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The Spring in Her Step · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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The Mare of La Mane'cha
Vantage Point is quickly learning something about plate armor that he has always factually known, but never viscerally appreciated, until today:

It is storming heavy. And hot.

Vantage is not a knight. He has seen them before, standing aloof in their shining suits of barding and regarding lesser soldiers with a presumptuous air. He has never seen one fight, though. And frankly, he has no idea how they could fight in the clanking, cumbersome, callus-creating nightmare that imprisoned him right now.

“Sir Vantage! You’re falling behind, good Sir Vantage!” comes an irritatingly cheerful voice from up ahead along the dusty countryside road.

With a metallic creak of plates on plates, Vantage heaves his gaze up from the ground and towards Oaty, who is already halfway up the next hill. She waves to him merily.

Even from this distance, Donkey Oaty’s silhouette is distinct. Legs just a tad too short. Ears and snout several degrees too large. Many ponies might stare at her odd features, especially if they didn't know what a mule was.

Oaty waits for him to catch up, and when he finally does she seems slightly troubled.

“Is there something wrong, Sir Vantage?” she asks, innocently.

“I’m tired,” Vantage says.

A scowl immediately creases Oaty’s face. It makes the wrinkles of early middle age all the more obvious.

“A knight shouldn’t be tired from only two days’ march,” she says, worriedly. Then her eyes go wide. “Could it be the Enchantress? Is she leeching away your strength with dark and twisted magics?”

“I’m not a knight,” Vantage Point says for the umpteenth time. “Never worn armor before. It’s storming heavy, and my wings are cooped up underneath it.”

A grave look comes across Donkey Oaty’s face, and she nods solemnly.

“If there ever was proof of the Echantress’s tampering, this is it!” she declares. “In her fear of being confronted by a true champion of honor, she has removed your memories of being a knight from you! You must persevere, Sir Vantage!”

The words kind of bounce off Vantage Point’s head without really making their way into his brain, as if blocked by the metal helm he wore. He knew factually that Oaty is insane. They had told him in no uncertain terms that Oaty is insane. But seeing it firsthoof is a disorienting experience.

He works his mouth open and shut a couple of times before constructing a carefully worded sentence in his head.

“I think that maybe—”

“No!” Oaty brays, stomping all four hooves on the ground. “Don’t think! You need to feel! It’s there! Your memories, and your calling! The great, sweeping urge to do what is right! The bravery, the chivalry! It’s why you took me as your squire! Don’t you feel it?”

He has never been a squire, let alone taken one.

But he sighs and says “Perhaps I… do feel something.”

“You do?” Instant glee in her voice. “Really, really?”

And even though it irks him, he says “Yes, I certainly do.”

Oaty sways with excitement and runs in place.

“We can break the Enchantress’s spell, I know it! That is why she fears us and hates us and tells all these lies about us!”

In an eyeblink, her running transitions from the stationary kind to the kind that is taking her up the side of the hill with a speed that Vantage, heavily burdened, could never hope to match.

“Come! Come quick! We must be close to something!”

Vantage doubts that they are close to anything at all. Here, days from a country noble’s manor town, they would be surrounded by miles of unused lands—mostly meadows and forests. The road itself was nothing more than a relatively grassless dirt impression in the hilly fields.

Nevertheless, Oaty has spent the entirety of two days utterly convinced that a great, wonderful something was just over the next hill.

Well, what’s one more hill to climb, after you’ve climbed a thousand?

Vantage makes his way, step by creaking step, up a hill that he would have crested in moments had he been on wing. As he reaches the summit, he looks and finds that Oaty has become as still as a statue, staring out ahead.

With a tingle of anticipation, he turns to follow her gaze.

There before them, lays a field of wheat, still green in the heat of summer, but with a distinct yellowing that will have turned fully golden by harvestime. Standing in the distance is an old windmill, with ragged canvas sheets falling in strips off of its rickety wooden arms.

“Ah,” says Vantage, “So, there must be a village nearby.”

It’s only been less than a year since the last remnants of the windigoes were finally defeated, and nopony’s maps were particularly accurate yet. Vantage hadn’t realized that their little dusty road had led to anything in particular, truthfully.

“Maybe they have an inn,” says Vantage, already fantasizing about how much hot food and a soft bed might help the aches in his muscles. “I could definitely use a little—”

“Hush! Hush!” hisses Oaty. Her eyes are wide, darting quickly between Vantage and the fields before them. “It will hear you!”

Old soldier’s instincts flood Vantage, and he reaches for a shortlance that isn’t under his right wing. With a start, he scans the fields for dangers.

… And finds nothing.

“Oaty,” Vantage whispers, so as not to upset her. “What are we searching for?”

“Looking for??” she whispers back. “What is there to search for? It isn’t hiding at all! It’s right there in the field!”

Vantage squints and still sees nothing out of the norm.

“I don’t see—”

Oaty quickly grabs Vantage and presses her face next to his—cheek to cheek—so that their perspectives are shared, and points with her hoof.

Directly at the lonely windmill.

“The giant,” she breathes, awe and fear in the tenor of her voice.

“The… windmill?” asks Vantage, carefully.

“The giant!” Oaty repeats. “The big stars-damned giant, with its dirty fingers, and its big flat face, and its hairy arms and legs!”

She releases Vantage, and covers her mouth in shock.

“I can’t believe the Enchantress would go so far,” she says. “I knew she opposed us, but to have such disregard for innocent lives just to stop us!”

“Oaty,” says Vantage, as the soldier’s alertness drains from his system, leaving him tired and exasperated. “It’s a windmill, Oaty. Not a giant.”

“Don’t be silly, Sir Vantage!” Oaty suddenly barks. “I can see clear as my own hoof, the great beast that stands before us!”

She stomps and points.

“See, its great belly, distended from the crops it has gluttonously stolen from hardworking ponies! See, its large yellow eyes, and its blood red mouth!” She growls, and her voice becomes more and more furious with each passing word. “I wonder how many villages it has already razed! How many homes destroyed! How many ponies trampled!”

Oaty turns to Vantage, a fire in her eyes.

“It must be stopped, good Sir Vantage!”

The raw passion in her voice briefly intrigues Vantage. He cocks an eyebrow.

“How do we stop the windmill?” he asks.

She immediately begins affixing a dueling lance—an old stick with a vaguely triangular stone tied to one end—to Vantage’s saddleholder. It was what a real squire would do for a real knight before battle.

“We stop it with flashing steel and thunderous charge!” she says around the lance in her mouth. “With gritted teeth and righteous purpose!”

“And you expect me to lead this charge?” Vantage asks.

“Naturally!” she proclaims, “You are, after all, a knight, and I, your squire.”

When she’s done with Vantage’s lance, she takes the traditional weapon of a knight-in-training, a short, rust-pitted sword, in her mouth. The two so-called weapons seem even more silly when held next to the very real plate armor Vantage wears.

Oaty looked up at Vantage Point, her gaze filled with an almost child-like kind of expectation.

“I am not a knight,” he says once again, tiredly.

“Stop it, Sir Vantage!” she insists. Her eyes are passionate and sincere. “The Enchantress may have taken your memories, but she can never take your heart, good knight! Don’t you feel it?”

She comes up to his face, so close that he can feel her breath.

“Don’t you feel it?” she says, more quietly but still fiercely. “Can’t you tell that you were meant for something better? When you dreamt your first dreams, were they of this bleak and unbearable world? Or were they of something greater, sir knight?”

… There’s a moment when Vantage almost could swear that he did feel something in his chest.

But whatever it could be, it is quickly overtaken by the feeling of his tiredness and aching legs.

Vantage sighs.

He studies the windmill again. It is clearly not in use anymore; the arms are falling apart and do not turn, despite the steady breeze that blows across the field, rippling the wheat stalks. Honestly, no harm could likely be done here.

“And after the giant is defeated?” he asks, cautiously. “Will we be staying at the village, then?”

“I would think so!” Donkey Oaty says cheerfully. “Imagine, arriving victoriously! Their gratitude! Our righteous task yielding its fruit!”

“So long as the fruit is a storm-blasted bed,” mutters Vantage.

With an armored hoof, he slams his helm’s visor down into place over his face. Instantly, it grows even hotter in his armor, and the stale wetness of his own breath clings to his face.

“Well, then we charge,” he says.

Oats smiles widely and nearly seems to skip with delight, until she remembers how solemn and noble she should appear at a time like this.

Vantage takes a deep breath, tries to rally strength into his legs one last time, and takes off down the hill, towards the windmill.

It’s easier to run down the hill than it was to climb up it, but the weight of his armor is giving him a disturbing amount of momentum that takes a lot of effort to control. He huffs, his own breath and sweat in his eyes, and to his surprise he almost gets that old feeling of being in a real battle again.

As he approaches the windmill, he starts to wonder what he was going to do when he got there.

His armor was built for an earth pony cavalier—the sort of soldier who could charge through a stone wall if called to do so. But he is a pegasus and doesn’t have a magical Earthen constitution.

As he makes the final approach, he sees the building’s door. It’s made of old, cracked wood. Its boards are thin with age, and many are split down the center.

With the armor, he could trample down that door, easily. Maybe Oaty would be satisfied by that. That would certainly slay the “giant”, right?

No more time to ponder it. He grits his teeth and fully commits to the rush. He braces his shoulder to take the force of his full-body slam.

On impact, the makeshift lance shatters into a hundred pieces, and the old door is knocked from its hinges, breaking in half.

The shock of it rattles Vantage in his helmet, and he immediately slams his hooves down to skid to a halt.

Then Vantage slams into another object.

For a moment, he thinks that he must have been carried by his momentum straight through the windmill and into the far wall. But whatever he hits gives way, and instead of coming to a bone-breaking stop, he tumbles and rolls to a halt.

There’s dust in the air, thrown up by the breaking of wood, and Vantage lifts his helm’s visor as he gasps for breath.

As the dust settles he looks around himself.

There are the shattered remnants of a table and chairs around him. Apparently, these had been the source of the second impact.

The walls are surprisingly clean for an abandoned building. And there’s a clean apron on a hook next to… a kitchen? And a fireplace?

Just as Vantage realizes that this windmill may not be as abandoned as he assumed, a voice rings out.

“What in seven bloody hells is the meaning o’ this?!” cries a mare who sounds very irate.

Vantage sighs.

Donna Oats was born the only offspring from the union of the lady of a minor House in the eastern region of La Mane'cha and her husband, a donkey merchant of some status frome the neighboring nation of Asinia. From what I have been able to gather, they were likely aware that their chances of producing a foal were much reduced and that such a foal would certainly be incapable of bearing children herself. Nevertheless, spurred on by their deep love (an perhaps a touch of Harmony’s own fate), they sought neither surrogate dam nor cover stud.

All accounts of the matter state that Donna spent her childhood almost entirely unaware of the great threat she posed to her House’s continued existence. The passing of her parents when she was a young mare came as quite the shock to her. No longer insulated from the avaricious intentions of her mother’s relatives, the young heiress quickly found herself politically and socially out-maneuvered.

She withdrew from public life, holding onto her inheritance only through the sheer stubbornness that perhaps her donkey father had bequeathed her. For many years she sequestered herself away, ignoring the stewardship of her lands and concerning herself only with books of chivalrous lore, wherein honor—not greed—was the way of the world, and evil was challenged by proud protectors of justice.

She read from dawn to night, and often to dawn again.They say that locked away with her books, taking almost no time for sleep or for food, a great malignant imbalance of her humours occurred, and her brains turned to mush and pudding. For in short order, she began to believe, with her whole heart and mind, the tales she read of knights and heroism and glory.

The moniker, “Donkey Oaty,” with which she dubbed herself is said by the house servants with whom I spoke to be of her own invention. I like to think that this was her own way of reclaiming her heritage—the underlying reason for her mother’s family’s spite—and twisting those cruel insults back into something entirely her own.

It is, I think, like the wisdom of being the one who laughs loudest at the insults directed at oneself.

Despite it being well past noon, the unicorn mare seemed like she had been woken from sleep. Her pale mane was frazzled, and her nearly-white coat was clearly unbrushed. Groggy, furious eyes regarded Vantage she stepped in from what appeared to be another room around the corner.

For a moment, she seems to be taken aback at the sight of Vantage’s armor, but then the fury returns to her face.

“Who dae ye think ye are, bargin’ like that intae my own hame!” Rapid-fire, the words come in a heavy dialect common to farmers in this region. “Ye have’nae the right, ye stars-damned oaf! Ye miserable sodden blaggard!”

Vantage rolls back onto his feet, pieces of door and table under his hooves. His body aches, much more than it would have when he was younger.

“I’m afraid,” he said in as placating a voice as possible while still panting for breath, “that there has been a misunderstanding of some kind. I would rather—”

“Lestie!” comes another voice. A foal’s voice.

A small, dark-coated filly peeks out from behind the same corner that the mare came through.

“Lestie, wha’s going on?” asks the filly.

The mare turns her head back to address the little girl.

“Back tae the bedroom!” she says, in a softer voice.

“But, Lestie I—”

Now sister!” the mare says, leaving no doubt in her voice that now was not the time for anything but immediate obedience.

The little filly scampers away on quiet hooves, and the mare, “Lestie” turns back towards Vantage. She seems just a little less mad and that much more tired.

Now that he has had a good look at her, Vantage Point realizes that she is much younger than his first impression. Although she is tall and full-figured, there is still a hint of childish roundness in her cheeks. She is still a year or two shy of her twentieth, by Vantage’s reckoning.

She regards the splintered wood on the floor with a look of frustrated annoyance.

“Up. Git off my table.”

Vantage complies, stepping away from the wreckage as deftly as he could manage and making himself as small as possible by the other wall. Both are hard things to do in plate armor.

When he’s clear, Lestie ignites her horn.

The pieces of the table and the door rise up in her hornglow, easily more than a dozen large fragments and countless smaller pieces. They arrange themselves in the air, each moving smoothly and independently of one another. It is the single finest display of magical dexterity Vantage has ever seen from a unicorn.

The pieces come back together in the shape of a table and door, and then there is a glow around the edges as they seal together.

Lestie frowns. The table seems a little lopsided, and the door is even thinner and more cracked than before. But this has still been an incredible display of mending magic.

“I di’nae ken what sort of misunderstanding sends a knight intae a mare’s hame,” she says.

“I am… not a knight Miss Lestie,” Vantage admits. “The armor was given to me.”

“Then who are ye? And whit did ye think ye be doing here?” Lestie’s eyes narrow, dangerously.

I am a hired thief.

The bitter thought comes involuntarily.

But you are not my victim.

“My name is Vantage Point, and I am a traveler,” says Vantage as he tries to find a way to tell some version of the truth that didn’t make him sound insane. “And I was told that there was—”

There came a loud pounding at the newly-restored door.

“Sir Vantage!” Donkey Oaty’s voice cries out. “Sir Vantage, I’ll save you!”

The double-hind-kick of a mule easily shatters the poor door for the second time today. Oaty immediately spins, wielding her short sword and swinging it wildly.

“What the fecking FECK?” Lestie shrieks, ducking back.

“Ye said ‘feck’ two times, Lestie!” comes a shrill voice from the other room.

Nae now, sister!” Lestie cries.

Oaty, upon finally seeing the room and its furnishing, freezes, completely bewildered for a moment. Then she sees Lestie.

Her rusty shortsword falls to the floor as she kneels the way a vassal would to a high lord.

“A thousand apologies! A million apologies!” says Oaty.

There is still some panic and confusion in Lestie’s eyes as she looks Oaty up and down.

“Ye… Ye're a… a mule?” she says. She seems to be having trouble forming words. “W-why?”

“Because my father was a donkey!” Oaty says, “And my name is Donkey Oaty! I am the squire of Sir Vantage, and a seeker of justice and righteousness!”

“I—” Lestie stammers. “I am called ‘Lestie’.” She doesn’t seem to know how else to respond.

“No,” says Oaty, suddenly rising to meet the unicorn mare’s gaze. “You are not!”

There’s a moment that passes, wherein any hope that Vantage had for a reasonable resolution simply evaporates.

“Pardon?” asks Lestie. Her brow scrunches.

“There is only one face as beautiful as yours in the land. One voice as pure of tone, and one figure as graceful.” Oaty beams at Lestie. “You are Princess Dreamsky, the wise and beautiful regent, the rightful ruler of all these lands!”

Lestie's eyes become very wide. She takes on the distinct look of somepony who knows that they’re talking to a crazy pony and doesn’t know how to make it stop.

“Oaty,” Vantage says, gently. “I don’t think this mare is a Princess. I think you’re frightening her.”

“But it makes sense!” Oaty says coming fully onto her hooves again. “The Enchantress made us think that this grand palace, in which we stand, was a giant, so that we, in our confusion, might hurt the Princesses! She, who is the true rightful ruler of these lands and who can rightfully take the throne from the Enchantress!”

“I di’nae ken any Enchantress, I’m afraid,” Lestie says, very carefully.

“Oh, but the Enchantress must have taken your memories as well!”

Before anypony could react, Oaty strides forward and seizes Lestie’s hoof in her own. She holds Lestie’s hoof against her chest, a gesture that makes Lestie flush with how intimate it seems.

“Can’t you feel it?” Oaty pleads. “The knowledge that you have not been your true self? The feeling that there is more that you could be doing? That the very world itself is holding its breath and waiting for you to finally come fully awake for the first time?”

There is an odd look in Lestie’s eye. For just a moment, there seems to be a spark of comprehension. As though she’s on the cusp of realizing something important.

Then the look passes, and Lestie recoils from Oaty’s touch.

“I need tae fix my door again,” she says. She shook her head and gave them both frustrated glances. “And ye two need tae leave. Before I lose any mair sleep today.”

“Of course,” Vantage. He seizes Oaty by the withers and fixes her with a glare that he hoped conveyed all of the authority a knight had over their squire. “Let’s not disturb Miss Lestie any further, Oaty.”

For a moment, Oaty seems torn between her knight and her princess. Then she speaks to Lestie.

“We’ll meet again!” she confidently declares, “The Enchantress cannot stop destiny.”

Lestie nods, with a stiff smile, as the two of them back out of the doorway. A magical glow once again seizes and rebuilds the pieces of the door, sealing Vantage and Oaty out.

Vantage sighs.

“I know,” says Oaty. “I feel the same way. I’m relieved that the Enchantress could not stop us from finding Her Grace.”

Vantage let his head roll back, his helm clanking against the armored collar around his neck, squeezed his eyes shut, and sighed deeply.

By the time I, myself, met Donna Oats, she had fully adopted her “Donkey Oaty” persona and spoke ceaselessly of chivalry and honorable knighthood. The servants of her House had already all come to view their mistress’s madness with resigned acceptance, dutifully ignoring her bouts of fancy and doing their best to keep Donna’s affairs in order without her own participation. There was a sense of dreadful inevitability in all that they did, as though they knew that their efforts would be fruitless should Donna continue in her delusions.

I was instructed by my masters to befriend Donna, and to accomplish this I elected to appear mutually interested in her obsession with chivalrous knighthood. Apparently, nopony else in the House had done this, and Donna immediately began to spend most of her free time—that is, the time she did not spend reading—in my presence, having finally found a receptive audience in me.

When I told her that I had been a soldier in High Lord Brightstorm’s army, she immediately became seized by the impression that I was, in actuality, a knight-errant of noble and righteous calling. I believe her perception was influenced by her strong desire to find a mentor—everyone she met knew
less of the things she loved than she did, never more. I also believe that she, upon judging her own suitability as a potential knight, found herself lacking. She spoke to great lengths of her need to experience combat and her desire to be sworn into the service of a worthy noble.

In order to further her fantasies, she bequeathed onto me her family’s heirloom armor, traditionally worn by the highest-ranking knight in the employ of the House. Knowing the inevitable result of such an action, with a guilty conscience I attempted to dissuade her of this action. But she insisted and had her decision officially notarized by her scribes; one of the only such notarizations she made in years. What was done was done.

For herself, Donna chose the role of a squire in her own fantasies. She had read that squires often wear quilted or padded armor, and so had a blacksmith’s apron found for her. On her head, she wore an ancient pony-at-arms helm her servants found in a dusty storeroom. She had holes drilled into the helm to accommodate her mulish ears and wore it day and night.

In just weeks after I first met her, she declared that she—after all these years of careful planning and meticulous research—was finally prepared to set out on a noble quest of her own. To that end, she insisted that I, as her Knight Superior, would accompany her on her grand campaign.

After spending the entire afternoon helplessly lost—and circling the same three wheat fields several times, Vantage suspected—the pair of them finally find their way into the little town at the heart of these farmlands.

Vantage is reduced to a sweating, panting mess beneath his armor. At this point, the confused stares and whispers of the ponies around him did not even register in the light of his current discomforts.

As Oaty skips on ahead, eyes wide and excited at the mundane sights of a country village, Vantage finds the nearest pony and waves for their attention.

“Have you an inn?” Vantage asks, sparing no words for introductions.

“Um… Yea we do, good Ser,” says the stallion Vantage addressed. “Sandalwood runs it, that he daes. A good pony he is, and nae one to make troubles.”

The stallion assumes that Vantage is here to administer justice of some kind. And Vantage is too tired to relieve him of the assumption.

“Where is it?” he practically croaks.

“It be on the big street, up the ways and down the corner,” the stallion says, pointing.

Vantage grunts and nods. “My thanks.”

After a quick glance around himself, he finds Oaty again—she hasn’t gone far—and approaches her.

“Oaty,” he says, getting her attention. “I was told that the… lord of this city has allowed us to stay the night in his castle.”

There is a little pang of guilt at this, but he really doesn’t think he has the time or energy to have to fight against one of her fantasies right now.

“Splendid! Absolutely splendid news!” she says, excitement in her eyes. “Ponies are already hearing of our quest! This is even faster than I had hoped for.”

“Yes, good news indeed,” Vantage says. "For we are quite weary and in need of food."

“That we are, good sir!”

But she does not seem tired at all, as she skips alongside Vantage.

When they arrive at the inn, Oaty ooh’s and aah’s at it, despite the fact that it’s likely smaller than her own manor house. But that doesn’t stop her from gawking at the ponies she sees gathered in the dining hall. She whispers to Vantage about having never seen so many knights at once, even though all Vantage sees are traveling caravaners and tired-looking workhorses.

Vantage excuses himself to one of the bedrooms he rented for them and finally divests himself of the bulky plate armor. He also draws himself a bath, and by the time it’s done he’s tempted to go straight to bed. But the emptiness of his stomach compels him otherwise.

His mane and coat are still a little wet as he makes his way back into the dining chamber. Oaty is still sitting at the same table, and she eagerly waves at him when she sees him.

“I’ve instructed the castle’s maidservants to prepare for us a grand feast,” she says, as Vantage takes his seat. “It should be arriving shortly, I presume. The maids are very kind and nice!”

Vantage nods. A feast means food.

He allows himself to close his eyes and drift off just a bit as Oaty continues to wax praises for the grandness and generosity of the lord of the castle. All of her grand speeches are honestly starting to sound much the same to him.

Because his eyes are closed, he does not see the pony who approaches their table.

“By the holy dam hersel’, it’s ye two!” cries a voice, in astonishment.

“It’s you, Your Grace!” cries Oaty’s voice, in delight.

Vantage’s eyes snap open, a half-dream from his dozing instantly forgotten.

Standing before them, bearing two cups and several plates of food in her hornglow, is Lestie.

She’s wearing the clothes of a serving maid; a simple apron and form-fitting blouse with a short skirt. Her hair has been done in a braid that falls over the shoulder, looking much better-kept than it was when they last saw her. There’s a touch of makeup on her face as well—a subtle coloring around the eyes, perhaps to hide the tiredness. Or perhaps…

Before Vantage can speculate further, Lestie snorts and begins dutifully placing the food and drink down on their table.

“Ye left yer sword in my hame,” she said, as plates and cups danced in the air towards their destinations. “I did’nae ken what tae dae wit’ it, so I gave it tae Sandalwood, the innkeeper. I’ll tell him tae give it back to ye.”

Oaty reflexively pats the shealth at her side, and for the first time she and Vantage notice that it is indeed empty.

Vantage is about to thank Lestie for her trouble, but he’s interrupted in the middle of his first syllable by Oaty.

“Oh, what a fool I’ve made of myself!” Oaty says, a look of intense distress forming on her features. The volume of her voices turns the ears of other nearby patrons of the inn. “I beseech Your Grace’s forgiveness, for I am but a humble squire who has yet to learn how to conduct myself properly!”

“Yer forgiven,” Lestie says, flatly as she finishes setting the table. She did it in a third of the time another unicorn might have, her magic extraordinarily nimble and precise.

Lestie begins to make her way elsewhere, but Oaty leaps from her seat and seizes the girl by the foreleg.

“Please, Princess, I beg of you to grace my presence just a while longer! You are kind of heart, and most lovely of appearance. To spend just a moment with a lowly squire such as I would make my very soul sing for joy!”

The outburst prompts chuckles and hoots from the other tables. And a very specific reaction from Lestie.

She looks Oaty up and down—a look that is far too knowing. A decision is quickly made.

“Have ye any gold?” she flatly, in a quiet voice.

“Why, of course!” Oaty says, seeming to be completely innocent of Lestie’s true meaning. “I am Sir Vantage’s squire, and part of my duties would be to account for his finances.”

Lestie nods and gives Oaty a half-lidded glance that, while frankly devoid of actual lust, would be enough to excite many ponies.

“I’ll be on my way back soon, then,” she said, leaving to attend to other guests.

An uncomfortable, twisting feeling takes over Vantage. So, he was correct to notice the cut of her clothes and her well-applied makeup.

“The girl misunderstands your meaning,” he says to Oaty, who has already started to eat her meal with gusto. “We will pay her and wish her a good evening when she returns.”

Oaty tilts her head as she chews, not protesting but clearly not understanding either. It’s good enough for Vantage.

He turns to his own meal—a bowl of thick vegetable stew served with cracker-hard bread—and eats it as quickly as he can.

Lestie returns before he is done, and notices that Oaty has finished her meal. The unicorn’s magic gracefully whisks away the dirty plates, and she takes a seat directly upon Oaty’s lap.

“Your Grace!” Oaty says, bewildered. “You musn’t act so childishly! I apologize, I should have offered you my seat.”

Oaty gets up, unceremoniously upending Lestie, and motions for her to take her own seat while Oaty stands beside her.

Lestie cocks her eyebrow in confusion, but goes along with it. She does shoot Vantage a questioning look, though, hoping for answers from somewhere.

Vantage sighed, and fetches a single golden sovereign from his purse and pushes the coin to Lestie.

“She did not mean what you thought, Lestie,” he says. “Please take this as our apology and have a good evening. We will retire to our own rooms shortly.”

Lestie snatches the coin up and places it between her teeth, testing it. Satisfied, she slips it into her blouse.

Oaty is exceptionally confused by the exchange, and opens her mouth to protest.

“A single gold coin,” she says, “does not constitute a worthy tribute to Princess Dreamsky herself!”

Oaty takes a knee to look the seated unicorn eye-to-eye.

“Don’t you recall what I told you of, earlier?” she asks Lestie. “Of course, you know of what I speak! Your soul knows that your destiny is not here!”

Again, that strange expression from earlier seems to overtake Lestie. And even Vantage could swear that there is something about Oaty’s heartfelt words that make an odd emotion stir in him, too. Like Harmony itself gazing directly at them.

“...Yes,” Lestie admits. Quietly, and glancing about as though frightened of being overheard.

“What is it that you desire, Your Grace?” asks Oaty, eagerly. “At but your word, I will obey.”

“It dae’nae be a thing ye can help me wit’, I think,” says Lestie. She seems to have trouble saying these words, as though they were a great secret within her heart. “But… I heard that great mage Star Swirl, in Everfree Castle, is accepting another set o’ new apprentices this year.”

“And you wish to study with him?” asks Vantage, intrigued. “It certainly seems like you might have the knack for magic.”

“Nae, nae I,” says Lestie, shaking her head. “Star Swirl only takes peedle foals to be his apprentices. I’m too auld for it.”

A look of intense longing passes through her face, flickering for a moment.

“But my sister,” whispers Lestie. “If she can become his student… she may nae have tae live the life I have lived.”

A moment of pregnant silence passes. Vantage knows that her dream is an impossible one. And he suspects, Lestie knows it as well.

The silence is broken when Donkey Oaty speaks, cheerfully.

“I am no mage, but I can help in my own right!” she declares, standing fully. “I happen to have by chance, acquired a small stead of land in my name. I will be honored to name you as the heir to it.”

Lestie cocks her head, confused.

Vantage’s jaw drops and his heart skips a beat.

For you see, I had no choice in the matter—following my discharge, I was no longer a free stallion. In short order, I was informed that my indentured service was purchased by Donna Oat’s cousin, a noblewoman of small standing and without lands. The very cousin who felt that she was spurned an inheritance by her foolish aunt, Donna’s mother.

The very cousin that Donna would begin to call ‘the Enchantress.’

With my indenturement to this lady in place, any possession and property I gained would be rightfully and legally hers to seize.

The plan was simple: to have Donna Oats name me her successor and heir. In this, her cousin would have standing take what she believed was rightfully hers to begin with.

In return, I’d be absolved of my indenturement, all remaining required years of service struck out. And as a bonus, a hefty pay in gold sovereigns as well.

It was an offer I could not resist, even had I the right to do so.

Vantage leaps from his seat, grabbing Oaty and immediately taking her to a more private hallway. Lestie is left at their table, staring awkwardly at the whole display.

As soon as they are reasonably out of earshot, Vantage swallows down the lump in his throat and says, “You cannot do this, Donna.”

He uses her real name, hoping it imparts gravity to his words.

“But she is the Princess!” Oaty protests. “My lands would be better served if they were in her stewardship instead of mine.”

A pained expression creases the edges of Donna’s eyes, and for the first time in months she seems frightened.

“I know… that I am no competent Housekeeper. I know that I must not—cannot—bear this responsibility.”

Vantage is left momentarily at a lack for words. But he tries his best.

“This is not how to fix this, Donna,” he says. “There must be a better way.”

Donkey Oaty spends a moment to think, and then suddenly an answer seems to occur to her.

“Of course!” Oaty says, nodding to herself. “Yes, a squire cannot hold land. But neither should a Princess. Her lands must be stewarded by a high lord. Often, a former knight!”

Her eyes shine with determination.

“You, Sir Vantage! I trust you!”

Vantage’s mouth goes dry. Even though it is what he has worked towards for months, guilt squeezes his chest.

“Are you sure?” he asks. “Are you absolutely sure?”

“I am!” says Oaty, grinning. “We will seek a notary on the morrow to have this written. And then, we will let Princess Dreamsky know. I’m certain she will be pleased.”

“As am I,” said Vantage, and the words tasted like ash.

The appropriate documents are prepared and sent the next morning. Oaty insists on staying in the village until the process was complete, and so for the next week they stay at the inn, occasionally venturing out to the neighboring farms whenever Oaty feels the need to go questing.

Every night at the inn, Vantage tips Lestie with one or two of the last sovereigns they brought with them.She, of course, had assumed that Oaty’s offer of lands was a fanciful one. Vantage knows otherwise.

And then one day, as they sit at a now-familiar table taking their dinner, the Enchantress arrived.

Snapblossom Oats was a striking mare, brimming with a confident poise that demanded attention. She was flanked by her husband, whom Vantage only met before briefly, and a dozen guards wearing the uniform of House Oats.

“You!” Oaty cried, leaping to her hooves. “How did you find me, Echantress?”

She turns to Lestie, eyes wide with determination.

“Princess, get behind me!” says Oaty, as she draws her rusty shortsword. She speaks with it clenched in her teeth. “Vantage and I will keep you from harm!”

Snapblossom regards them with a look of satisfaction and pity, mixed together in equal portions.

“Cousin Donna,” she says, in an even silky voice. “It’s time to come home, now. We have all been dreadfully worried about you. And now with our House in order, we can properly give you the care you desperately need.”

“What spell is this?” Oaty says, resolute. “What vile trickery have you planned?”

“No trickery,” says Snapblossom, confidently. “I am now the Lady of House Oats, having taken the title as the heir is entitled to, if it is determined that the current Lord or Lady is unable to fulfill their duties. And with my new station, I can ensure that you will be well cared for.”

“Lies!” Oaty bellows. All the other ponies in the room cringe at the volume. “My heir is the good Sir Vantage Point, and we sent the notarization not a week ago!”

Snapblossom curls a lip in frustration.

“Vantage,” she says, icily, “did Cousin Donna gift you the armor you wear?”

“Yes, my lady,” says Vantage. He’s surprised by how clear and pitiless his own voice sounds.

“Then, the armor is my property,” she says nodding. “As per the traditions of House Oaty, I bequeath it to the knight of highest rank, my husband. Remove it at once.”

Vantage has known for days that this was coming. But somehow, it still hurts to do it. He slowly and deliberately removes his helm, then works at the cuffs of his breastplate. Piece by piece the armor comes off as Oaty watches silently, a look of horror on her face.

Snapblossom’s husband smiles hungrily and takes the helm even before Vantage is finished duffing the rest of the armor. He’s an earth pony, with the kind of heavyset build the armor was made for.

“Sir Vantage!” Oaty finally pleads, her shocked silence breaking. “You were beginning to remember, weren’t you? Didn’t you say you felt like a knight again?”

Vantage tries to come up with the right words to say, but Snapblossom beats him to it.

“That wretch is no knight,” she says, factually and quietly. “Ask him where he was the day his High Lady, Frostsong of Northern Reach, fell in battle.”

Oaty looks at Vantage, pleadingly. But he can’t meet her eyes.

At their silence, Snapblossom continues.

“He was drunk as a dead fish, passed out and wet with his own piss. He, a trusted member of Lady Frostsong’s honor guard, was nowhere to be found when the windigoes assaulted their warcamp.”

“That’s a lie,” says Oaty desperately. “That’s a terrible, wicked lie!”

“It’s the truth,” whispers Vantage. The shame of it still stung his eyes.

Oaty’s face pales, and in desperation she finds Lestie’s eyes and grabs her by the withers.

“Princess!” she says, tears in her eyes. “Princess Dreamsky, please! Tell him it’s a lie! I—I was going to tell you that he was going to be your High Lord! My lands would have become his, and I was to be made a knight in his employ under your banner!”

Lestie’s eyes dart between Oaty and the imperious figure of Snapblossom.

“I dinnae ken—I would’nae think that—?”

“Oh, Cousin Donna, I beg of you,” says Snapblossom. “Is this your Princess? A common tavern whore who speaks as though she has marbles under her tongue?”

Lestie’s face flushes, and she shuts her mouth. Then she looks at the floor and tries to keep her accent out as she barely in a whisper says, “Pardon me, my lady.”

“A whore?” Oaty repeats, aghast. “H-How dare you, Enchantress!”

“Please,” says Lestie, quietly. “Dinnae make trouble for yerself, Oaty. Nae on my behalf.”

Oaty looks between her knight, stripped of armor, and her Princess, stripped of honor.

She brays a very donkey-like bray, and with hot, angry tears streaking down her cheeks she rushes past Snapblossom and her husband and her guards, and runs out of the inn.

I was paid handsomely, as promised. But the coins felt tainted to my touch, and I could not bear the sight of them.

I gave them to Lestie, the tavern maid. I told her to go to Everfree with her sister and forget me and Oaty and the little, insignificant village. When she took the money, it was the first time I saw her hornglow falter.

For the next twenty years, I heard little of what befell Donna Oats, outside the rumors that she stayed shut away in her room at all times, due to a chronic illness. But in the third year of the reign of the new Solar Princess, I heard news that shocked me from my drunken stupor.

Lady Frostsong had named an heir. Lady Frostsong, of Northern Reach, was alive.

It took me several days to understand, but from what I gathered, Frostsong had been dreadfully wounded, but not killed, the day I failed to guard my post. My indenturement was drafted on the basis that should the Lady perish from her wounds, I’d be named guilty of treason. But perish, she did not.

Snapblossom had deceived me when she said the indenturement was secured, and she quickly sequestered me in the Oat estates before any word otherwise would reach me.

I spent two days pondering what I was to do, and the result of these deliberations was a harsh one.

I would apologize to Donna Oats, even if it cost me my life.

Vantage pants, each breath making his cracked ribs scream. One of his eyes is so injured that it has swollen entirely shut.

At his hooves lies the unconscious form of Snapblossom’s husband, who has become fat in the last decades. His armor barely fits his flabby form and is scorched with lightning strike marks that Vantage inflicted on him.

Vantage always thought that he had never met a pompous knight who could really fight.

Vantage raises his bloodied and bruised wings threateningly, as the other House Oats guards close in a ring around him.

He’s made it this far, into the very foyer of the manorhouse, but he can go no further. He knows it.

Just as the other guardsponies lean in for the final charge, a voice booms out from behind them all.

“In the name of her Royal Highness, STOP!”

The command seems to shake bones themselves.

Vantage watches as the guards warily back away. When they’re far enough, he leans down and rips the helmet off of the fallen so-called knight.

“This is mine,” he growls, placing it beneath his wing.

Only then, does he look up to see who gave the command from earlier.

He looks at the speaker’s face and at the guards wearing gleaming golden armor that surround her, and his jaw goes slack.

When they finally make their way to Donna’s chambers, Vantage places the helmet back on his head, and opens the visor. Despite the fact that he had only worn it for less than two weeks twenty years ago, and despite the fact that it was soaked in another stallion’s sweat, it feels familiar. It feels right.

“Donna,” he says, making his way into the room. “Oaty, it’s me, Vantage. I’m here to see you.”

For a moment, it seems like the old, bedridden mule doesn’t recognize him. But then, her worn features come into a smile.

“Vantage Point,” she says. “Vantage, I’ve always wanted… to apologize to you. For the state I was in when you saw me.”

Vantage shakes his head.

No, not like this.

“Nevermind that,” says Vantage. “There’s someone here to see us. Someone very special.”

He calls out to the pony behind him in the hall, and she enters the room, barely fitting underneath the doorframe.

The New Solar Princess, the Great Alicorn of the Day, Celestia, steps into the little room.

Donna’s eyes widen, and her mouth becomes a little ‘o’ of awe.

“I don’t know if you remember me, but we’ve met before,” says the Princess in a melodic voice.

She takes off her golden crown, and sets it down as she speaks. An accent begins to work its way into her voice.

“My name is Celestia, but back then I was called ‘Lestie’,” she says.

Donna squints, as if finally understanding the familiarity in Celestia’s features.

“I did’nae ken that ye were still livin’,” said Lestie, tiredly. “Nae until recently. And I suspect that ye two did'nae ken that I became Princess. I wish we’d learnt sooner than this.”

Donna smiles, smiles so wide that it’s contagious, and she laughs.

She laughs and laughs, even though the sound is dry and it looks like it hurts to laugh.

“I knew it!” she beams.

“I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!”

Donna Oats passed away peacefully not two months after meeting us again. And when she did, I was most bewildered to find that I was named her right and truthful heir by the Princess herself.

I would say that this is an unbelievably incredible account, but as I have learned over these many years, this is simply how Harmony often works. An ancient, most wonderful mystery written in hope.

-- Sir Vantage Point, Knight of the Solar Order, First Class.
« Prev   2   Next »
#1 · 2
· · >>Bachiavellian
Halfway reading through this, I was genuinely afraid you would turn it into a feghoot. Phew.

First off, very solid entry. Well done author. Secondly, the ending caught me completely off guard. Don’t know if it’s going to do that with everyone, but personally, I was blown away.

I can’t speak Scottish, so I have no idea whether your execution should be applauded or demanded.

The humour was superb. It tickled my funny bone to read Vantage’s description of Donna’s earlier years and family, and in the beginning, I chuckled when I realized that you’d reversed their roles. I also loved Donna's and Vantage's characterization.

Really the only shortcoming I could find in this story was the ending feeling a little rushed. That may have been because of the word limit. If you want to tweak this story, a thousand words or so would let the latter half build up the same way the first one does, and make the ending seem less abrupt.

Also, if I may nitpick, there were some typos. Mainly incorrect tenses, as is usual with present tense stories, but also this:

“Have ye any gold?” she flatly, in a quiet voice.

I can understand you probably had to cut some words to fit the submission requirement, but there were better choices out there (just kidding, everyone knows "said" is an invisible word).

And finally, don’t take my words too harshly, author. I’ve been wrong many times before.

Though I don’t think I’ll be when I say that this one is probably going to win.

(Almost forgot: kudos on the names. Me likey.)
#2 · 2
· · >>Bachiavellian
It's a well done version of The Man of La Mancha with appropriate edits and changes throughout. It's an enjoyable read. What errors there are within the text (the occasional missing word) feel more like they are due more to the limitations of the word count and not the author.
#3 · 1

You're winning a lot of personal brownie points from me, because I like Man of La Mancha, and I love Celestia stories.. And I think your prose does a decent job of staying out of the way, although every now and then there is an occasional tense slip as you jump between present and past tense.

Your biggest issue is definitely the fact that it's pretty obvious you ran out of words really, really hard. Your first couple of scenes are about two thousand words each, contrasting with your last several that are barely 200 words each. It's really disappointing that the ending doesn't get as much development than the opening. Word count management really is an important part of the Writeoffs--admitedly less so in the short story rounds than in the minific rounds, but definitely still significant.

Thanks for writing!
#4 · 3
· · >>Bachiavellian
I'm a fan of donkeys and mules. Bias as hell here. I voted this my fav story because it present the information in the story at a good pace that kept me hooked. The sort of twist at the end is clever and it makes the world building here is good enough. Also felt something for the characters and it was another reason why I picked this as the best. Excellent job on the whole thing.
#5 · 2
I'm glad people seemed to enjoy this one!

This was an idea that has been banging around in my head for more than two years now, so it felt good to finally get it out of my brain and make it real. The central twist of Dulcinea (Lestie) eventually becoming Princess Celestia was something that was always part of the brainstorming for this piece (because I CANNOT stop writing about Celestia). A lot of the other smaller details (like the names Donkey Oaty [Don Quixote] and Sir Vantage [Cervantes]) I also came up with pretty early on, but the general bulk of the story didn't exist until I outlined it on the first day of writing. It was super fun to do, especially since I haven't done any creative writing since my last Writeoff entry two years ago.

... And yes, I ran out of words so, so, SO fucking hard on this one. I budgeted about 1K words per scene, and I knew that I had completely ruined that plan within a few hundred words of the first scene. Well, this isn't the first writeoff that I've desperately wished for more words, and it probably won't be the last. :P

>>Anonymous Potato
I can’t speak Scottish, so I have no idea whether your execution should be applauded or demanded.

I should be taken to the back room and shot for the crimes that I've committed against Scots. If you want to see a really good integration of Scots into a pony story, check out Carabas's Palaververse! Really cool worldbuilding with many sapient species, including raiding warflocks of large, sentient corvid birds who speak Scots. I tried to imitate/ape it as much as I could, but I certainly didn't do a good job, IMO.

Secondly, the ending caught me completely off guard. Don’t know if it’s going to do that with everyone, but personally, I was blown away.

That makes me a very happy person to read. Thank you for leaving your thoughts, and I'm glad you liked it!!

Happy you liked it! And yeah, in terms of editing, this definitely needed another spot-check or three. I actually removed about 200 words (most of which in a single deleted paragraph) to get me back under the word count, but if I had been aware of how many missing words (and un-spaced periods) that were still left in the text, I think I might have cried, haha.

I'm a fan of donkeys and mules. Bias as hell here.

Ha! I get to recommend the hell out of Carabas's Palaververse for the second time in one post! Seriously, it has a really cool take on donkey magic and worldbuilding, and I even stole the name for the donkey nation (Asinia) from there. Check it out if you haven't!

Also felt something for the characters and it was another reason why I picked this as the best. Excellent job on the whole thing.

Thank you so much for the kind words! I'm super glad that you liked it!