Chapter 11: A Scribe Reminisces
Light from the open balcony burned away the darkness behind my eyelids making me cringe out of whatever dreams I had been having. Picking my head off the ancient desk took a great deal more effort than it should have. With a wide yawn I leaned back on my hind quarters and stretched out my forelegs, creaks and pops echoing across my body.
Finally opening my eyes I tried to blink away the haze filling my vision. It was a full minute before I realized my glasses had fallen off in my sleep. I had to squint to find the discarded visual aids. Lifting them in a field of magic I dropped the bent frames onto my muzzle. I blinked as the world came into sharp focus.
It's an odd sensation, getting old. You don't realize it's happening at first. Sure that first gray hair is a shocker, but it quickly passes as more begin to appear without any other noticeable change. Fading vision is a more subtle thing. It's always somepony else who points out the squinting and the leaning in or out to try and read a scroll. I think that was when I realized I was getting old.
The doctor sat me down with a lens wrapped in her magic. Subtle changes in the ebb and flow of the spell shifted my perception until she found that perfect fit. It wasn't until I finally put on my first pair of bifocals that I realized just how bad it had gotten. The day by day change had been so small that I hadn't realized I was already half blind. I spent the rest of that day putting them on and off, marvelling at the difference.
Most of the rest of me seemed to be falling apart bit by bit. My knees and elbows ached every morning as I got out of my cold bed, on the days I even made it back to my bed. My back is stiffer than a board most days and I have to bend backwards over a table to force it to relax.
Still, I had to count myself lucky. My hearing was still top notch and my mind was as sharp as ever. The Princess indulged me in a game of Stones every now and again. I don't know why I kept trying, I've never managed to be enough of a challenge to draw a fraction of her attention. After enough bugging I convinced the Commandant to play. He has proved an interesting opponent, I even let him win on occasion to keep him interested.
My eyes fell on the last document I had been reading. The most recent report from the Aerie. Our initial response had been to bring stability to the eastern regions of griffin territory. The strongholds therein were both militarily significant and economically vital. Princess Cadance, with the help of Miss Eve, was able to quickly secure trade pacts with the griffins who had risen to power amongst the chaos.
Most of those tribes had maintained their militaristic and tribal structures through the years due to the prevalence border skirmishes with hostile creatures. They quickly recovered from the upheaval and went back to guarding their borders.
The Northern and Western regions were another matter altogether. The over populated cities devolved into hotbeds of violence and rebellion. The aristocratic system that so mimicked ours fell to pieces.
At first there didn't seem to be any sides to the conflicts. Slowly groups began to form. Mobs of griffins became rudimentary gangs. The gangs grew or died out until only a few full fledged tribes formed. It seemed like the anarchy was coming to an end as the old order was restored. Unfortunately that was just the calm before the storm.
Too many tribes were shoved into too small of a space. What had started out as little more than a chaotic shift in the power structure became multiple small civil wars as the tribes battled for dominance of the key resources in the mountain cities.
The Princess' quick and ready response to this crisis saved Equestria from what could have been a devastating blow to our economy. The trade agreements and the release of the reserves kept prices for goods from raising. There was a short time, about nine months in, were it looked like the Princess would have to declare a state of austerity to ensure the preservation of resources until a new source could be found. Three days before she would have signed the order a shipment came from Winter Rock.
I looked up at the sound of a hoof striking the outside of my door. "Come in."
The door opened for a unicorn mare. Her soft green mane, heavily streaked with gray, was done up in a tight bun. A dark gray dress covered her a light orange, almost yellow, coat. Sharp angled glasses gave her a severe look to her tight face, like a school teacher who would never be impressed by anything that her students turned in.
"Mr. Chronicle? Are you coming?"
I blinked at her and adjusted my glasses, "I'm not sure I follow, Mrs. Juniper"
She huffed and took a few more steps into my office, "Court, Mr. Chronicle. In ten minutes."
I stood before the nobles, the voice of the Princess. My word was as good as law, at least until she returned. I stood at the base of her throne looking out at the gathered ponies checking the angle of the sun every chance I got, hoping that it the Princess had decided to turn in early for the night. I was never so lucky.
Immediately to my left the Foreign Minister smiled demurely at the crowd. She was a surprisingly young unicorn mare with a white coat and soft pink mane. This was not her first day, though I had not had the opportunity to properly introduce myself at the time. Much to my discomfort we did not seem to share the same definition of what constituted personal space and I continually found myself leaning away from her.
Tenpenny stood to her other side stoically avoiding recognizing my existence as much as he was able. Our relationship had taken a few unfortunate steps in the wrong direction recently. There was a reason I don't let ponies borrow my books.
Nightrunner looked drawn. Even his glamour couldn't hide the deep wrinkles and gray mane. Any other pony would have retired years previous, but it would take a direct order from the Princess to dislodge him from his post.
"Am I boring you, Councilor?" asked the haughty mare standing a few pony lengths down from my spot on the dias.
I blinked at her, taking in her lace and frill laden dress. I considered my response carefully for a moment before I answered in a fit of pique. "Yes, you are. The Council has more important matters to discuss than... whatever it was you were speaking about." I ignored her look of indignation, addressing the rest of the ponies present. "If there is nothing more... court is adjourned."
Before anypony could stop me I turned to the exit and began to trot out of the hall. I could hear the shifting of Nightrunner's armor as he struggled to contain his amusement. The foreign minister gave me a look that I couldn't decipher as I passed her by. But it was Tenpenny's barely restrained rage that I cherished.
I knew I would pay for this. No matter how much sway I carried with the Princess she wouldn't be able to let me slid on this one. I had broken protocol and insulted important ponies. A public reprimand was certain, though that might not be the end of it. An apology to the mare, reparations of some kind. On the other hoof Nightrunner would probably be stopping by to congratulate me.
It wasn't my first such outburst, but it was definitely my most public. That they were becoming more frequent was not lost on me. I was having a hard time caring, however. In all honesty I was having difficulty caring about much of anything really. I had never been the most involved stallion, but there were still the things that I normally found joy in doing. The worst part was knowing the why and being unable to do anything about it.
"AH!" I jumped away, almost hitting a protruding column. My heart pounded as I pressed a hoof to my chest attempting to keep it from escaping. "Don't..." I gasped, trying to bring my breathing back under control. "Please don't sneak up on me like that."
"I am sorry, Monsieur Chronical, I did not intend to startle you."
Using my magic to readjust my glasses I looked over at the unicorn mare beside me. The foreign minister's light violet eyes looked at me with obvious concern. I gave her a small smile as I returned to my more collected posture.
"There is no need to apologize, I was lost in my thoughts and paying little attention to the rest of the world. Miss..." I faltered, reminded that I did not actually know her name.
"De'lis," she offered with a nod, "Fleur De'lis."
"Miss De'lis," I said, bowing my head, "how may I be of service?"
Continuing down the hall, we moved at a sedate pace as she spoke. "I am just curious, Monsieur Chronicle." Her face scrunched up as she struggled for words. "You ended the court early and insulted Madam Prim. I... I do not understand."
I was quiet for a few paces, trying to find an adequate response to her concerns. I eventually let out a heavy sigh, saying, "It was rather silly of me. The Princess will have words with me I am sure. But it is nothing for you to be concerned with."
"Do you wish to speak about it?"
I blinked up at the young mare beside me. "Excuse me?"
She smiled nervously. "I am sorry, Monsieur Chronical, I do not mean to offend. You seem... how do you say... déprimé... not happy."
I turned away, focusing on the path ahead of me. "What makes you say that, Miss De'lis?"
I caught the small motion of her head nodding at the edge of my vision. "Oui. Your eyes are very... triste, without joy."
"Sad? My eyes look sad?"
"Oui. Sad, very sad."
I wanted to rebut her claims, but I found no energy to do so. Instead I simply nodded a few times before responding. "I suppose I am... triste."
I missed a step and almost hit another column, we had been moving closer and closer to the wall as we walked. I corrected our path, doing my best to not step away from the mare as she saddled up far closer to me than I was comfortable with.
I should not have been surprised at the question, it was the logical follow up, but it still caught me off guard. "That is a rather personal question, Miss De'lis."
"I am sorry, Monsieur Chronical. I do not mean to-"
"No, it's... it's alright. I guess most ponies around here know and simply don't bring it up. I try not to think about it much." My eyes scanned the carpet as though I could find solace in the plush fibers. "Do you have somepony, Miss De'lis? A special somepony?"
"Non. I have not been long in Canterlot, many of la poneys here are..." she frowned, "not what I had expected."
A ghost of a smile touched my lips and I had to fight the urge to ask the questions I already knew the answer to. "I am sure you will meet one to your standards, Miss De'lis. I did... or, rather she found me. You see, until we met I had been content with my life as it was..."
I continued to speak as we walked, telling her about Stars and myself. I recited the time we spent together and the things we would do. The lack of variance between many of the different memories did not seem to bother Fleur as she smiled at me, nodding along and interjecting with small comments and the occasional question.
I had not expected it to be so easy, recalling these memories. It should have been difficult, it should left tears in my eyes as I remembered all the little details that sprang up as I told my story. There were no tears, I did not have to fight down sobs or struggle to find my voice. To my surprise I was smiling. Each word that passed my lips lightened my heart like I was finally setting aside stones that I had been carrying around for no reason other than to torture myself.
I sat behind my desk, Fleur De'lis opposite me. "... that was almost five years ago. The Princess keeps me informed, but we have had no real communication since then." My eyes drifted to the far edge of my desk and the two black and white stones sitting side by side. "Tell me, Miss De'lis, have you ever played Stones?"