Long ago, in the early years of Celestia's reign, the vast and arid wilderness of Western Equestria was settled by scores of intrepid pony pioneers. These hearty souls faced danger, adversity and hopelessness at every turn, and although some succumbed to their fear and greed, others stood up, and became the legendary heroes of the Old Pony West.
These are their stories.
“A Fistful of Apples”
Chapter One: “The Mare with No Name”
Some called her a hero, while others thought her the devil come to walk the earth. Whether she was one or the other often depended on how much cash somepony had riding on whatever matters she chose to involve herself in. Either way, all agreed that she tended to make life “interesting” for those that stayed in her general vicinity for very long.
No matter what she was, she came into the town of Goldwater Springs that morning looking perfectly content to ignore and be ignored by any folk that happened to pass her by. Of course, the best-laid plans of mice and mare don’t mean much out in the West, where a keen eye and a fast trigger could mean the difference between life, or a long and cold nap six feet under.
Her first stop was always the saloon. She loved a good saloon, and more often than not, they loved her back. The sun caught her golden mane as she entered, the spurs on her hooves quietly jingling as she approached the bar. It was a nice saloon, she thought; decorated in all the right places, a great big stage to admire, and plenty of places to go if something went sour with the locals. The building was empty, though, save for the bartender and a couple of old-timers playing cards in the corner.
“Welcome to the Sapphire Star, stranger”, the stallion tending the bar called out. “Name’s Sarsaparilla. What’ll it be?”
“How much for an apple juice”, the stranger asked, teeth pulling a small coin pouch from the folds of her tattered poncho.
“Three coins”, the barkeep replied. The stranger looked up in surprise.
“Three? Bit much for some juice, ain’t it?” Sarsaparilla looked her in the eye.
“Not my fault, stranger. Times are tough around here, and a pony’s
gotta’ make a living.” The stranger gave him an odd look, and then dropped three coins on the bar.
“Better be damn good juice.”
Sarsaparilla smiled, and poured her a glass from the bottle in his jaw. The stranger took a sip, the sweet amber liquid sliding down her throat and eliciting a grunt of contentment.
“Are the rooms as pricey as the spirits?”, she asked, gesturing to the stairs leading above.
“No, ma’am”, Sarsaparilla replied with another smile. “The rooms are a fair price, but I doubt you’d want to stay long, anyway. What’s your business here?”
“Just looking for a bit of honest work”, she said, setting her dusty hat on the bar. Sarsaparilla furrowed his brow.
“Well, there’s not much... A few things, here and there. If you’re thinking about staying long, I’d talk to--”
“And just who the hell is this?” The stranger turned to the gravelly new voice coming from a griffon standing in the doorway, clad in a black hat and vest, and flanked by two similarly-dressed earth ponies. The pair playing cards dropped their hands, and hurriedly left the premises. “Your ears broken, stranger? I asked for your name.” The stranger clenched her jaw, twisting her hoof cooly.
“No need to be hostile, friend... Just havin’ a drink”. The griffon spit onto the floor angrily, his wings ruffling.
“I’ll be hostile if I wanna’ be, ‘friend’. No one comes ‘nor goes around here without my saying so, and I don’t ever recall saying so. Now I suggest you turn that pretty gold tail of yours right back around, and clear outta’ here before I--”
“Before you what, Gage?’, a sultry voice called from the stairwell. The group turned to look as a beautiful mare, clad in an elaborate lacy saddle as blue as her eyes descended the stairs. “I’m aware Silver gives you the run around these parts, but I’ll be damned if I let you come into my saloon and scare away my customers... What FEW there are these days, anyway”, she added, positioning herself by the bar. Annoyed, Gage looked the new arrival in the eye.
“Be careful, Belle... You might just make me mad.” Belle scoffed.
“Oh, dear, I’m shaking in my shoes! Why don’t you get along, Grouchy Gage, before you hurt that oh, so powerful brain box of yours?” Gage spit again, facing the stranger.
“This ain’t over, stranger. Don’t make no mistake ‘bout that.” With that, he left, followed by his pony lackeys.
Belle smiled at Sarsaparilla, joining him at the back of the bar, gracefully picking up the apple juice bottle, and pouring the stranger another glass. “Sorry you had to see that, dear... Grouchy Gage likes to think he owns the place. The way the local hooligans do things, he might as well, but I still like to remind him that not all of us lack the, shall we say, ‘stones’ to deal with him and his ilk.” Belle turned to a mirror facing the bar, and preened herself, the blue peacock feather in her mane dancing on a soft breeze. “Name’s Belle Bleu, dear, the proprietor of this establishment. I heard you say something about looking for work while I was upstairs?” The stranger took a sip of her juice, and spoke.
“Something like that. If I’m welcome, that is.” Belle smiled warmly, continuing in her pleasant southern drawl. “As you probably guessed, we don’t get many visitors these days... We have the local gang to thank for that. However, I may just have something for you, if you don’t mind sweating a little.” The stranger smiled and shook her head. “I think you’ll work out just fine, dear. Now, let’s get a room for you.”