Two: Milk For Breakfast
For the longest time after checking in at the large colorful tent - which Alexi had discovered was called the 'Newfoal Registration Center' - Caprice and her family had wandered the semicircular temporary city. They had been shown to a large communal canopy thickly floored with straw, this was to be their temporary sleeping location. They had been informed that they need spend only one night at Welcome Town before they would be transported to their permanent new home.
Caprice was desperate to find some way to feed Buttermilk. The poor thing was hungry, and they had not been allowed to bring any material object with them to Equestria - The makeshift baby bottle from the clinic had needed to be left behind. Eventually, Pumpkin had spotted a fabric and wood structure that seemed to be related to food or supplies, and so the family decided to try to find a solution there.
"Hello? Anybody home? Helooo?" Pumpkin had her front hooves up on a wooden plank that served as a counter of sorts, and was peering into the back, past stacks of crates and barrels.
"Just a moment!" The male voice came from the back; it seemed friendly enough.
Pumpkin hopped down, much more comfortable on all fours. Trying to remain on her back legs for any length of time was a strain, and made her feel uncomfortable. She had thought this odd, since she had spent her previous life entirely on her rear legs, now she found that her front legs supported most of her weight, and were her strongest pair.
"How can I help you?" The earth pony that faced them now was a brown and cream colt, young but apparently in charge.
"My little filly here needs milk. We used to have a bottle to feed her with, but we couldn't bring it. What can we do?" Caprice tried to nudge Buttermilk out from between her legs for the colt to see, but the little foal had taken to hiding whenever she could now.
"Hmmm... that's not something we've had to deal with before. I assume you can't feed her yourself?" The colt seemed puzzled.
"She's adopted - her birth mother abandoned her, so I took her as my own. I have no milk to feed her with. Surely this is not an unheard of situation even in Equestria?" Caprice was beginning to come to the conclusion that the colt might not be as helpful as she had hoped.
"Just...abandoned... her own...newborn foal?" The colt seemed horrified. "No, I've never heard of anything like that. I... you newfoals... I just..." The young pony looked around as if he wished he were anywhere else. "Listen, wait here. I'll get some help. I just do inventory... give me a moment." Brown and Cream trotted off into the back somewhere, leaving the newfoal family waiting.
"I am guessing ponies do not drop their babies in dumpsters. I think you may have shocked the little fellow." Alexi looked around, trying to see any other tent that might be more useful.
"I am kind of getting the impression that being this close to former humans is traumatic for the natives here." Caprice looked thoughtful. "I guess, to them, Earth must seem pretty cruel."
Pumpkin looked up from where she was trying to cheer little Buttermilk. "Earth was cruel. Of course it was cruel. Have you forgotten or something?" She seemed peeved; Caprice remembered how Pumpkin had been abandoned by her older lover after becoming pregnant. Pumpkin had reason to be bitter about human nature.
"I haven't forgotten, Pumpkin." Caprice gave Pumpkin a little nuzzle. "It's just that I think maybe some of the native Equestrians may be... a little tired of us already. That's all."
"But we're ponies now!" Pumpkin stomped a hoof. "We're.... them... now. We're ponies!"
Alexi lowered his head to Pumpkin's level "Yes, we are pony now. But, we are also former humans. Even though we could not bring possessions in to Equestria, we still come bearing heavy baggage." Alexi bumped Pumpkin's nose with his own. "What we have seen, where we have come from, these things are heavy baggage indeed."
Caprice moved closer to the wood plank 'countertop', which was a board supported on two tall saw-horses. "I wonder if our colt is ever coming ba... Ah! Here he comes. Apparently, with help."
The brown colt approached the plank that served as a counter; following him was an older unicorn, an aged mare of faded topaz coat and silvern mane. On her back was a set of saddlebags, filled with books and bottles.
As the elder unicorn moved around a stack of crates to come to the counter, Caprice recognized her cutie mark as being that of a medical unicorn. If anyone could secure a new baby bottle for Buttermilk, she was the most likely source. Apparently, Mr. Brown colt had turned out to be helpful after all.
"You have a hungry little foal, I understand?" The medical unicorn looked around over the plank. "Ah! There she is." Buttermilk was trying to hide between Caprice's back legs, pushing her back end into Caprice's tail. "You are the mother?"
Caprice nodded. "I have no means to feed her since I arrived. Do you have a baby bottle or some such device? We could really use your help."
"We do have such things, but I may be able to offer you a better alternative, especially considering where you are going." The medical unicorn illuminated her horn; the contents of her left saddlebag began moving, lifting out far enough for her to see, then dropping back in again. Finally, she chose a thin, aged book. It had once been white, now it was gray. "Let's see here..." The book was on the wooden counter now, the pages flipping by themselves. "Yes... This is it. A spell for dry udders. I can induce lactation, allowing normal feeding of your child. I think this would be a more practical solution."
"You can do that?" Caprice was surprised.
"Yes..." The unicorn was taken slightly aback, as if it were inconceivable that anypony would not know such things. "It's really basic magic. I used to know the spell by heart, but... I haven't had to use it in years. It's just simple physioloturgy. Won't take a but a moment." The unicorn read the symbols in the book, mumbling under her breath.
Caprice suddenly realized she could read the book too. "Excuse me, those symbols in the book... what are they? I thought they were common Equestrian script!" Pictograms of star-shapes, crescents, spirals and other forms covered the pages.
"You can read this?" The unicorn mare looked up at Caprice. "How do you know thaumatic script? I've never met an earth pony that could read thaumatic script before. It's not really... something they would have use of, no offense."
"I studied what was available before I was Converted." Caprice felt proud. "I wanted to prepare for my new life. I taught myself how to speak and read Equestrian... or so I thought. But I can't read the sign over the tent at the front, yet I can read your magic book. I guess I learned the wrong thing?"
"Not wrong, exactly." The medical unicorn studied Caprice. "But perhaps less than useful for an earth pony. Of course, your daughter here is a unicorn, so perhaps you studied just the right thing - so that you can teach her. By the way, my name is Argent... and you are...?"
"Caprice. This is my stallion, Alexi, and my sister Pumpkin," Pumpkin tried to do a little bow, but wasn't sure how to pull it off, it came across as a bit ungainly. "And that's Buttermilk down there. Come out and say hi to Argent, Buttermilk! She's going to help mama be able to feed you!" Buttermilk preferred to stay buried in Caprice's tail.
"Well, then, nice to meet you." Argent the medical unicorn looked at each in turn. "Shall we do this then?"
"What do I need to do?" Caprice had never had magic used on her before - not counting the magical component within the Conversion serum itself - so she was unsure of what to expect.
"It would be best if we had a little room." Argent looked around. "Go around behind the depot, and I'll meet you at the back. There is an open area there were I can safely cast." Caprice nodded.
"Pumpkin, will you look after Buttermilk for a bit? I'll be right back. I assume, anyway." Caprice turned to Alexi. "I never imagined I'd be getting spells cast on me when I decided to be Buttermilk's mother. Wish me luck!"
Alexi bent down and gave Caprice a long kiss. "You are the best luck of my life. I cannot wish you yourself, sydänkäpynen."
Caprice carefully disentangled herself from Buttermilk; the little foal did not want her to leave, and began bleating and trying to follow her. "No, Buttermilk. Caprice has to leave for a bit!" Pumpkin tried to corral the little unicorn with her legs. "She'll be back with yummy milk for you, soon! Just stay with me for a bit, alright?" Finally, Pumpkin had to resort to grabbing Buttermilk by the mane, to hold her so that Caprice could leave.
Behind the fabric structure, Caprice found Argent waiting for her.
"I've never seen magic before. It doesn't exist on... where I came from." Caprice suddenly felt embarrassed to even say the name of her planet of birth. It seemed that being newfoal was not universally embraced by native Equestrians, and she did not want to offend the medical unicorn that could help her.
"Just stand still, I will do the rest. It might feel a little strange, but do not worry, it really is a very basic spell." Argent's horn began to glow, then pulse. She closed her eyes briefly, and the tip of her horn became too bright for Caprice to look at directly.
A beam, or ray, or something lanced out at Caprice, and she felt waves of sensation she could not describe washing over, around, and through her. For a moment it seemed like there was light inside of her eyeballs. Then, just like that, it was over.
Caprice felt heavy between her legs. Her udder tingled, and she was very aware of her nipples. She presumed this meant the spell had worked. "I feel... full... down there. I guess it worked?"
Argent had her neck bent low, at Caprice's side, looking up between her legs. "Indeed. You should have no problems feeding your foal now." Argent raised herself and trotted around to face Caprice. "The effect will last for as long as nursing continues, if nursing should stop for any length of time, your udder will dry up, and that will be the end of that." Argent thought for a moment. "Oh! Should you become pregnant, it will not affect this work, you will still produce milk as long as you keep nursing as I stated. So don't worry about that little issue. That's all there is to it, very basic stuff, as I mentioned."
Caprice tried to take a step; she felt very full indeed, and realized there was one downside to the equine model of breast placement; it felt strange now trying to walk because her inner thighs rubbed against her swollen udder. She briefly worried that it might eventually lead to chafing, if she wasn't careful. "I really, really want to thank you. When I adopted Buttermilk, I didn't think through everything that I might need to do to care for her, I guess. I just wanted to save her from being termina..." Caprice stopped herself. No. Argent didn't need to hear such things.
Argent stared at Caprice with a distant, vaguely horrified look. She shook her head, disbelieving. "Good luck out there, and I wish you and your family only the best." Argent took one more look at Caprice, then went on her way, heading out into the tent city.
Caprice began to amble back to her family; it did feel a little strange, and a bit pendulous, but wasn't as difficult as she had first imagined. Being a Newfoal seemed to be an endless stream of new and unusual sensations, this was one more. She saw Alexi and Pumpkin walking back to meet her, they had been curious and had seen no reason not to follow her.
"What was it like?" Pumpkin was excited and disappointed, only now did she realize she had just missed seeing real magic being used. Buttermilk suddenly bolted from where she was hiding, close to Pumpkin's tail, and ran to Caprice.
Buttermilk had no trouble in finding where the food was; even expecting what the foal was after, Caprice was startled a bit. "Ulp!"
Alexi laughed. "Buttermilk was very, very hungry it would seem. And it is clear the magic was a success. Perhaps we should stay here for a while, so that Buttermilk may enjoy the snack bar, I am thinking." Alexi winked at Caprice, she stuck her tongue out at him playfully.
"Woo, she is hungry!" Pumpkin watched Buttermilk tugging at Caprice, guzzling milk as if she were starved half to death.
"It was... strange. The magic I mean." Caprice tried to remain still, to allow Buttermilk to feed. "Argent's horn glowed, there was a bright... something.. and I felt like I had a light inside my head. Then..." Caprice looked down and gave little Buttermilk a nuzzle "I was suddenly... different. It didn't hurt or anything, but... it felt weird."
"Weird how? I mean, what was it like? Was it like when we went through the barrier, or like when a leg goes to sleep or what?" Pumpkin was fascinated; her sister had experienced magic!
"I wish I could tell you. I... don't know how to describe it." Caprice tried to think of words, but nothing really seemed to fit. "It was, well, warm and cold at the same time. And it kind of swirled, just not... in any direction I can describe."
"I really hope I get to see magic someday." Pumpkin seemed down, now. "I should have gone with you, darn it."
"No, I needed you to keep an eye on Buttermilk. Thank you for that, Pumpkin." Caprice grimaced momentarily; Buttermilk was being a little too eager. "Ahem. I have no doubt we'll see more magic eventually - think about it sis, our home is a magical land."
"I... liked that. When you called me 'sis'." Pumpkin came close and Caprice nuzzled her.
"Well, you are. We decided that, back at the clinic. It's permanent, so you'd better get used to it." Caprice smiled.
"I wonder when they will feed us - I do not know about you, but it is not just little Buttermilk that is wanting dinner." Alexi came around to the other side of Caprice. "Perhaps, when the little one is done, we can go to find food for ourselves. Apart from breakfast, we have been kept starving all day! And while it is noon here, the clock of my stomach says that it is dinner time." Alexi looked grave. "I always believe in my stomach, for it has never lied to me. Except once, when I was twenty, and it thought entire bottle of vodka was dinner. Stomach paid for that, BIG TIME, in the end."
Caprice and Pumpkin giggled.
When Buttermilk was finally done, she seemed both much happier and less afraid. The little foal trotted alongside her mother, sniffing at the air, no longer tripping Caprice by trying to hide between her legs as she walked.
The search for food led the family to a large circular area on the far side of Welcome Town, which had been fenced off as a simple, wooden corral. The corral was quite large, and could easily hold a hundred or more ponies. "What in Equestria is this?" Caprice was at a loss.
"I think I may know, I have read about such things. I think it is a 'rodeo', where cowboys would do tricks on horses to amuse a crowd." Alexi looked over the space. "However, I do not think there are cowboys in Equestria, neither do I think that such events had strange stones in them."
There were, indeed, several dozen, strange round stones, each about four feet across, flat and set into the sand, in some pattern within the corral. Caprice walked close to the wooden fence and noticed a sign, written in the chicken-scratch letters that she could not read. The sign was yellow, and had black stripes on the ends. It looked like some kind of warning sign.
But what truly caught her attention was the nearest stone, which was close enough to the fence that she could see the flat surface; there, engraved around the top of the round disk were the pictographic symbols she had studied, and which she now recognized as the language of magic.
"'Change-sky'... 'magic-place'... that one I can't make out... and possibly 'fast' or 'swift'. They aren't being used as they would in a book. There seems to be a whole different grammar here, using the same symbols. Huh." Caprice could make nothing more out. She wanted to go inside to see what the stones really said, but something about the corral made her nervous. The hairs on her withers felt like they were standing up. "Um... let's move on, alright?"
Alexi and Pumpkin apparently also felt strange; they also had no desire to stay. Only little Buttermilk seemed drawn to the place, standing still and staring at it until Caprice pushed her with her nose, and forced her to move along.
Back near the colorful registration tent where they had met the unpleasant, bespectacled pegasus named Windfeather, they found lunch being served. Fortunately they had not missed it; but only barely. Alexi, Caprice and Pumpkin were given metal pails filled with food, which they could easily carry by the handle. The found a nice place covered in straw to lay down upon, and wasted no time in checking out the contents of their lunch pails.
Inside of each pail was a quantity of mixed grains, three carrots, two sticks of celery, and a rather juicy apple. At the bottom of the grain a surprise was waiting, a cube of sugar. Alexi found his by accident, remarking that it made the grain taste like "the most marvelous breakfast cereal in all the world." Pumpkin, now alerted, was careful not to eat hers with the grain, but instead savored it on her tongue as candy.
Caprice wanted to give hers to Buttermilk, but Alexi suggested that it might not be a good idea. "Perhaps that much sugar would not be good for such a baby pony; for now, you should eat the sugar, and let little Buttermilk get her sweetness from you." Caprice smiled shyly at that, and and ate her cube.
The Equestrian sun felt warm, and the family rested on the hay long after the other ponies left the lunch area. Alexi practiced opening and closing his wings, encouraging Pumpkin to try hers as well. "I expect that we will be given flying lessons eventually, you and I. It will be interesting to learn to fly, don't you think?"
Pumpkin was thrilled at the idea. "I really want to fly, I can't wait to learn how. But I am kind of afraid of crashing, too. Hopefully we'll get a good teacher."
"Think of all we can do for the family, once we can master our wings!" Alexi had finally managed to be able to stretch out both wings in unison, and bring them back with an impressive snap. "We can scout for water, look for fine pasture lands, search for tasty berries and carry things to market. We will be invaluable, you and I. We are the wings of the ....family." Alexi looked distraught for a moment. "What is the name of our family? How do they do family names here in Equestria? Caprice!"
"What is last name of our family? How is this done here? You have studied so much, tell us!" Alexi waited for the answer, Pumpkin seemed equally anxious to know.
Caprice thought for a moment. "Well, according to what I read, Equestrians have at least two ways to express kinship of some kind - there are clans, that all have the same last name; a name chosen to express something they share in common. For example, a clan that specialized in growing berries, for example, might all share the same last name of 'berry'. But there are also pony families that choose their last name based on what they do for a living; if they have watchmakers here, one might find a single family with the last name 'watchmaker' or whatever."
Alexi nodded "So ponies either belong to a clan, or they choose an original last name to unite their family. But there are no lineages as we know them, no family names handed down for generations, then?"
"As far as I can tell, no. Lineage names on earth began among those that founded small empires, kingdoms, or states; they wanted to keep the spoils of conquest only within their bloodline. Ponies don't conquer, and there is only one royalty; the two princesses. Inheritance is based on clan, or is just arbitrary. They don't value bloodlines the same way humans do." Caprice looked thoughtful for a moment. "I guess we just choose a family name that means something to us. Of course, a lot of ponies never have last names. So it really isn't considered that important, ultimately."
"Well, I am an old-fashioned Alexi, and I like the idea of a last name to say that we four are family!" Alexi beamed at the three fillies.
"We'll be five, soon." Pumpkin looked both shy and proud.
"All five, then. Five ponies, one name!" Alexi had settled that much. "But what name do we pick?"
"We could all use the last name Caprice and I chose for me!" Pumpkin exclaimed "Licorice! Pumpkin Licorice, Caprice Licorice, Alexi Licorice..."
"I don't think so, Pumpkin, sorry. I don't think that works for me. Plus, ponies will think we make candy, and we don't." Caprice felt bad saying this, because Pumpkin had been so happy with her name.
"Poo." Pumpkin pretended to sulk. "I still get to keep 'licorice' as a middle name, then."
"Of course you do!" Caprice rolled over on her back, just because it felt good. "We have plenty of time to think of a family name, so let's take that time and pick out a good one, OK?" Buttermilk began to try to climb onto Caprice's belly, the reason for this known only to the little yellow foal.
Pumpkin rolled over too, because it looked fun. "Ok. I guess we'll have to see what we end up doing."
Alexi, who would not miss out on an apparently good thing, joined his family, and also rolled onto his back. His new wing control allowed him to roll without damaging a single feather.
The four newfoals gazed up, fed and content, into the blue Equestrian sky. Soon the sun had passed the zenith, and was beginning to descend. The straw was soft, the day was warm, and their eyes felt heavy.
Alexi was the first to wake up. He had been asked to move by a dark blue earth pony who he vaguely understood needed to set up the area for a feast of some kind. The word 'feast' always made Alexi perk up his ears, now, as a pegasus pony, his ears literally lifted up. Somehow, this rather pleased him.
Alexi roused the rest of his family. All had turned over on their sides in sleep, Caprice curved around Buttermilk who had snuggled up close to her. Pumpkin had a hard time rising; she had been having the most wonderful dream. Apparently it involved an endless supply of peach pies and there was no limit to how many she could physically eat. Awake, she was still craving pie.
Alexi led his three groggy fillies to the communal sleeping tent they had been shown to earlier. It seemed like a reasonable place to be; they could all lay down again if they chose, or decide what else to do, but in any case they wouldn't be in anypony's way. It was early evening now, and some kind of lanterns had been lit, illuminating the whole of Welcome Town.
Once inside the straw-floored sleeping canopy, they folded their legs and sat, considering what next to do. They were alone in the tent, save for a couple on the other side of the space, busy talking with each other.
"There is to be a feast, or so I was told. I like a good feast. Perhaps it is to welcome us all to our new home?" Alexi carefully scooted closer to Caprice; he was getting better and better at using his new body.
"I wonder if they do a feast every single night, considering how many newfoals go through this place?" Caprice was laying still; Buttermilk was hungry again and had decided that the milk bar was now open. Caprice briefly imagined herself as a four-legged 'Roach Coach' catering truck; that made her giggle. Still, it was currently not far from the truth.
"Where do you think we are going to end up?" Pumpkin seemed contemplative. "They said we only spend one night here, then they ship us out or something. And what did that featherguy pony mean when he said we had to build our own town?"
"Windfeather. I think that was his name." Caprice looked out of the canopy at the constant milling of ponies along the lantern-lit avenues between the tents. "He seemed almost... sinister for a pony. I got a weird vibe from that one."
"I am sure it will all be fine, pikku tammavarsa. All of this must have been set up by the princesses themselves. Therefore, we can trust that everything will work out for the best!" Alexi raised his white wings and shook them gently, to let several strands of straw fall from where they had become trapped between feathers.
"Yeah! If the princesses set it up, it must be OK!" Pumpkin seemed in good spirits with this, but sometimes it was hard to tell with her; she wanted very much to please both Caprice and Alexi.
"This is Equestria, not... the other place." Caprice noticed that Buttermilk had finished, the little unicorn was busy licking her chops, apparently content with her latest visit to Caprice's 24-hour, all night milk bar. "I think things have worked out pretty well, if you think about it - I can naturally feed and take care of my daughter now, we have a place to sleep and a feast coming up - and we are all together. Aside from one vaguely unpleasant pegasus at the Registration tent, I'd say that overall, it's been a good day, our first day in Equestria."
Looked at that way, both Alexi and Pumpkin had to agree. So far, things seemed to be working out in their new country.
Little Buttermilk seemed content enough; she was now trying to stand up on her hind legs in order to lick her mother's chin for some reason. Caprice pushed Buttermilk gently down with her head, and began grooming her tangled yellow mane to calm her. "Who's a silly pony, hmm? Who? You are, yes you are!"
Buttermilk suddenly erupted with a surprisingly loud burp.
Alexi grinned at his tiny daughter. "Another satisfied customer!"
Caprice gave Alexi a look of mock indignation, then smiled.
Everything looked as if it could only get better.