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Chapter 11 -18th. Day of the Ninth Month, Year 10 AE.

As the lingering sound of the old grump's bells died away in the murmur of the crowd, Count Greensward took a hold of the situation by clearing his throat and inviting us to come inside for a midday repast.

We were led to a nicely appointed if small feasting hall. I could see the signs of a mare's touch, striving valiantly to impose some measure of refinement on the rough conditions of life on the frontier. The fare they served us was hearty: dark, crusty trenchers filled with a soup of dried wildflowers that I'd never tasted at Castle Canter, hard cheeses embedded with crushed acorns and walnuts, fried mushroom slices as large as two hooves across and three barleycorns thick, and some of the most exquisitely sweet apples I'd ever eaten. Little Dawn devoured these with considerable relish, declaring they were better than her beloved "bwackbewwies". (And praise the Maker above for that, as they don't stain her coat when she gobbles them down. [1])

As the meal progressed, I took more and more note of my lady hostess' strained composure: the fixed, slightly desperate edge to her smile, the ease at which her ears laid back, the constant begging of our pardons for the simplicity of their hospitality. In a flash of insight, I realized that Countess Blossom, bless her heart, was trying very hard to please this troupe of high horses from Castle Canter that had landed on her doorstep. It was surpassing strange, O diary, to find myself inexplicably looking out from inside the highly buttressed social wall that the upsnouts of her majesty the Queen's court erect between themselves and the rest of ponykind. This would not do at all.

Sensing an opportunity to set her at ease, I intentionally bobbled my goblet and spilled a bit of the fine early cider within upon my cassock. The poor dear was at once on her hooves and leading me personally to an antechamber whilst calling for water and towels.

In the brief interval I had alone with her before the servants arrived, I laid my hoof upon her shoulder and confided that she need not tie herself in knots on my account, for I was but the humble daughter of candle makers, and had married quite above my station. She protested that I was the high counselor and court magician of the Unicorn Queen, to which I replied that I was my dear Queen Platinum's friend, and would be hers as well if she would stop fretting about impressing me and just welcome me into her house as I would wholeheartedly welcome her into mine. From the look in her eyes and the relieved smile on her face, I could see that I had made a fast friend in the mistress of Fort Everfree.

We left my cassock in the care of her maids, and I returned to the table unadorned save for a garland of fragrant local wildflowers that Lady Blossom had done up in my mane. As I took my seat, I met Count Greensward's gaze, and saw a glimmer of gratitude in his eyes and a subtle smile on his face. I think I made a friend of our new found liege lord as well at that moment. I believe he and I should be getting on quite well, for in our conversation at lunch I found he takes a great interest in magecraft, and we spoke a bit of notable books on the subject.

The rest of the meal was most delightful, save for one small, sour note afterward when I bade my darling Crimson to call for his viol and play us some airs, mistakenly referring to his favorite instrument as a fiddle. The frown that creased his rosy brow and folded back his ears told me that the old grump's parting crack had rubbed him the wrong way. Of course, this sort of thing is hardly unusual whene'er the cantankerous old fusspot appears in your patient pages, O diary. [2]

Suffice to say that it took a few songs to completely cheer my dear husband up again. I think the last of his dudgeon vanished as darling Dawn got to her hooves and capered upon the reeds before the great fireplace. A laughing Lady Blossom was moved to join her, taking little hooves in her fetlocks and spinning her as her flowing green skirts and golden tail billowed about her. As the merry reel wound down, Dawn hugged our lady liege and promptly fell asleep in her embrace. The dear poppet was gently laid on the cushioned bench beside me with her head in my lap, and we whiled away a bit more time in quiet conversation as the servants cleared away the platters.

A pleasant repast finished, our most gracious Count excused himself, for his duties called. He bade his brother in law Captain Leaf accompany us with a small band of foresters to our new household and see to any needs we might have when we arrived. Yeomane Fletcher stood with a salute and offered to join us in our trek. I met dear Pansy's eye and gave her a wink, which caused her to blush hotly and giggle into her hooves in the most adorable way.

(I do not wish to scribble scandals into your pages like some moon-eyed teenaged filly, O diary (Although if not here, then where?) but I do believe my worthy pegasus friend was fairly deep into her cups by the end of our luncheon. I do not recall seeing her refuse any strong cider or wine that was offered her. In fact the only time I didn't see her with a flagon or glass to her lips was when she was letting the toothsome Fletcher hoof-feed her slices of apple. Indeed, O diary, the girl has fallen quite hard, and I do not mean into the branches of that fateful tree. I cannot wait to tell Cookie of this. On the other hoof, I do worry about what will occur when Commander Hurricane finds out. But, for now, I digress...)

Without much further ado we bid our leave from Fort Everfree, having secured a key and documents stamped with Count Greensward's crest from his excellency's seneschal. We hitched up and set out on the wooded road, with little Dawn fast asleep in Pansy's lightly snoring embrace atop one of the larger wagons. It was a brisk trot of maybe an hour before we rounded the hillside and gazed upon our new home.

The estate is an expanse of rolling, overgrown fields, with a small orchard and some copses of trees dotting here and there. At its center there lies a grassy lot containing two long houses with a gated courtyard between them, both roofed in ruddy terra cotta shingles.

We unhitched before the wood lattice gates (which could use a lick of paint eventually, I'll note) and Crimson floated the brass key to the Count's Mark and broke the door-binding that held them. We looked in at the weed choked paving stones of the inner court, taking in the canopied pool at the far end opposite us with its carved marble sea ponies smiling at us with their blank lapis lazuli eyes and tarnished bronze manes, the pillars and roof of their shelter and they themselves quite wrapped round with ivy and wilted clematis flowers. We stood and stared back at the stony guardians for some time.

Before I could say anything momentous, I let out a startled squeal as my blessed fool of a husband darted his head beneath my barrel and hoisted me up onto his back like a sack of millet. (Confound the rascal! He knows I am ticklish under there and he was quite careless with the tip of his horn.) He then proceeded to bounce us both across the threshold of the gates with a high kneed trot whilst whistling "Lo! Yonder Doth the Bride Approach!" After blithely ignoring my intemperate language and well placed kicks to his cutie mark, he sat down and allowed me to roll off over his tail, then helped me to my hooves with that saucy grin of his whilst bidding me welcome to Paradise.

We turned as an echoing squeal rang out beyond the gates, and saw dear little Dawn hopping up and down on her hooves and fluttering her snowy wings, saying "Carry me! Carry me!". Beyond I could see poor Pansy looking groggily at us from atop the freight wagon with a befuddled smile on her face. She laid her head back down on her bedroll and dozed off again, which was understandable, as she had already taken the measure of the place.

I cast Crimson one last scathing glare as he winked at me, then turned and allowed the darling poppet to clamber up upon my back and high hoofed it into the courtyard, forgoing the whistling and instead opting to to sing "Ladybugs Awake!"[3], shaking Dawn off inside to more giggling as her dainty hooves touched down in our new home for the first time.

I twined her tail in mine and we set off to explore the premises whilst Crimson undertook the task of directing the drafters and yeomane foresters in unloading our wagons. Pansy was laid out on a pallet in one of the front rooms where she could rest and be out of the way, while Fletcher was called from her side and pressed into service with the other stallions to much good natured ribbing from his rough and tumble comrades.

Fresh rushes had been laid in all the rooms, and the walls had been whitewashed, although I noted some signs of minor roof leaks that would take some seeing to, probably once Pansy's wing mends. There is a fair amount of light from large windows to the east and west, which suited me well. The shutters are a bit loose on many of them, which again will need some hoof work when the time is ripe. There is a fine fireplace built of local river stone in the main room in the west wing, and some of the foresters were dispatched to gather wood for later that night.

Little Dawn was particularly fascinated by the pool, which I found to be fed by an artesian well, which was good, and choked with reeds and lily pads, which was bothersome. The water was pure, and would serve us in good stead in the warmer months once we mucked out the litter of leaves that had accumulated in the bottom. I obtained our dear filly's solemn promise to stay away from the water unless one of the grownups was around to watch her.

Beyond the pool we saw there is a fenced off space suitable for fairly large gardens, which our earth pony cohabiters would be quite happy to see when they finally arrived. A tumbledown shed and free standing oven occupy the far corners of the back lot, the former of which is empty save for a profoundly rusted old plow that probably dated back to before the founding, and the latter is in dire need of sweeping out. I expressly forbade Dawn from entering either, which she accepted with minimal complaint. I also forbade her from having anything to do with the wood pile that lurks beside the oven beneath a blanket of ivy, making a note to ask our yeomane companions to check it for snakes before they headed back to Fort Everfree. [4]

We continued our tour to the orchards, which I'm sure will be lovely in a few seasons once Cookie and her clan have done their earth pony magic upon it. It contains a mix of different fruit trees, the treasure of which is a venerable apple tree that as a welcoming surprise bore a few of those wonderful apples that seem to grow in these parts. I shared one with Dawn, as we sat and listened to the birds singing and the bustle and clatter of our stallions unpacking the wagons.

The sun was drifting ever westward as our contingent of laborers finished their work, and we set about getting a fire lit in the main room. When the coals were hot enough, we toasted a rarebit for ourselves and our companions, which we washed down with a fine ale from her majesty's cellars that Crimson had brought along in a small cask all the way from Castle Canter. There were just enough apples on the old tree for us to make a fine dessert of them, and we all bedded down among the boxes and crates, weary of limb and warm in our bellies as one by one our happy crew drifted off to the dreaming realms.

The following morn we arose with the dawn. (Literally and figuratively, in faith I am coming to believe that in addition to kinship with the three tribes of ponies our little wonder has a bit of rooster in her as well. Upon further consideration, probably not. Roosters have been known to sleep late once in a while.) [5]

Poor Pansy was a bit hung over and gently crabby with one and all, although only those of us who knew her quite well were able to notice any change in her demeanor. She exchanged a blushing, coyly grinning farewell with Yeomane Fletcher as he departed with Captain Leaf and his foresters, and then went right back to bed.

We bid a fond goodbye to our faithful drafters shortly afterward, wishing them safe journey back to Castle Canter. Crimson tipped them generously with some extra silver, and I entrusted them with a hastily written letter to my lady the Queen thanking her once again for her kindnesses and assuring her we had arrived safely and were making the best of it. Their part in our story thus concluded, they trundled away down the road singing one of the songs that my dear husband had taught them on the journey.

And so there we were, just the four of us in a house full of boxes with nopony else around for miles. The birds were singing gaily all around us, but otherwise there was just this howling quiet hanging in the air, bracketed round by the gentle rustle of the trees. Quite an unaccustomed sensation for ponies like myself who've always been in bustling cities or busy castles. Crimson and I sat and stared at one another before the cold embers of last night's fire, the awareness that we were here, for better or worse, settling upon us like a thick blanket of winter snow.

Translator's Mentor's Hoofnote:

[1] Not a word, Woona. Not. A. Word. [6]

Translator's Hoofnotes:

[2] It became quite apparent in earlier, un-related parts of Lady Clover's journals that Crimson Rose and Starswirl the Bearded didn't exactly get on very well. Before the writings I have chosen to include in this text, the couple's last meeting with the great mage was at their wedding, where apparently "the old grump", while making a toast at the reception, had un-ironically threatened to turn Crimson Rose into a rabbit if he ever broke Lady Clover's heart.

While our esteemed authoress found this quite exasperating, I kind of get the impression she also found it somehow endearing, and almost complementary in a back-hoofed way. While Starswirl was very brusque and often disparaging with his protege, he was also very protective of her, and for all his grousing about her inattention or lack of skill, he also considered her too good for even a stallion of the noble classes.

As you may infer, dear reader, their relationship was a complex one.

[3] I knew this was an old rhyme, but I had no idea it was
that old. My sister-in-law was just as amazed as I was when I discussed this passage with her, as she and I used to do it often when she babysat me.

[4] Free standing, wood fired ovens, separate from the main body of the house, was a fairly common feature back in ancient Equestria. They served two purposes.

First, they cut down on the risk of fires destroying the entire household. Before the eventual development of municipal pegasus weather crews and their civil mandate to fight fires in the areas they serve, and especially before the unification of the tribes, the best hope for ground bound ponies to get a rain cloud over a house fire was to hire pegasi mercenaries, whose services did not come cheap.

Second, they allowed baking to go on without overheating the house during the warm summer months. With the advent of gas or magic fired ranges and better ventilation, the free standing oven fell out of use.

[5] This passage has another of Lady Clover's charming doodles in the margin, depicting a plump little rooster body with a slightly wild eyed caricature of Dawn Heart for a face, saying "Wake up, Cwovuh! Wake up!" whilst standing on a blanketed figure with a horn and a set of weary eyes peering out from the shadows underneath. It gives me the giggles every time I think about it.

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

[6] I'm sure I have
no idea what you're talking about, Cewestia. What might "gobbling" possibly have to do with either of us?[7]

[7] One might consult with the royal pastry chef on this particular matter, if he wasn't so unaccountably
busy all day. [8]

Translator's Mentor's Hoofnote:

[8] Donut Joe might shed some light on the question as well, sister dear. I hear his place in Canterlot is open all night. [9]

Translator's Hoofnote:

[9] Great. Not only am I getting fed up with all this nonsense in my hoofnotes, now I'm hungry. [10]

Translator's one friend who just happens to work in a bakery which is like the bestest, yummiest job in the whole world's hoofnotes:

[10] I'll bring you some chocolate chip cookies right away, Twilight. [11]

[11] Why are these things called hoofnotes anyway? Do you guys all have accordion horseshoes or something? Where can I get a set of those? [12]

Translator's Hoofnote:

[12] After extensive consultation with my publisher and the princesses, none of us have any idea how that last set of notes got into the final printing. The cookies were good, though.

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.

Clover and co. make some friends, and explore their new home.

To be continued...
I love the fact that Pinkie's notes come from out of nowhere.
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