The Catch

This story takes place roughly 200 years before The Chase.
If it wasn't for bad luck, Rye Mash would have no luck at all. As a foal, he was taken during one of the infamous sweeps of the Shetland Isles. Now, as a young colt, he is an indentured servant, forced to spend the rest of his life working for his master, a unicorn named Lace Collar, so he can pay off the bill for his education.
However, Rye Mash's bad luck ends up being Lace Collar's bad luck as well, and both of them end up as prisoners of the infamous sky pirates and their dreadful leader, Captain Spyglass, the mass murdering lunatic that is feared the whole world over.

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28. Chapter 28

It was difficult pulling one’s self together after everything had been pulled apart. The sounds of Rye Mash’s shallow breathing filled his own ears, echoed in his head, and made him feel dizzy as the sound caused him pain. He still had to meet with Princess Celestia. The day would continue with him or without him. He had duties to attend to, a job to perform.

Bloody Velvet, when asked why she would let this happen, had informed him that she wasn’t his mother and was in no way responsible for him—a statement which Rye found himself in agreement with. When pressed for information, Bloody Velvet had leveled him, coming into his mind and showing him from a different set of eyes, Velvet’s eyes, and he had seen himself. He had been happy, laughing, jolly, carefree, there could be no doubt that he had wanted it. The alcohol had worn away his inhibitions and had freed him. He had experienced a wonderful time, even if he couldn’t remember it.

For whatever reason, Mousy was avoiding him, at least it felt that way. She and Bloody Velvet had vanished with one another and Rye had no idea what they were doing, what they might be talking about, or how they might be conspiring against him.

Starjammer was gone, he had been summoned to see Princess Celestia, Starjammer had refused at first, but Princess Celestia was not one that would be or could be denied. With great reluctance and a fair bit of fear, Starjammer had gone to speak with Princess Celestia, and Rye had been left by himself with nopony to talk to.

Which was, perhaps for the best. Rye was still trying to get his head together and Starjammer never had very much to say. Rye wasn’t even certain what could be said between them at this point, other than they had shared a visceral experience with one another.

With slow release, Rye let a sigh escape. There was no point in regretting it, Rye’s reservations and hangups had kept him from getting something he had wanted, of that there could be no doubt. He had wanted it, ever since that first confusing kiss that Starjammer had given him, but Rye was more concerned about being proper. Bloody Velvet had flashed him with her memories of the event… Rye had seen himself as others had seen him, it was a profound, meaningful moment in his life, a life changing moment, and he realised he was grateful for what Velvet had done.

Grateful or not, he still had no answers about what to do next. A part of his mind suggested that he was getting hung up again, he was getting all uptight, he was focusing too much on how to go about doing this the proper way, the perfect way, with all of the right rules, the right things done, with everything as it should be.

While thinking about this, Rye had himself something of a revelation—he was a pirate. He paused, his mind correcting him, he was a privateer with a commission from the Crowned Head of Equestria absolving him of his crimes, past, present, and future. Privateers followed the rules because they obeyed the contracts they were given.

Alone, Rye let out a groan. This is what had made him such a good servant. He held a deep concern for the rules, for order, for doing what was right, he was a slave to order. Last night, he had freed himself from such concerns for a while, had done something random, spontaneous, and unpredictable. Now, he was once again a slave to order, married to a near stranger. Another form of servitude. Or was it? Why did he have to think about it as servitude?

 

 

Princess Celestia’s ship was quite a wonder. Rye stood on the deck, his eyes wide and staring. Unicorns and pegasi moved about on the deck, doing whatever it was that they were doing. Rye could smell pine oil soap coming from somewhere, perhaps the deck was being scrubbed. He didn’t know. He could smell bread baking, fragrant steam was rising from a vent, no doubt there was some kitchen down below. This wasn’t a ship so much as it was a flying palace. Curiously enough, Rye Mash saw no earth ponies anywhere. None at all. Pegasi could fly and fight while unicorns could deal with fine detail work. Rye realised that earth ponies would be superfluous on a crew such as this. The unicorns could deal with heavy loads and moving cargo by using their telekinesis.

It was a profound moment of realisation for Rye. He stared at the visual evidence that earth ponies were unnecessary in this life. Captain Spyglass kept a fair number of earth ponies around, but almost all of them were used for moving goods when they reached port. In the air, earth ponies could not fly, could not wield weapons, (at least in a general sense, they still had their own hooves) and were quite limited as to what they were capable of.

Now, Rye could see that they were not needed at all, and something about the sights around him made him feel sad. Earth ponies had the short end of the stick in life. No magic, no wings, just garden variety ponies. Rye wondered why Spyglass even had earth ponies in his crew when it seemed that labourers could be found in any port. Thoughtful, Rye realised that Captain Spyglass had to have a reason and it was probably a good one.

Then, he saw her. The tall figure moving toward him, wearing a bright blue cloak. Her face was obscured under the heavy folds of fabric. He squinted, the sun making him feel nauseous, and he wondered why he was meeting with Princess Celestia in private rather than with Captain Spyglass, as had been planned.

His head still ached and more than anything, he wanted to crawl back into bed. He lifted his head, trying to stand a little taller, trying to look a little more dignified as Princess Celestia approached.

“I hear that congratulations are in order,” Princess Celestia said as she approached.

Rye nodded, but said nothing.

“Many of my guard celebrate the first issue of their pay by going out, having a nice time, then having too nice a time, and waking up in the morning with wives they had met the night before.” Princess Celestia’s voice was soft, gentle, one of instruction and wisdom. “Walk with me, Mister Mash, getting the blood flowing should help your head.”

Obedient, Rye fell into step with Princess Celestia as she took off at a trot. He bit down on his lip, not knowing what to say or to do, not knowing why he was here speaking to her without his captain.

“What do you plan to do, Mister Mash?” Princess Celestia asked.

“I don’t know,” Rye replied, his voice low. He looked up at the alicorn beside him, wondering what she was thinking, what she was feeling, and why she was talking to him about this when there were far more important things to discuss. “You have the wisdom of centuries… do you have any advice?”

“Very few ponies respect my ‘wisdom of centuries,’ Mister Mash.”

To Rye Mash’s ears, Princess Celestia’s voice now sounded guarded, low, almost flat, she almost sounded surprised, or perhaps he was hearing things. It took Rye several steps to keep up with just one of Princess Celestia’s steps and he followed her as she walked around the deck, looking up at her, trying to be attentive.

“Miss Mousy strikes me as being quite perceptive, smart, courageous, and capable.” Princess Celestia paused, taking a deep breath, and then continued, “Tell me, how did the two of you meet?”

“I sort of rescued her from thugs and ruffians,” Rye replied.

“Ah, yes… young maids tend to want to marry their rescuers. You have to trust somepony in this life, and who better than the individual that proves themselves trustworthy by saving your life?” The tall white alicorn turned her head and looked down at Rye, her face still hidden under her hood.

“I don’t get it. We hardly even know one another. We’re strangers.” Rye cleared his throat, aware that Princess Celestia was looking at him, but he felt uncomfortable because he could not look into her eyes. He felt small, feeling more like a colt, and he had a growing sense of insecurity. He was a foal next to this strange creature, this alicorn, this embodiment of the three tribes.

“Mister Mash, fillies and young mares want the same thing that everypony else wants in life. A sense of security. A feeling of protection. We all desire the same things, sustenance, shelter, and security. Try to see the world through her eyes. She is an earth pony, she is clearly quite clever, she has her mind and little else. She has no wings, so no means to fly away from trouble, and she has no horn, which means no magic to back up her intelligence. To find the sustenance, the shelter, and the security she craves, it means finding a like minded companion that can shore up her shortcomings.”

Tail swishing, Rye nodded, understanding a bit more. “So a practical arrangement.” He blinked, almost stopping. “What about love?”

“What does love have to do with anything? Sustenance, shelter, security.” Princess Celestia’s voice lowered, almost to a whisper. “Love is a luxury, something you have if you are lucky, if you are graced, if life sees fit to give you extra. Love is something you figure out if you have after you have your sustenance, shelter, and security sorted out. If you have a good partnership with somepony and both of your mutual needs are being met, one does not sully their practical relationship with love, thus risking their very existence. But, should love happen, if you are lucky to have it blossom, it is pleasant to experience.”

“So marriage isn’t about love?” Rye asked.

“Most of the time, no it is not,” Princess Celestia replied. “Love is something that happens in story books… more often than not, love is the undoing of many good relationships. But it is nice when you can find it. Love is a treasured, many splendored thing.” Princess Celestia let out a cough, a wheeze, and then drew in a deep breath. “Many of my guards keep the wives they wake up with. The seasons roll by and the seasons pass. They settle in with their wives, become affectionate with time and familiarity. They have foals, become a family, life goes on. They exist together, either as partners, as friends, or as lovers for those lucky few. The seasons and time have their way with them, as seasons and time have their way with all, and one of them passes. The survivor realises how lucky they were to have a good partner, a good mate, they understand how blessed they were by fate and chance to wake up next to the pony they would spend their lives with after a drunken night of revelry. Such is the way that life works. I have watched this play out for thousands of turns of the seasons now. I can say that by averages, based upon my observations, of the happiest marriages I have seen, the couple started out as strangers, a chance encounter, usually involving alcohol, a simple twist of fate.”

Rye Mash did not know how to respond to everything Princess Celestia had said. He felt overwhelmed. How could he argue or deny the reasoning of a being that had seen thousands of turns of the seasons, by her own words?

“Mister Mash, marriage is a lot like claiming land. You do what you must, by hook or by crook, you claim or you seize what you have an interest in, and then after laying a claim to it, or after taking it, you do what you can to make the land yours. You build a homestead. You build walls for defense. The important thing is that you have the land, you figure out what to do with it after you have it. With land comes sustenance, shelter, and security.”

To Rye’s ears, Princess Celestia sounded like a patient schoolteacher. A somewhat sick, weakened schoolteacher. She did not sound well. To show that he was listening, he acknowledged her words. “I think I have a better understanding now… maybe. I still need time to think and sort everything out.”

Thoughtful, Rye, who thought himself intelligent, noticed that Princess Celestia kept using three words over and over. Sustenance, shelter, and security. As he trotted beside her, he gave these words some thought and considered how they applied to him.

When he was a servant, he hardly ever had to worry about where his next meal came from. Sure, most of them were not very good meals, but he had food. He had to have food to function, and Lace Collar had made certain that he was fed. Rye had a roof over his head. He had lived among the very wealthy and the privileged. The roof over his head had been far better than those who lived in shacks. He had lived a sheltered, comfortable enough, well to do existence acting as Lace Collar’s servant. As for security, for most of his existence as a servant, he had been kept safe. Looking back on it all, he understood why he had been such a happy servant, an obedient and well heeled servant that jumped at his master’s every order.

As a servant, as an indentured servant, he had enjoyed a level of sustenance, shelter, and security not available to the common pony. He now understood why ponies lined up to be servants for the wealthy; butlers, maids, scullery maids, chambermaids, nannies, nursemaids, by giving up some of their freedom and making themselves beholden to wealthy masters, they too, enjoyed a level of sustenance, shelter, and security that would otherwise be outside of their reach.

Then, it dawned upon him. Mousy was not the sort who would be happy in servitude, at least, that was Rye’s well reasoned guess, so she had turned to less than legal activities as a means to provide for her own needs.

For Mousy, marriage must have been preferable to outright servitude, a means to an end. As for Rye himself, he had picked up a gun, he had armed himself. He now had the means to provide for his own sustenance, shelter, and security. Rye was never going back to servitude; while there was happiness in having your needs provided for, there could be happiness in slavery, Rye would never go back. Giving up his own personal liberty was not something that Rye had any desire to do.

“You have become quiet and thoughtful, my little pony,” Princess Celestia said to Rye.

Hearing Princess Celestia, Rye Mash had started to reply, his mouth opened, but no words came out. He wasn’t feeling very good, he was still hungover, and his mind was racing with all manner of profound thoughts.

“I wanted to speak with you alone, Mister Mash, because you impressed me. Most ponies would have surrendered their weapons and stood down. You remained defiant. Foolish, perhaps, reckless, perhaps, but you stuck to your guns in the most literal sense. I wanted to get to know you better as a pony. I must confess, I still have some reservations about entrusting the safety and welfare of my student into your care.”

“I probably didn’t do a very good job of assuring you by going out and doing what I did,” Rye Mash replied, now feeling very self conscious about what he had done. “I am never drinking again, ever.”

“So many little ponies say that after a night of drinking and waking up with a new wife or husband.” Princess Celestia let out a weak chuckle. “I do believe that the world would end if alcohol ceased to flow.”

“No, I mean it, I’m never drinking again… I can accept the consequences of waking up married, I’ll live with that and I will make it right, but strong drink opens up too many opportunities for one to lose his liberty.” Rye Mash flogged his brain for a metaphor, some clever means to drive his point home, and he chewed upon his lip as he tried to think.

“It pleases me to hear you say that.”

Ears perking, he looked at Princess Celestia, hearing her words. He gave a nod of acknowledgement, was distracted for a moment by the shrieking of seagulls, and then knew what he wanted to say, how he could express himself. “Drinking like that is like giving over my guns… I can no longer be responsible for myself, I cannot defend my own liberties, and surrendering my guns is something that I will never allow myself to do, ever. Imbibing strong drink undermines my self standards.”

The pair walked in silence, Rye Mash trying to keep up with the much longer stride of the princess beside him. He could hear her laboured breathing, it was clear that she was sick, something was wrong, but she struck him as being far too proud to acknowledge it or let it slow her down. As he walked, he watched a group of unicorns scrubbing the deck along the rails where birds had been sitting.

The silence became stifling, Rye felt as though he should be saying something, that there should be conversation, that was why he was here after all, he had only been quiet so he could listen to whatever Princess Celestia had to say. But now, the silence had the wrong feel to it, it felt as though something needed to be said, but he didn’t know what. Princess Celestia was trying to learn more about him, what sort of pony he was, she was looking for reassurance that her student could be found and that her student would be safe.

Rye Mash issued a challenge to his brain—try to find something reassuring to say to the alicorn princess beside him. Something heartfelt, sincere, and meaningful. Whatever she was, an alicorn, a princess, she was also a mare, a pony. She had to have all of the same sorts of fear, worries, and doubt he did. Princess Celestia also needed sustenance, shelter, and security, or so Rye reasoned.

As he thought about this, Princess Celestia fell to the deck with a thump beside him. Rye cried out, startled, fearful, he stood wide eyed and staring at her fallen form. Blood began to pool around her muzzle, gushing from both nostrils. Not even giving it a second thought, he lifted her head away from the deck, pulling back her hood, trying to keep the blood from staining her white pelt. There were black circles around her eyes, which were closed, and she did not look well.

Lifting his head at the sound of approaching guards, Rye panicked. “I didn’t do anything!”

“We know,” a guard replied as he approached, “we were watching. Please, keep holding her head, if you don’t mind.” The guard, a gruff looking pegasus, looked around. “Somepony go get some cloths. We’re going to need a few unicorns to carry her belowdecks!”

“What is wrong with her?” Rye asked as he continued to cradle Princess Celestia’s head in his telekinesis. His eyes narrowed and his face became pinched with concern, it was strange watching an alicorn bleed, strange and more than a little frightening. She was the Goddess of the Sun, Immortal, Just, and True. Watching blood as it gushed from her nostrils was terrifying. What could do this to her?

The guard’s expression soured. “She won’t tell us… she is far too proud. But something is working against her.” The guard’s scowl intensified. “Should you find the cause for her malady when you go hunting for her student, I hope that you will put lots of bullets into whomever or whatever is responsible for this.”

Rye nodded, “Oh, believe me, I shall…”

 

 

 

 

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