Prelude: With No Voice to Protest

The amber-colored filly was nestled in a soft crimson blanket that matched her vibrant mane. She was slight, even for her presumed age, and only took up a third of the apple basket she had been placed within. Each labored breath the filly made was accompanied by a quiet raspy squeak that made Shining Brow - the much older pegasus royal guardspony standing above her - nervous.

"I worry she won't survive the night," said Shining Brow, her eyes locked on the delicately moving muzzle of the tiny filly.

"Where was she found?" asked Princess Celestia to the gold-armored guardspony. The Princess had quietly entered moments before from her personal wing and was slowly crossing the throne room towards the basket.

Shining Brow pointed with her nose towards the front of the palace. "Stranded in the bough of a tree in the carvers district that looked to be a hundred seasons old. However, the tree was not there yesterday, and when my guards chopped it down it had no rings; no signs of intermediate growth." Shining Brow shook her head and adjusted her wings. "Someone grew it there."

Celestia stared down at the tiny, emaciated filly. Her mane of red and orange against the coat of amber looked like the sky at sundown. The filly pushed away some of the covers with a slow, lethargic kick revealing a mark on her flank that looked like an orange and red sun with a ying-yang symbol in the center.

"She's just a foal," she said.

"And yet she has her cutie mark," said Shining Brow. She looked at Celestia's mark and then back at the filly's. "A very familiar looking mark. Could she be related to you?"

Celestia shook her head. "There are others with the sun design with no relation to my family, and cutie marks can't be predicted based on lineage. They are an expression of a pony's passions and talents."

"But for a foal?" said Shining Brow. She stepped around the basket and watched Celestia closely.

"It is unusual, to be sure." She turned aside and began walking towards her throne. "What of her parents?"

"No sign," said Shining Brow. She stayed by the baby but followed the princess with her eyes. "We have sent out scouts to the nearby towns to spread the word, but I have little confidence it will result in anything."

"Why is that?" asked Celestia as she turned around.

"The tree was taller than many of the buildings in Canterlot," said Shining Brow. "It is unlikely this filly's parents simply didn't notice she was gone. They chose to leave her behind... or aren't around themselves anymore."

Celestia's hair gently swayed behind her in whatever magical breeze that kept her young and powerful. She stared towards the stained glass windows near the ceiling of the throne room, seemingly lost in thought.

"Princess," prompted Shining Brow. "What should we do for her?"

Celestia snapped her head down to Shining Brow and she stiffened, adopting a more formal tone. "Take her to my school for now."

Shining Brow stared at the princess. "The school is not equipped to raise a foal, certainly not one without parents."

Celestia looked just a touch sad. "Will you look after her?"

"M-me, your highness?" stammered Shining Brow. "I don't know the first thing about foal rearing. I'm a soldier."

"You have been far more than that," said Celestia with a smile. "And I don't expect you to abandon your duties for this young filly. I shall invite caretakers to the palace to see to her needs. But she will be alone here, too young to understand or fit in, and she will benefit from the regular attention of someone of your dependable nature."

"I shall do as you ask, Princess," said Shining Brow. "But would it not be easier or better to have her taken to an orphanage?"

Celestia looked down at the foal again, her eyes drawn to the cutie mark.

"No," said Celestia softly. "I think it would be neither of those things." She turned away and headed back through the throne room.

Shining Brow bowed her head respectfully, until Celestia had left the room, retreating back to her private wing. Then she reached down with her wing and slipped it under the basket. With the barest effort, she lifted the makeshift cradle onto her back and began walking towards Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns.