We didn’t pay attention to Rambling Rock Ridge for the longest time. More fool us we didn’t go there sooner, or more’s the pity we ever went there at all: it depends on how you look at it. I’ll leave that up to you; I can only tell you what we did. Not my place to pass judgement for you.
It all began years and years ago. Your dad and your mom had just had you, Big Mac, and you, Applejack, you were on the way too. And they always had the farm to look after. I had my patch of Everfree to keep an eye on, ‘cause when you live out right next to a monster hotspot, you don’t let your guard down for a second.
We still made time for each other, your dad and me. Thicker than brothers, us. Well, I was younger then. Used to help your dad out round Zap Apple Harvest; you Apples needed all the help you could get before the fruit vanished overnight.
And in return, he’d help me with a little infestation problem. Timberwolves.
Now see, your basic timberwolf is a territorial killing machine. Guards the trees in the Everfree. Nearly had your Granny Smith first time she went in there, and that was just one visit. Imagine having to deal with them over and over and over again, and you see what my life was like before I just gave up on the Everfree altogether.
But you get the best timber there. Zap Apple Trees are just the starters. Something in the soil, I reckon. Magical deposits, maybe. Well, we had a good supply of Masterstroak, oak wood so magical that no matter who you set to work on it or what they wanna make, it always comes out the best it can be. You bet your haunches I was gonna fight hoof-and-tooth for that.
So there’s me and your dad – oh yeah, and we brought you, Big Mac, along too. I remember you was keen as mustard.
Wanted to be just like your dad, did Big Mac. Didn’t blame him myself; old Bright Mac was a good stallion in town. But I had misgivings about bringing a kid into all this. I mean, timberwolves! You need grown ponies just to stand a chance against ‘em, and one with a cool head and a keen eye at that. Big Mac had the wrong idea, though. He thought you just charged in and scared the things off. That only works if they’re outta their territory, out of their comfort zone.
But no. Soon as we crouched in the bushes, he wouldn’t stop talking ‘bout how many wolves he was gonna sock it to. Nearly gave us away when the pack came sniffing.
Well, we got the torches ready, right enough. Bright Mac and I had done this before dozens of times. He sang songs about it whenever we had a little too much at the Apple Core – old tavern, closed years ago, you’ve never heard of it.
And they were sniffing and sniffing and getting closer and closer. We got ready to light the torches. Had to surprise ‘em. Wait for ‘em to get right on top of us. If they saw us coming, they’d know to duck and dodge, and a timberwolf can split apart and join back together to make that easier for them and harder for us.
Yeah. You guessed it. Big Mac jumped the gun.
Good grief, your dad went berserk over that. His heart must’ve leaped right into his mouth when he saw his own son charging a bunch of surprised timberwolves, shouting battle cries at ‘em. Yeah! Your dad were this close to having no son at all.
He forced our hoof – I went right at ‘em. Swiping, lunging, jumping out of range if they took a swipe. There were maybe a dozen of ‘em; timberwolves never fight alone, so that’s four each, remember. Sweet Celestia, was that a battle for the ages! Not so fun at the time when you’ve got bark fangs snapping at your face, but over time your dad and I learned to laugh it off. Goodness knows how. Probably through drink.
But that’s why I had the fire. Your timberwolf don’t burn right away – hardwood varieties don’t, as a rule – but when they finally do, it’s all over for ‘em. Got one on the upswing – I’ll never forget the howl it made. Leaves on its belly caught fire, next thing I knew the wolf was yelping and smoking and running around setting the forest floor on fire.
Then your dad finally showed why he was called “Bright” Mac. Your Granny Smith probably told you this, but timberwolves hate loud noises. Clanging pans, that kind of thing. Won’t stop ‘em if they’re determined, you understand. Will stop ‘em if you can fight at the same time. That’s how we beat ‘em off: I gave my strength to hitting the life out of ‘em, your dad gave his smarts to scaring the life out of ‘em. Took barely any time to send ‘em packing.
And that was the decider, right there, right then. ‘Cause Big Mac showed his inexperience again and went charging right after the pack.
Your dad didn’t hesitate for a second. He galloped after his son, calling for him, fair pleading with him, he was that scared. Don’t believe a grown stallion is never scared. When he’s got love enough sloshing around inside his chest, a stallion has more fuel for his nightmares.
I went right after him, of course. Chased his voice through what felt like half the Everfree. It wasn’t, of course. If you look at any map, the path from my old home to Rambling Rock Ridge barely grazes the forest. It just felt like it was taunting us, never letting us get closer. The place is evil. It’s got a sick mind of its own. Some say I’m just superstitious, and maybe I am, but that don’t mean I can’t be right.
Anyway, the timberwolves must’ve given Big Mac the slip. They don’t go outside the forest unless they’re flushed out by much more than just a couple of ponies and a kid. I only ever managed to scare them off for a bit. Didn’t have the guts to try anything like flushing ‘em out.
Yeah, they must’ve given him the slip. Either way, I came out in the big wide space. Rambling Rock Ridge. Dead land, to my eyes. Boulders everywhere, spikes of rock coming out of the ground, and just patches of forest here and there that had seen better days. You wouldn’t stop there if you could help it. Granny Smith said she once went there while her family were travelling Equestria. She didn’t get any seeds worth keeping, and she could find seeds in a heckhole like Fire Geyser Swamp.
You bet I got the heebie-jeebies. That was no-pony’s-land. I didn’t recognize a square inch of the place.
Your dad gave Big Mac the scolding of a lifetime. I can almost hear him now, firm and angry and trying to make his son understand what it must’ve been like to see blood and kin throw itself into the jaws of death. I remember, he said, “Big Mac, you don’t become brave by chasing glory off the path. You become brave by following the path, glory or no glory. Lots of ponies lose themselves hunting for glory, and I don’t wanna lose you.”
Oh, Big Mac didn’t get it right away. A bit too quick to talk back, he was. He hadn’t grown up yet. But I reckon it must’ve stuck with him, too. Your dad had a way with speeches, and Big Mac practically worshipped the ground he walked on.
And now this is where it gets interesting. We didn’t have a map – wandering wasn’t the plan – and we didn’t dare go back through the forest. We’d just have to walk around the edge and hope we got home before nightfall.
I reckon it was about… oh, an hour later, maybe two?
That was when I found a fortune.
See, Rambling Rock Ridge bursts with gemstones. Even today, it’s far from cleared out. Probably take centuries before it runs out of the things. So that day, I kicked stones and a few common gems along, and how purdy they looked, I said. Gemstones are a dime a dozen, though, in Equestria.
And then I kicked a really special one.
One in a million. I could have kicked any old gem and been none the wiser. But no. I found the one to rule ‘em all. The Alicornium Gem.
Once you see an Alicornium Gem face-to-facet, you don’t ever forget it. Greener than the finest lawn Old Greenhooves ever tended, bright enough to make Celestia’s own sun – well – green with envy, huh, and when you looked into it – like I did, picking it up just like this – you’d see a dozen of yourself, brimming with desire. And hunger, too. And life, like up till then you’d only ever sleepwalked.
Your dad come over all thoughtful when I showed him. I half thought he’d somersault with joy; I was sure spry enough to do it! But he took it ever so quiet-like, and we walked on home in silence, and he was thinking, oh I could tell he was thinking.
Big Mac asked him over and over what it was, and if it was special, and if they’d be rich, but your dad never said a word. He’d go quiet like that, when he was thinking. Some thought that was the key to his success. Like he stopped talking and let the world whisper its secrets to him.
Finally, we got back and I settled into my old cottage. I told him I wanted to take the gem, sell it up at the Ponyville Market. I was sure we’d get a good price for it. Foolish! One hundred percent foolish! Dumb as a rock, I would’ve been fleeced in seconds. Business types hung around Ponyville in them days, looking to hit it big like the Riches once did. Not a one of them understood that lightning only strikes once. With the Riches hogging the Zap Apple Harvest, that Barnyard Bargains had no competition worth talking about. So frontier ponies became businessponies. They got ruthless. Some of ‘em would sell their own souls to Nightmare Moon if they thought it’d give ‘em an edge.
That’s all what your dad explained to me. Like Tartarus he was gonna hand this over. No, your dad had a plan.
He took me and Big Mac back to Sweet Apple Acres. He’d only trust family, plus I was as good as a brother to him. He’d trust me, and Granny Smith, and your mom, and pretty much no one else just yet.
That night, we had our big talk. Here was what your dad had been thinking about:
Alicornium Gems are the hottest things right now. There was that Alicornium Rush near Yakon in the Frozen North before the cold drove nearly everyone away. There was another one in San Palomino till the mines flooded, and a third near Las Pegasus. He reckoned there might be a fourth, there in Rambling Rock Ridge, just waiting for us to claim it.
Oh, he was a shrewd son-of-a-gun, your dad. Soon as word of this got out, every son and daughter of avarice would descend on that land like vultures. Still, if we up and claimed Rambling Rock Ridge without official backing, someone would smell a rat. First, we had to get the land, and fast. We just needed a likely sounding reason.
Granny Smith was all for it. If anything, she went on some about how her son took a gamble and found a good fortune. Said he was taking after her.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, she was worried. She told off Big Mac, fair and square, and your dad too for letting him. I won’t say she weren’t conflicted; any mother would be, if her son had nearly been eaten by woody killers. And you guessed it, yes: there was something pretty… cold about the deal. Kind of dishonest.
Your mom hated that more than anything. She’d married a noble stallion – she said; I’m just repeating her here – who was as honest as the day was long, and who would risk life and limb to make her happy. Now here he was, talking about hiding riches and sucking the land for all it was worth. Besides, it sounded like rewarding Big Mac for getting them into danger. I remember she was cuddling him when she said that.
We talked her down in the end. Can’t rightly say for good or ill; I smelled your dad’s excitement rich and strong. Everyone in town talked about Granny Smith who went into the Everfree and came out with the gold of the Apple family – I mean the Zap Apple seeds she found. But who talked about Bright Mac, he who just tended the farm like a good little boy? He was a good soul, but there’s good souls, you see, and then there’s heroes. In a hundred years’ time, they’d tell stories of Bright Mac: Bright Mac and the Alicornium Rush of Ponyville.
Don’t judge him too harshly. Yes, in the end he wanted glory too. One thing you’ll learn in this life is: ponies do what they do, and aren’t all-good or all-bad. Ponies are ponies, first and foremost.
Here’s what we agreed upon, at least for starters:
Next morning, I did a little digging at Town Hall. Town Hall wasn’t much to look at in those days. Mayor Mare only then got the paperwork and archives into some sort of order. Before she took over, ponies just wrote stuff down any old how and dropped it in. Good luck finding anything in the bad old days.
Made my job a lot easier, I can tell you. I got a look in the archives all right. Firewood ponies like me always need to talk to so-and-so landowner about this-and-that patch of woodland. Saves a bucketload of trouble later. So I knew my way around by then.
You bet I searched top and bottom for any deeds to Rambling Rock Ridge. Not a soul owned it. Not a soul in Ponyville, anyway. Frontier towns don’t look that far afield too soon. No luck there.
So I followed Granny Smith’s advice. After all, she’d gotten Ponyville’s land in the first place by going to Princess Celestia. Don’t ask me why she had the deeds. Some say there’s a castle in the forest, and thousands of years ago Celestia used to rule from there, owning the land for miles around. Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t.
Either way, I caught the train to Canterlot. I asked to see Princess Celestia, minding my p’s and q’s just as Granny Smith told me. It’s crazy to even think about it. I never saw the princess up close before. Never have since. Your mind kinda gives up believing it.
Ha, yeah right. I went through the whole talk like I was in a dream. Don’t know if you young’uns are used to the royal presence – she goes travelling a lot more now than she used to – but back then it was like negotiatin’ with the universe. You couldn’t ever grasp that this was the Princess you were talking to. I wouldn’t have believed Granny Smith if I hadn’t tried it myself, but the way your Granny Smith told it…
Anyway, sorry. Mind wandering there. Not as young as I once was.
I told Celestia upfront I wanted Rambling Rock Ridge. At first, it was kinda sneaky. She asked why, of course, so I spun a yarn ‘bout the common gemstones around there and how I’d like to expand to prospecting. Firewood’s all right for your needs, but I wouldn’t say no to a second industry.
Didn’t fool her for a minute.
It started off subtle-like. She’d repeat what I’d just said and had that twinkle in her eye, and she had that way of speaking, you know, like folks use when they’re humouring a kid. I knew something was wrong, I could feel it in my gut, but I went on anyway about the free spirit of frontier towns and the business booms going around all the time and how I was thinking of my retirement.
Then she dug it in. Asked if I’d been there recently. I said yes. Asked however that had happened, and I figured I’d tell about the timberwolves, no harm there. I said I found some gemstones, real purdy ones, good for a – what’s-it-called – niche, I think. Celestia asked if I’d taken anything home as a souvenir.
I let myself down that day. I lied. I said no.
At the time, I thought: She must have eyes and ears everywhere. Soon as I lied, she told me about the thing in the Apple family home. Green thing. Very pretty. Rare as hen’s teeth, too. Incidentally, she told me, since that was her land by rights, anyone caught prospecting without her say-so was in a heap of trouble. Lawyers might get involved. You bet your bonnet she put the fear of justice in me.
But of course, she said real calm, I didn’t need that. Green shiny things could be just ordinary emeralds, sent by my aunt in Neighvada. And I’d just told her I took nothing, after all. Why would I lie?
Guilt is a sword. If you don’t sheath it right – and only the nastiest minds know how to put a sheath on guilt – it’ll cut you deep. I told her the truth. I had to. Besides, your mom’s words of warning were on my mind.
So we cut a deal, by way of making it up to her and by way of her wanting me to do some good if I was so set for businessing.
I’d get the royal go-get-‘em, as I wanted. I’d get the Alicornium. On one condition: that me and your dad used the money to help other ponies, spending not a cent of it with a cold thought in our heads or a cold feeling in our hearts.
I wasn’t a good pony back then. Not fully. I was thinking: A cold thought in my head and a cold feeling in my heart? Yeah, good luck setting that price, Princess.
Sorry. I promise I get better.
After that, I caught the first train back to Ponyville. Didn’t need to tell me twice to skedaddle. Not after a shaming experience like that.
Your dad took the news pretty well, all in all. Give him credit: he wasn’t after the money, really. Spending it on the townsponies was his plan all along. He agreed on the spot.
Your mom didn’t take part. I should’ve guessed even then she was behind letting Celestia know; she was acting stiff and polite to your dad all day, and when I told her about Celestia figuring it out, she gave this knowing smile. But I only suspected at the time.
Anyway, then we really set to work. Next day, your dad and Granny Smith sent out letters to every Apple they could think of. We needed whoever could be spared from their farms if we wanted to make good on our first dibs. I supplied the cartload of wood we’d need to set up the first mine. About thirty Apples came a week later, carrying pickaxes and shovels like your dad told ‘em to do. Granny Smith had Big Mac join us too. He wasn’t popular in his granny’s eyes, so you bet he was champing at the bit to help us out.
And that is how we started the Alicornium Rush of Ponyville.
It took us about a month to get in deep, but boy oh boy we done good. Can you imagine it, breaking through the rock to see caves and tunnels full of sparkling green? We slapped each other on the back and sang songs all the way to the Apple Core that day.
Course, we blabbed it all to the tavern folk there and then. Drink is a mocker, and don’t you forget it. But I got the deeds. Anyway, it helped. Next morning, some of the colts and oldies queued up outside the barn. Pleading with your dad, they were, just to have a slice. The colts wanted something new and exciting. The oldies just wanted to feel young again, or prove they still had some kick in ‘em. We hired ‘em all. Your dad knew we’d get better help as word spread. I just knew that more hired help meant more Alicornium meant more money.
In the end, we had enough to turn it into a public company. See, Celestia insisted to me we get some locals to profit from it, so we needed to make ‘em shareholders, and for that we had to be a company, all legal.
As for me, I wanted it to be “Bright Mac and Burnt Oak”, but Big Mac didn’t like that at all, and he had a right mouth on him when he was angry. In the end, we went with “Bright Mac and son”. I wasn’t bothered about names anyway.
Well now, I’m surprised you don’t know, smart ponies like you. Bet Big Mac knows, though.
Though I’m not one to talk. Back then, I didn’t understand it much either. Ask young Burnt Oak what he’d got a-hold of, he’d say green gold. Being smart was your dad’s forte.
So, Alicornium. That there’s one of the most mysterious of all gemstones. Some say there’s a kernel of it deep in the heart of every timberwolf, and it’s what gives them their spirit. Otherwise, they’d be so much kindling.
Ah, now I recollect what he said. He said in Canterlot, there’s this thing called aqua regis. Gold is precious because it’s stable. It’ll last. That’s how it has value. But if there’s one thing it’s weak against, it’s aqua regis. Dissolves the stuff like sugar in water. Well, Alicornium is gold without the weakness. Aqua regis might be queen, but Alicornium is king. If gold is stable, then Alicornium is really stable. And that’s before you think about its magical potential.
Celestia’s own truth, we hit trouble like that as soon as we started. See, Alicornium packs a lot of energy, or something like that, and you can’t just bundle it together willy-nilly. But Big Mac and I were the ones on-site most of the time; your dad still had his farm to look after, and a wife expecting, and not to say anything against the old bird, but your Granny Smith was starting to show her age around that time. More’s the pity, ‘cause your dad knew a thing or two from the grapevine about Alicornium mining. He’d have put a stop to our stupid ways.
In the ground, you understand, Alicornium grows all spaced out. It’s like bird’s nests at breeding time; birds don’t want other birds bothering them while they’re laying and brooding, so they all spread out just out of reach of the next bird’s beak. Alicornium’s like that. And if you’re dumb enough to want it fast and want it now, you pile it up in great heaps soon as you dig it up. If you are really dumb, you’ll cart it over bumpy ground too.
We were dumber than a sack of hammers.
Boom! the things went. Bang! I nearly swallowed my tongue first time it happened. One minute, Turnip Truck and his boy were chucking on the first cartload of the day. Next minute, there’s dust clouding every which way you turned, your ears ringing, and bits of horribly green hail hitting you muzzle to dock. I thought some moron had smuggled gunpowder aboard.
After Big Mac shouted at everyone – he didn’t want to show it, but he’d been shook up bad – I stopped the carts leaving. Everyone had to come out the mines. For all I knew, it could’ve been natural gas. I was shook up myself.
That’s what Alicornium is, you see. It giveth, but it also taketh away. Darn fools don’t last long if they don’t respect it. I was gonna stop being a fool real quick.
When I told your dad later that day – I’d gone to him first chance I got – he asked straightaway if everyone was OK. It was a miracle; no one got blown up or flung back, just shook up. We’d gotten used to tossing the gemstones onto the carts one at a time. If we’d stood on the cart and loaded ‘em up by passing them up, there would have been one less pony alive today.
Trouble was, your dad didn’t want to take any chances. Your mom was bedridden by then, and when that happens, a father always has his mind on safety. Her safety, and then everyone else’s. I’d known him long enough to see it in his eyes.
Next day, he came to Rambling Rock Ridge and told us not to work. I said what about pay, and he said they’d get paid, come heck or high water. No one was to break their promise. Then he went to town and asked around, seeing if anyone knew any rock specialists, or something.
Ha, that day I was smarter than him. I knew Chiffon Swirl, you see. Not well – she had more to do with your mom than with a recluse like me – but well enough to remember she had kin way out west. Rock farmers. She’d told me about them once after your parents got married.
I went up to Sweet Apple Acres. She’d been tending to your mother a lot. Boy howdy, did she have a mouthful waiting for me. Figured your mom had told her what tricks I’d tried pulling on Celestia.
In the end, I smoothed it over and she sent out for… gosh, it’s been a dog’s age. One of the rock farmers, anyway. She came over a week later – Cloudy Quartz! Knew it was on the tip of my tongue.
So we got an expert to tell us about the Alicornium. Who was she? A right pain in the patootie, and I’ll say that for free.
Rock farmers are worse than any other farmer. Comes of spending so much time around rocks. Cloudy Quartz wasn’t set in her ways. Her ways had turned to fossils. She kept correcting our mining procedure and such-like, going around saying how the stallions slouched and the colts shouldn’t spit and that drink we was passing around was the poison of the soul. Very devoted lady, I’ll give her that.
Anyway, the expert. Cloudy Quartz knew her business, all right. Soon as Big Mac brought her a stone – and after she told him off for talking the air black and how silence was golden – she took one look at it and said all she needed to say. One big speech. Just like that.
And that is how I can answer your question so much that we’d be sitting here all day listening to a list. So I won’t do that.
Oh all right, one then. Alicornium is what you might call the stuff of unicorns. Earth pony magic doesn’t need it; we’re in tune with nature, we don’t need help. Pegasus magic doesn’t need it either. Pegasus magic is all curves, like water and air. But unicorn magic needs unicorn horn, and unicorn horn needs the substance of alicorns, and for that, you need Alicornium.
Alicornium gives you time. Don’t ask me how it works exactly. Doc – Oh, you know? Doc? That mad inventor stallion lives near the flower store? Anyway, he was the one who tried to explain it to me once, when we happened to meet one day. I didn’t really understand it. But I think I got the gist.
I think it means if you have enough time, even the most unlikely things will happen. A million years, a billion, a trillion: sooner or later, it’s likely a bird’ll turn into an orange or every bit of a hat will just pop into pieces and then come together again for no reason.
Don’t ask me. He went on about monkeys and typewriters. Went over my head, to be honest.
Here’s what I do know, though. You bake Alicornium in a loaf of bread, that bread won’t go stale for months. You make a ring of them around a tree, that tree will still be there when the rest of the forest starts rotting away.
And if you know how to prepare it, or so they say, you could eat Alicornium dust and live long enough to see your great-great-great-great-grandchildren in old age. Elixir of life, apparently.
I don’t know if that’s true or not. I think it could be, though. One of our earliest clients was this earth mare. Young girl. Spoke in a funny accent. Lotus, I think she called herself.
She’d travelled from somewhere with a weird name, definitely outside Equestria. Of course, frontier towns are the best places to go if you want to get a business off the ground.
Well, we got to talking, and your dad joined in, and I happened to let slip what Doc had told me that one time. That’s why everyone was so keen to get this Alicornium, you see. Not just because it’s a gemstone and it’s rare and somepony would want to collect it. Though there is that, of course.
Lotus was thinking about it, you mark my words. I made a good sale that day. Remember it well enough, ‘cause the way she looked at me fair got my goat. I tried being neighbourly. I said, wouldn’t that be something, a stone that lets you live forever? And she said yes, it sounded like a good idea.
Next thing I know, I wake up in the morning and there’s yet another business booming in Ponyville. It was the self-same weird mare. Lotus came to me and said she was experimenting with Alicornium dust. She was in the business of keeping youth alive.
I said good luck to her. Never followed it up after that. When I told your dad, he said I should be more practical-minded. So I let it go.
As far as I know, the spa’s still there. A lot of businesses dried up after the Alicornium Rush. Way of the world, I’m sad to say. But the spa was one of the ones that kept going.
Haha. And here’s food for thought: either the mare who runs it now is the spitting image of her grandmother… or someone did figure out how to make that elixir of life. Uncanny, huh?
Time went on. This is unfortunately where the story gets a little saddening. It’s about your mom. I’ll understand if you don’t want me to go on.
All right, but I warn you; it’s not pretty.
Your dad took a funny turn, late in the fall. By that time, the company put up mines every day, digging through Rambling Rock Ridge like there was no tomorrow. Oh, I still had time to tend to the Everfree patch, keep an eye out for timberwolf packs, and sell my firewood. It’s not a demanding job, getting firewood. Cut tree, cut timber, sell timber, get food. At least I had the whole forest to choose from. Anyway, I had my eye on Whitetail Woods for a long time. The material’s not as good, but at least I couldn’t be eaten by monsters there.
Sorry, I’m rambling. I should just tackle this head-on. It’s not as easy as you’d think, even now.
The point is: I had insurance. Your dad had one farm and was stuck with it. Big Mac stopped helping out around the place; I tried to send him back, but the Alicornium Rush was a lot more alluring to a young colt than a boring old farm. Granny Smith did her best. Now I think about it, I should’ve done more to help them.
Your mom was having the hardest time of it. So long as she was expecting, she couldn’t help gather the harvest come Applebuck Season. Zap Apple Harvest was out of the question. Worst yet, your dad insisted on being by her bedside a lot more than he should’ve done. There was hardly anyone to pick the fruit. The farm lost a bit of money, even over Cider Season when they tried to sell off the spare apples.
Whenever us two went out to inspect the mines, he went on about leaving his legacy to his children. How the town would point at them and say, “There goes the seed of Bright Mac, the greatest stallion in Ponyville.” And I used to say, “Greatest in what way?” And he just looked at me funny.
I don’t blame him for talking like that. Now he had to be a hero for your mom too. With Ponyville booming, he wanted to go out and help his new neighbours settle in. He wanted to host get-togethers and hoedowns so everyone would feel welcome. He wanted to do everything short of take over Celestia’s job, and I’m not even sure about that when he got really hard on himself.
Trouble is, when a stallion talks like that, he gets ideas.
One day, he’d tell me to hire more ponies from Manehattan way. He had a sister or something who’d moved out there first chance she’d got. Wanted the sophisticated life, so she said. I didn’t know her well myself. Shoot, even he hadn’t talked to her in a while, but surely blood’s thicker than water, he said.
Not a soul came.
He got angrier by the day. I think he wanted to ransack that Rambling Rock Ridge of every last bit of Alicornium. He stopped talking to me like I was his honorary brother and started snapping at me like I was a country bumpkin.
It broke my heart to see him like that. I could tell it was rubbing off on your mom, too. I never saw her, but I did see Chiffon Swirl around Sweet Apple Acres more and more. She looked a mess. Worry, I figured. She and your mom used to be joined at the hip.
Remember this: your dad made Ponyville a great town. But I ain’t gonna sugar-coat it; it almost cost him his mind.
And just when you’d think everything couldn’t be worse, we passed the Running of the Leaves and were facing winter. The mines had to close then.
Boy oh boy, Sweet Apple Acres very nearly didn’t make it. We’d handed out the profits from the mines to all kinds of businesses: Mister Kingpin and his bowling alley; Eight Bits and his arcade parlour; Doctor Fauna and her private vet service; there was even talk of starting a firefighting company. Mayor Mare was a big shareholder too; if it wasn’t for us, there’d have been no care home for the old folk. No insurance for the monster attacks neither: some of them get desperate in the winter and attack the town.
Like when the timberwolves came back.
The only mercy was that I had a lot more business in the winter. So one day, I went into the Everfree with the axe on my back and the spit in my mouth, and I cut down trees so’s folks could warm up around their fires that night.
I got some way in, too, before the wolves attacked.
I’ll bet anything it was the same pack. One minute, I was checking a redwood to see if it had any Eldritch Rot. The blight was abroad at the time. Next minute, fangs everywhere. Claws slashing at me. I looked round at the barking and there were just endless green eyes.
You bet I ran for it! One stallion with an axe, no pans, and no fire: I was as good as dead.
Now I had to fight my way through the snow. Timberwolves can tear their way through it like rabid dogs through a stream. I thought I was a goner.
But then luck was on my side. When I swung the axe round – I was mad, mad as anything, mad with sheer terror – the first wolf smashed under the blow. Don’t look at me like that; it was a lucky blow. I could’ve missed. Sure as sugar I didn’t mean to hit it hard enough to knock the nearest trunk. Snow poured all over the pack just before they leaped. I had time to get home.
Only then I heard the howl. More of the pack must have gone ahead to cut me off if I tried going home. They remember, you see. Timberwolves learn.
Panic does things to a mind. I simply turned around and galloped until I panted my lungs up. I didn’t even realize at the time I was retracing our route back to Rambling Rock Ridge. That moment of terror made me fly like the devil. Time didn’t mean a thing to me then. I hope you never get in that kind of mess as long as you live.
Now the wolves caught up with me. I was near one of the mines then. Some of the ponies were sloppy – I know for a fact old Turnip Truck never remembered to put stuff away – there was a cart full of stones near me. I jumped right in.
The wolves weren’t far behind.
I leapt out, and just as they piled into the cart full of snow and scattered gems full of green light, I remember looking one in the eye, just as we’re doing now. I stared at him. He stared right back. And I swear before Celestia the eyes glowed like crazy. Two green suns glaring at me. You wouldn’t have doubted for a second there was Alicornium in their soul.
And then it all exploded.
It doesn’t prove they really do have Alicornium hearts, really. Who knows how long timberwolves live for? Besides, there must have been dozens of Alicornium gemstones in that cart. If they’re piled high enough, it only takes a strong jolt.
You got it in one. Boom! Bang!
I will never forget the rush of air before the light faded away. It took me a while to realize I was still breathing. Once you’ve seen an Alicornium blast up close, not even a memory spell will make you forget it.
Any other time, it wouldn’t have mattered. So we lose some Alicornium. All in all, I was alive, and you bet that was all I cared about. But once I got home and tucked myself away and had time to settle down, I started thinking to myself: How much did we lose in one blast?
The mines were running dry. I figured out later in the winter that we’d just lost one of the last cartloads of Alicornium. We were on our knees, and I was the only one who knew it.
Concerning our lost treasure, I didn’t tell a soul at the time. Your dad worried enough; I would never forgive myself if I drove him to the deep end. Luck wasn’t on my side, though.
Once Winter Wrap-Up came and went, your mom should’ve gotten better. We knew then she was ill with something serious. By then, we had a few doctors in town – the real deal, not whichever Apple happened to know a bit of first-aid – and sent Big Mac out to get one. Shouldn’t have bothered. Soon as the doc went upstairs and came back down, he insisted she move to the hospital. Your dad told him she was just a bit peaky, and he said no, she was not a bit peaky, and she needed a proper doc to look after her.
He didn’t say it in that way, exactly. But this is going way back. Doctors then didn’t bite their tongues like they do now.
Your dad was worried sick. He wasn’t stupid; he knew your mom was suffering. But there are times when a stallion will grasp at anything if it means he doesn’t have to look the truth in the eye.
I’m sorry. If it helps, he wasn’t a bad pony either. Ponies get scared. Remember what I said? When he’s got love enough sloshing around inside his chest, a stallion has more fuel for his nightmares.
Here. Take my handkerchief. I can stop if you don’t wanna hear any more.
It hurts me too. I had to watch the closest thing I had to kin tear his mane out with worry.
Everyone was there by now: Granny Smith, Chiffon Swirl, Big Mac, and me. Your dad insisted we go out and open more mines. Bring more businessponies into town. Then he took me aside, and he told me – wincing as he said it, and I knew what it cost him – we should stop giving out so much money. Keep some for ourselves. For our families, you see. He was raving at the time. Somehow he’d got it into his head he could buy his wife all better.
What else could I do? I put my hoof down.
Never mind if we had any Alicornium left or not; if we’d been up to our eyeballs in the stuff, I’d have said no. Money, glory, allies in trade, a legacy: none of this was going to make Pear Butter any better. She needed to go to the hospital. She needed him to be strong and to stay by her side, not run and hide in a maze of dreams.
Not until the day I die will I ever forget the look he gave me. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to. All I knew was that this was the face of a stallion who’d look Tartarus in the eye and never, ever flinch.
He rushed out after that. Thin-lipped, narrow-eyed: I couldn’t have stopped him with a herd of bulls. Even Big Mac went quiet when he saw his dad pass by. Must have been quite a shock for the little colt. Granny Smith took him upstairs to bed; wanted him out of the way, I guess, or wanted to talk somewhere he could feel safe. The air was thick and the smell was burning, like a forest just before the inferno washes it with pain.
That just left me with Chiffon Swirl.
You’d have to ask her what was going on with your mom. That is mare’s stuff. A stallion ought to know what’s his, and what’s hers, and when to respect the divide.
So I told her first. I had to, ‘cause we were both in the same boat. She owed her business to Pear Butter, as I owed mine to Bright Mac. There was even talk that Pear Butter set her up so she’d started getting familiar with a Carrot pony. I’m not the stallion to ask about that. But I needed a sane voice who knew why I’d kept a secret from your dad. Money or not, I was sick to my stomach.
A lot of this is old news to some ponies. Granny Smith figured this story out over the years, and Big Mac too. But I’d appreciate it if we kept this between ourselves. It strikes me this is getting… Well, you’ll understand someday.
I didn’t tell her everything. Still a bit scared myself. Still thought things might turn around on their own. So did she. I told just enough to clue her in to the general.
Anyway, your dad came back later that day. He’d found out about the Alicornium mines. How they were all dried up. The life went out of him that day. He came into the kitchen while me and Chiffon Swirl were talking, then he just sat down and put his head into his hooves.
I didn’t say anything for a long time. We didn’t dare try to get him to open up.
Then he asked how much money we had standing by. I don’t remember how much exactly, but it was a pretty little fortune. Mayor Mare would be expecting it for the housing construction project she had in mind.
Your dad left when he heard that. I figured he’d gone to think this through in private, so I went home after that. I was so naïve.
Next day, I didn’t see him at all while I was out chopping wood. I didn’t want to bother them unless they asked me to. I thought he just needed time to think.
The second day, he came to my home. He told me he’d spent the money. On mines.
I did! I asked if he meant on digging further, and he said no, he’d bought more mines. More workforce, I mean. More tools. More everything. After all, just ‘cause our mines are used up, don’t mean there’s no more Alicornium to dig up.
This was the same stallion, remember, who knew everything about every other Alicornium Rush. The ones that didn’t get flooded or snowed-in ran out pretty quick. A smart investor had to make do with what I suppose you’d call the Zap Apple of rocks.
You bet I tried to talk him out of it. He ordered me not to tell anyone. Ordered me.
I could not believe what I was hearing. Your dad wouldn’t dream of ordering an ant off his picnic cloth. He’d stopped wearing his hat too. I remember that clearly. Without his hat, he looked a lot smaller than he used to. Perhaps he weren’t eating well, neither. He didn’t leave with any of the old get-up-and-go I used to know.
No. There and then, I swore he’d have to go back to his old self. I was in tears at the time. There’s no shame in tears. Your mom used to say that. Tears are what you shed when you’re proud to feel love.
I thought about your mom, then, and about how Celestia knew what tricks I was trying to pull.
Don’t worry. This is where it gets good. Love always wins out, in the end. Every country song sings it for a reason. Trust me, I learned not to tell lies long ago.
Course, I didn’t put my plan into place right away. I had to pick the right time.
Big Mac gave me the luck I needed. He came round one day, hollering about how his dad had a letter from Mayor Mare asking about the money he owed. He’d gone out to “give her a piece of his mind”, which meant he was out of the way. Good. I couldn’t have done it if he’d stayed at the farm.
I told Big Mac to go see to the mines – I wasn’t sure if he’d tell his dad or not what I was doing – and then I went to Sweet Apple Acres.
Granny Smith let me in and gave me a darn good cup of cider. Her hooves shook when she poured it out. Seeing her fit as a fiddle now, I’m sure that means she was just nervous back then, but I thought her old age was showing.
We got to talking. No, Pear Butter wasn’t getting any better. Yes, Chiffon Swirl was over, doing what she could, which wasn’t much beyond comforting. Could I speak to her, I said. Why, she said. I just wanna ask her something, I said.
Your Granny Smith has eyes like a hawk’s. Oh, she suspected something, all right. Probably thought I was trying to replace the Carrot pony in Chiffon’s life. But she went and got Chiffon anyway.
Now, here’s what’s important: I knew I’d never be allowed to visit Pear Butter. Not by myself. If nothing else, I didn’t know her well enough. It’d be like Chiffon Swirl being alone with Bright Mac. You trust ‘em, you just don’t feel right about it. It’s not how it goes.
But here’s what I did. I told Chiffon Swirl about the new mines. About the money and what your dad was doing with it. And just to make sure she understood, I told her why he was doing it. What he wanted for his wife, and their son, and their unborn child. That we had to do something now or it might get worse for both of them. Yes it was hard. Keeping quiet wasn’t working. If we didn’t speak up now, could we call ourselves their friends?
She spoke up around this point. She said, “This could destroy them.”
I didn’t even think. Perhaps I didn’t want to think. All I know is I stood up at once and said, “Honesty won’t destroy them. Honesty was where it started. Honest friendship. Honest love. If it’s anything, it’s honesty that’ll stop them destroying each other.”
Chiffon Swirl listened while I told her some more. Horror crept over her face like a shadow, but she said nothing till I finished. Then she leaned across and said two words: Well done.
Telling the truth isn’t as easy as blabbing whenever you feel like it. Telling it at the right time to the right pony is the key to doing the most good with it. Otherwise you just prove you don’t know your fellow ponies – or worse, don’t care enough to think about ‘em.
I went home. I’d done my part. It wasn’t my place after that.
And I never found out how it went down, in the particulars. I could talk about your mom calling your dad up to see her, and imagine she crept up on the truth, and you could almost see the ghost of Celestia watching over the two of them. Then maybe she talked to him about who she’d married, years ago, and who stood before her now. I’m sure as the heavens are above us, she could say to him what even I couldn’t, but the thing is she wouldn’t have known to say that if Chiffon and I never spoke up.
Whatever your mum did, it worked. Chiffon Swirl came to my cottage the next day, telling me she’d moved to the hospital at last. Your dad had seen the light.
Next time I saw your dad in person was later that day, in fact. He was walking away from Rambling Rock Ridge. I wasn’t fully convinced then, so I went to check he hadn’t been up to something.
I went to the site and instantly I saw the flat earth. He’d filled in the mines at last. He knew a bad investment when he saw one. Finally, I caught up with him and we had a quick word. I think he agreed to return the deeds to Celestia. I never found out – after I went back home and gave them to him – what he did with them.
Couple of days later, I went back to look again, and there were heaps where the Diamond Dogs had moved in. Diamond Dogs always move in when the miners move out. Dogs, wolves… they’re always looking for a den, and always willing to scrap for it. But that’s best saved for another story.
After that? Well, most of the time I only saw your dad whenever we both turned up at the Apple Core. By then, the landlord – Mr Waddle, I think – wanted to retire, and since he had no kids or kin, he asked around if any of us would like to buy the tavern. Yep. Never found a soul willing to do it.
A week later, your dad finally said something. Told Mr Waddle he couldn’t save the tavern, but if he ever needed a little nest-egg, something to make sure he’d be all right…?
And I knew your dad was his old self, then. We got drinks on the house that night.
There’s not much left to tell after that. Your mom had Applejack not long after, and a beautiful baby you were too. Your dad and I helped plant the seeds for the next harvest. In a year, the farm would be thriving again. Chiffon Swirl married her Carrot beau and renamed herself Cup Cake. I moved closer to Whitetail Woods after a nasty little run-in with a Bark Beetle… Eh, I’ll tell you another time.
What else? Oh, that’s right. There was talk about a lot of businessponies clubbing together to give your dad an award and a special holiday in his honour. Figures he turned them all down. Now they go too far the other way and forget he ever existed. Even the spa don’t do anything to celebrate the Alicornium he gave them. You ask around, find me anypony who could tell you what “Bright Mac and son” even were.
Except for Big Mac, of course. Least he’s learned since that silence is golden.
And that’s how it happened. Granny Smith might have founded the village of Ponyville, but it was Bright Mac and I who made it a thriving town. Thousands of ponies live here now ‘cause of what we did. Millions, I think. Not sure. Never been good with numbers. Ask your Granny Smith sometime.
You three are smart young ponies now. We made fortunes, but we risked a lot that was worth more than any heap of green stones. I’m not a hero in all this; not a day goes by when I don’t think I could’ve done things differently. But whatever happened, believe me: for all his faults, your dad always did what he thought was right. And your mom was the noblest soul I ever met. Deep down, I mean.
Big Mac… well, you know. You saw your dad at his best, and at his worst.
And you, Applejack… Even you know late in life they had to learn a few… what’s it called, now…? Friendship lessons. They had to learn a few of those over the years. Every day in every way, ponies get better and better.
It’s different for you in particular, Apple Bloom. You were only a babe when your mom and your dad had to go. It’s tempting to see them at a distance, like the two Princesses on their thrones. That’s why I’m sure you have to see them up close, even if only through my stories.
I know it’s not much, and it’s not always flattering. But don’t love ‘em ‘cause they’re perfect. Love ‘em ‘cause they’re them. They were the best them they could be.
Anyway, you three don’t need me moralizin’. You’ve got fine minds of your own. I do wonder, though. Why d’you ask? To begin with? Why did you want to hear it?
Oh, you brought it up, huh Big Mac? You told ’em that, did you?
Well now, I think it’s about time one of you three told me a story. Can’t be all give and no take, now can I?