Much Ahoof About Nothing Part 3 starring Princess Celestia and her faithful student Twilight Sparkle
Later that day Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, dressed in the new gowns that Rarity had designed especially for the Spring Moon Festival, were waiting in the Town Square in the clear and mild spring air for Twilight to arrive with their transportation.
"I thought we were going by air balloon," said Pinkie Pie with some disappointment. The truth was, she loved flying in it every opportunity she could get.
"Now darling," said Rarity indulgently. "That's scarcely a dignified way for us to arrive in Canterlot, all squashed together in that tiny gondola! Besides, it's traditional when travelling to Canterlot to go by coach."
"That reminds me," said Applejack. "I wonder who Twi's gonna get to pull it this time – everypony is awful busy at the moment, what with all the spring cleanin' and plantin' goin' on."
Just then there was a sharp clatter of cartwheels on cobblestones as a coach burst out from behind a nearby row of houses and came racing along the road at breakneck speed. It was a stately vehicle, not unlike the one that had taken them to the Grand Galloping Gala - but strangely, this one was not being drawn by ponies and the driver's seat was empty, the reins swivelling back and forth in the air of their own accord.
Everypony stared at it, wide-eyed and rooted to the spot by the shock of its sudden appearance, and they were still staring when, with a sudden twist of the floating reins, it turned and came careening towards them.
At the last moment the strange device veered to the right and came to an abrupt and shuddering halt a foot from the wall of the Town Hall. The door on its side flew open and Spike, dressed in his little suit and clutching his top-hat to his head, crawled out, his face a deep green colour. He stumbled towards the bewildered ponies in a dizzy zigzag, while behind him Twilight clambered out as well and leaned against the coach to steady herself as her friends continued staring at her in dumbfounded astonishment.
"I'm alive! I'm alive!" cried Spike, falling to the ground and kissing the cobblestones. "Oh thank Celestia, I'm alive!"
Twilight glared at the little dragon and despite being dizzy she was still able to act with characteristic exasperation. "Oh come on Spike. I admit the spell needs a little work, but it wasn't all that bad!"
"Well, Ah'll be! A ponyless carriage," chuckled Applejack, who had trotted over to it to investigate and was busy kicking the cartwheels. "What'll you think of next, Twi?"
"I found an old spell that makes a coach move under its own power," explained Twilight with pride. "And it works perfectly."
"…perfectly?" asked Fluttershy, who had just now come out from behind Pinkie Pie after the alarming ordeal.
"Well, the spell worked perfectly," said Twilight with chagrin. "The only problem is I'm not very good at driving."
"Oh, just leave that to me, Twilight!" said Pinkie Pie, clopping her forehooves together in excitement. "I'm completely competent at controlling any kind of crazy cantankerous contraption!"
"Ah dunno, Pinkie," said Applejack, considering the little pink pony through narrowed eyes. "Ah've seen you pilot that air balloon and it's come awful close to plungin' into the Lake and crashing into the Whitetail Woods a couple o' times."
Pinkie blinked at her friend. "Oh, that's just after I've had a few too many snacks. The sugar gets me all jittery skittery and my forehooves can't be as non-twitchy as they usually are!"
"'Non-twitchy'?" repeated Twilight, frowning. Then she sighed. "Well, I guess you can't do nearly as bad a job as me, Pinkie. I guess I'll leave the driving up to you."
While Pinkie bounced up and down in typical Pinkie-Pie glee, Spike made his way up to the assembled ponies, obviously feeling better now and walking a lot straighter. He looked at the five friends and whistled in obvious appreciation . "Wow, Rarity! You sure did a great job with everypony's dresses!"
Rarity beamed at the little dragon. "Why, aren't you the most charming little gentleman, Spike! I'll admit, it was a challenge to find the right balance between formal and casual - for an event like the Spring Moon Festival, it's essential to be light and airy, while for a soiree with Canterlot Royalty, one must have formal elements as well of course – otherwise one risks causing grave offence!"
As they all climbed into the coach and got comfortable Rarity continued to wax lyrical about how the lightness of the tulle in the skirts offset the formality of the satin they were cut from. Twilight smiled softly to herself. Everypony, even her friends, thought that Princess Celestia was concerned with royal procedure and the proper way of doing things. Twilight knew better, though. The Princess took care to go through the necessary motions because that was the way "things had always been done," and she didn't want to upset the aristocracy. But Twilight knew that she sometimes found all the little rules and minutiae of Canterlot life to be a bit tiresome and would rail against them when nopony else but her was around. She had often joked about sending the entire aristocracy to the moon for a little while until they were cured of their pretentiousness. As a little filly, Twilight had half-expected to wake up one morning to find the long lines of squabbling and chattering earls and barons and princes and marquises at the Royal Audience all gone and the Princess herself alone on the throne, a self-satisfied smile on her face. But to Twilight's disappointment it had never happened.
"Is everypony ready?" asked Pinkie from the front of the coach, holding the reins in her mouth and champing at the bit to start driving.
"Ready!" chorused her friends from inside the coach.
And so with a surge of magic Twilight set the coach in motion, this time at a far more leisurely speed. Pinkie Pie, despite Applejack's trepidation, proved quite adept at controlling the vehicle and soon they'd left the little streets of Ponyville behind and were driving among the foothills, about to start on the long ascent up into the Canterlot Mountains themselves.
Spike climbed up and sat next to Pinkie to help her navigate the steep mountain paths that lead up to the Castle while Fluttershy, Applejack and Rarity became embroiled in a deep discussion about what the evening's festivities would be like. Twilight's mind, tired by her magical exertions, began to wander, helped along by the rocking of the coach that lulled her into a sleepy half-dreaming reverie. Her heart, for the first time in weeks, was calm once more, and she had the wonderful anticipation of seeing the Princess again to thank for it. Getting letters from her was all well and good, but seeing her again, in person!
Twilight resisted the urge to bring her forehooves to her mouth and squeal with pleasure. The thought made every little hair on her body stand up like it was filled with electricity and a delightful warmth spread throughout her body.
Being with the Princess always makes me so happy, she thought. Ever since that very first day when I went to live in the Castle...
It had been on a bright spring day just like today that Twilight's parents had brought her to the Castle to live and study under the personal tutelage of Princess Celestia herself. The long walk through the city to the main gates of the Castle had been just like the one they'd all made on the day Twilight had come to sit for the Entrance Examination - but this time, instead of the stern and uncaring faces of the members Board of Magical Inductions waiting for them in the grand Inner Courtyard, it had been the smiling face of the Princess that had greeted them. The tiled piazza and the marble of the great walls had shone so brightly that it had been if they'd stepped into the centre of the sun itself, but somehow the Princess' smile was even brighter still.
"It's such an incredible honour!" was all that Twilight's mother had been able to say, as the three of them knelt before the Princess. Ever since Twilight had been accepted into the Canterlot School for Gifted Unicorns - no, not just accepted, but chosen to be the Princess' protege! - it was all that her mother seemed to have been able to say, over and over again until it was almost an incantation. But today, as she said it, she was crying – Twilight watched the little dark patches appear on the glowing cobblestones she was staring down at as her mother's tears struck them.
"Mr and Mrs Sparkle," The Princess's words had been warmer than the spring sunshine that surrounded them all that day and the three of them had looked up to see her still smiling down benevolently. "Please feel free to come and visit Twilight whenever you wish. The gates of Canterlot are forever open to you both."
It seemed like Celestia always knew the exact right thing to say, for Twilight's parents had been transformed by those simple words – her mother had finally stopped crying, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief, and her father's stiff smile, hiding the pain of saying goodbye to his daughter for the first time, had softened.
As the Princess and her parents spoke together, Twilight stood there smiling, but inside she was praying that her mother wouldn't say or do anything embarrassing.
When it finally came time to say goodbye, it seemed that her mother didn't want to ever break the hug that held the little unicorn filly to her. Twilight had eventually squirmed herself free, blushing in embarrassment at her mother behaving that way in front of the Princess herself. "Oh mom! I'll be fine."
"You haven't forgotten anything have you, Twilight?" her mother was still fussing about, checking her saddlebags. "You've got your toothbrush and your horn wax and…" Twilight rolled her eyes in consternation and was about to say something when her father laid a forehoof on her mother's shoulder and pulled her away.
"Now dear," he said. "If Twilight's forgotten something, we can always come by and drop it in for her."
Twilight rolled her eyes. "You can just post it, you know," she sniffed. "The Dragon Post accepts packages now as well, as long as they're under fifty pounds."
Her mother smiled. "Oh, well of course they do, dear."
After what had felt like an eternity of goodbyes, Twilight and the Princess finally walked through the Innermost Gate, leaving her parents still waving and shouting their goodbyes as the two had started along the great main corridor that led deep into the Castle keep.
Twilight looked up at the Princess apologetically. "I'm so sorry about my parents, Princess. They're always like that."
Celestia laughed, and the sound made it seem like the sunshine outside had crept in to illuminate the corridor rather than the torches that hung from iron sconces along its stone walls. "Oh, Twilight Sparkle! You're a remarkably strong filly not to have cried when you said goodbye to your mother and father."
Twilight had grinned in delight at the Princess's words.
As they walked together, Twilight hung on Celestia's every word, her eyes only grudgingly leaving the beautiful alicorn whenever she pointed out a tapestry or suit of armour they passed by to tell her the history behind them.
Twilight's chest was filled to overflowing with happiness. The Princess knew so many things, and she made no attempt to talk down to her like her teachers had in Canterlot Elementary. The way the Princess spoke to her was like she was a grown-up, but more than that…
…a friend even!
At the thought, Twilight felt her heart leap into her chest and she'd gasped.
"Are you alright, Twilight Sparkle?"
Twilight looked up into Celestia's mauve eyes, which were full of concern, and for a second the universe and everything in it disappeared, until at last Twilight had managed to answer.
"I'm sorry, Princess," she whispered. "It's just that I'm so… happy."
Celestia chuckled. "You don't ever need to apologise for being happy, my dear Twilight Sparkle."
They continued to walk in a comfortable silence for a while when the Princess spoke again.
"I do hope you're not afraid of heights," Celestia said. "I've chosen a little tower for you to stay in in the East wing. It hasn't been used for a long while, and I thought it was time to get it cleaned up. I hope you don't mind…"
A whole tower? Inside, Twilight was galloping in a circle crying 'Yes, yes, yes!' in joy, but outside she kept calm, the only sign the almost impossible deepening of her grin. "Oh, thank you so much Princess!"
"It is my absolute pleasure, Twilight Sparkle." Then the Princess suddenly stopped and looked behind them. "Oh, but I think you dropped something."
Twilight looked down at her saddlebags and noticed that in her efforts to get away from her mother's meddling, the top had of one of them had been left open. Then she looked behind her in the direction of the Princess's gaze.
About three feet away, lying on the cobblestones, there was a tiny little stuffed toy of a pony with button-eyes and a polka-dot pair of pants, and as soon as Twilight recognised it, her face went a deep red. "Oh, it's nothing," she said, flustered. "Let's just keep go…"
But Celestia was already walking over to the doll.
"Please Princess!" Twilight called to her. "You don't need to…"
Celestia leaned down and picked the little doll up in her mouth – her mouth! – and brought it over to Twilight, who accepted it with a crimson blush on her face.
"She's cute!" said Celestia, smiling. "What's her name?"
"Uh… Smartypants." Twilight hadn't wanted to reply, she'd been so embarrassed, but it was the Princess herself who was asking the question. She dropped her gaze. "It's just a silly doll my mom made for me when I was a little foal."
"You don't like her?" asked Celestia.
"I used to like her." said Twilight. "But she's all dirty now and her eyes are all wonky. And no matter how many times I sew them back on, they always come out crooked."
"Well, I really love her mane," said Celestia. "Sometimes things are just like that – a little crooked. Let me show you something."
She led Twilight up to a nearby arched window that overlooked a sleepy little courtyard. "Do you see that tree?"
In the far corner was a tree so gnarled and misshapen that it took several moments for Twilight's mind to register it as a tree at all.
Celestia noted the look of offence on Twilight's face. "Look a little closer…" she said.
And as the little unicorn filly looked, there had appeared a single pink blossom, and then another, and another! And soon it was as if the whole tree had exploded into a starburst of pink flowers.
Twilight gasped in joy, so beautiful was the sight. But then the blossoms had faded away, and with them the magical halo enveloping Celestia's horn.
"What just happened?" asked Twilight.
Celestia sighed. "It was just a memory," she said. "Brought to life for a moment so you could see it. That tree is my favourite in all of the grounds of Canterlot Castle – when I was a lot younger, maybe even not much older than you – I can't remember though, since it was so very long ago…" She winked at Twilight. "It used to bloom just like that. It's a peach tree - it even had fruit on it once. But then one day, about three hundred years ago, it stopped blossoming all of a sudden. A lot of the aristocracy wanted to replace it, but I wouldn't allow it. Is that what we do to things that no longer delight us?"
Twilight's eyes had gone wide, and in silence she'd put Smartypants away in her saddlebag.
Celestia had looked at her, her eyes literally glowing in pride. "Oh, I just know you're going to be my favourite student, Twilight Sparkle."
Twilight's eyes misted up at the memory. She'd never forgotten the lesson the Princess had taught her that day. She'd learned so much from her, and not just magic either.
But just then Pinkie Pie, cried out from in front, bringing Twilight's reverie to an abrupt end. "Look everypony! It's Canterlot Castle!"
And there indeed it was, looming up from beneath them as the coach crested a steep rise. But between them and their goal the road zigzagged down a steep cliff, barely wide enough for a pony, never mind a coach.
"Aw jeeze," said Spike at her side, slapping a claw to his forehead. "I forgot how steep this road gets. Sorry Pinkie - there's no way the coach will make it. I guess we'll have to go back and try another road."
"What are you talking about, Spikey Wikey?" said Pinkie cheerily. "It's not that steep. We can totally make it!" She snapped the reins and the coach sped up. "Besides, we're already late - and we need to take a short-cut if we don't want to leave the Princesses waiting!"
"No, Pinkie!" cried Twilight, leaning up out of the window and attempting to wrestle the reins off the little pink pony. "You'll smash us all to bits!"
But it was too late. With gravity and speed on the impetuous Pinkie's side, the coach quickly reached terminal velocity and flew straight over the edge of the cliff and into the open air as the occupants screamed in terror and the little pink pony at the reins whooped with delight.
High up in the same Inner Courtyard of Canterlot Castle that Twilight had just been recalling, the Princesses stood waiting for Twilight and her friends to arrive.
Suddenly, Celestia's eyes went wide. "I just realised something, Luna" said Celestia, turning to her sister. "It's the Spring Moon Festival!"
Luna looked at her through narrowed eyes. "Yes, sister. But then I thought you already knew that."
Celestia shook her head. "No. What I mean is that it's an evening for couples to enjoy." She brought a forehoof to her temple. "Oh, I should have let Twilight and the others bring a date if they wanted to!"
Luna sighed. "Well, Twilight gave no indication that she already had plans for the evening. You're worrying about nothing, sister. And besides, it's my fault anyway. I, of all ponies, should have remembered – tonight is for lovers, is it not?" Her eyes sparkled.
Tonight is for lovers… thought Celestia. Now when was the last time somepony said that to me?
"The Court thought that tonight would be an ideal time for you to finally make a choice, Highness," said the dashingly handsome unicorn stallion kneeling at the foot of her throne. He lifted his head with its tousled black mane, his piercing blue eyes considering her with an air that was as confrontational as it was charming. "After all, the night of the Spring Moon Festival is an auspicious one for lovers."
As Celestia stepped down from her throne, the unicorn stallion got to his feet without waiting for her permission. His bow had been precisely as deep as protocol demanded and not a single inch deeper.
That was Lord Quasar all over. All the ladies of the court found his smiling arrogance charming, but Celestia found it annoying. The Lord was handsome, it was true, and he was of the purest bloodline of all Canterlot royalty, stretching right back a thousand years. It was said he could trace his family back to the lady Jubilee – a very fine pedigree indeed.
"My choice?" repeated Celestia, feigning ignorance.
Quasar's eyes crinkled at their edge in deferential humour. "Why yes, Princess. You have not forgotten the Court's suggestion that you choose one of our number as your consort and raise them to alicornhood, have you? As I recall you viewed it with approval."
Only as a way to stop the incessant infighting that was tearing the Court apart, thought Celestia. She'd walked into a few audiences half expecting the stallions waiting there in their finery and glaring blackly at each other to start biting and kicking each other at any moment, but her half-muttered assent had put a stop to it for a while.
Quasar cocked his head, clearly wondering what was going through her head. "With another alicorn at your side you would be absolved of the added and onerous duty of raising the moon as well as the sun." A thin smile crept onto his lips. "That would leave you at leisure on an evening such as tonight and free to enjoy yourself."
He was a clever one, this Quasar. He could see the tightness of her eyes, the slight dimness of her auroric mane and tail. She was exhausted, it was true, even with the almost limitless power of alicorn-kind to maintain her. Raising and lowering the celestial bodies was no small feat. Tradition demanded that the moon be far larger than normal for the Spring Moon Festival, and the drain on her energy in maintaining it was considerable. His words were all the more tempting. What matter if she chose to raise him to alicorn hood and took him as her consort? Longevity was one thing she could not bestow on another, so that any mistake she made would not be a permanent one.
But then the long line of future consorts appeared before Celestia's eyes, an endless troop arrayed along the barely visible endless sequence of tomorrows. She would live to bury them all, of course, and even if she never took one who she loved truly, the thought of hanging over them like a grim reaper, of becoming that old joke of the 'black widow' who did her husbands in, made her flush inwardly in embarrassment.
After a while she lifted her eyes and looked at the stallion with sudden challenge. "I suppose you see yourself in the position, Lord Quasar?" she said.
Quasar stared at the Princess, totally disarmed with having his machinations so bluntly uncovered. "Well," he said, carefully. "My name was one of those that came up during the discussion."
"I'm flattered by your romantic interest," said Celestia, her words dripping caustic courtesy. "But I am afraid that I have yet to come to any decision on which pony I choose to take as my partner." She turned to look out of the tall arched windows of the audience chamber at the early evening sky, where the huge disk of the Spring Moon was just now beginning to rise. "For, Lord Quasar, I have seen it in the stars that Nightmare Moon will soon return, and the one who took my hoof in marriage would have to be ready to fight her by my side. That is not a responsibility I would wish to place on another lightly."
"Night... Nightmare Moon?" Quasar's eyes went impossibly wide."But I thought… I mean, we thought… that she was just an old mare's tale!"
"Oh, she is quite real," said Celestia. "Can you not see her in the disk of the moon, her eyes staring down at you?"
Quasar followed Celestia's gaze, but he could only look at the coldly shining moon for a few moments before he pulled away. "Forgive me, Princess." And with that he bowed low then turned and walked away from the throne, breaking into a canter as he neared the arch that led outside.
Celestia gazed up at the moon, her eyes growing misty in the orb's light. "I'm sorry for using you as an excuse, my dear sister. But it is true that the time of your return is coming so very soon." She closed her eyes. "What is it about this time of year? The Spring Moon Festival? It always brings out the worst in me it seems."
You're just finding excuses now, she thought. Quasar is a perfectly suitable choice for consort. A little stuck up, perhaps, and taking a bit too much delight in courtly intrigue and obsessed with status, but he would mellow with time. There is a good hearted stallion under that arrogance. And it would be good to have more time to myself… to be free for just one day would be a blessing. And with the thousand-year anniversary coming up…
But then why does the thought of marriage fill me with such dread?
Celestia was still standing there on the red carpet when the door to the throne room creaked open again. Had Quasar thought of another approach and come back to try again? He was smart, and he probably realised that she would start to vacillate….
…but it wasn't Quasar. It was Twilight Sparkle that popped her head in through the crack.
Celestia's heart lifted at the sight of her protege. "Twilight Sparkle! Such impeccable timing," she said. "Please come in."
"I noticed Lord Quasar in the Inner Courtyard," said Twilight as she trotted up. "He looked quite put out, so I thought that maybe you two had had another argument."
Celestia sighed. "Oh, it was nothing important. We were just discussing marriage."
At the word 'marriage', Twilight's face caved in. "You're going to get married, Princess?" she whispered. "To Lord Quasar?"
Celestia burst out laughing. "Oh, my favourite student! Of course I'm not going to marry Lord Quasar."
Twilight's face brightened. "Really?"
"Do you really think I'd marry him?" asked Celestia. "Do you think he's my type?"
Twilight came up close to her. "No, he's not your type, Princess."
"So what is my type, do you think, Twilight?" she asked.
Twilight brought a forehoof to her chin. "Well, for one thing he'd have to be intelligent," she reasoned. "To match up with you, since you're so smart…"
Celestia laughed. "Oh, Twilight! You flatter me."
Twilight looked at her in all seriousness. "Well, it's true. He'd also have to be kind and wise and…" She blushed suddenly. "Handsome as well, because you're so beautiful, Princess."
Celestia smiled. "Intelligent, kind, wise and handsome? Oh, Twilight Sparkle. It sounds as if you're trying to doom me to eternal spinsterhood. I don't know if any such pony exists in all of Equestria."
Twilight frowned. "So you are thinking of getting married."
"Oh, not seriously," replied the Princess. "I'm merely thinking aloud. It's just that it's the Spring Moon Festival, as you know."
"Oh, I know," said Twilight. The smile that had begun to appear on her face was quickly replaced with yet another frown, deeper this time. "I don't much enjoy the festival."
You and I both, my faithful student. But for different reasons, I suspect. "Aren't you going out tonight? I hear that Moondancer is having one of her famous parties."
"Oh, yes, well," said Twilight, suddenly embarrassed. "I'm thinking of spending the evening working on my research paper on amniomorphic magic. I'm really behind – the old Eqquish that Starswirl wrote his notes in is almost incomprehensible."
"You're not planning on going to the party?" asked Celestia. She had to make herself sound disappointed.
Twilight shrugged. "The same thing happens every year. Moondancer drinks too much sarsaparilla and all sorts of stuff happens."
"Stuff?" Celestia raised an eyebrow.
"Everypony ends up kissing," said Twilight. "It's so… so… unhygienic." She stuck out her tongue.
Celestia tried not to giggle at the look of disgust on the lavender-coated unicorn's face. "You know, Twilight Sparkle, some ponies enjoy kissing."
"I don't mind the idea of kissing," said Twilight. "I just want my first kiss to be with somepony special." She sighed. "Somepony I love."
"I never knew you were such a romantic," said Celestia in surprise.
"Oh, I don't really care for all that soppy romance stuff," said Twilight. "But a first kiss is special."
"You're quite right," said Celestia. "But what about that nice colt you were telling me about?" She brought a hoof to her chin. "His name was 'Asteroid' or something as I recall..."
Twilight giggled. "Do you mean Asteron?" He was a young petty nobleman's son who enjoyed puzzles, cute rather than handsome in an unassuming way. He'd seemed such a good match for Twilight, which is why Celestia had unobtrusively set the whole thing up in the first place. "We kind of broke up." She didn't at all seem upset.
"That's a shame," said Celestia, not at all disappointed to learn of the failure of her matchmaking. "He seemed so nice."
"Oh, he was nice," said Twilight. "I guess there was just no spark between us." She sighed. "In fact, I don't know if I've ever felt a... a spark with any colt I've met."
"You should really give them more of a chance," said Celestia gently. "It's not always as sudden as a 'spark", you know."
Twilight's face took on a look of annoyance. "Oh, but they always want to go and do stuff that doesn't interest me."
Celestia smiled. "They can be a pain at times, but they can be also be quite charming, you know. And sometimes it's nice to have somepony around to talk to when you feel sad or lonely or..." She stopped, realising that Twilight was staring at her.
"But Princess," protested Twilight. "You don't have a stallion by your side."
Celestia's opened her mouth to justify herself, but then she laughed instead. "You have me there, Twilight Sparkle." She sighed, looking once again at the full spring moon in the darkening night sky beyond the tall windows. "So I guess we're both alone during the Spring Moon Festival."
Twilight came close up beside her. "I much prefer being here with you, Princess, than at some stupid party."
Celestia's heart skipped a beat. "You can't be serious," she replied, laughing. "I'm no fun."
Twilight looked at her, the same frown on her face that she wore whenever she felt she was being patronised. "Oh, of course you are Princess! How about that night we spent discussing the Second Griffin War?"
"Yes, well," Celestia smiled. "It seems we both have a pretty unique idea of what 'fun' is."
"I guess I just like spending time with you," said Twilight, looking up at her with a shy smile.
The burst of frightening happiness that gripped Celestia at that moment was echoed in a surge in the happy noise of the spring moon festivities outside, and she smiled back at Twilight. "It sounds as if the fireworks are going to begin in a short while," she said. "You'll miss them if you stay down here, reading all night. I usually watch them from the eastern battlements - the view is most impressive." She hesitated a moment, but then continued. "Why don't you join me?"
"J-join you?" stammered Twilight. "But Princess, don't you have other plans?"
"None at all, my dear Twilight Sparkle." Celestia brought her lips close to her ear, not noticing the blush that appeared on the unicorn's face. "You see, the truth is I don't really care for the Spring Moon Festival either."
Later, as they'd stood on the eastern battlements looking out across the darkened landscape of Equestria and waited for the fireworks to begin, Celestia had chastised herself for her selfishness.
You really should be ashamed of yourself, she thought. Making the poor girl keep you company! She'll never meet a nice colt if you keep monopolising her time.
But then the fireworks had started, and the sky had exploded into a series of fiery blossoms, each more spectacular and colourful than the last, which were met with a chorus of loud "ooh"s and "ahh"s that rose up from the crowds of ponies gathered in the countless darkened squares and gardens and streets of Canterlot far below them. And all the while the little lavender-coated unicorn at her side had chattered on and on about the fascinating chemical reactions responsible for the beautiful colours they were seeing, and with every word Celestia had felt as if the fireworks were being reflected somewhere deep within her heart.
Why does being with her fill with me with such happiness? she wondered. Am I really so lonely? She lifted her eyes to the moon overhead. Maybe once Luna is back, these foolish feelings will disappear.
Celestia's reverie was broken a moment later by a coach hurtling down through the air into the Inner Courtyard. The Pegasus guards stationed at the gate jumped in its path, but the barrelling vehicle made short work of them, tossing them aside like dolls, and now on all four wheels again the coach picked up speed and raced towards the two Princesses.
Celestia and Luna didn't hesitate. Lowering their horns in unison, a brilliant flare of gold and silver light speared from the two alicorns and the coach, enveloped in the shimmering magical aura, came to a sudden, wood-splintering halt. Pinkie and Spike both flew head over heels off the drivers seat, and joined by the other ponies who spilled out of the open door of the coach they all floated, encased in the Princesses' magic, softly onto the ground of the courtyard where they lay, dazed and uncomprehending, in an unseemly pile.
"I am sorry!" said Luna, trying not to laugh. "We could perhaps have been a little gentler. You startled us, that is all."
"Oh no Princess!" said Pinkie, who with her rubber-like body had already bounced back onto all four legs. "It's all my fault! We would have all been squashed flatter than a flapjack if you hadn't stopped us." She rubbed the back of her neck with a forehoof. "I kind of got carried away with my short cut."
"Short cut?" muttered Applejack, holding her head in her forehooves. "The only thing that short-cut would a' cut short is our lives!"
The others were on their hooves now as well, dusting themselves off, and Celestia scanned the group until she saw Twilight. The little unicorn was still dizzy and she staggered rather than walked towards her.
"Oh Princess!!" Twilight cried, steady at last, throwing herself up at Celestia, who grabbed her and hugged her quickly with her forelegs before putting her back down again.
"Twilight Sparkle," Celestia smiled down at her warmly. "My faithful student. It's so nice to have you home at last!"
Luna turned to the others. "And welcome and well met to you all," she said, grinning. "We are most pleased by your coming to celebrate the festival of our Spring Moon."
Now that they had recovered and were in a semblance of order, the ponies all dropped onto a knee and bowed their heads respectfully. Twilight looked about, and suddenly embarrassed by her forgetfulness of royal protocol, did the same.
Celestia laughed. "Oh, please, my little ponies. Today you're our guests, so let's not stand on ceremony. Make yourselves at home! Your belongings will be taken to your rooms momentarily. Now perhaps a little light refreshment is in order?"
With a nod of Princess Celestia's horn, a scintillating starburst of light enveloped all of them where they stood, and when the brilliance of her magic dissipated away the walls of the courtyard that had surrounded them had disappeared to be replaced with the great blue dome of the open sky.
They were standing in the open now, and before them were a number of long, rectangular tables covered with multi-tiered platters of sandwiches and cakes and all sorts of dainty snacks and bottles of the finest sarsaparilla.
Everypony was staring at the delectable food spread across the tables, but it was Applejack who first noticed the strangest thing of all. "Now jus' where in Equestria are we?" she asked, looking around. "And why's the ground all fluffy an' white and such?""
"That's not ground," said Fluttershy, pushing on it with a dainty hoof. "It's cloud!"
"Woooooooo!" cried Pinkie, the white, fluffy ground giving her bouncing extra height. "We're a bajillion miles up in the sky!"
The other ponies walked to where the little pink pony was lying and they gasped as one. Pinkie was right! The tables, the chairs, all of them had been transported onto the surface of a cloud that, although not a bajillion miles up in the sky, was very high up indeed.
Below them they could see the great range of the Canterlot Mountains, arching away like the spiny back of a mighty dragon, the many peaks dusted with snow. But it wasn't cold at all – rather, they were up close to the sun which embraced them with a cheerful glow that set their coats sparkling and tingling with warmth.
"Oh, what fun!" cried Luna. "We haven't had a high tea in so long, dear sister!"
"Well, it's a very special occasion," replied Celestia, smiling. "I'm so glad to have my darling Twilight Sparkle and her friends back with us."
All the ponies blushed, but it was Twilight herself who blushed the deepest.
To be continued