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.


2. Castle Paradise

“O Mussel! the causes and the crimes relate; 
What goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate“
--Virgill, The Aeneid

“Pardon me.” Gaberdine tapped one hoof firmly on the shaded gangplank leading into a somewhat dilapidated steamship. Instead of a modern screw-driven ship, it actually appeared to be a style from at least a half-century ago. A sidewheeler if the rather odd lump on one side was what he remembered from his history lessons. Perhaps it was a badly maintained antique or museum piece in need of a little hobby work. Having once put together a working model of a paddlewheel steamship, Gaberdine considered the wooden structure with a critical eye towards the future.

As a noble, it would be his responsibility to fritter away a certain amount of bits on irresponsible hobbies that could be used as conversation starters at court. Several of the young nobles had lately taken to sailing sky-yachts among the peaks of the Canter Range — which he viewed as needlessly dangerous — and purchasing a small riverboat might prove a useful and novel step in the endless dance of court politics. Perhaps he even could find some crafty fellow to fix it up for him after he took over his new barony, provided Gaberdine was able to find the cursed thing. Asking directions from the ponies in the vineyards of East Fenwick only produced the rather terse ‘Go West’ response, and when asking the same question in West Fenwick, the response was just as universally the inverse. At least a helpful soul had directed him to this area when he had mentioned Castle Paradise with the maddeningly obscure addition of the phrase of “You’ll know it when you see it.”

He tapped one hoof against the gangplank again, hearing the muttering and faint thumping of a pony walking up a set of stairs until a bedraggled earth pony trudged into view, his auburn mane a horrible contrast to his oddly colored coat. The elderly pony seemed a shade darker than orange, but just a tinge lighter than red, with dark black and brown striped smears that indicated his position as a mechanic or possibly some other sort of manual labor on the steamboat.

“Can I help you, young sir?” The elderly earth pony balanced a pair of glasses on his muzzle to squint at Gaberdine and the impatient pegasus carriage which he had hired. It had become more important to find his newly bequeathed castle as time had gone on today, as the muttering from the pegasi pulling his transportation had only been able to be quelled by the application of a large percentage of his traveling money for overtime.

“Yes, old-timer. I’m looking for Castle Paradise. I was informed that it was somewhere in this vicinity—” Gaberdine looked around the somewhat flat landscape, which other than the cottonwood trees towering overhead was notably lacking in a defensible short mountain or even tall hill to park a castle “—but we have not been able to locate it. Can you give us directions to the castle?”

The elderly pony paused in thought, his jaw moving in short jerky motions until he spat a stream of dark tobacco juice to one side. “Sure thing. You found it. Are you making a delivery?”

Gaberdine blinked. “I found it? Where?”

“Right here.” The crusty old pony gestured to an arch over the gangplank with IHTFP painted in large letters, and below in smaller golden script, the words S.S. Paradise IV.

“This isn’t a castle,” said Gaberdine. “It’s a boat.”

“Ship,” corrected the old pony. “She’s been docked for half a year now, since Baron Miller passed away. I’m the Seneschal until Princess Celestia appoints another baron or my arthritis gets bad enough that I gotta retire.”

“My castle is a ship,” murmured Gaberdine. “Are the ancestral lands that come along with the title a swamp?”

“Not exactly,” said the old pony, offering no further information.

“Well…” For a long moment, Gaberdine considered just climbing back into the carriage and flying home. This was obviously one of Princess Celestia’s epic pranks, and he was the punch line. Still, it was a barony in name if nothing else. If the old earth pony was taking care of all of the various particulars of running it by himself, all he really needed to do was to stay long enough to fill out a census. Then he could return to Canterlot as BaronGaberdine of Fen, much as several of his peers were barons or viscounts of bits of land so small that a stone could be thrown completely across them from one border to the next.

“I am the new Baron Gaberdine of Fen,” he said instead. “I have been sent by Princess Celestia to administrate this barony, which was left without heirs and reverted back to the Crown. Might I have your name?”

“I’m Sienna, Seneschal of the Barony of Fen and keeper of Castle Paradise,” said the old pony with a certain pride. “But you can just call me Sen of Fen. Come on in and we’ll get your stuff settled down in the old baron’s rooms. You play chess?”

“Somewhat,” said Gaberdine, motioning the carriage drivers to begin unloading his meager luggage. “I’ve never seen the point of it all.”

The old pony merely grunted, contributing his rather ineffective assistance to the process of unloading and storage. The old baron must have been a fairly competent unicorn, from the number of waterproofing spells around his small but tidy bedroom and extensive library. Some of the old baron's collection was appropriate for his station, from detailed genealogy charts to family histories, but some indicated the presence of younger ponies, such as an entire series of foal’s literature involving the adventures of a young duck named Quackers.

“So, Sen.” Gaberdine considered the elderly pony helping to arrange his small collection of scholarly awards on a nearby bedroom table. “I wasn’t able to get a straight answer from anypony else, but since you’ve been running the barony as seneschal for the last few months, you should know. What exactly are the extent of the Barony of Fen’s lands?”

“Well, it rather depends, sir.” Sen finished hanging up the engraved diploma from the Canterlot School of Business and tried to get it level. “You see, when the old Barony of Fenwick was broken up, one son claimed all of the lands west of the River Fen, and the other all of the lands east of the river. The third son was a thinker, though. He went straight to Princess Celestia and had both of his other brothers sign a pledge that the lands that they claimed were the full extent of their respective baronies.”

“I don’t see what relevance this has to a third barony,” said Gaberdine. “If one son took everything west of the river, and the other son took everything east of it…” The riverboat they were on took that moment to lurch slightly at its moorings and Gaberdine paused to consider just exactly how convoluted Princess Celestia could be when provoked.

“Yup,” said Sen. “Welcome to the Barony of Fen, consisting of everything underwater from the mouth of the ocean delta to the borders of East and West Fenwick.”

~ ~ ~ ⌛ ~ ~ ~

The newest Baron of Fen sat at his desk, carefully arranging a quill and several sheets of paper for a first draft of the census of his new lands. Or waters, as the case may be. The west side of the steamboat, or steamship as it would seem, had a magnificent thick glass window with multiple flat panes of glass that curved ever so slightly and broke the colorful sunset into a bright and cheery display that washed across his desk and the workroom he was sitting in. Next to him, the old earth pony whistled quietly as he ran a wire brush through a complicated brass fitting that was one small part of the steam condenser spread out across the deck below, a task that the previous baron had started, but had been so inconsiderate as to die of old age before finishing. The soft thump, thump, thump of the auxiliary generator at the rear, or aft end of the ship had faded into his mind already and seemed perfectly natural. It provided power for several modern lights that kept the desk just as illuminated as the finest desk in his Canterlot home, as well as illuminating the blank sheet of paper that he had intended on filling out nearly a half-hour ago.

Finally he took a deep breath and addressed Sen. “So my entire new barony is underwater, the only inhabitant is you, and ‘Castle Paradise’ is stuck here until the engine gets fixed.”

The old pony thought for a moment before going back to work. “Yup.”

“And the closest civilization where I could get a stiff drink is a small town about a half-hour trot away, correct?”

The old pony considered for a moment, then got up and opened up a nearby cabinet. “The old baron didn’t cotton much to whiskey on account of wanting to make a good impression on the neighbors, but I figures you need a drink, sir. Besides, the seaponies probably got scared off because of your carriage anyway. Don’t think we’ll see hide nor hair of ‘em until tomorrow late, at the earliest.” After pouring a hefty slug into the glass and sitting it to one side of his new baron, he dampened the rag down with another hefty dose and began to polish the inside of the brass valve.

Gaberdine took the half-filled glass in his magic and regarded the amber liquid inside with substantial skepticism. “Seaponies?”

“Yes, sir.” Pouring himself a small shot of whiskey, Sen sat back down at his bench and resumed polishing the persistent last bits of flakey scale out of the brass fitting.

“You do know that’s a river out there, Sen?” said Gaberdine, gesturing with the glass at the slow roll of waves that could been seen outside.

“Yep.” The old pony turned the brass fitting upside down and examined a particularly stubborn white flake of scale that was resisting the best efforts of brush and solvent-soaked rag.

“And seaponies are from the nature of the name, sea creatures, correct?”

“Can’t get nuttin’ past you, sir.” Sen took a thin tool that looked a little like a brass icepick in his teeth and began to clear the tiny lime deposits on the interior of the brass fitting with cautious scratches.

After waiting a sufficient amount of time to put a dent in the glass of admittedly fine whiskey/cleaning solution and to see if the old pony was about to admit the joke, Gaberdine continued, “How many ‘seaponies’ are there in the river?”

“Don’t rightly know, sir.” The old pony spit out the tool and tapped the fitting against the table with a dull clunk. “Them being underwater critters, that is. And terribly shy, too.”


Gaberdine regarded the blank sheet of paper for a lengthy period before dipping his quill and setting down a first draft. It took very little time, even after touching up the letters with ornate swoops and loops on a totally unnecessary second draft.

He transcribed the letter onto the first sheet of enchanted parchment with meticulous care, ensuring that every loop and swirl was as perfect as it could be before rolling it up into a scroll and tying it with a red ribbon. It only took a light magical touch on the dragonfire permeated scroll for it to burst into green fire and flow out of the room in a trail of smoke, vanishing off to the north on its rendezvous with Princess Celestia, who would get it almost at the exact moment she was lowering the sun for the day. In all probability, she would show it to her sister and the two of them would share a laugh at his expense, which was perfectly fine.

After all, he had gotten a title out of the deal, and that was all he needed.


He never even noticed the small pair of green eyes that watched from the dark lagoon as he turned off the light and went to bed.

Barony of Fen
Official Census

One (1) crazy old earth pony named Sen, currently residing on a broken houseboat.

By your command,
Baron Gaberdine of Fen

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