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A Noble Heart

By Tight
Created: 16th July 2021 09:31:33 PM
31st May 2021 08:37:40 PM

  1. >You look yourself over in the mirror one last time, patting a stray hair down and getting rid of a speck on your lapel.
  2. >You must be immaculate for what's coming up.
  3. >Seeing no further faults with your appearance, you make your way out of the room, and into the hallway leading into the main hall.
  4. >With a well-practiced eye, you scrutinize the servants gathered here.
  5. >Most will do, but the third colt from the left is going to get a STERN talking to once this is over.
  6. >Gentle Care, if you remember correctly.
  7. >Comes from a small village to the north of Canterlot, not too far from here. Two sisters, loving parents, previously employed as a farmhoof, and a short stint as a butler for a small-time noble.
  8. >He forgot to starch his collar, and it sags miserably compared to the ones of his fellow butlers', who are standing at attention along the walls of the entry hallway.
  9. >Unacceptable.
  10. >You are Tight Schedule, once a maid to the Princesses themselves, tasked with the most important duty of organizing the estate of Equestria's newest noble.
  11. >And he's about to arrive in exactly five minutes and forty-three seconds.
  12.  
  13. >As you count down the seconds to your lord's arrival, you take a last look around the hallway.
  14. >And you must begrudgingly admit that it is spotless.
  15. >As it should be.
  16. >The business of accommodating a noble, least of all a stallion noble, is a precise and meticulous one.
  17. >Celestia knows that the smallest of imperfections can be the start of a strained, to say the least, relationship.
  18. >A stallion's whimsy is so easily provoked and inflamed to ruinous effect.
  19. >You've seen what a male noble can do when in its throes.
  20. >Priceless antiques lying broken on exquisitely crafted carpets.
  21. >Young colts at the very start of a promising career sent off without so much as an opportunity to explain themselves.
  22. >It can be a terrifying, destructive force.
  23. >That's why it must be placated at all cost.
  24. >And making a good first impression is the most important part of that.
  25.  
  26. >You take out your pocket watch, a small marvel of unicorn ingenuity, its strips of metal and springs wound tighter than any pony's hoof could ever wind them.
  27. >Five
  28. >Four
  29. >Three
  30. >You hide the watch, and straighten yourself out, facing the front door.
  31. >Two
  32. >One
  33. >...
  34. >......
  35. >.........
  36. >Nothing happens.
  37. >The doors don't open.
  38. >There is no sign of your new lord making a dignified entry into his newly granted, by the grace of the Princesses, mansion.
  39. >This... this should not have happened.
  40. >The palace's carriage mares are known Equestria-wide for their punctuality.
  41. >Canterlot ponies set their watches by their arrivals and departures.
  42. >This is unheard of.
  43. >A speck of nervous sweat foam threatens to disturb your tightly wound mane.
  44. >You discreetly dab at it with a handkerchief, but the butlers have noticed.
  45. >Oh no.
  46. >The murmurs have started.
  47. >If you don't do anything, they'll soon gather in a full-formed gossip circle.
  48. >And once they do, it'll take you ages to break it up.
  49. >You check your pocket watch again, your hoof slightly slipping on its metal surface.
  50. >The noblestallion is now a full minute late.
  51. >Sixty full seconds!
  52. >The stallions around you have started shifting uneasily.
  53. >While the dam of their strict training at your hoof still holds, cracks have started to appear.
  54. >Two minutes.
  55. >You notice one of the colts yawning.
  56. >The nerve! The very nerve!
  57. >Your handkerchief is becoming increasingly damp with every shaky-hoofed dab.
  58. >Three minutes.
  59. >Four.
  60. >F I V E!
  61. >This is a dark day for all of Equestria.
  62. >All that you trusted in, all that you knew to be infallible, has failed.
  63.  
  64. >It is now a full thirty minutes past the scheduled arrival time.
  65. >The servants have devolved into full breach of discipline, leaning against walls and, heavens!, loosening their neckties recklessly.
  66. >You are quite sure that your pacing has left a groove in the entry hall's floor.
  67. >All hope has been abandoned, your pocket watch now bearing scuff marks from the amount of times you have opened and closed it in the last half-hour.
  68. >When the doors of the mansion are suddenly opened.
  69. >You barely have time to signal the staff to stand at attention again, when your long-awaited master finally makes his appearance through the front door.
  70. >Huffing from exertion, his clothes dirty with mud, an extremely red-faced mare on his back, no carriage in sight.
  71. >You nearly faint.
  72.  
  73. >As the dark spots finally disappear from your field of view, you notice one more thing.
  74. >Your new master is not a stallion at all.
  75. >You've been told that the nobleman was originally a foreigner, but you haven't anticipated just how... different he will look.
  76. >Bipedal, like a minotaur, but lither, and taller, while more... proportionate at the same time.
  77. >You've had some experience dealing with ambassadors and visitors from other races, but you've never seen anyone like him.
  78. >Thankfully, you haven't allowed your surprise to show.
  79. >You take a quick glance at the servants, who have resumed their arranged positions.
  80. >You bow deeply.
  81. "Welcome to your rightful estate, Milord. May it, and all of us gathered in it, serve you well."
  82. >Thinking the protocol thoroughly breached anyway, you dare a glance upwards.
  83. >The strange stallion, the new owner of Oakhoof Manor, crouches down, and lets the heavily embarrassed mare off of his back.
  84. >She clearly avoids placing any weight on one of her hooves as she takes a few careful steps and steadies herself.
  85. >You stand back up.
  86. "Milord, if I may. Has anything... happened? Your arrival it has... well... been delayed."
  87. >He stands back up, giving himself a few seconds to catch his breath, and wiping the strangely shiny sweat off of his brow.
  88. >"Oh it was nothing really. Brace here twisted her hoof on a nasty patch of rocks on the road. Since we were already most of the way here, I decided it would be faster to just carry her. Besides, I could use the exercise, I've been getting rusty as of late, and ponies make for surprisingly good ruck weights."
  89. >As you try to process the absolutely outrageous nonsense coming from the stallion's mouth, you see the carriage mare blush even harder and try her best to make herself as small as possible.
  90. >You believe you can hear one of the butlers titter.
  91. >T i t t e r.
  92. >You feel a vein pop in your eye.
  93. >The noblestallion, your new master, lord of the estate, owner of the mansion and all surrounding lands, unceremoniously kicks off his shoes and sits down on the entry hall's floor, still panting from exertion.
  94. >"Does any of you know pony first aid? Bracie really needs someone to look at her hoof. And could anyone get me a glass of water? As cold as possible, please. Is everything OK with your eye, miss? It seems awfully red."
  95. >Oh.
  96. >It's going to be one of those days.
  97.  
  98. >The warm rays of a setting sun flood the mansion with hues of red and gold, as you retire to your humble room.
  99. >You are, for lack of a better word, exhausted.
  100. >All your plans for the day were thrown out of the window when Anonymous, by the appointment of their majesties Celestia and Luna, Lord of Oakhoof, bearer of the Order of the Crimson Dawn, refused a tour of the estate, ordered, no, politely asked, if it wasn't too much trouble of course, a bath to be drawn, whereupon he proceeded to fall asleep in it.
  101. >He has been gently carried - still asleep and now wrapped in thick, luxurious towels like some overgrown caricature of a newborn foal - to the master bedroom by the infuriatingly amused butlers, who you very pointedly reminded of the seriousness and dignity that should be befitting of their post.
  102. >The still blushing carriagemare, by the name of Steady Brace, has limped off on three hooves to see the estate's cranky old physician, Bedside Manner.
  103. >You sacrificed one of your best handkerchiefs consoling the devastated head chef, whose welcoming feast, three days in the making, was now growing cold and stale.
  104. >The carriage with Lord Anonymous' luggage has finally arrived, drawn by a surprisingly stoic earth mare and what must have been a quickly organized pegasus replacement for Steady Brace.
  105. >The manor has finally started to calm down, though a nervously excited atmosphere was still hanging in the air, and your vigilant ears could still catch bits of gossip exchanged in the halls.
  106. >You close the door behind you, and sit down at your desk with a heavy sigh.
  107. >You decide to go through the correspondence from the Canterlot Palace again.
  108. >You knew that your lord would be an unusual one.
  109. >But nothing could have prepared you for this.
  110. >Pages rustle as you go through the letters.
  111. >Besides the obvious matter of him being a naturalized foreigner (though the letters curiously omit his country of origin), there are the curious circumstances of how his title was granted.
  112. >Lord Anonymous (you refused any and all of his insistence at calling him "Anon") is the recipient of the Order of the Crimson Dawn, one of Equestria's highest distinctions.
  113. >Once granted only in wartime, it is nowadays bestowed in peacetime upon any such pony or non-pony who, at great personal risk to life and health, commits an act of extraordinary bravery in an effort to give aid and/or save the lives of those in grave danger.
  114. >It has been nearly 500 years since the last time a stallion received one.
  115. >You move your hoof through the pages, and pull out a newspaper clipping from the Canterlot Times, attached to one of the letters.
  116.  
  117. >"HEROIC STALLION SAVES FOALS FROM RAGING INFERNO" - the first page headline screams at you.
  118. >The photograph shows Lord Anonymous, covered in soot, clothes burned and in tatters, kneeling down and handing a bundle with two tiny foals to their crying father, a still-burning house in the background.
  119. >The article goes on to describe how, as the stallion of a humble Canterlot house was tending to the garden, the building unexpectedly caught fire.
  120. >The terrified Bright Glow, father of two, tried rushing into the house to retrieve his baby foals, still sleeping in their cots on the house's first floor, but the fire spread too quickly and blocked his way in.
  121. >Panicking, he ran out onto the street to call for help, but the fire was so intense, it was all but sure that the firemares would not reach the house in time.
  122. >Luckily, a passer-by, one Anonee Mouss (species unknown, country of origin unknown)
  123. "So much for professional journalism", you scoff. "Couldn't even get the name right."
  124. >proved to be of great heart and courage. Simply asking for a bucket of water from the nearby well, he proceeded to douse himself with it and run into the flames, to the astonishment of all gathered. After a couple of tense minutes, he emerged with young Lightbulb and Sparkler, aged one and two respectively, and returned them to the hooves of the overjoyed parent.
  125. >The mare of the house, Luminosity, who was away at her job in the lamp factory during the incident, had this to say after being reunited with her family:
  126. >"I do not care that he is foreign, I do not care that he's a stallion. That colt has a heart bigger than any mare I know. We owe him everything."
  127. >Despite a quick response of the fire department, the house itself was lost to the element, but the firemares, through extreme effort, prevented the flames from spreading to neighboring buildings.
  128. >The heroic colt could not give a full interview, as he was promptly carried off to the Canterlot Central Horsepital, along with the two foals he saved, to be treated for light smoke inhalation. He did manage to give a short statement that he was "only doing what he could", and that he "was a volunteer firefighter back home".
  129. >The author of this article attributes the second statement to the effects of the smoke on the colt's mind, as there is no known fire-fighting force that employs stallions, due to their bulkiness and lack of dexterity preventing them from moving easily in the often cramped environs of a house on fire. None, however, can doubt the veracity or the humility of the first.
  130. >The family, along with their young who have quickly recovered under the care of Canterlot's finest medical staff, is currently housed in the palace by the Princesses themselves, while their house is being rebuilt.
  131. >The Canterlot Ponice is investigating the fire, and though they are tight-lipped about any details, they have very pointedly not ruled out arson.
  132.  
  133. >You sit back, take off your glasses and massage your snout with the frog of your hoof.
  134. >You've read the article before, of course.
  135. >Everyone did, as well as the following one describing the award ceremony during which Lord Anonymous became a Lord.
  136. >The Order of the Crimson Dawn carries with it a landed title, one of the few ways of becoming a noble outside of being born one or marrying into a noble house, and as such is given out very rarely.
  137. >But when you read them, you imagined a hero straight out of the pre-unification legends, a stoic, dignified shieldcolt like Stronghoof the Brave or Glider the Graceful.
  138. >Not someone so whimsical almost as to come off as ...bumbling.
  139. >You mentally chastise yourself for thinking so lowly of your lord.
  140. >And for being so foalish as to expect a fairy-tale character to appear at the doorstep.
  141. >Perhaps you were also too used to serving old nobility, shaped by generations of strict upbringing into creatures of formality and predictable habits.
  142. >He's not like the noble stallions, where the dam holding their whimsy back could burst at any moment given enough provocation.
  143. >Compared to them, Lord Anonymous was like a free-flowing, wild river.
  144. >There was never a dam there in the first place.
  145. >You sigh heavily, again, and start preparing to turn in for the night, the sun having set while you were reading, when you are interrupted by a knock on your door.
  146. >You open it, and are surprised to see your lord himself, in light sleeping clothes (his luggage had more clothing than any you've ever seen, so perhaps it should not be a surprise that he even sleeps in them).
  147. >"Hi there, Miss..."
  148. "Schedule. Tight Schedule, at your service, milord. I am your head maid. I realize I haven't been able to properly introduce myself or any of the staff due to the... circumstances of your arrival. Perhaps this oversight can be corrected in the morning, if it please you. But how may I serve you now?"
  149. >"Well, I've been looking for you since you seemed to be the one in charge earlier. I... may have woken some of the ponies up to ask them where I can find you, but they didn't seem to be too mad about it after I gave them some ear scritches. That usually works to calm a pony down."
  150.  
  151. >You pointedly ignore that last remark, but you're afraid you can feel your eye twitch at the shocking breach of protocol and scandalous fraternization with the servants.
  152. >"So now that I'm here, I just wanted to ask if you could show me to the kitchen, please? This house is really big and I don't want to wake anyone else up looking for it. I promise I'll be quick, I'm just really hungry after all that running. I'll make myself some sandwiches or something."
  153. >You inhale deeply and steady yourself.
  154. >It's not your Lord's fault that he seems to find the perfect ways to knock you off balance.
  155. >He's not from Equestria. He wasn't a noble until barely a few weeks ago. He knows nothing of the proper customs or how to carry himself as a Lord should.
  156. >But he seems to genuinely care about the ponies around him, and is actively trying not to be a burden.
  157. >The newspapers were right about one thing - he does have a big heart.
  158. >You allow yourself a small smile.
  159. "I'd be glad to, milord, but there is no need to trouble yourself with cooking."
  160. >You can see Lord Anonymous starting to protest, but you pre-empt him.
  161. "In fact, I'm quite sure that Spoonful, the head chef, will be overjoyed if we wake her up. She's been working hard on a menu made especially for your arrival, and I'm sure that some of it will taste splendid even after reheating."
  162. >You close the door to your room, and lead him down the hall.
  163. >For now, you'll just have to treat your master with a bit more care and leniency, like the young son of a noble house, still learning about his place in the world.
  164. >You are sure that with enough effort, you can shape him into a splendid nobleman.
  165. >You pat down a stray lock of hair that sprung out of the tight bun you tie your mane into.
  166. >You'll make a real Lord out of him yet.
  167. >Your eye twitches again.
  168. >Or, you swear by Celestia and Luna both, you'll die trying.
  169.  
  170. >You wake up in a slightly too hard bed, in a room smelling vaguely of antiseptic and mothballs.
  171. >Oh yeah, you're in the manor's clinic.
  172. >And your hoofsie is still ouchie.
  173. >Owie owie ow ow ow.
  174. >You open one of your eyes and check that there's no one with you in the room.
  175. >Empty.
  176. >You curl into yourself and allow yourself a little whimper.
  177. >You wish your daddy was here to kiss your hoof better.
  178. >You are Steady Brace.
  179. >And, Celestia's sun above, you are bucking pathetic.
  180. >No one can ever know how much of a disgusting unmarely softie you are on the inside.
  181. >You are a MARE, filly! You earn bits by pulling things! BIG THINGS!
  182. >"So, it still hurts, huh?"
  183. >You nearly jump straight out of your skin.
  184. >You swear you actually felt your heart skip a beat.
  185. >Where did that horrible old stallion hide himself? You checked the room, it was empty!
  186. >You turn around and see the wrinkled face of Bedside Manner. In your opinion, the most misnamed pony you've ever met.
  187. >You have to actually stop yourself from yanking back your hoof as he grabs it with zero ceremony.
  188. >Put on a tough face, mare, no tears.
  189. >"Well, the swelling is mostly gone. You should still keep off of it as much as possible for at least a week, but the pain shouldn't be too much to bear for such a big, strong mare like you."
  190. >The decrepit stallion gives you a way too bright smile with way too few teeth.
  191. >"Or would you prefer me to kiss it better for you?"
  192. >All right, now you are creeped the buck out.
  193. >Oh Celestia, did he just wink at you?
  194. >You're not sure if unicorns can actually read minds or if that's just superstition, but you decide that hurting hoof or not, you're getting out of this room and away from this doctor.
  195. "N-no, thank you. It doesn't even hurt that much anymore. I'll just be going now."
  196. >You quickly move towards the door, before you start thinking about his lack of tact and frankly, horribly cold hooves.
  197. >You know, just in case he really can read your mind.
  198. >Damn, now you ARE thinking about it.
  199. >Quick, how do you stop thinking about something?
  200. >Uuuugh now your head hurts too.
  201. >As you walk out of the room, the doctor follows behind you to close the door.
  202. >"All right, all right. But if you think anything's wrong, be sure to come visit me again. I wouldn't mind the company."
  203. >OW!
  204. >Did... did he just pinch your flank?
  205. >You turn around, but the door is already closed.
  206. >You're not going to lie, you'd be flattered.
  207. >If you weren't pretty sure that he's older than your grandfather.
  208. >You shake your head and limp off.
  209. >Something smells really nice, and you're determined to find out what it is and if you can have some.
  210.  
  211. >You are Bedside Manner.
  212. >That ought to keep that filly out of your clinic.
  213. >You know a crybaby that will hound you day and night with the smallest of scrapes and scratches when you see one.
  214. >Now it'll take something REALLY serious to make her seek help from the "dirty old stallion".
  215.  
  216. >Be Spoonful. Chef mare extraordinaire.
  217. >Breakfast is served.
  218. >And you've never seen anyone eat like this.
  219. >You don't just mean the actual way he's eating, though it is peculiar.
  220. >He brought his own utensils, and he's obviously practiced at using them, it's actually quite graceful.
  221. >That only makes the contrast that much stronger.
  222. >The way that colt packs away food is just unreal.
  223. >It's like watching the prissiest unicorn go to town on a six-hoof high stack of pancakes.
  224. >And the stack is actually about that high, it's just that the unicorn is much taller, wider, has no horn, no hooves, and walks around on just his back legs.
  225. >Not to mention that it's been just a few hours since he decimated most of the leftovers from yesterday's cancelled dinner.
  226. >It might have been for the best that it didn't happen, if this is how he normally eats, there wasn't nearly enough food for everyone.
  227. >Actually, you're probably going to have to rework the entire food budget.
  228. >Oh filly.
  229.  
  230. >Be Tight Schedule.
  231. >You don't know how to feel about this.
  232. >You can't really find any fault with Lord Anonymous' table manners.
  233. >There are obvious differences in anatomy that make some etiquette rules
  234. >But his appetite borders on gluttony.
  235. >It's sure to at least raise eyebrows in polite company.
  236. >You suspect that it might be down to his larger size and alien metabolism.
  237. >Perhaps you should talk to Spoonful about switching him to more frequent, smaller meals instead of a few large ones.
  238. >And you're definitely going to need to get him fed before he participates in a banquet.
  239. >He'd cause a scandal at the food table.
  240.  
  241. >Be Steady Brace.
  242. >Pancakes! Sweet!
  243. >And no one has noticed you peeking into the dining room.
  244. >Time to sneakily limp into the kitchen and nab yourself a breakfast.
  245. >Aww yiss.
  246.  
  247. >It's a bit later in the day now.
  248. >You are Tight Schedule, and you are making up for time lost yesterday.
  249. "You've already met the head chef, Spoonful, who you can count on to attend to all your culinary needs, milord. Then there's me, your head maid. If there are any questions about the running of the manor itself or any other general queries, you can feel free to direct them to me. Now, I have taken the liberty of arranging a meeting with all the heads of staff that you didn't have the opportunity to meet yet, if that suits you."
  250. >"That sounds great. Thank you, miss Schedule."
  251. "Very well, we shall proceed with that in about an hour then. Which gives us enough time for a brief tour of the grounds, as well as to go through your schedule for the rest of today and tomorrow."
  252. >"I have a daily schedule now? I guess you really do live up to your name, miss."
  253. >You puff yourself up a bit, and correct your glasses.
  254. "If you allow me a small boast, milord, I do pride myself on my organizational skills."
  255. >You look back at your clipboard.
  256. "This much, however, shouldn't surprise you. You are now a noble, the head of a house, and owner of an estate that includes three neighbouring villages. As such, your time is quite valuable, and to waste it would be unthinkable."
  257. >You see Lord Anonymous shrink a bit at your words.
  258. >"This is an awful amount of responsibility when you put it like that. I hope I won't let anyone down."
  259. >You give him a longer, scrutinizing look.
  260. >You can see the tension in his body, the way his eyes wandered down to the floor.
  261. >You're going to have to rid him of this bashfulness.
  262. >It might be becoming of a colt, but a noblestallion is expected to be a fair bit more dignified.
  263. >It might be unusual for an unmarried stallion to be the head of a house, but it is not unheard of.
  264. >Granted, they usually don't stay unmarried for very long, and after a mare takes charge everything tends to quickly fall into place.
  265. >But you believe it is too early for that particular discussion.
  266. >Any messages to and from the usual matchmakers will have to be postponed until Lord Anonymous gets his bearings and gains a thorough understanding of what is to be expected of him.
  267. >For now, a few simple words of encouragement will have to do.
  268. "I'm sure it will be fine, milord. After all, their Majesties would not bestow a noble title to someone they did not trust to carry out his responsibilities."
  269. >He stops in his stride for just a second, and his face takes on an inscrutable expression.
  270. >You haven't seen that look on his face yet.
  271. >"I hope you're right."
  272.  
  273. >"I'm gonna be honest, miss Schedule, I'm kind of overwhelmed."
  274. >Lord Anonymous and you have been walking back from a tour of the, frankly, not perfectly kept gardens and surroundings. The manor has been vacant for several years, and as such has fallen into a bit of disrepair. The building itself was sturdy, but cleaning and inspecting it still took you and a dozen butlers nearly a week. The greenery however, was not so easily repaired. You've arranged for a groundskeeper to be employed, but they are yet to arrive, and as such the mansion has taken on a bit of a... "wild" appearance.
  275. >You round a corner and start walking towards the living room.
  276. >Lord Anonymous scratches the back of his head awkwardly, looking down at the clipboard you've hoofed over to him.
  277. >"I feel like I'm looking at a uni curriculum, not a schedule. The only thing giving it away is that all my meals and breaks are also included."
  278. >He looks at it bit closer, then looks at you.
  279. >"Down to the minute."
  280. >You prop up your glasses with a hoof.
  281. "Yes, well, like I said, milord, your time is very valuable."
  282. >He looks at the schedule again.
  283. >"Afternoon bathroom break, 16:32-16:36."
  284. >This time the look he gives you lasts much longer, and is much more telling.
  285. >You clear your throat.
  286. "The few upcoming weeks are very important for you, milord. As time goes on and you get a better grasp on the basics required of you and a greater command of your estate, I'm sure we can work in more time for self-study."
  287. >You can hear your master grumbling something under his breath.
  288. >You politely ignore it.
  289. >Once you get him used to a stricter schedule, it will be much easier for him to accept a still strict, but much more lenient one.
  290. >Worked on every noble colt you've dealt with.
  291. >Well, granted, they were foals, but you believe in your methods.
  292. >"Ok, but economics, management ...accounting? I know nothing about these things! And besides, wouldn't a noble normally have people that do those things for them."
  293. "Naturally, milord, but one must first be able to understand what one's assistants assist with to be able to make the appropriate decisions. The burden of directing what they focus on precisely falls to you, milord. We shall work very hard to bring you up to speed as quickly as possible."
  294. >He sighs and his shoulders slump a bit.
  295. >Thankfully, you've reached your destination.
  296. "Speaking of assistants, here we are."
  297. >You open the door to the living room, and gesture for Lord Anonymous to enter.
  298.  
  299.  
  300. >You take a good, long, lingering look at the butler pouring you a cup of tea.
  301. >Aaaaall the way down.
  302. >Sweetest sun, did that one have a tight flank.
  303. >Must have been a farmcolt before becoming a butler.
  304. >Those are some honest, country grown cheeks.
  305. >You could bounce a bit off of it, and it would go straight through a wall.
  306. >You are Balanced Books, and you KNOW your bits.
  307. >You take the teacup from his hooves before he puts it down on the table.
  308. >He makes eye contact with you for a second.
  309. >You take a sip of the tea, and wink at him.
  310. >He blushes heavily, and quickly puts the teapot back on the serving cart and scutters away.
  311. >Oh you soooooooo love to fluster them.
  312. >The door to the living room opens and you get your first look at your new employer.
  313. >Huh.
  314. >The pictures in the newspapers didn't really do justice to just how tall he is.
  315. >Not bad, you kinda like it.
  316. >You always liked long legs on a colt.
  317. >Then, behind him, in comes ol' Tightarse.
  318. >All buttoned up and a stick up her ass like always.
  319. >There goes a mare that wouldn't know the definition of fun if the Princess of Books herself clobbered her over the head with a dictionary.
  320. >"Lord Anonymous, may I present to you your heads of staff. They will be your advisors and assistants, as well as your best help in the running of your estate. If you have any questions about the estate itself or its functioning, please feel free to contact them at any time."
  321. >Speak for yourself, mare, some of us actually have lives.
  322. >Tightwad then takes one look at you, and proceeds to walk to the farthest occupant of the room from you.
  323. >Yeah, the feeling is mutual.
  324.  
  325. >They proceed to walk along the gathered ponies, who are sitting at small tables strewn around the room, drinking tea.
  326. >As they approach each one, they stand up, Clenched Sphincter introduces them, they exchange pleasantries, then move on to the next one.
  327. >"Lord Anonymous, I present to you Bedside Manner, your chief physician."
  328. >"And only physician as of now. No cute nurses in this mansion, alas." The way the decrepit prune of a stallion cackles at his "joke" makes your skin crawl.
  329. >"Oh, then you're the doctor that took care of Brace. I wanted to thank you, but I just haven't had time yet." says Anonymous
  330. >"Well, there is no need to thank me for doing my job. Honestly, I thought you'd be more surprised that the doctor's a stallion." The geezer laughs again, but it somehow seems more genuine this time.
  331. >"The doctor takes care of your health, as well as the health of all inhabitants of the manor. He is also a consultant for all of your holdings' local medical practitioners." Tightass concludes.
  332. >They move on to the next pony.
  333. >"This is Spruce Branch, the Forester of your estate. She takes care of all the woods in the area, as well as all the animals that live in them."
  334. >"Yep, that's me! Nice to meetcha!"
  335. >Well, someone's chipper.
  336. >Ha, chipper. Like a woodchipper.
  337. >You. Are. Hilarious.
  338.  
  339. >"If it's anything about forests or critters, I'm yer mare! I've been trottin' these parts since I've learned how to walk at all. I reckon there's not a pony in the whole of Equestria that knows them better than me." The pine-green earth pony is almost bouncing in her seat with glee, her ridiculous Bavmareian feather hat swaying from side to side.
  340. >"I'll be sure to ask you to share some good hiking trails then.", the noblestallion answers with a smile.
  341. >"You betcha!"
  342. >They move to the mare sitting to your right.
  343. >"Let me introduce Bumper Crop, your agricultural advisor."
  344. >The plump, golden-brown mare jiggles slightly as she nods at the stallion, her front hooves resting on her belly.
  345. >"The pleasure is all mine, my Lord. I'm here to make sure that everyone is fed and happy, and that all the surplus is sold at a fair price. Agriculture is Oakhoof's primary source of income, after all."
  346. >Anonymous smiles at her. You allow yourself a little smile too. Despite the fact that all she can think of is food, you actually like Bumpy. She knows how to have fun, at least. Well, so does Spruce, but she's a bit too... energetic for your tastes.
  347. >That, and you can't stand her yodelling.
  348. >"I'm glad to hear that someone has the situation well in hand ...er, hoof then.". The tall stallion quickly corrects himself.
  349. >What the hay is a hand? He used it instead of hoof, so is that what he calls those spindly things at the end of his arms? They look very fragile.
  350. >Though you do see some... interesting possibilities with how nimble they seem to be.
  351. >And finally they move on to you.
  352. >"And last, we have your financial advisor and the head accountant of your estate, Balanced Books."
  353. "Aww, so formal as always, Tighty. Is that any way to introduce your dear foalhood friend?"
  354. >She gives you an irritated look.
  355. >"For Celestia's sake, Books, show some professionalism. I'm introducing you to your new employer. And don't call me that."
  356. "And I'm very glad to meet him. My warmest regards, Lord Anonymous. As Tighty here mentioned, I'm the mare that keeps your bits safe and your wallet full. I also keep tracks of all the ventures in your estate that don't fall under the jurisdiction of Bumper or Spruce. I'm in charge of organizing the collection of taxes as well."
  357.  
  358. >Tightass huffs at you ignoring her naming preferences.
  359. >Still know how to push her buttons. At least that's one thing you get from knowing her for so long.
  360. >The tall colt in front of you has a strange mix of expressions, confusion visibly fighting with barely contained laughter.
  361. >Ha, at least it seems like there's still hope for your boss.
  362. >You're going to have to teach him how to party before she makes a complete bore out of him with all her talk of "responsibility", "duty", and "obligations".
  363. >He finally manages to compose himself.
  364. >"Very happy to meet you too, miss Books. I think I'm going to have a lot of questions to ask you specifically. I thought Equestria didn't have a tax system? Forgive my ignorance, I am still kind of new here."
  365. "Well, as a country, not as such, but each estate is entitled to gather taxes from their holdings. Why, the Princesses themselves are also land owners, they actually own the entirety of Canterhorn Mountain, among other areas. Most taxes are voluntary donations - there is a minimum amount, but rarely does anypony pay only that, since the money overwhelmingly goes towards improving the holdings themselves, and the lives of everyone in them."
  366. >"Wow, that's... completely different from how it was done where I come from. I'll have to pick your brain on this some more, when we have more time."
  367. >Oh, he seems to actually be interested in the one thing you ARE serious about.
  368. >And that would be anything and everything that has to do with money.
  369. >You might actually enjoy working for this strange, tall stallion, with his long, long legs.
  370. >Tighty Whitey then chimes in.
  371. >"Actually, milord, if you refer to your schedule, this meeting was planned to last another hour and a half. I've set this time aside specifically so you can ask any questions you have now, while we are all gathered here. A lot of our fields of responsibility tend to overlap, so this is a great opportunity to get you acquainted with the how and why of that."
  372. >Anonymous brightens at this. He looks at you, smiling.
  373. >"Well, seems like I'm not done with you yet, miss."
  374. >Mmmm, colt, don't say it like that.
  375. >You'll make me imagine all kinds of horrible situations a professional mare should never find herself in with her exotic, inexperienced employer.
  376. >It would be suuuuuuuuch a scandal.
  377. >Your feathers bristle at the very thought.
  378.  
  379. >The meeting concluded, you watch the gathered ponies and Lord Anonymous file out of the room.
  380. >They're still chatting, while you follow behind them and close the door.
  381. >Well, the chatting is mostly done by Spruce Branch, but this is nothing unusual.
  382. >Most ponies that know her for any amount of time tend to deal with her the same way.
  383. >Smile and nod, smile and nod.
  384. >Your musings are interrupted by an uncharacteristically loud laugh.
  385. >Lord Anonymous is doubled over, clutching his belly, and nearly falling over from laughing.
  386. >Everyone else gathered, with the notable exception of Spruce who looks incredibly pleased with herself, has the most pained expression on their faces.
  387. >Did... did Lord Anonymous just laugh at one of Spruce's jokes?
  388. >But ALL of her jokes are horrible!
  389. >You're not sure if there's such a thing as a sense of humour tutor, or where you can find one, but something needs to be done about this.
  390. >But that's something you can worry about later.
  391. "Lord Anonymous, everypony, dinner will be served soon. Will each of you be able to join us?"
  392. >Spruce Branch visibly deflates.
  393. >"Awww, I'd sure like to, but I have a controlled flood planned with some beavers for this afternoon. Duty calls, ya know?"
  394. >Your gaze shifts to Books, who stretches her wings out and lets out a yawn.
  395. >Cover your muzzle at least, mare! Who taught you manners?
  396. >"Well, since you've made me stay overnight for those tutoring sessions tomorrow, Tighty, I might as well. I'll just go grab a bottle from the wine cellar and join you all in the dining room."
  397. >The teats on this mare. Unbelievable.
  398. >"Pick out a good one, Balanced." Bumper Crop chimes in.
  399. >This earns a quip from the doctor. "Oh you know she will, she knows that wine collection better than anyone. She's the one who drinks it all."
  400. >You turn to Bumper.
  401. "So, I can assume you will be staying as well?"
  402. >Bumper Crop guwaffs at that, jostling her double chin.
  403. >"Now Tight, honestly, have you ever known me, of all mares, to miss out on a meal?"
  404. >Fair enough.
  405.  
  406. >The serving cart's wheels clatter gently against the floor as you push it along with your nose.
  407. >You're not gonna push it balancing on your rear hooves when you're out of sight, Tight can shove her stupid ideas up her flat keister.
  408. >That mare is the epitome of a stuffy, teat-twisted, miserable bitch and you bet she's never had a stallion even look at her.
  409. >You are Gentle Care, and calling her names, even if it's just in your thoughts, helped you relax a bit.
  410. >You are still fuming quietly about the dressing down she gave you.
  411. >Honestly, who would ever give anyone that much manure over a collar.
  412. >It's not like you don't care about your appearance, you're a stallion for Luna's sake, it's just that you were so horribly busy with all the cleaning that you forgot.
  413. >Thank Celestia for your butler pals, they had you calmed down in no time.
  414. >You swear you barely even cried for fifteen minutes, that's less than when you chip a hoof.
  415. >That's one good thing about being here, the colts at this place are so kind and understanding.
  416. >They immediately welcomed you with open hooves and covered for your newbie ass.
  417. >And the doctor is like a father to all of you.
  418. >It's much better than the last place you were at, that's for sure.
  419. >Though you still kind of miss the farm.
  420. >You need to write a letter to your Da'. Tell him his boy is doing OK.
  421. >Aw, colt, don't make yourself cry, now.
  422. >Well, at least things sure are interesting here.
  423. >Your new boss is a stallion!
  424. >Well, OK, he's not a stallion, he's some sort of strange foreigner, and technically he's not YOUR boss, he's your boss's boss, but he's a HE!
  425. >You've never heard of a noble house ran by a stallion!
  426. >Granted, you've seen all of two, but still!
  427. >Maybe those stallionist pamphlets your brother who went to live in Canterlot sent you are right, colts CAN do anything that fillies can.
  428. >Well, except not get ogled.
  429. >You have to say that the mare you served tea was nice-looking, but the look she gave you made your fur crawl.
  430. >You bet she's one of those "mares of low moral fibre and ill intent" that your Ma' warned you about while polishing her crossbow.
  431. >The rest seemed nice, though one of them was way too fat, and the other one was just... weird.
  432. >Tight barely registers as a mare in your mind.
  433. >You've seen one more mare limping around the manor lately, though you haven't talked to her.
  434. >Speaking of.
  435. >There she is, coming down the corridor.
  436. >Steady something. Boots? You don't remember.
  437. >She meets your eye, blushes heavily, and starts limping a little faster.
  438. >Shy thing.
  439. >Kinda cute though.
  440.  
  441. >You finally reach the kitchen door and push your cart through it.
  442. >What reveals itself before your eyes is a scene straight from Tartarus.
  443. >Huge clouds of steam billow from multiple huge pots, there's sauce all over the floor, which one of your pals, Feather Duster is currently feverishly mopping up, three other butlers are jumping from station to station, stirring and mixing, running around like their tails were on fire, and another one is curled up in the corner, crying and slowly rocking himself.
  444. >The cart rolls slowly away from you, as you stare, jaw open, at the scene before you.
  445. >You nearly jump all the way up to the ceiling when Spoonful suddenly appears right in front of you.
  446. >Great Sun, how did she sneak up on you like that.
  447. >"Great, you're here! Quick, put on this apron and grab a knife, you can help chop up the veggies. Come on, colt, we haven't got all day! Dinner is due in an hour, and we're one down after Velvet Sheets spilled the tomato sauce and I miiiiiight have yelled at him a bit too loud."
  448. "But, but, I don't really know how to cook that well."
  449. >"Doesn't matter, what I need now are warm bodies and busy hooves. We're serving dinner, and we've got not one, but two living vacuums at the table. Making food for Bumper Crop is a losing battle by itself, but now we've got Anon on our hooves too. The pantry is half empty already. Now GRAB THAT KNIFE SOLDIER, AND GO GO GO!"
  450. >After yesterday's excitement, this was supposed to be a normal day.
  451. >Why can't it be a normal day.
  452.  
  453. >The glass flasks and bottles on the shelf clink gently as you reach a hoof between them.
  454. >The setting sun catches on the amber liquid in the bottle you pull out from the very back of the cabinet shelf.
  455. >The glass stopper slides out of the neck with a slight squeak, and the biting aroma of distilled cider fills your snout.
  456. >You are Bedside Manner, pouring out a nightcap into a small beaker.
  457. >The wine consumed at the dinner has long left you with naught but a memory of a pleasant, if a bit hectic meal.
  458. >Hectic for the serving staff, that is. They barely kept up with wheeling the meals in and the plates out.
  459. >One of the butlers needed a strong calming draught until he finally stopped shaking, the poor thing.
  460. >You swirl the liquor in the container, and hold it up to the crimson beams sent by Celestia handing over her reign to Luna, the rays of light reflecting in an intricate pattern on the surface of the drink.
  461. >You may have lived your fair share of years, but some things never lose their captivating beauty.
  462. >Thinking a toast to the sun princess, and her recently returned sister, you raise the glass to your muzzle.
  463. >When a knocking comes on your door.
  464. >Sighing, you walk over to your desk, and rest the beaker in one of the drawers.
  465. >Soon, my old friend, soon.
  466. >You walk to the door, and as the knocking intensifies you call out, a bit impatiently.
  467. "Fine, fine, I'm coming, settle down."
  468. >You open it, revealing the crotch of the freshly minted owner of the manor, staring you straight in the eyes.
  469. >Looking up, you see his face.
  470. >His skin is pale and clammy, his eyes wide, and it looks like he's sweating buckets.
  471. >Oh. This might be serious.
  472. "Master Anonymous, is everything all right? Was the meal too heavy after all?"
  473. >He looks down, and meets your eyes.
  474. >He's shaking slightly.
  475. >"Can I come in? I don't feel too good."
  476. >You quickly hasten him in with one of your hooves, and close the door behind him by lighting your horn briefly.
  477. "Now, settle down on the cot, please, and tell me what's wrong, sonny."
  478. >He sits down, his white shirt sticking to his body, wet with perspiration.
  479. >"I don't know what's wrong. I tried going to bed, but I couldn't fall asleep. My heart's beating like it's trying to get out of my chest, and I nearly puked right outside your door."
  480. >Your demeanour now fully professional, you grasp his wrist with your magic, and pull a watch out of a pocket of your white coat.
  481. >Time passes in an uncomfortable silence.
  482. >150 beats per minute. That's... VERY HIGH.
  483. >Frankly, if he was a pony, he'd most likely be dying.
  484. >But then again, he's not a pony.
  485.  
  486. >You nervously charge up a scanning spell, and decide to just ask him about it. After all, he might have some knowledge of what's normal for his species.
  487. "Your heart rate is 150. Would that be considered high for humans."
  488. >He looks at you with concern in his eyes.
  489. >"Yeah, that's high. It might be normal after exertion, but not as a resting heart rate. And I haven't exactly exerted myself today."
  490. >Your spell prepared, you channel it into his body.
  491. >The glow spreads over his torso, slowly reaching over his entire body.
  492. >He yelps with surprise.
  493. "Is something the matter, son? It's just a simple diagnostic spell."
  494. >"Oh, sorry. It's just that, I'm still not really used to magic."
  495. >What a strange thing to say. Perhaps it's that unicorn magic looks different to the magic of his homeland.
  496. >The diagnostic image of the inside of his body starts coming into view.
  497. >Very slowly. Very, very slowly.
  498. >You rub your eyes, but it doesn't become any clearer.
  499. >"Is something wrong?", Anonymous asks nervously.
  500. "No, no, don't worry. It's just that you're a bit more different from a pony than I expected."
  501. >And different he is. The basic layout of his body might be similar, there are the lungs, the stomach, the intestines, the heart. But the proportions are all wrong.
  502. >His digestive system suggests an omnivorous diet.
  503. >Interesting, he didn't seem to complain about the food, even though all of it was vegetable based.
  504. >But that's not the weird thing.
  505. >You can't see any thaumic storage and distribution organs.
  506. >This is... for lack of a better word, utterly alien.
  507. >A shiver runs down your back.
  508. >He's sitting right there before you, living, breathing (admittedly, a bit rapidly), but there is not a bit of magic in his body, aside from the spell you just cast.
  509. >It's like looking at a dead body. And yet he's alive.
  510. >Not in all of your years from a simple herbalist to a fully certified doctor have you seen something like this.
  511. >What he said about not being used to magic is taking on a new meaning, and it's a deeply unsettling one.
  512. >Your concern must have shown on your face, because Anonymous asks, worry clear in his voice.
  513. >"So, doctor, give it to me straight. What's wrong with me?"
  514. >You clear your throat, and shake your head.
  515. "No, sorry, sonny, I don't see anything clearly wrong with you, except from the rapid heartbeat, and probably increased blood pressure."
  516. >That, and the horrible void his body cuts out of the background magic, as your spell's energies leak out of his body far faster than they should.
  517.  
  518.  
  519. "Now, did something unusual happen today, or perhaps have you eaten something that would be unusual for a human to eat?"
  520. >He rubs his chin with a slightly shaky hand, thinking heavily.
  521. >"Well, I don't think so? There was breakfast, I had pancakes, that's pretty normal. That, and a cup of tea. Then tea at the meeting with you and the rest of the heads of staff, and those delicious cookies. And some wine, at dinner, which was very tasty, though a bit weak for my tastes, to go with the vegetable dishes. And then some tea after."
  522. >He meets your eye, and you suspect he's thinking the same thing you are.
  523. "Would you say there was anything unusual about the tea?"
  524. >"Well, no, I don't think so? Granted, it was much stronger than I would have brewed it, but I haven't drunk much pony tea, and I put it down as cultural differences."
  525. "What would you say would be a normal dose of caffeine for your species?", you ask, getting straight to the heart of the matter.
  526. >"Uhhh, I'm not sure off the top of the head, but I think I remember reading that something like 400mg is the recommended daily maximum?"
  527. >You do a few quick mental calculations.
  528. >That would explain it.
  529. "I think I know what's wrong now, sonny. The tea we brew at this manor is a special blend, ordered in by miss Tight. It was chosen for its ability to let ponies stay on their hooves, so to say."
  530. "If what you've said is correct, you've exceeded your limit by quite a bit, but probably not by so much that it should be dangerous."
  531. >You hope. You're in uncharted territory here.
  532. >He breathes out, visibly relieved.
  533. >"Wow, you ponies don't do things by halves, do you? Remind me never to drink your coffee." he laughs.
  534. >"So, is there anything you can do for me? I think normally you're supposed to sleep it off, but, you know, I can't really fall asleep like this."
  535. >You give yourself a moment to think.
  536. "Well, there are some calming drugs that I normally use on ponies, but since your tolerances are so different from what a pony's would be..."
  537. >You let your sentence hang in the air.
  538. >He laughs a bit.
  539. >"Yeah, I'm not going to risk it. If the pony analogy holds between what I know from my world, I don't think I'm up for a ketamine trip right now."
  540. >You have no idea what ketamine is, but that's not what catches your attention the most.
  541. >What a strange way to word things.
  542. >His... world? A bit of a strange for a foreigner to call his country that.
  543. >And what did he mean by "pony analogy"?
  544. >Before you can give it any more thought, he changes the topic.
  545. >A bit too fast, you think to yourself.
  546.  
  547.  
  548. >"So, can you think of anything else, doctor?"
  549. "Well, I could try to cast a sleeping spell on you. It would probably help your body calm down as well."
  550. >"Magic again, huh? Well, it can't be that bad, I suppose. The last spell you cast on me didn't seem to do much, aside from the glow from your horn."
  551. >Does... that mean he couldn't see the diagnostic projection?
  552. >Now you're a bit worried that the spell might make it worse. He's clearly not reacting to magic as expected.
  553. >But the diagnostic spell didn't go wrong, it just worked way slower than expected.
  554. >You haven't felt this unsure since you were a young colt, just starting out on the path of healing.
  555. >But you're honestly not sure if leaving the human as he is wouldn't actually be worse for him.
  556. >You trot over to your desk and push your chair near the cot occupied by the human.
  557. "Lie down, sonny, and try to make yourself comfortable."
  558. >He shucks off his shoes, and slowly lays down on the medical bed, which was clearly too low for him to sit comfortably.
  559. >You grab his necktie in your magic, and loosen it.
  560. "Now, are you sure you wouldn't be more comfortable without all those clothes?"
  561. >He does a double take as he looks at you, shocked.
  562. >You chuckle to yourself.
  563. "Come on colt, I'm a doctor, you're my patient, we're both stallions. Even if you have some hangups about your body, you should be able to show it to me, I need to know what kind of physical condition you're in to keep you healthy."
  564. >He looks away, looking a bit ashamed.
  565. >"Yeah, you're right, I keep forgetting that you're a doctor."
  566. >You raise an eyebrow and smirk.
  567. "I thought you didn't mind a stallion doctor? Was I wrong after all?"
  568. >His face quickly changes to a surprised expression, and his hands (curious things, by the by) make some sort of a vague dismissive motion.
  569. >"No, no, it's more that... well, you're a pony, and I'm still not really used to living among your kind. I guess I'm kind of stuck in an old mindset from home."
  570. >Even more curious.
  571. "Well then, get used to it, son, 'cause doctor's orders, you're getting out of those clothes. You're sweating like a Wonderbolt after a derby, and we need to wipe it off or you'll catch a cold.
  572. >He still looks a bit reluctant, but he starts taking his clothes off, as you turn around and open a cabinet filled with sheets, towels and so on.
  573. >Honestly, some colts are way too self-conscious about their bodies, all because of a bit of flab or something equally silly. Just because they're not supermodels, doesn't mean they have to bury themselves in fabric. It's just not right.
  574. >You pull out a fluffy white towel in the grip of your magic, and turn back to your patient.
  575.  
  576. >Anonymous is sitting back up in just his underpants, his clothes in a sad, soggy heap on the floor.
  577. >He wears clothes under his clothes? Now you're getting worried this might be something more than a silly hangup, but you decide not to push it.
  578. >He's also shivering, his hands rubbing up and down his arms.
  579. >He's visibly cold, so you move fast and start wiping him off.
  580. >His nearly hairless skin strangely exposes the muscles underneath, and it gives you a weird feeling, like you're looking at a living anatomy model.
  581. >As you finish getting the sweat off of him, he asks in a trembling voice.
  582. >"Hey, doc, can you give me a blanket or something? I'm getting really cold.
  583. >You quickly grab a few from the cabinet behind you, and pass them to the human, who lies down and covers himself tightly with them. After a few seconds, his shivering visibly slows down.
  584. >It finally clicks in your head.
  585. >He's furless, so of course he has less natural heat isolation. The clothes he wears would then serve a practical purpose.
  586. >You mentally kick yourself for jumping to conclusion, and ascribing imagined body issues to him. From what you saw, he seems to be in perfectly good shape.
  587. >Your patient shuffles a bit under the covers, and kicks out the last piece of his clothing on the floor, now visibly more comfortable.
  588. >Or perhaps there is something going on after all. He didn't want to be completely naked at any point. Some sort of deformity, perhaps? You'll have to check during a physical, it won't do to have someone under your care suffering from something you could potentially help with.
  589. >You silently gather the scattered pieces of clothing with your magic, and dump them into a nearby laundry bin.
  590. "OK, I'm going to start casting the sleeping spell, sonny. I need you to keep talking to me, so that I know when it starts to work."
  591. >A gentle glow envelops your horn, and a stream of energy starts flowing into the human's body.
  592. >Normally, it would work instantaneously, but judging by how you almost had to force the diagnostic spell into his body, it'll probably have a delay.
  593. >He shifts a bit under his blankets, and looks at you.
  594. >"I'm... not sure what you want me to talk about, doc."
  595. "Oh, anything really. You could tell me something about yourself, where you come from, what your childhood was like."
  596. >His eyes shift away, and his face takes on a strange expression.
  597. "Alright, touchy subject, I won't pry. How's this sound for you instead, sonny? You can ask me any question about the manor you want, and I'll answer. You talk, I talk. This way we can keep check of when you start to drift off, and you might learn something Schedule hasn't told you about yet. I'm sure she did her homework, but nothing beats actually having lived here for most of my life."
  598. >Anonymous looks back at you, a glimmer of interest in his clearly still lucid eyes.
  599. >"Yeah, I'd be OK with that."
  600.  
  601. >You strain your horn a bit more, pumping magic energy at a rate that makes small bits of sweat foam pepper your forehead.
  602. "OK, go ahead."
  603. >"Well, there was one thing that I wanted to ask about. When we went out to see the gardens, Ms. Schedule said the the manor has been empty for a couple of years. What happened?"
  604. "Ah, that's a bit of a long story there, colt. But that's all right, I'll talk, and you just nod as you listen, I'll be keeping a close eye on you anyway."
  605. >Even despite the strain of keeping the spell going, you can't help but get a bit wistful as you think about the past.
  606. >Sweet Celestia, you knew you were getting old, but it still takes you by surprise just how sentimental you get sometimes.
  607. >Anonymous shuffles on the cot to make himself more comfortable, his eyes now half-lidded.
  608. >It's been a while since you've told a bedtime story, you smile to yourself.
  609. "All right, settle in. Let me tell you about the kindest, wisest, and most stubborn stallion I've ever known. The previous lord of Oakhoof, last of his line, and my dearest friend. Noble Heart."
  610. >As you ignore the drain the steady stream of thaumic energies connecting you and the human with a wispy line of light has on you, you tell him the story.
  611. >How you and Heart were born mere days apart, and despite him coming from a noble family, and you from a common one, you quickly became best friends.
  612. >How you dragged him out of the manor and away from the etiquette lessons and endless tea parties that he detested, and went climbing the nearby hills, jumping across streams and rolling in the mud, catching bugs and doing thoroughly uncolty things.
  613. >How you both caught hell for it time and time again, how your mother's switch made sitting an impossible task, and how you still kept doing it.
  614. >How you started an apprenticeship with a local wisestallion, despite the protests of your parents, learning about the herbs and plants of the area, which healed and which harmed.
  615. >How much you loved it, and how your best friend always listened when you talked for hours about leaves and draughts and extracts.
  616. >How you hated yourself, and how deeply you sank into despair, when all your knowledge turned out to be worthless when met with real, deadly illness.
  617.  
  618. >How his parents, the Lord and Lady of Oakhoof, withered in front of your eyes, afflicted by a disease that responded to no medication or poultice.
  619. >How your friend just sat there, holding his father's hoof and smiling gently, a sad smile of a pony made many years older in a mere few weeks, as doctors, real doctors called all the way from Canterlot, bustled around the sick.
  620. >How even their magic and learning did nothing to bring about a cure.
  621. >How you squeezed his hoof with an iron grip, as the rain poured on you at their funeral, the rain mercifully obscuring both your tears.
  622. >How you swore never to let someone bear the pain of losing a loved one, despite knowing that oath to be futile.
  623. >How you begged and pleaded with the mare doctors to take you with them and teach you, only to be rejected because you were a colt.
  624. >How you threw yourself into studying by yourself in the Oakhoof library, and how, without you even asking, he one day gave you the key to your own room in the manor.
  625. >How he drove away the suddenly concerned aunts and relatives that wanted nothing but to leech off of his inheritance.
  626. >How he sat side by side with you, you studying medicine, he everything that would help him run the estate.
  627. >How he sent out ponies to search for the best advisors, turning away legions of sycophants and scam artists, his piercing grey eyes seeing through each of them.
  628. >How under his rule, a colt barely having reached adulthood, the region prospered and grew.
  629. >How he spent countless sleepless nights, making sure that no pony in his domain would want for anything.
  630. >How one day, he handed you a letter. An invitation to attend the Canterlot Medical University, fought tooth and hoof for, and paid for in full by him.
  631. >How you nearly squeezed the life out of him when you hugged him.
  632. >How you both cried as the carriage taking you away to the capital rolled away from the manor.
  633. >How you spent long days and long nights in study, working twice and thrice as hard as anypony else, to prove that the only colt in the University had what it takes.
  634. >How you turned down the few mares that had an interest in a "career stallion", to dedicate yourself to your craft.
  635. >How you made waves as a skilled doctor yourself, despite strong opposition from the all-mare board of the Canterlot Central Hospital.
  636. >How Noble Heart's name became known across Equestria as the epitome of a good noble, devoted entirely to his ponies wellbeing.
  637. >How noblemares threw themselves at him, swamping him with flowers and declarations of love, competing for his heart.
  638. >How he started a small, happy herd of mares he thought truly loved him.
  639. >How they all left him when it turned out that he couldn't give them foals.
  640.  
  641. >How you returned to Oakhoof after receiving a tear-stained letter in his shaky mouthwriting, throwing away your Canterlot career, to the joy of your detractors.
  642. >How you assured him that if there was a way to cure him of his infertility, you'd be the one to find it.
  643. >How horrified you were to find out, that the cause was the same genetic defect that caused his parents' illness, manifesting itself even more strongly in him.
  644. >How you threw yourself body and soul into finding a cure, your horn nearly breaking under the strain of countless new spells you made just to try and heal him.
  645. >How you failed him.
  646. >How you managed merely to delay the inevitable, even if it was for many years.
  647. >How, despite his failing health, he was still a father to all the ponies in his domain.
  648. >How you sat there, holding his hoof at his deathbed, the manor surrounded by ponies gathered from all the estate, silently mourning his coming fate.
  649. >How they parted, as Celestia herself, the Sun made flesh, arrived in a glorious, golden-white chariot pulled by pegasi.
  650. >How she told you to rise when you splayed yourself on the floor in a deep bow, her mere presence filling the room with a gentle warmth of a perfect summer day.
  651. >How she said she was proud of you, her decision to agree to your friend's request to allow you into the University having paid back by you becoming a splendid physician.
  652. >How you cried, because she was wrong. Because you couldn't save the one pony that mattered the most.
  653. >How she approached the bed, and how your best, dearest friend, with a shaky, barely audible voice made his last request. That the estate not be passed through the normal line of succession to his distant, uncaring family, but instead be placed under the care of the crown.
  654. >How he wanted the rule of the land to be passed to one who would love and care the ponies as much as he did.
  655. >One with a noble heart.
  656.  
  657. >You wipe the tears from your face with a shaky hoof, and cut the spell.
  658. >Anonymous' breathing is now steady and even, and his sleeping face rests gently on a tear-stained pillow.
  659. >You walk, unsteady with the exhaustion of maintaining a spell for so long, even a simple one, to your desk, and pull out the drawer.
  660. >You take the almost forgotten beaker of cider, and sit down on your chair, then down it in one go.
  661. >Your hoof now a bit more steady, you set the glass down.
  662. >You look through the window at the glittering night sky, the domain of the Sun's sister.
  663. >You have never doubted Celestia's decisions, and you hope she wasn't wrong when she finally selected Heart's successor.
  664. >You honestly didn't expect her to choose a colt after all. And he seems so inexperienced.
  665. >The task of maintaining the estate is a difficult one. Even under the management of the crown, the lands became less prosperous, lacking the direct engagement of a dedicated pony.
  666. >After many years of middling prosperity, even the manor had to be vacated to save on costs.
  667. >Just being back here threatens to overwhelm you emotionally sometimes.
  668. >But after the story you told, you feel somehow lighter, and younger.
  669. >Maybe Anonymous is going to be alright. You have a feeling that his reaction to your tale wasn't just the sentimental tears of a colt being told a sad story.
  670. >The look of determination on his face as he cried reminds you of yourself, and Heart, as you made your vows, yours to heal, his to serve, after his parent's death.
  671. "Isn't that right, old friend?"
  672. >You say, but no one answers, the only sound filling the room being the slow, steady breaths of the sleeping human.
  673.  
  674. >Bright and early is when you get out of bed, filled with enthusiasm for the coming day, a pep in your step and a song on your lips.
  675. >Oh how you lie to yourself.
  676. >Your eyelids part with a dry, scraping sound, as you yawn and smack your lips absent-mindedly.
  677. >You are Tight Schedule, and you desperately need your tea.
  678. >You were never a morning pony, but due to your occupation you are forced to get up early every day.
  679. >Not that you're complaining, not at all.
  680. >You just wish you didn't need a solid mental kick in the flanks to drag yourself out of bed every time.
  681. >Grumbling quietly, you flop out from under the covers, and land yourself ungracefully on your hooves.
  682. >You groggily make your way to a small kitchenette you had installed in your room, and put a kettle on the stove.
  683. >You hit the ignition switch on your third try, and a small, magical fire bursts to life.
  684. >You stare at it idly for a few seconds, then take the kettle off the stove, actually fill it with water, then place it back on the stove, and shamble towards the bathroom.
  685. >A few minutes and a cold shower later, you walk out, slightly damp, but decidedly more lucid.
  686. >The kettle is whistling merrily by now, so you kill the fire, ready your teapot, and pop open the can of tea with your teeth.
  687. >The glorious smell of dried leaves fills your snout, and you already feel much more awake.
  688. >You rinse the pot out with the hot water to bring it up to the right temperature, and measure the tea out with a small spoon.
  689. >Finally, you pour the water in, careful not to let the water hit the tea directly, and let the tightly wound leaves bloom in the pot.
  690. >Humming a nonsensical tune to yourself, you carry the pot and a teacup on a tray balanced on your flanks to a small table.
  691. >When you decide that it has finally steeped enough, you pour yourself the first teacup of the day.
  692. >Most decidedly the BEST teacup of the day.
  693.  
  694. >Three teacups later you've nearly finished your morning routine.
  695. >You put the finishing touches on your tightly wound bun manedo, put your glasses on, and prepare to head out.
  696. >First item for today: wake Lord Anonymous up and get him ready for morning lessons.
  697. >You straighten yourself up, open the door and walk out.
  698. >Only to find the noblestallion (or would that be noblehuman?) standing in the hallway right outside your room, looking out through a window onto the rolling hills stretching out beyond the manor grounds.
  699. "Lord Anonymous? You're up early."
  700. >He turns around, and you can see a faint redness circling his eyes.
  701. >Eyes that look on you with a look that is strangely wistful, for lack of a better word.
  702. >"Let's just say that I feel very... motivated today. Shall we go, miss Schedule?"
  703. >You push down your surprise, and lead the way.
  704.  
  705. >A clacking sound fills the air.
  706. >If clacking could sound pissed off, it would sound like this.
  707. >Anonymous is sitting across the desk from you, furiously scribbling with a pen held in one of his hoof-thingies on a piece of paper, the other one swiping irritatedly at a wooden abacus.
  708. >Finally he stops, carefully scrutinizes his writings, and hands the paper sheet to you with a grim look on his face.
  709. >You put down your wine glass, give it a quick glance, and shake your head.
  710. "Sorry, that's not quite right this time either. I believe you forgot to carry the one on line three."
  711. >"Bull! Fucking! Shit!"
  712. >He takes the page back and looks at it like he's trying to burn a hole through it.
  713. >After a while his shoulders slump in defeat, his face buried in his hand, paper crumpling against his temple.
  714. >"Ffffffffffffuuuuaaaaaaaaaargghhhhhhhh!"
  715. >Filly, does this colt have a filthy mouth.
  716. >You decided to start out your economics lessons with a quick refresher on mathematics.
  717. >This might have been a mistake.
  718. >Anonymous has admitted to being "slightly rusty".
  719. >You wonder how he kept a straight face with a lie that bold.
  720. >In the past 45 minutes he has not done a single calculation right.
  721. >You've progressively made the exercises easier as time went on, but he still got them wrong.
  722. >You're genuinely afraid to bring them down to the level of simple arithmetics.
  723. >You're not quite sure whether that's because you fear he'd throw you out of the window for insulting his intelligence, or because you're worried he'd somehow find a way to get 1+1 wrong.
  724. >It's not that he's dumb. Anything that didn't include actual calculations he got fairly easily.
  725. >It's just that when it comes time to juggle numbers, he turns out to have four rear hooves.
  726. >Which is a genuine accomplishment, seeing as he does not have any hooves at all.
  727. >Everyone knows the stereotype that colts can't do maths, but you've never met one that fit that particular preconception quite as well.
  728. >Or one that got quite as mad about it.
  729. >You swear you can almost see smoke coming out of his ears with how pissed off he is.
  730. >Well, it's not like he's going to kill you.
  731. >...right?
  732. "Perhaps now would be a good time for a break? We could walk outside, clear our heads, then come back and continue with some theory?"
  733. >You ask, weakly, taking a sip of your wine.
  734. >He looks up at you with a look that radiates fury and determination.
  735. >"No, no breaks. We keep going."
  736. >You gulp audibly.
  737. "Very well, next question then."
  738. >You are Balanced Books.
  739. >And this is not your idea of a good time spent one-on-one with a stallion.
  740.  
  741. "The Oak Valley isn't strictly speaking ideal farming land, at least not without a lot of work from all the earth ponies that live here. We do not have a lot of flat arable ground, and the soil is not exceptionally fertile. The area does however suit orchards and pastures quite well."
  742. >You lift a spoon with a piece of the luxurious chocolate mousse cake served with your tea, and slide it into your mouth with a satisfied hum.
  743. >You are Bumper Crop, and you were always of the opinion that Spoonful is an even better pastry chef than she is a cook.
  744. >She has yet to prove you wrong.
  745. >Anon is sitting across the table from you, his slice of cake untouched. He's sipping from a tall glass of iced water and scribbling down notes on some loose sheets of paper.
  746. "Thanks to the hills being rich in silica, we also have quite the booming glass industry, though we do of course have to compete with the Crystal Empire, which is not an enviable position. You'd do best to ask Balanced for more details on that. But, what it comes down to is that a lot of the glass we produce does not end up getting exported. This allowed us to cheaply construct a lot of greenhouses, which has tremendously boosted the profitability of our orchards. We might not be able to compete with someone like the Apples for quantity, but we make it up in variety and affordability. Being able to grow citrus and other exotic fruits like mangoes and lychees so close to the capital means we can significantly undercut any importers, and though our operations can still be considered small-scale, we still get a pretty big slice of the proverbial cake."
  747. >You slide the spoon into your mouth again, and find it disappointingly empty.
  748. >You look down at the clean plate before you, and sigh.
  749. >The biggest problem with cake is that it just runs out too fast.
  750. >You look over to Anonymous, who still hasn't touched his slice.
  751. >You lick your lips.
  752. "Speaking of cake. Are you going to eat that?"
  753. >He lifts up his head, surprised, but he shakes it to signify that he isn't, and slides the plate over to you.
  754. >Another spoon, full of chocolate goodness, finds it way into your mouth.
  755.  
  756. "Now, moving on to pastures. We have quite a variety there too. Not a lot of cows, but we have plenty of sheep, goats, and a large amount of pigs."
  757. >Anon lifts his head up from his notes.
  758. >"You guys raise pigs? Are they for export?"
  759. "No? Why would we export them? I mean, some breeding opportunities might be possible, but otherwise, no."
  760. >He looks a bit confused now.
  761. >"But I thought ponies were all..."
  762. >He makes a vague gesture with one of his hands.
  763. >"You know... herbivorous."
  764. >Your hoof stops midway from the plate to your mouth.
  765. "Yes. Yes we are. But I still don't really see what you mean."
  766. >Anon seems to really be uncomfortable now.
  767. >"Well, I guess I thought that since some species are omni- or carnivorous, like the griffins or the dragons, that maybe you were exporting the pigs to them."
  768. "Ah, I see what you might have meant, but no. The species you mentioned have a strong preference for hunting their own prey. I've never heard of them buying any farm animals for the purpose of consumption, but it is an interesting, if a bit morbid idea. I doubt many ponies would willingly sell their stock for such a purpose, either. Is that kind of practice common where you come from?"
  769. >He gives you a strange look.
  770. >"You're taking this surprisingly well."
  771. >You chuckle slightly.
  772. "I've travelled the world a bit when I was younger, and let me tell you, after you get invited to and witness a griffon family dinner, meat loses its power to phase you."
  773. >"Fair enough, but that still doesn't answer my question. Why keep pigs if not for their meat?"
  774. "Well, two reasons really. One, truffles. Though not exactly massive, the profits brought by truffle hunting pigs are not to be ignored. The second is much more important, and much more widely applicable throughout the valley. In one word - fertilizer. Pig manure is a wonderful way to enrich the soil, and the pigs are cheap and easy to keep happy, as they are willing to eat pretty much anything."
  775. >"Fertilizer, huh? I don't think we used pig manure too much where I'm from. I think one of the most popular animal fertilizer came... from..."
  776. >Anonymous looks in your direction, goes a little pale and stutters.
  777. "Came from what?"
  778. >"Other animals! Yeah, other animals! Nevermind!"
  779. >You shrug and shovel another spoon of delicious cake into your mouth.
  780. >But you can't shrug off the feeling that Anonymous is looking at you a bit differently now.
  781.  
  782. "And the view from the hills is just breathtakin'! I mean, sure, it's not Mount Canterhorn, but sometimes, I like to climb the highest tree in on the highest hill, and kinda pretend that it is."
  783. >You are Spruce Branch.
  784. >And darn, Lord Anon is a great listener!
  785. >Normally, ponies' eyes glaze over after a few minutes of listenin' to you, but he seems to be actually payin' attention.
  786. >You know you talk a bit much, I mean, you're not dumb.
  787. >But you just get so excited!
  788. >The beauty of the valley that's been your home since the day your Mam gave birth to you fills you with so much joy you could sing!
  789. >In fact, you often do!
  790. >...ponies don't really like that either.
  791. >That's fine though, no one's complainin' when it's just you, the trail, the trees, and the freshest air in all of Equestria, you're darn sure.
  792. >The animals don't seem to mind either.
  793. >Oh yeah, you were tellin' Anon about the beavers! Better get back to that.
  794. "So yeah, the trees! It took some doin', but we struck a deal with the beavers that live in the valley. We help 'em pick the right spot to build the dams so they don't flood anythin' important and get plenty of food for winter. In return, they mark the trees that are ripe for cuttin' and won't be missed so we can get plenty of lumber, while the forest stays healthy. Everypony's happy!"
  795. >"Ah, so that's what you meant by 'controlled flooding' when we last met, Miss Branch."
  796. "Sure did! And call me Spruce! We got deals with all kinds of critters that live in the valley. And I'm the lucky mare that gets to go 'round and make sure that everythin' goes smooth!"
  797. >You giggle and clop your hooves together.
  798. >You're met with unexpected silence.
  799. >Oh no, did Anon get bored of you after all?
  800.  
  801. >You look up and see him staring out the window with a strange expression.
  802. >He looks... tired? And kinda sad.
  803. "Is everythin' OK?"
  804. >He shakes his head, but he keeps looking out the window.
  805. >"It's just that... I've been listening to you all talk about Oak Valley, all the ponies here, and everything they do for weeks now, and I've never actually gone out and seen them for myself. I'm supposed to take care of everyone here, but I don't know anyone aside from the manor staff, and I haven't been anywhere but cooped up in this mansion."
  806. >The colt seems so sad you want to just hug him and hold him and tell him that everythin' will be all right.
  807. >But colts don't like when you try to do that either, so you take that feelin' and push it down until it's quiet like you always do.
  808. >But you still wanna help somehow.
  809. >You like Anon, he's really nice, he listens, he even laughs at your jokes!
  810. >Nopony laughs at your jokes!
  811. >You clop your hooves together, but this time it's a nervous kind of clopping.
  812. "Well, remember how you wanted me to recommend some hikin' trails when we first met?"
  813. >He's looking at you now.
  814. "Maybe... maybe you could join me when I go round and check on the beavers next time? I know they're not ponies, but they do live here too, and it would give you an opportunity to actually see the valley!"
  815. >He hums to himself and raps his chin with those strange appendages at the end of his not-front-hooves.
  816. >"I'm not sure Ms. Schedule will let me skip out on her, well, schedule that easily... But you know what? I'm just going to have to convince her!"
  817. >Was... was that a yes?
  818. >You're not sure, but he looks like he cheered up, so everythin' worked out fine.
  819.  
  820. >You are Tight Schedule.
  821. >And you can't find Lord Anonymous.
  822. >You've searched everywhere!
  823. >It's early morning, but he's 15 minutes late.
  824. >He's not in his room, so it's not that he's overslept.
  825. >He's not in the dining room, so it's not that he's getting an early breakfast.
  826. >Besides, you've already asked Spoonful, and she hasn't seen him today yet.
  827. >Where can he be?
  828. >This isn't like him. It's been a month since his lessons started, and he hasn't been late even once!
  829. >And he's been doing so well, too.
  830. >You finally got him to get his titles right.
  831. >He had such a hard time telling a dame from a lady from a madam, but he did it!
  832. >Did you push him too hard?
  833. >Maybe the time you had him practice speaking in front of a crowd by having him read the Canterlot Times to the entire staff was too much.
  834. >Those butlers and their damnable snickering.
  835. >Especially once he got to the gossip column.
  836. >On second thought, maybe you should have had him skip it.
  837. >But knowing how to deal with embarrassment is crucial for a noble!
  838. >One must always keep their wits about them and act dignified, no matter the situation.
  839. >So where did he go?
  840. >You increase your pace to a trot, and make your way through the main corridor.
  841. >While taking a turn, you notice some movement outside the window.
  842. >You stop, your hooves skidding on the polished floor.
  843. >Because what you've seen just can't be real.
  844. >You feel your eye twitch slightly.
  845. >It hasn't twitched in nearly a month.
  846.  
  847. "Lord Anonymous! Lord Anonymous! LORD ANONYMOUS!!!"
  848. >Your hooves stamp on the fresh morning dew glistening among the grass in front of the mansion as you gallop towards its master.
  849. >Who is doing something utterly preposterous right now.
  850. >Why is he doing it?
  851. >HOW is he doing it?
  852. >The rosy-hoofed dawn makes for a dramatic backdrop to a thoroughly ridiculous sight.
  853. >Lord Anonymous, bare-chested, glistening with sweat, and splattered with mud, is pulling a carriage.
  854. >In fact, the same carriage he rode in, or was supposed to ride in during his arrival.
  855. >Said carriage is full of ponies.
  856. >In fact, every single butler in the entire mansion is currently in, or, because fitting them all inside would be impossible, on top of the carriage.
  857. >They all seem to be having a good time, chatting and gossiping.
  858. >In fact, the ones inside are having tea and scones.
  859. >Again, you have to ask yourself.
  860. >HOW IS HE DOING THIS?
  861. >The weight he's pulling right now is simply incredible.
  862. >Yet, slowly but surely, the carriage is moving forward.
  863. "LORD! ANONYMOUS!"
  864. >You scream at the top of your lungs, as you finally run up close.
  865. >He stops, drops the tugs he's been pulling the carriage by, and turns in your direction, breathing heavily.
  866. >"Is something the matter, Miss Schedule? There should be still time before my morning lessons."
  867. >Is something the matter?
  868. >IS SOMETHING THE MATTER HE ASKS?
  869. >You stop yourself from yelling at the noblestallion who clearly let his whimsy take him over completely.
  870. >It's not his fault, that's just their nature.
  871. >It was inevitable, and you should have seen it coming.
  872. >A month without an incident, a month of him being on his best behaviour.
  873. >It must have built up inside him like in a pressure cooker.
  874. >You were supposed to be the safety valve, to let him find non-harmful ways to let it out.
  875. >This is all your fault.
  876. >You let his enthusiasm and eagerness to learn cloud your judgement.
  877. "Lord Anonymous, this ridiculous display ends right now! This kind of behaviour is entirely unbefitting of a noblestallion! What's more, you've decided to do it right in front of the mansion, where anypony arriving could see you! AND you've dragged what must be the entire household staff into it!"
  878. >Said household staff has become very quiet, and is currently looking at you as well, most of them with some degree of fright or worry on their faces.
  879. >Good, they should have known better than to take any part in this.
  880. >Lord Anonymous, on the other hoof, is just standing there, looking at you without any particular expression.
  881. >No shame, no contrition, not even hesitation.
  882. >Ooooooh, this colt is making you lose your temper.
  883. "Now, you will get back into the manor and clean yourself up, right this instant!"
  884. >He walks up close to you.
  885. >"No, Miss Schedule, I don't think I will."
  886.  
  887. >Did... did he just tell you "no"?
  888. >Why, if he wasn't so big, you'd put him across your stifle and give his flank a good smacking.
  889. >...he really is big, isn't he?
  890. >And he's standing right over you.
  891. >Towering over you, really.
  892. >Oh my.
  893. >You feel your confidence draining from you.
  894. >Mercifully, he crouches down, and meets you eye-to-eye.
  895. >The trade-off being that you are now drowned in his thoroughly alien, but still unmistakeably male musk.
  896. >Which serves only to throw you further off-balance.
  897. >"I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but I believe we need to have a talk."
  898. >You've never seen him this serious.
  899. >You gulp and nod.
  900. >"I've followed your schedule to the letter. And it's a good schedule. I learned a lot. But it doesn't account for one fact. For all of my life, I've worked with my body, not my head. I need exercise, and there's no place in your schedule for that."
  901. "Yes, Lord Anonymous, but-"
  902. >He places a finger on your snout, shushing you.
  903. >"I know. Image is important for a noble. But I don't want to sacrifice connecting to the ponies around me to protect it. Especially not to the ponies I'm sharing the place I live with. Did you know that Feather Duster has a marefriend in the nearby village? And that Down Pillow plays the guitar?"
  904. >You're about to answer, but he doesn't let even a peep escape your mouth.
  905. >"Because I didn't. Not until today. Because today I actually approached them, and talked to them, instead of treating them like just house staff."
  906. >"So if the price I have to pay for that is that I appear a bit silly, or that I get a bit dirty, I'm fine with paying it."
  907. >"And the same goes for outside the manor as well. I know learning all those things is essential to me being able to take care of the estate, but it doesn't mean anything If I don't know who I'm actually taking care of. I need to go out there, and meet them, and see the land that has become my responsibility with my own eyes. Do you think that would be possible to arrange, Miss Schedule?"
  908. >You were right.
  909. >You made a mistake.
  910. >But you were wrong about what the mistake was.
  911. >Your mistake was that you took an adult stallion, and tried to treat him like a foal.
  912. >You sigh.
  913. "Yes, Lord Anonymous. It can."
  914. >"Splendid! Well then, let's go back to the mansion. I don't want to be late for my lessons."
  915. "Very well. I do have to ask though, why is this carriage still here? Wasn't it supposed to return to Canterlot?"
  916. >"Oh no, the carriage is a gift from the princesses! It belongs to Lord Anonymous now!"
  917. >You turn around, and notice Steady Brace, sitting in the carriage driver seat without a care in the world.
  918. "Steady Brace? You're still here? I thought your hoof healed weeks ago."
  919. >"Yeah, I'm assigned to the carriage as Lord Anonymous' personal driver! Didn't you read the letter?"
  920. "What letter would that be, Miss Brace?"
  921. >"Oh yeah, I guess I never got around to giving it to you, did I? Whoops!"
  922. >Aaaaaaand there goes the eye vein.

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