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.


3. Neighbors

“To this the goddess: "'It is yours, O Princess, to will
The work which duty binds me to fulfil.
These watery kingdoms, and this modest ship,
Are all the presents of your bounteous gift”
--Virgill, The Aeneid

Morning in Canterlot dawned fairly quietly, with only the singing of the birds and the distant noises of the servants going about their early tasks.

Castle Paradise was not Canterlot.

There had seemingly been a contest between the katydids and the crickets on the land and the bullfrogs on the water last night, with the occasional interruption by airborne owls and some horrid bird who made a booming ‘wwwhhhooooommmmm’ noise as it dove out of the sky. Gaberdine had spent half of the night with his pillow over his head and the other half flipping through his new library to see if perhaps there was a silence spell hidden anywhere.

There wasn’t.

And to make things worse, the bedroom of his new ‘castle’ was on the east side, with a large segmented window like the workroom and only very thin curtains. Celestia’s morning sun burned into the room with the intensity that only the direct and personal attention of the Princess of the Sun could possibly explain, and rather than attempt to shove towels over the window, Gaberdine dragged himself out of the sinfully soft bed and went to take his shower.

It was a nice shower in the bathtub, with a detachable showerhead and plenty of space for his lilac scented soap and mane conditioner, and a very proper hook for his back brush. It was a little dusty, but he used one of the old towels to clean off the worst of it while considering if it would be possible to hire a live-in maid for the creaky old ship, or if that would eliminate his guest room. Hanging his tie on the clothes rack, he stepped over the edge of the tub into the shower, closed the curtain, and turned on the water.

Or at least turned on the water faucet.

Several enthusiastic twists of both the hot and cold faucet got exactly the same results: dry squeaking noises.

“Sen!” he bellowed. “Where’s the water?”

“Out in the river,” came the thready reply from downstairs. “Without the main boiler running, we don’t got no pressure t’ run the condenser or the purification system, so I’ve just been bathing in a little hollow just behind the sidewheel. If’n you’re embarrassed about being seen by the seaponies, I could heat you up some water on the stove, if you want, sir.”

* * *

Some time later, a somewhat rumpled and slightly greasy Baron of Fen trudged into the kitchen/galley/office/workroom on the darker side of the ship where his eyes would not hurt so much. It was small, cramped, and low-ceilinged, but it was neat as could be and cleaner than he had expected. There was even an aged icebox with one of the modern filtering pitchers for cold water and quite a few oranges. By the thumping and clanging noise downstairs, Sen was still wrestling with the disassembled steam engine, but there was a speaking tube in the kitchen so Gaberdine used it to call.

“Sen, I can’t find anything for breakfast other than oranges. Where’s the coffee?”

“Been meaning to go pick some up, sir,” filtered up a weak voice from the tube. “Let me put away the tools and I’ll trot on over to town for some groceries.”

“Go ahead and pick me up a train ticket for Canterlot while you’re there,” said Gaberdine, opening up the icebox door and floating out a fat orange. “There’s really nothing left for me to do here.”

“There’s no train station in Gravel Flats, sir,” said Sen. “Nearest one is in Maple Junction, about a half-day’s trot from here. If’n I left right now, I probably wouldn’t get back until dark. Unless you want to hitch a ride on one of the barges going upriver, but there’s no tellin’ where they’ll make port.”

As much as Gaberdine wanted to object, the pegasus carriage had flown over the small nearby town on his arrival and to his best recollection, there had not been any train tracks visible. Trudging upriver on a fat barge slower than walking speed had little appeal to him, and walking back to Canterlot would take a few days. Although he had enough bits in his traveling money for a hotel room to freshen up before the triumphant return of Baron Gaberdine, it would be far more to his liking to move ‘Castle Paradise’ to a discreet mooring in Baltimare where a proper restoration specialist could bring it back up to original condition while he returned home with tales of his adventures.

And as much as he was reluctant to admit it, adventures which only warranted an overnight trip would not be very adventurous in conversation.

“On second thought, Sen, just get some groceries and I’ll work on the engine while you’re gone.”

“Are you sure, sir?” The speaking tube took a lot of the emotion out of a voice, but Gaberdine felt fairly certain that his new seneschal had just rolled his eyes at the concept of his prim and proper new baron getting his hooves greasy.

“Quite certain, Sen. It’s just a steam engine. How hard can it be?”

* * *

“How hard can it be?” muttered Gaberdine, sticking yet another colorful note into the thick maintenance manual of the ‘Steam Engine, Reciprocating - Model 57V with Triple-Action Pistons and Regenerative Steam Recapture’ before sitting it down on the wooden deck of the ship and heaving a sigh. He had walked down into the engineering space once Sen had left on his grocery run, but after one look at the maze of plumbing and fixtures, he had scooped up the manual and settled down for a serious read above decks. At least only the condenser was disassembled; if the whole engine had been in pieces, Sen would have returned to find an empty castle and a short note.

Gone to Canterlot. Good luck.

Instead, he positioned himself on the sun-warmed boards of the deck next to the water and plopped the dirty tome of steam engine knowledge down in front of him. It was merely a matter of organization, a task for which he had considerable talent, but the longer he read in the book, the more intrigued he became, even to the point of pulling several other books out of the castle library to compare. The little whistling steam engine that drove his toy steamship had some distinct relatives in the three-pistoned beast who lived in the bowels of the flat-bottomed ship and hungered for a mixed diet of rock oil or coal, depending on which was the least expensive to heat the boiler. Perhaps the ship could be called a second cousin twice removed, although the rather nasty burn he had gotten on one fetlock when his toy steamship had vented unexpectedly itched whenever Gaberdine found one of the sections written in large red letters that described just what happened to inattentive ponies who did stupid things like tying down the steam relief valve. There were at least three failsafe spells protecting the boiler, and the makers of the steam engine had bragged that none of their models had ever failed explosively ‘under normal operating conditions,’ which really did not comfort him very much, as an explosion could easily be counted as an extraordinary condition.

A series of quiet quacks from over the rail distracted him from the intricacies of the steam-water cycle, and he spared a look at a small family of ducks who had just paddled by. There was one somewhat mottled brown duck and three fledglings, all pinfeathers and beaks as they splashed and dove for breakfast. They reminded him of Canterlot and the overstuffed spoiled waterfowl who owned the small mountain lakes and streams, quacking and waddling right up to any pony who was foolish enough to feed them. With only a few orange peels to spare, he was fairly safe from being mobbed for duck food, so he returned to his studying with the splashing and quacking in the comforting background. The sun was warm on his back, and the noises of the river cove actually relaxing after the long night of sleeplessness, so with a yawn and a feeling of guilt, he slipped a bookmark into the Chapter Seven - Proper Lubrication section and laid his head down for just a moment.

* * *

It was the noise of pages being quietly flipped that woke him, a gentle crinkling of the page overlaid with a quiet humming. His first groggy thought was that Sen had returned and was referencing a section of the book for his repairs, but the voice that was carrying a childhood tune was far too high and sweet for that.

He opened one eye just a crack. The steam engine maintenance manual he had been using for a pillow in the warm sunshine had been joined by a rather colorful book titled ‘Quackers Goes To The Fair,’ which was hovering a short distance away in a soft green aura. A page turned, and the young voice he had heard before said, “And then Quackers realized that he was all alone, and had wandered away from his mommy. Oh, hello there. My name is Ripple. Are you one of Mister Baron Miller’s relatives?”

Gaberdine opened both eyes and yawned, looking at a young unicorn filly who had just barely gotten her head over the edge of the ship by tucking it under the rail. Her dark violet mane was still damp, most probably from swimming around in the lagoon, and she had a little sprig of waterweed tucked behind one ear, but most of her yellowish-green coat had dried already. Both eager young eyes sparkled with that overly-energetic wakefulness that the freshly-risen despised to the bottomless depths of a coffee cup, and her bright and cheerful smile only added to Gaberdine’s grouchy morning nature.

“No, I’m Mister… I mean Baron Gaberdine. What’re you doin’ on my boat?” he grumbled with a yawn.

“Mister Baron Miller always called it a castle,” said the little filly with a splash from her hind legs, most probably still in the dirty river water. “He used to read to me. B’fore he went to the Heavenly Pastures, that is. Since then, only Mister Sen will read to me, and he doesn’t make the funny faces and quacky noises like Mister Miller.”

Grunting again as he stirred stiff limbs from their positions against the unyielding wooden deck, Gaberdine reopened the maintenance manual and tried to look busy. “I’m sorry about Mister Miller, but I really don’t have time to read to you because I’m trying to get the boat… I mean ship ready to go to Baltimare.”

The little filly sucked in a breath of amazement. “Is Baltimare bigger than Gravel Flats?”

“Lots bigger,” said Gaberdine, trying to ignore the little filly and puzzle out the differences between the four types of lubrication the engine needed.

“If you take the castle to Baltimare, who will read to me?” she asked, making a few more splashing noises with her hindquarters in the water.

“I don’t care,” he snapped. “I just want to get the engine fixed so I can get out of here. Now shoo!”

There was a loud plop from the river as the little filly vanished, which Gaberdine considered to be a good thing until he realized there was no more splashing. “Kid?” he asked, peering over the edge of the ship into the shadows stretching across the lagoon. “Kid!”

The lack of ripples in the lagoon made his heart hammer as he considered just how young the little unicorn filly looked and how quickly a foal could drown in even a shallow bathtub. With a flash of his magic to toss his tie back onto the deck and a second flash to cast a water breathing spell, Baron Gaberdine stopped at the edge of the ship and bent his knees in preparation to jump into his watery barony.

Right as the little filly surfaced in front of him.

“Hello, Mister. Are you wanting to come swimming with me and Podunk?”

“Podunk?” Sitting down on the deck rather quickly to hide the trembling in his legs, Gaberdine swallowed. “Is Podunk your father?”

“No, silly. Podunk is a colt duck, just like Mister Quackers, only he doesn’t talk.” The little filly swam in a circle, quacking like a duck, then tossed her head back to get a strand of wet mane out of her eyes. “Come on in. The water is nice and cool.”

“And dirty,” said Gaberdine. “Look, I’ll read your book if you will go away afterwards.” After a moment to think, he added, “Aren’t your parents worried about you swimming around the lagoon all by yourself?”

“Mommy’s at work,” said the little filly, swimming in a small circle, “and Daddy was killed in the war back when I was born.”

“Oh.” Feeling like an idiot, Gaberdine looked down at the deck of the ship. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay,” she replied. “I never knew him. Mommy brought me here when I was really little, and Baron Mister Miller was really nice to us. He showed me how to use my magic to eat oranges.”

“Oranges?” Gaberdine looked over towards the river at the same time the little filly popped her head up above the edge of the deck.

“They’re yummy!” she declared with great enthusiasm. “Baron Mister Miller says they’re full of vittymins and minnows.”

“Minerals,” he corrected. “Look, if I read your book and give you an orange, will you go away without scaring me half to death?”

* * *

Five minutes later after a short story about Quackers and his favorite ball, he found himself sitting on the deck, watching the little greenish-yellow unicorn peel an orange with intense focus and an intriguing ongoing commentary that led him to follow along with his own orange. It took a lot more concentration than he was willing to admit to use his magic to spiral off the orange peel in a perfect line, but after a few false starts and a suppressed swear word or two, he was making a fairly good attempt at it.

At least until a musical voice in the distance shouted, “Ripple! Where are you?”

“Whoops, that’s my mother,” said Ripple, picking up her half-peeled orange in her green magic and holding it over her head. “I gotta go. See you later, Mister Gaberdine.” There was a splash and the little filly swam away, visible only by the orange she was holding above the water as she swam.

Gaberdine chuckled despite himself, settling back down with the engine manual while peeling the last of the orange. It was a warm feeling of happiness, most probably boosted by a stomach full of oranges, but it came back to him repeatedly over the afternoon as he studied and worked on the balky steam condenser, and every time the feeling struck, a small smile crept onto his face.

That smile lasted until late into the evening as he sat in the workroom with Sen, finishing off a late dinner while they cleaned scale from brass fittings. When the old earth pony shuffled off for bed, Gaberdine got up to return to his Baronial Bedchambers and paused. Returning to the table, he got out a piece of Celestia’s dragonfire-imbued paper and wrote one quick note, igniting it with his magic before heading to bed with a smile.

Barony of Fen
Official Census (Revised)

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

Transient Resident(s)
One (1) young unicorn filly named Ripple who swims in the lagoon.

By your command,
Baron Gaberdine of Fen

Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...