Dinner was a tense affair at the Starshine home. After the previous night's revelations, both Wildfire and Perspicacity were well beyond eager to find out what had happened to Celestia, apparently somehow captured by a human merchant, and abandoned by the author of the manuscript, Willelmus Learmount.
For the entire week, Perspicacity had taken over the job of making meals and cleaning up both, so as to allow her husband to concentrate without distraction on his effort to translate the document. Tonight's meal was very simple indeed; fescue and alfalfa with olive-oil and a simple oat pudding. The recipe for oat pudding came from Perspicacity's mother; Wildfire thought it reminded him of something called 'cream-o-wheat', which was silly, since it was clearly made of oats.
Earlier, in the afternoon, however, Perspicacity had made the trip across town to visit the bakery; there she had picked up a variety of treats, the loss of her apple-peach turnover still weighing surprisingly heavily on her mind. Now the pantry was stocked with six different kind of muffins, two turnovers, and four cupcakes and the silvery-white unicorn was feeling fairly square with the world.
While out shopping, Pers had stopped at the park and eaten a replacement apple-peach turnover; she did not like to have unresolved dreams, even small ones, and it was a simple enough thing to address. However, the experience was not entirely what she had hoped; the pegasai had been lazy of late and Greater Fetlock had enjoyed entirely too much sun for too long, and it was starting to show. Even as she sat in the park she could see them moving the clouds into position; there would doubtless be a big storm that night to make up for the long stretch of sun; the trees and flowers needed watering, and how.
Well, she thought with some humor, 'a dark and stormy night' was perhaps overly appropriate for what curious circumstances might be revealed when her Wildfire finished this days work. Wild had only two more days after tonight to finish the manuscript, before he had to go back to the Fire Hall, and when that happened, it would mean three weeks before she could have him cuddle with her and read to her again.
Unless she brought the manuscript over to the Hall and stayed with him there. She wondered if that would be allowed. It could be so difficult sometimes, being married to a Firepony. Her life was often filled with worry for her husband, combined with far too many nights alone, but it was worth it, because their love was real, and real love was worth anything.
Besides, there was no doubt of her husband's worth in the community, more than a few of it's citizens owed their life to Wildfire and their colt Rocket. Sometimes Wild could be a bit silly, even bumbling around the house, but as a Firepony, as a hero, he was more than talented. Perspicacity laughed at that; the same pony that could somehow sprain his hock trying to make the bed for her was the same pony that had saved the Rye twins in the big fire three years ago.
Perspicacity just sighed. She sighed a lot, now that her life was shared with Wildfire. They were all good sighs, though, even the ones followed by head shaking.
Wildfire scrambled up on the bed, new sheets of paper in his mouth. That was another thing Perspicacity had purchased today; more paper. And a few pencils, too. She had also gotten Wild a nice little pencil box and a soft rubber eraser as well. It just seemed the nice thing to do. Wild seemed to appreciate it; she hadn't expected him to be so happy about a pencil box. Then again, he was grateful for everything she did. He was just that way.
"I've got it, I've got more, and I can't wait to share it with you, Pers!" Wildfire settled himself down on the bed, and smoothed out the sheets of paper covered with his writing. "Oh... by the way, Perspicacity..." Wildfire shifted so that his face was close to hers. "I really want to thank you for all of your support during my... little obsession here. You've rearranged your entire day around this silly project, and well, I just wanted to say thank you."
The kiss was long and passionate, and Perspicacity felt more than a little tingle. "Well, get on with it! Storytime!"
Wildfire laughed, and turned back to his translation. Perspicacity cuddled up beside her stallion, and lay her head close to his shoulder, just where his foreleg met his barrel. Under there she could smell him, his spicy, warm, stallion scent, and her nostrils flared as she took it in. She loved the way he smelled. It made her feel happy, and calmed her and made her feel safe. It was one of her favorite things to do, just to lie beside him, her nose tucked close to his foreleg and barrel, warm and basking in his scent.
"Ahem! Let's see, last time... um... Willelmus had just run away in terror at learning things that Man, if not pony, was never meant to know, and our beloved princess Celestia had been captured by an unscrupulous trader who dressed like crap."
Perspicacity giggled at that.
"Now we follow old Willy-colt's efforts to track mister crappy pants." Another laugh. "Let's see here..."
And have just vengeaunce for
For his foule thefte of the
Fairye Queene was now myn purpos,
To brynge her out of her adversitee.
"When I had regained my senses, I returned to where I had fled from my queen, and found her absent and more; I was informed of her theft and of the merchant whom I remembered from before. I immediately resolved to seek the miscreant and make my justice upon him, for his foul deed in enslaving my fairy queen. Her suffering must doubtless be great, and so I felt myself frantic to discover her and liberate her as expediently as possible.
With some effort was I able to learn that there was a great horse fair to be held at Stow Green Hill, and this would doubtless be where the scoundrel would take my fair patron, for to sell her further into bondage, for she was in her deceiving guise a mare as goodly and fine as any man could hope to see. Though she no longer appeared in jewels, and her feet were no longer shod in gold to the eye, nor were there wings upon her back, nor a horn upon her brow, she was still of perfect beauty, and great in size, such was her illusion.
I made my way by the following of her great hooves, their marks upon the ground unmistakable, and found that the wretch had taken her though the very marketplace that had previous caused her such grief, and learned from the sellers there that a great white mare had reared and balked as she was roughly tugged through the streets.
I learned that she had been bound with bridle, bit, and rope, and degraded with blows; at this I was filled with contempt for the merchant, but even more so with unbelieving surprise that the great queen should not have skewered the oaf with her magnificent horn, made invisible by her enchantment but no less real for it. She surely could have gutted the gorbellied jack-a-nape from stem to stern in but an instant, what had stayed her wrath? Her mighty hooves alone could have pulped his mutton-jowled head like so much rotting fruit, yet she had whinnied and submitted to his harshness.
At first it was my thought that her compassion was of such greatness that my great queen could not bring herself to harm even he who had raised hand to her; but another thought stole across my mind soon after - she had been of such admancy that all her strength and life came from the place where she had first entered creation, and we had become greatly removed from it in our travels, and Stow Green would be further still.
Mayhaps, away from her warm door, my fairy queen was rendered increasingly cold, with joints stiff and body weary. To think my beautiful patron rendered helpless because of my fault was a thing I could not bear, and thus I resolved to free her whatever the price, even be it my own life.
You may wonder, then why I chose thus, and the answer is that the world is filled with trouble and woe, and rare it is that true wonder or greatness comes among we common folk. I had spent my entire life singing and telling stories of wonder and miracles, of heroes and fairy-folk, and these were not my subjects only because they brought me coin. It was my genuine hope that such things be real, and in the fairy Celestia I had finally had my dearest heart's wish gifted me.
And if it were true that in all the world she was the only one of such kind, then what worth my little life compared to one such as hers? To merely serve one such as her was an elevation no simple cantabank could ever expect, and here was I, her weak and disloyal servant, but servant nonetheless. No greater patronage could I ever expect to have in all of life; and I would make amends and account of myself in her service no matter the difficulty."
the sighte of hire whom that I serve
O doon plesaunce in what evere difficultee.
Perspicacity nibbled her husband's mane to catch his attention. It... worked. "Hold on, Wild, we need snacks for this. Well, I need snacks." The teal-maned unicorn rolled off of her stallion, and the bed, and stood on her hooves on the wooden plank floor. "Want me to bring you back something? We've got yummy muffins, turnovers, and cupcakes!"
Wildfire noticed his stomach rumble at the mention of treats. Dinner had been light, and reading made him feel hungry. Actually, everything made him feel hungry, now that he came to actually think about it. Also... he had to pee, too. "Bring 'em all, I'm sure I'll figure out something to do with them." Wildfire got off the bed carefully; he really, really needed to pee. "Um... honeycakes? I'll be back in just a bit, alright?"
"What, my treat?" Perspicacity was already out in the kitchen, arranging the baked goodies on a plate. Presentation was everything, her mother used to say. Ooh! Some tea might be splendid with these, she realized, and began preparation immediately.
Wildfire returned from his relief, and smelled tea steeping; he loved the tea in Equestria. He hadn't actually had real tea on earth, just some kind of nanofabbed tea-substitute. He had guzzled it anyway, because, well, that was what there was. Real tea, though, Camellia Sinensis, was to tap poured tea as a dragon was to a crawling worm. Real tea, decent tea, was beautiful. It was the only word he could come up with. The fragrance, the taste, the color... it was just beautiful. He thought he had liked tea. On earth, he had not even the vaguest notion of what tea really was.
The couple worked together to carry the completed snacktime treats over to the bed. Wildfire had raced ahead and moved the little table by the side of the bed and pulled and pushed it into place somewhere near the foot; on this was placed a tray containing the little red teapot they liked to use, all round and crimson shiny, and the little commemorative tea bowls that had the pictures of the princesses at the bottom. So appropriate, Perspicacity thought as she filled them with warm tea.
Equestrians tended to not serve overly hot foods, so the tea was not scalding at all. This was a practical matter; nopony wanted to burn their gums sipping tea or hot chocolate or whatever they favored. While beverages were often held between the knee joints of the forelegs - the exact same joint as the wrist in a human, Wildfire was once astonished to realize - sometimes a pony just wanted to lift up a cup with his teeth and sip. Overly hot drinks were thus a danger, and Equestrians by and large shunned them.
Wildfire took his position on the bed, the little table with the tea not far from him, and Perspicacity crawled close again, giving him loving nips and kisses. Story time had become a positive joy for both of them, and inside her, despite the effort of doing all the housework to keep her stallion at his translation chore, Perspicacity dreaded the day when the project would be over.
"Tea, my love" The delicate unicorn floated a bowl over with her magic, her glow surrounding the offering as it hovered in front of her stallion.
"Ooh, thankee mine beauteous mare!" Perspicacity laughed at Wild's attempt at human-styled courtly speech. Wildfire took the bowl between his knees and sipped it happily. It was a green tea, with a natural sweetness and the mouth-feel of chocolate. Wildfire loved this tea. She must have made it just to make him happy. "This is wonderful, Pers, just wonderful!" The happy smile on his wife's muzzle confirmed his suspicion. Things had been so cuddly and close lately. He felt grateful to the manuscript for that.
Perspicacity had bought several of the peach-apple turnovers, she was happy to see Wildfire liked them. "Peach and apple, together, love. I hoped you might like them." She sipped her own tea, held in her thaumatic grip, and nibbled a turnover herself. They really were good, she would have to let Amaranth know when she next visited the bakery.
The supply of treats vanished at an alarming rate, but this was often the case with ponies; Perspicacity was just happy that Wildfire seemed so glad of them.
When the last muffin had met its fate, and Wildfire had cleared his palate with another cup of tea, he continued the tale.
Til I cam to that place, and ther I founde
The motley merchant with forked beard;
With a poke nobles alle untold.
Celestea semeth elvyssh and is agon
That it had been to late for to rescous hire.
"With great speed did I make my way to Stow and thus to the horse fair held at the celebration of the feast of St. Ætheldreda. On Stow Hill they did make a corral with which to keep horses many, and these they would divide into lots which would be the pleasure of those who could do so to purchase.
In this place did I find my motley merchant with the forked beard, but to my horror I found him with a purse overflowing with gold and no sign of my queen Celestia. I had come too late to rescue her from him thus.
In anger I assailed him and spilled his coin upon the ground, and with my fists bade him to tell me in what manner he had disposed of my mare, for such I called her to him, and he at last in tears told me of his fortune, and how he had obtained it gladly from a visiting lord.
Such woe have I never felt, for now my heavenly queen had been possessed by such that no commoner might confront, it would be my life to challenge this new arrangement, and to my shame for some time fear rendered me helpless in the road.
But knowing that in her was any truth for all my songs and stories, and all the wishes of my heart, I reasserted my pledge and left knowing my fate but no longer caring. Celestia, the queen of heaven must be freed, and there was no one else in all the world that could know to do it.
Of my waiting until my moment came, of hiding and skulking in shadows I will not relate, for the time was long and without event, save the pounding of my heart and the heaving of my breath; suffice to say that it was not without some effort however devoid of thrill, that I found myself at last within the encampment of the lord which had purchased my patron, and thus I found myself at her hooves once more in supplication.
She was not as she was; her grace had not been touched but her seeming form had become somehow more false, and when she finally spoke, her words were halting and weary. There was a faintness to her, and it is my oath that when once I was forced to hide, through her I faintly saw a torch shine, such was her state that she had become spectral, as if fading to the absence she claimed of all creation.
I begged her to free herself, and return with me to her entrance, but she spoke again and informed me that she was unable. The path that had brought her here was closing, as her land and my own pulled apart like clouds passing in the sky, and that with the shrinking of the door had come a lessening of that which sustained her, and it was everything to her merely to remain herself, and that not for long.
In my fevered head I formed a plan, not of any great strategy nor of any cleverness, but instead of desperation deep as any well. I begged of her that she might run, if I unbound her, straight as Diana's arrow to her home without let, and spoke my hope that as she approached she might grow stronger with every step, as closer she came to that milk which nurtured her.
To this she agreed to try, though it was sure that this was all but too much to ask, and in secret I unbound and unshackled her, and quietly we stole away in the night until we felt far enough from the encampment that the sound of her flight might not bring swift retribution.
Alas, this simplicity was not to be, for in that very moment were we seen, and calls of thief and enemy rose up, and it was not for a moment that I realized these hard words were directed at me. Thus marked as such, my life was surely forfeit, for they had horses upon which to give chase, and I had but poor leggings of too great a wear.
I bade my queen to flee, she might yet make her home if she were quick and wise; yet this she did not do, such was her loyalty and compassion to my undeserving self. In shock, I was commanded to climb upon her back, that which I would never dare to imagine, and though I protested, her command had become my law, even above that of man or god.
Our way was slow at first, and again and once more did I beg her let me fall to the earth, and leave me that she might run the faster for it. But stern was her answer, and though we were pursued, her cleverness did outwit the chasing riders more than once, despite my burdensome weight.
The further we traveled, the stronger my heavenly queen became, and the faster too, and in that I felt clever indeed in foreseeing this outcome, and gladder of it I could not have been. Soon we had passed Eslaforde and left it behind, and the riders too, though in morning's light they should surely find us.
In the dark still did I recognize Mareham Lane, and then from it we passed, not far, and it was there that great Celestia did stop and bade me dismount, which I did with great reverence, but no less speed.
Breathing in some fairy strength, she shed her guise and stood before me once more, fully revealed. The night shrouded land was made as day by the light from her waving mane, which was as unto a sky itself, the sky of fairyland. Her jewels shimmered in that spectral light, and so also the gold which adorned the hooves at which I knelt, as if in prayer. And in that vision I finally understood all that she had told me, and so it was that weeping overcame me as when first I met her, only now it was not just from her beauty, but also at my full understanding.
I could not help myself; I am no coward yet it is my claim that no man could stand before such beauty and also hope and not weep with despair at its leaving. But more than this, I knew now the true emptiness of creation, for I had touched true wonder, and true magic, and held fast to the beating heart of a genuinely celestial being.
Above me I no longer saw heaven, and below me neither hell, and around me in the shadows no spirits haunted. I would have given my very arms and legs both that even one demon should do me harm, just to know that there was something in the world besides a short life followed only by endless, uncaring night.
So it was that I beseeched my goddess, for that is what she surely, truly must be, with all my heart in great and terrible fright. I petitioned her thus -
Alas, great queen of my very soul, I pray to you Celestia! You have shown me my world, and it is empty and cold like the grave itself, and here I will soon be put to death, alone, without anyone to comfort me, and with nothing to greet me but oblivion. Please take me with you, I beg you abandon me not here, I who have your faithful and true servant been!"
What is this world? but now a colde grave,
Allone, withouten any compaignye.
Wol oure lady leve her trewe servant?
Have mercy, sweete, or ye wol do me deye.
O softe taak me in youre hoofes tweye
I desireth my-selven goodly with yow go.
Wildfire had stopped reading, and the silence was more than uncomfortable.
Perspicacity gave him a gentle nudge in the ribs with her forehoof. "Go on, it's cruel to keep me in suspense like that. Read the rest. Whatever happened, I can handle it. What did Celestia do? Did she just leave the little human there, or did she find some way to take him with her?"
Wildfire slumped down, his head resting on the bed, between his forelegs, covering the papers he had been reading from.
"Alright, Wild, this really isn't funny. I need to know. You know I need to know the ends of stories. Out with it, stop teasing me!" Perspicacity, who was a stickler for detail and completeness, was almost verging on the frantic.
Wildfire spoke his next words carefully and slowly, and not a little sadly. "The rest of the manuscript is missing. The pages were clearly torn right out of the thing."