Luna heaved a deep sigh as she looked out over Canterlot, the night fast approaching, time to raise the moon would soon be upon her. Standing there on the balcony, she couldn’t help but marvel at the city, a large town at the time of her banishment, but now a city. The center of Equestria, its crown jewel, a place as diverse as the nation whose capital it was.
Four months had passed since her return from ten months of self imposed exile. Tia had promised to be better, and she’d tried, Luna knew she was trying. But still, there was something going on, secret meetings, reassignments of many of her Lunar Guard without consulting her. In fact, it seemed there was but a skeleton crew left, even the captain of her guard, Shadow Iron was missing now. Her thoughts drew forth a frown as she peered down upon the busy city..
It had taken a mere month for her to regret returning. Her sister had done her best to include her, and it felt good to return to the castle. She would like to say it felt good to return home, but this wasn’t home. This was a castle built after her banishment, starting right after her fall. It was a castle that reflected her sister, it's alabaster stone towers reaching towards the sun, its colours bright. A monument to her sister. Even her quarters in the west wing were out of the way, out of sight of visitors.
No, this wasn’t her home, her home was the Castle of the Two Sisters in the Everfree Forest. Now just a wreck from the battle with her sister, the area around it poisoned with wild magics, left-overs of the clash between them, a clash that ended with her banishment to the moon. A home that she could never return to.
A knock fell upon her ear, and she turned towards the door of her room. She watched her sister enter, greeting her as she crossed the room, joining her on the balcony, “Good evening sister, it is nearly time to raise the moon, is it not? My sun has already begun its retreat, and surely your moon is ready to chase it. I hope your dream walking can be delayed tonight, we have a trip to make.”
Luna sighed and nodded, “Yes, I’ve woken it, and it has begun its journey. A trip? I was not aware that we were needed anywhere?”
Celestia smiled at her, “It's a surprise, one that I’ve been working on since your return. We’ll be joining Twilight at Harmony Castle.”
“Are you sure that’s wise? It’s a long flight, and you’ve surely been awake all day.”
Her sister smiled, “While I am your older sister Lulu, I’m not so old that I can’t stay up a few hours into your night when necessary.”
Bowing her head in defeat, Luna sighed, not pleased by this. She was not in the mood to leave the castle, nor meet Twilight, much less fly to Ponyville tonight. In fact she would have preferred to take the night off, to abdicate from her duties as Princess for one night. Watching her sister stretch her wings, she lifted her head, and followed as Celestia launched herself from the balcony. Luna did allow a small grin and soft chuckle to escape her mouth as she watched her sister, the Princess of the Day, struggle a bit to fly in the cool night air. The two sisters circled the castle anti clockwise until they were oriented toward Ponyville. Luna mostly flew on automatic, lost in thought, following in her sister’s wake. Celestia, for her part, looked back at her sister, and smiled to herself, before facing forward again. She switched sides a few times, so that Luna was sometimes off to her right side, and sometimes to her left. .
It was more than two hours later, nearly three in fact before they descended towards Harmony Castle, her eyes falling upon those waiting. Princess Twilight, of course, she was to be expected, but why were Prince Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, Mayor Mare, Rarity, her sister Sweetie Belle, and Lyra there? Along with Captain Broad Sword of the Solar Guard, and Captain Shadow Iron of her Lunar Guard.
As she landed, she looked to her sister, but found herself ignored aside from a quick mischievous smile. Instead Celestia said a few short words to Cadance and Twilight before smiling to Luna, then the group turned towards the Everfree Forest. Luna trailed behind, happy to see her captain, but unhappy that secrets were being kept from her.
Upon entering the forest, she was surprised to find the path in quite good shape, better than last time she’d been here. She looked curiously at her sister, or rather her sister’s hindquarters, certain that no answer would be forthcoming had she asked.
Nor would it be explained as they walked why she sensed her guard stationed along the path. It was likely that no one else would notice, but they lurked in the shadows of trees, or in the case of those from tree dwelling colonies, within the trees themselves. Now she was curious as to what her sister was up to, but she knew that Tia would only answer when she was ready to, and not before.
She found they were approaching the old castle, her home, and to her amazement, it was far closer to what she remembered, than the wreckage left after their battle. It was clearly not finished, but much of what was left were mere details, finishing touches. The roofs had been replaced, the walls repaired and new windows installed. The great doors at the entrance had been repaired, oiled and polished, though they were different, the stain a darker colour, still displaying the beautiful wood, but tinting it a shade more in line with her night.
Four nox ponies, four of her Lunar Guard waited at the entrance, two standing armed, and two others reaching to open the great doors as the party approached. Luna realized her sister was looking back at her with an enigmatic smile. This time she waited for her to catch up, and then led her to the residential wing. She saw the suites they held back when the castle was new, Tia’s on the left, her own on the right. Clearly this was to be Tia’s summer house, it was the only explanation for the double doors that had been added to her suite.
Out of instinct she immediately went to the right, opening the door, and finding the suite unfinished and much smaller than it had been. A pony was putting finishing touches on the wall, much to her surprise. Bowing to her, he looked past her at Celestia for instruction, and then offered no explanation.
Turning to her sister, she felt the tears and anger welling up in her, a surprise this certainly wasn’t, she was being cast aside. If her sister knew of her feelings, she certainly didn’t show it as she used her magic to open the double doors, starting into the room before turning back to her sister.
Stepping aside as she entered, she smile, “Lulu, come take a look.”
Luna strode forward, anger in her every step, her shod hooves striking the ground noisily, angrily as she entered… and her anger melted away, although the tears flowed freely. Before her was a room decorated in dark shades of blue, culminating in black upon the ceiling. A large bed sat in the center, dominating the room, while a study, Tia’s old study, stood off to the side through an alcove. In shock, she turned to her sister who only smiled before leaving the room, looking back at her before trotting towards the throne room.
In curiosity she followed, this was a shock, a huge suite for herself? That was certainly a surprise, but what was Tia up to?
Upon entering the throne room, she found another shock. The red carpet of the throne room had been replaced with an equally plush midnight blue carpet, leading the way to a raised dais at the front of the room. On the wall, above the raised dais upon which rested three thrones hung the tapestries symbolizing her sister and herself. It was not a surprise to see the tapestries restored to their former glory, likely the work of Rarity Belle, the Element of Generosity. Once again the solar banner flew on the right, above a small ivory throne, while on the left, her own lunar banner flew above an equally diminutive purple throne. Both thrones were simple and unadorned, unlike the one that rested upon what had been a stage from which to pass judgement or make decrees. Obstructed by the short wall at the front of the stage, standing front and center was a commanding throne, ebony in colour, a quarter moon carved into the head rest. Between the banners and above that throne was a flag she hadn’t seen in a millennia, the Everfree flag that had once flown above the castle below that of Equestria, now flying above her throne. Leading the way to the dais was a deep dark blue carpet instead of the red carpet of the Canterlot throne room.
Princess Twilight, Spike and a zebra who’s name escaped her stood before the thrones on the left, while Prince Shining Armor and Princess Cadance stood on the right along with the mayor. Rarity waited on the left side of the dais, while Sweetie Belle and green unicorn waited on the right. Along the right side of the room, her side of the throne room, a dozen of her Night Guard stood at attention, while a smaller formation of Solar Guard stood at attention opposite them.
Princess Celestia walked up onto the dais, and turned to face the rest of the party. Clearing her throat, she began speaking in her Royal Canterlot voice, “Princess Cadance and Prince Consort Shining Armor of the Crystal Empire, Protectorate of Equestria, I thank you for attending tonight’s ceremonies. Princess Twilight Sparkle, Zecora, Lyra, Mayor Mare, Rarity Belle and Sweetie Bell of Equestria, I call upon you to witness what I shall now decree to be the law from this night forward.
One thousand years ago, upon banishment of Nightmare Moon, I made one last decree, changing how Equestria was ruled. I did not trust myself to rule fairly alone, without my sister to balance me much as the moon balances the sun. I created the House of Commoners to act as a balance to the Council of Nobles and myself. With that decision, I set aside the Royal Decree as the common method for lawmaking, allowing Parliament to lead and myself merely acting as a final check on their decisions. This did not however remove the power of the Royal Decree, it merely lessened the use of it. Tonight under the laws and traditions of Equestria, I am here to make several decrees in a return to the old tradition.”
As Princess Luna watched in shock, she noticed Raven, Celestia’s faithful assistant recording what was said. Turning her attention back to her sister, she listened to her speak.
“Under the authority granted to me by the three tribes, I hereby decree that the lands known as the Everfree Forest shall forthwith be known as the Duchy of Everfree.”
“Thusly, as such a land requires a ruler, I hereby decree that my sister, Princess Luna, shall henceforth be granted the title Duchess of Everfree. This title and the duties it bears shall be taken up alongside her duties as a Princess of Equestria. From this day forward, she shall be known as Princess Luna, Duchess of Everfree, Governor Pro Tempore of Hollow Shades.”
Luna’s shock grew with every word, even as her sister continued. “As a duchy requires a capital, I decree that the property formerly known as The Castle of the Two Sisters standing in what is now the Duchy of Everfree shall henceforth be known as The Castle of The Night and shall be included in the grant to Princess Luna, Duchess of Everfree.”
As the words left Tia’s mouth, Luna caught sight of Rarity behind her throne, her horn aglow with her magic. Slowly she lifted the right tapestry from the wall, the one symbolizing Princess Celestia, lowering it while gently rolling it up. Then her magic unrolled another tapestry while lifting it, replacing the solar banner that had been taken down. It was a perfect reproduction of her own banner, but a mirror of it, hanging it in place of the one she’d removed. The pride evident on her face was not just from being part of the ceremony, but Luna was sure that the restorations and the reproductions were Rarity’s own work.
This had drawn so much of her attention, she barely noticed as her Lunar Guard broke formation, five of them forming up behind Captain Iron Shadow to march across the room. Reaching Captain Sword, he bowed his head as the Solar Guard lowered their weapons, “By order of Princess Luna, Duchess of Everfree, I stand ready to relieve you and your guards, and assume command of this post.”
Captain Sword bowed his head, “My guards and I stand ready to be relieved.”
“Then, Captain Broad Sword, I relieve you.”
“I stand relieved,” the Captain of the Solar Guard said as his unit formed up behind him, and marched to the back of the throne room. The Lunar Guards moved into position, standing at attention where only moments before the Solar Guard had stood.
Luna found herself unable to speak, she was certainly surprised, and she doubted there was any further way she could be surprised. Sweetie Belle and Lyra stepped forward, accompanied by two nox ponies she’d some how failed to notice, the four of them taking Celestia’s place at the front of the dais.
Clearing her throat, Sweetie smiled nervously before breaking into song accompanied by the soft music played by Lyra. A song Luna knew, though rarely heard outside of Hollow Shades, Ode to the Night Mother. A Noxl anthem to her, their Goddess, creator of the silver path, protector of dreams. Sweetie’s crystal clear voice echoed off the throne room walls, bringing tears to Luna’s eyes. She barely noticed as the final notes died off, then the explosion of the audience. In fact she barely noticed as her sister gestured for her to join her on the dais before stepping back to stand next to the smaller throne.
Luna stumbled as she made her way to the dais, looking out at the gathered representatives of Equestria, the Crystal Empire and now the Duchy of Everfree. Sweetie Belle and her companions had stepped off to the side, smiling as they watched her take her place. Clearing her throat, “Princess Celestia, my fellow Princesses, and citizens of Equestria and Everfree,” her voice cracking, “it is a great honor to be granted these lands and title. It is with pride that I accept and thank you for allowing me the honor of ruling over these lands,” struggling to hold back the happy tears at what her sister had done for her.
She was in shock, she had thought the worst of her sister, and yet here was the best of her sister. This time it wasn’t mere words, mere promises so easy to be broken about how important she was. Her home, the last one she had had before her banishment, had been given to back to her. A clear purpose and place for her, a way to stand out from her sister. She mouthed the word ‘home’ to her sister as tears leaked from her eyes.
Celestia smiled, “As you’ve seen, your Lunar Guard is prepared to guard the path to ensure safe passage for anyone wishing to visit you here, especially any coming to attend your court should you set one up. With your permission we will also host visitors to Equestria here, in particular those from lands south of Equestria.”
“Of course sister,” Luna said with a smile, “I would be happy to host guests here. And there will most certainly be a court here, once I have settled in.”