Tea Party Without Tea (Last Draconequus; Slice of Life; Celestia, Discord, Luna)
Note: set in Last Draconequus, sometime around chapter 6 or 7, shortly after Discord has been rescued and allowed to live at the palace.
The sun team had retired for the night, having put away the sun, and with them, most of the rest of the castle staff as well, including Papa. Celestia was supposed to be in bed, like a good Princess, but she was old enough to make her own decisions regarding her bedtime, in her opinion, and there was something much more interesting and important to do than going to bed.
Her servants had informed her that the creature had skittered off before the doctors had been able to examine it, that it had been corralled and led through the servants' passage into a bathroom where a bath had been drawn for it, and it had promptly dived under the water and refused to come out. Apparently it was amphibious. After it had been permitted to stay underwater for an hour or so, and after it had been observed playing with the soaps and shampoos, enough to have gotten itself clean, they had drained the tub and presented it with fluffy towels, which it had grabbed with its teeth and then run again. Since the bathroom, of course, led into a bedroom, and they'd had the outer door to the bedroom locked, it had gone straight in there, hidden under the bed, and refused to come out.
This wasn't how Celestia wanted to welcome her new friend to her home. When she'd talked him down she'd had ideas of how things would go, how they'd give him a bath and food and medical treatment and he'd be so grateful and happy and she could show him all around the castle and maybe teach him how to speak pony. She hadn't expected him to run away and hide under things. So she headed to the room he was hidden in, carrying supplies in a bag.
As she entered the room, the smell of scented shampoo hit her nostrils, and she wrinkled them. It smelled like he'd gone way overboard on the shampoo. Of course, who knew how long it had been since he'd had a bath? Had he ever even had a nice bath in his life? Had he even known what the shampoo was? All she knew about him was that the circus had abused him and treated him as an animal when he wasn't.
She knelt down by the side of the bed. When she peered under it she could just barely make out a pair of golden eyes, glowing dimly in the darkness. "You don't have to hide, you know," she said. "We're friends now. Nopony's going to hurt you." No response. "I brought food for us to share. Would you like some?"
That got him to crawl far enough that his muzzle was sticking out from under the bed, his eyes focused intently on her. Celestia had cared for enough animals to know he would bolt if she made any sudden moves. "You seem like you might be a meat eater, so I thought maybe you might like some dried fish?" She levitated the smoked, dried fish jerky over to him. He growled and swatted at it with his paw, tossing it aside. "Okay, so no fish." She drew a cheese wheel and a butterknife out of her bag, and sliced a wedge of the cheese out. "How about cheese?"
That got his attention. When she levitated the cheese wedge over to him, he grabbed it... and then scurried backward, back under the bed. Celestia sighed.
"You don't need to run or hide. I brought more stuff, you know. We could have a tea party." She set down two saucers, two cups and two plates. "Well, it won't really be tea, but we can pretend." On both plates, she arranged hay, a pile of nuts and fruit, a fresh salad with carrots and mushrooms, and a slice of vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. The muzzle reappeared.
"I just had a great idea!" Celestia got to her hooves – causing the muzzle to retreat back into the darkness under the bed – and began pulling books down from the bookcase with her horn. They were large, weighty tomes containing classics of literature, there to impress guests more than to be read. Before long she had stacked three pillars of books in a rough triangle, or rather, a pentagon where the two closest bedposts, at the head and foot of the bed respectively, were the other two points. Then she yanked the top blanket off the bed, tied two corners of it to the tops of the posts so it conjoined to the canopy on the bed, and ran the other two corners to the left and right pillars of books. It stretched far enough that she could lay books on it to hold it in place, but not enough to complete the effect she wanted. Two other blankets added to the mix, tied to the middle of the bedposts by one corner and draped around two of the pillars, one to left and center and the other to right and center, and now she had a proper tent, held up by the bed and book pillars. The downy comforter folded at the foot of the bed and the various soft pillows at the head went to making a comfy place to lay down on. "There we go. Now we have a fort!"
"Aaaaooow," came from under the bed. It sounded more like a cat yowling than a word.
"I'm sorry, did you hurt yourself?"
"Aaaooow! Aaaooowt! Naaaooow!" The whole head emerged, a furious expression on his face, and his paw pointing at where the door was, beyond the edge of the tent.
"Oh – oh, wait! Are you saying 'out'?" Rapid nod. "Are you telling me to get out?" Another angry nod. "Well, I won't. This is my home you're staying in, and I have every right to be in any room I like. But I won't hurt you, and I did bring you food. Didn't you see the food?" She pushed the plate slightly closer to the bed.
His eagle talon shot out and grabbed the plate, but when he tried to pull it back under the bed, she tugged it back. "No, no. I want you to eat with me. Come on out and have a tea party with me! I have a lot of drinks." Celestia levitated the ceramic jugs out of the bag and untwisted the caps. "You can have lemonade, chocolate milk, apple juice – oh, you like one of them?" He had crawled forward, warily, half his body out from under the bed now. "Point to the one you want."
He pointed. With a single, exotic digit. Celestia had to control a shiver of excitement at how strange and different he was. She'd seen griffins in pictures, but never met any – and while he had limbs like a griffin, his body shape was completely different. "Caa caooow."
"Chocolate milk? Very well, good sir." She took his cup and poured the chocolate milk into it, then levitated it back over to his saucer. He came out the rest of the way to take the cup, but was still crouched on all fours, tail curled around his legs with the end of it twitching, backed up against the bed.
The creature stretched his paw to grab the cup, drank it in a single gulp, then grabbed at the fruits and nuts with a paw and shoveled them into his mouth as fast as he could. He then devoured the cake, ignoring the greens and the hay. Celestia was still nibbling at her salad when he pushed the plate and cup at her. "Mroar?"
"You want more?" Another nod. "I'll be happy to, but you have to come out and sit with me."
The creature's eyes flicked to the left and right of her. Apparently satisfied with whatever he was checking, he crawled the rest of the way forward and sat up by the place she'd set for him. "Sssssiiih. Naaaoow mrooooar."
"That isn't the polite way to ask," Celestia said, pouring him another cup of chocolate milk. "I say, 'Would you like some more?', and you say, 'Yes, please.'"
"Yehsssss hfreeeasss." His sibilant s sounds were almost a lisp, but not quite – a sound more like a snake hiss crossed with the "th" sound than a real s. But he obviously understood everything she was saying, and had probably practiced speaking pony. For a creature that didn't seem to be able to make the same sounds ponies could, he was doing quite well.
She set his cup down on his saucer. "Now say 'thank you' and I'll give you more fruit and nut mix."
"That's very good," Celestia said encouragingly. "We'll have you speaking pony well enough that anypony can understand you in no time. Want more cheese?"
"Yehhsss hfreeaz." This time he'd managed to make the "z" sound that occurred at the end of please.
"You're doing very well. Try to say cheese. It's almost like please, so I bet you could do it." She levitated another cheese wedge over to him.
She poured herself lemonade. "So they told us your name was Mixup, but since you can't really speak pony, I don't see how you could have told them your name. Is that your name?"
He growled and shook his head. "That's a 'no', I assume."
"What is your name?"
He said something that she couldn't comprehend well enough to ever repeat it. "I'm sorry, I don't think I can pronounce that. Would it be okay if I still called you Mixup?"
"Hmm. Let's see what nickname we can give you, then, until you're able to tell us your name in pony. What about Mishmosh?" He shook his head. "Uh... Hodgepodge?"
With an irritated expression, he went over to the center pillar holding the tent up and shoved it, knocking all the books over, and making the sides of the tent fall down. "That was rude!" Celestia snapped. "Just because I haven't been able to come up with a good name for you—"
He shook his head. "Naaaymuh," he said, scooped up a pile of books in his forelegs, and dropped them higgledy-piggledy.
Was he trying to tell her what his name meant? "What are you trying to say? Something about this means your name? Books?" He shook his head. "Well, if it's not books, then all I see is a mess." That got a smile and a rapid nod. "Your name is Mess?" This time the creature made a gesture she didn't understand, his thumb and foredigit on his talon held almost together, pinching an imaginary tiny item with a small gap between his digits. Celestia had no idea what that meant. "Do you want me to call you Mess?" The talon gesture again, and a nod. "Okay, that's a silly name but if you want that to be your nickname, I guess it's okay."
She used her telekinesis to repair the tent. Mess didn't help; he spent the entire time drinking repeated draughts of chocolate milk out of his teacup, a talon digit crooked through the mysterious rounded handle on the side. Celestia had always wondered what that thing was for; unicorns didn't need it and other ponies couldn't use it. Apparently it was so that creatures with opposable thumbs and digits, like griffins and minotaurs, could use them.
No sooner had she finished rebuilding the tent than the edge of it pushed inward, rustling. Celestia gasped, startled, and Mess dropped his cup, spilling chocolate milk on the blanket, and darted back under the bed. The blanket took the shape of a foal, and then a familiar blue leg pushed out from underneath it. In a moment, Luna had gotten her head out into the tent.
"There you are, sister! I knew you were awake!"
Mess stuck his head back out from under the bed, slowly. Celestia sighed.
"Luna, you're supposed to be in bed."
"But you're awake!"
"I'm older than you."
"But how am I supposed to sleep when my sister is conducting diponatic relations with a new race?" Luna asked. "I have to learn how to do these things because what if you hurt your hoof and I have to do things for you someday?" Mess, who had by now fully crawled out from under the bed, started chuckling.
"It's diplomatic, not diponatic, and I'm not conducting diplomatic relations with a new race. I'm trying to make a new friend."
"Oh! Well, that is a thing I should know how to do too!" Luna plopped herself down and started lifting the lids to the various ceramic jugs. "Hmm. Lemonade, chocolate milk, apple juice... where is the iced tea?"
"I didn't bring any. Iced tea keeps ponies awake, and it's late at night."
"I drink iced tea at night all the time."
"And your nurse is always complaining that you never sleep. Where is she now?"
"Nursey is sleeping, of course. She went to bed only a little while after the moon went up. I pretended to be asleep, but the moon is so pretty and big! How am I supposed to sleep through this?"
By now Mess was laughing outright. Luna grinned at him. "Do you like to stay up at night too, weird creature thing?"
"Don't call him that. He's asked us to call him Mess."
"He can talk now?"
"Not very well." She turned to Mess. "Say 'yes please.'"
"Mroar caacow." He pointed at the chocolate milk.
"He sounds like a cat," Luna opined.
Celestia ignored that. "Oh, right," she said to Mess. "Would you like some more chocolate milk?"
Luna laughed. "That doesn't sound anything like 'yes, please!'"
"But we would be just as bad at his language. Mess, could you say your name again? Your real name?"
He repeated it. In amidst the catlike noise, Celestia thought he'd said something like "Fuu tiaouh." She tried to repeat that back to him, making him laugh again.
"I brought toast," Luna announced, as Celestia poured Mess more chocolate milk and then gave Luna an apple juice. "It's buttered. I brought jams for it too." She removed a cloth-wrapped baguette from her own saddlebag, and pulled out a butterknife and a few small jars, then set the baguette down and opened the cloth. It was, in fact, a hot, toasted, buttered baguette, sliced in half longways.
"How did you do that? The kitchen is closed."
"Is not. The moon raisers and the night guard need to eat too. I just asked the night cook. Moon Cake always makes things for me because we have the same name."
Mess raised a furry black eyebrow. "'Luna' means 'Moon' in old Minosian," Celestia said to Mess. "It's said that a lot of our language comes from that region, including the word 'pegasus'."
Mess pointed at the bread. "Thoooass."
"Yes, that's toast. Do you want some?"
"Hfreess." He couldn't seem to manage the letter 'p'; he was making an overly strong "h" instead, huffing it out so it sounded like a cross between an h and an f.
"Do you want jam?" Luna asked. "I brought blackberry, peach, apple butter, orange marmalade, and strawberry."
Mess nodded. When Luna asked "Which one?" he pointed to all of them. Luna pouted. "I didn't bring that much toast."
"Here." Celestia broke off a piece of toast and gave it to him. "You can put whatever jams on it you like." She opened all the jam jars and set them down, with the butterknife next to them.
Mess did not use the butterknife. He scooped jam out of the tiny jars with a single curved claw from his talon, dumped it on the toast, and then used the back of the claw to spread it. He also covered the same slice of toast with some of every jam they had, overlapping in several places.
"Say thank you now," Celestia said.
"Sssangyaoou naaoow," Mess said.
"No, I didn't mean you had to say the word 'now', I meant..." She trailed off at the huge grin on his face and the small giggle. "Oh! You're joking!" Her face felt warm. How could anyone have ever mistaken this creature for unintelligent? He knew two phrases in Equestrian and he was already using them to make jokes.
"I still think he sounds like a cat," Luna said.
"Yes, but we have to teach him to speak Equestrian. I think if he practices, he'll get to the point where everypony can understand him, even if he has a strange accent."
Mess shook his head. "You don't think ponies will understand you?"
He made a slashing motion with his paw while shaking his head. "Unrsssan, yesssh. Unrsssan aaarr."
"Understand arrr? I don't understand what you mean."
He rolled his eyes, looking frustrated. "Unrsssan raaiik hfoniie."
"Understand like a pony? But that's what I said."
He shook his head. "Nroh asssen. Saaoon raaaik hfonie. Saahmaaie."
It took her several seconds to get it. "You're saying someday you'll sound like a pony and you won't have an accent?"
Mess nodded eagerly. "Saaahmaaie."
"Well, you've got quite a way to go," Luna said. "Because I can't understand anything you're saying."
"There are sounds he can't make," Celestia said. "He's saying 'somay' rather than 'someday' and 'unersan' rather than 'understand' because I don't think he can really make t or d sounds, and he definitely can't say p, so when he says 'pony' it comes out sounding like 'phony'. And all his l sounds are coming out like r's."
"Hrakisss," Mess said. "Hrakiss ross."
That one was beyond Celestia's ability to translate. "Um, yes, I guess so. Would anypony like me to read a story?"
"I would!" Luna waved a forehoof in the air eagerly. After a moment Mess copied her.
"Okay." Celestia lifted the edge of the tent and slipped through it so she could see the spines of the books. Most of them were entirely too boring to entertain a foal Luna's age, and she had no idea what Mess would like, but finally she found a collection of old folk tales. She skimmed through it, and was delighted to see one she thought would work well for both of them.
She crawled back into the tent with the book, having replaced it in the structure with a copy of a book that wasn't even in Equestrian, and flipped it open to the correct page. "This is 'The Goat Sister.' Once upon a time there was a queen who was about to give birth. The king and all the court were eager to see the new little princess, but to their great surprise, the queen gave birth to a kid, a little goat filly. What was even stranger was that she held a wooden spoon in her hoof, and wore a tattered hood on her body. As everypony gasped in surprise, the little goat filly said, 'Oh, don't worry so much! My sister will be perfectly normal and beautiful, you'll see!' And as she scrambled to her hooves and got out of the way, the queen gave birth to the foal everypony had been expecting, a beautiful little princess."
Luna and Mess listened raptly at first, as Celestia told the tale of how Tatterhood, the goat princess, and Sweet Heart, the pony princess, grew up as best of friends and watched out for each other, even though all the courtiers spoke ill of Tatterhood behind her back, claiming that she was ugly, that she was evil, that her strange magic was monstrous and that the queen must have consorted with a goat to produce her. Then a prince who came courting Sweet Heart turned out to be a wicked warlock in disguise, who transformed Sweet Heart into a pig. Tatterhood took Sweet Heart with her on an adventure, where they came through many trials, to restore Sweet Heart back into a pony.
By the time she got to the end, though, where Sweet Heart was getting married to a prince who had helped them in their trials, and Tatterhood had just revealed to the handsome earth pony who was captain of the prince's guard that she could turn into a beautiful pony herself anytime she wanted to, but he told her he thought she was more beautiful when she was herself... both Luna and Mess were asleep, leaning on her respective sides. Or rather, Luna was leaning against her left side, and Mess, on her right side, had somehow managed to slither over her back in his sleep, so his head was now on her left side too, near her head, and his body was draped over her back.
Celestia sighed. If she tried to move, she'd wake both of them up, and it was so hard to get Luna to sleep at night, and Mess was likely to startle and hide under the bed again. Besides, the whole reason she'd filled the tent fort with pillows was so that they could sleep in it if they wanted to; she'd wanted to give Mess a safe den to sleep in where he felt protected from intruders, but also where she could interact with him, and, well, that was exactly what she'd ended up with.
It was far past her own bedtime, and the soft little pony with her downy feathers and the skinny draconequus with thick fluffy fur around his middle were both warm and cuddly, though Mess had too many bones that she could feel for her comfort and she was definitely going to have to help the cooks make sure he filled out. Celestia pulled a pillow close with her telekinesis and laid her head on it, putting her forelegs under it. Morning was coming soon, and ever since she'd gotten her cutie mark a few months ago, Celestia couldn't sleep through the sun raising ceremony anymore; the feel of the magic of the unicorns raising the sun always filled her with restless energy, and now that she was known to have a special talent for sun-raising, she was expected to help out anyway. When Celestia participated, the number of unicorns required to raise the sun went from 12 to 9 – 7 if she pushed herself - and if they kept the original twelve then it wasn't nearly as burdensome as it usually was for any one of the others. So she really should have gone to sleep hours ago. She certainly didn't have time to extricate herself from her sister and her new friend and go to her bedroom. And that was exactly what she would tell anypony who asked.
She set all of the food supplies out of the tent with her horn, so the servants could get to them. And then she let sleep take her.
So those of you who've been reading Last Draconequus know that it's a plot point that Discord can't yet make the same sounds ponies can. This isn't a general draconequus inability; this is due to the transformation Discord underwent and subsequent isolation from anyone to talk to. But I was thinking to myself, what sounds is he making that he's mistaken for an animal? And then it occurred to me that the draconequui originally come from the equivalents of China and Japan, and Mandarian Chinese sounds to English speakers (or at least to this English speaker) as if it's catlike. Not that Chinese people sound like cats, but that if cats spoke a language they'd sound Chinese.
So. Discord's vocal range is actually wider than a pony's, but it doesn't help him, because at this point there are sounds he can't make, and his overlap with pony sounds is mostly in the range of vowels, nasals and sibilants. His command of his own language would be hard to understand for another draconequus, but they'd manage; his ability to speak pony is very, very impaired, but he understands it perfectly.
His real name is Futyaoei, based on the Chinese word for discord, "bu tiaohe" (there are tonal accents in this that I can't reproduce with my keyboard.) As an adult Discord doesn't have a sense that the draconequus word is his "real" name, though; his name is a concept, and therefore the word Discord in any language is his name. He doesn't know the pony word for discord yet in this snippet.
Celestia is about 12, Discord about 10, Luna about 6. Yes, Luna is precocious. She's well educated, as behooves a princess, and she reads a lot.
I am of course using the convention that Equestrian is English. It probably isn't, even in modern times, and certainly in this time period it would have been a lot more like Shakespearean English. However, I am not good enough at Shakespearean English to write an entire novel in it, so assume this is being translated into modern vernacular.
The story Celestia reads is based on "Tatterhood", an actual fairy tale. In Tatterhood, the titular character is born riding on a goat, and her sister's head is replaced with the head of a sheep. I made the sister transform into a pig because sheep are speaking animals in Equestria and pretty similar to goats.
Celestia's cutie mark is not for raising the sun all by herself; she's currently a unicorn. She won't be able to do that until she's an alicorn. But normally, unicorns suffer enormous strain from raising the sun; even ones aligned with the sun, with sun-themed cutie marks, have a hard time with it and burn themselves out, though not permanently (whereas non-sun-aligned unicorns can potentially permanently damage their magic, and many have.) Celestia can cover for 3 - 5 unicorns all by herself; she's an enormously powerful unicorn, second only to Starswirl, and she's very strongly connected to the sun.
Luna is currently a pegasus, and too little to have a cutie mark.
What Discord says that Celestia doesn't understand is "Practice lots." He's planning to practice pony until he's fluent and accentless. As we all know, he succeeds.
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