Somewhat to the disappointment of both the singers and the dancers... and the orchestra, and the pegasus ballet company, and the actors and the boastful unicorn magician sulking behind the flats, the hit of the entire show was Plantain Acres and her marching bunnies. Her gigantic rhythmic banana spiders got their share of applause, certainly - you don't stiff your appreciation for giant spiders, whatever they decide to perform - Plantain's bunnies clearly stole the show. The brutal fact is that... well, you just can't beat bunnies. Especially when they do synchronized marching and dancing. Not even a hovering, perfectly still pegasus beats bunnies. At least not in a fringe-of-Equestria village like Martingale On Hackamore.
It wasn't that the show hadn't been a success - far from it. Everypony in Martingale had driven their hooves to numbness and tingling from clapping and stomping - Old Saltlick complained he couldn't feel his frogs anymore at all, and Two Nails had such sore pasterns that he was limping when he had to go to the outhouse during the intermission. Not a single villager had ever put their hooves through such abuse over anything in such a short time, and they were all hard-working ponies the lot of them. Many had sore throats from hooting and hollering their approval and excitement, and poor little Watercress could hardly speak at all, for all the laughing and shrieking she had done at both the bunnies and the spiders both.
Dumpy had been very glad he had come to see the show. Now that it was almost over, he was feeling mighty sad, actually. He'd made up his mind not to go backstage, because it would just cause endless trouble. He wanted, desperately, to speak to his old Society friends, but if he did that, then he would be Noticed by the villagers, and there would be Questions, not the simple kind but the Capital Q kind of Questions, the sort that would forever change his life in Martingale. He'd probably have to up and leave, just to avoid it all - they'd never let him be the invisible dung pony in the back, once he was connected to the Only Show To Ever Pass Through Martingale. No, no, no... there is no way he could talk to any of his old friends.
Royal was concluding the show, bringing the performers out for final bows and more pain for the weary, clapped-out hooves of the villagers. "...hope you enjoyed our little show, and if you'll let us, maybe someday we just might be back this way to..." Royal stopped speaking, which made the audience curious. Somepony, a pale fuchsia mare, was pointing from the rear corner of the stage. Royal tried to follow her hoof "Are you sure? This isn't like that time in Greater Fetlock, right?"
The mare just offstage seemed very adamant, which only made the audience even more curious what the hay was going on. Royal whispered something to the mare, she forcefully whispered something back, and it was at this point that Dumpy began to realize that her hoof was pointing more or less at his side of the audience, and that made him very nervous to say the least. He slumped down as low as he could, trying to get his head down behind the portly barrel of Sugarloaf the Beet-Farmer. Dumpy scanned left and right, seeing if there was any way he could sneak off through the crowd without drawing attention to himself, and considering there wasn't anything to actually hide behind other than the ponies around him, he decided to stay put. The villagers were looking about trying to see what the fuss was that had caused the concern on stage. There was no way Dumpy figured he could do anything but stay quiet and still.
"Just a moment folks! We may have a special surprise for you tonight!" Royal had returned to the center of the large wooden stage. "We've been waiting for this moment for... oh, about just over a decade, more or less, and my wife tells me that... you're sure you're sure? Ok, then, burn the envelope. If you're sure, then do it." The pale fuchsia unicorn mare levitated a wax-sealed envelope into the mystic flame of one of the arcane lights that illuminated the stage so brightly. The envelope went up in a burst of strange green fire, which then collected into a ball and shot off into the night sky towards the north-west. This got the attention of the audience, who thought it was quite the fanciful trick, whatever it was.
"Fillies and colts, mares and gentlestallions, I have an announcement to make!" Royal approached the edge of the stage. Behind him, several members of the troupe took the stage and joined the master of ceremonies. Dumpy instantly recognized them. The fuchsia unicorn was Soliloquy, of course, and she gave Royal a nuzzle as she stood by him. Their daughter, Eloquence, pushed her body between them getting nuzzles from both for the effort. There was Chair and Honeybutter and Daisy Dew, to the other side of Royal. Argent and Hot Topic stood close to Chair and Honeybutter, Argent gave his husband a quick kiss. Thunder Road, rose up and flew down to stand by Soliloquy, flaring her bright crimson wings just before a perfect stop. Dumpy didn't see Golden Showers, but he did see Bitsworth, who trotted up beside Thunder and gave her a nod and a wink. It was nearly the entire original group from The Reasonably Adamant Down with Celestia Newfoal Society, all together, right there at the front of the stage.
Royal followed his wife's pointing hoof once more, squinting through the arcane light in his muzzle. Suddenly he smiled and the smile became a grin. He nodded and visibly relaxed, apparently this was not going to be like whatever happened in Greater Fetlock. Dumpy tried harder to remain hidden behind Sugarloaf, and tried to will himself invisible. He didn't at all like where this was clearly going, and despite the best efforts of his mind to deny it, he was sure that Soliloquy's hoof had been pointed square at him.
"Everypony - The Happy Pony Show wasn't always what you have seen today." Royal adjusted his trademark tie with a hoof. "It all started as a sort of therapy group for disgruntled Newfoals, more or less. We started out complaining about our lot in life, pretty silly really, in retrospect... but at the time it seemed to be a big deal, and we found ways to communicate our issues with others. From that humble beginning, we became the touring company we are today, and through it all, we've stayed together, as a big extended family!" Royal nodded at the rest of the ponies on stage, and gave his wife and daughter a loving nuzzle.
"Our family has grown over the years, as you can imagine!" The remaining cast and crew of the show had taken the stage as Royal spoke, lining up behind the original Society ponies - dancers, performers, arcane lighting and soundspell crew, and all the roadies too. Dumpy peeked over the withers and ears of Sugarloaf at the stage, completely filled with ponies, some in costume, some wearing roadie tack and hats, some with tool-tack and saddlebags across their backs. All seemed expectant, excited, as if finally coming to the end of some grand quest.
As Dumpy gazed upon the crowded stage, he felt a strange pressure in the air, the sort of feeling that occurs when the pegasai start piling dark and swollen clouds up overhead in preparation for a scheduled summer thunderstorm. A strange glow, the colors of the morning began to shine, and briefly Dumpy wondered if the show had lasted all night and he had failed to notice.
"All of us have been on tour, and we've seen parts of Equestria we didn't even know existed. It's been a fabulous, wonderful adventure, but always, in our thoughts, has been one pony, one of our original members, our first stage manager. He was a dear friend, though we didn't really show him that as much as we should have." Dumpy felt tears well up in his eyes as Royal spoke - he never thought they cared, not enough to remember him after all this time, not like this. He had no idea what to think, but it was completely clear that there was no point in hiding anymore. Dumpy sat up straight, and gave a little wave. Soliloquy and Argent both noticed - Argent raised a hoof slightly, and Soliloquy gave Dumpy a warm smile.
"But maybe it would be best for me to hush now, because nothing I could say could equal simply her presence here. I would like to present to you, her majesty, princess Celestia of Equestria!" After a quick glance above, Royal bowed deep and low, and immediately with him so did the entire cast and crew of the Happy Pony Show. The audience followed the brightening of the light to a swirling glow above the backdrop of the stage. The glow receded leaving a shining white, winged shape hovering above the stage. Instantly the citizens of the tiny village of Martingale On Hackamore instinctively bowed as well as an ineffable, wonderfully loving, and transcendent presence washed over them.
Those on stage parted leaving space for her majesty to land. Gold shod hooves touched lightly on the wooden planks, as her perfect wings folded to her side. The princess of the sun smiled radiantly at all, her ethereal mane shimmering in soft blues, greens and coral shades, ever swirling in some esoteric breeze beyond understanding.
"Bucket, your loving friends have long sought to find you, as also have we."
Dumpy quavered as he gazed up. Around him the villagers looked about, confused. They knew every pony in their small village, and every pony nearby, and not one of them was named 'Bucket'. Who was this 'Bucket' the princess seemed to think was here? Bucket? They turned to each other asking if anypony had heard of a 'Bucket', or had a cousin in another county, or...
Dumpy swallowed, and tried not to cry. Slowly he stood up among the still partly bowing villagers and briefly looked around at them, at all the ponies he had known and loved from afar for so many years. Old Saltlick gave him the most curious look. Nutbrown shook his head, as if to say 'get down, Dumpy, she isn't addressing you!'. Dumpy turned his head back to Celestia. It was very different seeing her after all his village years, up on a stage under arcane lights yet glowing with her own light, wise and ancient beyond measure.
"Hi, guys. Um... Princess." Dumpy felt his legs shake, they felt weak, like he might just collapse right there and then. "I... um... I missed you, too."
And then it all became a swirl of motion and color - somehow the audience managed to part and make way as his old Society friends poured down from the stage like water over a waterfall to surround him and hug him and greet him and scold him too, and it was happy, and sad, and confusing and crowded, but more than anything it was wonderful. So many words were all said at once, and he felt caught up in some great whirlwind of sound and greeting and kisses and questions. It was impossible for the little stallion to keep track of it all, but it was happy, and that was all that mattered.
In short order, the village learned that their quietest and most reserved citizen was really a pony of some note, that he had been a member of whatever it was that had happened fifteen years ago up in the sky, and that he was loved by all these impressive and important show-pony folk. They learned that his name wasn't 'Dumpy Dungcart', or at least it hadn't always been, and that he had once been called 'Bucket', and that he was one of these 'Newfoals' that Celestia cared about so much.
Dumpy - he had lived under that name for fifteen years now, and his old name just didn't seem to belong to him anymore - was dragged away by his old friends backstage, where there was cider and fancy, tasty treats from all over Equestria to nibble, and more hugs and more questions and many stories about what had happened to everypony over the years.
While this went on, Celestia, princess of the sun and ruler of all Equestria talked to the villagers of Martingale On Hackamore. She explained many things to them, things they had never understood about Equestria and about the lonely little dungcart pony that lived among them. When she had heard from the villagers about his strange isolation, her ageless wisdom let her counsel them on what had almost certainly made him act that way, and how she did not wish his sad isolation to be allowed to continue.
In the week that had followed, the cast and crew of the Happy Pony show had become like some big extended family to the citizens of Martingale, cousins from afar. Watercress got to play with the the marvelous dancing bunnies, and became close to their trainer, Plantain. Argent and Topic found the taste of Martingale cider much to their liking, and quickly became the center of attention at Old Saltlick's Not-Pub with their wild stories and clever banter. Somehow they ended up involved in some kind of insane prank with Stonebridge and Sackbarrel, and somehow Sackbarrel's general store got trashed in the process, but nopony was hurt, thankfully, though whatever it was was Not To Be Spoken Of in the future.
Two Nails took some kind of fancy to Thunder Road, and not a lot was seen of either of them for most of the week, Nutbrown and Cornhusk couldn't seem to get enough of Bitsworth, who had learned to do all manner of clever prestohoofitation and other curious tricks - they bothered him incessantly for another demonstration. Glade Blossom and Stormy found much to talk about with Chair and Honeybutter - it seemed that Glade had a marvelous singing voice, though she was more interested in Honeybutter's experience raising her foals. Glade was worried about her own impending day of delivery.
Dumpy found out that Golden Showers had left the company to pursue full-time philanthropy, giving away prizes was not enough now that he had the bug to help other ponies. Apparently he had done some wonderful things all across Equestria in terms of setting up charity organizations to provide numerous services to any who wanted them.
But the biggest moment for Dumpy was when Celestia had asked him to walk with her.
"I know why you ran away, my little pony, and it is my wish that you stop running now." They walked beside the slowly rolling Hackamore river, down the road that Dumpy took his cart. Celestia had noted how beautiful the flowers grew along the route.
"Y-you want me t-to rejoin the show?" Dumpy felt miserable at that prospect, he really did deeply love living in Martingale, and the last thing he wanted now was to leave his wonderful home and all the ponies he had come to love so much.
"No, no, not at all. I wish you to stop running away." Dumpy had stopped when the princess did, her eyes were intent on him, filled with timeless compassion.
"I... princess, I don't want to hurt these ponies! I don't dare... I don't dare get close or..." Dumpy felt like crying. How could he explain the threat he represented, with his head full of Earth and Man and war and torture and murder and violence?
"Dumpy." Only the princess never failed to remember his new name - Royal and the others were always slipping and calling him 'Bucket'. "The song that made you run away. Tell me why you ran."
Dumpy blinked. "I thought you said you already knew why I ran away?"
"I do, but I want you to tell me, in your own words." Celestia was quiet and patient.
Dumpy looked down and dug a small furrow with a hoof in the dirt road. "That song, it was... the anthem of the Nazi Party. They were one of the most evil groups in the entire history of Mankind and..."
Celestia cut him off. "No. None of that is true."
"What?" Dumpy was astonished.
"Tomorrow Belongs To Me was written by the humans John Kander and Fred Ebb for a musical show called 'Cabaret'. It was written after the style of German songs of the period the show was about, but the song itself never existed until that musical. But even if it had been an authentic Nazi Party song, what would it have mattered?" Celestia smiled softly at the little stallion.
"But... evil... and..." Dumpy stammered, unable to process what the princess meant.
"This is Equestria, Dumpy. Here, no matter what its history, it would only be a pretty song. That's all it could ever be. Do you really think that my little ponies could be swayed to become evil by a pretty little song? Do you think they could ever become evil at all? Could you, now, do evil, even if you wanted to?" It struck Dumpy how incredibly tall Celestia was. She towered over him.
"N..no! And I wouldn't ever even want to be evil, not ever!" Dumpy blurted out.
"Of course you wouldn't. Nopony wants to hurt anypony, or any other creature. It's part of what being Equestrian means." Celestia gave the upset little stallion a comforting nuzzle. "With very few exceptions, every Newfoal became a true child of Equestria. Conversion was more than just trading hands for hooves, my little pony. Never doubt that your heart is as pure as that of any other Equestrian, whatever you may remember of your old world. Knowing something is not the same as having the sort of heart that could actually do it. Do you understand?"
"I... I think so, princess." Dumpy found himself smiling. "How do you know all of that, I mean, about the song and all?"
Celestia looked at him for a moment, then performed a very affected accent "I vut nefer consiter infating bevor pervorming initial tactical rezerch!" Dumpy stared, open mouthed at this, then burst out laughing. Tears came to his eyes. It was astonishing to hear the princess, the goddess of the very sun, sound so silly, so whimsical, so... fun. "Despite what you may have heard, Dumpy Dungcart, I am not nearly as grim as some would make me out to be."
It was a revelation for the little stallion. The ruler of all Equestria could do funny voices and make ponies laugh. Celestia was far more interesting and complex than he had realized. One thing bothered him now, though. "W-why... why are you... well, bothering... with me?"
It was a reasonable question. After all, he was nopony. There were... well there must be billions, just billions of Newfoals in Equestria now. Why would the princess of the sun bother... with little Dumpy Dungcart from Martingale On Hackamore? Was there more to this, was something going on that he didn't understand or...
"Your little Newfoal Society did the crown a great service, Dumpy." Celestia was being serious now, Dumpy didn't see any laughter in her eyes or her tone. "Your show presented an opportunity to let the Newfoals be seen as equal, positive, and valued members of Equestria. It also presented a means to relieve a certain amount of building political tension, a necessary thing to take care of every few decades. Your whimsical irreverence was exactly what was needed at precisely the right time."
Dumpy thought about it. It was likely that the court of the princess may not have been in entire agreement with her decision to take in billions of strange refugees from a dying world. Even with Conversion, there might be doubt, worry, even open distrust. Who knew how far it might drive some ponies in positions of relative authority? It was exactly the sort of thing that called for subtlety - the power to reshape continents would be useless against political issues.
It was a curious thought - being able to do anything did not automatically mean the absence of all complexity or difficulty. Even goddesses had to find clever solutions to the more... common problems. "Even so..." Dumpy began, but couldn't manage to finish the thought.
"Because, Dumpy Dungcart of Martingale On Hackamore, I really do care about all of my little ponies." Celestia's soft smile was utterly charming, and without any guile. Why Dumpy? Because he was there, because she knew him, because she really, truly did care, just like anypony would.
"I... I promise that I will open up, and be unafraid in the future, princess. I really love the ponies here, and I want to be their friend so much. I just hope... I just hope they will want to talk to me, after so many years of... of..." Dumpy hung his head.
"I wouldn't worry about that, Dumpy. I know for a fact that every pony in Martingale not only forgives you completely, but is eager to be your friend!" Celestia gave Dumpy a conspiratorial wink.
"I don't understand." Dumpy and Celestia had begun to walk once more, again on the path towards his little cottage, and far beyond it, the composting pits.
"Well, you are my friend, after all, and I have found that most ponies are very excited to meet friends of mine."
Dumpy giggled at this. "Wanna see my dung-cart? It's a really great cart!"
"I'd like nothing better?" That made them both laugh.
It was early, on a beautiful Celestday's evening. Dumpy had taken his usual two baths, the second with but a single drop of the exquisite bath essence that Soliloquy had gifted him. It smelled of the freshest of meadows and the most delightful of moments immediately after a summer rain, yet it enhanced his natural, warm, stallion scent, all while eliminating ever offensive odor. It was a gift from some strange part of Equestria that he couldn't remember the name of, but he was so incredibly grateful for the magical gift.
The Happy Pony Show had moved on, to other villages and ultimately out into the Exponential Lands where the majority of all Newfoals lived. That was their lifelong passion, the growing troupe - to seek out new villages, new towns, new civilizations and entertain them. Dumpy was almost tempted to join his old friends, but the fact was that Martingale On Hackamore was the only village in all the universe that he wanted, or needed, to be in.
"Dumpy! Welcome!" Old Saltlick greeted him as he entered the Refreshetorium and Sometimes Inn for his social night.
"Two pints of cider, please!" Dumpy used teeth and hoof to present four coins to his friend behind the counter. "Oh... and a tray, to carry them with?" Saltlick nodded and set about getting the order. When the tankards were filled and the tray was ready, Dumpy took it in his teeth and carried the two pints carefully over to his new favorite spot, the table by the fireplace. It was the most romantic spot, according to what Stormy had told him. That was where Stormy had first met his Glade Blossom.
Dumpy cautiously placed the tray down on the table with his teeth, then pushed the tray more to the center with a hoof. He walked around to the low, green cushion and sat his haunches down. He looked around at the smiling ponies, the familiar Celestday crowd. Stonebridge was waiting for Sackbarrel to finally show up, and gave Dumpy a friendly wave. Two Nails was busy practicing his game for when Nutbrown arrived, he gave Dumpy a warm nod, then returned to calculating just the right 'oomph' to give the little sliding disk under his hoof.
Finally, Dumpy's eyes came to rest on the most wonderful thing in the entire room, the one thing that made the night, and the days, and the years all more happy and delightful than the ones before. The exquisite chestnut mare, Tumberel, looked at Dumpy with love in her great, emerald eyes. Dumpy grinned at her, his ears high on his head, his heart beating in joy.
"Your cider, missus Dumpcart!" He stated.
"Thank you, mister Dumpcart!" She replied.
One: The Big Respawn,
Two: Euphrosyne Unchained,
Three: Letters From Home,
Four: Teacup, Down On The Farm
The Conversion Bureau Novels:
27 Ounces: A story of eight and one half ponies
The Taste Of Grass
The Conversion Bureau: Code Majeste
The Conversion Bureau: The 800 Year Promise
The Conversion Bureau: Going Pony
The PER: Michelson and Morely
The Reasonably Adamant Down With Celestia Newfoal Society!
The Short Stories:
Her Last Possession
The Conversion Bureau: PER Equitum
The Conversion Bureau: Brand New Universe
Tales Of Los Pegasus
The Non-Conversion Bureau Fanfics:
The Ice Cream Pony Summer
Around The Bend