A Princess Carol

by JohnPerry

Chapter 1: A Princess Carol

A Princess Carol

Hearth’s Warming Eve was almost upon Equestria and Ponyville was in the holiday spirit. It was early evening and a light snow was falling. Everypony was wearing scarves and boots to keep them warm as they walked down the festively decorated main street. The street lamps and trees had been adorned with colorful orbs and holly, a large lit tree had been erected in the main square and light from the buildings lining the street cast a soft golden glow upon the snowy ground. Everywhere ponies were cheerfully chatting, carrying their purchases home, munching on sweets or sipping hot chocolate. Near the tree, Pinkie Pie and a group of warmly-dressed fillies were singing – or at least, attempting to sing – carols for the ponies in the square.

Here we come a-wassailing
On this Hearth’s Warming Eve,
Here we come a-wand’ring
Before we take leave.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
Even though we don’t know
What a wassail’s supposed to do,
But still love and joy should come to you!

As this particular carol was sung a group of ponies in the square watched on with delight but then some confusion as the last lines were sung. A cream colored pony with a blue and pink mane raised her eyebrow and glanced at her companion, a turquoise green unicorn, who merely shrugged in response before applauding along with the rest of the crowd after the carol finished.

“Can you believe it, Spike?!” Twilight Sparkle exclaimed, trotting through the square with the purple dragon walking behind her. “It’s Hearth’s Warming Eve already!”

“Yeah, I can believe it,” Spike groaned, carrying several heavy packages. The last several days had been a never-ending series of tasks preparing for the holiday: putting up lights, setting up the tree, baking treats, finding gifts, buying gifts, wrapping gifts…Spike had never really fully appreciated how much work went into this gift-giving business, but now that Twilight had so many new friends the dragon was finding himself overwhelmed by what had once been a relatively simple task.

Twilight gave a loud gasp and galloped over to a shop display. “Spike, look!” she squealed with delight, evoking a long groan from the baby dragon as he trudged over to the purple unicorn. She was staring at a carved wooden figure of a hummingbird in flight around a heart in the shop window.

“Oh, Fluttershy would just love this!” the unicorn exclaimed.

“Not that she wouldn’t,” Spike said slowly. “But didn’t we already get a present for Fluttershy?”

“Yes, but how could I pass this up? It’s perfect!” Twilight replied, tapping her front hooves together excitedly.

“But Princess Luna is set to arrive soon! Don’t you want to make sure everything is ready when she gets here?” In truth, Spike wasn’t worried about Princess Luna’s arrival, but he knew all too well what would happen if they entered this shop: Twilight would go in to buy something, but then something else would catch her eye, and then something else, and then something else, and then the unicorn would spend a lot of time debating over what to purchase, and her poor Number One Assistant would be standing there, bored out of his skull waiting for when they could finally leave.

“Oh, don’t worry Spike!” Twilight said, patting her assistant on the head. “We completed all the preparations for the princess' arrival days ago! She won’t be here for a few more hours, so we’ve got plenty of time to find our friends some more gifts!”

Now there are few things in this or any world that can elicit the kind of heart stopping terror in a young male’s heart like the prospect of having to spend yet more hours – hours with an ‘s’ – browsing with an overly enthusiastic shopper. Desperate for a way out, Spike saw only one option left to him: lying.

“You know, I think Fluttershy already has one of those!” the dragon said nervously. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I saw it last time I was at her house! That must be why you thought of her when you saw it!” A plastic grin appeared on Spike’s face as he started to sweat, praying that the unicorn would fall for it.

“Oh, really?” Twilight muttered sadly, taking one last look at the carved hummingbird before turning away. “That’s a shame. Oh well, then.”

Spike breathed a sigh of relief. Mission accomplished, he thought to himself. “So then, back to the library to wrap these, right?” he asked aloud.

“Alright then,” Twilight replied cheerfully. Her assistant silently congratulated himself. Spike, you are one smooth dragon, he thought to himself. No more stores tonight!

“Oh hey, Spike,” the unicorn said. “I think we should get some more peppermint snaps. Can we swing by Sugarcube Corner? You can get a treat!”

Spike paused for a moment. Then again, not all stores were bad.

On the outskirts of Ponyville the snowflakes fell from the sky, alighting softly upon the ground, the trees, or their fellow snowflakes. The pegasus teams had done their job well – Ponyville was in store for another beautiful white Hearth’s Warming Day. In contrast to the festivity, light and bright colors of the village, all was silent and still here outside the town.

However, the utter stillness of this scene was interrupted by the whistling sound of a large object rushing through the cold air, causing the snowflakes in its path to dance out of the way before continuing their slow descent earthward. Despite its mass and speed, the object was carefully guided to the ground and the soft crunch of snow beneath it signaled its landing. Powerful hooves briefly galloped across a small clearing as wheels creaked loudly, having been thrust into movement after sitting still for so long. A second later the expertly guided craft slowed to a halt and the scene returned to its previous stillness.

Princess Luna stepped off her chariot and briefly took in her surroundings. Her mane fluttered softly behind her as snowflakes passed right through it, sparkling briefly with the stars within her mane before departing. Her glass horseshoes were the same color as the blue light which was now emanating from her horn to light the path to the village. She cast a glance at the lights of Ponyville, barely visible through the falling snow and appearing only as a soft glow from this distance.

“This shall do,” the princess announced, turning to her drivers, two gray pegasi with wings similar to that of a bat and wearing armor the same midnight blue color of the princess they were sworn to serve. “Thou shalt set the chariot at the other side of the village, closest to Canterlot, then proceed to the pavilion in the town square and await my introduction by the mayor. Is that clear?” The drivers nodded and bowed deeply.

Luna turned around and began to trot in the direction of Ponyville. It was rather simple, really – Twilight Sparkle and the mayor had requested that Luna make a subtle entrance into the village, so that she may be introduced at the pavilion. Twilight and the Mayor had stated that this was so the princess’ entrance could be more formal, but Luna suspected it was because they didn’t want a repeat of her rather dramatic entrance on Nightmare Night.

“Your highness, wait!” one of the drivers called, causing Luna to stop and turn around. The driver who called for her had one hoof raised, but then quickly lowered it and shrunk under the gaze of the princess. He looked nervous and pawed the ground anxiously.

“I…was wondering…if…” the driver said slowly, his nervousness threatening to overcome his capability of speech. “Well, seeing as you plan to be in Ponyville for the remainder of the night, I was wondering if you would be so generous as to allow me to…depart. After your introduction in Ponyville, that is.”

“Depart?” Luna replied inquisitively. “Whatever doth thou mean?”

“To see my family,” the driver added quickly. “Since it is Hearth’s Warming Eve, you see.”

“Your princess is quite aware of the date,” Luna said sharply. “I do not understand. Doth thou not enjoy serving your princess?”

“No – I mean, of course I do!” the driver cried. “But I had hoped I could see my family for the holiday, my wife and our two fillies in Canterlot. They miss me so.”

Luna snorted. “It is out of the question. I do hope the standards of our Royal Guard have not fallen in the thousand years I have been away – no guard member was ever granted a holiday off duty before my absence! Besides, I need thee on hoof in Ponyville should something happen to your beloved princess! Thou have not forgotten thy duty, I hope?”

The driver quickly bowed deeply. “Of course not, your highness! Forgive me, it was not my place to request this of you!”

“Very well,” Luna huffed. “I shall expect to see thee in Ponyville then,” she added, turning around to continue in the direction of the village.

The two drivers watched as the princess cast a spell around her that cloaked her presence, allowing her to enter town without being detected. After a moment the driver who had not spoken turned to his companion.

“Told you she wouldn’t go for it,” he said.

“Shut up, Key Ton,” the other growled, avoiding the other’s gaze. “At least I had the guts to at least ask her.”

“Come on Coltroy, please don’t screw this job up,” Key Ton replied. “You know it’s hard enough to find a decent job with wings like these,” he added, indicating his bat-like appendages.

Coltroy smiled slyly. “You could go back to dressing up as a bat at filly birthday parties.”

Key Ton’s gaze grew stern. “I thought we agreed never to speak of that again.”

Jingly bells, jingly bells,
Jingling all the way!
Oh! What fun it is to fly
In a pegasus-drawn sleigh. Yay!

Pinkie Pie and her band of fillies were now singing a carol inside the town square pavilion, which had been thoroughly decorated with holly, streamers, wreaths and colorful lights. Princess Luna had already been introduced by the mayor and everypony was milling about the room. Though the singing ability of the carolers was not the finest, you couldn’t fault them for their cheerfulness and a good time was had by those who listened.

Twilight Sparkle spotted Princess Luna standing to the side of the room, having a rather one-sided conversation with the mayor (Luna was doing most of the talking). Twilight trotted toward them and the princess saw her approaching.

“Ah, Twilight Sparkle!” Luna called, raising a hoof to greet her. “’Tis good to see thee again!”

“It’s good to see you as well, Princess Luna!” Twilight returned Luna’s greeting.

“I should leave you two,” the mayor said, eager to use this opportunity to pull herself out of this interaction with the princess. “You obviously will have much to talk about. I’ll just…grab something to drink. Yes, that’s it,” she added, backing away slowly. Fortunately, Luna and Twilight were oblivious to the mayor’s discomfort.

“How are you enjoying your Hearth’s Warming Eve, Princess?” Twilight asked.

Luna faltered. “To be honest Twilight Sparkle, I have not enjoyed this evening very much.”

Twilight was taken aback. “What? But…why?”

“I do not understand it,” Luna replied. “In the days of old, Hearth’s Warming Eve was a quiet, simple celebration whereupon thou sat with thine fellow ponies and shared a humble meal. Now it is loud, complex and…garish. Before arriving here I turned on a display of decorative lights with Sapphire Shores before a crowd in Manehattan and raised the moon at a festival in Fillydelphia.”

Luna raised a hoof to indicate their surroundings. “All this…the decorations, the lights, the trees, the gifts…this is not the Hearth’s Warming Eve I remember.”

Twilight tapped her chin with a hoof. “Well, I know the traditions of Hearth’s Warming have changed a lot over time. We’ve borrowed new traditions from other cultures, changed others, but it’s still Hearth’s Warming!”

“I do not know, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said. “I fear the original intent of the holiday has been lost.”

“Well, I don’t know about-“ Twilight began, but was cut off by the sound of Pinkie and the group of fillies starting a new carol.

Silent night, glorious night…

“Ah!” Princess Luna cried happily, turning to the carolers. “Now this is a carol I remember from the old days! Sing on, my little ponies! Sing on!”

All is calm, all is right
Round the fire we offer our grace
Huddled close, warmth’s embrace
Dream of heavenly peace
Dream of heavenly peace

Twilight smiled and sighed softly, letting the soothing melody of the carol wash over her. She looked up to Luna, expecting to see excitement or happiness, but the princess had a look of shock upon her face.

“No! No, no, NO!” she cried, standing before the carolers, all of whom had stopped singing and were now looking confused (save for Pinkie, who sang a couple more lines before realizing something was amiss). “That is all wrong! Those are not the proper lyrics! It is a carol sung at this time of the year to honor thine fellow ponies! Allow me.” She cleared her throat and then began singing the version she knew. Her singing voice wasn’t top notch and it lacked the cheer of Pinkie and the fillies, but it was a respectable singing voice nonetheless.

Silent night, glorious night
Watch the pegasus of flight
Earth pony’s hoof, unicorn’s horn
Together this nation was born
Bless this land Equestria
Bless this land Equestria

Luna stopped and looked around. A few ponies glanced at each other before politely applauding, which brought a smile to the princess’ face. For her part, Pinkie didn’t seem to mind being interrupted and was enthusiastically cheering.

“That was great, Princess!” Pinkie said. “But it doesn’t really sound very Hearth’s Warming-ish, you know? And it’s not what we got on our music sheets-“

NOT VERY HEARTH’S WARMING-ISH?!?” Luna yelled, forgetting to drop her Royal Canterlot Voice, causing the fillies to tumble backwards, Pinkie’s hair to fly back behind her and several strands of holly to detach from the ceiling and fall upon the crowd of ponies below. “I mean…” Luna paused, collecting herself. “Not very Hearth’s Warming-ish? ‘Tis traditional! ‘Tis the very definition of Hearth’s Warming…ish…” Luna trailed off.

“Well, I’ve never heard those lyrics before, Princess,” Twilight jumped in to defend Pinkie. “I think the song has just changed over time is all.”

“But this is unacceptable!” Luna cried dramatically. “The very meaning of the song has been lost, and thus the lesson it imparts on fillies! I can not stand to see my beloved holiday transformed into this…this…” she struggled for words as she indicated the decorations around her. “…Crass display!” Everypony in the room gasped at these words as Rarity somehow summoned her couch into the room to do her overdramatic fainting routine.

“With all due respect, Princess,” Twilight said sternly. “You have been gone for a thousand years. I think you may not have a complete understanding of how the holiday has changed.”

“With all due respect, my subject,” Luna growled, causing Twilight to gulp and back away a few steps. “I was celebrating Hearth’s Warming Eve long before thee, so I believe I understand this holiday far more than thou could!” She turned around and stomped out the room. “Your princess can no longer partake in this! If anypony wishes to speak with me, I will be outside!”

Everypony in the room silently watched Luna leave, but they were not alone. A shadowy figure was peering from a balcony above, watching the princess’ every step. It stood there, invisible to the ponies below who resumed their chatter after Luna’s departure. Pinkie Pie started leading the fillies in a loud rendition of “Deck the Stalls” and Twilight seemed to be considering whether to follow Princess Luna before Applejack held her back, suggesting she let the princess cool off for a moment before trying anything. The shadowy figure watched Twilight and Applejack return to the festivities before it slipped outside into the cold night air.

Luna stormed out into the town square, stomping at the snow beneath her hooves with a fury. Everything about tonight was bringing an undue amount of stress to the princess in part because it was so chaotic but also in part because it was so unfamiliar. Yes, a thousand years had gone by and yes, she had expected a lot to change, but this was something else. This struck near and dear to a tradition she had once held in high regard. In short, this was personal.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn’t see the snowball streak through the air at her until it was too late.

“HEY!” she screamed, still recovering from the shock of having a ball of cold white fluff strike her head. Luna darted her head back and forth, searching for the culprit. “Who dareth disgrace their princess with this blasphemous action?! Show thyself, fiend!

The sound of soft laughter reached Luna’s ears. It wasn’t sharp and gleeful like that of a filly’s, but rising and melodious, imparting a sense of wisdom and age behind it.

“Sister,” Luna growled, wiping off the last remnants of the snowball off her face and mane. Now that she was looking, she could sense the presence of powerful magic even if it was invisible to her eyes.

A short distance from her the falling snowflakes suddenly began to part around an unseen form, dancing wildly about in the air. Then a soft glow began to illuminate the outline of the form of a majestic alicorn before it materialized in front of her in a burst of light.

“Little sister,” Princess Celestia chuckled. “Forgive me, but I could not resist the opportunity to have a little fun at your expense.”

“It would seem that this is the story of my life,” the night princess replied sternly, although she allowed herself a small smile, betraying her pleasure at seeing her older sister again.

Celestia smiled. “Just like old times, little sister.”

Luna’s smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “I should think not! What hast thou allowed to happen to this holiday?”

“Oh dear,” the older sister sighed. “I thought I told you that Hearth’s Warming was different these days. Didn’t you believe me?”

“Thou did not explain enough!” the younger cried angrily. “Thou believes Hearth’s Warming is different? ‘Tis not the same holiday at all!”

Princess Celestia raised an eyebrow. “And here I thought you wanted to turn Nightmare Night into a glorious feast. And now you have a glorious feast and still you complain?”

“But Hearth’s Warming, dear sister!” Luna cried. “Why dost thou let Hearth’s Warming change?”

“An excellent question, little sister,” Celestia replied. “I can give you the answer, but it comes with something I wish to teach you. So, in the spirit of ‘A Hearth’s Warming Carol,’ just consider me your Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Past,” she finished, chuckling softly.

A frown crossed the night princess’ face. “Art thou serious, sister? Within the last month I have heard more variations of that one single story than I cared to listen to in a lifetime. How often doth thou need to be told not to be stingy?”

“Surprisingly frequently, actually,” the older sister remarked. “But that’s not the lesson I want to leave you with tonight.” At that moment, Luna heard the loud chimes of a bell. She turned to see a clock tower on the edge of town, both hands pointed upward. Princess Celestia regarded it for a moment, smiling warmly. “Come, the night is young and I have much to show you!” Her horn began to glow softly as she bowed her head to lightly touch it to Luna’s own horn.

“What art thou—“ Luna began before being cut off by a burst of light emanating from Celestia’s horn. The younger sister cried in shock as their surroundings changed to a gleaming white before the light faded and they were standing in a completely different location.

Luna looked around. They were now in a large cobblestone square amidst a crowd of ponies walking about in the chilly evening air. Or rather, it wasn’t a square at all, but an oval – a long circular open space in the center of a city. On one side of the square a partially constructed tower rose above the square, dark and covered in scaffolding yet still impressive even in its uncompleted form. The humbler but still grand facades of other buildings faced the other sides of the oval, which stretched out for a considerable distance. Several bonfires were lit in the oval, providing warmth to the crowds of ponies who gathered around them, whose long shadows danced upon the walls of the surrounding buildings and mingled with the flickering orange light of the fires.

“Little sister,” Celestia announced while giving a sweeping gesture to the oval around them. “Welcome to my memories.”

“Where are we?” Luna asked. “I have never been here, yet this place seems very familiar…for that matter, when are we?”

“Canterlot, 999 years ago,” the sun princess replied. “When I banished Nightmare Moon to the moon it destroyed a significant portion of our old castle, and regardless I couldn’t bear to rule from the site where I had wrought such a fate on my own sister,” she explained, a hint of sadness creeping into her voice. “So I had the capital moved here. That’s the old royal palace,” Celestia said, indicating the tower still under construction. “And that building on the far side is the first home of the Canterlot University, my School for Gifted Unicorns, the Royal Academy of Sciences and the Celestial Equestrian Library – all in one building, can you believe it?” she chuckled softly. “Naturally they would outgrow the building in time. Today you know that building as the home of the Equestrian Museum.”

“I recognize it now!” Luna gasped. “So then…this oval is the central park? Hast they not planted the trees yet?”

“Not for another couple hundred years,” Celestia answered. “Although at times I do miss the old oval, because I got to watch that!” she said, pointing at a stampeding group of ponies on one side of the oval.

“Pray tell, what art they doing?” Luna asked, watching the ponies circle along the edge of the oval.

“Racing, little sister!” Celestia cheered. “Tonight is a very special night! On this night, but a couple of years after the horror of Nightmare Moon was visited upon Equestria, Hearth’s Warming as Equestria now knows it was born.”

“Ah, I suppose now thou art going to explain why thou allowed a sacred holiday to degenerate to the drivel it is today?” Luna asked forcefully.

“Indeed I am,” the older sister replied, opting to ignore her younger sister’s commentary. “As I’m sure you remember, you and I ruled Equestria together, the sun and moon equals in the sky. The day was always as long as the night and vice-versa. But after your transformation into Nightmare Moon and her refusal to lower the moon, that balance was destroyed. It took me long enough to gather the Elements of Harmony and banish the Nightmare to the moon that I had to raise the sun longer than usual to make up for its absence. And thus that first new day saw the birth of the summer sun. But-“

“But thou had to make the nights longer during the winter in order to balance with the longer days of thy summer,” Luna quickly finished in a flat tone. “Thou already explained this to me when I returned, or doth thou not remember?”

“I remember, little sister,” Celestia replied with a twinkle in her eye. “But you know I can’t resist offering exposition whenever the opportunity arises.” Her younger sister sighed and rolled her eyes.

“That first winter after you left was very difficult, little sister,” the elder princess continued, her tone growing more serious. “Nopony had experienced a winter as cold as this in living memory. And I could not prevent it, lest I throw the heavens even further off balance and doom this land forever. So my little ponies suffered, at my hooves no less…” she trailed off and bowed her head as the painful memories flooded back. Luna offered her older sister a comforting pat on the shoulder.

“That first year,” Celestia continued. “I thought I had saved Equestria only to have failed it. The cold of the winter reflected the bitterness of my heart. Eventually summer came, more glorious than ever before, but all too soon it passed and we settled in for another long difficult winter.”

At this Celestia looked around at the jubilant crowd of ponies in the oval. “But it was not to be. For on the longest night of that long second winter, my little ponies, my wonderful little ponies refused to give to despair as I had done. On this night, they lit bonfires in the oval and raced each other to keep warm. They sang and danced, they feasted and made merry! Look there, little sister!” she exclaimed, now pointing halfway up the partially constructed tower where, almost invisible in the darkness, the figure of a gleaming white pony with a flowing multi-color mane stood overlooking the crowd. The younger Princess Celestia was only a hair taller than the present-day Princess Luna but looked no less regal than her future self. “I emerged from the darkness of my incomplete castle, shocked by what I saw. But beholden to such joy in these dark times, how could I refuse my subjects this new holiday? And so Hearth’s Warming was reborn! Over the next thousand years the nature of the holiday would change with new traditions added while others were lost, but the cheer and joy of that first new Hearth’s Warming Eve are still apparent to this day.”

“Hmph,” Luna huffed, looking around at the crowd once more. “While I sympathize with thy plight and now understand the reason behind this new holiday, I am still unconvinced that thou sufficiently attempted to reconcile the traditions of old into this holiday of new!”

“That is not my place,” Celestia replied. “The night is your domain little sister, and while I raised and lowered the moon in your absence I would not take responsibility for the joys of the night while I still had hope that one day you would return. I leave that duty to you, which is why I ask you to understand why Hearth’s Warming Eve is what it now is.”

“I remain unconvinced,” Luna said curtly.

“Then our time together on this night is nearing its end,” the elder sister replied, her horn now glowing softly. “It is time I end this illusion and let you meet the remaining two ghosts. After all, you know how the story goes...” The image of the Canterlot of past dissolved around Luna as she lifted a hoof towards Celestia.

“Sister, wait! What-“ But Luna was cut off by another burst of light and found herself standing alone once more in Ponyville’s town square, her hoof pointed at nothing but empty air where her sister had just been standing.

Several minutes had passed since Princess Celestia had vanished and Luna was growing increasingly frustrated. It was one thing to have her sister surprise her when she was preoccupied and transport her to an unfamiliar realm, but then to be abandoned and left with no indication of where she was expected to go next! But she knew her older sister would not leave on such an ambiguous note, so she waited to see what would happen next.

Despite the late hour, the festivities inside the pavilion were still going on. The faint rumble of music and dancing could be hear from outside and ponies were entering and exiting on occasion, causing the sound of the party to spill out into the square whenever the door was opened. Luna once again heard the chimes of the clock tower and turned to see that another hour had passed since her sister had greeted her. A lone chime sounded through the air as a familiar yellow pegasus exited the pavilion and spent a moment scanning the square before spotting Princess Luna and fluttering over. She was wearing a knitted scarf the color of her mane and a floppy red winter cap like those that were so popular this time of year.

“Um…Pr…Princess Luna?” Fluttershy asked timidly, landing softly before the princess.

“Ah yes, Fluttershy, was it not?” Luna asked. “What doth thou wish of me?”

“Well…um…you see, Princess Celestia sent me here…to, um…show you…something,” the pegasus trailed off meekly.

“I see,” Luna said, now frowning, which caused Fluttershy to cringe slightly at the sight of it. “So then thou art to act in place of the Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Present?”

“Well, in a matter of speaking…I mean, that is to say…um…yes,” the pegasus finished.

The princess sighed. “Very well…if thou art under orders from my sister then I shall follow along. Lead on, dear Fluttershy.”

The pegasus, apparently relieved that it hadn’t taken much to convince the princess to accompany her, perked up and fluttered lightly into the air with Luna silently flying along behind her.

Their journey was not far. Fluttershy flew upwards against the lightly falling snow which danced around the forms of the two ponies before the pegasus vanished into the cloud bank covering the village. Luna followed and was immersed in clouds for but a second before bursting out of the top of the cloudbank in a shower of snow crystals that reflected the light of the moon and stars overhead.

Luna glanced around for a moment before spotting Fluttershy nearby clearing a spot in the clouds. The princess flapped her wings once, alighting lightly upon the clouds before trotting silently towards Fluttershy. “What art thou-“

Ssh.” Fluttershy gave what had to be the gentlest, quietest ‘Ssh’ ever uttered by ponykind. “Um…if that’s okay,” she quietly added before pointing through the hole in the clouds at the ground. Luna leaned over and looked through to see her two guards standing behind the pavilion and quietly conversing.

“...and then she said ‘Oatmeal, are you crazy?’ But I told her, it does such wonders for your complexion when you rub it on your face!” Key Ton was apparently relating some story to Coltroy. “And then she says to me ‘The only thing that should be rubbed in anypony’s face is chocolate cake!’” he finished, cracking up at the punchline to his own story.

“Haha,” his partner responded unenthusiastically. “You sure do meet the crazies.”

“Oh come on Coltroy, let it go already,” Key Ton sighed. “I can’t stand to see you like this on Hearth’s Warming Eve. You’ll get to see your family soon enough!”

“But Hearth’s Warming just isn’t the same without my family,” Coltroy muttered sadly. “All I wa-“

Oh, civilians!” Key Ton whispered urgently as he and Coltroy suddenly stiffened and frowned darkly, taking on a stoic appearance while a group of ponies approached. The ponies chatted idly and cheerfully, eyeing the guards with a small degree of nervousness as they passed by. Fluttershy pushed some clouds over the hole to cover it up before anypony spotted her or Luna.

“Oh dear, look how sad he was,” Fluttershy whispered worriedly, showing the same level of concern she would display for a sick animal. “He really wants to go see his family!”

“I gathered that from what he said,” Luna grumbled. “But he should not complain! ‘Tis tradition for the finest members of the Royal Guard to be in the presence of their princess on this sacred night! He should feel honored!”

“Um, well…that’s nice, but…um...I’m not sure that he…well…feels the same way?” Fluttershy squeaked.

“Then that is his loss if he can not respect tradition,” Luna declared.

“But what good is tradition if nopony wants to follow it?” Fluttershy asked in a rare moment of assertiveness. Luna opened her mouth to respond but then closed it, finding herself momentarily stumped by the pegasus’ question. She placed a hoof on her chin, pondering over the question.

“’Tis not a matter of want…” Luna finally answered. “But a matter of principle. One doth not abandon tradition simply because they no longer care for it.”

“Come this way,” Fluttershy gently requested, gesturing for the princess to follow her before gracefully diving into the cloud bank. “Um, you know, if that’s okay…” she added, poking her head above the clouds for a second before sinking back in. Luna jumped into the air in order to hit the cloud with enough force to penetrate it before sailing towards the ground.

She spotted the pegasus fluttering towards the large tree in the center of the town square. Luna followed as she saw Fluttershy stop next to the top of the tree, waiting for the princess to join her.

“Look,” Fluttershy said, pointing at the decoration adorning the top of the tree. It was a beautifully crafted, gold painted ornament of a multi-pointed globe representing the sun framed in place by a crescent representing the moon.

“Yes, ‘tis lovely,” Luna said, not sure what to say. “The sun and moon which represent me and my sister. But why art thou showing it to me?”

“Look at the bottom of it,” Fluttershy requested. “Below the sun and the moon!”

Luna glanced at the ornament again and saw that the sun and the crescent were being supported by the miniature figures of three ponies who were holding the celestial bodies above their heads. One was an earth pony, one was a pegasus and the other a unicorn.

“Is that…?” Luna gasped, realization hitting her.

“Princess Celestia wanted me to show you that,” Fluttershy explained. “She told me that we never completely forgot why Hearth’s Warming was started. The holiday has changed, but somewhere deep down we never really forgot.”

“’Tis…glorious!” Luna cried. “Perhaps my worst fears were unfounded…perhaps there is hope that the lessons of the Hearth’s Warming of old can be taught once more! Oh dear Fluttershy, I thank thee again—“ She turned around to face the pegasus, but Fluttershy - her task apparently complete - had quietly vanished while Luna’s attention was focused on the ornament. The princess looked around the square but could not spot the yellow pegasus, who unbeknownst to the princess was a champion at hide-and-seek. Luna pondered whether to look for her but then decided against it, landing on the ground to await her next visitor this evening.

Once again Luna found herself alone and waiting impatiently in the town square. The party inside the pavilion had quieted down, lending a tranquil calm to the square, but there were still plenty of ponies inside. Luna once again heard the bell of the clock tower - two chimes this time - ringing clearly through the still air. At that moment a hooded, cloaked figure entered the square and approached the princess. The arrival of this stranger was accompanied by a chilly wind which snuffed out several of the candles lighting the street, lending a cold atmosphere to the whole scene. Luna suppressed a shudder as the figure came closer before bowing before the princess.

“Am I to take it thou art acting as the Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Yet to Come?” Luna asked. The hooded figure silently nodded. Even in the dark its eyes glowed sharply through the hood that completely obscured its face. The sight unnerved Luna.

“Your sister has sent me to lend you some advice,” the figure said in a reassuring voice. “Heed it well or you shall pay a dreadful price.”

Luna frowned. There was something awfully familiar about that voice. “Who art thou? Why doth thou hide thy face?”

“Do not fear your highness; I am a friend, not a foe,” the figure chuckled. “I wore this hood to keep warm from the ice and snow.” The figure lifted a hoof to lower its hood, revealing a smiling, friendly face with unique markings and a tall black-and-white striped mane.

“Ah, thou art that zebra from the Nightmare Night celebration!” Luna said, relieved that the mysterious figure had turned out to be a familiar face. “Forgive me, I have forgotten thy name.”

“I am known as Zecora where I am from,” the zebra explained. “But tonight you shall know me as the ghost of things yet to come!”

“And how doth thou propose to show me this?” Luna asked, frowning. “Such power is beyond the ability of even the most able unicorns.”

“But as you can see, I am no unicorn. Yet I have been taught magic since I was born.” Zecora reached into her cloak to retrieve a small vial of green powder. “Within this bottle is a very special brew. Applied properly it can show what the future holds for you.”

Luna was silent as the zebra lightly tapped a small amount of the powder into her hoof, careful not to waste any of it. She gave a mighty puff to send it into the air and it rapidly transformed into a thick green cloud that encircled the two of them. Luna gave a yelp of shock, surprised that so little powder could create so large and thick a cloud. The haze of green swirled around them furiously as Zecora calmly stored the remainder of her powder back into her cloak and lifted the hood back over her head. The princess watched as the green cloud slowly dissipated to reveal yet another new location.

Yet this time Luna recognized her surroundings. They were back in Canterlot, standing within one of the royal chambers within the castle. She quickly spotted her future self standing next to an older Twilight Sparkle, now a fully-grown mare. The unicorn was using her magic to hold the day’s edition of the Equestrian Inquirer in midair in front of her, reading the front page aloud.

Princess declares War on Hearth’s Warming,” Twilight read the headline. “Trees no longer to be part of city’s holiday display.”

“The press has a great talent for exaggeration, don’t they?” future Luna grumbled, facing away from Twilight and looking out the window. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was their cutie mark.” Present-day Luna noted with some pride that her manner of speech had grown much more similar to that of Equestrians today. Obviously those speech lessons had paid off.

“While I’m not defending their overreaction,” the unicorn began. “I did warn you that something like this would happen if you weren’t careful.”

“All I did was have them replace one single tree with a depiction of unicorns, pegasi and earth ponies united in friendship!” Luna cried angrily. “To remind Equestria of the true meaning behind Hearth’s Warming!”

“But you replaced the main Hearth’s Warming tree!” Twilight groaned, putting a hoof to her forehead. “The largest one in the whole city! I know your intentions are in the right place, but the main Hearth’s Warming tree is a tradition that goes back for generations of Canterlot ponies!”

“There will be plenty of other decorated trees in the city,” the princess replied. “And Canterlot will still have a large tree; it’ll just be in a different location this year. I do not see what the problem is.”

“The problem,” Twilight said slowly, as if addressing a disobedient filly. “Is that Canterlot ponies are very sensitive to even the slightest change in habit. I told you they would react poorly if you went too fast for them, and now look! One of the editorialists of the Canterlot Post wrote a column this morning asking his fellow ponies to buy even more trees and lights and decorations than normal this year! And another columnist from the Manehattan Times suggested a boycott of royalty-sponsored events, including the Grand Galloping Gala!”

“Then they are foals!” Luna yelled forcefully. “Foals who could never understand what I’m trying to accomplish here!”

“Princess, you know I sympathize with you spreading the traditional Hearth’s Warming message of unity amongst ponies,” Twilight said. “But if you keep trying to force it upon everypony then they will reject it. You’ll be doing your message a disservice!”

“Only these foals of the press would reject the message,” Luna muttered. “They write of it with disdain merely because they’re looking for a good story. Everypony else will accept it!”

“But you managed to introduce conflict to a holiday that didn’t have it before!” Twilight exclaimed. “If you had followed my advice from the start, this all could have been avoided!”

“I appreciate your opinion Twilight Sparkle,” the princess said in a tone that suggested that she did not appreciate it at all. “But I am the princess, and the final decision rests with me.”

Twilight stamped a hoof on the floor in frustration. “Why won’t you follow my advice on this? All I’m asking is that-“

“Do you feel unappreciated, Twilight Sparkle?” Luna interrupted, her tone growing more severe by the second. “Perhaps you would like to take up a new position in the royal employee if being my advisor no longer suits you.”

“I would’ve stopped being your advisor ages ago!” Twilight snapped before she could stop herself, a few strands of her mane curling upwards as they always did when the unicorn was under heavy stress. “But you’re so darn stubborn I doubted anypony else could have handled the job!” A second later she threw a hoof over her mouth at the realization of what she had just said.

A thick, long silence followed Twilight’s words. Luna looked down with a heavy frown at Twilight, who was kneeling on the ground and looking up at the princess imploringly.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean that!” Twilight pleaded, tears welling up in her eyes. “You know I didn’t mean that, I just lost control-“

“Out,” Luna growled quietly.

“Please, Princess Luna, I apologize! You know I would never-“

OUT!!!” Luna screamed, adopting the Royal Canterlot voice for her demand as her eyes flashed white. “GET OUT! YOU ARE HEREBY NO LONGER MY ADVISOR! IF YOU THINK NOPONY CAN HANDLE MY REQUESTS THEN I SHALL RETIRE THE POSITION FROM THIS DAY FORWARD!” Twilight burst into tears and raced for the door, slamming it behind her and leaving the princess alone in the room, the echo of the door slam the only sound in the room apart from Luna’s heavy breathing.

She looked down at the abandoned newspaper on the ground before lifting her front hooves to stamp on it with enough force to crack the floor beneath. Luna then proceeded to rip the paper apart with her magic and only when nothing remained of it but shreds did she stop. Now she stood in the middle of a mess of torn paper, failing to hold back the tears which were now streaming down her cheeks.

Present-day Luna was aghast as she watched her older self. “I have seen quite enough!” she cried in despair to her hooded companion. “Dear Zecora, please bring this nightmare to an end!”

Zecora obeyed the princess’ wish and pulled another bottle out of her cloak. This time the powder she collected from it was white, but the method of use was the same as before. Another hoofful blown into the air and the vision dissolved into a cloud of swirling white. Soon enough they were once again standing in Ponyville, only now it was no longer snowing and a faint light could be seen on the eastern horizon, heralding the coming of Hearth’s Warming Day. Everything was silent now; apparently the party had wrapped up and everypony had retired for the night.

“Dear Zecora,” Luna asked hesitantly as the zebra put her powder back in her cloak and lowered her hood to look at the princess properly. “I must know…this vision thou hast shown me…is this to be what will come to pass, or what may come to pass?” The princess was visibly shaken and was dreading the answer Zecora had to offer her.

“The ways of the future are always obscure, and of what will be I am not entirely sure,” the zebra answered. “Change your ways before it is too late, and you may avoid that particular fate.”

“Then there is still hope!” Luna cried in relief. At that moment she heard the bell of the clock tower once more, its haunting sound ringing clearly across the tranquil landscape of Ponyville. The princess silently counted off seven chimes. “It is still early - there may yet be time to resolve this! I thank thee, dear Zecora!” she added before galloping off.

“It is your sister you should thank, I deem!” Zecora shouted after her. “The events of this night were entirely her scheme!”

Twilight Sparkle and her friends were casually trotting down the main street towards the town square, returning from their brief rest at the end of the party to join in the day’s celebrations. The sun had already risen above the mountains, bathing the town in its warm glow and showing off the newly fallen snow in all its wintery glory.

Their cheerful chatter was interrupted by the arrival of Luna’s Royal Guards. Twilight was the first to notice them and they all fell silent as the guards approached.

“Excuse me, ladies,” Key Ton asked them. “Have you seen Princess Luna? We have not seen her since she departed the festivities last night.”

Twilight and her friends shook their heads save for Rainbow Dash, who suppressed a snicker. “Wait, aren’t you like, her guards? And you’re saying you don’t know where she is?”

Coltroy gave Dash a stern look. “Hey, it’s not like we follow her all the time! That would be-“ he stopped when Key Ton nudged him.

“What my partner means to say,” Key Ton offered, giving Coltroy a frown. “Is that Princess Luna wishes to have the occasional moment alone, and we are obliged to respect her request.”

“Oh, I hope she’s okay…” Fluttershy said worriedly.

But their fears were soon alleviated as they heard a shout and turned around to see Luna galloping down the street towards them, right on cue. They all trotted to meet her as she approached.

“Ah, Twilight Sparkle, friends!” Luna cried. “I am relieved to find thee; I have been searching for thou for a while now!” She then finally took notice of the presence of her guards at the scene. Coltroy and Key Ton bowed hurriedly.

“Your highness, forgive us,” Key Ton said. “We left to search for you after you did not return and-“

“That is quite all right, my good servant,” Luna said, cutting Key Ton off. “Thou did thy duty well. But I have a request for thee now.” She winked at Fluttershy before continuing. “I want thee to return to Canterlot and spend the rest of the day however thou would like to.” Coltroy and Key Ton looked up at the princess, completely taken aback by shock. Luna smiled at Coltroy. “Thou art free to spend the day with thy family, if thou so choose.”

“Thank you, your highness!” Coltroy cried, beside himself with joy.

“Are you sure you do not need anything from us?” Key Ton hurriedly asked.

“Just the knowledge tomorrow that thou enjoyed thy holiday,” Luna answered. “Leave me be, my good servants, and have a Merry Hearth’s Warming Day!”

Many joyful thanks later the two guards took to the air and flew off in the direction of Canterlot. Luna and the six mares watched them depart before the princess turned to Fluttershy.

“I thank thee again, dear Fluttershy. Thou helped show me what this holiday truly means.” Fluttershy blushed slightly, her cheeks taking on the same hue as the red winter cap she was still wearing.

“What happened last night?” Twilight asked, looking between Fluttershy and Luna with considerable interest.

“Princess Celestia had a task for me,” Fluttershy answered proudly.

“Indeed!” Luna said. “In keeping with the story of ‘A Hearth's Warming Carol’, I was visited by three ponies who showed me what I had failed to see. But instead of the ghostly leaders of the three tribes of old, it was three dear friends who visited me last night. Fluttershy here was the Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Present.”

Fluttershy’s a ghost?!” Pinkie squealed in terror. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaa…” her scream faded as she sped off into the distance. Everypony watched her depart with confusion.

“That’s been happening a lot lately,” Applejack commented.

“I’ll go get her…” Rainbow Dash sighed, taking off to catch up to Pinkie.

“Oh, Princess Luna,” Twilight said. “I wanted to apologize for last night, I-“

“No Twilight Sparkle, I am the one who should apologize,” Luna interrupted, raising a hoof to stop Twilight. “It was wrong of me to suggest that thine holiday traditions were less valid than the ones I was familiar with. Though I may prefer the Hearth’s Warming of olden days, I see now that everypony should be free to celebrate the holiday in thine own way.”

Luna smiled at Twilight and her friends. “Traditions art all well and good, but what really matters is having fun with those thou choose to celebrate with.”

“That’s a beautiful sentiment, Princess!” Twilight said cheerfully. “But I think I learned something too. After you left last night, I went back to the library and read up on some of the history of Hearth’s Warming. I think you’re right, there’s a lot we can learn from the lessons of the old holiday. In fact…” At this she turned to her friends, who all smiled in response. “We were just talking about it, and we were thinking we could put on a play next year, to teach ponies about the history of Hearth’s Warming!”

“I would love that,” Luna said happily.

After a moment of chatting, Rainbow Dash finally returned with Pinkie, who was being comforted by the pegasus while she tried to explain her reaction.

“But I’m telling you, Dash! It’s hard to giggle at the ghostly because you don’t know where the ghosts are, so how do you know where to giggle at, you know? You might think you’re giggling at a ghost when in fact it’ll be right behind you and it goes BOO!” the party pony rattled on.

“There’s no ghosts, Pinkie,” Dash sighed, patting her friend on the shoulder.

They rejoined the other ponies, who all laughed along with Pinkie at her antics. Other ponies passed by the group, bowing to Luna as they walked past. The princess offered holiday wishes to everypony she saw, spreading holiday cheer as she proceeded down the street. Those who bore witness to her departure from the party last night were surprised, but happy to see her so cheerful now, possibly out of relief that they now knew the princess of the night wouldn’t be canceling another holiday.

“And the princesses bless us, every one!” Pipsqueak cried, suddenly appearing next to Luna along with a group of young ponies who the princess recognized from Nightmare Night.

“Pipsqueak, where did you come from?” Twilight asked, taken aback at the little colt’s sudden arrival.

“I was just waiting for the chance to say that,” Pipsqueak shrugged cheerfully. Luna chuckled and Fluttershy removed her hat, placing it on Pipsqueak’s head. The little colt looked delighted with his new headwear and proceeded to show it off to his friends.

They proceeded to the town square, where Pinkie led the group of fillies in another carol, which Luna eagerly joined in song:

Joy to the world! Our hate has fled!
Let us embrace our love!
Let every heart always befriend,
And our friendship shine above,
And our friendship shine above,
And our friendship, our friendship, shine above!

The rest of the day was a haze of cheer and celebration, an indication of Hearth’s Warmings still to come. Luna would come to embrace the festive spirit and it was always said of her that she knew how to keep the holiday season well – be it Hearth’s Warming Eve or Nightmare Night, if any pony alive possessed the knowledge it was the princess of the night. May that be truly said of all of us!

And so I bring this tale of delightfully happy ponies to a close, and wish that you, regardless of your conviction, tradition or personal taste, have a very happy holiday this season, one and all!

(Credit to Scraticus for proofreading and suggestions.)

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