To Try For the Sun

Celestia: a filly of twelve. A cynical, hungry pauper, with a young sister to protect and feed.
But the food has run out. Winter has gripped the land for too long, and now the pair face starvation.
The cynic in Celestia knows she can't move the sun. But the child in her wonders... and so she tries.

(Inspired by the Donovan song of the same name.)

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1. Sunday Morning

One was twelve. The other, eight. Orphaned sisters, their mother and father among those lost in King Platinum’s wars. Two unicorns among countless such as they, and they made the best of it. Lacking a home, they found a derelict building and created one, with what bare decorations they could find or make. Lacking parents, the older sister took the role of father and provider. Of the nurturing mother, they had no need. They were already old.

Yet childhood’s spark still gleamed within them. Platinum’s city abounded with empty houses and crumbling shops, and each one became a playground. The same day might see them be pirates, knights, or adventurers, braving the darkened rooms in search of treasure. And what treasures they found! Green broken glass became emeralds to their childish minds, and unknown feathers were trophies of defeated pegasi. Books were carefully borne home to be read – stories of heroes and dragons, yet the eight-year-old’s favorite was the diary. The simple slices of a young baker’s life, though the older sister destroyed the last page without saying what it held.

She was the adult, that filly of twelve. Every Saturday she would leave for work – and return like Santa Hooves, bearing gifts! Hay that was stale, but never moldy, and sometimes beets or cauliflower. And precious firewood to ward off the deepening chill.

She did not tell that the money came from a six-hour shift of grave digging, or that she guiltily wished for more work. But a beggar was all else she could be, and those had already flooded the city. Shivering, snarling, snow-covered almost-corpses, the thought of which strengthened her as she dug. The work was hard, but it was better than the alternative.

Celestia was her name. Father and sister to Luna. A child and an adult.

One Saturday night, she trudged home from the market. Her back sagged under the weight of cut lumber, though it was lighter than she wished. The cost had gone up. Every week, the cost goes up.

“But it’s June!” Luna had protested that morning, when Celestia warned she would bring fuel instead of beets. “It’s almost your birthday. Why is it still winter?”

Celestia had explained as best as she could. King Platinum’s court controlled the sun, and therefore, the seasons. He saw opportunity with that. The long cold made everyone suffer, but the earth ponies relied on their crops for trade and suffered the worst. The unicorns would continue the winter until their rivals gave in.

The big words and ideas were lost on the younger sister, but she grasped enough to be angry. She railed against the “meanie-pants” king, contesting his logic with her own. Bringing summer would make both sides happy, so why not do it?

Celestia didn’t argue. Luna was right, of course. Celestia could see it on every emaciated, frozen body she covered in dirt. And on the still-living ones – the beggars, holding out cups at her approach. One of them, a six-year-old “father” with a baby on his back.

The father drew close, and Celestia snapped into action. She hissed and stamped, matching the beggar’s pleas with curses and threats. Yellow light flared dangerously from her horn and did not abate until the young colt had fled.

She was not evil. Not even indifferent. She sighed and fought tears, knowing well the pair would soon be in the ground. The boy’s infant would die without help, and he would follow.

Sympathy, charity – nonsense. Words for Luna’s storybooks. Celestia was the adult and had to provide.

But the tears came. Not an adult, after all. A forlorn child. A tired old mare.

Her back twisted beneath the cut wood, but a spring entered her steps as she approached their home. Tomorrow belonged to childhood, both for her and Luna. They would play their scavenging game, and perhaps find something of use. More likely they wouldn’t, and she would be just as happy to have spent the day with her sister.

The roof of the old place had long since crumbled, but the ground floor remained whole. Celestia nudged the door open and groaned in relief as she let the lumber collapse by the fireplace.

She called out, “I’m home!”

Tiny hooves clipped from up the broken stairs, their advance slow and uneven.

Celestia stopped in place, ears perked with sudden alertness. They were close, she and Luna. Luna despised their weekly separation, and always pounced upon Celestia’s return. The young sister would throw herself into the other’s hooves, brimming with delight and babbling as an excited child should.

Every week, without fail, Celestia would have just enough strength left to catch her sister as she leapt, and sweep the little blue wonder into the air.

But now… the last step was barely audible. Celestia could see a shadow on the wall as somepony paused on the second floor, standing just behind the first stair downwards.

It was Luna – of that, the elder was certain. She knew the young sister’s shadow, knew her hoofsteps.

“Luna?” Celestia asked. Her heart beat hard as a dozen fears shot through her mind, each more awful than the last. Maybe someone stood behind Luna on the stairwell, holding her hostage for food or money.

Worse, Luna might be sick or injured. An aggressor could be reasoned with. A fever or broken leg was a death sentence.

An image flashed in Celestia’s brain, dredged from her many nightmares: Luna, frozen and dead, lined up with all the others to be buried.

The soft tread of hooves brought her mind to the fearful present. Celestia’s eyes rose and found her sister, walking slowly down the stairs. Nopony followed, and her body seemed whole. Luna glanced into the room, but dodged Celestia’s gaze to turn her own to the floor.

In that glance, Celestia saw the color of her sister’s face. The natural, healthy deep blue. No sign of fever’s mad blush, or the ghostly whitening of horn rot.

Not even a limp could be seen as Luna reached the last step. She seemed as healthy as ever, just… sad.

“What’s wrong?” Celestia asked softly. She was tired and hungry, but Luna came first. The reason she dug graves, and chased off beggars. Her sister, her daughter.

Luna glanced again, and Celestia saw it – the scared guilt of an honest child. She wasn’t sad, she was nervous.

And she was silent, so Celestia spoke again. “What’s wrong?” This time, it came out a little harder. The strong father who saw her daughter’s guilt, and expected answers.

“You’re gonna be mad,” Luna mumbled, gazing downwards.

“I might,” Celestia said. She did not make fool promises. “But I might not. And if it is something to be mad about, I will be madder if you don’t tell me.”

The gentle words, even a forced smile brought out nothing. Luna scrunched her eyes closed, turning her head to face away.

Undeterred, Celestia played her trump. “Come on. The sooner we put this behind us, the sooner you can help me polish off the cranberries.” The dried treat had never failed to win her sister over.

Luna’s eyes shot open at the mention of cranberries, and tears flicked out as she slammed them shut. She lowered her head, trembling without control.

“Luna. Luna!” With her own distress building, Celestia could only sweep forward and embrace her sister. Two white hooves rose and clasped themselves, bringing Luna into the shoulder of her threadbare jacket.

“You’re gonna be mad,” Luna mewled again, keeping her eyes closed. “You’re gonna be so mad.”

Celestia tightened the hug, her gaze upwards and confused. What was wrong? Luna was a good child, and a smart one. She wouldn’t do anything cruel, or worse, wasteful.

“Did you steal?” Celestia ventured, grasping at theories. That would be alright. She would be upset that Luna left the house, but not for the theft itself.

Luna shook her head. “No. I gave…”

Nothing more. But those last two words touched a memory in Celestia’s mind, and she stiffened.

With fear-given impatience, Celestia released the hug and stepped away. Three swift strides carried her to the closet that was their pantry, and she opened the door.

None of the cranberries that were there this morning. None of the dried flowers she had smuggled from a gravesite. Just hay, and less of it than there should be.

A hard growl was flowing from her throat before she even realized it. The gentleness fled her face as it snapped back to Luna.

“Tell me you ate them,” she said coldly. Gorging on their food would have been stupid, wasteful, and still better than the looming truth.

The blue sister shook her head miserably. She blinked once – just long enough to see Celestia’s building anger, and slammed her eyes shut.

“Who?” Celestia asked. With an effort of will, she turned from the source of her wrath back to the pantry. Father’s dagger lay on the bottom shelf. Dull with age, but sharp enough.

No answer.

“Who!?” This time she roared the word. Angry, yes, but it was the fear that stoked it. The whispering father in her brain, reminding that they had too little already.

She turned. Luna’s eyes were open now, though they swept at once to the knife.

Quickly, Celestia thrust the damned thing into her pocket. It wasn’t for Luna. Never. Luna came first.

But Luna must eat.

“Where’s our food?” Celestia’s voice was smoldering, crackling. It promised action.

“I don’t know,” the younger confessed, stumbling back a step. “Star Swirl’s family doesn’t stay in one place. They–”

She got no further. The name snapped a nerve in Celestia, and the girl pounced. Mad-eyed and snarling, she brought her hooves under Luna’s forelegs and hoisted her to the air.

“Again!?”

Luna was crying, now. So was Celestia, through the mask of rage.

“His mom’s sick!”

“I don’t care!”

Three times. Three times Luna had fed the brat. He had worse than dead parents – living ones, crippled by the war. She pitied him, and worse, called him “friend.”

The first time, Celestia had talked to her sister. Explained that they were not rich. They were very, very poor, and had nothing to spare for those poorer than they. The second time, she reinforced it with some swats on Luna’s backside.

Now? Now she had no plan. She tremored wildly, teeth chattering with unspent fury.

Celestia forced her words to a low hiss, hoping, praying that Luna would understand. “You can’t keep doing this. Stop.”

“He’s our friend, Tia.” Luna’s squeaky voice came back in meek protest, and the dam burst once more.

“No, he is not!”

Her twelve-year-old strength gave out. Celestia set Luna down, fast enough that the other wobbled on her hooves.

“Yes, he is!” Shrill and teary, Luna shot back. “And he needed help! He–”

A white hoof slapped Luna heavily across the snout.

Celestia blinked. She… hadn’t meant to. Hadn’t even known she was moving until the impact.

Still angry. But knew she just lost control, and that helped her reclaim it.

“Sorry,” Celestia said huskily, the growl still in her throat. She shook her head hard, and turned away. “I’m… I’m going upstairs. I’ll figure things out for us.”

Didn’t dare look back. Might get angry again. Or more scared, and that would make her angrier. Needed space.

Tried not to hear what Luna said as she climbed the stairs. The quiet, tear-choked sigh.

“It’s not supposed to be like this.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upstairs. Such as it was, with missing walls and piled snow. A long-rehearsed code between the sisters: “Upstairs” meant Celestia wanted to be alone.

“When the sad or the mad got too bad.” A clever catchphrase, to help Luna grasp it when she was younger. The blue angel loved the rhyme, missing entirely the grim truth behind it. Like that one ditty they sang for the plague: Ashes, ashes…

No ashes. Wood’s too precious. Just a frozen body.

Celestia tried to stay angry. It kept her warm in the exposed attic, and let her forget the creeping fear.

Not angry at Luna. Angry at the cold, and the hunger. And Platinum’s thrice-damned court.

Most of all – Star Swirl. Not just anger, but deep, bitter hatred.

He didn’t deserve it. She knew that. He was just trying to feed his family. But so was she, so the hatred remained.

Hard hoofsteps carried Celestia across the breadth of the second floor. No roof, and only the tombstones of walls to show where the rooms had been. She turned right as she reached the edge, beginning her accustomed pace of its borders.

She growled. She snarled and cursed low under her breath. Her hooves beat themselves against snowdrifts, the mind above picturing Star Swirl or King Platinum beneath.

The pacing carried her three times around the refuge, and her anger began to cool.

Fear took its place. Thoughts of violence turned to the sad pile of old hay in the closet. A few mouthfuls a day, to last them the week. That wasn’t nourishment – just a slower starvation.

And what then? Next Saturday she’d get paid, but that would go right to the fuel. They’d freeze with an empty fireplace. Hunger might be a slow death, but the cold was a knife. No choice but to buy wood. Which meant next week the hay would be gone, with nothing in its place…

Once heavy with anger, her steps grew light and irregular. Her breath came shallow, her head crouched low.

Hunted. Like when the wendigo got into town and nearly ran her down.  But it could be outwitted, and hidden from. She wasn’t hunted, now. She was trapped.

The pacing grew faster. Ruts formed in the dirty snow where her many hoofprints merged. Wide pink eyes kept looking around and behind, as if expecting a blow.

Food! But nothing remained for them to gather. No grass, not even weeds were left after eight months of winter. And the fuel could not be skipped. Even if some miracle saw them through the next two weeks… what of the third?

Her body couldn’t keep up with the rising panic. Celestia leaned over, one hoof braced against a crumbled wall. Hungry. Tired.

The hateful dream struck her mind again: Luna, frozen and dead. Lined up to be buried, and the foreman shouts as he always does. “Don’t dig deeply, we’ve got plenty more.”

Won’t happen. Can’t happen. Celestia whispered the words with every frantic breath.

But it will. Colder and colder, hungrier and hungrier until illness swoops in to finish the job.

Luna. The reason Celestia woke up each morning. Her sister, her daughter, her little wonder…

“It’s not supposed to be like this.”

Of course it’s not.

Crying. No way out. Celestia bowed her head, coughing and sobbing. Starlit tears fell to the snow, glimmering like diamonds.

A breathless laugh came from her mouth. If only they were diamonds. Or better, be sunlit tears, from a summer sun. The grass would grow up within a day, and at least then they would eat.

Instead – winter. Stubborn King Platinum, and the stubborn earth ponies. She didn’t even hate them anymore. Too tired.

She should go downstairs. Lie down with Luna beneath their only blanket, next to the precious fire. Had to conserve her strength. Had to get them out of this.

Celestia sank to the ground and curled. The weeping went on, soft and silent. She never let Luna see her cry. She was the father, the strong provider. Luna believed it. Better to sleep up here than break the image.

Hours passed. Sleep never came. Her fear had never abated; she just lacked the strength to pace. But her mind yet swirled in its grasp, unable to distract itself from their looming fate. She lay in shivering stillness until the thoughts grew too strong, and her body shook in violent, useless panic. She bit hard into a foreleg, then slapped it wildly to the icy floor as she knew – she knew – that the trap had closed around them. She thrust her hooves to the sky and neighed shrilly, thoughtless of who might hear. The dry winter air ended it with a coughing fit, and she lay still once more.

A sound came, breaking the dead, deaf silence that followed. A gentle tap upon the stairs below, then more as small hooves began their ascent.

Celestia gasped, at once realizing her folly. Luna had heard, and was coming to see.

A plan for a clumsy bluff formed in Celestia’s mind, and she acted. She turned to the side and moved a foreleg to rest atop her face, hiding the tears and hopefully giving the impression of slumber. Even the gentle motions made her chilled body ache in protest, but her will overrode it.

The tapping ended, replaced by the soft crunch of hooves on snow. They drew closer, louder, until Celestia guessed her sister stood directly above.

Atop her, something settled – the worn, but wondrously thick blanket the two of them shared. Had it not covered her mouth, Celestia’s surprised gasp would have given away the bluff.

And then the tiny, warm figure that Celestia knew well, for she hugged and kissed it every night. It settled down beneath the periphery of the blanket, taking only what was not needed to cover the older sister. Both Luna and the blanket were painfully warm to Celestia’s touch, having spent long hours waiting for her by the fire. But the warmth grew glorious within a moment, soothing the aches and chill from her body.

It was a parasitic heat. Celestia could feel Luna shiver as she pressed closer, entering her traditional spot between the white legs. And the ice-swept stone beneath them was certainly a poor replacement for their patchwork bed.

Nonetheless, Luna embraced her. Both apology and forgiveness, without a word needed between them.

Slowly, Celestia lowered her leg from its concealing place above her eyes. She slid it downwards, bringing both it and its companion around to hug her little sister. Still, nothing was said. Luna was already asleep.

Warmth and exhaustion brought their drowsy, illogical contentment. Celestia gazed silently upon the sleeping angel. She kissed her on the horn, and Luna giggled as the touch brought blue sparkles from it. Celestia smiled back, rested her cheek on Luna’s leg, and fell away to a dreamless rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The act of waking almost made her cry out. From a land of thoughtless nothing, Celestia reentered the world stiff, sore, and chilled to the bone. She and Luna had pressed closer during the night, their bodies unconsciously seeking each other’s warmth. Even the blanket’s heat was spent, its thick fabric now scarcely warmer than the air around.

Opening her eyes took effort. They had grown frost-caked during the night, reminding Celestia of the threat she courted in staying here. A cold night could bring sickness, and sickness…

Still dark, though red streaks of sky told that the sun was on its way. Little good that it did, living now as a small orange spot that seemed only to taunt its frozen children… its frozen child.

Celestia could feel the beginnings of new tears as she turned her gaze before her. Luna. Blue angel. Frozen along with her sister, but still smiling contentedly in her hooves.

The trap was still closed. The hunger. The cold. But it was easier now. Celestia had rules in her life, and the first was that Luna would not, must not, perish. No action was too strange in the pursuit of this. She had only to find which one to take.

The first such action that came to her bleary mind made her laugh out loud in a hoarse, frost-choked voice. It was a silly and wild notion. Like something from Luna’s storybooks, where knights befriend dragons, and all live happily ever after. Raw foolishness to even try.

But trying would cost nothing, and besides, the idea possessed her. It had entered her mind with a random thought, but now refused to leave. Instead it grew larger, and larger still until it consumed her attention. Even her cool, gravedigger’s mind accepted it, seeing no harm in the attempt.

It was more than her mind. Her body twitched with the inactivity, suddenly anxious for movement despite the deadening chill. Her ears perked, adrenaline coursed through her veins, and every instinct she held demanded action.

The cold made her reluctant, but soon she could resist no more. Slowly, she began to disentangle herself from Luna’s embrace.

The younger sister felt it immediately, more from the cold than the motion. Luna’s eyes blinked, then closed, her mind still more asleep than awake.

“Tia?” she muttered blearily. “Where are you going?”

‘For the sun.’

Celestia’s mouth opened to share the mad fantasy, but it closed behind different words.

“I’m just getting ready for the day. Hush, now. Go back to sleep.”

No point in rousing her at this time of the morning. Celestia shivered as she slid from the blanket’s meagre protection, then turned to wrap it as snugly around Luna as she could. Luna smiled at the touch and blinked once more, but was snoring softly within a moment.

The deed done, Celestia yawned, watching as her breath misted in the predawn darkness. She yawned again and stretched, one leg at a time as far as they would go. The exercise warmed her a little, though the damnable cold remained.

And then she blinked, realizing in a rush that she had no idea how, exactly, one went about herding the sun. All she knew was that it was very hard – so hard that Platinum’s court was bedridden for a week with every change of season. All that said she could trump them was childish bravado, and the measured gravedigger frowned at her from within.

It was ignored. A child’s fantasy, yes. But she was twelve, and a child still. The line between possible and impossible remained a blurry one. And she itched – she craved – she wanted – she longed to try. It held her manic attention as she considered, her limbs shaking with wild anticipation.

A sharp breath, in and out. The sun was moved with magic, of course, so magic would be the best place to start. Celestia faced vaguely to where the sun would come, closed her eyes, and channeled the weak yellow glow into her horn.

She sensed all the familiar things – the city, its aura cold and limp in winter’s grasp. The winter itself, hollow and tired. The many souls around her blurred together, giving the soft, sad echoes that she felt through her horn.

Nothing new, nothing different. Magic was a sense, one that Celestia heard could probe far-away places. But her poor education placed its mysteries out of her grasp, and only the obvious made itself known.

Undeterred, she focused her magic and pressed it outwards, grasping beyond her sight. She felt the old auras fade as her horn’s eye drew away, looking into the empty space beyond it all.

Nothing. Of course.

She opened her eyes, and closed them again. One more try. This time she stretched more upwards than outwards, fancying she might follow the sky’s red streaks to their source. Upwards into breathless space, curving in a titanic arc past the red and pink, until the sky turns blue and–

Warmth gripped her horn. She did not see, but she felt a gold line at its tip, following that great curve around the earth.

Like nothing she had ever known. Not like telekinesis, where the horn itself felt nothing. Not her horn, not her body, but her magic could sense the awesome heat at the end of that line.

The revelation was too much. Celestia gasped and startled, skidding and nearly falling onto the frozen floor. The line vanished, and the strange awareness came to an end.

But immediately her magic stretched again – this time with certainty, following the same arc as before. And it was so easy, for no sooner did she cast her mind to space than the rest seemed to follow of its own accord. The yellow line formed even before she sought the red, and the odd sense of heat returned.

Celestia looked cross-eyed to her horn. It glowed yellow, but no line stretched outwards. The gold string was more symbol than real… yet the heat was real, as well.

She sank suddenly to her haunches, eyes wide, nearly fainting as she saw the truth of it.

The sun was alive. Not in the same way as Celestia, but she could feel it. The heat… the sun’s touch. The strange yellow line was only half Celestia’s. The rest had come from her destination, reaching back across the countless miles to press its magic to her own.

‘Hello.’

Celestia did not speak the word, but her thought flew down the golden line. A nervous, hesitant greeting. The best that her stunned mind could manage.

‘Hello.’

The response was even less of a word than Celestia’s. A vague notion that touched her magic, which then clumsily translated it to her mind.

‘Please come closer.’

Her thoughts carried more than just that. The sun saw her nightmares of frost-slain Luna, and her despair for the empty pantry. It saw her dream of a renewed earth, with grass and hay aplenty if only it would please bring the summer…

The response came as a single word: ‘Pull.’

So she pulled. The yellow line slid easily, and her eyes beheld the pink sky consuming the black. A minute passed and the sun followed. She did not stop until it became midmorning, and then, very gently, she guided it closer. It became large and triumphant in the sky, casting heat upon her face and chilly limbs.

As she worked, Celestia felt another thought pass from the sun. A feeling of contentment… and thankfulness.

‘Thank me? I should thank you!’

She sent the thought willfully, grinning into the warming sky. Already, shouts of surprise and jubilation were creeping up from the city around.

The gratitude from the other side did not abate. And Celestia learned the reason why.

Life is the difference between a sun and a star.’

It… smiled at her. And she smiled back, and their feelings were one. Like the exchanged grins of two who had only just met, but somehow know they are destined to be friends.

With a cheerful goodbye, she pulled back her line. The magic departed her horn, and the feeling of heat fell away.

Behind her, an adorable yawn announced Luna’s rousing. The melting snow squelched wetly as she rolled, bringing her hooves to the ground.

Celestia turned to her sister. She grinned sheepishly, embarrassed by the deed. To have raised the sun so easily… how to explain it to Luna? Or King Platinum, for that matter? Celestia was not so dense as to believe she hadn’t changed the world this night. The future was unknowable, a total stranger to yesterday, and right now she had no idea what to say of it.

Luna didn’t wait for her to speak. Her little mouth beamed as her eyes fell, carrying their gaze to a place behind the older mare.

Four blue hooves leapt to the air, and Luna screamed with the ear-splitting joy that only an eight-year-old could produce. “Tia! Tia, Tia, Tia! You got your cutie mark!”

She dashed forward, passing Celestia’s head as it turned. Celestia gasped and grinned at the sight of her flank, unable to suppress the surge of childish pride that it brought. Blank whiteness had been painted on like a canvas, giving image to a brilliant orange sun.

“And it’s a big one, too!” Luna immodestly poked its center, drawing a giggle from the older sister.

The giggle turned to a laugh – not from the tickle, but Luna! They would neither freeze nor starve, yet all the girl cared for was a cutie mark. Such were a child’s priorities, but Celestia could scarce deny her own excitement.

“And on a Sunday, no less.” Celestia purred the words, seeing within them a good omen. The future had changed, certainly, and she would not be the only one uncertain of what to make of it. Perhaps Platinum’s court would try to return the land to winter, and pretend the intrusion never happened.

She laughed again, recalling the easy pull of her golden line. ‘Let them try!’

Celestia descended the staircase next to Luna, the two sisters pressing their flanks together as they walked. Breakfast would be stale hay. But tomorrow or the day after, the grass would come, with dandelions and weed-berries in its wake. Luna would live – and thrive! With nutritious meals to fill and grow her.

Celestia smiled. Given what just happened… it felt good to know her priorities were still in order. Luna came first, now and always.

The smile vanished, and she flinched abruptly as her hooves met the last step.

“I’m fine,” she grunted, quickly warding off the fear on Luna’s face. “Fine. Just a cramp.”

Strange places for cramps. Like two lines of painful soreness had been drawn down each side of her back.

Still, not the strangest thing that happened today. The pain departed as swiftly as it came, and the two of them hurried to the pantry. They laughed together over breakfast, making hurried plans for building the last snowponies of the year.

They were children, after all. And summer had come.

Author's Note:

“No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our lives are made. Destiny is made known silently.”

-Agnes de Mille, American Dancer

 

 

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 
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