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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39. Chapter 39

Of all the things that Rye Mash truly hated, insomnia was up there somewhere near the top of his list, right up there with ‘sneezing and the green apple splatters’ and ‘finding a half of a worm in the apple you just took a bite out of.’ Insomnia was a terrible thing, a ruthless tyrant that could not be struck down. King Insomnia had kicked him out of the Kingdom of Bed, and Rye had lost his warm shelter between Starjammer and Mousy.

There was a lot that could be said about being the middle pony in a bed occupied with three ponies. There was a lot less turning over for one, both sides stayed toasty and being in the middle, one didn’t need to think about which side to warm against your bedmate.

After slipping out of bed, he had encountered a very drunk and somewhat irritable Oola, who had made it clear that she was missing home and was not in the mood to be bothered. He had left her in the common room and had come out on deck.

Even in the wee hours of morning, Sable Blanc had signs of life. Ponies were still up and awake, even at this hour, or ponies were just waking up to do early morning jobs, such as a baker getting ready to start making bread for the day. Bakers had it good, they had wonderful lives, as did cheesemongers and maybe even carpenters.

They went to bed with clean consciences and slept the sweet sleep of the innocent, something Rye envied them for. As Rye paced the deck, walking along the length of it, back and forth, he heard the fluttering of wings…

 

 

“Hello, my little teetotaler pony,” Princess Celestia said in a soft voice that held muted mirth, “how goes sobriety?”

Surprised to see the white alicorn out and about all by herself, Rye Mash stared. He backed up and his rump bumped into the wooden rail. He stared up at the much larger mare, entranced by how beautiful she was in the moonlight.

“This might surprise you, but I am a big filly,” Princess Celestia said in a low, soft whisper, “and I even put on my own shoes and everything.”

Blinking, Rye continued staring upwards, his mouth dropping open a little as he did so, and his ears sank down to rest beside his face. Not only was she beautiful, but she was also kind of funny. She was also larger than life and utterly unobtainable, Rye reminded himself as he swallowed while trying to work up some saliva.

“I too, have trouble sleeping at night,” Princess Celestia said as she turned away from Rye to look at the moon. She heaved a soft sigh, extended a wing, and pointed at the moon. “It is beautiful, is it not?” The white alicorn paused, folded her wing back against her side, and then shook her head. “We all make mistakes that take us from our beds. I know I have, how about you, Rye?”

“It bothers me how easy it was.” Rye, feeling bold, took a step closer to Princess Celestia and stood near her on the deck. He could feel the heat radiating from her, it was like standing in the warm summer sun. Her warmth caused the chill in the night air to retreat.

Rye waited for Princess Celestia to say something, some pithy phrase, some words of wisdom, some immortal bit of advice that would make everything better, but she said nothing. He stepped a little closer and was now inches away from her. He could hear the sounds of her breathing and his nose reminded him that the Sun Goddess was real. He could smell her, every scent that hung about her, from the smell of soap, to perfume, to the very fact that she was a mare.

“Killing Byron doesn’t bother me… I’ve given it a lot thought and the world is better off without him living in it.” Rye stared down at his hooves and felt bad for saying what he had just said to Princess Celestia, but it was honest. He took a deep breath and found the courage to continue.

“I do feel bad for killing the guards though. They were just doing their job. I crept up on them in their beds and I stabbed them with my sword. The sword you gave me.” Rye felt his mouth go dry and he licked his lips.

“Those guards,” Princess Celestia replied, “who held slaves confined against their will, who probably tortured the slaves, those guards who helped to perpetuate misery.”

“Wait.” Rye lifted his head and looked up at the white alicorn beside him. “Are you trying to say that it was okay for me to kill them?”

“I am not saying anything of the sort.” Princess Celestia stared at the moon, her eyes half closed, and a pained expression caused her muzzle to appear to be less than perfect, fine lines and wrinkles could be seen upon her nasal bridge. “Had those guards chosen to live a better life, had they chosen a virtuous life, your paths would not have crossed.”

Rye’s teeth clicked together as his jaw snapped shut. He gave some thought to Princess Celestia’s words. He too, looked at the moon, wondering what she saw when she gazed upon it. The mare in the moon had high visibility tonight, the series of craters that sort of looked like a pony’s head silhouette in profile if one squinted at it just right.

“Rye Mash, you have to try and see things from a bigger perspective. Sometimes… sometimes, the events you participate in, you cannot determine what is right or what is wrong while you live and endure these troubling events. The best you can hope for is to just live… to survive. You do what you can until such a time that you can no longer do anything. Afterwards, history will be your judge. Any one single act of killing when viewed under such a narrow scope can be quite condemning, but to examine the times that a pony lived in, to see the world events around them, to see how they affected history, that is the true measure of a pony.”

A bit confused, Rye nodded, but he wasn’t sure he understood.

“Commander Hurricane is remembered as a very different pony than the actual Commander Hurricane. History is kind in this instance.” Princess Celestia fell silent and she stared at the moon, her ears splayed back against her head, and her eyes glimmered with moisture. “For the most part, Commander Hurricane is remembered as a fond figure for foals to pretend to be during Hearth’s Warming plays.”

“You are history,” Rye said in a low voice, hoping that the alicorn beside him would not take offense. “You continue to exist through the ages and you write the history books and you tell the stories and you… you keep our history alive.”

There was a low, pained gasp from Princess Celestia. “That might be true, and you have made a very astute observation, but even one such as I am not above history’s scrutiny. I am remembered for being a very different mare than how I actually am.”

Rye blinked, wondering if Princess Celestia had altered history for her own benefit or if the ponies that worshipped her scrubbed history to keep everything as clean and white as she was. He didn’t say anything as he didn’t want to hurt her feelings or offend her.

“Rye, you are already making a name for yourself. Even if you never killed again, if you found some way to be a pacifist, your name and your shadow would go ahead of you in your life. Others will know of you and what you do. Your name will be spoken with trepidation and fear by those who do bad things and you will be loved by those who are downtrodden and oppressed. You are Rye Mash, the pony who walked into a prison stronghold, gunned down hundreds of guards, rescued a kindly doctor plus his pegasus assistant, and then led the prisoners in a bloody revolt against those who held them captive.”

Aghast, Rye Mash shook his head. “But that isn’t what happened. I snuck in there like a thief! I tried to avoid killing… I did, honest… is… is…”—Rye stammered, trying to find the words to say—“is this how history will see me? When I am dead and gone, is this how I will be remembered?”

“I dare say a slave who has been rescued and given freedom might take some creative liberties with how the story is told. With each telling, with each tale told at bedtime to their foals, with each story exchanged around a hearth, the story will change, will grow, and evolve. A few guards killed will turn into hundreds or will become a fight with impossible odds. Your courage and your valour will grow with each telling. You will have walked away without a scratch after having taken on an army.”

Rye thought about the bandages around his neck and he tried to take in everything said. There was too much truth in Princess Celestia’s words and it was like a heavy burden placed upon his back. He began to understand that he would have no say on how history viewed him. The realisation almost floored him.

“I suspect that history will give me undeserved kindness.” Princess Celestia turned away from the moon, closed her eyes, and shook her head. “All of my many mistakes, all of my faults, all of my failings, these are things that will not be remembered. Some of them are already forgotten.”

Rye, whose legs felt far too weak to hold up such a burden, sat down with a muffled plop upon the deck. “But you know they happened. You know everything that has taken place even if the history that remembers you does not.”

“Yes Rye, and that is tonight’s lesson, my little pony,” Princess Celestia replied.

Ears drooping, Rye gave careful consideration to Princess Celestia’s words, trying to piece everything together. It was a lot to take in all at once, perhaps too much. He stared up at the moon, wondering what her mistakes were, what she regretted, what caused her to suffer. Goddess though she might be, she had made mistakes and it was clear that she suffered from them.

“Little Shetland ponies.” Princess Celestia took a deep breath and then sighed. “Little characters, the lot of them. Little anarchists, troublemakers, saboteurs, little hardy ponies with such a love for life.” The big white mare looked down at Rye. “Had circumstances been different, I might have taken you as one of my students.”

“I am not a very magical unicorn.” Rye shook his head and he glanced at the alicorn mare beside him. “I would make for a lousy student.”

“You have other qualities.” Princess Celestia’s fine eyebrow arched. “You have a troublesome cutie mark, the sort of mark that is bound to cause all manner of problems in life, and rather than use it as an excuse to be a very bad pony, you instead do a little soul searching so you can somehow reconcile with it.”

Rye’s own brows furrowed and his forehead wrinkled. When he had come into Sable Blanc the first time he had been troubled. And now, coming back to Sable Blanc, he was still troubled. He thought about the prison and the events there. He thought about Byron and wondered if perhaps, he should feel bad about killing him.

Try as he might, Rye could muster no sympathy. Not after Byron had treated Mousy like meat. Rye realised that he would probably put a bullet right through Starjammer’s skull if he treated Mousy like that. Just thinking about it made Rye tremble. Or if some stranger treated Starjammer like that…

“It will only get harder,” Princess Celestia said in a low, soft voice filled with regret. “When all of this is said and done, you will be a very troubled pony. No doubt, there will be many sleepless nights for you. My best advice… treasure your friends, Rye Mash. They will help you pass the long, endless hours of the night, something I am entirely too familiar with. Your friends will also tell the most flattering and perhaps the most honest stories about you. These stories will be the grains of truth to be found in the legend that you will one day become.”

Looking up at the moon, Rye once again wondered what troubled Princess Celestia. In the distance, a foghorn sounded as a thick fog was drifting down from the hills. “Princess?”

“Yes, Rye, my little Shetland pony?” Princess Celestia replied.

Blushing, Rye felt his cheeks grow warm. “I’m in the mood for tea. Would you care to join me? I would be honoured to serve you.”

“Oh, how thoughtful,” Princess Celestia replied. “I would enjoy that a great deal. Thank you, Rye Mash.” Princess Celestia paused and then gave Rye a sly wink. “Here is to hoping that history remembers you as a tea drinker.”

 

 

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