Court Musician

by Pascoite

Chapter 1: Court Musician

Pinwheel glared at the feather tips protruding along the fine silk sheets in front of her. Not her own fog-gray ones. No, gleaming white plumage, at once seeming sharp enough to cut steel and soft enough to cradle an infant. Those feathers wouldn’t exactly obey—Pinwheel’s boss could sometimes be less than responsive. And considering who stood above her—far above her—in the pecking order… Well, she couldn’t do a lot about it.

Princess Celestia lay motionless on her side, pinning her right wing underneath herself. And she ignored Pinwheel’s second attempt to roll her upright. “Princess?” Pinwheel gave her another prod, and finally, Celestia groaned and sat up. “Difficult day?”

Celestia nodded silently as Pinwheel draped the royal regalia over her wings and carried it to the rack on the wall. “Not especially. I just haven’t had an easy one in quite some time, and it tends to wear a pony down.”

Hooves next. Pinwheel took her buffing cloth off the vanity and worked them up to a nice shine. Those ornamental shoes always scuffed them up so much, but it was nothing Pinwheel couldn’t fix. A good polish would have the Princess feeling like new again, even if nopony noticed them. Really, with a mane like that, a prominent horn, and that ever-present expression of thoughtful intensity on her face, who would look at her feet?

For her part, Celestia at least enjoyed the pampering, as far as Pinwheel could tell. How long had it taken Pinwheel to convince her? Three years, if not more. She’d insisted that she could do it herself, that she didn’t require special treatment, but even the mightiest mountains eventually give way to the gentle stream. Of course, that didn’t necessarily mean she actually enjoyed it. Maybe she had come to accept it as an inevitability, but Pinwheel could live with that. A Princess ought to have an attendant, after all. She did so much for everypony else—only right that somepony would see to her needs. Pinwheel usually bristled at the type of ponies who would use the word “proper,” but if it applied anywhere, this was it.

Next, on to the coat. Pinwheel gripped the brush between her hooves and gave the pure white hair a thorough scouring. And she knew to linger a bit on the withers, where Celestia often got an itch she couldn’t reach. The Princess sat there so still, as usual. It rather reminded Pinwheel of a cat, perched like a sphinx, and quite possibly also made of stone, after such a lengthy court session. She’d wonder if Celestia had fallen asleep, if not for the occasional sigh.

“Left wing, please.” On cue, Celestia extended it, and Pinwheel picked through each row of feathers with her lips to give them a good preening. She reached for the bottle of feather oil. Not the cheap stuff that came with a little applicator, but a formula meant for real mouth-preening. Sometimes, the traditional ways were the best. And it even tasted like honeydew.

Quickly, she held a hoof to her nose—a little downy feather had tickled her snout, and it wouldn’t do to sneeze on Princess Celestia’s wing!

The tingle passed, and Pinwheel removed her glasses so she could get in there further—she found a skewed pinion, and she couldn’t straighten it no matter what she did, so she gave a strong tug with her teeth and yanked it out. “Sorry.”

“Comes with the office,” Celestia replied without flinching.

“No, I meant about the feather. But that, too.” She grinned at Celestia’s chuckling. She never could figure out very well when Celestia was joking.

“Well, that comes with the wings, then. You should know as well as anypony,” Celestia answered, cocking her head toward the ones folded against Pinwheel’s sides.

“Yes, Princess.” Pinwheel went back to work, rooting out flecks of dust, some thread from the throne’s cushion, and even a few crumbs of pumpkin bread. No need to let her know about those—she took so much pride in being a meticulously clean eater, and far be it from Pinwheel to burst that particular bubble. All the debris gone, she ran her lips along the wing’s edge to smooth everything back. “There!”

Celestia gave the wing a flap, and every single feather settled into perfect rows. She shimmied her shoulder around a little. “You do such a good job!” she said. “It feels just right, having everything in order.”

A brief smile, but Pinwheel didn’t have time for self-satisfaction. “Other side,” she said on her way around the mattress, and Celestia stretched out the right one. She would allow herself a bigger grin at that: Celestia didn’t respond to many ponies’ orders.

“Do you mind if I open a window? It’s gotten a bit humid,” Celestia said. Pinwheel nodded with her mouthful of feathers, and Celestia lit up her horn. Soon after, cool evening air seeped over the windowsill and pooled on the floor. Nice and refreshing down on her belly and sides, but Pinwheel’s face still felt too warm.

Chirping crickets and peeping frogs sounded from the dim light outside, and Celestia took in a noseful of the night’s scent. “My previous assistant was a unicorn, you know. Always expertly plucking out bits, on the rare occasion I needed her to.” Pinwheel slumped her shoulders. “Rather impersonal, though. I could never actually feel it. Thank you for convincing me to let you do this for me. You put up much more of a fight than she did—a ripe old fifty-three before I gave in. And you, only… twenty-six, right?”

“Yes, Princess.” She still had work to do, but Pinwheel couldn’t fight her grin anymore. She’d only ever heard of the one, and she assumed Celestia always chose a unicorn for her personal assistant, until her, at least. Five years at the job already, and with any luck, she’d serve for another forty.

“Different ponies have different strengths. That’s why I rotate what type I hire. Or that my ministers make me hire.” Pinwheel might have taken offense, but the usual smile crept into place, the one the Princess always wore when she said that. Celestia went still again, her breathing slowed. But over the faint rustling of feathers, Pinwheel heard a low humming. One of the guards outside the door? No, it was… the Princess?

“That’s lovely. I wonder who’s playing it.”

Pinwheel raised an eyebrow. “Playing what?” Celestia stopped humming, and Pinwheel could just make out an instrument in the distance. She wouldn’t have noticed it if Celestia hadn’t pointed it out. A simple melody, but an odd one, without a regular meter. “Ah. Yes, it’s pretty.” She hadn’t heard that song before, but Celestia clearly knew it—she swayed her head back and forth. Then she emitted a drawn-out “mmmm” and went silent again. Celestia must have been dozing now. That happened often enough.

Pinwheel finished with the right wing and left it draped across the cushion. She gathered up her grooming tools and slipped quietly from the room.

As she softly shut the door behind her, the clink of armor sounded. “Good night, Pinwheel,” the guard said. Bronze Patina.

Pinwheel couldn’t hold in a smile. “Good night, Patina. Lunch tomorrow?” He nodded. Silly stallion. Every Wednesday, sometimes with a group, sometimes only them. But he always grinned as if it were some special treat. “See you in the morning,” she said, covering her yawn with a hoof.

While running a brush through Celestia’s mane, Pinwheel rolled her eyes toward the scroll unfurled on the floor beside her. “So, for tomorrow’s agenda: Due to mechanical problems at the Cloudsdale Weather Factory,” she mumbled over the brush’s handle, “we need to have clouds ferried down from Vanhoover. You will receive the Zebra ambassador and trade minister at ten o’clock to renew our commerce agreements, the Captain of the Guard will have his soldiers ready for their weekly inspection at three—sorry, fifteen hundred hours. Private dinner with Princess Luna at six, and Princess Twilight Sparkle will drop by some time during the evening for your book club meeting. A fairly light day.”

“Thank goodness,” Celestia said. And then her ears pricked toward the window. “There it is again.”

“There what is again?” Pinwheel set the brush aside as Celestia pulled the window open.

“That music.” Just like the previous night, a wash of evening air flowed in, even a bit chilly this time. The sound must carry better in the colder air, if Celestia had heard it with the window closed. Anyway, it was a tad too cold for Pinwheel’s taste—the hairs of her coat stood on end, and she puffed her feathers out.

“It’s not unusual,” Celestia continued. “We have plenty of musicians in Canterlot, and I hear one or another practicing now and then. But there’s something about this one…” Her eyes lit up, and she started humming again. Yes, the same song as last night. Pinwheel remembered it well enough from hearing Celestia. She joined in, her soprano complementing the Princess’s alto. It had a certain… yearning to it. She could see why the Princess liked it.

The melody repeated twice, and when it ended, Celestia touched a hoof to Pinwheel’s cheek and turned a warm smile on her. “My, you have a lovely singing voice, Pinwheel! You should do so more often.”

Blushing, Pinwheel went back to her work. She’d heard Celestia sing under her breath on plenty of occasions, but she’d never added her own voice before. Their melodies right together, hanging in the air, but… it had to end. She’d finished with Celestia’s mane while running through the tune once more by herself, so on to preening the wings—Pinwheel would need her mouth for that anyway.

“Why did you stop?” Celestia asked.

“My duties, Princess.”

“No need to be so formal,” Celestia replied with a wave of her hoof. “I was rather enjoying myself.”

“Should I start again?” She’d liked the extemporaneous way it happened before. Doing so again would feel forced, but of course she’d do anything Celestia requested.

“No, no, never mind. It’s over now anyway.” Celestia pricked her ears toward the window. “I wonder who that was. I haven’t heard that song in…”

Pinwheel straightened a few crossed feathers, and the muscles in Celestia’s side tensed up, where Pinwheel had her nose pressed near the Princess’s wing joint, on her shoulder. Fresh from her bath, it still smelled of shampoo, of the detergent used to wash the castle’s towels… and of clouds and lily of the valley and morning dew. She took in another deep breath of it.

“I’m not familiar with it,” Pinwheel said as she wrestled her mind back to the moment.

“No, you wouldn’t be.” Celestia shook her head and sighed. “That one goes way back.” A knock sounded at the door—Pinwheel nearly jumped. “Come in!”

“The castle is secure for the night, Your Highness,” the guard said. Bronze Patina, Pinwheel noted. Always the first one here in the morning and always the last one to leave. So dutiful, even as far back as their school days. Funny that they’d both ended up here, and five years later, both ubiquitous fixtures around the castle.

“Thank you,” Celestia said. “Now please go home to your family.”

Family? Pinwheel perked an ear with the fleeting thought, but it soon drowned in the sea of feathers that needed straightening. That scent…

“Good night, Your Highness.” On his way out, he paused in the doorway. “Good night, Pinwheel. I enjoyed lunch today.”

Pinwheel grunted a reply. What about that song had enchanted Celestia so much? Just nostalgia, or did it hold a special meaning? She ran the tune through her head again as she went back to her preening.

Pinwheel’s day to have the morning off, and of course she swung by the castle to see if Celestia needed anything. And of course Celestia tut-tutted and told her that she was positively banned from the castle until her scheduled time. Just their normal routine for a weekend.

From down in the city, Pinwheel glanced up at the windows of Celestia’s chambers and tried to gauge a direction, but sound could echo around so much among all these buildings. No way to be certain, but with a general idea of where in town and that she’d definitely heard a stringed instrument, she’d asked around the neighborhood, and her inquiries had led her here: a two-story house with what looked like a large upstairs studio. The shutters flung wide, Pinwheel could see posters for musicals and orchestras covering the walls. Seemed like a better candidate than the last few she’d tried, at least.

She knocked on the door, and after a litany of clunking noises, a gray mare with a black mane answered. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am, but… this will sound odd.” Her wings popped halfway open, the way the stupid things always did when she’d rather crawl under a rock somewhere. “Do you mind if I ask your name?”

The mare wrinkled her brow and peered up and down the sidewalk.

Pinwheel shook her head and held a hoof to her chest. “My apologies—my name is Pinwheel. I’m Princess Celestia’s personal assistant.”

“Oh! I-I’m Octavia. Octavia Melody.” And the color drained from the poor dear’s face. “Is something wrong?”

“No! It’s just… Well, somepony’s been playing a song the last few evenings that has caught Princess Celestia’s interest. I’m trying to find out who.” Pinwheel shrugged and hummed a few bars to demonstrate, and a light immediately sparked in Octavia’s eyes.

“Oh, that one. Yes, it’s sort of a pet project of mine.” At her soft smile, Pinwheel finally managed to fold her wings back against her sides. Or maybe they’d cooperated because… Celestia would love this!

“I wonder if you wouldn’t mind playing it for the Princess.” Octavia opened her mouth to answer, but before she could form the words, Pinwheel added, “Privately. Tonight.”

And Octavia blanched again. “She wants… me?”

“No, no. Well… it’s a surprise.” In case it’d help, Pinwheel rolled her eyes. No big deal, Octavia, just another routine thing. No need to give it a second thought. “Yes, she would very much enjoy it, but she doesn’t know. Yet.”

Octavia leaned forward, her face a dam holding… something back. “Does she know the song?”

“I think so. She joined right in when she heard it.”

Gasping, Octavia took Pinwheel by the shoulders. “Was I playing it right? Does she know the words? Can she tell me—?” she spouted in rapid fire.

“I don’t know,” Pinwheel replied. She couldn’t help smiling at Octavia’s infectious enthusiasm—she was getting even more worked up about this silly song than Celestia had. “Maybe she can answer your questions tonight. But would you be willing?”

“Yes, yes! Of course! I have so much to ask her!” Octavia turned and rifled through a small desk just inside the front door until she turned up a key. “I need to go get the original! In my safety deposit box at the bank. I need—I need to—”

Pinwheel laid a hoof gently on her shoulder. “It’s okay. Really. Nopony else will be there. Just think of it as playing for a casual house guest or your mother.”

“But she’s the Princess!” Octavia gaped at her as if she were speaking a foreign language.

“I know.” Holding in a breath, Pinwheel stared at the sidewalk. That one fact had changed so much about her life, most of it for the better. But the enormity of it still felt like it might crush her at times. “I know.”

And now that poor mare sounded like she might hyperventilate, but she managed to squeak out, “What time?”

“Eight o’clock,” Pinwheel said. “I’ll tell the guards to expect you.”

Could the clock’s hands creep any slower?

Pinwheel watched the short one tick ever closer to the eight as she fought to hold Celestia’s hairbrush in her huge grin. Celestia would be so surprised!

But the waiting! Pinwheel cocked her head to the side. That eight might as well have been an infinity. Would she arrive right at eight? No, it’d take the guards a few minutes to show her up here. And she wouldn’t know how long to allow for that. She should have told Octavia seven forty-five. No, then she’d have gotten just as neurotic fifteen minutes ago.

Before she knew it, she was practically ripping that brush through Celestia’s mane, but if the Princess noticed, she didn’t say anything. And finally a knock at the door. “Enter!”

Bronze Patina swung the door open. “Good evening, Your Highness.” And then he faced Pinwheel with a big grin. “Hello!”

She returned his goofy look, then gave him a pointed stare and tapped a hoof at her cheek. He quickly swiped a hoof over his own cheek while she stifled a giggle. Just a little tomato sauce from dinner—she’d met him before going on shift, like she usually did on a Saturday.

Pinwheel nodded back, and then found herself still brushing through the same patch of mane. She set the hairbrush back on the vanity—better to leave a few tangles for tomorrow than to tear out the Princess’s mane today.

“A guest to see you, Princess,” Patina said, then beckoned somepony in.

Celestia raised an eyebrow at her unexpected visitor, but at the sight of the instrument slung over her back, she squinted at Pinwheel.

“I invited her, Princess,” Pinwheel said, bowing her head. “This is Octavia Melody.”

Celestia shot Pinwheel a sly glance, then pointed toward a clear space near the window. “Please.”

And too much, all going on at once: Celestia smirked at Pinwheel while simultaneously trying to keep Octavia from bending into a deep curtsy. Octavia fumbled through her saddlebag for her music stand, Bronze Patina waved madly at Pinwheel on his way back out… and finally, blissful silence. Celestia sat there like a sphinx again as Octavia tuned her instrument.

“I thought you might find it relaxing,” Pinwheel said, moving to drum her hooves over Celestia’s withers. “And none too soon—you have some horrible knots in these muscles.” Celestia opened her mouth to say something, but settled for inclining her head toward Octavia and closing her eyes.

Octavia raised a shaky hoof to her instrument and started into a nocturne. But just a few bars in, she missed a note. Celestia barely flinched—only Pinwheel knew her well enough to notice.

The music stopped. Celestia opened one eye, and Octavia stood there trembling. “My word, you look terrified! This isn’t a test.” She smiled warmly and let her eye drift back shut. “Think of it as an impromptu demonstration, as if you had a house guest. You’ll get no judgment here. Only enjoyment. Apparently, I need to relax more, or my assistant wouldn’t have arranged this.”

Pinwheel groaned inwardly. Impromptu? Arranged? When Celestia got into pun mode… And Octavia was probably too nervous to catch them anyway. Then Celestia reached her neck back to nuzzle Pinwheel. Her! When had she ever done that before? She blushed, almost coughed, and collected herself, returning to her massage and somehow letting her hooves run on automatic while her head swam. She could still smell the clouds and lily of the valley and morning dew on her cheek.

And that lovely glistening mane—Pinwheel leaned in and let it tickle her nose with the warmth of sunlight.

With a nod and a gulp, Octavia steadied herself. She took a deep breath and drew her bow across the strings again. Celestia soon returned to her sleeping sphinx posture, and through a second and even a third piece, she hadn’t budged an inch. Octavia hadn’t seemed to notice—she rifled through her saddlebag for something else to play, and she pulled out a few oversized sheets of parchment sandwiched between glass plates. They clinked faintly as she set them on her music stand. Was that the music she said she needed to get from the bank?

Octavia applied a fresh coat of rosin to her bow, and with an eager smile on her face, she teased out the first note. By the third, Celestia’s eyes had snapped open. That same song they’d heard in the night. No mistaking the smirk on Octavia’s face. She’d planned it this way. And Celestia joined in with her humming. She went on a measure or two, apparently expecting multiple verses, but Octavia stood there, motionless.

Celestia’s mouth hung open, and Octavia’s grin lost its confidence. She nearly withered under that gaze, but Celestia burst out, “Again, please, if you will.”

This time, Celestia didn’t hum; she sang. In her lovely alto, but Pinwheel didn’t understand a word of it: “Myn hert altyt heeft verlanghen…” Pinwheel gaped at her. It was… beautiful, but for all she knew, she’d gotten mesmerized by a bawdy drinking song. It didn’t matter, she supposed. She did all she could, joining in with her humming, but her ears pricked toward Celestia, taking in every nuance of shape from those words, those enchanting words. Yes, it was often enough an artistic conceit to mold some disproportionate grace from a coarse foundation, but she couldn’t imagine that here, not with that much authentic passion to it.

She glanced over at Octavia, who leaned forward, her own ears pricked toward the words as well, and Pinwheel could sense her rushing the tempo, intent only on reaching the final note. She didn’t even hold it out when she got there—just lay her cello on the floor as quickly as she dared and rushed over with those glass plates in hoof.

“Th-the words! You know the words!” Octavia practically shoved the first page into Celestia’s face, eliciting a curious grin from the Princess. “You—you know? Could—could you—? I mean…”

Celestia touched Octavia lightly on her foreleg, and if she hadn’t sat of her own volition, Pinwheel was certain Celestia would have forced her to with magic. “Calm down, my little pony. We have all the time in the world. Now, take a deep breath and tell me what has you so excited.”

As if it might speak for her, Octavia held up the first page again. It was an exquisite illuminated manuscript, but Pinwheel had never seen notation quite like it: a four-line staff with very blocky notes, not spaced out, but oddly clustered together in places. Octavia tapped a hoof on the glass. “The tune! Did I play it right? Did I get the timing, the ornamentation, the—?”

Celestia held up a hoof. “Perhaps you should start at the beginning.”

Octavia gave a hurried nod and took a shuddering breath. “But first, can I get the words?” She looked like she might pop if Celestia didn’t agree.

“Certainly. Pinwheel, would you mind taking this down?” Celestia waited until Pinwheel had retrieved a notepad and had a pencil in her teeth, then spoke slowly. “Myn hert altyt heeft verlanghen…”

Pinwheel furiously scribbled it down, all of it. If it meant that much to the Princess, then it meant that much to her, too. It only filled one small page—an entire treasure within a scant few inches. With the last period jabbed into the paper, Pinwheel glanced back at Octavia, who stared through the wall somewhere.

“Hundreds. These are hundreds of years old,” Octavia said quietly, hugging the plate to her chest. “I spent a lot of money to buy original copies. It’s… a passion of mine.”

A sparkle igniting in her eye, Celestia nodded. “Pinwheel, if you prefer, you may go home for the night. This could take a while, I think.”

“No, Princess! If something has captured your fancy, it is my duty to take note,” Pinwheel instantly replied.

With a shrug, Celestia turned back to her guest. “You were about to elaborate, yes?”

Octavia took a deep breath and pressed a hoof to her temple. “This music is so old that nopony knows anymore how it should sound. Ponies back then had no reason to think that music would change so much that they ought to document how to read it. See, the notes themselves look similar, but still different. We can tell pitch and get a rough idea of duration for each, but for some notations—” she traced a hooftip over a tight cluster of them “—we don’t know what they mean. We can take our best guess, or we can go by what few have survived through oral tradition, but even then, there’s no way to tell how much they’ve gotten distorted over time from poor memories, taking personal liberties with the music… anything! But to have somepony who was actually there! Could you teach me? Will you tell me what all of it means?”

As Octavia sat there panting, Celestia returned a weak frown and pursed her lips. Pinwheel recognized that look: when she had bad news, no matter whether she was telling a foreign dignitary or her own sister, it would surface. “I’m afraid I can’t help you there. While I love music, I never took much of a technical interest, so you likely know more about the written form than I do. At least I can go by my memory of hearing it sung. Long ago, I spent a number of years in the Witherlands and frequently heard street performers entertaining a crowd with it, though I can’t vouch for their accuracy.”

Octavia slumped her shoulders, but she maintained her smile. “That… that’s okay. Every little bit helps. What about this one?” She held up a different plate, which Celestia took in her magic and studied for a moment with a squint.

Then Octavia hummed the first line; Celestia’s eyes quickly lit up. “‘Tandernaken op den Rijn’! Yes, I know it well!”

Tripping over her tongue again, Octavia managed to cough out, “W-words?”

“If there were,” Celestia answered, “I never heard much of it. A little of the first verse, maybe.”

Octavia dropped to her haunches, and her face went pale. “Y-you know… you know the words,” she mumbled, staring off at the sky.

Celestia held a hoof to her chin and narrowed her eyes. “Tandernaken, al op den Rijn, daer vant ic twee maechdekens spelen gaen; die eene d-doch—” she shook her head “—dochte… I’m sorry. That’s all I can recall. Other than that, just the music. But I can at least help you with that part. Go back to the first song. See, right after the opening line, it seemed like you were taking a little too long of a pause—Pinwheel, please. I don’t wish to bore you. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Pinwheel cast her eyes down. The music didn’t matter. Seeing Celestia so thoroughly enjoy herself did, but for whatever reason, the Princess wouldn’t let her experience that. “Yes, Princess.”

No sooner had the door closed behind her, shutting her out of that wonderful time of discovery, when another voice rang out: “Hi there, Pinwheel!”

Bronze Patina again. She had to grin. At least his high spirits were pretty catching. “Hey, would you—?”

“Sorry,” Pinwheel said. “I still have a lot to do tonight.” She made a beeline for the library. But she did glance back over her shoulder at him. Once. A fleeting ember of a thought kindled in her mind, but its glow faded before those lyrics had consumed her again.

The Witherlands. So the language must have been Dutch or something close, probably an archaic form.

Pinwheel scanned over the titles of the Royal Canterlot Library’s linguistics section and pulled out a few of the more promising ones. Once she had a stack of five or six, certainly more than she could get through in a couple of hours, she carried them to a secluded table in the corner and pulled out her notepad. She’d had to write everything phonetically from Celestia’s recitation—from the Princess’s own account, she might not even know how to spell any of it.

Besides, she wanted to learn the words herself. That should provide the Princess with a nice surprise, and for a short time at least, she could claim to be one of only two ponies who knew them. Unless Princess Luna did, too. A small number, anyway.

She had no idea how long she’d been at it when she finished, but her oil lamp had run quite low. All worth it, though. Each new word found and translated sent a tingle through her chest, but she got the real chill down her back when she read the full text, all the way through:

My heart is always longing
for you my beloved.
Your love has captured me
I want to be your very own
For all the world
so that whoever can see or hear
that you alone have my heart.
Therefore love do not fail me.

She’d gotten through most of it before she found the entire thing printed as a poem, so she double-checked the rest quickly. No mention of setting it to music anywhere, and the pattern of capitalizing and punctuating seemed odd, but… that’s what she got.

Pinwheel had it right there, in her hooves: the thing that had fascinated Princess Celestia like nothing else she’d ever seen. All those evenings, year after year, the occasional topic of conversation might bring a glint to the Princess’s eye, but nothing before had made her so… contemplative, like it filled her heart to find that spark of a time long gone.

Hoofsteps, from across the room. Pinwheel snuffed out her lamp and watched through one of the bookcases. “I’m certain we have at least a few more old manuscripts in the secure wing of the library,” Celestia said, her voice echoing from the vaulted ceiling. “You’re welcome to borrow them, especially for scholarly research.”

“Thank you, Princess,” Octavia replied. Those two? Still up, chatting through the night? And after Celestia had encouraged Pinwheel to leave.

“Here, let me show you where we keep them—” Celestia jumped when Pinwheel emerged from the shadows next to her. “Goodness, Pinwheel!” she blurted out, a hoof held to her chest. “You should have gone home hours ago.”

“Here,” Pinwheel mumbled, pushing a copy of the lyrics into Octavia’s hooves. All properly spelled and translated. One of the copies, anyway. She gazed up at Celestia. So different. Gracefully tall, next to her own unusually short stature. Flawless white coat to her dingy gray. A bright, powerful sun to her meager dust devil. And commanding everypony’s attention to her blending into the background. “I wanted to make sure I had everything absolutely correct before I left.”

Celestia looked at her as she might a disobedient foal. “It’s long past midnight. Get some rest.”

“Yes, Princess.”

“Thank you very much,” Octavia chimed in. “I appreciate your hard work. This’ll help me a lot.”

Pinwheel nodded, her gaze locked on the floor. She left them alone in the dark, cavernous library.

Pinwheel exchanged a perfunctory greeting with the guards at the palace’s main gate. It had taken her all morning to deliver the confidential message Celestia had requested that she carry to the blacksmiths’ guild, especially since the Princess had forbidden her from flying there. Something to do with showing respect to their predominantly earth-pony membership. She guessed it made sense to meet them on their own terms. Walk a mile in their horseshoes or some such.

When she returned to the Princess’s chambers, expecting to find them empty this close to noon, she froze in the doorway to see Octavia packing up her instrument. “Thank you, Octavia,” Celestia said. “Another superb performance.”

“Princess?” Pinwheel said. Her voice might have wavered… if she hadn’t caught it in time.

“Oh, hello, Pinwheel!” Celestia followed her gaze to Octavia and waved a hoof toward the door. “She came over early today, as she has an engagement tonight. You have an amazing talent,” she added to Octavia. And leaned over to give her a hug.

Hot… was it hot in here? Pinwheel’s cheeks burned, and she hung her mouth open.

“Pinwheel,” Celestia said, facing her again, “would you mind escorting Octavia out? She’s only been here a few times, so she probably doesn’t know her way around yet, and Bronze Patina has gone for afternoon drills.”

Pinwheel coughed on the words stuck in her throat. “Yes, Princess.”

“Oh, and please treat her to lunch. Stop by the disbursing office to get some money.” Celestia rummaged through her desk for something. Probably paperwork for her next meeting—Pinwheel knew exactly where it was, but Celestia didn’t ask.

“Yes, Princess.” Pinwheel strode through the corridors with her marching orders and, had she been feeling particularly brash today, might have actually marched to make her point. Not that Celestia would notice. Octavia trailed along behind her, judging from the hoofsteps that stayed close, but she didn’t look back to check.

She stopped at a small barred window near the barracks and beckoned to the stallion on the other side. “Fifty bits, please.” Silently, he slid a bundle of coins through the opening, and then she signed the chit he gave her. “Bring back the balance and a receipt,” he said. Yes, she knew how it worked. He must be new around here.

“There’s an upscale cafe just outside the castle,” Pinwheel said. “We can get some good sandwiches there.” Octavia merely nodded. She’d seemed so talkative the last few nights. What had her all clammed up all of a sudden? She kept flicking her eyes at Pinwheel, but still wouldn’t say anything.

Even when they got to the restaurant, she just tapped the table twice with a hoof after Pinwheel had made her order. Two of the same, then. “I’ll have what she’s having,” Pinwheel supposed. Easier than asking questions or speaking at all. She clenched her jaw, and at some point realized one of the voices she heard around her was actually Octavia’s. But she hadn’t caught any of it, and here came the food anyway.

Octavia switched places with her cello, sliding into the chair next to Pinwheel. And she stared, with an odd squint to her eyes. “Is something wrong?”


Staring at her plate, Octavia shifted a few carrots around and poked at her napkin. She peeked over, tried to speak, stifled it with a polite cough. She could stay quiet, for all Pinwheel cared.

“Did I… do something to offend you?”

Pinwheel wouldn’t say the words, but she shook her head. And Octavia apparently took that as a sign to go back to babbling.

“I hope you don’t mind my playing for the Princess. You of all ponies should understand how much she needs to relax. I’ve only known her a short time, and it’s as clear as day to me,” Octavia said, laughing at her own little joke. “I’ve never had an audience who gets so lost in the music like she does, and I have to admit I love it.”

Pinwheel’s ears twitched at the invading word. Octavia didn’t need to speak so familiarly about the Princess, and she didn’t need to love anything about her.

“I can learn so much from her about music, just from her experience, even if she hasn’t studied it,” Octavia continued. “It doesn’t matter—so much of it is in the feel, anyway.”

Pinwheel nodded and gulped down the last bite of her sandwich, then swiped her napkin across her mouth. Back to silence, too. Octavia must have changed her mind again.

For a good five minutes, Octavia hung her head like a scolded child and barely touched her food. On her third try, she apparently managed to coax out the words stuck in her throat. “You came looking for me. In secret. Having second thoughts?”

Pinwheel only stared hard at the brick pavers. Nice shade of red, some sparkly bits in there. A little stain, probably spilled coffee.

Another few attempts to speak, and then Octavia opened her eyes wide. Her mouth formed into a small “o”. “I-I’m sorry if I took away too much of your time with her,” she said quietly.

Hot out here, too. Pinwheel’s cheeks burned even worse than in the castle. “Don’t worry about it.” She shoved herself back from the table and left a pile of coins behind. All of them. She didn’t even know how much the bill was. She didn’t care.

On her way back to the castle, Pinwheel ran through the words to that song in her head three times, her own little mantra. She’d said them over and over again last night, too, until she’d fallen asleep.

And she hadn’t gotten a receipt. Perfect. She probably still could, but she wasn’t going back there to ask for one. A great lunch, and out of pocket, too.


“You look tense,” Bronze Patina said. He plopped onto the bench of their usual picnic table in a small courtyard near the back of the castle. “Something happen?”

Pinwheel unrolled the top of her brown paper bag and slid out a carnation sandwich. Something about the smell—she held it up to take a bite, but she’d lost her appetite. Shame, too. She didn’t usually splurge for carnations, but they’d gone on sale at the market. Her sandwich fell onto the flattened bag. “You want this?”

With a sigh, Patina creased his brow. “What’s wrong?”

Leaning over the table, she curled a forehoof around his. He stopped chewing.

“You ever…?” Pinwheel said. She turned her head away from him. “You ever have somepony who was just there? All the time, so they’d become such a fixture. And then everything changed. But you realize it hadn’t changed, that it’d been that way all along, and now that you know, it—it changed again?”

Patina held a breath and squeezed her hoof back “I-I can’t say I have—well, maybe. I don’t know.” When she looked again, his face had flushed. He didn’t usually go silent, but at least he’d still listen. He’d always made a good listener.

“I’m sorry—I shouldn’t trouble you with this.”

“W-why not?” he said, practically spitting out his bite of carrot. “Why wouldn’t I want to help?”

Pinwheel forced her mouth into a tight-lipped smile. “I made my own mess. Lumping it on you would make me feel even worse.”

He only watched her. She’d tried that tactic many times before, of giving him an exit, telling him not to worry about it. And it had never worked. He’d merely watch until she talked. Or left. “You’ve seen Octavia around a lot lately, right?”

His hoof went rigid in her grip. “I-I see. You…” He drew a slow breath. “Do you like her?”

No!” Patina’s eyes went wide at the outburst, but Pinwheel was the one gaping. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean… That isn’t fair. She hasn’t done anything. Not deliberately, anyway.”

“What then?”

Pinwheel chewed on her lip for a moment. “What do you think of Princess Celestia?”

He immediately broke into a broad grin. “Oh, she’s wonderful! Just standing near her makes me feel all warm, and she always smells like—” he pressed a hoof to his chin “—I don’t know. Mist, cotton… Something light and airy. I can never quite figure it out.”

Turning back to face him, Pinwheel whipped up a convenient cough before she said something rash, then took a few seconds to reconsider. “But you don’t go near her that often. You’re always standing outside the door or on patrol or something.”

“Exactly,” he replied with a nod. “She’s so… charismatic, larger than life. It’s easy to get swept up in that, for any celebrity, really, but when she’s so darn genuinely personable on top of that… Well, a few of us in her personal guard refer to it as ‘The Glamour.’”

Pinwheel wrinkled her nose. “For real? Like fairies and such?”

“Yeah. I mean, no. I mean—” Patina chuckled and shook his head. “Yes, we really do, but no, she doesn’t have any such power. It’s more about us than her. Just some form of hero worship. We keep an eye on the rookies in case we see it happening. Then everypony grows out of it. Mostly.” He patted her hoof with his free one.

The Princess was amazing. It certainly made sense that a pony could get drawn into that big a personality.

Pinwheel stood, pushed her uneaten sandwich into her bag, and started back inside. But as she passed behind Patina, she curled a foreleg over his shoulder and hugged him. “Thanks. It helps to talk. But I’m going to get an early start on the afternoon’s duties.”

“Sure,” he answered. He raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t ask the question hidden behind it.

Good thing he’d left his armor inside today. The metal was always so cold, and it felt nice to have a warm body against her. With one last sigh, she pulled away and trotted off. Yeah, Octavia had clearly gotten caught up in all the excitement. But what to do about it? And if anypony should have spotted a starstruck admirer, it was Princess Celestia. Why hadn’t she put a stop to it?

“Yes, Princess,” Pinwheel said for probably the hundredth time today. She’d gone through the motions of her job all morning and afternoon, but nothing more. Go over the schedule, arrange the day’s meals, help the Princess with her bath. “Yes, Princess,” she muttered yet another time before noticing she was alone. But not for long.

Celestia strolled in, levitated her towel onto the washroom’s doorknob, and flopped onto the bed. She raised her head and peered at Pinwheel with a strange little frown—it held something back. But then a knock at the door drew both of their gazes. “Come in!”

Bronze Patina let Octavia in, then closed the door behind her. Again. Ever since that first night, they’d settled into a schedule. Mondays and Thursdays, for three weeks now. “Please, get some rest, Pinwheel. You’ve been going nonstop all day long. I’ll see you in the morning.” And Celestia broke into a broad smile. “Say hello to Bronze Patina on the way out. I have no doubt he’s still lingering in the hall, despite my advice. Perhaps because a certain pegasus hasn’t left yet…”

Yeah, he did… He did tend to hang around and wait. She nodded and turned to leave, but she felt a hoof brush up against her side—Octavia glanced toward Celestia and leaned over to whisper in Pinwheel’s ear. “It’s only music.” She added a wry smile and hunched her shoulders up. “Look, I get it: I’m the intruder. But please think back to when you first invited me, to what you wanted to do for her. Just look at her now, not all wound up like a watch. You gave her that, not me. And she knows it.”

She… she knew?

Octavia gave a sharp nod, then continued on to her spot by the window. She had a steel to her eyes—she wouldn’t stop, but maybe they’d reached an understanding?

“Thank you for loaning me those old manuscripts, Your Highness,” Octavia said. “I’ve started practicing them, and I think I’m getting the hang of reading the notation, based on the feedback you’ve given me so far. If you don’t mind, I’d like to bring them next week and get your input on whether I’ve got it right.”

The Princess had already assumed her sphinx pose. Eyes closed and everything. “Of course. I’m excited to listen, though I can’t guarantee my travels ever took me to where I would have heard them before.”

Even though Celestia couldn’t see her, Octavia curtsied. “What would you like to hear tonight, Your Highness?” she asked as she set up her music stand.

Pinwheel didn’t wait for an answer. Despite Octavia’s assurances, Pinwheel found herself clenching her jaw on her way out the door.

“Hi there, Pinwheel!” Bronze Patina strode up from where he’d been leaning against the wall.

“You were supposed to go home,” she said.

“You, too.” He gave her the same smirk he must give all the new recruits he sent on a hazing prank to find the “Captain’s punch.” She’d heard all about that one. And they usually did find it. “I stay until Princess Celestia goes to sleep, whenever that ends up being.”

“But Princess Celestia said you have a family… I guess I never realized you’d gotten married,” Pinwheel said with a wan smile.

Bronze Patina waved her remark aside. “No, my brother, his wife, and their two foals.”


“Say, would you like to grab a cup of coffee? Decaf, I guess, at this hour.” He rocked forward on his hooftips.

She had to grin—he sure could be sweet. “No, I still have work to do. I might be here late.”

Bronze Patina pursed his lips and nodded. “Maybe another time.”

She didn’t answer. As he walked away, she slumped against the wall and sang quietly along. That same song again, every time. Even on nights she got to stay and listen, she could sense a wall between them. Might as well be an actual one this time.

Down the cool stone she slid, singing those beautiful words as loud as she dared.

Pinwheel entered Celestia’s chambers, as usual, to help her get ready for bed after a late formal dinner. Octavia had shown up early today, and she’d started playing before bathtime had even ended. Something from the Water Music, unless Pinwheel missed her guess. She got the joke, even with her limited knowledge of classical music, and Celestia had flashed an amused little grin when it began.

But as they emerged from the washroom, Octavia propped her cello, strolled over to Pinwheel, and whispered, “A word, please? In the hall?” Princess Celestia, the towel still draped over her head, walked on toward her closet to finish drying and pick out a robe. So Pinwheel nodded, but she cocked her head at the washroom.

Octavia followed her in and glanced around at all the tile, then muffled her voice with a hoof. “You’re part of this, too. Stay. Even if she dismisses you, stay. I’ll let you know when.”

“When what?” Pinwheel asked. She wrinkled her brow. Octavia offering… help? She wanted—Pinwheel’s heart leapt.

“Just watch.”

Pinwheel hustled to catch up to Celestia before she was missed. Rub the towel over her coat, wring out her mane, wrap it up, help her into her choice of robe. Then she escorted the Princess to her bed and got out her grooming tools.

Instead of jumping to her duties, Pinwheel listened. She really listened, like she hadn’t since the first night. No sign from Octavia, though. Who knew how long it might take? So she started on Celestia’s shoulders, giving them a good rub-down, then moving on to brushing and preening. As always, it ended with the same song. The song. It only had one verse, but Octavia played it through three times anyway. As always.

But it didn’t end. Octavia improvised some kind of a segue, and Pinwheel could feel the chord leading into a fourth play-through. She shot a curious glance at Octavia, who nodded back, just a little. Pinwheel had sung along all three times so far, in a breathy whisper that Celestia couldn’t have heard. But Octavia had seen her. She nodded again as she held up her bow to draw the opening note one final time.

And Pinwheel gave the words sound. They surged forth from her chest, the same way she’d heard Celestia give careful shape to every syllable, the meaning as much in the tone as the text. And what meaning! Pinwheel poured all she had into it, until nothing remained. Her heart, laid bare before two ponies who… who knew, who understood. When it had ended, Octavia quietly packed up her cello and her stand. Nopony spoke.

Celestia’s eyes… Her brow drew together, and her head hung low, like she might gaze at a pitiable widow. “Thank you, Pinwheel,” she finally said. “That was beautiful. But you don’t have to sing that to me. In fact, you shouldn’t. Do you have any idea what you were saying?”

Pinwheel didn’t answer. She wouldn’t dare lie, but she couldn’t make herself admit the truth. She hadn’t expected this reaction. Celestia knew. She was supposed to know. Octavia had said—

“Pinwheel, that’s a love song.”

Still no answer. What would she possibly say?

The wrinkles on Celestia’s brow deepened, and she peered down at an injured child. “Do you understand why now? Why you shouldn’t do that?”

Her mind racing, Pinwheel went numb. Her wings drooped to the mattress, and her throat bound up with all the directions it could go. “Do you fall in love?” she choked out.

By the window, Octavia had gone pale. Her hoof shot up to her mouth.

Celestia stared back, then straightened her shoulders the way she always did when she wanted to have a serious talk. Normally, Pinwheel would jump at the chance, but… she gathered her hooves up and sat there, next to the Princess’s warmth, next to the scent of clouds. “Of course I do. But ponies are so intimidated by me that if I waited, none would ever approach me on their own. So over the centuries, I’ve learned to be proactive and pursue a relationship myself when I found a pony who caught my interest.”

Pinwheel’s eyes widened. “You have fallen in love before?”

“Oh, yes! Many times,” Celestia said with a wistful smile. But her throat tightened up again, soon enough.

“Do you ask them out yourself?”

Celestia chuckled, but her eyes had lost their usual spark. A foreleg dangled off the mattress, and she leaned toward it as if she wanted to follow. “You make it sound so simple, but essentially, yes.”

Along the wall, Octavia sidled toward the door. She was holding something back, but she only pursed her lips and stared at the floor. “I should go.” She wouldn’t meet Pinwheel’s gaze. Almost, but not quite—she practically trembled.

“You’re not interrupting, and I haven’t said anything that you can’t hear,” Celestia replied. “You may stay. I imagine this must be a subject that would pique anypony’s curiosity.”

“Still. I’ll see you Monday, Princess.” Without another word, she left and closed the door softly.

“I must thank you for finding her.” Celestia fixed her gaze on the heavy oak door and tapped a hoof against the bed. “I’ve really enjoyed making a new friend.”

Pinwheel nodded sharply and tugged the conversation back on course. “So if you don’t ask somepony, then I assume that means you have no interest?” Her heartbeat picked up. Celestia already knew—Octavia had made that clear. Celestia had read that Pinwheel sang to her and not just for her. So why would she dance around it?

“Yes, that’s right,” Celestia said in a monotone. Pinwheel slumped into the cushion, leaving her heart up in her throat. But Celestia’s mouth still hung open. “Mostly. There are times when I decide against it because it might cause political problems, it might do more harm than good to the pony in question, it might… Oh, I worry that they’d be starstruck, that they hadn’t fully considered the implications. Do you realize how incredibly safe a position it is to know that you’d never be the one who had to experience loss? And yet I fear that every one of them had a more difficult life because of their involvement with me. Sometimes, it’s for their sake that I say nothing.”

Her final word, then. A little ambiguous, a little noncommittal. Pinwheel sat in silence for several long minutes. In the end, though, she… she had a good friend. Maybe that would have to do. Yes, she could bide her time a-and—“Thank you for speaking with me so frankly, Princess. I hope I didn’t put you out.” She could barely hear her words over her own heartbeat, and they quavered so much anyway. She needed to keep steady, appear strong!

“Not at all. I don’t talk of these things often, but I have nothing to hide.” Celestia patted her shoulder, and that touch… Pinwheel could live with that. If that was the limit, she could live with it. As if she had a choice… but better to have the Princess as a friend and exit with some dignity than to continue making a clumsy pass at—oh, what was she doing!?

Pinwheel soaked up the silence, a different kind than only a minute ago. Her heart eventually slowed, and Celestia said nothing more, never lost her kind smile. Supreme patience: yet another thing about her that Pinwheel lov—

Pinwheel coughed. And the Princess took up her role as sphinx again, but open-eyed this time. Her throat full of words, too, and only minutes ago, Pinwheel might have thought—deluded herself into thinking Celestia sat on the edge of confessing…

But she had nothing to confess, of course. Except what a fool Pinwheel had made of herself. Chasing a mirage when the real thing—Pinwheel blinked and nearly laughed aloud.

After staring into the sun for so long, she couldn’t see anything else. And with that sun in front of her face, right here, right now, she finally saw, through the blindness and out the other side. “I suppose I should say hello to Bronze Patina on my way out.”

“I think that would be wise.”

“He really does like me, it seems, and I never gave him much of a chance. It’d be a shame…”

Celestia studied her face, but her own remained neutral. “Yes. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at figuring out which ponies would do well together.”

True. And now that Pinwheel had taken the blinders off, Celestia had gently suggested just that on countless occasions. “Yes, Princess,” Pinwheel said with the first smile that had accompanied the phrase in over a week. She stood up, walked away from that warmth, and headed for the door, for the rest that would begin once she left. Tomorrow, she’d return, and she’d perform her duties as usual. The old usual, before she had to complicate things with…

She forced out a sigh. She could see it already: in the morning, she’d offer her resignation, and Celestia would cut her off before she even got two sentences in, tell her to put such nonsense out of her mind, and go right back to being… wonderful.

For tonight, though, she might enjoy a cup of coffee with Bronze Patina before the shop closed. He really was sweet, and she’d worked with him long enough to know him as a pony of good character. She had thought of accepting his invitation before, at least until she’d mistaken Celestia’s comment about his family. And it certainly wouldn’t be fair to treat him like second prize.

Oh horseapples, when she’d hugged him the other day in the courtyard, so casually, yet felt a spark… No, too small—a radiance, and of course her stupid, fog-addled head had told her it had come from…

The way he always looked at her, the way he always asked her for coffee, no matter how many times she said she needed to stay by Celestia’s side. Why couldn’t she stop smiling? After that disaster of an evening?

Pinwheel glanced back into the Princess’s chambers from the doorway—Celestia lay there with her head on the cushion and her eyes shut. Then down the hall: Bronze Patina waved at her, that same goofy smile on his face, before turning the corner on another circuit of his patrol route. She’d known him for years and years, and—

If only she could scream! That pipe dream she’d clung to for how many years now? Even when the truth shone at her like a naked flame, Pinwheel found herself slumping against the same wall that had separated her from the Princess just a few days ago. Her knees quivered, and oh, how easily she could fall back into that same trap! Time to cut it off like a dead branch and tend to the living ones.

Only then did she notice Octavia fidgeting on the bench across from her.

“I’m sorry,” Octavia said as she sniffled and wiped a cheek dry. “I’m so sorry. I thought you just felt neglected. I didn’t realize—” She shook her head. “She doesn’t love you.”

“I know.” Pinwheel’s lip quivered, and she couldn’t hold her tears in anymore. “I’m such an idiot.”

“Or me,” Octavia added hastily, even more color draining from her face. “Oh! Y-you must have thought—Pinwheel, I have a coltfriend. I wasn’t trying to…”

Pinwheel gritted her teeth. “I know.”

Octavia buried her head in her hooves. “I should have noticed sooner, said something…”

Little by little, a smile worked its way across Pinwheel’s face. She rose from the floor, walked over to Octavia, and hugged her. “It’s not your fault. You were right—the Princess needs this. I’ve never seen her so relaxed as when she listens to you play something lost to time—even lost to her time. And you need her to fill in all that music you’re missing. I understand.”

“Y-you do?” Octavia flicked her eyes sideways.

With a nod, Pinwheel pushed her forelock back. “One of the few things I understand right now.” Could Octavia feel her shaking? She couldn’t exactly do anything about it. “I need to get my head on straight,” she muttered.

Oh horseapples. She did love Princess Celestia, and she always would, but more like the amazing aunt she’d see once a year and listen to her adventures through far-flung places Pinwheel could only dream about. Hanging on her every word, open-mouthed like some awestruck worshipper. She loved the Princess, but not like that, now that she really considered it.

She’d be completely overshadowed. Not somepony she could share a joke with, lose her self-consciousness, give as much as she got. Not somepony she could—she giggled at the thought, and Octavia shot her a curious glance—burp around.

“So,” Octavia said slowly, “we’re… on the same side again?”

“Yes!” Pinwheel said with an emphatic nod. “You tried to help me even when I got kind of… wacky. I owe you an apology.”

Octavia shook her head. “Not at all. I’ve enjoyed becoming good friends with her, and as one of her best friends yourself, you know how extraordinary that is. I have to wonder, though, if it’ll be weird playing for her again, after… well, depending on how much she figured out.”

“All of it,” Pinwheel replied, her mouth in a taut line. “You have no reason to worry, and I’ll make doubly sure in the morning, long before you come back. Please don’t stop playing for her.” Pinwheel gritted her teeth and grimaced. “Oh, I was so awful to you!”

“Apology accepted,” Octavia said, bowing her head. “I get why, though. And I understand. Just… you’re positive it won’t be awkward?”

Pinwheel hunched her shoulders up. “It won’t—”

“Because I’d hate to lose that avenue for research…”

With a chuckle, Pinwheel twitched the hoof that still circled Octavia’s neck. “No. As little as I know about music, even I can tell how important that is. Don’t give it another thought.”

Octavia finally hugged Pinwheel back and grinned. “You mean a lot to her. She talks about you often. Um—” they both blushed “—not in that way, but… You know, this really has ended well for all of us. She was right, too.” Craning her neck to see down the hall, she cocked her head after Bronze Patina.

“I… I know that, too.” Light. Pinwheel felt so light on her hooves as she stood and patted Octavia on the shoulder. “So… friends?”

“Absolutely,” Octavia replied with a warm smile.

Pinwheel took a step to follow him. “I-I’m sorry to run off, but… I need to take care of something.”

“Go on.” Octavia’s eyes gleamed as her shoulders bobbed in silent laughter.

Bad news. Yes, whenever Celestia had bad news, she always got that same look. She hadn’t tonight. Not that she hadn’t clearly rebuffed Pinwheel, but… Celestia hadn’t seen that as bad news. And then pointing her to Bronze Patina again, like she’d done so many times. Figuring out which ponies would do well together, indeed.

She set her jaw and concentrated on putting one hoof in front of the other. As she passed the Princess’s chamber door, she peeked in—again, the stoic sphinx. She’d have to speak with Celestia in the morning, apologize, explain, something. Whatever ironed things out. But she had the feeling that Celestia would make the whole thing as painless as possible.

Down the long hall she walked at a hurried pace until she’d caught up to Bronze Patina, nearly all the way to the south tower now. She cleared her throat.

“I hope I’m not being too forward, but I’d like it if you’d join me for a late dessert.” Wide eyes and a gaping mouth greeted her.

Then a nod and a big grin.

Author's Notes:

I hope people caught the title's double meaning. :twilightsheepish:

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