"Just let me do it please, you silly stallion." Perspicacity was not about to let her husband hurt his back again. "Yes, you are big, strong, and powerful, and this has nothing to do with your muscles or your willingness to help - or your ego. That contains my very first telescope. My very first one. Please try to understand?"
Wildfire Starshine, once a human man named Noah Marchington, still carried with him some remnants of human culture. One of those was the belief that no injury or loss was too great in the quest to prove himself a man in front of his woman. That Equestrian culture conflicted with this notion on several levels was often a source of frustration for his native Equestrian wife. Over the last decade, she had gradually mapped out her husband's newfoalish quirks, and knew how to defuse them.
"I... I guess I understand. It's just that, well, I want to feel useful to you, and doing the heavy, clumsy stuff is what I'm good at!" Wildfire was a light gray earth pony, with a mane and tail in several shades of blue. He worked as a Firepony with his adopted newfoal son, Rocket. This was their shift off from the Fire Hall, and Wildfire tended to get in Perspicacity's muzzle trying to make up for all the time he was absent.
"Dad. Just let mom use her horn. I don't want to be responsible for busting her very first telescope. I like living. Living is very good. There's pies and ice cream in living. Not so much if we piss her off." Rocket had a point. Wildfire did like pie. And being alive.
"Alright, alright." Wild's ears dropped in defeat as he lowered his head. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I'll be a good lil' pony and sit this one out."
The silver-white unicorn mare stepped over and kissed Wildfire on his poll. "You can help me with the books, if you want. They need to be hauled up from the basement too. That ought to keep you busy enough." Perspicacity swept her teal-colored tail at him as she turned to lift the wooden chest with her magic. She ran the only telescope shop in Greater Fetlock, and despite how far the town was from anything, orders occasionally came in from all over Equestria. She had come from a long line of telescope makers, once her ancestors had made instruments for the crown itself.
But that was long, long ago. Now it was a golden day when an order came in from Trottingham or Fillydelphia. Some tiny part of the old status of the Starshine clan still carried a small cache among the astronomically inclined. This was something Perspicacity was very proud of. In her heart, she secretly wished the even just once, an order would come from Canterlot again. This drove her to try to make the very best telescopes she possibly could, masterpieces each one; the dream of being able to claim, after so many centuries, that once again Starshine was the Official Telescope Maker To The Crown.
For now, though, the contents of the basement needed to be moved to the attic. There was a lot of stuff piled up in that basement. While the store, which was also their home, was fairly young, the basement had accumulated an astonishing amount of relics from Equestria's thousand year history. Somehow Perspicacity's shop had become the place for the other members of her clan to dump unwanted inheritances; they felt sure that the one mare who still clung to her family's traditional occupation would be only happy to take everything old and dusty in. And, mostly, they were correct.
Perspicacity just couldn't let precious history be lost because somepony didn't want to store it. This had been fine for a long time, but now Wildfire's wife needed the basement for a workshop, so she could expand the floorspace in the store above. There were a lot of heavy things, and a lot of stairs.
Maybe carrying the books wasn't such a bad job after all. Books were important. Besides, Wildfire could read Equestrian now. Maybe he'd even take a look at some of the old tomes. It might even be interesting.
Wildfire headed back down to the basement, his son, Rocket, trailing after. Rocket Racer Starshine was a good colt, well, a stallion now -Wild still thought about him as a colt, even after all these years - but Wildfire still disliked his name. When they had first arrived in Equestria, relocated newfoals sent to learn basic earth pony trade skills in the lesser Fetlock, Rocket had felt compelled to come up with a proper 'pony name' up front. He was only a young kid, and he picked a name he thought was cool.
Rocket Racer was not a cool pony name, and it never would be, Wild thought. But, the colt was stuck with it now. Stallion. Whatever. Maybe it was just his own issue. At least he picked a good name in the end. Wildfire. That's just a great name for a pony. The best.
The basement was almost empty now; they had all been working most of the day, and the day before as well. Off shift gave both Wild and Rocket a full week free from the Hall every month. Perspicacity needed help, help she would get.
Wildfire was wearing his cloth work saddlebags. They were tough and had big, deep pockets, just right for the working stallion. Perspicacity had got them for him last Hearth's Warming, he had put them to good use, hauling wood, hauling crops, hauling tools... now he could use them to haul books.
The old bookcase was up against the wall of the basement; it had been carved from what was likely a single big disk of tree. There were some utterly enormous trees in Equestria, and it was not uncommon to see furniture simply carved right out of huge chunks of solid wood. With heavy-lifting construction unicorns at the ready, and pegasus sky-hook teams, it was probably easier for ponies to build and move things than it had been for humans long ago. It was a strange and oddly humbling thought to a newfoal stallion who had once been proud of his thumbs.
The books smelled old, but not mildewed nor rotten. Things didn't disintegrate the same way they had on old Earth. Equestria just wasn't a place where stuff got ruined over time easily. Maybe there was less mold and fungus and bacteria, or maybe entropy was different here - frankly all that kind of stuff was pretty much beyond Wildfire. He was a fairly simple stallion, happy being a Firepony and leaving the technical matters to others. But he had once had a human friend, Stephen, who just loved all the sciencey stuff.
Wildfire used to write letters to his friend. Long ago, when Earth still existed. He had continued to write letters even after he knew full well his old friend was long dead. It was his way to cope with the loss of both Stephen and Earth itself. Then the letters became his diary, more or less. Finally, years ago, he had stopped altogether.
The box of letters was in here somewhere. They were pretty much Wildfire's last connection to his old human life. He didn't miss that life, but... it was his past. It was a part of him, however much he tried to live entirely as an Equestrian, however much he wanted to be just an ordinary pony. It was his history, and history never completely vanishes.
Wildfire began pulling books off of the wooden shelf with his strong teeth and set them carefully into his saddlebags. There was a red book, titled with the odd symbols that only unicorns had need of. The language of magic, all little pictograms of stars and horseshoe shapes, spirals and other curious designs. Wild thought of it as being equivalent to Chinese, or maybe Kanji. Or ancient Egyptian. He certainly couldn't read it.
No point really; earth ponies couldn't cast spells.
The brown book was written in ordinary Equestrian script; it used letters and was a phonetic language. Still took a while to learn, Wildfire recalled. He never was that good with languages; even now he sometimes slipped and used an English word, and he knew he spoke Equestrian with a human accent. Mostly nopony teased him about it. Mostly.
"The Big Brown Book Of Bedtime Tails". Cute. Even Equestrians used stupid puns like that. Tails. Wildfire sighed and pocketed the book.
Two more, rather heavy volumes were also written in unicorn-ese. Wild was able to guess what one of them must be about; it had pictures of lenses in it. It was probably a book on how to cast shaping spells, as well as how lenses worked. Perspicacity probably had studied the book once, to learn her trade. Wildfire liked watching his wife make lenses; it was like a little light show. At night, it was spectacular; molten glass hovering in the air, changing shape, glowing both with heat and magic from Perspicacity's horn.
He had to admit it, sometimes he wished he had been a unicorn. Some of that magic stuff was pretty amazing. Then again, he was strong as iron and twice as tough, and that had let him and his son Rocket save not a few lives. Being an earth pony was not without its pride, that was for sure.
More books followed, one at a time, to fill Wild's saddlebags. Rocket had found a pile of books bound up by string; he had simply taken the string in his mouth and headed upstairs. Rocket was lucky like that. It was actually uncanny. His son was the luckiest, clumsiest pony he had ever known. He was the kind of earth pony that could literally fall onto what he was searching for. It was a handy thing for a Firepony. Wildfire sometimes wondered if it wasn't some subtle kind of earth pony magic.
The manuscript slid down the wall behind the shelves. Wildfire remembered that old thing. It was just ancient. It was written in some weird script he had never seen before. Apparently it had been in Perspicacity's family forever, generations and generations. Once he had thought it was written in some old Earth language because the strange letters almost looked familiar to him. But that was not possible, because artifacts from Earth were not allowed into Equestria. They wouldn't survive in any case; matter from earth that wasn't alive, like a newfoal convert, always seemed to change in strange ways. Once, Wildfire had seen somepony try to drive an electric jeep through the barrier. Why the fool newfoal wanted a jeep in Equestria was beyond him, and it obviously wasn't easy for a pony to drive, but the foal made a brave effort.
The jeep turned into pudding. Sort of a lemon pudding. The poor newfoal was sitting in a jeep, grinning at his apparent success, and then the material of the vehicle just started changing color. It melted around him, and soon he was squirming in a big yellow pile of pudding. It was pretty tasty, actually. In the end a lot of ponies were laughing and getting overly full. Good times.
That could never happen again; the Earth was ten years gone now, absorbed entirely by the expansion of Equestria. There was no Earth. Just Equestria. Like all newfoals, Wildfire had complicated feelings about that.
This was one of those 'hands' times. Every once in a while, Wildfire would wish he still had hands instead of hooves. The damn old manuscript was just behind the heavy block of wood that was the shelves, and the space was too small for him to stick his muzzle into and definitely too small for his big 'ol hooves. A hand could've just slipped in there easy as pie.
This was now an official challenge. Wild felt the drive to prove his worth by defeating the terrible threat of the lost manuscript. The horror of the too-small space! It was stallion versus shelving in an all-out battle to the tome! This time, the shelving was going down.
No, it wasn't going down. It was way too heavy. But maybe it could be shifted.
Wildfire looked around the mostly-emptied basement. Something must be here that could be used as a crowbar or a lever. A spyglass! Yeah, who would imagine finding a spyglass in the basement of a telescope shop? Perspicacity would just love him using a spyglass as a crowbar. Oh yes. OK, then, what else?
A ruler. No, too light, too thin. An old croquet mallet. It looked like a croquet mallet. They played a similar game here, in any case. It would break too... but... maybe trying to move the shelves wasn't the solution. Suddenly it hit him. As a mallet hits a ball. Duh.
The pride of human intelligence in pony form sulked back to grab the ruler and returned to the shelves. Holding the ruler out, in his teeth, Wildfire poked around in the gap between the shelving block and the wall. With a combination of pushing through the shelf at the manuscript, and scraping at an angle from the side, the ancient booklet was finally moved to where it could easily be picked up.
Wild sighed, and stuffed the aged thing into his saddlebags. He would let Perspicacity worry about moving the shelves upstairs. He'd conquered them sufficiently; he had nothing else to prove.
Rocket couldn't stay for dinner; he had to get home to his marefriend; they had moved in together only a few months ago, and he didn't like to spend time away from her. It was understandable. Wildfire tried to suggest going and fetching her, but Perspicacity had shut him up; what Rocket really wanted was time alone with his mare, not dinner with his parents whatever the arrangement. Duh, again.
"I got an order from Clydesdale today. It came in the mail. Oh! You got a letter from the Ministry Of Pegasus Affairs; maybe they've finally found your old pegasus friend!" Perspicacity nodded over at the table by the door; an official-looking envelope rested there. Wildfire had been looking for a pegasus called Skysinger for years; they had a kind of falling out long ago, when Skysinger had gotten in trouble because of a mistake on Wild's part. Sky was the first pegasus Wildfire had ever known, he had always wanted to say he was sorry.
Wild didn't hold out much hope; he'd written the Ministry many times before, over the years. Most likely, Skysinger just didn't want anything to do with him anymore. But Wildfire was a determined sort of pony. He'd check the envelope later, though. Something else was on his mind.
As Wild and his wife enjoyed their simple dinner; he only barely listened to Perspicacity's story about what she had read in the unicorn paper today. Unicorn newspapers were written in their traditional pictographic writing - three races, three forms of writing - and she enjoyed telling him about the unusual stories there. Unicorn newspapers were filled with stories of the strange, only reasonable for a group obsessed with magic, he supposed. Normally he loved the odd tales.
The oatloaf was particularly good; she had added olives to it and they were a savory touch. Wildfire liked the nights when Perspicacity cooked; she was much better at it that he was, but he did his best on his own nights. It was just more difficult to do anything complicated without a horn and magic; Wild's nights were much simpler fare, soups, stews, and sometimes haycakes and fruit. He was particularly glad it wasn't his night to cook - he was just plain preoccupied.
After cleaning up - that was his job tonight; it was a house rule that whoever cooked did not have to do the dishes - Wildfire began to realize what was nagging at him. When Perspicacity headed to bed, Wild kissed her a sweet goodnight, but did not follow. "I... I want to check something out in the attic. It's been bothering me all day, and... well I just have to attend to it."
"Don't stay up all night; you'll be exhausted in the morning. Have fun, my heroic Firepony." Wild loved it when she said that. Great Celestia, he loved his Perspicacity.
While Pers was brushing her teeth, Wildfire climbed the narrow steps from the second floor, where their living quarters were, above the showroom below, to the attic. It was mostly full, now; the work today had nearly finished the job of moving the contents of the basement up to it.
Wildfire could see that his wife had done quite a bit of telekinetic tidying on the topfloor, probably during the time he was out getting them all ice cream in the late afternoon. He reminded himself he would need to return the light, wooden cone-carrier to the ice cream shop tomorrow. There were all kinds of little adaptations to the needs of the equinoid form that were a part of his life now; and all of them involved levels of trust and self-responsibility that would have been nearly impossible in the human world.
Wild had no doubt that the wooden cone carriers were never, ever stolen or just chucked into the garbage here. Native ponies couldn't even imagine such irresponsibility, and newfoals couldn't behave that way even if they could think of such things. It was odd in some ways, having the evil stripped out. Wildfire didn't regret it for a moment, but sometimes he couldn't help but reflect on it.
The big chest hurt his flank, when he bumped into it; tidy was not the same thing as uncrowded, and the smaller area of the attic meant less room to move amidst all of the stuff stored within it now. Wildfire had whacked himself right on the cutie mark; he had needed to stop and wince a moment - those things were sensitive. Sometimes that was good, as Perspicacity had taught him one particularly memorable night, but other times the marks were a vulnerability.
Wildfire and his son had gotten their marks the same day, during their first real Firehouse run; flames and two drops. Wild's droplets were on the right of the flame, Rocket's on the left. It had made them both very proud; having such similar marks brought them even closer as father and son.
There it was. On the large trunk, near the bookshelves. The shelves! Why that clever little... Pers must have moved the heavy shelves while he was out getting the ice cream. Of course. That was why she insisted on ice cream for her 'hard workers'. Wildfire smiled. She had made sure he wouldn't hurt himself - or the building - trying to move something he was profoundly unequipped to move.
The manuscript. It had bothered Wildfire since he had first seen it, helping Perspicacity sort out her basement, long ago. It had been before they had married, back when he was still courting her. At the time he had thought it was strange, and seeing it again, earlier today, had peaked his curiosity. It was ancient; it was written in something even Perspicacity couldn't decipher, and it had, at the time, reminded him of earthly text.
Wildfire looked more closely at the manuscript, sitting on the chest. It was not thick, but it was fairly wide and tall. The cover was a faded brown. Wild tried to figure out what it was made of. For all the world, it looked like leather. Skin. Flesh. Ponies never made anything from animal skin because they never slaughtered animals or ate their meat. They had many substitutes for leather, but the very idea of using dead flesh as a material in goods was abhorrent to them.
It even smelled, faintly, of leather. This was impossible. Unless...
Hundreds of years ago - many hundreds of years ago - there had been a time of difficulty in Equestria involving the Griffon and Dragon nations. Griffons were omnivores - once, according to some legends, they had even hunted and eaten ponies - and dragons were panivores; they could eat literally anything, though they preferred minerals, especially gems. Both had fairly martial cultures based on almost human-like violence and dominance struggles, and both used animal flesh in the things they made and used. Leather. Perhaps the manuscript was an ancient griffon or dragon tome!
That would be very interesting. Wildfire had an interest in history. In his human life as Noah Marchington, he had spent countless hours watching holos about ancient days and the history of various cultures. His best friend at the time, Stephen, was more the 'technology, future, and sci-fi' sort of man. The two sometimes happily argued about the relative merits of both.
In Equestria, Wildfire had felt daunted by the sheer weight of the history of an entirely new world - indeed a brand new universe - hanging over his head, and had not pursued his taste for history. It was just too much to even begin to deal with. But now, settled and confident in his life as a stallion in Greater Fetlock, perhaps he could indulge his curiosity again.
Besides - there was a truly ancient manuscript, a genuine and probably very valuable piece of history sitting on a chest, right in front of him, right now. The desire to look at it further had been distracting him all day. It was clearly more important that sleep. Wildfire leaned forward and lifted the cover with his teeth. It felt like leather in his mouth.
The strange script lay on the pale yellow-white pages. For all the world, the pages looked like vellum. Wildfire gave the page in front of him a tentative exploration with his lips and tongue. That wasn't paper. That absolutely wasn't paper.
Vellum was what was used in the finest ancient manuscripts on old, lost Earth. It was a sheet of skin made from unborn animals, usually cows. The cow would either be slaughtered, or an abortion would be induced, and the fetal tissue was prepared and preserved. The result was the finest, smoothest material for books possible. Bibles were hand written on vellum, as were the most important books of knowledge and philosophy. If these pages weren't vellum, then Wildfire could not imagine what else they could be.
Wild studied the text. There was a large, red illuminated uncial symbol at the top left of the page. That was very Earthlike, but the idea of illuminated text was hardly a purely human notion. It was one of those obvious, decorative things that any species was likely to come up with.
Wait. That was an 'S'. That was not a snake, that was not a dragon, that was not some weird symbol, though it was so elaborate it was initially hard to decipher. But the more Wildfire stared at the ink and paint, the more he was sure. That was the letter 'S'. The English letter 'S', and it began a word.
Wildfire struggled, his heart pounding. Ten years after the dissolution of the planet earth, in Equestria, he was reading human letters written on an impossible leather manuscript. If that was an 'S', then the next letter would be down below, small, near the base of the large, complex uncial. 'H'. It was an 'H', followed by an... some of the ink had flaked off over countless years. 'E'. Space. 'She'. The word was 'she'. It was English. It didn't look like English, but it was, and it was here, and it was impossible and he was reading it right now.
She. She what? Wildfire brought the Glowsprite lamp closer, so that he could try to decipher the next word. The writing was not easy at all to read, and if it was English, it was a strange sort of English. With effort he sounded out the next few words. Wait. Wildfire ran to get something to write on. There had to be something in this attic!
He found the box that contained his old letters to his long gone human friend. There was still a pencil inside! And sheets of paper, just as he had left them, years ago. Wildfire lifted the box with his teeth and brought it over to the low cabinet near the trunk. He could write on the top. He took out a sheet of paper, using his lips and then the pencil. He began to copy down the letters as he worked them out.
That was a good start. Maybe it was a fantasy story from long ago. Or maybe there were fairies out there. Equestria was a wild place. Only... this was English, so it must have come from Earth, even though that was impossible. Material objects didn't survive in Equestria long. Unless... it had been brought from Equestria. Maybe it was made of leather from the dragon or griffon empires of Equestria. The likely source of such leather made Wildfire feel queasy; he had been turning the pages with his mouth.
Wait a lemon-frosted minute. Wildfire sounded out the words, and re-wrote them, then translated them as best he could.
"She was a magical horse, beautiful and white." That is what it really said. It was English, but it was very, very old english. Middle English. Wildfire remembered. He'd seen several holos on it. Middle English. That put this manuscript back in the 1200's or 1300's of Earth's old calender. Maybe even the 1100's. Somewhen in there. His memory was a little rusty on these matters, and it wasn't like there was any resource he could turn to. He was alone in this. Earth was gone.
Wildfire began to work out the next line. It was even more difficult, but with effort, it revealed its meaning.
And she was cleped the princesse Celestea.
The gray and blue stallion slumped down on the wood of the attic floor. His mouth hung open for a moment as the understanding fixed itself in his mind.
"She was a magical horse, beautiful and white. And she was named Princess Celestia."