetheric force.

"Listen, Shining Armor," I said, my eyes glancing around at the perfect sphere of sparkling rose-hued energy he had summoned. "It's rather funny, but this really is nothing more than a catastrophic misunderstanding."

"Save your breath, Changeling!" said Shining Armor. "Your lips move, but I hear nothing. I've established a one-way sound barrier in the field that imprisons you, so any further lies from your throat will go unheard!"

I dismissed Shining's force field with a thought. There are certain perks to being the most skilled living manipulatrix of the Stream, after all. "Listen, Shining Armor—" I essayed again.

Shining Armor instantly re-established the containment field with a noise that sounded like the word "poink". I dismissed it once more.

"Shining Armor, please l—"

Poink. Dismiss.

"If you would please just hear m—"

Poink. Dismiss.

"There's something very important I n—"

Poink. Dismiss.

"For the love of my Father in Eohippus, Shining Armor—"

"There she is!" cried Twilight Sparkle, bolting into the now-crowded Rosewood Salon, a phalanx of five friends at her flank and the Tourmaline Diadem of Both Friendship and Magic gleaming at her forehead like a beacon. "That's the Changeling who supplanted Princess Celestia!"

"Oo!" squealed Pinkie Pie. "She's really got her down super-duper well!"

"Yes, except for she forgot one thing," said Twilight, grinning in triumph. "She doesn't… like… tea!"

"Astonishing," murmured Rarity.

"Yeah, what a dumbcluck," remarked Rainbow Dash, hovering a few feet above the mêlée. "Everypony knows that the Princess sucks down tea like there's no tomorrow."

"So what're we gonna do, y'all?" inquired Applejack, she of Honesty.

"Easy," said Twilight. "We blast her! Formation, girls!"

"Um," said Fluttershy, raising a single demure hoof. "I was wondering if, um, maybe we should make absolutely sure that we're right before—"

"No time for that, Fluttershy!" said Twilight. "We need to burn the corruption out as fast as equinely possible!"

"I'm sure you're right," said Fluttershy, hanging her head.

"No, no, see!" I said, my eyes, going a bit wide. "Listen to your friend, Twilight!"

"Listen, Fake Celestia," said Twilight. "Fluttershy is one of my best friends, but everypony knows she folds like an origami box."

"I like origami boxes," admitted Fluttershy.

"See?" said Twilight, apparently vindicated in her own mind. "Everypony form up behind me. The rest of you, stand back. B.B.B.F.F., please throw up a shield to protect innocent bystanders and the rest of the castle from damage."

"On it, Twily!" said Shining Armor, saluting her with a rakish grin.

"Seriously, my little ponies," I said. "If you'll just hear me out—"

There was a hair-flattening surge of spectral energy as the Elements of Harmony bloomed to life. Even my own corona-mane was thrown completely askew. Rainbow light began spinning around the forms of the Bearers of the Elements as surges of raw harmonic power lifted them into the air behind their Twilight-shaped focal point.

"Okay!" I said, sweating a little. "Really not kidding here! I assure you, my forbearance in this matter is largely due to my being rather fond of the décor in this room and not wanting it all torched and s—"

The chromatic wave of the Elements of Harmony finished its charge cycle and lanced at me like a bright hornet made of friendship. "Ow!" I said, crossly. "That really sort of stings, you know!"

"I'm well aware of what it feels like to be struck by the full force of the Elements of Harmony, 'sister'," came a smooth voice from the archway. "It's happened to me twice, if you'll recall your preparatory research."

"Lulu," I said, trying to keep the tremble out of my voice. "Could you please firmly instruct my Faithful Student to—"

"No more lies!" bellowed Luna, knocking over everything in the room that had not been firmly nailed in place, and even some things that had. "My sister loved the tea I gave her! She told me so, again and again! Your deceit is a pathetic one, Chrysalis!"

"It didn't work!" cried Twilight, meanwhile, in tones of dismay, shaking the Tourmaline Diadem up and down and then looking back at her companions. "Are we not friends enough or something? Should we maybe sing a song? Share some secrets?"

"Blast her again!" cried Rainbow Dash.

"Good plan, R.D.," agreed Twilight. "All right, Faux-lestia, prepare to receive a double-shot of undiluted weapons-grade love and tolerance!"

"Twilight, please, is there anything I could say right now that would make you—" Again with the rainbow light. "Augh!" I cried. "Yes! Yes, all right, I'm sort of tasting metal in the back of my throat, now, could we please call a halt on this?"

"No!" shrieked Rarity, who really seemed to be getting into the smiting aspect of things. "Destroy her! Hit her again!"

"I don't think it's working, Rarity!" said Twilight. "Luna, how do you set these things on 'Banish To The Moon' again? Is there some sort of toggle switch on the back, or—"

"No, it's a little more complicated than that," said Luna, grabbing the Tourmaline Diadem from Twilight's hooves. "It's a matter of lunar attunement. Just hold on a mo…"

"Fine!" I said, my eyes going wide at the one combination in this room that really could do me some damage. "Yes! I do so love tea! Mm, mm, good!"

"Too late, pretender-queen," declared Luna, giving the Diadem back to Twilight. "Fire at will, Twilight Sparkle."

"Right!" said Twilight, standing head-high and proud. "Formation, again!"

Once again, the Elements of Harmony blossomed with light. My, my, thought a tiny and dispassionate particle of my mind, how quickly do things get out of hoof.

I gazed up at that which very well could doom me, and to add insult to injury, for the stupidest conceivable reason.

I took a deep breath, gathering the full potential of the Stream around my beautiful antique form like a May Day ribbon, and then focused it through my alicorn, letting it thunder up and down its length. My eyes flared, momentarily becoming windows onto the deepest heart of the blazing-hot sphere which was both my charge and my destiny. I rose into the air, phoenix-like, my coruscant aura utterly obliterating every solid object in the Rosewood Salon that was not shielded by its attachment to the soul-force of a living being. Woodwork, and then stone beneath, burst into flame, falling to curls of blackened ash and magma around our shoulders. The very walls of Canterlot buckled to its power, leaving our little mass of ponies perched unsteadily on a windswept ledge of masonry clinging to edge of the high cityward gallery.

I let out my breath in a thundering Royal Canterlot Declaration.

"HEAR ME NOW," I bellowed. "I AM CELESTIA THE UNDIMMED, PRINCESS OF THE SOLAR ORB! THE BLOOD OF THIS LAND BURNS BRIGHT IN MY VEINS AND BRAVE PONIES WEEP IN AGONY AT MY GLORY! TENS OF THOUSANDS OF GENERATIONS HAVE CRUMBLED TO DUST IN MY WAKE, AND TENS OF THOUSANDS OF GENERATIONS MORE WILL FOLLOW BEFORE I AM SPENT! ALL THIS POWER IS AT MY COMMAND, AND YET I HAVE BUT ONE THING TO DECLARE TO YOU THIS DAY!"

The sun above flared from yellow to dazzling blue-white.

"I… DO NOT LIKE… TEA."

Silence fell over the former room, and over Canterlot City in general, as the sun dimmed to its rather more traditional color. Twilight Sparkle, her mane now ruffled by high outdoor wind, looked up at her brother.

"Gosh, Shiny," she said. "Good job protecting the castle."

"Yeah, kinda messed up there," said Shining Armor, scratching the back of his neck with one hoof. "Almost as bad as somepony running up and down the Hall of Dawn yelling 'Help, help, Princess Celestia has been replaced by an evil duplicate.'"

"Pardon me, but the word I used was 'doppelgänger'," said Twilight. "However, I take your point."

I ignored the bickering siblings. My energy briefly spent, I strode to the edge of the destruction and gazed out at Canterlot City, eddies from the turbulent Stream whipping my ethereal mane back and forth as it struggled to return to laminar flow.

The city was utterly still. Not a cart moved in the streets. And upon me, I could feel the trepid looks of hundreds of thousands of eyes.

Hundreds of thousands of frozen, unblinking stares.

"Oh, dear," I said.

Part Two

View Online

* * *
Princess Celestia Hates Tea

(Seriously, a lot.)

part two

by Jeffrey C. Wells

www.scrivnarium.net
* * *

"Dysgeusia," said Dr. Caduceus, my Royal Physician, as we pushed our way through the frenetic crowd of junior ministers, each one waving papers at me.

"Gesundheit," I said, attempting a funny. It was a good day to be a junior minister, all told, because in my growing frustration with the ridiculous predicament I found myself in, I had been swinging my approval-stamp around wild and free, as though I were threshing grain with it. I was pretty much approving anything that even looked like a stack of papers at this point, and quite a few things that didn't. I seem to recall bestowing a rather impressive portfolio of executive powers upon an ornamental vase a few hundred yards back, for instance. I hoped that it would not abuse them.

"No, Highness," said Dr. Caduceus. "Dysgeusia, meaning—"

"A disruption in the sensation of taste, yes, Doctor," I said. "I'm well aware."

The maroon-colored unicorn harrumphed a bit as he muscled past a helpless errand-colt. "Then you'll also know," he said, "that there's any number of illnesses that can evoke symptoms of dysgeusia. Serious illnesses, Highness."

"Doctor Caduceus," I said, giving casual approval to a multi-thousand bit study on the effects of cheese upon the world's magnetic field. "I appreciate your concern. I want to assure you that there has been no change in my perception of the flavor of tea. I find it equally distasteful today as I did yesterday, and as I did the day before."

Caduceus clucked his tongue in his mouth and lifted up a little clipboard and pencil in his telekinetic field. "Memory disruption," he muttered, as he wrote.

"This is serious, Doctor," I said, idly designating March as National Herring Month.

"Of course it is, Highness!" he said. "Dysgeusia and memory disruption? That narrows the field considerably, in a rather alarming direction! Paraneoplastic syndrome comes readily to mind."

"You blame absolutely everything on paraneoplastic syndrome, Doctor," I said. "I sent one of my chambermaids to you with a troublesome stone in her hoof, and you returned her with a diagnosis of paraneoplastic syndrome." I punctuated my utterance by funding an entire polar expedition, complete with sled-dogs.

"It's the silent killer," he said, ominously. "And the noisy one. And basically all levels of death-volume in between."

"I'm certain it is," I said, granting Most Favorable Trade status to a candelabra and accidentally declaring one of my adjutants an independent nation unto herself. Just a few more yards to the audience hall. Buck up, Celestia, you can do this…

"I'm telling you, Your Highness," said Caduceus. "You're not a well mare. As your personal physician, I formally advise you to delay the Day Court until you're feeling a bit more, ahm, sane."

"Sane?" I said, quirking my brow at him as I effortlessly annexed a handful of territories on my primary swing and sent several thousand tons of yams to a starving nation on the Zebra subcontinent with my follow-through. "You know what would make me a bit more sane, Doctor Caduceus? Getting out of this crowd of junior ministers and retiring to the peace and tranquility of my public audience hall!" I blinked. "And, yes, I did just say that!"

"Very well, Princess," said Caduceus, sighing theatrically. "You're the god-empress, I suppose."

"Thank you," I said, passing the last few yards of this tedious gauntlet and throwing open the doors to the audience hall.

My audience hall was absolutely full.

We are not referring to "fire-marshal's recommendations" levels of fullness. We are not even referring to "maximum safe capacity" levels of fullness. We are referring to "it would be physically impossible to cram even a single additional soul into this room" levels of fullness. The presence of copious numbers of pegasus petitioners even assured that the room was filled to absolute mathematical capacity two to three vertical levels deep.

Virtually everypony in the room was marked with a tea-related Cutie Mark.

We had ponies marked with teapot Marks. We had ponies marked with tea-strainer Marks. We had ponies with trendy French Press tea-preparation system Marks. We had ponies whose flanks were marked with a trio of tea leaves, or a trio of silken teabags. One husky, bearded pony sported a wonderfully detailed silver samovar with matching sugar-bowl on his behind. Every single tea-talented pony in all Equestria had made her or his way to the capital city, overnight.

My audience hall was filled with an entire solid wall of pony.

And, the second I showed my face at the door, it was also filled with an entire solid wall of noise. Some were concerned tea-merchants, angry at what my declaration might do to their bottom line in the next fiscal quarter. Some were tea zealots, morally outraged that I would dare sling such base slander at their apotheotic beverage. And some were merely good Samaritans who were worried that maybe their Princess had lost her zest for eternal life, and was in need of a good hot cup of tea to cheer her up, tea which they would gratefully provide.

I delicately shut my eyes, and then addressed the room in ringing tones of heart-rending clarity, tones which would brook no over-speak.

"Attention, my beloved pony subjects!" I announced, as the room fell silent in ripples before me. "It is with great regret that I tell you that the Day Court will be hearing absolutely no tea-related business this day!"

Murmurs of protest and dismay began spreading like ground-fire. I spoke again to quash them. "Clearly, there is more to be heard on the topic of tea than any one Princess can manage in a single day of petitions. Return to Canterlot Castle at eight o'clock on the morrow, and queue up before the office of the Ombudspony of the Courts, so that we may approach this crisis with some semblance of organization!"

It is difficult to argue with me when I get my stern face on. Moping and dragging hooves, the throng of petitioners slowly began to clear its way out of my audience hall, a process that took nearly an hour, all told. I spread my wings and flapped over the crowd to my throne, waiting patiently to see what actual business could be attended to to-day.

When all was said and done, I was left alone in the echoing audience hall with a single goldenrod-hued pony, bearing a Mark of three wheat-heads.

I smiled, beatifically. "Approach the Throne," I said, "and state your name."

The young mare did so, curtsying low. "Amber Waves," she said. "From Neighbraska."

"Speak, Amber Waves," I said. "What is your petition?"

"Well, begging your pardon, Highness, I originally came here to petition the Court for some relief from a powerful blight that's been affecting our wheat crop, but—"

"No sooner said than done," I said, so anxious to be dealing with anything not tea-related that I practically trod all over her words with my enthusiasm. "I have many earth ponies at my disposal with special gifts for driving blight from crops, and all their powers I lend to you."

"Yes, but," said Amber Waves, scratching at a flagstone with one roughly-shorn hoof. "Is it… is it true what all them other ponies were saying about you not liking tea any more?"

"Well, yes," I said, dragging my expression of distant, cosmic joy up the metaphorical wall and hammering it into place with good, heavy nails. "That all is true."

Amber Waves shook her head, and then turned away toward the door. "This changes everything," she muttered, as she trotted away.

I gazed out over my completely empty audience hall.

"Well!" I said. "Court's adjourned, I suppose."

"One moment, Princess," came a familiar voice from the door. I looked up. There, making her way down the velvet carpet leading to my throne, was my Faithful Student, looking a bit grey and haggard and heavy-lidded. Accompanying her was the Royal Tea Stewardess, Mrs. Cozy, her eyes rimmed in red. She sniffled occasionally as she walked.

"Princess," said Twilight Sparkle, striding forward, "I know you said you wouldn't be hearing tea-related business today, but—"

"Twilight," I said, "you are my Faithful Student, and Mrs. Cozy is a valued member of my household. Blanket declarations do not always apply to those dearest to my heart."

Twilight nodded at me, seeming satisfied, and then gestured to Mrs. Cozy. The old unicorn approached the throne, curtsying low before me.

"Mrs. Cozy?" I said.

Mrs. Cozy burst into open tears. "You always told me you enjoyed my tea!" the old mare wailed. "For years, you complimented me, over and over, on how wonderful my tea was!"

"Please do not take personal insult at this ludicrous chain of events, Mrs. Cozy," I said, praying for some sort of rope to be thrown to me. "I am familiar enough with tea from my many, many thousands of years consuming it to know when a cuppa is prepared with skill, flair, and integrity. You are a true master of the craft, Mrs. Cozy, and my individual taste for the beverage in question in no way darkens my appreciation for the work you do and the outstanding manner in which you do it."

For all my words, Mrs. Cozy was inconsolable. "Just last week!" she cried. "Just last week I was talking to my sweet granddaughter Chai, saying if she kept it up and practiced her brewing that maybe she could someday be the Royal Tea Stewardess in my place! She was so happy to hear me say that, begging your pardon, Highness. Lit right up like a Hearth's Warming tree. What am I supposed to tell her now?"

"Mrs. Cozy—"

"What am I supposed to tell her?" said Mrs. Cozy, and then she was lost to choked weeping. Overcome with emotion, she blew her nose into her apron and then wheeled about and left the hall at full gallop; her crying was audible long after she had vanished from sight.

I sighed, rose from my throne, and descended the steps to my Faithful Student.

"Twilight," I said, "I begin to perceive that I may have made an error."

From my student, naught but stony silence.

"Do you remember the first time we shared tea, Princess?" she said, delicately, after a time.

"Yes," I said. Et tu, Twilight Sparkle? I thought.

"For months, I'd been observing you take tea in our study room at the Lyceum, watching you enjoy a cup or two while I practiced forms of the Uncluttered Path. And it smelled so heavenly, like flowers and warm rain, and I begged and begged you to let me try some, so finally, one day, you sat down with me and poured me a little. And it made me so happy, Princess. It felt like my heart would burst."

Her face darkened. "Then I tasted it, and it tasted like I was gargling with dirt. But I kept smiling the entire time, gagging my way through the whole cup, because I knew that if Princess Celestia loved and enjoyed it, it must be something special. And then when I got back to the boarding-rooms, I snuck a bunch of this horrible black Nilgiri stuff from the bins in the kitchen and I brewed myself about twenty-eight cups of it and I drank it all in six minutes flat, and then I just sat there shaking until about four A.M. when I finally fell unconscious and then I had these terrible nightmares about being tormented by animated pitchers of cream poking me with tiny little spoons."

"I, er—"

"But I kept drinking it!" she said, her eyes going a bit crazy. "And drinking it and drinking it and drinking it! And gradually, I started to like it, even though it turned me into an absolute raging caffeine addict! You don't know how much of my parents' care-package money went straight into my tea-strainer, Princess! It got to a point where I deliberately had to step myself down to coffee because my eyes were starting to turn yellow and I woke up every morning with the ability to hear colors!"

She stood there for a moment, panting.

"I did it for you, Princess," she continued, at last. "I did it because I wanted to be you. There's a part of me that still believes, that's dead-set and convinced, that you can't not like tea."

"I'm… so, so sorry," I said, simply.

"No," said Twilight, firmly. "You don't need to apologize. Because you know what? I thought it over last night, and I came to a realization, and I'm feeling a whole lot better about it now."

"One bright spot, then, at least," I said, smiling. "There's a lot of misinformation resting in my ponies' minds, Twilight, most of it my fault. My personal physician thinks I'm insane, or have paraneoplastic syndrome, or am insane because I have paraneoplastic syndrome, or something like that."

"Well, I think it's time we set the record straight. You've got a meeting with the High Cabinet this afternoon, correct?"

"Yes," I said. "Mostly concerned with damage control from my little tea tantrum."

"I would be honored if you would let me attend and stand by your side for it."

"And I," I said, "would be honored if you would do so."

"Great!" said Twilight, brightly, as we trotted out of the audience hall, side-by-side. "Don't worry, Princess. We'll fix this. You'll see."

* * *

"Mares and gentlecolts of the High Cabinet," I said, addressing them. "I realize that it is not a matter of protocol to begin proceedings such as these with an apology, but in this case, I feel one is warranted, and as humility has never been one of my greatest strengths, I find it meet that I should cultivate any such leanings in my soul." I gazed, clear-eyed, at each one of them in turn. "My faithful ministers," I declared, "I am sorry for behaving in a most un-Princesslike fashion yesterday and inadvertently compromising the bedrock of Equestrian society over a relatively trivial matter of beverage preference."

"And I'd like to apologize, as well," said little Twilight, at my side. "Had I not been so completely flipped-out with panic over the possibility of a second Changeling attack on Canterlot, I wouldn't have brought the business end of Elements of Harmony to bear on my wonderful teacher, thus lighting the fuse that led to this whole big… blow-up… thing."

"Apologies are all well and good, Highness, Miss Sparkle," rumbled Chancellor Palimpsest, leaning forward, "but they will not restore the public's faith. Our tea exports have plummeted, overnight. There is talk that the crop of Equestrian Domestic must perforce be terrible this year, if it engenders in the Princess such a violent negative reaction."

"There are even mutterings that the crop itself might be cursed, or hexed," added Lady Goldenrod. "This is a financial disaster, Highness, the ruination of many lives."

"Sociologically-speaking," added Poetry Slam, my distressingly hip Minister of Culture, adjusting his tiny smoked spectacles, "this also puts us on the precipice of an extremely un-groovy downward swing in teahouse attendance, leading to widespread societal angst as we attempt to reconcile and rebuild our cultural identity in light of these new standards of obligatory 'third-place' interaction." He sat back. "We're like ships without rudders, Mommy-o."

"Yes," I said, my head high. "And I bear it all on my own back. Except Poetry Slam's thing. Which I don't understand at all."

"And she totally doesn't have to do that," cut in Twilight, "because it's not her fault!"

I glanced down at Twilight as she stepped up to the podium. "Okay, Cabinet-people!" she said. "I don't want to alarm you overmuch, but I can sum up the problem we're facing here with one single word."

She leaned over the podium, resting her hooves heavily on its edges. "Discord," she said.

The Cabinet erupted in gasps. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO. I moved smoothly to interpose myself between Twilight and her podium. "What I think my Faithful Student means—" I began.

"Discord has returned?" shouted the always high-strung Cardinal Cardinal. "And he can make ponies not enjoy tea?"

"No, he's still stone; but yes, he can!" said Twilight, pointing, who was like unto a rock before the podium and would not be moved. "Or at least his lingering corruption-spells can! I figured it all out last night! No matter how much I thought about what the Princess said to me yesterday, there was a part of me that was utterly convinced that she just couldn't not like tea, and do you know what I realized? That part of me was absolutely right!" Twilight smiled, serenely. "You see, Chancellors, when Discord attempted to destroy Harmony by controlling the minds of my friends and me and making us act contrary to our fundamental natures, we all did some pretty crazy things! My friend Applejack started lying, Pinkie Pie started grouching, Rarity got greedy, Fluttershy got mean, and Rainbow Dash just up and deserted everypony! And it made me lose faith in friendship! Mares and gentlecolts, Discord made us do things that none of us would ever, ever do in real life, except Applejack sometimes. And that's when it hit me."

Twilight turned towards me, her eyes bright and trusting, the very picture of the little filly I had accepted as my personal protégé all those years ago. "Princess Celestia would never not enjoy tea in real life! It's just too important to her, to us! And that means… Discord got to her, too! Clearly, a non-tea-drinking Celestia is diametrically opposed to the real Celestia we all know and love." Twilight grinned at me and snuggled up against my side.

"Wait," said Chancellor Palimpsest, his eyes narrow. "Are you saying that our Princess Celestia is corrupted by Discord's influence? As we speak?"

"Yep!" said Twilight.

"So what can we do to bring the Main Queen home to us, little sister?" asked Poetry Slam.

"It's simple!" cried Twilight. "We do the same thing I did to all my corrupted friends! I cast a memory spell on the Princess, and it'll make her relive every single beautiful tea experience she's ever had. That way, all her enjoyment of tea will come surging back to her, and she'll be the cultured, tea-drinking Sun Princess we all know and love again!"

My left eyelid twitched.

"Every… single… tea… experience?" I asked, quietly.

"Uh huh!" said Twilight, nodding brightly. "Thousands and thousands of years of happy little tea memories. It'll be great!"

Trembling slightly, I looked down at the shining face of my Faithful Student, then up at my High Cabinet; each one, to a pony, was perched on the edge of her or his cushion, watching me, waiting to hear what I would say next.

They all wanted it to be a curse I labored under. The world wanted it that way. An entire quarter of the economy and a non-insignificant slice of our diplomatic relationships hinged, improbably, on my being the Princess that everypony publicly and quite incorrectly knew me to be, down to the least and most insignificant detail.

I am not the master of my people; like any good and righteous politician in the annals of history, I am their servant. And never has this been made more clear than in the words I uttered next.

"Twilight Sparkle," I said, "is absolutely correct."

* * *

And then it was the next day, and I stood tall and unbowed on the Coronation Balcony before a great and cheering crowd of my pony subjects. To my right was my Faithful Student, the Tourmaline Diadem seated proudly on her forehead. To my left, a positively incandescent Mrs. Cozy, whose happy little world had been rebuilt in toto from the ashes it had fallen to.

I stepped forward, looking down at the milling throng. Certainly, all my tea-related would-be petitioners from yesterday would be in attendance, their worries now washed away by the surprise revelation that the Sun Princess had been suffering some dark sorcery this whole time, that she hadn't actually declared her apostasy from their all-important beverage. The mood from the crowd was the sort of deep, ocean-like contentment that can only come from a vast multitude of ponies feeling the relief of slipping back into the status quo. Because, more than anything in this world – more than apples, more than jewels, more than muffins – what a pony wants most out of life is normalcy.

I was about to give them what they wanted.

With great decorum and ceremony, Mrs. Cozy levitated a small, portable tea service over to where I stood, facing the masses, my beautiful antique teacup telekinetically suspended for everypony to see. Mrs. Cozy poured, then, filling the cup. I noted with bemusement that she had chosen Twilight's fresh Darjeeling for the ceremony. It was fitting.

I stared down into the pale, amber-colored liquid. Courtesy of Twilight Sparkle, I had spent the entirety of last night reliving thousands and thousands of hateful years of tea, and though it nearly broke me, I had endured. This one simple real-world task was all that remained. Surely I could do this.

I raised the cup to my lips, and the horrid liquid entered my mouth.

I had once, in my youth, reduced a small mountain to pea gravel with only my hooves to aid me. The effort I had expended there was nothing compared to that which I now spent in attempting to keep my abdominal muscles completely still. One small retch could bring the whole world crashing down again.

Blessedly, the nausea passed, and I flashed the crowd a perfect smile, holding my teacup aloft.

"Delicious!" I declared. And they erupted in cheers.

"It's good to have you back, Princess," said Twilight, looking up at me as the noise washed over us like a wave.

"It's good to be back," I agreed.