Drifting Down the Lazy River

This story is a sequel to The One Who Got Away

A frustrated young orphan colt with a talent for painting is determined to run away from his dead-end rural village for the distant cultural haven of Baltimare. All he needs to do is slip aboard a raft and drift down the river Fen until he reaches his destination. It’s a simple plan, and would have worked just fine except for one thing.




12. What Is Love?

"These was all nice pictures, I reckon, but I didn’t somehow seem to take to them, because if ever I was down a little they always give me the fan-tods."

— The Adventures of Buck Fin

“Good morning, Princess Luna. We’re very glad to see you. No, that’s not right. Hello, Princess Luna. Please come in. We’re honored to have you as a guest this morning. No, that’s still not right.” Turpentine shuffled uncomfortably, trying to use one hoof to get a little slack in the collar of his unaccustomed suit jacket. “Mister Gaberdine, I don’t understand why I can’t just paint Princess Luna out by the waterfall like I wanted. Besides, I’ll get paint on the suit.”

“I had Sen borrow an apron from Missus Shutters for you too,” said Gaberdine while tucking in the bedsheets on Turpentine’s bed for the seventh time this morning, each time seeming to twist the sheets tighter and more rigid than the last until Turpentine thought he might need a crowbar to get into bed tonight. “Besides, this is an official visit. Many other baronies or duchies haven’t had one of the princesses visit in centuries. I wanted to do this the right way.” He gave a twitchy glance around the inside of Turpentine’s room, now with all of the woodwork polished to a mirror-like gleam. “I just wish I could have gotten the engine all the way put together and the outside repainted. What if she wants to take Paradise out for a short cruise? What if she brings a photographer? Maybe I should clean up…” His eyes drifted over to the oil painting of the batpony nurse, in the last stages of drying on the cabin wall before it could be framed, but Turpentine stepped in front of it.

“No, Mister Gaberdine. I’m not putting it away. It’ll smudge, and besides, I wanted to show it to Princess Luna before I give it to Syrette.”

“But it’s… um…” Gaberdine helplessly gestured with a hoof and struggled to find a word that better described the way the nurse looked while under the waterfall, but he was interrupted before he could finish.

“It most certainly is.” Luna’s soft voice from almost directly behind Baron Gaberdine rendered the young stallion rigid and almost speechless, except for a subdued whimpering.

“Good morning, Princess Luna.” Turpentine looked around his room, which would have been a little crowded with all three of them in it, as well as the paintings on the walls. “Do you want to come in? You’ll need to be careful. Some of these are still wet.”

“Certes.” Luna’s dark magic aura formed around Gaberdine and floated the immobile stallion back out into the riverboat hallway so there would be a comfortably larger space in the room for the somewhat larger form of Princess Luna. She moved almost as graceful and smooth as she had the night Ripple had summoned the princess, with only a few hesitations that could have been from her own recovery from the flu, or perhaps just caution with so much wet paint on canvas against the walls. “My, my. You certainly have been a busy little colt.”

“Thank you, Princess Luna. I’ve been practicing a lot for your portrait. Mister d’Or at the art school said my style was old and out of date, but I think they’re pretty good.” He carefully straightened an inked line drawing he had done of the lagoon and let out his breath in a long sigh. “Baron Gaberdine says we should paint your portrait in the castle galley, since there’s better light there through the day.”

“I see.” Luna’s interested gaze stopped at the batpony nurse painting, which was just almost dry enough to be packaged up for shipping. “Syrette said you were planning a surprise, and refused to tell me what it was.”

“Well, I was.” Turpentine wriggled inside his itchy borrowed suit, which seemed determined to strangle him to death before the portrait sitting. Missus Shutters’ son had outgrown it several decades earlier, and as much as Turpentine liked Sen’s elderly widowed marefriend, sometimes she seemed just a little too helpful for his own good. The suit’s unwelcome scent of mothballs conflicted with the much more preferable perfume of drying oil paint, but with Luna in the same room and looking over his most recent works, the somehow sweet scent of perspiration from her morning flight drowned all of them out, and was terribly distracting to his almost eleven year old mind.

“I thought about painting you out by Ripple’s waterfall. Before it got too cold, that is. Baron Gaberdine thinks that’s not a good idea. He’s been getting awfully nervous over the last few days about having you out here.”

“I see.” Luna stopped her intensive investigation of the drying paintings and turned that warm teal gaze on Turpentine. “You must understand that Baron Gaberdine is a Canterlot unicorn. They set great store on propriety.”

“What’s that?” asked Turpentine.

“Doing things properly in the traditional fashion,” explained Luna. “And as is proper, we would prefer our discussion with our portraitist to be private.”

Gaberdine had been lurking outside Turpentine’s cabin, looking as if he wanted to interrupt, but Luna reached out with her magic and firmly closed the door with a quiet click. It seemed a little rude, and with as much as Gaberdine had done for Turpentine over the last few weeks, he felt it necessary to stand up for the young stallion.

“I really wouldn't mind having Mister Gaberdine in here while we talk. He’s been very kind to me and very supportive of my work. Mother Windrow always said most of the Canterlot unicorns have a stick up their…” Turpentine considered his next words carefully. Princess Luna seemed to be pretty normal for a princess, considering just what he had read about Celestia in the weekend editions of The Canterlot Times. He had even expected Baron Gaberdine to be much like the haughty mountain unicorns, but once they got to know each other, Gabby was more friendly than anypony in Turpentine’s home town.

Luna’s friendly warmth to him felt much the same. It seemed almost impossible that the smiling mischievous alicorn was related to the Princess Celestia he had read about in any fashion, or that Luna had once been the terrifying Nightmare Moon.

“My sister hath an upcoming event called Chuckle-Lot or something silly like that,” said Luna with the subdued smile Turpentine wished he could reproduce half as well in paint. “In it, she doth act the fool, both in dress and in activity. She insists that I participate this year, and even hath given me permission to use her unicycle. It is supposed to loosen up the stuffy court ponies and make them—” Luna coughed into a hoof “—lose the stick for at least a day.”

The smile was back on Luna’s face complete with dimples once she finished and Turpentine stood watching, trying to commit every single detail of her face to memory, because this opportunity would not likely come around again. Far too soon for his preferences, that enigmatic smile faded back into the calm expression the princess wore like a familiar practiced mask to keep her emotions from leaking out all over the ponies around her.

“Is there something you wish to ask, young Turpentine?”

“I…” He really did not want to say it, but he had to know, and it was just the two of them since Luna had shut Mister Gaberdine out of the room. Still, she was a princess, even if she seemed enough of a scamp to be one of Ripple’s relatives. “Before I paint your portrait, could I ask you something really important, Princess Luna? I mean really, really important.”

“Please. You may call me Luna, young one. And you have my leave to ask any question you wish.”

“Well… Okay.” Turpentine took a breath. “What was it like being Nightmare Moon?”

The warmth of her smile vanished and barriers across Princess Luna’s emotional reserves shuddered. Turpentine could see the interplay of dozens of small muscles in her face, fighting to get out from behind the frosty shield of her powerful restraint, and he quickly added, “Unless you don’t want to talk about it.”

“Why would I not wish to speak of my greatest failure?” asked Luna in a voice so cold Turpentine could swear he saw her breath in the warm air of the cabin. “It is quite simple. I was jealous of my sister and the love our ponies showered upon her. The Nightmare used that weakness to take advantage of my foolishness so that I would bring Night Eternal to our beloved world.”

Taken momentarily aback by Luna’s intensity, Turpentine sat back on his haunches, waved his forelegs, and talked rapidly. “No, no. Not that. I meant we read the newspaper articles and the history story that came out for school, and I’ve always loved Nightmare Night, but I always wondered about what it felt like. I mean all of the good villains in the stories in my books always do what they do because they feel it’s the right thing to do, but when I read the newspaper story I just couldn’t feel…”

The silence stretched for a long while until Luna let out her breath and closed her eyes. “I shall not justify my actions with lies, even to one young as yourself. You cannot know the jealousy burning within my breast during those dark days when my sister received the majority of our subjects’ love. Night Eternal was to be my victory, where all the ponies of Equestria would finally see the beauty of my night sky, and love me as they did her. Instead, it was a betrayal of the worst kind, as I threw away the love of my sister for the false hopes of a lie.”

“I see,” said Turpentine. “And when you reached the goal you fought so hard for, you found out it wasn’t at all what you expected. You did what you thought was right for yourself, even though it turned out to be very wrong for everypony.”

“And my sister paid the price for my foolish vanity.” There was a flash of something dark and dangerous in Luna’s eyes when she turned her gaze on Turpentine. “Why do you ask this of me?”

“Because I felt like that too. Well, except for the whole Night Eternal stuff,” explained Turpentine. “I was so convinced that running away to Baltimare was going to make me a famous painter that I didn’t realize how much it hurt Mother Windrow. I learned my lesson and she forgave me for it, but when I found out all the work I had put into achieving my goal and all the worry I caused was pointless, I didn’t know what to do.”

He looked down at the wooden flooring of the cabin and scuffed one hoof across the perfect waxed surface. “I lost my way, and I was hoping you could help me find it again. Only you can’t, because you’re just as lost as I am.”

The scuffing of his hoof back and forth stopped when Princess Luna gently touched his chin and lifted until his eyes met hers. “Verily, thou art a most peculiar little colt. Pray tell, why are these dark and distasteful matters a concern of yours for the simple task of painting my portrait?”

“Because Mother Windrow always told me a pony is made out of their life experiences, and Sen says everything we see can be used as an example to learn from, both the good and the bad.” Turpentine took a deep breath while swimming in the beauty of her gaze. “I like to paint who a pony is, and I can’t see any of Nightmare Moon in you at all.”

“Really?” The princess blinked several times, much as if she had a particle of dust in her eyes. “From the reactions of the Canterlot royals, it would seem as if they expect for me to resume my previous dark mantle of failure at the slightest provocation. Every shadow, every angered shout, and they recoil from us as if they wish to run about like frightened foals and scream in terror.”

There was a sense of suppressed rage behind those huge teal eyes, but a small sparkle of amusement too when Luna straightened up with her wings extended as far as they could go in the small room. Dark magic skittered across her coat, shifting her colors to an inky near-black while her eyes narrowed into oval slits, armor materialized across her head and legs, and lightning flashed outside the cabin windows to the deafening sound of an eerie laugh.

“Behold, little one! See the Nightmare which lurks within my—” Luna paused with dark wings extended and her fierce scowl slowly turning into an expression of puzzlement. “What are you doing?”

“Jus’ a second, Princess Luna,” muttered Turpentine through the pencil gripped in his teeth. He scribbled furiously on his sketchpad, looking up only long enough to add, “Can you do that face where you were cackling again? This is so cool!”

Despite looking as if she were about to burst out laughing, ‘Nightmare Moon’ held her position until Turpentine had finished sketching, even through several frantic efforts by Baron Gaberdine to poke his nose into the room and interrupt. As with all good things, it had to come to an end eventually, and Luna shifted back into her regular shape with a subdued chuckle and no sign at all of the stiff and unyielding mask she had kept over her expression earlier.

“We certainly hope that is not the pose you use in our promised portrait.” Luna attempted to peek over his shoulder while Turpentine finished a few smaller details in his sketch pad. “It certainly would be unique when placed upon the walls of our castle with the great number of my sister’s portraits.”

“No, I don’t think…” Turpentine looked up from his drawing to find himself nose to nose with the dark princess and almost poking her with the pencil. “You want to hang my portrait of you in the castle?”

Luna shrugged, although the twinkle in her eyes showed her good humor still remained. “It shall be a good start. In truth, were I to be painted or photographed every day for your lifespan, it would not match the number of her portraits which lie within the art galleries and corridors of our fair city. Sitting for a photograph is a less burdensome thing which I still fain would prefer to avoid, but your offer intrigued me.”

“Mister Caractère said the photos of you looked kinda like you were trapped in the room,” offered Turpentine.

Suppressed emotions flowed across Luna’s face like ripples in a fast-moving stream, but turned back into the reassuring impassive expression the princess wore like a mask. “Ah… Yes. Since our experience as Nightmare Moon, we have been somewhat… reluctant to be confined…” She trailed off, somehow looking faded and small in the filtered sunlight coming through the windows of Turpentine’s cabin. It somehow made Turpentine think of the time he had broken a priceless vase in one of his foster family homes, with the sharp shattering sound of porcelain shards skittering away into the darkest corners of the room, and how Luna’s feathered wings were now clutched tight to her barrel in the close confines of the small riverboat cabin. She deserved to be soaring through the sky, playing tag with the stars and laughing throughout the night, and he could think of no worse punishment for the beautiful princess than to be forced to sit in the stuffy riverboat galley for several hours during her sitting.

“Let me get my things together and we’ll go to the seapony grotto for some preliminary sketches.”

- -  - -

The warmth of the sun on Turpentine’s thankfully bare coat mixed with the waterfall to fill the grotto with a comfortable humidity. It was certain to turn within a few weeks to a chilly coldness, but for now, it was quite nearly the perfect environment to sketch. The trip to the grotto had been somewhat of a blur to Turpentine, as his mind had been filled with painting potential, but Princess Luna seemed to really enjoy it. The exciting novelty of Gaberdine’s new speedboat, which Ripple’s aunts pulled at a much more conservative velocity than before, even made her steal the old baron’s captain cap off his head and take a dramatic pose at the wheel with the breeze flowing through her starry mane.

It was just the three of them in the speedboat with Luna, Turpentine, and Ripple. Although Baron Gaberdine had wanted to come along, both Luna and Turpentine had discouraged it as there was not really enough space in the boat and nothing for him to do during the painting other than to watch.

Still, they were being watched quite well.

Once he had reclaimed his cap and gotten his ears situated in the holes, Turpentine set his easels up fairly close to the waterfall in order to get a better view on the way the water ran off Luna’s wings and down her neck. Close behind him, Ripple positioned herself where she could keep a waterproofing spell over his dry paper while he worked. And then, of course, there was a general sensation of an audience from the deeper water out in the grotto where the other seaponies were hiding.

The problem Turpentine was having was not being watched, it was his subject, who had donned her mask of royal detachment again once she had approached the waterfall. It was more than a little frustrating, and he probably could have dealt with the problem by drawing her elusive smile from memory, but he decided to try talking the smile out of her instead. Plus, he had some more questions.

“Princ’ss Luna, did you ever have foals of your own?” That line of questions did not work at all, because Luna only seemed to shut herself away further, and even withdrew slightly under the waterfall, becoming only a dark silhouette against the shadows of the morning. “Not that I wanted you to ado’pt me,” added Turpentine around the pencil. “I mean you must be awf’l busy around the castle, ‘n wouldn’t have much time for a colt.”

“Indeed.” Luna emerged from the back of the waterfall, although she still looked a little more like a half-drowned rat than the majestic sight Turpentine had intended. There was little or none of the mischievous scamp in her, and the smile she wore was so patently false that even Ripple seemed to sense something was wrong, and was giving him a worried sideways look.

He put the pencil back in the holder on the easel and tried to find a way to tell her that his idea for the sitting was not working. It was noisy with the water all around, but he was close enough to hear Luna give out a deep sigh, much the same as Mother Windrow did whenever one of the orphans would leave the house for a new family.

“Did you ever want to have foals of your own?” asked Turpentine on impulse.

This time, Luna did not retreat further into the waterfall. “Once,” she said after a while.

“So…” Turpentine squirmed inside at how nosy he was getting. “You had a special somepony?”

“Oh, yes.” It was amazing to see how a simple change in attitude made the wet and bedraggled pony into a true princess. Wings shifted, her mane flowed along with the sparkling water, and for one tiny brief instant, Turpentine could see what he wanted to capture in paint.

Then it was gone, and Luna slumped under the incessant waterfall. “But he is long gone, passed away into the ages. We were in love, so much in love. Have you ever tasted the sweet nectar of love, young Turpentine?”

“No, Ma’am. I’m only almost eleven,” he added. “Love is for old ponies.”

“Then perhaps it is best you never drink from that stream.” She swirled one hoof absently in the pool, looking down and away from Turpentine. “Nay, forget I said that, young one. Drink deeply of the love of family and others, rejoice in their presence, for your life is far too short for regrets. Live, love, and let your star shine bright, for soon it shall be gone, and never to return.”

Ripple spoke up abruptly, which shocked Turpentine, because she had been almost totally silent up to now. Her voice was cracking with emotion and a little sniffly, but she spoke up loud enough to be easily heard even over the sound of the waterfall.

“Mama says death does not end true love, for as long as we remember, our loved ones live within us. I was too little to remember my father, so she has to remember for both of us.”

There was a slow motion to Turpentine’s side when Pearl broke the surface of the grotto pool, her eyes downcast and her motions almost glacial. She emerged out of the water, taking small and hesitant steps on the wet gravel while shifting from seapony to unicorn form, but moved no further until Ripple spoke.

“Go ahead, Mama. Please.”

Ever so slowly, Pearl lifted her head up until she matched gazes with Luna, then took a hesitant step forward into the streaming waterfall while Luna stepped forward toward her, one small mutual step at a time until they rested their necks together and embraced.

It was a poignant and solemn moment that Turpentine did not want to break by attempting to draw it, but he did shift positions to be closer to Ripple for needed moral support. They sat and watched both love-lost princess and widowed mother hold each other together in the waterfall spray for a long time until Pearl drew back and sat down on the water-damped ground.

She was silent for a time as she built up her confidence, but when she spoke, her voice was far louder and stronger than Turpentine had ever heard from the timid seapony.

“His name was Tidal Surge. We were so different in so many ways, from our families to our desires, but those differences drew us together, like two parts of a broken shell. Where I was weak, he was strong. Where I was afraid, he was brave. Our life together was perfect, and from that perfection, our love brought forth a child. She was so defenseless, so weak that I begged him not to go to the Lightless Deep as was his duty.”

Pearl swallowed, then turned her face up to the sun and let out a quiet wail of despair that rose up above the sound of the waterfall. It was a wordless song of pain and grief that built and echoed from the surrounding rocks, shifting in tone as the seapony sat in the waterfall’s spray with the tears pouring down her cheeks indistinguishable from the surrounding water. The echoes seemed to surround Turpentine, an unbreakable sorrow crushing in from all sides that made Ripple press against his side and a cold shiver travel up his spine while the wordless song of grief grew louder.

With a jolt, Turpentine realized the growing chorus from around him was not from echoes, but the sweet voices of one seapony after another as they quietly lifted their heads above the water to join in the eerie song until the whole grotto was filled with their sorrow. The music did not so much surround him as fill his entire being with the sensation of loved ones lost, as all of the seaponies must have had friends or family taken from them before fleeing their homes to this unfamiliar shore. They were as lost and lonely as Turpentine, clinging to each other in order to make it through life until they could hopefully return to their familiar undersea world as he never could.

It made Turpentine recall the muted russet and gold colors of his own mother from his oldest memories. Her loving face, the way she smelled of lavender and strawberries when she kissed him and booped his tiny nose. The stillness of her form when he last saw her. The warmth of Mother Windrow as she held him for hours while he cried afterwards.

The wordless song swelled and grew in his heart until he thought he would burst, then slowly faded away until only the everpresent sound of the waterfall was left and Pearl slipped into the grotto pool without even a splash.

At his side, Turpentine could feel Ripple lean away from him momentarily as if she wanted to follow her mother into the water, then lean again back into his side, pressed firmly against him and trembling just as much as he was. The rest of the seaponies including Pearl remained silent on the surface of the grotto, witnesses to both his uncomfortable support of his little friend and the motionless form of Princess Luna, still kneeling at the edge of the waterfall.

Then Luna looked up and spoke.

“His name was Stardust.” Luna’s voice sounded clear and strong, despite the falling water. She rose to her hooves and shook out her mane, sending sparkling droplets of water in all directions, even though the waterfall soaked it completely again. “When he died, I sent his body into the heavens so I would never forget the love we had together, but that was a mistake. For years, my sister had to talk me into raising the moon every night because I did not want to see his form in the night sky looking back at me, forever out of reach. I tried to block away his memory in order to return to the world, but a part of my heart passed with him and shall forever be lost among my stars.”

“Did you kiss?” asked Ripple.

“Aye, that and so much more.” Luna spread her wings and pirouetted around under the water spray. “We used to dance among the waterfalls of Canterlot as it was being constructed. Torrents of water not much more than ice from the snowpacked mountaintop, but it could not cool our desires.”

Princess Luna stretched under the pounding water, her wings spread wide and her head thrown back to luxuriate in the chill flow while she floated in the embrace of her phantom lover from centuries ago, but Turpentine did not say anything.

He was far too busy drawing.

- -  - -

“Um.” Baron Gaberdine stood in Turpentine’s cabin and regarded his most recent painting. “Um,” he repeated, as he had done so several times. “It’s…”

“Um,” said Turpentine. “You already said that.”

“Yes, but… Um…” Gaberdine gestured with one hoof rather vaguely.

“Um?” prompted Turpentine.

Gaberdine nodded. “Very much so.”

“I need to do a little touch-up work and put in a few of the finer details, but Princess Luna says she wants to put the portrait into the castle gallery,” said Turpentine with just the tiniest bit of smugness as he returned to looking at the painting.

“Oh,” said Gaberdine, which at least was a change.

“She says she’s going to drop by Castle Paradise next week with her sister to pick it up.” Turpentine studied his work, making a mental list of the tiny tweaks and details he needed to add before letting the oils dry for a few days. He did not want to ask, but after having such a successful sitting with Princess Luna, he had to. “Do you think… Princess Celestia would like me to paint her portrait too?”

“No!” said Gaberdine almost reflexively. “I mean… Um… Not in the same way, correct?”

“Oh, no.” Turpentine turned over a fresh sheet in his sketchbook. “She doesn’t seem like a waterfall pony. I really don’t know where I should paint her portrait. I don’t know anything about her.”

“I used to think I understood her, until I became a baron,” said Gaberdine. “Now, I’m not too certain.” He eyed the painting again. “I’ve never claimed to understand Princess Luna.”

“I think I do.” Turpentine took a deep breath. “She’s an orphan too, just like me. Her parents are gone, and all she has left in the world is her sister and memories.”

He stood and looked at the painting for a while, then added, “And us.”

Gaberdine stood in the cabin and looked in the direction of the painting also, but his eyes were focused off into the distance for a long, long while before he nodded his head.

“I made an appointment in a few days with Dean Emeritus Palette Brush, the present curator of the Canterlot Museum of Fine Arts and former Dean at the Department of Arts in Celestia’s school.” He paused and tapped his chin. “You know, it’s amazing how somepony’s response changes when you start a letter, ‘When I met with Princess Luna, she asked…’”

“It’s the weight,” said Turpentine. “In my home town, we moved the main meeting hall away from the river because of some erosion and flooding issues. It took every earth pony in town, all moving very carefully together, to keep from breaking something or hurting somepony. The princesses move a lot more than that every day. And night.”

Gaberdine gave an unconvinced grunt. “In any case, Celestia’s school turns out some of the finest artists in Equestria. They have a supervised boarding dormitory section for young students from outside of the city, or if you wish, I can talk with my father about letting you stay at the estate, since he’s so insistent about having the pitter-clatter of little hooves around the place again.”

“Will I get to meet with both of your parents?” Turpentine unconsciously flipped open his sketchbook to a blank page. “You don’t have any photographs of them around the castle.”

“Errr… Right.” Gaberdine nodded. “I need to fix that.”

“And you should tell them about Pearl. Mother Windrow always said a truth left unsaid is just another way to lie.”


“And sooner the better,” added Turpentine. “Your father is kinda old. You should spend as much time with him as possible, because you never know when he might go away.”

For the longest time, it looked as if Gaberdine was going to argue with him, and since Turpentine was so young, he really expected to be ignored like his long string of foster parents had always done whenever he brought up a suggestion that seemed so obviously correct. It was a side effect of his one-pony-wide stubborn streak that Mother Windrow had complained about constantly, and normally combatted with a stern phrase that ended in, “or no painting for a week!”

“You know, kid.” Gaberdine gave out an enormous sigh. “You’re right. Just like my father. I don’t know if it’s safe to have both of you under one roof. I mean, Canterlot is built off the side of a mountain, after all. It may not be stable enough for the two of you to share a house.”

“The dormitory doesn’t sound too bad,” ventured Turpentine. “Kinda like an orphanage, only with more kids.”

“Huh.” Gaberdine turned and left the cabin, returning with a single sheet of paper in his magic. “In any case, it would be impolite to visit Canterlot without informing Princess Celestia. And Luna. After all, it is their school we would be trying to get you into. Why don’t we sit down and write them a letter. I can show you the proper introduction and format, and how to phrase your request, as well as the proper form for…”

He sat there and blinked for a while before Turpentine hesitantly asked, “Sir?”

“Tell me,” started Gaberdine very slowly. “Did I sound like my father right then?”

Turpentine nodded. “Very much so.”

“I thought as much.” Gaberdine put the blank sheet of paper down on the small writing desk in the cabin. “Why don’t you write Princess Celestia and Luna a letter in your own words, telling them we will be in Canterlot four days from now… and include whatever else you want to tell them.”

* *  * *

The next day, Ripple was uncharacteristically quiet during their afternoon trip to the cattail bog, even when Turpentine managed to get one of the ripe cattail seed pods and bonk her lightly on the horn with it. The resulting cattail battle was not conducted with anything near her normal level of energy, although it did carpet the immediate area with flying cattail fuzz to the point it was difficult to determine just where either of them were wildly swinging their explosive weapons of fluffy doom. It took until the two of them had collapsed against the sunny side of a grassy area in order to catch their breath and try to blow the cattail fluff out of their noses before Ripple finally blurted out what was bothering her.

“I don’t want you to leave.”

Turpentine had a moment to think before responding because a fleck of cattail fluff had gotten into his eyes, but from the way Ripple was tearing up, her problem was far more than some errant cattail debris. “Mister Gaberdine says the next class wouldn't start until after Winter Wrap-Up anyway,” he started, trying to sound as reassuring as he could despite his own insecurities. “Even if… I mean when they let me in, Mister Gaberdine says he’d pay for Miss Powderpuff and Lemon Drops to bring me back for a few days every other week, which I think I’ll need. Canterlot is big, and all built up and the biggest crowd I’d seen in Tidewater wasn’t even a Baltimare street and the mountain is huge and…” Turpentine took a deep breath and put a foreleg over Ripple so he could give her a hug without looking too much like he was.

He did not want to admit he was afraid. Turpentine had built a mental image of Baltimare that was far, far different than reality, both in being so much larger and full of ponies than he had expected. Canterlot was even bigger, and full of snooty important unicorns who threw fancy balls and dressed in elegant outfits, which part of him wanted to paint so badly he could taste it, and the other part just wanted to dive under the surface of the river and hide.

But worst of all, when he went to Canterlot, he would have to leave Ripple behind.


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