Snow softly dusted down across the thatched roofs and cobblestone streets of Ponyville, like confectioner's sugar across a gingerbread village. The weather ponies had outdone themselves with the fineness of their flurries, the powdery drifts piling high but light enough to easily shovel away. Even notable curmudgeons like Cranky Doodle Donkey couldn't complain about shoveling it. He tried, but his wife shushed him fairly easily.
The light swirl of snow did not hamper the doings of the citizens of Ponyville. A small portion of that was sweeping the street of snow to make it easier on travelers, but the great majority of that activity was decorating for the coming Hearth's Warming.
Coniferous trees were carefully set up along the streets, and decorated with strings of various things. Threaded popcorn, electrothaumatic lights, or in Diamond Dog areas alternating glowing fungi and charged gems. Ornaments of blown glass, cut crystal and carved wood were sprinkled over the surface of the trees, the many figures creating a microcosm of dancing creatures and tiny objects to populate their pine-scented world. The trees were crowned with many figures, from the dancing Princesses, to the Heart-Fire of Friendship.
Other folk were decorating the houses and businesses. Mr. Cake was up on a ladder stringing gumdrop-shaped lights on his home, other items queued up to make Sugarcube Corner more festive and seasonal, more like a gingerbread home. His wife and foals watched from the street, bundled up against the cold. Other homeowners tossed cables across to their neighbors, each one adding pendant ornaments until the spaces between the houses were sparkling from the hanging decorations.
Golden Oak library was at its festive best, potent earth pony magic keeping the branches largely leafed, which kept it looking bright and full. Further, large decorations hung on the branches, lights twinkled in large strings and the top was crowned with a large Heart-Fire of Friendship, which was licked with a magical pink-colored illusory fire.
The inside was as beautifully decorated as the outside. The bookshelves has small ribbons tied into bows between each shelf, and sprigs of holly were placed above each shelf. There were no fewer than five Hearth's Warming trees in the downstairs portion, from the large main one showily decorated with a shower of tinsel and fine cut-crystal ornaments, to smaller ones with tinier decorations, including two Neighpon-style bonsai pines decorated with miniscule ornaments.
Twilight Sparkle regarded the organized chaos and smiled. Fortuna smiled on her, as Princess Luna was wont to say, that her chaos came in so well-directed a manner. But then, she had her own private Fortuna. Pinkie was hidden somewhere in the library, waiting to burst out in pride at the success of her decorating. “I know you're here somewhere, Pinkie...”
A rustle from the large tree drew Twilight's attention, the thing having caught her attention thanks to the collection of large, wrapped presents already arrayed beneath it.
“I wonder where you could be...” Twilight said, in her best coy voice as she slid along towards the tree. Her horn glowed as she grasped the branches, popping them open with a quick motion. “Gotcha!”
The opening of the tree branches revealed the source of the rustling to be Gummy and Winona, who had secreted themselves in the tree. Winona was bare as normal, but Gummy was wearing a knitted pink-and-pink ski hat and scarf. They appeared in the midst of a sort of loving embrace, Gummy in Winona's forelegs, his snout atop hers as she rested her snout on his body. “Oh... Winona. Gummy... I thought you were at Sweet Apple Acres, or Sugarcube Corner...” Twilight said, sheepishly.
“They were!” Pinkie cried, leaping from behind the stand holding up one of the bonsai pines. “But it's warmer in here and Gummy always loves seeing Winona, and the babies.”
Twilight was shocked by the sudden appearance, but got hold of herself quickly, thanks to being primed for it by her time with Pinkie. She just nodded slowly. “Understandable. But where are they? I know they're weaned but I thought they were still living with Winona.”
As though on cue one of the large boxes collapsed and released the six dog-gator children. They had grown some, but not overmuch, still small but near the size of Gummy as opposed to their birth size. They retained the elongated and flattened snouts, their ears perked and listening to all the sounds around them. Their eyes were large and yellow, very much like their father. Their mother came through in paws and heads and the tufts of fur at their joints.
On their release, Gummy and Winona came down from in the tree and herded the children together.
“They always come to visit Gummy when Winona comes over. Which is all the time. Except now, when it's snowy and the babies are sluggish,” Pinkie noted, reaching into the remains of the box to take out hats and scarves sized for the pups, getting each of them dressed properly.
“They do have a unique metabolism. They're almost lukewarm blooded,” Twilight said, peering at one of the hybrid children. “Their metabolism works to some degree to give them a base temperature that prevents torpor, but they still need external heat. They must be very glad to have a warm-blooded mother to snuggle with. Gummy, I'm sure, loves it too. The clothes actually work with them. But why did you dress Gummy? I told you he doesn't have body heat to hold in.”
“I know that, silly,” Pinkie said, pressing a soft kiss on Twilight's snout. “But I wanted him to match the babies. Plus I put heaters in them so he could keep perky!” She lifted Gummy's hat to show a charged gem at the top leading to small bands of coated metal strips that radiated a small amount of heat. “And there's one in the scarf.”
“Nice little heaters. Where did you get them?” Twilight asked.
“The Heliotrope topside market,” Pinkie answered. “The Dogs have everything.”
“They sure make enough of it,” Twilight said with a nod. She used her magic to prod at the fire and drop another log on it. “Are you going to stay for the story?”
“Of course, silly! I always want to be around you. Plus I love when you read, you get all brainy. And the kids ask questions and you're even more brainy when you answer,” Pinkie replied.
“I do like explaining story background. I understand these are fun stories for the young but there are meanings there it is better they understand,” Twilight explained.
“And I get to learn about this. Should be interesting. Cannonites don't believe in the Hearthkeeper. Just the Heart-Fire of Friendship. I learned some stuff but never read the whole thing. You don't have to put on a beard and the red hat,” Pinkie noted.
“It's tragic that Cannonites kept the very conservative view. I understand the intellectual rigor of remembering the real story, but there's no harm in a fun story to go alongside it. Like the Bountiful Rabbit during the Bounty of Nature festival,” Twilight said.
“An egg-laying rabbit. That's funny. Winona kind of laid eggs, but not really,” Pinkie said, zipping around and arranging cushions around on the floor by the tree, before which she placed a large, squishy pillow.
“He doesn't lay them. The Spring Chicken lays them. He just provides the fecundity to produce spring life,” Twilight said, taking a glossy picture book down from a shelf with her magic. She squeaked in surprise when Pinkie appeared and kissed her on the lips, while pointing up at the holly above the shelves. “You know... that's going to get awkward sooner or later...”
“But not yet,” Pinkie said playfully as she zipped away.
Some time later both Twilight and Pinkie were dressed in costumes; Twilight as the Hearthkeeper in a red suit, faux-fur-trimmed red hat and puffy beard; Pinkie as the Hearthkeeper's wife, in a green dress decorated with polished stones, and a green felt hat with two fake reindeer antlers attached. Shortly thereafter the door to the library opened to admit a flood of foals and a few adults, enough to tightly pack the library.
The young, of many species, filled the library with happy squeals and chattering, seeking out cushions near the big tree. Diamond Tiara used her great emotional presence to part the crowd, taking two cushions and grandly offering one to a blushing Silver Spoon. The Cutie Mark Crusaders likewise got decent seats, Sweetie snuggling up against Scootaloo, while Applebloom leaned her head against Zecora. Big Macintosh and Miss Smarty Pants were there one row back, acting as chaperones. The rest of the cushions were swiftly claimed by the youngsters, and the rest stood around behind the rows of the seated. Spike kept order in the rows, having been the one who had led them all into the library.
Twilight cleared her throat, silencing the audience and drawing all eyes to her. “Ho-ho-ho! And welcome one and all to the reading of, The Legend of the Hearthkeeper, this version written by Joyous Jingle and illustrated by Lush Landscape. And of course, if you have any questions about details, classical interpretations or modern ideas about the story and the characters, please do speak up and ask. I studied the legend extensively, as a matter of national pride.”
“She just likes to talk really, really smart,” Pinkie fake-whispered, raising a small laugh from the audience.
“As I was saying...” Twilight said loudly, hiding a blush behind her fake beard and shooting an amused look at Pinkie. “The Legend of the Hearthkeeper, with expansion, explanation and live footnotes and glosses by Twilight Sparkle.”
- - -
There once was a time when there was no Hearthkeeper. When the Heart-Fire of Friendship was the only thing to be noted and celebrated in the cold darkness of the Winter Solstice. But the Hearthkeeper rose up from simple origins. From the snow and wind of the high north pole.
He had been just a normal pony, but one with a great and abiding connection to the Harmonious ways, as well as great strength in body and magic...
“I'm sorry to interrupt but... what kind of pony is the Hearthkeeper? I always see a different one in books and in movies and at parties.”
“No need for apologies. I encourage interruptions. To answer your question, there's no real answer. The Hearthkeeper has been shown as all kinds. He's strong like an earth pony, he's fast like a pegasus, and he's magical like a unicorn. Some make him an alicorn. There's even a tradition of him being a non-pony. He has the determined strength of a donkey, but also the mystical insight of a zebra. Very modern depictions sometimes resolve the question by making him a Changeling. He's never shown as a Dragon, and rarely as a kirin, and not as a Dog either but that will come much later. And not as a Griffin, for reasons I'll also explain.”
His name was lost to epithets and titles her had earned, but he was known as very kind and giving. He lent his great power and his kind heart to any cause that would bring joy to the world and help the disadvantaged, no matter how far away he had to go. His reputation had sent him far indeed, for the pony who would be the Hearthkeeper was near the north pole, having followed some personal feeling there. He had come from griffin settlements, some say from the very court of the High King himself, having rendered service and gotten a bag of shillings, as well as fine fur clothes, and a pointed hat, both in red and white...
“Oooh! Ooh! Twilight?!”
“I always wondered why the Hearthkeeper wore clothes made out of fur. I know that griffins and Dogs make stuff out of fur but they eat the things they came from, and they don't want to waste any of it. Why would a pony have that?”
“A very good question I was hoping someone would ask...”
“Don't say that about my fillyfriend or I'll..!”
“Diamond Tiara! Scootaloo! Settle down or you'll have to leave. Now... the answer is tied to the reason he is never shown as a griffin. Besides having different traditions, it would be less special to show a griffin in something so distinctive. Rendering a service to the High King is an unusual thing for a pony and makes him seem even more set-apart. As for why he had clothes from them, the griffins were and are a traditional folk. Besides paying those who gave a service there is also the tradition of a treasured object as the reward for performing a great feat. Usually this would be a ceremonial weapon, a drinking vessel, or carved totem. But fancy clothing would also be an appropriate gift, the level of honor attached based on the materials. The red is from fox fur, foxes being notoriously hard to catch. The white is from either ermine or snow rabbit. They only ever use that in gift material if it was caught in snowy conditions, the difficulty of catching either adding to the prestige of the garment. The colors, of course, are highly significant to griffins, red for blood and white for bone. Powerful iconography. Oh, and his hat is kind of pointy because his legendary magical skill led the griffins to give him something that was their version of a wizard's robe and cornuthaum.”
In those days the aurorae were dark and oppressive, wavering slowly in the sky most days of the year, looking frightening and intimidating. They were a sign of great evil, and the Hearthkeeper-to-be could feel it. The consuming darkness pulled him further and further towards the pole, rushing to an appointed meeting with what created the darkness. There at the north pole, the highest point on the axis, he encountered the real source of the evil. A large herd of reindeer, who thought and spoke like any other creature...
“Can reindeers really talk like ponies and stuff can?”
“No, they can't. In the real world reindeer... and that's the plural as well as singular... reindeer are classed among the non-sapient animals, which is why there are no issues with Dogs and griffins using them as food beasts. Traditionally, it was considered artistic license, with some scholars saying it was born from the traditional griffin myths of fae. Now, with information from Changeling refugees, we know the story is based on Pooka. That explains the green used in their clothing and their change to animals. They were Unseelie Pooka, meaning those from the bad tradition. But just like our citizen Changelings, who were also Unseelie, these Pooka aren't destined to always be bad.”
Rather than having a female leading them, as was and is very common, they were commanded by a huge, powerful buck, his coat dark black and his antlers notably more enormous, and pointed, than any other. When he changed forms from reindeer to his true chitinous form he was shown to be the darkest green possible. He also kept his antlers, to remain intimidating and dominating.
He called himself Dead-Heart, and told the one who was to be the Hearthkeeper that he had cast down their queen and broken free of their allegiance to the court. He had led them to the pole, and he would lead them forever as they survived against the elements and raided the griffin lands to steal emotion. They would exist on their own and no one could stop them. They could take, because giving was wrong.
“Though a modest thread in earlier myths, that idea of survivalism and selfish taking was always there, as Hearth's Warming has always been about togetherness and mutual aid. This is almost prescient, and seemed to anticipate the small-hearted wretches that are Randomoids. As this is a more modern version of the tale it not only includes an explicit Pooka identity, it emphasizes that Dead-Heart is very Randomoid-like.”
But the Hearthkeeper-to-be knew better. He had been steeped in the ways of Harmony all his life in Equestria. He had served harmony and understanding with all his strength, magic and cunning. He had seen the power of that connection. Of sharing and caring for others. He had just shared that lesson with the Griffin Kingdom in the course of performing his service for them.
He told that to Dead-Heart. Loudly, strongly, powerfully, in the midst of the howling storm created by Dead-Heart with the power of his hate and commanding rage. He defied the selfishness and angry hatred for the stability of society and caring for others.
Dead-Heart denied it could be so and issued a challenge to the future Hearthkeeper. He would fight him, and defeat him, and prove the ultimate power of his selfishness. He offered any reward for his defeat, proudly giving over anything without knowing what it was going to be. In his arrogant pride he was not afraid to offer anything, even if he didn't have it.
While there was no greed in his heart, the stallion agreed to the fight, because he had one reward in mind that Dead-Heart never could have envisioned. He boldly stepped forward to the battle, not for himself, but for those suffering under Dead-Heart. He was so giving of himself and his skills that he was ready and willing to fight for others, as was right.
Not for ego, not for treasure, not for glory, not for the adulation of those who saw or the hateful anger of the one he defeated. He gave of himself because it was right. It was the harmonious thing to do. The proper thing to do. All the values that had informed his life were on the line, challenged by a being of pure evil which had proposed that only cruel madness could triumph.
The two fought, in a grand manner. Magic and brute force clashed in great, sparking showers of light and sound. The aurorae wavered, roiling and dark, but lightening at the edges, in nicer colors. The pastels of Equestria, the beautiful softness and the bolder shades too, seeped into the waving lights, pushing out the wicked darkness Dead-Heart had pushed into them.
At long last the aurorae burst forth into grand color, and beauty. The strength of Harmony had destroyed selfishness. Dead-Heart was cast down into the snow, battered and beaten but unwilling to admit actual defeat. Too weak to take back his offer and make it stick, and knowing he could not call on his swarm to fight for him, he proclaimed a temporary victory, and said he would let the stallion have his prize for a year, so he could continue the battle that had not truly ended.
The prize of victory was the freedom of the swarm. Dead-Heart was to leave them be, walk away and never terrorize them while they were under the protection of the agreement. All the oppressed Pooka came under his care, if only for a year, until Dead-Heart came back to claim them again.
Dead-Heart stormed off in his rage into the snowy wastes, screaming that he would defeat the stallion in a year's time. The swarm left behind first did nothing, then rushed on the stallion and embraced him, drawing in the warmth of joy and happiness that he seemed to radiate. It fed their emotion-stomach, being a pure and free feeling, rather than the stolen happiness they had been taking from griffins at Dead-Heart's command.
With the Pooka to care for the stallion knew he needed shelter for them and himself. They had been nomadic, and never had a standing home. Using his magic he raised stones from under the polar ice shelf, to construct a large lodge. Though empty, it was sufficient to protect them from the cold.
The only thing of any decorative nature in the lodge was a huge stone hearth, whose fire was actually molten rocks cradled in the stone andirons. He didn't sleep at that time, using his magic to refresh the flaming stones, while the Pooka slept in warmth and comfort, in an amount they had not known in ages.
He tended the molten hearth for a time period he could not identify, because it was the solstice, though he could hardly tell. The longest night of the year, even if day and night were meaningless at the pole in winter. It was the middle of the long night, when the sun never rose...
“How can the thun not rithe? Pintheth Thelestia bringth it up every morning.”
“An excellent question. It's the consequence of our world being a sphere, or an oblate spheroid. The sun moves around the planet, drawn by Celestia's power. But the planet is tilted, and varies the tilt over the year. In the winter, in the northern part of the world, the very highest point of the magnetic pole and an area south of it to a certain point is tilted away from the sun at all times. Griffins call it Fomoire's Threat or Balor's Bane, after giant monsters said to exist in ancient times. They thought it was one of these giants taking the light from part of their nation. The middle of this time period is the solstice, the longest night of the year, when we celebrate Hearths-Warming.”
It was the middle of the long night, when the sun never rose and the cold dark was banished by the Heart-Fire of Friendship. But there at the north pole there was no Heart-Fire to bring the warmth of friendship. Only the newly brightened aurorae, waving over the stone lodge being warmed with the lava in the hearth offered light to the land.
The stallion was focused on his task, keeping the warmth flowing, when he noticed a presence at his side. One of the Pooka workers had awakened and was shyly observing him use his power. “You have great power. No wonder you could defeat Dead-Heart.”
“I defeated Dead-Heart because I cared enough. The cause was right and I went forward knowing there was a cost to losing. The cost to you and the others,” he replied, looking to the Pooka. She was looking slightly aside, blushing in the warm light of the lava.
“What... what do we call you? You saved us and we don't even know your name...” the Pooka mumbled softly.
“My name... I have had a few names, in my native land and titles given by others. I was born, actually, as Crisp Crinkle, and my family were simple cooks. But that name, it hardly inspires the awe that can be necessary in some of my actions. I think we can keep that between us. But what about you? What is your name?”
The Pooka worker looked away more, hiding her face with a holed leg, though glancing through one of those holes to Crisp. “We've... we've had our names stripped for so long. Dead-Heart called us horrible names or just pointed to us. But I remember, my name was Saana Klåsa. Um, the first is my family's name. You can call me Flicka Saana.”
“I think I could call you Klåsa,” Crisp said with a smile. “But my name... we'll keep that between us. To your folk just... call me...” He looked to his work, thought of what day it likely was and realized a new title. “Call me the Hearthkeeper.”
”The name was meant to resonate with Equestrians, who see the name as wholly legitimate. It also suggests humble origins that makes the Hearthkeeper egalitarian, someone who used the freedom of Equestria to its fullest. As to the Pooka worker, the name is a fanciful one, but with some mind to various north Equestrian dialects like Hästish or Hesturish, as seen with the spelling, such as using A with a ring and double A's, and Flicka as a title, which is Hästish for 'young female.' By rejecting the diminutive, likely something imposed by Dead-Heart, and using her plain name, he is showing her a great deal of respect.”
The long night meant that there was no sun to let folk know when to rise or when to sleep, but the Pooka knew for themselves when they had slept enough, though they did lay about for a long time, luxuriating in the great warmth of the lava flowing in the great hearth. Comforted and warmed, the Hearthkeeper then had to think of how he could feed them. Expressing this question to Klåsa, she shyly told him about a great and forbidden secret that Dead-Heart had discovered. In an ice cave not too far away from the pole, at the far end of the corridors of jagged, magic-saturated ice, was a chamber of icy mirrors saturated with the welling magic of the location.
When strong magic was applied to the mirrors they became like jelly, then like a standing liquid, allowing passage to many, widely separated locations on the planet. Dead-Heart had forbidden the Pooka from going near them once he had discovered that, because they allowed them a way to escape from him. With him defeated they could use the magic ice mirrors. But now that they could, they had no reason to flee. They had feared Dead-Heart; they had only affection for the Hearthkeeper.
He asked for Klåsa to show him to the ice caves and the ice mirrors, gently using kind words and smiles to counter her blushing and stammering. She was finally convinced to lead him, after he made extra lava flow through the hearth, to keep the warmth high and constant while he was gone. She led him through the darkness and snow, warmed by the touch of his fur-wrapped body and helped in navigation by the light from his magic.
In the ice cave they walked casually through the twisting spans, the magic-saturated ice glowing faintly in response to the Hearthkeeper's luminous magic. The beautiful sight made the atmosphere more special, adding beauty to a simple natural formation. They found the mirrors, he experimentally used one to reach a lush grassland and bring back food. But what really mattered most to him was the time he spent with Klåsa.
”This experience, and the implication of it, form a large portion of side-stories on the Hearthkeeper subject. The blossoming romance between him and Klåsa has made for many classic short stories, movies and two-act plays. In fullsized origin stories like this the whole thing is left to the imagination, and their relationship is just assumed after that. She is, after all, in songs and stories, the Hearthkeeper's jolly and loving wife.”
The Hearthkeeper knew, as a matter of honor, he had to be available at the pole to fight with Dead-Heart. He couldn't just take the Pooka and leave or he would be no better than the wicked drone. In addition, he discovered that the Pooka swarm had grown too used to the environment. They were saturated in the magic, suffused with it. They didn't think they could move anywhere else. Those two facts tied them to the pole, and to the stone lodge the Hearthkeeper had raised.
Thanks to the magic ice mirrors they could access the far places in the world, to decorate their new home, to gather food, and look in on society. But as they had predicted, they could only be out for a few hours before they felt distinctly uncomfortable and generally weaker. The time, however, was sufficient. In that time the Hearthkeeper also had time to construct a system to keep lava circulating in the lodge, without him constantly using his magic. He also made it more homey, adding walls to create rooms and added floors and areas, making it into a real home for the swarm, who grew happier and more delighted with the Hearthkeeper's care.
The year wore on, and the Pooka found themselves growing bored, having no one to make happy but each other and the Hearthkeeper. When asked what they enjoyed, they stated that like all Pooka, they liked to make folk happy. They enjoyed entertaining, and making toys to make children joyous, because children were far more abundant with joy. Something in that statement struck the Hearthkeeper, as he also thought of his future fight with Dead-Heart. Or more properly, the time of the year it came. Hearths-Warming Eve and day. A day of fellowship, friendship, happiness and generous sharing between all.
They were sitting around, largely idle when not gathering things, decorating the lodge or working the indoor gardens filled with hardy tundra vegetation. They were eager to do more, Pooka being unsuited for long idleness which was the way of more patient fae, whose emotional consumption benefited from slow setups. Pooka could only do long-term activities if there was going to be a great payoff that would create huge bursts of happiness.
The Hearthkeeper made the suggestion one day, that they should use some time as they had suggested: Building toys. Toys that would be given out freely to foals. Thanks to the magic ice mirrors and careful control of the magical input
they could reach any place in the whole of Equestria, incredibly quickly, and look in to see what kind of toys were really lacking and could be delivered.
The Hearthkeeper offered to deliver every toy personally to every place, thinking his power and skill could do it. Klåsa was the one who talked him out of that, knowing he would be very tired after fighting Dead-Heart. She suggested that he could deliver some of them, while the rest of the swarm took on a version of his form and attire, to deliver them all near-simultaneously.
”Pooka, remember, specialize in fae form-altering magic that makes them very good at making them look like animals, though larger versions. They can become ponies, but they are very bad at it, which is true of other non-Changeling fae. When one tries to do something that they are not specialized in there's usually an indication. For example, Pooka retain some animal trait no matter what, usually from an animal they are very familiar with, or Fir Darrig will always be at least slightly scary.”
This went on for a long while, a cycle of toy-making, harvest, battle and delivery, the swarm standing before the portals while they absorbed the happiness and joy of all the young of the world as the perfect cap to Hearths-Warming day. Nothing needed to substantially change, except that the Hearthkeeper married Klåsa, giving him an even more powerful reason to fight and triumph against Dead-Heart.
The routine was broken when the magical aura of the lodge was disturbed, something that the Hearthkeeper could feel quite well. He knew every bit of the lodge's mana-envelope, and knew there was a disturbance below. It was not DeadHeart; he knew the feel of the monster too well. It was something completely unfamiliar. He also never would have come slinking up from below, he would come roaring up in fury as he did every year.
Loud scraping and cracking from the stone foundation announced the arrival of something, as did the spreading pits and cracks. The cracked section of stone before the great hearth burst out in a shower of dust and bits of stone, while a huge, dark blue figure emerged.
He was broad and tall, stooping over, on two heavy paws and two huge hands. His blocky snout was turned to regard the flowing lava, underbite grinding a little and moving his jutting fangs. His perked ears twitched lightly at the sounds of shock from the Pooka that had come in to see what was causing the commotion. The pockets of his dark red vest were clattering with gems and little metal tools, while a belt on his waist held two large, well-used forge hammers and a smaller, more delicate hammer.
He turned his gaze on the Hearthkeeper, who had started to come up to him. “Was tracing magma flow! Not natural. Not right, have flow away from convection systems. Not hurt flow, crew have fixed. But wanted see what happen. Not good have disruption.”
The Hearthkeeper regarded the strange interloper with a cautious eye, approaching without menace. “Who are you? And what are you, sir?”
The huge Dig Dog thumped a meaty fist on his chest and stood proudly. “Name is Kampfite, Aventurine District, Bauxite Colony. Master smith, master gem cutter, master matrix enchanter, master collier. Am independent inspector of unknown. Strong Dog, can survive much danger. This strange mystery, so come. You are who?'
“I am the one known as the Hearthkeeper, the bringer of gifts across Equestria. I know much of this world but I do not know your kind. I would like to know more.”
“Would like know too. This strong earth magic. Ponies good at magic but did not know how strong. Must learn in case more do this.”
“Very few ponies could do what I do, but your questions deserve answers as well. Dearest, could you please escort Mr. Kampfite to an open room?”
“I'll do it, I finished my toys for the day.” One of the workers stepped forward to Kampfite's side.
“Thank you, fae. Dogs see in tunnels but not know well. What is name?”
“Kråmpa. Saana Kråmpa.”
”This is why, I said before, that the Hearthkeeper is never a Diamond Dog. Since the integration of the United Colonies the minor elements of an indistinct being who gives low-grade fuels like peat and lignite to create a thick smoke to punish bad foals was explicitly given the identity of a Diamond Dog. He was originally just a stern and serious follower, then a blacksmith who made weapons and enchanted gems for the Hearthkeeper to aid in the fight against Dead-Heart. Other writers wanted a stronger motivation for him to stay and fight with the Hearthkeeper besides his magical power over lava which first brought him. You see it here, of course. He meets Saana Kråmpa, and eventually marries her, becoming the Hearthkeeper's bother-in-law. Quite an interesting and very clever political allegory of showing a union between freed Unseelie fae, Diamond Dogs and ponies...”
“Oh! Excuse me. I'll file that away for a dissertation. Yes, Zipporwhill?”
“What's a collier and a matrix enchanter?”
“Well, a collier is a miner, most especially a coal miner, which is an important distinction to make. A master can gauge the quality of a coal seam from a single sounding, and know how far it travels before it becomes a different quality and where the line lies. They also even know how likely diamonds are to be in any seam. As for the matrix enchanter, that's the term for a gem enchanter. Though very rough, Dogs have the ability to enchant gems and do so with a great skill to the limit of their magic. Scholars are actively researching their capacity and helping to develop the fine control of that, though they are already good with the selection of gems, naturally capable of picking out the most perfect ones for the necessary task, which is why the thaumatic engineers coming out now either are Dogs or are trained by them.”
“Are Dogs magic?”
“How do you mean that, Silver Spoon?”
“Daddy said hiring Dog miners was the best thing he ever did. He told me he stopped hiring in-mine assayers. They lick the ore and give him the breakdown faster and more accurately than they used to. Is tasting things magic?”
“That's a fascinating and ongoing question. Thaumatobiology is a complicated question for all species. There may be some thaumatic assistance in refining the capacity to taste proportions of elements as parts of minerals, but it is very much biological because it can be trained. Err... we got off topic. I do that.”
“All the time. It's cute!”
A large forge was added to the lodge, staffed with Kampfite and several apprentices who were tested and tempered in the fire of his gruff but unquestionably great tutelage. They made metal and stone toys, and thaumatic toys or thaumatic parts for the toys made in the main lodge, while Kampfite alone made or repaired weapons used for the yearly battle. He also took frequent trips through the ice mirrors to find peat and lignite for the bad youths that had earned the smoky punishment.
The routine did not change, no matter the additions and changes in relationships. The Hearthkeeper fought DeadHeart alone, but with magical weapons at his disposal, such as charged darts and stars. A secondary forge was set on the ice, pumped by the apprentices, Kampfite hammering metal with a desperate speed, Klåsa and Kråmpa deftly tossing them out for use or picking up the broken or discharged ones.
After each victory the celebration became a parade, the Pooka drawing a sleigh filled with the presents to the ice caves, before getting their assignments. The mad rush would then begin, taking on the Hearthkeeper's form, taking bags of gifts through the magic mirrors and distributing them with all possible speed. Kampfite and Kråmpa distributed the peat and lignite to the naughty ones, because there were never really that many deserving of that.
- - -
“When the task was done another, greater celebration happened in the lava-heated lodge, with the Pooka basking in the warm glow of freedom and the happiness of the young, whose joy they could feel from the far reaches of the world. With the bright aurorae waving over them like their own version of the Heart-Fire of Friendship and their own flag of a peaceful nation, everyone was happy and joyous. The End,” Twilight said, closing the book with a smile.
“Wasn't that wonderful? Isn't she just the superest and nicest... est... bestest marefriend and book-reader ever?” Pinkie loudly asked of the audience.
The audience cheered, stomping appreciatively on the floor. The appreciative sound made Twilight blush deeply and smile a bit sheepishly under her fake beard. “Well, thank you! This appreciation is so wonderful! I love reading and sharing knowledge. So to have an audience appreciate it... if you want more information about the Hearthkeeper and company, including depictions in media and history you can stay here.”
A sudden, stony silence followed the offer of additional information, which strained Twilight's smile as the awkwardness grew. “Or... you can all head to the party at Sugarcube Corner!” Pinkie chirped, breaking the awkward silence with a happy leap.
That suggestion was met with wild cheering, and a general mad scramble out of the library, leaving the library empty save for Pinkie and Twilight. Even Gummy, Winona and the pups had rushed off with the rest of the crowd.
“Well... it seems that learning is appreciated to a point,” Twilight noted, dryly.
“Hard to compete with Mr. and Mrs. Cake's treats. I almost rushed off too,” Pinkie said.
“Why didn't you rush off for the party? You love parties. I thought you were hosting that party, actually,” Twilight said, with a tilt of her head.
“I'm so good at throwing and running parties I can make it happen without even having to be there, and enjoy them by knowing that others are enjoying them,” Pinkie said, bouncing happily around Twilight. “Besides, there's one thing better than a party with super-delicious treats.”
“Oh I think I can imagine...” Twilight whispered, a smile spreading across her face as she looked to Pinkie.
Pinkie had already picked up all the holly from around the library and was holding the whole mass over her head. “My cute Hearthkeeper, to make the season warmer. This is even better for togetherness than pushing up Holder's Boulder. But you know we need to go to the rock farm some year to be with the family.”
Twilight used her magic to hold up the mass of holly, walking slowly over to press her snout against Pinkie's. “Here in Ponyville, in Canterlot with my parents or on the farm with yours; the 'where' doesn't matter if I'm with my happy little Pooka.”