The Maretian

by Kris Overstreet

Chapter 181: Sol 316-318

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[08:35] SYSTEM: ERROR - Signal Corruption Exceeds Recovery Threshold – Unable to Display

[09:36] SYSTEM: ERROR - Signal Corruption Exceeds Recovery Threshold – Unable to Display

[10:37] SYSTEM: ERROR - Signal Corruption Exceeds Recovery Threshold – Unable to Display

[11:38] JPL: Yesterday’s message about magic resistance received. Today’s AOK message received by Morse. All looks well from here.


[08:35] SYSTEM: ERROR - Signal Corruption Exceeds Recovery Threshold – Unable to Display

[09:36] SYSTEM: ERROR - Signal Corruption Exceeds Recovery Threshold – Unable to Display

[10:37] JPL: Today’s AOK message received. No changes here.

They allowed Mark to read the entire chapter this time. None of them- the ponies, Fireball, not even Dragonfly- could bring themselves to take a turn. They listened from the beginning, as the Lord of the Nazgul left the smashed gate of Minas Tirith, to the end, and Mark’s sonorous, rhythmic chanting of the list of the dead.

Dragonfly felt her own sadness, and that of the ponies, and even of Fireball, who normally had no real problem with the violence and death in human stories. She was shocked that Mark didn’t feel the same way; to him this was just a story.

She was more shocked that she was shocked herself.

After waiting a minute for the ponies to volunteer their usual post-reading comments, and getting choked silence and a couple of sniffles from Starlight Glimmer, Mark said, “For most of his adult life the writer was a professor of linguistics and ancient literature. He specialized in the writings of his ancestors from a thousand years before- what little survived, that is. And most of it was like the chant at the end there, celebrating glorious death in battle and then mourning the fallen.”

“Who- could- cel-e-brate- death- in- battle?” The sentence obviously took every ounce of concentration Spitfire could muster, but every word came out like a punch to the gut.

“My ancestors,” Mark said. “And Tolkien’s. He based the Rohirrim on a people called the Anglo-Saxons. They eventually became the core of the nation called England. And my family is descended from English settlers. And the Anglo-Saxons practically worshipped war. In fact, they were part of a greater culture that taught that the only honorable death was in battle. If you died from disease or old age, then you would be forced to join the forces of evil in the Last Battle at the end of the universe.”

“That,” Fireball said with authority, “is messed up.”

“The Battle of Five Armies wasn’t this bad. Helm's Deep wasn't this bad. Even the Battle of Hogwarts wasn’t this bad,” Cherry Berry added.

“And he wrote it this way because he liked war?” Dragonfly asked.

“No. Very much the opposite,” Mark said. “He was writing to create a myth like the ones he studied, but he also wanted to make the war as terrible and disgusting as he could at the time. You see, when he was a young man- about half my age- there was a great war, in which countries from all over the world took part. Tolkien’s schoolmates and himself all volunteered for the war. And Tolkien saw horrible things, and then was wounded- I don’t remember how, but he spent over a year in a hospital recovering. And out of all his schoolmates, he was the only survivor.”

The choked silence after this revelation lay thick enough to suffocate the farm, or so it seemed to Dragonfly. She managed to volunteer, “You know, when we were thrown hundreds of kilometers back into the Badlands by the power of love, it always surprised us a little that none of us actually died. We lost a few deserters, and a few of us had broken bones or wings from impact, but no death. And of course we took care not to kill any ponies. That would have been wasteful.” She raised her hooves and waved them at the computer Mark had been reading from. “But this? This?? All those men. And even the orcs. How many of them chose to be there? And how many had a whip at their back?”

“She has a point,” Starlight said. “No species is all evil. Though Dragonfly makes us wonder sometimes.”

“Hey! I’m working on it! Has Fluttershy overcome her fear of crowds yet?”

“Before this goes any further,” Mark said, “I’ll point out that Tolkien was dinged by future generations about the whole idea of races being inherently evil. A lot of authors even wrote books specifically to create orcs or goblins or whatever who weren’t all murderous backstabbing bastards. But to put things in context… well, remember my explanation of Sanford and Son? That show was made twenty years after these books were published. And Tolkien was almost sixty years old at that time. So he came from a generation with… hm, let’s say blind spots.”

“I still say your species needs some immortal princesses,” Starlight muttered in response.

“I want to talk about Eowyn for a minute,” Cherry Berry broke in. “She was Dernhelm all this time? She chose to ride into battle? She deliberately chose to do that?? Why?”

Mark considered this. “Well, it’s explained a bit in the book,” he said, “but you wouldn’t get the cultural parts. Put it this way. First, she was a noble of Rohan. But since the Rohirrim are a warrior culture- and one in which warrior is a males-only job-“

This got a snort out of Spitfire big enough for a horse.

“-yes, I know, but that’s how it was in my culture for about two thousand years,” Mark said. “Her brothers and other kinsmen- emphasis on men- got to ride out and do great deeds and be remembered. She got to stay home and watch her uncle go senile under Wormtongue’s spell. When she died, Eowyn wouldn’t even get her name on a tombstone unless two men fought a civil war to marry her. But she wanted to be great, just like them. Especially since, as it seemed at the time, their people and everything else good in the world was about to go under.”

“Messed. Up,” Fireball repeated.

“No, not messed up,” Dragonfly said. “This is just like changelings.”

“Really?” Mark asked. “How’s that?”

“In the hive the elites become infiltrators,” Dragonfly said. “Not every changeling can go and really blend in with ponies, after all- only the smartest and sneakiest. I just barely made it, and only because I was fast enough to be a courier. Sure, you need bugs to do the other jobs- guarding, taking care of the larva, maintaining the hive, and all that- but there was always this feeling that you weren’t a real changeling if you weren’t out there stealing love from ponies.”

“I’m pretty sure,” Starlight said, “that if Rohan was made up of love-eating insect people, Mr. Tolkien would have dropped a hint about it by now.”

“It’s not a perfect comparison,” Dragonfly said. “But think about what it’s like to be raised as one of the top changelings, strong, smart, good at disguises and voices, and then being told you have to stay home and take care of a senile queen or defend the old drones and larvae while everyone else goes off to crash a wedding. I know I’d find a way to go on the raid if I thought I could get away with it.

“And Eowyn? She’s one of… lemme count… yes, three- ONLY THREE! Three female characters with an actual NAME in this whole story!” She paused. “Wait, no, four, I keep forgetting Bilbo’s cousin-in-law, what’s her name. But anyway it’s obvious she wants to do something important, something people will remember, and nobody will let her! Nobody will give her a chance!” She turned to Cherry and said, “And I know you understand that one, boss!” She pointed to one of her own wings, which didn’t look as shriveled as they had when she first came out of the cocoon, for emphasis.

Cherry nodded. “So she went to war,” she said, a tear running down her muzzle. “Poor girl. She’s going to die in the hospital, isn’t she?”

“Now we’re getting into spoilers,” Mark warned.

“I knew it! She IS going to die!”

Dragonfly decided to shut this down before their commander went into soppy romantic pony hysterics. “Nah, no way,” she said, making her tone as callous as possible. “I bet she’s stuck in a hospital bed next to one of the wounded soldiers- maybe that Faramir guy, the writer sure played him up- and they’ll spend time together and fall in love, because that’s what people in a hospital do.”

It worked. Cherry’s crying jag aborted mid-launch, as the pink earth pony stared at the changeling in total disbelief. “What?” she asked. “Where did you come up with a… a… a stupid-stupid idea like that?”

“From my queen’s collection of bad romance paperbacks,” Dragonfly replied. “When we get home, don’t tell her I stole them.”

Not that Dragonfly believed a word of her own proposal. No, she figured Eowyn was done for, and there’d be a tragic bedside scene in the next chapter or two as she faded from life. That seemed the properly melodramatic boo-hiss-war thing to do.

After all, if Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks didn’t get their happy-ever-after, in a book series written for little kids, why should this war-obsessed suicidal nut?

“But it can’t be Faramir,” Starlight pointed out. “Isn’t he dying? Isn’t Denethor about to cremate him?”

“What is-“

“Burn to ashes!”

“Hey, no need be personal!”

Mark interrupted before misunderstandings could escalate. “We get back to Pippin next chapter,” he said. “And I think that’s a good place to stop, suit up, and head back to the Hab for lunch.”


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[10:42] SYSTEM: ERROR – Loss of Signal – Probe in Acquisition Mode

[10:48] SYSTEM: Signal Acquisition – Chat Restored

[10:50] SYSTEM: ERROR – Loss of Signal – Probe in Acquisition Mode

[11:00] SYSTEM: Session Timeout (LOS Error, Reacquisition Failure 600 seconds)

Author's Notes:

The idea of mares not being allowed to go out and fight is pretty alien to the Equestrians. It'd be even more alien if not for the mostly-male Royal Guard, but as we all know they only exist to look pretty and to sneak cake to Celestia.

Next Chapter: Sol 320 Estimated time remaining: 11 Hours, 12 Minutes
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