A Different Perspective

Long Path, an earth pony living in Canterlot, and his best friend, a griffon named Free Agent, set out in the company of Twilight Sparkle to visit various places and species to look into what makes them different, and hopefully learn how to get along with them better. Things rarely go to plan though, and along the way, they discover things about themselves, and find love, drama, and laughter. Then Chrysalis changes everything, and the fate of the whole world might be at stake. Their lives will never be the same!
This story is set mostly after the events of Conversations in a Canterlot Cafe and builds on the fanon of the series, especially changelings, so you might want to read those stories first for background material.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/246414/a-different-perspective

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6. Chapter 6: The Caped Crusader

Ambassador Quiet Words abruptly joined the group as he teleported down from the dirigible as Twilight had intended. He gave the griffon ambassador a slight bow, and said, “Well met, Far Scream. It’s a pleasure to see you again also, Roseclaw.”

Roseclaw was a little miffed at having her reunion with Long Path interrupted, but she did not let that affect her duty to present a polite greeting to their guests.

“I look forward to talking with you again, Quiet Words.”

Far Scream added, “Your presence in our grand eyrie has been much anticipated. Now, if your group is complete, it is time to present you to King Glimfeather, may he rule the skies forever.”

Far Scream turned and started heading towards the palace entrance. As she had been advised by Quiet Words, Twilight fell into step beside him. Although the griffon was nominally leading them, she was the higher ranked, and therefore could not allow herself the lesser position.

Roseclaw had no such restriction though, and she fell back to walk alongside the others. “When I heard from my father that you had petitioned us to advance your studies into our culture, I did what I could to persuade the more hidebound of the King’s Council to allow you to come.”

“So you basically nagged your dad until he relented?” Free asked.

Quiet Words shot Free a warning look, which the griffon promptly ignored.

Roseclaw however smiled and giggled. “I guess you could say that. It wasn’t easy, but he had made the mistake of teaching me all about the art of persuasion in the hopes that I follow in his steps.” She looked at Path and gave him another coy look. “I hope that it was worth it.”

Path replied, “I’d be a liar if I said that your efforts were unappreciated, and I’d be a fool if I said that I didn’t eagerly anticipate spending some time with you, Rose.”

“You’re welcome, Path.” Unexpectedly, she rubbed her cheek against his before carrying on as if nothing had happened.

Path looked around to see how the others reacted. Quiet Words was studiously ignoring them, while he heard Free murmur, “Lucky buck.” The honor guard that flanked them seemed oblivious also. Perhaps there wasn’t anything in the gesture? Maybe griffons did this kind of thing all the time? It was what he was here to learn about, after all. He looked at the griffoness who had a contented smile on her face. Maybe he was being dense like Free had said? Although what a griffon hen would see in a pony stallion, he just couldn’t understand. Of course, she was an awfully pretty griffoness… and intelligent… and witty… and curious. Always so curious. He could understand that.

They passed into the castle proper, and the visitors immediately noticed the difference between it and the one at Canterlot. While that was all color, light, and elegance, this was darker, brooding, and a monument to war. Murals of great battles adorned the walls, portraits of kings and generals had places of honor, legendary weapons were displayed arrogantly, and everywhere there were fully armored guards eyeing their progress through the halls.

Twilight quoted to Far Scream in Griffish, “Peace through strength, and strength through battle.

The ambassador looked at Twilight, mildly impressed. “You know the kingdom’s motto, and apparently you’ve learned our tongue?

I am still learning and not fluent yet, so please forgive me if I misspeak. Your …umm décor… sorry, I don’t know the Griffish for that word. Anyway, this reminded me of the research that I did in preparation for this visit. Your motto is very memorable.”

As is intended. Remember that when you talk to the king,” he advised. “And speak Griffish when you can to His Majesty. He knows very few words of Equish, and would not appreciate being seen to be dependent on translators. He would be far more forgiving of your occasional stumbles. Your accent is odd but understandable. Would I be correct in assuming that Scholar Path is your teacher?

He is, but Free Agent helped.

The cock is amusing, but hardly one that I would expect to make a good teacher.

I might have said the same thing a few days ago, but I have found… hidden depths to him recently.

I shall take your word for that. I assumed that there had to be a very good reason for him to be part of your group otherwise.

Twilight was not sure that the griffon would understand that sometimes it was just a matter of a friend helping their friend. Instead she said, “Sometimes it is just a matter of a different perspective, Ambassador. I know that I have learned things that I would not have except for him.

Far Scream merely nodded in slightly skeptical acceptance.

While they talked, the others had also been looking around, and one thing in particular had struck Free’s eye.

“What’s with all the capes? I’ve never seen griffons in Canterlot wearing them.”

About half the griffons who weren’t guards were wearing ornate capes of various colors.

Roseclaw rolled her eyes. “They’re a fad, or an essential status symbol, depending on who you ask. The colors indicate what caste you’re in, and the embellishments show rank. For example, that griff wears the colors indicating that he’s in the ruling caste, but his lack of adornment shows that he’s not very important yet. The she-griff over there belongs to the warrior caste, and is fairly high-ranked. That’s Captain Skylance, by the way, and I recommend that you avoid her.”

“How do I get one of those capes?” Free asked eagerly.

Path eyed his friend in surprise. “Why would you want one? I’ve never known you to be interested in clothing of any sort.”

“Because they cover the flanks, that’s why! Haven’t you noticed the stares I’ve been getting?”

“I thought that you’d gotten over sulking about your cutie mark?”

“I’ve been able to ignore it for the most part. Strangely enough, most ponies don’t realize that griffons aren’t supposed to have a cutie mark, so they only ever comment if they’re curious as to what it means. But here – I’ve had griffs gawking at my butt from the moment we landed!”

Path had to struggle to not burst out laughing right then and there. Roseclaw was intrigued though.

“How did you get a cutie mark?”

Free gave the griffoness his most confident grin and replied, “In a superlative display of my special talent. Come to my room tonight, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. I suspect that I will learn soon enough anyway.”

Free sighed. “Could you at least tell me how to buy a cape?”

“I suggest that you ask your attendant later how to commission one. You usually can’t just buy them off the shelf because they are custom made to match each individual’s caste and rank.”

The group just then arrived at a set of guarded doors. Apparently they were expected though, and the guards opened the doors and allowed them into what had to be the throne room of the palace.

The militaristic theme that had so far been encountered was also present here, but boosted to the next level. Additionally, while Princess Celestia or Luna would have a nearly token couple of Royal Guards in their throne room, the walls here were lined with griffon warriors. None of the quiet disciplined watching for this lot though – each warrior seemed to be ready and willing to start a fight at the least excuse.

Long Path and Twilight Sparkle were taken aback by the fierce display, and even Free Agent was subdued somewhat. However, Roseclaw was quick to quietly reassure Path.

“Don’t let the warriors intimidate you. This is a show of strength, not an ambush. You come from a nation that has defeated ours several times, but to show weakness now would invite speculation that you have grown soft, and encourage the warriors to try once again.”

Path felt slightly better, but it was hard to feel anything but nervous. Thankfully he was used to masking his feelings. “Don’t they know that Equestria is stronger than ever with four alicorns to defend it?”

“The king knows this, but he must also listen to his warriors. It isn’t for nothing that he has the title of War Leader. Now you must pay attention to the formalities.”

The group had stopped at the base of the dais bearing the throne. King Glimfeather sat upon it, one keen raptor eye watching their every step, the other filmed over from an old injury. His avian half was that of a bald eagle, while his feline half that of a black panther. Both showed hints of age, but that was overshadowed by the sheer strength that the griffon exuded. None doubted that this was a monarch still very much in power and in control.

As they had been instructed by Quiet Words, he, Path, and Free, dropped to one knee and bowed deeply. Twilight, however, was technically of the same rank as the king, but as a visitor to his country, she was still required to give a brief, courteous bow of her head. Anything more would have been construed as weakness also.

“You may rise,” Glimfeather intoned. “Far Scream – present our visitors.”

“Your Majesty, may I introduce Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria, Warrior of Harmony, Guardian of Knowledge, member of the ruling caste, the scholar caste, and the warrior caste.”

Twilight inclined her head and said, “Your Majesty” in acknowledgement. She and Quiet Words had discussed how best her titles should be presented to the griffon court, and although she felt a little embarrassed to be called a warrior, she had to admit that not only was it politically advisable, it was true, even if not in the classic sense.

Far Scream continued, “Presenting Quiet Words, Ambassador to Griffonia, member of the ruling caste and scholar caste.”

Quiet Words bowed again. “An honor, Your Majesty.”

“Presenting Long Path, Researcher and Adviser to Princess Sparkle, member of the scholar caste.”

“A privilege to be here, Your Majesty,” Path said with a bow.

“Presenting Free Agent, Adviser to Princess Sparkle and Cultural Attaché, member of the artist caste.”

Figuring out how best to present Free had been a matter of debate. Fortunately the skills that he had shown on the journey had given the ambassador a viable choice. Artists were surprisingly well respected in this warrior society. Of course, Free did his best to undermine that. He gave the king a sketchy salute and said, “Nice place you’ve got here, Kingsy.” Apparently one respectful bow was all that he could manage.

The throne room was hushed as Glimfeather gave Free the beady eye. The moment dragged out until the king slowly gave him a crooked smile. “I suppose that’s the best that I can expect from an Equestrian griff from the artist caste, especially one who paints his flank like a pony.” He turned his attention to the group as a whole. “Welcome to my kingdom. Princess Sparkle, I look forward to our talks tomorrow. For now, enjoy our hospitality. Far Scream, you will see to it.”

“Sire, my daughter, Roseclaw, has volunteered to undertake that task.”

“She does you honor. Very well, so be it.”

Roseclaw bowed. “As you command, Your Majesty.”

They had obviously been dismissed, and Roseclaw led their way out of the throne room. Path noticed the obvious pride that she took in her responsibility. It was a big step up for a young griffon.

They were led to a wing of the castle that seemed to be devoid of other griffons, and shown to individual rooms for each. While Twilight’s was obviously fit for a princess, the others were not greatly less opulent. They then gathered in a common room adjoining all four suites.

“Griffonia is not exactly used to playing host to visiting dignitaries, so they’ve pretty much decided to treat all of you as high-ranked,” Roseclaw informed them. “Don’t let the accommodations lull you though because it’s the impressions you make with those you meet that will truly give your measure.”

“Thank you. You’ve been exceptionally helpful to us,” Twilight said. “In fact, far more so than I would have expected.”

Roseclaw looked a little embarrassed. “To be truthful, your Highness, I mostly did it for Long Path. He was the one bright spot in a rather dull visit to Canterlot, and I want to repay the favor.”

“I’m so sorry that you found your visit to be so dull. Although that was Princess Celestia’s affair, I would have been happy to do something to make your visit more enjoyable. As Princess of Friendship, it’s practically my duty.”

“Please don’t blame Celestia. My father restricted me from doing many things that I had hoped to experience while in your country. He… did not approve of me fraternizing with ponies. I was there to learn, not enjoy myself.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I hope that you will get the opportunity to see what Equestrian hospitality can really be like.”

“I hope so also. Meanwhile though, I have my duty here, and I will be in charge of seeing that your mission goes smoothly. You have the freedom of the eyrie, but outside of this wing, you will be required to be accompanied either by myself or one or more of the King’s Soldiers. A banquet has been arranged, and I will be back in about an hour and a half to escort you to it. Please avail yourselves of the facilities here, and I hope that you have an enjoyable stay.”

“Thank you again, on behalf of us all, Roseclaw.”

As soon as Roseclaw had left and the door closed behind, Path said, “Free!”

“Yeah, Pa-URK!” The griffon was sent sprawling as an uppercut from Long Path’s hoof connected squarely under his beak. Free dazedly said, “What the buck?”

“What the hell did you think you were doing, throwing me out of the dirigible like that?! You know heights make me nervous. I’ve never been so terrified in my life!”

“I told you – you had to make a good impression…”

“And you couldn’t have discussed this with me first?!”

“How the buck was I supposed to know that they didn’t have a landing field there? I didn’t have time to discuss it when I realized that you would have to magic yourself down there. Like I said, griffs don’t like unicorn magic.”

“Not good enough, Free. They were expecting that; I wasn’t. Try another stunt like that, and I won’t stop at one punch!” Path then stormed into his room and slammed the door.

Free got up off the floor, rubbing his sore beak. “Some ponies have no gratitude,” he said to Twilight.

“Don’t look to me for sympathy, Free Agent. I wanted to punch you too.” Twilight then made her way to her room, although a lot more decorously, and quietly closed the door.

Free looked at Quiet Words. “Well, spit it out!”

“Me? No, you did in fact help Long Path give the griffons a good impression, although it’s a good thing you caught him quickly before they realized that it was unintentional on his part. I don’t recommend doing it again though. However, I do derive amusement at seeing you being castigated for your hare-brained idea. It does help brighten my day.” He then left for his room with a smile on his lips.

“Swell! Try to do someone a favor, and this is what I get! And I’m back to full-name status with Twi also. Can this day get any suckier?”

# # #

One thing that they had all missed while travelling on the dirigible was long showers. Weight was always an important factor for the airship, and carrying around a lot of heavy water just for that purpose was never going to happen. Bathing had been strictly minimal, so it was absolute heaven to be able to luxuriate in a long, hot shower. Their hosts had even provided some very nice fur shampoo that left their coats lovely and shiny. By the time Long Path had bathed, dried, and groomed himself, he was in a very fine mood again, and ready to forgive his friend for his outrageous stunt. After all, it was hardly the first that he had endured, although it was easily the most heart-stopping.

Path was the second to arrive in the common room, beaten there by Quiet Words.

Free turned up next, and slightly hesitantly walked up to Path. What he tasted in the pony’s emotions was enough to make him tentatively smile and hold up one clenched forefoot. “Are we good?”

Path said, “I was serious when I said what would happen if you do something like that again, but for now–” he hoof-bumped Free, “–we’re good.”

Just then Twilight arrived, and everyone’s attention was diverted to her. While she normally eschewed fancy garments, she knew when the occasion demanded them, and she was dressed in one of Rarity’s latest creations. This one had been cunningly designed to emphasize her winged nature and slightly greater height. ‘You’re an alicorn princess, darling, and those avian ruffians should have no doubts about who and what is giving them the privilege of your presence!’ the unicorn had said with finality. Twilight had long ago learned not to contradict the fashionista.

“Wow, you’re looking great, Twilight!” Path exclaimed.

Twilight smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Path. I know that I liked it when I looked at myself in the mirror, but you’re the first stallion to see it.”

“Babe, you’re so hot, I’m going to be smelling burnt feathers all night!” Free exclaimed.

“A lot of them yours, I suppose?” Twilight shot back with a grin. Apparently bathing had ameliorated her mood also, and she was ready to deal with the griffon again.

“I’m prepared to take the risk for a gorgeous mare like you.”

“I just bet you are.” Twilight then turned to the others and asked, “Has Roseclaw turned up as yet?”

Quiet Words replied, “No, but we are all a bit early. This is always good. One does not antagonize one’s hosts by being tardy, especially with griffons.” He then spent the next few minutes reminding them about the proper protocol for the formal dinner they were about to attend, quite well aware that Free Agent was likely to ignore at least half of what he was saying, but optimistically hoping for the best.

A knock on the main door of the common room announced the arrival of Roseclaw. Like Twilight, she had also dressed for the occasion, although not quite as spectacularly as the alicorn. She smiled when she saw all four of them ready and waiting.

“I see that you have all been enjoying the facilities. I know exactly how that feels after my trip to Equestria. Anyway, the banquet will start soon, so Princess Sparkle, will you and your friends please allow me to escort you there?”

“Please do, Roseclaw,” Twilight replied.

Roseclaw proceeded out of the room with Twilight at her side. A pace behind, Quiet Words came next, and behind him, Path and Free followed side by side.

“There aren’t so many guards lining the halls this time,” Path murmured to Free.

“Probably because they laid on extra before to make a big impression. That’s kind of what they do all the time. Remember – making a strong impression is important to these griffs. They make Equestrian griffons look laid-back in comparison.”

When they reached the banquet hall, it was already filled with the majority of the dinner guests. As none could be seated until the king arrived, they were all standing around in groups, conversing. There was a brief lull in the sound level of the conversations as the ponies were observed, quickly growing again as the new subjects of discussion made their way further in.

A pounding of drums announced the entrance of the king. Twilight speculated that their arrival had been the signal for him, ensuring that all the major players were in place before the event started. The king seated himself at the head of the broad U-shaped table, flanked by a couple of high-ranking griffons. That was Twilight’s cue to act. She trotted up to the one seated at the king’s right.

“I wish to sit at His Majesty’s right. Vacate your seat!” she demanded sternly.

“I am Silverbeak, His Majesty’s right claw – who are you to demand my position?” the griffon replied haughtily.

“I am Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria, and you will take your true rank at this table.”

The griffon bowed. “As your Highness commands.” He then moved to a position at the king’s other side.

Challenge made and rank established, Twilight took her place and then said, “Ambassador Quiet Words, you will sit by me.”

“By your command, Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

It was then Path and Free’s turn. Path addressed Silverbeak. “I wish to seat at His Majesty’s left. Vacate your seat!”

“Who are you to demand my position?” Silverbeak again challenged.

“I am Long Path, scholar and attaché to Her Highness, Twilight Sparkle.”

“You are His Majesty’s guests, but do not outrank me. Take your place beside me.”

As intended from the start, Path took a seat at Silverbeak’s left.

Free Agent stepped up and said, “As also a cultural attaché to Her Highness, Twilight Sparkle, I demand equal rank with my colleague. I will take this place!” Free sat himself beside Path.

With all the Equestrian guests seated by protocol, the rest of the griffons started taking their due places. There were several other formal challenges and appropriate responses before all were seated.

Long Path found the process fascinating. It had ritualized all the aspects of the old-fashioned maneuvring for positions of influence at the king’s table. All the real challenges happened outside of the banquet hall, leaving the diners to eat and talk without making a scene at the table.

“I hope you enjoy your meal, Princess Sparkle,” the king said with a hint of a smile. “This banquet has been prepared especially with you in mind.”

“I’m sure that it will be wonderful, Your Majesty.”

Just then, servants entered the banquet hall pushing trolleys laden with large covered dishes which they then placed at intervals along the table. When they were all in place, they started taking off the lids, revealing stacks of very thick grilled steaks. They were all only lightly cooked, still dripping their juices onto the plates. The aroma quickly spread among the diners, leaving the griffons drooling, and Twilight looking a little leery.

“Is this all? I’m feeling hungry tonight!” King Glimfeather demanded of the head servant.

“No, Your Majesty.” The servant then uncovered the last couple of dishes, revealing piles of baked vegetables on one, and loaves of bread fresh from the oven on the other.

“Good! Now I don’t have to share these steaks with the ponies!” Glimfeather said with a laugh and a wink in Twilight’s direction.

Twilight had to smile back. They had been pranked, and she had to admit that it was a good one. Now all she had to do was try to ignore the odor of cooked meat and the sight of the griffons getting stuck into them heartily… … and why was Path taking one?

With his fork firmly held by tactile-kinesis to his hoof, Path had speared one of the biggest steaks and put it onto his plate, shoving aside some of the vegetables that the servants had started placing there. Conversation slowly ground to a halt as the griffons started taking notice as the pony began cutting off a slice. He put it into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. Twilight started turning very green as he swallowed and then looked around at all the others, seemingly noticing their stares only then.

“What? Needs a bit of salt, is all.”

 

 

There was a huge roar of approval from the griffons, delighted at seeing a pony eating meat. Free was laughing himself silly at the expressions on Twilight and Quiet Words’ faces, matched only by the king who was hugely amused at having his joke being turned back on him so effortlessly. Meanwhile, Path was handed a salt shaker, and after sprinkling some on the steak, proceeded to tuck into the rest of his meal.

“Are you going to eat all of that, little pony?” one huge griffon asked.

Swallowing his mouthful, Path replied, “Tartarus, yeah! Do you know how expensive and hard to find these steaks are in Canterlot? I intend to enjoy every bit of this!”

“Five crowns says he doesn’t finish it!” another griffon said.

“Ten says he does!” a third replied.

Roseclaw watched him eating the steak with rapt fascination. She couldn't tear her eyes away from the incredible sight.

Twilight was beginning to wonder if she was ever going to get her appetite back.

# # #

“Well, I think we can call that a success,” Free pronounced when they had returned to their common room.

“You certainly were a hit with the griffons, Path,” Twilight agreed. “Since when did you start eating meat though?”

“I’ve been doing it since I was a foal. Free and I would trade some of our lunches occasionally. Turns out that I have quite a taste for it.”

“And you didn’t see fit to tell me about this?”

“The subject never came up. After all, it’s just food, and nothing unusual to me. Besides, I thought that you knew that ponies can eat meat. Pegasi eat fish all the time.”

“Yes, Rainbow Dash has tried to get me to try out fish several times. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around eating something that used to be alive though.”

“Fruits and vegetables used to be alive too, you know?”

“Not quite the same thing, Path. Do you know that you can’t eat too much fat? Our bodies can’t break the excess down.”

“Found that out the hard way long ago. That’s why I choose lean meats, or smaller portions. Those steaks tonight were great though – juicy and lean! I hope we get them again.”

Twilight started to look a bit green again.

Quiet Words said, “I would appreciate it if you would stop trying to make Princess Sparkle ill. It’s not a good look in front of griffon dignitaries. However…” He gave Twilight an apologetic look. “That was a marvelous coup in our relationship with the griffons. So many of them refer to us contemptuously as grass-eaters, so seeing more of us on their level will be greatly to our benefit.”

“Have you tried eating meat?” Twilight asked.

“Ah, no. I’ve inured myself to watching griffons do so, and to the smell of cooked meat, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to trying it out.”

“Well, if you don’t want me to order you to try it out tomorrow, I suggest that you close the subject for tonight,” Twilight said darkly.

“Yes, your Highness!” Quiet agreed hastily.

“I’m going to my room and write down my observations from today’s events. I suggest that you all prepare yourselves for tomorrow. We have a big day ahead of us.”

Twilight went to her room and closed the door behind her, and Quiet Words followed suit.

Path said, “I’ve got a couple of things to get ready. Did you want help with anything, Free?”

“Nah, I’m good. Unless you plan to invite me to test out those magnificent beds with you tonight?” Free added hopefully.

“Unless you want my opinion on how comfortable they are for sleeping, no.”

“Try to dream of me, at least,” Free replied with a leer.

Path just grinned and headed off to his room.

Free’s expression turned a little more serious, and he went to the main door and looked outside. Two griffons were on watch there, as he knew there would be, and he had a word with them before going back inside.

About a quarter hour later, there was a knock on Twilight’s door. She absent-mindedly called, “Come in!” before returning her full attention to her journal. Therefore she did not see Free come in bearing a covered tray. The delicious aroma coming from it did gain her notice though. She looked around just as Free placed the tray on the table next to her and uncovered it, revealing a pot of tea and salad sandwiches.

“Considering how little you ate at the banquet, I thought you might need this,” Free said with a smile.

Twilight was surprised at his thoughtfulness. “Thank you, Free. That’s very kind of you.”

“I hope this makes up for the stunt I pulled today. I know I don’t always think things through.”

“I was more worried for Long Path, but you seem to be back to normal with him.”

“Yeah, he’s used to me being a butthead occasionally. I try to make it up to him later.”

“Then, we’re good.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you, Twi?”

“No, I really need to finish off this….” Twilight’s voice trailed off.

Free tasted a shift in her emotions before she seemed to come to a decision.

“Remember how you played your lute while Path and I were reading out on the deck?”

“Of course.”

“Would you do that for me again? I mean, it would help me gather my thoughts and de-stress from today’s events.”

“You don’t need an excuse to ask me to play for you, babe. Let me get my lute.”

Minutes later, he was softly playing the lute while Twilight enjoyed her food and drink. With those finished, she leaned back in her chair, intent on just enjoying one tune for a moment before returning to her journal. Instead she drifted off into slumber.

Free finished the tune and regarded the sleeping alicorn. He considered trying to move her to the bed, but knew what she might think in the morning, so instead he put a blanket over her. He risked a quick nuzzle and said, “Sweet dreams, Twilight.” He then left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.

# # #

Thankfully for Twilight, breakfast was served in the common room, and they all were well fed and ready for a big day.

At the appointed time, Far Scream arrived to escort Twilight and Quiet Words to their meeting with the King’s Council.

Roseclaw arrived just as they were leaving, managing only to greet them before they were hastened on their way. To Path and Free, she said, “Good morning! Are you ready to learn a little about life in this great eyrie?”

“Sure thing, Roseclaw,” Path replied. “Perhaps you have a library here that we can check out?”

“Whoa! Wait just a moment!” Free objected. “We’re here to learn about what makes these griffs tick and how to get along with them better, remember? Not just so that you can stick your muzzle in a book.”

“But research is important too!”

“Not as important as going out and actually seeing for yourself.” Free turned to Roseclaw and asked, “What would the common griff be doing today? What would be the most popular events?”

“Well, there’s the big martial arts tournament today,” she replied doubtfully.

“Great! That’s where we’re going. Right, Path?”

Long Path sighed. “You’re right, even if I suspect you mostly want to check it out for personal reasons. Let’s go, Roseclaw.”

Free Agent did not bother telling them that he had learned of the tournament while chatting with the guards last night after leaving Twilight. He knew that Path could be persuaded about the relevance of the event to their project, and all that was needed was to steer the conversation in that direction. Too easy!

# # #

The group exited the main gate into what seemed to be parklands dominated by a lake and the river that flowed from it. The caldera that the city was located in naturally collected rainwater into the lake which provided water for the city’s needs, while the parklands around it kept the water from being contaminated. Long Path was quite impressed with the skill and care that had gone into both the palace and lands.

“I would not have thought that you’d have such a large amount of parkland in the middle of your city,” Path commented.

“It needs to be big,” Roseclaw replied. “It’s kept stocked with small prey so that we can do some hunting instead of getting prepared food. It keeps up our skills instead of relying on others.”

“Oh.”

“I watched you eat meat last night, so why does this seem to bother you?”

“Eating meat from animals raised for the purpose and slaughtered humanely, is somewhat different from terrifying little animals desperately trying not to be captured and killed.”

“It’s what we griffons have done all through history; isn’t that the kind of thing that you have come to learn about us?”

“It is, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like it. When hunting was a necessity, I could have been pragmatic about it and accepted it easily enough. However, it isn’t necessary anymore because your needs can be supplied with farm animals.”

“Hunting is a natural instinct though.”

“Civilization occurs when a species rises above their base instincts.”

“So you think we’re uncivilized?” Roseclaw asked sharply.

“Are you demanding that I insult you?” Path answered carefully. “Ponies still fight among each other occasionally, but we still strive to be civilized. We make mistakes, but learn and build from there. Civilization is a work in progress, not an absolute goal. To not recognize something as being uncivilized is to not be able to rise above it. So, to answer your question with a question – do you consider it civilized to kill defenseless animals needlessly?”

“It has been part of our civilization since before recorded history – why would we change that on the basis of what ponies might think of us?”

“You have much tradition behind you, I admit, and by urging you to stop doing it, I am actually meddling in your affairs rather than reaching an understanding. I have only one thing to add.”

“And that is…?”

“Ponies were once considered fair prey too, and some griffons may still think of us that way.”

Roseclaw was quiet for a long moment before she shook her head. “You’d make a good griffon, Long Path. You attack a problem without fear or favour. I like that.”

“Others have called me rudely blunt.”

“Others are not griffons. Choose your fights and make a stand; vindicate yourself or fail. That’s the griffon way.”

“Then perhaps I’ve learned my first lesson?”

“Perhaps. Just remember–” Her wing swept around to indicate other griffons about them. “All these griffs are also living by that credo. Make sure you’re right and can back yourself up before you make that stand.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Roseclaw.”

# # #

Path was beginning to think that the fighting was held outside of the arena. After leaving the grounds of the castle, they had also left behind the quieter and more formal griffons, and now they were seeing more of what the common griffons were like. One of the first things that he had realized was that they seemed to lack the concepts of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Polite requests were met with blank stares. The standard encounter seemed to consist of loud demands, annoyed responses, and either one or the other forced to back down or comply.

They were passing through what had to be a merchant district where they were able to witness this behavior quite frequently. One shop caught Free’s eye though.

“Hey, Rose – is that what I think it is?” Free pointed at what appeared to be a clothing store.

Roseclaw looked and then smiled. “You’re still wanting a caste cape?”

“Of course! Can I order one there?”

“If you have the money, that’s what they’re there for.”

“One detour coming up!” Free declared, practically dragging Path along with him.

While the shop stocked a variety of adornments designed for griffons, it was obvious that the business primarily traded in the fashionable capes. Free spotted the proprietor and marched up to him.

“Have you got a cape for the entertainer caste?” Free asked in the blunt fashion that he had seen other griffons do.

“Of course, but what rank?”

“Pretty high.”

The proprietor eyed him coldly. “There is no ‘pretty high’ rank.”

Free turned to Roseclaw. “How does your ranking system work?”

“For your caste? I’m not sure. Describe your achievements.”

“I paint, and I play the lute professionally. I am frequently invited to Princess Celestia’s functions.”

Frequently gate-crashing her functions, more like it,’ Path thought.

Apparently the cape seller had much the same suspicions, and he raised a skeptical eyebrow. He had no intention of letting a sale slip by however. “I believe I have a firm idea of your ranking.”

“Great! How much and how quickly can I get it?”

“One hundred and seventy-five crowns, and in four hours.”

“Whoa! That’s pretty steep for just a cape.”

“A customized high-quality fashion accessory,” the proprietor corrected.

“How about a special deal for visiting diplomats?”

“One hundred and ninety crowns.”

“What!? Do you rip off all your customers this way?”

“Penalty rate for non-Griffonian citizens!”

Free fumed but eventually pulled out his money pouch and counted out the coins. “It better be bucking awesome though! And I want a receipt!”

They left the smirking shopkeeper and continued on their way.

Something occurred to Path, and he asked, “What’s to stop griffs from claiming a far higher rank than they are entitled to?”

Roseclaw replied, “That’s easy – if they are caught out, they are subject to much ridicule and loss of honor. That’s far more important to them than false rank. You had better be able to justify your claim, Free Agent, because somegriff is sure to test you.”

Free grinned confidently. “Bring ’em on! I’ll show anygriff that an Equestrian griffon can rock their world.”

Roseclaw smiled at his overwhelming confidence. “I think that I might look forward to seeing that.”

# # #

Although he was not the kind of pony who would ever try to cut in line, Path reminded himself to never trying jumping the queue for any reason while in Griffonia. Those foolish enough to try to do so at the tournament arena were lucky if they only lost a few feathers in the ensuing altercation.

When they got to the ticket window, Roseclaw curtly demanded three tickets. The griffon selling the tickets gave Path a suspicious look before reluctantly handing over the tickets in exchange for a large number of coins. Roseclaw led Path and Free into the arena and headed straight for what turned out to be seating reserved for high-ranking griffs.

“I’m guessing that the ticket-seller was wondering whether we deserved to be in this section,” Path commented to the griffoness.

“Good guess, although it doesn’t matter because I have the rank, and I am allowed to bring guests with me. Make yourselves comfortable because they’ll be starting soon. Our detour hasn’t made us late for the honor duels.”

“Honor duels? What are those? I thought that these were formal sports?”

“The tournament is formal, but the honor duels are held first because they serve as a warm-up for the spectators who also serve as witnesses to the duels. As for the duels themselves, there are occasions where a griff’s honor is impugned, or they have been dealt an injustice, and they demand that it be settled by an honor duel.”

“What about the law though?”

“If the circumstances meet the requirements for a duel, it supersedes the law. That is why it is important to have a lot of witnesses.”

“What’s to stop powerful griffs from abusing the honor duel system for their own gain?”

Roseclaw arched an eyebrow at Path. “Have you so quickly forgotten what I said earlier? Griffon status is all about making claims and backing them up. There is no sympathy for anygriffs who let themselves be maneuvered into fighting a duel which they cannot win.”

“Harsh,” Path said with a shake of his head.

Free said, “Yeah. That’s the kind of thing that led to my parents emigrating from Griffonia to Equestria. You think that griffs in Canterlot are rather aggressive? They’re nothing compared to some of these, if even half of what Dad and Mom told me is true.”

“What kind of things would typically call for an honor duel?” Path asked Roseclaw.

“Nothing trivial. As the name implies, it is mostly called upon when a loss of face might occur, or where status is in question. However, it could be more personal , say if somegriff has breached your trust. There are a multitude of reasons, but they all involve a griff’s honor and status. They can even determine a choice of mate. For example, there’s….”

Just then, a thunderous booming of drums interrupted Roseclaw, and the crowd quieted down in anticipation. A griffon in a bold red jacket alighted in the center of the stage, and lifted up a megaphone. Path was amused to note that it was an Equestrian-made model that utilized a magic-charged crystal to amplify the user’s voice.

“Welcome, griffs! Are you ready to watch the best martial artists in Griffonia battle it out for supremacy, right here, right now?”

There was a near deafening roar from the crowd, and the screeching made Path wince and fold his ears down to try to cut it down a bit.

When the crowd had calmed down enough, the announcer went on. “First though, we have two honor duels for you today. The first will be fought between Erin Ripbeak and Jarrod Whiptail. Griffs – step forward!”

Two male griffs entered the arena, one a light brown avian with tawny hindquarters, and the other had golden plumage with a jet-black feline rear end.

The announcer addressed the crowd again. Indicating the first griffon, he said, “Erin Ripbeak has accused his business partner, Jarrod Whiptail, of defrauding their company. Jarrod has vehemently denied the accusation. After Erin spread his accusations around to family and business associates, Jarrod has had his honor and status impugned and has demanded satisfaction.” The announcer then addressed the two griffons. “Erin – do you withdraw your claims?”

“I do not.”

“Jarrod – do you still deny the claims?”

“I do.”

“Will you settle for rule of law?”

“No!” both replied vehemently.

“Then the honor duel is formally declared. You will fight to the blood-letting. Take position on opposite sides of the arena, and begin when the duel drum is struck.”

The announcer then flew over to what appeared to be an umpire’s elevated chair and settled onto it. When the combatants had reached their positions, he raised a foreleg with a red flag in his clenched claws. He held it up there for a long moment before he abruptly dropped it, and in that instant, a deep bass drum boomed out.

The two griffs leaped at each other with murderous intent. As far as Path’s inexperienced eye could tell, neither was fighting with any degree of skill. It was mostly a rage-fueled brawl. He asked Roseclaw, “What are the rules to the duel?”

“There are none. They are free to attack in any way they choose.”

“Then how do they determine the winner?”

“As the announcer said, it’s to the bloodletting.”

“Both look a bit bloody already though.”

Roseclaw gave him a slightly pitying look. “To the bloodletting means that one of the duelists is cut and ripped to the point where the judge determines that they would die of blood-loss without medical treatment. What you have seen so far is trivial. Neither is a warrior.”

Path shuddered at the thought of so much blood. “And the announcer is also the judge, I gather?”

“Correct.”

“It sounds like there are other levels at which the fight could be terminated?”

“You’re right. There are two others – to the maiming or to the death.”

Path was startled. “They actually allow griffs to battle to the death over disputes?”

“Not just any disputes – only the most serious ones. Maiming though is not uncommon.”

“Forgive me for saying so, but I find that to be a barbaric practice. There are other ways to vindicate oneself.”

“But not in the griffon way.”

“Then what do you think of the griffs who travel to Equestria to make a new life away from all this? Are you saying that theirs is not the griffon way, when there is an entire eyrie there that does not practice this horrible dueling?”

“They have made their own choices by which they stand. We have made ours. I notice that despite your protests, you are still watching the fight.”

“I am here to learn, and I can put aside my emotions for a while to study the practice. A dispassionate viewpoint is a more accurate one.” Path scowled grimly. “However, like the animal hunting, I don’t have to like it. It’s a good thing that we did not bring Twilight along with us. I can’t see her standing by doing nothing while this sort of thing happens.”

Just then, Jarrod Whiptail collapsed to the arena floor, and the duel drum boomed once more. Erin Ripbeak stood back, panting heavily, but with a look of vindication on his face. Medics rushed onto the arena to attend to both fighters, and after Jarrod’s bleeding was stopped, he was carried away on a stretcher, while Erin proudly walked off under his own power. Arena workers stepped in to clean up the blood, fur and feathers before the next duel.

Path filed everything away in a corner of his mind for later review, and then turned to look at Roseclaw. “You’ve been defending the griffon way of life, and that’s perfectly fair. I cannot judge your society purely from my perspective, no matter my feelings. However, I have one more question. What do you personally think of that duel?”

For the first time, Roseclaw looked uncertain, and Path realized that he had finally gotten past the ambassador’s daughter’s mask. “I come here to watch skilled warriors fight. That duel was not an example of such.”

“In other words, you didn’t like it?”

“Just because I believe in the griffon way of life, does not mean that I approve of all aspects of it. Do you claim that yours is perfect?”

“Hardly. It was my realization that many ponies are bigots that started me on this journey of discovery. However, recognizing that there is a problem is the first step in dealing with it. So, is there a problem?”

Roseclaw shook her head with a sad smile. “For them, no. For me, perhaps. I’ve come to like ponies too much, I think. Since returning from Equestria, I have been more and more dissatisfied with the way of life here.” She paused and grinned at him, poking him in the chest with one talon. “I blame you for this. You took the blindfold from my eyes that day we met. I never knew a pony could be so… interesting before then. You force me to think beyond what I have always accepted.”

“Then I pray that I never make a colossal error and lead you astray. I’m just a pony too, after all.”

“Too modest also. Anyway, it looks like the next duel is about to start.”

This time the dispute was between two she-griffons, but the duel was mercifully swift. One severely outclassed the other and brought the fight to a quick close. It did raise another question though with Long Path.

“She must have known that she was way out of her depth, so why would she accept a duel challenge?”

“Sometimes the loss of face for not accepting the challenge is a worse blow than anything that happens in the arena. This was an honorable loss for her, and griffs respect that.”

Path was beginning to suspect that negotiating the complexities of the caste-status-honor system in Griffonia was going to be a lot more difficult than he had anticipated. Understanding how griffons thought was the key to bringing their cultures closer together, but he was far from that goal right now. There was one other opinion he wanted right now though.

“Free – you’ve been rather subdued; I thought that you’d be right into this?”

“The duels were unexpected, Path. They don’t taste right to me,” Free replied quietly.

Roseclaw was still unaware that Free was a changeling, and had a unique perspective on the situation.

“How so?” Path asked discreetly.

“You know we feed on positive emotions, but this arena is filled with both positive and negative emotions right now. It’s not a pleasant mixture. I hope that the tournament improves that.”

The martial arts tournament started immediately after the arena was cleared up again. Unlike the duels though, the fights were ones of skill rather than raw brawling, and the contestants could actually be penalized for using an unnecessarily savage or dangerous strike. This was something that Path could appreciate, and so did the crowd. Between every bout, he overheard conversations discussing the moves that were well executed and the mistakes that were made. Considering the size of the arena, and well-filled it was, he figured that a large percentage of the griffon population was engaged with the sport, and fairly equally among the sexes too. It was something to bear in mind if griffons and ponies came into conflict again.

The tournament was only interrupted for a lunch break, and there it seemed that both ponies and griffons had something in common – the concessions stands did roaring business! It was late in the afternoon before every elimination bout of every division was completed, the finals run and won, and the victors awarded. Path, Free, and Roseclaw joined the crowds streaming out of the arena.

“My cape should be ready now,” Free said, steering the others towards the shops. He left the others waiting outside while he collected it though. “I want to reveal it to you too!”

He was soon back with a medium blue cape that did in fact drape over his cutie mark. It was trimmed with golden material, and adorned with various symbols that had no meaning to Path.

“Well, what do you think?” Free asked as he did his best to model his new purchase.

Path thought that it looked good on his friend, but turned to Roseclaw to see her reaction. She nodded thoughtfully before delivering her verdict.

“I think that the cape maker has done you justice. It is a reasonable representation of your caste and status.”

“And it suits you,” Path added.

Free grinned and said, “Great! I like it too. Maybe Rose can explain to me what these symbols mean though.”

So as they walked back to the palace, Roseclaw did her best to explain the meaning and significance of each of the markings, stripes and patches.

Between the lengthy tournament and their unhurried travelling between the arena and the castle, it was close to dinner time before they got back to their rooms. There they found Twilight at a desk, writing something. She looked up as they entered and gave them a weary smile.

“I hope your day has been more exciting than mine?”

“You could say that,” Path replied.

“Yeah, the tournament was exciting, especially for the finals,” Free added.

“What tournament is this? I thought you were going to the library, Path?” Twilight asked.

“Change of plans. There was a big martial arts tournament being held today, and Free persuaded me that it was more important to see how griffons enjoy themselves. It was quite an eye-opener, I admit.”

“And I found a shop that sells the status capes.” Free spun around, letting the cape swirl dramatically. “How do you like it?”

Twilight looked at it critically before smiling. “It looks very good on you – makes you look like a handsome griff.”

Free actually started preening at the compliment. “Thanks, babe. Wanna go out for dinner and show off the handsomest couple in Griffonia?”

Twilight blushed slightly. “Um, I think we’re supposed to show up for a formal dinner tonight.”

Roseclaw spoke up. “Actually that is optional. It’s not a King’s Banquet which requires your presence. If you prefer to dine more informally, that is your choice.”

“That sounds like a great idea, Twilight,” Path added. “How about the four of us find a good local restaurant and sample the local cuisine?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think Quiet Words would be interested.”

“I wasn’t referring to Quiet Words, Twilight,” Path replied, turning towards Roseclaw.

Roseclaw looked at Path in surprise. “You want me to join you for dinner? I’d love to!”

Twilight sighed in resignation. “Okay, but it has to be somewhere that serves something else besides meat.”

Roseclaw said, “Don’t worry – I know just the place. Last night’s steak dinner was the king’s idea of a joke. We do eat a lot more than just meat.”

“Fair warning, Twilight,” Path added, “I intend to have some meat in my meal.”

“I’ll be prepared this time. I’ll also try my best to not watch you!”

Roseclaw said, “If you will give me a few minutes to freshen up, I’ll be back soon to show you to the restaurant that I have in mind.”

“We could all use the time to do the same, Rose.”

About an hour later, all four were washed, brushed, and in the case of two of them, preened. Twilight had her tiara, and Path a sash with the Equestrian Diplomatic Corps symbol on it. Roseclaw had added a pearl necklace and a ribbon was braided along her tail. Free of course wore his cape.

Roseclaw guided them to what appeared to be a middle class restaurant fifteen minutes’ walk from the castle’s gate. Path doubted that most griffons would actually walk – the roads here seemed mainly for the benefit of the heavily-laden carts that transported goods between places, but as the only flightless member of the party, the others made concessions to his limitation and made no complaints.

The presence of two ponies in the restaurant caused quite a stir at first, but things soon settled down, and the staff was very professional. They were seated at a rectangular table, with Twilight besides Free, and Roseclaw beside Path. The menu was as varied as Roseclaw had promised, and everyone was able to order something to their taste. Twilight managed to distract herself sufficiently from the meat dishes to enjoy the meal, and Free was quite pleased that he was a major source of distraction. Anything to build on his relationship with the alicorn was good!

It was a happily replete foursome who left the restaurant a long time later. Considering the size of the tip that they had left, the staff were profuse in their thanks for patronizing their establishment, and hoped that they might see them again sometime soon.

Something caught the attention of Free as they started walking back to the castle.

“Hey, is that a club down there?” he asked Roseclaw.

“Actually it’s the local pub, but they have live music most nights.”

“Awesome! Let’s go there!”

“What? You want me to go there?” Twilight asked.

“Sure! We’re here to check out what griffon society is like, right? A pub is the perfect place to learn more, and have some fun at the same time.”

“This is supposed to be serious research!” Twilight objected.

“And does that research preclude you from enjoying yourself?”

“Umm... no, I suppose not.”

“Then we have the perfect opportunity for you to do both.” He put his arm around Twilight’s neck, and then did the same to Path. “Two ponies and two griffons together. Let’s show them the power of friendship!”

Roseclaw followed Free’s example and put her arm around Path also, and they headed off to the pub.

The pub was well attended by boisterous griffons enjoying both the alcohol and the music. Unlike the restaurant, there was little reaction to the group aside from a little curiosity. At first it seemed that they were out of luck in finding a table, until Free flapped up into the air between songs from the band, and yelled out, “A round of drinks on me in exchange for a table!”

“Make it two rounds, and you’ve got a deal!” yelled back one griffoness from a table close to the stage.

“Deal!”

The group took over the table, while Free headed off to the bar with the three that had given it up. When they had been taken care of, he came back to the table just in time for one of the servers to turn up.

“Your turn to pay,” Free said cheerfully to Path.

Path nodded in agreement. “What will you all have?” he asked the others.

“Eyrish whiskey all round,” Free interjected.

“Oh no!” Twilight said hurriedly. “Not for me. Do you have any Equestrian beers?”

“As a matter of fact, we do,” the server replied. “We have Baltimare Lager or Canterlot Ale.”

“The ale would be perfect!” Twilight resisted the urge to add ‘please’ as she was catching onto the griffon habit of not using the polite words.

Path handed over the money, and soon they were enjoying their drinks and the entertainment. Free in particular was getting into the music. The musicians belted out lively tunes on their magically amplified guitars, and occasionally the crowd would sing along to one of their songs. The friends were starting on their fourth round of drinks when the band took a break.

Free was hyped up on more than alcohol by then. The excitement and enjoyment of the pub’s patrons was loading him up on positive emotional energy, exciting him and wanting to get even more involved. As the lead guitarist rested and took a drink, Free got up and went over to him. “Hey, great music! Almost as good as the Equestrian band I heard last month.”

The griffon eyed him and said, “You’re one of those pony-lovers, aren’t you? Think you’ve earned that cape?”

“Yeah, I think so. I’ve played for princesses even.”

“But have you played for our king?”

“Not yet. Give me a couple more days and I’ll knock his feathers off too.”

“Ha! That I’d like to see. I think you’re fluffing your feathers.”

“Yeah? Give me your guitar and I’ll show you I’m straight up.”

“You’re on, Firetail. Better prove yourself, or you’re going to be short one cape when you leave.”

Free grinned at the reference to his bright red tail tuft. He confidently took the griffon’s guitar and hopped up onto the stage. The other band members eyed him dubiously, but shrugged when the guitarist gave them a reassuring nod.

“Hey all you griffs. Call me Firetail! I’m here to knock you out with some Equestrian style rock. Are you ready for it?”

There were some jeers, but there were also some calls of encouragement from the curious.

Free settled the guitar and started plucking chords. “This is called ‘A Brave New World’, and you’re gonna love it!”

The intro started off sedately enough, and Free began singing after a few chords:

Dying Swans twisted wings
Beauty not needed here
Lost my love, lost my life
In this garden of fear
I have seen many things
In a lifetime alone
Mother love is no more
Bring this savage back home

Abruptly Free amped up the pace and the volume, and the crowd roared in approval.

Wilderness house of pain
Makes no sense of it all
Close this mind dull this brain
Messiah before his fall
What you see is not real
Those who know will not tell
All is lost sold your souls
To this brave new world

The other band members, starting with the drummer, began accompanying Free, adding to the excitement and energy of the tune as Free roared into the chorus.

A brave new world
In a brave new world
A brave new world
In a brave new world

In a brave new world
A brave new world
In a brave new world
A brave new world

By this time, Twilight’s jaw had dropped in amazement, while Path and Roseclaw had joined in singing the chorus, along with most of the audience.

Dragon Kings Dying Queens
Where is salvation now
Lost my life, lost my dreams
Rip the bones from my flesh
Silent screams laughing here
Dying to tell you the truth
You are planned and you are damned
In this brave new world

A brave new world
In a brave new world
A brave new world
In a brave new world

In a brave new world
A brave new world
In a brave new world
A brave new world

Just when it seemed that Free had the crowd as excited as possible, he burst into a frenetic guitar solo that redoubled the energy level. By now the pub’s patrons had started dancing on every available square inch of the floor, and not a few in the air too.

With the crowd now stoked into a frenzy, Free segued back into the chorus.

A brave new world
In a brave new world
A brave new world
In a brave new world

In a brave new world
A brave new world
In a brave new world
A brave new world

Free let the guitar’s chords die down, and almost reverentially, he sang the final two verses.

Dying Swans twisted wings
Bring this savage back home

(“Brave New World” by Iron Maiden)

The pub exploded with cheers and foot stomping. Free waved the guitar triumphantly, drinking up their adulation.

The band’s guitarist came over to collect his instrument.

“So, do I get to keep my cape?” Free asked him.

“You were ripped off by the cape maker. He seriously underrated you, just as I did.”

Free grinned. “I’ll be sure to tell him that if I see him again.”

“Stick around – you and I are going to have a guitar battle. Can’t let this lot think that I can be outdone by an Equestrian griff. That is, if you think you’re up to it?”

“Got another guitar?” Free replied confidently.

Back at the table, the ponies had started garnering attention from the excited crowd who insisted on buying drinks. Twilight insisted on sticking to her ale, but she was already getting more than a little buzzed. Eyrish whiskey was a whole lot stronger though, and Path was starting to lose his normal restraint. He cheered and whistled as his friend and the band guitarist started riffing off each other. He hardly noticed that his drink was being constantly refreshed.

Some time later, Twilight and Roseclaw were dancing to the music in front of the stage, and Path had got into a drinking debate with another griff.

“Yer princess dances like she’s havin’ a fit,” Rockbeak slurred before taking another shot.

“Yesh… yesh she does,” agreed Path with a slightly glazed look on his face. “But she’s enjoying hershelf… self.” He took another shot also.

“Teh...teh problems with you ponies... you hide behind your pretty pretty princesses!” Hardbeak declared and downed another shot.

“Shum… some of us do, but I don’t... you never get anywhere cowering behind somebody else... Take what is yours! Don’t let it be handed to you!” He knocked back another shot.

“Ya have nothin’. Pretty pretty pony is pretty pretty weak!” Hardbeak slowly lifted the next shot, stared at it with eyes that slowly glazed over, then keeled over unconscious.

“Stronger than you, birdy-cat!” Path declared, downing his shot in proof. Those watching him cheered loudly, and he held up the empty shot glass in triumph. “All will come to know the honorable House of Path, the first Equestrian Nobility in the Griffonian Kingdom!” he drunkenly boasted.

“A toast to the House of Path!” one griffon shouted.

“I’ll drink to that!” Path declared.

The bar staff were delighted. This was turning out to be their best night in ages. A steady supply of alcohol, especially whiskey, kept flowing in the direction of their Equestrian patrons, and the music was more exciting than ever. Who knew that ponies could be such a hit?

Eventually, a giddy but tired Twilight sat back down next to Path, with Roseclaw doing the same on his other side. Another ale was immediately put in front of Twilight, and she downed it thirstily. Roseclaw also accepted a drink , but didn’t slam it down quite as fast. Path put one foreleg around each and pulled them towards himself in a drunken hug. “As winner of this contest and glorious head of the House of Path, I declare that Sparkle is mine!” He gave the extremely startled alicorn a smooch on the cheek. “And I declare that Roseclaw is mine!” He gave an equally big kiss to the griffoness. “Long live the House of Path!”

The crowd roared in approval, while Twilight’s cheeks began to glow a little more than accountable by the alcohol. Roseclaw though just gazed at Path with surprise and not a little wonder. Then she giggled and said, “I’ll drink to that too. Where’s my drink?”

Half a dozen were thrust at her by the drunken griffons who were enjoying the marvelous entertainment being provided by the Equestrians. One griffon though was not amused, and he made his way out of the pub.

Free came down from the stage where he had been riffing with the band still, and said, “Hey! Stop stealing my gal, Lord Path!”

Path grinned at him and said, “Aw, you’re mine too!” Then he grabbed Free and kissed him too.

Free let Path linger as long as he wanted, but when the stallion let him go, he said, “I can’t believe that I’m saying this, but I think you’ve had enough for tonight. I think it’s time to leave.”

“Aw, must we?” Path said disconsolately.

“Yeah, your herd needs you to take them home.”

“Oh. Okay!” Path struggled onto all four feet, and swayed on his hooves. He eyed the half-empty glass still on the table, but decided he’d had enough. “C’mon girls. Big day ahead.” He weaved unsteadily through the crowd to the front door before stopping to allow Twilight and Roseclaw to exit first. He then turned back to the crowd and shouted, “I’ll be back! I love you all!” He then stumbled through the door accompanied by the cheers of the patrons.

Free grinned and said, “Cocks and hens, Lord Long of the House of Path has left the building!”

Laughter accompanied his own exit from the pub.

Path stumbled along the road, basically held upright by Twilight on one side and Roseclaw on the other. Free took up Twilight’s other side to help support her. While Roseclaw had imbibed stronger drinks, she was handling it better than the tipsy Twilight whose horn occasionally flared with telekinetic power to correct Path, and occasionally herself.

The palace gate guards laughed at the sight of the quartet, but gave them no trouble in letting them in. Eventually they made it to their rooms, although barely. The alcohol and the exertion had taken their toll on all, although Free was in better shape than the other three. They decided to get Path into bed first, but the stallion was hardly able to get his forelegs onto the bed before he ran out of steam. They tried to roll him onto the bed, but the earth pony had turned into an awkward dead weight. Twilight tried lifting him with her telekinesis, but winced and groaned as her head protested. In the end it took all three of them working together to get Path up onto the bed, with Twilight taking some of the weight with magic and pulling on one foreleg, Roseclaw pulling on the other, and Free pushing from the rear. They sprawled all over the huge bed as Path slid up onto the covers.

Panting, Twilight declared, “I need to take a breather for a moment.” She laid her head on Path’s shoulder, took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“I think I’ll rest a moment too,” Roseclaw said. “It’s a long walk to my room, and after doing this, I’m worn out.” She rested her head on Path’s back.

“Great night though,” Twilight murmured.

“Yeah, really great,” Roseclaw agreed almost inaudibly.

Free looked at the three, grinned and shrugged. “I think I’ll wait to escort you to your room, Twi.”

“Uh-hmm,” was Twilight’s only response.

Free rested his head on her rump, and when she did nothing to object, he sighed happily and murmured to himself, “Now this is the way to end a great day.”

# # #

Quiet Words was surprised to find that he was the first one up this morning. Most days, Princess Sparkle had not only arisen, but showered, brushed, and made her day’s itinerary. However, he believed that she had gone out for a social evening, and perhaps needed a bit more sleep. He would call her a little later if necessary.

The other two did not need such consideration though, and he headed off to Long Path’s room to give the stallion a wake-up call. He opened the door to his room and stopped in shock when he beheld Path, Twilight, Free and Roseclaw all snuggled together, still sound asleep. He quietly closed the door again, and then went in search of breakfast.

“They didn’t train me for this in diplomat school,” he grumbled.

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

 
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