Your Most Royal Highness Princess Celestia, Greetings and salutations, Your Majesty. I am writing to you on this, the fourth month since my stationing in the small town of Ponyville, with my weekly report. Everything is going along splendidly, as it has been for the past few months, and I am sorry to admit that I do not have any great message of import to transmit to you. We are rapidly approaching the Winter Wishes Celebration, and we are currently making plans to select a sapling to erect in the front yard and decorate. I am hoping that crafting the ornaments by hoof will help her improve her hoof-eye coordination, especially on a much finer scale than she is used to working with. Her job continues to bring her great satisfaction, and the updates I receive from her superiors are simply sterling. With best wishes until I write you next, Honey Muffin
Your most faithful servant,
Greetings and salutations, Your Majesty. I am writing to you on this, the fourth month since my stationing in the small town of Ponyville, with my weekly report. Everything is going along splendidly, as it has been for the past few months, and I am sorry to admit that I do not have any great message of import to transmit to you.
We are rapidly approaching the Winter Wishes Celebration, and we are currently making plans to select a sapling to erect in the front yard and decorate. I am hoping that crafting the ornaments by hoof will help her improve her hoof-eye coordination, especially on a much finer scale than she is used to working with. Her job continues to bring her great satisfaction, and the updates I receive from her superiors are simply sterling.
With best wishes until I write you next,
A young, tangerine-colored mare pushed the half-open gates aside as she stepped into the enclosed front garden. It was only a low wall, and so even from the outside (where she had gathered the day's mail from its designated box) she could admire it, the neat rows of roses and lilies growing exactly where she had planted the seeds only a few months before. Sure, they had grown a little faster than normal, but that was one of the perks of making friends with a flora-minded unicorn. Friendship had been her mission all along, after all. The scroll naming her current assignment had arrived several months ago, impressing the young mare because it had only been a scant few weeks since she'd graduated from her studies at Canterlot. The request had been ... odd, probably the oddest scroll she would ever receive. But who could turn down a request from the Princess herself?
Honey Muffin edged the front door to the little cottage open with her hip, trying to balance both the mail and the groceries in her front foreleg as she wobbled her three-legged-gait towards the kitchen. Her most recent scroll to the Princess still sat on the counter, waiting to be sent, and bounced out of the way as she unloaded her day's purchases.
She didn't have the house to herself for very long; she heard her housemate's hooves on the back steps as she was unloading the third bag, and turned to greet her with a smile as the door swung open. "Good afternoon, Bright Eyes. How was your route?"
"Pretty good. I had to deliver a really big package; I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it all the way to Grandpa Root's place, but I did all right." Bright Eyes replied with a smile of her own, her 'good' eye focused on Honey Muffin and the other angled in a different direction, as was usual for her. It had earned her the nickname "Derpy Hooves" amongst some of the less-kind members of the town, especially those who were still earning their friendship sparkles. It was also the reason Honey Muffin had been sent in the first place, so far from her old home in the distant, elegant Canterlot.
"Good, good. Could you put these in the ice-box for me? I went to the market while you were at work. I thought we could go pick out our Winter Sapling once you got home, if you weren't too tired." Honey Muffin returned cheerfully, smiling back at her housemate as Bright Eyes carefully edged the jars and bottles into their enchanted ice-box, a common fixture even here in Ponyville. It was funny; when she first received her assignment from the Princess, she'd been afraid that the smaller town would be terribly backwards and old-fashioned. When she heard how poorly the inhabitants had treated this poor pegasus, her concerns grew. Thankfully, things had turned out much better than she had anticipated, especially in regards to the wall-eyed young pegasus.
Honey Muffin had been briefed by the Princess in her first (and only) royal audience, mostly regarding the nature of her assignment in Ponyville. She'd been briefly informed of the town's location and general description, although the bulk of their discussion had been focused on Bright Eyes herself. She was something of a loner, making her an anomaly in a town of highly friendly ponies, and she had been shunned for it. It was generally assumed that the nickname 'Derpy Hooves' had come about from some of these attempts to befriend her, which often resulted in nothing more than a confused, wall-eyed stare and a quick shuffle in the opposite direction. How could those ponies know that the shuffle was due to poor depth perception, instead of any lack of intelligence?
Although Celestia had neatly avoided the issue of how, exactly, the pegasus had come to need her aid, she had gathered a few things both from idle conversations with her and the other town's inhabitants. Although she had been warned the pegasus was of below-average intelligence (both by her appearance and reluctance to converse with the townsfolk), Honey Muffin had found Bright Eyes to be surprisingly bright, pardon the pun. While she didn't have the depth perception of an average pony, or the large circle of friends that seemed mandatory in pony society, she was rather well-spoken, once you got her to start talking. It would seem that she was simply not used to being around more than one or two other ponies at a time, as insane as that sounded. A pony, shunning large groups of friends? It was like a fish shunning water.
Understandably, Bright Eyes had not been very excited about the new pony invading her home. Her unfortunate little home had been located on the far edge of town, tucked away in a copse of tall trees, nearly invisible to the untrained eye. But a mandate from the Princess was not as easily ignored as the other ponies in her home town were, and so Bright Eyes had been relocated to a nice-sized cottage closer to the middle of town and the post office, under the pretense of "making friends with the newcomer and showing her around town." As mail-pony, she knew every inch of Ponyville, making her an exceptional guide for Honey Muffin.
Yes, as strange as it had sounded, the pegasus who was regarded as socially inept and possibly mentally delayed had been entrusted with a mail-delivering route. How that logic worked, Honey Muffin had NO clue. Luckily for Bright Eyes, it seemed she had a friend in the gruff older mare who oversaw the Ponyville branch of the Pony Express, and so she was given a decent-sized route. It seemed to be one of the rare jobs in pony society where being socially inept was a benefit, rather than a detriment; unlike most of the other mares on her team, Bright Eyes took no time out to idly chat with the ponies she delivered to, and was always the first one back from her deliveries. But no amount of 'Best Mailpony of the Month' plaques could replace the void a lack of friendship caused in a pony, Princess Celestia had insisted, so Honey Muffin had been sent to 'show her the light,' as it were.
"I've always wanted a Winter Sapling." Bright Eyes murmured over her shoulder, her good eye warming with delight as it landed on Honey Muffin, the other directed somewhere over her guardian's left shoulder.
"You've never had one before?" Honey Muffin replied as she pushed the bag of grain into the cupboard, her eyes a little wide with surprise. How could that be? A Winter Sapling was as much tradition as - as anything!
"Nope. Saw a couple in ponies' yards when I delivered the mail, though." She replied simply, stepping back to her side to snag the next item for the ice-box, placing it carefully in its place. It was a sign of how much she had progressed, Honey Muffin noted with pride, that the jar didn't clank against the others as Bright Eyes shoved it blindly inside. She was getting better at picking up on depth, even if she'd never be equal to a more sighted pony.
"Well, they're very fun to plant. And then you get to decorate them with little ornaments! I picked up some extra glitter and glue, now all we need are some pinecones from the forest, and we can make our own!" Honey Muffin chirped, edging the last box into the cupboard, giving it a little push so that it would close right. This little cottage, lying dormant for so many years, had taken a fair amount of fixing up until it had met Honey Muffin's standards for proper pony homey-ness. The garden had originally been Bright Eyes' domain, until Honey Muffin had seen the hodge-podge little holes she'd dug, ready to be filled with seeds. No sense of order at all! But Honey Muffin had quickly rectified that, working with the shovel until her dark blond locks had stuck to her neck from the perspiration. That was her job, after all; to show Bright Eyes how a proper pony lived, with friends and a neatly ordered home and a steady job. Bright Eyes didn't KNOW that was her job, perhaps, but there it was. She seemed perfectly happy to accept Honey Muffin as her slightly-bossy assistant, and what was the harm in that?
"That sounds really nice." Bright Eyes murmured, almost to herself, as she carefully closed the door to the ice-box, smiling at Honey Muffin a little wider as her smile was returned.
"Good! Shall we go right now, then? They should still have some saplings left to choose from, and then we just have to get it planted and speed-grown." Honey smiled, her long tail flicking behind her as she headed out of the kitchen, trotting briskly off to find her winter blanket. It was getting colder outside, nowadays; it was a wonder that Bright Eyes managed to fly around in such cold weather!
Then again, most pegasi were bred to withstand the cold, more so than little earth ponies like Honey. Most pegasi, in fact, had their homes in the clouds or trees, a testament to their agility in the air and attachment to nature. Imagine the scorn Bright Eyes must have felt, then, to not only be a pegasus with an abnormal symbol (bubbles were an object found in nature, sure, but not nearly as commonly as a gust of wind or a flower), and also unable to sleep in one of those cloud castles that each pegasus built for him- or herself. She had never seen Bright Eyes build one, either; it was highly likely she couldn't, but Honey didn't want to hurt her feelings by asking. "Heavy wings" were not something to be proud of, after all.
"All right." Came the faint answer from the kitchen, and by the time Honey Muffin had found her blanket, Bright Eyes was waiting by the front door, wings folded snugly against her back, her good eye locked on Honey Muffin as the other one wandered somewhere to her left.
The pair trotted towards the center of town in relative silence, Honey Muffin trying to make idle conversation as always, with gentle replies from Bright Eyes. She was surprisingly talkative, once you got her going. She lit up like a Winter Sapling covered in candles every time a pony recognized and greeted her, though. Even if it was only 'Happy Winter Wishes, Bright Eyes!,' it seemed to add a little bounce to her step, until it almost seemed that she was gliding next to Honey Muffin rather than walking. Although Honey Muffin hadn't ever heard her talk about it, she must have been very lonely before she'd made friends in town.
They arrived at the Winter Sapling 'shop' in the center of town without much delay, and began browsing amongst the little green saplings in their sparkly pots. Although it wasn't a physical shop per se, the seasonal set-up always seemed to occur in the town square, just as it had in Canterlot for the previous years of Honey Muffin's life.
"I like this one!" Honey Muffin declared after a few minutes of silent, concentrated perusal of the rows of tiny saplings. Although each tree was of a different type, the special surprise was that on the morning of the Festival, each tree would bear fruit, declaring the type of fruit that would be enjoyed for years to come. Most of them were common apple saplings, but there were some rare varieties, and every year brought a new wave of foals and fillies hoping for something particularly special. After the Festival, each fully-grown (thanks to the flora-mages of the town) tree would be carefully, magically moved into each family's back yard, to be doted upon until the arrival of the next Winter Wishes Festival. The choosing of a Winter Sapling was a very important, very serious matter, at least in Honey Muffin's upbringing. The sapling she had chosen seemed the most sturdy, and she could practically smell the luck coming off of it. She just KNEW it had to be a plum or pear tree!
Her quick glance around the rows of miniature trees brought her thoughts of pear tarts and plum smoothies to a sudden halt. Standing at the very end of one of the rows, her nose practically touching the smallest, feeblest sapling, was Bright Eyes. Surely, she couldn't want to take THAT sad little thing home, could she? It didn't even look healthy enough to have been brought to sale at all, with most of its leaves falling off like that. It should be taken home and nursed back to health, not planted in their front yard and decorated!
"I like this one." Bright Eyes replied with a little smile, glancing back up at Honey Muffin from where she'd been examining the little sprout. "Can we take it home?"
Inwardly, Honey Muffin warred with herself. She should be teaching Bright Eyes how to live life the way a normal pony should, which included picking the biggest, strongest looking sprout, to ensure many future harvests of its fruit. It was only practical! But if Bright Eyes wanted the little gimpy one, who was she to stop her? It was half her home, after all, and the one she'd be living in by herself, if Honey ever got released from this assignment. So after a moment to consider it, staring down at the sparse little thing in its pot, she finally spoke, abandoning her first choice. Good-bye, pear tarts. "Sure! That looks like a nice enough sprout."
When Bright Eyes' eyes lit up, she knew she'd made the right decision. Within a few moments, the pair had paid for their little Winter Sapling (which, if Honey Muffin wasn't mistaken, had lost a few leaves when Bright Eyes picked it up) and were soon on their way home, the sapling tucked into one of Bright Eyes' official mailpony saddlebags. They had almost passed by Mr. and Mrs. Cake's shop entirely when the delicious smell of freshly-baked Festival cookies hit Honey Muffin's nose, and she stopped and turned suddenly, calling back to her housemate. "Bright Eyes, c'mon! Let's get something before we go home!"
Their breath fogging up in front of them, the pair soon darted into The Cake Shop, Honey Muffin shivering as she laughed with Bright Eyes. "Two Festival cookies and hot chocolates, please!" Honey chirped between giggles, tugging the coins out of her saddlebag as Mrs. Cake set to work.
As they waited, Honey Muffin's eyes happened to land on Bright Eyes, a small smile playing around her mouth as she watched Honey Muffin shiver. "What?"
"Nothing." Bright Eyes said in her soft little voice, her smile only widening as they caught sight of the elaborate Winter Wishes cake in the display case. "It's beautiful." She breathed, edging close enough to the glass to fog it up.
A bit of an odd duck, to be sure. But, Honey Muffin supposed, Bright Eyes had never seen the finery of the town, living so far from it. She was basically reliving the childhood she never had - if she had a childhood at all. For every answer that she got about her 'charge,' ten more questions popped up. Honey Muffin smiled back at her, eyes bright and ears perked as Mrs. Cake called their names.
The pair were soon on the road again, trying to juggle their treats while they trotted home, Honey Muffin shivering all the harder in the cold gusts of air that whipped around them. It was only a little after midday, but the air was still freezing, the sunshine weak and filtered through the heavy cloud cover.
"More snow tomorrow."
Honey Muffin glanced up from where she had been focused on the slushy ground, ears pricking forward. "What?"
"More snow tomorrow. Or tonight, if the clouds shift quick enough." Bright Eyes glanced up at the sky, her good eye focusing on the clouds directly ahead of her as the other wandered aimlessly.
"Oh. Are all pegasi this good at weather interpretation?" Honey Muffin smiled, tugging at her coat, trying to settle it a little higher around her shoulders. It was chillier than she'd anticipated; if only she'd brought her scarf!
"I've spent my whole life here; I know how the clouds move." Bright Eyes answered with a little shrug, moving closer to Honey Muffin to spread a wing over her chilly companion.
Honey Muffin glanced at her in surprise, ears pricked, only hesitating a moment before a smile curled her lips and she snuggled closer to Bright Eyes' side. "Thanks, Bright."
"No problem, Honey." The pegasus murmured, their steps matching as they walked the much-warmer path back to their cottage.