More Than You Know

by Obselescence

Chapter 1

A gentle breeze tugs at Twilight’s mane. Golden sunshine warms her coat. The intoxicating scent of honeysuckle envelops her, and she smiles as she drinks it in.

It’s always a treat for Twilight Sparkle to visit the Royal Canterlot Gardens. It’s a wonderful little world of its own, so pretty and perfect that she almost expects to see the brushstrokes and shadows of an oil painting. Birds of every shape, color, and size fill the cloudless blue sky, and the earth is adorned with a careful arrangement of sculpture and topiary. Art made reality.

She can’t imagine a more beautiful place in all of Equestria, and she’s ashamed that she rarely ever lays eyes on it except through the dull, dusty windows of her study. Silently, she resolves that she’ll take a break from her reading someday and visit again. It’s a promise she knows she can’t keep—her work as the Princess’ personal student is far too important—but she feels better for making it.

And who knows? she thinks, laughing as a furry brown squirrel scurries between her hooves, Maybe after my next test I could—

She stops. Against the endless green and gray of the Gardens, the familiar glint of a snow white coat in the sunlight has finally caught her eye. “Princess Celestia!” she calls, bounding toward it. “Princess!”

Her Royal Highness, Princess Celestia of Equestria, turns at the sound of her name. “Twilight Sparkle!” she says, her face brightening. “It’s good to see you again.”

Twilight skids to a stop before the Princess and bows. She hasn’t seen the Princess for so long, and she has so much to say, but procedure above all else. She looks up expectantly, her body coiled, waiting for the signal to rise.

The Princess nods and Twilight springs upward. “Princess Celestia!” she squeals. Time with the Princess is rare—even rarer than time in the Gardens. “I made a perfect grade on my last test on transformation spells, and my tutor for levitation said my essay on—”

She catches herself. It’s so tempting to go on, to tell the Princess absolutely everything, but she must rein it in. The Princess deserves a student more sophisticated than some bouncing, bubbly schoolfilly. She feels her face flush hot and red. How embarrassing. “You... said you wanted to see me, Princess?”

“I did,” says the Princess. She smiles down on Twilight, eyes shining with warmth and kindness. “But why don’t we take a little stroll first? It’s too nice a day to waste it standing around, don’t you think?”

“Oh—yes, Princess! Of course!”

She follows closely behind the Princess, adjusting her pace carefully to match Celestia’s longer strides. Left, right, left, right. She finds a comfortable rhythm and sticks with it, allowing herself to relax just slightly. The grandeur of the Canterlot Gardens draws her in once more, and the shame of her outburst is quickly forgotten in a haze of honeysuckle and sunshine.

A stroll through the Gardens—with the Princess. It’s all she can ask for from life.

“So,” says the Princess, pausing briefly to admire a marble phoenix sculpture. “How have you been, Twilight? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“I’ve been doing well, Princess,” says Twilight. She remembers this time to subdue herself. No shouting, no squealing, no bouncing. That would ruin the moment, and she wants every second the Princess can spare for her to be perfect. “I’m still making straight A’s in all my classes.”

“Are you now?” the Princess chuckles. “Well, that’s wonderful, then. I’d expect nothing less from my most faithful student.”

“Thank you, Princess,” says Twilight, feeling a blush creep back into her cheeks. “I’m studying as hard as I can.”

“Not too hard, I hope,” says the Princess. She whistles as a bluebird passes by, smiling as it chirps happily in response. “There are some things more important than studying, you know.”

Twilight’s face screws up as she tries to think of something, anything in the whole wide world, that could possibly be more important than her studies. She can’t. “Like what, Princess?”

“Oh, plenty of things,” says Princess Celestia. “Fresh air, for one. And making friends.”

“This again…” Twilight grimaces. “Are you sure about that, Princess? I’m supposed to be learning about magic, and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my classes if I were busy making friends all the time.”

“Baby steps, then,” says the Princess. “For now, at least, I’d just like you to promise me you’ll spend some more time outside. We’ll talk about making friends later.”

“Um...” says Twilight, somewhat reluctantly. She looks up at her teacher’s smiling face and realizes she’s being silly. The Princess is only looking out for her best interests, after all. She doesn’t quite see the point in getting out and making friends, but if Princess Celestia, in all her wisdom, thinks she should try... “For you, Princess, I guess I could...”

“I’d expect nothing less from my most faithful student,” says the Princess, nestling Twilight under her wing. “Now, come along, we’re almost there.”

Through the paved-stone paths of the Gardens the stroll continues, as Princess Celestia leads her further on. Soon enough, though, they come upon a particular statue of a mare, standing just outside the Gardens’ hedge maze, and the Princess signals her to stop.

“I’ve been trying to find the right way to explain this for a long time now,” says the Princess thoughtfully, “and I think this might be the best place to start.” She points to the statue standing before them. “Do you know what this statue is, Twilight?”

Twilight studies the statue for a moment. It seems vaguely familiar—a mare, triumphantly bearing a bright orange flag with three yellow diamonds, stars streaming up from the ground around her—but it takes her a minute to place it. “Aha!” her face lights up. “I remember seeing a picture of this in A Brief History of Equestrian Artwork! It represents victory, doesn’t it?”

“Indeed it does.” The Princess nods. “It’s good that you’re keeping up with your reading, Twilight. Though, I don’t think that one was on any of your course lists?”

“Just some recreational literature, Princess,” says Twilight quickly. “For between classes. I don’t have that much free time. Really!”

“Of course,” says the Princess, giving her a knowing smile. “But, back to the subject at hoof. What else do you know about this statue?”

Twilight sighs, thankful for the change in subject. “It was commissioned for the Gardens three hundred years ago by Duke Dandy Pants,” she recites. “To commemorate Equestria’s victory in the Griffon Invasion.”

“Exactly right,” says the Princess. “Well done, Twilight."

“Thank you, Princess.” Twilight grins, basking briefly in the familiar glow of pride that comes with having answered her teacher’s question correctly. A thought strikes her as the feeling fades, and she looks up at the Princess curiously. “Were you there when this statue was put up, Princess?”

“I was,” says Princess Celestia. “And it’s been here ever since. A symbol of victory, to help us remember our victory.” She stares thoughtfully at the statue, as if recalling that very day, digging it up from two centuries’ worth of memories made since then. “It’s funny, in a way,” she muses. “There are others just like it, all across Equestria. For every victory, we have a monument, somewhere, to remind us, and for every defeat we have... nothing.”

She turns to Twilight, her face suddenly solemn and subtle. “Don’t you think that’s interesting, Twilight?” she asks. “That we’ve made so many statues to represent our success, but none to represent our failures?”

“Um, I, uh...” Twilight stammers, unsure of how to respond. The Princess has never spoken to her so seriously before, and the suddenness of it has caught her off guard. Still, her teacher has asked her a question, and by reflex her brain begins to process an answer. “I... don’t think it’s all that strange, Princess.”

“Oh?” says the Princess, intrigued. “Why not?”

She thinks harder, trying to catch up to her own thoughts. Why not? “Because...” she says, to buy time, “well, everyone wants to remember succeeding, but who’d want to remember failing at something?”

And the more she thinks about it, the more it makes sense. She’s never failed at anything before—not even a single test—but she can imagine what it must be like. The shame. The disappointment. The Princess’ disappointment. She shudders at the very thought.

And that’s only her clumsy idea of it. The hypothetical. How much worse could it be in reality? Actually living with her failure? Always, for the rest of her life, looking back and seeing that black stain staring at her from an otherwise-perfect record?

She shudders again. “I don’t think anyone would want to remind themselves that they failed, Princess,” she says, this time with certainty.

The Princess smiles, satisfied, and that kindly twinkle returns to her eyes, as if it had never left at all. “No,” she says softly. “I don’t think so either.”

A quiet sets in as the minutes tick on and neither of them say a word. Twilight looks to Princess Celestia, staring serenely at the statue of Victory, and it occurs to her that she doesn’t actually know why the Princess has called her out here. Time with the Princess is precious. Precious enough that there’s never a second spent without reason. Even now, in total silence, the Princess must be trying to tell her something important, and she wonders what it could be.

Is something wrong? Has something happened? Or is there simply a lesson in this that she just hasn’t caught yet?

She has so many questions, and she wants so badly to ask them, but she holds them all in and waits patiently for the Princess to speak first. Whatever the Princess has to say, she trusts it will be said soon enough, when she’s ready. So she stands there quietly, taking the moment again to enjoy the warm sunlight and the cool breeze and all the other little blessings of being outside. If the Princess thinks it’s not yet time to continue, she can wait.

That’s what a good student would do, after all.

“But, of course,” says the Princess, breaking the silence at last, “that’s not always enough.”

Twilight looks up at her, confused. “What’s not enough, Princess?”

“I mean that we don’t always have to remind ourselves of our failures to remember them,” says the Princess. She walks over to the statue and taps it lightly with her hoof. “We remember the good well enough without making statues. Why not the bad, also?”

Twilight gives a cautious nod. She understands what the Princess is saying, or thinks she does, but she isn’t entirely sure yet what the Princess is trying to tell her.

There’s a difference, after all. The Princess must expect her to know it.

“Well, that’s only natural, isn’t it, Princess?” she asks. “We can’t just force ourselves to forget things. Even—” she shudders again as the thought of failing a test, or worse, flashes again in her mind, “—even if we wanted to.”

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though,” says the Princess, “if we could? If we could just clap our hooves and wish the worst in our past away? Wipe every black mark and mistake off the slate, and make it like they were never there?”

Twilight nods again slowly, trying to imagine a world like the Princess describes. A world where Princess Celestia’s favored student could make a mistake, or slip up, and not have to worry. “It would be pretty nice...” she says thoughtfully.

She stops, frowning. “But we can’t,” she says, half to the Princess and half to herself. In the real world—the world she lives in now—failing the Princess even once isn’t an option, and never will be. “If we could, we’d already be doing it.”

“Oh?” says the Princess turning to give Twilight a smile. A smile radiant with nigh-infinite patience and love. Just the sight of it makes Twilight’s heart sink. She knows that smile. She’s seen it so often before. On her own mother’s face… whenever she says something wrong.

Twilight winces, her confidence shattering like glass. “I mean, I’ve never read anything suggesting we can, Princess,” she says, staring meekly down at her hooves. “I’ve read a few books about memory spells, but those can only help you remember, not forget... unless there’s something in the restricted wings of the library, but that would have to be really advanced and interesting magic...”

A thought strikes her without warning, and she risks a hopeful glance upward. “Am I finally going to be allowed in the restricted wings of the library, Princess?”

The Princess laughs and shakes her head. “I keep telling you, Twilight,” she says. “Not everything can be learned out of a book.”

“Oh…” says Twilight, frowning. She hates it when the Princess says this, because everything can be learned out of a book. But the Princess says it can’t. Which side is she supposed to pick in a conflict between her trusted teacher’s words and the absolute laws of her world? They can’t both be right—but they must be. “Until somepony writes it down first, right, Princess?

“Sometimes not even then,” says the Princess softly. She takes a step down the garden path and nudges Twilight gently forth with her wing. “But that’s why I’m here to teach you.”

Further into the Gardens they travel, past the statue of Victory and onto a corridor full of statues just like it. A mare bearing a golden sceptre, another triumphantly playing the trumpet, and even a strange sort of mishmash creature, posed as though it’s singing. All of them represent something strange and magical, in their own special way—but none of them failure.

“You’re half-right, you know,” says the Princess as they walk. “It’s not a memory spell, really. Very similar, but not quite the same.”

Twilight nods as she follows along, carefully memorizing each and every word as the Princess speaks it. “But how is it not a memory spell, Princess?” she asks, somewhat confused. “I mean, if it helps somepony to forget something…”

“Because it’s a very special kind of magic,” says Celestia, giving her a sly wink. “One that you won’t find in any of your books. It’s very powerful, but it can also be dangerous in the wrong hooves.”

Twilight considers this, her eyes widening as she comprehends just what this means. A special kind of magic that isn’t in any of the books—and the Princess is going to teach her about it? “What is it, Princess?” she asks eagerly. “I won’t tell anypony else, I promise! Not even Smarty Pants!”

“Not even Smarty Pants?” says the Princess, laughing. “Well, now I know you’re serious.” She looks around about the Gardens, her gaze locking on a pair of squirrels chattering noisily in the distance. “Why don’t I give you a demonstration, then?”

“Yippee!” Twilight cheers as she bounces around the Princess, grinning wider than she’d ever thought possible. Not just a new and special kind of magic—a demonstration too! She’s so excited that it takes her almost a full minute to realize she’s embarrassing herself in front of Princess Celestia again. She comes to a quick halt and coughs. “Um… Sorry, Princess. I would like a demonstration, please.”

“Of course.”

The squirrels hardly even seem to notice as they approach, which Twilight finds somewhat strange. Canterlot squirrels are normally so jittery and alert that it’s unusual for them just ignore a pony’s approach… But soon she’s close enough to see why: they’re too busy wrestling over a particularly big and juicy brown acorn, each squirrel trying to pry it from the other’s tiny paws. Twilight winces, shocked at how violent such cute little squirrels can be. No wonder they were being so loud, she thinks. They’re... fighting.

“It’s as good an example as any,” says the Princess calmly, as if she’s seen this a thousand times before. She turns to Twilight and nods. “Now watch them closely.”

It’s hard to keep track of which squirrel is where in the fight. They’re clawing and scratching at each other in a blur of gray and brown fur, faster than she can see. Twilight leans in as close as she can bear. She’s never seen squirrels fight before—she knows they do, sometimes, but there’s something strangely wrong with it that her books on wildlife never told her. Something terrible about all the flying fur, flesh, and spittle that shouldn’t be associated with fuzzy, furry squirrels.

It can’t last forever, though—thank goodness. Already they seem to be slowing down. The speckled gray one doesn’t seem quite as fierce when it nips at the stripey brown one’s nose. The stripey brown one tries to tug the acorn away from its speckled gray opposite, but gives up after a few feeble pulls. Twilight sighs in relief, glad that they’re tiring out. It’s a small miracle that she only had to watch the very end of the fight. She isn’t sure if she could’ve watched it from the beginning.

"Good thing it’s over now, Princess,” she says, turning to her teacher. "Are you going to start the demonstration no—" She stops. The Princess’ eyes are closed, her horn aglow with energy. Twilight looks back to the squirrels, now so tired and timid that they’re only standing there, still glaring at each other, chattering in their angry squirrel speak… but no worse.

Not a miracle. Magic.

“The Sun is more powerful than most ponies realize,” Celestia whispers beside her. The squirrels, both speckled gray and stripey brown, start to shine with a soft and soothing light. “Every living creature depends upon its power and everything the light touches bears its mark. It allows me to glimpse into my subjects’ waking thoughts, and with just a little push—” The light fades away, as if it were never there, and the squirrels stop moving altogether. “—I can help them think better ones.”

For a moment, Twilight simply stares. The squirrels are only standing there now. Not moving, or fighting, or… anything, really. She gives one of them a nervous poke and jumps back as it falls over, letting the acorn fall easily from its paws. They aren’t—are they? The Princess wouldn’t… “What happened to them, Princess?” she asks, more than a little anxious. “Are they… okay?”

“Don’t worry,” says Princess Celestia. She takes the acorn and splits it in two, putting a half in each squirrel’s outstretched paws. “They should be coming around any moment now.”

And so they do. The two squirrels are in motion again, shaking their heads and staring confused at the half-acorns they hold in their paws. Twilight can’t help but let out a little gasp of joy when she sees them move. The squirrels are okay now—and always were, of course. They’re better than okay, in fact. They seem so happy to have found their little acorn halves, stuffing them into their cute squirrelly cheeks and dancing gleefully with each other.

It’s almost hard for her to believe that just half a minute ago, they were willing to tear each other to shreds over that acorn… But, then, that’s the magic of the Princess, isn’t it?

“Wow.” Twilight gasps as the squirrels run off together. “That was incredible, Princess!”

“It really wasn’t all that impressive,” says the Princess modestly. The slightest hint of red creeps into her cheeks. “But thank you, Twilight.”

“And you can do that for ponies too?”

“Everything the light touches,” The Princess repeats. She turns back toward the garden path, beckoning Twilight to follow. “For a pony, I can do all that and more. I can make them forget their squabbles, lose sight of their hatred, and ease their fears...” She pauses. “And I can help them move beyond their mistakes.”

“Wow,” says Twilight again. Even for a pony who moves the sun and the moon across the sky every day, she’d never have guessed that the Princess would have such a wondrous power. But then, she’s seen something like this before, hasn’t she? A spell cast by the bestest most wonderfully amazing foalsitter in the world. “Is it kind of like Cadance’s magic, then, Princess?” she asks. “The spell she uses to help ponies fall in love?”

“A little,” says Princess Celestia, smiling. “Cadance’s love spell can help ponies look past their differences for a while, but it doesn’t quite solve them. It works with their emotions, which is only scratching at the surface. The spell I use goes a bit deeper, so it works a bit better.”

“But everypony in Canterlot knows about Cadance’s spell,” says Twilight. And surely they do—there used to be so many ponies knocking at her door, asking if Cadance was there and if she could use her magic to help them. “If yours is even better, why haven’t I heard about it? Wouldn’t everypony want you to help them forget those sorts of things? The bad stuff?”

“Ah.” The Princess sighs, looking down at her, and for the first time Twilight sees the faintest of lines beneath her eyes. A tiredness that she’d never quite expected to see in the Princess of all Equestria. “Well, now,” she says, sighing again. “That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? One I’ve wondered about quite often myself...”

Twilight gulps, a little unnerved but still curious. “...Wouldn’t they, Princess?”

“You would think so,” says the Princess. She smiles and the lines seem to fade away, disappearing so quickly that Twilight wonders if maybe she’d only imagined them. “It’s a very useful spell, but not everypony likes the idea of it. Some of them are afraid of what I’ll see when I look into their thoughts.”

“Well that’s silly,” says Twilight reflexively. “Why would they be afraid of—eep!” Her brain catches up with her mouth. If—maybe—if the Princess can see into her head, can she see everything? The reading that wasn’t on her course list? The extra credit assignment she hasn’t started on yet? Even the one time she snuck into the Throne room and touched the Royal Throne?

Without permission?

She coughs. “I, uh, I mean… why would they be afraid of that, Princess?”

The Princess laughs and gives her a wink. “I think you may have figured it out for yourself.”

“Well…” says Twilight, “I think I can see why it might make some ponies nervous.” She shuts her eyes tight for a second, hoping against hope that maybe the Princess hasn’t looked at her thoughts yet. Or, better, that the Princess has looked already, and seen that even if she did break the rules that one—and only the one—time, she’ll never do it ever again. Never ever forever, she adds silently, praying the Princess sees that much, at least.

She feels a feathery light touch on her mane and looks up to see the Princess brushing it gently with her hoof. “And don’t worry, Twilight,” she whispers. “I haven’t looked.”

“Thank you, Princess,” says Twilight, smiling. She feels so honored, knowing that even with the power to see into her thoughts and know everything she’s ever done wrong, the Princess trusts her enough not to look. But just below that, there’s something else—a stabbing pang of guilt in the deepest part of her stomach. She knows deep down that she doesn’t really deserve that trust. How can she, when she’s already proven she’s abused it?

No more, though, Twilight resolves. No more sneaking around or hiding things, hoping the Princess—mind-reading powers or otherwise—doesn’t see. She is Princess Celestia’s most faithful student, after all. The least she can do is live up to the title.

They stand there a little while longer, the student and her princess. Nothing more is said on the matter, but nothing more needs to be said. Twilight closes her eyes and enjoys the moment for what it is. She’ll try harder from now on, and surely Princess Celestia knows she will too.

That’s enough for her.

Eventually, the Princess speaks again. “That’s not the only reason it must be kept secret, though.”

“Hm?” Twilight blinks. “What’s that, Princess?”

“I mean that some ponies simply don’t want to forget things,” says the Princess. She takes her hoof from Twilight’s mane and steps back. “There are those in Equestria who would want to hang onto every memory. Even those that are most painful to them.”

“Well now that’s silly,” says Twilight. The dreaded thought of failing a test again fills her mind. “Why would they want to remember painful things?”

“Oh, for many reasons.” The Princess picks a flower from a nearby rosebush and admires it. “Some memories are simply harder to let go of than others. A loved one who never loved them back, for instance. Or a choice they aren’t quite sure they should have made. It’s not silly, really. The past just has a way of preoccupying our thoughts.”

“So what can we do for them, Princess?” Twilight asks. “If they don’t want to forget those things, even if they hurt, we can’t make them.” She pauses. “...Right?”

“Another question I’ve asked myself often,” says the Princess, carefully plucking a wilted petal from the rose she’s picked. She smiles. “What do you think, Twilight?”

“Well…” Twilight sets her mind in motion again. What does she think? “I mean... if you have a spell powerful enough to see into a pony’s head and make them forget things, Princess, shouldn’t it only be cast on ponies who want it?” That seems reasonable. Surely the Princess wouldn’t want to cast a spell on a pony who doesn’t want her to. “You said it could be dangerous if used wrong, right?”

“I did, and I thought the very same things, once upon a time,” says the Princess, nodding. “But I think now that it depends on what's best for each pony... And if, sometimes, they don’t quite know what they want, all I can do is help them to see what they need.”

"If they don’t know what they want?" Twilight thinks on that. How could anypony not know what they want? That seems like it should be the easiest thing to know. Certainly no harder than knowing how to dress at a Canterlot party, or the underpinnings of the amniomorphic spell. “I'm... not sure I understand, Princess.”

“No, perhaps not,” the Princess agrees. “But you will. And you’ll be the first. I have great faith that you can learn.” She sets the rose neatly back in the bush. “And perhaps, someday, you might help others understand too.”

“I—well, maybe,” says Twilight. She isn’t quite sure she understands, or that she ever will. She'd never even dreamed that Princess Celestia had magic like this before today, and even now she isn't entirely sure what the Princess is trying to tell her about using it... But where the Princess has faith, so does she. “I’ll try, Princess.”

Princess Celestia smiles. “That’s all I can ask of you, Twilight. Come along, then. I think another example might help.”

Twilight follows dutifully as the Princess leads her again through the Gardens. She’s never quite been this far in before, but now she wishes that she had. The more exotic attractions are kept back here, like the buzzards that can really buzz, and row upon row of strange and colorful flowers. She’s heard about them before, read about them, but she’s seeing them now for the very first time, and that’s something different altogether. Even in the Royal Canterlot Gardens she can hardly believe there are so many unusual and incredible sights.

It just goes to show, she supposes. There’s always more to something if you look closer at it.

“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” the Princess says as they pass an array of rainbow orchids. “Do you like the Gardens, Twilight?”

“Of course, Princess!” says Twilight. She takes a sniff of one of the orchids and sighs happily. “Everything here is beautiful.”

“I suppose it is,” the Princess laughs. “It must take a lot of work to keep it that way, don’t you think?”

“I… guess so,” says Twilight. It’s almost strange to think about how much work must go into keeping the Gardens so pristine and amazing. She comes out here so little that it’s always seemed to her like everything grew this way. Rationally, logically, she knows that can’t be the case—there must be gardeners—but she sees them so rarely too that it never felt like there were. She nods, looking again at the orchids, arranged in so many intricate patterns that it’s almost mind-boggling. “A lot of work, Princess.”

“Indeed,” says the Princess. “And it’s the same for everything around us: the weather, the animals, the seasons. All of it has to be carefully managed, or it no longer looks quite so beautiful. Can you imagine what it must be like for a squirrel when there are no ponies around to take care of it?”

Twilight shudders. She doesn’t need to imagine. She’s already seen what squirrels can do to each other, if they aren’t taken care of. Surely it must be even worse in the world beyond the Gardens. The Everfree Forest, even, where there are no ponies to take care of the animals at all. How many wild squirrels are running around hungry right now, fighting and scratching and biting each other over acorns? “I don’t… I don’t want to think too hard about it, Princess.”

“No, of course not. I’m sorry for reminding you of it,” says the Princess, understanding as ever. “But you see the point, don’t you? Everything around us needs a watchful eye and tender care. It’s my duty as Princess, then, to take care of all my subjects, just as the city of Cloudsdale takes care of our weather.”

“I... think I see, Princess,” says Twilight. She thinks back to how the Princess calmed the squirrels, stopped the fight, and even helped them make up with each other. “And you use that spell to do it?”

“If it makes them happier, yes,” says the Princess. She urges Twilight along, over to the hedges, where a mare carved in marble stands triumphantly with an orange flag. A double of the first Victory, maybe? Or was this one made for another war? The Princess stops to stare at it. “How much do you think the Griffon Invasion cost us, Twilight?” she asks. “Roughly speaking.”

Twilight blinks, straining to put the answer together. She’s read every book about the Griffon Invasion ever written, and then some. She should know this!

Or should she? The history books never cover that sort of thing, do they? It’s always dates and battles and historical backgrounds. More important names and places than losses and casualties. “I… don’t know, Princess,” she admits, beaten. “It can’t have been that much, can it? I mean, we won, didn’t we?”

“Ah,” says Princess Celestia, nodding thoughtfully. “You would think so, wouldn’t you? But no, it was a very costly war. Most battles were won only at great sacrifice, to say nothing of all our losses.”

“Are you sure, Princess?” asks Twilight. “Because my textbooks say we won every pitched battle we fought. Though the Griffons didn’t really engage us in pitched battle that often, according to Equestrian Histories...”

The Princess smiles that same patient smile. “Take it from someone who was there,” she says. “We lost quite a few more battles than we cared to talk about.”

“But then why do my textbooks say—” Twilight’s eyes widen as she makes the connection. She gasps. “Was that you, Princess?”

The Princess turns away from her, gazing intently at the statue of Victory. “Not all of it,” says the Princess. “Very little, in fact. I think even back then we were trying to put the horrors of it behind us. Building statues to our victory and not all our little defeats. I just gave things... a little push.”

“But the textbooks!” Twilight cries out. She cups her hooves over her mouth, acutely aware that she’s raising her voice to the Princess. “Sorry, Princess—I mean… Shouldn’t we be trying to remember everything we can about history? It’s important that we learn it so we don’t repeat it, right?”

“I remember it,” says the Princess calmly. She hardly even seems to have noticed Twilight’s outburst. “And now so do you. But for most of Equestria—the ones who lost their friends, their homes, their families… I think they were happier for putting it all behind them. We remember the Invasion as a victory now, not a tragedy. Isn’t it better that way? To remove the black marks from the record and remember success than keep them there and remember the failure?”

“I guess I did say that...” says Twilight. “But, but…” She sighs, the protests dying before she can verbalize them. “I don’t know, Princess. It just feels wrong. When ponies read the books now, they won’t know what really happened.” She frowns, thinking about all the hundreds of textbooks she’s read, reread, and memorized. “Books aren’t supposed to lie to ponies...”

“Perhaps they won’t know what really happened,“ says the Princess. “But they’ll still know that their ancestors fought very bravely and valiantly to keep Equestria safe. Isn’t that more important than knowing that some of them died in the process?”

“I guess so…” says Twilight. And maybe it’s true. If her great-great-great-grandparents had been fighting in the Invasion, instead of organizing the Royal Canterlot Library, wouldn’t she want to hear all the good stories where they helped fight off the Griffons? Not the inevitable, terrible end, where they died on a Griffon’s spear... “I think… I guess that would be more important.”

“I’m glad you understand,” says the Princess, smiling. “It’s not just the Griffon Invasion, you know. The same patterns have played out a dozen times throughout history. The Changeling Exile, the Crystal Empire... the Mare in the Moon. Equestria is a very beautiful land, and I love it despite all its faults, but it does take a lot of work to keep it that way.”

Twilight nods hesitantly, still not entirely convinced. She’s never heard of any of those things before, but maybe that’s because it’s as the Princess says: Equestria wanted to forget them, and she’s only helping along what’s already happening.

“So it’s just like the Gardens, then, Princess?” she asks. “I guess that—” she stops as she hears a raspy humming sound in the distance. What is that noise? It doesn’t sound like any buzzard or hummingbird she’s ever heard. She lifts her ear to it, trying to figure out what it is. It’s not just a sound, Twilight decides. It’s too lyrical, too rhythmic—a song. Somepony’s humming a song.

“And speak of the gardener,” says the Princess, with a wink. She leads Twilight toward the source of the humming, to where an ancient brown earth pony is busily clipping at the hedges, trimming them into shape. “Is that you, Thymer?” she calls aloud.

Thymer? Oh! Twilight’s face brightens as she recalls the name. Of course, Old Thymer! She remembers now. He was the first pony to show her the Gardens, when she’d first moved into Canterlot Castle. Was it really all that long ago? How could she have forgotten him?

“Eh? Well I’ll be!” says Old Thymer, turning away from the hedges. “It’s the Princess herself!” He puts his hedge-clippers down and steps over toward them. “A fine day to you, Your Highness,” he says. “Forgive me if I didn’t hear you the first time, you know these old ears can—ack!” His hoof suddenly sinks into the grass and he only just manages to stabilize himself before he falls over. “Rashin-frashin’ gob-smackin’ gopher holes!” he shouts, spittle flying from his mouth as he pulls his hoof out. “What’d I tell you all about makin’ those?” He grumbles, glaring at the hole as he hobbles forward.

“Hi Old Thymer!” says Twilight when he reaches them. “Is your hoof all right?”

“Eh?” Old Thymer blinks. “Oh, and it’s everypony’s favorite little scholar too!” He bows to the Princess, waiting for her signal to rise. “And this tough old hoof’ll be fine. Really I’m just sorry you both had to hear that little outburst there. It’s not something young’uns or royalty should be hearing.”

“It’s fine, Old Thymer,” says Twilight, stifling a giggle. Old Thymer’s the only pony she knows who’d ever think that sort of language is rude.

“It happens to all of us,” Princess Celestia agrees. She gives him a nod. “You are excused, of course.”

“Thank you, Princess,” says Old Thymer, rising. “Now, if you don’t mind my asking, is there anything I can help you with? Fruits, herbs, veggies? Any sort of botanical emergency?”

“Not as such, no,” says the Princess, the corners of her mouth trending upward. “But now that you’re here, I would appreciate it if you could talk to Twilight a bit about what you were doing just now?”

“Oh, a lesson for the little scholar!” says Old Thymer, grinning. “Why, sure. Why don’t you come along here, Twilight, and I’ll show you.” He leads Twilight over to the hedge, still hobbling on his injured hoof, and picks up his shears. “So this here’s a hedge,” he says, pointing to the hedge. “And this here’s the prunin’ shears for ‘em. You know why hedges need pruning, Twilight?” he asks.

“To get them into pleasing and decorative shapes?” says Twilight, recalling the description of topiary from A Brief History of Equestrian Artwork.

“No!” Old Thymer scoffs. “Well—kinda. But where’d you hear that? A textbook?”

“Yes…” Twilight admits sheepishly.

“Ha! Well, guess I can’t blame you for that,” he says, laughing. “Now, the other reason to make sure the hedges are all neat and trimmed—besides makin’ them look fancy—is that it helps ‘em grow green and dense. It’s good for ‘em. Keeps ‘em healthy.”

Twilight looks to the Princess, and the Princess nods at her. She nods back and listens intently, drinking in everything Old Thymer has to say. This must be important, somehow. “Doesn’t cutting a plant hurt it, though?” she asks curiously. “How can you help them grow when you’re cutting branches off?”

“Well, no, see, it doesn’t hurt at all,” Old Thymer says. “When you prune ‘em it tells the plant to start growin’ new leaves and where to grow ‘em.” He takes a few snips here and there from the hedge. “If you don’t prune ‘em they grow all scraggly and out of control. Get a lot of bare brown branches instead of nice green leaves everywhere. Believe me, nopony likes lookin’ at a hedge like that.” He looks briefly to the spot where he almost fell. “Nor no good-for-nothin’ gopher hole neither,” he adds darkly, just beneath his breath.

“Huh.” Twilight studies the hedge as Old Thymer prunes it. It does seem pretty leafy and green. About as much so as everything else in the Gardens. And all of them must have needed Old Thymer’s pruning to get that way… Is that what the Princess is trying to tell her, then? That what she does is just like Old Thymer’s pruning?

That… would make sense, wouldn’t it? The Princess isn’t hurting anypony when she makes them forget something, she’s just shearing away the bad memories, and then maybe that helps them grow and make new, better memories? “Thank you, Old Thymer,” she says, giving him a quick hug. “I think that makes things a bit clearer.”

“Woah, now, little missy,” says Old Thymer. He hesitates for a moment, then hugs her back. “Glad that helped, then.”

“I’m sure it did,” says the Princess. “Thank you for your time with Twilight, Thymer.” Briefly, her horn glows with a familiar white light. “We’ll be getting out of your mane, now.”

Twilight gasps. She wants to say something, to warn Old Thymer or tell the Princess to stop, but no words come out when she tries.

“No trouble, Princess. Just doin’ my—” Old Thymer’s body freezes up, stiff as a board, and for just a second his eyes go curiously blank. “—job,” he finishes, his eyes coming back into focus. “Eh, what was I sayin’ just now?”

“You were just explaining to Twilight how hedge-pruning worked,” the Princess reminds him.

“Oh, well, guess I was,” says Old Thymer. He looks to the neatly-trimmed hedge. “And guess I’ve already finished with it too. Forgive me, Your Highness, you know this old head’s got a lot of thoughts to keep track of.”

“Of course,” says the Princess. “We’ll just be on our way.” She points to the little hole where Old Thymer caught his hoof. “And do watch your step when we’re gone. There’s a gopher hole.”

“Really, now?” Old Thymer looks at the hole, turning his head sideways. “Son of a gun, I’ll be. Told ‘em to stop doin’ that. Guess it didn’t take. I’ll get on fixin’ that right away, Princess. Good day!” He takes a step on his injured hoof and winces. “Old hoof must be actin’ up again too,” he mutters. He switches to his other hoof and starts to hum that raspy humming song of his as he limps off.

“Princess…” Twilight begins, as soon as he’s out of earshot. “Why did you—”

“It’s just a little thanks for his time,” says the Princess. “He’s happier now.”

“I…” Twilight pauses. He did look happier, didn’t he? She turns back to the sound of Old Thymer’s humming, slowly fading as he limps further and further off. It does seem like he’s less angry, now that he’s forgotten about falling in the gopher hole, but Twilight can’t help but wonder if perhaps, just maybe, he’d be a little happier too if he knew why he was limping. “Okay, Princess.”

“It’s not always about solving conflicts or making Equestria a better place,” says the Princess gently. “Sometimes all that matters is making ponies a little happier. Thymer was upset, Twilight. I could see it. Do you really think it would have been better for him to hold onto that anger?”

“I don’t know, Princess...” says Twilight. It had seemed so much easier to think of making ponies forget things when the Princess had spoken about it. When Old Thymer had helped her to understand it. But actually seeing the Princess do it to Old Thymer… it didn’t feel right. It was so sudden, so fast. Old Thymer hadn’t even known the Princess was doing it. Maybe he was happier now, but at the very least, shouldn’t he have been given the option?

“As I told you, Twilight,” says the Princess, moving on. “Sometimes ponies don’t know what they want, and if they don’t, it then becomes my duty to help them find what they need.”

Twilight looks at the Princess as she walks away. That was exactly the answer to what she’d been thinking. Had the Princess guessed, or...? Would the Princess do that to her? No. She wouldn’t, would she? She’d told her that she hadn’t. That she wouldn’t. Princess Celestia trusted her enough not to do that sort of thing.

But then, she thinks, remembering Old Thymer, how would I know if she did?

“Hm?” The Princess turns back toward her. “Are you coming, Twilight?”

“C-coming, Princess,” says Twilight. “Just a bit distracted.”

“Well now, don’t think too hard about it,” says the Princess, laughing. “Not out here, anyway. I’m sure we can find you someplace cozy to sit and take notes.”

“I don’t take that many notes about my thought process, Princess,” says Twilight. She looks up at the Princess once more and sees that radiant smile shining down again on her. No, she decides. She wouldn’t. How could she have doubted that for even a moment? Twilight feels her cheeks growing hot. The Princess’ most faithful student should have a little more faith in her teacher than that. Princess Celestia would be so ashamed of her now if she knew that all her trust was placed in a filly who didn’t even try to trust her back.

“I think Spike would like to disagree with you on that,” says the Princess, “but perhaps we should start heading back to the castle. You’ve learned plenty for one day.”

“I can still learn more, Princess!” says Twilight quickly. It occurs to her only now that this is the most time she’s ever had to spend alone with the Princess. “Really! Just a little bit longer, please?”

“I don’t know,” says the Princess. She bites her lip, as if unsure. “I... shouldn’t. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, Twilight. Ponies twice your age have learned half as much as you have today, and understood nowhere near as much. We can head back to the castle and have tea together there, but perhaps it’s time we took a break.”

“I can keep learning, Princess!” Twilight insists. She has to show the Princess that she does believe in her. That the Princess can tell her anything and trust her to understand. To trust the Princess back. How can she call herself the Princess’ most faithful student if she can’t even prove that much? “I promise!”

The Princess chews her lip, weighing the decision. “Are you sure, Twilight?”

“I am!” Twilight grins, sensing victory. “Trust me!”

“If you insist,” says the Princess with a sigh. “One last lesson, then. The hardest. Follow me.”

Twilight giggles with glee as she follows. The hardest lesson! She can handle that. She will. And then she’ll prove her faithfulness beyond doubt. The Princess deserves as much. Getting perfect grades and turning in the coursework on time is important, but even more important is knowing that the Princess’ trust in her hasn’t been misplaced.

She frowns as she realizes the path the Princess is following will lead them out of the Gardens. Away from exotic plants and animals, from the statues of Victory and the hedges that have to be pruned to stay beautiful. No more of that, apparently. Instead, the Princess leads her to a simple oak tree, standing just beyond the shade of Canterlot Castle.

“Why have we stopped here, Princess?” she asks. “I thought this was going to be the hardest lesson?”

“It is,” says the Princess. “Listen.”

Twilight listens. And she hears it. Just above the gentle breeze and the light rustling of leaves, she hears it: the sad, soft chirping of a mockingbird.

“The final lesson,” the Princess tells her, “is letting go of what you love most.”

The Princess points at the base of the oak tree, to where a tiny baby mockingbird lies, and Twilight gasps. She looks up at the mockingbird in the tree, now wailing even harder. She knows what happened now. The mother had pushed its baby out of the nest…

And it hadn’t flown.

“It’s the hardest,” says the Princess, “because it means giving up the memories that are most precious to you. The ones that hurt more than anything else ever could.” She steps over to the baby mockingbird’s body and digs a hole for it with her hoof. Gently, she places the baby bird’s body in the little makeshift grave and pats the dirt down on it. In only a few moments, it’s buried. Nopony would ever find it, if they didn’t already know where to look. “And the ones that hurt most to leave behind.”

The Princess’ horn glows with that soft white light, and the mockingbird’s chirping stops. “It hurts no less, asking others to give them up too.” The glow fades and the mockingbird begins to sing again, but not in the quiet mourning tones of before. Now it sounds loud and proud and joyful, just like any other mockingbird.

Twilight looks at the baby mockingbird’s grave. “But… what happens to the baby?” she asks.

“The baby will have a long and well-deserved rest,” says the Princess. “For the mother, though—the pain can only stop once you’ve closed the wound.” She steps away from the base of the tree and gives Twilight a gentle nudge. “It’s not an easy lesson to learn,” she says. “I don’t expect you to get it all at once, Twilight. Why don’t we go and get some tea now? Perhaps that will help.”

For the longest time, Twilight says nothing. She only continues to stare at where the Princess has buried the baby mockingbird, so perfectly that nopony is ever going to find it without looking for it. And if nopony ever remembers it, then—well.

At some point—she doesn’t know when—Twilight begins to cry. Small tears at first, welling up slowly in her eyes, then big ones, falling in great heaving sobs.

“Twilight!” cries Princess Celestia. The Princess wraps her wings around her, enveloping her in their warmth. She feels a few white feathers wipe at her eyes, but it’s not enough to stop her from crying. “Twilight! Oh, what’s the matter? What’s wrong?”

I—I don’t…” Twilight sobs, the words pouring out of her just as easily as her tears. “I don’t want to be a baby bird!

“A baby bird? Twilight, what are you—?”

I don’t want to mess up when you’re counting on me to do something important! And I don’t want you to want to f-forget about me if I do. I’ve already messed up so many times, and I thought I deserved all the trust you put in me, Princess, but I don’t because I n-never told you. And I can’t—I don’t…” She sniffles, feeling the tiniest bit better having let it out all out. “I don’t want to fail you, P-princess..”

“Oh, Twilight...” She feels the Princess’ wings wrap around her tightly. “No, of course not. I will never, ever forget you. No matter what.”

Twilight wipes her eyes on the Princess’ wing again. She sniffles. “R-really, Princess?”

“I promise,” says the Princess, stroking her cheek gently with her hooves. “You’re my most faithful student, and nothing is ever going to change that.” She sighs. “It’s my fault,” she says. “I shouldn’t have let you rush this. I was so happy that you might finally—I’m sorry, Twilight. You weren’t ready yet. It’s my mistake.”

Mistake. That word. That one, final, terrible thought stabbing at her heart. “P-princess?” she asks.

“Yes, Twilight?”

“Have—have you ever made me forget something?”

“No,” says the Princess at once. “Of course not, Twilight. You are very special to me.”

Twilight sighs happily and snuggles into the Princess’ wing, her fears finally put to rest. She feels the soft warmth of the sunlight on her face and looks up one last time. And, just above the Princess’ loving smile, she sees the sun hanging in the deep blue sky, and how brightly now it’s shining down on her...

Author's Notes:

Credit, as always, to NorsePony and his wonderful editing work.

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