The Coat

by Orbiting Kettle

Chapter 1: It Smelled of Sea and Wind

The light of the evening streamed through the windows of the boutique, bathing ponequins and dresses alike in a warm aura. The doorbell jingled as the last customer left, while Rarity floated needles, threads, and notes back to their place.

From outside came the muffled sound of Ponyville getting ready for the evening, promises of family dinners, of cups of tea, and of rest after a day of work and play.

She rubbed her eyes, blinked, and yawned. She felt like death warmed over, her hoofs ached and her face hurt. It had been, all in all, a pretty normal day in the boutique.

She once more surveyed the room and then trotted in the kitchen. Maybe she should get some help, and not only for the sales. Water plunged in the kettle, and a spark of magic ignited the stove. She asked herself how she could get some, though. Sharing her space with another seamstress meant compromising her vision or imposing it on somepony else, both ideas that disturbed her. And then the bell of the shop sounded again.

Rarity groaned internally, put on her professional smile number thirteen—I would so gladly help and would move mountains to do it, but the moment is unfavorable—and went back in the showroom. "Welcome to the Carousel Boutique. I'm sorry but—"

In the room stood the largest griffon Rarity had ever seen. Gray plumage ran down the back of his head, and bleached-out, blue fur hinted at a life under the open skies. Two massive saddlebags made of thick, oiled cloth hung over his sides. His beak was covered in scratches and chipped at the edges, and a crisscross of old scars marred his coat, with a particularly ugly one running over his left eye.

The Griffon's good eye fixed on her and he asked, "Good evening, are you miss Rarity?".

"Huh?" Rarity blinked, then said, "Ah, right. Please excuse my rudeness, but I didn't expect any more customers today. Yes, I am Rarity, how can I help you?"

He nodded. "Do you do repairs?"

"That depends. Is it one of my pieces?" If she had ever done something for a griffon it should have been memorable, but as she racked her mind trying to remember such an occasion she came up empty.

The Griffon shook his head. "It is not." He turned and reached for his saddlebags, then pulled out a package wrapped in brown paper and closed with a twine. He proffered the package to Rarity and said, "It was made by a Griffon."

Her curiosity piqued, Rarity grabbed it in her magic and floated it over. With a tug, she undid the knot and unwrapped it. "I usually don't do repairs anymore, if not under very special circumstances." She unfurled the piece of clothing inside and floated up a large, anthracite coat. It was made of heavy wool, thickly weaved, and in a shape she didn't think she had seen before. Around the shoulders and the wing holes, the cloth was consumed from use and the lower borders were a bit frayed. A faint smell of the sea came from it.

"I must say, that is an interesting design. I think I saw something similar, once, but I can't really remember where." Her glasses floated on her muzzle as she squinted and looked at one of the pockets. "I see that somepony already repaired it. Not perfect, but a decent job. Can't you bring it back to the tailor who made it?"

She continued to examine the coat, noticing more small fixes. A sewed snatch here, a hidden patch in the lining there. After a while, when no answer came forth from her guest, Rarity turned to the griffon.

He stood there, shoulders slightly sagged in, his eye looking on the floor.

"Are you alright, Mr...?"

He sighed, then looked up. "I'm fine, thank you. My name is Gerard, and no, I can't bring it back to the tailor who sewed it." He passed a claw over his head, straightening a couple of feathers. "Can you repair it?"

Rarity folded the coat. "Honestly, it doesn't seem to be damaged. There are the wear and tear of its age, but aside from that it is in good condition."

"Can you restore it to perfection, then?"

The folded coat landed on the brown wrapping paper. "Maybe, but it isn't something I usually do. It would require a lot of time and some research, I suppose, and I have to start my work on my fall collection. I can give you the contact of a couple of talented—"

"The price won't be an issue."

Rarity raised an eyebrow and looked to Gerard. She returned to the coat, passed a hoof on the lining, then sighed and looked at her customer over the rim of her glasses. "You are aware that it will probably take up to two weeks of my time, right? Such an investment of time and effort is going to be, well, quite expensive."

"I…" He closed his eye, then whispered, "I will find a way."

"Mr. Gerard, I can't in good conscience accept such a job when I see it may cause you problems. I can fix the most glaring issues for a reasonable compensation and postpone my other work a bit if it so important, but a complete restoration is an endeavor on a completely different level."

The Griffon stood there, massive, intimidating, a history of violence and trouble etched in his being, and with a pleading look in his eye. "It will be a gift for my daughter. Please."

The kettle whistled from the kitchen. Rarity looked at the coat, then back at Gerard. Just a cup of tea, a light dinner and then her bed was such a tantalizing prospect. She removed her glasses, then smiled and said, "There seems to be a lot of things bound to this coat that are not immediately apparent. Why don't you sit down with me for some tea and tell me the whole story?"

Gerard sat at the table in the kitchen with a green clay cup between his claws. The sweet smell of bergamot hung in the air, and the waning light of the sunset cast long shadows across the white surfaces of the room.

Rarity put her cup down, then leaned on a hoof. "So, I gathered that this coat is really important for you, but it is also quite old. There's a rip under the right sleeve that has been repaired three times, and I didn't see any previous restoration attempts."

"True. The coat is almost as old as me, and I'm going for the sixties." He sniffed at the cup and smiled. "You are spoiling me. Is this a Zebrican Black Gold?"

"Oh, a connoisseur. Yes, it is. A friend of mine introduced me to it, and I never looked back." She sighed. "I admit that sometimes it's difficult to get it, the supply doesn't seem to be very stable."

"That really depends if the Elarian Grand-duchy is flexing its muscles on the eastern gate or not. They only treat the tea in Zebrica, ferment it in some secret way, but the raw materials come from the Tarillian Isles. If one has a taste for risk, it's a pretty profitable route."

"Well, that explains a bit, I think. I may have to ask Twilight where some of those places are, though. I admit my knowledge of the eastern hemisphere is sorely lacking." Rarity sipped her tea. "So, are you a merchant?"

Gerard raised his claws. "Oh, no, I'm nothing more than a humble sailor. I've been on that route just a couple of times when I was younger and more prone to take risks."

"And yet you come to me with something straight out of history and you ask to restore it to a pristine state, no matter the price." Rarity floated a plate of biscuits in the middle of the table. "Now, could you please tell me why this is so important for you?"

"It's important for my family, and it's a long story." Gerard looked to the side. "I really need it done."

Rarity took a biscuit. "I told you that I'm quite busy and that it won't be an easy job. You are asking for a lot." She smiled. "Still, I'm glad we are beyond the curt statements phase, as you seem to be a quite pleasant conversationalist. If I am to sink my next two weeks into this, I would love to know why. So, consider the story a part of the price."

The Griffon sighed, then looked to the unicorn. "Very well. From a certain point of view, it's mostly a tale about my father.

"My earliest memories are the smell of chalk and my father sitting at the kitchen table. Considering we lived in an aviary on the coast north of Griffonstone, one would think it should be fish and snow, but they are not. I think it's because chalk meant home.

"My father was one of the last griffon tailors this side of the Dragon's Land. He was proud of it, even while his profession became more and more meaningless with each passing year." He tipped with his claw against the cup. "He was a good griffon, you know? There were a lot of good griffins. They still are, but somehow we broke and we stopped caring.

Gerard looked up to Rarity, then clenched his beak. "I think you heard about how losing the Idol of Boreas made everything fall apart. Well, one of the things that we lost were tailors. Not suddenly, but in time. Clothing is not something essential for us. We are hardy, so we don't need much more than a scarf and some bags. There will be less cloth, and then there will be fewer griffons working with it, and... I think you see where this is going.

"Anyway, when I was but a little chick there was still some work for him. Griffons in our aviary brought him rags and he transformed them, made gloves or cloaks or hats. I remember him sitting there with his waistcoat, threads hanging from it like medals, a focused look in his eyes while he fixed a beret or sewed some saddle bags. He did everything like he had a commission from the King, no matter if all he would get just get a sack of flour from the miller.

"He took pride in what he did, no matter how humble it was. He cared even when those around him stopped."

Rarity poured some tea in her cup. "I can see it, and I think I understand. I count myself quite lucky that what I do is considered relevant here. But even if it wasn't"—she shuddered—"I think I would do it all the same. I suppose the coat was his, right?"

"It was." Gerard smiled. "I think he wanted it to be his masterwork, his legacy. And a memento. He worked on it for years. He had this cloth roll, thick, warm, you have seen the coat. Mother once told me that it was all he had left after he closed his shop in Griffonstone.

The coat floated over to the table and Rarity unfurled it. She put on her glasses and squinted at it.

"He once told me it was done like the ones the knights of the King and the nobles used. He told me how, when he was an apprentice, some great griffon or the other would come in his master's workshop for one. It was one of the few times his master was in a good mood, and how it also meant a couple of extra coins for the apprentices too. It also meant a couple of whacks more from the cane when they messed up. A stitch the thickness of a thread too far was enough to get beaten. When I think about how my father told the story, I'm pretty sure he resented him a bit even after all those years."

"Hitting somepony with a cane is unacceptable. No slight intended, but that sounds, ah, positively dreadful."

Gerard shrugged. "It was a different time. And, well, Griffon culture may be a bit more physical than what ponies are used to. I think my father would agree with you, though. He respected his master, but I don't think he ever liked him."

Rarity looked up from the coat. "From what you tell me I think I would have liked to know him. I can also see the skill in what your father has done. This sewing is almost invisible, and this one here is perfect even after all these decades. Masterpiece is an honest assessment in my professional opinion."

"He would be honored by that. May I?" Gerard pointed at the teapot.

"Oh, certainly." An azure aura surrounded the pot and Rarity poured some tea for Gerard. "So the reason you want to restore it is that you want to give your daughter something from your father?"

"Well, not only that. My father taught me the craft, or at least the fundamentals of it, but I, myself, became a sailor. I was fourteen when I embarked, and I was young and stupid."

Rarity looked up to her guest. "Fourteen? That is quite young."

"The fall of Griffonstone was complete, by then. And even our little aviary felt it. Us youngsters had seen the old ones struggle, and fight, and we saw things becoming miserable. We were also convinced that we could take on the world alone, that we didn't need anyone else and that we would never end up like the other losers. I dreamed of going out on the sea, and that I alone would become rich and come back to rub it into everyone's beaks.

"So once I decided that, I embarked on the first merchant ship I could find and sailed for the Middle Sea, east of the Dragon's Land."

Gerard sipped his tea, then looked up and grinned. "Let me tell you, there's nothing like being on a ship during a storm to cure you of the notion that you can take on the world alone.

"I don't know how much you heard about the Middle Sea, but it's a place that opens one's mind. It will do it with a crowbar, if necessary, and it will pull out whatever you thought you knew and trample on it. There are Griffon cities there, and Minotaur enclaves, and Donkey reigns, and ports where you'll find every race that ever walked, or flew, or swam on this earth. And they'll laugh at you if you think you are the best thing after salted herring that ever graced them with his presence.

"They still fight a lot there. And then they drink together, and then they fight again. And when I returned home six years later I finally understood what my father talked about when he told me about Griffonstone of old."

"I'm not sure the Middle Sea sounds so enticing if you put it that way." Rarity floated the empty pot over to the kitchen counter. "You paint it as quite a savage place."

The griffon chuckled. "Oh, it is. It is also full of life and adventures and wonderful people. And it's where I met my wife."

"Oh, romanticism on the sea is something I can get behind." Rarity folded the coat again. "So, you returned to your home, and then?"

"I still hadn't met her, then. Anyway, I talked with my father and with my mother. That first time I stayed home only for a couple of weeks. I was a different Griffon than when I first left, but my thirst for adventure was the same, only less focused on becoming rich.

"I left again, for five years this time, and when I returned I came back with my Giselle. We married the summer after my return, and it was the first wedding in some years there." Gerard leaned on the table. "My father sewed Giselle's dress, did it with sails and nets. It was rough, and solid, and it smelled like the ocean, just like her. It was a wonderful day, she was beautiful, and the party, well, we hadn't much by then, but it was like aviary had returned to how I remembered it from my childhood. It didn't last, but it was a glimpse into what we once were.

"It was also the day my father gifted me his coat. He took me aside after our vows and then gave it to me. Said I reminded him of the good in us.

"After that, we embarked again, toured a bit the Celestial Sea, sailed for a while the Southern Luna Ocean. It was when we all still thought that the Night Princess was an old tale or a spirit coming to carry away sailors when their time had come."

Gerard closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "My father wasn't a sailor, so it was the North WInd that came for him. I… When we returned to the aviary he wasn't with us anymore. I wasn't even there for the funeral, and when mothers letter reached me it was four months too late."

With a flicker of magic, the lights in the kitchen turned on. Rarity sat down at Gerard's side and put a hoof on his shoulder. "My condolences. He seemed to be a great griffon."

Gerard shook his head. "He was old and had a life full of love, despite everything. His greatest regret was that he saw his art dying with him. My greatest regret is that he never met his grand chick."

"Your daughter, right? You said this was for her."

"Yes, it's for her. We had her pretty late. Giselle and I have been around for quite some time before we decided to settle down and nest. Or better, she settled down. Me, I'm still sailing, even if now I'm a boatswain. I think the sea is too encrusted in my feathers to stop, but I try to be home more often, and not to be away for years at an end." He reached out to the coat and took it in his claws. "I always brought this coat with me. We saw both marvels and some pretty rough times. The stitches and the repairs, those are mine. I even lost it once, in Herenchol, and found it six months later in a pawn shop some two thousand miles away."

"And now you want to pass it on." Rarity smiled. "But with such a rich history, why do you want to undo all the things you have lived through with it? From what you told me, there is a so much in it, even if the little fixes you have done are less than perfect."

Gerard stared down. "Because my daughter is more like my father. My gift to her will be something else, something that's me through and through. But this coat, this is the essence of him, of what he built and what he saw. Me, I came to understand him, and I learned to shake off some of the stupid things Griffons came to believe. And yet I'm still an offspring of my time.. But she, oh, she's cut from a wholly different cloth." He snickered.

"I think we may be familiar enough for me to tell you that that was awful." Rarity passed a hoof over the cloth. "Well, then you only have to tell me why I should do it. I'm honored that you came to me, but I'm not the only seamstress in Equestria."

"Oh, well, that is because my daughter told me about you." Gerard looked to Rarity. "You should have met her a while ago, and I think she is a good friend with your sister. When Gabrielle came visiting us she told us so much, she was so happy. She's how Griffins should be, not how we were for decades. That's why I want the coat to be perfect. I want her to have what my father made when he thought of the great Griffins of the past. Because she is exactly like them and she deserves it."

The moon was high in the sky and all the lights in the sewing room were on.

Rarity looked down on the coat laying open in front of her. She passed a hoof over some of the original, almost invisible stitches. It truly was a testimony to craft and love.

Maybe she could get an apprentice, a pony, or a griffon, whom she could teach, who could take everything she had to offer and then go on their own path.

A thin blade floated over to her, glinting in the light of the lamps. She inserted it between a rough stitch holding a patch and the tissue.

The fall collection could wait.

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