"Miss Applejack?" Bill Door gestured, eyeing the spade he had been provided with some suspicion.
"I am confused as to how, exactly, I am supposed to use this digging implement, given my lack of tangible digits or other means of gripping its handle, and using that grip, exerting force upon its blade."
She then slowly began to realise that he was completely serious.
"... Well, I've met some fancy fru-fru ponies in mah time, but never one that didn' know how to use a spade! That's a new 'un. Uh, well, yer grip th'handle in yer teeth... Lhike thish!"
Bill Door watched as Applejack deftly bit the handle, struck the soft meadow soil with the spade, forced it down, and flicked the displaced earth away. He'd been watching Earth Ponies perform similar tasks with just their mouths, tails and hooves all week, but couldn't even begin to imitate it.
"... Maybe I could just... Dig with my hooves?" he ventured, having stared blankly at his spade for a few seconds more.
"Whatever makes yer feel comfortable, hun. Jus' remember it's gotta be deep enough fer the roots."
Bill Door nodded, and gently nudged the spade aside. Somehow, digging with his hooves felt more... right. With a speed that rivalled even Applejack's skillful shovelling, he had soon excavated a neatly spaced row of holes, just waiting for saplings to fill them.
This time it was Applejack's turn to watch, and she marvelled at the bizarre efficiency Bill Door seemed to be managing without the aid of any tools. She whistled for Big Mac, who came plodding over, pulling the cart containing the year-old apple saplings. They were carefully lifted from the cart and lowered into the holes, with the tender care a mother would show to her children. Applejack packed the dirt back around the root and trunk and patted it down, making sure that each tree was securely planted before moving on to the next.
With the unexpected turn of speed, the planting was done in less than half the time Applejack had allotted for it, so Bill Door found himself being invited back to the farmhouse to share in a drink and a chat.
In the cosy, suitably untidy Apple family kitchen, Bill Door half-sat, half-stood at the table with a frothy mug of cider before him. Applejack and Big Mac were busy cleaning the dishes left over from breakfast and lunch while Granny Smith snored contentedly in the corner. Apple Bloom had returned from 'wilderness exploring' by this point, covered in tree sap and pine needles as usual. She was scoffing down a sandwich stuffed with all manner of wildflowers and grasses, chatting excitedly at Bill Door as she recounted the epic adventures she had just experienced.
"... an' then they made me their chief,"* she continued, with her mouth full. Bill Door smiled politely and nodded, taking another sip of the cider. He was uncertain of the veracity of the little filly's claims that there lived in the forest nearby a tribe of sapient, tree-dwelling frogs who had duly elected her as their leader after she and her two fellow 'crusaders' had relieved their tree-village of a ravaging Timberpuppy**, but he didn't mind listening to the tale. He'd always had a soft spot for children.
"Was there much ceremony?" he asked. Apple Bloom paused for a moment, staring at the ceiling in thought. She gulped down her mouthful and took another bite before continuing.
"Nah, nothin' special. The biggest one made some tiaras out of grass an' then they gave us bugs ta eat. Scoots an' me wouldn' eat 'em, but Sweetie Belle said they were pretty good. For bugs, anyway."
"I see! Well, I suppose you'll have to take responsibility for your new people now."
"Nah," Apple Bloom replied, "we made 'em a republic."
"Apple Bloom, when yer done, don't ferget t'go feed th'pigs," Applejack said, glancing over her shoulder.
"But it's your turn!"
"We have guests! I'll do it tomorrow, alright?"
Apple Bloom finished chewing the last morsel of sandwich with a frown. "Fiiiiine. But I don't have ta wash up this evenin'."
"Don't push yer luck, missy!" Applejack called after the retreating filly. She smiled as she chucked the dish rag down by the sink and went to join Bill Door. Big Mac nodded at the two and left to carry on with the afternoon's work.
"Sorry about yappin' year ear off earlier," Applejack opened, cradling her own mug of cider, "I'm ac'shully fairly nervous 'round new folk, so I ramble. Yer seem a good sort though. What's yer line of work, Mr. Door?"
Bill Door thought for a moment. 'THE END OF ALL THINGS' didn't seem a suitable answer.
"Harvester," he replied, with a small nod. Applejack raised an eyebrow.
"Can't say I've ever met a farm worker who don't know how t'use a spade! But that's yer own business. Y'plannin' t'stay in Ponyville long? I gather you've been at Twilight's all week."
"I did not really plan to stay at all. It just... Happened. It is a lovely town."
"Aye, sure is. S'good of Twilight to put yer up in the library. Might do her some good an' all; she's one of my best friends, but Celestia knows she's a bit, uh, uptight. Havin' a guest is the surest way t'relax yer own routines a little."
Bill Door nodded again, taking another gulp of cider. "This is delicious," he added, motioning at the cup.
"Well thanks! It's not our best, truth be told, wrong season for it. This is jus' from the windfalls an' the late spring harvest. Why, our summer batch is so popular it usually sells out within the first day!"
"Is it just you and your brother on the farm?" Bill Door ventured.
"Aye, an' Granny Smith an' Apple Bloom, of course. We have hired hooves durin' the Applebuckin' Season, or get in th'family from across Equestria. Sweet Apple Acres is th'biggest of the Apple Family orchards, y'see. Mah friends keep tellin' me I should get more help in, but it jus' don' seem right, not after our parents..." she trailed off, looking at a portrait hanging by the door. Bill Door glanced at it and smiled in sympathy.
"I am familiar with such feelings. I am sure they would be proud of you all."
"Aye... Still, we get volunteer help from time-to-time, or ponies passin' through an' lookin' fer some bits. Like yerself. What yer did today was very helpful, an' saved us a few hours more work!"
The sounds of excited barking drew nearer to the house, accompanied by gentle hoofsteps. Applejack looked up at the door.
"Ah guess that's Fluttershy an' Winona. Was nice t'meet yer, Mr. Door. I hope this business about Pinkie Pie's disappearance blows over soon, I'm sure y'had nothin' to do with it. I know an' honest pony when I see one," she said, winking at him.
Fluttershy looked through the half-door that lead to the kitchen as Winona leapt over it, running around Applejack's legs and licking her face.
"She had an upset stomach, nothing serious. I gave her some soup and talked with her for a little bit and she seems right as rain," the yellow pony said, smiling at the pair. "I'll be heading back now, is Mr. Door coming too?"
"Aye, he is. Thanks both fer yer time, drop by again, y'hear? Oh, an' Fluttershy, I'll bring round a bushel of apples t'morrow mornin'."
Fluttershy nodded gratefully and looked to Bill Door, who finished his cider, thanked Applejack for her hospitality, and left with the pegasus.
*A shockingly common occurrence when encountering tribes of primitives, statistically speaking.
**A timberwolf, but greener.
The Party in Sator Square had expanded to half the city* by the time that the juvenile wizard had convinced the chattering pink pony goddess to follow him, keep quiet (at least to the best of her ability to accomplish such a feat) and lie low.
The carefully crept out of Sator Square, into The Backs, and on to Peach Pie street. Pinkie Pie found the name endlessly amusing and insisted on stopping to find some of the eponymous produce, much to the irritation of the young wizard. The owner of a nearby bakery had soon added a hyperactive pink pony to his growing list of unusual - and barred - customers. He'd had half a mind to refuse the purchase entirely; he was specifically insured against acts of the University, as this clearly was. How else would a horse talk? And have such abnormally large eyes? And that hair? On the other hand, she had been accompanied by a wizard, junior student or no, and it just did not do to refuse wizards on their business.
Especially not when you happened to hold a tab open for a certain wizard who had a keen appetite for banana pie, banana bread, banana cake...
He changed his mind mere minutes later, when a pink-robed cultist, following the trail of confetti and streamers that seemed to be left in Pinkie Pie's wake, came across the bakery and declared it a holy shrine. Within seconds, the baker had been swamped with enough orders to make him a very very rich man.
Pinkie Pie had polished off her peachy namesake by the time the wizard had led her to the broken section of wall that marked the main entrance to the University. The wizard was getting increasingly frustrated by the pony's tendency to be distracted by literally everything. Upon spotting a rockery, she launched into what she clearly thought to be a dialogue, but was, in fact, closer to a monologue, on the subject of her upbringing on a rock farm, the techniques involved in proper gemcutting (which she clarified meant the cutting of gems to plant to produce new gems, not cutting them as a jeweller would), commenting on the fact that the rocks clearly looked overdue for rotation, and the secret to making a great rock cake (don't actually use rocks).
Then she met the gardener.
... And felt justified in beginning the spiel all over again. At least Modo was showing an interest in what the pony had to say, the wizard mused. When the dwarf insisted on showing the pony the university's floral clock**, the wizard took his chance to excuse himself and rush back to the great hall. He suddenly felt a new appreciation for silence.
Returning to the great hall, he found it in much the same state as he had left it, over an hour or so ago. The maids were still busy sweeping up confetti and streamers, the students had moved on to the second helping of the seventh course, and the Archchancellor was still fuming. Currently he appeared to be embroiled in an animated discussion with the Dean over whether or not this entire affair had been predicted that morning by the ache in the Bursar's right knee***.
"... and I'm telling you," retorted the Dean, "that a knee-ache is only predictive of cosmological disaster when accompanied by eye-twitching and a rash on the left ankle!"
"No, no!" cried the Archchancellor, "the catalogue of combinations clearly records that it's knee-ache, hayfever and a cold sweat for this sort of business!"
The Bursar raised a finger in objection. "I've not had a fever this morning!"
The Dean nodded, smugly, while the Archchancellor turned his smouldering and baleful gaze to the junior wizard who now cowered before the high table.
"Oh, it's you. Ramsbuttock, or some such. Where's my brother? He's not with you, clearly."
"It's, uh, Ramsfleece, Archchancellor, and I, uh, found the cause of the commotion, as it were.""
The Archchancellor tutted and turned to the Dean, gesturing at the junior wizard in irritation. "See? Students. Can't even follow simple commands, always insist they know what's best. Typical. One of your dorm, isn't he?"
"Never seen him before in my life, Archchancellor," the Dean replied.
"I, uh, take arcane history lectures with you-"
"Never. In my life."
"Very well," the Archchancellor continued, turning back to Ramsfleece, "come on then, lad, where's this cause of yours?"
"She's, uh, outside, Archchancellor. Discussing the finer points of gardening with the, uh, gardener, you see."
"So, you mean to say that not only have you not done as requested, you couldn't even be bothered to bring it all the way in? And- Wait, did you say 'she'?" the Archchancellor said as he stood, looming over the younger wizard in an incredibly imposing and vaguely threatening manner. Ramsfleece gulped.
"She's not a witch, is she?"
"... Probably, uh, not, Archchancellor."
The Archchancellor's grip on the table loosened a little. The wood creaked a sigh of relief.
"Ah. Well. … What, exactly, is she?"
Young Ramsfleece opened his mouth to answer, but his brain thought better of it and blocked all lines of communication immediately. As a result, he merely stammered. The Archchancellor raised an eyebrow in a manner that spoke volumes. Ramsfleece stammered again. The Archchancellor began drumming his fingers on the table top in a slow, deliberate stroke reminiscent of a drum at an execution.
Ramsfleece slowly realised that everyone in the room was now watching him with bated breath.
"... She's... a pony."
*Specifically, half of Ankh-Morpork would correctly be Ankh, (or Morpork,) if divided vertically, and An-Mor (or Kh-Pork) if horizontally. Sadly, linguistics have not evolved to facilitate the description of an expanding circular area, but the formula would be something akin to π x Ankh-Morpork^2.
**An elaborate thing planted with a variety of flowers that were supposed to open at different times of day. Due to the magical nature of the Unseen University campus, it had stopped at half-past-Carnivorous Lily some thirty years ago when they ate all the others.
***The faculty had, by this point, begun to use the Bursar's many and half-imagined medical conditions as a form of oracle. They called it psychosomancy, or, among the student body, 'The Bursar Sense'.