(The following is a work of fan fiction based on My Little Pony:Friendship Is Magic. I am not affiliated with Hasbro and company. This work is intended to be a work of parody that complies with fair use guidelines.)
Six fillies from Ponyville beat a hasty retreat past Princess Celestia, signaling the end of the Grand Galloping Gala. So much had went wrong so quickly that dozens of attending pony nobility were still in a state of panic, running to and fro, screaming, falling over shattered columns, slipping on cake remnants, and the animals: everywhere. Birds landing in their manes, vermin jumping into their clothes, bunnies under hoof, and all living creatures whether animal or pony were fleeing from a recent memory of a terrible shouting yellow demon. Princess Celestia waded into the chaos, attempting to bring about a sense of reassurance, like the sun peeking through a raging thunderstorm.
Next to a huge stone podium that, not two minutes ago, once contained a graceful alicorn statue (now shattered on the ballroom floor like so many sophisticates' dreams of a delightful evening) lay a fine and princely unicorn stallion of alabaster coat and blonde mane. Humiliated, four legs sprawled in the air, and covered in cake shaken upon him by a ravishing unicorn mare that had done the unthinkable. As he righted himself on four hooves again, the words she spoke to him before storming out echoed through his head, “You, sir, are the most un-charming prince I have ever met! In fact, the only thing royal about you is that you are a royal pain!”
Prince Blueblood, infinitely removed nephew of Princess Celestia herself, most eligible bachelor in Equestria, had just been dumped. What's more, it had been publicly, during the grandest event of the year, and in such a way as to call into question his unmistakably chivalrous nature! Even now, as Celestia's efforts slowly restored the room to order, he was attracting sideways glances from some of the attendees who had returned to their senses. Accusatory glances.
The prince's eyes narrowed and his jaw set with conviction. He stomped a front-most hoof derisively. This simply will not do.
Rarity cried out, “This simply will not do!” It had been two weeks since the radiant unicorn with purple styled mane had fled the gala, a happening she had invested considerable effort towards putting completely out of her mind. Now, she was fussing about, horn aglow, as she trotted about the lavish interior of the Carousel Boutique, her home and place of business. Levitating about her were various pony mannequins, scraps of cloth, jewels, measuring tapes, and other familiar trappings of her dressmaking trade. As she worked, she chided herself in her usual grandiose manner, “Too short, too long, too bright, too dark, too colorful, too bland, too shiny, too dull... ah, perfect! PINCUSHION!”
Spike, the purple baby dragon, materialized next to Rarity in a blur, bent over with ornate fashion pins emerging harmlessly out of the thick scales of his back, staring at her in his usual stupor of affection. Rarity hardly noticed him as her magics yanked a couple pins from his spines and deftly affixed a golden cloth in position on a nearby mannequin. She turned and passed Spike on the way to her drawing board, accidentally trampling his tail, causing Spike to wince but otherwise not disturbing his dreamy expression.
Rarity's inner dialogue continued vocalizing itself, “I simply must master this new look! It will surely require a little bit of this”, her eyes turned to a design of a fluffy spring dress with elaborate tresses, “and a bit of that”, a design involving copious amounts of lace to create a gossamer effect, “and not to mention-”, her eyes turned to a dustbin next to her work station. The odor of the contents had become so pronounced it was producing a visible stink cloud.
Everything being levitated clattered to the floor as Rarity had one of her trademark bouts of hysteria, “Eew! dirty! filthy! Why was this allowed to accumulate here in my glorious boutique?!” Throwing her nose up and away from the dustbin in disdain, she shouted commandingly, “GARBAGE!”
Spike dashed in to grab the dustbin, slightly larger than himself, and awkwardly made his way to the main bin just outside of the boutique. Unbalanced by his cumbersome load and not entirely able to see where he was going, he tripped and fell, bouncing upwards off his cargo before falling again, dustbin and all, into the larger container and the already formidable amount of filth within. It looked rather painful.
Rarity was standing in the doorway of the boutique, not wanting to step into the light drizzle falling outside, but wanting reassurance that certain offending materials were not going to assault her senses again unexpectedly. She was now looking with wide eyes and wrinkled nose at the baby dragon as he painstakingly crawled out of the main bin, and shied away from him as he skipped up to her.
Spike, enjoying her attention for once, gave a little salute and said brightly, “Task complete, milady.”
Rarity bent close - but not too close - to Spike and said one word, quietly, but unmistakably firmly: “Bath.”
Spike snapped another quick salute and fled in the direction of the library he lived.
Rarity was about to turn back to her work when she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Just at the edge of Ponyville was an unusual sight for the humble town: a covered wagon pulled by two Equestrian royal guardsmen. It was truly elegant, larger than usual, white, regal, one might even call this wagon princely... and it was moving directly towards her. Slowly dawning horror spread across her face, “oh no.”
“Oh no, Spike, not again,” chided Twilight Sparkle, a purple unicorn whose straight dark blue mane had a magenta stripe through it - an unmistakable feature of being exceptionally touched in magic.
“I can't help it, Twilight,” said Spike from the bubble bath as he worked over his scales with a fine scouring brush, “I just want to be around her, you know?”
Twilight sighed as she levitated a sponge in Spike's direction, “I know, Casanova, but you're supposed to be my number one assistant, remember? Besides, you really don't have a-”
“Yeah, yeah,” interrupted Spike, lapsing into his best Twilight Sparkle impression, “'you really don't have a chance with Rarity, Spike, trust me, she's my friend, I know her,'” he resumed his normal mode of speak glibly, “but I still kinda feel like I should at least try.”
Twilight turned away and rolled her eyes surreptitiously.
Not quite surreptitiously enough. “Oh,” said Spike with an accusatory stare, “and I suppose you're an expert in romance now?”
The unicorn did a little jump and gaped at him, “No! I never - I mean, I might have read a few books, but, erm-” She blushed.
The baby dragon crossed his arms smugly, “Don't be preaching about what you can't practice, sister.” He then reached for a back brush.
Twilight Sparkle made a face, “Ugh!” She was often amazed at just how good a baby dragon was at making her feel exasperated. One of these days, she thought to herself, she's would have to work up the nerve to explain to Spike some of the finer differences between dragons and ponies. For now, an alternate approach will do.
“Listen, Spike,” she said seriously, “I think you're going about this the wrong way. Don't get me wrong, Rarity's a great friend and very generous, but she has this high opinion of herself. All these favors you're doing for her are going to be completely ignored!”
Spike paused in mid-scrub for a moment. Then he looked up at Twilight Sparkle with big eyes and asked plaintively, “What else am I supposed to do?”
Twilight Sparkle was momentarily taken aback. It was a good question. What was he supposed to do? “Be yourself,” was what she wanted to say, but even Spike could see that would be unlikely to work. Well, it would have to do. Twilight Sparkle opened her mouth to speak-
There was a crash from the library. Twilight Sparkle and Spike looked and saw Rarity standing just inside the front door, significantly diminished with her usually elegant mane somehow soaked from the morning sprinkle, shaking visibly from damp and fear. “Twilight!” she shouted, “HIDE ME!”
Spike dove beneath the suds of his bubble bath, “Hide me, Twilight!”
Twilight gave him a little look, “Spike? You're always like that.”
Spike blinked, “Oh, yeah.” He nonchalantly jumped out of the tub and began to dry himself off on a towel.
Twilight cantered over to her shivering friend at the doorway, “Rarity, you look terrified! What's the matter?”
But Rarity was again in hysterics, “Oh no, this is just terrible! Terrible, I say! Do you have a closet I could hide in? Not just any closet, mind you, it should be relatively spacious and not smell of mothballs: a lady has standards, you know. And look at me! I'm drenched! I haven't a thing to wear! I absolutely must look my very best when confronting HIM.”
Twilight Sparkle stopped Rarity there, placing a hoof on her shoulders and hoping to pierce her panic by staring into her eyes, “Him? Who's him?”
Rarity sat down on her haunches, eyes fairly vibrating with withheld tears, bit her lip nervously for a moment, and then attempted to speak, “Bubbl! Bubbld! Blubblbl!” She broke down crying, splaying her forelegs out before herself in an entreating fashion, “BLUEBLOOD! Prince Blueblood is back for me!”
A freshly-dried Spike ran up, “Blueblood? You mean that jerk that treated you so badly at the gala?”
Rarity snapped out of her apparent hysterics instantly, sat up demurely, and spoke in her typical ladylike fashion, “Oh, no, no, no, Spike! Don't call Prince Blueblood a,” she spoke the word like it didn't belong on her lips, “jerk! He's royalty!” She finished sidelong in a scandalous mutter, “Even if he is the most un-princely prince ever to bear the title.”
A familiar white covered wagon pulled up outside the door to the library.
Twilight spoke quickly, gesturing towards the landing above the library where her bedroom was, “Quick, Rarity, run up there! If you stay close to the floor he shouldn't be able to see you. I'll try to send him away.” Exhibiting decidedly unladylike haste, Rarity wasted no time in following Twilight's advice.
She was nearly too late. Stepping inside of the library, flanked by two imposing Equestrial guardsmen, was indeed the stately unicorn stallion, Prince Blueblood. Twilight Sparkle and Spike stood there nervously as the procession trotted up to them and stopped.
There was a pregnant silence. Prince Blueblood looked at Twilight Sparkle. Twilight Sparkle smiled sheepishly. Prince Blueblood stared harder. Twilight Sparkle quailed and looked at Spike. Prince Blueblood stared at Spike. Spike glared right back at Prince Blueblood. The two guards felt a bit left out, shrugged, and looked at each other.
At last, Prince Blueblood spoke, “Twilight Sparkle, Princess Celestia's protege, I presume?”
“Yes?” Twilight ventured.
Prince Blueblood haughtily stated a commandment, “I, Prince Blueblood, am here to see Miss Rarity.”
Twilight shuffled uncomfortably, “Uh... what makes you think she's here?”
Without a word, Prince Blueblood gestured with his horn to one of his Guardsman, who trotted back to the wagon to retrieve something from it before dropping it in front of Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight nosed the item, looking over it curiously, “A bag of shattered glass?”
Prince Blueblood harrumphed and gestured to the other guard, who spoke, “Miss Sparkle, this was formerly a glass slipper worn by Miss Rarity. It has since been enchanted to lead us back to its owner.”
There was an imperceptible, “Eep” from the landing above as Rarity overheard and realized the hopelessness of her predicament.
Spike was done glaring. He raised a claw and demanded threateningly, “What do you want with Rarity?”
The guards pulled up menacingly next to Prince Blueblood and, under the stern eyes of three full-grown stallions, the baby dragon balked with a squeak and quickly ran behind Twilight Sparkle, peering shyly out from behind her ankle.
Feeling quite alone, Twilight Sparkle once again bore her sheepish grin as a poor defense against these three extremely imposing figures. Her eyes darted side to side looking for escape, but there was none.
Prince Blueblood stepped forward. “What I want...”, he said breathily, menacingly...
...another step forward, “with Miss Rarity...” His eyes fairly glowed with malice.
Another step, and Prince Blueblood was now looming over the shivering Twilight Sparkle and Spike.
“...is to apologize,” finished the prince in demure humility.
“Apologize?!” Twilight Sparkle and Spike exclaimed in unison as they released the death grip in which they had been fearfully holding each other.
“Yes,” said the prince, dramatically rearing back with a tragic expression. A guard caught him before he hit the floor, supporting the pathetic figure. “I realized after Miss Rarity had left that what she told me was true! The rose, the door, her cloak, her friend's common country fare, and the cake - oh, dear Celestia, the cake! I have been the most un-princely of princes! Little more than”, the prince's lip quibbled just a bit, “a royal pain!”
The prince rolled off the guardsman's flank and fell forward facing the door, collapsing into hysterics, covering his tears with his hooves, “If only... if only she could give me another chance!” His two guards comforted him with, “there, there” expressions.
Spike crossed his arms and rolled his eyes, “Oh, brother.”
“PSST! Twilight!” Twilight Sparkle heard a sharp whisper being loudly projected to her from the landing above. The prince and his guards either did not hear it or they were doing a good job pretending so.
“Can you excuse me for a moment, sirs?” asked Twilight. The prince waved her away with one hoof, still busy bawling his princely eyes out. Spike stayed where he was, lavishing the visitors with a look of zero sympathy as hard as his little dragon being could.
Climbing the stairs to Rarity's hiding place, Twilight Sparkle had an inkling what was about to happen, and she didn't particularly like it. Sure enough, Rarity was looking wistfully in the direction of the impromptu royal equine waterworks display.
Twilight Sparkle was serious, “Rarity, you don't buy this for a moment, do you?”
“Twilight, darling,” said Rarity, gesturing as well as she could for a mare prone on the floor, “I know that it seems unlikely, but... ” Rarity's voice was giddy, her eyes had stars in them, “this changes everything, it's like the beginning of the Gala all over again... no, even better! He's turned over a new leaf! A prince, Twilight, a prince! And that would make me,” Rarity barely suppressed an excited scream, “a princess! Oh, Twilight, I do want to give Prince Blueblood another chance.”
Twilight facehoofed: Rarity was undoubtedly the spirit of generosity. “Listen Rarity, I wouldn't be a good friend if I let you do this alone. I insist you at least bring a chaperone.”
“Yes, yes, fine, dear,” Rarity was hardly paying attention, “oh, but now is not the right time - Twilight, he can't see me like this! He can't. He Can't. HE CAN'T!” Rarity bit her lip to stop herself from exposing her position and thought for a moment. Suddenly, her face brightened, “Oh, I have just the thing!” Rarity beckoned Twilight closer, cupped a hoof, and started to whisper in the ear of an increasingly shocked purple unicorn.
As Twilight climbed down the stairs to revisit the prince, she felt several years older for having to deliver the message she was asked to: it's one thing to bear bad news, it's quite another to be forced to do what one feels is certain to bring about terrible misfortune. As she rejoined her guests, she noticed that the prince had recovered from his apparent bout of grief and sat misty-eyed with a pensive but regal expression.
Twilight began in her usual lecturing voice, “Prince Blueblood, Miss Rarity has consented to give you another chance-”
Spike was incredulous,“WHAT?!”
The prince ignored Spike, “Oh, excellent! Where is she? I want to see her!”
Twilight Sparkle waved down his enthusiasm, “Rarity” she corrected herself, lapsing into the kind of practiced royal speech Princess Celestia often had her do for official functions, “MISS Rarity proposes meeting her tomorrow morning at her boutique for a full day of a trial courtship. The pegasus ponies promise clear skies over Ponyville, and giving her the rest of today would give her adequate time to prepare for a series of proposed events.”
The prince looked intrigued, “Tomorrow sounds marvelous, but what of these events?”
Twilight suppressed an inner groan, what she was about to say sounded like something out of a fairy tale book, which was probably exactly why the idea appealed to Rarity. She droned on in resigned monotone, “She would like to put you through five trials in order to prove your chivalry, each a courtship exercise supervised by one of her friends.”
Prince Blueblood hesitated only for a moment before responding eagerly, “Yes, that sounds excellent! Excellent!” He clapped his fore-hooves together like a school colt receiving his favorite present. “Doesn't that sound excellent, guardsmen?” The guards agreed in a manner only paid yesponies could.
Rarity's message delivered, their fate was sealed, and Twilight resigned herself to the inevitable. The reluctant unicorn and her surly dragon not-so-gently showed the elated prince and his two guards out.
As the prince hopped happily back into his wagon and the two guardsmen hitched themselves up to it, Twilight Sparkle looked up at the cloudy sky. It was late morning when Rarity had fled her boutique, and now it was early afternoon. Rarity cautiously peered around the door frame at the retreating wagon and then turned to smile at Twilight Sparkle: they had a lot to do before tomorrow morning. She cantered happily in the direction of her boutique, the rain seemingly unable to touch her through her aura of self-contentment.
Twilight Sparkle watched her go and frowned, “I don't like this, Spike, the prince agreed too easily. I think he's up to something.
Spike expressed sarcastic agreement, “Yeah, either that, or he's a complete fop.”
A look passed between them: neither possibility boded well for Rarity.
Meanwhile, Prince Blueblood sat in his royal carriage, glad that they were underway. There would likely be Ponyvillian lodgings tonight - not truly up to snuff of accommodating the royal person, of course, but he was still smiling. Things were going even better than he planned.
“Oh, girls, this is going so, so much better than what I planned,” enthused Rarity. The faithful morning had come, a beautiful sunny day, but what excited her the most was what she saw outside the window of her boutique. Ponyville, a charmingly humble if rustic town, had quadrupled in population overnight. The streets and skies were swarming with tourists, photographers, and not a few famous faces. Many eyes were fixated on Rarity's humble boutique, and she reveled in it.
Rarity turned to face her friends, luxuriously styled mane and dress flowing about her. She was once again wearing her gala dress, cleaned and pressed, but with a few modifications of lace and coloration. Just because it turned out to be the perfect outfit to attract Prince Blueblood's attention did not mean it was above improvement the eyes of a skilled dressmaker.
Among others, in attendance of Miss Rarity was again a fuming Spike and a concerned Twilight Sparkle who said, “Rarity, it's not natural everypony would have shown up like this, Prince Blueblood must have planned it!”
Rarity marveled in a thought of inner fantasy, “But of course he did, darling! That's what makes it so very wonderful!”
“Iffin ya ask me, sugar cube, I think this here Blueblood feller is a'takin' ya for a ride,” drawled a tawny-colored earth pony with blonde mane in a pigtail, wearing her signature brown ten gallon hat.
Rarity gave a demure little laugh, “Oh, please, Applejack, I did promise to give Prince Blueblood a chance.”
Applejack was silent, she reckoned she didn't want to be known as a low-down neigh-sayer, and besides she did give her word which she always kept, but nonetheless gave Rarity the same look she used to subdue unruly livestock.
An energetic pegasus with a robin's egg blue coat and wild rainbow mane brashly flew immediately up to Rarity, gesturing widely, “We know, Rarity! We're did agree to do this girly frou frou stuff, but we're your friends, and worried about you!”
Rarity waved her away, “Of all of you, I expected you to be the least susceptible to idle worry, Rainbow Dash. Besides, one of you will be with me at all times.”
“Two of us, ” said Spike, gesturing to himself, “don't forget that I'll be there!”
Rarity lightly acknowledged him as one would passing charming scenery, “Oh, yes, a lady does need an attendant.”
A head improbably stretched down from above and shouted, “Come on, girls, it's a party! This will be fun! Whee!” The bubblegum pink earth pony with the darker pink curly mane was a perpetual font of energy, laughing, bouncing, and cartwheeling about Rarity's boutique with practiced abandon.
Rarity blanched, “Um, Pinkie Pie, do mind the-” CRASH “... shop.” Only her generous nature reassured her that it was merely the initial excitement of a major event that was making Pinkie Pie super extra Pinkie Pie.
“...Um...” interjected a voice faintly.
Wearily, Rarity pried her attention away from watching her life's work being destroyed (again) and to a cream yellow pegasus with a pink straight mane who was currently cowering under a table, as far away from the windows as possible. “Yes, Fluttershy?”
“...I... don't like all this attention. It's... scaring the animals.”
Rarity walked over to reassure her frequent spa buddy, “Don't worry, Fluttershy dear, I'm sure your little animal friends have been through worse. You yourself bravely withstood several days of being the top model in Equestria. I know you hated it, I'm really sorry about this, but surely you can stand one day in which I'm the one in the spotlight... please? Please? PHA-LEAZZZZE?”
Only Fluttershy could make crawling out from under a table look graceful. She sighed delicately, “Oh, all right.” Rarity answered Fluttershy's acquiesce with a sincere look of gratitude... but then, about the only thing in the world that Rarity had not been able to talk Fluttershy into was confronting a full grown dragon. To this day, the chronically shy pegasus was undecided if that was a better or worse experience than her accidental (but fortunately short-lived) modeling career.
Twilight Sparkle watched Rarity and Fluttershy's tender exchange and noted grimly that the last obstacle to Rarity's determined path had been eliminated. The purple unicorn fell back to one of her greater talents: organization.
“Alright, Rarity, girls, lets go over this one more time.”
“Go over it one more time, Rarity darling,” fawned Prince Blueblood. The potential royal couple were flanked by his two royal guardsman as they walked the streets of Ponyville. He was once again looking quite dapper in his tuxedo front. Spike, on the other hand, looked humiliated wearing his a black velvet sailor outfit - Rarity had insisted her attendant be well-dressed. However, he was nonetheless grateful for an opportunity to walk between the two unicorns in order to create some physical distance.
Rarity seemed less interested in the prince and more in the throng of admirers being kept at bay by the stern looks of the guardsman, but not so disinterested as to not notice his question. “Blueblood, darling,” she emulated the royal tongue to the best of her ability, “today we will be visiting five of my closest friends. If you treat my friends as kindly as I, I will fully believe your claim that you have turned over a new leaf. And then, “ the stars had returned to her eyes, “we can make our courtship official!”
The prince affixed Rarity with a dashing smile and come-hither flex of his eyebrows, “But of course, that sounds absolutely lovely, darling.” The mare almost lost her footing in the euphoria of it all. “But first, my dear, let us take a photograph of you in your truly breathtaking splendor.”
Rarity was taken aback, “why, I would love one!” She did not have to wait long.
Out of nowhere and into the middle of the street arrived the foremost fashion photographer of Equestria. An earth pony whose cyan coat and bleach blond hair were as recognizable as her purple-lensed fashion goggles and signature dress. Rarity gasped, “Photo Finish?! It can't be!”
“Yes, it kun!” stated Photo Finish with her usual Germanic accent. Her attendants were not far behind, bringing with them the necessary photography equipment for an impromptu mid-street photo shoot.
Rarity sounded a tad pouty as she retold the painful experience, “But you said that you didn't want to make me shine across Equestria, that I lacked, 'Ze Magicks!'”
“Ach!” shouted Photo Finish, “I dun ever recall zat ve have even met! However, you are wit ze royalty now.” Prince Blueblood smiled and wriggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Zat means you vill ahlways have Ze Magicks!”
Rarity's expression was dazed as her head swum with that idea.
The photo shoot was over before you could say, “Unt now, ve go!” As the royal entourage continued towards its next destination, Spike turned over the memento photograph in his claw resentfully. It was indeed an excellent picture of Rarity and Prince Blueblood smiling and looking perfect. Between them, hovering at the bottom of the picture, was a baby dragon's claw.
Spike spoke, “I really would have liked to have been included in that picture.”
Rarity and Prince Blueblood were engaged in a polite conversation, ignoring him.
Spike inhaled, prepared to release a gout of flame at the picture, but paused in seeing Rarity's happy expression in it. He exhaled harmlessly and spoke to the inanimate object that had been spared his wrath, “You're lucky you've got Rarity with you.”
“Y'all'r lucky ya got Rarity with ya,” drawled Applejack, “we here at Sweet Apple Acres are plenty accomodatin' with most folk, but you noble types are the kind whut tends to look down on us little folk.”
“Charmed, I'm sure,” said an unusually amicable Prince Blueblood, “truly, it is a marvelous orchard.”
The group of Rarity, Prince Blueblood, two guardsman, and Spike had shed their admiring crowd of onlookers at the Ponyville city limits, and were now deep in Apple family territory.
Applejack was proud, “Reckon you got a good eye on this one, Rarity,” she said, “these trees have kept Ponyville fed since the time of my great, great, grandaddies, and they only become greater ev'ry year. The trees that is, not me grandaddies.”
Rarity smiled, “But of course, Applejack. Would you be so kind as to explain the nature of the courtship trial here?”
“Why, ah'd be plumb happy to, sugar cube.” Applejack leaned against a fence and crossed both sets of legs, relaxed even among royalty, and explained. “Now, if it were just any other pony lookin' to hook up with one of my fine filly friends, I'd probably test em' in applebuckin', hogtyin', n' other farm work.” Prince Blueblood blanched subtly. “Yeah, I reckon that'd be a bit much for you hoighty toighty types, so here's wut we're gunna do: just an ol' fashioned tour of the farm, n' I expect you to be on yer best behavior.”
Perhaps relieved at avoiding getting his hooves dirty, Prince Blueblood chimed in eagerly, “Oh, absotively, good Lady Applejack. Please, lead the way.”
So it was that Applejack showed them the trees, the barn, the farmhouse, the pens, the silos, and all the other trappings of the farm. Prince Blueblood had nothing but complements for everything he saw, much to the delight of Rarity. The last stop was the apple cellar itself.
“Reckon y'all never knew how it was we kept apples fresh through the seasons,” boasted Applejack as the procession climbed up the tall steps out of the cellar.
“Quite remarkable, Lady Applejack, truly I've learned a great deal about agriculture firsthand today,” complemented Prince Blueblood, “I really must thank you for the fine tour of your facilities, though I must admit I'm glad to get some fresh air after being down in that cellar.”
Prince Blueblood was, in fact, the first to leave the cellar, supporting the wooden doors with the magic from his horn as the ponies climbed up out of it.
Rarity was content, “Why thank you, Blueblood darling, it seems you have learned how to hold a door open for a lady.”
The prince laughed airily, “But of course, my dear, I always knew. I don't know what I was thinking during the events of that ghastly gala.” He closed the cellar doors firmly and the ponies gaily spoke of the favorite parts of their tour on Apple Acres as they made their way on the path out of the farm.
A few minutes later, the cellar doors opened again.
Apple Bloom, a bright yellow filly most recognized by a big red bow in her hair, was happily bounding through the farm when the ghastly creature crawled out of the cellar.
Seeing it, she screamed. A long, piercing scream.
There was a dreadful silence.
Then she spoke again, “Spike, is that you? Are you okay?”
“I'm fine,” said Spike, bitterly, as he dusted himself off outside the cellar doors. Though he said that, he had clearly seen better days, his outfit had gained a few tears and he was sporting visible bruises. He immediately asked, “Could you point me in the direction where Rarity and Blueblood went?”
Apple Bloom did so, and Spike loped off with barely a limp.
All things considered, he thought, for someone who had just a cellar door slammed in his face before hurtling down a flight of stairs, it could have gone a lot worse.
“-it could have gone a lot worse,” Rainbow Dash was proclaiming boldly as Spike rejoined the royals, “but just then I punched through into a sonic rainboom! I scooped up Rarity and three of the Wonderbolts like it was nothing and delivered them safely back to Cloudsdale!”
“Oh, wonderful, wonderful!” Prince Blueblood was again clapping his fore-hooves enthusiastically. So also, surprisingly, were his guards, having been taken in by Rainbow Dash's tale. “Oh, Lady Dash, I owe you the life of my beloved Rarity, I cannot express my gratitude enough!”
“Aw, shucks, it was nothing”, said Rainbow Dash proudly.
“Really, darling, that drop gets higher every time you tell that story.” Rarity was smiling politely as she humored her friend, it wasn't exactly a pleasant memory for her, but her gratefulness was eternal. However, be that as it may, her romantic day with the prince would not last forever. “Perhaps we should move along to the courtship trail?”
“Sure thing!” Rainbow Dash pointed to a small section of road off the main thoroughfare to Ponyville. Immediately above that road were many small but ominous storm clouds, pouring rain. “It's like this, prince, I'm going to give you this umbrella,” dash indicated a brightly colored parasol matching the color of her mane, “and you're going to walk down that road and prove you can be a gentleman by stopping Rarity from getting wet.”
Prince Blueblood had already picked up the umbrella with his telekinesis and was reflexively opening and closing it, getting the feel for it. Dramatically, he said, “For Miss Rarity, I would bear a thousand thunderclouds!” Rarity blushed in pleasure while fanning herself with her hooves.
“Oh brother,” said Rainbow Dash and Spike simultaneously before looking at each other in surprise. “Alright, time's a'wastin', lets get this over with.”
“After you, Miss Rarity,” said the prince, ushering the mare before him dramatically.
Spike tagged along just behind the couple in the rain, the guards following. He had to admit, the prince had remarkably fine control of his telekinesis for a unicorn who never had to raise a hoof without getting a servant to do it for him. Not a single drop was landing on either Blueblood or Rarity, a fairly impressive feat considering the umbrella looked to have barely more surface area than the both of them.
However, just before the end of the road, there was a twist to the trial. A mud puddle that could not be circumvented, passable if not for being about two feet long.
Spike chided the prince smugly, “How you going to get past this one?”
Rarity had been waiting for this part. She looked at Prince Blueblood expectantly.
Prince Blueblood looked back and smiled his cheesy princely smile, winking at her. Rarity found herself lost in his eyes, which reflected the rain falling about them. For one precious moment, it was just her and the prince in the eye of a hurricane.
“After you, milady,” said the prince, suddenly. Rarity looked before her and there was a thin black cloak spread across the length of the mud. While she was distracted, the prince had dashingly produced it and placed it there in the blank of an eye!
Suitably impressed, Rarity tittered as she walked directly down the middle of the cloak, careful to avoid the sides, as the umbrella was carefully held above her by her suitor.
Prince Blueblood happily followed in her footsteps.
Then the heavily armored guards did the same in single file.
“Oh, Blueblood, you really know how to impress a lady!” gushed Rarity, “Look at me, I'm spotless! Not only did you remember to make sure your lady did not get her finely pedicured hooves dirty, but you even sacrificed a precious cloak to the mud! ”
“No sacrifice is too great for you, Miss Rarity,” crooned Prince Blueblood. She swooned.
The ponies proceeded down the dirt road outside of the reach of the thunderclouds.
Unnoticed behind them, the cloak sat up and spat out some mud.
Spike called over to Rainbow Dash, “Hey, Rainbow, help a brother out?”
“Woah, Spike, what happened to you?!”
“Don't ask. Just give me your patented Rainblow Dry, if you don't mind.”
Rainbow Dash obliged, a procedure that involved drenching Spike with water from a thundercloud and then drying him with the power of an artificial tornado.
Spike was glad he didn't have hair to make frizzy. “Thanks sister, you're a lifesaver.”
“If you say so,” said Rainbow Dash worriedly. Spike's fine outfit was still splotched in places with mud and, as he ran after the royal procession, she noticed quite a few scuffs on his back that were the perfect outlines of horseshoes. She called after him, “Hey, try to be more careful little guy!”
“Oh, you really must be more careful, you poor little thing,” said Fluttershy as she treated a baby robin's wing from the comfort of her home and impromptu veterinary clinic, “the next time you want to fly, send your mother to fetch me, I'll catch you if anything goes wrong!” The fledgling nodded furiously.
“I wonder when - eep!” Fluttershy's thought was interrupted by some voices outside of her front door.
“Really, Spike, if you're going to be that way, I'm going to have to ask you to wait outside.”
“But Rarity, I'm telling you, this guy is no good! Just look at me!”
“I'm sorry, but no. You've distracted me from the prince's attention enough as it is. Just wait here on the doorstep.”
“Fine! Be that way! At least I'm safe out here.”
There was a knock at the door. “Angel, will you please get that? We're expecting guests.”
Angel, Fluttershy's surly bunny butler, gave her a dirty look but still ran over and opened the door.
Rarity pranced in with her eyes closed and head held high, “Honestly, darling prince, I don't know what got into him. Spike is normally a perfect little gentleman.”
“I'm sure the lad is just going through a stage, Miss Rarity,” said the prince as he followed her into Fluttershy's abode, “why, when I was a lad-”
The guards took one look at Fluttershy and cowered behind the prince, “AAIGH! THE YELLOW DEMON OF THE GALA!”
Fluttershy bit her lip as her eyes filled with tears.
The prince looked irritated at their behavior, “No, you foals, it's simply the Lady Fluttershy! One moment, Miss Rarity, I would like to have words these two that are simply not fit for mixed company!”
The guards left the cottage with a very vexed looking unicorn master in their wake, closing the door behind them. There was some muffled shouting between Blueblood and his guards, and it sounded like even Spike took the opportunity to join in. Rarity and Fluttershy looked at each other with guilty expressions, imagining what kind of punishment must be going on outside.
After a few minutes, the prince reentered the cottage alone, romance once again on his voice, “I am terribly sorry about that, Miss Rarity, one simply must make sure the insubordinate little people are put in their place.”
Rarity agreed readily, “Absolutely, darling, I was just saying to Twilight the other day, it's so hard to find good help these days.”
Fluttershy was suitably impressed, “My, he's so assertive! I was going to see if he was willing to help innocent creatures, but I see there's no need for that now. Thank you for defending my honor, Prince Blueblood.”
The stallion flashed her a smile, “The honor was mine, milady.”
After about ten minutes of polite conversation between the two mares and the stallion, Rarity and Blueblood left the cottage as Fluttershy saw them away from her door.
The two sheepish Guardsmen bowed before Fluttershy, “We wish to express our sincerest apologies,” said one of them.
Fluttershy smiled brightly after the royal procession as they proceeded in the direction of Ponyville.
Then a rain barrel mysteriously fell off her porch and ruptured, spilling a battered baby dragon.
Fluttershy was beside herself with worry, “Spike! What happened to you?!”
Spike was livid, “That jerk prince and those jerk guards of his stuffed me neck-deep in one of your water barrels, that's what happened! I've got to stop them!”
He turned to run after them and discovered that was quite impossible with Fluttershy's mouth holding his tail. He looked at Fluttershy with big eyes and begged, “Let go, Fluttershy! I've got to protect Rarity!”
Fluttershy spit out his tail. Spike’s life was in danger, she had no choice. She applied The Stare.
“NO. You're staying right here, young mister, until I finish treating those injuries.”
Spike whimpered, will shattered by the aftereffects of The Stare, just hoping she would be finished quickly so he can be on his way.
Rarity desperately hoped that she would be finished quickly so they could be on their way, but Pinkie Pie's parties were as inexhaustible as she was.
“Whee!” Pinkie Pie was dancing amidst the throng of ponies, really enjoying herself, “Is everypony having fun?!”
Sugarcube Corner was her favorite venue, and it showed. With so many more ponies in town than usual, the party was really jumping! Streamers lined the walls, ponies danced the later afternoon away, and tables were laden with a wide range of sugary pastries and drinks.
“Pinkie Pie!” shouted Rarity above the din, “How is this a courtship trial?!”
“Simple!” answered Pinkie Pie, “I need to know if this prince can paaartaay!'
Rarity looked over at Prince Blueblood and winced. He looked like he was about to bolt, and even his guards looked intimidated. The prince was used to quiet but elaborate parties with the upper crust of society. The guards were trained in pitched melee. Neither were prepared for the terrifying ferocity of a Pinkie Pie block party.
Rarity did her best to comfort the prince, “Blueblood, dear, I'm dreadfully sorry about this. This must be horrible for you!”
The prince's voice sounded like his teeth were chattering from terror, “N-n-n-no d-d-danger i-is t-too m-m-much f-f-for m-m-me t-t-to b-b-be w-w-w-with y-y-you M-m-m-iss Ra-ra-rarity!”
Rarity's heart melted with the words. Then, her heart turned back to ice as she saw Pinkie Pie climb up on the stage.
“Heelloooo everypony!” announced Pinkie Pie, “It's time to kick this party into HIGH GEAR!”
The throng before the stage cheered as Pinkie Pie did a few cartwheels about the circumference of the stage.
Stopping in the middle, she said, “Now, lets get our paaar-taay ooowwwwn! STAGE DIVE!”
Time slowed as Pinkie Pie made her elaborate jump from the stage. For just a moment, Rarity and Blueblood both had a flashback to a certain event from the gala. In their minds, Pinkie Pie's airborne body seemed to flash between two planes of reality: now at Sugarcube Corner, and then at the Grand Galloping Gala, flickering between Pinkie Pie wearing her gala outfit and not.
Transfixed in horror, neither of them noticed Spike run in, trailing bandages. Spike reached Rarity's side and opened his mouth to speak, “Miss Ra-”
Pinkie Pie's stave dive landed on the edge of a confectionery table and upended it, sending a huge five layer vanilla and apple crumb cake airborne and directly towards Rarity and Prince Blueblood.
“Not again!” screamed Rarity, closing her eyes tightly. Her horn glowed reflexively, reaching out for the nearest thing to throw between her and that horrible, horrible cake.
Spike usually liked being the nearest thing to Rarity. Not today. Oh, impacting the cake wasn't so bad, that part was delicious. No, the bad part was the heavy metal plate it was resting on. It impacted his baby dragon cranium with the sound of a cast iron frying pan. The dragon vanished from view as plate, dragon, and pounds of cake alike impacted the floor.
The cake's path was successfully diverted from Rarity and Prince Blueblood, but at all cost?
Rarity had no idea, “Did you hear something?”
“No!” exclaimed Prince Blueblood, “Lets get out of here!”
Rarity, the prince, and his two guards fled the scene, lest any more cakes come their way.
Pinkie Pie stood up and rubbed her chin, “Ouchy wouchy, it hurt just as much the last time.” She cantered over to the sad remains of the cake on the floor, pushed the plate aside, and began to hungrily devour her way to the bottom of it before flipping a disheveled Spike onto her back.
She craned her neck towards her back and looked him over, “Wow, Spike, you look even worse than Dashie said you did!” Spike had neither comment nor consciousness. “Lets get you to Twilight!”, she said brightly, bounding out the door and towards the library.
They were bound to arrive at the library door eventually, even though Rarity initially lost her bearings in the confines of Ponyville thanks to being temporarily traumatized by the events at the party, resulting in she, Prince Blueblood, and the two guards being fully an hour behind schedule.
“This is it!” she said excitedly, “if you can pass Twilight Sparkle's trial, our courtship is official!” Her voice fairly sung at the possibility.
The prince's smile was one of practiced debonair charm, “Of course, Miss Rarity, lead on.”
But the library was dark as they entered. Rarity cast about the room, confused. “Twilight? Are you here, darling? What's going on?”
“Yes, I'm here,” said Twilight. The library abruptly lit and Rarity looked to see her five friends standing top the library landing looking down into the entrance foyer. They all had rather stern looks on their faces - well, except for Pinkie Pie, it was nearly impossible for her not to be in high spirits.
Rarity didn't notice, she was giddy with how close she was to victory, “Oh, good, good! Now, if only we can get this silly last trial out of the way-”
“Rarity-,” said Applejack.
But Rarity wasn't listening, “-I can finally end this night and-”
“Rarity!-” yelled Rainbow Dash.
Not good enough, “-begin my fabulous new courtship to-”
“Rarity?” asked Fluttershy plaintively.
Nice try, “-this glorious prince and begin my destiny-”
“Oooh Raaarityy?” queried Pinkie Pie with a giggle.
Rarity's head was full of stars, “as a genuine princess of Equestri-”
“RARITY!” thundered Twilight Sparkle.
Rarity's stars went out. She had never seen that look on Twilight's face before.
“Get up here.”
With a little whimper, Rarity carried herself up the stairs to Twilight's bedroom landing, the very same place that just yesterday she was cowering, “What?”
“Look,” said Twilight Sparkle, gesturing.
Rarity looked and drew a breath in shock. It was a small bed not far from Twilight Sparkle's. The very one that Spike normally slept in. And there was Spike. The outfit she gave him in tatters, he was covered in bruises, scuffs from hoof prints, mud, and frosting - so much frosting.
Rarity was aghast, “What... what happened to him?”
Applejack was the first to speak, “Well, I reckon those bruises was whut happened when that Blueblood feller shut the cellar doors on em' at the end of our tour. None of us noticed at the time, but Apple Bloom was there when he crawled out, and tol' me all about it.”
Rainbow Dash was as angry as she was brash, “As for that mud and those horseshoe scuffs, I think I can answer that! That Blueblood creep didn't bring a cloak to the trial, Rarity! He improvised! Using Spike!”
It was all Fluttershy could do not to cry as she related her tale, “I found Spike in a water barrel outside of my house after you left, Rarity. He said Blueblood and his guards stuffed him in there. I used The Stare on him, I bandaged him, but the moment he left my sight...”
Rarity spoke up, “But what about the frosting? I have to know about the frosting.” She had bore these sugary scars recently herself, it was important to her to know the answer.
Pinkie Pie piped up, “Actually, silly, that was you! You grabbed Spike and threw him right at that cake without noticing! What a fabulous new idea to end a party! But that big ol' shiner on his head won't do. Next time we catapult a cake, I should probably put the cake on cardboard instead of a heavy metal baking pan!”
The true gravity of Rarity's inadvertent crimes was now weighing heavily on her little pony soul. The cake was too perfect a parallel, an irrefutable proof that she could not deny. In her mind, Spike had transformed. He was not a mere fawning admirer anymore, but a courageous child who had, since nearly after she had first met him, bore happily from her a kind of abuse that was nearly identical in nature to what she herself had received the night she stormed away from Prince Blueblood at the gala.
She chewed her lip as tears filled her eyes, “Twilight, is he going to be okay?”
Twilight sighed, dissipating some of the anger that built up when she saw her number one assistant like this and wanted to give a piece of her mind to Rarity.
“He'll be fine, Rarity. Dragons are made of tougher stuff than that.”
Rarity looked grateful as she peered down on Spike with a misty expression.
He stirred uneasily under her gaze and awoke.
Sitting up groggily, he looked at the pony immediately next to him, Twilight Sparkle, and said, “Mommy?”
Twilight Sparkle smiled weakly back at him.
Spike frowned, “You're not my mother.”
“Not technically,” she said.
Dully, Spike noticed Rarity then, and tried to stand before falling back down into his bed. So instead, he reached into one of the pockets of his shredded uniform and extended a claw with a single piece of paper in it and said, “I'm sorry for ruining your evening, milady.”
Rarity's horn glowed as she took the paper from Spike's hand. This was clearly the photograph Photo Finish had taken of them this morning. She noticed that it's funny how the focus of a simple photograph can change with a few modifications. A little mud here. A little frosting there. Where once the focus was on the eyes of a happy royal couple, it was now mostly on a single little baby dragon's claw desperately trying to enter the picture.
Rarity did something spontaneous then. She kissed Spike. Right on the forehead.
Spike had been through enough today. He fainted.
Rarity and her friends let him rest, making their way down the stairs to Prince Blueblood and his guards.
Rarity's eyes narrowed with the same conviction they had in them when she chewed him out at the end of the gala... she grit her teeth and spat fury, “YOU!”
“YOU!” said Rarity again, staring at Prince Blueblood.
He had overheard everything, of course. Was he frightened as he stood there between his two burly guards? Not at all. He looked down at the angry white unicorn and her immediate friends with an imperious, haughty expression.
“I really don't see what the trouble is, Miss Rarity, I met the conditions of your challenge perfectly. 'If you treat my friends as kindly as I, we can consider our courtship official,' yes? And I did exactly that.”
Rarity and her five friends were arrayed in a semicircle around the prince and his guards now, staring at him, the door out of the library being available for the Prince to leave. But he didn't leave. Instead, he pointed a hoof at them one by one.
“You, Lady Applejack, I tolerated your ugly little dirt farm politely and kept my comments to myself about the ridiculous squalor you earth ponies choose to live in.” Applejack fairly snarled.
“You, Lady Rainbow Dash, I humored your boring stories of meager achievement and performed your trivial little game with whatever means I felt were necessary.” Rainbow Dash would have tackled him then, but she was too angry even for that.
“You, Lady Fluttershy, I graced with my benevolent company for at least a full ten minutes while ignoring the obviously atrocious state of your vermin-infested hovel.” Fluttershy gasped.
“You, Lady Pinkie Pie... you really don't know much about how nobility celebrates occasions, do you? Your feeble attempts were simply horrible!” Pinkie Pie's hair may have wilted for a moment before bouncing back into the usual curls as she blew a gigantic raspberry at him.
“And as for you, Twilight Sparkle, Celestia's faithful student, you should just be glad I didn't have you expelled from this ghastly village for hiding Miss Rarity from me.” Twilight Sparkle grit her teeth and set her feet.
Rarity asked him a simple question then, “And what about Spike?”
The prince shrugged, “What about Spike? The silly little creature really has no place in pony society. I tried to hint to him that he should really butt out more times than I can count, but he just kept coming back. I honestly have no idea why you put up with him, Miss Rarity.”
“I PUT UP WITH HIM BECAUSE HE. IS. MY. FRIEND!”
“HE. IS. MY. FRIEND.” The prince and his guards may have been blown back a few steps by the sheer force of Rarity's bellow. That's twice in a little over two weeks that mare had sent words echoing through the royal cranium of Prince Blueblood.
The prince's lip curled, “You're friends with a wyrm? Oh, dear, that's it boys,” he confided in his guards, “it seems I failed the challenge after all. Oh well, I think this farce has gone on long enough anyway,we got what we wanted, lets go.”
The door slammed shut before they could leave. Twilight's Sparkle's horn was glowing. She wanted answers, and she was going to get them. “What do you mean, this farce? What did you get out of this?”
Prince Blueblood puffed himself up and chuckled, “Well, it's obvious, isn't it? All through and around Ponyville today, half of Equestria saw me sashaying around with Miss Rarity, the foal who dared to dump me at the Grand Galloping Gala while calling into question my impeccable integrity in front of so many highly placed names.”
His eyes took on a sinister turn as he continued his plot, “But now everypony knows we're back together... only now we're apart. At least, that's what I'll tell them all. That I, Prince Blueblood did the dumping this time around, that this poor common girl turned out to be far too uncouth for my tastes. It was my plan from the start, you know. I really would have preferred to wait until the courtship was official so I could really break it off, but, oh well, close enough.”
“Now then, “ said the prince, “can I go?”
Twilight Sparkle's grin was vicious.
“Yes, you can go.”
The door opened.
On the other side stood the sun itself, immortal, two to three times the size of any living pony, her flowing chromatic mane filling the doorway as it rippled majestically under the flow of unseen cosmic forces.
Princess Celestia smiled sweetly, her voice as lyrical as always.
“Oh, nepheeeeew? We have a date to speak with your mother.”
Prince Blueblood's face was priceless, this much was agreed on by almost everypony. After all, a certain prince had assured there would be plenty of photographers on the streets that day. So it was that, for centuries to come, whenever someone was relating the world-famous Equestrian story about the day that Princess Celestia dragged Prince Blueblood out of Ponyville by his ear, they could see for themselves just how priceless that expression was.
Spike's expression was priceless, too. His usual stupor when Rarity was around had risen to such heights that it was clear he was in heaven.
Every day for the past week, Rarity stopped by the library to perform his workload while he recovered from Prince Blueblood's visit. His favorite part was when she changed his bandages, using her telekinetic powers to levitate antiseptic-laden cotton swabs to dab the various aches and pains before applying fresh ones.
But all good things must come to an end.
“Well, little gentleman,” said Rarity as she put away the gauze, “I think that you're just about healed now. Twilight was right, even baby dragons can take quite a bit of punishment.”
“Aw, man!” lamented Spike, “You mean that after everything I've gone through, things are just going to go back to normal again?”
Rarity smiled at him brilliantly, and Spike was in love with her all over again.
“No, Spike, your pains have spared me from the greatest mistake I would have made in my life, and for that, I am forever grateful.”
She frowned then and said sharply, “But I'm never going to kiss a dragon again. No offense, but you taste positively terrible!”
Spike was crestfallen. It seems that he would forever be in the friend zone. However, he noticed as Rarity smiled brightly at him, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
When Rarity left for the day, Twilight Sparkle trotted up with a smile of her own, “Hey, Spike, there's something I wanted to know.”
“What's that, Twi?”
“How is it that Blueblood ended up getting caught in the end? Though I sensed her there at the last moment, there shouldn't have been enough time for Princess Celestia to arrive from Canterlot when we realized what he was up to.”
Spike smirked glibly, “The way I see it, the prince made one fatal mistake.”
“Oh?” asked Twilight
Spike nodded and said, “He chose to mess with a dragon who happened to be a direct hotline to Celestia herself.”
Twilight facehoofed. It was so obvious, why didn’t that occur to her before? The very reason Spike was assigned to her was because of his ability to communicate with the princess.
Spike giggled, “There, there, Twilight, you ponies can't always be as clever as me!”
(The following is a work of fan fiction based on My Little Pony:Friendship Is Magic. I am not affiliated with Hasbro and company. This work is intended to be a work of parody that complies with fair use guidelines.)
Lead Proofreader: Alchemy Gold
The little unicorn colt bound playfully about the grounds, his coat white and as pure as his innocence, a fine tuff of blonde hair emerging from his mane. He was enjoying bouncing a golden ball before him with his telekinesis.
Then, across the bridge, he saw a sight that made him very happy. Several brightly colored colts his age - earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns - playing on the lawn with a ball similar to his, albeit not quite as shiny. He beamed and ran to join them.
The steel metal portcullis dropped so quickly that he was not able to stop himself before he hit the back of it, falling backwards, shaking stars from his eyes. The drawbridge rose before it, blocking his view of the other children. Two royal guard stallions, their fine white coats clashing brilliantly with their golden barding, regarded him sternly from either side of the gate. He scrabbled backwards, intimidated by them.
His ear began to smart immediately as a familiar telekinetic grip grabbed it, dragging him up on his hooves and away from the front gate.
This was the courtyard of Castle Canterlot, and the young Prince Blueblood had momentarily forgotten himself.
“Owowow! Stop it, mother!”
A unicorn mare, with a regal gray coat and styled blonde mane, looked vexed yet demure, her horn aglow.
Her voice was firm, royal, “How many times must I tell you? You are not to mingle with them.”
The pain from the little colt's ear was the last he remembered from this experience.
Prince Blueblood winced. He was now a full grown regal stallion, majestically barrel chested, his mane having long since grown into luxurious blonde curls. Not long ago, he was considered the most eligible bachelor in all of Equestria. If there was any flaw in his physique, it was that his ear was still a tad red and swollen from when his aunt had dragged him, on-hoof, cross-country, all the way from Ponyville to Canterlot. That was a week ago.
That pain was probably what woke him from his dream. Awake or not, he kept his eyes tightly closed, and tried to put this new, living nightmare behind him. He mentally groped around for his bearings and remembered he was in the glorious royal banquet hall of Canterlot castle. The surface underneath his chin was the grand main dining table that extended through it. There were, he recalled, three ponies in attendance: himself, his aunt, and his mother. Oh and, of course, the ever-present guards, but he long ago stopped counting them.
He remembered that his mother, who was perhaps significantly wrinklier than his distant memory but otherwise unchanged, had just returned from a vacation in the country this morning. At his aunt’s request, she had been summoned to this meeting with the prince, and was droning on and on about the severity of his wrongdoings. That was what had put him to sleep.
He thought back to the event she was referring to. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. He had been deeply insulted by a common mare in public at a major public event, tarnishing his good name. So he would go to Ponyville, claim to be repentant and, once taken back, publicly display he was officially courting her. Then, just as publicly, break off the engagement, dumping her, claiming she was the extremely uncouth one. She would be completely discredited, his name would be restored. It seemed foalproof.
Things started to go wrong soon into the plan, he had to get his hooves a little dirty, but it was nothing he could not deal with. The first problem was the counter-proposed “courtship trials” with her friends to make sure his offer was legitimate, but it was easy enough to feign sincerity with them, and the trials themselves would be marvelous for publicity. No, the only hurdle he was not able to jump was a certain persistent baby dragon who kept getting in the way, regardless of how much he brutalized him. Disgraceful little beast.
The injustice of it all stung him. If he had his way, everypony that matters would have been happy, right? It followed that this punishment was completely uncalled for.
Eyes still shut tight, Blueblood closed his mouth then, and realized it was quite certain he had been drooling. He dearly hoped there was no photographers about. After all, photographers had just finished making him a laughingstock of Equestria, having photographed his thoroughly disgraced expression as his aunt dragged him out of Ponyville when his scheme fell through.
All things considered, he was feeling rather miffed at his aunt at the moment.
His aunt, of course, was one of the very few ponies who could outrank him: Princess Celestia, de facto ruler of the realm. “Aunt,” was a term of endearment, as she was not really his aunt, she was immortal, and had lived countless lives the length of his. She was a most unusual pony, an alicorn, possessing both horn and wings. Only two of these were known to exist. Physically, she was two to three times the size of any living pony, her coat as white as can be, her mane a brilliant chromatic cloud, ever-moving from unseen cosmic winds. She was also extremely powerful: she literally raised the sun every morning.
She was quite possibly the most intimidating pony in all of Equestria.
She could also afford to be very patient.
As Prince Blueblood at last opened his eyes, her gigantic regal visage was a scant two inches from his face.
“Boo!” it said.
“Aaagh!” cried Prince Blueblood, jumping back from the table and landing, four hooves in the air, square on his back.
The finely mannered unicorn stallion climbed to his hooves as ceremoniously as possible (which, it turns out, was not at all) and sat again at his place at the table, resolving to try to stay awake this time, and glaring at his aunt.
“Why hello, nephew,” said Princess Celestia, in her usual lyrical voice, unperturbed. (In fact, usually quite amazingly imperturbable.)
“Aunty,” acknowledged Blueblood, extremely caustically.
Princess Celestia smiled at him sweetly in the same way she did right before grabbing his ear a week ago.
Prince Blueblood cringed.
His aunt then turned to his mother, who was waiting patiently in attendance, and said to her, “Please do go on, dear.”
As his mother droned on about things the prince had learned to tune out years ago, a few small snippets pierced his hearing. “Blight to the Blueblood name... shaming your ancestors irreparably... needing to learn a lesson... cut off from the family coffers until further notice...”
That last one rather bothered him.
“But mother!” he exclaimed, “how am I supposed to perform my task as an Equestrian diplomat if I do not have access to a ready supply of gold bits?”
His mother and Princess Celestia exchanged a look.
Princess Celestia said gently, “I do not believe you will need to worry about that anymore, nephew dear.”
Her horn glowed as she levitated today's newspaper and dropped it neatly in front of Blueblood's place at the table.
Ah, yes, he had almost successfully forgotten. His fall from notoriety was less a fall and more a dramatic nosedive. In fact, he did a little mental count and realized that, if you count the emergency evening post of the day it happened, he had made the front page for the eighth day straight now. He had even heard, from quite a reliable source, that the news had already reached the furthest corners of the planet.
Prince Blueblood's heart sank as he realized his tenure as an Equestrian diplomat had just expired, permanently.
“Insufferable! INSUFFERABLE!” boomed Prince Blueblood as he rapidly paced the halls of Castle Canterlot. He had been storming up and down the castle all through the afternoon and late into the evening, pausing only for meals.
Flanked on either side of him were his personal guard, the same two guards that had accompanied the prince on his ill-fated trip to Ponyville. Out of curiosity, Blueblood had asked their names once, they had told him Hans and Fritz. They were both pure white earth pony stallions, large and of muscular build, but a look underneath their ever-present golden barding revealed a slight difference: Hans had a mane of pure black while Fritz’s mane was a slightly lighter brown. The prince usually preferred to call them, “boys,” or, “guards” - no sense getting too friendly with the hired help.
Blueblood continued to fume out loud, “Completely and utterly ruined, doomed to live out the rest of my dreadful days as a Castle Canterlot sideshow,” he mimed what he believed a carnival crier would sound like and managed to make it sound extremely insulting, “come one, come all, bring your snot-nosed brats and atrociously ugly spouses out from under your squalor-infested dirt-farms to see the once great Prince Blueblood brood gracefully in repose: only 5 bits per head!”
He stopped suddenly and expelled an angry burst of steam from his snout as his eyes bulged in anger, “Never! NEVER! I'd sooner jump from the highest tower in Canterlot than allow myself to be made the foal of Equestria!”
Hans and Fritz watched Blueblood carefully for any sudden moves. They had been given very specific orders by Princess Celestia to keep Blueblood away from the windows of any particularly tall buildings for awhile.
Fortunately, it seemed to be only his usual theatrics, as the prince was now calmly musing aloud, “But then, I suppose if I did that, the photographers would catch several shots of me on the way down and sell them for 15 bits apiece. The mares throughout Equestria would surely deplete all the celluloid of the kingdom in order to swoon over the heroic prince in his dashing final duel with death itself... no, even so, the indignity of it all doesn't make it particularly worth it.”
Marching onward, Blueblood passed the door to his room for the sixteenth time that day, and this time decided to go inside of it. The guards entered with him, standing on either side of the door before closing it behind them, watching the prince fume inside of his quarters. The guards were quickly ignored by the prince as so much furniture.
Speaking of which, the room was lavish. The furniture was all marvelously ornate, chests, wardrobes, even a king-sized bed with golden bed posts and bedding of the finest imported silk. However, the pride of his room was the many cabinets containing the rewards and trophies he had won in attending various high social gatherings.
The prince noted grimly to himself that his trophy collection would not be getting bigger any time soon. It was unlikely he would be invited anywhere now. Even if he was, he would likely regard such an invitation with deep suspicion.
Blueblood then realized that all his stomping around the castle that day was actually very good exercise. He was exhausted. He threw himself onto his bed, wrapped a pillow about his head, around his eyes, and tried to get to sleep.
Hans and Fritz had endured a lot of difficult experiences under their duty to the prince. However, they would later agree, hearing a full grown unicorn stallion cry himself to sleep that night was one of the worst.
Blueblood recalled that he had cried himself to sleep a lot during his youth. By the time he was at the cusp of stallion-hood, he simply had no tears left.
His dream self woke from the smaller quarters he had in those days and grimly observed himself in the mirror. Though most ponies his age had received their cutie marks by now, he was still a blank flank, he simply did not have the opportunity to find his special talent. The very second he left his room, the guardsmen would escort him away: it was time for his daily lessons.
He met his speech instructor, a crusty old gray unicorn mare, nearly every day. She was the strictest of his instructors, continually reprimanding him to speak in the royal tongue. When he slipped up, even a little, she would apply a sharp rap of the heavy wicker switch she perpetually kept levitated nearby. If he yelped in pain, he would get another for his breach of protocol. Years later, that terrible instructor glowered at his mode of speaking, and pronounced it, “Perfect.”
Royal etiquette was not one instructor but a great procession of them, stretching through his youth. There were a truly staggering number of things to know. Standard table manners would vary heavily depending on where he was eating and who he was eating with. When doing something as simple as walking into a room, there were three to eight things he needed to keep in mind lest he do it incorrectly. If he dared to eat the wrong thing, he was to spit it out immediately - no matter how hungry he was - and declare it unsuited for the royal tongue. He was taught to discipline hired help in such an elaborate display that it was far more taxing on himself. At royal functions, he was never to open a door, always to insist on someone open it for him. Through sheer force of practice, his young mind became quite adept at picking up the subtleties of every exercise, to the point where nearly every new instructor declared they had nothing new to teach him, proclaiming that he was already, “Perfect.”
The royal functions were one of the most important things he was taught to do. For example, he had attended rehearsals for the Grand Galloping Gala every year since he was a colt, accompanied by a host of instructors who would tell him how to do every little thing: how to waltz, how to identify the music that was playing, how to drink the beverages, how to engage in polite conversation, and even how to feign romance. Then would come the real thing, the real gala, and he would do his best to imitate what he had been taught while his instructors lurked in the shadows. At the end of the gala, he was sat down and read a list of every little thing he did wrong. That list became shorter and shorter each year. Finally, there came the year that there was only one observation to read from the list, “Perfect.”
It had been during a telekinetic fencing lesson that the instructor drew Blueblood's attention to something new. There, in a mirror, was his new cutie mark: an eight-point compass rose of gold on blue. At once, servants were frantically dispatched to fetch his mother and Princess Celestia. When they arrived, they looked elated, but their expression was bittersweet. Perhaps they were thinking that their little boy was growing up? His auntie Celestia told him that his cutie mark represented his special talent as the beacon of Equestria, one that would provide a guiding example for everypony.
Blueblood humored the celebration, projecting an expression carefully picked from one of the hundreds he had been taught for a given occasion. It would be very uncouth for him to say what was on his mind: that he really did not particularly care he had a cutie mark. No, he was far too perfect for it to matter one way or another.
Yet, there was only one thing that bothered him, this perfect stallion. Something that he had been denied all his life and yet had not learned to do without. Amidst the throng of ponies admiring his new cutie mark, he stared with practiced regal detachment out the window of the tower room he was in, past the drawbridge, and on to the lovely green lawn he had been denied as a colt.
Freedom. The thought ignited a fire in his heart. If he dwelled on it too long, that fire would begin to burn painfully. He wanted nothing more in this world than to be free.
Prince Blueblood jumped out of bed abruptly and into a fine sunny morning. He was feeling giddy. “Boys,” he boomed, “I just had a marvelous idea! Truly marvelous!”
His sudden outburst roused Hans and Fritz, who had fallen asleep at their posts on either side of his door. They exchanged a look: the prince's sudden elation was a very bad sign. As the prince trotted rapidly about the room opening chests and wardrobes, Hans carefully made his way in front of the window.
The prince was chiding himself gleefully, “Where did I place that infernal... ah!” His telekinesis levitated a small black bottle out of a chest.
Poison? As the cap was quickly twisted off, Fritz braced himself to bolt, considering how he should go about tackling the prince and wresting the bottle from him.
But he was too late.
The prince dumped the contents of the bottle, sticky blank writing ink, directly on his precious golden curls.
Hans gaped wide-eyed at the prince in shock. Fritz lost his balance and fell, his armor clattering against the stone floor.
Sure enough, the prince had lost his mind.
Blueblood giggled to himself like a school colt who had been told a naughty joke, looking at himself in the mirror as he levitated a brush with masterful precision through his mane, spreading the blackened disaster he had introduced into the full length of his curls.
This ink was no hair dye, it dried quickly, permanently, converting the once luxuriously styled blonde mane into a pitch black rat's nest that spiked wild and haphazardly.
Seeing the result, Blueblood laughed even harder, tears coming from his eyes as they bulged from maddened, unbridled levity.
Then, he began to repeat the procedure with his glorious tail.
Fritz picked himself up off the floor where he had been dazed and shook his head, shaking a great deal of collected incredulity loose from his brain. He ventured to inquire, “My prince?”
“Yes, Fritz?” replied the prince brightly, as he busily worked a tail that was sometimes compared to an amber field of wheat into a ragged black morass.
Fritz was not sure what bothered him more, that the prince was willingly making himself look uglier, or that he actually called a guard by his name. “Is everything... alright, milord?”
Prince Blueblood immediately stopped was he was doing, a hairy ink-encrusted brush clattering to the floor, and stared at Fritz with a blank expression. He walked up to Fritz slowly, their gazes locked. Out of view, Hans followed the prince carefully, ready to subdue him if needed.
When they were nearly snout to snout, the prince slowly cracked a smile, not a smile he had been taught, but a normal smile, looking completely out of place on his face.
“Oh, everything is absolutely fabulous,” he breathed rapturously, “but first, I need you boys to take off your armor. Then, we're going to give the royal painter something very special to paint.”
Hans and Fritz were nervous before. Now, they were terrified.
Hans and Fritz were soldiers. They had been trained to handle panic in one way and one way only: follow orders. Thus, dearly wishing that they had been trained otherwise, a very naked feeling Hans and Fritz trailed the prince at a brisk military pace as he cantered happily through the halls of Castle Canterlot in the direction of the royal painter's studio.
As Hans passed the first guardsman standing at his post in a hall, he leaned over furtively and hissed a quick message to him under his breath, “The prince has gone mad: inform the princess.”
The guardsman watched them as they passed and then bolted, a full gallop, in the opposite direction, that of the throne room.
Arriving at last at the studio, Prince Blueblood's horn glowed, almost knocking the door off its hinges as it opened. Despite being in a wing of the castle, it was a fairly humble studio. Paint, brushes, and other supplies were against one wall. Canvases in various states of completion were on the other. An easel stood in the center of it.
In front of the easel was a small unicorn stallion of cyan coat and straight white mane, his cutie mark an artist's palette. The royal painter cowered in fear as Blueblood loomed over him, bearing that same highly normal smile, grotesquely alien on the face of the royal personage.
Noticing the easel was occupied with a half completed work, Blueblood snatched it with his telekinesis and brought it before him.
He admired it briefly. “Oh, lovely, the humble bowl of fruit, the standard artist's exercise, it seems to be forming nicely. However, this canvas is simply atrocious, of terribly insufficient quality to capture this artist's work, don't you think so, guardsmen?”
Hans and Fritz nodded, very carefully.
The prince's smile barely registered them at all, “Then it's decided!”
His telekinesis projected the canvas hard against the back stone wall, shattering the wooden frame. The painter watched his latest work being destroyed with despair.
The prince loomed even closer, catching the poor artistic stallion's gaze. Blueblood's smile was gone, he was being very serious now, “listen to me very carefully. I need you to paint the most important work of your life. Quickly, but of a quality above the reproach of a casual glance. Then, I need you to copy it exactly. Do you think you can do that for me?”
The smaller stallion nodded fearfully, as if he had a choice.
“Good,” said the prince brightly, “and, as for your canvas, it will be this.”
He turned, knocking the easel over in the process, and levitated a fallen brush, twirling it around the intended target.
His cutie mark.
“I don't care what you paint, but it needs to look like a commoner's mark. It needs to be convincing and as resistant to the weather as possible.”
It was then that Hans and Fritz realized exactly what was going on.
The prince once again had that school colt's giggle. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun!”
It was a simple brown wagon wheel, its spokes perfectly covering the points of the compass on the prince's flank, with a metal circle around it. Given the prince's exacting orders, it was the first and best thing that came to the mind of the artist, as he could use the preexisting cutie mark as a base to draw it and assure he was duplicating it successfully on both sides. The prince thought it was serendipitous, as they would surely be doing a lot of traveling soon.
At the moment, the prince was slinking like a naughty colt through the halls of Canterlot castle, utilizing a servant's route he knew to be considerably less guarded than most. Ignored, Hans and Fritz followed, not bothering to hide themselves, as they knew a thing or two about hiding, and the prince was doing it wrong. Finally, he reached a servant's exit and made his way outside the keep and into the courtyard.
From behind a concealing bush, the prince watched the gatehouse containing the drawbridge and only exit from Castle Canterlot carefully. From time to time, a servant pony would trot by unnoticed by Blueblood, casting him and the embarrassed Hans and Fritz a funny look. After awhile, the posted guards trotted inside a door to the adjacent barracks.
The changing of the guard was underway.
The prince shouted, “Quickly! This is our chance!”
Hans and Fritz complied. Even in their off-duty attire (which, for a pony, was usually nothing) they were still sworn guards of Equestria and, until relieved, they had a duty to fulfill. They inwardly reassured themselves that the magistrate would see things their way if they were dragged into court after this was all over.
Breaking into a gallop, Blueblood thundered towards the drawbridge. He had a brief flashback to the time when, as a colt, he had done the same thing in order to try to play with the commoner colts on the other side. As he crossed the threshold of the gatehouse under the heavy steel portcullis and onto the drawbridge, his heart soared: this time, it was going to be different.
They ran further and further away from Blueblood's prison, away from the sprawling green lawn around Castle Canterlot and deep into the city of Canterlot proper. For the first time in his life, Prince Blueblood was running away from home, and nopony could stop him, not even Princess Celestia herself. He mocked her, laughing into the breeze as he went, “Take that, auntie!”
From the balcony, Princess Celestia and his mother watched them go.
The wrinkled unicorn mare was worried, and asked the tall immortal, “Princess, are you sure it's quite alright to just let him go like that?”
Princess Celestia smiled reassuringly, “Quite sure, dear. After all, one who has nothing left to lose has everything to gain.”
Inside an hour of wandering the streets of Canterlot with his guards in tow, the great inner fire that catapult Prince Blueblood into his life of newfound freedom was threatening to go out.
The problem was mostly a lack of fuel.
In hindsight, the prince realized it would have been ideal to take some gold bits for the journey in order to purchase future meals. For that matter, they probably should have eaten something before escaping the castle.
Fortunately, the prince knew that he was incapable of making mistakes, and so his hunger was only the necessary price of freedom.
It was a bit of a rude surprise when he discovered that, by successfully disguising himself as a nameless commoner, his usual tactic of merely asking a pony to give him what he wanted would only result in a threat to call the guards. The threat made his princely blood boil but, as long as he wished to remain incognito, it worked very effectively.
The thought never crossed his mind to simply steal a nosh, not so much because he cared for whoever he would steal from, but because a prince was far above such debased practices! He could, however, order Hans or Fritz to steal for him. He decided against it: the number of hired help he had available to him had dwindled badly enough without any of them being arrested for a botched crime.
So it was that he realized that he was facing a serious logistics problem that, under normal circumstances, would only thwart the escape attempts of the youngest of foals. The gears lurched slowly to a start in a head that, prior to today, had mostly been used for decoration. It was not long until he realized that perhaps he ought to ask someone who never had the benefit of being a royal beneficiary how they survived. Fortunately, it so happened that he had dragged along two such impromptu advisers.
It took awhile for Hans and Fritz to painstakingly explain to Blueblood that, in exchange for their services as a royal guard, they were paid a royal stipend of gold bits for their service. Performing services in exchange for bits was called a “job,” and almost everypony had one. This rather surprised Blueblood: up until now, he thought the guards and servants did what they did or else Princess Celestia would have their heads. He laughed at that, mentioning it. The guards laughed along... it sounded very forced.
Thinking that he had found a solution at last, Blueblood asked Hans and Fritz if currently they had any bits with which they could afford a meal. Two guards immediately responded that they did not. The truth of their statements was something that Blueblood could not accuracy verify, as exactly where a pony kept their bits was something that sometimes mystified even themselves. Fortunately, the prince did not need to press the issue, as another one of his undeniable logical premises was that it was impossible for anyone to lie to him.
Now, Prince Blueblood had two excellent theories on how he could survive. The first would be to return to the castle and try to pretend nothing ever happened, but the taste of freedom was still fresh enough that it overpowered his empty stomach. The second would be to figure out exactly where these “jobs” could be found and get one.
As they proceeded down the city streets, Blueblood began to scan Canterlot carefully, trying to imagine what one of these “job” things would look like. Then he turned a corner of a busy street, and did not so much spot the first example so much as have it completely overwhelm his senses.
Fireworks of every color and type burst simultaneously over the central plaza of Canterlot, as noticeable in day as they would be in night due to magical intervention. Below, an amassed throng of colorful ponies was collectively oohing and aahing before a stage. The stage was brightly colored and had magical horns blowing fanfare built into the sides. Back stage, machinery hidden behind violet curtains extended rods containing fireworks, mobiles, and other cheesy but effective stage props.
All eyes were on the stage centerpiece, a blue unicorn mare with a slick silver mane. She was wearing a purple ensemble of stars and planets, a matching wizard hat and cloak affixed with a diamond clasp. On her face, the arrogant expression never left her lips as her bright violet eyes regarded the crowd with contempt, gesturing dramatically as she announced her presence.
“Come one, come all, come and witness the amazing magic of the Great and Powerful Trixie!”
Taking it all in, Blueblood felt an annoying inkling in the back of his skull that subtly told him that he had found someone that held themselves in even higher regard than himself. He grit his teeth to smother that feeling from his mind. He signaled his guards to clear a path to the center of the crowd. They complied, attracting more than a few sour looks from the throng as they were shoved aside, but his guards knew what they were doing. Hans and Fritz now flanked the prince as he sat to observe the act.
“Watch in awe,” she was saying, “as the Great and Powerful Trixie performs feats beyond your imagination!”
Blueblood harrumphed. If the plebeian ponies surrounding him were watching her any harder, their eyes were likely to fall out and roll under the stage. Nonetheless, he had to admit, he was able to momentarily forget his hunger as the Great and Powerful Trixie's act continued to play out before him.
The unicorn mare's special talent was clearly stage magic with a hint of the real thing. She conjured forth flowery bouquets with a wave of her arms. She pulled all manner of small animals from her hat. She performed elaborate rope tricks. She created great neon patterns in the sky. Each trick was glitzier than the last. After awhile, Prince Blueblood believed she could do just about anything, and that annoying twinge in the back of his skull flared up again.
As a trained performer himself (albeit his stage was the royal court) the prince recognized an interesting pattern to her performance. She had not come to perform for the crowd at all. No, the crowd had come to perform for her, to marvel at how amazing she was for her personal entertainment. Even the prince felt slightly less like he was the center of the universe in her presence.
This just made the very last trick all the more amazing. It was a trick that interested Blueblood more than all the other tricks put together. Where all of her other tricks were all flash without substance, an illusion wholly focused on self-promotion, this one trick had the most important substance of all.
It was the trick where she had convinced most of the ponies in the crowd to throw gold bits up on the stage.
“Guards, I am assigning you your most important mission yet,” said Prince Blueblood.
Hans and Fritz stood at attention, glad the prince was being serious for once.
The prince barked his order, “Stand back and stay out of my way.” He then turned away from them, trotting towards the middle of the plaza.
The guards facehoofed: looks like it was business as usual after all.
A half an hour ago, the Great and Powerful Trixie's performance had ended. Without a hint of sincerity, the magician congratulated the audience for coming. Then, the stage retracted all its props and folded up neatly into a simple square wagon painted in bright carnival magician decor. Finally, out of the top of the two vertically mounted doors of the back of the wagon, under the sign of her trade, the Great and Powerful Trixie performed a very special bonus performance.
That is to say, she was signing autographs. It would have been a charitable gesture if she was not charging an outrageous sum for the privilege. Perhaps the only reason she did not simply sign a check mark was because she loved to sign her name in huge elegant letters that immortalized her obvious superiority with aplomb.
The last pony in line, a remarkably typical looking earth pony, trotted away with his autograph book in his mouth and a look of uncertainty on his face. Trixie expressed exaggerated relief that she was done dealing with common ponies for the day and retreated into her wagon. Little did she know that she was about to meet a highly uncommon pony.
Prince Blueblood approached the back of the wagon and cleared his throat in a way that bristled with practiced regal hubris.
In response, a sharp voice came from inside the wagon, “The Great and Powerful Trixie is finished for today. Away with you!”
The prince looked at his guards, who had retreated to a safe distance so as to not botch this apparently vital mission. They shrugged.
The prince cleared his throat again, a little more firmly this time.
Trixie's head shot out of the open top door and looked down to glare at whatever intruder would dare to disobey her direct order.
She took in quite a sight. Prince Blueblood was in full romantic ambush, wearing a rakish expression that he just knew would go perfectly with his blackened wild mane. He fixed her a look that had toppled the hearts of a hundred noblemares. He was going all out, his charm turned up to maximum, fully prepared to dominate his way into the ranks of employment at last.
The Great and Powerful Trixie was unmoved.
“Who is so ignorant as to bother The Great and Powerful Trixie?” she demanded.
“Who, indeed? Perhaps just a humbled stallion looking to marvel at your beauty?” replied Prince Blueblood smoothly with a come-hither flex of an eyebrow.
Beneath that perfect veneer, he was panicking: in all this time, he had forgotten to come up with a fake name.
The bottom half of the double door opened and Trixie stepped down from the wagon. She stood in front of Blueblood, shorter than him, but far more intimidating. Her eyes were slanted with contempt as usual, her voice had the edge of a knife, “Why don't you tell the Great and Powerful Trixie what you really came here for?”
Blueblood was reading from a memorized script he had once been taught and only embellished upon over the years, “Why, I am here for the pleasure of your company, of course.”
“You don't say?” Trixie's self-satisfied grin become slightly impish as she started to walk slowly around Blueblood, a sultry swagger that sent her cloak sashaying distractingly behind her. The back of Blueblood's skull was aching stronger than ever - she had a real pizzazz, that Trixie, he had to admit. He exercised every ounce of his princely grace to turn and face her as she walked. Finally, she stopped opposite of her starting position, Blueblood between her and the wagon, and sat.
“I don't believe you,” she said simply.
A classic gambit, thought the prince. His response was immediate, “But Trixie, my dear-.”
The mare's eyes hardened instantly.
The next thing he knew, Prince Blueblood was once again hooves up and flat on his back, having been hogtied by Trixie's rope trick in a blink of an eye. That's the nice thing about being a unicorn wearing a wizard hat: it completely hides when your telekinesis is in use.
The stallion regained his senses to see Trixie looking down on him wearing an expression that would befit a school yard bully gloating about tripping someone smaller than them into a mud puddle.
She spoke with all the condescending authority she had used on stage, “Just who do you think you are addressing?”
Thinking for only a moment, the prince squeaked, “The Great and Powerful Trixie?”
“Yes, what is it?” she replied harshly but receptively.
“Can I be your apprentice?” he begged.
Laughing to herself, Trixie climbed back up into her wagon and slammed the bottom door.
Hans and Fritz exchanged a glance. They knew the prince had told them to butt out while he worked his charms, but they were quite positive that the operation had ended in a complete failure. They trotted over and started to help the prince loose from his bindings.
As they did this, the prince's look of defeat was utter, and he began to whine, “That's it, boys, it's over. I tried, I really did, you know that, don't you?” Hans pretended to placate the prince reassuringly, as was long his duty. “Lets just go home,” the prince cried dejectedly, “for whatever good that will do me, that is. I will subject myself to exile, the family's dirty little secret, cloistered in my room until the end of days.” Fritz sighed in relief, glad that this nightmare was nearly over.
“I really don't know how you two do it,” sniveled the prince, “I was the greatest of stallions, the most magnificent in Equestria, and look at me now! Bitless, starving, reputation ruined, a shame on my family name-” Hans and Fritz sat back and let the prince go through a long tirade of hysterics. This was not the first time the prince decided to throw a tantrum, and it would not be the last. It rose steadily in volume as Blueblood expressed everything on his mind, until they could tell from past experience that it had reached its climax and was coming to its dramatic conclusion, “-I even ruined my precious mane, and I owe it all to that meddling Twilight Sparkle and her blasted purple wyrm!”
Trixie's head was out the open top door of her wagon so quickly that it rocked on its foundations. She looked shocked, “What did you say?”
The prince blinked tears from his eyes and rummaged through the last few minutes in his mind and offered, “Greatest of stallions?”
“No, after that.”
“Shame on the family name?”
“After that! Long, long after that!”
“Ruined my precious mane?”
“After that! The end!”
“I owe it all to that meddling Twilight Sparkle and her blasted purple wyrm?”
A moment later, her eyes narrowed and her mouth shut. She looked down at the prince's cutie mark, the compass rose currently disguised as a wagon wheel, and asked, “Do you know how to move a wagon?”
Thinking only briefly, the prince replied with hope in his eyes, “Why yes, I do believe I do.”
Hans and Fritz sweated as they tugged hard on their yokes, pulling the wagon through the gates of Canterlot and slowly down the path through the mountains. It was not exactly the most efficient wagon but, given a bit of extra effort, the accursed thing moved. They could only imagine it would be even worse when they reached level ground.
Thanks to the intervention of the Great and Powerful Trixie, Prince Blueblood and his guards were fed, but that also meant that his selfish scheme to run away from home was actually working.
The interior of Trixie's wagon was cramped, the greater part of it heavily occupied by the elaborate machinery that made her shows work. Fortunately, the last time she had to rebuild it, she had managed to improve the original design and create a little more space. Thus, she was able to sit inside with Blueblood with enough room between them to comfortably converse.
“Let the Great and Powerful Trixie get this straight,” she was saying, eyes somewhat cruel even when she did not intend them to be. “You, Prince Blueblood, are running away from home.”
The stallion nodded miserably, having just been forced by circumstance (and not a little of Trixie's intimidatory tactics) to reveal his secret. Of course, having just finished pouring his heart out in Canterlot outside of her wagon, the only dots left to connect involved stating his actual name.
“And you want to be my apprentice?”
Trixie looked away from the prince in thought, even more vexed than usual. She really did not need to ask the prince how Twilight Sparkle ruined his reputation, as she did read the occasional newspaper during her travels.
Blueblood's curiosity got the better of him, “I must know, Great and Powerful Trixie” (as proud as he was, he had learned that calling her anything less just brought undue pain) “why ever did the mention of that bothersome protege of my aunt's change your mind?”
Trixie's temperament did not improve upon bringing up the subject, and she looked for a moment like she would not answer, but she found a way to relent, “Let us just say that the Great and Powerful Trixie doesn't like being shown up.”
As a stallion who had dedicated a considerable amount of his life towards never being shown up, Blueblood sympathized completely.
Trixie frowned then, and stated haughtily, “The Great and Powerful Trixie does not need an apprentice.”
Blueblood looked like he was about to say something, but Trixie waved him away with an idle flick of her hoof and said, “However, the Great and Powerful Trixie may have a vacancy for a beautiful assistant.”
“Beautiful assistant?!” Blueblood said incredulously. He knew why she used the word, the “beautiful assistant,” was the typical title given to a pony that would accompany the magician on stage and look pretty while they were performing their tricks. However, while he was charming in more ways than he could count, that particular word did a certain injustice to his impeccable masculinity.
“Problem, prince?” asked Trixie primly, mocking him through the corner of her eye with a self-serving, coy smile. That expression made the back of his head hurt again as it informed him that he was trapped and he knew it.
Blueblood snorted contemptuously, “No! No problem at all!”
“Good,” said Trixie viciously, “in that case, the Great and Powerful Trixie believes this to be the beginning of a truly terrible relationship.”
Blueblood thought that was a tad unnecessary, but he caught what she was suggesting: her wagon, her rules. She was taking a tremendous risk by smuggling the prince out of Canterlot, and she expected him to pay for it every step of the way.
A week later, Prince Blueblood had a surprisingly good rapport with Trixie. That is to say, the scathing way they would address each other when going about their daily tasks had lost an imperceptible amount of bite. True, she still treated him like dirt, but beneath that dirt was a fine trace of mutual respect.
Trixie was pleased to discover that her “beautiful assistant” - or a masculine equivalent thereof - was already an accomplished performer, completely immune to stage-fright and capable of feigning for the audience that he knew exactly what he was doing even when he did not. All she needed to do was explain a few pointers during rehearsal in order to keep his mistakes to a minimum, and her performances went flawlessly.
Better than flawlessly, in fact. They had performed at two little-known towns now, and Trixie was pleased to note that her “beautiful assistant” was actually adding to the quality of her performances, reacting naturally and with surprising grace to her actions on the stage in such a way as to enhance her effect on the audience. It was apparently old hat for Blueblood, and the take of gold bits had been considerably better than she anticipated.
But now, they had reached a complication. The wagon had been following a road that would take them to a great many venues on the side of Equestria farther from Canterlot, but first would have to pass directly through Ponyville. Both Prince Blueblood and the Great and Powerful Trixie had several reasons to avoid the town. To be more precise, they had five smaller reasons, one big reason, and her baby dragon assistant.
So it was that they decided to take a somewhat overgrown detour around the town. Trixie had nervously assured the prince and his guards that it would not be a problem. However, they all knew the truth: traveling through the Everfree Forest was always a problem waiting to happen.
The Everfree Forest was a mysterious place. Though in times of yore the ponies may have lived there, the ponies' magical influence had long since receded from the place, and the result seemed unnatural to them: the plants grew, the animals cared for themselves, and the clouds moved all on their own! Such a thought would cause ponies weak-at-heart to faint right on the spot. At times like that, Princess Celestia wondered if perhaps she had spoiled her little ponies.
Because of its reputation, when even the smallest thing went wrong while traveling the ancient roads through the Everfree Forest, it was a major crisis.
The wagon lurched suddenly and violently to one side, sending Blueblood sprawling on top of Trixie. Acting significantly more annoyed at him than usual (her greatest feat yet) Trixie shoved him to one side and stepped outside to investigate.
Hans and Fritz had unhitched themselves from the wagon and were now looking at the source of the problem. The wagon had fallen into a small depression of the road that had, just for a moment, caused its entire weight to fall on one wheel at a very bad angle. That wheel was now a splintery mess, completely destroyed.
“Blueblood!” barked Trixie in the same tone one would use to condemn a dog that had just soiled the carpet, “bring out a spare wheel!”
Righteous indignation nearly at bursting levels, Prince Blueblood complied, rummaging through the wagon with his telekinesis until he found the wheel and began to levitate it with his horn.
A deafening roar caused him to drop it again. Shaking so hard he could hardly walk, Blueblood managed to topple out of the back of the wagon and see what caused that sound.
A terrifying sight awaited him. Emerging from the overgrowth was a greenish-colored serpentine beast. On two legs, it supported a base that was as large as the wagon by itself, but the truly terrifying thing is what extended out of it. A tremendously long neck, and three more necks just like it, each one topped with a dragon's head. Three of the heads looked smug, one of them was panting excitably.
“A hydra!” shouted Fritz. “Prince, get behind the wagon!”
Fritz need not have bothered. Blueblood, demonstrating his usual level of unquestionable bravery, was already cowering effectively behind the furthest corner of the wagon.
However, the Great and Powerful Trixie, flanked by Hans and Fritz, bravely stood between the wagon and the hydra. Yet, there was a definite note of fear in her voice as she shouted at the beast, “Stay back! You hear me?! You do not want to mess with the Great and Powerful Trixie!”
Three out of four hydra heads regarded Trixie and the two guards hungrily. The other head laughed at her.
The hydra took a step out of the forest and onto the path towards the wagon. Trixie immediately summoned a storm cloud over its head. Blueblood was momentarily awed at her ability. The cloud shot a single bolt of lightning before dissipating, striking the laughing hydra head right in the snout, leaving behind a small singe mark. It sneezed, and the other heads smirked at it. Blueblood had a feeling the three heads did not like that fourth head very much.
The hydra took another step towards the wagon, and Trixie's telekinesis pulled a rope from her wagon and rapidly tied it about all four of the necks and both legs. The rope snapped under the pressure of the beast's incredible musculature almost instantly.
On its next step, Trixie summoned a great magical firework display, dazzling all the ponies in attendance. The hydra was not impressed.
Trixie quailed slightly backwards as the hydra was now in striking range of her. Her magic may have been able to make her look like she could do anything while she was on stage, but they were of unfortunately no use in the face of a real crisis.
The other heads counterbalancing it, one of the hydra's heads dove directly for the failed magician, ready to gobble her up whole.
Hans tackled her out of the way at the last moment.
The head's momentum passed them and struck the wagon square in the middle, shattering it into hundreds of pieces. “No!” cried Trixie. Tiny splinters fell on Blueblood, who had narrowly avoided being flattened by virtue of having cowered behind a corner instead of a wall.
The hydra head retracted, shaking ruined stage props and personal effects from its eyes.
Hans stood up and exchanged a bitter grin with Franz. It was a soldier's grin, an ironic joke shared between a band of brothers when all seemed lost. Franz returned that grin, and nodded.
Hans shouted directly at the prone Trixie next to him, “Run!”
Trixie's bravery had been used up for the day. She immediately bolted past where Blueblood was cowering and galloped into the forest. Blueblood, not wanting to be alone but not wanting to be with the hydra either, immediately followed her.
Hans and Franz stayed behind, facing the hydra with their hooves braced. The guards were unarmored and unprepared. They hated the prince's guts with nearly every fiber of their being. However, they still had a duty to uphold.
They pawed the ground with their fore-hooves. From far above them, three out of four hydra heads acknowledged their combatants (the remaining one just looked at them stupidly) and the beast readied itself.
The guards' noble sacrifice bought Trixie and Blueblood the time they needed to gallop deep into the Everfree Forest. Blueblood grieved for his long time companions as he would a favorite bow-tie that fell in his drink. The two unicorns did not know how long they ran through the woods, over logs and under hanging vines, propelled forward by the spooky sounds of unknowable creatures surrounding them.
Finally, they collapsed in a small clearing, panting for breath. About the time they had regained it, Blueblood heard something strange. A strange, wet, feminine noise. He realized that Trixie was crying. That really got under his coat for some reason.
“What is this?” he demanded pompously of her.
A more effective cure for crying there never was. Blinking tears out of her eyes, Trixie faced the prince with the full force of a mare's scorn, “You want to know why the Great and Powerful Trixie is crying?! You, foal, could not possibly understand!”
The prince had allowed this uncouth behavior to go far enough, “Now, see here-” he countered angrily.
“No!” interrupted Trixie, launching into a fury-laden tirade, “You see here. Up until you met the Great and Powerful Trixie, you never had to work a day in your life! When you ran away from home, you didn't have to work the backstreets and alleys performing simple card tricks for bits. Neither did you have to work your way up the ladder of the stage! You could not possibly know how it is like to risk everything by taking it on the road, only to see it destroyed before you, not once, but twice!”
The prince was momentarily taken aback, sputtering for words, but then served her anger back to her, “Oh, so you believe being a prince is easy?! I do not believe the Great and Powerful Trixie,” he said the title with all the sarcasm he could muster, “was forced, every day of her young life, to attend thousands of lessons in diction, royal etiquette, and more! Further, our royal person is quite certain a commoner such as you could never understand the pressures of rulership, to have everything decided for one's self in advance, to never be allowed to do one thing on your own, all in the name of preserving your good name. Then, one day, you try doing one little thing on your own, only to lose everything by becoming the laughingstock of all of Equestria!”
Trixie saw a vulnerability and she stabbed it, “The Great and Powerful Trixie believes a snotty little prat like you deserved to become the laughingstock of all Equestria.”
The prince parried, “Then our royal person believes a wretched little showpony like you deserved to lose your wagon!”
“What's the matter, prince?” Trixie's voice dipped with venom, “Afraid to admit you're just a bad luck charm to everypony around you?”
Blueblood blanched. Thinking back to recent events, it really did feel like he was the black hole of misfortune, the unluckiest pony in all the universe. (After all, he was the center of it.) Braced by his gigantic ego, he immediately decided not to allow it to depress him. Instead, he would become more angry than he had ever been in his life.
The prince had been taught never let his emotions show on his face. It felt oddly therapeutic to scrunch his face into a ball of fury and project it at Trixie. He stuck his neck out and growled at her, “GRRRRRR!”
Trixie returned the gesture, bringing her nose up only two inches from his face, growling right back, “Grrrrrr!” It was cuter when a mare did it, but he knew she was being deadly serious.
Then, “GRAAAAAAAAAAAAUGGH!” screamed all four heads of the hydra as it stepped into the clearing, drowning the two ponies in noxious breath.
Angry time was over. Blueblood and Trixie ran.
Again, the two unicorns did not know how long they were galloping through those terrifying woods. Worse, they did not have any brave ponies to sacrifice themselves in order to buy time. No, the hydra was right on their tails. They could not even split up, whenever one dove off to the side the hydra would extend one of its necks and force them together again. The monster was fully in control of their fate, herding the pair before them, knowing it would be able to enjoy, not one, but two delicious snacks the moment they ended up trapped by the terrain, unable to continue forward.
It was incredibly fortunate, then, that where they ended up running was over a rotting rope bridge extending over a canyon. The hydra stopped abruptly before the bridge: it may have been hungry, but it wasn't stupid (well, one of its heads was stupid, but it did not have the majority vote). It raged on the other side of the rope bridge, watching the ponies escape. Then it noticed the rope bridge was the only way out from the stone island they had crossed to. It retreated into the forest just out of view and sat there, waiting for them to return.
When they felt they were out of the hydra's reach, the two ponies collapsed on the opposite end of the bridge, again panting for breath. The chase had thoroughly scared them off the colliding trains of thought they were on beforehand. Recovering their breath, they stood and took in the scenery around them.
Trixie vocalized the question going through her mind, “What is this place?”
Prince Blueblood knew, as part of his lessons involved being briefed on the royal holdings. With perhaps a little extra pride in his voice, he said, “This is the ancient castle of the royal pony sisters.”
Trixie frowned, “It's a dump,” she said.
True enough, the castle had long fallen into ruin, its dilapidated walls had crumbled in many places, it was as gray and overgrown as the misty confines around it. However, knowing that going backwards would be a death wish, the wayward prince and thoroughly dispossessed magician had no choice but to press on inside.
The fallen antechamber was thoroughly spooky. Vines climbed pillars near the walls that supported a ceiling that had long since rotted away. The once majestic stain glass windows had managed to lose every last flake of glass, leaving behind incomplete rusting metal frames. In the center of the room was a strange moss-encrusted statue, its purpose unknown, appearing as though it my have once held five round artifacts.
Trixie and Blueblood did not have much opportunity to take in the incredible sight. As they neared the center of the room, a loud rustling spooked them. They realized that they were not alone. Behind them, out from a pillar next to the door crept a strange creature indeed. A many-spiked lizard with the head of a chicken. It did not seem to have noticed them yet.
Trixie's loud shout attracted the attention of the prince, “Don't look at it! That's a cockatrice! Its gaze will petrify you!”
Her loud shout also attracted the attention of the cockatrice. With an aggravated chuck, it hissed at the two ponies who were now carefully looking away from it. They could hear its claws scrabbling closer.
“What should we do?” asked the prince in hushed tones.
“Run!” replied Trixie.
There was no argument as, so far, that plan had served them well. They turned and ran to the end of the antechamber, to what looked like a dead end, but then spotted a hallway hidden behind a pillar. They ran down it, side by side, until the hallway forked. Without time to decide which direction to turn, they split up, Trixie to the left and Blueblood to the right.
The prince registered their separation with increased fear, fear for himself and something even more important than that. (Something more important than himself? A strange impossibility he did not have time to think about.) As he galloped down the hall and turned a corner, he was greeted by a most welcome sight: the walls fell away, revealing an open plain!
Then he heard Trixie scream from within the castle. He realized that this was the perfect opportunity. With Trixie distracting the cockatrice, escape was sure to come. He happily sprinted forward.
And stopped. He wondered to himself, about that. Why did he stop?
Trixie screamed again, and he found himself oddly curious to see what was bothering her.
For a moment, his desires to save his hide and satisfy his curiosity fought. In the front of his mind was his ego, the proud and self-satisfied prince. It was on the defensive, fighting back desperately against that unidentifiable terrible primal throbbing coming from the back of his skull.
Blueblood turned and began to canter in the direction of Trixie, assuring himself that he was just going to take a look.
Then, he began to gallop.
As Blueblood turned the last corner of the hallway Trixie had fled down, he found his curiosity satisfied. There, in a ruined (yet still very solid rock) corner of the castle of the royal pony sisters, was a very desperate Trixie. She was panicking, trapped, fore-hooves scrabbling against the wall blindly with her wizard's hat pulled down over her eyes.
The reason was immediately evident: wings outstretched, crowding her as it stepped ever nearer to her, forcing her into that corner, was the cockatrice! Blueblood idly noted that it would only be a matter of time until the creature's potential to physically attack would force Trixie to confront it, and then...
That annoying sensation that had been building in the back of Blueblood's skull, one that had always been a very uniquely Trixie infliction, now ignited, and became an inner fire that suffused the entirety of his being.
With all the pride befitting his aristocratic background, Blueblood strut forward, and stomped a fore-hoof firmly on the cockatrice's tail, just past the spikes. The cockatrice hissed a loud cluck of pain and turned sharply at its new aggressor, its red eyes glowing red with rage... and something worse. Smirking defiantly, Blueblood stared right back into those eyes, and felt the unmistakable sensation of their views locking together with magic.
"I recommend you leave now, oh Great and Powerful Trixie," said Blueblood airily, unwavering as petrification began to overcome his body, beginning at his tail and hooves and slowly working its way upward, a sensation that was at first bitingly cold and then completely numbing. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Trixie recover from her fear long enough to cast him a quick glance before bolting past the cockatrice for the exit. Blueblood felt oddly satisfied knowing that, with the greater part of his body weight firmly down on its tail, there was no way the beast would be able to pursue her even after its grim work was done.
Blueblood had two thoughts, then.
The first thought was a bitterly ironic observation: he had spent nearly his entire life as nobility, but this was the first time he ever felt truly noble. It was an alien feeling, one that did not sit particularly well with him, and yet, somehow it felt extremely right.
The second thought was that he would make an absolutely marvelous statue.
Then, he didn't think anything: rocks don't think.
Yet, after an indeterminable amount of time, this rock began to dream.
Blueblood was on the ballroom floor again, suave, turning in practiced elegance with the waltz, a beautiful stranger adoring him as they spun. And then another ballroom, another strange mare. Another, and another.
Blueblood was in the royal reception, meeting foreign dignitaries, their lovely daughters and wives swooning, worshipping him from afar. Blueblood turned on the charm and went to work, providing the necessary grease for the wheels that drove the bureaucracy Equestria, one heart at a time.
Blueblood was on the veranda, under a star-lit sky, alone except for an elegantly dressed strange mare before him, confessing her secret feelings for him. And then in a row boat, another star-lit sky, another mare whispering with blushed cheeks and pursed lips. Regardless of whether it was happening in a secret alcove, incognito in a commoner's cafe, or on a horse drawn carriage, Blueblood always wore the same mask of roguish perfection, a prop he had refined over the years, as these poor girls lined up one by one and scene by scene to tear their hearts out and drop them at his feet.
Blueblood faintly recognized he was reliving his recent life, right up to a certain major disgrace in Ponyville. However, he noticed something new as these experiences blurred together, a thought in common with each experience, a thought that did not repeat itself so much as reinforce itself continually, building in strength until it drowned out all else. Something was wrong, something important that he missed, or that was missing.
Then it came to him.
What was wrong was that he never had feelings for any of them.
Why should he? They were not in love with him at all. Not in love with the little colt who was denied a childhood. Not in love with the prince being lead by his nose through hundreds of lessons intended to improve his finery. Not even in love with the dashing prince that they were marveling at in the present moment.
No, they were in love with the idea of Prince Blueblood, a dashing figure to sweep them off their hooves and into a life of fairy tales. In every romance he had been coaxed into, no matter how intimate the circumstance, when he looked deep into the beautiful sparkling eyes of the mare before him, he saw an unmistakable vacancy that betrayed the truth: she was not seeing the prince before her, but rather watching her own inner fantasies playing through her head.
The first few times, it hurt, it truly did. But he was a trained performer, and he lived by their credo: the show must go on. In time, his heart had grown thick, calloused. Finally, it turned black. He came to relish a broken heart as a fine prize for a job well done. It empowered him, made him feel strong to know he could do that and get away with it.
In the end, all that was left was a faint logical suggestion, a theory he could understand but not subscribe to, that what he was doing was wrong.
It gave him such a headache sometimes.
Prince Blueblood's head was killing him. He groggily opened his eyes to see his fore-hooves out before him, and noted with some giddy satisfaction that they weren't made of stone.
He sat up and slowly took in his bearings. He was still in the castle of the royal pony sisters, facing the very same corner where he had met his stony demise. The cockatrice was still there, terrifyingly enough. However, it was now in a strong wicker cage with a blindfold firmly about its eyes, preening somewhat placidly.
As his head cleared, he heard a unfamiliar young mare's voice say, “Welcome back, nephew.”
The last few rocks in his brain broke as the gears turned. Doing the math, he was able to deduce where the necessary magic had come to free him from his prison.
“Hello, Auntie Luna,” he said.
Turning his gaze from the corner, he saw the night itself, a dark bluish alicorn shrouded with a nearly-invisible aura of eldritch darkness. It was indeed Princess Celestia's sister, Princess Luna. Despite being roughly the same age (perhaps minus the thousand years she spent while entrapped in the moon) Luna was, at most, only half a size larger than the average mare, and she had a definite look of youth about her. Even with the wisdom of centuries behind those eyes, she would, now and forever, always be Celestia's darling younger sister.
Next to Luna stood Trixie. At first glance, Blueblood thought she looked worried but, double-checking, he saw he was quite mistaken. No, she was extremely annoyed, disappointed in him for wasting her time. It seems she had a bit of a stroke of luck in finding Princess Luna in the whereabouts, but Blueblood was not overly surprised: though ruined, this was one of their castles, after all, and perhaps one that Luna was even more familiar with than the one in Canterlot.
With a loud harrumph, Blueblood wearily climbed to his hooves and stretched, dislodging a few pebbles that had settled on him, and stared hard at Trixie with the typical look of contempt painted across his face.
As the two unicorns leveled scathingly disapproving gazes at each other, something flickered between them, their minds united by mutual sentiment. They realized that they could see a bit of themselves in each other... and they hated what they saw. Arrogant, vain, downright mean, they would sooner eat a horseshoe than to give each other the time of day. They were self-centered jerks, nothing less, nothing more, and they preferred it that way.
Yet, if there was any chance under Celestia's sun or Luna's moon that they could possibly see around the colossal egos they held so dear, they would have said one thing to each other, a fundamental fact, an undeniable truth:
They were more in love with each other than they had ever been with any other pony in their lives.
This unvoiced mutual realization came from several things. Before it was drowned out by their personalities, Trixie and Blueblood had enjoyed a brief moment of love at first sight, as both of them were gorgeous and there was a certain something about each other that they liked from the start. In the brief time that they had come to know each other, they had discovered they both excelled at performing and, as performance was their life passion, it served as a bridge in which they could be passionate for each other. In fits of anger, they had accidentally related to each other their life stories, had found they had in common miserable lives, and the self-serving pity they had for themselves had made the transition to sympathy for each other. They had even chosen to risk it all in order to save each other’s lives, Trixie from the cockatrice, and Blueblood from wasting away in isolation, and these uncommonly selfless gestures were not completely lost on even these two most selfish of ponies.
Most amazingly of all, the formidable number of positive things these two insufferably vain ponies had discovered about each other were actually slingshot into an even higher realm of love by the negativity that they wore on the surface. This was because looking at each other was like looking into a mirror and seeing an opposite gendered version of themselves, and they loved looking into mirrors.
In other words, as if it was not enough that these two ponies seemed made for each other, they also absolutely deserved each other.
Princess Luna cleared her throat sharply. With uncharacteristic looks of embarrassment, the two hopelessly narcissistic unicorns broke their gaze on one another, narrowly evading the possibility of starving to death enraptured in their reflections.
“Nephew, “ said Luna, “I have a wagon waiting to take you back to your quarters in Canterlot.” She pointed a fore-hoof through a large crack in the walls and into the distance, and Blueblood could see the wagon on the other side of the rope bridge, a full contingent of guards ready to repel any more hydra visitations.
Blueblood was relieved. While, not long ago, he had stoked a fiery spirit to run away from home, his adventure had put out those flames with all the ferocity of a waterfall. He was now quite certain that the best place for him was behind some very stout, well-guarded castle walls at Canterlot. Without a word, he haughtily set off for the wagon.
Of course, he stopped before leaving the room.
Not bothering to turn around, he stated, “I believe that our royal person would enjoy a bit of company on the way back to Canterlot. In fact, I seem to recall we have a vacancy at the castle for a royal magician, a position that includes lodging and very fair pay.”
Head imperiously raised in the air, he craned his neck just enough to fix an eye on Trixie behind him, and saw on her face a smile reeking of the usual utter self-satisfaction as she replied, “In light of the recent destruction of the Great And Powerful Trixie's mode of transportation, home, and place of business, I accept.”
As Blueblood ushered Trixie into the wagon with the practiced motions he had gained from hundreds of royal courtship rituals of the past, he decided to take a chance, to say something a little spontaneous.
“Great and Powerful Trixie, I do believe this will be the beginning of a truly terrible relationship.”
Trixie paused for a moment with an unreadable expression.
She smiled then, a smug little smile, and said something she never thought she would say in her life.
“You may call me Trixie.”
From a concealed clearing, Princess Celestia watched the wagon pull away on the path back to Canterlot.
When it was far enough away, she turned back to a terrible reptilian monster bent down into the bush not twenty feet away and pointed in the direction of Froggybottom Bog, its home. The hydra reared up, turned around, and trudged away. In departure, one of the heads blew a raspberry at her. Celestia ignored the sleight: hydras will be hydras.
With her were two very familiar guards, shuffling uneasily.
Princess Celestia turned to them demurely and said, “Hans, Fritz, you have permission to speak freely.”
Hans was the first to break the silence between the two, “My liege, you know we do not mean to question your methods, but we must know: why did you go through such elaborate measures to help that insufferable nephew of yours in a simple matter of romance?”
Fritz chimed in angrily, “Begging your pardon, princess, but insufferable is right! Do you have any idea what he made us do to a defenseless baby dragon?!”
Princess Celestia's serenity was unbroken, their comments no more than a leaf gently impacting a calm lake. Of course, it was only natural that the far younger guards would not be able to understand an immortal's machinations. She rarely explained as, for her intervention to work the best, it took an invisible touch, and consequently there was an inherent danger that revealing her intentions may undo her progress. However, among the virtues she insisted on being in every one of her guards, one was the ability to keep a secret, and sometimes she liked to explain the reasons she incited her mad fiascoes. Besides, these two had earned it.
She began with the obvious, “Guards, you should know that my goal is to bring happiness to all my little ponies, especially the problematic ones.” Hans and Fritz flinched, already feeling reprimanded, Celestia continued, “As for why we're doing this today, it's because it's all our fault.”
The guards looked boggled. Hans asked, “Our fault, Princess?”
Celestia nodded, “As you may recall, Equestria has just escaped from a major crisis: Nightmare Moon's return, dark magics having perverted my sister into an wicked mare of darkness. Fortunately, my faithful student and her friends managed to end that crisis in the best way possible, quickly, before any lasting damage was done, and even returning my precious sister to me. It was my grandest plan yet, a millennium in the making, and it succeeded wonderfully. However, I ask you guards, was justice done for all?”
The guards were lost.
Princess Celestia shook her head softly, “No, I'm afraid not. For you see, there was a possibility my student would fail. Should that have occurred, Nightmare Moon's insane aims to bring everlasting night would bring nothing less than doom to ponydom, and I would not be there to stop her. That could not be allowed. We needed a plan B. Through the sheer poor luck of being born my nephew at the worst possible time, Prince Blueblood's entire life was to be that plan B.”
The guards looked at each other dubiously: that ridiculous fop would stand against Nightmare Moon?
Princess Celestia was anticipating this, “Understand that no one pony could hope to stand up against an immortal, but together they may have a chance. My nephew's role was not to make decisions, as it would take the combined efforts of the best minds in all of Equestria to hope to outmaneuver our foe. No, my nephew's role was to be the figurehead, every bit as majestic as the alicorn he would oppose, the banner that all of Equestria would unite under in one last push against the darkness. For this, he was trained to be the representation of a perfect prince, indomitable, and as self-centered as possible so as to have the necessary confidence to inspire everypony even while Equestria crumbled around them.”
The guards were gaping as understanding overtook them.
Celesta concluded the first point she had to make, “So it is that, out of our mutual love of Equestria, it truly is all of our fault that Prince Blueblood is what he is today: a figurehead cut loose from its mount, a vain representation of a higher ideal that turned out to be completely unnecessary.” There were tears in Celestia's eyes, “Is it really any wonder that my dear, once innocent little nephew grew up to become such an insufferable, arrogant dandy? It was his special talent, we all made sure of that, and he was very good at it. I am extremely proud of him for enduring the terrible role that had been forced upon him by us all.”
The guards looked very guilty, not only for the prince, but for making their beloved princess relive a sad memory. Celestia's explanation drifted to how it is they had arrived here today.
“Up until recently, I let Prince Blueblood run wild, to do what he learned to do best, to use his special talent in any way he saw fit. It was the least I could do.” Princess Celestia's voice took on a bitter tone, “However, he went too far, his little escapade to Ponyville came too close to threatening something far greater than he knew. I found out far too late, arriving just in time to allow his rash actions to backfire catastrophically, irrevocably destroying his reputation, the very thing through which his special talent operated. Now, not only his destiny as a plan B, but everything he learned since he was a foal, has been completely and utterly denied to him.”
But Princess Celestia sounded hopeful, “Yet, not all was lost. You see, guardsman, as long as a pony lives, no matter how dire their circumstances, no matter how terrible they feel, they can learn. Learning is very powerful. With it, one can overcome virtually any circumstance. All a pony needs is a chance, the right stimulation at the right time. I needed to teach my nephew something he could use to escape his cruel fate once and for all.”
Her gaze returned to the road, the wagon was long out of sight, “As the cage that confines my nephew was the single-minded self-love we had deliberately instilled in him, I knew that his escape could only come from learning how to love somepony other than himself. When my faithful student informed me of Trixie’s visit to Ponyville, I realized that she would be the key, one Prince Blueblood could truly fall in love with by virtue of her similarities to the one thing he held dear: himself. She is Prince Blueblood’s best chance at redemption. I also knew that he was hers in the very same way, potentially curing two ponies at once.”
Where the guards had been shamed by their association with the damage that had been done to the prince, they were now staggered by the part they played in an immortal’s attempt to counteract it. They now understood exactly why Princess Celestia had launched this scheme, from the depths of Castle Canterlot and all the way to the ancient castle of the royal pony sisters. She concluded what they now knew, “As was my intent from the start, we have succeeded in teaching my nephew and Trixie how to love somepony other than themselves. Whether or not the curse of their vanity will truly be lifted is still uncertain but, so long as their love preserves, they will have many chances to improve, little by little.”
Always one for teaching lessons, Princess Celestia thought it would be best to end this discussion with one, “If there's anything I want you guards to remember when you are enforcing justice throughout Equestria, it is that everypony is just doing the best that they can with what they were given, whether it be dark magics, dire straights, poor upbringing, or something even more complicated. Their wrongdoings are just harmful, clumsy attempts to cope, and our standing against them doing what we must to mitigate the damage. Ultimately, nopony chooses to be the villain, being a villain chooses them.”
Sometimes, when Celestia smiled, it was like a sunrise. “And that, my dear guardsmen, is precisely why we did what we did today: because even villains deserve a chance at a happy ending.” The guards looked into that sunrise and smiled back, satisfied at having completed a job well done, more confident than ever that they were ready to tackle whatever adventure awaited them next in service to the crown.
That confidence did not last long, as it was then that her royal highness Princess Celestia, incredibly cunning creature that she was, did something that caused both guards to seriously consider resigning on the spot. She sighed and said, “Oh, dear me. My nephew and Trixie under one roof. It will be quite some time until peace and quiet is restored to Castle Canterlot. It seems that I have even outsmarted myself!”