Star Swirl is a merch pony released in Europe as a bonus with Rarity's Royal Gem Carriage. This is her story.
Her Illustrious Highness
By Macon Mixx
Being the youngest member of the youngest branch of the royal family came with all of the burdens of royalty… without any of the advantages. Star Swirl's modest stipend as a retainer of the court never lasted the month, and she didn't have any lands or holdings from which to draw funds. As a courtier of the Princess of the Sun, she wasn't permitted to work, and even if she were, she wouldn't have known what to do. She wasn't a unicorn, and so she couldn't wield magic. She wasn't a pegasus, and so she couldn't fly. She was an earth pony, but she simply didn't have the size or strength for manual labor. Besides, as one of the only earth ponies in a court full of unicorns, her standing was so tenuous that she risked being ostracized for as little as talking with the common ponies. She would be a complete outcast if she actually worked alongside them.
Star Swirl had her cutie mark, of course, but that was the worst part of it. She had a cutie mark, but no special talent. That's how it was for all of the royals. The astral symbols emblazoned on their flanks indicated that they were descended from the god-queens of the day and night, but nothing more. After so many generations, no one even knew which princess the royals were descended from. Many had asked, but Celestia wasn't telling. Swirl, though, had always believed that she was descended from Luna. Perhaps now that the Princess of the Moon had returned from her exile, the youngest member of Celestia's court would finally get some answers.
"Too pink… Too kitsch… Too party…" Swirl mumbled to herself as she browsed the rack of dresses. In truth, Purple Streamer's Party Dress Emporium wasn't really the place to shop for formal attire, but all that was left of her monthly allowance was 27 bits. To find something for that price, she was going to have to stick to the clearance racks, even here at the least expensive dress and saddle shop in Canterlot.
"Well, if it ain't my best customer, Her Royal Highness Star Swirl of Equestria! To what do I owe this here honor? They havin' another shindig at the palace?"
Star Swirl spun around to see Purple Streamer, a lavender earth pony with a seven-toned mane and an almost impossibly large grin. Despite the scare that Streamer had given her, Swirl found that the party pony's infectious smile was spreading to her face, too.
"Aw, Streamer! You shouldn't sneak up on a pony like that!" Swirl giggled as she lightly rebuked her friend. "And please don't style me as royalty! It's so embarrassing when ponies do that!"
"Well, you are the only royal I've ever had visit my shop. And what's royalty doin' browsing the clearance rack, anyways? You just come with me."
At that, Star Swirl was on her back and being drug by the tail to the other side of the store. Surprised by Streamer's sudden, albeit playful, attack, she had no chance to resist. When the two reached their destination, Swirl stood back up and dusted herself off before looking up to see a dress more beautiful than anything she had ever imagined.
"What do ya think, sugarcube?"
Swirl stared in awe at the creation. Blues, pinks, and purples, all in perfect coordination with her own coat and mane, danced and around each other like fillies around a maypole. The effect was something like stained glass, or modern art, or the night sky.
She struggled to find the words to describe her feelings.
"It's… It's… It's… wow."
The salesmare blushed. "Aww, shucks. I thought you'd like it. I had it special made just for you by an up-and-comin' designer out of Ponyville. Real sweet mare by the name a' Rarity. Cost a small fortune, even at wholesale, but nothin's too good for royalty, right?"
At the word "cost", Star Swirl's trance was broken. She looked sadly from the dress to her friend.
"The dress really is amazing Streamer, but there's no way I can afford it. Until I get next month's stipend, I'm down to my last twenty seven bits! And from the way you've described it, I'm not sure even a whole month's stipend would be enough to buy something this nice."
Streamer's impossibly wide grin returned. Swirl wondered what in Equestria she could be so happy about.
"Now don't you go worryin' yourself about the bits. This dress is already paid for. I took it out of my advertisin' budget. I just need a little help from you in return. I hired Photo Shoppe from down the road to work up these flyers. Just need a picture of you in that lovely dress and we're set!"
Swirl glanced at the mock-up flyers that Streamer was holding out to her. PURPLE STREAMER'S PARTY DRESS EMPORIUM: The Dress & Saddle Shop of Choice for Her Royal Highness, Star Swirl of Equestria!
Swirl felt herself beginning to swoon.
From Star Swirl's mortified expression, it was clear to Purple Streamer that Swirl was going to turn down her offer. She almost began to panic. Should she have told Swirl about her idea before she sunk so much money into it? She already had the designs, the billboards, the dress.... That dress had cost her almost a thousand bits! She'd sunk nearly every remaining bit into this last-ditch effort to save her store, but if Star Swirl said "no," she would be in worse straits than ever!
Fortunately, Streamer caught herself just before going into all-out panic mode.
This mare is your friend, Streamer thought to herself. Just tell her the truth. Friends help friends, right? She'll want to do everything she can to help a friend in need.
With that, Purple Streamer swallowed hard and prepared to be more honest with Swirl than she had been with any other pony in a decade.
"... and so, with all of that happenin' at once, I'm mighty close to losing my store. It was a mite harebrained of me to get so far along on this plan without asking you about it, but I'm here now, and so I'm going to ask you one more time. This bit of advertising may be my last chance to save the Emporium. Even if you wouldn't do it for the dress, could you do it for me, sugarcube, as a friend?"
When she had first seen the advertisements, all of the blood had rushed away from Star Swirl's head and down to her hooves. Slowly, some small part of it was returning, allowing her to think clearly again for the first time in the ten minutes since she had seen them.
As she recovered from the shock, the first voice that spoke up in her reawakening consciousness was one of doubt.
Friend? Is she really your friend? You’re just someone she wants something from. Don't you get used enough as a pawn at court? Or do you have to let yourself be used by this common pony, too?
As a little more of her consciousness returned, a second voice made itself known.
She's our friend! She's our friend! Woohoo! We've got a friend! No time for all those snooty-fruity royal court ponies… We've got a friend!
With her composure mostly returned to her, Swirl decided that the first voice was wrong and the second voice was right. With how much of her time was eaten up by the cold, heartless frivolity of the court, she never really had a chance to make good friends. In fact, this salesmare, who she really knew only casually, might be her best friend in the world. It was time to further that friendship.
"Well… friends help friends, right?" Swirl smiled weakly at Streamer, who herself was nearly in tears.
Streamer's usual, impossibly large grin returned as she wrapped Swirl in a hug. "Oh, thank you! Thanks so much! Ya' don't know what all this means to me!"
When she had escaped her friend's embrace and was once again able to draw breath, Swirl asked her friend the only thing left to ask.
"When is the photo session?"
On arriving at Photo Shoppe's studio later that day, Star Swirl had taken on an air of command and confidence. She was faking the confidence, really, but she knew she had to do it if this were to go over well. It was embarrassing enough that her face was going to be plastered all over Canterlot. She was at least going to make sure that they got her style right!
"Nonononono! It's 'Her Illustrious Highness', not 'Her Royal Highness'. I'm six generations removed from the last member of my family who carried the style HRH! And there's no 'of Equestria'. Only Celestia and Luna get that!"
Photo Shoppe just rolled his eyes. He was used to being corrected by the divas he worked with. But Purple Streamer looked genuinely surprised.
"You mean to tell me that all this time I've been callin' you 'Your Royal Highness' I've been sayin' it wrong? Why didn't you correct me years ago?"
Swirl blushed, momentarily dropping her façade of poise and control. "I really didn't want you to style me at all. I was afraid if I corrected you, I'd only encourage it."
"Well, if that don't beat all. Then again, I suppose that 'Illustrious Higness' really does sound better than 'Royal Highness' anyway! Everypony already knows you folks is royal. The title tell's 'em you're illustrious, too!"
"It's not really something to brag about, Streamer. 'Her Illustrious Highness' is the lowest style in the court. It's so low, it doesn't even the get initials HIH. That was taken by a style higher up."
"All that court mumbo-jumbo doesn't mean nothin' to us common ponies. 'Illustrious', 'Royal', whatever. It all sounds the same to me, and it will all sound the same to the pony on the street, too. You just wait and see. You and that dress are going to save the Emporium!"
Her Illustrious Highness
By Macon Mixx
Although the Great Hall of the Royal Palace was not as airy as the throne room, its sheer size was enough to make anypony feel small. Windows eight ponies high ran the length of the hall on both sides, allowing a beautiful view of Celestia's setting sun in the west and admitting the first argent rays of Luna's rising moon in the east. Marble columns bore the weight of the roof, which was itself decorated with purple tapestries. Intricate marble veins, carved in relief on each of the pillars, lent the hall a sylvan aura. A single chandelier hung from the ceiling, illuminating the Great Hall without subduing the beauty of the rising moon and setting sun. Finally, the pièce de résistance, masterful works of stained glass at the beginning and end of the hall depicted the creation of Equestria.
Star Swirl had lived in the palace her entire life, and this room still awed her. Just stepping hoof through the doors made her feel small. Normally, Star Swirl fought against that tiny sort of feeling. Today, however, tiny was just what she was hoping for. In fact, she would have been happy to have been insignificant. Anything, anything at all would have been worth it to avoid being noticed. She was wearing a 27 bit dress to a formal event in the royal palace.
Swirl had gratefully accepted Purple Streamer's gift of the dress she had worn for the photo shoot earlier that day. After all, she had agreed to do the advertisements for her friend. Why not claim the reward? Streamer had the advertisements to help save her dress shop, and Swirl had a beautiful new dress that she could never have afforded on her own. The dress, however, was too special to wear to just any event at the palace. Most weeks had one or two formal occasions. Some even had three! No, this dress was perfect, and Swirl knew just what she was saving it for. Luna's birthday was in only two more days, and Swirl wanted to look her best for the celebration.
This meant, however, that she had been forced to go back to the clearance racks after the photo session and find something for tonight's reception. Thankful for Star Swirl's help and feeling sorry for the impoverished scion, Streamer had offered to give her a dress for tonight's event as well. Swirl, though, had refused. She hadn't agreed to do the advertisements for the dress, she told herself, but for a friend. She was royalty, and as well-meaning as Streamer was, Star Swirl couldn't accept her charity.
An affected Ox-ford accent cut through Swirl's thoughts.
"Lady Star Swirl! Do join us!"
Star Swirl cringed. Noticed already? she thought to herself. Normally, she could attend an event like this without a single pony talking to her all night long. She was afraid that her orange-and-lime-green clearance rack dress was working against her in that regard. Perhaps she should have accepted Purple Streamer's charity after all. This was going to be a long night.
"Lady Star Swirl! So lovely to see you this evening at the reception for the Wyrmish ambassador!"
So that’s what this is all about! Swirl thought. With so many feasts, dances, and receptions held at the palace, it was hard to keep track of exactly which was for whom.
Another of the finely dressed unicorn royals spoke up.
"Now Dear, you simply must tell us where you found that charming selle!"
Selle? Swirl thought. Is that Fence?
Swirl wished that she had taken her foreign language classes more seriously. Oh, everypony was staring at her! Or were they staring at… her dress? Selle must mean saddle! Star Swirl was going to curse this dress until the day she died.
"Oh, my… selle! Yes! It's from… Neighpon!"
Star Swirl held her breath. She had never been to Neighpon in her life, but the country was famous for its over-the-top fashion and garish styles. With any luck, the wealthy unicorns she was speaking with would be far enough removed from everyday life in Equestria not to realize that she had in fact bought her dress off the clearance rack.
"Neighpon? How exotic! How full of life! I must say, if one of we older mares had dared to wear something so… vivacious… we would have been laughed right out of Canterlot. But on you, dear, it looks absolutely stunning!"
Star Swirl looked at the faces all around her, and dared to breathe again. They were smiling. Everypony had bought her story! Words could not describe Star Swirl's relief, but she was sincerely hoping not to have to lie to any pony again. And so, after graciously thinking the older royal for the complement, she quickly changed the subject.
Star Swirl had been making the rounds of the Great Hall. Much to her surprise, she was actually beginning to enjoy the attention that her brightly-colored dress was attracting. Never in her life had Swirl been so in-demand among her royal peers. Unfortunately, her brief moment of fame was enough to garner the attentions—and the jealousies—of the pettiest unicorn in the court, Her Illustrious Highness Lady Violet.
Lady Violet was, technically speaking, an amicus of Star Swirl. By virtue of being of the same royal standing and because they were clients of the same patron, the two were, by definition, "friends". The truth, though, was that Lady Violet didn't make friends of her amici. She made stepping stones of them.
"Lady Star Swirl! It's simply lovely to see you my dear!" Lady Violet's smile was that of a manticore happily eyeing its next meal.
"Y… y… you too, Lady Violet."
Star Swirl bit her lip. She knew from experience that attention from Lady Violet could only mean trouble. The other royal ponies knew this, too, and those within earshot of the exchange stopped to watch the show.
They're vultures, thought Star Swirl. Vultures, every one of them!
Swirl knew that if Lady Violet were to tear her to bits, the royal buzzards now circling around them would be more than happy to clean up the scraps. The weak were always a prime target in the court, and one could expect her allies to abandon her at a moment's notice if she showed even the faintest signs of weakness. Swirl knew that she couldn't give an inch to Lady Violet or she would be set on by the entire mob.
"I have a question for you, Lady Swirl. A question that I feel could be best answered by an… earth... pony." Lady Violet's voice dropped as she whispered the penultimate word, as though it were a vulgarity.
"Well, you've come to the right mare! I'm one of the only earth ponies in the court!"
Star Swirl cringed as soon as the words left her mouth. She seemed to be making a career out of saying the wrong things at the wrong time. Lady Violet, on the other hoof, was now grinning more eagerly than ever.
"Tell me, then, what do you think of the legislation Lord Blowhard recently put before Their Majesties? As you know, many of the Equestrian provinces still forbid mixed marriage. A pegasus and a unicorn, for example, could be married in Manehattan. But across the bay in Hoofington, their union would not be recognized. Lord Blowhard's proposal would afford recognition to mixed couples across Equestria, as long as the marriage was legal in the province where it was officiated."
The confusion was evident on Star Swirl's face.
"I don't understand why you would ask me about Lord Blowhard's proposal, especially here and now. Surely you would rather discuss this in court. I believe it is on the agenda for tomorrow morning?"
"I do intend to discuss the issue tomorrow in court, but I thought that, given the… indiscretions… so evident in your family tree, you might have a particularly well-formed opinion on the matter."
Lady Violet nickered, as did several of the royal unicorns who had surrounded them. She moved in for the kill.
"As you said, you are one of the only earth ponies in Their Majesties' court. Nearly all of the rest of the courtiers are unicorns, and we know that the Princesses Minor, matrons of the royal family and our links to the Princesses Regent Celestia and Luna, were all unicorns as well. Why, it's as plain as the horn on your face that some grandmare of yours must have enjoyed a little bit of workhorse when nopony was watching."
Lady Violet nickered again. "Or rather, I suppose it's as plain as the horn that isn't on your face, isn't it darling?"
Star Swirl's mind spun with all that Lady Violet was implying. If her ancestors had "mixed the race," then their children wouldn't have been legitimate. If their children were illegitimate, then they weren't truly royal. And if they weren't royals, then neither was she. Like Lady Violet had said, it was as plain as the horn on her face.
Suddenly, Star Swirl wasn't feeling well at all. Ignoring all the decorum and manners that her years in the palace had taught her, Swirl reared up and galloped out of the Great Hall.
Lady Violet, however, smiled smugly to herself as she settled back into the spotlight which she had just chased Star Swirl out of.
Cajun Dish had only recently joined the palace staff, but the pegasus was seriously thinking about resigning. Despite the fact that he had moved up through the ranks of his art to become one of the most notable Creole chefs in Equestria, he had only been accepted into the palace's kitchen staff due to the overlap between Creole and Fence dishes. As saucier, he was the first line cook in the palace kitchen, but that really meant next to nothing. He was about as involved in the planning menus as the first private in the royal guard was involved in planning attack strategies. That is to say, he was not involved in the executive function of the kitchens whatsoever.
Dish longed to let his talent shine. To prepare an étouffée fit for a queen. To dazzle the royal household with his chayotes. To show them what onions and peppers and celery could truly be! But instead, night after night, he prepared sauces in the style of the old world. Though many were bold, and several were spicy, none had the magic of a good cajun dish.
Tonight, though, something else was putting the Princesses' saucier on edge. He had become a prisoner in his own kitchen, trapped by the little bundle of sorrow that was guarding the door. There, between Dish and the kitchen proper, was a young mare, barely more than a filly, crying her eyes out on the floor. Cajun Dish had never had a way with the mares. Most of the time, he often found himself seizing up in fear just trying to say hello. But he knew that, if he ever intended to make an escape, he was going to have to talk the distraught young lady down.
When I leave this place, Cajun Dish thought to himself, I am never again going to work in a kitchen that doesn't have a back way out!
Star Swirl had tried to escape the palace all together, but instead had found herself trapped in a small room off the main kitchen. Seeing that there was nowhere for her to go but back out the way she had come in, she simply lay down on the ground and began to cry. It started small at first—little sniffles, a few tears—but quickly escalated to heart-rending sobs that wracked her entire frame. Before long, she had forgotten exactly why she was crying, and was reduced to bawling simply because she was bawling. Through the thick curtain of shame and self-doubt that covered her, Star Swirl was unable to confront her fears.
It was at just that moment that Swirl felt the gentle brush of a hoof on her shoulder, as somepony's foreleg enveloped her in a modest hug. Her tears were unrelenting, but the compassionate touch softened her loud sobbing to a gentle murmur, all but drowned out by the hubbub of the kitchen that carried through the walls. It was then that Star Swirl looked up to see the apprehensive young stallion whose leg was draped awkwardly over her shoulder. She almost felt like laughing at how nervous he appeared in comforting her, and the sight of him did almost as much for her spirits as the hug.
"Um… Your Highness?" The chef pony stated, guessing at Star Swirl's style.
Swirl simply shook her head "no". She was still too raddled to be able to say anything.
Swirl shook her head no again.
"Your Royal Highness?" No. "Your Serene Highness?" No. "Your Excellency?" No. "Your Honor?" No.
This stallion really wasn't very good at guessing games.
"Your… Illustrious Highness?"
Star swirl nodded her head "yes", and dug deep within herself to find the words she needed for a bit of clarification: "But you can just call me Swirl."
"Oh, okay. Swirl, then. Um… you okay sweetheart?" Knowing without a doubt that he was talking to royalty made Cajun Dish even more nervous. He had been uncertain, due to the fact that Star Swirl was an earth pony. But her style left no doubt.
When the only answer to his question was continued sniffles from the royal mare, Dish gathered his courage to ask another question.
"You wanna talk about what's wrong?"
"You won't want to hear about it," the mare said through her tears.
"Yes, yes I will. I will if it helps you to talk about it."
"Are you sure?" The young mare sounded hopeful, but reserved. As if she was trying to protect herself in case her new acquaintance let her down.
In truth, Dish wasn't really sure. He was trying to impress the executive chef, and going missing in action to hear some filly's story wasn't going to help his case. But he knew the feelings of loss, betrayal, and confusion that showed through the other pony's eyes, and he didn't want to disappoint her.
He lay on the kitchen floor near his accidental captor.
"Of course I'm sure. You tell Cajun Dish whatever's on your mind."
The invitation set off one of the longest monologues Cajun Dish had ever heard. Swirl told the stallion about her position in court, the intrigues she had been a part of, and of the most recent attack by her amicus, Lady Violet. With each revelation, Cajun Dish would smile and nod sagely, but didn't say a thing. Finally, when Swirl had finished her narrative through the present day, Cajun spoke up.
"You know little filly, I think I've figured out what your problem is."
"My… my problem? I'm unimportant and unloved and possibly even illegitimate! You think I just have one problem?"
"Only one that matters. No pony appreciates your special talent!"
"Oh, but that's the worst part of it! Royal ponies don't have special talents. None of us do! Our cutie marks are just for decoration."
"You seem awfully sure of that, sugarcube. But when was the last time you knew a royal pony to have a heart-to-heart with a commoner like me?"
"Well, I spent some time in town with Purple Streamer yesterday, but…"
Dish interrupted her, "I meant any royal pony besides you."
Swirl thought for a moment before she replied.
"I can't say that I've ever heard of another royal pony being friends with a commoner, unless you count Celestia mentoring her personal students."
"Well then, it's settled! I think we just found your special talent!"
"But how could that be my special talent? Talking a lot doesn't make any sense as a special talent! Besides, what does it have to do with my cutie mark? And how would you even know what my 'one big problem' is in the first place?" Swirl questioned.
"Sugarcube, I don't know how it could be, but I know that it is! And I knew what your problem was, because I've been struggling with that same problem myself! Think about it. I'm a pony named Cajun Dish working for the Princesses. How many times do you think Celestia has called the kitchen and asked us to make gumbo?"
Star Swirl suppressed a giggle as she wiped away the last of her tears. "Um… never?"
"Never. I admit I've only been working here for about four months, but I don't expect that to change anytime soon. Whenever a new pony starts on in the kitchen, we have to read a 748 page tome on Celestia's favorite foods. Among the thousands of recipes in the book, there was not one gumbo, not one jambalaya, not one creole dish of any kind. In fact, the princess doesn't like anything spicy! It's frustrating to not be able to do what I'm good at. It leaves me feeling hurt and confused. And those are the same things I see when I look at you. You really have somethin' to be able to talk with a common pony like me, and it's hurting you to be constantly discouraged from usin' that gift."
The princesses' chef had only a split second to prepare for the half-hug, half-tackle he received from the earth pony. She didn't quite knock him over, but it wasn't for any lack of trying.
"Thanks Cajun. I really owe you for this."
"You'll find a way to make it up to me in your own time."
With a mile, Star Swirl released her new friend and started for the door. Looking back over her shoulder, she smiled.
"I will. I promise."
Her Illustrious Highness
By Macon Mixx
The workings of the Equestrian autocracy were complex. Small amounts of power were dispersed among the masses at the bottom, while ultimate authority rested with Princess Celestia at the top. On the local level, the common ponies had a large degree of self-determination, particularly in the chartered cities and towns. At the regional level, governance was split between the royal descendants of the princesses and the wealthy and powerful tribunes who were elected to represent the commons. Finally, on the national level, decisions were debated and bills drafted by the courtiers, but all bills required the signature of Celestia to become law. In theory, Luna's power was to equal that of Celestia, but since her return and defeat as Nightmare Moon, Luna had yet to claim her rightful place in the political sphere.
Being a landless noble of the lowest standing, Star Swirl was devoid of any influence in the Equestrian provinces. Instead, Swirl threw all her energy into serving the royal court at Canterlot. She could count on her hooves the number of times she had been absent when court was in session, which was quite a feat considering the fact that ponies have only four hooves. She was always among the first courtiers to arrive and the last to retire. When there was an agenda, she memorized it beforehand. When there was none, she made it her business to find out what matters had come up that might be presented to the court. She had even gone to court in the dark on the fateful day of the Summer Sun Celebration when Nightmare Moon attacked! Of course, she was the only pony there, but Swirl wasn't going to let eternal night spoil her near-perfect record of attendance. In short, there was nopony among the entire royal family who took court as seriously as Star Swirl.
On this particular morning, however, Swirl was skipping court.
She hadn't meant to do so. Not consciously, at any rate. Unlike most of the royals, who used unicorn magic to power their alarm clocks, Swirl had to wind hers by hoof every night. But it had been such a late night, and one filled with so many emotions, that when she finally arrived back at her room in the palace she had forgotten to wind it. It hadn't gone off, and Swirl hadn't gotten up. When she finally did get out of bed, court had already been in session for over an hour.
The doors to the court were barred as soon as Celestia took her throne, and no one could come in unless summoned. Normally, Swirl would have been distraught to have missed it--She could no longer say that bit about counting her missed days on her hooves!--But after the abuse she had suffered last night at the reception for the Wyrmish ambassador, she had no desire to see her amicus, Lady Violet, any time soon. Swirl was going to see a real friend. She was going into town to visit Purple Streamer.
Having her entire day free, on account of missing court, Star Swirl decided to enjoy the city and take an alternate route to Purple Streamer's Party Dress Emporium. It wasn't long before she found herself walking, nose to the sky, in the style of a Manehattan tourist. The spires, archways, and elevated gardens of Canterlot were truly beautiful, and Star Swirl took them in much the same way that a newborn foal would gaze upon her mother's face. Despite having grown up there, Swirl knew little about the city of Canterlot other than what could be seen over the palace walls. As a filly, she had almost never been allowed outside, and even as an adult mare, such trips were discouraged. Generally, if the royals had business to do in the city proper, they sent a servant to do it for them. Star Swirl, not having any servants, was one of the few who ever visited town at all. But those trips were as infrequent and as business-like as possible. Everything she was seeing today was new. The shops, the ponies, the thirty foot billboard with her face on it....
The thirty foot billboard with my face on it?! Swirl thought with a start. How in Equestria did Purple Streamer get those up there so quickly? Our photo shoot was just yesterday!
Star Swirl felt herself starting to wilt. Her perfect, sunny day, was suddenly hit with a thunderhead's worth of embarrassment. Fear and surprise rained down, illuminated by flashes of self-doubt and punctuated by the rolling cry of insecurity. She wanted to run back to the palace and hide. Court no longer sounded like such a dreadful place to be. At least she wouldn't have to look at herself! But knowing that the doors were closed, and remembering the way the guards reacted the last time she tried to sneak in late by digging a tunnel under the moat, Star Swirl decided she would just have to pony-up and face her fears. It was now or never.
Just focus on the other ponies, Swirl thought to herself. You can do this. There's nothing to be embarrassed about. No one here knows you. Just relax and enjoy yourself.
"POPCORN! GET YOUR POPCORN HERE! POPCORN! MAKE IT A HEALTHY BREAKFAST, OR A LATE MORNING SNACK! POPCORN! GET YOUR POPCORN!"
The street vendor was standing not more than two ponies-length away, and Star Swirl felt like he was yelling specifically at her. Still, a snack would be the perfect way to distract herself.
"One bag please. Your smallest popcorn," Swirl said.
"SURE THING MISS! THAT'LL BE FOUR BITS!" the middle-aged unicorn shouted.
"Of course, just one..."
Swirl's cheeks turned red as she realized that she hadn't bothered to bring her coin purse with her. After all, it doesn't do much good to carry a perfectly empty coin purse.
"Oh! I seem to um... I think I left my... Oh, I'm so sorry!" Swirl gushed, backing away from the popcorn stand.
"ALRIGHT, WELL COME BY AGAIN ON PAYDAY. I'LL HAVE A FRESH BAG FOR YA'!"
Swirl blushed even more as the old loudmouth announced to everyone within a hundred feet that she didn't have any money. She looked behind her. Half a dozen ponies were sitting outside a small restaurant, staring at her and whispering to their friends. She felt the return of her temptation to bolt for the palace. But this turn of events made her want to see Purple Streamer even more than before, and the week she had spent in the anti-terrorism unit's containment cell after trying to sneak into court late really had been one of the worst weeks in her life--at least the fourth worst, maybe the third--and she didn't want to re-live it any time soon.
Star Swirl decided to forget all about what just happened and continue exploring the city. Unbeknownst to her, several of the ponies who had noticed her conversation with the street vendor left their tables at the open-air cafe to follow her.
The street that Star Swirl was following opened up into a large plaza with a garden in the center. As beautiful as it was, it couldn't hold a candle to the gardens within the walls of the palace, but to Swirl, it was gorgeous. In her entire life, the only gardens she had ever seen up close were the gardens of the palace. Though they were among the finest in Equestria, they had lost any novelty many, many years ago. A pony can only see the same gardens so many times before even the most beautiful plants in the world start to seem dull. This garden in the plaza, though, was something totally new.
On seeing the garden, Swirl broke out into a gallop. She nearly trampled an older mare while closing the gap between herself and the green oasis, and in her haste, completely missed the weathered tin sign that read "Please Do Not Graze on the Topiaries". She splashed through the edge of the koi pond in the heart of the garden. She felt the soft mulch beneath her hooves as she trotted along the garden path. She danced like a foal around the bush that had been trimmed and trained into the image of Princess Celestia. And then, she saw it. The most perfect daisy that had ever been or ever would be, its sunny yellow head crowned with white rays of peace and innocence. She paused in her revelry to contemplate its beauty, and then, she ate it.
It was just as delicious as it had been beautiful.
"Mommy! That lady is eating the flowers! Why can't I have one?!" said a young colt. Only now did Swirl realize that a dozen or so bystanders had been watching her romp through the garden, and most of them were now laughing and talking among themselves.
"Come now dear, you'll spoil your supper. No flowers until you finish your hay." the colt's mother replyed.
"But I want it now!" the boy cried.
"Press Tonne, am I going to have to take you home? You're making a scene. Everypony is staring at us!"
In truth, though, the only pony staring at the mother and son was Star Swirl. Everypony else was busy staring at her and talking openly between one and another. She quickly gulped down the half-chewed daisy she was holding in her mouth and smiled, out of instinct rather than any sense of happiness, as she tried to slink away and get lost in the crowd. She did a fine job of getting herself lost, but she failed to lose the ponies who had followed her from the open-air cafe. In fact, several new ponies from the plaza were now following her as well.
As soon as Star Swirl escaped from the crowds milling around the plaza, it became evident that a good portion of that crowd had left behind their other pursuits and were now following her. There were at least two dozen of them now, trailing behind her and growing louder and more boisterous with every step. Swirl wasn't quite certain why so many ponies were following her, but she knew it couldn't be good. At best, they were all following her to mock her antics. At worst... Well, that wasn't really something she wanted to think about. As she found the way back to Purple Streamer's store, Swirl sped up to a brisk trot.
The ponies following her began to trot, too.
Trying not to lose her cool, Swirl began to canter.
The ponies following her began to canter, too.
Completely losing her composure, Swirl broke into a gallop.
The herd behind her, suddenly swelling to thirty or forty ponies, were galloping too, right down one of the busiest streets in Canterlot.
Swirl reached the door to Streamer's shop just as another pony stepped out of it. Running to fast to stop, she crashed head-long into her friend's customer. For the second time in as many days, Star Swirl felt her world going black.
"I told you that was her!"
"Yes darling, you most certainly did!"
"Lemme see! Lemme see!"
"Hey! Don't everybody crowd the gal! Let 'er have some space!"
"Um, Miss Star Swirl? Are you gunna be okay?"
Star Swirl awoke to see a large crowd pressing in around her, held off from trampling her alive only by the valiant efforts of a purple earth pony with a striped mane.
"Streamer?" Swirl asked, weakly.
"Oh, thank Celestia! Yer awake! I've been tryin' to keep all these here ponies from crushin' ya', but I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to if this herd got much larger!"
Star Swirl, still dazed from her collision, started to sniffle, and then to cry.
"Whyyyyyyy?!" Swirl exclaimed, her cries punctuated by sniffles.
"Whyyy does everypony haaaaate meeeee?" Star Swirl could barely anunciate her words through her sobbing.
Purple Streamer looked on in amazement.
"Hate ya? Why, these ponies here love ya so much they're about ready to start killin' one anther just to get close to ya!"
The crying stopped.
"Why" *sniff* "would anyone" *sniff* "want to be close to me?" *sniffle*
"'Cause yer royalty, sugarcube! These ponies have all been hoping and praying for someone who can make a difference in their lives, and now they have you. Yer their guardian alicorn!"
Star Swirl looked up at her friend. It was her turn to be amazed.
"But Streamer! I'm a nopony in the court. How could I possibly be somepony's gaurdian alicorn?"
The party pony winked. "You were mine. I trust you can find a way to be helpin' them, too."
"You mean, the billboards, the ads... They're helping already?"
"Sure as sugar! I haven't had a day of sales this strong since the last Winter Moon celebration!"
"Well, I guess I can try, but I don't know how I can help them all at once!"
With that, the purple earth pony turned to face the crowd.
"YA'LL HEARD HER ILLUSTRIOUSNESS! SINGLE FILE LINE! NO CUTTIN', NO CHEATIN'! YA'LL ARE GUNNA GET YER TURN, NOW, YA HEAR?"
Swirl couldn't help but smile as her friend Streamer once again botched her style. The real matter at hand, though, was trying to find a way to help so many ponies. A single file line wasn't exactly what she had had in mind, but now that Purple Streamer had told everypony that she was going to help, Swirl didn't want to be the one to disappoint them. She just hoped she had enough time left in the day to talk with everyone in line. While she had been out, the herd surrounding her had grown to more than fifty ponies.
Star Swirl made for quite a sight. She was sitting beneath a giant sign featuring her likeness, flanked by her friend-turned-bodyguard, in front of a line consisting of dozens of pony petitioners. After speaking with the first petitioner, she realized why she had been followed by such a large crowed. Being an earth pony, she had gone largely unnoticed by the native unicorns of Canterlot until Purple Streamer had plastered her face on billboards across the city. The advertisements, however, had made her into a celebrity over night. And not just any celebrity, but the kind who likes to help out the common pony. After all, she had helped out Purple Streamer by endorsing her shop. Perhaps, they hoped, she would be willing to help them, too. After all, there weren't many royals out and about in Canterlot. If there was any chance of receiving royal favor, it would have to be from her.
By the time she had spoken with her first three petitioners, she knew that there would be no way for her to help most of these ponies except to bring their petitions to the court. By the time she had spoken with the fifth petitioner, she was already beginning to forget what the first four had been petitioning for.
"Streamer, can I trouble you for some paper? There is simply no way I can remember all of these petitions unless I start writing them down!"
The young unicorn stallion who was next in line spoke up.
"I have some paper right here, Your Majesty!"
Star Swirl laughed. She was beginning to get used to her constantly-changing style. Perhaps she could use a different style for every day of the week!
"Actually, it's 'Your Illustrious Highness', but just 'Swirl' is fine!"
"Um, alright Miss Swirl. But I would be happy to take notes for you tonight!"
Swirl raised an eyebrow. It didn't take her years of experience in court to know what was happening.
"And in return, I suppose you want me to give extra consideration to your petition?"
The colt looked at his hooves and barely whispered his reply. "Yes."
Purple Streamer broke into her trademark impossibly-wide grin on seeing that her friend was able to play the political field so smoothly. Swirl began to smile, too, though not quite as widely as her friend.
"It's alright," Star Swirl reassured the unicorn. "There's nothing to be ashamed of. We all have things we want and dream of! Unfortunately, I can't promise to give your request special consideration, but I will promise to do my very best to get your petition and the petition of everypony here tonight before the princesses. Is that good enough for you?"
"Yeah, I suppose it is. Thanks Miss Swirl."
"Now, would you like to help me address everypony's request like I said I would?"
"Yes! Of course! How can I help?" the stallion asked, eagerly.
Swirl smiled again. "Get out that paper you just offered me and start taking notes!"
After she had repeated to the young stallion the requests of the first five petitioners to be written down, he shared his own petition: The new paper tax was outrageous, and it was driving small-time scribes like him out of business. Was there anywhere else to find that revenue? Could the law be modified so that it didn't come down so hard on small businessponies?
A dozen petitioners later, her head was starting to spin with all the requests, but Swirl shook it off and continued. If she didn't do something to help these ponies, then who would? It's not like the other royals ever spoke with them.
No, Star Swirl would stick it out till the end. Or at least, until she could no longer hear the petitioners over the ever-increasing growls coming from her stomach. She was wishing with all her heart that she hadn't slept through breakfast! In fact, the only thing she had eaten all day was that daisy in the park. By the time Swirl had finished speaking with the thirty-fifth petitioner, her stomach was complaining more loudly than a river serpent who had lost his mustache.
Just then, petitioner number thirty six levitated a large chocolate cake topped with dollops of whipped cream, cherries, and a single candle on the ground in front of the young royal. Swirl sighed.
"Ah got this one for you, sugarcube," said Streamer.
Turning towards the unicorn petitioner, she intoned, "Her Illustrious Highness, Star Swirl, regrets to inform you that she cannot accept gifts or favors in return for consideration of your petition."
"Petition? Oh, I'm not here to petition. I was just so moved by seeing you out here among the common pony that I wanted to give you this! It's not much, really, but it was the nicest thing in my bakery when I saw you go by. I closed shop as quickly as I could and followed, though I have to say, it really hasn't done too well in this early afternoon sun."
Star Swirl wasn't sure which surprised her more, how delicious the cake still looked after being outside for the last two hours, or the fact that the unicorn had waited in line for that entire time to give it to her. She was so shocked, she was barely able to stammer a thank you.
"Oh, it's nothing Your Highness. Just my way of saying thanks!"
And with that, the unicorn teleported back to her bakery, leaving the royal mare and her small entourage to enjoy some cake and satisfy their rumbling tummies before continuing to hear petitions.
Several hours of petitioners later, the line had finally vanished and everypony besides Swirl, Streamer, and the unicorn scribe had gone home.
"Well Ms. Swirl, it looks like that was all of them! We have petitions here from seventy six different ponies. I guess a few must have joined the line after it formed!"
"I have to say, you really did a great job," Swirl said as she looked through the notes the unicorn had taken for her. She paused in her review and looked up at the scribe.
"You know, I don't think I ever caught your name."
The unicorn smiled.
"If you're going to treat everypony's petition equally, does it really help you to know my name?"
"Well, I suppose I could give you a little extra consideration. You did take down notes for me for almost five hours!"
"Nah, Miss Swirl. If I've learned anything from you, it's that helping ponies out is its own reward. I really don't need you to do anything special for me. Just help everypony the best that you can, alright?"
"I'll do that. Thanks. Have a nice night!"
"You too!" the unicorn called as he trotted away. "We're all counting on you!"
Star Swirl smiled.
Ponies were relying on her. She was going to help everypony. It was a good feeling.
Her Illustrious Highness
By Macon Mixx
Star Swirl awoke the next morning rested and refreshed. A hard day's work leads to a good night's rest. Swirl had never understood that proverb better than right now. After spending the better part of her day listening to petitioners, she and her friend Purple Streamer had retreated to Streamer's office to review the petitions.
A few were set aside as impractical, at least for the moment. One unicorn's demand that flying should be off-limits for pegasi while in the city particularly made Star Swirl chuckle. Not only would that be a regional law, outside of the court's jurisdiction, but it was just silly to think that pegasi should be banned from using their particular brand of magic just because the dominant race in the city didn't share it. Some ponies could be so short-sighted! What if she demanded instead that he stop using his unicorn magic because she didn't posses any such skill? No, ponies should celebrate their differences, not try to iron them out.
Among the pile of inquiries, several definite themes were repeated. Star Swirl decided she would focus on these in particular when she brought them before the court. Though, there was really no reason to wait until court reconvened to put the suggestions forward. Most of the real politics were done behind the scenes, anyway. Swirl had never been too heavily involved in that part of the court, but she had been involved enough that several of the other courtiers owed her small favors. Perhaps she could trade them in for help in fulfilling these common ponies' requests.
After that revelation, the work had gone quickly, and she and her friend were able to spend an hour or so just talking before the royal earth pony decided it was time to head back to the palace and to bed. With Luna's birthday the very next night, she was going to want to be well rested.
And well rested she now was, and ready to face the day. Getting ready for Luna's birthday celebration was going to take most of the day, but had learned from her mistake the day before, and wasn't going to miss breakfast twice. She headed down to the dining room in hopes of a good meal and maybe of seeing her new friend Cajun.
Swirl wasn't able to see Cajun Dish in the dining room. In fact, she wasn't able to see much of anything. As soon as she walked in, she was greeted by the sight of her amicus, Lady Violet, insulting one of the servants.
"Oatmeal! Are you CRAZY?! Her Illustrious Highness, Lady Violet, comes to the ROYAL DINING ROOM for breakfast and is served OATMEAL?!"
The servant mumbled some apology about how busy everyone was preparing for the celebration that night, but Star Swirl was too far away to hear exactly what was said.
Lady Violet stormed off from the table where she had been sitting with a loud "Hmphf!" Her path took her right by Star Swirl, whom she glared at.
"Perhaps that simply plebeian fare will be to your tastes, Lady Star Swirl, but I cannot let such common food touch my royal tongue!"
Star Swirl would have replied, but Lady Violet had already made her way out of the room before she could answer.
Swirl, still standing, was greeted by the same servant who had just been berated by Lady Violet.
"I suppose you heard all that? Well, if you're still here, does that mean you actually want the oatmeal?"
"Oatmeal would be nice, but I think after all of that, I would rather take it in my room. Would you have it sent to me?"
The servant looked around nervously before speaking. "Well, I could m'lady, but as I just informed Lady Violet, we're awfully busy down here at the moment. Would you be willing to carry it yourself?"
"Of course! I'd be happy to. Anything to help you all make Luna's birthday special."
"Thank you m'lady."
In a moment, the servant was gone and back with a bowl of oatmeal, topped with tiny slices of apples and a dusting of cinnamon. Star Swirl had never seen more delicious-looking oatmeal in her life. Lady Violet really didn't know what she was missing!
The rest of the day went by uneventfully, and Luna's birthday celebration drew near. By evening, the castle was practically buzzing with activity as last-minute details were put into place. Star Swirl, in particular, was extra busy because she was preparing on two fronts. She had to be ready to look great and have a great time at Luna's party, but also be ready to subtly influence the other royals into helping her fulfill the common ponies' requests. Her makeup kit and mane styling accessories were laid out across one side of her bed, while her notes were strewn across the other. Swirl was actually doing quite a good job of applying her makeup, considering the fact that she was studying while she was putting it on!
Star waited to put on the custom-designed dress that Purple Streamer had given her until nearly the last minute. She didn't want to risk ruining it with mane product or makeup! Once she had donned the dress, she reached into her jewelry box for a pair of star-shaped earrings. One had a minor flaw where a tine had been broken and later repaired, but in the low light of the Great Hall, it would be completely unnoticeable. Besides, had it not been for that imperfection, she could never have gotten them from the pawn pony for so few bits. Even with the flaw, they were clearly the nicest jewelry that Star Swirl had, and they were a lovely complement to her cutie mark.
When the ensemble was finally complete, Star Swirl stopped to admire herself in the mirror. She was truly breathless at what she saw. The young, almost flippant appearance that she usually cut in her party story dresses was transformed by her new selle into the image of a refined young mare, alive with the magic of the night. Swirl could hardly wait for the party to begin. This was going to be the best night ever!
A soothing nocturne flowed from the orchestral stand and washed over the Great Hall as Star Swirl entered. She was surprised to see that Luna's birthday was being staged as a much more formal event than the reception from two nights earlier. As she reached the door, the court herald took her name and style and formally announced her as she entered.
"Her Illustrious Highness, Star Swirl!"
A few heads turned, but not altogether too many. However, those few who had happened to notice her stood transfixed as Star Swirl walked towards the center of the room.
The normally red and gold carpet of the Great Hall had been replaced with one of blue and silver in honor of Her Majesty, Princess Luna. The celebration had been begun half an hour after sunset to afford the best possible view of Luna's moon out the east windows. The pillars supporting the roof, normally left bare, had been hung with tapestries mapping the stars through the seasons. Everything possible had been done to make the evening perfect for the guest of honor.
A hush fell over the room as two black unicorns in golden armor stepped through the doors to the Great Hall and played the royal fanfare on their trumpets.
The herald cried, "Their Royal Majesties, Princesses Celestia and Luna of Equestria!"
Every pony bowed as the two alicorns entered the hall. Commoner ponies, royal ponies, and members of all other races who happened to be present payed homage to the deified rulers of the night and day. The silence was broken by the strong, melodious voice of Her Majesty, Princess Celestia.
"My little ponies, I know that many of you think it an honor to have been invited to this celebration. Allow me to say that the honor is mine. I am honored that you have consented to be ruled by my hoof. I am honored that you have seen fit to be guided by my horn. I am honored that you choose to take shelter beneath my wings. Nopony can be happier than the mare whose foal returns her love. You are my foals. You are my little ponies. I have loved you, with a deep and lasting love, from generation to generation and from age to age. Though centuries have come and gone, you continue to return the love I have shown you as well as the love that I showed to your foremares and foresires. Truly, love is not lost when it is shared. When one gives one's love to her friend, she can always know where to find it."
At this, many fervent murmurs ran through the crowd. Generally, Celestia discouraged ponies from actually worshipping her, but at the moments when she allowed her deity to shine through, they often had a hard time resisting.
Celestia continued, "Tonight, I ask you to take this lesson and apply it. I ask you to share your love with another pony, one whom you have not known except as a shadow, that she may in turn share her love with you. The bonds of friendship thus formed will drown all lingering doubt and fear. Animosity will vanish. Memories of anger and pain will be no more. Instead, my joy and my peace will flow through you. My little ponies, will you accept Luna's friendship?"
The response was subtle at first. A few ponies brayed their affirmation, while several others whinnied in approval. When a small group started clopping their feet to the marble floor in applause of Celestia's speech and acceptance of Luna's friendship, more and more joined in until the entire room shook with hoof beats. Celestia thanked her adoring children for their praise, and wished them a wonderful evening before she and Luna were seated on their daises.
As the servants appeared from every quarter to begin serving the banquet prepared in Luna's honor, Celestia felt a strange presence in her mind, like a whisp of a dream that lies just outside of one's memory. Suddenly, the whisp began to speak. It shared Luna's voice.
"Did you really need to use that much of your divinity to make them like me? Surely I'm not that unpleasant to be around," the whisp joked.
Celestia smiled. Though she hadn't felt it in over a thousand years, she still recognized the magic. She and Luna had developed it eons ago, when they had yet to discover the full extent of their power. It had allowed them to communicated telepathically at a time when they had been threatened by ancient beasts even more powerful than themselves. She used her magic to reply to her sister in kind.
"You thought I was doing that for you? No, I just love to be worshiped. Did you know that the ponies in Hoofington recently built me a temple? Fillydelphia is always trying to keep up with the Joneses. I imagine it wouldn't take much in the way of suggestion to get them to build a temple for you, too! Of course, it couldn't possibly be as beautiful as mine, but it's the thought that counts."
Celestia nickered when she saw the grimace that crossed Luna's face as the message arrived in her mind. Celestia was truly indifferent to her subjects' worship as long as they didn't hurt themselves or their families in the process, but Luna found the whole idea absolutely abhorrent. Still, even Luna had to chuckle at Celestia's gentle jab in comparing temples. Forgoing their telepathic connection, Luna leaned over and reached up, putting her muzzle right next to Celestia's ear.
"I've missed you big sister."
Celestia looked lovingly down at Luna.
"I've missed you, too."
Star Swirl was rounding the Great Hall, attempting to make conversation with her traditional allies in court, those royal ponies who owed her favors, and those whom she had spoken with during her moment in the spotlight during the reception two nights ago. Her trouble wasn't so much in convincing ponies that the ideas shared with her by her petitioners the previous day were good ideas, her trouble was getting anypony to talk to her at all.
"Lady Blue Belle! How pleasant to see you this evening!"
"Oh, Lady Star Swirl! It's... uh... pleasant to see you, too! Oh, my. I seem to be needed on the other side of the hall. Well, take care!"
"Lord Amaranth, how are you this evening?"
"Um, well, quite poorly, actually. Yes, quite bad. Um... It's these... chest pains, you see. Yes! Chest pains! I really ought to leave right now to go see a physician! Do have a good night!"
And so it went for the next half hour, until Star Swirl had exhausted all of her possible resources. She had spoken to everypony she could hope to receive favor from, except for one.
The patron-client relationship was an ancient tradition in the court of the Regent of the Sun. Members of powerful families would take on members of weaker families as clientes, becoming in turn their patronus. The client pledged their support in court to the patron, and in return, the patron looked out for the interests of each client. Barring a major upset in the power structure of the court, the relationship was usually hereditary, with each royal becoming the client of the foal of their mother's patron. In that way, Star Swirl, although not an important noble in her own right, had inherited a position of clientela with the most powerful patron in Celestia's court: His Royal Highness the Prince Minor, Prince Blueblood.
The patron-client relationship was rarely invoked explicitly by either party. Rather, it was assumed that each would work silently towards the other's interests and no words needed to be exchanged. However, on the very rare occasion that a client were to directly ask their patron for a favor, the patron was honor-bound to comply. If they failed one client, it would then be known to their other clients that they were unreliable and the power of alliances cultivated over generations could crumble in a day.
Star Swirl had never in her time in court invoked her relationship with the prince. She hoped that, since she asked for nothing more than that somepony would hear her out, he would have no reason to decline her request. She walked over to the prince and worked up the courage to start the conversation.
"M'lord Blueblood, might I speak with you a moment?" Star Swirl curtsied to the prince minor. It had been quite some time since she had attempted such a delicate curtsy, and she hoped that it looked less awkward than it felt.
Blueblood's eyes became wide as he looked at his cliens. Perhaps she did need more work on that curtsy after all.
"Lady Ss..s..sstar Swirl..." Blueblood stuttered. "What a surprise to see you here... tonight."
Blueblood continued eyeing her suspiciously.
"At Luna's birthday celebration? I wouldn't have missed it for the world!" Swirl exclaimed.
After considering her patron for a moment, she added, "You look quite uncomfortable. Would you like to step outside?"
Blueblood's expression changed from one of suspicion to one of disgust and horror. He replied more than loudly enough for all of the surrounding unicorns to hear him.
"Step outside? With YOU? What sort of a proposition is this?!"
"Oh, of course! You want to know the gist of what I'm proposing before we talk about it in more detail! That's just fine! Well, I was walking through the streets of Canterlot yesterday..."
"Walking? Through the streets?!"
"...and I met all of these common ponies from outside the palace, who just wanted someone from the inside to listen to them..."
"You met common ponies? You listened to them?!"
"...and they had some really great ideas! They told me about their families and their businesses and their lives, how they get jobs and earn their own way, what they enjoy doing when they're not at work, how they raise their foals, and how we can make it all better! Why..."
"ENOUGH! I have heard ENOUGH FROM YOU! If you deign to get your hooves filthy walking through the streets, and decide to waste your life talking with the common rabble, that is quite your own decision. But I will not let you tell me how to rule Equestria based on the input of a herd of uneducated, unsophisticated HOOLIGANS!"
Star Swirl stared, frozen in place by the shock of what had just happened.
"But... but you're my patronus. You're my guardian alicorn! You can't turn me down in a specific request. It would damage your honor!"
"No, no, this will not damage my honor. Your conduct is no longer a reflection on me. Star Swirl, I regret that I have to say this, but your foalish behavior leaves me no choice. You are no longer my client, and I am no longer your patron!"
Just then, through her anger, pain, and confusion, Star Swirl heard a familiar nicker behind her. Lady Violet and two of her followers, Lady Crimson and Lady Evergreen were enjoying the show.
"Finding it harder than normal to make friends today, Lady Star Swirl?" Lady Violet questioned.
"Yeah! And what's with the potato sack you have tied over your flank?" mocked Lady Crimson. She and Lady Evergreen laughed riotously, while Lady Violet maintained her composure.
"Yeah!" added Evergreen through her laughter. "You should leave everything out there. Your flank really is your best feature! If you want to move forward in life, you have to use what your mare gave you!"
Star Swirl was astonished at the trio's remarks. She knew that Lady Violet was not above even the basest of insults, but this represented a new low for her followers.
"Lady Violet! I must insist that you and your friends addressed me in a manner suitable for one lady to speak to another!"
Lady Violet just grinned. "So you think that you're a lady again that easily? We heard what you just proposed to our beloved Prince Blueblood! Offering to 'take' him outside? Hmm?" Violet was twisting Star Swirl's words. Both ponies knew it, but few others seemed to care. Once again, those around were all enjoying the show. "Not everyone is as willing to 'mix the race' as you are, Lady Swirl."
Suddenly, Swirl realized why ponies had been avoiding her all evening.
"What did you say about me in court yesterday!"
"About you, dear? Not a thing! Now, when we were debating Lord Blowhard's proposal, the one on mixed marriages, it might have been mentioned that a certain earth pony courtier was seen leaving the Great Hall the night before with an unknown pegasus."
Lady Evergreen spoke up, "And it might have happened that someone noticed that this certain courtier wasn't in court the next morning."
Lady Crimson took her turn, "And it just could be that several of the more... upstanding individuals in the court found the suggestion of what those two had been doing more than a little repulsive."
"In short," said Lady Violet, "it was a wonderful illustration. Lord Blowhard's bill was shot down, the provinces will remain free to ban mixed marriage as they see fit, and everypony is happy. Everyone but the example of course."
"No! It's not like that at all!" Star Swirl objected. "I've been meeting common ponies, trying to help them any..."
"Oh, did you hear that everypony?!" interjected Lady Crimson. "Not only is she mixing the races, she's renting out her services to common ponies now!"
"Work that thing, you crazy filly!" Lady Evergreen added.
The small crowd that had gathered were all laughing now. Even Star Swirl's former patron, Prince Blueblood, was chuckling coldly.
Lady Violet came in for the kill. She smiled with hollow amusement, knowing the pun she was about to spin.
"I must say, Lady Swirl missed her calling when she became a courtier like us. Clearly, she was meant to get ahead by using her flanks, not her brains. Really, she shouldn't be a courtier. She should be a courtesan!"
What had been modest laughter broke out into uproarious fits. Prince Blueblood, the picture of reservation among the courtiers, was rolling on the floor, laughing! Across the room, however, somepony wasn't laughing. She had just gotten a sinking feeling in her stomach, the feeling a mother gets when she knows her foal is in danger. In the blink of an eye, the princess had teleported off her dais and to the location she perceived to be the source of the problem, right across the Great Hall.
Normally, Luna eschewed her divine form. Not only did it echo her alter-ego Nightmare Moon, but viewing her in her glory caused ponies to feel a deep-seated desire to worship, and being worshiped was something Luna truly hated. But as the she-bear rears up to her full stature to protect her cubs, so did Luna assume her divine form when she felt that her foal was endangered. In the instant between her disappearance on the dais and her reappearance on the other side of the room, she clothed herself in all her glory. Whatever was threatening her child wasn't going to know what hit them.
Blueblood's laughter was cut short by the sight of an angry goddess towering over him. The same was true for Ladies Violet, Evergreen, and Crimson, as well as all the bystanders. When she spoke, her voice seemed to roll like thunder, emanating from some mysterious place outside of space and time.
"YOU FOALS! HOW DARE YOU HARASS MY CHILD?!"
"Aa... uh... Auntie Luna?" asked the terrified prince.
"WHAT RIGHT DO YOU HAVE TO ADDRESS ME THAT WAY!"
In the brief moment that her wrath was focused on the prince alone, Blueblood fainted. In fact, this was all his own doing. He simply swooned from fright like a little filly. But the others in the crowd immediately assumed that Luna had slain him, and were all the more terrified.
She looked to the trio now huddling the corner, who previously had been mocking Star Swirl.
"HAVE YOU NO ANSWERS FOR YOURSELVES?"
Not a word was spoken by the terrified unicorns still huddling in the corner. Silently, they prayed to Celestia, but she wasn't moving to help them. In fact, her eyes were full of laughter, as if this were the entertainment for the evening.
"FINE THEN. I COMMAND YOU TO REMAIN IN THAT CORNER AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'VE DONE!"
At that, she turned towards Star Swirl. As she spoke, her voice became calm. Though it was still loud and sonorous, it took on a quality less like the booming of thunder and more like the roar of incoming waves.
"My child," she called to the awestruck young royal, "follow me."
Star Swirl, although very frightened, began to take a step towards her savior. But before her hoof even hit the ground, the world changed in a flash of magical energy. Swirl realized that the goddess had teleported her away, though she did not yet know where. She couldn't see her hoof in front of her face.
Moments later, a magical aura illuminated the room, sprouting from Luna's form. The princess had shed her divinity during the teleport and was once again only just barely taller than Star Swirl, not counting her horn or wings.
"I'm sorry for my outburst back in the Great Hall," Luna said. "Instincts, I suppose."
Star Swirl just stared, struck dumb by the goddess' presence.
Luna closed her eyes, as did Star Swirl. Swirl could feel the princess gazing into her mind.
"Mmm... You know, I had just about given up hope. Star Swirl, you really are a remarkable pony!"
Swirl allowed one eye to pop open to watch the moon goddess.
"What do you mean, m'lady?"
"I mean your connection with the common pony! You're the first royal I've seen with the appropriate connections since I returned from my exile. At first, I thought that it must have been bred out of the bloodline, but you're proof that it's still there. We just need to teach the others to use it."
"What is 'it'? I'm afraid I still don't understand!"
"Hmm..." Luna groaned as she looked further into Star Swirl's mind. Swirl had to admit, it was quite frightening to feel a second being inside her skull, cohabitating with her own spirit. She could only hope that Luna found what she wanted quickly and left.
Luna opened her eyes and the presence inside of Star Swirl's head disappeared.
"Maybe I can explain it best if I start off like this. Lady Violet was wrong."
"About you having some illegitimate foals in your family tree causing you to be born an earth pony. I suppose you've heard of the six Princesses Minor?"
"Of course! They're the link between you and your sister and the modern royal family! I trace my ancestry back to Princess Royal Blue," Swirl stated proudly.
"Ah, I can believe it. You really do look just like her. That said, there's something I think you need to know. The Princesses Minor weren't all unicorns. In fact, five of them were earth ponies. Many of the families intermarried with the local unicorns in Canterlot, and that is how so many of today's royal family are unicorns. But the fact that you're still an earth pony: that means that your blood line is probably one of the most pure in the entire court!"
Once again, Swirl was too lost in the moment to speak.
"That's really not the important part though, Swirl. Here's the real question: Do you feel like you've discovered anything lately? Anything you might like to share with me?"
Star Swirl quickly ran over a checklist in her mind. She hadn't visited any uncharted continents lately or unearthed any new scientific principles. She had recently discovered that clopfics could be... nice, but she wasn't going to tell that to Princess Luna! Was there something else? Oh, there was!
"I feel like I have a real talent for connecting with the common pony. I'm not always sure what I can do for them, but I know that if they need help, I am going to want to try and do something!"
"That's it. I created the Princesses Minor at the time when Equestria had just begun to really grow. Celestia and I could no longer keep up with everypony all by ourselves, and we needed some assistance. We tried to draft all sorts of ponies to help us, but, for some reason or another, no existing family was right. Some were good with fire or clouds, others with metalworking or arcane magic, many were farmers or ranchers, but none were politicians. And so I made the royal family. When we couldn't find what we needed, I created something new."
"You and Celestia created the Princesses Minor? You brought the royal family into existence out of nothing? But I thought you were their parents somehow!"
Star Swirl's entire cosmology was being disrupted. It was starting to make her stomach hurt, or perhaps that was just an after-effect from the teleportation.
"Actually, it was just me. And I didn't really make them out of nothing, per se. Instead, I used grass and water and dirt and whatever I could find. But they didn't have birth parents if that is what you are asking."
"But isn't that... unnatural? To have created them without birth parents?"
At this, Luna laughed. "Where do you think ponies came from in the first place?" she asked.
"Well, Celestia isn't telling, but scientists suggest that they probably evolved from simpler lifeforms. We just don't have any good links yet."
"And that's where your research steers you wrong! We made ponies in the first place the very same way that I made the royal family later. Celestia made the unicorns and the pegasi, and I made the earth ponies. 'Tia always was a show-off!" Luna stated, with a dramatic flourish of a front hoof.
Star Swirl was obviously stunned by the massive onslaught of information. Luna decided to back off just a little.
"Don't worry about all of that right now. The most important part is that you understand that your talent is connecting Celestia and I to the common pony. You know everything that is truly important."
With that, Luna magicked a box out of the air.
"Care for a cupcake?"
She opened the box towards Star Swirl, revealing a dozen perfect cupcakes with rainbow-colored icing. Swirl selected one, and took a dainty bite, trying to impress the princess with her manners. She was glad that she had taken such a small bite, too, as it turned out that the cupcakes were unbelievably spicy. Apparently, the frosting had been made with real rainbows. Swirl watched in awe as Luna consumed the other eleven cupcakes in mere seconds. Then, Swirl had an idea.
"Your Majesty, am I to assume you enjoy spicy foods?"
"So you really would like something that isn't, quite so bland as the normal fare at the palace?"
"Of course! I love 'Tia to death, but her taste in foods is terrible!"
"Could you teleport us to the kitchens? There's a chef there who I think you need to meet."
Princess Celestia had to put back on her divinity to calm the crowd in the Great Hall. It was worth the trouble, though, to see Luna so worked up. And maybe, just maybe, now that Luna was back, the two of them would be able to restore the royal family to its intended purpose, rather than leaving it to feast off the fat of Equestria.
Once Celestia had everypony sitting down and behaving rationally again, she gave Luna a telepathic "all clear" signal, and Luna teleported back into the Great Hall with Star Swirl. On her arrival, Luna, though still in her non-divine form, stood tall on the dais.
"Fillies and gentlecolts! You have heard this night from my sister, your beloved Princess Celestia, about the joy and magic of letting another into your heart. At this time, I would like to introduce you to a pony who has made herself the embodiment of this spirit. She has not ceased to sacrifice herself, nor stopped to give heed to criticism heaped on her by the likes of her fellow courtiers. Instead, she has reached out unabashedly to the common pony, lending a helping hoof to all in need."
As she began the traditional, formulaic part of the speech, Luna reverted to the personal "we":
"We commend this filly, Her Illustrious Highness Star Swirl, for her noble service to the land of Equestria. We salute her bravery, we commend her courage, and we recognize her wisdom. Lady Star Swirl, please kneel."
As Star Swirl knelt before her princess, she felt the alicorn's horn lightly tap her shoulder, and then the other shoulder, and then her head.
"Arise, Lady Star Swirl. We grant you the royal style 'Her Serene Highness', and the title 'Knight of Equestria'."
Her speech finished, the princess of the night raised an eyebrow as she looked first over towards Ladies Violet, Crimson, and Evergreen, who had been the antagonists most directly involved in tormenting Star Swirl, and then over to Prince Blueblood, who had abandoned Swirl in her time of greatest need.
"Surely the four of you, out of the generosity of your hearts, have some small estate that you would each like to give to the mare of the hour?" Luna asked, in a way that was more commanding than asking.
"Oh, of course!" "Mmhmm!" "Absolutely!" "Anything for you, Auntie Luna!"
It seemed as though Star Swirl would not be a landless royal for much longer.
When it was all said and done, Star Swirl found it was considerably more difficult to calm herself than it was for Celestia to calm the crowds stirred up by Luna's outburst. Eventually, Swirl found herself wandering the streets of Canterlot, finally knocking on the door of Party Streamer's apartment at 2 in the morning.
Mumbles came from behind the door. "Wh... don't know... why any... would a be up now..." Shortly after, it clicked and then opened.
On seeing Swirl, Streamer's eyes lit up. "Swirl! You still look amazing in that dress after an entire night at the party! You have to come in and tell me all about it!"
"'Her Serene Highness', huh? I s'pose I'm gunna have to change all those signs now."
"Oh, well, I think it would be fine to leave them the way they are. You were right all along. 'Her Illustrious Highness' really does sound more impressive!"
"So, now that you've got land an' bits, am I still going to be seeing you 'round these parts?"
"Of course! I may have a higher title now, and a few more bits, but we're friends. It would be silly to let this change anything. There was never any 'Her Illustrious Highness this' or 'Her Illustrious Highness that' in our friendship. Between you and me, I'll always be just Star Swirl."
I'm super stoked that you enjoyed my story! It really made my day when Sethisto said that this was going to go up on Eqestria Daily! Anyone catch the Portal reference? It's subtle! How about the earrings... Any guess who those came from? There are lots of references to other fan fics scattered throughout, as well. Have fun finding them! If you'd like me to reference your fic in my next peice, let me know.
When writing this story, I fell tragically "in love" with Star Swirl. In love, because I really, really want one! And tragically, because I can't afford to get one right now. If any brony out there liked this story enough to get one and send it to me, you would be my best friend forever! If there is no one out there quite that generous, I would totally trade a story about the pony of your choice for some Star Swirl merch. You could consider it a commission.
Thanks for reading! If you liked it, please rate and comment on EqD: http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/08/story-her-illustrious-highness.html.