The One Who Got Away

When Gaberdine is awarded a noble title by Princess Celestia, he soon finds out that his new lands contain several surprises. For starters, there is no land in his new barony. Secondly, his new castle turns out to be a broken-down riverboat. And third is… seaponies.

Baron Gaberdine has a lot to learn about his new barony. And himself.

Fortunately, he has a very young teacher.


7. Anchorage

Betwixt two rows of rocks a sylvan scene
Appears above, and groves for ever green:
A grot is form'd beneath, with mossy seats,
To rest the Nereids, and exclude the heats.

—Virgill, The Aeneid

A brilliant light burst through the tiled glass window that made up so much of Gaberdine’s bedroom wall, spraying his bed with such force that even under the covers, he had to pull a foreleg over his eyes. In contrast, the cool breeze that trickled into his room from the open door brought with it the tantalizing scent of baking pancakes that fought valiantly with his determination to remain in bed until a respectable hour. Noon, perhaps. He was a baron now. He could sleep in whenever he wanted. Somehow he doubted that Sen would bring him breakfast in bed, though. Perhaps a compromise was in order. Maybe if he moved the bed into the kitchen.

“Good morning, Mister Baron Gaberdine!” The distinctive slithering-flop noise of a young seapony traversing the steamboat’s deck filtered to Gaberdine’s ears despite the thin comforter he was holding over his head. “I found your mail outside. You got two boxes, and the big one rattles when shaken. Are you going to get up, Mister Gaberdine?”

Surrendering to the inevitable and the unavoidable, Gaberdine poked his nose out from under the covers and regarded the young seapony looking back at him. “Yes.” It seemed a sufficient response to the relatively uncomplicated question, but it brought him face to face with a different problem.

While looking at Ripple, Gaberdine felt a shock all the way to his tail that sent his heart into a sudden hammering fit. He suddenly remembered accidentally sending the doodled and scribbled draft of the census to Princess Celestia complete with a drawing of the little seapony and her mother last night just before he went to sleep. Complicating matters was the fact that the exact same letter that he remembered sending was, in fact, sitting on his nightstand right exactly where he had left it, complete with a little red ribbon around the middle that he certainly did not put there.

There were two slightly-damp additions to the side of the Letter-That-Was-Not-Supposed-To-Be-There. Both were boxes, one quite a bit larger than the other, but both were adorned with the golden sun and silver moon of the Diarchy. After a little thought determined that whatever was in the boxes was not going to be discovered by simply staring at them and sweating, Gaberdine swung his legs out of bed and considered the decision of which box to open first.

On Hearth's Warming Eve in Canterlot, the boxes that rattled had the best presents.

Opening the large box took more effort than he realized, particularly with the bright attentive eyes of Ripple glued to his every motion. There was a folded sheet of crisp paper inside, marked with both the Celestial Sun and Moon symbols in gold and silver, and he took a deep breath before reading aloud.

From: Their Royal Highnesses, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna
To: Ripple, on the occasion of your Cutie Mark

Dearest Ripple,

Please allow the both of us to extend our congratulations on the occasion of your cutie mark. This is a time of great joy in your life, and it deserves to be shared. Although we can not be there on this happy occasion, know that we share your joy at this auspicious event.

We are including several gifts which we believe will be of assistance with your special gift. First, in this box you will find a full toolkit—

"Cool!" Ripple hopped up and down with a splatting noise every time her flippers hit the floor. "Can I see it? Can I see it?"

Gaberdine raised one eyebrow and continued reading.

—which Baron Gaberdine will present to you at the end of this letter. Also, we are including a number of dragonfire-imbued scrolls for your use. My sister and I enjoyed reading the reports that Baron Gaberdine has sent us so much, that we would appreciate it if you both were to continue sending us letters on a regular basis.

And last but not least, we have included this manepin with both of our symbols. At any time, you may present it to any of our guards for an audience with either of us, or both if you wish.

Princess Celestia and Princess Luna

"Awesome," breathed Ripple as she took the silver and gold manepin, holding it proudly in the sunlight that beamed into the bedroom. The starburst of Princess Celestia's cutie mark was pressed against the crescent moon of Princess Luna's mark, and the two symbols meshed perfectly in a way that reminded Gaberdine of two puzzle pieces interlocking. It looked even better when Ripple used it to tuck back the little strand of violet mane that kept falling into her eyes. The pin was perfect, just as if it belonged there all of the time and had just been discovered to be put to its proper use.

He beamed and complimented the little seapony as she admired herself in the mirror, and again later as she unpacked the entire Royal Equestrian Engineering Corps Naval Toolkit (Personal) to spread the contents out across every horizontal surface in the room. She only quit her detailed examination of the marvelous toolkit when Sen poked his nose into the bedroom and stated that the toaster had ceased to toast and wondered if perhaps there was anypony in the vicinity who could repair it. In the blink of an eye, the tools were back in the box, and both prospective future engineer and present engineering tools vanished out the door, followed by a suspiciously smug senechal.

The remaining small box that sat silently on the table had been ignored by both Gaberdine and Ripple, but now he had no excuse to keep from opening it up and examining the contents. Twenty-five thin silver rings bearing the crossed gear symbols of the Royal Equestrian Engineering Corps sat peacefully inside, as well as a somewhat smaller filly-sized ring with a small tag reserving it for later use upon parental approval. There was no note, but Gaberdine recognized the enchantments on the rings. They each could be worn on a unicorn horn, or seapony he supposed, and used as a homing beacon in dark or stormy weather, as well as identifying the wearer to any Equestrian guard in their vicinity.

He closed the box while thinking of the contents and their future use. Even after fleeing from their ocean homes, the shy and frightened seaponies had found a place in Equestria to live and heal from their ordeal. They needed this place in order to bring order to their lives just as much as the riverboat tugs needed them to protect their lives from job-related dangers of the unpredictable river. Like odd puzzle pieces that no longer belonged in an old puzzle, they had fixed themselves in this place to universal benefit.

With a nearly-audible click, his own destiny became obvious, as if he were a puzzle piece sliding into the last empty spot in a puzzle. He sat the box to one side for now and started on his way to the castle galley and the two ponies there.

It was where he belonged.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Lord Gaberdine, Current Baron of Fen, leaned against the rail of his houseboat/castle and considered the playful splashes and calls of the laughing seaponies frolicking in the sunset-stained lagoon. Each of the seaponies sported a new silver ring on her horn, almost invisible at this distance except for the faint glint when they would rise to the surface and toss their manes back.

They were all so sweet and innocent despite their traumatic trip to this refuge. Even through their ordeal, they still had a joy in just living and existing that the nobles in court could never understand. If Gaberdine had sent the letters he had written, all of the nobles that he had been begging favor from for so many years would flock to his location just to gawk and consider ways that they could exploit the aquatic ponies that he had barely gotten to know.

Canterlot had always been home to him, with all of its intricate political maneuvers forming a bitter backstabbing stew that he had swam through since he was a young colt. Now it was time to swim in a different environment far more pleasant than his lifetime home, and perhaps as he returned to Canterlot on occasion to carry out the responsibilities of his new position, he would be able to carry some of that purity back up the mountain.

He could barely see the clouds over the top of the Canterlot mountain from here, bright white things that shone in the setting sun like beacons. Perhaps in some way that was what the Princesses had been doing and would continue to do. By simply existing, they were living examples of what ponies and all other living creatures in Equestria should strive towards. It was a thought of considerable depth, and he contemplated it while simply soaking in the evening sun and listening to the sound of seaponies at play, or at least until a spray of water from the lagoon shocked him out of his thoughts.

With a loud quack of frustration, Podunk lifted off from the surface of the lagoon and landed with a squelch of wet feathers by Gaberdine's hooves. Right behind him, Ripple looked up with a second splash and a loud cry of "Unfair! No hiding out of the water when we're playing tag! Oh, hello, Mister Gabby. Did you want to come play with us? There's not much sunset left."

After a moment to put his thoughts in order, Gaberdine nodded. "That's a splendid idea, Ripple. Give me just a minute to write a note that I've been putting off and I'll be right there."

Lighting his horn with a faint glitter of silver from the ring around its base, Gaberdine scratched for a few moments onto the last official piece of enchanted parchment that Celestia had given him before finishing the enchantment and watching it turn to vapor and wisp off in the direction of far-off Canterlot. It was the last piece in the puzzle that needed to be set in place, but there would be more in the future. In particular, his eyes rested on one specific seapony in the splashing game they were playing at the far end of the lagoon, and the corners of his mouth turned up in a happy grin.

Gaberdine strode to the upper section of the deck where the bow stuck out over the water, carefully draped his tie over a nearby spar, and paused at the very edge of the sharp dropoff. He lit his horn with a water-breathing spell and crouched as the splashing of the distant seaponies died down into an intense scrutiny of the uncharacteristic behavior of their staid and stogy baron.

He jumped.

It was far from a neat cleaving into the cool lagoon. It probably could not even be described as a 'dive' either. It was more of an awkward belly-flop with an impressive splash, followed by an inexperienced paddling under the surface of the water. Still, it drew applause from all of the watching seaponies, more so from a young mother and her small daughter who laughed when he surfaced in front of them and shook the water from his sodden mane.

"So does this mean you're delaying your return home for another day, Gabby?" asked Pearl, splashing him with one flipper and grinning.

"You could say that," said Gaberdine with a matching smile.

Barony of Fen
Official Census (Final Revision)

Permanent Resident(s)

One (1) Seneschal Sienna of Fen
One (1) Baron Gaberdine of Fen

Transient Residents

Four (4) Ducks (one adult, three adolescents)

Your faithful servant
Baron Gaberdine of Fen

- - - - Cut Here - - - -

Princess Celestia and Princess Luna,

On behalf of my subjects and myself, I would like to express our appreciation for all that you have done for us.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.


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