A Matter of Honor (Slave Pony, Historical, Victorian) (WIP)

Nov 7th, 2017
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  1. >Day A Matter of Honor.
  2. >”The Colonies. I’m tired of reading about them. Don’t they have anything else to write about?”
  3. >You pin your ears back.
  4. >You’ve seen your master go into a fit of rage from reading the news before.
  5. >Mostly he hates hearing about the incompetence of the East India Company.
  6. >This sounds like another failure on their part.
  7. “Sir File?” You ask tentatively.
  8. >He ignores you and continues reading.
  9. >Mr. Burwell looks up with some disinterest.
  10. >His eyes catch yours, and you quickly look away.
  11. >Sir File Nohtfound takes a break from his paper and puffs on his cheroot.
  12. >This calms him slightly.
  13. >”What is it this time?”
  14. >”It appears the Shiks have chosen to rise up again.”
  15. >Sir File’s eyes move back to the offending news.
  16. >Mr. Burwell returns to playing with a deck of cards.
  17. >It looks like he is attempting a magic trick.
  18. >He takes a card, examines it, and then returns it to the deck.
  19. >After shuffling, he taps on the deck twice, and takes the top card.
  20. >His mustache shifts in annoyance, and he returns to shuffling the deck.
  21. >“Now here’s a happy ending,” Sir File says as he puts down his cigar. “The Bombay grenadiers kept the savages at bay for three days before dragoons arrived to reinforce them. The following day, hussars arrived, and with the remaining dragoons, rode down the Shiks like dogs.”
  22. >He looks up from his paper with a smile.
  23. >”Bully for us, sir,” Reginald Burwell says as he lifts a defiant fist.
  24. >”Bully for us indeed.” File folds the paper. “This calls for a drink. Melody?”
  25. “Yes, Sir File?” You respond in your most pleasant voice.
  26. >”Bring us some Scotch.” After a brief pause he continues. “My best bottle.”
  27. >You rise from beside the fireplace and trot toward his bar.
  28. >It only takes a moment to find what he requested.
  29. 1/10
  30. >You place two glasses on a silver tray, and balance the bottle carefully.
  31. >With practiced ease you place it on the coffee table in front of them.
  32. >Your master doesn’t like it when you make a mess.
  33. >Certainly not when he has company.
  34. >”Bring a third glass, Melody. You may partake as well.”
  35. >You look at him with surprise.
  36. >It’s rare for him to offer you one of his drinks.
  37. >And never in front of others.
  38. >You bow and follow his command.
  39. >When you return, Reginald is already pouring.
  40. >He waits with the open bottle, and looks at you.
  41. >Sensing his wish, you put your glass down, and he fills it.
  42. >Today certainly is a treat.
  43. >Each of the men take their glasses, and wait for you to do the same.
  44. >The glass feels strange in your hoof, but you don’t complain.
  45. >It would be very embarrassing for Sir File if you were to question his generosity.
  46. >”To the Queen,” he toasts.
  47. “To the Queen,” you and Mr. Burwell say in unison.
  48. >They drink it in one gulp, which is not in normal fashion.
  49. >Scotch is meant to be drunk slowly, so that people can enjoy the complex flavors.
  50. >Still, you follow their lead and drink as quickly as you can.
  51. >The liquid burns as it goes down.
  52. >It’s almost as bad as the time you snuck out some gin.
  53. >You try to keep yourself from making a face, but you fail.
  54. >On it’s own, your tongue sticks out as if the cool air could sooth the heat.
  55. >You take several deep breaths.
  56. >The two gentlemen laugh at your reaction.
  57. >You feel your cheeks warm in embarrassment.
  58. >No doubt they are red under your grey coat.
  59. >Sir File leans back into the sofa.
  60. >”I’m surprised the Presidential Army was able hold against the Shiks. Natives, most of them. Hardly better than savages.”
  61. >”The Company might finally be instilling some discipline in them.”
  62. 2/10
  63. >Reginald pours himself another glass.
  64. >He hesitates when Sir File lifts his glass, but fills it as well.
  65. >This time Reginald does not offer you more, and simply places the bottle back on the tray.
  66. >You shift uneasily.
  67. >Are you supposed to pour yourself another one?
  68. >You look at Sir File, but he doesn’t acknowledge you.
  69. >That must mean that he doesn’t want you to have another.
  70. >File places the paper on the tray.
  71. >”Perhaps. Still, we should abolish them and allow the Crown to control the colony directly.”
  72. >This makes Reginald smile.
  73. >”It would interfere with the tea trade. Just imagine if the Royal Navy had to spend their time carting back and forth cases of leaf.”
  74. >He takes a sip from his glass.
  75. >"I suppose the Company has its uses. They deal with the smugglers and rakes after all."
  76. >"Filthy business. I doubt Parliament would allow the Navy to deal with Chinese trade."
  77. >File frowns, but doesn’t disagree with his friend.
  78. >You heard the Company does business in China, but Chinese only accept silver.
  79. >In order to get enough silver, the Company sells opium to smugglers.
  80. >The smugglers in turn buy tea and either transport it themselves, or sell it to the Company.
  81. >There was a war years ago, and the Crown was given Hong Kong as recompense.
  82. >”I say, kill all those who will not swear allegiance to the Crown, and replace them with ponies. At least they are obedient. What say you, Melody?”
  83. >They both look your way.
  84. >Oh no.
  85. >They’re asking for your opinion.
  86. >What should you say?
  87. >On one hoof, if you agree you would be saying that killing people is fine.
  88. >But, they’re just savages.
  89. >Are they people?
  90. >You don’t know.
  91. >A safe answer seems like the best response.
  92. ”Ponies would be more obedient, Sir File.”
  93. >He claps his hands together.
  94. >”There, you see? Ponies can harvest tea as well as any native.”
  95. >Reginald shrugs, conceding the point.
  96. 3/10
  97. >”Maybe you are right. I grow weary of these constant rebellions.”
  98. >”Fighting with savages for only a year of peace. It’s hardly worth the effort.”
  99. >”Or the treasure.”
  100. >Sir File becomes emboldened and leans toward Mr. Burwell.
  101. >”Now, Napoleon. He was an enemy worth fighting. How I wish I could have been alive then. I would have bought a commission and fought as a lancer. That would have been something.”
  102. >”Like your father?”
  103. >They both look at the painting of Sir File Nohtfound Senior.
  104. >He is wearing his dress uniform, and scowls at the viewer.
  105. >Sir File loves telling the story of when his father fought bravely against the Emperor.
  106. >There, he earned honor for the Nohtfound family, and was declared a baronet by King George.
  107. >”Like my father,” Sir File says with pride in his voice.
  108. >Reginald raises his glass in a silent toast, and Sir File nods in acknowledgement.
  109. >”Then you would be a knight in your own right.”
  110. >”Or perhaps a peer.”
  111. >Mr. Burwell makes a slight twitch.
  112. >”One can only be so lucky.”
  113. >They both have a drink.
  114. >Reginald Burwell continues.
  115. >”Now, about the hundred pounds.”
  116. >Sir File raises a hand to stop his friend.
  117. >”Don’t worry, Reginald. You shall have your guineas as soon as the rents are collected.”
  118. >Mr. Burwell swirls his drink once.
  119. >”Of course. Of course,” he agrees, but his tone indicates otherwise.
  120. >The room fills with awkward silence.
  121. >Sensing the impasse, you decide to approach Sir File.
  122. >You know he doesn’t like being made to look like a fool.
  123. >Or worse, a commoner.
  124. “Would you care for another glass?”
  125. >Sir File slowly turns his gaze to you.
  126. >He holds out his now empty cup.
  127. >”Certainly.”
  128. >You quickly obey, and hope this will lighten their moods.
  129. >As you pour, Mr. Burwell changes the subject.
  130. >”Have you heard? Anon Ymous is having a small party on Friday.”
  131. 4/10
  132. >Sir File takes the now full glass.
  133. >”Of course. But who would go?” File smiles behind his cup. “He is in trade.”
  134. >Mr. Burwell’s head waves slowly from side to side.
  135. >”Be that as it may, I’m sure many will attend,” he leans in conspiratorially. “Perhaps even, Mademoiselle Angelique.”
  136. >This catches Sir File’s attention.
  137. >”Angelique?”
  138. >Mr. Burwell leans back.
  139. >”Perhaps.”
  140. >Sir File takes a deep breath.
  141. >”Then I shall endeavor to attend.”
  142. >Mr. Burwell looks at his pocket watch.
  143. >”And, I must be going. Good evening, Sir File.”
  144. >Reginald takes the deck and puts in in his pocket in a single motion.
  145. >Your master rises for his guest.
  146. >”Good evening.”
  147. >You follow close behind Mr. Burwell, so as to close the door when he leaves.
  148. >He puts on his coat, and gives you the slightest tip of his hat before exiting.
  149. >”Angelique,” File says in the next room. “My little flower.”
  150. >At least he is in a good mood.
  151. >You trot over slowly to your master.
  152. >He wouldn’t want empty glasses to be left out.
  153. >You place the cups on the tray, and File swallows what’s left of his drink in one gulp.
  154. >He offers you a smile.
  155. >”Melody?” He asks sweetly.
  156. >You freeze.
  157. >Sir File doesn't normally speak gently with you.
  158. >You look at him closely.
  159. >He can’t be drunk.
  160. >File only had three glasses.
  161. >He couldn’t possibly want…
  162. >Your heart races.
  163. ”Yes, Sir File?”
  164. >He stands up easily, and loosens his tie.
  165. >”Where is Meadow?”
  166. >You allow yourself to breathe.
  167. >He isn’t interested in you.
  168. >Then you remember.
  169. “She… is unwell, Sir File.”
  170. >File furrows his brow.
  171. >”Still? She had the day off.”
  172. >You lightly scuff the floor with a hoof.
  173. “Meadow was still sick, last I checked on her.”
  174. >File frowns at this.
  175. >”Check her again. See that she brings me some wine so I might rest. A Riesling perhaps.”
  176. >A sweet wine for bed?
  177. >Sir File usually prefers dry wines.
  178. >He probably wants her to be drunk.
  179. 5/10
  180. >Ponies prefer cider, but sweet wine is also acceptable.
  181. >You bow deeply, and follow his command.
  182. >It only takes a moment to walk through the kitchen to the servant quarters.
  183. >You climb the spiral staircase to the smaller living room.
  184. >The room is warm, and you look at the stove.
  185. >You can see steam coming off of it.
  186. >From the heat, you can tell it’s overfilled.
  187. >Sir File wouldn’t like it if he found out you were wasting coal.
  188. >You choose to ignore that for now.
  189. >As far as servant quarters go, it’s spacious, and was clearly meant for humans.
  190. >Thankfully, Sir File had it remodeled to allow ponies to use it more easily.
  191. >The rooms are filled with small furniture only fit for ponies.
  192. >You approach Meadow Flower’s room.
  193. >The door is closed, and you hesitate before knocking.
  194. >She doesn’t answer.
  195. “Meadow?”
  196. >Again, nothing.
  197. >You take a deep breath and try the handle.
  198. >The door opens easily.
  199. “Meadow?”
  200. >You crinkle your nose as you enter.
  201. >It smells like sweat.
  202. >The Pegasus opens a sleepy eye, before grabbing her blanket to protect herself.
  203. >”Yes, Octavia?”
  204. >Meadow lets out a sneeze.
  205. >She pulls the blanket tighter.
  206. “Sir File has requested your presence.”
  207. >She opens both eyes, and sits up slightly.
  208. >”Now?” Meadow asks with a shaky voice.
  209. >You approach her slowly.
  210. “He has decided to retire for the evening.”
  211. >Meadow looks down.
  212. >”I understand.”
  213. >She tentatively lets a hoof escape from her blanket.
  214. >After a moment she tries another one.
  215. >Again she sneezes, though this time several follow.
  216. >Her fit takes a few moments to pass.
  217. “Meadow, wait.”
  218. >She looks up at you.
  219. >You put a hoof to her forehead.
  220. >She’s warm, and you can feel sweat beading.
  221. >”What is it?”
  222. >She brings a hoof to wipe her nose.
  223. >In the dim light, you can tell why he prefers her.
  224. >Her mane is golden, almost the same color as Angelique’s hair.
  225. >Her coat is pink and soft.
  226. “I don’t think you should go.”
  227. 6/10
  228. >”But Master needs me.”
  229. >You feel your ears lower.
  230. “You need a doctor.”
  231. >She pushes against you and tries to get out of bed.
  232. >Instinctively you push her back, and she doesn’t resist.
  233. >”I’m fine," she lies. "I can’t keep him waiting.”
  234. >You brush her mane with a hoof.
  235. >She offers you a weak smile.
  236. “No. He wouldn’t want you like this.” You swallow before continuing. “I’ll go.”
  237. >Instantly you regret your words, but it’s too late now.
  238. >Meadow looks away.
  239. >”But he will be mad.”
  240. >You look at the mare.
  241. >She needs a doctor.
  242. “No, no, no. Don’t worry. You just rest for now.”
  243. >She grabs the blanket again to cover herself.
  244. >”Are you sure?”
  245. >You press your lips together.
  246. >She needs her rest.
  247. “I’m sure.”
  248. >Meadow closes her eyes and nuzzles into her pillow.
  249. >”Thank you.”
  250. >You give her a nod, but she doesn’t see it.
  251. >You trot to the door quietly.
  252. Before you leave, you say, “I’ll ask him to send for his doctor tomorrow.”
  253. >File’s personal physician keeps a pony nurse.
  254. >Heart something.
  255. >You don’t quite remember her name.
  256. >Most likely he will send her in his place.
  257. >Still, it’s better than most ponies can hope for.
  258. >With any luck, it will be nothing serious.
  259. >You move to close the door, but leave it slightly open so the air won’t smell so stale.
  260. >Without thinking, you descend the staircase and go to the cellar.
  261. >Anon keeps his wines there.
  262. >You aren’t sure which he prefers, so you just take the first Riesling you see.
  263. >Carefully, you place it on a tray along with stemware.
  264. >You hope he won’t be angry.
  265. >Meadow is prettier than you are.
  266. >That’s probably why he prefers her.
  267. >You trot to his room slowly so as not to spill anything.
  268. “Sir File?” You ask at his door.
  269. >No answer.
  270. >Maybe he hasn’t gone to his room yet?
  271. >You look down the hall and strain your ears.
  272. >Nothing.
  273. “M’lord?”
  274. >While not technically correct, he enjoys being addressed as such when others aren’t around.
  275. 7/10
  276. >”Meadow? You may enter.”
  277. >You take a deep breath before pushing his door open.
  278. >Sir File is sitting on his bed and looking closely at his coat sleeve.
  279. >The kerosene lamp on his side table is burning bright.
  280. >”Be a dear, and turn off the gas light,” he says without looking up.
  281. >It’s too high for you to adjust without tools.
  282. >Unlike in the servant’s quarters, everything here is sized for a person.
  283. >Normally Meadow Flower takes care of the gas lights since she can fly.
  284. ”As you wish.”
  285. >You place the tray on his side table before looking for the rod.
  286. >”Melody, where is Meadow Flower?”
  287. >You take the rod for adjusting the flame and stand on two hooves.
  288. “She is still unwell, m’lord.”
  289. >It takes you several tries before you reach the lever to turn off the flame.
  290. >”Nothing too serious, I hope.”
  291. >You return the rod to its place.
  292. “She looks really sick. I think she needs a doctor.”
  293. >”A doctor?” He rises and places the coat on his overstuffed chair. “Do you think I am made of money?”
  294. >You aren’t sure how much a visit costs.
  295. “Of course not, Sir File. But she is very weak. I’ve never seen her like this.”
  296. >He removes his shirt and adds it to the chair.
  297. >Unlike some of his friends, Sir File has a slim build.
  298. >”What does she have? The pox?”
  299. >He removes his trousers and places it on the arm of the chair.
  300. >You shake your head.
  301. “No. At least I pray she doesn’t. She is sneezing and is very cold, though she is sweating heavily.”
  302. >Anon sits on the bed and looks at you.
  303. >”So I am supposed to spend a half crown on her just because she has a sniffle? Absurd.”
  304. “Sir File, please.” You rise up and put your hooves on his knees. “She needs help.”
  305. >”She’s just being lazy. I’ve been too easy on you two. A good whipping will bring her spunk back. Bring Meadow here.”
  306. >He eyes the paddle mounted on the wall.
  307. >Your ears raise in alarm.
  308. “Please, m’lord. She needs her rest.”
  309. 8/10
  310. >Sir File frowns, as if deciding if you are telling the truth.
  311. >Several seconds pass.
  312. >”Very well. Send for Dr. Lamprey in the morning. If she is avoiding work, then I will deal with her tomorrow.”
  313. >You give a sigh of relief.
  314. >Hopefully the doctor can help her.
  315. “Thank you, m’lord.”
  316. >”I suppose you will take care of her duties tonight?”
  317. >Your heart sinks.
  318. >You were hoping he would rather wait for her another day.
  319. >File doesn’t wait for a response before brushing you aside so he can lift the covers.
  320. >He easily slides in, and leaves room for you.
  321. >”You may have a drink, if you wish.”
  322. >He smiles pleasantly as you pour a generous serving of the wine.
  323. >It will make this easier.
  324. >The Reisling is sweet, and goes down easily.
  325. >”Ah, Miss Angelique. Such a sweet and gentle flower.”
  326. >You’ve only met her a few times, but she seems nice.
  327. >Her pronunciation can be hard to understand at times.
  328. “She is beautiful,” you offer.
  329. >Truthfully, you think her bust is oversized for her frame.
  330. >Sometimes you wonder why she doesn’t topple over.
  331. >Sir File lays back and looks at the ceiling absently.
  332. >”A rare treasure. Did you know she speaks four different languages?
  333. >You take another drink.
  334. >This one goes down as easily as the last, and you finally feel its relaxing effects.
  335. “I didn’t know that, m’lord.”
  336. >”Most people,” he pauses. “Well, educated ones anyway, learn at least French. Ever since the Emperor tried to conquer Europe, all gentlemen speak it.”
  337. >You’re just a pony.
  338. >There’s no need for you to speak anything other than English.
  339. >You doubt he would ever take you outside of the country.
  340. >Still, it might be amusing for him to have a pony that speaks French.
  341. >That way he can parade you around when guests visit.
  342. >The idea is interesting.
  343. “Would you like me to learn, Sir File?”
  344. >He furrows his brow.
  345. >”You?”
  346. “That way you can practice for Miss Angelique.”
  347. >He shakes his head.
  348. 9/10
  349. >”I would rather practice with her.”
  350. >You pour yourself a final cup and swallow it.
  351. >It will take a few minutes for the wine to hit you, but it should be enough.
  352. >File Nohtfound won’t want you to be completely drunk.
  353. >You climb into his bed and into his arms.
  354. >He brushes your hair absently.
  355. >No doubt he is still thinking of her.
  356. >You shift to find a more comfortable position.
  357. “Will you have breakfast tomorrow?
  358. >”No. I think I will go on a stroll. Just have some tea ready for me.”
  359. “Of course, Sir File.”
  360. >He moves so you are face to face with him.
  361. >You can feel your heart racing as his predatory smile grows.
  362. >You try to look away.
  363. >File grabs your neck and pulls you in for a kiss.
  364. >You close your eyes.
  365. >That always makes it easier.
  366. 10/10
  368. >Day A Matter of Honor continued.
  369. ”Meadow?”
  370. >You peek through the open door.
  371. >She’s still asleep, and her golden mane is in a tangled mess.
  372. >Meadow Flower must have been tossing and turning all night.
  373. >Though the curtains are closed, some light sneaks in.
  374. >She doesn’t look quite as bad anymore.
  375. >You decide to let her rest.
  376. >It only takes a few minutes to make tea for your master.
  377. >He doesn’t stir when you place the tray on his side table.
  378. >The blanket only partially covers him, and you can see his naked form.
  379. >You reach up to move the blanket over him, before stopping yourself.
  380. >Hopefully he will catch a chill.
  381. >That way he won’t want to bother you or Meadow.
  382. >Slowly, you retreat from his suite and trot to the petty cash drawer.
  383. >You don’t need much for today, except for the half crown for the doctor.
  384. >No matter how many times you check, you don’t see a coin that large.
  385. >Instead you take three shillings, along with a few pence.
  386. >The coins slide easily into your saddlebag.
  387. >Outside are only ponies and workers.
  388. >You wonder if you should visit the doctor first.
  389. >Gentlemen typically wake up around this time, but they don’t go for a walk until ten o’clock or so.
  390. >It would be better to visit the market first, to allow the doctor some time to dress.
  391. >You like living outside of the city.
  392. >Sir File keeps a small residence in London, but only visits it once a month.
  393. >Here, the air just seems fresher.
  394. >You notice a stack of smoke rising to the clouds.
  395. >Mr. Ymous’s factory must have a lot of orders this week.
  396. >You continue on to the market, and only pass a few ponies.
  397. >They also wear saddlebags, and are probably preparing for the day just like you.
  398. >You offer one a nod and she warily smiles back.
  399. >The market is relatively busy.
  400. >Most of the customers are ponies, but a few working class women are also shopping.
  401. >You notice a blue Pegasus eyeing a cucumber suspiciously.
  402. >He gently squeezes it with both hooves.
  403. 1/15
  404. >You hear an annoyed huff.
  405. >He weighs it on his hoof, before lifting another.
  406. >The Pegasus' eyes dart back and forth.
  407. >To your side, the stallpony is helping out a filly.
  408. “Is something wrong?”
  409. >”I can’t tell which ones are ripe,” the Pegasus says without looking up. “I think the bigger ones are ready.”
  410. >You blink, trying to hide your surprise.
  411. >Is this pony soft in the head, or is he just new?
  412. >Perhaps you can have a little fun.
  413. >You give him a big smile.
  414. “You want the ones with ridges and spots.”
  415. >”Really?”
  416. >He grabs a zucchini and compares it to his cucumber.
  417. >”Wow. I can really tell the difference. Thanks!”
  418. >The Pegasus grabs three more.
  419. >You watch in amazement as he puts them in a pile to buy.
  420. >”Imagine if I had to make a second trip,” he says pleasantly. “That would be embarrassing.”
  421. >You imagine him going back to his master with the wrong vegetables.
  422. >Likely he wouldn’t be so cheerful after a few good smacks to the rear.
  423. >The shame of going back to the market with a red bottom would teach him a lesson.
  424. >Just like what happened to you.
  425. >Your smile slowly fades away.
  426. >If you let him get hit so you can get a small bit of fun, then you’re no better than they are.
  427. >You let out a sigh.
  428. “No, you don’t want those. Those are zucchinis.”
  429. >”What?”
  430. “You were right earlier. Since they are vegetables, all of them are ripe.”
  431. >”Oh,” he makes a weak laugh. “I knew that. I was just making sure that you also knew.”
  432. >Why do colts always try to play things off?
  433. “You did a good job. You almost had me,” you say agreeably.
  434. >Might as well let him keep some dignity.
  435. >This makes him smile.
  436. >”Well, I am a nice colt. My name’s Soarin by the way.”
  437. “Octavia Melody. Pleased to meet you.”
  438. >He shakes your outstretched hoof.
  439. >”Can I help you?” The stallpony asks.
  440. >”Uh, four cucumbers, please.”
  441. “I’ll have the same.”
  442. >”That’ll be a hay-penny.”
  443. >You and Soarin give her a half-penny.
  444. 2/15
  445. >She watches as you and Soarin load up your saddle bags with the vegetables.
  446. >”Did you need anything else?”
  447. “No, I’m fine for now. Thank you.”
  448. >Soarin turns to you.
  449. >”Are you getting anything else in the market?”
  450. “Just a few more things. Eggs, and meat for tonight. Then I have to go to the doctor.”
  451. >He gives you a puzzled look.
  452. >”You don’t look sick.”
  453. >You laugh.
  454. “No. The visit is for another pony. She had to stay in bed all yesterday.”
  455. >”Oh. That’s good. Well, not good for her, I guess.”
  456. >The pony waits awkwardly for your response.
  457. “I really should be going.”
  458. >You take a step away from Soarin.
  459. >”Uh, can I tag along? You can teach me more about food.”
  460. >You give him a flat look.
  461. “Isn’t you master waiting for you to get back?”
  462. >He shakes his head.
  463. >”No, he is already working. He won’t be back for a few hours.”
  464. >Working?
  465. >How can a working man afford a pony?
  466. >Most can barely scrape together a living.
  467. >No, you must have heard wrong.
  468. “Really? Gentlemen are rarely up at this time.”
  469. >”Mr. Ymous is just different I guess. He likes being at the factory.”
  470. >Sir File Nohtfound did mention that Anon Ymous was in trade.
  471. >But, you didn’t think he actually worked.
  472. >That’s only for ponies, or commoners.
  473. >”So?” he asks, trying to gauge your reaction.
  474. >Is he trying to walk with you, or is he really just dumb?
  475. >It would be very improper for a lady to accept a walk with a man she just met.
  476. >They would have to meet at a ball or something.
  477. >Perhaps be introduced by relatives.
  478. >But, then again, you are both just slaves.
  479. >Their etiquette doesn’t really apply to you.
  480. >And he isn’t completely ugly.
  481. >Though he does look tired.
  482. >The Pegasus shifts and you suddenly notice that you’ve been silent this whole time.
  483. >He looks anxious.
  484. >Probably he is thinking you’re about to tell him off.
  485. >That would be nice.
  486. >Being able to reject somepony openly.
  487. >Maybe make a big scene so everypony can see.
  488. 3/15
  489. >But, it would also be nice to talk to a pony other than Melody.
  490. >And, Sir File would want to know more about Anon.
  491. “Fine.”
  492. >You turn and trot off without looking to see if he is following.
  493. >Behind you, you hear the sound of clumsy hooves catching up.
  494. >”So who do you work for?”
  495. “Sir File Nohtfound.”
  496. >”That name sounds familiar. Does he do business with Mr. Ymous?”
  497. “I seriously doubt that. Sir File doesn’t care for tradesmen.”
  498. >”Trademan?” Soarin scoffs. “Anon is a gentleman.”
  499. “That’s not what I meant. Anon works for a living. He’s in trade.”
  500. >”So, File’s old money then?”
  501. >You arrive at the chicken cart.
  502. >Live chickens wait in cages to be selected.
  503. >Beside them are an assortment of eggs.
  504. “No. Well, maybe. I’m not sure.”
  505. >”He’s a knight, so he must be someone important.”
  506. >You touch a few eggs.
  507. >They feel fresh.
  508. “His father earned that honor.”
  509. >You want to say that Anon is living on his father’s legacy, but you stop yourself.
  510. >”I see,” Soarin responds, though you doubt he understands.
  511. >You motion to the woman selling eggs and buy a dozen.
  512. >She takes your two pence coin and turns to another customer.
  513. “I heard that Anon is inviting people over on Friday.”
  514. >”Yes. It’s supposed to be some sort of garden party, whatever that is.”
  515. >Those are not usually held in the evening.
  516. >Garden parties are usually afternoon affairs.
  517. “You aren’t helping plan it?”
  518. >”No. Mr. Ymous made arrangements with a caterer to handle the details.”
  519. >You trot toward the butcher’s shop.
  520. “I was under the impression that it would be a ball.”
  521. >”There will be music, so maybe people will dance.”
  522. “I take it that Anon isn’t very formal.”
  523. >You both enter the butcher shop.
  524. >The fat man behind the counter notices you and beams.
  525. >”Melody, will you have your regular order for Sir File?” The butcher asks.
  526. 4/15
  527. “That will be fine, thank you.”
  528. >”Mr. Ymous doesn’t like formalities. He used to be a commoner,” Soarin says.
  529. “Ah.”
  530. >That would explain why Sir File dislikes Anon.
  531. >He climbed his way up the social ladder without the benefit of a family name.
  532. >”If anything, it’s a good thing. Mr. Ymous is very nice to us.”
  533. “He doesn’t beat you if you make a mistake?”
  534. >Soarin thinks it over.
  535. >”He once took away my pie for losing a message from London.”
  536. >You shake your head.
  537. >How can Anon have order in his house if he doesn’t hit his ponies?
  538. >”But then I found it in my bag the next day,” Soarin adds.
  539. >”Anything else for you, Melody?”
  540. “Not today. Thank you.”
  541. >You take the wrapped beef and carefully place it in your bag.
  542. >Now all you need to do is visit Dr. Lamprey.
  543. >You look at the sky.
  544. >It’s late enough in the morning that the doctor should be up.
  545. ”I still have another errand to run. Shouldn’t you get back to Anon?”
  546. >Soarin frowns at this.
  547. >From his look you think he wants to keep following you around.
  548. >”Maybe you’re right.” Soarin scuffs the cobblestone road. ”Can I see you again?”
  549. >And there it is.
  550. >Part of you hoped he would simply leave you alone.
  551. >You tap a hoof twice.
  552. >Would File care if you spoke with one of Anon’s slaves?
  553. >You aren’t sure.
  554. >Against your better judgement, you decide to take a chance.
  555. “I usually go to the market around this time.”
  556. >Soarin looks away.
  557. >”And I am normally busy delivering messages in the morning.”
  558. “Oh.”
  559. >You could tell him you are free on Thursday evenings, but you don’t want to lead him on.
  560. >Sir File probably wouldn’t like you receiving callers.
  561. >Especially those owned by a commoner.
  562. “Maybe we will run into each other again. Good morning.”
  563. >You make a small curtsy so he knows you are done talking with him.
  564. >He returns a bow slowly.
  565. >”Good morning.”
  566. 5/15
  567. >Soarin’s wings beat several times before he flies off.
  568. >It takes a few minutes before you arrive at the doctor’s office.
  569. >You knock on his door, and you hear shuffling.
  570. >The door opens, and a pony greets you.
  571. >She has a yellow coat, and a blue mane.
  572. >”Good morning.”
  573. “Good morning, miss, uh, Heart.”
  574. >”Snowheart.”
  575. “Of course. Is Dr. Lamprey free?”
  576. >”You just missed him dear. He has gone to see a patient.”
  577. “Maybe you can help me then. Sir File’s pony, Meadow Flower, is sick. Can you see her?”
  578. >”What does she have?”
  579. “She was sneezing, and she didn’t want to get out of bed.”
  580. >”It’s probably just a cold. It will pass in a day or two.”
  581. >The pony starts closing the door.
  582. “No. She had to lay in bed all yesterday. Please, Miss Snowheart.”
  583. >Snowheart looks behind her and into the sitting room.
  584. >”Oh, very well. It had better be important. I just made some tea.”
  585. “I’ll make you more,” you promise.
  586. >”That won’t be necessary. Come inside,” she points over to a sitting area with a single tea cup.
  587. >She takes another cup from a side table before joining you.
  588. >”Now, what were her symptoms again?”
  589. “She was sweating badly, and sneezing. She also didn’t want to get out of bed.”
  590. >Snowheart sips her tea.
  591. >”It sounds like the flu. Nothing can be done to help. Ponies just have to power through.”
  592. >She waves a hoof for emphasis.
  593. “I see.”
  594. >Now you feel foolish for bothering the nurse.
  595. >But what if she is wrong?
  596. >Dr. Lamprey’s reputation could be ruined if his pony doesn’t at least pay a visit.
  597. >Snowheart senses your worry.
  598. >”Don’t make that face. I’ll check on her.”
  599. >Snowheart insists on making small talk as she enjoys her tea.
  600. >Apparently the doctor was also invited to the garden party.
  601. >Maybe all gentlemen were invited?
  602. >Soon enough, Snowheart finishes her tea and excuses herself.
  603. >When she returns she is wearing a saddlebag.
  604. 6/15
  605. >”Let’s see your friend.”
  606. >The walk back to Sir File’s house should feel long, but this time it passes quickly.
  607. >Now gentlemen and ladies are also walking about.
  608. >They stroll slowly as they make their way to the park.
  609. >Whenever they pass each other they say, “Good morning.”
  610. >They don’t bother to greet you.
  611. >Still, it is nice to see the outfits they wear.
  612. >You notice one lady with a particularly large hat.
  613. >It is pink and is trimmed with lace.
  614. >Working class girls usually wear a small cap.
  615. >A few ponies have taken to wearing the same style hat.
  616. >You open the door and lead Nurse Snowheart to the servant’s quarters.
  617. >Meadow is sitting on the couch and huddled under a blanket.
  618. >She turns around as you enter.
  619. >Again, the stove is lit and burning hotter than it should.
  620. >You can see the flames behind the iron grating.
  621. >She overfilled it again.
  622. >Since Meadow is sick, you won’t chastise her.
  623. >“Good morning.”
  624. “Good morning, Meadow. Nurse Snowheart is here to see you.”
  625. >”Hello, dear. You look fine. The way Octavia explained it, I thought you were half dead.”
  626. >Meadow adjusts her blanket.
  627. >”I feel a little better now.”
  628. >”Well, let’s check just to be sure. What are your symptoms?”
  629. >Snowheart sits beside Meadow Flower.
  630. >”It hurts when I move, and I have a headache. I was sneezing a lot yesterday, but not as often today.”
  631. >”No coughing, or trouble breathing?”
  632. >”None of that.”
  633. >”How bad is your pain? Is it more of an ache?”
  634. >”Yes. Like a bad ache.”
  635. >Snowheart touches Meadow’s forehead.
  636. >”That was really nice of Sir File to send for you. I didn’t want to bother him.”
  637. >You press your lips together.
  638. >File didn’t want to spend the money to check on her.
  639. >Only your pleading, and body, convinced him.
  640. >Looking at her now, you realize it was wasted effort.
  641. “He thought you were pretending.” You point at her accusingly. “You’d better be sick or he’s going to paddle you.”
  642. 7/15
  643. >Meadow pulls away from Snowheart.
  644. >”But I didn’t do anything.”
  645. >Snowheart takes out a thermometer.
  646. “Exactly. If you had just asked if you could rest then he wouldn’t think you were lazy.”
  647. >”But-“
  648. >”I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” Snowheart says pleasantly. “Open wide.”
  649. >Meadow takes the thermometer, then closes her mouth to keep it in place.
  650. >You shake your head.
  651. >It should have been her last night.
  652. >She doesn’t mind warming Sir File's bed.
  653. >You notice a few crackers on the floor, and another cup out of place.
  654. “And look at this mess.”
  655. >You huff loudly, and get a dustbin.
  656. >”I’m sorry, Octavia. I didn’t mean to be a bother.”
  657. >She lets out a sneeze to emphasize her point.
  658. >It only takes a few swipes before most of the crumbs are picked up.
  659. >Snowheart takes out a stethoscope, and places it on Meadow’s chest.
  660. >”Deep breaths now.”
  661. >Meadow follows directions and breathes as Snowheart moves the instrument.
  662. >You toss the broken crackers into the dustbin.
  663. >Meadow can take care of the cup later.
  664. >”I think you have the flu. Seeing as how well you’re recovering, it should pass in a few days.”
  665. >Snowheart puts away her tools.
  666. >”Should I do anything?”
  667. >”Keep drinking tea and eating fruits. If you still feel sore, you may have some gin.”
  668. “Gin? So she can lay about drunk?”
  669. >”It isn’t the most delicate option, but it is the easiest. She only needs to take enough to dull the pain.”
  670. >Meadow nods, but stops herself when she sees you glaring.
  671. >She looks back at the nurse.
  672. >”Are there other options?”
  673. >”Sweet vitriol, but it’s far too strong for simple aches. If Dr. Lamprey had to lop off your leg, he would give you ether.”
  674. >Meadow shakes her head.
  675. >Snowheart bites her lip.
  676. >”Perhaps… Oh, I don’t even know if I have any.”
  677. >She looks in her bag and you can see many different instruments and vials.
  678. 8/15
  679. >”Ah, here it is.”
  680. >The nurse finds what she was looking for and hoofs over a small bottle.
  681. >Your curiosity gets the better of you.
  682. ”What is it?”
  683. >”Laudanum.”
  684. >Your ears raise.
  685. “Opium?”
  686. >Snowheart frowns.
  687. >”Well, yes, it does have some opium in it. Which is why we prescribe small bottles.”
  688. >”Is that bad?” Meadow asks the nurse.
  689. >”I don’t like giving it out. You don’t want to become addicted, like those Chinese.”
  690. >You wait in silence as Meadow looks at the brown bottle.
  691. >”I think gin would be best.”
  692. >You have to agree with Meadow.
  693. >Opium would be too much for her.
  694. >Meadow Flower passes the bottle back to Nurse Snowheart.
  695. >”Was there anything else?”
  696. “Should I pay you now?”
  697. >”We will send the bill in a few days. If that’s all, then I can show myself out. Good morning.”
  698. ”Good morning,” you both respond in unison as she gets up.
  699. >You hope she won’t over charge Sir File for the visit.
  700. >The door closes with a slight click.
  701. >You sit next to your friend.
  702. >Meadow pulls the blanket tighter.
  703. >Whether it’s because she is cold or trying to hide from you, you’re not sure.
  704. >”Did Sir File really say he would hit me if I was pretending?”
  705. >The last time he spanked her was when she dropped a bottle of port in the parlor.
  706. >Sometimes he ignores mistakes like that, but never when company is around.
  707. >That night he waited until they left before teaching her not to be clumsy around guests.
  708. >She’s much more careful now.
  709. “You know him. He sometimes gets into moods when he isn’t happy.”
  710. >She leans back into the couch.
  711. >”But I try my best,” she says like a filly.
  712. >She may be clumsy, but she does try.
  713. “I know,” you say as you look at the stove.
  714. >You shouldn’t have been mean to her.
  715. >Meadow is the only pony you can talk to openly.
  716. >Your only real friend.
  717. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. That was uncalled for.”
  718. 9/15
  719. >Meadow wipes at her face with her blanket.
  720. >You hadn’t noticed her eyes watering.
  721. >”That’s alright. I’m used to it.”
  722. >You extend a hoof and touch her shoulder.
  723. “We shouldn’t have to be used to it. We should be free.”
  724. >”That doesn’t matter anymore, Octavia. We’re here now.”
  725. >You used to love practicing music for hours at a time.
  726. >Now all you can do now is tidy up, or warm File’s bed.
  727. >You wonder if Soarin was being truthful with you.
  728. >He acted like Anon didn’t treat him as a slave.
  729. >But that would never happen with File.
  730. “You’re right. All we can do is endure.”
  731. >Meadow looks away from you.
  732. >She was almost a wonderbolt when the war happened.
  733. >You never asked her how she was captured.
  734. >She probably had to deal with worse than you.
  735. >After all, File does prefer her.
  736. >
  737. >
  738. >
  739. >A few days later, at Anon Ymous’ house.
  740. >”Soarin, what are you doing here?”
  741. “I live here.”
  742. >Anon smiles at this.
  743. >”I thought you would be sleeping. It’s your day of rest.”
  744. >You shrug at your master.
  745. “I got tired of laying down.”
  746. >Anon sits next to you.
  747. >”You could eat a pie, or go to the park.”
  748. ”I guess I’m not in the mood.”
  749. >”This isn’t the Soarin I know. What’s wrong?”
  750. >You press your lips together.
  751. “Am I ugly?”
  752. >Anon furrows his brow.
  753. >”I don’t know. What is beauty? Who can judge these things?”
  754. >He’s been reading those philosophy books again.
  755. “I asked if I could visit a pony, and she basically told me off.”
  756. >”I see,” he stands up and paces. “What happened, exactly.”
  757. “We trotted along and bought food in the market. When it was time to leave, I asked if I could see her again.”
  758. >”And?”
  759. ”She said that she was free in the mornings, but I’m always delivering messages for you then.”
  760. >”You’re not occupied now.”
  761. 10/15
  762. “It’s not that. It was her tone. Like she said it just to be polite.”
  763. >”Ah. Maybe she had something on her mind?”
  764. “She did seem a bit busy. She said she had to see a doctor.”
  765. >”That’s it then. You should try speaking to her again.”
  766. ”Maybe you’re right.”
  767. >”Just don’t be so direct. Women love a challenge.”
  768. ”Like Miss Angelique?”
  769. >”Exactly. She has many suitors, I’m sure. So I must be mysterious to her.”
  770. “If you stay mysterious, then she might find another gentleman.”
  771. >”I do run that risk,” he smiles. “But, on Friday I will ask her to dance with me.”
  772. >He’s talking about his party.
  773. >Anon invited all the gentlemen and ladies he knows.
  774. >Maybe you will meet a nice pony there, and ask her to dance with you.
  775. “What time is it?”
  776. >Anon checks his pocket watch.
  777. >”Almost nine o’clock.”
  778. >That’s the time you saw her.
  779. >Maybe she’s in the market?
  780. “Alright. I’ll try.”
  781. >”Before you go, can you take this envelope to Mr. Burwell? I imagine he is still at home, if not then try the bank.”
  782. >He hands you the sealed sleeve.
  783. ”An invitation?”
  784. >”No. It’s a small payment for the account.”
  785. >Small to Anon would be twenty or thirty pounds.
  786. >Riches to commoners.
  787. >From the weight it feels like several bank notes.
  788. >Gentlemen don’t like dealing with paper money, and prefer dealing with credit through written letters.
  789. >They see bank notes as dirty.
  790. >But Anon isn’t like most gentlemen.
  791. ”I’ll make sure he gets it.”
  792. >Anon nods, and you leave his mansion.
  793. >The flight to the market is short.
  794. >You find a perch and look at the crowd.
  795. >People and ponies wear hats, so it can be difficult to see who they are from the sky.
  796. >You look at them closely, but you don’t see Octavia.
  797. >After a few minutes of looking, you give up.
  798. >Maybe one day you will see her again.
  799. 11/15
  800. >You open your wings, and fly to Mr. Burwell’s residence.
  801. >With the envelope in hoof, you knock on the door.
  802. >Nothing.
  803. >You try again.
  804. >”Hold your horses. I’m coming,” you hear from behind the door.
  805. >The voice speaks with a very strong accent.
  806. >It opens and a man with a bowler hat scowls at you.
  807. >It’s one of Reginald’s footmen.
  808. >”What do you want, pony?”
  809. “I have a message for Mr. Burwell.”
  810. >He holds out his hand.
  811. >”Give it here then.”
  812. “I need to give it to him personally.”
  813. >”Mr. Burwell is practicing his charms. He don’t like it when ponies bother him and his charms.”
  814. “This is a payment from Mr. Ymous.”
  815. >”Then deliver it to him at the bank. He is not seeing visitors.”
  816. >A pink pony with a golden mane lands next to you.
  817. >Her wings fold easily.
  818. >Immediately the man’s demeanor changes.
  819. >”’Ello, Miss Meadow,” he smiles.
  820. >”Good morning, James.”
  821. >”Your nose is bright red! Sir File is treating you right?”
  822. >Sir File?
  823. >Octavia said she worked for him.
  824. >”Of course he is, James. I've just been sick. I'm feeling better now.”
  825. >”Alright. But if he ain’t, then I’ll show him what us working men can do.”
  826. >He lifts up a fist to emphasize his point.
  827. >You aren’t sure if he is serious or not.
  828. >A commoner putting hands on a gentlemen would mean a visit from the constable.
  829. >She smiles.
  830. >”That won’t be necessary. Is Mr. Burwell in?”
  831. >”Of course he is. Please come in.”
  832. >James only opens the door wide enough for her to enter.
  833. >He steps forward to block your path.
  834. “What about his charms?”
  835. >”I’ll give him a proper warning so he can put them away.”
  836. “No. Why does she get to go in?”
  837. >The Pegasus gives you a confused look.
  838. >”I can't refuse her. Mr. Burwell and Sir File are close associates.”
  839. >Meadow’s eyes open in recognition.
  840. >”Soarin? Is that you?”
  841. >You turn your head slightly.
  842. 12/15
  843. “How do you know my name?”
  844. >”I tried out for the wonderbolts once. You probably don’t remember me,” she looks down. “I didn’t make the cut.”
  845. >You look her over.
  846. >She looks vaguely familiar, but you can’t quite put your hoof on it.
  847. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you, Miss?”
  848. >”Meadow Flower.”
  849. “Right.”
  850. >”Octavia mentioned that she ran into you. Is it true that Anon is very kind to ponies?”
  851. “He has always been good to me.”
  852. >”Who is it, James?” Mr. Burwell calls from the parlor.
  853. >”Miss Meadow, and another pony. Says he’s to deliver a payment from Mr. Ymous.”
  854. >”Well, send them in.”
  855. >James scowls, and waves a finger at you.
  856. >”This time, pony.”
  857. >He opens the door fully so you both can enter.
  858. >Mr. Burwell is in his morning coat.
  859. >”Meadow, so good to see you.”
  860. >”Good morning, Mr. Burwell.”
  861. >She curtsies for him.
  862. >”And you’re, Soarin? Is that right?”
  863. “Yes, Mr. Burwell.”
  864. >”Very good. How may I be of assistance?”
  865. “I have a payment from Mr. Ymous.”
  866. >You hold out the envelope for him.
  867. >Mr. Burwell brushes his mustache.
  868. >”But it’s not the first of the month.”
  869. “Maybe he wanted to pay early?”
  870. >”Perhaps.”
  871. >He takes the envelope and looks at it closely.
  872. >After a moment he puts it in his coat pocket without opening it.
  873. >”And Miss Meadow, to what do I owe this pleasure?”
  874. >”Sir File would like to invite you to go hunting with him this afternoon.”
  875. >”This afternoon? I thought I might visit the bank today. They try, but it requires a gentleman’s touch every now and then.
  876. >”Oh.” She scuffs the floor with a hoof. “Should I say you are busy?”
  877. >Reginald taps his foot.
  878. >”Did he say what kind? Fox hunting is too formal.”
  879. >”Grouse I think.”
  880. >”Splendid.” He claps his hands. “The bank shall have to wait. I’ll join him within the hour. Good morning.”
  881. “Good morning,” you say in unison as he walks away.
  882. 13/15
  883. >”Have a wonderful day, Miss Meadow.”
  884. >”Thank you, James.”
  885. >The footman doesn’t say goodbye to you.
  886. >He closes the door the moment you cross the threshold.
  887. “Does Sir File mistreat you?”
  888. >”What? No. Of course not. Even if he did, I wouldn’t be able to say anything.”
  889. >Her tone seems to imply the opposite, but you decide not to press the issue.
  890. “Anyway, Octavia and I met a few days ago. Did she say anything else about me?”
  891. >Meadow has to think for a moment.
  892. >”Just that you seemed nice, and that you asked to see her.”
  893. “And what did she think about that?”
  894. >”She didn’t say. You really should have asked Sir File first though.”
  895. “I’m not asking to marry her, I just want to talk to her.”
  896. >Meadow sways as she looks at you.
  897. >”Sir File likes to know what we are doing. Why don’t you ask him now?”
  898. “Alright.”
  899. >Both of you launch into the air.
  900. >You follow behind her since you’ve never visited the File residence before.
  901. >It takes a few minutes before you arrive.
  902. >”There it is.”
  903. >As you make the turn you notice a gentleman sitting in the garden.
  904. >He is wearing a bright red hunting jacket, and drinking something.
  905. >Tea, most likely.
  906. >You and Meadow land beside him.
  907. >”Sir File, Mr. Burwell will be joining you in an hour.”
  908. >”Thank you, Meadow. And who is your friend?”
  909. “I’m Soarin, Sir File.”
  910. >You bow slightly for him.
  911. >”Good morning, Soarin. Did Reginald finally decide to buy a pony?”
  912. “I don’t know, sir. I work for Mr. Ymous.”
  913. >Sir File puts down his cup.
  914. >”I see.” He looks at you with some distrust. “What is it that you want?”
  915. >You take a step forward.
  916. >This whole thing is silly.
  917. >Why can’t you just say hello to her?
  918. “I was wondering if I might speak with Octavia. With your permission, of course.”
  919. >”A gentleman caller,” Sir File frowns.
  920. “I’m not sure I would go as far as to say that.”
  921. 14/15
  922. >You’ve only just met her.
  923. >The man takes a sip of his tea as he looks away.
  924. >His cup clanks loudly as he puts it back on the saucer.
  925. >”Very well. You may visit next week.”
  926. “She isn’t free now?”
  927. >You want to invite her to the garden party.
  928. >”Melody… is indisposed at the moment.”
  929. >You notice a pony looking out through the window.
  930. >It’s Octavia.
  931. >”Good morning,” Sir File says curtly.
  932. >You look at Meadow and she silently urges you to go.
  933. “Good morning.”
  934. 15/15
  936. >Day A Matter of Honor continued.
  937. >The next few days pass without incident.
  938. >Meadow Flower made a full recovery and is back to helping you.
  939. >Sir File took his morning strolls, and entertained guests as usual.
  940. >Mr. Anon Ymous will be holding his garden party today, and Sir File is in a good mood.
  941. >You hear a knock at the door, and Meadow gets up to answer.
  942. >Nohtfound is enjoying a glass of wine as he reads the paper.
  943. >”Still in your morning coat, Sir File?”
  944. >Your master rises for his guest.
  945. >Mr. Burwell is wearing a frock coat with a light blue shirt.
  946. >The collar is stiff, and he wears a dark blue cravat.
  947. >He holds his top hat at his side.
  948. >”Reginald. If I knew you were coming I would have dressed properly. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
  949. >He brushes his own coat to make it more presentable.
  950. >”I was hoping to borrow one of your creatures for the night.”
  951. >Mr. Burwell waves a finger at you and Meadow.
  952. >She tries to hide behind you.
  953. >You ignore her.
  954. >”Borrow them? Did something happen?”
  955. >”No, no. Of course not. It’s a joke.”
  956. >”Not a very tasteful one.”
  957. >Reginald shrugs.
  958. >”I agree, but Anon will be our host.”
  959. >He sits down on the couch near Sir File.
  960. >”What are you saying?”
  961. >Reginald Burwell gives your master a confused look.
  962. >”The invitation, man. It said to bring a pony.”
  963. >He pulls a card from his coat and hands it to Sir File.
  964. >Your master reads the paper aloud.
  965. >”Unaccompanied guests may bring a pony so they might partake of the activities. Evening dress?”
  966. >”I thought it was strange, but Anon was always a different fellow.”
  967. >”I should take your word for it. I barely speak to the man.”
  968. >”It’s all a gag, I’m sure, but I don’t want to go without at least humoring him.”
  969. >File frowns, and hands back the invitation.
  970. >He probably threw his own invitation away when he saw it was from Anon.
  971. 1/23
  972. >”Very well. Which do you prefer?”
  973. >”I shouldn’t dream of imposing. You are going as well I imagine?”
  974. >”I am, but you are my guest. Please choose.”
  975. >Reginald looks both of you over.
  976. >”Miss Melody?”
  977. >Your ears perk up.
  978. ”Mr. Burwell?”
  979. >”Do you have a nice dress you can wear tonight?”
  980. ”I have a few dresses, yes.”
  981. >”Then pick out one out, please. Nothing too ostentatious, but something fit for an evening out. I shouldn’t want to look like a pauper.”
  982. >You look to Sir File for reassurance, and he gives the slightest nod.
  983. >”It appears that you will accompany me, Meadow. Please get dressed.”
  984. >”Of course, m’lord.”
  985. >Meadow’s eyes open wide as she realizes her mistake.
  986. >”My lord?” Reginald scoffs. “Sir File is not a peer.”
  987. >File scowls at Meadow Flower.
  988. >She tries to make herself smaller.
  989. >”They sometimes get overly excited. Please excuse her.”
  990. “Let’s go,” you whisper as you pull Meadow away.
  991. >She doesn’t resist and trots behind you.
  992. >”I suppose it isn’t every day they get to dress up.”
  993. >”I should get ready as well. Please help yourself.”
  994. >Reginald takes one of Sir File’s cigars as you leave the room.
  995. >”I can’t believe I made another mistake,” Meadow whispers to you.
  996. “Don’t worry. This will all be forgotten in the morning.”
  997. >”Alright.”
  998. >In a moment you are in the servant’s quarters.
  999. >Meadow rushes to her room, and you quickly go to yours.
  1000. >Your small dresser holds your most common garments.
  1001. >The nicer dresses are folded in boxes in the closet.
  1002. >You take several of them and place them on your bed.
  1003. >The first is too gaudy.
  1004. >The silver satin is far too formal for this evening.
  1005. >Your next choice is light blue and trimmed with white frills.
  1006. >You like it, but maybe not tonight.
  1007. >It would be more fitting for light entertainment, or perhaps an afternoon in the park.
  1008. >You open the third container.
  1009. 2/23
  1010. >Inside is a black French maid outfit, complete with a white apron.
  1011. >Sir File only has you wear that when expects important guests.
  1012. >The final choice is a light purple dress with a pink bow.
  1013. >You hold up both the blue and purple dresses and examine yourself in your small mirror.
  1014. >Either would be acceptable.
  1015. >Finally, you decide on the purple one.
  1016. >It complements your eyes, which is what won it over in the end.
  1017. >You’ll wear the blue dress next time.
  1018. >It slips on easily, and the buttons take no time at all to fasten.
  1019. >You adjust a flap to hide them.
  1020. >Next is your mane.
  1021. >You take care in brushing it.
  1022. >One long strand keeps straying, and you try to pin it behind your ear.
  1023. >Again it falls.
  1024. >You shake your head.
  1025. >It will have to do.
  1026. >When you leave your room you see Meadow Flower sitting on her chair, brushing her mane.
  1027. >She’s wearing a bright golden dress.
  1028. “You’re going to wear that?”
  1029. >”Isn’t it lovely?”
  1030. >The dress shimmers as she moves to face you.
  1031. “It’s too much.”
  1032. >Meadow scrunches her nose.
  1033. >”But I like it.”
  1034. “Don’t you have something… more subdued? It looks like you are going to a gala.”
  1035. >”We don’t get to go to parties often. I want to look my best.”
  1036. >She turns back to the mirror and makes the final touches to her mane.
  1037. >Unlike yours, it behaves and stays in place.
  1038. “Meadow, I think you need to change. Maybe your pink dress would be more suitable?”
  1039. >A bell rings and both of you look at the board.
  1040. >Someone in the parlor requires attention.
  1041. >”That’s probably Sir File. Looks like I won’t have time to change.”
  1042. >You press your lips together.
  1043. >She will be the one who looks like a fool, not you.
  1044. >You both descend the stairs and go to the parlor.
  1045. >Sir File and Mr. Burwell are standing next to the fireplace puffing on cheroots.
  1046. >”Oh, how precious,” Reginald says with outstretched arms. “You both have excellent taste.”
  1047. >”Thank you, Mr. Burwell,” Meadow curtsies.
  1048. 3/23
  1049. >You catch the slightest hint of a smirk as she glances at you.
  1050. >”Sir File, perhaps I was mistaken. I should have chosen Miss Meadow.”
  1051. >She giggles like a filly.
  1052. >File smiles at this.
  1053. >”It appears so, Reginald, but you wouldn’t dishonor me by changing your mind now.”
  1054. >”Certainly not. Especially when I have such a lovely companion as Miss Melody.”
  1055. >You bow for him.
  1056. “Thank you, Mr. Burwell.”
  1057. >Sir File turns to his friend.
  1058. >”It’s settled then. Is your man ready?”
  1059. >”The carriage is outside, of course. This way, ponies.”
  1060. >Mr. Burwell puts out his cigar and walks toward the entrance.
  1061. >Outside his footman is smoking a cigarette.
  1062. >He wears a bowler cap and a brown coat.
  1063. >Two rather large horses are harnessed to the carriage.
  1064. >He immediately puts out his smoke when he notices you.
  1065. >”Evening, gentlemen,” James says with an atrocious accent as he opens the carriage door. "And ponies."
  1066. >”Mr. Ymous’ residence, if you please.”
  1067. >”It would be my pleasure, guv’nor.”
  1068. >He offers you and Meadow a hand and you climb aboard.
  1069. >The step is high, but you manage.
  1070. >Meadow uses her wings to help herself.
  1071. >James waits until both Sir File and Mr. Burwell have entered before closing the door.
  1072. >Reginald’s carriage shifts as the man climbs aboard.
  1073. >”You should consider getting some ponies. They are much cheaper,” Sir File tells Reginald.
  1074. >”I rather enjoy the charm of the working man. Ponies don’t have that je ne sais quoi.”
  1075. >The carriage starts moving.
  1076. >Meadow looks out the small window.
  1077. >She acts like she has never ridden in a carriage before.
  1078. >Her hooves press against the glass.
  1079. >Beside her, you can see a pistol and cane just waiting for vagabonds to test them.
  1080. >You wonder if the gun is loaded.
  1081. >”How are things, Reginald?”
  1082. >”Same as always,” Mr. Burwell thinks, “Though my mother has been asking me to settle down as of late.”
  1083. >”Is she already feeling old?”
  1084. 4/23
  1085. >”Who knows. Perhaps she just wants to be sure I have an heir to take care of.”
  1086. >”But you’re still a young man. There will be time for love later.”
  1087. >”Yes, yes. But mother must be obeyed and all that. I have been practicing my charms. Ponies, look at this.”
  1088. >Meadow reluctantly pulls away from the window.
  1089. >”Watch closely now.”
  1090. >Mr. Burwell shows both sides of his hands to show that they are empty.
  1091. >He pulls up his sleeves, and again there is nothing.
  1092. >With a flourish, he opens his palm, and reveals a pink rose.
  1093. >Meadow Flower neighs and tries to fly away.
  1094. >Your ears raise in alarm.
  1095. >The closed window prevents her from escaping.
  1096. >Sir File and Reginald laugh loudly.
  1097. >Meadow has to take several breaths to calm herself.
  1098. >”Sweet Celestia! How did you do that?!”
  1099. >She still can’t believe her eyes.
  1100. >Mr. Burwell brushes his mustache.
  1101. >”A magician never reveals his secrets.”
  1102. >She tentatively reaches for the flower with a hoof, but pulls back before touching it.
  1103. >Mr. Burwell smiles.
  1104. >”Go on. You may have it.”
  1105. >He hands Meadow the flower and she looks at it closely.
  1106. >After a moment, she puts in her mane, and rocks from side to side like a filly.
  1107. >She doesn’t try to hide her beaming smile.
  1108. >"Thank you."
  1109. >”Absolutely enchanting. The ladies won’t be able to resist you.”
  1110. >”It’s just a little something I learned,” Mr. Burwell says modestly.
  1111. >That’s not real magic.
  1112. >It’s just sleight of hand.
  1113. >Any unicorn could do actual magic.
  1114. ”So you keep flowers in your pockets?”
  1115. >Mr. Burwell frowns as he looks at you.
  1116. >He opens his hand and reveals a red flower.
  1117. >”Only a few.”
  1118. >”Wow,” Meadow says.
  1119. >You take the offered blossom and hold it in your hoof.
  1120. >Sir File moves his chin, silently insisting that you wear it.
  1121. >You place it in one of the loops on your dress.
  1122. >Satisfied, Nohtfound and Mr. Burwell begin discussing hunting.
  1123. >The rest of the ride is uneventful.
  1124. >Finally you arrive at Mr. Ymous’ house.
  1125. 5/23
  1126. >It’s larger than Sir File’s residence, but not by much.
  1127. >Several parked carriages line the streets.
  1128. >You can hear music playing in the distance, and you feel excited.
  1129. >It will be nice to feel the sound of strings and woodwinds again.
  1130. >Reginald’s footman stops at the entrance.
  1131. >He hops off and opens the door.
  1132. >”Here we are.”
  1133. >It only takes a moment to dismount.
  1134. >Reginald turns to his man.
  1135. >”I’m sure Mr. Ymous’ men will direct you to some refreshments. Try not to get too drunk, James.”
  1136. >”Wouldn’t dream of it, sir,” the man responds with a smile.
  1137. >You know he will be drunk off gin within the hour.
  1138. >The front door opens as you approach, and a rather stuffy looking stallion greets you.
  1139. >He holds out a quill, and loose paper for the gentlemen.
  1140. >”Your cards, if you please.”
  1141. >Sir File takes the quill and writes on his card.
  1142. >Reginald quickly does the same.
  1143. >Neither accept the offered paper.
  1144. >Only a vagrant would walk around without their letters of introduction.
  1145. >Was his offer a slight against the men?
  1146. >If it was, neither of them acknowledge the blunder.
  1147. >The pony takes the quill and places both it and the unused paper on a side table.
  1148. >”This way, gentlemen.”
  1149. >Mr. Ymous’ house is tasteful and brightly lit with gas lights.
  1150. >The foyer is expansive, and you can see into the sitting room.
  1151. >Above you, two staircases lead to the second floor.
  1152. >Paintings line the walls, and doors are placed symmetrically along the corridor.
  1153. >You wonder how many actually lead to rooms, and which are just for decoration.
  1154. >Together you walk through the parlor to the rear of the residence.
  1155. >All the while, the music grows louder.
  1156. >The pony stops at the opening to the garden, and clears his throat.
  1157. >”Now presenting, Sir File Nohtfound, accompanied by Miss Meadow Flower. As well as, Mr. Reginald Burwell, esquire, accompanied by Miss Octavia Melody.”
  1158. >There are perhaps sixty people, all dressed elegantly.
  1159. 6/23
  1160. >You have seen most of them before, but some are unfamiliar to you.
  1161. >There are also chairs and tables lined up for twice that number of people.
  1162. >You wonder if you arrived early, or if people were otherwise engaged.
  1163. >Most of the guests are escorted by ponies, but you notice a few came without one.
  1164. >Some of the people appear to be poor.
  1165. >They must be wearing their best clothing, but you can tell even from a distance that they are not gentlemen.
  1166. >Perhaps they are some of Anon’s workers?
  1167. >You recognize Dr. Lamprey with Nurse Snowheart.
  1168. >Miss Mary is busy talking with them, while her unicorn is visibly bored.
  1169. >He is young, not quite a stallion, but also not a colt.
  1170. >The pony wears a kind of sailor outfit.
  1171. >You’re not sure why people insist on dressing ponies and children in those costumes.
  1172. >Mary is wearing a green dress with white frills.
  1173. >Anon Ymous introduces himself before you can observe the rest of the crowd.
  1174. >He is wearing a dark frock coat with a bow tie.
  1175. >”Sir File, so good of you to come.”
  1176. >File hesitates before shaking his hand.
  1177. >”I couldn’t let you have all the fun, Mr. Ymous.”
  1178. >”I was surprised that you came, what with the loss of the Sea Wench,” Anon smiles.
  1179. >File curls his lip.
  1180. >”She is not lost, merely missing.”
  1181. >”Mayhap she chanced on some junks.”
  1182. >”The Company should have crushed Shi Gaofan when they had the opportunity.”
  1183. >”But they didn’t.”
  1184. >”Pure incompetence, but that is a small matter. It will be resolved shortly.”
  1185. >You know File invested in a shipping company, but you don't know more than that.
  1186. >”I am told that the insurers will not pay for ships carrying opium.”
  1187. >"She was carrying tea, not opium. I don't deal with rakes. Regardless, the Crown doesn’t take these offenses lightly. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is another Chinese war soon.”
  1188. >”Finances have a way of catching up with a man.”
  1189. 7/23
  1190. >”The markets are fickle. Your factory has been running night and day.”
  1191. >”It has.”
  1192. >”The Americans are quite ingenious. Already their finished goods are flooding the market. Doesn’t leave much for the common man, now does it?”
  1193. >Anon presses his lips together.
  1194. >Was that barb to remind him that he is not a gentleman?
  1195. >File smirks as he continues.
  1196. >”They must already have you on your heels. What with your factory constantly darkening our skies.”
  1197. >”It is hard to compete when I have to import from Egypt, or India, but you wouldn’t know about that, would you?”
  1198. >”Know about trade? Heavens no. I’m a gentleman, unlike you.”
  1199. >You open your eyes wide at his bluntness.
  1200. >Snide barbs are one thing, but actually denouncing a man in his own house is quite another.
  1201. >The two men stare at each other for several seconds.
  1202. >Neither backs down, and you wonder if they will come to blows.
  1203. >Finally, Anon turns to Reginald.
  1204. >”And Mr. Burwell, how are you?”
  1205. >”I am well. Please allow me to introduce Miss Octavia Melody and Miss Meadow Flower.”
  1206. >Meadow curtsies for the host.
  1207. >”Hello, Mr. Ymous.”
  1208. “Pleased to meet you,” you say with just the slightest bow.
  1209. >”Octavia? I think Soarin mentioned your name.”
  1210. >So he was talking about you.
  1211. >With the way he acted, you’re surprised he wasn’t waiting at the door, hoping that you would come.
  1212. “We met a few days ago. Is he around?”
  1213. >Anon touches his nose.
  1214. >“I’m sure he will be back soon.”
  1215. >A military man approaches to introduce himself.
  1216. >He wears a bright red uniform and has a long scar on his left cheek.
  1217. >At his side is a sheathed sword as well as a filly.
  1218. >Swords have fallen out of fashion for gentlemen, but officers can sometimes be seen wearing them.
  1219. >”Mr. Ymous? Lord Camberly regrets that he could not attend. He asked that I come in his place.”
  1220. >You notice File smiling.
  1221. >Lord Camberly would never turn down the opportunity to drink.
  1222. 8/23
  1223. >Could this be a slight of some sort?
  1224. >”I know he is very busy, Mr…”
  1225. >”Captain Benning, of the Seventh Regiment of Foot. And this is Strawberry Sprinkles.”
  1226. >The Pegasus filly beside him makes an awkward curtsy.
  1227. >Her dress is poorly fitted, but the light color looks good with her red mane.
  1228. >She offers you a nervous smile.
  1229. >File doesn’t acknowledge her and instead holds out his hand for the Captain.
  1230. >”What a handsome scar you have. Did you win it in a duel?”
  1231. >”This is a token of my time in Crimea,” Captain Benning says as he takes turns shaking their hands.
  1232. >”Crimea? I heard the Russians put up quite the scrap.”
  1233. >”They tried, but conscripts always turn tail when faced with bayonets.”
  1234. >”Captain, can I go play with the other ponies?” Strawberry asks as she tugs at his leg.
  1235. >You notice a few of the younger ponies are playing at the far side of the garden.
  1236. >”Of course. Just find me when you’re done.”
  1237. >He pets her before she flies off to join the others.
  1238. >”Now introducing, Miss Angelique Dubois, accompanied by Mr. Soarin.”
  1239. >Soarin is Anon’s pony.
  1240. >Why would he be escorting Angelique?
  1241. >He wears what looks like a formal Wonderbolt uniform.
  1242. >Angelique’s dress is pink and white with exposed shoulders and a plunging neckline.
  1243. >The fabric strains to keep her bosom from being exposed.
  1244. >She wears her golden hair down and looks like she just finished a roll in the hay.
  1245. >Most of the other women wear their hair in tight buns, or curled, as well as modest dresses.
  1246. >”Excuse me a moment,” Anon says as he walks to greet his guest.
  1247. >You see File’s hand clench into a fist.
  1248. >Reginald has a slightly amused look on his face, and is the first to speak.
  1249. >”It would appear that Mr. Ymous is one step ahead of you.”
  1250. >”He is clever. I’ll give him that. But patience is always rewarded.”
  1251. >You watch as Anon and Miss Angelique talk.
  1252. >She waves her fan in a flirty manner, which makes Anon grow bold.
  1253. 9/23
  1254. >He touches her gloved hand, but she doesn’t pull away instantly like a proper woman should.
  1255. >Instead she allows him to touch her for a moment before turning away as if she had a sudden thought.
  1256. >These French are so forward.
  1257. >Soarin finally sees you and waves a hoof.
  1258. >You shake your head.
  1259. >That is no way to greet another pony.
  1260. >Meadow Flower waves back.
  1261. >”Hi, Soarin! Hi!” she yells so he can hear her.
  1262. >The men around you look at her like she has gone mad.
  1263. “Don’t do that, Meadow. Just go and talk to him if you want to so much.”
  1264. >”Maybe I will. Why don’t you talk to Miss Angelique, Sir File?” Meadow asks.
  1265. >He ignores her and turns back to the Captain.
  1266. >”Tell me about your fight with the Russians.”
  1267. “That’s not how it works here,” you whisper to your friend.
  1268. >”Why not?”
  1269. “It’s not proper.”
  1270. >Benning takes a drink from a passing pony before starting.
  1271. >“We were marching to reinforce Sevastopol when we were attacked by Cossacks. They cut down our Highlanders before they could form square. Luckily the French lancers matched them and they ran off. Still, we were flanked by Russian conscripts. After a few volleys the Seventh fixed bayonets and charged. Meaters that they are, the Russians broke almost instantly. One of them nearly had me with his bayonet, but I gave him what for.”
  1272. >”Bully for you,” File says as he tips his hat slightly. ”You know, my father fought as a lancer against the Emperor.”
  1273. >He starts walking toward the band and Benning follows him.
  1274. >Reginald brushes his mustache before talking.
  1275. >”I am going to see Miss Mary. Go ahead and enjoy yourselves, ponies.”
  1276. >He moves toward the woman and the doctor.
  1277. >Noticing that you two are alone, Soarin approaches.
  1278. >”Hello. I’m glad you made it.”
  1279. “I didn’t know ponies were usually invited to parties.”
  1280. >”I think it’s fun. I even get to wear my favorite dress.”
  1281. 10/23
  1282. >”Anon has always been a little different. Would you like something to drink?”
  1283. “Cider would be fine.”
  1284. >”I’ll have wine.”
  1285. >Soarin leads you toward a bar where a stallion is serving.
  1286. >”Two ciders and a glass of wine please.”
  1287. >He nods and starts pouring from a barrel.
  1288. >”I like your uniform,” Meadow Flower compliments.
  1289. >”Thank you. It’s one of the few things I was able to take with me.”
  1290. >Sadly, your cello was too large to bring.
  1291. >”I don’t think Sir File likes your master very much.”
  1292. >Meadow always was indelicate.
  1293. >”Really? I hadn’t noticed,” Soarin scratches his head before taking his cider.
  1294. “It’s obvious. Did something happen between them?”
  1295. >Meadow takes her wine and passes you your cider.
  1296. >”I don’t think so. Anon has only ever mentioned File in passing.”
  1297. >You cringe at Soarin using Sir File’s first name, but since only ponies can hear, you decide not to correct him.
  1298. >”He seemed to get mad when Anon talked with Angelique,” Meadow says.
  1299. >”She’s nice, but I can barely understand her sometimes.”
  1300. “Sir File will probably want to dance with her later.”
  1301. >”Dancing should start soon. Maybe you would like to dance with me then?”
  1302. >Soarin smiles and waits expectantly.
  1303. >Pegasi usually aren't your thing, but he is persistent.
  1304. >Maybe you should give him a chance.
  1305. >If you had a fan you'd be waving it right now.
  1306. “We’ll see.”
  1307. >Meadow makes an annoyed look, but it quickly goes away.
  1308. >”If she doesn’t then I’ll accept your offer.”
  1309. >What is she doing?
  1310. >She is supposed to act coy if she wants to get a stallion.
  1311. >”That sounds great,” he responds.
  1312. >For some reason this bothers you.
  1313. >You change the subject.
  1314. “Before you mentioned that Anon is very kind to you.”
  1315. >”Well, he lets me do what I want after all the deliveries and messages are taken care of.”
  1316. “And if they aren’t?”
  1317. >”That hasn’t happened yet, but I don’t think he would be too upset.”
  1318. 11/23
  1319. >Meadow has to move to get out of the way of a person going to the bar.
  1320. >”Sir File gets angry if we aren’t quick, or if we make mistakes.”
  1321. “But it’s always justified,” you lie.
  1322. >He wouldn’t like it if others knew he was unkind to his ponies.
  1323. >”I don’t have to worry about that. At least File doesn’t hit you. I heard some masters do that.”
  1324. >Meadow suddenly finds the grass below her to be very interesting.
  1325. “Yes. It is good that he doesn’t hit us, unless it is warranted,” you lie mechanically.
  1326. >You take a long drink of your cider.
  1327. >Soarin’s brows furrow as if he is thinking deeply.
  1328. >You imagine there is a little mouse running as quickly as it can inside his head.
  1329. >After a moment his thought passes and his smile returns.
  1330. >”That’s good to hear. File sounds like a pretty good person. I’m glad that Anon bought me. It could have been much worse.”
  1331. >”Yes, it could have been worse,” Meadow agrees.
  1332. “So what can you actually do? You can come and go as you please?”
  1333. >”As long as I let Anon know, I can go anywhere. Have you been to London? There is a particularly good pie shop there.”
  1334. >”Sir File has a residence in London, though he doesn’t visit it often.”
  1335. “Sometimes he takes us, but it’s also nice when he leaves us at home.”
  1336. >”What days are you free? We could get some ice cream.”
  1337. >Meadow practically squeals with glee.
  1338. >”I love ice cream. I'm free Wednesdays.”
  1339. “Thursdays for me, but isn’t that expensive?”
  1340. >Soarin shrugs.
  1341. >”Anon gives me a half-crown a week.”
  1342. >”A half-crown?”
  1343. “That’s…” You quickly add up the numbers. “Almost seven pounds a year.”
  1344. >”I know it’s less than other workers, but I don’t have to pay for rent or food.”
  1345. >While that is half the wages of a maid, or common laborer, it is impressive for a pony.
  1346. >”Sir File gives us six pence a week.”
  1347. >Six pence comes to almost a pound and a half a year.
  1348. 12/23
  1349. “He is generous to give us anything at all.”
  1350. >Truthfully he grew tired of being asked to purchase things, so he simply gave you an allowance.
  1351. >He thinks money is filthy, and prefers not to deal with it at all.
  1352. >”Why don’t you ask him for more?”
  1353. >Meadow laughs and nearly spills her wine.
  1354. >Soarin doesn’t seem to understand.
  1355. >”What’s so funny?”
  1356. >”It’s just that…” Meadow laughs again so you finish her thought.
  1357. “We don’t think he would accept.”
  1358. >”You won’t know unless you ask,” he says seriously.
  1359. >Oh, Soarin.
  1360. >Sweet, simple Soarin.
  1361. >He must have hit his head while flying one too many times.
  1362. >That must be the only explanation for him not understanding the situation.
  1363. >You give him a pleasant smile, as if you are speaking with a colt.
  1364. “Ice cream would be nice.”
  1365. >”Great. I’ll visit you on Thursday.”
  1366. >”What about me? I like ice cream too.”
  1367. >”Uh, I can bring you some as well?” He says as if he isn’t sure.
  1368. >This satisfies Meadow Flower.
  1369. >Seeing that your glasses are empty, Soarin waves to the bartender for another round.
  1370. >The music pauses for longer than usual, and you look around to see if anything is happening.
  1371. >In the clearing, Anon bows for his guests.
  1372. >Behind him is the centerpiece of his garden, a beautiful fountain.
  1373. >”Thank you all for coming. This stonework isn’t as elegant as a ballroom floor, but I thought the fresh air would be good. Mademoiselle Angelique? Would you give me the honor of the first dance?”
  1374. >Angelique waves her fan as she approaches him.
  1375. >”Monsieur Ymous, you flatter me.”
  1376. >Anon puts his arms out, and Angelique obliges.
  1377. >One hand holds hers, the other is at her back.
  1378. >Anon nods to the conductor and a waltz begins.
  1379. >While waltzes are frowned on by older people, they are the most popular form of music.
  1380. >Previously couples danced in an open position, and the waltz broke this tradition by allowing couples to face each other.
  1381. 13/23
  1382. >Typically the hand is at the shoulder blade, but for the more adventurous or scandalous, a hand can sometimes lower to the waist.
  1383. >Anon and Angelique float over the stonework despite the slightly uneven surface.
  1384. >Sir File is still talking with the Captain, but you catch him glancing over at Anon.
  1385. >After the first number, another man introduces himself to Angelique and dances with her.
  1386. >Anon instead dances with a woman you don’t know.
  1387. >The clearly common people join in as well, but it is obvious from their movements that they aren’t trained.
  1388. >At the far side of the garden, a few of the fillies and colts mimic the people in their own fashion.
  1389. >Their mock dancing quickly turns into a mess of jumping, hopping, and twirling.
  1390. >But their enthusiasm and abandon brings a smile to your face.
  1391. >You finish what is left of your second cider in a single gulp.
  1392. >”So, would you like to dance now?”
  1393. >You look back at the stonework.
  1394. >The gentlemen move so elegantly, and no adult ponies have joined them.
  1395. >What would you look like out there?
  1396. >You decide to give him a chance.
  1397. “Will you be satisfied with only one dance?”
  1398. >Soarin presses his lips together like he isn’t sure what the correct answer is.
  1399. >”Uh, maybe?”
  1400. >Close enough.
  1401. >You take Meadow Flower’s wine glass and finish her drink for her.
  1402. >”Hey!”
  1403. “Just get another one,” you say as you wave a hoof at her. “Let’s go.”
  1404. >You follow Soarin, and notice that Angelique is without a partner.
  1405. >As you step on the marble you suddenly have a sinking feeling.
  1406. >All around you, you can feel mares and stallions staring.
  1407. >Both of you are the first ponies to step forward.
  1408. “You do know how to waltz, right?”
  1409. >”What’s that?”
  1410. >You scoff.
  1411. “It’s what these people are doing.”
  1412. >He looks over his shoulder at the others getting into place.
  1413. >Behind him, Sir File introduces himself to Angelique.
  1414. >She curtsies pleasantly for him, and he takes her in his arms.
  1415. 14/23
  1416. >”Sure. Just kick, step, and spin. That’s easy.”
  1417. >Oh no.
  1418. >The music starts up again.
  1419. >Thankfully it is a slow waltz, so even Soarin won’t be able to mess this up.
  1420. >He suddenly starts stomping, and gyrating wildly.
  1421. >Soarin’s hooves kick out like he is bucking an apple tree.
  1422. >A few of the ponies are laughing, but the people don’t seem to notice.
  1423. “No. Stop that.”
  1424. >You reach out a hoof to grab him.
  1425. >”What? This is how I dance.”
  1426. “Maybe back in Equestria, but not here,” you whisper harshly.
  1427. >You stand on your hindlegs and one hoof pulls him close.
  1428. >The other hoof holds his.
  1429. “Just follow my lead.”
  1430. >He turns his head and accidentally nuzzles you.
  1431. >”Sorry.”
  1432. >The sudden touch is jarring, but not unpleasant.
  1433. >You choose to ignore that for now.
  1434. “One, two, three, four,” you count out so he knows when to move. “Now, two, three, four.”
  1435. >It’s difficult to lead from the mare’s position, but you manage.
  1436. >You have to push against him so he doesn’t twirl.
  1437. >That’s your job.
  1438. >You spin around him, and he has to hold on tight to keep from losing you.
  1439. >Now you know why this style of dance is frowned on.
  1440. >The closeness seems to force a feeling of familiarity with your partner.
  1441. >Nervousness is apparent in his face as he tries to keep up.
  1442. >He clenches his teeth while he concentrates on matching your steps.
  1443. >His hooves cling against you desperately like you are the only thing keeping him from falling.
  1444. >Since he is a Pegasus, he isn’t too heavy.
  1445. >At least he is trying.
  1446. >Thankfully the music slows, signaling that the number is over.
  1447. >”How did I do?”
  1448. >You shake so he has to release his grip on you.
  1449. “It was fine for your first time,” you lie.
  1450. >The music picks up pace.
  1451. >A gallop!
  1452. >”Oh, the next song.”
  1453. >The music is much faster, and people rush to change partners.
  1454. “I don’t think I can teach this one.”
  1455. >”I’ve seen this type before. You just run and kick.”
  1456. 15/23
  1457. >He takes your hooves and leads before you can protest.
  1458. >Couples race across the dance floor, and you have to jump to keep up.
  1459. >The turn is awkward, and you take a slow step forward before rushing in the other direction.
  1460. >Soarin moves too quickly and leads you to the opposite side of other couples.
  1461. “We’re supposed to keep with the others.”
  1462. >”There’s too many rules. Who cares?”
  1463. >He again rushes to the opposite side, and you nearly trip.
  1464. >Soarin turns to look at you, and bumps into a man.
  1465. >The man nearly topples over, but his dance partners catches him.
  1466. >“Monsieur File, you should watch where you are going.”
  1467. >”Me? It was this oaf who is in error,” He looks down at you and Soarin.
  1468. >His face immediately turns to anger.
  1469. >You pin your ears in embarrassment.
  1470. “He doesn’t know how to dance,” you try to explain.
  1471. >”I’m sorry, Sir File. I was just too excited.”
  1472. >”He allowed the music to flow through him. It is the same in Paris. Come Soarin, dance with me.”
  1473. >Angelique takes Soarin and slowly walks him to the side so the other couples can catch up.
  1474. “I’ll just find my seat.”
  1475. >You try to slink away.
  1476. >”Come here. I will not be made into a fool.”
  1477. >File yanks your forelegs and pulls you away from Angelique.
  1478. >The other couples arrive and File lunges forward to stay in step.
  1479. >”That pony is the same one who tried to visit you earlier. What are you to him?”
  1480. “Nothing. We were just dancing.”
  1481. >”Is he a gentleman caller?”
  1482. “No. It’s nothing like that,” you lie.
  1483. >You reach the end of the dance floor and turn for Nohtfound.
  1484. >”Have you slept with him?”
  1485. >You fake an indignant gasp.
  1486. “Sir File, I have morals. I don’t just roll in the hay with any stallion that visits.”
  1487. >He frowns.
  1488. >”I can tell he is interested in you."
  1489. “Yes.”
  1490. >”And you like him?”
  1491. >You aren’t sure how to answer File.
  1492. >On one hoof, Soarin is not very bright.
  1493. >But on the other hoof, he can be charming in a reckless sort of way.
  1494. 16/23
  1495. “I don’t know.”
  1496. >”I don’t want you dancing with anyone except myself or Reginald. Is that understood?”
  1497. >Now what?
  1498. >Should you ignore Soarin for the rest of the night?
  1499. >Again you both turn and step across the floor.
  1500. ”Yes. I understand.”
  1501. >”Good.”
  1502. >The music slows and File pushes you toward his friend.
  1503. >”Dance with her,” he commands Reginald.
  1504. >Miss Mary loosens her grip on Mr. Burwell and he takes your hooves.
  1505. >You notice she is wearing a flower on her collar.
  1506. >”Miss Melody,” Reginald says as he presents his hand.
  1507. “Hello.”
  1508. >You both dance quietly.
  1509. >Anon has taken the opening and is again with Miss Angelique.
  1510. >File is instead forced to dance with Mary.
  1511. >You can tell he is agitated, but is trying not to show it.
  1512. >Meadow Flower has made her way to the center of the garden, and Soarin dances with her.
  1513. >After the song you politely excuse yourself and go back to the bar.
  1514. >This whole event is a mess.
  1515. >You were supposed to have a nice night out, and instead have to sit quietly at the side.
  1516. >At least you can have a few drinks.
  1517. >You look over at the band.
  1518. >The men play string instruments of all kinds.
  1519. >Brass and woodwinds complement each other.
  1520. >You close your eyes, trying to isolate every instrument.
  1521. >The repetitive rhythm is broken up by appoggiaturas and rubatos that you doubt anyone except yourself notices.
  1522. >How amazing would it be to play your cello again, just one last time?
  1523. >You let the hypnotic music carry you away to somewhere more pleasant.
  1524. >To home.
  1525. >A single instrument, a violin calls to you.
  1526. >If only you could play it.
  1527. >You wouldn't ask for much time, just a few seconds.
  1528. >Finally things would make sense.
  1529. >The band plays waltzes, gallops, polkas, and even a reel.
  1530. >When you look up you see that only Captain Benning and the commoners know how to dance to it.
  1531. >Strawberry Sprinkles tries her best, but she is always a half step off beat.
  1532. 17/23
  1533. >Soarin finally excuses himself and trots over to you.
  1534. >Somehow between dances he must have had a few drinks because he wobbles slightly.
  1535. >Meadow is at the opposite side of the garden flirting with a unicorn.
  1536. >”That was fun. Can we dance again?”
  1537. >You're annoyed that he broke your concentration.
  1538. “I’m not allowed to dance with you anymore.”
  1539. >”Really?” Soarin takes a cider. “Why?”
  1540. >Why doesn't he leave you in peace?
  1541. >You bare your teeth at him.
  1542. “Why? Are you stupid or something? You bumped into Sir File and ruined his chance with Angelique.”
  1543. >Soarin takes a long drink from his glass.
  1544. >”It was an accident.”
  1545. “People here care about appearances. Nothing else matters to them. Unless you understand that, you will never get ahead.”
  1546. >”Octavia, I know what we are. We are slaves. We won’t ever get ahead, so just make the best of what we have.”
  1547. ”Easy for you to say. Anon takes care of you and gives you riches.”
  1548. >”You said File was nice to you.”
  1549. “I was lying. Couldn’t you see that?”
  1550. >You notice your cider is empty.
  1551. “Another,” you tell the bartender.
  1552. >”I’ll have one as well.”
  1553. >Soarin slams the rest of his drink quickly.
  1554. >You shouldn’t keep drinking, but it will help you enjoy the music more.
  1555. “We probably shouldn’t even talk to each other. You’re Anon’s pony.”
  1556. >”You really need to stand up for yourself, Octavia. Things won’t get better unless you let File know how you feel.”
  1557. ”I can’t do that.”
  1558. >He scratches his head.
  1559. >”Why not?”
  1560. “Because I legally belong to him. I can’t do anything about that.”
  1561. >”But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for better treatment.”
  1562. >You shake your head.
  1563. “I am just a slave.”
  1564. >”What if I told him off?”
  1565. >You scoff.
  1566. “What would you say? Leave her alone? He would just laugh at you.”
  1567. >Soaring puts a hoof to his chin to think.
  1568. >No doubt he will come back with nothing useful.
  1569. 18/23
  1570. >But, you have to admit the idea is interesting.
  1571. >What if he convinced Anon to buy you?
  1572. >With a generous offer, Nohtfound would be happy to sell you.
  1573. >Then again, he might let his pride get the better of him and refuse.
  1574. >And people don’t do good things without some sort of reward.
  1575. >Would Anon expect you to sleep with Soarin?
  1576. >He isn’t completely ugly.
  1577. >A little slow, sure, but he is trying.
  1578. >And it has been a while since you’ve been with a stallion.
  1579. >”I know now. I’ll ask him to sell you to me. I mean, you can’t cost that much, right?”
  1580. “What?”
  1581. >He flies into the air to look for File.
  1582. “Soarin, come back!”
  1583. >He ignores you and spots File talking with the Captain.
  1584. >Soarin flies toward them, and you have to run to keep up.
  1585. >Thankfully the way is mostly clear and you only have to dodge a few people.
  1586. >File and Benning are laughing when you approach.
  1587. >They are sitting on a bench with their backs to a table.
  1588. >Strawberry Sprinkles is resting on the Captain's back, fighting a losing battle against sleep.
  1589. >Her hooves drape over his shoulders, and her rump is on the table.
  1590. >”Sir File, I want to buy Octavia.”
  1591. >Both men look at him incredulously.
  1592. >”Is it possible for a pony to own another?” The Captain starts. "Even if he is a Wonderbolt."
  1593. “He’s had too many drinks. Don’t listen to him.”
  1594. >”It would be rude to ignore your gentleman caller. What is your offer?”
  1595. >Soarin lands in front of them with a determined look on his face.
  1596. >He takes a deep breath and puffs himself up to look bigger.
  1597. >”Ten pounds.”
  1598. >Both men laugh in unison.
  1599. >Strawberry Sprinkles stirs from the sudden sound, but quickly returns to nuzzling Benning’s neck.
  1600. >You feel your cheeks burning.
  1601. >Does he really think you are worth so little?
  1602. >”What? That’s more than I make in a year. Is that too much?”
  1603. >File offers him a patronizing smile.
  1604. 19/23
  1605. >”Ponies cost at least one hundred pounds. And that is only for sick ones or those too young to work.”
  1606. >”Oh.”
  1607. “Alright, Soarin. You’ve had your fun. It's time to leave these gentlemen to their cups.”
  1608. >You pull at his hoof, but he shakes you off.
  1609. >”Wait, just one more thing. How much would it take to sell her?”
  1610. >Not this again.
  1611. >”Melody?” File furrows his brow. “I suppose one hundred thirty pounds or so would be sufficient.”
  1612. >You quickly do the math.
  1613. >It would take Soarin around eighteen years to buy you.
  1614. >But then again, he could probably borrow that much from Anon.
  1615. >“Fine. And now that I have made my intentions clear, I don’t want you to mistreat her anymore.”
  1616. >Your ears raise in alarm as you gasp.
  1617. >Why did he say that?
  1618. >”Mistreat her?” File glares at you. “Who told you that?”
  1619. >You’ve seen this look before.
  1620. >The moment you’re alone with him he will teach you not to speak to others again.
  1621. “Soarin, stop this. You’re only making things worse.”
  1622. >”This is for the best, Octavia. Trust me.” Soarin pokes File’s knee. “I don’t want you to hit her, or anything else.”
  1623. >File kicks him in the chest.
  1624. >”Do not ever touch me.”
  1625. >The Pegasus reels back and it takes a second for him to regain his composure.
  1626. >”You can’t hit me. I don’t belong to you.”
  1627. >File brandishes a fist.
  1628. >”You stupid pony. You will receive a bunch of fives if you continue.”
  1629. >”Sir File, I wouldn’t be so eager to offer fisticuffs. Wonderbolts can be good fighters,” Benning cautions.
  1630. >Soarin and your master stare at each other for several seconds.
  1631. >”The money will be there. It will only take me a few years.”
  1632. >”A few years?!”
  1633. >”Well, I only make two crowns a month.”
  1634. >Benning has an amused smile on his face.
  1635. >His pony is now wide awake and peeking over his shoulder.
  1636. >”I do not accept your offer. Melody is my property, and I can do with her what I wish.”
  1637. 20/23
  1638. >You notice Anon approaching with a worried look on his face.
  1639. >Mr. Burwell follows closely behind, but he makes no expression.
  1640. >A few people have taken notice as well, but they pretend not to stare.
  1641. “Let’s go,” you plead. “This is going nowhere.”
  1642. >You grab Soarin’s hoof to lead him away.
  1643. >After a moment, he relents and follows you.
  1644. >He yelps suddenly, and you see File retracting his boot.
  1645. “Don’t kick him!”
  1646. >Instantly a hoof covers your mouth.
  1647. >You’ve never spoken back to him before.
  1648. >What have you done?
  1649. >File laughs.
  1650. >”Your friend is a drunk, and an animal. You would be smart to avoid him.”
  1651. >”I am not an animal!”
  1652. >As if in slow motion you watch as Soarin lunges at your master.
  1653. >You hear a loud wheeze as he impacts File’s chest.
  1654. >Soarin spins in the air and bucks Nohtfound before he can block with his arms.
  1655. >File falls from his chair while gripping his upper body.
  1656. ”Soarin, stop!”
  1657. >Captain Benning stands and unsheathes his blade in a single motion.
  1658. >Strawberry Sprinkles has to fly to keep from falling.
  1659. >”Filthy animal. I ought to run you through!”
  1660. >”What is going on here?!” Anon shouts.
  1661. >”Your pony assaulted Sir File. He is dangerous and should be put down.”
  1662. >”He kicked me twice!”
  1663. >”Is that true?”
  1664. >File rises slowly.
  1665. >He has to put his hand on the ground to steady himself before he finally gets to his feet.
  1666. >”Your pony tried to buy Melody. He went into a fit of rage when I refused.”
  1667. “No. You kicked him and called him an animal when we were leaving.”
  1668. >”That’s enough out of you.”
  1669. “Soarin was just defending himself.”
  1670. >”Captain, please,” Anon says as he steps forward. “Put away your weapon and allow me to apologize for my pony.”
  1671. >”Why do you apologize to him? It was my honor your creature besmirched, and I demand satisfaction.”
  1672. >File produces a pistol from his pocket.
  1673. "No!"
  1674. 21/23
  1675. >Soarin flies back and tries to hide behind his master.
  1676. >”Mr. Nohtfound! If you shoot my pony you shall have to deal with the constable.”
  1677. >File scowls at Anon.
  1678. >”Sir File,” he corrects with a firm voice. “And I am within my rights. Perhaps your solicitor will try to recoup your loss, but not the constable. Get out of my way.”
  1679. >Nohtfound takes a step to the side to get around Anon.
  1680. >He has a crazed look in his eyes.
  1681. >You freeze in place.
  1682. >What can you do?
  1683. >Soarin attacked a gentleman.
  1684. >He signed his own death warrant.
  1685. >You want to shout, to do something to stop this.
  1686. >But you’re just a pony.
  1687. >”I will not allow it,” Anon says as he moves to block File.
  1688. >”Gentlemen,” Mr. Burwell says to try to calm them down.
  1689. >”Gentlemen?! Anon is no gentleman. He may wear a coat and top hat, but he is not a member of the gentry. He is in trade. A commoner!”
  1690. >File waves the pistol threateningly, but Anon doesn't move.
  1691. >”If you continue you may find yourself crossing swords,” Anon says through clenched teeth.
  1692. >”A gentleman? Absurd.”
  1693. >Reginald brushes his mustache before speaking.
  1694. >”Perhaps there is another way to resolve this?”
  1695. >”And what would that be?”
  1696. >”Sell Melody to Mr. Ymous and be done with it. Such a small thing doesn’t require coming to blows.”
  1697. >File hesitates, but eventually puts away his pistol.
  1698. >Sensing that the danger has passed, you allow yourself to breathe.
  1699. >”Reginald, this is now a matter of honor. I will not sell him Melody for a thousand guineas.”
  1700. >Anon crosses his arms.
  1701. >”I want you to leave.”
  1702. >”Keep your filthy creature away from my ponies.” File turns to you. “I don’t want you to ever speak with that thing again. Is that understood?”
  1703. >You look down at the ground.
  1704. >All all around, you can feel people and ponies staring at you.
  1705. >The scandal of it all.
  1706. >Soarin didn't hit just a human, but a gentleman.
  1707. 22/23
  1708. >If File was a porter or a rat-catcher few would care.
  1709. >But a hereditary knight?
  1710. >Soarin will never live this down.
  1711. >And what about you?
  1712. >This was supposed to be a nice outing.
  1713. >Now you’re really going to get it.
  1714. >Why did it have to end like this?
  1715. >You glance at Soarin.
  1716. >His eyes beg you to forgive him.
  1717. “Yes, master.”
  1718. 23/23
  1720. >Day A Matter of Honor continued.
  1721. >"Where is that fool?" Sir File looks around. "You there. Where is James?"
  1722. >The footmen are sitting around a few rough wooden tables, playing cards.
  1723. >Reginald’s driver staggers forward.
  1724. >As expected, he has been in his cups.
  1725. >You can smell alcohol on his breath before he even speaks.
  1726. >"How may I be of assistance?"
  1727. >The gin did nothing to soften his harsh commoner accent.
  1728. >"I have decided to retire for the evening. Get the carriage ready, if you please."
  1729. >"Right away, Guv’nor." He takes a step forward before pausing. "And, Mr. Burwell?"
  1730. >"He has chosen to linger. You are to take us home and then return for him."
  1731. >"That’s alright then."
  1732. >Reginald's footman doesn't bother trying to hide his drunkenness and stumbles toward the entrance.
  1733. >Why does Mr. Burwell insist on having human servants when this is what the gutter offers?
  1734. >Though, what does that make you?
  1735. >Polite society has a hierarchy, with kings and peers at the top, then the gentry, the commoners, and finally you - a slave.
  1736. >Though your standing is lower, you could debate whether ponies or the poor are worse off.
  1737. >They who must earn a living or face the workhouses.
  1738. >You don't have to fear becoming a mudlark, wading through muck in the Thames, picking up rubbish to earn a living.
  1739. >Or a a nightman, who has to collect night soil from privies of those who can't afford a Bramah.
  1740. >At least ponies are only owned by the upper classes.
  1741. >Any man who can afford a slave would have a water closet.
  1742. >It's 1856, people should have working toilets instead of shitting in buckets!
  1743. >You shake your head at that thought.
  1744. >You've let yourself drift off again.
  1745. >James is just pulling up and File Nohtfound doesn't wait for him to dismount before opening the door.
  1746. >He climbs aboard, followed by Meadow Flower.
  1747. >Immediately you remember.
  1748. >File is going to beat you for your insolence.
  1749. 1/11
  1750. >Maybe if you apologize now he will be willing to forgive and forget.
  1751. >You pin your ears back as you climb the step onto the carriage.
  1752. >Bucking Soarin.
  1753. >He should have listened to you.
  1754. "Sir File, please I didn’t-"
  1755. >"No. Do not speak. You’ve already said quite enough. We shall discuss this when we arrive."
  1756. "But…"
  1757. >"Not another word."
  1758. >Meadow Flower nudges you and moves her head toward James.
  1759. >Of course File doesn’t want Reginald’s man to hear this.
  1760. >That drunk will probably spread your discussion all over town.
  1761. >Any chance of sweeping this under the rug could go out the window, and then where would you be?
  1762. >You have to maintain at least some bearing.
  1763. >Perhaps some degree of dignity and poise can still be salvaged.
  1764. You give your master a jerky nod before replying, "of course."
  1765. >The tension in the carriage is palatable as James urges the horses onward.
  1766. >File scowls intently at you while playing with the Reginald’s cane.
  1767. >With a twist, it opens slightly and reveals a hidden metal blade.
  1768. >File sheathes and unsheathes it several times before returning it to the panel on the door.
  1769. >He leaves the heavy pistol untouched, but you know he still has his smaller one in his pocket.
  1770. >Those weapons are meant to be used against the odd vagrant who feels bold enough to test fate.
  1771. >They would be more than a match for a pony.
  1772. >Why did Soarin say those things?
  1773. >Everything would have been fine if he just kept his mouth shut.
  1774. >Just how stupid is he?
  1775. >Meadow Flower pretends to look out the window wistfully, though you catch her glancing at you occasionally.
  1776. >You just stare at the floor, waiting for this night to be over.
  1777. >The rest of the ride is in near complete silence.
  1778. >When you arrive, Meadow flies ahead and unlocks the door.
  1779. >One gas light barely brightens the room, so Meadow Flower ignites two kerosene lamps.
  1780. >They burn brighter and cleaner than whale oil, and don’t have that obnoxious smell.
  1781. 2/11
  1782. >You were glad when Sir File replaced most of the oil lamps with them.
  1783. >There are still a few candelabras scattered around, though they are mostly for decoration.
  1784. >Both you and Meadow go to your places while waiting for direction.
  1785. >File takes off his top hat and places it into the closet.
  1786. >Meadow breaks the silence.
  1787. >"Sir File, did you require anything else?"
  1788. >She must be hoping that Nohtfound will forget about the fight and let you two be.
  1789. >He curls his lip as he looks at you.
  1790. >"No. You may retire for the evening."
  1791. >"Thank you, m’lord," Meadow says before curtsying.
  1792. >This is your chance!
  1793. >You curtsy as well, and begin to follow her to the servant’s quarters.
  1794. >"Not you, Melody. I did not give you leave to depart."
  1795. >You swallow hard before taking a deep breath.
  1796. >It was worth a try.
  1797. >Meadow gives you a sorrowful look before hurrying off, eager to be done with this farce.
  1798. >As you turn, your master snaps his fingers and points at his heels.
  1799. >Immediately you take your place beside him, just in time to take the lamp from his hands.
  1800. >Without speaking, he orders you to follow him.
  1801. >As you walk through the long hallways, the light from your lamp causes him to cast a large and ominous shadow.
  1802. >It only takes a few moments to arrive at his master suite.
  1803. >The lamp is placed carefully on his side table, and you reach to your tools to turn on the gas light.
  1804. >"I did not ask you to light that."
  1805. "I’m sorry, Sir File, I just thought that you would like it on so we could speak."
  1806. >"Close the door."
  1807. >With your head held low, you do as he commands before approaching him submissively.
  1808. >His mask of gentility has been cast aside, and he glares at you.
  1809. >"You lied to me."
  1810. "What?"
  1811. >His hand is too fast for you to move, and he smacks you across the face.
  1812. >The impact is enough to make you lose balance and bump into the dresser with a thud.
  1813. >"You said that thing wasn’t a gentleman caller, and yet he tried to buy you after only a passing acquaintance?"
  1814. 3/11
  1815. >You gulp.
  1816. >Soarin isn’t your coltfriend or anything.
  1817. >You barely know him.
  1818. >On it’s own, a hoof moves to sooth the side of your face.
  1819. "No. I have only spoken to him a few times."
  1820. >He reaches out and hooks under your foreleg, as well as the collar of your dress.
  1821. >You hear a seam rip slightly as you’re pulled.
  1822. >He sits on the edge of his bed so you have to stand beside him.
  1823. >His nose is nearly touching yours as he spits out his next words.
  1824. >"But you still felt the need to fill his head with lies about how I am mistreating you." A hand moves to your jaw and he forces you to look at him. "You eat three times a day, and receive pocket money. What else could you want?"
  1825. "I’m sorry. I just had too many drinks."
  1826. >"That is no excuse!"
  1827. >He wrenches you up on his lap, so your belly rests on his thighs.
  1828. >You try to escape his grasp, but one hand grabs a foreleg, and the other holds you down.
  1829. "Please, Master! I did nothing wrong!"
  1830. >"Shut up!"
  1831. >He shakes you violently to stop your tantrum.
  1832. >After an instant of struggling you realize your error.
  1833. >Fighting him will only make this worse.
  1834. >Sir File waits several moments before speaking with an even, judicial tone.
  1835. >"Raise your dress. I shall not have four things ruined in a single evening."
  1836. >Four things?
  1837. >Obviously he means your dress, but what else?
  1838. >There is the blow to his reputation, the attack, and…
  1839. >You inhale sharply.
  1840. >Angelique!
  1841. >Oh, Luna, curse Soarin!
  1842. >Shamefully, you grab your skirt and bunch it in your hooves.
  1843. >Thank Celestia those gaudy hoop skirts haven’t caught on.
  1844. >Otherwise your rear would already have been exposed to him.
  1845. >Why would anyone want to wear a four foot wide dress?
  1846. >Though, it may have spared you the indignity of-
  1847. >Sir File’s hand strikes you before you finish your thought.
  1848. >It’s a sharp, stinging feeling, but you grit your teeth to keep from crying out.
  1849. >"This is for ruining my dance with Angelique."
  1850. >He swats you again.
  1851. 4/11
  1852. >You close your eyes to block out the pain.
  1853. "It was an honest mistake," you plead, "Soarin doesn’t know how to dance."
  1854. >His hand impacts your other cheek.
  1855. "Why bother with all this? She’s still a minor!"
  1856. >You're sure she is no more than eighteen or nineteen years old.
  1857. >Another swat to your rear rings throughout the room.
  1858. >"The French are different from us. I can not simply ask her father for her hand." His swat is firmer and harder than the last. "I have to make her love me," he says with some annoyance.
  1859. >As he hits you again you realize that he’s right.
  1860. >Any English minor would have to do as their father commands until they are twenty-one.
  1861. >Once more he strikes you.
  1862. >The French are so much freer, they aren’t bound by Victorian mores or customs.
  1863. "Ow!"
  1864. >His hand hits you again and you’re sure your rump is red.
  1865. >It certainly feels warm, but you’ve had worse.
  1866. >"Luckily for you, I shall try again. She told me she is going to London to see the new play along with Miss Mary. Reginald and I plan to be there and chance upon them."
  1867. >His hand massages your cheeks in a faux comforting fashion.
  1868. >"All is not lost. Like Reginald I still have some tricks left up my sleeve."
  1869. >Usually this is enough to satisfy him.
  1870. >Will he be so easily sated?
  1871. >"So I forgive you."
  1872. >You look up hopefully at your master.
  1873. "Thank you, m’lord."
  1874. >He smiles pleasantly.
  1875. >"Now take off your drawers."
  1876. >Your ears raise in alarm.
  1877. >It isn’t over yet!?
  1878. >Is he planning on taking your body, or continuing your punishment?
  1879. >Are they the same thing?
  1880. "But, I have already learned my lesson," you reason.
  1881. >"And what lesson was that?"
  1882. >Is he expecting you to apologize for the dance?
  1883. >That wasn’t your fault.
  1884. >"Clearly we are not finished."
  1885. >He taps your rear three times, silently insisting that you disrobe.
  1886. >Your hooves slink down and loosen your undergarment.
  1887. >You can feel your cheeks burning red in embarrassment.
  1888. 5/11
  1889. >He has seen you naked countless times, but laying on his lap for punishment is something else entirely.
  1890. >With a slight shimmy, you feel the fabric slip down your legs and past your hooves.
  1891. >But you don’t hear the satisfying sound of it landing on the floor.
  1892. >Very quickly you find out what happened.
  1893. >Sir File hands you the two leggings held together with a simple string.
  1894. >"I will not have you sullying my floor with your soiled clothes. Hold them."
  1895. >Without warning his hand hits your now bare flank.
  1896. >The sting is sharper, and more vibrant than before.
  1897. >"You deliberately made me look like a fool in front of Anon and his common friends."
  1898. >Again he hits you, and you cry out in pain.
  1899. "I’m sorry! I was drunk!"
  1900. >The thin strips of fabric are your only consolation, so you hold them tight.
  1901. >"You felt the need to drink yourself into a stupor?! Is your life truly so tiresome?!"
  1902. >He hits you twice, not allowing you to respond.
  1903. >Instead you cry out as another whack hits you.
  1904. >"Polite society has rules, otherwise we are no better than the Chinese!"
  1905. "Ah!"
  1906. >Once more he finds purchase on your rear.
  1907. >You lower your tail to protect yourself.
  1908. "No more, please, Sir File," you plead.
  1909. >"Raise your tail!"
  1910. "Please!"
  1911. >One arm wraps around your neck, and with his whipping hand, he pulls your tail up toward your face.
  1912. >"Hold this," he says sternly, without leaving any room for argument.
  1913. >He puts your it in your hooves, and you have to hold both the edge of your tail, and your bloomers.
  1914. >Sir File doesn’t give you time to rest before hitting you again.
  1915. >Your flanks feel red, and raw.
  1916. >You’re not sure how much more you can take, and you feel the first real sob escape from your lips.
  1917. >"What do I have except for my reputation!?"
  1918. >Without your tail, or drawers to lesson the blow, you feel the impact of every finger.
  1919. >"Why should the Queen raise me to peerage if my own pony dares to besmirch my reputation?! And in front of commoners, no less!"
  1920. 6/11
  1921. >He whacks you relentlessly, never giving you a chance to speak.
  1922. >Your only answer is a series of incoherent sobs as you try to beg for mercy.
  1923. >"And then your…" he trails off for a moment, giving you an instant of rest. "Disgusting animal attacked me. A gentleman!"
  1924. >The next series of spanks are nearly unbearable.
  1925. >Your little hooves kick out from the pain of every impact.
  1926. "He was defending himself. What was he supposed to do? You kicked him."
  1927. >"He challenged me publicly. A pony should know his place. Especially wonderbolts."
  1928. >Again he hits you over and over.
  1929. "I’m sorry! I should never have spoken with him!"
  1930. >"If you were sorry, you wouldn’t have done so."
  1931. >Another smack, this time on your cutie mark.
  1932. >Celestia, your bottom feels like it’s on fire.
  1933. >What does he want?
  1934. >You already apologized.
  1935. >His hand interrupts your thoughts.
  1936. "Please, Sir File! I’ve learned my lesson! I won’t ever speak with him again!"
  1937. >This time he doesn’t hit you.
  1938. >Should you say something?
  1939. >You look up at your master, and you’re greeted with a dark glare.
  1940. >"Why am I not moved by your apology?" He asks in a wondering tone.
  1941. >The break gives you an instant to take in several short breaths.
  1942. >You don’t answer him, hoping it’s finally over.
  1943. >"Because it is false, and deceitful!"
  1944. >He hits you and it’s too much, and you drop your underwear as you cover your face.
  1945. >This might be your last chance.
  1946. >Gathering your strength, you decide to answer him.
  1947. "Sir File," you say between breaths. "I won’t ever talk to him again."
  1948. >You wince, expecting another blow that never comes.
  1949. >His hand rubs your rear, and you can feel welts just starting to show.
  1950. >It’s an oddly soothing gesture, and you’re glad it’s over at last.
  1951. >You allow yourself to calm down.
  1952. >All you have to do is ignore Soarin and things will go back to normal.
  1953. >Why does he like you anyway?
  1954. >You’re just a simple earth pony.
  1955. >He could probably have his choice of Pegasi.
  1956. >"Bring me the paddle."
  1957. 7/11
  1958. >You look up at him with your tear filled eyes, begging him to show you mercy.
  1959. >"I have given you a command, Melody. Do not test my patience," he says through his teeth.
  1960. >You hear a mix of anger and annoyance in his voice.
  1961. >This isn't the time to be defiant.
  1962. "Yes, m'lord."
  1963. >Slowly, you slide off of his lap, and look at the paddle mounted threateningly on the wall.
  1964. >It is too high for you to reach without assistance.
  1965. >You walk to a spare wooden chair, and pull it toward the wall.
  1966. >The legs make a sickening sound as you drag it.
  1967. >"Lift the chair, or are you too stupid to handle even the simplest tasks?"
  1968. >Complying, you stand on your rear legs and lift.
  1969. >Your back and cheeks cry out in agony.
  1970. >You want to cry, but you have to keep strong.
  1971. >Carefully, you place the chair down, and stand on it.
  1972. >Your haunches burn, but the soft silky fabric of your dress moderates it slightly.
  1973. >With the paddle in hoof, you climb back down and hoof it to your master.
  1974. >"This is truly a shame. I was considering allowing you to see him from time to time."
  1975. >Soarin caused this, the idiot!
  1976. >He should have listened to you!
  1977. >You rest your forelegs on his knees, and try to lift yourself up.
  1978. >Overacting, you pretend the movement is too much, and pathetically miss the first two tries.
  1979. >Sir File is unconvinced and grabs your rear as you lean on his knees, dragging you onto his lap.
  1980. >He shifts his legs until you're in a comfortable position, with your middle hanging low.
  1981. >Without instruction, you raise your dress, and hold onto your tail.
  1982. >He taps his foot several times, and nods toward your underwear.
  1983. >"You are being forgetful."
  1984. >He still wants you to hold those?
  1985. >You reach down and take your drawers into your hooves again.
  1986. >A tear falls from your cheek, and you brush it with your bloomers.
  1987. >Sir File tests the paddle on his hand, swinging it several times.
  1988. >Involuntarily you wince at the sound of it finding purchase.
  1989. 8/11
  1990. >"I explicitly gave my consent for him to call on you. Who knows," he adds with disgust in his voice. "He may have already put a bastard in your belly."
  1991. >His hand rubs over your stomach looking for signs of pregnancy.
  1992. "Sir File!"
  1993. >"Oh, spare me. You likely spread your haunches the moment you saw he was a wonderbolt."
  1994. >You swallow.
  1995. >Have sex with Soarin?
  1996. >You barely know him!
  1997. "I’m not a whore."
  1998. >"Not that I blame you entirely. I may even have allowed the match."
  1999. >His hand rubs your mane, and slides down your face, wiping away another tear.
  2000. >"Now what should I do about him?"
  2001. "He’s just a silly colt. You don’t need to worry about him."
  2002. >"Doubtful."
  2003. >The hand near your eyes clenches and unclenches into a fist several times.
  2004. >"He is clearly a poor influence on you, and rot must be cut to the bone, like gangrene."
  2005. >He can't mean…
  2006. >No.
  2007. >Soarin doesn't deserve to die.
  2008. "I promise to never see him again."
  2009. >"What about Meadow Flower, or other ponies? He will simply find another to corrupt."
  2010. >Your lip quivers.
  2011. "He isn't like that. He's just stupid. Soarin doesn't know what he is doing half the time."
  2012. >Your heart races as Sir File considers your words.
  2013. >What seems like minutes pass, though it is likely only a few seconds.
  2014. >Soarin is an idiot, but he means well.
  2015. >Finally, your master speaks.
  2016. >"I shall call for the constable tomorrow and demand that Soarin be placed in irons."
  2017. "No!"
  2018. >"It is for the best."
  2019. "Don't hurt him!"
  2020. >"He shall swing from the gallows within the fortnight!"
  2021. >The paddle hits your rear and you cry out.
  2022. "Please! Don't kill him!"
  2023. >Another smack!
  2024. >"He shall never mislead another pony!"
  2025. "He's an idiot!"
  2026. >The heavy wood hits you again.
  2027. >"His grave will be unmarked, and quickly forgotten!"
  2028. "Please, I beg you! Don't kill him!"
  2029. >Your hooves involuntarily kick out as he hits you.
  2030. >Stupid Soarin!
  2031. >This is all his fault!
  2032. >"You will never see him again!"
  2033. >You squirm at the next smack, trying desperately to change his mind.
  2034. "I won't I promise!"
  2035. 9/11
  2036. >"Ever!"
  2037. >Your rear is burning hot, but he punishes it anyway.
  2038. "I hate him! I wish I never met him!"
  2039. >"Lies!"
  2040. >The paddle hits you repeatedly, and incessantly.
  2041. "I swear! I swear it! I wish I never met him!"
  2042. >He grabs your neck and turns you so you look into his eyes, burning with rage.
  2043. >"You have already broken faith with me, whore. Swear to Queen and Country, that you will never speak with him again."
  2044. >He waits half a heartbeat before raising the paddle.
  2045. Sensing your impending pain, you cry out, "wait! Wait please!"
  2046. >He looks at you with disgust.
  2047. >You sob twice, before collecting yourself enough to answer.
  2048. "I swear to Queen Victoria, and her successors, that I will never see, nor speak with Soarin again," you say between sobs. After a moment, you add, "So help me God."
  2049. >You would swear to all four princesses, but that would only make him angier.
  2050. >Several ragged breaths escape from you as you await your fate.
  2051. >You can't take anymore punishment.
  2052. >Your throat is raw from sobbing, and your eyes ache.
  2053. >Sir File taps his foot several times.
  2054. >"Very well. I shall spare your gentleman caller. But if you so much as look at him, there will be consequences."
  2055. "Yes, Master. Thank you, thank you."
  2056. >Sir File takes a handkerchief and roughly wipes your face.
  2057. >After a few swipes he grunts in annoyance and puts it in your hooves.
  2058. >"Clean yourself up. You're ugly when you cry."
  2059. >Immediately you press the fabric against your face and eyes, trying to wipe away the tears.
  2060. >No doubt your mane and tail are in horrid condition as well.
  2061. >"You should be grateful. You deserve to be beaten, but having you broken would slightly inconvenience me. Rest assured that next time I will not be so kind."
  2062. "Of course. I was a bad pony. Thank you for reminding me."
  2063. >Your lip quivers and you shut your eyes, expecting another smack.
  2064. >"There, there," he says while petting your mane. "It's over now. Soon this will be forgotten, and we shall continue with our lives."
  2065. 10/11
  2066. >You look up at Sir File, and he offers you a condescending smile.
  2067. >"Now show me that you understand, Melody."
  2068. >You shift and turn, careful not to step on him, so you can give him a hug.
  2069. >His arms wrap around your barrel as he pulls you closer.
  2070. >You stay in his embrace for several seconds.
  2071. >His cheek presses against yours, and you can feel his hot breath.
  2072. "I'm sorry for how I acted, Sir File. It will never happen again."
  2073. >He kisses your temple.
  2074. >"See that it does not. Though you have your flaws, I do…" he trails off. "It would irritate me to have to purchase a replacement."
  2075. >You take a deep breath as you try to judge his expression.
  2076. >Is he saying you mean something to him, or is he simply annoyed at the thought of purchasing another pony?
  2077. >He loosens his tie and throws it on his lounge chair.
  2078. >When his gaze returns to you, you realize he wants you to get up.
  2079. >You can feel a headache starting, but you're glad he is done with you for now.
  2080. >"Have breakfast ready for me before my stroll. Full English."
  2081. "Yes, Master."
  2082. >You bow before retreating to your room.
  2083. >The instant you leave his sight, you relax, and let it all out.
  2084. >You don't care how ugly you look.
  2085. 11/11
  2087. >Day A Matter of Honor.
  2088. >"That was very foolish, Soarin," Anon Ymous says at the entrance to your room. "What in the world possessed you to attack Sir File?"
  2089. >Your master is still wearing his evening coat for the garden party.
  2090. >You can hear laughing and talking going on outside, but the party itself sounds like it is over.
  2091. >You pin your ears back.
  2092. "He's abusing his ponies."
  2093. >Anon scoffs.
  2094. >"He is a stern man, perhaps even mean spirited, but I have never seen any injuries on his ponies. I would venture to say that they even look happy."
  2095. >Octavia told you that people put so much value on the way they look.
  2096. >It's all an act to keep up appearances.
  2097. "They aren't. They have to pretend that they are happy."
  2098. >Anon sits beside you.
  2099. >"This is unfortunate," he begins. "But they are his property. He would be in his rights to treat them as he pleases, within reason. What does he do to them?"
  2100. >You shake your head.
  2101. "She wasn't very specific."
  2102. >"And you wanted to save your friend?"
  2103. >You shrug.
  2104. >"Admirable, really it is. But going against him so directly will only result in you being crushed. Sir File is a baronet, and you are a pony. A wonderbolt, true, but still a pony. I expect we shall see the constable in the morning."
  2105. "What should I do? Run away?"
  2106. >"I don't know. I will speak with my barrister tomorrow. Likely I will be able to protect you to some extent, but I would not be surprised if you are punished by transportation."
  2107. >That doesn't sound so bad, but then again, humans come up with strange words for things.
  2108. "What's that?"
  2109. >"Transportation is when you are banished and sent to one of the colonies to serve your sentence."
  2110. "It would be nice to go to Equestria."
  2111. >Anon laughs at this.
  2112. >"That would be an ironic punishment. I am sure you will return there, but under better circumstances. Still, something must be done regarding Sir File's ponies. I will have to think about it."
  2113. 1/22
  2114. "Thank you, Anon."
  2115. >"For now I ask that you keep your distance from his ponies."
  2116. >
  2117. >
  2118. >It's been nearly a week since the garden party.
  2119. >Sir File has restricted you to the estate, and has largely ignored you during this time.
  2120. >You did have to serve him once when Mr. Burwell visited for tea, and Meadow Flower was off for the night.
  2121. >Thankfully your dress prevented him from seeing your punishment.
  2122. >Despite his promise, Soarin has not visited to give you ice cream.
  2123. >It is for the best.
  2124. >You don't know what would happen if Sir File saw him again.
  2125. >Besides, you swore to Queen and Country to never speak with him.
  2126. >Breaking that oath would seal your fate, and you are sure you would be placed in irons and sold off like last week's hay.
  2127. >Though, that would give you a new start.
  2128. >You laugh once bitterly.
  2129. >No.
  2130. >He would make sure whoever bought you would not be pleasant.
  2131. >Here at least you are free to roam the estate.
  2132. >You have heard stories about ponies being chained up and kept as playthings, but you doubt those stories to be true.
  2133. >Only gentlemen can afford ponies, and none of them would be so cruel as to keep you like a prisoner.
  2134. >But in a way you are a prisoner.
  2135. >You are restricted to the estate…
  2136. >Outside is a chirping bird who is too headstrong to fly south.
  2137. >Why doesn't it fly away?
  2138. >Meadow Flower knocks on the door frame, breaking you from your thoughts.
  2139. >"Sir File will be down shortly."
  2140. >You furrow your brow and look at her.
  2141. >Her ears are pinned back, and she keeps from meeting your eyes.
  2142. >You hesitate, unsure of if you should ask her about what is bothering her.
  2143. >Your heart sinks when you see her move.
  2144. >The way she limps as she approaches tells you all you need to know.
  2145. "What did you do, Meadow?"
  2146. >She moves to the counter and pours herself some tea.
  2147. >"I just messed up again. Don't worry about it."
  2148. >You know not to push Meadow Flower after a punishment.
  2149. >Still, you need to know what you are facing.
  2150. "How is Sir File's mood?"
  2151. 2/22
  2152. >She looks away, but you can see her swallow hard.
  2153. >"He is… not happy." She sighs. "I'm sorry."
  2154. >Buck.
  2155. >What a way to start the day.
  2156. >It doesn't bode well if your master is already vexed.
  2157. >Meadow swirls her tea a few times before taking a sip.
  2158. >Her mane pulls away just enough for you to see that her coat is damp from tears.
  2159. >You know she is clumsy, but what could she have done to anger him so?
  2160. >The tea doesn't seem to calm her, so you lean forward and nuzzle into her neck, and she returns the soothing gesture.
  2161. "We always have each other, Meadow."
  2162. >"Thanks, Octavia."
  2163. >You catch the smell of smoke and instantly pull away.
  2164. "The sausages!"
  2165. >They're finicky, and just starting to burn, but you think you caught them in time.
  2166. "This is nearly ready. Can you take the tea?"
  2167. >She stifles a sob before it can escape.
  2168. >"I don't know if I can face him right now…"
  2169. >You take a deep breath.
  2170. >If you had just been belted, you would want some privacy as well.
  2171. >But with breakfast nearly ready, that will have to wait.
  2172. "That's alright. I'll set the table. You can finish up here."
  2173. >You take some silverware and begin setting up the dining room for your master.
  2174. >Usually you take your time to make sure it is perfect, but this time you drag your hooves just a bit more than usual so she can have a moment alone.
  2175. >When enough time has passed, you go back to the kitchen to help.
  2176. >Sir File likes every meal to be formal, so you and Meadow Flower plate the eggs, sausages, beans and everything else separately.
  2177. >You always found the eating habits of people to be strange.
  2178. >Why do they insist on either eating practically nothing, or a large meal?
  2179. >There doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason between switching between the two.
  2180. >If your master worked on a farm, or other sort of manual labor you could understand a large breakfast.
  2181. >But the majority of his exercise is either taking a stroll in the park or riding horses.
  2182. 3/22
  2183. >When you bring out the final serving tray, you are startled that Sir File is already at the table.
  2184. >Usually you can hear his heavy footsteps, but your thoughts must have distracted you too much.
  2185. >You stop instantly, causing Meadow to bump into you.
  2186. >The silver tray on your back clatters onto the wooden floor.
  2187. >Both of you pull out rags to wipe the now splattered butter.
  2188. >You can feel your cheeks burning.
  2189. >You're sure Sir File is glaring at you, but you don't dare look up.
  2190. >Somepony knocks at the door, and Meadow wipes her eyes quickly before going to to answer it.
  2191. >Odd.
  2192. >It is too early for a visitor.
  2193. >Gentlemen do not make calls until late morning.
  2194. >And the milk was already delivered.
  2195. >That happens before you even get up.
  2196. >Finally you get the courage to look toward your master.
  2197. >He ignores you, but you inhale sharply as Sir File takes a spoon and examines it closely.
  2198. >The silver was polished last night.
  2199. >There shouldn't be any tarnish left.
  2200. >Did you miss a spot?
  2201. >After a moment he take the tongs and adds a sugar cube to his cup.
  2202. >Then he pours himself just a splash of milk before returning to his paper.
  2203. >Immediately you take the tea pot and pour for him.
  2204. >The tableware is white with blue decorations of ships.
  2205. >Chinese porcelain, is of course the most sought after and prestigious place setting.
  2206. >While the English now know how to make their own imitation porcelain, those are only fit for the lower classes.
  2207. >You were lucky you didn't damage any of it.
  2208. >It was only by chance that you chose to bring out the butter tray last.
  2209. >"Sir File?" Meadow says with a note in her hoof as she flies closer. "This came for you."
  2210. >His face lights up, and he offers a beaming smile, as if the mistakes of the morning are already long forgotten.
  2211. >"Splendid! Lord Camberly must have woken early. I expected his invitation in the afternoon. He is quite busy, what with the Indians rising up again."
  2212. >"No." She shakes her head. "This is from Mr. Ymous."
  2213. 4/22
  2214. >File's beaming smile quickly turns into a sneer.
  2215. >"I see... Place it on my desk. I shall not have my morning ruined with the musings of a commoner."
  2216. >"As you wish, m'lord."
  2217. >Meadow retreats to the study while File reads the newspaper again.
  2218. >You're not sure if she will put on her dress and prepare for her stroll with your master.
  2219. >Ever since the garden party it has become fashionable to bring along a pony as a display of wealth.
  2220. >At first you thought it was due to Mr. Ymous' party, but you soon learned that it was due to Prince Edward.
  2221. >He was seen strolling with Flurry Heart in London.
  2222. >Though he is only fifteen, he is the heir apparent to the throne, and people are eager to imitate him.
  2223. >It's unlikely Sir File would want to take Meadow out if she is on the verge of tears.
  2224. >That would only serve to lower his reputation.
  2225. >Imagine, strolling around with a sad and broken pony at your heels.
  2226. >It just wouldn't do.
  2227. >"Napoleon… Why do they waste time printing stories about him?"
  2228. >You pin your ears back.
  2229. "Sir File?"
  2230. >"They should be writing about the Chinese question."
  2231. >He turns the page before folding the paper in half.
  2232. >"Napoleon III is having a ball to celebrate the fourth anniversary of being crowned Emperor." File frowns at this. "Extraordinary. We spend years scrapping with his uncle, and yet because he sends a few regiments to Crimea, France is suddenly our closest ally."
  2233. >You both look at the painting of Sir File Nohtfound Senior, still scowling at the audience, like he always does.
  2234. >He earned his baronetcy fighting against Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte III's uncle.
  2235. >Exiled and destitute, Napoleon III clawed his way into power, first becoming President of France, and then crowning himself Emperor.
  2236. >Unfortunately you have no idea what happened to Napoleon II.
  2237. >You know Napoleon visited London last year, and subsequently Queen Victoria returned the visit to Paris.
  2238. >This was the first state visit between the two countries in centuries.
  2239. 5/22
  2240. >Now that you think about it, Soarin was wearing a uniform the other night.
  2241. >Did he fight in Crimea?
  2242. >You never thought to ask him.
  2243. "And Equestria?"
  2244. >Sir File grunts in annoyance.
  2245. >"Yes, yes. They sent wonderbolts and guards, as is expected of a colony." He sips his tea. "I suppose France was under no such obligation to fight Russia."
  2246. "Of course," you say quickly. "The Princesses are loyal to the Crown."
  2247. >"Though it would be novel to meet… what is her name? Cadance? Perhaps Lord Camberly can arrange an invitation to the palace."
  2248. >Cadance and her daughter are permanent guests at the palace.
  2249. >Hostages in all but name, to ensure that Equestria continues to be loyal.
  2250. "Do you require anything else, Sir File?
  2251. >"I will be traveling to London tonight. Les Vepres Siciliennes is finally playing there." He notices your blank expression, and translates. "The Sicilian Vespers. It is a French opera."
  2252. "Shall I prepare your trunk?"
  2253. >"Yes."
  2254. "Very good, sir."
  2255. >You make a curtsy and begin trotting to his room, but he calls out to you.
  2256. >"Melody?"
  2257. >You can sense the annoyance in his voice.
  2258. "Yes, m'lord?"
  2259. >Both of your eyes lock, and he waits several seconds before speaking.
  2260. >"I did not dismiss you."
  2261. >Your ears fold down.
  2262. "I was… just so eager to serve that I didn't think," you say in your most respectful voice.
  2263. >He gives you a flat expression, clearly unhappy with your service.
  2264. >His fingers tap the table several times.
  2265. >"I have decided to allow you outside to perform your duties. Do not make me regret it." He waves his hand. "That is all."
  2266. >Again you curtsy for him and make a quick escape.
  2267. >It takes a few minutes to choose his outfits.
  2268. >The trunk itself is too large and awkward for you to lift without assistance, so you place it in the corner before starting.
  2269. >Though he does have some clothes in London, you make sure to pack an assortment for him.
  2270. >You will have to ask Meadow for help to place it by the door for the carriage later.
  2271. 6/22
  2272. >With that done, you put on your saddlebags and begin trotting to the market.
  2273. >Though Meadow Flower told you that it is common for ponies to walk with their masters, it is certainly a strange sight to behold.
  2274. >Ladies stroll with dapper stallions, and gentlemen walk with mares in ornate dresses.
  2275. >To say you feel out of place in your maid outfit would be an understatement, but you must continue on.
  2276. >There are still lone maids, porters, and other low class people milling about.
  2277. >But unlike the gentry, they do not walk with their own slaves.
  2278. >Likely they are simply content to have somewhere warm to sleep.
  2279. >It only takes a few minutes to make the needed purchases.
  2280. >On the way back, you decide to walk through the gardens.
  2281. >The hard packed dirt is a welcome reprieve from the roughly cut and uneven cobblestone streets.
  2282. >There aren't many flowers left, as time is quickly marching toward winter.
  2283. >But the open field reminds you of Equestria, after the running of the leaves.
  2284. >You still remember the last time you helped Ponyville move from autumn to winter.
  2285. >It was a brisk morning, and like always, you were early, eager to begin the-
  2286. >"Melody?"
  2287. >Your ears perk up at your name, and you see Angelique, Mary, and her Unicorn.
  2288. >Unlike before, Day Blink is not wearing a sailor suit for a colt, but a more formal one, though it is still nautical in nature.
  2289. >Is he considered a stallion now?
  2290. >Mary wears a light blue dress fit for a lady.
  2291. >Angelique's dress is brighter, and just touches the edge of what is acceptable in England.
  2292. >Like her last dress, this one strains to contain her ample bosom.
  2293. >Perhaps it is the newest fashion in Paris.
  2294. "Good morning, ladies," you say as you curtsy. "And, Day Blink."
  2295. >"I didn't know Sir File allowed you to go on strolls," Mary says.
  2296. "Oh," you laugh uncomfortably. As if that would ever happen. "I am just returning from the market."
  2297. >"These English have so many rules. How can they expect to have any fun?"
  2298. 7/22
  2299. >Angelique's accent is still strange to you, but if you pay close attention you can understand her.
  2300. >Sir File would call it endearing.
  2301. >As if she was his little French flower, blooming in the sun.
  2302. >"It isn't so bad, Angelique. I hardly notice mother escorting me anymore."
  2303. >Angelique laughs at this.
  2304. >"You are eighteen. In France you would be allowed to walk about without mama holding onto your skirt."
  2305. >"It is improper for a lady to walk alone. We have customs."
  2306. >"Customs! You have customs for everything. Walk with us, Melody."
  2307. >You look at the path ahead.
  2308. >It's still several minutes until your turn, and Sir File wouldn't like it if you dawdle.
  2309. "I really must be going…"
  2310. >"I'm sure Monsieur File won't mind you being delayed," Angelique says pleasantly. "We can walk toward his manor, if that would make this more acceptable."
  2311. >Well, if it is with Angelique, he would be happy if you can gather any information.
  2312. >You hesitate before responding.
  2313. "I suppose a few minutes won't hurt anypony."
  2314. >You aren't sure if you should trot next to, or behind them, since the path isn't quite big enough to accommodate you without impeding other pedestrians.
  2315. >Day Blink sees the predicament, and trots behind Mary, and makes the slightest nod for you to follow suit.
  2316. >This makes you smile.
  2317. >Perhaps he is a good Unicorn, despite being on the young side.
  2318. >"You should get your own pony, Angelique."
  2319. >"France, how do you say? Forbid? Slavery nearly ten years ago. I would be thrown out of Paris if anyone found out."
  2320. >Mary shrugs.
  2321. >"King George abolished slavery nearly fifty years ago."
  2322. >"And yet you own a pony. It's very much the same, yes?"
  2323. >Mary wrinkles her nose at that.
  2324. >Together, you all walk quietly for a few seconds to let the awkward moment pass.
  2325. >"Oh, no. It's Mr. Burwell."
  2326. >"Hmm?"
  2327. >"Good morning, ladies," Reginald says as he walks by. "Lovely weather."
  2328. >Both women politely smile and nod which visibly flusters Mr. Burwell.
  2329. >Your heart nearly stops at the slight.
  2330. 8/22
  2331. >Reginald opens his mouth to say something, but chomps the words away.
  2332. >Then he adjusts his top hat and continues walking past.
  2333. >Gentlemen aren't allowed to speak with women unless they answer back.
  2334. >His only option was to continue walking to save face.
  2335. >All the while they watch him, until he finally leaves earshot.
  2336. >"Why must you tease him so?" Angelique says as she playfully taps her friend. "He has taken a liking to you."
  2337. >"One mustn't appear too forward."
  2338. >"But he is quite eligible. If you are too coy, he may begin to pursue another."
  2339. >"Too coy? It is you who are being too coy, titillating both Mr. Ymous and Sir File."
  2340. >"They both have their merits. On the continent, Monsieur File would be considered nobility, but I can't ignore Monsieur Ymous' success."
  2341. >Mary presses her lips together, considering her friend's words.
  2342. >"You are playing a dangerous game."
  2343. >"We are not forced to marry the first man our fathers accept. Melody, how is Monsieur File?"
  2344. >Your ears raise in alarm.
  2345. >It's never good when someone asks for your opinion.
  2346. "He… is a gentleman," you offer. After a moment you add, "There is some benefit to that."
  2347. >You don't have to clean muck like some ponies.
  2348. >Besides his fits of rage, he can be...
  2349. >Oh just listen to yourself.
  2350. >Nearly any gentleman would be better than File Nohtfound.
  2351. >Perhaps if it is fashionable to own a pony, you could convince Mr. Burwell or another of his associates to purchase you.
  2352. >"But that wasn't what I was asking."
  2353. >"Angelique, you know very well that she can not speak ill of her master. Leave her be."
  2354. >"I only wanted to know if he was injured after his fight with Soarin. I already understand him… Monsieur File is a rogue," she mimes making a checkmark, "mysterious, tak, bold, tak, and piercing, tak." She considers for a second. "Though perhaps too English."
  2355. >She is correct that he is rakish, but her tone seems to indicate admiration.
  2356. "Too English?"
  2357. 9/22
  2358. >"How can I explain?" She mutters in French, before blowing a raspberry. "He is very English."
  2359. >You're not sure what she means.
  2360. >Perhaps if you met more foreigners you would be able to understand.
  2361. "Do you mean he is stern?"
  2362. >"Yes! He enjoys things to be in their place. Monsieur Ymous is different, like an Italian."
  2363. >Mary smiles like a small girl and turns to you.
  2364. >"What about you, Melody?"
  2365. "I… don't have any suitors at the moment."
  2366. >You notice Day Blink flicking an ear and glancing at you, but he says nothing.
  2367. >"Such a shame about what happened with Soarin."
  2368. >"Forbidden love," Angelique says wistfully. "So romantic, yes?"
  2369. >Mary interrupts before you can correct her.
  2370. >"It was the talk of the town. A wonderbolt and a gentleman fighting over your honor."
  2371. >You feel your cheeks burning in embarrassment.
  2372. >Everypony is talking about you.
  2373. "We aren't romantically engaged. He likes me, clearly, but any chance of that is gone now. The sooner it is forgotten the better."
  2374. >Especially now that you are forbidden from speaking with him.
  2375. >"Don't worry." Mary says. "People are fickle. All they talk about now is Prince Edward and Princess Flurry. Still, Soarin would be quite a catch. What with being a wonderbolt."
  2376. >"It is unfortunate what happened in Crimea. Many of our Griffons came back injured as well, but they are citizens now. Français par le sang versé; French by spilled blood."
  2377. >You give them a confused look.
  2378. >"Oh, he did not mention his service?"
  2379. "He was wearing a wonderbolt uniform, but I wasn't sure if it was purely ceremonial."
  2380. >The two women walk in front of you in silence, before Angelique begins speaking in French.
  2381. >Mary glances at you, though her eyes leave the instant they meet yours.
  2382. >She responds to her friend in kind.
  2383. >After a few more words, Angelique thanks Mary.
  2384. >That much you understand.
  2385. 10/22
  2386. >"I am sorry, Melody. I did not know the word for artillerie. Apparently it is the same in English. He did not explain clearly, but I believe that is why he works for Monsieur Ymous."
  2387. "I see…"
  2388. >This whole time you have been treating him like an idiot.
  2389. >Did a shell land too close to him?
  2390. >He doesn't look disfigured...
  2391. >"Isn't this your street?" Mary says as she comes to a stop.
  2392. "Oh, yes it is," you say, somewhat flustered. Likely you would have missed it. "Thank you for pointing it out."
  2393. >You begin to trot away, but stop yourself.
  2394. >It wouldn't do to let this opportunity slip through your hooves.
  2395. "Sir File is going to London tonight, and asked that I pick him up a few things. It would have been embarrassing if I delayed him."
  2396. >Mary perks up at this.
  2397. >"What a coincidence, we are going to see the new opera that just opened. Will Mr. Burwell go with him as well?"
  2398. >Your ears raise, and you let yourself enjoy a slight smile.
  2399. >It worked.
  2400. >"What happened to not being too forward?" Angelique chastises Mary.
  2401. >"I was just curious…" she says, though you notice her cheeks becoming more rosy.
  2402. "He didn't mention, but perhaps." You make a curtsy for them which they return quickly. "Good morning."
  2403. >Day Blink clears his throat and takes a step toward you.
  2404. >"Uh, Miss Octavia. I was wondering… May I see Meadow Flower?" He looks away, embarrassed. "From time to time…"
  2405. >You look over at Mary to give yourself a moment to think.
  2406. >She ignores both of you and pretends to adjust her collar, though you catch just a hint of a smile.
  2407. >Angelique likewise is suddenly very interested in her white gloves, and doesn't look over.
  2408. >You wonder if they expected him to ask about Meadow.
  2409. >Yes, Meadow Flower nuzzled him once or twice at the party, but she hasn't mentioned him since.
  2410. >Was it just a passing fancy, or something more?
  2411. "I don't think she would mind. But you will have to ask Sir File."
  2412. >He starts to say something, but changes his mind.
  2413. >"Of course. I wouldn't dream of imposing."
  2414. 11/22
  2415. >This makes you smile.
  2416. >At least he has manners.
  2417. >You give him a nod before trotting quickly back home.
  2418. >Sir File will want to hear this news as soon as possible.
  2419. >Perhaps he will even see fit to ease your restrictions further for your service.
  2420. >When you arrive, you find Meadow Flower watching two children from a distance.
  2421. >She doesn't look as upset as before, which makes you glad.
  2422. >The boys are covered head to toe in soot, and one tests the metal bristles of his brush.
  2423. >All the furniture is covered with thick cloth to protect them from stray bits of coal.
  2424. >You notice that the painting of Sir File Nohtfound Senior has been removed.
  2425. >That was a good choice.
  2426. >Imagine what would happen if File's painting of his father is ruined.
  2427. >You shudder at the passing thought.
  2428. >"Morning, mum." A boy says when he notices you, while the other climbs into the chimney. "Should only be a few minutes."
  2429. >"There's no need to rush," Meadow says. "The gin will still be there when you finish."
  2430. >While you don't agree with giving alcohol to children, it always makes the chimney sweeps more eager to clean thoroughly.
  2431. >The boy lifts a corner of the tarp at the base of the chimney just in time to catch a large chunk of soot.
  2432. >Despite his best efforts, black dust escapes and spills into the room.
  2433. >The thick cloud seems to settle on half of the furniture.
  2434. >Thankfully, they are all covered, so you decide to ignore the boys for now.
  2435. "Someone has an admirer," you say to Meadow.
  2436. >Her eyes light up.
  2437. >"Really?! Who?"
  2438. "Mary's colt, Day Blink. I ran into him a few minutes ago, and he asked to see you."
  2439. >Meadow sways like a filly.
  2440. >You can see why he is interested in her.
  2441. >She is a full grown mare, but she does act like a pony half her age at times.
  2442. >"He is kind of cute. Did he say anything else?"
  2443. >You give her a shrug.
  2444. "You aren't seriously interested in him are you?"
  2445. >Meadow frowns.
  2446. >"He is a good dancer, and I don't think Sir File would object."
  2447. "But he is a little young."
  2448. 12/22
  2449. >"We don't exactly have a lot of options, Octavia. Just like you and-" She stops herself from saying more. "Nevermind. Besides, there is nothing wrong with flirting. You should try it instead of pushing away every stallion you meet."
  2450. >You both stare at each other for a few seconds before she starts sweeping up soot.
  2451. >It's not that you want to ignore stallions.
  2452. >Tartarus, it would be amazing to be with one instead of warming File's bed.
  2453. >Maybe settle down, and raise a filly of your own.
  2454. >But… it could only happen with your owner's consent.
  2455. >That doesn't appear to be in the cards, at least for now.
  2456. >You let out a sigh.
  2457. >Perhaps if you behave, you will get back into his good graces enough for you to court.
  2458. "Is Sir File here?"
  2459. >Meadow coughs once, spreading black dust.
  2460. >"He is in the ballroom with his instructor."
  2461. "Thank you."
  2462. >You trot through the long hallway to the dance floor.
  2463. >It has been some time since he held a proper ball.
  2464. >You understand that it is expensive, and your master does not want to burn through his estate to entertain 'fools' as he would put it.
  2465. >Behind the heavy door, you hear the clank of metal striking metal.
  2466. >A man shouts in exertion, and another crash rings through the door.
  2467. >There are several heavy steps and more shouts, before silence.
  2468. >A hoof moves on it's own to make your maid uniform more presentable prior to opening the door.
  2469. >File is breathing heavily, his white shirt is soaked with sweat.
  2470. >The instructor is an older man, with a soldier's bearing.
  2471. >Both men wear thick vests, and face masks for protection.
  2472. >They give you only the slightest glance before turning back to each other.
  2473. >"Don't try to impress me. That will get you killed."
  2474. >"It was a valid reposte."
  2475. >"With too much flair. En garde!"
  2476. >The instructor lunges in a false attack, and File's parry is out of position.
  2477. >Somehow he recovers before the instructor can take advantage.
  2478. >Their blades tap together twice, each man measuring the other's intent.
  2479. 13/22
  2480. >"Seconde!" The instructor shouts before making another thrust.
  2481. >File's wrist twists in a corkscrew motion and he deflects the blow, and his own sword lands on the instructor's chest.
  2482. >"Better. Octave!"
  2483. >Again the instructor attacks, File parries, and flicks his wrist, forming the perfect line.
  2484. >He easily thrusts into his opponent's chest.
  2485. >The two men salute each other before removing their masks.
  2486. >"See how simple that was? Stay on form and you will be quite difficult to match."
  2487. >File wipes his face with his sleeve.
  2488. >"Sabres are more interesting."
  2489. >"There is no denying your skill with back swords, but other gentlemen will use a small sword."
  2490. >The instructor begins packing up his equipment, and File turns to you.
  2491. >"What is it Melody? It annoys me when you linger."
  2492. >You take a step toward him, so you don't have to raise your voice.
  2493. "I strolled with Miss Angelique. She told me that she and Miss Mary are going to the opera tonight. The new one that just opened."
  2494. >File immediately looks pleased with this news.
  2495. >"Splendid. Perhaps I was right to allow you some freedom. Did she mention me perchance?"
  2496. "She said you were a rogue."
  2497. >"Oh?"
  2498. >His brow furrow as he considers that.
  2499. "But it was in admiration, I think. She also said you were bold… but too English."
  2500. >"Too English?" He waves a hand dismissively. "That is what makes me charming."
  2501. >The instructor finishes his preparation and nods his head to Sir File.
  2502. >"Same time next week?"
  2503. >"Of course. Good afternoon."
  2504. >He makes a deep bow, and carries his weapons as he leaves.
  2505. >"Was there anything else?"
  2506. "Mary's pony expressed interest in Meadow Flower."
  2507. >"Ah, that Unicorn. What was his name?" Sir File asks as he removes his heavy vest and hands it to you.
  2508. >You balance it on your back so you can wash it later.
  2509. "Day Blink."
  2510. >"Yes, of course. Day Blink…"
  2511. "I told him to ask for your permission first."
  2512. >"You two are becoming quite popular with stallions. Quite popular…"
  2513. 14/22
  2514. >He looks at you closely, hoping for a reaction, but you keep your expression flat.
  2515. >When you don't respond, he continues.
  2516. >"I suspect Mary will bring him to the opera."
  2517. "She didn't say."
  2518. >He taps his foot several times.
  2519. >"Mayhap I can use this to my advantage… Yes… Mary is likely to take him to London tonight. That would give Reginald and I an excuse to speak with her and Angelique." He smiles. "Ponies in love…"
  2520. >You scoff.
  2521. >Only he would use a pony's infatuation as a tool.
  2522. "Shall I tell her to prepare for this evening?"
  2523. >He looks at you for some time before answering.
  2524. >"Both of you shall accompany me."
  2525. >With that, Sir File walks off toward the garden to lounge.
  2526. >Meadow can barely contain her excitement when you tell her you both are to attend the opera.
  2527. >Neither of you understand French, but hopefully the actors will be good enough for you to follow the story.
  2528. >It takes the boys two hours to finish cleaning all the chimneys as well as the stoves.
  2529. >When they finish you reward them with a shilling, three pence, and the bottle of gin.
  2530. >Day turns to night, and Sir File descends the stairs wearing a proper tailcoat, complete with double breasted vest, a stiff white shirt, and a white cravat.
  2531. >Even though you promised yourself to wear the blue and white dress for your next outing, you chose the shimmering silver dress.
  2532. >Meadow again chose her golden dress, but this time it is appropriate for this formal evening.
  2533. >Both of you wear white socks as an approximation for long gloves.
  2534. >Sir File wouldn't like it if you can't blend into polite society.
  2535. >It is easy to hire a passing carriage, and the driver loads the luggage.
  2536. >Nearly an hour later you are in London.
  2537. >At first, you see more commoners than gentry, but this changes as you go deeper into the city.
  2538. >Occasionally a child, or a pony comes up to the carriage to beg for alms, but the driver discourages them with a few swipes of his club, much to the amusement of Sir File.
  2539. 15/22
  2540. >The smell of the Thames is tolerable today, unlike the last time you visited London.
  2541. >That week was particularly warm, which made the stench of raw sewage unbearable.
  2542. >Sir File's townhouse is unremarkable from the others.
  2543. >It is in Georgian style, as opposed to the newer Victorian row houses.
  2544. >The handmade bricks are black and irregular, which contrasts nicely with the white door frame and white edges of the windows.
  2545. >A cast iron fence is placed only a few feet from the entrance, and two gas lights stand vigil.
  2546. >You can see the lamplighter in the distance, still lighting street lights.
  2547. >Meadow unlocks the door for the driver, who quickly places the luggage inside before taking you to the opera house.
  2548. >You hoped to see the inside of the Royal Opera House, but it burned down in March.
  2549. >The city has yet to begin work on the a replacement, so instead you go to a smaller venue in the West End.
  2550. >The theatre isn't quite as opulent at the Royal Opera House, which is slightly disappointing.
  2551. >All around you are well dressed gentlemen, ladies, and their ponies.
  2552. >Meadow Flower bounces in her seat as if to cope with her excitement.
  2553. >She has never been to an opera.
  2554. >When you dismount a child tries to beg, but one of the theatre's bully boys sends him on his way with a kick.
  2555. >"Sorry, sir. It's difficult to keep an eye on all of them," the man says to your master.
  2556. >"It's quite alright. The Right Honorable Lord Mayor is to blame. He should round them all up and send them to the workhouses."
  2557. >"Aye," the bully boy agrees, before continuing his patrol.
  2558. >A voice speaks up.
  2559. >"But, Sir File, the workhouses are truly atrocious. How can you condemn a child to grinding bones for a living?"
  2560. >You look up and see Mr. Burwell standing, with ticket in hand.
  2561. >"They are supposed to be unpleasant, Reginald. It encourages boys to find an apprenticeship."
  2562. >"It is difficult for them now that ponies have supplanted them for much of the simple labor."
  2563. 16/22
  2564. >"They are being lazy. The human mind is superior to that of a pony. There will always be a need for children to work."
  2565. >"I suppose you would know better than I."
  2566. >"You really should purchase a pony. It is in fashion."
  2567. >Mr. Burwell looks over at you and Meadow.
  2568. >"Perhaps I shall. I saw an interesting mare earlier today. She practices illusions with such a flair that it is nearly unbelievable."
  2569. >"You and your charms..."
  2570. >He brushes his moustache.
  2571. >"I have been improving. Will Lord Camberly be joining us?"
  2572. >File shakes his head.
  2573. >"Parliament is still in session," he says before leaning in conspiratorially. "The Royal Navy shelled four Chinese forts last month, and I suspect they are hunting Shi Gaofan's junks as we speak. It will be in the papers tomorrow."
  2574. >"Finally some justice for the Sea Wench."
  2575. >File frowns at this.
  2576. >He is still unwilling to admit that she was lost to Chinese pirates.
  2577. >"It is time to teach those Chinese a lesson they shall not soon forget."
  2578. >"So there is to be a second opium war?"
  2579. >Sir File shrugs.
  2580. >"That is for Parliament to decide."
  2581. >Last month was October.
  2582. >You're not sure how long it takes for a letter to travel all the way from Hong Kong.
  2583. >You've heard that it takes months for cutters to sail around the horn of Africa, up past the Iberian peninsula, before finally arriving in London.
  2584. >The new steam ships are faster, and can sail without needing favorable winds.
  2585. >Travel would be so much faster with a few Pegasi to speed them along.
  2586. >Or if they built that canal in Egypt they keep discussing in the papers.
  2587. >Your curiosity gets the better of you, and you speak up.
  2588. "How long does it take for a letter to arrive from Asia?"
  2589. >Reginald lights up, eager to explain.
  2590. 17/22
  2591. >"It is no simple task. A ship must sail through the China sea, around Singapore, through the Strait of Malacca, which is a most perilous journey even when there are no monsoons. It can take perhaps eleven days before arriving in India. From there, it is carried by rail to either Cairo or Istanbul. Only then can it be transmitted through telegraph to London."
  2592. >File gives an approving nod to his friend.
  2593. >"After the Chinese are put to the sword, I do not doubt an enterprising gentleman will lay cable through China to Hong Kong. That would be quite an investment."
  2594. >"It would. Shall we?"
  2595. >You follow Mr. Burwell into the theatre.
  2596. >The foyer is brightly lit with gas lights, and sparkling chandeliers.
  2597. >Paintings of previous plays, operas, and magicians line the room.
  2598. >A few musicians play string instruments on the second floor, so everypony can see them.
  2599. >And, oh Celestia!
  2600. >The ceiling is covered with an enormous mural, with depictions of angels singing, and dancing.
  2601. >You recognize a few of the people in the crowd, though you do not recall their names.
  2602. >They must have visited the manor at some point.
  2603. >Reginald stops a pony and waves at you to take a drink.
  2604. >It's champagne!
  2605. >This is certainly a treat!
  2606. >You look over at Meadow, who also notices the absurdity of serving champagne to ponies.
  2607. >"A toast to the Queen," Sir File says as he lifts his glass.
  2608. "To the Queen," you all repeat in unison before drinking the sparkling wine.
  2609. >The taste is magical.
  2610. >Light and fruity, with just a hint of earthiness.
  2611. >It's perhaps the best wine you have ever enjoyed.
  2612. >"Champagne," Meadow whispers to you.
  2613. "I know." You smile. "Try to act unimpressed."
  2614. >She makes an awkward contortion to force herself to frown, but a giggle quickly escapes from her.
  2615. >"Are you enjoying yourself, ponies?" Sir File asks with some amusement.
  2616. "Very much so. Thank you for bringing us."
  2617. >Meadow nods in agreement.
  2618. 18/22
  2619. >"Good. If you conduct yourselves well, then, who knows. I could be persuaded to order a bottle for you."
  2620. >Your ears lift up.
  2621. "Oh, thank you, Sir File."
  2622. >Reginald takes a pamphlet from the a table near you.
  2623. >"By chance, do you two speak French?"
  2624. >"No, Mr. Burwell," Meadow says bashfully. "We haven't learned."
  2625. >"Quite alright. This pamphlet will explain the story, and," he smiles. "I would be honored to translate the important parts."
  2626. >You and Meadow exchange excited glances.
  2627. >What did you do to earn this?
  2628. >Your master smiles.
  2629. >"You see, ponies. When you behave, I can be kind to you. The entire empire is at our disposal." He waves an arm to show you the room and bumps into the man next to him. "Oh, pardon me, si- Mr. Ymous."
  2630. >Buck.
  2631. >His smile instantly turns to a scowl, and you look up.
  2632. >Anon brushes his tailcoat as if the momentary touch was enough to soil it.
  2633. >The two men stand awkwardly, both wondering if they should engage each other.
  2634. >"You should be more careful. This foyer is quite crowded," Sir File starts.
  2635. >"It was you who bumped into me."
  2636. >"That area was clear before you bumbled into my arm."
  2637. >Anon frowns at this.
  2638. >"And there was no arm when I was walking past."
  2639. >"It is no trouble at all," File says with a faux pleasant voice. "I know you have a penchant for the drink."
  2640. >Your jaw drops at the quip.
  2641. >Anon Ymous is many things, but he is not a drunk.
  2642. >He takes a deep breath before responding.
  2643. >"I was momentarily distracted, nothing more."
  2644. >"Of course! Just a simple mistake." Sir File takes a flute from a passing pony. "Another drink perhaps?"
  2645. >"No, thank you. One was enough."
  2646. >"Very well."
  2647. >File passes the drink to Meadow Flower before he takes the smallest sip from his glass to hide his smile.
  2648. >Meadow has to fly to hold both cups.
  2649. >You can feel your heart racing.
  2650. >"What a lovely coat you have."
  2651. >Your master makes a confused look and glances over at Mr. Burwell.
  2652. >He shrugs in reply.
  2653. >"Thank you," File says before taking another sip.
  2654. 19/22
  2655. >Anon smirks.
  2656. >"It looks quite affordable."
  2657. >File nearly spills his champagne.
  2658. >"It was made in Saville Row."
  2659. >"Really? I wouldn't have guessed."
  2660. >"I understand. When you only purchase second hand coats it can be hard to distinguish quality."
  2661. >Anon balls his free hand into a fist and clenches several times.
  2662. >"I should say the same about yourself."
  2663. >Reginald begins to speak but Sir File cuts him off.
  2664. >"Did you bring your…" He clenches his teeth and speaks the next word as if it was distasteful to utter. "Creature as well?"
  2665. >"He is in the water closet at the moment. Where are you seated? In the pit?"
  2666. >That is where the colored people who can't afford a seat, stand.
  2667. >"Lord Camberly allowed us use of his box."
  2668. >"A truly generous man. Soarin and I are also on the balcony."
  2669. >"Perhaps we will see you there."
  2670. >"Perhaps, but enough of this," he hesitates. "I respectfully thank you for not pursuing the matter with Soarin further."
  2671. >File's hand lightly pets your mane.
  2672. >"I am a very forgiving and kind hearted man, but even my infinite patience was tested. It was only by the urging of Melody here that he was spared. You should thank her."
  2673. "No thanks are needed, Mr. Ymous. I should not have allowed him to have those last few drinks," you lie to help him save face.
  2674. >"But I thank you regardless." He turns back to Sir File. "If it pleases you, I would like Soarin to apologize to you directly for causing any trouble."
  2675. >"It does not please me. He can apologize by staying far away."
  2676. >Anon frowns at this.
  2677. >Clearly this evening is not going the way he had hoped.
  2678. >"He had in his mind that this could all be forgotten."
  2679. >"And it has been," File says. "Let us leave it at that."
  2680. >That is a half truth.
  2681. >You know File still holds a grudge, but people have moved on to new gossip.
  2682. >A man on the balcony waves his hand and the band stops playing.
  2683. >"Les Vepres Siciliennes will begin in five minutes. Please take your seats."
  2684. 20/22
  2685. >The crowd begins making their way into the auditorium.
  2686. >Anon disappears into the crowd, and you and the others begin moving to your seats.
  2687. >"I didn't see Angelique or Miss Mary. Do you think they were delayed."
  2688. >"No. I think Angelique wants to arrive fashionably late."
  2689. >"Hmm. Then we will speak to them during the intermission."
  2690. >You all climb the stairs to what you assume is Lord Camberly's box.
  2691. >It's moderately sized, with room for eight seats.
  2692. >Curtains are on both sides of the balcony, for privacy, and you have an excellent view.
  2693. >To the side of the stage is a large orchestra, complete with conductor, playing soothing music.
  2694. >No doubt they have been practicing for months for a perfect show.
  2695. >The room is filled to the brim with people and ponies.
  2696. >All the walls not covered with curtains are ornately decorated with gilded molding.
  2697. >You imagine that over two thousand people could fit inside.
  2698. >Sir File and Reginald sit down, with empty seats between them.
  2699. >"This is amazing," Meadow whispers to you.
  2700. "I can't wait. It's been forever since I have seen a performance."
  2701. >"Do you think we will come again?"
  2702. >You glance over at your master who is flipping through his leaflet.
  2703. "I hope so."
  2704. >You both sit next to Reginald, so he can translate for you.
  2705. >In the corner of your vision, you see Anon sitting down.
  2706. >Soarin flies in behind him.
  2707. >Neither of them seem to notice you.
  2708. >"There they are," Sir File points out.
  2709. >"I do not understand why he vexes you so."
  2710. >"He is a commoner, Reginald, who acts beyond his station. Society is structured this way to ensure order."
  2711. >Mr. Burwell crosses his arms and leans back into his chair.
  2712. >"Be that as it may, merit can raise a man. Such as when King George named your father a baronet."
  2713. >File frowns at this, but doesn't disagree.
  2714. >Both Anon and Soarin look behind them and stand up to make room for guests.
  2715. >You feel your ears lowering.
  2716. 21/22
  2717. >Day Blink enters and greets Anon and Soarin.
  2718. >Miss Mary isn't far behind and takes her place next to Mr. Ymous.
  2719. >You glance over at Mr. Burwell, who is pretending to watch the orchestra intently.
  2720. >Sir File does not attempt to make any pretense of civility and glares at his rival.
  2721. >Meadow's eyes catch yours and you can tell she understands the predicament.
  2722. >After a moment, you allow yourself to breathe.
  2723. >Angelique isn't there, so Sir File will not feel he is being slighted.
  2724. >At least this night won't be completely ruined.
  2725. >Just as you look away, you see a curtain flutter.
  2726. >Anon stands up graciously for his guest.
  2727. >A woman with golden hair arrives, and Anon takes her hand to show her to her chair.
  2728. >Sir File clenches his leather gloves, making a sickening sound.
  2729. >It's Mademoiselle Angelique.
  2730. 22/22
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