The Celestial Mechanics in Midsummer

"My dear Twilight Sparkle,
Thank you for your recent letters. And I must apologize to you first and foremost that I have not responded back in kind to each and every one. I imagine has this concerned you, but please don't worry. Things have been very unsettled here in the castle as of late. Princess Luna has been researching Equestrian history, and I find myself in a strange kind of mood..."

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1. The Celestial Mechanics in Midsummer

I rise early, and my sister sleeps late, but still we get along just fine.

As the days carry on and the sun drags down behind the westward trees around two or three in the afternoon, just then I’ll sometimes be seated in my quiet study with my work, my scrolls, and a bit of tea in my favorite fire-red kettle - the one with the little suns dancing around the perimeter. And after a bit I’ll start hearing her scurrying around upstairs, the soft dabbling of delicate hooffalls in the rooms above. Then, after some delay, here she’ll come downstairs, stepping heavily with purpose, her mane in a tangled mess and her wings imperfectly symmetrical, where she will stop, raise her hoof in a salute, and absurdly bark:

“Salutations, and a good morning to thou, sister! -- Queen Celestia!”

…or some other linguistically tortured greeting. I believe she thinks them up the morning before.

La Lune has risen.

And then Luna usually shuffles off to her immediate rendezvous with the kitchen to command the pâtissiers left and right. After several months of observing this important daily ritual, I decided to act on my frequent impulse and rose from my spot, hiding myself by the old tapestry, readying the brush I often tucked behind my tea pot in case just such an emergency should arise.

Standing at the top of the stairs, I could easily hear down below the sound of Luna’s hooves on the tile floor deep in the old hollow of the Canterlot Castle kitchen, making her requests for sweet rolls and toast, the kitchen staff dashing about the disshelved midnight majesty lording over the room. Then up the stone steps she came, daintily but too forcefully, like an impetuous yearling turned out of her chance on the swing.

At the very second her blue nose came into view I seized the moment and leapt forward with my brush.

“Egads! Dear sister! Your behavior is quite unroy - AUGH!” Her pink donut went flying across the room.

I giggled and brushed her mane out furiously, watching the light blue locks start to ripple and wave into her midnight star field, while my blue sister wiggled underneath me until I set the brush down, satisfied.

“Unhoove me you brutish – augh! Sister, this is quite unbecoming of – oof!”

“There. Now you look like a Princess, dear Luna.”

She huffed and pulled herself out from under her sister’s tired old body. Luna, when provoked, stands up straight, raising her hoof grandly, while her blue tail behind her flicks back and forth in irritation. “Celestia! We must protest this indelicate treatment! We hath…”

“We have…” I smiled patiently.

Luna tried again, stumbling over the words now that she had to think on them. “We… I… I have...”

I tickled Luna’s chin with the tip of a wing-feather. “Much better, my sister. Have you been reading those books I gave you?”

“We have, we… I… I do not think they will be of… very much use.” She scrunched up her nose in frustration at my grammar drills.

“Nonsense, you sound better already.” I crossed back over to my window seat but Luna, still flustered, stood her ground at the center-point of the room.

“I understand, sister, and yet I still fail to see how Sergeant Scruffy in Lollypop Land will assist me in mastering the modern Eqquish lexicon!”

I sighed wistfully. “That was one of Daisy Dreams’ favorites. How did it start again? ‘Sergeant Scruffy, with his uncombed mane, lived in a boat so yellow…' ”

I sipped my tea in the silence that followed, a little too loudly, and giggled.

I saw Luna’s blue eyes shifting almost imperceptibly to the right as she studied the wall, contemplating whether or not that warranted a response. I waited patiently.

Then she mumbled in a singsong voice: “ 'Sergeant Scruffy, mane uncombed, lived in a barn so yellow. Scruffy did roam, away from home, over hill, and dale, and hollow.' ”

I smirked at her. “So you have been reading them!”

Truly, sister, what good does it do? And how will 'Daring Do and the Screaming Stone' help me understand pan-Equestrian geopolitics?”

“Ah, that one’s a classic!”

Luna inhaled deeply and let out a long, whining moan.

“CeeeeelllllleeeessssstttttiiiiiiaaaaaaaA!”

 

I set down the teacup slowly. A strange feeling filled my heart, and up and up my neck, until it nearly burst forward in my eyes as tears, a feeling long forgotten in this long life of mine. My heart nearly burst with joy to hear that “Celestia” again. I hadn’t heard that in…

I walked over to Luna and held her tight under my wing.

“I love you, sister. How I missed you so much.”

Luna smiled, her mouth trembling, and then looked down at her hooves. Sometimes her unspoken moments mean the most.

 

--

 

Another night and yet another starry, clear sky and Luna and I were spending a quiet evening immersed in the nightfallen vastness of the castle library, enjoying that brief interval before my bedtime. Quiet may be a mild understatement. I sat at the west window and counted constellations while pretending to read scrolls as, across the room, Luna hauled book after book off the old veneer shelves, one and then another pounding ponderously down upon each other, the sound only slightly duller than cannonfire. Eventually a Guard peeked his head in to ensure that we were not, perhaps, under attack.

“Everything okay in here, Princess? Um, Princess… - ces?” He appeared very small, poking his head through the heavy-scrolled doors at the far end of the reading room.

Luna slammed another book down onto her pile. I thought I heard it echo off the Swayback Mountains… but then again it could have just been distant thunder.

“Confound these… tomes! They tax my… patience!”

Slam. Slam.

I smiled at the Guard. “Sorry for the noise. Princess Luna is now enacting a front assault on shelf “Gc – Ge”. Sorry for the trouble, and rest assured, we are fine. Unless, of course, you want to help Princess Luna find some reading material for the evening.” Slam.

“Um, no thank you, your majesty, I must be returning to my rounds...”

I smiled back at him sweetly. “Then thank you very much. Have a pleasant evening.”

Slam. Slam. The sounds bounced off the high, Byzantine ceiling, and I thought I saw the old gilt hanging lamps sway a bit each time Luna slammed another book down. Slam.

By now, Luna had sorted the books into two piles. “Sister! These truly cannot be so heavy!”

I glanced at her wryly. “Tis true, they do not make books like they used to.”

I saw only the very top of Luna’s eyes roll behind a book’s stamped blue binding, the rest of her face buried between the pages. Then she returned to slamming them down. Slam, slam. I sipped some of my fruit punch. At last I heard the almost silent creak of old binding and paper and the Royal Library fell silent for a time.

I looked up to the second floor where Luna had been working, where the shadows of the old books in the singing gas flames danced to and fro, to and fro, like nervous, scattering bats.

“Tia... Tia… look at this.”

I rose and stretched my wings, unready to leave my comfy spot by the window, slowly crossing to my blue sister and poking my nose into her old book. It smelt like hide and mold. She enthusiastically tapped a line of glyphs with her hoof.

“Look here… ‘tis written here that the Griffon-Minotaur border dispute conference occurred in 1311 – is‘t not correct?”

“Dear me, was it really so long ago? Yes, yes, that does seems right. Ambassador Silvertalon tripped and fell face first into the salad.”

Luna thought for a moment. “...But that still did not prevent the Griffon-Minotaur war in 1328 when Edmund II ascended to Griffon Chieftan,?”

“Yes… quite unpleasant, in fact.”

Luna made a short, indignant sound. “Celestia, how can I be expected to keep all of this history in line? Equestrian geopolitics hasthave clearly segued into a new era…. a new era of emancipated…”

Luna… sister…  even I can’t keep all of this straight. And I lived through it.” I tried to keep the sound of laughter in my voice. “Perhaps we should just go upstairs and…”

“Perhaps you are forgetting that I did too, sister…” Luna’s voice had hurt in it.

“Yes, but… Luna… why are you concerning yourself with the history of something that… well... something from just so long ago?” I asked the question as softly as possible, but Luna slumped and stamped her blue hoof firmly on the open pages of the manuscript.

“I just want to understand! You aged… we… we changed. In just a moment to me. Had things - turned out differently - it may have been the best… for the best…”

I moved close to Luna and gently placed a reassuring wing on her shoulder.

“You did. I’m sorry. But really, you shouldn’t be concerned about the Griffon-Minotaur border disputes. You’ll find they’re both quite contented just now. The Griffons, in fact, are quite Bohemian. Wingenburg is quite the culture center. It’s very haute for young, urban griffons to clip off their talons and flight feathers.”

Luna giggled at the thought and slowly said: “I just want to understand, Tia.”

“I know, Luna. Now… what can I tell you about the 1311 peace conference?”

“…Was it boring?”

I laughed. “Dreadfully so. And the tea was cold.”

“No.”

“Yes!”

Luna looked up at me for a moment and rose to her hooves, summarily slamming the old book shut with a flourish of magic.

“Tia, will you help me find a book?”

“History again?”

“Perhaps some light reading.”

Sergeant Scruffy?”

Luna made a face. “…No, not that light.”

 

--

 

My sister rises early, and I go to bed late, but then this is how it should be. I see her a few hours’ space each day, before she tucks herself off to bed in the east tower and leaves me all alone aloft in my observatory with my papers and books and stars. That is really how all our old troubles started, you know, but now I do feel better. I am more in control. I am the queen of the night, the queen of the dark, yet the dark is not the queen of me.

I believe that.

It seems that that always was the way of the world, and I remember so long ago when things were different we stayed and played together as long as we liked, until our day-in and day-out chores forced us to drift apart. Oh, what it would be to go back to that time, when we played out our days in the tall grass and heather and the sun was always warm and lovely.

As much as I loved that sun in those springtime days of yore, it was not long for me to learn to love the dark. Sunlight’s bright glare can seem so indiscreet. I love the dark for her thickness, her perfumed mystery, her beauty.

In our minds’ eye do we recall places and things as they are seen in the daylight, with all bright and illuminated all at once? No, we remember them how our world looks at night, dimly lit in the dark. The night elevates all ponies and all things, breathes them full of magic, mystery and possibility, like the meeting of a stranger at a crossroads deep in the wood.

There is of course merit in daylight as well, and of course my sister Celestia does treat me so wonderfully now. She spends all of her time with me while we’re both awake, answering questions, making sure I look fit to be a queen. I perhaps don’t always look fit, not really, that much I know. I’m so used to that thundering aloneness of the night, that longing for an elsewhere where there’s music and life, and thus I often look badly in need of a severe… brushing.

And yet Canterlot has grown into my sort of city. I recall back when it was nothing but a few outlying huts and alleys and inns and there was nopony to keep me company, all those dark houses like yawning mouths in the moonlight. Now it warms my deep blue heart to look out across Canterlot and see lit windows, turrets, towers, and balconies, cafes and taverns, ponies out on the cobblestone streets throughout my night – night dwellers, like me. Lanterns and light dancing in each window like fireflies in the dusk. I always told Celestia I was the innovator.

But then I’m the fun one anyway.

Now, and I do mean no indiscretion, but that Twilight Sparkle of Celestia’s is quite the catch. Her purple eyes catch and model the light and her long arch of a tail dapples bright in the sunlight. She seems made for light, but she likes the dark. Perhaps her parents were wiser than they thought in giving her a name that joins th’ both.

Late one night as I was in the West Tower Bedroom I caught this Twilight Sparkle spying in on me and I seem to have made quite the impression of her. I’ve called on my sister’s student ofttimes since then. I land there in the Ponyville town square amidst the clover and follow the light to the Ponyville Library, where often Twilight awaits late at night reading in the purple dusk. I make tea while she writes and composes her lists and we talk, while the tiny dragon upstairs sleeps. I remember first crossing the library’s threshold and saw her pet owl circle the room and knew I had found another place like home.

Of course, quite a long time ago the day and the night were the same length and the seasons were not divided; just as it took myself and Celestia some time to know for a need of a killing season of frost, it took us some time to know that the days needed to wax and wane in a pattern. She and I had done a good deal of work on this before the trouble started, and we spent many long hours together huddled over books and papers to perfectly form the equation. Upon my return I was pleased to see that Celestia had continued to refine it quite a bit, so that we now each rotate seasons for more day and more night; sharing the duties while still leaving the other enough time to have as much of a life in the off-season as possible. I tend to do a lot of work in the winter, she in the summer, but sometimes we like to show off by having the sun and the moon in the same sky. It is a sisterly thing.

During the warm two week span we know as Buffalo Summer this happens quite often, leaving me to dispatch myself uncustomarily early. And so one brisk fall day I found myself flapping over the orange and yellow apple orchards towards Ponyville, smelling the red and yellow scent of apple skin in the chill breeze, myself a dark blue mass in the cloudless great blue yonder. My speed being good in a strong tail-wind, I landed in Ponyville with just enough time to see my moon peek up over the horizon in the powder blue sky. I thought I would sneak in and surprise Twilight, and perhaps make some sun tea, an unusual treat for me.

As I trotted towards the library, I considered how to surprise her. Perhaps I would warp into view, frightening the little dragon? Or I could fly up into the air, making a five-point landing on her balcony! Oh, this will indeed be fun.

As soon as I neared the library, however, it became clear that Twilight was not in her usual swath of disarray, and there were no old books dogeared and stacked about and no piles of foolscap or reams of scrolls. Instead, I found that tidy lavender pony standing all alone in the middle of her library, saddlepack on her back, carefully tucking a scroll inside, and seeming quite naked without her customary sea of letters.

“Princess Luna!”

“Twilight Sparkle! I... um… perchance, Twilight, what is the occasion of thine, your… orderliness?” Curse this modern tounge!

“Oh! I’m going to see my friend Rarity. She and I are going to the Ponyville spa! Would you like to come? I hear they have a special on pony-pedis tonight!”

My heart sank. “Oh… no thank you, Twilight Sparkle...”

Twilight’s purple eyes scanned me over a few times and she smiled broadly. “Well… that’s okay! We don’t have to go to the spa, but I think you should meet Rarity anyway. She would just love your mane!”

I blushed. “If… if th... you insist, Twilight Sparkle.” Embarrassment has always made me formal. “I shall look forward to meeting this… Rarity… you speak of.”

“I think you and her would get along great! She didn’t see you last Nightmare Night, and I just know that…” Twilight’s voice rambled on somewhere else as we turned an about face and I marched back out her door.

Plus one companion for Princess Luna, minus one glass of tea for the same.

Trudging across Ponyville’s main square in broad daylight, trailing behind my chipper purple lead pony like a blue oversize caboose, did not brighten my spirits. Several Ponyville citizens bowed respectfully as I passed, although perhaps most had grown less weary of me since my disastrous appearance on Nightmare Night.

I supposed I was going to have to fly back to Canterlot without my sun tea and my conversation. I devoted my utmost to jealously fantasizing on that tea until Twilight nudged open the door of a shop - which I first mistook for a particularly large cake - and saw standing before me a vision wrapped up in satin and lace in the form of a pony. Just now this frilly hallucination was studiously bent over a dress form amidst a storm of thread and needle and stitching every which way.

“Rarity, I would like to introduce you to Princess Luna.”

Rarity gasped and immediately fell to her knee. “Princess Luna! What a wonderful, I mean unexpected, I mean fabulous surprise!”

I stood there for a moment staring down at Rarity in bewilderment. She was clearly a daylight creature, to be sure, but I was suddenly enveloped in a world of velour and flourishes and hemlines and brochette, and Rarity, with her violet mane and tail, commanded stage center attention. With her dramatic curls and exclamation-point eyelashes, the boundaries between the boutique and pony blurred, like she was another one of her dressforms that trotted down off its pedestal, brought to life.

“Princess Luna!” she began again, perhaps searching for a new verb to supercede ‘fabulous’. “I never imagined that I, Rarity the Unicorn, would be receiving one of such royal stature in my humble Carousel Boutique!”

Her voice at the end of “boutique” reached a previously unknown pitch.

“Rarity,” Twilight said flatly, “She’s just here with me on a visit.”

Rarity bounced up like a recoiling spring. “NO visit from a Princess is casual! What may I help you with, Your Majesty? Perhaps you’re interested in a new hat? No! I know! A beautiful woolen scarf for the winter – I make only the best, you know! Or perhaps a beautiful new sun dress! I mean... a moon dress, of course, um…”

“Rarity!”

“Oh dear, Twilight, you really are being quite rude, let the Princess speak...”

I suddenly blushed – usually I let Celestia do all the talking! Big Sister wasn’t here to rescue me this time.

“I, um…”

“Oh and she has such a simply lovely voice, Twilight!”

“Go ahead, Your Majesty!”

“I was just here to, um...”

I fumbled badly and began tracing my left hoof in a circle trying to find the right word.

“Oh please do go on, Your Highness, Rarity of Carousel Boutique is here to fulfill your every wish!

Be strong, Luna, I heard Celestia echoing off somewhere nearby, Don’t be afraid to be authoritative!

I gathered my wits and decided that now would be the time for a Royal Proclamation. In preparation I flung my right hoof out in a grand gesture preceding my announcement of intent, sending that little royal shoe flying off somewhere with a crash and the yowl of an agitated cat.

I froze in place.

In the still silence following this, with my right leg raised grandly, and two purple and two blue eyes staring at me, the only thing I could mumble aloud was:

“I’m going to need a new shoe.”

As if she expected it all along, Rarity bounced forward again as if her tail were a spring propelling her, her watery blue pools of eyes quivering in anticipation.

“Why, YES, Your Majesty!”

The following hour I can scarcely recall. Each little corner of the shop that may perhaps at first glance passed for a decorative bow, or panel, or embellishment opened and spilled forth with ream after ream of fabric and box after box of shoes, to the point where the afternoon eventually ceased being about Rarity’s selection of shoes and became an extended demonstration of her house’s astonishing variety of storage space.

I tried on high heels, low heels, bit loafers, slippers, a pair that could have been made out of butterfly wings with absurd pink bows, boots, clogs, creepers, high-tops, and swimfins. Now the Sacramental Royal Canterlot Shoes I’ve of course always hated – I’ve always told Celestia that they make us look like dollhouse accessories instead of divine rulers – but mine are soft-tongued silver and are comfortable, durable, and pretty. When Rarity began pulling the steps off her staircase and yanking out box after box of shoes, I finally realized the absolute necessity of simply giving in.

“Oh, I like these!”

“You DO?” Rarity nearly leapt onto me.

“You do?” Twilight peeked up over her book.

I stared down at the shoes that had been on my hooves for twenty minutes as if they had just now blinked in existence. “I... I do! They’re really nice!”

They were soft purple demi-pointe shoes, with long long ribbons that wrapped up my legs and made me look like a gift box.

“But Princess, you’re not a ballet dancer...” Twilight slowly offered from behind her book, carefully parsing each word as if I were about to pirouette and disprove her. I blushed and wriggled my hooves in them experimentally.

“I like them! They’re so… so…”

“Haute? Avant garde? Revolutionary? Unique?” Rarity pushed herself in to me so close I could smell her mane.

…Unique.” I smiled at her. “Just like thine your name. And how much shall these fine shoes be, Miss Rarity?”

“Oh, please Princess, not at all, not at all, anything for a pony as important as you!”

Oh, blazes. Ordinarily in this situation Celestia could step in with her warm voice and easy grace and rescue her poor awkward sister with something like “Thank you very much, Rarity, your generosity is most appreciated!”, but I simply could not. I smiled at her the best I could and thanked her and felt like tucking my head under my wing in embarrassment.

But as I beat a hasty retreat towards the door a mannequin to my right caught my eye, one that I had overlooked as I entered perched so prettily in the window. Oh… yes. Actually, it will be just the thing.

“I wonder Rarity… do you crochet?”

“Oh I do, your majesty, absolutely!”

“I believe… I have found something else.”

 

--

 

Later I flew back across the stars, feeling very good about myself, my blue body probably quite invisible to the ponies below in the dusk of night. As I flew above the apple fields to the north of Ponyville, the smell of ripening apples had now been replaced with that of fresh cut hay, and I felt like swooping down on a pink barn there in the moonlight and snuggling up in the loft, in all the hay, and sleeping. Celestia and I used to do that in the old days on midsummer nights when the moon dust was brightest. We’d rest in the loft and argue about the shapes in the stars and laugh and hold each other. I wanted to cuddle down in all that soft grass and close my eyes and dream of the old times in Equestria, when our kingdom stretched only to the mountains in the east and west, the river to the south, and the mire to the north, when it was spring or autumn all year long and the lilies blew in the warm breezes and katydids sang all the while.

Had I known then that those moments with Celestia under the stars would be the ones I would long for the rest of my life….

Regretfully, I flew past the barn. Flying north along the trade route, Canterlot and the castle were to me but dark shapes against my moon. I circled the train tracks and darted in around from the West, taking time to admire Canterlot Market’s pretty fairy lights.

I flapped into a gentle landing in the stone circle of the castle forecourt with my eyes aloft on the east tower, where up beyond the torches and parapets I saw a light still burning in Celestia’s window. Oh, thank goodness. I took the steps two at the time until I stood outside the plain wooden door that opened into Tia’s room and gently knocked.

“Come in!”

Say what one must about Tia, her room always smells terrific, of lavender and sage and incense clouds and cedar and yew burning in the fireplace. There is a faint but definable air of mystery, of a whisper of drama. Those who only know Celestia in court may be thus surprised, but those of us with wings and horns are mysterious creatures by nature.

I poked my head in quietly.

“Sister?”

“Luna! Please come in!”

Celestia was tucked into her bed with her hair down all over her face, a big old book open in front of her. Her crown and shoes and necklace were deposited quite simply on the sill of her window, where in the moonlight they glinted like fire.

“I made a new friend today, sister!”

“Oh? And who is that, Luna?”

“Rarity of Ponyville!”

“Ah, one of Twilight’s friends! I’m very glad for you, Luna. You know, we hosted her just a few months ago in the south tower.”

“In Glitterwing’s old room? My word, I had no idea.”

Celestia raised her eyes off her book to look gently at me with a smile. “I’m glad you’re getting out more, Luna. It really is important to see the wider world of Equestria. It is so important to see all of the ponies who depend on us.”

I smiled through my sister’s lecture. “I bought you something, sis.”

“You did?”

With a whisper of magic I untied the silky silvery scarf from my neck and wrapped it snugly around Celestia. It was glimmering white and blue with black fringes and a crescent moon on the very end. Celestia smiled at the gift, her eyes full of sunlight, even there in the dark.

“Thank you, Luna. It’s just the thing.” I nodded happily in agreement. “…I think I shall wear it tomorrow for our appearance at the pegasus races.”

I gasped in surprise. “Really? Tia, you really should…”

“Nonsense. This is your gift to me and I think it’s as pretty as any one of Rarity’s dresses.”

“Only on you, sister, if we dare say it.”

Celestia smiled. “Now if you don’t mind, I really must get to sleep. We have a big day tomorrow.”

I said my goodnights and slipped quietly out the oak door of her room, closing it behind me. I stood there in the cold stone darkness of the hall for some time after, listening to the pop and creak of the cedar logs in her fireplace and looking at the royal sun embossed across the face of her closed door. The door was like that before I was gone, I well remember. It took several ponies days and days to slowly carve the door down, leaving that raised sun there on the front. Celestia was not one to change good things unduly, and for that she is truly to be commended.

But now my “private time” of the evening had begun. I slowly paced down around the east tower’s curving halls to the long, twisting stairs, and took them down into the center of the castle, where the Court kitchen was nestled in its old niche beside two store rooms of food and in the convex arch above the great old dining hall (which Tia had long ago converted into a gallery, causing much consternation one night at four past midnight when I decided I wanted a scone). I slipped quietly past some cleaning ponies leaning over their buckets of lye and nosed open the door.

The royal chefs were long gone for the night, leaving behind cooling trays of pastries and pies for the coming days and long teatimes and banquets held by Celestia during the day for Greyfeather of so-and-so and Sunshine Dreams of someplace-or-another. They shined there in the blue light of my moon, honey-kissed and allowed to set for the glaze to harden before the dawn. Shortly they would be loaded onto trays and paraded before officials, dignitaries, and other hangers-on about the castle.

Those tea times. I didn’t envy Celestia her job. But sometimes I did envy Celestia her company.

Seeing myself quite alone in the great old place, I swung open the pantry and rooted around past bags and wheat and sugar. Surely there must be something befitting the Princess of the Night in here somewhere.

I lit my horn up and moved forward a few steps, stretching forward into the darkness. There were huge jars of those bright red cherries Celestia likes on top of her phosphates and long boxes of those tea biscuits half dipped in chocolate and big bricks of chocolate, too, awaiting a use and wrapped up like Hearth’s Warming gifts in parchment. There was a tin of cracked oats and some bread cut up ready to dress salads and bins of farro and toasted barley and a latching-top box of green tea and on and on and nothing for hungry moon-girls who rise when others are sleeping. I huffed in frustration and was about to depart when a dinged-up red box caught my eye.

I levitated it up near my face. It was one of those silly morning meals for foals, the one with the sugary little puffs of grain and the tiny marshmallows mixed in. Who in Equestria was eating this?

I looked around the deserted kitchen. Oh well.  Nopony would have to know.

Flinging open a half-score of cabinets, I finally found a slightly suitable vessel: a wide and swallow tin plate, the kind tarts are baked in. I deposited a goodly number of wheat puffs and marshmallows in the tin, splashed in some milk about the whole affair in a way I saw Celestia do one morning when, under great protest, she had to attend a sharecropping conference in Trottingham. I then lifted the meal with my magic and trotted back upstairs, and momentarily considered barging in on Celestia and boasting of my successful cereal assembly. Unfortunately I diverted my path towards the south parapet’s observation corridor, where I would see my moon in its Waxing Gibbous, First Quarter view – one of my favorites. I stood there outside and watched it for a while, munching on marshmallows.

I always feel strange saying “my moon”, and yet “the moon” isn’t right, either. I think sometimes to just say “Moon”, with an implicit capital “M”, but after trying this out during an evening oration at the Equestrian Badminton Society meeting, I found most just looked at me strangely. Several nights ago I told Celestia, quite suddenly it seems, that we should simply name the Sun and Moon and be done with it.

“Luna, what will we name them?”

“I know what I shall name the Moon. I shall name him… Excelsior!”

“Luna, you can’t just name the Moon Excelsior. It’s already just called... the moon.”

I jabbed a croissant at her. “Don’t be a bore, Tia! Besides, I know you’d love to name your Sun something like Twilight Sparkle!

Tia blushed wildly. “That would be a terrible name for a celestial body, Luna, and you know it.”

I munched a red marshmallow in the shape of an apple and giggled at myself in retrospect. I love throwing Celestia off her “Princess Show”, and that one was simply first-rate on my part.

“Pleased with yourself, Princess Luna?”

That was Celestia’s voice, and it suddenly wasn’t part of my memory, although my ears deceived me at first. I turned and saw Celestia wrapped up in her pink nightgown stepping out onto the parapet with me. Hanging from her neck, the silvery scarf with my cutie mark on it still trailed.

She glanced fleetingly at my snack. “And I see that we have raided the kitchen. You know, we do have the modern extravagance of bowls in Canterlot Castle.” Her eyes shone mischievously.

I hrmphed and defiantly ate another marshmallow, this one shaped like a purple plum.

“Luna, did you want to say something to me earlier?”

“Pardon?”

“You hesitated at my door before leaving.”

“Oh… I was just studying the sun.”

“The sun?”

“You recall, the raised sun embossed on your door.” I casually waved a hoof in a circle to describe it.

“Oh yes…. That sun.”

Celestia stole a marshmallow from my cereal. I let her.

“Remember how long it took those tradesponies to make that door?”

“Yes, it was over a fortnight, if I recall.”

“Remember that they made one for you too?”

“I did not like that door.”

“What did you say at the time? You said: ‘I do not wish my room to be adorned with…. with…”

“I said that I do not wish my royal chambers to have the outward appearance of a latrine.”

Celestia broke out in fits of suppressed giggling.

“My cutie mark directly on the door! Can you imagine if some poor lost pony, late at night, were to be looking for the commode, stumble upon the door to my chambers, traipse directly in there in the dark, and mistake my bed for….”

Hang it. It was all too absurd. I started giggling too. Celestia laughed heartily and moved her delicate white wing to rest on my shoulder, and I moved mine out to rest on hers, and we stood there for a long time in the moonlight, eating cereal and watching the heavens turn on by.

“Did I wake you?”

“No.”

“Are you having trouble sleeping?”

“I missed you. I missed your voice and… your laugh, and…”

I looked at Celestia, her white body almost as blue as mine in the night. “Do you often miss me?”

She nodded. “All the time.”

I smiled and moved my head to hug her, neck over neck, and we stood there in the night together until the stars turned again and my sister finally made her departure, and even from a distance I could see that scarf I bought her glittering in the moonlight.

And so Celestia did wear the scarf the very next day to the pegasus races, and she wore it often after that, too. I often wonder what all those ponies out there in the night think of their Princess Luna as a pony, as a signifier, as a symbol. I raise the moon and lower the moon. Sometimes they see me, sometimes they don’t. Celestia stands there in the daylight while I keep the machinery of the night whirring along in the darkness of my observatory with my books and charts and, yes, my loneliness.

Do they think of me out there in the night, do they spare a thought for their Princess Luna? I cannot make the stars shoot across the heavens every night for each pony to see, a reminder of their Princess of the Dark.

But there at the pegasus races I saw pony eyes in the throng moving from me to Celestia’s scarf, the one that ended in a blazing crescent moon of my cutie mark. I saw the eyes move from her to me and me to her and side to side, I felt the way I used to feel in Whitetail in early summer, the way I felt in those lonely old haylofts with Celestia and the stars, the way I felt that night out on the parapet with a pie plate of cereal between us. I felt like we were sisters – just sisters, hooves outstretched to touch across the gulf of the day between us, neither one complete without the other, straining to reach out for the other across the gap of time.

 

--

 

Mornings in Canterlot Castle smell of tea and yeasted sweet rolls and sing of rustling papers, of hissing steam and the folding of towels. My day always begins so decorously, so exuberant and full of life, a day in which Things Will Be Done and Royal Business Will Be Conducted. And yet inevitably by late morning the exuberance has drained, the stone halls again fall quiet and I often find myself regretting that La Lune has packed herself off to bed several hours since. So I sit and wait by my window in my study and my attention inevitably drifts out across the plain which reaches to touch the desert while, right down below me, the garden ponies trim hedges and water flowers bounded in by the stone box of Canterlot’s walls.

Sometimes there are visitors, from Griffondon in the north, with their mills and their cold winters, or from Stalliongrad in the east, with their boatwrights and great ports and water and wood black as oil. The visitors enter and I spread my white wings majestically and they compliment my beauty and then Royal Business is conducted with flourished scrolls and scribbling quills.

And time parades on by. The visitors grow grayer and sometimes new ones replace them, and the scrolls get longer and longer. Such is the way of the world. And as each day rambles on towards dusk I invariably look forward to hearing the hooffalls above my head in the rooms above and the re-emergence of La Lune.

“Glorious day, O great sister of mine!”

And it is, when she emerges. The day is, after all, not complete without the night. Then Luna gets her doughnuts downstairs and crosses upstairs and then crosses back downstairs with her plates and her mane tussed up in a towel on her way to the underground baths and shouts more greetings at me and flicks her wings and tail and slams the doors headed each way. Each time.

Oh those long years spent waiting for my sister and hoping for her return. Although she slams doors and absurdly shouts like a misbehaving dog, Luna is still my sister, and I missed her. I cannot tell her how much I missed her. There isn’t a word yet for that feeling.

Just now she’s sleeping above me. I can hear her little childish mumbles and the beating of her hooves against her pillow as she turns to and fro all day. The sound of La Lune asleep is almost as distinctive as the sound of her awake, full of quiet and absurd fascinations.

I trotted across to my study window and nosed it open. My sun was now declining in the western sky and soon the shadows would begin to grow long and the heat would hang in the air and the insects would start to hum in the long grass as the day rambled on to the suns final most beautiful phase: magic hour, the golden hour, when all the world is as bright as copper and rich as wheat. I could smell the sweet grass and fragrant lavender drifting in my window on the cool mountain air, and as I placed my forehooves on the old stone sill of my window, I suddenly knew that the last place I wanted to be was stuck here in Canterlot.

“But each shade and each conscious bo'wr when I find,

Where I once had been happy and she had been kind,

When I see the print left of her hoof in the green,

And imagine the pleasures may yet come again…”

The old ballad came back to me and I hummed, scrambling my rear hooves to find purchase on the old stone sill without fully thinking about it until I stood there in the arch of my window, halfway inside and halfway out, coiled up like a spring.

The dance was from long ago, in the golden age, and I heard then the clopping of hooves on the rough wood barn floor from so many midsummers ago and the lilt of the viol and the laugh of the horn and the smell of all that delicious hay. It was, I think, time to take leave for the day.

“Thunderhoof?”

“Yes, your majesty?”

“I think I shall go out for a bit today… Princess Luna knows what to do.”

“Your majesty?”

And so I pushed off and lept out into space.

Luna and I used to play a game – Last Draught. The objective was to leap off the roof and catch the very last upward draft before we hit the ground. It was stupid and dangerous - then as now - but I played it just now anyway. I heard Luna’s high voice in my ear from how many summers ago.

“Sister! Do be careful, you shall’t not catch the wind!”

“I shall, Luna, my wings are strong and able!”

The garden ponies shrieked and abandoned their tools as I rocketed down out of the tower towards the earth – white lightning - but I caught that Last Draught and my wings snapped open, full of wind, I shot upwards, finding an easy current to slip into, soaring up over Canterlot’s high wall and off into the sky.

I angled my primary flight feathers gently into the breeze as Canterlot fell away behind me and the great plain unfolded itself before me. Out beyond Ponyville is the old Whitetail Wood, even now largely unsettled and dotted with groves, fields, brooks and streams. Settler ponies have sometimes and another made their homes here, just as they did thousands of years ago, but the rambling, stretching kingdom of the forest, larger and denser than Everfree, is rarely traversed and makes for a remote, isolated life - especially in winter, when the hills and hollows fill up with snow, unperturbed, as the wood winds its way towards the Western range and beyond.

I dipped out of the faster, higher current and slipped into a low airstream, angling down towards Whitetail. The old Wood was my destination today, and I flapped and gently descended through the tangle of branches, finally landing in a glade where animals flitted across fallen logs and through the tall grass. The grass was long and dense and shimmering straw in the late summer wind, and purple flowers danced in the breeze.

Few remember it today but the great reaching heights of the halls of Canterlot Castle are modeled on those of the ruins of the Old House, which itself was modeled on Whitetail, which has existed for many thousands of years before the Everfree Forest was but seedlings blown by the northern winds. The trees rise straight and proud, thick as pillars, and from the spreading branches in the deepest of the thickets and glades hang descending cascades of leaves, flowers, and moss, drifting gently on the wind. Gnarled roots pop up here and there from the soft mossy vale, and branches jut, knobby with age, from earthen walls and then plunge back to earth through the gentle dabbling of slow-moving brooks.

I moved forward, guided on instinct alone. The path was no longer visible of course, but I still knew it well, and I gently hummed as I went along. The birds in the trees and the song in the stream carried me along as I traveled through the green and golden land into a clearing where, among tall feathery stalks of heather, there was an old cottage shaded by an apple tree.

“…But when I consider the truth of her heart

Such an innocent passion, so kind without art,

I do fear I have wrong'd her and so she may be

So full of true love to be jealous of me.”

I passed into the feathery embrace of the heather, thousands of little white petals swaying in the dark green of the wood, and one flower hit me square on the nose between my nostrils and I giggled happily at the sensation.

The old stonework chimney seemed good and firm but unbelievably dark beneath the darting, shifting light of the old tree, the underside of those stones covered in thick moss. As I approached, I smelled the apples ringing the tree as they lay fermenting in the sun, a sweet, sickly vinegar smell, one that drifted on the wind through the forest.

I walked past the chimney and the tree to the front of the rotted old shell and opened the door to the cottage. There was a heap of fresh ash in the old dugout hearth, meaning that a pony or ponies had lived here not too long before moving on. I looked up at the old peg-beam rafters and the mud-thatch roof, my heart warmed that the old place was still serving her purpose.

The simple square house had one wall inside with a door, although the wooden door was long gone now and just the hinges had remained planted there in the wall. I stepped nimbly around some jarred pieces of wood and into the back room.

How small it was. My wings, fully extended, and my tail and mane could almost have filled it. The old honey-glass windows had long since rotted, of course, and I saw that somepony had tried to hang a red-and-white scrap of cloth in the east window to keep out the wind, although even that had long since tattered and turned mildewy. On the west window, a twisting and twining apple branch had snuck inside and was now growing strong enough to lift the roof, if it so desired.

There were no rotted apples inside, probably having been claimed. I badly wanted a taste of those golden-yellow apples myself, now, but instead I tucked my wings back and spread out on the old hay floor, meditating, listening to the wind in the trees and the moan of the fireplace, until I gently slipped off to a melancholy sleep.

I do not know how long it was until I woke up. I woke up quite alone in the house, with only the rusting of squirrels or owls in the tree branch that poked in through the window. I had hoped that somepony had joined me in the evening, although perhaps again it was for the best that they did not. Unlike Everfree, Whitetail Woods has never been known for attracting a rougher sort, and so the trees still rise tall and the grass still grows proud.

My horn lit up in the darkness. I looked around the room, scanning the walls for graffiti. There was none, although the decorative bark-paper that was pressed against them so long ago had now flaked off. I turned my head towards a far corner, half expecting to be disappointed, but then my heart stopped for just a moment.

There, just where I knew it was, was a little patch of writing on the wall, two parallel columns, each of some four or fine lines. I saw my letters, and I saw Luna’s. Her first was a crude scratch, but below was a better line, and a better one past that, but my eye fixed there on the last entry:

The script was strong, and confident, with bold downward-slashing strokes, not at all like the weakly-jointed letters just above it. Moreover, it was in modern script, with dotted “i”s and two “s”es instead of the old Eqquish “”. I touched the tip of my hoof against the wall and could still feel her humming, cool blue magical aural swimming in those letters.

So you have been here, Luna.

My curiosity sated, it was with her on my mind that I took off into the night, the cool evening air whistling satisfyingly through my feathers as I beat silvery wings against the pearled moon, flying higher and higher, home to see my one and only sister.

I have never told Luna of that evening I spent in the cottage. If I did not know that her mind was on the golden age as well I’d think she’d call me silly and that would be that, but that knowledge would be just another quiet unspoken understanding between us, in the wordless way that sisters often simply know. Perhaps I was wishing for a time when we were together always and the seasons were not divided. But if I said that to Luna, she would just laugh reassuringly at her old sister.

She’s the younger sister, but sometimes I feel she’s more mature than I am. She’d laugh at me and say what she says when I become nostalgic: “The golden age has never and will never be the present, dear sister.”

 

--

 

Sometimes, when the activities of the morn tire themselves out and I can look from the south tower down on Canterlot Market and see the ponies slow to a crawl in the bright midday sun, I listen carefully in the hollows up above for the shuffling hooves of La Lune.

She rarely stirs in her tower, the bedspread pulled up tight right to her cheek, her legs a tangle of slender blue in the half-light.

She’ll toss and turn and mumur and whisper up there in her bed, but some mornings she falls silent and it’s then that I gently make my way upstairs, quietly, and nose open the door of her chamber.

There my sister will be, her eye mask clipped tight around her head, her slender wings spread out behind her as if she’s ready to ride that Last Draught up into the sky, away from me forever.

In the silvery light which steals past her heavy green drapes, the evermore dusk of her room, I’ll scan her wings, over and over, looking at each feather for the merest speck of black, of the creeping dark. For a moment everything seems to stop, the sound of the sky and the wind in the trees hold their breath for me, awaiting that awful reappearance. Luna never stirs, her slow, peaceful breaths filling the room in the stillness of the midday heat. The blackness is never there. Then I’ll return downstairs, mind unburdened, and once again the scrolls will roll and the papers will fly and the quills will dance.

Far above, the sun and the moon turn round and round us in opposing circles, forever bringing the dusk, chasing the dawn, only rarely stopping for just a moment in the blue sky to touch, and then spin on, and on, and on, forever.

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