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Chapter 9 - 18th. Day of the Ninth Month, Year 10 AE.

And here we are. Finally.

I shall spare you, and myself, my accustomed bemoaning of the absence of my truant pen upon your waiting pages, o diary. The span of time betwixt the dates is testament enough. The move has been completed, and while we are still unpacking, I think I can say with certainty that we are mostly settled in here at Paradise Estates.

I suppose I should speak of our journey to our new home, which was as arduous as travel is wont to be, but less so than the long trek to the fertile lands that would become our fair nation of Equestria, when I accompanied her majesty's expedition from the old countries. The mountain roads that radiate from the castle are much more passable than the bare trails we followed lo these ten years ago, and the walk much more pleasant in the warm days of late summer than the frozen wastes that we traversed with the windegos at our heels. Were we not pulling wagons loaded with all of our worldly possessions, it would have been like a jaunt in the countryside.

Our party consisted of myself and Crimson and little Dawn Heart, whom I daresay journeyed half again as far as the rest of us from her constant curious excursions hither and yon as we progressed down the mountain. Darling Pansy was with us as well, and proved invaluable in preventing our inquisitive filly from getting lost or left behind by keeping an eye upon her from above.

Several doughty earth pony drafters had been hired by my lady the Queen as well to ease our journey, and it is they who pulled most of the weight on the first leg of the trip. I blush a bit, o diary, at how much of that was the contents of my library. To think when I first moved into my chambers in Castle Canter my books fit neatly in a cart I could pull by myself. This time around my little cart was loaded with the contents of my laboratory, which I felt I should take sole responsibility for.

I will digress a moment to note an amusing incident when we finally came to the river port at the hoof of the mountain.

Dear little Dawn was quite curious about the whole process of hitching oneself to a cart or wagon and pulling it, and as our trip had gone on had begun to pester us a bit to try it out. Once we had secured a nights lodgings (again, thanks to Queen Platinum's largesse) at the Riverside Inn, we finally relented to her constant entreaties of "Dawn pull cawt?" and hitched her up to one of the larger wagons. I had to make some extra holes in the straps of my own harness, which was the smallest one we had, so that she could get hooked up properly.  

I am sure our stout teamsters thought it a gentle bit of sport to watch the slender little slip of a filly strain and struggle against an immovable weight, and learn that there are some tasks best left to the grownups. O diary, I can scarce describe the looks on their faces when the massive wagon loaded with several tons of solid books rolled along behind little Dawn as if she were skipping ahead of a toy cart full of fresh picked flowers. [1]

Somehow one thing led to another, and I'll warrant that my dear husbands' generosity in purchasing summer cider and small beer for our drafters had some part in it (greasing the wheels, he called it), and a contest of strength was initiated, with Buckboard, Tumblewheel, Half Ton, and Bracer hitched to one end of a stout rope and Dawn hitched to the other for a tug of war. The dear poppet was near beside herself with glee at this new game, hopping about on her hooves and giggling and declaring "Dawn pull ponies!"

And pull them she did, as soon as the kerchief was dropped, our quartet of drafters found themselves pulled backwards across the inn's courtyard, dragging furrows in the dust with their hooves. A crowd of teamsters and stevedores had gathered as the spectacle played out. One by one they joined our team of drafters, gripping ropes in their teeth and pulling alongside them, until a veritable herd of mighty thewed stallions were pulling in vain against one slim little filly foal.

Pansy, Crimson and I could only watch with growing concern, as what at first seemed another harmless game had somehow swept up everypony staying at the inn that evening. More and more ponies seemed to have come out of the woodwork to watch, babbling excitedly and making wagers among themselves as each new stalwart joined the contest.

The whole proceedings was brought to a sudden halt as the rope snapped, sending poor Dawn tumbling forward onto her snout and leaving her opponents in a tangled, groaning heap of ponies. Bless her dear little heart, she only sniffled once and blinked away her tears before she was among them, helping them up and giving hugs with her wings and kissing bruises, all the while ignoring her scuffed knees and muzzle.

I am both proud and relieved to be writing this, o diary. She has grown more resilient over her happy days in the castle gardens, and while I am saddened that she now is acquainted with pain, she deals with it more admirably than some full grown ponies that I know.

Dawn's bravery wasn't my only source of relief, however. I was also relieved to find the simple river folk we found ourselves among were much less prone to skittishness than the nobles and servants of the high castle. They accepted our little marvel in good spirits, with much laughter and the trading of wagered bits and the buying of drinks as the assembly of musclebound oafs cheered and tossed her into the air to much giggling and flapping of her snowy wings.

We put her to bed soon after, with the dear poppet only keeping her eyes open long enough for some extra kisses on her knees and nose before she fell fast asleep, all worn out from a busy day.

Of course, she was still up with the sun the following morning, her boundless store of energy renewed and sending her bouncing about the room while we all groaned into action with a thousand aches assailing our bodies.

Dawn was terribly excited to ride on a boat. She had been introduced to the idea by way of toy boats in the baths, and was fascinated to see them so much larger in real life when we drew our wagons down to the riverside and loaded them on the flat bottomed barge my Queen had commissioned for our transit to Fort Everfree.

Our initial passage on the river was largely smooth and untroubled, as the patchwork of cultivated farmland all around us gave way to wild, rolling hills and stretches where the forests raised a canopy of sun dappled green atop gnarled wooden pillars. Crimson pulled his viol out from his wagon, and played a merry accompaniment to the rough songs of the boat ponies as they labored with our team of drafters to steer the boat. The swift currents of the Saddle River did most of the work, with only a few deft applications of the poles and one point where they towed the barge from the shore to navigate around some rapids to keep us on course.

Little Dawn seemed to be a thousand places at once, leaning over the edge and dragging her fore hoof or horn in the water, clambering among the wagons' wheels and moorings, chasing dragonflies across the deck, and watching the crew ponies at their work.

I only had to scoop her up in my magic to keep her from falling overboard twice, with two more such rescues going one apiece to Crimson and Sand Bar, the rough earth pony mare who was the owner and captain of our barge. Bracer the draft pony's quick reaction with the tie ropes kept the dear poppet from getting a wing caught beneath one of the wagon wheels as she shimmied through the tight spaces 'neath our gently listing cargo. A stern admonition from me kept her from getting much more than a light singeing across the snout and another lesson in leaving insects alone to go about their business. The crew ponies bore her in good humor, although she was more than a bit underhoof.

She is indeed blessed that in addition to all her prodigious gifts of strength and magic that she is heart meltingly adorable, else we would have locked her in a chest and loaded her on a wagon for the duration of our journey.

It was as much a relief to those of us confined to the boat, as well as a new adventure for little Dawn, when Pansy offered to take her up on her back for a bird's eye view of the river. The notable respite from the dear filly's enthusiasm became all the more notable when Pansy's sharp pegasus eyes espied a substantial obstacle on the course ahead of us, in the form of a large fallen tree blocking the river with a veritable barricade of flotsam and debris collected around it.

We on the boat heard of it when our brave pair of aerial scouts doubled back and gravely reported what they had seen. Sand Bar grimaced in disgust and spat a gob of chewing weed [2] over the rails. (Which in turn caused me to grimace in disgust, but not so she could see it. I was a guest on her barge, and it is meet for guests to keep the manners of their host, unseemly though they might be.) Our able skipper grimly reckoned that it would take a few days hard work to clear the blockage.

At this, Pansy stepped forward with a suggestion, that Dawn use her magic to clear it. I bade our captain to drop anchor as I pondered this notion, weighing the risks with the potential benefit.

Our dear filly's power was vast, and I was well certain she could clear this fallen timber as easily as she sent the oak tree flying over the battlements when the bee stung her. But this vast store of magical force was uncontrolled. All of her outbursts had been thoughtless reactions to distress or frustration. It was the whole reason we'd been sent into exile to our new home at Everfree. Perhaps it would be meet to see if she could do it when asked, and perhaps by observing I could gauge what manner and extent of control she had, and mayhap come up with a method to train her so that control might increase.

Having decided, Pansy and I took Dawn aside and tried to impart to her what we wanted her to do. When we had gotten her to understand, she was most hesitant. She did not want me to yell at her and make her sit in the corner, bless her dear heart. I drew her into a hug and assured her that I would not be angry, as long as she was careful.

Careful. Now there was a word hard won in her vocabulary, painstakingly taught through endless repetition during our days in Castle Canter.

With charming solemnity, she declared "Dawn be caewful." I kissed her at the base of her horn and sent her aloft on Pansy's back, with a nod of trust between myself and my dear pegasus friend.

We on the barge gathered at the prow, hunkered down behind the rail at Crimson's wise suggestion. I watched breathlessly, opening my inner eye as well but taking care to shield myself with mystic barriers the old grump had taught me. I wished that my viewing glass was not packed deeply away in my little wagon, so that I could see more than the distant shape of Pansy and Dawn, like a tiny snowbird carrying a dollop of its namesake on its back.

We watched them circle a few times, and in my dreaming eye I saw a corona of gold flicker and grow stronger around the point of focus I knew to be Dawn's horn, pulling at the aether like a weight laid upon a stretched span of cloth. I could feel the hairs of my mane and tail going rigid as the buildup increased the tension. Bless her, Dawn was trying to be careful. Long forgotten sensations from my early studies flooded my awareness, remembering when I was little and trying to thread a needle with my magic. I think the tip of my tongue unconsciously protruded from the side of my mouth as I slipped into a sympathetic state of concentration.

Then came the release, a snap across the aether and a blinding flare of pink and gold that forced both my gazing and dreaming eyes tightly closed and left my back teeth buzzing like bees. The cries of amazement around me made me blink open my eyes once more to behold a billowing plume of white cloud, like a great mushroom rising over the forest.

A moment later we all winced from a blast of wind rushing down the riverbanks, as the flow beneath us quickened, causing the anchor ropes to groan as the current increased. Not long after that we all ducked down and covered our heads as chips and splinters of wood fell upon us amongst a sudden, rain like shower of river water and dollops of mud.

After a few more moments of stunned silence, Captain Sand Bar climbed to her hooves and urged her crew to weigh anchor and stand ready with the poles, before retiring to her little cabin at the back of the barge to obtain a fresh plug of chewing weed to replace the one she'd just swallowed. I was uncertain whether the queasy expression on the rough mare's face was from that or from the shock that was also folding her ears tightly back against her cap.

As we forged ahead over the whitened water of the river through a haze of sudden fog, we presently saw a laden pegasus approach, but as they came closer we realized it wasn't Pansy and Dawn alone, but a roan stallion clad in a green cloak and leather jerkin, carrying mare and filly on his back as he came in for a landing among us.

All three of them were in something of a state. All were clearly shaken, with Dawn in tears and Pansy ashen and trembling slightly with pain as she held her right wing at an angle that told me at once she'd broken it. Without any delay I bade Crimson run to his wagon to retrieve the leech's chest, as I rushed forward to render aid.

With the stallions' help, both dear Crimson and the stranger's, we set and splinted it, with Dawn clinging to Pansy so tightly she would not be pulled away, and thus we worked around her. Ever the stoic, our dear pegasus friend explained through her gritted teeth that she'd been tumbled into a treetop from the back draft of Dawn obliterating the blockage, and then the blessed fool of a mare had the bottomless gall to apologize for making everypony worry. By the powers, Pansy could be run through with a lance and apologize for dripping on the carpet. Sometimes she makes me so frustrated I could hug her within an inch of her life.

A flask of something that smelled as though it could peel the mosaics off of the Stellar College's Hall of Constellations was brought forward by the barge crew and given to Pansy to dull her pain, although I do believe that the redness that bloomed on her cheeks after the violent coughing had subsided was just as much from the pegasus stallion taking her hoof in his and expressing his dearly wished hope that she would soon be on the mend, and that he was thankful happenstance had allowed him to render aid so quickly to so winsome a mare.

(For this I scarce blame her blushes. My darling Crimson is the apple of my eye, but I have enough of an appreciation for other fine produce, if you know what I mean, o diary, and I believe that you do. Yowza! [3])

After tearing his eyes away from her, he stood and saluted, introducing himself as Fletching, a yeomane scout in the service of Fort Everfree. He explained that he'd been attached to an expedition of yeomane foresters who'd been sent to clear the blockage at Serpentine Bend in anticipation of our expected transit. He bid us all welcome to the neighborhood, and then begged his leave to let his comrades know how it came to be that the area they were trekking toward was no longer so much a river bend as it was a small lake.

He took Pansy's hoof again and kissed it, bidding her farewell and promising to check on her as soon as his duties allowed, and then took to the sky. Poor Pansy went even redder, I think for other reasons than the second pull she took from Sand Bar's flask, judging by the unfurling of her unsplinted wing. And I do not think that the pain in her wing was the only cause of her unfocused gaze.

Having seen to Pansy, Crimson and I turned our attention to Dawn Heart, who finally released her hold on Pansy and fell sobbing into my embrace. I shushed and cooed at her, while my dear husband checked her over for any hurts. It is a tribute to my brave pegasus friend's aerial skill that of these the little filly had none, save for being scared and full of remorse.

In a piteous voice she insisted "Dawn not caewful. Dawn hurt Pansy." and I did my best to assure her that it was not so. I told her she had done well, and that I knew she tried hard to be careful, and that accidents can still happen even if we are careful, and that I would help her learn to be more careful in the future. Pansy would be all right, and she still loved Dawn as much as I did, a fact that my dear pegasus companion confirmed with a bit of a slur in her voice as she haphazardly draped her good wing across both our withers as we laid on the deck at her side. I did not blame her for the light yet palpable blow to the back of my head from her pinions, which I think I rather deserved.

To tell the truth, o diary, I think this is a case where I could have been more careful. Dawn's training must begin in earnest very soon, although a bit of time has been bought by her reticence to use her magic after the incident at Serpentine Bend. I must be careful not to view her as just another thaumaturgical experiment, but as a dear heart with a gentle soul within, and a shining light that must not be frightened 'neath a bushel through my missteps in understanding her magic.

How I wish I didn't have to spend this time researching this interminable blue diamond spell. But I digress, yet again, o diary.

We came upon the now inappropriately named bend in the river and its newly blasted made clearing by late afternoon, and were met by a delegation of green cloaked earth ponies bearing axes strapped to their saddle bags, led by a jolly fellow with a pheasant's feather in his cap who introduced himself as Captain Leaf, leader of the yeomane foresters of Fort Everfree.

He bid us welcome, and informed us that "Fletch" as he called the pegasus stallion who'd rescued dear Pansy from the treetops, had been sent ahead to report to Count Greensward and the garrison of our arrival and the circumstances surrounding the unexpected explosion on the river.

As the fort was still several miles away and evening was approaching, it was decided between Captain Leaf and Captain Sand Bar that we'd make camp on the lakeside and then head out for our intended destination on the morrow.

Translator's Hoofnote:

[1] Here one of Lady Clover's doodles depicts four flabbergasted stallions' faces, looking on with gaping mouths and wide eyes at a tiny winged filly prancing ahead of a huge wagon that's probably about ten times her size or more.

[2] Chewing weed isn't as common in the more built up areas of Equestria these days, but is still fairly common on the frontiers, I've been informed by my dear friend Applejack (who has relatives who partake, although she herself never has).

In Lady Clover's time tobacco hadn't yet been discovered and brought back from more tropical zones, so Captain Sand Bar probably was chewing a mixture of chicory and mint leaves. For whatever other gross side effects of her habit, her breath was probably fresh and sweet.

Princess Celestia tells me, with a notable air of distaste, that chewing weed hit its greatest vogue roughly a century and a half ago, a time she facetiously refers to as the "Age of Spittoons".[4] While she never outright banned the practice, she did gently guide most municipalities to pass ordinances discouraging ponies from expectorating on the sidewalks.

I, for one, appreciate that as much as her daily raising of the sun.

[3] Here's another point where I'm forced to use a modern idiom, as the equivalent High Monoceric exultation involving a stile and a caber is just plain weird and
definitely a subject I'm not going to bring up at brunch with the princesses anytime soon. [5]

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

[4] I suppose that goes to show that there are some eras during my thousand year exile that I do not regret missing so much. -P.L.

Translator's Mentor's Hoofnote:

[5] A note to my faithful student and to the publisher. I sincerely apologize for the misting of tea droplets staining this particular section of the manuscript. I'd just taken a deep sip from my cup when I read the hoofnotes.

I heartily concur, Twilight, that explaining that particular phrasing would be a rather delicate conversation. And it would probably be best to either forgo beverages altogether or else pour ourselves something a bit stronger. -P.C. [6]

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

[6] I'll bring that excellent claret from my personal stock if you let me sit in on this! Mark my  words, there will be repercussions if you don't invite me. (If only there were some way to accompany text with ominous thunder.) - P.L. [7]

Translator's Hoofnote:

[7] Suffice to say, dear reader, that there are more annoying things than tea to get all over one's manuscript.

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.

Finally settled in at Paradise Estates and able to update her journal, Lady Clover writes of their journey from Castle Canter to the lands around Fort Everfree.

Part 10 ->…
Oh, how I love this story :D
Earth Pony strength, check.
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