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Chapter 10 -18th. Day of the Ninth Month, Year 10 AE.

We abided 'neath the stars that night, wrapped warmly in blankets around a blazing fire, as our yeomane escort kept watch against the deeper darks beyond the ethereal ghosts of the tree trunks that surrounded us.

The cries of owls in the night and the wind rustling through the leaves drew my mind back to our exodus from the old lands. That rootless feeling, as dear Cookie often called it, stole upon me, lying under an open sky with the trail beneath one's hooves having neither an end ahead 'nor a home behind to return to. To be cast adrift, with one's self and soul but a tiny mote of being in a vast, unheeding, uncaring world.

But these musings could not linger, for reminders of the differences from those cold, weary days of a decade ago came to me in the warmth and soft breath of my beloved Crimson at my side and the stirring and gentle sighs of dear little Dawn Heart in my embrace. I knew that indeed I did have someplace I belonged, in the hearts of those I loved and who loved me, and there would I find my comfort and give the same in turn. I would almost venture to say I felt an inkling of those intangible roots which Cookie found lacking before we came to settle in Equestria. It was a peaceful sensation, and it quickly lulled me into a deep slumber.

The next day we rose with the sun and boarded Captain Sand Bar's barge to sail onward to our destination at Fort Everfree. The stout yeomane foresters hitched themselves side by side with our drafters and barge crew, marching at a brisk pace down the forested riverbanks and towing us to our destination.

It was midmorning edging toward noon when we finally laid eyes on the stockades looming over the teeming docks and thatched huts of the surrounding village, the flag of our fledgeling nation fluttering high above. (Although I must confess, O diary, that the blazon of the Warming Heart filled me then, as it does even now, with a gnawing sense of my obligation to hang another beacon in the sky somehow.)

As we approached, it became clear that the activity we could espy from afar on the river front was more than just the usual industrious day's work that goes on in such places. A veritable throng of ponies, I daresay I would estimate almost the entire local populace, milled about excitedly on the boardwalks. There were rough hewn woods-ponies, hard bitten river folk and dock workers, weather-beaten pegasi cloud cutters and stern faced warriors, prospectors, pioneers, wanderers, and tramps, all rubbing barrel and flank in an unruly mass of curious pony-kind.

A ripple of chatter arose as our barge put in to the pier and the gangplank was lowered. The herd parted as a column of earth ponies in chainmail wearing the green and white livery of Count Greensward marched out to greet us. At their head, a formidable looking stallion clad in steel barding and the trappings of a high ranking knight of the realm called for the company to halt, and then greeted us with a formal bow, introducing himself as Sir Briar, commander of the garrison. He bid us welcome on behalf of Count Greensward, and invited us to accompany him to meet with his excellency.

Dear Crimson and I stepped up and returned his greeting in courtly fashion, but the formality of the occasion dissipated as Captain Leaf of the yeomane foresters came forward with a boisterous laugh and clapped hooves with the imposing knight. I saw at once that these two were brothers, although it was clear Briar had gotten the dour version of the family visage whilst Leaf had gotten the jolly one.

With a furtive smile lurking upon the bulwark of his face, the garrison commander wheeled and barked orders to his troops, who with the help of the yeomane warders proceeded to shoulder the milling throng of ponies aside to form a cordon along the road between the docks and the fort.

While the soldiers and foresters of Everfree went about their work, we gathered the rest of our little party and bid our farewells to Captain Sand Bar and her crew while our stout drafters put their backs into unloading our wagons with the help of the local dock wallopers.

Pansy was looking a bit peaked from the pain of her broken wing making it difficult to sleep, but bore up under duress in her usual quietly assured fashion and looked every bit the proud pegasus warrior in her cloak and helm. Crimson sidled up to me and asked if he should offer to assist her, for he too could see thru her stoicism to the weariness beneath.

I advised him to be near at hoof and watchful should she falter, but also cautioned him that it was meet to only offer a convenient side to lean against without any pleasantries or comment, and that the niceties a gentlecolt might extend a unicorn lady in such a situation would cause a typical pegasus mare to apply a hammer lock and forcibly introduce his face to the ground, whilst possibly casting uncalled for aspersions on his parentage and stallionhood. [1]

Dear Dawn Heart was positively buzzing with excitement like a snowy little hummingbird. I allowed her to clamber up on my back, where she stood with her dainty hooves braced and wings flared while she stared in amazement at the crowds and repeatedly declared "So many ponies!" in an awestruck voice. I secured a promise of good behavior from the dear poppet, and steeled myself for our procession through town.

As we made our way toward the gates of the fort, the crowds beyond the cordon of green and white clad soldiers and foresters watched us pass with a mixture of fear, wonderment, and a certain reverence. Dawn, for her part, answered their stares with smiles and waves of her hoof and blown kisses, still repeating the phrase "So many ponies!" in childish glee.

Midway along our walk, Fletching circled above us and called out a merry "Well met, friends!" He landed lightly at Pansy's side, which caused a bit of color to return to the dear pegasus mare's ashen cheeks. With a gleaming smile and a gallant flourish, he requested the honor of escorting her and offered his assistance.

I glanced back at Crimson, who from the look on his face was bracing for a thunderclap. Instead Pansy merely let out a slightly giddy sounding giggle and leaned into the handsome forester's side, throwing her good wing across his withers and blushing all the more as he laid his wing across hers in turn, and thus they made their way to the fortress gate.

I could only give my dear husband a slight shrug as he came away from them and fell into step beside me with that ineffable smirk of his that said he would be giving me a thorough measure of japery about all of this later. I warned him with a half-smile of my own that I could do a passable hammer lock as well if I were given sufficient reason.

Our group was greeted in the courtyard of the fortress by m'lord Greensward and my good lady Countess Blossom, who smiled kindly at us with a third variant of Leaf and Briar's family facial features, one that was handsomely feminine. The Count himself is an unassuming unicorn stallion of middle age with a very measured, deliberate manner.

He welcomed us cordially to his frontier fiefdom, saying plainly that while it was his duty to my lady the Queen and their excellencies the Chancellor and the Commander to do so, it was also his pleasure. In response, my darling Crimson stepped up with a deep bow and pledged his loyal service as an esquire and vassal. Count Greensward accepted this with a wry smile, commenting that such courtly manners were an rare pleasure in the rough wilds of the frontier, and predicted that he and his dear lady Countess would very much appreciate our company sometime in the future. You will pardon my blushes, O diary, as I recall the compliments he paid me in speaking of the regard he held for my service in her majesty's court and the role I had played in the founding of our nation.

Then the Count turned his attention to little Dawn Heart, saying that he'd been quite curious about this filly, about whom so much had been written in missives from Equestria's leaders. A shiver of alarm ran down my spine and bristled my tail as I saw him spark his horn to life and begin to raise a dwimmer loop [2] from the pocket of his doublet. I hastily flared my own horn and snatched it from his magical grasp before he could bring it to his eye.

M'lord Greensward was justifiably taken aback by my sudden bout of grabbiness and the volume at which I had shouted "NO!" at him, as a murmur went through the assembly of vassals and soldiers around us. I hastily stammered my apologies and explained that gazing thus upon dear Dawn's intrinsic magic aura would be tantamount to expecting to take a sip of water from a goblet and getting the entire Saddle River pouring into one's face. I assured him from hard experience that it was quite overwhelming and most ill advised.

After giving me and my little passenger a long, appraising look, the Count shrugged it off with a wan smile and took his loop back into his horn's own glow. He cast a glance past me with a pensive furrowing of his brow and said it was no matter, for a prominent local expert on the subject of magic with whom he often consulted on such matters was approaching even now.

I heard the bells before I could even turn to look.

I am sure that my withers must have bunched up like a knotted oaken burl beneath Dawn's little hooves, because I remember vaguely hearing her say my name with a note of confusion and alarm. Mostly I heard the bells. Those inevitable bells, implacable in their approach and steady tempo, bearing with them equal measures of enlightenment and horn-ache.

And of course as the bells stilled then came the voice, dry and gruff with a wagonload of sarcasm on the side, the likes of which my dearest Cookie's trenchant wit is but the cooing of a yearling babe in comparison.

I remember clearly what the old grump said to me, because I always somehow remember exactly what he says, even if I have ushered day into night and back again to morning at my study desk and am so addled that you could set a hen on my head and hatch forth a trout.[3] (I have long suspected some subtle form of magery, although I am quite willing to entertain sheer annoyance sharpening my memory, O diary.)

And thus did the great Starswirl the Bearded, magus supreme of the unicorns, speak unto me: "Tut tut, Weed. What sort of mess have you stirred up with that wickless candle you call a horn?"

Charming as ever. [4]

I turned and greeted him as gently as gritted teeth might allow. Dawn leapt lightly down from my back and approached him curiously, ruffling her downy wings as he loomed over her like a gnarled oak tree, staring intently at her just as he'd gazed at many a student treatise of mine. My dear poppet, in turn, looked him over with her usual inquisitiveness, tentatively pawing at the wisps of his unruly beard with her dainty hoof or making one of the bells on his cloak jingle.

Presently I saw his horn sparkle with a divinatory spell, but my warning died upon my lips as he held up a hoof for silence with a sharp glance that I also knew far too well. Fine, I thought. Go ahead and get that shaggy skull of yours lit up like a lantern. Perhaps I would be ashamed to enjoy seeing an elderly stallion fall thunderstruck to the ground, but I still would enjoy it.

The old grump gave the barest of flinches and a soft grunt as his eyes momentarily lit up bright, glowing pink, but then it passed and he stood there with a grin spreading across his wrinkled face (the infuriating old goat). He threw back his head and laughed, a booming sound that I could feel coming up from the ground through my very hooves, a sound that I had rarely if ever heard coming from him. He laughed long and loudly, as all the assembled ponies around him could only stare in consternation.

The glow about his horn intensified as he floated his bell brimmed hat off of his grey, tangle maned pate and set it aside, and then painfully went down on his knees and touched his horn to the dirt before her dainty hooves as the bells of his cloak softly jingled.

After an uncertain pause, she leaned down and kissed the top of his head. At this, he raised his eyes and gave her a smile that conjured memories of my dear old grandsire when I would visit him at his bedside. Dawn gave a musical giggle and hugged him with both forelegs and wings.

Presently he gently pushed her off and rose slowly to his hooves, floating his hat back onto his head. His eyes flashed as he spoke in a booming voice that echoed over the battlements of the fortress. "Listen well, O ye ponies of Everfree! Do not fear this child! Welcome her! Teach her! Cherish her! For she shall illuminate this land, saving it, protecting it, and guiding its destiny in her day!" [5]  

As his pronouncement sank in, he twined his tail in hers and led her back to me. He met my eye with a knowing smile on his wizened face that somehow made me want to bolt for the inner keep and throw down the portcullis, and this is what he said as he leaned in to murmur in my folded ear. "Well done, my clever, clever girl. Well done indeed. I shall stop by for a visit once you and your foppish fiddle player of a husband get settled in to your new dwelling place."

With that, he turned and made his steady, jingling way back past the wondering assembly of ponies and out the gates of Fort Everfree, vanishing once more into the world beyond my ken.

Translators Hoofnotes:

[1] Pegasus mares of the time from all walks, or should I say flights, of life had a reputation for fierce pride, amplified by a martial culture that tended to view what the courtly unicorns of the time considered good manners as an insulting implication of weakness. As a common saying of the time remarked "Hold a door for a pegasus mare, and you will soon find yourself wearing it."

I must admit I was a bit puzzled to find as observant a mare as Lady Clover would traffic in that sort of stereotyping, especially having been very close friends with Pansy for well over a decade. It is indicative, I think, that for all the progress made in the name of intertribal harmony, old preconceptions still took a long time to change, and I also suspect, and my sister-in-law Princess Cadance supports this hypothesis, that Lady Clover might have had the ulterior motive of making sure her husband didn't turn his considerable charm on other mares, even dear friends, too freely.

[2] A dwimmer loop, for those layponies not versed in magical theory and practice, is a simple monocle-like device used for aura gazing and other basic divinations. It was typically assembled out of a rondel of polished pink quartz carved with focusing lines and generally mounted in a braided band of copper and lead. It didn't give a very clear reading, but was a decent stopgap for unicorns who were unversed in more advanced detection spells.

When I was discussing this chapter with Princess Celestia, she surmised that Lady Clover did Count Greensward a considerable favor in wresting the loop from his magical grasp, as looking through it at her younger self would have been like gazing through a telescope directly at her sun[6], a very unpleasant sensation that I myself have had the misfortune of experiencing. (A long and rather embarrassing story that is irrelevant to this text.[7] All I'll say is thank goodness for emergency eye patches.)

Dwimmer loops have been superseded in modern times by precision instruments such as thaumoscopes and calibrated glimmer gauges, but they can still be found in magic and curio shops for reasonable prices. I've got a small collection of them myself. They make very nice window decorations.

[3] I imagine you can guess the meaning of this old Equestrian turn of phrase from the context, dear reader. It was just too fascinatingly bizarre for me not to translate word for word. I've had my share of all-nighters like that, many whilst working on this translation.

[4] This passage bears a caricature of Starswirl in the margins, glowering with crossed eyes from under the brim of his bell ringed hat and sticking his tongue out. As I've observed before, Lady Clover's at times contentious relationship with her mentor was quite different than what I have experienced in my own education (Thank Celestia. Literally!). It gave me a chuckle to see our authoress get a bit of her own back in the margins of her journal.

[5] This quote from the great mage himself about my mentor makes my heart leap every time I read it. What an amazing historical document this is!

[6] Of tangential note, our conversation regarding divinatory devices led to the Princess allowing me to look at her through a small dwimmer loop I keep as a lucky charm in my panniers, as well as an elementary grade thaumoscope my elder brother gave me for Hearth's Warming one year when we were children.

Suffice to say after several thousand years of practice her control of her aura is frankly amazing, as she can dim it to invisibility as well as make it so bright it's almost uncomfortable to look at, as well as manifesting it in a variety of stripes, whorls, and geometric patterns. She also burned a sizable hole in a playing card by pointing my thaumoscope's viewfinder at it and "turning up" her expressed magical field as far as she dared without melting the lenses of my little keepsake. It was still slightly hot to the touch when I put it back in its case.

The Princess called it a mere parlor trick, one she hasn't gotten to do in ages. I call it astounding, if you'll pardon my gushing a little. (That playing card (a Princess of Hearts, ironically) has joined my little cache of treasures, by the way.)

Translator's Co-Sovereign & Mentor's Sister's Hoofnote:

[7] Of course, Twilight Sparkle. This text is about my sister and I's long and embarrassing stories, is it not?[8]

Translator's Mentor's Hoofnote:

[8] This is merely a drop in the bucket, sister dearest. [9]

Translator's Co-Sovereign & Mentor's Sister's Hoofnote:

[9] Alright. No need to go there. I'll be good.

The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

More of Lady Clover's first entry in her journal after arriving in Everfree. Meet the locals, as well as an unexpected figure from our authoress' past who mysteriously turns up.

Part 11 ->…
How he's good.
It always amazes me with how much life you fill not only your characters but also the world they inhabit. So happy you're continuing this story!
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