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.


1. The Baron of Fen

“I sing of arms and the pony, he who, exiled by fate… “
--Virgill, The Aeneid

“Four-hundred and thirty five errors.” Those noble eyes had never once quit scanning the corrected document since Gaberdine had brought it to her, and he squelched a small feeling of triumph at the thought that Her Highness truly appreciated his work on the yearly budget.

“Yes, Your Highness,” echoed Gaberdine, still drawn up in the respectful posture he had assumed nearly a half-hour ago. His hooves hurt a little and his throat felt somewhat dry, particularly whenever Princess Celestia would take a small sip out of the teacup to her side. It was worth it to see the intense look of concentration on Her Highness’ face as she checked through the numbers and edits that his working group had put together on the unified Equestrian budget for the upcoming year. It was the high point in his career to date, and he had nearly burst with pride when the older ponies in his department had nominated him to make the presentation to Princess Celestia. After all, Parliament had taken many weeks of strenuous wrangling to get the budget passed, and the critical errors that he had uncovered needed to be dealt with before it could be signed and become law.

“Mostly missing apostrophes and improper capitalization,” she added.

“A correct budget is critical for the proper running of the country,” Gaberdine said, trying to keep the pride out of his voice. “There are several errors in the sums, also.”

“Seventeen bits,” said Celestia. “Shocking.”

“Indeed,” agreed Gaberdine. “Once all of the errors are corrected, the Parliament will need to vote on the budget again to make it legal.”

There was an exceedingly long period of time where Celestia did nothing but remain staring at the small red marks on the thick document in front of her. Then she set the budget down on the table with a thud and drew out a quill and some parchment.

“Lord Gaberdine,” she said quietly while writing, “the Equestrian government spends approximately one hundred and thirty-seven thousand bits per minute. The diligence you have displayed during your career in the Royal Treasury is a credit to your House, and to Duke Whinnysfield, your father.”

“Thank you, Your Highness.” Despite his best efforts, a small smile began to appear on Gaberdine's face.

“I’m not finished.” The scratching of the quill continued until Celestia rolled up the parchment and held it in front of herself, hovering in her golden magic. “Diligence such as this deserves a reward comparable to the benefit you are providing to our beloved country. Your father’s title shall eventually pass to your eldest brother Elderberry, if I am correct?”

“Yes, Your Highness. Or my second-eldest brother Plum, in the event Elderberry is unable to carry on the family name.”

Celestia nodded. “As you are aware, certain services to the Crown can be rewarded with noble titles, as House Whinnysfield was rewarded several centuries ago for their creation of the reverse-indexing filing system used by all branches of our Civil Service, correct?”

His heart beat faster with anticipation and unable to take his eyes off the scroll hovering in front of his nose, Gaberdine merely nodded.

“Good. For services above and beyond the call of your Royal duties as Court Clerk, I hereby bequeath you the Barony of Fen, under one condition.” The scroll bobbed in front of Gaberdine’s nose, and all he could do was follow it up and down while trying not to drool on the table. “A census.”

Blinking twice, Gaberdine echoed, “A census?”

Floating the scroll over to land in front of the stunned stallion, Princess Celestia nodded. “Yes, a census. You are to prepare a precise enumeration of every intelligent creature who lives in your new Barony by the end of this week, or the lands — such as they are — revert back to the Crown. The task would seem to be well within your ability. Do you think you can handle your new responsibility, ‘Baron’ Gaberdine?”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

After a somewhat panicked trip to the family library and a desperate journey through the records revealed that there had been a reasonably large Barony of Fenwick that encompassed the Fen Valley several hundred years ago, Gaberdine was feeling a little better. The original lands and the title had been divided into two smaller baronies — the Barony of West Fenwick and the Barony of East Fenwick — although there was an entry in the ledger that indicated a third son had managed to retain some of the original lands and the title of Baron, along with an ancestral castle. As a third son himself, Gaberdine considered the resulting split to be much more equitable than his own much less profitable division of the family estate, and prepared for his departure with haste.

Time was of the essence. With less than a week before the rather odd deadline and several sheets of dragonfire-imbued parchment from Princess Celestia to return the resulting census, Gaberdine used his own personal funds to hire a pegasus carriage for the long trip. He packed lightly, only a half-dozen books and his personal items, and with a kiss to his mother, he departed on his journey.

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