The Apple Jamboree

by Coyote de La Mancha

First published

A stranger comes to the Apples' annual folk music festival, carrying a silver-stringed guitar and an understanding of their songs' traditional roots to rival that of Granny Smith. Inspired by Magpie Pony’s 'Son of Princess Luna' video.

This story follows Murder at the Rarity Boutique and features a character from Bridges and Guides, but it can also stand alone nicely.

The Jamboree is an ancient tradition, and the Apples are one of the few families who still maintain it. But one year, a stranger appears with a silver-strung guitar who also remembers the old ways… as well as histories behind some of the songs that even Granny Smith and Princess Twilight don’t know. Inspired by Magpie Pony’s Son of Princess Luna video.

(Chronology note: this story takes place during season six, after that years’ Nightmare Night.)

It continues in Jamboree Aftermath.

(Content note: contains conversational references to violence and murder.)

Part of the Elsequestria Continuity.

Chapter One: Arrival

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“…calcaire gossier, how well you remember.

You are the past of the world, made present.

Which is the future.

But not ours.

Because we’re present.

In the past.

Which builds the future.

Where we are.

For the present.

…Thank you.”

The barn of Sweet Apple Acres burst in applause, and Maude Pie gave one of her rare, slight smiles. Applejack smiled as well as she approached the stage. Since around the founding of Ponyville, the Apples had held the Apple Jamboree every year on the weekend between Nightmare Night and the first snowfall. Time was, the place would be packed to the rafters. Over the last few generations attendance had waned, drawing just the more immediate family, and maybe the occasional relative from Manehattan or someplace further away.

But in recent years, that had changed. With Applejack making friends with Rarity, Rainbow, Pinkie, and Twilight, more and more ponies had started showing up again. Not that Spike was ever unwelcome – the baby dragon would always have a special place in Applejack’s heart – it just generally went without saying that wherever Twilight went, he followed. But with four more ponies coming in, they brought occasional friends with them, especially Twi. Once a friend came by, they were generally inclined to come back. And then Pinkie Pie ended up being kin, by blood or no, which somehow meant that Maude usually managed to stop by. And then came the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and their friends… and when Rainbow became a Wonderbolt they got invited, and then between them and Twilight becoming a princess, more and more folks started just showing up, till there were more ponies than an Apple family reunion…

And right about then, last year or so, Granny Smith had looked around, nodded, and said it was starting to look like a proper Jamboree again.

Over the summer, Apple Bloom and Big Mac had expanded the barn. Applejack was right glad they had. Otherwise, nobody would have had room to even drink and feast, much less dance. But as it stood, there was room for all. Even setting up had been a snap. Twilight and Spike took care of the guest list, Rarity made the arrangements for supplies, Pinkie had taken care of the decorating, because just try and stop her, and well, in its own quiet way, everything just fit. Not that everypony invited showed up, Applejack acknowledged to herself, nor was that a bad arrangement. Fluttershy had been happy to come the first year she was asked, but after that there was just too much noise and folks crowding in on her.

That had worked out later on, though: gave Discord someplace to be besides here. And that suited Applejack right down to the ground.

The stage was simple and sturdy, with room for folks who played, various microphones, Vinyl Scratch’s equipment off to one side, and a chair for Granny off to the other. The mics had been Pinkie’s idea, and like most of her party plans it was a good one. Vinyl was making her way down the side stairs as Applejack went up, and they shared a hoof bump as they passed. Octavia was still on stage, cello at the ready and viola nearby, along with a few Apples there who were musically inclined. As the night went on, folks would trade in and out… and as the little ones dropped off, and other folks made their good-byes, the circle would get smaller, dancing would be traded in mostly for sitting and talking, trading stories and poetry in a quieter tone, ranging from historical to funny to downright terrifying.

But for now, it was still early. The moon was just out, and things were still kept foal-friendly. Apple Bloom and Babs were both determined to make it to the end of the party this year, and hear all the tales they’d missed years before. Thinking back to when she was a little filly, Applejack was ready to cover her sister’s chores the next day, in case the foals pulled it off.

In her heart, Applejack hoped they would.

School’s important, she thought, but some things they just don’t teach you in class.

Every song had a lesson, and not all the lessons they taught were pleasant. Granny Smith had forgotten more of the legends and country traditions of Equestria than most anypony would ever learn. She knew the old, old versions of things, how they came to be told that way, and why. And if you were an Apple, a good half of your education came from the Jamboree.

Lately, Granny had been telling Applejack stories and singing songs late at night, when the rest of the place was asleep. She never told the same tale twice, and what she couldn’t remember one night, she’d likely recall the next. Disturbed by Granny’s recent urgency in sharing what she knew, Applejack had done her best to memorize every word, every night. It was a challenge, and no mistake. But it was part of being an Apple. And anyway, few good things came easily.

As Applejack approached the microphone, she caught a snippet of conversation between Vinyl and Maude:

“Hey. That was deep. In, like, every way.”

Maude smiled again.

“You wanna… go somewhere and talk?”

The slight smile stayed. “Sure.”

Applejack blinked. Well, as I live an’ breathe.

Then she turned her attention back to the assembly. Looking up, she was glad Pinkie had insisted on their re-enforcing the beams holding up that high, high ceiling. They were full of pegasi now, with unicorns and earth ponies milling around beneath them. “Alright, y’all,” she said, “Let’s give it up again fer Maude Pie.”

After the applause had died down, she said, “An’ now, if’n ye don’t mind, there’s somepony here who needs no introduction… Granny Smith!”

Applejack gestured over to the rocking chair, where the old green mare sat, dozing. Under the cover of applause, Applejack covered the mic with her hoof. “Granny!” she hissed.

Granny woke with a start. “Eh—what? Am I on fire?”

“That’s your cue!”

“Oh, oh, right. Alright. I’m comin’.”

Painfully, Granny Smith shoved herself out of the chair and made her difficult way to the microphone.

“Well, now,” she smiled. “This here is what I like t’see. Y’all havin’ a good time?”

The crowd’s cheers filled the barn.

“Glad to see it, an’ glad t’know ye,” Granny said. “This here’s… shoot, I dunno how long we’ve been a’doin’ this. The Jamboree was old when the Apples were young. An’ I don’t just mean me.”

There were a few chuckles as she went on, “No, the jamboree goes back a powerful long time, before Ponyville, before Equestria. But this is how we keep the old ways alive, even as new ones come up t’help ‘em out.”

She poked at the microphone. “Like this newfangled contraption. Tell me again how it… no, never mind. Anyway, speakin’ a’ new, I’d like t’innerduce one a’my granddaughters, not countin’ a whole mess a’ greats in-between. She comes to us now all the way from Manehattan with a song older’n any of us, and I couldn’t be prouder. Please welcome… Babs Seed!”

Babs came up to the stage, her pink mane cut short as the city fillies were doing that season, while Applejack lowered the microphone for her. As she left, Applejack whispered to the filly, “You got this, girl,” and stepped off the stage.

She herself had no idea what Babs was going to perform. All anypony knew was that the foal had talked to Granny in private to learn all the words when she’d got into town on break, and been practicing in secret ever since. Applejack admitted to herself that she was a little worried. Babs was a little young to have the stage to herself. But one of the lessons of Jamboree was how to stand alone, and a body learned that in their own time. It kinda made sense that Babs would take that leap sooner than her peers.

The young foal walked up to the microphone. Her cousin and friends whispered a few words of encouragement, but she didn’t seem to hear. She was concentrating, and even the rafters’ feathered flutterings grew quiet as she stood.

“Foolish are those who don’ understand,” she intoned in her Manehattan accent, “the tale of a legend, olduh than the hills we now call home.”

By this time, Applejack was off stage, with her sister and her friends. She wondered what song this was going to be. It didn’t sound familiar so far.

“Love has many forms, and not all of ‘em kind. And some things that call themselves love are nothin’ of the sort at all. Those who learn this lesson, live well. Those who don’t, if fortune favuhs ‘em, perish…”

Whereupon her city accent vanished, replaced by a voice as clear as a bell, a young alto playing the hall as if it were her instrument.

Once, a foolish mare called forth the moon,

And cried with all her soul;

To marry her heart’s desire

Upon the coming day.

The moon said, ‘I shall grant this boon,

You shall have your stallion of coal,

‘But in return, the foal shall be mine

That from this bond is sown;

For whoever would give up their own

Would barely love them anyway…’”

“Princess Luna said that?” Apple Bloom whispered, aghast.

“She was prob’ly still Nightmare Moon,” Skootaloo whispered back.

“It’s just a story, sugar cube,” Applejack hissed. “Let’s not get carried away.”

The hall was still as Babs sang the refrain:

“Moon, you want to be a mother, when none will have you

Who can give such a gift to the moon?

Tell me, dark lady, what would become of him?

What would you do with a son of the moon?”

Listening, Applejack couldn’t help but wonder what Princess Luna thought of such songs. They’d been around a long time, since at least when she was locked up. Applejack had always made it a point to invite the Sisters to the Applefest, ever since that first Nightmare Night when Twi had broken the ice with Miss Luna. They’d always declined, and for the first time, Applejack was glad they had. They were odd ladies, but good people. Applejack could only imagine what these kinds of songs must sound like to them, especially Luna. A glance told her that Twilight was thinking the same thing.

The rest of the song just got worse. The mare gave birth all right, and at midnight of course. But her husband didn’t know about the mystical pact between his wife and the princess. So when he took the newborn colt into the moonlight to look at him, and saw the little one’s coat of purest silver with mane and tail black as a starless night, he assumed his wife had cheated on him. He stabbed her to death in a fit of jealous rage, and then left the weanling to die from exposure on a mountainside.

Applejack stared at Granny. What the hay was she thinking? Other folks were looking around, too. But Babs was lost in the music, and either didn’t see or didn’t care as she finished the piece:

“As the winds blow, the stones grow cold,

Hear the poor weanling cry;

But down from the moon she flies,

To gather him up from the stone.

‘It’s all right, I am here, little colt;

There will never be a day or night

When I do not love you more than the skies.

I am your mother, my son.’

From her own self she formed a crescent,

To embrace him warm and sound.

And now, whenever her son cries,

From herself his cradle is hewn;

He plays in the sky in his mother’s ascent,

When he laughs, she is full and round.

She grows dark with his pain when he cries;

And from that day even to this

Luna’s contentment is motherhood’s bliss.

He is the son of the moon.”

With that, the song ended. Despite the troubling lyrics, the applause came easy; Babs had a great voice, no mistake.

But when the filly bounced up to her and asked, “So, whad’ya think?” Applejack had to settle for, “You did great, sugar cube.”

“Thanks. Whad’ya think of the song?”


Babs looked down. “You didn’t like it.”

“No! No, it ain’t that. Look, Babs… it’s just that—”

The barn doors, closed against the cold, resounded with three slow, powerful knocks.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Immediately the Cutie Mark Crusaders were together, hugging each other, fearful.

“Is it Princess Luna?” Sweetie Belle whimpered. “Is she mad?”

Two more knocks. Boom. Boom.

The barn was all but silent. “Of course not!” Twilight said. “She isn’t like that. Right, Applejack?”

“Uh, right,” said Applejack, staring at the doors. To the foals, she didn’t seem afraid, though. More… astonished. She turned to her brother. “Big Mac?”

Her brother’s expression equaled her own. Not afraid, but serious. Amazed. He nodded. “Eeeeyup.” Likewise the Apples who were on the stage had gone still, eyes wide, instruments forgotten. The huge red stallion made his way easily, the crowd parting for him in silence as he reached the doors.

“Granny?” Applejack called. “I don’t think I remember the words.”

Twilight gave her a quizzical look. “Words?”

“Like Granny said, Jamboree is an old tradition, Twi. Traces its way back to ages gone. An’ if this is somepony from someplace they still do things in the old ways, we gotta honor that.”

Granny Smith, meanwhile, had nodded to Big Mac, who raised a massive hoof and knocked on the doors himself. The barn echoed again. Three times. Then two. Then three more.

From the other side, three powerful knocks. Big Macintosh seized hold of the doors and pushed them open, revealing the stallion without.

He was an earth pony. Almost as big as Big Mac himself, but leaner, and built for speed. A pale mint coat with dark brown mane and tail, tossed and tangled by the wind. Over his shoulder, he had a guitar case, well-worn and well mended. His eyes were a brown so dark they were almost black. He stepped to the threshold and waited.

With difficulty, Granny Smith stood. “The winds have changed and the moon has arisen,” she called out. “The night has grown long and dark. Who comes to us now, with his face in the shadow, let him answer by voice or by mark.”

“Ah’m called John,” said the stranger. His voice was strong and clear, and carried easily.

“And how do you come here, John?” the old mare demanded.

“Ah come here in a spirit of love an’ trust, an’ of my own will. Never shall I bring fire to your house, unless it be to warm you an’ keep you safe. Should Ah remain here, your enemies are mine till we part, even as Ah’ll fight for the walls of your estate an’ all who dwell here.”

Twilight stole a glance at Applejack. “Wait a minute,” she whispered. “Did he just invoke the laws of hospitality?

“Yep,” Applejack whispered back. “Tol’ja it was old.”

“Very well, John,” Granny intoned. “We welcome ye here, that our fires may warm ye an’ keep ye safe. Our grain is your grain. Our bed is your bed. Our water is your water. ‘Till free will or good circumstance give us parting of our ways. Come. Join our dance.” And with that, she collapsed back into her chair.

John bowed slightly and entered, and Big Mac closed the doors behind him.

Instantly, there was a pink, bouncing blur, and a pair of intense blue eyes were inches away from the new stallion’s own, staring into them.

“Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie!”

The stranger blinked.

“Well,” he allowed. “Ah guess you’d better be.”

“Let ‘im by, Pinkie,” said Granny, though her voice was kind. “That young feller jest invoked The Path from East to West, an’ he owes us a tale or a song fer it.”

The barn was silent as he approached the stage, and, unhurried, climbed the short stairs and went to the central microphone. When he turned to unpack his guitar, Applejack could see his cutie mark: a dark brown crescent moon, the color of his hair, with a sheaf of barley between its horns. Then he turned to the assembled there.

“Ah wasn’t sure y’all still practiced the festival,” he said, while fine tuning his instrument. “Ah’m right glad to see you do. Ah also heard somepony singing Son of the Moon as Ah was comin’ up the trail. Who was that?”

A little reluctantly, Babs raised her hoof.

He nodded. “Ya’ll got a sweet voice, ma’am, and that’s a fact.”

“Um, thanks,” she said to the floor.

“The song ‘bout the son of the moon is an old tune,” he went on, “an’ Ah hope y’all don’t mind, but Ah travel around and collect stories, songs, an’ music. An’ Ah find out what Ah can about where they came from, an’ where they’ve been. Most times, there’s history behind ‘em. An’ sometimes, there’s a connection most folks don’t know.”

“Wait,” Twilight piped up. “Are you saying Son of the Moon is real? That Princess Luna—”

“No, ma’am, not at all. But stories have a way of growin’ an’ changin’ over the ages, and sometimes a song only tells part of the tale.”

“Well then, what happened next, John?” asked Granny. “Can ye tell us that?”

“Well, now,” he smiled. “Some folks say he’s still there, an’ the crescent moon is his cradle. When the moon is full, him an’ his mama play together, an’ when it’s new, he’s cryin’. Other folks say he turned evil, an’ collects all the stars he can; when he’s got ‘em all, then the world’ll be plunged into eternal night. But Ah think that’s just ‘cause a’ Nightmare Moon. Ah’ve not found any sign of such a shameful thing said before her fall, an’ Son of the Moon is older’n that. Not to mention the princesses wouldn’t stand for such, anyway.

“But others still say he grew up, grew curious, an’ came down to the world to see it for himself. He had a love for music in him, it’s said, and all the love of life his mama’d taught him. So he went on to become the Lord of the Dance.”

He turned to the others at the stage. Aside from Granny Smith, still in her rocker, everyone else there had some instrument or other. So he addressed them all and asked, “You folks know that one?”

Octavia nodded yes, even as the Apples around her readied their instruments and grinned. “What key?” she asked.

For the first time, he looked a little uncertain.

“Um,” he said, then he strummed a chord. “This one.”

She smiled and nodded. “Lead the way.”

John began to pick his guitar, easily, beautifully, every note singing with a voice of its own. After a moment, Octavia joined in on her cello. Then the others joined in as well. It was a wandering melody, and as he played, the tapers seemed to burn a little brighter, the shadows receded slightly away.

Then, there was a sudden shift. A quick chord, and a second of silence. And in that silence, Octavia’s eyes narrowed mischievously and the Apple musicians’ grins broadened.

In an instant, as one, they all went into the tune again, faster, more lively, demanding, commanding motion in anything and everything that breathed. And when John sang, the wind stopped to listen and the barn exploded with dancing. His voice was somehow the smell of pine and oak leaves, the feel of summer sun as it raised and whirled around them all:

She danced in the shadow, in the wind, in the hours

The Lady laughed, and she scattered all the stars

She raised the moon, the sky unfurled

The Lord of the Dance entered our world!”

Twilight paused in mid-step, surrounded by whirling, laughing ponies all around her.

“What’s the matter, hon?” Applejack asked as she whizzed by.

“Just making sure I can stop.”



Meanwhile, the song went on as John leaped down from the stage, still playing, still singing, his voice still heard easily over everything else:

“So live, laugh, dance and be free

The Lord of the Dance calls to you and me

To laugh and love, wherever we may be

To live is to dance, so come dance with me!”

By this time he was next to Applejack, and she wasted no time in singing another verse while he played on,

“I dance in the orchard, in the field, in the grain

I dance in the leaves and in the autumn rain

I dance in the bounty that the harvest will bring

So dance and feast, and dance and sing!”

Then, the entire barn joined in the refrain, filling the building to the rafters with music, live, laugh, dance and be free…

Big Mac’s voice boomed out the next verse,

“The trees they dance when they’re stirred by the sound

Of his song while he sleeps in the kernel underground

When the warm winds blow o’er the grass and the dew

The Lord of the Dance rises green and new!”

Now ponies weren’t waiting for John to come to them anymore. They were leaping up on stage one by one, grabbing the microphone, singing whatever verse they knew… or maybe even had invented. After a few verses, to everyone’s astonishment, Ditzy Doo even landed momentarily on stage:

“I dance in the nighttime and the secrets it keeps

I dance in your dreams when you’re laughing in your sleep

To live out your dreams is the greatest delight

So come dance in the daylight, let your dreams take flight!”

…And then she was off again, up and around, while the barn filled with the refrain: live, laugh, dance and be free...

The rafters were filled with flying pegasi. Earth ponies threw their dance partners up and caught them. Unicorns created light shows. And through it all, they sang, they laughed, and they danced. Twilight had never done much research in music, but it was hard to fathom one song having so many stanzas. She had frankly lost count. And how was all this happening? Everyone dancing, all together, all at once? She couldn’t detect any magic, so nothing should be—wait, was that Trixie and Starlight on stage…?

“I dance in your magic when your heart’s in the spell

I dance in the book, in the candle, in the bell

I dance when your will and your mind set you free

The music is the magic is the dance, said he!”

The two clasped hooves and bowed, then leaped down again, glowing with delight, joining the dance once more. As the dance went on, more and more ponies shared verses, and Twilight realized this was an entire source of lore she had been neglecting. In fact, hadn’t John talked about songs dating back to before Luna’s exile? He could know songs older than her books… plus the events that had inspired them!

Suddenly, her thoughts were completely derailed as she was grabbed from above and swooped into the air.

“No wallflowers here, Twilight!” Rainbow laughed, tossing her. “Show us what you got!”

To her surprise and delight, Twilight found that dancing with the pegasi was easier for her than dancing on the ground. After a few false starts, she was joining them in swoops, dives, rolls, and tumbles… the ponies below them dancing in two dimensions while the ponies of the air danced in three. Countless verses went by. She lost all sense of time, laughing, dancing, immersed in the song. Finally, John leaped on stage again. He had Babs with him, and the two sang together, his tenor and her alto blending like silvery water:

“The music of the hours and the days and the years

The sound of our laughter, the rhythm of our tears

Are the song of the magic and the land and the sky

The promise of the dance that is you and I!”

The entire barn filled with the refrain now, louder and more joyous than ever before:

“So live, laugh, dance and be free

The Lord of the Dance calls to you and me

To laugh and love, wherever we may be

To live is to dance, so come dance with me!”

The refrain repeated a few times, and as one the voices stopped. The instruments’ own melodies wound together, bound the song in their notes, and ultimately carried it away into silence.

The barn exploded into thunderous applause, John and Babs both bowing. A little winded, Applejack made her way over to where Twilight had landed. When she reached her, the princess was looking about ready to keel over. She was standing with hooves far apart, head hanging low, eyes closed, gasping for breath.

“Hey, hon, you okay?”

Twilight managed a nod, eyes still closed. “I’ve just… I’ve… never seen… anything like this…”

Applejack put a foreleg around her. “Here now, lean on me for a sec. Y’all been to plenty of Jamborees afore now. You’ll be fine in a minute.”

“No, I mean, the whole… thing that… just happened,” Twilight struggled to control her breathing. “How long were we doing that? How was everypony just…”

Then she frowned, considering. “Maybe… is his guitar magical?”

“Nope,” Applejack grinned.

“Then how? How were all these ponies just…?”

Twilight paused, frowning again. By this time, she was steady on her hooves again, her alicorn’s stamina already compensating for her exertion. “He’s not a unicorn… so it wasn’t a spell…”

“Huh-uh,” Applejack’s own breathing was almost back to normal as she moved a sweat-soaked forelock out from her eyes. “He ain’t a unicorn, nor a wizard, nuthin’ like that. But he may be the last of a dyin’ breed.”

Twilight arched an eyebrow. “Meaning…?”

Applejack’s smile was full of delight. “He’s a bard.”

Then, at Twilight’s quizzical look, she asked, “How ya feelin’?”

“Great! I mean, tired, but… oh, wow,” Twilight said, eyebrows going up. “Wow, my wings.”

Then, her expression turned apprehensive as she added, “Oh, my back is going to be killing me tomorrow…”

Applejack nodded. “An’ yer shoulders an’ yer chest, I reckon. Like as not, that’s why he stopped: so nopony’d get hurt. We mighta kept dancin’ all night if’n he hadn’t. So it’s a kinda magic, I guess. But it ain’t a spell. You might say it runs deeper than that. Him ‘n’ music, it’s like you an’ friendship. It’s magic, even though it ain’t.”

“Applejack,” Twilight’s eyes bore into Applejack’s as she grabbed her marefriend by the shoulders, “I have got to talk to this guy!”

The orange-colored mare glanced at the stage. “Um, well, it looks like him n’ Granny are talkin’ while the rest of us take a breather. You may have ta wait. Tell you what, you hungry?”

Twilight’s stomach growled. “After that? Starving.”

“Let’s get some vittles. We got all night. I figure this fella’s gonna hang around a bit. An’ even if he takes off, you can always fly after him.”

Twilight groaned as they walked towards the feast tables. “Not tonight, I’m not. Owww…”

Chapter Two: Departure

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A few minutes later, Octavia took the stage with a rueful smile, Vinyl Scratch taking her own place at her keyboards.

“I would like to start out by thanking John for the opportunity to follow… that…”

There was laughter, and then she went on pleasantly, “So I thought we might take it down a notch for the next piece. It’s something Vinyl and I have been working on…”

The evening wore into night. There were instrumentals, poems, songs. Some were brand new, like Desolation, the new duet Octavia had spoken of; or like Big Mac’s The Crow. Then there were the old favorites: Blue Shadows, Tom Dooley’s Lament, Five Hundred Miles, Thunderstruck, They Call the Wind Maria, The Ballad of Stagger Lee, and countless others. Babs and John did a few duets, while John picked on his silver-stringed guitar, and so did Apple Bloom and Applejack. Skootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle did some trios, including one they’d written for the occasion. The tapers and the cook fire burned bright, and ponies listened, sang, ate, and occasionally danced.

But after a time, the night outside the barn grew windy and cold, and the shadows more menacing. Granny Smith brought up a tune called The Murder Bull for John to sing, and it was late enough that he went on and picked his way through it, sending chills of pure horror through everypony there. After that, Zecora told a story about a creature called the Snake Mother and the zebra mage who tried to murder her and steal her magic. He failed, and as punishment she trapped him in stone for all time… but still alive, endlessly alive, and hating all that lived. Then, not to be outdone, Granny gave an a cappella of Nellie’s Golden Hair that just about convinced Applejack that she was done with sleeping from then on.

By this time it was well past midnight, and most folks had headed out or grabbed spare bedding and found sleep on the floor here and there. The microphone had been put away, and chairs brought out. The remaining ponies sat in a circle, taking turns, talking about music, songs, stories, and their history. Most of the songs were true stories, some of them centuries old, some older. Now, only the music was left to remember them by. Twilight had always left by this time before, and was quietly kicking herself for it now.

“I never dreamt Runaway Hardy was a real pony,” Babs declared. “That changes th’ whole song. An’ th’ mare in th’ song, th’ one that said she’d be true…”

Applejack nodded. “He was real alright. Killed another stallion over a mare they both liked, the one said them words to ‘im. Last verse is about him repentin’ and undergoin’ a purification for it. The dead pony’s kin forgave ‘im. Then the town hung ‘im.”

Apple Bloom stared, horrified. “But he was sorry—an’ they forgave ‘im!”

“Different time, sugar cube. Forgiveness means risk. What with war an’ monsters an’ whatnot, folks were scared then, all the time. When that happens, precious few want ta take the chance. Remember Tom Dooley an’ Stagger Lee. They weren’t sorry for the folks they’d killed. Not a bit.”

“Be too easy for those times to come back,” John added as he tuned his silver strings, bringing them from Scordatura back into a more modern setup. “They’re always waitin’, right ‘round the corner. That’s why ponies like your sister an’ her friends take the chances they do. Keep the fear at bay, an’ the reasons for it.”

“Um, so,” Twilight broke in, “I noticed your strings, and I was wondering…?”

“Nothin’ beats silver for a pure tone,” smiled John.

Twilight cocked an eyebrow. “Yes, but silver also has magical implications. Wizards used to use it against dark magic, and in protection and binding.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He frowned a little. That darn low E just didn’t want to tune. “That is a fact. Some magic even dissolves away from it, if it’s used right.”

“Shadow magic most of all,” Babs piped up. “That’s how come it used ta be called th’ luna’ metal. After Luna, an’ her protectin’ ponies from shadow long ago.”

He stopped, looking at her with new interest. “Not many folks recollect that these days.”

“More now’n there used t’be,” One of the Apple cousins drawled sleepily as she settled into her blankets. “Twilight’s been remindin’ people, every year. Right afore first day a’harvest, she has a story night, stories ‘bout Princess Luna afore she became Nightmare Moon.”

Zecora nodded where she sat. “Every year a larger crowd, hears the stories gathered ‘round. Tales of fun and tales of fright… some now call it Luna Night.”

“We’ll have hold it in the barn before much longer,” Cheerilee added.

“Um,” Twilight looked at the ceiling. “Zecora knows more stories than I do. And tells them better. And then there’s Applejack, Cheerilee, heck, even Discord… I just organize it.”

“But y’all started it,” John peered at her. “Princess Twilight, this Luna Night open to anypony?”

Twilight stared. “Of course! And I want to talk with you more anyway! I mean, there are so many things I never read about that seem to be recorded in your songs…”

The barn filled with his laughter, and a few of the foals smiled in their sleep.

“Oh, they’re not mine,” he said. “They’re everypony’s. Ah just carry ‘em around.”

“Could’ja sing us anotha one?” asked Babs.

“An’ can it be less scary?” pleaded Apple Bloom. “I’d like ta sleep agin someday.”

“Well, I’ve about got this old thing tuned up again,” John said. “But I’d sure like to hear somethin’ from one of the younger ponies again, if that’s alright.”

There was a moment of relative quiet, while the circle looked at one another. Then Shining Armor sang, looking tenderly at his wife,

“Vandy Vandy, won’t you come with me?

Vandy Vandy, I’ve silver and gold;

Vandy Vandy, I’ve come to love you,

You’re the one that I long to hold.

Vandy Vandy, see my blue diamond,

Vandy Vandy, I’ve treasure and pride;

Vandy Vandy, here’s endless power

If you only will be my bride.

Come with me into the night before the dawn.”

Cadence answered him in her own dulcet voice, holding Snowflurry’s sleeping form as the couple fell into each other’s eyes,

“Why should I care for pride and treasures?

Why would I want your diamond of blue?

What’s the use of your endless power?

All I want is a heart that’s true.

I love a stallion who’s gone to battle,

Seven years now, he’s suffered and fought;

And should he be gone seven lifetimes,

Still he’ll be the one holding my heart.

For I know it’s always darkest ‘fore the dawn.”

Then their voices came together, as they sang to one another,

“Wake up, wake up now, the sun is rising,

Everypony, come see the day;

Look out from all your divers windows,

See our stallions all marching away.

Every night must give its way before the dawn.”

After the applause died down, Twilight said, “I remember that one. You used to sing it to me as a lullaby.”

“Celestia used to sing it to me, when I was younger,” Cadence said.

“And then Cadence taught it to me,” Shining Armor smiled.

“But what’s it mean?” Babs asked. “It ends real abrupt. Why’s everypony lookin’ out their diverse winduhs? An’ at what? Where’s everypony goin’?”

“First off, it ain’t diverse winders, it’s divers winders,” Granny corrected her. “It’s a different kinda winder than we got here.”

John nodded. “That song comes from the Crystal Empire, in a sense. It figures Celestia woulda thought of it when she saw y’all as a foal.”

Cadence cocked her head. “Why?”

“The battle it speaks of. That’s the war ‘gainst King Sombra, way back when.”

Her eyes widened. “I never knew.”

John nodded. “It could‘ve taken less’n seven years, but the Princesses wanted to see as little blood shed as possible. That’s miles harder, an’ takes longer. The war ended with just the two sisters facin’ off against Sombra himself. Still: there was a Vandy. Pretty young filly, not too unlike Miss Applejack there.”

“Now, you hush,” said Applejack with a half-smile.

“But who was courtin’ her?” asked Apple Bloom. “If she was in love with a soldier…?”

John nodded. “She was. Her betrothed fought under Princesses Luna an’ Celestia. He came back, and the other fella scarpered off. After that, the song was written.”

“But who was the other stallion?” Rarity asked.

“A unicorn from someplace far off; nopony knows just where. Made a pact with the shadows for long life an’ power, so long as he could find a pure soul now an’ again to give over to ‘em. He’d had his sights set on Vandy. The first Vandy, that is. Over the years the family kept usin’ the name now an’ then, an’ every time they did, a unicorn stallion with a long shadow came a-courtin’ her. Every time, he had to be driven off. An’ every time, it got harder. That blue diamond held his power. The older he got, the stronger he got, an’ the darker it became. Towards the end, it was almost black.”

“Is there another song? About the family’s struggle against him?” asked Twilight.

“Not yet.”

“And what of that unicorn fella? He been taken care of, John?” asked Granny.

“Yes, ma’am,” said John quietly, his dark eyes meeting her own. “He most surely has.”

After a while, even the hard-core ponies had packed it in, crashing out on the barn floor in spare blankets or whatever they’d brought. Twilight had reluctantly gathered up Spike where he’d passed out hours before, taking him with her back to the main house. Granny had fallen asleep in her rocker a while back – it was a wonder she’d lasted as long as she had – and Apple Bloom was curled up in Applejack’s lap. Little filly’s about too big fer this, she thought as her legs fell more and more asleep. Next year you’re on your own, girl.

But somehow, through it all, Babs was still awake. More awake than Applejack felt, come to that.

“So, after the colt saved the stars, he jus’ flew off into ‘em?” Babs asked when John finished his latest tale.

He nodded. “That’s the story.”

“How many stars are there?”

“It’s been said there’s many as there are stories told, or songs to be sung. Whenever a new one is made, Princess Luna hangs a new star in the sky.”

Babs frowned. “Really?”

John smiled. “Ah very much doubt it. New stuff’s written all the time, an’ how could she know? But it’s a pretty story just the same.”

Granny snorted in her sleep. “Pies’re done…” she mumbled.

John nodded, still smiling. “An’ on that note, Ah reckon our time’s about up. Ah do thank all y’all for your hospitality. It’s been second to none, an’ meant more t’me than words can truly say.”

Applejack moved Apple Bloom to the floor, the filly shifting in her sleep as she did. “Oh, hold on now, y’all can’t just head out into the night. It’s almost winter. We’ve got plenty a’ room, an’ there’s breakfast tomorrow!”

But he was already packing his guitar. “An’ Ah do thank you most kindly. But Ah’m used to travelin’ at night. Me an’ the wind, we’re old friends. An’ when Ah sleep inside, Ah do miss the stars.”

She stood. “John, now, you’ve done us proud, bein’ part’a our Jamboree, an’ I ain’t gonna be the one t’tell Granny you’ve gone. There’s plenty a’room, an’ a place at our table. I do hope you’ll reconsider.”

“Not this year.” He shifted his guitar onto his back. “But next year Ah may, if Ah’m still welcome.”

With reluctance, she nodded. “You will be. I know Granny’ll be sorry she missed you goin’.”

They looked at one another for a few seconds, and then he stepped forward and hugged her. Surprised, she hesitated for a heartbeat, and then hugged back. When he turned to Babs, she bounced up into his embrace and hugged him fiercely.

John ruffled her mane as he hugged her back.

“It has been a proud time, singing with you tonight,” he said.

She squeezed harder. Then, finally, reluctantly, she let him go. He paused for a moment in the huge double doorway, glanced back with a smile and a nod. Then he was gone into the night, closing the door behind him.

A short while after that, just about everypony else had called it a night, too. Applejack looked around, sighed, and shook her head with a rueful smile. The barn was full up with sleeping folks and breakfast was only a nap away. Still, best to catch a few hours’ rest. For all that breakfast was mostly made, cleaning up would be an all-day affair. She made her quiet way to where her oldest kin slept, still in her rocker.

“Granny…” Applejack’s voice was gentle.


“Granny,” she repeated, “Jamboree’s done. Y’all ready ta go?”

The older mare mumbled a few incomprehensibles, and finally muttered, “Jest nap here a li’l longer.”

Applejack nodded. “Well, alright then. Wake you fer breakfast?”

“If’n ye can,” mumbled Granny. “Lookin’ forward t’them biscuits.”

“Sleep long as you want. I’ll save you some.”

Granny didn’t answer, but her chin dipped down to her chest and she snored gently. Applejack smiled, tucked her shawl around her a little tighter, and turned to Babs.

“You make it to the house alright, sugar cube?”

Babs nodded as she yawned. “Uh-huh.”

“Good girl. You go on, then. I’ll take care a’ the CMC.”

As Babs opened the door just a crack to slip out, she could hear Applejack saying, “Oof! Baby girl, you are gettin’ way too big fer this…”

Babs closed the door casually, walked towards the house so her hoofsteps could be heard among the leaves headed in the right direction.

Then she spun and ran in a full gallop, as fast as her legs could carry her, in the direction she’d seen John facing. He had a decent head start, and a longer stride. But he would be walking, and hopefully taking his time about it. Maybe he would even stop somewhere, to enjoy the full moon. Then again, she acknowledged, he might pick up his pace. He might have places to be, or just feel like a canter to keep warm.

Eyes narrowing, breath puffing in frozen streams, Babs ran faster.

She’d been running for a while, and no sign of John. The land was rolling hills, with just enough trees and narrow valleys to really break up the view. And it was harder to see any distance than she’d expected, even under the full moon. When she’d thought about giving up, her first idea – just turning around and going back – was an obvious fail before she even tried.

Oh, shoot, she thought, am I lost?

Looking around, Babs admitted to herself that she couldn’t even be sure that John had gone in a straight line, or gone this way at all.

She sighed. Stories always talked about following the sun or the moon like it was easy. Maybe if she climbed a tree, got some high ground, she could at least see the barn. If she was lucky, she’d be able to sneak into the house before Applejack knew she’d gone.

The tree was a massive oak, with the leaves around it up to her neck. Climbing it wasn’t easy, but her summers with the Apples had been well spent. She was making her way through the larger branches soon enough, rustling bunches of clinging leaves blocking her view. Shivering for the wind, she moved a branch and saw the barn. It wasn’t close, exactly. But it was a depressingly short distance away for as hard as she’d been running.

Guess I didn’t keep such a straight line after all, she thought. Applesauce. Well, I can keep climbing occasionally to keep my bearings, and move onward in-between… I’ll be exhausted by the time I get back, but I’ll get back. Before dawn, I hope.

She sighed. This hasta be the most featherbrained idea I’ve had in my---Granny??

The filly stared in disbelief, but there could be no doubt. As the figure grew closer in the moonlight, Granny Smith’s bun was unmistakable in the moonlight, her silhouette hunched over her walker, making her slow, determined way over the rise.

Babs felt her heart stab. Bad enough she’d snuck out, bad enough she’d almost gotten lost, but… she’d brought Granny out in this! Frantically, Babs glanced around beneath her. There were enough leaves to break the fall. If Granny got sick because of her, she’d never forgive herself.

She was about to drop when another figure stepped out from the shadows to meet the ancient mare. Babs’ eyes widened. The moonlight changed the color of everything it touched, and for a moment she couldn’t believe what she saw. But even if his cutie mark had been hidden somehow, there was no mistaking his guitar, his wind-tossed mane, or most especially his voice.

“Ah’d about thought you were done for the night.”

“Jest catchin’ my second wind is all. Told Applejack I’d rest fer a spell, an’ I did.” Granny looked around. “Seems this place gits further away every year.”

John blinked. “Y’all been comin’ here every year?”

She looked at the moon. “I reckon.”

The stallion stared at her, dismayed.

"Aw, hay an’ high water, Johnny! All this time, don’t yew got nuthin’ else ta say, ‘cept fer fool questions?”

Despite himself, John smiled. “Yes ma’am, I reckon I do.”

Setting down his guitar, he went over to her and held out a hoof. “Excuse me, miss, but Ah couldn’t help noticin’ ya’ll’re unaccompanied on this fine night. May I have this dance?”

Granny Smith smiled back. Then she cautiously, uncertainly, took his hoof. She used his strength to steady herself as she put the walker aside.

Gently, John drew her to him, and they began to dance.

The wind played the leaves like gentle maracas and crickets kept a slow beat as they waltzed together, carefully so she would not fall. As Babs stared in sheer disbelief, the ancient mare’s steps grew more certain, her back straighter, her head higher.

Then, without warning John twirled her, and she laughed as he caught her. Suddenly, the wind blew harder around them. The tempo grew faster, the waltz moving into a square dance. For several minutes Babs’ eyes got bigger and bigger as she watched Granny Smith move like a filly in her teens. The trees waved and the shadows played around the pair, casting shapes like partners in a square, and then lines for a contra dance, and then a quadrille.

As Granny’s footing got more and more certain, the tempo kept revving up. After a few minutes more, the two shifted into jazz. Now she looked at him with a challenge in her eye, and they matched one another, step for fantastic step, as though they’d been partners for years.

Night birds cried out on the off-beat and crickets kept time as the wind whipped into a fury, jazz breaking into swing, and then swing into a blazing staccato as the two of them broke into an impossible tap and soft shoe duet, faster, faster, fallen leaves flying and manes swirling madly around them, front hooves together as they spun, all but obscured by the night and the flying leaves as the wind spiraled around them.

Then, at last, they stopped, laughing like foals as they fell into one another’s forelegs and into the leaves. The wind stirred around them in one last rustling spiral, and then was still, raining autumn’s dry and ragged foliage around and onto them both.

Granny curled up suddenly, a fit of wet coughs racking her ancient frame. John put his foreleg around her, held her until the fit had passed. It took several minutes. Finally, she was breathing easy again.

“Feelin’ better?” he asked.

“Yew know I do,” she managed. Then gave him a sly look. “If I’d known an old song could bring ye, I’d a’ sung it meself, years ago.”

He chuckled, meeting her gaze with his own and propping himself up on his elbows. “Oh, Evadare… as if it would take a song to bring me here.”

A branch fell from the huge oak nearby, but neither of them paid it any mind.

Granny started to pick herself up. John rose easily, and offered her a hoof, which she accepted.

“How long’s it been, John?” It was a question, but an accusation as well.

“Ah don’t rightly know,” he admitted. “There was Vandy, an’ the fella chasin’ her, though that was a while back. There was a haunted train, an’ the filly it was chasin’. An’ sometime aroun’ then, a mine with a dragon in it, eatin’ folks up. An’ a bridge wraith, poor thing. An’ there were songs an’ stories everywhere I went…”

Her eyes narrowed as she finished getting to her hooves. “An’ yew got distracted.”

He hung his head. “An’ Ah got distracted,” he confirmed. “Yes, ma’am. Ah surely did.”

She sighed, shaking most of the leaves out from her coat and mane, brushing out the rest as best she could.

“Oh, John. What in tarnation am I a-gonna dew with yew?”

There was a long pause. Finally, head still down, he said, “Well… Ah could always stay here.”

As she started in on her tail she shook her head. “I won’t have it, Johnny. I said so before, an’ I’ll say it again. No. Not on my conscience. The world needs your songs, and you need the road.”

“Well, then, you could always choose somepony else. You know Ah’d never blame you—”

Her head whipped around to stare daggers into him. “An’ I tole ye what I thought a’that, too. Don’t make me say it agin. It ain’t ladylike.”

He raised his head and looked at her. “Then come with me.”

She sighed then, the hardness in her eyes melting away in an instant. “Oh, John…”

“Henrietta Evadare Apple-Songsmith,” he said with the greatest tenderness. “Come with me.”

He put his hooves on her shoulders.

“Come with me,” he said again. “For a day. For a year. For music, for stories. For the unknown.”

For a moment, the two of them just stood looking at one another in the silver light. Then she lowered her head and shook it, no.

“I can’t John,” she said at last. “I’m still needed here. Oh, I ain’t a-buckin’ like I was, it ain’t the farm, not no more, that’s Applejack’s business now… but there’s so much the young ‘uns still don’t know.”

She gave a sad sigh. “An’ what with their folks gone, there ain’t nopony else t’pass it on…”

He gently took her by the chin and raised her eyes to his. “Ah know,” he said. “They need your stories.”

They both smiled at each other then, and both their smiles were sad.

Then he kissed her, gentle and sweet, with the moon looking on from above. A moment later she stepped back and shook her head, her smile turning rueful.

“Rascal,” she said.

He laughed again, a joyous sound full of green leaves and silver. “Temptress,” he smiled back.

“Just yew try not to be gone so long this time,” she said, touching him on the cheek. “Yew never know what may change.”

“Next jamboree,” he promised. “Maybe sooner.”

“Heh. Maybe.” She turned away and started towards the walker. “I’ll look fer yew when the leaves change an’ the winds git crisp, an’ the zap apples are in fer pies.”

She looked back over her shoulder, shot him a teasing look. “Sooner’n that, I may not believe it’s you.”

Granny Smith picked up the walker, righted it, gave him one last, fond look. Then she started the long, slow walk back to the barn. With every step, her limbs gradually remembered their age, and she needed the walker a little more. But she also knew that her old bones would hurt a lot less the next day than they had for many years. The next day, and for many days to come.

Once the old mare was out of earshot, John said, “Ah guess y’all can come down now, ma’am.”

Startled, Babs fell out of her treetop perch and into the leaves with a shoof! Scrambling to her hooves, she stared up at him. “How’d ja know?”

He didn’t turn around to see her, still watching Granny Smith’s retreating form. “Y’let out a little gasp when Ah kissed your grand-mama. Ah knew your voice. Like honeysuckle, and rain on spring grass.”

Several moments went by, and he finally turned to her. “Somethin’ on your mind?”

“I wanna come with ya.”

He considered her for a moment with his dark, dark eyes. “Why?”

“For the music,” she said. “For songs, for stories, for the unknown.”

He cocked his head to one side and said, not unkindly, “Y’mind givin’ me your own answer, young lady, insteada mine?”

“I… I dunno,” she admitted, collapsing into a sitting position in the dry leaves. “But what we were doin’ tonight, that’s, like, all I wanna do, y’know? The resta the yea’, I look forward t’the jamboree. I mean, my cousins are cool an’ everything, but the jamboree’s the best. An’ tonight, you talked about goin’ around the world an’ trackin’ down stories an’ songs an’ the stories behind ‘em an’ I just kept thinkin’, ‘that’s gotta be the most beautiful way to live theh is.’ Y’know? An’ it ain’t about the cutie mark, though I dunno, I mean…”

Her voice trailed off, and she collapsed the rest of the way into a prone position, penitent eyes staring up at him from between the leaves.

“An’ I wasn’t tryin’ ta spy, y’know?” she went on. “I mean, I’m really sorry ‘bout that. I just wanted ta… yeah, well.”

She looked away. “Anyway. Dumb idea. I get it. We’re cool.”

She stood, took a deep breath, and said, “I’d better get back, anyway. See you next yea’. You were awesome. Hope we can sing togetha again.”

As Babs started to leave, she heard John moving through the leaves to her.

"Ah’d like nothing better,” he smiled.

For a second, she just stared. Then she jumped up, hugging him by the neck so hard she swung around and ended up on his back. “Ya mean it? F’real?”

He threw back his head and laughed again, and his laugh was full of silver and pine, of summer winds and autumn fires. The wind blew over them both, carrying the notes of his joy and returning it to them both again.

Babs hugged him harder. I wanna laugh like that, she thought.

The wind swirled and teased around them both, challenging them, and John took up the challenge. In a moment he was racing through the trees and the swirling leaves, the foal clinging to his back laughing along with him, the silver bells of her alto voice blending with the tenor of his own.

A while later, Granny Smith managed to finish her long trek back to the farm. She could have found it blindfolded, and not because she knew the farm like the back of her hoof. Sweet Apple Acres was in a state, and that was a fact. Seemed like half of Ponyville was galloping around the place, hooping and hollering. Pegasi were taking off, shouting out to each other as they starting flying spirals overhead. There was a violet flash by the barn as Twilight appeared with a few more friends. And right in the middle of it all was Applejack, sending folks out in all directions.

Granny paid the foo-faw-raw no mind. She just made her way inside, and collapsed gratefully into her favorite rocker. Whatever was going on, if it was that all-fired important they could just go ahead and come to her. She was tired.

“Granny!” Applejack burst into the room. “Where’s Babs?”

Granny raised her eyebrows. “She gone?”

“Oh, stars an’ clouds above, I hope not. She weren’t with you?”

“Hm. Not as I could tell.”

Then the old mare paused, remembering a branch falling from a tree without a wind to stir it.

“Then again…” she muttered.

“She ain’t been in her bed, ain’t nobody seen her since the party ended, we got everypony lookin’ fer—” then Applejack stopped, eyes wide.

“Oh,” she whispered. “That fella.”

Granny nodded to herself, her expression thoughtful. “Huh. Well, now, that… does make a certain sense.”

Applejack's eyes widened further. “She’s with him.”

“Looks that way.”

“He took her!”

“Eh, Applejack…”

“He took her,” Applejack stormed. “I shoulda known, I shoulda known, nopony calls up the Path no more! Oh, where’s Rainbow, her an’ the others’ll need to start circlin’ out wider to find ‘em, sakes alive, he might be a changelin’, or some crittur from the Everfree, or, or, anything…”


The young mare called out a window, “Big Mac!” She paced, more frantically now. “I swear, when I git my hooves on that dirty, no-account, no-good—”



“Will yew jes’ shut’cher pie hole fer one apple-pickin’ minute and let me say somethin’?”

With great effort, Applejack reigned herself in, and waited.

Very deliberately, Granny leaned forward and looked her in the eye. “She’s fine.”

Applejack relaxed. “Well, thank goodness! Y’all coulda said somethin’ sooner. Where is she?”

Granny Smith leaned back and closed her eyes, contented. “No idea.”


“Now, yew jus’ simmer down, alright? She’s fine. Couldn’t be in better hooves. In fact,” Granny opened her eyes and nodded towards her desk, “fetch me my writin’ kit. Need to send a letter. Her mama’ll need ta know.”

The younger pony, meanwhile, had been staring at her with growing horror.

“Granny,” Applejack whispered, “What in the hay is a’goin’ on? Yer talkin’ like everythin’s just hunkey-dorey, an’ Babs’ been took off to Celestia knows where—”

“Ain’t been nobody ‘been took off’ by nobody. Babs is fine, like I said. Better’n fine. Now if’n you’ll just be still—”


At the sound of her sister’s voice, Applejack turned to see Apple Bloom peeking in through the outside door.

“Any luck?” Applejack asked her.

The filly shook her red curls. “Nope. Big Mac sent me. Didn’t Granny know?”

“She ain’t sayin’. Get Twilight in here. Might be a spell.”

“No, it ain’t a-- well, that’s done it,” Granny observed as the young filly vanished. “You’ll have the whole dern posse in here insida five minutes… an’ I do declare,” she snapped, “fer somepony who’s saved as many ponies as many times as you have, you kin be about as thick as two short planks!”

“Well, maybe I wouldn’t be,” Applejack snapped back, “if you’d tell me why Babs ain’t a-needin’ ta be saved!

The two stared, their scowls perfectly mirroring one another. Then, Granny looked down.

“I reckon yer right,” she sighed.

The door opened, and Apple Bloom cautiously entered, the rest of the Mane Six filing in behind her. After them, an assortment of other friends and relations started crowding in, all of them ready for the worst. Even Discord was there, looking about, trying hard to be more concerned than delighted at the unexpected havoc these new developments had wrought.

“All right, that’s enough now” Granny said to the assembly. “Applejack, yer in, an’ Twilight, yew too, so’s yew kin tell ‘em I ain’t under some kinda spell. An’ Apple Bloom, you oughtta know. An’ Big Mac. Nopony else. Babs is fine, an’ y’all done right by us, an’ that’s a fact. An’ we do thank ye. But this is between us, an’ it goes no further. So go on, now. All y’all.”

As the ponies in front of her looked at one another uncertainly, she repeated, “Go on, now.”

There were murmurings and general misgivings, but ultimately the room emptied and the door closed again, leaving the four ladies and the huge stallion alone. Just outside the door, Fluttershy could be heard, her stern little voice lecturing everypony there that she would brook no interference in the family’s privacy.

“In hindsight, I guess we shoulda had this talk before,” Granny admitted. “But, all right then.”

She took in a deep breath, let it go.

At last, she said, “Applejack, Apple Bloom, Big Mac… let’s talk about John.”

Meanwhile, a bard and his apprentice were walking through a field of dry grass beneath a black velvet sky, Ponyville far behind them.

“Hey, John?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Is it okay if I call ya grampa?”

He smiled warmly at the filly walking next to him, moonlight painting his coat purest silver, his mane and tail black as a starless night. “Nothin’ would make me happier.”

The wind swirled around them, full of autumn’s promise. It drew up the leaves, making them dance around the pair, up and out of sight, towards the very moon.



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Whereas this story is mine, it does not dwell in a vacuum. As aforementioned, it was inspired by Magpie Pony’s rendition of Son of Princess Luna on YouTube. I rewrote the original Hijo de la Luna’s lyrics for my own purposes, and I recommend Magpie Pony’s own version highly.

The story that Zacora tells is basically the backstory for the book The Face in the Abyss, by A. Merritt. If you like classic heroic fantasy (and if you want to see what happens when the evil wizard breaks loose again), check it out. There’s also the story that John told to Babs towards the end of Jamboree, called The Boy Who Saved the Stars. In our world, it was written by Doris Vallejo and illustrated by her husband Boris. It is one of the best children’s bedtime books ever.

There are a variety of songs mentioned in the story, as well.The Crow is an instrumental piece written by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin), and Desolation is an organ and cello duet by Adam Hurst. The version of Thunderstruck I envision the Apples performing was rendered by a band called Steve’n’Seagulls. Other songs mentioned are also from our own world. Some describe common occurrences, like the traveler’s lament in Five Hundred Miles or the lost wanderer in They Call the Wind Maria.

Others songs have more specific histories. Our world has Runaway Hardy, though we usually call it John Hardy. Then there’s Tom Dooley and The Ballad of Stagger Lee, which tell folk tales based upon those specific murderers and their fates. The songs serve as snapshots of how people viewed what was happening around them. The histories behind them are worth digging into as well: what John says about the songs of his world apply to many folksongs of our own. So far as I know, Nellie’s Golden Hair is just an incredibly creepy song. At least, I hope that’s all it is.

As of this writing, all of these songs can be found on YouTube for those who would like to give a listen. Of Murder Bull and Vandy, Vandy, alas, I have yet to find a recording. I may have to make one myself someday.

EDIT: Thanks to n3k1dsk1llz, I’ve now been exposed to several versions of Vandy, Vandy available on YouTube. My favorite, alas, is no longer available on YouTube, but this one is very nice, though of a very different tempo and slightly different lyrics. (I still may make a recording of the version I knew growing up, just for fun.)

As for The Lord of the Dance, it has a variety of versions, countless verses, and an assortment of alleged histories. It has been attributed to several authors here and there; many of you probably already know of one version or another. For obvious reasons, I wrote my own verses for the story rather than use another writer’s version, and likewise for Vandy, Vandy. That being said, some songs are like stories: living, growing things with a life of their own. The Lord of the Dance seems to be one of them, and I think that to be very fitting.

All of which brings us to John Songsmith.

The original John, aka Silver John, aka John the Balladeer, was the creation of an author named Manly Wade Wellman. Mr. Wellman wrote beautiful stories of fantasy and magic that take place in the Appalachian Mountains and deal with the folk who dwell there (the Apples would be right at home). Unlike the John of my story, the original article had no surname and was of no supernatural origin whatsoever. That being said, he did deal with the ancient wizard who was pursuing Vandy, a ghost train, and many other supernatural horrors armed only with faith, folk magic, horse sense, and his silver stringed guitar. For those who wish to read about the original John, there’s a compilation of short stories called John the Balladeer which is a perfect starting point, and all his tales (that I have read) are equally suitable for young adult readers and older ones. And yes, Mr. Wellman also wrote both Murder Bull and the original Vandy, Vandy. He was a man of many talents, and the world is poorer for his passing.

There will be a variety of other Elsequestria stories; this is the second I have started and the first I have finished. Many of my stories will be in this same continuity, though there will be at least one other timeline in the future. I hope you enjoy this tale and others upcoming as much as I enjoyed and am enjoying writing them. And yes, I do intend to get into John Songsmith’s origin and his careless love of life, as well as his doings during the creation of Nightmare Moon. But that is a story best told by Princess Luna herself, I think. Perhaps to the young granddaughter (with a mess a' greats in-between) she won’t even know about until they meet in person. Luna was still in exile, after all, when John Songsmith and Henrietta Apple met centuries ago.

But that tale (and others) will have to wait. For the present, I am finishing up a story dealing with Sunset Shimmer.

Sometime again,