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.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/284135/the-one-who-got-away

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6. Waves

“His finny coursers and in triumph rides,
The waves unruffle and the sea subsides.”

--Virgill, The Aeneid

“Ripple?” whispered a quiet voice. “Are you here?”

The floating sensation of flying through a field of butterflies faded as Gaberdine began to arise from his dream. It was such a pleasant voice that gently caressed his ear with the melody of sound, floating through his sleep-befuddled mind even as traitorous eyes and ears began sending signals to his mind that dawn had just occurred, and the time for dreaming was over.

He opened his eyes to the brilliant ray of sunlight that chose that moment to illuminate his bedroom and cast an iridescent backlight across the beautiful unicorn… that is, seapony unicorn mare who was poised in the middle of his room as if at any moment she would be forced to flee for her life.

For an infinite moment, he lay there in complete silence, almost afraid to breathe while trying to get up the nerve to speak. Quite possibly he would have suffocated if not for the sound of splashing from his bathroom, mixed with a young giggling voice and a short but annoyed quack.

“Podunk?” Both he and Pearl said the word at exactly the same moment and exchanged startled looks before Gaberdine made a desperate attempt at a smile and added, “Jinx?”

Her instinctual laughter was as melodic as bells, and far too short for Gaberdine’s preferences as she cringed afterwards and started to turn away. “Sorry!” she blurted out.

“Pleasedon’tgo!” he whispered quickly in return. “She was frightened last night and needed a place to curl up.” He looked down at the mud-stained blanket beside the bed and quite firmly repressed his natural unicorn urges to call immediately for a maid to have it properly laundered. “I guess she wanted a bath too this morning,” he added. His eyes tracked upwards, past Pearl’s large pale hooves and the mud stains that darkened her creamy well-muscled forelegs. Nearly every inch of her was spotted by specks of mud or loose sand, from her tangled mane up to that beautiful face that took his breath away and those dangerous green eyes that seemed almost black in the shadows of his bedroom. “You’re…”

“I’m sorry for intruding into your bedchambers,” said Pearl, blinking wide dark lashes across those dangerous eyes but not looking away. “I should be going.”

“Pleasestayforbreakfast,” he added in a rush. “I mean… since Ripple seems to be having so much fun in the bathtub, and you had a rough night what with the loose barge and the storm, please allow me to treat you to breakfast as a way of saying thanks. Just for a little bit. Until Ripple is done in the tub. Please?”

“Well…” Fear fought against temptation until Gaberdine could hear a quiet ladylike rumbling from the young mare’s stomach that drowned out the happy giggles and quacks from the bathroom. “Just for a few minutes. Until Ripple is done with her bath.”

* * *

Breakfast was a disaster. Sen was sound asleep, and Gaberdine really did not want to disturb him, but after burning several pieces of toast, nearly chopping a hoof off while slicing a grapefruit and managing to squirt both of them in the eyes with grapefruit juice, he somehow reduced an entire pot of boiling oatmeal to a gluey substance that claimed three serving spoons before he gave it up as a lost cause and dropped the whole mess into the sink. Pearl watched it all from hooded eyes, silently peeling and devouring an orange one small slice at a time in a slow process that Gaberdine could not determine if it was concealing derisive laughter or sympathy.

She only nodded when asked if the rescue of the barge went well, and shook her head to indicate that none of the seaponies were injured in the night. The one-way conversation stumbled with every cooking failure and every awkward moment as they both reached for the same kitchen towel or washcloth with their magic until he had embarrassed himself into a crimson blush.

Ripple saved him from incinerating yet another innocent loaf of bread by flopping somewhat gracelessly into the kitchen/galley while wearing nearly every multicolored towel that Gaberdine had seen in the closet. Podunk was wrapped in his own towel, to his dissatisfaction, but his three little pinfeathered fledglings were happily waddling along after their father and promptly pounced on the burnt pieces of toast that had somehow been knocked on the floor during Ripple’s dramatic entrance.

“Mommy! Look! I took a bath and got all shampood up for you and Mister Baron Gaberdine’s date tonight.”

“Date?” squeaked Pearl almost at the exact same moment that Gaberdine dropped the rest of the loaf of bread and the butter knife. Ripple’s innocent green eyes blinked in surprise from behind the layer of towels heaped over her head, and then she ducked as Podunk made his escape from the towel wrapped around the frustrated waterfowl. Three smaller ducks and one larger duck running around the floor of the ship’s galley brought the whole fiasco to a confused end, and by the time Gaberdine had managed to shoo all of the little feathered fiends back out into the lagoon and return to the scene of the crime, it was remarkably free of any pony presence, seapony or otherwise. Although the mess was still there.

* * *

Several hours later as the dejected baron finally managed to find the last orange peel and finish washing the last dish in the last drip of water from the depleted storage tanks, Sen wandered into the galley with a yawn and a healthy scratch.

“Mornin’ sir. Sleep well?”

It would have been easy to take out his frustrations on the elderly servant, but the storm last night had given Gaberdine a new respect for Sen’s vast experience, as well as a sense of camaraderie as the only other pony with hooves in the immediate vicinity. Actually thinking about that brought up a rather odd memory of his scrambled morning and Gaberdine responded in a rather distracted fashion.

“No, I didn’t sleep very well, Sen. Ripple was afraid of the thunder last night and curled up in the bed until her mother dropped by this morning to pick her back up.”

Both of Sen’s greying eyebrows nearly vanished into his receding forelock. “Miss Pearl came into your bedroom? That’s quite a statement of trust, sir.”

“Well… Yes, I suppose.” Gaberdine paused to luxuriate in the memory of delicate laughter that had echoed around his bedroom for a few scant moments, which reminded him of his original question. “Actually I wanted to ask you something about seaponies. I noticed that Pearl had hooves while Ripple… didn’t.”

“Yes, sur. On account that seaponies use their magic to turn their flippers into pony hooves when they come out of the water. Or at least the older ones. I don’t know how long Ripple has until she’s able to run around on land without looking a little like a seal.”

“She doesn’t look like a seal,” responded Gaberdine with a frown. “She’s a very nice little filly who happens to have… flippers. I’ll admit, I’m not very used to it at the present, but if I hadn’t seen a pegasus until yesterday, I’m fairly sure it would take me a few days to get used to the concept of a pony with wings too.”

Sen nodded. “I understand. I’m from an earth pony village, an’ when I saw my first unicorn, I’m afraid I may have stared at him a bit. Seemed a rather odd thing to have poking out of your head, but I adjusted.”

“Adjusted. Hm…” Gaberdine gave one last twist to the galley faucet and regarded the few drops that trickled out. “It looks like Ripple’s bath used the last of our water.”

“Explains the wet towels scattered all over the deck, sir.”

“Well, there’s a washing machine below decks. I suppose… that would work a lot better with some clean water too.”

Sen shrugged. “I’ve been spendin’ most of my nights in town, jus comin’ out here to work on the paperwork and the engine as much as I could. Brought out a couple of containers of water whenever needed. Feels good to see the old castle being put back into working shape.” The elderly earth pony shifted position with the pop and crackle of old joints. “I thought for a while it would just fade away into the lagoon an’ nobody would ever know it was there if’n I didn’t come by every day and keep it alive.”

Gaberdine considered the situation before picking up the damp towels from the galley and tossing them onto his back. “I’ll go see if I can rig the auxiliary generator onto the water purification system, Sen, if you’ll see about dinner for Ripple and her family this evening. Pearl should be a little less frightened with whatever relatives she has around her and they deserve something nice for helping with that barge last night.”

“She left me a note from the barge crew, sir.” Sen passed over a somewhat wrinkled and damp piece of paper while adding, “They passed along their thanks. Coulda lost a couple crew members without their help. Barge was loaded with mixed grains and vegetables headed for Baltimare from what it sounds. Normally the captain of the barge will drop off the equivalent of a fruit basket when they go by if they’re feeling generous. That’s how we wound up with all of those oranges from a few weeks back.”

“Well, that makes sense,” said Gaberdine, distracted at the possibility of several thousand containers of barley showing up on the gangplank as Pearl’s reward. “Let me get belowdecks and see if cross-plumbing the two systems is practical before we wind up hip-deep in cauliflower or brussel sprouts.”

* * *

Trying to tie together two different sets of low-pressure steam pipes was a nice distraction from thinking about the mythical existence of seaponies and his shifting perception of the cute little filly, but the thoughts still perked up at odd times. As a foal, Father had read him stories about pirates and the mystical denizens of the distant oceans which seemed so fantastic and unreal when compared with the yearly family trip to their oceanside vacation house in Cape Clod. The seashells and crabs he had joyfully pursued were obviously real, but pirates and seaponies had only existed on the colorful pages of storybooks for him until now.

I wonder if isolated seaponies tell stories to their children about mythical ponies who live above the water?

“Hello, Mister Baron Gaberdine!” Ripple’s cheerful face filled a porthole, turned almost upside-down so she could look at the piece of pipe he was fitting to a valve that he had added to the auxiliary generator on the main deck. “What’cha doooin?”

“Finding a way to refill the water reservoir,” he responded almost instinctively while trying to catch a glimpse of her flippers, which must have been braced against the small ledge that ran around the outside of the ship. In hindsight, it gave her the perfect spot to stay propped up to watch what was going on through the porthole and still keep her hind… flippers in the lagoon.

“Are you going to be able to make hot water?” asked Ripple with a few extra excited splashes. “The bath this morning was sorta tepid.”

“Actually… Well, I hadn’t thought of that,” admitted Gaberdine. “I wanted to get the water filtration system set up first, and I didn’t think about what came next.”

“Since the hot water heater uses steam from the main boiler, it’s not going to work the way it is now,” said Ripple, floating the book off the nearby table and flipping through it with her magic. “But we could hook up the main boiler and just run water through it on low to heat it, and use the auxil’ry thingie to pump it into the tank,” suggested Ripple. “That way we could have lots and lots of hot water until it cools off.”

Gaberdine considered the idea, and helped Ripple doodle out a rough plan for it on the back of a loose piece of paper. As long as they used low-pressure piping, there should not be any real danger, but he checked each fitting as they worked through the morning, turning their scribbled plans into a neatly tied-up set of piping reaching across the engineering belowdecks space with only a brief break for lunch.

As they munched on a few alfalfa-seed bagels and some haychips that Sen had managed to find somewhere, Gaberdine kept an eye on the simmering boiler ever so slowly heating up water. It was just one of the drastic changes in his life that had happened over just the last few days. Life in the bureaucracy of Equestria was a rather bland and predictable series of events with bland and predictable ponies, if you did not count Equestria’s princesses. Over the last few years as he had worked his way up the Budgetary Accounting Evaluation Subcommittee Advisory Group’s employee directory, he had thought the high point of his life would be in about twenty years when he would finally take the chair position and run the entire group. It was a simple matter of addition and subtraction. As each new employee started and the old employees retired or went to other subcommittee assignments, his star would rise, slowly but surely, until…

Well, to be honest, he had never considered just what would happen afterwards. Father had always impressed on him that hard work made one happy. All of his associates in school had followed along, although they never really seemed to be ‘happy’ with their lot in life, no matter how high in the organization they climbed, which made him realize something that had been staring him in the face for the longest time.

He was happy.

Much as a fish was not able to tell they were wet, he had never realized just how unhappy he had been in Canterlot, and the idea of returning to his old job turned his stomach. There, he was only one featureless cog in an immense machine. Here, he was himself. He had never thought that reading stories to such a little pony and building a network of piping in the bottom of a decaying old riverboat could possibly be fun.

The cold freshwater tank was taking considerably longer to fill with only the auxiliary generator pushing water through the filters, so once the boiler had warmed its clean contents to a safe non-scalding temperature, he turned the main fire off and pulled out a quill while watching the remainder of the slow process. It gave him plenty of time to sketch out a few letters to several ponies in Canterlot while Ripple was splashing happily out in the lagoon and playing tag with Podunk and the other ducks.

His business associates from court and work were not friends, but they were ponies with considerable political ‘pull’ in the Court. One or two dropping over at a time to enjoy a few days away from the stress of Canterlot would be as many as he really would want on board Castle Paradise, somewhat of a small and very cosy retreat where they might even enjoy the fleeting glimpse of a seapony or two. Since he really did not want to return to his present career, it would, in some regards, allow him to have his cake and eat it too. The thought made him add another letter to Her Royal Highness with an invitation which most probably would not even get read, let alone acted on.

And after some thought, he added one for each of the other Royal Highnesses. The least he could do was to offer, even though they would never take time from their busy schedules just for him.

The knock of a hoof at the doorway distracted Gaberdine from his sketchy notes as Sen poked his head into the engine room with a quick and seemingly positive glance at the considerable pipework his new baron had done. With a little help from Ripple.

“Afternoon, sir. I’m back from the village with most of the food for the dinner this evening, an’ was wonderin’ if you wanted to run the grill or the deep fryer.”

“Grill?” asked Gaberdine as he folded up the letters for later delivery. “My father showed me how to properly do kabobs and such, but I’ve never been partial to deep-fried carnival fare.”

“Ya ‘tain’t never had nuttin’ like this before. Tell you what,” he continued as the two of them headed upstairs. “I’ll run the fryer, you do the kabobs, and we’ll see if any of the ladies want to help out. Mostly they’ll stay in the lagoon if they’re feeling a little skittish, ‘cept the ones who dress out the fish on the bank.”

“Fish?” Gaberdine stopped cold at the top of the stairs and looked at the empty lagoon as if perhaps a giant trout were about to eat the old houseboat. “Um…”

Sen slapped his liege casually on the shoulder and kept walking. “That’s the spirit, sir.”

* * *

Gaberdine was having a difficult time keeping his mind on the proper arrangement of the grill, despite all of the lessons he had learned from his father regarding a stallion’s rightful place with tongs and oatburger flipper-thingie held firmly in his magical grasp. He had tried to concentrate while scraping, brushing, and arranging the charcoal as to bring the cooking surface to exactly the correct environment, but a happy Ripple splashing around in the lagoon just a short distance away kept bringing his mind back to the piscine star in the upcoming evening meal. Even soaking the bamboo skewers reminded him of the water, and the hissing noise of the olive oil as he painted the hot surface brought a certain scent up to his face that only became obvious after some thought.

The previous baron cooked fish on this grill.

He struggled with the realization as he chopped and marinated the huge collection of vegetables and mushrooms that Sen had brought, finally coming to a much more important realization that made the first one somewhat less important.

The previous baron cooked for the seaponies on this grill. Certainly I can too.

They obviously had liked it, from the reaction of Ripple at least as she happily switched from splashing between the lagoon and lunging up onto the edge of the water to stare at the hot grill, over and over, until the first pair of curious eyes could be seen out in the lagoon.

“Looks like the guests have begun to arrive,” said Sen rather quietly, as if not to spook the skittish seapony. Actually two, now that he was looking. And then a third. They were almost invisible against the still water except for their relatively short horns that stuck up just above the surface and glowed softly as if they were each carrying a concealed burden.

Lifting a hoof to gesture the timid seaponies in, Gaberdine called out, “Come on over to—”

Five small ripples were his only response as the seaponies dove beneath the calm surface of the lagoon.

“Darn.”

Sen chuckled through the wooden spoon in his teeth as he stirred a creamy batter around in a huge bowl. “Don’t worry, sir. Have patience. They’ll come out when they’re ready, and not before.” He eyed the setting sun and stood up to begin walking back inside the houseboat. “Let me just get the lights set up and the auxiliary engine switched over to the generator so we don’t get distracted in the middle of cooking.”

Gaberdine eyed the tranquil lagoon while busying himself with the skewers and herb rub. The kabobs would cook faster than the… fish, but it would be best to get them all set up before cooking actually started. Dad had always been careful to match the contents of the grill with the number of noses at whatever event he had been cooking for, but the only thing that Gaberdine could see out in the lagoon were the bare tips of a dozen or so…

Or maybe two dozen horns, slowly rising up from out of the water.

At first he thought it was only his imagination that he could pick out Pearl by her dark green eyes in the midst of so many others of similar hue. Then her horn began to move slowly towards the damp riverbank, rising as it went and exposing just a little more of her at a time, from her off-white coat looking so much like milk to her shimmering greenish and yellow mane flowing down the back of her neck.

She hesitated for a painful moment, nearly half out of the water with rivulets still dripping out of her sodden mane. It was a moment he would remember forever, and he could not help but compare her to the Botticelery painting of the alicorn Venus rising from the sea, lacking only wings to make the comparison complete. A deep breath had caught in his throat while she hesitated, finally released in a silent sigh as her horn glowed slightly brighter and she resumed her slow and graceful pace to the water’s edge. He barely noticed the stringer of fat fish she towed behind her, or even that there were several other seaponies cautiously emerging after her. Pearl-like beads of water flowed across her sides in long strands, catching the setting sunlight in iridescent sparkles that brought his pounding heart up into his throat. A damp lock of that perfect mane slipped down over one eye as she walked in his direction, and he luxuriated in the pure bliss of her voice while she talked.

And then after a moment, as she stood there and regarded him with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, she spoke again.

“Baron Gaberdine? Hello?”

“Yes?” Blinking seemed to break the spell he was under, particularly if done rapidly, but it caused his scrambled mind to blurt out, “I love y… your mane! Yes, your mane. Of course. That’s what I meant.”

Her giggle in response made his heart skip a beat as she lifted one overly-large hoof and brushed the damp strand of mane out of her face. “Oh, you must be kidding. It’s such a mess. The storm churned up so much sediment in the water that it’s like swimming through smoke. I must look like such a disaster area.”

“I have a shower,” he volunteered out of reflex. “Ripple and I got the freshwater system working this afternoon and filled the tanks. We even washed the towels.”

“Really?” A small smile broke out on her beautiful face and spread to Gaberdine by sheer radiant transmission, or at least that was what his flushed cheeks seemed to indicate.

“We even have hot water,” he added while being swept away by those sparkling eyes.

“Hot water?” echoed across the small lagoon as most of the seaponies surfaced. All of the sudden, dozens of feminine eyes all latched onto Gaberdine with the fierce intensity of starving predators when faced with wounded prey.

“Can we use your shower, Mister Gaberdine?” called out one seapony mare.

“Do you have any shampoo?” asked another.

“And a brush?” added another.

* * *

Less than an hour later, Gaberdine managed to make it back to the grill. Ripple had been active in his absence, carefully keeping the vegetable kabobs moving from the marinade, to the grill, to the finished bin where giggling seapony mares were scooping them out as fast as they dropped in. There was a certain mental circuit-breaker somewhere inside his head that had tripped rather solidly and was refusing to close again, due to the constant string of gorgeous seapony mares who had followed his every instruction regarding proper shower use with rapt attention.

In his family home, Gaberdine’s older brothers had been hot-water hogging monsters, seemingly making it their life's goal to keep their little brother freezing under the showerhead. The seapony mares squealed in delight with every spritz of water, conserving the precious clean substance as if it were worth thousands of bits a drop. Now, dry towels draped the damp manes of a dozen mares lounging around on the grassy banks of the lagoon as each of them brushed or combed their way to aquatic perfection, except for the diligent mares in the tail end of the shower line who were patiently using their wait time to fillet the fish.

At first, Gaberdine had been a little hesitant about the scaled main focus of dinner, mostly because he had considered the problem of separating whatever were good bits away from whatever were bad bits of the fish, and had drawn a complete blank at the difference between them. The mares who had taken over the cleaning process had no such hesitation. Flashing knives held in their magic sent scales, bones, and guts pouring into a number of buckets while pale pinkish-white slabs of flesh stacked up beside them. If they could use those knives against attackers as well as they were using them against the fish, it was a wonder that the seaponies needed refuge here, but then again, whoever they were fighting at sea was probably as good or better with a blade.

Sen had taken to rolling up little balls of cornmeal and dropping them into the deep fryer while waiting on the first fillets to arrive, and the seaponies were gobbling them up like the popcorn balls he had prepared beforehoof. There were far more seaponies than Gaberdine had anticipated, each of whom were stunningly beautiful in their own way. But his eyes kept returning to the off-white coat of Pearl as she strolled through her fellow mares with a platter of fish fillets held in her magical field. She walked up to him and spoke, with every syllable echoing around in his otherwise empty head.

Whatever it was seemed to set the rest of the seaponies giggling, and Pearl blushed a bright red before repeating herself. “I said, are you ready for the fish, Baron Gaberdine?”

“Whenever you want,” he replied, still luxuriating in the sound of her voice and hoping she would speak again.

“I’ll just set them down here on the table. There we go.” She shot him a quick glance from beneath lowered lashes and added in a husky whisper, “Do you know how to fry fish?”

“Whenever you want,” he answered, which made her only blush brighter, and his own cheeks burn bright red once he realized just what he had said and the giggles from the surrounding mares soaked into his burning ears. “Right,” he added. “It shouldn’t be too hard. Fish. Fire. Flour.”

His franticly-searching eyes fell on the wooden slab that was sitting next to the flour bowl, and a set of small cramped writing scratched into its surface. “First, dip the fillet into the whipped eggs,” he read. “Then, press into flour mixture on each side. Fry until golden, flip, and fry until flakes. Flakes?” He looked up into Pearl’s amused eyes. “Fish flakes?”

“I’ll help,” she whispered, moving up beside him and guiding his magic into dipping the first fleshy slab of fish into the gooey egg mixture.

* * *

As much as Gaberdine wished he could capture every moment of that magical evening, all he seemed to remember was standing by Pearl’s side at the grill and talking. She told him of her family and their life at sea while he echoed with the discussion on his own life high in the mountains of Canterlot. The river seemed a compromise between their homes of sea and mountain, as well as the compromise they struck at the grill. She tentatively tried the oatburgers he cooked, spiced and dashed with peppers the way his father had taught him, and his father before him, all the way back to the origin of oats. He tried the fish fillets, both fried to a golden brown and flaking as well. They even sampled several of Sen’s deep fried and cornmeal battered delicacies as a compromise. They laughed, with her soft voice like bells sounding at every giggle and him determined to hear that voice as often as possible. Sometime during the evening, Sen had retrieved a very young keg of cider and distributed it around, and while Pearl did not imbibe more than a single mug, it brought a smile to her lips and a glow to her cheeks that fanned the flames in his heart until he thought he would erupt into flames on his own. There was even music from an old phonograph that Sen had found somewhere, and a few gently-swaying mares out across the grassy riverbank had driven Gaberdine’s mouth to go where his mind would not.

He invited her to dance.

And to his delight, she accepted.

She smelled of lilacs from his shampoo, as well as the low scent of river water underlying it all. As much as he wanted to bury his nose in her mane as they swayed, neck pressed against neck, he contented himself with one polite sniff and a sigh, echoed to his great joy by hers.

Between cooking and dancing and talking, the evening slipped away until only the two of them remained under the stars, nursing the last few dregs of a mug of cider between them. He wanted to fall on his knees and beg her not to go, to offer her his entire kingdom if she would stay but one night with him, but he knew better. She had been hurt so badly by the war under the waves with the loss of her husband and family that he could not add one more hurt to her collection of pain. So instead, he held his tongue while she made her excuses and thanks for a wonderful evening, turning to glide back into the water with long, slow steps.

She paused with only her hocks dampened, looking away out into the dark and moonlit river where she had made her home for the last decade, then turned and dashed back to him as if a thought had occurred to her, and she had to take action before it vanished. Her breath smelled of fish and oats, but for that moment it was an ambrosia that he would be willing to breathe for the rest of his life as her lips raised up and touched his.

And then she was gone, with only some splashing out in the bay to trace her rapid passage back into the river.

* * *

Cleaning up after the dinner was a blur, although Gaberdine had never felt as indebted to Sen as this evening. The elderly earth pony helped pick up before guiding Gaberdine back to his own room, supervising his tooth brushing, and tucking him under the covers as one might a child.

Much as in his childhood, sleep did not come easily to Gaberdine. The letters he had written to his business associates in Canterlot bothered his conscience. There had never been a party in their company where Gaberdine had felt this glorious sensation fill his chest and spill out all over his soul like a calming balm.

Canterlot parties always seemed to involve alcohol and class sniping in equal volumes, a vicious social dueling atmosphere where political points were counted in blood, and to bring that kind of environment to what happened this evening would be a crime beyond all others. Even inviting Their Highnesses for a peaceful evening such as this seemed problematic, due to the level of society that congregated around them like remoras around sharks. The high likelihood of the innocent young seaponies being used in some political fashion was almost assured. He slid out of bed and retrieved the letters he had written with some small fraction of his accountant's heart thankful that he had not placed stamps upon the envelopes yet. One at a time, he fed them into the cold iron stove in his room, using his magic to burn them to ashes until only the enchanted parchment for the census remained.

He spread it out on his desk, considering the words that needed to be said and the ones that did not. It took a long, long time, and some small fraction of his mind occupied the time by drawing little interconnected garlands of roses and hearts down the side of the paper, intermixed with sketches of all three of their cutie marks. It really did not matter, as it was only to be a draft of his final report which was due tomorrow. His pen seemed to have a mind of its own as he sat and thought, sketching out an artistic profile of Pearl and her daughter. He could not get the eyes right in order to truly capture their amused sparkle, or even Ripple’s little twist at the corners of her mouth that always seemed to be at the brink of breaking out into a grin, mostly because it was.

Eventually after he ran out of space to doodle, he turned the sheet over and began to write his draft.

Barony of Fen
Draft Census (Fourth Revision)
For Her Highness Princess Celestia and Princess Luna’s Eyes Only

Permanent Residents of the Barony

Twenty-three miscellaneous seaponies, each of whom is more beautiful than the last
One (1) male duck named Podunk
Three (3) Adolescent duck offspring, who do not listen to their father (above)
One (1) loyal old earth pony named Sen 
One (1) young seapony filly named Ripple
One (1) beautiful seapony mare named Pearl, who is Ripple’s mother. My heart sings when I am in her presence, and there is no mare in all of Equestria who I would choose over her, not even a Princess. I shall be indebted to you for the rest of my life for this position, even if tonight was the only time I will ever see her, because for this one night, I have truly found paradise.

Your faithful servant
Baron Gaberdine of Fen

Gaberdine looked the draft over with a chuckle, fixing a single punctuation mark here and tidying up a character there. It seemed outrageously humorous and sappy at the moment, but as the time was far past midnight, it was more likely the fatigue than any sudden stroke of insight from the Muse of Comedy. A yawn escaped him as he hesitated over the last few words, remembering how the occasional Royal in Equestria would set their romantic sights on the Princess of the Sun only to find the wax in their wings bursting into metaphorical flames as they drew near. Some mares were simply too far above one’s station in life, and Pearl could not have been more above Gaberdine than if she lived in a tower in Cloudsdale.

Or… maybe not.

He snorted one last time in derision before trudging to bed and slipping back beneath the covers. Tomorrow would come far too soon, and after reaching out with his magic to turn off the light, he sent the letter on its way before dropping off to sleep.

   
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