Dumpy Dungcart sat sipping his cider in the shadowy back corner of Saltlick's General Refreshetorium And Sometimes Inn. The quaint and curious name notwithstanding, the place was basically a pub, at least as far as Dumpy was concerned. Old Saltlick sold cider and salt - which had a curious intoxicating effect on Equestrians when ingested beyond reasonable amounts - as well as various simple snacks. There were games for ponies to play, and places to sit. It was a pub in every way except what the natives of Martingale On Hackamore called it.
It was an early Celestday evening, Luna's perfect moon had just risen. Dumpy had enjoyed his usual two baths, the indoor one, as usual, performed with a liberal helping of the sweet-smelling bath powder that he made use of on his one 'social' day at the pub. Not that Dumpy was social, as such, of course. He sat in the back, refused to talk, and had been gradually accepted as the quiet pony that comes on Celestdays and doesn't like to be bothered. Equestrians were a gregarious sort, generally, but they could be trained to leave a pony alone.
Nutbrown, a farm stallion from the north quarter of Martingale, was playing a shuffleboard-like game with his old friend Two Nails the blacksmith - Two Nails was winning, currently, and grinning widely for the joy of it. Stonebridge - despite the name a carpenter - was gently arguing as was his usual with Sackbarrel, the owner of the Martingale General Store, something about how unicorns couldn't be good blacksmiths because they never set hoof on metal, and they didn't have an earthpony's way with stuff from the ground. Sackbarrel, a unicorn, was having none of this and was just shy of calling the heavy-built metalworker a breedist. It was likely that Old Saltlick would have to step in and settle the pair down with a scolding and a free pint each to make up for it - which was exactly what the two clever friends pretended to argue for in the first place. They were a devious pair, for ponies at least, and Dumpy had heard many tales of the dubious misadventures of their youth.
Dumpy had come to know just about everything about every pony in Martingale On Hackamore - he had come to the conclusion that he probably knew more about every citizen than they knew about themselves, much less each other. Dumpy didn't mingle, and he didn't mix, he just listened. All that listening had brought him the heart and the soul and the drama of his small village in a way that likely no other pony ever had. Sometimes, he even intervened, when he felt he needed to - like the time that Glade Blossom had thought Stormy didn't like her anymore because he had up and flown away and was gone for three months and she was beside herself and ready to marry Cornhusk out of grief. She didn't love Cornhusk - Hay, she didn't even particularly like the pushy stallion. Dumpy had written an anonymous letter telling her Stormy's big secret - that he had gone off to get a temporary high-pay job so he could buy her a proper hoofband. Stormy was intending to propose to Glade and... he really should have said something, anything, before he left, the silly pegasus.
Glade was all cheered up the next day and willing to wait for the one she loved, and she never let on about the note, which allowed Stormy his Big Surprise. They were expecting their first foal in a few months. Sometimes, Dumpy felt like a gardener, more than a dungcart draftpony - Martingale was his garden, and all the ponies in it his precious, beautiful flowers, each and every one of them.
It had been almost fifteen years since Dumpy had showed up one day in Martingale On Hackamore and ended up as a nightsoil technician. Dumpy chuckled, softly, into his cider at that one. That's what they would have called it back on earth. Chief Nightsoil Technician and Compost Development Specialist. Sweet Luna, but those humans had been a pretentious lot.
Huh! That caught Dumpy, and he stared intently at the golden cider in his tankard. A tiny bubble popped on the surface. Those humans. Those. Those humans. He no longer thought of himself as a Newfoal. He really didn't. How odd! He was just... a pony. A pony in a pub, even though they didn't call it that. And thinking such a thing - that the locals didn't call their pub a pub, that didn't make him feel like some weird, transformed ape from another universe anymore. He was just a pony, who had come from outside, and become part of the community, and... it was no big deal that he had some notions that weren't local. That was just natural. Having once been a different species didn't enter into it any longer.
Somehow, in those fifteen years, he'd just... settled in. Accepted himself a might. Of course... he understood he didn't dare mix, that was a given, but... at least he didn't see himself as a freak of Conversion anymore. Not like he did. He knew he carried ideas and notions inside him he didn't want hurting these native ponies but that was somehow distant now. It was a promise he kept to himself, a noble act he thought, but he wasn't consumed with shame anymore. He just did it, because it needed to be done, and that was that, and it didn't make him less of an Equestrian because of it. Dumpy smiled at this. It was a pleasant realization. He belonged here, he was a proper citizen, of both Equestria and Martingale, even if he was a quiet one. And he was a proper pony. It felt good.
Watercress burst in through the swinging doors - this is such a hoofing pub, thought Dumpy - carrying a flyer in her mouth. Watercress was a young unicorn mare who had almost no talent for magic at all. She couldn't lift a thing with her horn - though she did have the most extraordinary sense of things. She could tell who would walk through the door next, find a lost piece of jewelry without effort, and made the most astonishing predictions that almost always came true. It was like she had some other magic about her, even if she had to do everything like an earthpony otherwise. Everypony in town favored her - she was a cutie, and ever filled with wonder and excitement about everything.
"Ith a thow! A thow ith comfin to thown! ITH A THOW! A THOW!!!" Old Saltlick came around from behind the counter - bar, thought Dumpy - and got Watercress to calm down and give him the paper sheet in her mouth, so that she could speak clearly.
"There's a big show and it's comin' to town and it's gonna be all wow and everything! It's comin' to town! And it's big, I mean really big!" Watercress was particularly excited today. "A show! And it's comin'!"
"Which town, Watercress? How far away is this show?" Nutbrown still had a hoof on the smooth disk he was about to give a push to. He had pulled ahead in the scoring, he could win with this slide.
"What kind'a show is it, anyways?" Sackbarrel nudged his clever friend Stonebridge "Is it one of them dress-up shows, where they put on socks and parade around?"
"You behave yourself, there Sacks, or I'll make you pay for your cider after all." Saltlick had been on to the pair for years, so it was a meaningful threat. Sackbarrel made the effort to look properly contrite. It wasn't authentic, but it was something at least. Good enough, thought Saltlick. "Here, I'll tell ya, what kinda show Watercress is goin' on about. It's in the flyer she brought. Les' see now..."
"It's a variety show! They have dancing and singing and dancing bunnies and singing birds and singing ponies and dancing ponies - but no dancing birds. I wonder why birds don't dance?" Watercress was bouncing on her hooves.
"She's right, it's called the Happy Pony Show, and they've got all that and more, it seems." Saltlick studied the sheet, clearly ripped from the village noticeboard. "They're doin' a tour of... pretty much all of Equestria. Seems this thing has been goin' on for nigh on a decade now. Well, how about that? It's just gotten bigger and bigger over the years and... well, if that don't beat all!" Old Saltlick drifted off, studying the fine print at the bottom.
"What don't beat all? Ya can't leave us in suspense, Salt! Out with it!" Two Nails had entirely forgotten Equestrian Shuffleboard now, and had moved with the rest to cluster around the edge of the counter.
"It's comin' here all right." Saltlick seemed surprised. "No doubt about it. Right here. As in it's comin' to Martingale!"
"Wait, here-here?" Nutbrown seemed incredulous "As in here... here... right here? Martingale On the hoofin' Hackamore here?"
"Eeyup! We're gettin' ourselves a right proper show, right here, in Martingale." Saltlick looked around at the stunned faces. "Sumptin' ain't it?"
"I told you! I told you!" Watercress was trying to muscle in between Nutbrown and Two Nails to see the flyer on the counter again "I said, 'we're getting a show' and guess what? We're getting a show, just like I said! Isn't it awesome!"
"I don't rightly know, tell the truth. Just what kind of acts are in this thing, and I don't just mean birds tweetin'!" Sackbarrel wasn't an easily impressed stallion. "Any famous names on that little sheet?"
"What, you actually know any famous names there Sackbarrel?" Two Nails had always been just a little jealous that Sackbarrel had gotten to go to school the next county over. Sacks was sometimes a little too proud of the fact, Dumpy had noted.
"Yes, I know a few names, on with it, Saltlick, or let me read the foundering thing myself!" The air had become thick with tension at this singular event. As far as Dumpy had been able to learn, nothing ever happened to Martingale On Hackamore, ever. Not ever. A show, any kind of show, was a once in... forever... event.
"Alright, alright, keep your tail down. Actin' like a bunch'a pink-winkin' first-heat fillies the lot of ya!" It was then that Saltlick suddenly remembered the presence of young Watercress, who had brought the note in the first place. Saltlick looked ashamed "Um, sorry there, 'Cress. Meant no harm."
"Huh?" Watercress hadn't even heard, she was still intently trying to read the flyer over the back of Two Nails.
Saltlick looked greatly relieved and cleared his throat "Ahem! Well, less' see here. We got dancin' bunnies, just like she said..." he nodded at Watercress "...some filly named Plantain Acres has a whole peck a' trained bunnies - they dance, they march, they do fancy steppin' all over the place and finish with gymnastics - she's got the whole lot leapin' and hoppin' to music. Best Lagomorphic entertainment this side a' Los Pegasus, whatever that means. She's also got some rhythmic click'n banana spiders with her too, and I don't know what all."
"O...kay." That didn't particularly excite Sackbarrel too much "What else this thing got?"
Saltlick glanced at the sheet again " There's a dancin' spectacle involvin' pegasai. They hover through the air without so much as a flap of th' wing, or so it says."
"That ain't possible! Pegasus gotta' flap or he up and fall!" Stonebridge wasn't buying it. "Ain't no flyin' without flappin' much less dancin' in the air. That's just foalish nonsense!"
"That's what it says, see for yourself!" Saltlick pushed the sheet closer to the carpenter. "Also, it's not a HE it's a She pegasus, and what appears to be a whole flock of feathered mares right behind her doin' the same thing!"
Stonebridge did just that. He only knew how to read a little, but he still made the effort. "Well... maybe. But I still say ya gotta flap if ya wanna fly!"
"How 'bout this, then? They got a whole herd a' fancy singers doin' show tunes and songs from earthponies. No, not earthponies, from... Earth. What? Show tunes from dirt?" Saltlick looked confused.
Dumpy's ears stood tall and straight at this.
"Mebby they's SOIL tunes!" Nutbrown had a good chuckle.
"Not soil tunes, show tunes, and it's from that thing from fifteen years ago! Remember?" Sackbarrel spoke like he was addressing foals "The thing! In the sky! Princess Celestia herself, the day bless her, appeared right over the middle of the village and talked about some other world, and immigrants and then there was that right pretty song and everything! Don't you recall? How many times have you seen Celestia herself hangin' in the sky?" He had come just short of adding 'you numbskulls!'
"Hey, I remember that!" Two Nails seemed proud to use his memory "That was some mighty impressive speechifyin' plus it was all up in the sky... and I can still remember that song!" He began to hum the sweet, beautiful tune.
"Yeah! That was swell pretty! I hope they do that song again!" Stonebridge joined in. Nopony could remember the words, but it really was a catchy tune.
Saltlick broke in "Hey... it looks like we got us a special guest too! Looky here! Says' there may even be a special appearance by the Princess herself, schedule permittin'. Well, don't that beat all. We done seen her in the sky, now we mebby get to see her in person! Will wonders never cease!"
"So, are we gonna go, huh, huh?" Watercress was bouncing again, excited beyond measure. Likely because she wanted to see the dancing bunnies, more than anything.
"Can't hardly not go, 'Cress!" Sackbarrel rolled his eyes "'Cause it's comin' right here straight to US!
Dumpy suddenly found himself choking on his cider.