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The Unfavorite

By: Gabriel LaVedier

        There was no event more anticipated or more adored by the finest ponies in Equestria than Canterlot’s Grand Galloping Gala. It was the event of the season, the place where the best of the best went to see and be seen. The best performers played music for the richest ponies with the longest lineages. It was an exclusive event, with tickets sent only to a select clientele. And just being rich, famous or well-connected was not enough to secure admission. There was some secret and inscrutable criteria known only to Princess Celestia that judged who would be allowed.

        Tickets were gathered at the entrance to the palace proper by designated royal guards, hoof-picked from Celestia’s most trusted inner circle of elite guards. The night of the second Grand Galloping Gala after the release of Princess Luna, and the first she was to attend, those guards were Rosy Cranberry and Golden Stare, two long-serving members of the guard corps. They brusquely took tickets and motioned ponies into the greeting landing.

        In the midst of the fairly ordinary job, they were approached by a singularly strange figure. A caramel pony stallion with a confident bearing reflected in the tooth-flashing smile and the easy swagger in his gait. His tail and mane were black, shiny and slicked back. He wore a ruffle-chested white shirt with black lace at his throat, and a black coat over it, with a black vest for extra contrast. On his flank, a cut red apple, with swirls of sickly green on the inside. He didn’t even try to stop. He just kept walking, oozing confidence and belonging, acting like he was meant to be inside.

        He actually made it between the two white pegasi before their wings shot out reflexively, blocking access to the palace. “Halt!” Golden Stare spoke in his usual sonorous voice, his famous gold-tinged eyes shooting over the stranger. “No unauthorized admittance to the interior palace grounds. Where is your ticket to this event?”

        “Ticket? Why, that’s so ordinary. I can tell you that I most certainly belong in this fine gathering. I have only the finest pedigree. I can claim blue blood far more cerulean than most of these other high-faluting trotters. I cannot produce my ticket because through some unfortunate oversight and a series of events both tragic and unexpected, it has not reached my person. I can assure you, however, I am welcome in this proceeding.”

        “Ticket, sir. Or, failing that, your name to check the roster of attendees.” Golden Stare did not move, though Rosy Cranberry seemed to waver the tiniest bit.

        “Ah, obstructionist bureaucracy, how expected. I haven’t the time for this sort of thing. I need to be inside, mingling and networking. If you gentlecolts will excuse me, I will be entering there now.”

        “I am afraid… Sir… That you will not be attending this event without a name or a ticket. Please provide one or take your leave.” Golden Stare narrowed his eyes, glaring into the bright and confident eyes of the earth pony before him.

        “Is there a problem here?” Princess Celestia’s golden tones cut through the building tension, and drew all eyes to her. “I’d hate to see conflicts erupting at the Gala. Especially after the to-do last year.”

        “There is no problem here, your majesty. We simply seem to have a problem with this… Guest. He refuses to provide either ticket or name. He claims that he belongs at the Gala but I have a certain amount of doubt about this.”

        Celestia nodded her grand head at Golden Stare, then turned to Rosy Cranberry, his cheeks already stained with the crimson blush that gave him his name. “And you, do you feel the same way?”

        “I… I don’t want to say he’s wrong but… This stallion really seems to belong. He was confident and certain, I thought he had already been inside and had come out for some reason.”

        “Ah, you’re too soft, Cranberry. You always have been.” Golden Stare gave his compatriot a stern look and a shake of his head.

        “I’ve never heard you complaining about my being soft before, Golden…” Rosy Cranberry’s tone was light, playful, and a smile danced on his lips.

        Princess Celestia hid a tiny laugh behind her fetlock as Golden Stare went from stern to flustered and back to stern. “Ahh… Yes, now… As for you…” She stared at the smiling stallion, who was still standing attentively, prepared for entrance. “The old Schwarzwlder Kaltblut Fire Drill, is it? It might have worked on anypony else but Golden Stare. He’s not known for his simply bending the rules for a good story and a confident look. But I know that cutie mark. And more importantly, I know you. Golden Stare, go ahead and let him in.”

        “Are you… Certain, your highness?” Golden Stare looked at the stallion, who radiated slippery confidence.

        “Yes, of course. He’s most definitely the kind I want at the Gala.” Princess Celestia leaned in to the caramel stallion and winked. “Just try to stay out of trouble. I don’t think we need you doing your usual tricks here.”

        “Your highness, you won’t catch me making any trouble. And unlike other times I’ve said that, I mean it in the way you want me to mean it.” With a bow and a smile, the caramel stallion trotted through the door and into the palace.

        “You know, Golden, we never did get his name…” Rosy Cranberry looked at the trotting form and shook his head.

        “Bad Apple, unspoken-of scion of the sprawling Apple Clan. Huckster, gambler, flatterer, grifter, mountebank, trickster.”

        “What? Princess, how could you let somepony like that into the palace?” Golden Stare prepared to gallop off after Bad Apple, but was stopped by Princess Celestia.

        “Because he has done his best to do good through the lands of Equestria. And from what I’ve heard, in places where his aliases live, ponies smile when they talk about him.” She looked down at her two guards and motioned into the palace. “I’ll send out two others for the night. Rest, relax. Enjoy… What you want to enjoy. The Royal gardens are closed to Gala-goers this year. But they’re open for you.” With a wink, which found Rosy Cranberry blushing deeper than ever, Princess Celestia turned to return to the party.

- - -

        Inside the party, Bad Apple stood out like a shiny golden delicious in a barrel of red delicious. Certainly, his attire was suitably well-constructed and made of passably fine materials. But the cut of it was not haute couture. It looked like the old fashioned style that it was. And while stallion fashions did not suffer the seasonal and yearly changes of mare fashions, the styles and accoutrements evolved and subtly altered themselves. Thus, while tuxedo shirts and swallowtail coats were much in evidence, those wearing them sniffed in derision at the pastiche of 18th century and early modern Equestrian. He looked like they always heard a riverboat peasant looked, or a frontier dandy. Thus, none of the women deigned to approach him, and none of the men thought him worthy of their conversation.

        The snubbing was not to Bad Apple’s detriment. It left him free to browse among the tables of hors d’oeuvres, eating the choicest morsels which the upper crust would not touch, as they were not de rigueur, even if they were genuinely tasty and made of palatable products. He was also free to be invisible, to slide through the groups ignoring him and sneak earfuls of choice gossip. The impending disadvantaging of the hoi polloi, skimming bits from their holdings or withholding information from the bureaucrats. Each little juicy morsel, criminal, anti-social or deceptive, was filed away for later semi-anonymous relating to relevant figures. Sometimes there was some reward, from monetary compensation to looking the other way on minor offenses. Those were the best rewards.

        As he walked around the Gala, he noticed some of the other, not-annoying ponies that were at the event. He knew them by reputation and indirect communication. A whirling blur of pink rushed through the hors d’oeuvre table and rapidly consumed selected treats, all of the sweetest ones left behind. Behind her, focusing all of her attention upon the pink one, was a very concerned-looking purple unicorn, shouting something about slowing down. With a smile on her face.

        In a corner he saw a pristine white unicorn, in a fabulously-made dress, chatting animatedly with Hoity Toity the fashion buyer extraordinaire. There were deals brewing, talk of dresses to be sold in a Canterlot boutique. And that same unicorn was saying the secret to her success was the brilliantly-blushing yellow Pegasus beside her, who had a gentle touch with fabric and could construct anything with absolute perfection.

        After seeing the previous four, his eyes naturally sought out the last two he knew would be in evidence. After a few shifty glances and movement to a new room he saw an unmistakable rainbow pattern of mane and tail. It was like a beacon that led him to a familiar pony indeed. No surprise, the two were engaged in a competition. Both were attempting to out-dance one another, and doing so to the fancy music being performed by the quartet on the stage. Both were dead even, so far as he could tell. Their moves were smooth and perfect, and their faces, while serious, never left one another’s.

        That was perfect. It allowed Bad Apple to slide up to the two and deliver a quick, discreet hug to the earth pony in the pair. “Don’t make a fuss. You know what might happen if someone finds out I’m here. Good to see you and your mare happy and together. Be good, and I’ll send you a letter later.” Without waiting for more of a response than a quick gasp and disbelieving stare, Bad Apple was quickly away, into the anonymous crush of ponies crowding all around.

        Lost in the crowd, Bad Apple could feel truly comfortable and at home. Ignored and free to mingle, he reflected that it would be the perfect opportunity to nick a few bits or some of the little fobs which lacked a personal connection for a quick donation to anything that needed it. But he had promised Celestia. As tempting as it was, and as much as there was to spare in that overly-wealthy assembly, no sticky hooves for him what night.

        The crowds were spread out through the halls, but tended to lump near the center, with smaller crowds of ponies near particular areas, such as the VIP cordon, which contained such notable luminaries as The Wonderbolts. Though the crowd of faceless, off-limits ponies was a wonderful cover and a natural environment for the trickster pony, Bad Apple wandered into areas with fewer inhabitants, out of his desire to simply see. It wasn’t often he saw such opulent surroundings. Not since colthood had he seen fancy surroundings so closely, and even that paled in comparison to the grand palace.

        He soon found himself essentially alone, with the occasional sight of a guard doing rounds. They did not approach, merely noted his easy, calm bearing, with all the atmosphere of a natural inhabitant of the halls. Some even nodded to him, and offered smiles to, what they presumed to be, some new scholar, craftspony or skilled laborer.

        He had made half the circuit of the palace, moving upwards each time he encountered a staircase. Nothing was more intriguing than a set of steps, waiting for curious hooves to discover what lay above. What lay above, besides further opulence, was a better and better view of the well-tended grounds. He saw no partygoers out the windows; the verdant lushness was nearly unoccupied, save for two white figures, slowly trotting through the trees, heads together and savoring the gloriously full moon that hung above, blank and immaculate. Bad Apple smiled at that sight. Celestia really was a good princess. Exceptions were his bread-and-butter. Those who gave them with wisdom were truly admirable.

        At he rear of the palace, and high in the structure, he found a huge, open balcony. It was constructed of pure marble, the half-circle a truly huge spread enclosed by a low rail of stone with carved posts of intricately-designed natural scenes. There were a few pieces of furniture on it, low chaises and stone benches, set near the center. At the furthest point from the entrance there was a large, ornate brass telescope of a Nasmyth or Coud build with an altazimuth mount. Near it was a small, low table containing several sheets of paper, a quill, and ink bottle, an astrolabe, and an abacus. Looking into the eyepiece of the telescope was a mare, longer and slimmer than the average pony. She was made up of shades of violet, dark on the body and light on the mane. Also unusual for other ponies, she had both wings and a horn, and a small crown at the front of her head.

        Figuring, in for a bit, in for a bag, Bad Apple slowly trotted out onto the balcony proper. It wasn’t polite to just let someone be alone at a party. Before he could say anything, she spoke first, with a soft, clear voice. “I told you, I’m fine. No need to keep checking up on me. Tell my sister I’ll be busy with this for a while.”

        “I am afraid I am not who you think I am. I’d imagine you were expecting Golden Stare, or similar. No, just a Gala visitor.” Bad Apple approached to a respectful distance and then stopped cold, not wishing to appear threatening. Though, in a show of good manners, he bowed deeply.

        Luna turned her head quickly, with the smallest bit of surprise on her face. She had the power to make threats less potent, but the unexpected voice was still enough to throw her a bit. “Oh! Goodness! Who are you? And how did you get past the guards? Gala guests are not permitted to be in this part of the palace.”

        “Your sister called it when I first got here. The old, reliable Schwarzwlder Kaltblut Fire Drill. Just act like you know what you’re doing, or that you belong wherever you are and ponies are likely to just let you go ahead. All I had to do was trot along like I knew where I was going, nodding my head if anypony noticed, looking straight ahead if they didn’t happen to see me. I think they assumed I was some kind of new worker or perhaps I had a pressing appointment with someone. You’d be surprised how often it works. It didn’t work at the front gate, but that Golden Stare guy is something else. Princess Celestia actually let me in, however. She’s quite a kind soul. And, my name is Bad Apple, though don‘t let that change your opinion of me.”

        Luna looked over the strange visitor, a brow quirked, her eyes somewhat narrow. “You seem very calm for someone meeting a princess. You’re not stuttering, you’re not scraping, you’re not worshipful or afraid. That’s a little suspicious.”

        “It’s a little bit control, and a little bit practice. It may not seem like it, but I was born and raised around money. We were what they used to call the codfish aristocracy, though all our money came from apples, and we never had title, much as it would have made my mother happy to have that to parade over the county.” Bad Apple shook his head, looking sadly down before he looked up again at the telescope. “So, Gala going on downstairs. And here you are, on a balcony, looking at the stars. Why not come down and dazzle everyone with your presence?”

        “I, um… I have a thousand years of review to do. Even if the finest astronomers in all the Principality have been working on this, this is my night. And though I trust them, I still want to make sure everything they have written down is accurate. You’d be surprised all the little mistakes you can find. Plus, I just… I love these new toys! Look at these!”

        With the enthusiasm of a filly, Luna pointed out the telescope, a blue haze lighting up features as she showed them. “The lenses in this are so fantastically ground; no lens smith in my day could come close to this perfection. And inside, they don’t even use lenses there are little mirrors! They’ve been curved and cut and bent and they make everything so beautifully clear and perfect. Even the little mount is new. I can record precise numbers for any hour of the night if I keep focus. It has certainly opened up the sky so much. I forgot how much I loved it once it was made and set in motion. And like I said, there’s a thousand years to check.”

        “That is a very noble endeavor. Expanding knowledge and polishing it to perfection. I admire your dedication. Me, well, I was never really good with names and azimuths and magnitudes.” Bad Apple approached Luna, slowly, casually, taking a place by the railing, near the telescope. “I couldn’t remember anything. I stopped trying a long time ago. But, I do a lot of night work, by choice and otherwise. So, I just look up and appreciate it. It’s enough to know they’re beautiful.”

        The beads of the abacus clicked softly, the wheels on the astrolabe turned a bit, and the quill scratched softly on the paper while Luna looked through the eyepiece of her telescope once more. “They have so many new names. And not even names. They use numbers when it’s not a constellation. They’re so different. I just called them my friends. Even the positions have changed, but it’s not their fault. It’s just procession. I shouldn’t make TOO much of a few arcseconds. You can still navigate.” The quill settled into the inkwell, astrolabe and abacus going still. “I should just have a look at them from a distance for now. Unless someone asks about the Gala. Then it‘s back to work.”

        Bad Apple passed over commentary about the Gala, and instead just nodded some, trying to take a peek through the eyepiece from a distance. “I really must thank you for this panorama, changed as you may find it. It’s such a wonderful spread, with that lush, new moon. It’s so unusual to see it blank. Like a canvas that needs a brush.”

        “I wanted it to be a painting in the sky, to make ponies stop and gasp. But all they did was sleep.” Luna regarded the sweep of the stars with a heavy sigh. “Not all of them… Some saw. But so many slept through all my beautiful nights… Even now, with all these lights, no one sees my sky.”

        “I can still see the stars… Well, all the time. The night is soothing and sweet. And on the backroads and byways, there’s no light. Not out there in the wilds. From Appleloosa to the outskirts of the Everfree forest. And even in some places, like the good riverboats and saloons, light is still fire and fireflies. Being out under the stars is soothing, watching them wheel while I think of which town I should visit, and where I can get a bite.”

        Luna gave a smile, and glanced quickly across at Bad Apple before returning to the sky. “I didn’t know ponies still waxed poetic about the night sky. I figured that was over when I heard about something called a ‘rave.’ My beautiful night, taken and used in the best way these modern ponies know. Locked up in a dark building with flashing lights and loud music. I could never bring night again and they’d never know it. Lovers stroll along lighted streets into lighted buildings. I know ponies need to sleep, but it’s up there. I didn’t turn them off when nopony was looking.”

        Bad Apple leaned in to actually get a look through the telescope eyepiece, out of curiosity. The moon looked back at him, in all its pallid purity. The smallest of smiles curled his lips. Procession and inaccurate seconds of arc indeed. “Always up there. Just waiting for a look. I promise, princess, I’ve looked well. The moon gives off a lot of light, and all those constellations take me where I need to go. Many roads and rivers are just a quick look up away.”

        It was Luna‘s turn to leave a statement alone, forgetting about the moon for a moment. “I notice you talk a lot about traveling. And not much about home. How is it a vagabond knows my sister? I didn’t know she kept track of all the wanderers.”

        “I have a… Unique history. You know my niece. Well, one of many. Applejack, bearer of the Element of Honesty. She’s friends with Twilight Sparkle, one of your sister’s prize students. And I am her favorite uncle. So, there’s a lot of reputation there. Though, she may have heard of the things I’ve done. I’ve cheated, filched, tricked, cajoled, smuggled and manipulated all over these lands. There are entire communities that know me by alias. They love having me in for a visit.”

        Luna stared, disbelievingly, at Bad Apple, mouth agape as she watched him just looking to the stars, so casually. So… innocently. “You’ve been… breaking laws all over Equestria, and not even the minor ones and ponies cheer you on? How many towns of thieves are there?”

        “Probably a few. I don’t know. I’ve never been to one. Would probably make for a terrible stay. No, no. I cheat swindlers; I filch ill-gotten goods; I trick the haughty; I cajole the reluctant good; I smuggle needed items into restricted places; and I manipulate megalomaniacs and other malevolent monsters into doing my will against their interest, and power. It’s hard work doing bad to make good things happen. But I like to think it’s all worth it. I love to see ponies smile.”

        “Doing bad to do good. That’s a new concept. I’ve had very… poor experiences with doing bad things. There’s always a consequence. How can you possibly not be in jail?”

        “I owe it all to clean living and fancy hoof-work, as they say. I dodge retribution from shady characters with all the skill I can manage, more or less successfully. I stay one step ahead of whatever legal repercussions there may be by a combination of things. Sometimes it’s a wink and a nod to the law, if I’ve helped them out. Or it might be the aid of someone I have assisted. Sometimes I just run and don’t stop until I’m somewhere else. Reputation helps, I can always hide in a place where I am liked. But those are few and precious indeed. As well, I never anger Royal officials. I don’t need trouble from elite guard ponies. That has kept me out of the dungeons and I am not eager to end my streak of good fortune.”

        “But…. Wait a moment. Didn’t you just walk up to the Grand Galloping Gala, uninvited, fake your way in and then walk through restricted parts of the palace? How is that going to keep you out of the dungeon?” Luna enumerated all the doings with bluish hash marks, with her last statements turning the marks into a cage.

        “I was allowed in, by Princess Celestia herself. That counts for something, I think. I didn’t know I was going to get in, I just wanted to. Confidence is everything. And, no one stopped me back here. I could honestly plead ignorance if I had been stopped before this point.”

        “And you approached me, knowing that one flash of power could have sent you off, or brought in guards upon guards. Explain that.” Luna looked askance at Bad Apple, eyes narrow again. That was the answer she had wanted since the first moment.

        Bad Apple gave a lopsided grin and looked away from the stars over to Luna. “It’s not polite to simply let someone be all alone at a party. I would be a terrible pony if I walked past, without a word. A foolish risk, but, you looked nice and kind.”

        Luna blushed lightly, looking up at the sweep of the sky. “Uh, I see…. You said something about codfish and aristocrats. I didn‘t think any of the glamorous nobility had anything to do with fish, of any kind. That snooty distant nephew of ours certainly wouldn‘t bring himself to touch a fish, cod or not.”

        “Just an old term of derision from the genuine aristocrats. ‘Codfish aristocrats’ were we poor souls that happened to come by our bits by hard work and a lot of luck. There’s more than a few out in these parts, but we came from the genteel country folk mold. Rural lands and mint juleps and cotillions and all that. Down-home goodness and such postcard sentiments. We lived in the biggest piece of property in Pericarp county. Had lots of bits back when I was a colt. More than a lot.”

        “Sounds very… Flush, I guess. Why give it up, then? Family, wealth, influence. And now you’re wandering around doing bad things for good reasons.”

        “I chose to give up my bits and influence and position in our extensive family the moment my mother threw me out of the house and formally exiled me from all family holdings and demanded that I never return or darken the family name again. It seemed like a good time to do it.”

        “Your… your mother threw you out, exiled you from your own FAMILY? What did you do?”

        “What did I do? The worst thing anyone could do to my mother. I embarrassed her. I became a point of shame for the family. And for my ‘transgression‘, in her words, I was exiled. Forever. It’s not pretty but it’s true. And ain’t it just a buck in the head to have to stay out of so many places?”

        “It can’t be that bad. I mean, how much can she really bar you from anyway?”

        “Recent history is a densely-packed thing. And we are only a footnote, no matter how significant. My mother is Eugenia Smith-Apple, better known simply as Granny Smith. She has a large number of grandchildren, you see. She also owns almost every apple orchard in Equestria. And that ‘almost’ isn’t for lack of trying. The Apple family works all that land and the money is spread around. Doesn’t work out too well. Too many hooves, not enough bits. Things are a little lean these days, but she’s still a proud mare. And with so many relatives, her influence spreads out, all over the land. When she keeps you out, you stay out. And she has eyes everywhere to make sure. I almost envy her. I’d give anything for that kind of snooping power.”

        Luna thought about what she had heard. She didn’t want to just disbelieve him, but it seemed fantastic. A mare with power that stretched across all of Equestria. It didn’t seem likely. But the stallion seemed sincere. And there was a touch of bitterness behind the smiling tone he had. “So she… stole your family. And keeps you out of places. But for how long? When is your exile over?”

        “Well, my niece Applejack keeps in touch, on the sly, of course. It’s not all gone.” Bad Apple smiled, with a too-tight pull of his face and eyes that looked at the stars. “When? At some point in the future I’ll be gone. It’s not QUITE over then, no Apple family plot for me. But it won’t bother me so much anymore. It’s not over when she is, either. She’s a shrewd old lady, in case you’re wondering where I get it from. Put it in her will that I’m still barred by whoever inherits. It’ll be my nephew Big Macintosh, though if he gets soft-hearted it goes to Applejack. Then Applebloom. And then my sister Valencia. Now it’ll stop there, but only because Manehattan has made her more aware of how to appreciate control. I don’t begrudge her a bit, I just happen to know she’d be willing to keep me cut out to hold all the property. Which is fine.”

        Luna couldn’t stop herself from staring at Bad Apple, while he stared up at the stars. “It sounds just terrible. And you can’t do anything about it. I know, of course, your mother has every right, and my sister wouldn’t interfere. She’s good enough to know family matters are… family matters. You know my own history. I’m not making any excuses. I did the wrong thing. A terrible thing. And I paid for it. So I understand. I understand better than anyone else could.”

        Bad Apple nodded slowly, still staring at the sky. “Yes, I know. I did not presume that this Minastirithian edifice insulated you from pain and difficulty. You’ve had it harder than anypony else has had it in this world in all of time. But I hope I am not out of line to note that, perhaps in some small sense, we share just a hint of commonality. Consider this: We were both made exiles from our homes and from all we knew by a female relative whose power and influence extends across the face of Equestria. But there’s one important difference, ah, besides magnitude.”

        Luna leaned her head in, tilted slightly in curiosity. There was some similarity. Someone could understand. “Is it, you didn’t do anything to deserve it?”

        Bad Apple shook his head, looking aside with his lopsided grin. “At this point, I’ve forced myself to think I deserved it. Makes it simpler that way, you know? No, the difference is… You apologized for your hurts and actions, and your sister forgave you, with open fetlocks. The whole land loves you, and with good reason. You’re sorry, you’ve changed, and now you do only good. My own mother has promised, no matter how much good I do, and no matter how I apologize for my trivial actions, I will never be forgiven. Not openly, anyhow. It’ll be quiet and private, and unofficial.”

        Luna looked down at the balcony, her beautiful stars forgotten. “It’s not fair. But your mother isn’t all of Equestria. From what you told me, the rest of the land is yours to enjoy. Towns like you. And… You can be very charming…”

- - -

        Princess Celestia, her greeter duties done, wandered the upper halls of the palace, questioning guards and checking side-rooms. None could recall seeing Princess Luna, though they did have a vague recollection of a new, unknown palace employee. All her searching led Celestia to a balcony, set up with Luna’s telescope and her other classical astronomical equipment. She had stopped in mid-notation, not something she normally did.

        Celestia moved her search on to Luna’s room, intent on taking her to the Gala for some portion of the night. She was just about to knock her hoof against the door when she caught Luna’s voice from within. “These are the latest fashion trend. They’re called ‘socks’. They’re not very practical, you still need to wear shoes over them or hooves just tear through sooner or later. They appear to be just… For looks.”

        A second voice sounded from inside the room, a smooth and smiling voice that spoke with great amusement. “Well, yes, I can see their impracticality, and yet… I do believe I see the basis of their appeal.”

        Celestia smiled to herself and silently trotted away from the door, down a long and opulent hallway to a small golden panel in the wall. Opening it with her magic, she carefully manipulated one of the tubes contained within, which snaked down and away from the niche. “Hello there, kitchen staff? This is princess Celestia.”

        After a moment a tiny, tinny voice echoed up from the tube. “Princess? This is the kitchens! What may we do for you, majesty? Do you require more hors d’oeuvres at the party?”

        “Hmmm…” The pink one was there. “I think we do need a restocking. But, there is another issue. It concerns breakfast.” Celestia smiled a bit more brightly. “When you make Princess Luna’s serving tray, double all the portions and add another set of silverware.”

- - -

        The post-Gala sun rose slowly in the eastern sky, showing Canterlot in golden light and telling the citizens it was time to get on with their normal lives once again, with happy memories in their minds and sore dancing muscles in their legs.

        Though it was on the far side of the palace, Princess Luna’s personal room was not immune to the touch of daylight. Through the heavy, dark curtains the light seeped through the smallest cracks, upon a lush and opulent room of hanging tapestries and banners emblazoned with moons. Braziers, long extinguished, sat below ornately-molded brass stacks. Though electric lights were in evidence, the old room was still as it had been a thousand-and-two years before in many of its decorations and accoutrements. The huge bed was made of carved ebony wood, polished into perfect reflectivity, laid with dark purple and royal blue sheets, a lighter purple canopy above.

        Upon the disheveled bed lay Princess Luna, sans tiara, necklace and ornate horseshoes. Her mane and tail looked like they could use a brushing, where they could be seen beneath the tossed-about covers. Rather than resting squarely in the center of the bed, as would be expected from the occupation of a huge bed for one, she was off to the left side, one hoof blindly groping  at the bare right side, where the covers were pulled away.

        After a few more blind gropes Luna opened her bleary eyes and focused on the spot. For the briefest moment, her eyes grew large and liquid, pupils dilating in surprise. Hurt also passed quickly over her features, replaced with a good imitation of a smile. “What vagabond could ever be in the same spot twice? I honestly don’t know what I expected to find. Cele’s going to think I’m a silly filly.”

        “Why is that?” Luna’s head snapped up to look at the door which led to her private toilette. There in the doorway was Bad Apple, his mane freshly fixed and shiny as ever, his attire unbuttoned and untied, filled with wrinkles and creases but on his body as they had been the other night. “You have a good sense of humor, I’ll admit. But silly might be pushing it. If the rumors are true, your sister is sillier than you are.”

        “I, ah… I didn’t expect…. What I mean is, I thought that when I woke up you’d be on your way. It’s a long journey to everywhere in the principality from here, and you have a lot of trotting to do.” Luna slowly pulled the covers off of herself and slid out of the bed, hooves hitting the marble floor with audible clops which echoed off the walls slightly.

        “Well, let’s see…. I spent a long night, into the wee hours, conversing with a charming hostess; she allowed me to share, frankly, the softest, most amazing bed I have ever felt, to keep warm and be a presence; and now, sharing the foodstuffs of the rich and famous….” Bad Apple crossed the floor to the door to the hallway. His hooves touched so lightly they didn’t make a sound. At the door was a serving cart, containing bowls of oats and fruit, various grasses with flower petals scattered in them, and large decanters of apple-carrot juice. “’Ingrate’, I think, is the word that would be used if I was not here right now. I know nothing about literature a thousand years ago, but I thought only scoundrels and rapscallions and… chamber pots or whatever they were called did things like sneaking off in the night without a good morning and a chat.”

        Luna bemusedly put a hoof up to her mouth to hide a smile. “Something like that, at least from what I’ve heard around the castle. Breakfast looks good, I usually stay awake all night for the stars and then head to sleep just before it's served. Now I'll be a mess, trying to stay awake all night.” She crossed the room to the cart. Doubles of everything, almost mirror images. Two silver goblets, two sets of silver utensils, two sets of après mangant mints. “I think it was worth it.”

        “You’re quite the conversationalist. I’ve never heard anyone talk about the stars like you. But, you know them better than anyone else.” Bad Apple looked up from the food and over at Luna. “They can’t keep you from meeting the principality forever.”

        Luna snapped her head up. “What are you talking about?”

        “Ask your sister about how to hold up your head under that heavy tiara. You can still look at the stars, even when you need to care about all your subjects at the same time. I guess you can start with one and move on from there.” Bad Apple winked and lowered his head some. “Let’s eat.”

        Luna tapped her hoof on the floor a few times, then broke out in a smile. “Sounds like a good idea.” With that, she set to work on her bowl of oats.