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[WIP] Frost Fringed Letters

By HeavyHorse
Created: 6th September 2021 01:20:04 PM
18th September 2021 10:17:53 AM

  1. >Third of October, 22nd day of the Anon Northern Expedition
  2. >Dear Paper Chase,
  3. >I don't know why I continue to compose these letters, it's not as if there's any kind of postal service out here.
  4. >Maybe it just gives me something to do, other than sit and watch Anon grouse about how much of the hardtack we brought is already gone.
  5. >There still isn't much to tell, beyond a few interesting flowers the botanists in your department might be interested in hearing about. I've catalogued a few sketches of them and have included descriptions of where we found them.
  6. >I'm starting to worry about Anon, though. I think he's taken too much upon himself for all of this and while he doesn't show it, he's begun to spend more time in his tent, making notes in the log I'm sure.
  7. >He's a fine leader, to be sure, and there isn't a one among us that doubts his abilities.
  8. >He'll get us out to where we're going and back safely, even if it means calling an end to the expedition prematurely. I'm not worried about that.
  9. >I'm worried what'll happen when we get back.
  10. >-N.B.: strike this section, recompose.
  11. >On a more personal note, please have the fine culinary minds responsible for designing this hardtack reconsider their recipe.
  12. >I've seen at least one of our number seriously suggest eating a spare pair of boots instead.
  13. >Your friend in the snow,
  14. >Anonymous
  15.  
  16. >Fifth of October, 24th day of Anon Northern Expedition
  17. >Dear Paper Chase,
  18. >Whatever I may have said about Anon's mental state, I wholeheartedly retract.
  19. >It seems that his agitation and rumination has been caused by... something stalking us.
  20. >The others have been looking to him for guidance and to his credit, he's done his best to reassure everyone that we're well prepared to deal with any potential threats in this unknown region.
  21. >Still, I think we'd all breathe a little easier if we had some rifles, rather than some flares, socks, and oil from the lamps we could combine into some makeshift torches.
  22. >Anon, our cartographer and orienteer, sends certain regards—I'm sure you'd rather not read—to the archivists at the Royal Canterlot Records Office for passing such old maps along with us.
  23. >I realise the purpose of our expedition is to update them and discover whatever flora and fauna, etc. the records are no doubt missing but that we could get such little direction from any written records has only made the journey more perilous.
  24. >The area we're traveling through is remote, yes, but nothing I've seen indicates Equestrians are insular to this degree.
  25. >Do you really care so little for what exists beyond the mild climes of your homes?
  26. >By this point in human history, we'd seen almost the entirety of our planet.
  27. >I suppose it's only appropriate that we should be roped into doing the work for you, though.
  28. >-N.B.: consider re-wording that section more diplomatically.
  29. >Your friend, lost in the snow,
  30. >Anonymous
  31.  
  32. >Sixth of October, 25th day of the Anon Northern Expedition
  33. >Paper Chase,
  34. >By now I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes at my continued attempts to document time according to our months from home.
  35. >Well stop rolling them and read what I have to say, damnit.
  36. >Anon isn’t the only one who’s going to have more-than-firm words with your archivists over this because, unless I’m utterly mistaken, we’ve happened upon a hitherto unknown group of ponies.
  37. >Please excuse the roughness of the sketches I’ve included, I’m afraid this is all simply too exciting after almost a month of mosses, lichens, and the odd flowering winter plant to add some colour.
  38. >As I sit here, looking at my compatriots and the ponies milling about them, I still find it all so hard to believe.
  39. >As we crested the hill, the small band of these ponies were all turned towards us, as if awaiting our arrival. We’d realised we were being watched the day before and it seems a scouting party was dispatched to observe the travellers passing near them.
  40. >One approached and said something, which Anon—the linguist who’d insisted on accompanying us and whom I now feel far better for it—has translated to mean something close to, ‘<blessings/good fortune> of the <stars/sky deities/heavens> upon <you/your tribe/your clan>’.
  41. >Please excuse my writing, Anon was most insistent that I record his difficulties translating as exactly as I could. From what he’s said, these ponies appear to be speaking something like a root language of modern Ponish. He could make a more accurate assessment if he had the correct books, alas we had to limit what we could bring and thought manuals on linguistics of little use.
  42. >I must say, however, that in spite of the language barrier, they’ve done their best to make us feel welcome within their group. At the least, they haven’t seen fit to chase us away and most don’t shy away when we stand or approach them.
  43. >It has taken much time, gesturing, and resisting the urge to shout but we’ve slowly been making headway in some basic communication with these ponies. Though I call them ponies, really they’re far closer, at least in form and colour, to the horses of my homeworld.
  44. >They lack the wild and fanciful coats and manes of your countrymares and their cutie marks—at least they appear to be such—are equally more uniform in colour, though perhaps much less literal than anything you might see in Equestria.
  45. >Whether they’re an aberration or the norm, it’s far too early to say with any certainty.
  46. >Anon, our leader, has said he’s spoken to the one that leads their group and she’s told him she’ll take us to a larger group still.
  47. >Apparently our movements were known of for some time but they wished to observe us to discern our intentions.
  48. >-N.B.: Anon is still insisting I give him my pen to allow him to properly explain that our translations are still quite rough and shouldn’t be taken as so accurate to be relied on. Consider re-wording that passage, at least until the oaf relents.
  49. >They’ve made no hostile overtures towards us so far and none of them sport anything that could be used as a weapon but none also sport horns or wings. I’m sure you know well just how dangerous an earth pony can be even only with their hooves and teeth.
  50. >As I’m afraid Anon—our doctor—learned firsthand after one of the ponies decided to, what I can only describe as ‘attack’ one of his boots. I’ve included a sketch of the incident as best I could recall it.
  51. >We’re still trying to get an explanation over it from the ponies but I’m sure you can imagine the difficulty in that in all the commotion that erupted. Thankfully the mare in question did not bite into his foot, nor did she attempt to once she’d removed his boot.
  52. >What, exactly, she’s done with it I’m still not sure of. She hasn’t been seen since the incident and the ponies we’ve asked have been tight-lipped.
  53. >I’d worry we’ve inadvertently caused some crippling diplomatic incident but a few of the ponies seem quite amused over the matter.
  54. >In any case, it would seem that our reliance on the hardtack of dubious edibility is now a solved problem. The ponies were quite keen to share their stock of hardy roots they’d brought with them.
  55. >They’re quite tough, too, though I’m sure if boiled they’d prove much more pleasant.
  56. >Better yet, however, is that apparently the larger group these ponies hail from is some form of fishing expedition.
  57. >Please pick your glasses back up from your desk, Paper, you’ll need them to read this.
  58. >Aren’t there at least some written accounts of ponies turning to eating meat or fish in times of desperation? Or, as I believe, is it something that’s considered too taboo in your society to record in that way?
  59. >Whatever the case, I’m not the only one among us relieved to have some more variety reintroduced to our diets. Fish has been an old favourite, lost to many of us and I count myself among them.
  60. >The ponies here seem by turns confused and amused with some of the equipment we carry, though one was utterly mesmerised when Anon—our cook—took out his old lighter and demonstrated it. Seems whatever oil you use for your lamps is suitable for it. That or he’s found a chemist who was able to synthesise an equivalent of lighter fluid with it.
  61. >Which is to say that if it comes to it, we may have some things to barter with them for their fish. Or to gift to them in thanks. Perhaps it’s simply my aching stomach speaking.
  62. >In any case, I shall compose another letter once I have more to report and send on through the still non-existent postal ponies here.
  63. >Your friend, hopefully among new ones,
  64. >Anonymous
  65.  
  66. >Seventh of October, 26th day of the Anon Northern Expedition
  67. >Paper Chase,
  68. >I apologise for the poor handwriting of this letter but I feel compelled to note some goings on in our impromptu camp since yesterday and don’t have much time before we must be off.
  69. >The first is that the leader of the group, at least as we understand her to be, came to Anon appearing quite distressed.
  70. >Strange to say, as yesterday she was polite albeit it rather curt and while the thick bangs of her mane gave little away of her eyes, I can only surmise that her dour demeanour may be out of some remaining uncertainty as to our intentions.
  71. >Anon, our linguist, grows more comfortable translating but the mare still needed to repeat her words, each time looking between Anon and our tents, before we could grasp her meaning.
  72. >My only hope is that following Anon’s sudden outburst of laughter, we haven’t appeared to mock their custom.
  73. >You see, we were rather confused last night as none of the ponies we encountered had set up tents or other structures of their own. Rather, they gathered together and huddled around one another, pressing their bodies close as they lay in the snow.
  74. >We would’ve invited them into our tents but they’re barely large enough for ourselves and, I admit, seeing them lying there peacefully, I grew to envy their exceptionally thick coats.
  75. >That is why their leader, Warm Embrace we have translated her name as, was awaiting our rousing from sleep and immediately approached to check on our wellbeing.
  76. >From what she’s told us, among her ponies it is extremely unusual to sleep alone. Even in their homes, itself a fascinating revelation, family groups sleep communally. That each of us retired to a tent alone was something their watchmares were too shocked by to wake the others and investigate.
  77. >I must press upon you what I’m about to say - at the earliest juncture, Warm Embrace spoke slowly and carefully, making sure to give Anon time to grasp the meaning.
  78. >She offered us a place in their huddle, that if we don’t know the ways of forming our own, they would be glad to teach us.
  79. >Now keep in mind, it’s been less than a day since we’ve met these ponies. Yes, they’ve kept a watch on us but without understanding our language, that could only give them so much to go on.
  80. >In spite of that, however, they have lept immediately to offer us hospitality unequalled by anything we have encountered in Equestria.
  81. >Though Anon, our doctor, was grumbling about it being a ploy to secure more of our boots, I think he’s just upset that we haven’t a spare that properly fits his foot.
  82. >To further exemplify their character, I must relate the second happening in the camp.
  83. >We’ve a few sleds with us to carry some of the heavier equipment and provisions - the oil for the lamps, cooking equipment, extra clothing, etc.. We’ve taken it in turns to pull them but, especially over the more difficult terrain, it can make for slow going.
  84. >Our new friends are eager to return to their compatriots and, seeing us gathering the sleds, made an offer I still can’t quite grasp.
  85. >They use sleds of their own and what sound like travoises and, as such, offered to pull ours in our stead.
  86. >Now, I admit, so far they’ve lacked the horns of unicorns and wings of pegasi so we’ve assumed they’re related, at least, to earth ponies. Giving one of them the ropes of the sled, she pulled it with such ease and grace that it’s difficult to dismiss the similarity.
  87. >More than that, however, is how she pulled it.
  88. >Paper, her hooves never once dug into the snow as our own feet do. As if she was stepping on solid earth, she placed a hoof forward each time and pulled at the sled.
  89. >Anon has translated her name as Snow Glide and I believe it is perhaps the most appropriate of them.
  90. >The last event is, I believe, of the greatest significance.
  91. >Anon, our linguist, was keen to find out what we should call these ponies. After all, the name they give themselves could reveal much about them.
  92. >Alas, we still lack a firm enough grasp on their language to discern the true meaning of it.
  93. >The best he could make of what Warm Embrace told him is, ‘<group/tribe/family> of the <indeterminable expression>’.
  94. >He believes the term may be a complex expression that encapsulates the nature of these ponies, their place within the world, and how it has shaped them.
  95. >The closest we could get is that it’s something to do with the snow that blankets this land. Indeed, when Anon presented the idea to her, taking care to make his meaning clear, Warm Embrace seemed quite pleased.
  96. >She has asked us to call them, in our language, ‘snowponies’.
  97. >I shall write more on this at my earliest convenience, we’re to move out soon.
  98. >Your friend, finding warmth in the snow,
  99. >Anonymous
  100.  
  101. >Seventh of October, 26th day of the Anon Northern Expedition
  102. >Dear Paper Chase,
  103. >I’m sure that if we didn’t have these snowponies pulling our sleds, we would never have made it to their encampment so quickly.
  104. >Still, I get the feeling that Warm Embrace would prefer we weren’t so easily bogged down in the snow. Our doctor has taken the brunt of her glares—without seeing her eyes it’s impossible to confirm if she’s doing so but it makes sense—most likely from walking so awkwardly.
  105. >Otherwise, we arrived at the larger group without incident.
  106. >I must direct you, first, to the sketch I’ve included showing most of the group that greeted us at the encampment surrounding an open section of the ice-covered lake we arrived at.
  107. >Do you notice anything? Perhaps that young and old alike have joined this group?
  108. >Without further explanation from them, I’m left to draw my own conclusions and while I hesitate to leap too much towards offering definitive statements, I think some things can safely be gleaned.
  109. >Most likely, the younger snow ponies are of an age where they can safely be brought along to observe the older mares fishing and hauling. Whether this is a communal effort, with any pony from their group working, or they have dedicated fishers, it makes sense for the younger ones to learn from them.
  110. >The older mares I’m less sure of. Age takes its toll on earth ponies as much as any of the other tribes but then, these may very well not be earth ponies at all. Perhaps they’ve been brought to offer more instruction to the foals? I’ll have to consult with Warm Embrace when the opportunity arises.
  111. >Like the older members, the foals appear more curious than afraid of us. However, as you can see from the sketch, it seems likely our doctor is to suffer another ‘incident’. I didn’t see the filly take his remaining original boot, not yet, but there’s still light in the day.
  112. >I must mention the saddles and baskets as they’re related. Both speak to a more sophisticated society than might otherwise be concluded from our observations from the previous day. These snowponies both possess leather—or what looks like it—and the means to fabricate it.
  113. >As to their purpose? Those that we’ve seen lack any real decoration and seem to serve more as protection from the large ‘saddlebaskets’ they carry that are filled with fish. I can only imagine that the woven baskets, so laden, must chafe against them. If they have some other use, we’ve yet to see it.
  114. >Warm Embrace was good enough to allow Anon—the member of our team in charge of the equipment—to examine one of the saddles. They’re well crafted and cared for, no signs of the material drying or cracked. The covering under them, strangely, almost resembles some of the fur of the other members of the encampment. A coincidence, most likely.
  115. >The snowponies of the camp have offered us some of their fish and while our immediate inclination was to turn down their generous offer, we have no way of telling how that gesture may be received. We may be expected to partake.
  116. >Still, we decided to test the waters and in turn offered them some of our hardtack. I can only attribute their lack of disgust to a lack of familiarity with Equestrian cuisine and how the hardtack compares. Or perhaps they’re simply being polite.
  117. >The foals, at least, made no attempt to hide their distaste for the foul biscuits. Perhaps that’s the reason our doctor’s other boot now lies in danger?
  118. >As you can see, he also took it upon himself to catch some fish of our own. It still feels wrong to deprive these snowponies of what they have, without knowing of their own needs and stocks.
  119. >We’re still puzzling out the mare who arrived with the basket - whether she mistook our doctor’s intention and brought some more of their own fish to assure us we can count upon their generosity, or believes that he’s looking to contribute to their work.
  120. >Once more I find myself marvelling at the kindness of these ponies. We’ve done nothing to win their trust and generosity and yet they extend it willingly.
  121. >Something I feel our cartographer has yet to fully appreciate.
  122. >As you can see, he has been engaged in some serious discussion, shall we say, with one of the group an older mare brought to examine our maps.
  123. >He insists that they cannot be so wrong as to be useless but, from what we can translate, that is precisely the case. Attempts to explain where we took the maps from and who crafted them have been met only with confusion. It appears the snowponies, or at least these ones, have absolutely no knowledge of Equestria and the ponies who dwell within it.
  124. >Which raises its own set of questions, of course, and ones I’m not equipped to answer at this juncture.
  125. >Finally, for now, I must draw your attention to the elderly mare at the centre of the sketch. The one with the braided mane and the beaded collar around her neck. Probably the most important thing I must tell you in this letter.
  126. >Warm Embrace told us that she is called ‘Baba Hooves’ and whether that is her real name or a term of endearment and/or respect, we’ve yet to puzzle out.
  127. >When asked about the matter—after first clearing it with Warm Embrace who had bowed upon approaching the mare, indicating some degree of importance to her position—she asked us, through Anon and Warm Embrace, what we had been told of her.
  128. >We, in turn, simply replied with what they had asked us to call her. Baba Hooves merely smiled at this and nodded, saying something to Warm Embrace who in turn smiled at us.
  129. >She hasn’t deigned to translate what was said and I admit, my curiosity is fighting hard against my respect, but I’ll do my best to let the matter lie for now, at least.
  130. >I fear I must cut this letter short for now, my friend, as we‘ve been asked to join the snowponies in a communal meal.
  131. >Make no mistake, though, that these are exciting times.
  132. >Your friend, elated to eat once more,
  133. >Anonymous
  134. >-N.B.: make note of Anon intervening in the map dispute to defuse situation. Offer thoughts on position of seals within snowpony group/society. Important - note conversation between Anon and Baba Hooves.
  135.  
  136. >Eighth of October, 27th day of the Anon Northern Expedition
  137. >Dear Paper Chase,
  138. >I apologise in advance for the length of this letter but I’m afraid there’s simply too much for me to document and relate.
  139. >Our meal with the snowponies yesterday was a simple enough affair.
  140. >The folding tables we use for the cooking equipment aren’t large enough to accommodate all of us so we joined them in being seated together.
  141. >I’m sure you remember our earlier days at the University where myself and my comrades would sit together, apart from ponies, until we ‘warmed up to you’, as you put it. I must confess that the feeling returned yesterday when the prospect of being seated among strange equines reared its head again.
  142. >But we had neither the luxury of a spacious cafeteria, nor the leeway to believe we wouldn’t cause undue offence to our hosts.
  143. >Instead, we made do with sitting together, assuming that the snowponies would seat themselves opposite us. Why wouldn’t we? Our relations haven’t been strained or otherwise fragile but they had no reason to stay so close to us.
  144. >I’m sure you can imagine the surprise that spread amongst us when many sat right against ourselves and a few even pushed their way between us.
  145. >Our linguist was astounded—and more than a little amused—to discover that Warm Embrace had related the previous night’s lack of huddling on our part to the rest of the group. Apparently, in spite of repeated assurances that our coats and other clothing were sufficient to keep us warm, they still worried both for our safety and for... something we’re still trying to translate.
  146. >I’ve tried to capture the scene as I recall it in the sketch. You see Baba Hooves sitting almost next to Anon? I’m glad Warm Embrace is between them and I’m sure he felt the same. It still unnerves me to recall how she chewed at the hardtack with a smile on her face.
  147. >Our cartographer and the mare he was arguing with shared a darne of the fish—Anon, our cook, says it’s something like grayling—which I hope indicates they’ve made amends over the earlier argument. With the language barrier it’s impossible to tell but she seemed settled enough.
  148. >Please excuse the odd perspective, I’ve tried to mentally place myself opposite of where I sat. Our doctor is firmly wedged between myself and our cook, no doubt to avoid getting close to any of the snowponies for fear of what might happen. He hasn’t said if that’s the reason but I think it’s a safe assumption, at this point.
  149. >At the least, he didn’t recoil too severely when one of the older mares—who through Warm Embrace, graciously shared that her name is ‘True North’—brought him what looked like a particularly fat darne of the fish. An attempt to assure him they mean him no further harm and possibly some measure of restitution?
  150. >Note also the seals gathered alongside the snowponies. We haven’t received much of an explanation beyond them being ‘friends’ and what our linguist has translated as, ‘<partners/compatriots> in our endeavour’.
  151. >The foals in particular were quite fond of petting the seals as they offered some of the smaller fish that could be spared.
  152. >As for myself, you can see the cream and grey mare who previously brought the basket to our doctor, sat herself by my side. I believe, owing to her cutie mark as well, that she’s one of the fishers who brought in this generous haul.
  153. >So, I tried to make clear to her that the fish was most appreciated and tasteful. It certainly helps that our cook was able to put the small gas-burning stoves and pans to use in cooking them first.
  154. >I’ve included a sketch of that, also, as I believe you’ll enjoy seeing the reactions of the snowponies to seeing us use that modern equipment.
  155. >You can see the bay mare in particular was keenly investigating the gas stoves. First she started launching a tirade of questions to our cook before realising she was wasting her time and fetched Warm Embrace.
  156. >I’m sure you can imagine the difficulty of translating under those circumstances but she was intensely interested in the heat output of the stoves, their adjustability, and the fuel.
  157. >Why? And why her? I’m afraid we haven’t been able to adequately translate that, at least yet. All we have is her name: Bright Earth.
  158. >Whatever the case, the meal proceeded without any unfortunate incidents. We may not have been able to talk with our hosts but their company, never mind their food, was more than welcome.
  159. >From speaking with Anon afterwards, he was engaged in some discussion with Warm Embrace and Baba Hooves during it.
  160. >And I confess I still feel a certain rush of excitement just thinking about it but we were to be brought to their village, to properly rest and more patiently discuss who we are and why we’re here.
  161. >I’m sure you must be mentally composing your letter to me, chiding me about the importance of ‘maintaining a proper sense of professional detachment and objectivity in your observations’. But Paper, if you’d seen what we have, been treated as we have, you’d be struggling just as much as I am.
  162. >I’m going to split this correspondence as I still have much to relate and must break momentarily.
  163. >Your friend, soundly subjective,
  164. >Anonymous
  165.  
  166. >Eighth of October, 27th day of the Anon Northern Expedition
  167. >Dear Paper Chase,
  168. >I think you’re going to like this one in particular.
  169. >While I wasn’t privy to the exact details of the discussion between Anon and Baba Hooves, I have learned of one important detail from our linguist-turned-interpreter: we’re now under their care.
  170. >Or rather, we’re honour-bound to each other.
  171. >I’m afraid I don’t recall reading such instances in my studies of Equestrian hippology but certainly back on Earth, such beliefs aren’t or weren’t uncommon among certain types of societies.
  172. >You see, having shared food with one another, the snowponies are bound by tradition to allow no harm to come to us just as we in turn are not to harm them.
  173. >While Anon was still understandably a bit reluctant to place his full trust in them, he agreed to their request for us to accompany them to their village. Personally, I didn’t see what further risk we’d be taking by doing so. If they wanted to capture or otherwise harm us, they’ve had more than ample opportunity to do so. And with the village so close that we could reach it within the day, even at our comparatively slower pace, then there’s no way we’d be able to outrun any search parties from it.
  174. >But he’s our leader and ultimately the safety of our group is his responsibility. Which is why he turned down a most generous offer by our hosts that I’ll get to in due course.
  175. >Recall from my earlier sketch the treeline close by to where the fishing party had set up. It’s within that forest that we found the village and make no mistake, it is a large enough settlement to be called so.
  176. >I think, having seen where we were to be led, I understood Anon’s concern.
  177. >Again, our gracious hosts offered to pull our laden sleds but this time along with their own and their travoises, now themselves laden with their haul from the fishing expedition.
  178. >The foals of the group circled about our sleds, chattering to each other excitedly before taking off into the forest.
  179. >Strange to say but while most of them showed the same lack of difficulty with the snow as Snow Glide, at least one of them periodically sank into the drifts. To their credit, the rest of the foals would slow down and help dislodge her. It warms the heart to see such camaraderie among children of even this far-flung place.
  180. >As for the older mares, they easily kept pace with the rest of the group. One even bore a pair of the ‘saddlebaskets’ upon her back. From what little I’ve seen of their relations so far, I’ve little reason to believe she would’ve been burdened unduly so my assumption is that she requested the opportunity.
  181. >True North stayed near our doctor, who thankfully showed no signs of trying to avoid her in turn. I think her generosity at the meal and her general demeanour have done much to ease the tension there. It also spared him observing Warm Embrace’s continued glances back at him. He was a little more sure-footed but still lagged.
  182. >Still, Anon, our… He asked us to call him our ‘quartermaster’ and I neglected to use that term in a previous letter, owing to its ridiculousness. We’re not a military endeavour and while he may hold that background, it’s not a title that fits with our mission.
  183. >I mention this here only because I know if he, somehow, gets his mitts on these letters I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t at least mention it.
  184. >To get back to my point, he’s been enjoying examining the travoises and sleds of the snowponies.
  185. >Not to talk down the quality of craftsponyship of our own sleds but considering we’re now among the natives of this land, it’d be a hard task to beat their own knowledge of constructing sleds.
  186. >How much of that is down to better weight distribution and how much to more sophisticated ergonomics, I leave to whatever report our ‘quartermaster’ may feel the need to draw up.
  187. >In any case, I’ll direct your attention to the first sketch I’ve included.
  188. >I hope you’ll forgive the roughness, that’s not down to any difficulty remembering on my part. Goodness no, I doubt I could forget stepping through the last of those trees and being greeted by that sight.
  189. >What was I expecting?
  190. >Not such sophisticated looking lodges, given what little we’ve seen of the snowponies before that but then I should’ve remembered what I said about their production of leather.
  191. >I think it’s still the shock of encountering these ponies. I know I’m not alone in standing somewhat awestruck at these sights.
  192. >From the small statuettes that adorn the pathways through the village, to the ornate carvings upon many of the doors and the logs of the structures themselves, the small decorations tied with colourful strips of cloth that hang from the eaves of their lodges, many of them look like trees or leaves though some almost look like conifer cones.
  193. >It’s a hippologist’s dream come true and I’m only sorry you’re not here to see these things for yourself.
  194. >The second sketch, I hope, provides a better view of our arrival in the village.
  195. >I have to believe it’s thanks to the foals who ran ahead that a party was waiting for us but I’m still glad that the worst I can say about the greeting is the curiosity expressed by the villagers.
  196. >An older mare stepped forward from the group to meet Baba Hooves and Warm Embrace, who continued on as Anon brought us to a halt.
  197. >The discussion was, apparently, over bringing strange creatures with ‘magic fire’ into the village and any danger they might pose. Knowing what I know now, it’s obvious the adults didn’t place too much stock in whatever the foals had told them. Children are the same wherever you go, eh?
  198. >Once the matter was cleared up—my guess, after it came to light we’d shared our meal—we were taken through the village proper.
  199. >The other mares from the fishing expedition were met by others and stallions—the first we’ve seen so far, would you believe, which I’m sure I could write entire letters about on the subject thereof—who began to unload their sleds and travoises. A handful of others remained hitched to our own and pulled them along with us.
  200. >I hope my third sketch gives some more detail to the drying racks they hang their fish upon. I’ve also included sketches of a few of the smaller buildings with copious smoke rising from them which I’d guess at being smokers. Especially if the aroma from those areas of the village is anything to go by.
  201. >-N.B.: collect your thoughts and recompose.
  202. >I’ll leave the last and probably most important matter to the third letter in this collection.
  203. >Your friend, assuredly among friends,
  204. >Anonymous
  205.  
  206. >Eighth of October, 27th day of the Anon Northern Expedition
  207. >Dear Paper Chase,
  208. >I’ll try to be brief both as I’m sure you’ve already had a lot to take in and because our doctor’s itching for me to accompany him on urgent business.
  209. >We were led through the village, past more homes than I might otherwise have imagined from the group we initially met, interspersed with small places of industry - tanners, carpenters, etc..
  210. >The lodge we stopped at was significantly larger than the others, its carvings more ornate and the lintel above the door was the only one I’ve seen that bore engravings in the shape of stylised stars.
  211. >Though I must stress that I haven’t had the chance to more properly explore the village yet and so can’t state definitively if this lodge, that I’ve included a sketch of, is the only one to bear those marks.
  212. >Baba Hooves and the older mare who spoke with her and Warm Embrace accompanied us there and inside. I’ve tried to give some sense of its scale with the sketch of its interior but in case it’s not clear, it’s too large to be a simple dwelling. More likely it’s some kind of gathering place but for what, I can’t yet say.
  213. >Notice the extensive horseshoe motif? I haven’t noticed any of the snowponies wearing horseshoes but then I haven’t been examining them closely enough to tell, I think. That and their significant feathering leaves it quite difficult.
  214. >If I had to guess—and my position necessitates that—it could be an indicator of a connection to the earth. These snowponies live in a forest, and rather than having made a clearing they’ve built around the trees. A respect for nature? Certainly that’s the case among earth ponies but I’d still rather not start making assumptions based on that when these ponies name themselves for something else entirely.
  215. >The alcove at the corner was the only one and held a small idol. Whether it’s simply decorative or holds some religious/spiritual significance is something I don’t wish to guess at. Not until I’ve had the chance to make at least some inquiries though, with only the one linguist having so many asking for his time I’m sure you can imagine that I may yet be waiting.
  216. >The fire in the pit at the centre of the hall was already lit upon our entering and the temperature difference from outside was immediately apparent. These snowponies are clearly competent builders.
  217. >This was where the three snowponies who accompanied us inside—Warm Embrace, Baba Hooves, and the elderly mare who’d been introduced as Larch Bough—took to addressing Anon.
  218. >Larch formally welcomed us to her village, revealing that she is indeed its chief.
  219. >’You have shared in our <food/meal/bounty>, now you share in our <embrace/safety/care>’ was the exact translation our linguist gave. She sat back on her haunches with her forelegs extended as if beckoning him into a hug. To his credit, he declined that and whatever faux pas we may have committed in doing so is, I’m sure, less than mistakenly engaging in such physical contact unwanted.
  220. >I’d chalk Larch Bough’s reserved bearing up to that but she appeared so even before leading us to the lodge. Understand that when I say ‘reserved’, I don’t mean that she’s made us feel unwelcome here. I think, as a leader, she shares Anon’s outlook in shouldering the safety of her ponies so seriously. We’re an unknown to them as much as they are to us.
  221. >And, of course, I have to remember that as cordial as the snowponies we’ve met have been so far, that’s no reason to think none of them differ in personality or temperament.
  222. >I’ll be sure to have our linguist draw up a full and proper transcript of the discussion as I believe that only he can provide the correct insight. However there is the important matter I’ve yet to mention and I only regret now I’ve left myself so little time to address it.
  223. >When Larch Bough had departed to tend to the needs of the village and we were left with Baba Hooves and Warm Embrace, we were given an offer. Though calling it a mere offer feels like I’m not doing justice to it.
  224. >We were invited to sleep within the walls of their gathering lodge. A warm fire well fueled for the night, enough space for us to lay out our sleeping bags, and the hopeful suggestion that we might sleep close together.
  225. >Sad to say that the moment was spoiled somewhat by Anon, one of our mountaineers, remarking that if these snowmares care so deeply for our apparent loneliness, maybe they should share their company with us.
  226. >I relate this only to speak to the character of the rest of my compatriots: the looks of disgust and dismay on their faces were matched only by the swift clip behind the ear Anon received.
  227. >Our leader declined the offer as graciously as he could, however, not wishing to impose further upon their already overwhelming generosity. I’m sure there’s more to it than that but I haven’t been able to spare the time to ask and he’s not related any other reasoning to the others.
  228. >And now I must end this letter, my friend, as I look up from the drying ink and see our doctor giving me a look that could sour even the freshest milk.
  229. >I’ll have more at the earliest possibility.
  230. >Your friend, pulled about like a sled,
  231. >Anonymous
  232.  
  233. >Warm Embrace sat by the fire of Baba Hooves’ lodge and dutifully drank from the cup of bitter tea she held between her hooves.
  234. >The years since her fillyhood had not, in fact, done anything to improve its taste but when Baba asked somepony to sit and drink, it was a rare and regretful mare who declined.
  235. >”So none of the tales speak of them?” she said, glad for the opportunity to lower the cup from her muzzle and be free from the smell.
  236. >She was sure Baba made a point to take longer with her own draught and found herself pressing at the cup in her hooves idly.
  237. >”You think that if I knew I wouldn’t tell you?” asked Baba, when she’d finished drinking.
  238. >Warm clicked her tongue and caught herself before she took another mouthful from the cup.
  239. >She thought Baba knew more than she was letting on, as usual, but it wouldn’t do to approach it with that mindset.
  240. >”It just doesn’t make any sense,” Warm said quietly. Baba still watched her, waiting, and so Warm continued, “where did they come from? Why haven’t any of the other tribes ever said anything about them?”
  241. >”They come from the south, isn’t that what you told me?”
  242. >It was and it wasn’t. Hiemal was the one who’d argued with the strange creatures when they’d presented their map. Trying to translate their odd language through that argument had been a true test, especially with Hiemal insistent that nothing could possibly have come from that far to the south.
  243. >Which was true. It still didn’t answer any of the questions that brought Warm to where she sat, though.
  244. >Baba, however, still wore her small knowing smile and waited for Warm Embrace to speak.
  245. >”I don’t get the sense that they’re lying to us about that, though.”
  246. >”Nor I, Warm.” The elder mare took another long sip from her cup before speaking again. “And perhaps there’s more truth to it than they realise. Or choose to say.”
  247. >”Baba…” Warm groused.
  248. >The mare chuckled and pointed a hoof at Warm’s cup. “Drink your tea and I’ll tell you.”
  249. >Stars above but of course that’s what it’d come to. Baba insisted it was good for keeping one’s stomach settled but the effect the taste had on her own left Warm wanting to insist otherwise.
  250. >She knew better than to try and find some way around it, though. The shaman would get the tea into her, one way or another.
  251. >Steeling herself, Warm brought the cup to her lip and took the smallest sip she was sure Baba would allow her without insisting she take more.
  252. >”You’ll thank me tomorrow, Warm.” Baba took another sip from her cup and nodded. “And I’ll thank Forest Ken for getting me the herbs.”
  253. >That old mare probably loved the taste just as much as Baba did, Warm was sure. Maybe there was something about that age which brought with it a penchant for awful teas and inscrutability.
  254. >”Just as you’ll thank the stars for sending our guests to us.”
  255. >If it were any other mare, Warm knew they wouldn’t see her cocking an eyebrow beneath the heavy bangs of her mane.
  256. >”Tell me, Warm, have you been keeping an eye to the southern reaches of the night sky?”
  257. >Warm nodded. “When I have to, same as everypony else.”
  258. >The shaman took another sip from her cup before setting it down by the fire.
  259. >”Then you should know of the sight there that hasn’t been seen in so long.” Raising her forelegs into the air, Baba traced out a shape that Warm followed but didn’t recognise. With a sigh, Baba took her cup back in her hooves and pointed it at Warm. “No, I can’t blame you. Even the few tales I know say little.”
  260. >”So there are tales!” Warm set her own cup down and shuffled closer to the mare. “Baba, you have to tell me.”
  261. >The mare shook her head and turned her gaze to her cup. “All I can tell you is that they’re an omen."
  262. >Warm frowned again. “You called them friends, Baba.”
  263. >”And I still believe them to be. But friends often bring tidings, hmm?” Warm made to inquire but Baba spoke over her, “when are we next to leave for Snowpitt?”
  264. >The question caught Warm off guard enough that she replied, “not until the next moon,” before realising how abrupt the shift had been.
  265. >”Then have Snow Glide and the others start making preparations as soon as they can.”

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