Chapter One: Knock At The Door
A hoof pounded insistently at the front door. Mister Provender didn't seem to want to deal with it. “Let'm come back in the mornin'” he grumbled before drifting off again. The pounding grew louder. Somebody would have to deal with it. Missus Provender was very awake now, so she rolled out of bed, stood up, flicked her tail at her lazy stallion husband, and ambled downstairs. What was so confounded important at this time of night?
Outside her door was a large cart, and an impatient official. He was from the Newfoal Assistance And Relocation Administration. He was on a tight schedule, and he wasn't at all happy to have to wait in the snow.
Missus Provender hadn't reckoned she would have any troubles, when she had signed up for a newfoal. The extra income from the Royal Treasury for 'Newfoal Assistance' was certainly welcome. She didn't know what dealing with a newfoal would be like, but she felt she could handle pretty much anything. Besides, it was well understood that the Conversion Bureaus in the Human World trained and prepared newfoals before they ever set hoof in Equestria proper. She reckoned that the whole thing was basically like the Crown paying her to enjoy free help on the farm. It sounded almost too good to be true.
Her newfoal was delivered in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, without so much as a letter beforehand.
It came, therefore, as a bit of a shock, when she found that the newest critter on her farm not only didn't know how to speak the language, but could barely walk. The poor creature had been part of the last rush, the final effort to convert as many of the last remaining humans as possible before Purification occurred.
'Purification' was some mighty fancy magic the Princesses had worked up to clean and purge the Human world once and for all. Any remaining human creatures would be dissolved, along with all the dangerous, poisonous things that they seem to have covered their world in. The way it had been described, it had seemed to Missus Provender that it was all a bit like chewin' before swallowin'. In the end, the last traces of the human's strange world would be engulfed by Equestria, vanishing forever from the cosmos in which it lay. In some way she certainly couldn't understand, this all would somehow preserve Equestria from some kind of harm, so that it would live on forever.
Missus Provender never could quite see how the two worlds were supposedly linked, but she was told they were, or had been, or somethin', and the only part that mattered to her was that now she had a new income source, and a new working mare on the farm. But, now, things didn't look as good as she had pictured them when she had first signed up.
The poor newfoal filly didn't even have a name. At least not one that Missus Provender could discover.
When the unsteady, milk-white Earth Pony was dropped off, the newfoal administrator had explained that these last minute converts needed extra care and attention, because they had to be rushed to Equestria before the Purification, and there had been no time to train them. Missus Provender pointed out that such extra care and attention naturally demanded extra compensation, an argument that gained her a disgruntled snort, and a sharp glare.
So now she didn't have a working mare so much as a baby to raise. Typical. Nevertheless, this was something she knew she could handle, having already raised three foals back in her younger days with Mister Provender. Besides, if she trained this newfoal right, then she could relax knowing with certainty that her new farm mare would do things the right way.
The pale newfoal mare lay on a thin, institutional blanket in Missus Provender's kitchen. Although the former human was not by any means a child, she quivered like one, and she could not manage to stand. She seemed confused and kept slipping in and out of consciousness. The newfoal administrator had mentioned that the mare had been sedated with some Human World potion or some such nonsense, and it would take her time to recover.
Missus Provender ambled to her shelves, and used her teeth to take down a nice warm comforter. She took it to the shivering mare on the floor and covered her with it. It was a little cold, being the winter months and all, and it seemed the kindly thing to do.
“There ya go, little one” The newfoal mare was not little, but Missus Provender didn't know what else to say, and in any case she figured that the tone of her words might be calming. The soft words seemed to work, and the wobbily newfoal looked up at her with unfocused sapphire blue eyes, which gradually closed. The mare's head drooped to the floor, violet curls of mane draping over the blanket. Almost instantly she fell asleep.
Missus Provender pulled the comforter up closer to the newfoal's head. She took one last look at her new guest, and then trotted up the wide stairs to bed.
Bertilda, the Provender's prize rooster, woke, as usual, the two elder farmers, and they set about their morning rituals. As she clopped down the stairway, Missus Provender, suddenly remembered the newest member of her farm. There on the kitchen floor still slept the mare she had been made to take in the previous night. She thought immediately of waking her - morning is always early on the farm - but then recalled that this was a newfoal, a converted human creature.
Missus Provender knew very little about the humans and their world, but she reckoned that changing form from one type of creature to another type of creature probably wasn't an easy thing to go through. She felt pity for the tousle-maned lump on her floor, and decided to let her sleep. The poor thing probably needed time to recover. Besides, letting the newfoal sleep would allow her time to make breakfast and give some thought to how to deal with the situation in general.
Mister Provender clomped wearily down the stairs as Missus Provender set about baking biscuits. Biscuits were a staple at Provender Farm, and Cornflower Provender, the matriarch of the best darn little farm in all of South Withers prided herself on making the best darn biscuits in the county. She had a blue ribbon to prove it, which she had won years ago, back when she and mister Provender were still raising their three daughters, and they still ran the county fair out of Greater Fetlock, back before it was moved to Hoofington.
Mister Provender, at his usual hay-bale by the window, looked out over the round, wooden table, at the sleeping mare on the kitchen floor. "Cornflower!"
"What, I'm makin' yer breakfast!"
"I said I'm makin' breakfast, it'll be done in a moment!" Missus Provender was laying out disks of dough on her favorite pan, tapping them flat with a practiced hoof.
"There's somepony sleeping in our kitchen!"
It took Missus Provender a moment to recall that Mister Provender hadn't been awake enough to know anything about the night before "That's our newfoal. From the Bureaus? I signed up for one a couple months ago?"
"She's no foal!" roared Mister Provender.
"SHHHH! You'll wake her!" The biscuits were in the oven now, and so Missus Provender ambled over to the table "I didn't say she was a new foal, I said she was a 'newfoal', one of them converticated human creatures turned into one'a us. That's just what they call 'em, Durum!"
"Alright, Cornflower, ya ain't got to get all snippy with me. Shucks. I know what a dern 'Newfoal' is, I just weren't expecting one on our floor is all."
"They delivered her last night. Remember? All the racket at the door?"
"Nope." Durum Provender had finally given a single-word response, and after long years with the old stallion, Cornflower knew he wouldn't be any more bother. For now.
While Mister Provender sat sucking his teeth at the newfoal on the floor, Missus Provender set out feed bowls and cups. She briefly thought about putting out a third bowl for the new mare, but since the mare seemed to be sleeping so soundly, she figured she could deal with such things later, if the poor thing did awaken. The smell of biscuits had a way of waking up ponyfolk, or so it had always been around Provender Farm. If the newfoal was likely to wake up, the biscuits would do it.
Mister Provender sipped apple juice from his cup. Durum had to have his apple juice in the morning, or he would be a caution the rest of the day. He was like that, set in his ways, and for Missus Provender time was measured in biscuits and rooster calls and the first cup of apple juice in the morning.
The smell of biscuits baking filled the roomy kitchen. A subtle morning magic, Cornflower Provender's prize-winning biscuits set Mister Provender's stomach rumbling, and his nostril's twitching. Missus Provender studied the sleeping newfoal as she waited for the timer to chime. Surely enough, the white mare's nostrils were twitching just like Durums did, and Cornflower felt a rush of pride that her biscuit magic worked even on bodily trans-converticated creatures from another world.
The newfoal mare opened her eyes. She looked around, first at Missus Provender's feet, and then at her face. The newfoal began wildly looking around after that, and Missus Provender reckoned that the mare was probably frightened a little, at being in a new place.
Cornflower folded her legs and lay down in front of the newfoal mare. She looked as kindly as she could, staring into the deep, blue eyes of the creature. It looked like any ordinary mare, about middle age, but with no Mark on her flank. Guess they don't have Marks in that other world, Missus Provender thought. Or maybe she'll get her's later, now she's here. "Shhh..... Shhh... it's all right honeycake, I'm makin' biscuits, if'n yer hungry. I'm right here, and everythin's gonna be alright."
It was clear the newfoal didn't understand a word of Equestrian, just as the Bureau pony had said, but Cornflower knew how to deal with children, and she reckoned that this here was something like a child, being new and all, so her kindly tone and gentle eyes spoke the universal language of comfort. Cornflower gave the newfoal a kindly nuzzle, once she saw the mare relax, and then scrabbled up to check on the biscuits. A glance back assured her that the newfoal mare was indeed interested in biscuits, so she got another bowl out.
The newfoal stayed put, following Missus Provender with her eyes whatever she did. Like a puppy, thought Cornflower. Guess I do have a child to raise after all. Oh well. The biscuits were done, and soon the aroma flooded the kitchen like sunshine for the nose.
The nameless newfoal gobbled biscuits eagerly. It was clear she was very hungry. Missus Provender put down a bowl filled with apple juice and another with water. The newfoal was powerful thirsty, too, it seemed. For now, the mare crawled on her belly, as best she could, there was no doubt that she would need help learning how to stand, and walk.
"Durum?" Missus Provender gave him a determined look "I need you to take care'a things today. It looks like I got me a grown-up child to tend to!"
"Yup." Said Mister Provender.