Greengrass's Night

by GrassAndClouds2

Chapter 1: Builder and Puissance

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8 PM

The Night Court. The elite ponies who were empowered by Luna Herself to administer the land. The lowliest member could overturn the rulings of elected officials on a whim; the highest had the ear of the princess and, through her, could dictate policy that would benefit or harm thousands of ponies. There was no criminal that could not be pardoned; no hero that could not be shackled, no business that could not be boosted into a massive corporation or seized and dissolved by the will of the Court. Indeed, those honored few who were admitted to its ranks could be said to control the lives of every being in Equestria. They were respected. They were feared.

And, sometimes, they were bored.

Duke Greengrass sighed and sat back on his flanks. “Honestly, Notary, why are we even here? This is the very definition of banal.”

Greengrass was a brown-coated earth pony, slightly shorter than average and just a pound or two more stout. His red mane somehow managed to be both dull and garish at the same time, although nopony, least of all Greengrass himself, could explain quite how he managed that. His cutie mark was a large red ‘X’ in the same color as his mane; trying to figure out what it meant had become a popular pastime among the gossips and whisperers of the court. “Good at marking tests” was the currently leading theory.

“Because you intend to vote on this measure in the morning, and felt that you should at least appear to be informed about it,” said Notary. She was a nondescript mare, also an earth pony, with a white coat and mane. Notary was from a long line of servants and secretaries who specialized in being neither seen nor heard except by their masters, and Greengrass found her enormously useful for precisely that reason. Her remarkable memory, superlative attention to detail, and candid honesty were also useful, of course. “Furthermore, you wished to ascertain whether Vicereine Puissance would be in attendance.”

“And she isn’t. It’s ascertained,” said Greengrass. “So I’d like to go now.”

The two were in the Duke’s booth, overlooking the large Chamber where ponies brought proposals before the Court. The chamber had a large floor area with seating for the lower Court members, the press, and whoever else had wrangled seats; there was also a raised stage in the middle with a dias for the speaker. The higher members of the Court sat in booths raised up along the walls. The booths were comfortable, and since becoming a Duke Greengrass had taken pleasure in enjoying his, but it didn’t really help in this particular case.

“Everypony knows how this vote will go,” muttered Greengrass to Notary. “Every single pony in these booths, and Builder Brick too. There’s no point in this speech. Puissance and Fisher have been trying to get that grant for months, and Fisher won last month. They should have just built it then and been done with it. ”

Notary shrugged. “I suppose Builder thinks some of the voting Court members might change their minds.”

“She needs three more votes for Puissance to get the grant, and she doesn’t have them. Whatever Puissance offered Builder to have the grant sent to her fiefdom, it clearly wasn’t enough – this dramatic last-gasp effort notwithstanding.”

“It would look bad for us to leave early,” said Notary. There was a hint of warning in her voice.

“I’m not actually going to leave. I won’t disrespect the Court over something so trivial.” Greengrass smiled slightly. “But it’s not disrespectful to complain if you’re the only pony to hear it.”

“I’m honored, sir,” drawled Notary.

After a few minutes, Builder began to wrap up. “And so, I thank this great Court in advance for agreeing to fund the construction grant, and I humbly request that the construction be positioned in Vicereine Puissance’s district, where it could be most useful. Thank you for your time!”

After the applause died down, Greengrass rose. “Do we have anything else scheduled for tonight?”

“Prince Blueblood is wasting your time at one, and there’s the vote at six.”

Greengrass sighed. “Why do they let that idiot call meetings still? He’s the dumbest pony in the Court.”

“Nepotism, sir.”

Before they could actually get out of the booth, there was a hurried thumping sound and a letter slid under the door. As Notary knelt to pick it up, Greengrass heard rapid hoofsteps fleeing. “And they say I’m unsubtle,” he said.

Notary opened the letter and began to read it. “Your presence is requested at nine o’clock in the western wing of the library.”

“The western… good grief, this is a secret meeting designed by somepony who’s read too much Daring Do. There’s a perfectly fine café five minutes from the castle.”

“Perhaps the writer is afraid of a waiter seeing you.”

“Waiters see hundreds of customers every day; that’s not notable. Two ponies skulking in the library?” Greengrass sighed. “Well, I suppose I should see what they want.”

“Would you like me to get Costume Change?” Costume was a skilled makeup artist who Greengrass hired on occasion to impersonate him, usually when trying to fool some third party.

“Not enough time.” Greengrass checked his watch. “But do get Ox and Bear. If this is some kind of setup, I want to be well defended. Thanks, Notary.”

Notary nodded and was gone.

9 PM

Greengrass entered the western wing of the library at nine sharp, looking for all the world like he owned the place. Flanking him were Ox and Bear, two large ponies – one blue and from the earth tribe, one purple and a unicorn – who spoke little and bucked hard.

Greengrass’s contact was waiting for him in the library. It was Builder Brick. Builder was sweating slightly, and her breath was shallow – like she was very nervous. Interesting, Greengrass thought.

“Duke.” Builder bowed. “I’ve heard you’re powerful and influential in the court – that you get things done.”

As flattery went, it was one of the better attempts Greengrass had heard. The usual tactic was along the lines of “you’re handsome” or “I’m unworthy to even look at somepony as majestic as you,” both of which were obvious lies. Still, flattery only went so far. “Thank you,” said Greengrass. “But if you just wanted to compliment me, you could have done so in public.”

“It is very important to me that the grant be awarded in Puissance’s district. I would be quite grateful were you to… help with this.”

“Why does it matter to you?” asked Greengrass.

“Well, it’s a secret—“

“Then I can’t help.” Greengrass rose. This was a bluff, he’d turn around if he had to (and laugh it off, maybe compliment Builder on her ability to keep a secret), but he didn’t think he’d need to. Builder looked nervous and desperate for help; she’d crack, probably, and tell Greengrass whatever he wanted to know.

And she did. “Wait. There's a lot of building in Puissance's province, but the Vicereine will only be interested in me if I can show her what I can do -- with this grant. It's my only chance. Isn’t there anything you can do?”

Oh, Puissance. I should have known. “That can’t be my consideration. I have to vote based on what’s best for Equestria.” Greengrass’s voice became a little more prodding. “Would putting the grant in that fiefdom be better than letting Fisher have it?”

Translation: I may want to help you. Give me a politically acceptable reason.

Builder nodded and began to rattle off a series of statistics that, Greengrass guessed, said nothing at all but sounded very impressive.

“Alright,” said the Duke, at the end, “I suppose those are good arguments. But I also have a specific duty to my constituents. This wouldn’t have any negative affects on them, would it?

Translation: what’s in it for me?

“On the contrary. In return for your help, the Builder Corporation – of which I’m in charge – would be happy to offer, say, a ten percent discount on masonry and construction in your fiefdom for the next year.”

Greengrass felt that he could get more. “We aren’t doing much construction these days.”

“Other -- other nobles too, then! Maybe nobles you need to vote with you.”

Now there was something Greengrass could use. He could think of at least four nobles who were both cash-strapped and wanted to embark on construction projects; holding this over their heads could be very useful. Plus, a debt from the Builder family would be very useful. It would be in Greengrass’s interest to intervene.

But could he do it? Fisher was canny; he might have a vote or two loose, but Greengrass would somehow need to find three courtiers to flip and vote for Puissance. Flip, despite Greengrass not having enough time to put together any kind of reasonable offer. Puissance had already tried everything she could, and frankly, she had more resources than the Duke. She was far older than him, and had been in the Court for longer. She had favors she could call in. If she couldn’t find the three votes, what could he do?

But on the other hand… well, he did like a challenge. Besides, he was one of the smartest ponies in the Court, and if you didn’t know that he would be happy to tell you. He could, he figured, swindle three votes over to the Vicereine’s side. He could at least try. The reward was high enough to make it worth the attempt.

He glanced at Ox, who nodded – at least as far as he could tell, no other ponies were in the library. Bear nodded too; no magical listening devices, then. It was safe to talk. “Very generous. Well… I might be able to help you.”

“Excellent!” Builder’s face broke into a relieved smile. “Thank you!”

Greengrass rose. “I’ll send you the list of fiefdoms in the morning,” he said, in a voice that made it quite clear that Builder would be expected to honor the list, no matter how many names were on it. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

Out of the library, back to his quarters, where he found Notary filling out paperwork. “Notary!”

“Yes, sir?”

“Where is Vicereine Puissance?”

“Her quarters, sir.” Notary paused. “Dare I ask why?”

“I would hope you can guess.”

“You are going to try to change a vote that has been decided for a month, despite not having the slightest plan of how to do so, and knowing that it will be politically humiliating if you fail?”

“Exactly! Come on, Notary. This will be a great adventure!”

“You have the finest of battle cries, sir.”

10 PM

“Greengrass, I’m honored for the social call, but really, if I wanted your help, I’d have asked you.”

Vicereine Puissance was an old mare, old enough that her mane had gone silver with age. Yet she still wielded an impressive amount of power on the Court. A son, two daughters, and a nephew had all schemed to usurp her and take the Puissance seat. None of them resided in Canterlot anymore, and for various reasons, none could return for years. Puissance’s remaining family knew better than to try to take her place until she was ready to give it up… which likely meant, when she was dead.

“Ah, but Vicereine, it occurred to me that you might not have realized quite how much help I can be. There are all these rumors that I’m just some arrogant, gauche stallion who is due to be drummed out of the Court any day now for my sheer gall.”

“I don’t think it’s a ‘rumor’ if it’s true,” said Puissance, dryly. “Really, there’s a way things are done here, and you haven’t quite grasped it.”

“My loss, I suppose. But in the meantime, I do seem to have accrued a bit of influence, and I’d like to demonstrate it. Show those ponies that I can play the Game just like them.”

“While I’m sure that will help you, I don’t see why you would select me for this particular demonstration of power. Unless Builder is bribing you?”

Greengrass didn’t respond right away, studying Puissance carefully. He hadn’t dealt as much with the old mare as he would have liked, and wasn’t as sure how to push her buttons as with some of the younger, more foolish nobles. He had little to bribe her with that she could not get for herself, she would laugh off threats, she was unlikely to be swayed by charisma. Pride, greed, revenge, love, none of them seemed quite right. But he wasn’t worried. This was where his special talent could come in, his talent honed by his acute political senses.


It was just one word, flitting across his mind, but the word brought with it a vision, and with that he saw the outlines of a plan.

“Nothing so gauche. I do confess I’ve an ulterior motive, but that brickhead has nothing to do with it,” lied Greengrass. Direct lies weren’t all that common in the Court – half-truths, lies of omission, creatively worded deceptions were much more common – but that was yet another thing that Greengrass never quite bothered to take into account. “May I come in?”

The Vicereine’s quarters were crowded with memorabilia of her long and storied career – awards she had won and honors bestowed upon her, souvenirs from the vast domains she had controlled at one point or another, a few trophies from defeated enemies. Greengrass, knowing he was in the presence of a political master who could easily have him exiled to the Mild West if she felt like it, felt a rare sense of unease. But he ignored it. The only way out was forward.

“I confess, I’d thought of approaching you for help in a scheme or two of my own in a few months,” said Greengrass. “About the time of the Galloping Gala. But seeing you in such peril—“

“Peril?” Puissance laughed, and Greengrass had to give her credit – it sounded genuine. “One grant won’t imperil my career, Greengrass.”

“It’s not the grant,” said Greengrass, with as much faked sincerity as he could muster, “But what it represents. Vicereine, think. You’ve been in the Court for so many years. When was the last time you lost a battle of any importance, to a pony like Archduke Fisher?”

“Oh, I’m not undefeated, whatever my publicist says,” said Puissance. But she smiled slightly, in acknowledgement of the compliment.

“But that’s my point exactly. You have this reputation of being undefeated, at least by any pony with a duchy or less. This one grant may not matter, but it will signal to your enemies that you’ve lost your touch. They will move in and try to carve up all the political power you’ve accrued.”

Puissance's eyes widened and she looked away --Greengrass had struck a nerve. It had been a long time since Puissance had fought a real battle; she probably hadn’t expected this one to be so hard, much less that she would lose it. She was probably, Greengrass thought, looking at her career and wondering if it was all downhill, if the next attempt by a family member to overthrow her would succeed and leave her as an old spinster in a drafty old castle. Yes, intellectually she would know that the grant was not significant in the overall Game, and that she could bury Archduke Fisher if she wanted. But emotionally, the first loss after a string of wins… that would be frightening.

“I’m touched by your concern, Duke. It’s so unlike you,” said Puissance.

“Like I said, I want to ally with you later. If you’re weakened from this, that hurts me.” Greengrass nodded, figuring out his next steps. “I’m not going to lie to you and pretend I have altruistic motives. We both know that nopony in the Court does. But we can help each other. If you let me help you preserve that reputation of yours now – perhaps even enhance it; I won’t mind if you spread the rumor that you duped me into helping you – then all I ask in return is your support for me, later, at the Gala.”

Puissance thought. “I suppose that there wouldn’t be much cost to me…”

“Of course not. I understand if you can’t spare—“

“That is not what I said!” Puissance looked indignant. Greengrass smiled to himself; another reminder of how tapped out Puissance was at the moment, to help her along the route he wanted her to take. Puissance, meanwhile, recovered and said, “Well, let me put it like this. What would you want from me?”

“You’ve been paying closer attention to this than I. Who are Fisher’s three weakest supporters? All I want is those names. And your agreement to help me at the Gala, of course.”

Puissance shut her eyes for a long moment. “Take care, Greengrass. If you betray me – or if this Gala vote is something inane like voting for you to be the new Emperor of Equestria – I will ensure that your destruction is so complete they will tell cautionary tales about you to new courtiers every year. ‘Pulling a Greengrass’ will become shorthand for an idiotic, devastating mistake from which there is no recovery and no hope of any end save resignation in disgrace.” There was steel in her voice. When the Vicereine threatened you, Greengrass knew, you paid her great heed.

Or you used to. In a few months, when all anypony remembered was that the great Puissance had been sinking and the bright young Greengrass had to bail her out, things might be different. But Puissance wasn’t thinking of that, and Greengrass wasn’t going to remind her. “Of course,” he said. “I’m not so foolish as to hurt you.”

“Then you have my word. And the names… well, Prince Blueblood for one. He’s an idiot; I’d flip him myself now if I didn’t need two more votes. I can’t think of any other votes that you could flip tonight.”

“Are there any factions besides you and Fisher? Some third group?”

“Duchess Posey leads the group that’s considering the grant based on the merits, rather than whether they would rather ally with Fisher or I.” Puissance shrugged. “They’ve mostly sided with Fisher. I won’t deny that conditions in his domain are more favorable, slightly, than mine.”

But if one or more of them can be bamboozled easily enough… Greengrass had a statistician who was very good at turning random numbers into a persuasive argument. He pushed that thought to one side. “What about ponies who aren’t in town now, who Fisher hasn’t had a chance to shore up?”

“None. But Archduchess Nobility will vote however Captain Lightning, of the Northern Army, tells her. And Lightning’s been at the border for a week now. He’s catching the early train to speak to her before the vote, but everypony knows that he'll tell her to vote for Fisher.”

Lightning would be hard; Greengrass knew him by reputation. He cared only about the safety of his soldiers and the province. Fisher had probably promised him more funding or soldiers to ensure the Archduchess’s vote. “I think that’s all I need.”

“Good luck,” said Puissance. “You’re going to need it.”

Greengrass grinned. “If I wanted a safe career, I wouldn’t have gone into politics.”

“Don’t worry. If you fail, I think you’ll have plenty of time to consider other careers.”

Greengrass chuckled and left.

Okay. Now I have to actually find them. The vote’s at 6 AM, and half of them are probably on other committees or out of the castle. Well… no time like the present!

Next Chapter: Posey, Blueblood, and Mounty Estimated time remaining: 37 Minutes
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