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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29. Chapter 29

There was no feeling worse than being in the dark about something that was going on. Rye Mash hated it, he felt frustrated and angry as he stood upon the deck of The Apogee looking over at Princess Celestia’s ship. Unable to do anything, Rye stomped his hoof and as he did so, he heard the fluttering of wings, the sound of feathers cutting through wind.

“Mister Mash—”

Rye did not look at his captain, but remained focused on Princess Celestia’s ship.

“—I had a pegasus from the guard come over and tell me what happened.” Captain Spyglass folded his wings against his sides and moved beside Rye. “I was told that you acted like a perfect gentlepony, and that you impressed all of those who observed you.”

“I wasn’t trying to impress anypony,” Rye replied.

Looking solemn, Spyglass cleared his throat. “Nevertheless, you did, and it means a great deal to me. Mister Mash, as ponies of fortune, we have little but our reputation. While I must confess that I was furious with you for not surrendering your guns, it seems that it has worked out for the best. Princess Celestia was impressed by your,” the pegasus’ face contorted as he thought about the right words to say, “display of defiance.” Captain Spyglass relaxed a bit, his ears splaying out sideways from his head. “We’ll be leaving soon, we have kindly been provided with a lead. We’ll be heading to Cheval Rouge, a city to the north of here in Fancy.”

“Good, I’d like to get started.” Rye’s brows furrowed and his forehead wrinkled.

“Mister Mash, this is going to be a bloody business… I’d like to keep as much of my crew out of it as possible—”

“I understand,” Rye said, cutting in and nodding his head.

One eye squinting, the other eye wide, Spyglass gave Rye a curious look. He could sense the anger coming from his cabin colt, the frustration, the eagerness. Captain Spyglass came to the unsettling conclusion that Rye Mash wanted the bloody business to start… Rye wanted to be in the middle of it. Rye was one of those sorts of ponies.

“She is a majestic creature, isn’t she?” Spyglass asked in a low voice.

“Yes, she is,” Rye replied.

“I still don’t know how I feel about getting involved in this.” Captain Spyglass’ eyes glanced over at Princess Celestia’s airship. Guards marched on the deck and the sound of ironshod hooves could be heard from where the pegasus stood on The Apogee.

“It feels like the right thing to do,” Rye said, his voice dropping, almost to a whisper.

“Speaking of the right thing to do…” Captain Spyglass’ words trailed off as he turned to look at Rye. “Are you going to do right by Miss Mousy?”

Rye’s ears fell, drooping against his cheeks. He turned to look at his captain. “She caught me fair and square. I allowed myself to be caught. I intend to do what is right.”

“Good, I would be disappointed with you otherwise.” Captain Spyglass drew in a deep breath, his sides expanding, and his wings flapped once against his sides. “Several of my crew got married during shore leave. They have all asked to be left here. I’ve taken on several new crew members… ah, Sable Blanc. The young and the hopeful come here, both fillies and colts, all of them looking for a ship to enter the harbour. For fillies of the right age, each ship brings a chance to marry, and for colts, a ship is a means of escape, a chance to see the world. Much of my crew once boarded a ship in a harbour just like this one, and now that they have seen the world, they are ready to settle down. A young maid is happy to catch them. Such is the way of life. After settling down, the young couple has a few foals. Time passes. In time, there is a new filly waiting for ships on the horizon, bringing with them a chance for a husband, or a colt watching and waiting for a ship to take him away from this boring place, giving him a chance for adventure on the high sea or in the clouds. But the circle of life begins and ends in little towns like this one.”

Blinking, Rye took in his captain’s words.

“Mister Mash, I have lived long enough that I have seen this drama play out an endless number of times now.” Captain Spyglass sighed. “So many ponies walk in and out of my life. Crab Apple is leaving us, Mister Mash. He will be returning home upon one of Princess Celestia’s ships.”

“Why now, of all times?” Rye asked.

“He has earned the wealth that he was looking for. With the pardon I secured for him from Princess Celestia, he feels it is time to get away from this life while he still can. I shall miss him a great deal, I liked him.” Captain Spyglass’ mane lifted in the strong breeze and his feathers ruffled. He breathed in the tangy, salty air, his nostrils flaring.

“Captain Spyglass, if you will excuse me, I am going to go and speak with my wife.”

 

 

Belowdecks was a mess. The smell of wood was strong in the air, along with sawdust. It seemed that some carpentry was going on. A few strange unicorns that Rye didn’t know, along with a few minotaurs, were doing some woodworking. Rye could hear the sounds of sawing and of hammering, which filled his head with a throbbing ache. It seemed the cabins were being rebuilt to be more efficient.

Looking around, he saw no sign of Mousy or Bloody Velvet. Much to his surprise, Starjammer was working with the carpenters, Rye couldn’t believe that Starjammer would sully himself with common labour, yet the quiet stallion of few words was building a door frame. From somewhere out of line of sight, he could hear Oola singing something as she worked, some song about a hammer.

The sawdust in the air made Rye feel like sneezing. He fled the area, turning tail, heading back up the stairs, and then emerged out upon the deck. No sign of Mousy or Bloody Velvet anywhere. Or Woe Betide, now that he thought about it.

Frowning, Rye wondered if Bloody Velvet and Mousy were avoiding him. What if Mousy had herself a change of heart? What if she wanted out of this? Or what if Velvet was trying to get Mousy to reconsider? His head still hurt too much to think about this. He needed a quiet place, a dark place, a place with no sun, no sound, a peaceful place to rest his head, but no such place seemed to exist at the moment.

Somepony was trying to put an end to the Alicorn of the Sun, which would no doubt plunge the world into darkness, his new wife and his friend seemed to be avoiding him, his head hurt, and he had no quiet place to retreat to. This was turning out to be a wretched day. Rye closed his eyes and gritted his teeth together.

Perhaps he could go into town, find a quiet cafe, and have a nice cup of tea.

 

 

Rye Mash gave a bleary stare up at the wooden sign. “Tarte et Café.” Rye had no clue what the words meant, but there was a picture of a pie and a cup on the sign. Lines had been carved into the wood over the pie and the cup, a visual representation of steam rising.

In front of the cafe, there was a unicorn painting on a battered looking easel, a large mug of some hot, steaming beverage beside him, along with a baguette, a wedge of cheese, and a bottle of wine, still corked. The unicorn was painting a bowl of fruit, an act which baffled Rye Mash. Why would anypony paint a bowl of fruit? He did not understand art sometimes.

He pushed open the door and was hit by a rush of cool air. Inside the cafe, it was cool, delightfully so, it was dim, the air was fragrant with the smell of baked goods, tea, and coffee.

“Welcome to Monsieur Cake’s bakery, sailor,” an older mare behind the counter said. “I am Mademoiselle Petits Pains, but most of our customers call me Madam Buns, or just Buns.” The older mare smiled and gestured at the empty cafe. “Sit anywhere you like. You came in during an off hour. Most are busy working… we get most of our business during the lunch hour or during the evening, when a pony wishes to unwind.”

The cafe’s interior was almost all stone. Stone floor, stone walls, stone counters, all of it cool and inviting. The tables appeared to be old barrels cut in half and set upon the floor. There were no chairs, just worn out looking pillows and cushions left scattered around the half barrel tables. The interior was dim, almost dark, and there was a peculiar stench in the air that made the back of the Rye’s throat tickle. He stood, sniffing, trying to figure out what the horrible smell was. It was like rancid milk left in the sun, but worse, far, far worse.

“Smells marvellous, doesn’t it?” the old mare asked. She closed her eyes, inhaled, and then opened her eyes as her smile widened. “We make monster cheese… there is a batch aging in the cellar… we take the finest goats, scare them with the finest monsters, and it produces a most merveilleux fromage.

“Oh.” Rye stared at the mare, wondering if she was pulling his leg.

“My granpapa has experimented with using a cockatrice to stare at the cheese… it makes the cheese very hard, gives it a rock solid rind, but it also gives the cheese a most unusual but pleasant flavour. It is rather nutty,” the chatty old mare said to Rye as the colt sat down upon a faded purple pillow with tassels on each of the four corners.

“I’d like a cup of tea, please. And maybe something to eat… I’m suffering from a hangover… I don’t know what sounds good to eat right now.” Rye leaned against the half barrel table, his head aching, and his stomach turning from the stench creeping up out from the cellar.

“Oui, Monsieur, I have what you need,” the mare replied, her smile vanishing as a look of genuine concern took over her features. Hooves clicking, the mare darted through a doorway and vanished, leaving Rye all alone.

Sighing, Rye decided that he liked the older unicorn mare. He rested against his half barrel table, his forelegs folded over the heavy, well worn and well polished wood. He heard the clatter of metal coming from some back room, the sound caused his ears to twitch and made him grimace in pain. But then the silence returned and Rye felt a little better.

He dug out his coin purse from a pouch on his body harness and set it out on the table. He belched, a sour taste flooding his mouth, and he shuddered as the foul smell of his own breath violated his nostrils.

The mare reappeared, bearing a tray. She hurried through the room, moving with care and near silence, her hoofsteps muffled against the stone floor. Standing by Rye’s table, she put down a large mug, a teapot, a small bowl of heavy cream, a jar of honey, a plate of some pastries, and a large wedge of pie.

The pie was strange and Rye stared at it.

“Quiche,” the mare said before Rye could speak. “A pie made from eggs, cheese, and vegetables. Today’s quiche has spinach, fennel, leeks, and eggplant. I assure you, it will make you feel better.” There was a soft clunk of metal as the mare set down a spoon beside the slice of pie. “Bon appétit.”

The mare bowed and then hurried away. Rye watched her go and heard her say, “Forgive me, but there are things in the oven that must come out… we are preparing for the rush of evening.”

Rye realised that the mare had not collected payment. Bleary eyed, he blinked a few times, not knowing what to do, then, shrugging, he lifted up his spoon in his telekinesis, poked at his strange pie, and took a bite.

It was hot, but not too hot. It was eggy, it was cheesy, it oozed with buttery flavour, and Rye found that he was, indeed, hungry. He tore into his slice of quiche with gusto, gobbling it down, forgetting all about his good manners.

As he shoveled the last bite of quiche into his mouth, the door to the cafe opened. Rye lifted his head while smacking his lips and chewing. What he saw surprised him. He sat there, blinking, and his food almost fell out of his mouth.

Mousy and Bloody Velvet had entered. Something was different about Mousy and Velvet, but Rye could only stare at Mousy. She was shiny, sleek, her pelt was slick looking, her mane had been trimmed and so had her tail. Rye’s spoon clattered to the table with a metallic thump of silver on wood.

“And here he is… I told you I would find him,” Velvet said to Mousy. Smiling, Velvet gave Mousy a nudge, a wink, and a nod. “I’m going to leave you two alone.” Velvet turned her head and looked at Rye, giving him a distasteful scowl. “Rye, darling, close your mouth. It’s full of food.”

With that, Bloody Velvet backed out of the door and was gone, leaving Rye and Mousy alone in the cafe. Mousy, looking shy, approached Rye’s table, her tail swishing from side to side as she moved, her eyes focused on Rye with a bashful stare.

“Velvet insisted that I get groomed… she said that every husband deserves to see his bride in a state of perfection at least once,” Mousy said as she sat down at the table with Rye. “Do you like what you see?”

Nodding, Rye swallowed with a gulp and continued to stare. He was so focused on Mousy that he failed to notice the older mare creeping up on the table, silent, moving with a wide grin, until she set down a bit more food and a second mug. He glanced at her, and once again, he forgot to bring up the matter of his bill to Madam Buns.

She was gone in the bat of an eyelash, vanishing back through the door and into the kitchen, leaving Rye and Mousy in awkward silence. Rye poured himself a cup of tea, almost spilling it, and then poured one for Mousy.

Rye added cream and honey to both cups as he kept glancing up at Mousy. She looked radiant, that was the only word he could think of to describe her. She was happy, joyful, and scared. Looking at her, Rye could see it. Seeing her fear made him feel better, he wasn’t the only one feeling some trepidation about all of this.

“Rye, I have a confession, I almost ran away,” Mousy whispered as Rye stirred both teacups. “Velvet knew what I was thinking and she stopped me. I’m sorry… I…”

Looking into Mousy’s eyes, he saw a lot more fear now and a lot less joy and happiness. Her mouth was moving, but no words were coming out. Her ears were limp against her face. Her eyes began to glisten.

“They only tell you to catch a husband… find a worthwhile colt or a stallion and then finagle your way into marriage.” Mousy shook her head as more words spilled out and she blinked away tears. “I’ll admit, about five minutes after I met you, I was plotting on how I would win you over or trick you into marriage… you seemed a bit too clever and dangerous to con so I thought I would endear myself to you somehow. I didn’t expect for you to come to me and when you did, I told you no… I didn’t expect myself to do that, I found that I actually liked you and for a moment, I felt wrong about what I had wanted.”

Rye’s ears stood at attention while Mousy poured her heart to him.

“A filly is told over and over about how to catch a colt or a stallion, but nopony ever told me what to do with one once I caught him,” Mousy said in a low whisper as she tapped her front hooves together. “I got scared, Rye. I thought about running. I’m a grifter, Rye, and an earth pony. All I have is my wits. When trouble comes, all I can do is run and hope for the best.” She turned away, her barrel rising and falling as she breathed. “I’m sorry… I don’t mean to be all weepy.” Mousy sniffled and stared down into her tea.

“As I recall, you were about to be married when we met.” Rye lifted a pastry off of the small plate beside his teacup. It had some kind of purple-red jelly, was flaky, and smelled sour. He stuffed it into his mouth and puckered up from the tart flavour of some kind of berries.

“Yes,” Mousy sighed, shaking her head, and her eyes narrowed. “He was awful, I couldn’t marry him, he got off on hurting fillies. I heard stories… I’ve almost been married a few times now… I’m ashamed to admit.”

“A few times?” Rye asked.

“I ain’t proud about it,” Mousy replied, “I did tell you I’m a grifter.”

“What happened?” Rye ate another tart and then slid a few over to Mousy.

“Well, during some particularly hard times, I might have led on a few well to do ponies enough to get some gifts along with talk of marriage. My former accomplices and I might have concocted a few clever ruses to make a few wealthy marks believe I was something that I was not… one suitor believed I was the unfortunate earth pony daughter of a wealthy unicorn diplomat, who would be very, very grateful if somepony took pity on his poor, unfortunate daughter that had been born an earth pony and married her. As it turns out, my so called ‘father’ was my accomplice and my former boss, a unicorn named Fortunato. The pony that wanted to marry me showered me and Fortunato with gifts.”

“So what happened? How did this end?” Rye, curious, took a sip of tea and waited for Mousy to tell him.

“The mark had a friend that got worried and did a little investigating at the embassy. Fortunato and I were hunted. I got out of the city, Liverypool, and from what I hear, they sealed Fortunato up inside of a wall, bricking him in,” Mousy paused and looked Rye in the eye, “what a horrible way to go.”

“But you got away—”

“Fortunato made certain that I got away. He gave me money and got me out of the city… he was good to me… he was into stallions and I felt safe with him… he never tried to do anything awful to me and we did a lot of father-daughter scams. I was his meal ticket and he was my protection.” Mousy’s eyes became glassy with tears that she blinked away. “It’s hard being an earth pony and it’s even harder being a female. Life doesn’t give you a lot of options, the big cities are horrible places… I didn’t want to be a harlot, a warm inviting hole ready at a moment’s notice. I tried being honest and pulling a cab for a while, but that was dangerous… I had passengers that wanted me to take them to less than desireable places and I knew what would happen to me if I took them there… it just isn’t safe for a female to be pulling a cab.”

Scowling, Rye nodded. It wasn’t safe to be a servant either, he recalled the many times he had warned a filly or a young mare fresh to the job not to be alone in a room where certain colts or stallions might prey upon them. He also recalled the pained looks upon the faces of the fillies and young mares that had not listened to what he had to say. The broken, defeated, pained looks… even worse, many of those fillies and young mares kept working after the fact, needing the job, and having no other recourse.

Tilting his head, Rye watched as Mousy lowered herself down and began lapping up tea from out of her cup. He saw her orange tongue flicking out from between her lips, and then, her mouth puckering, she placed her lips down into her tea so she could slurp some up. He saw her eyes darting upwards, looking at him, and he could see her shy, bashful expression. She looked ashamed.

It was hard to tell if he was being conned and Rye wished that Velvet was here. He supposed it was in Mousy’s better interests to be honest with him. Velvet had no doubt had a few choice words with Mousy, or so Rye guessed. From the kitchen, there was a soft clatter, which caused Rye and Mousy’s ears to twitch.

“I’ve done some bad things but I’m not a bad pony,” Mousy whispered as she lifted her head and tea dribbled down her chin. “I can be good to you if you give me a chance. I can be a better pony if you give me a chance. Bloody Velvet… she… she—”

“She what?” Rye asked as Mousy gave him a fearful look.

“She said that if I did you wrong that she… well, never mind what she said.” Mousy shivered, her teeth clattering together, and she looked at Rye. “I suppose they call her Bloody Velvet for a reason.”

“So… partners then? You watch my back, I’ll watch yours, and while we might have some… questionable dealings with others, we remain honest and true to each other?” Rye Mash gazed into Mousy’s eyes and felt his heart quicken. She was pretty, he could not deny that.

“I can do that,” Mousy replied as she batted her eyelashes at Rye.

Rye Mash, who was feeling a little better now, found himself entranced with Mousy. “I’m looking forward to our mutually beneficial partnership…”

 

 

 

 

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