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be sure to check out Joan's latest on her website: (usually she updates her blog every Sunday evening but she can and will surprise you) **Special Note: all of Joan's archives are now up--almost ten years of 'bitter girl.' As Joan says, go wild!**

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Battle for Escambria

        “Princess, who is ‘Queen Nebula?’” Twilight asks Celestia after Twi unexpectedly returns one day from the old castle.
The Princess’s eyes go wide at this in surprise. “Where did you hear that name?” she demands of her student.
In response, Twilight Sparkle delicately hands her Princess the ancient parchment with the greatest possible deference. “I found this in the library,” she explains, anticipating Celestia’s next question.
While her sister is lost in thought, reading the document, Princess Luna takes this opportunity to privately ask Twilight, “What is it?”
After Twi’s eyes and facial expression convey to Luna that she would like some answers also, Luna explains so softly as to not let her sister hear, “Queen Nebula was my mother; it was her nickname, anyway. A long time ago.”   
Comprehension washes over Twilight before she explains in the same manner to Luna, “It’s a treaty of some kind, between Equestria and The Low Countries, to the south of us. It says we own them.”
“We own them?” the Dark Princess incredulously repeats.
Twilight nods in confirmation, her eyes signaling to Luna that she grasps the grave meaning of what she’s saying. “In the event of Queen Nebula’s and King Quasar’s death, all those lands revert to the Equestrian Empire.”
Before Luna can inquire who King Quasar is or was, Princess Celestia speaks up. “Twilight, I need for you to make an exact copy of this–word for word. There can’t be any mistakes. Luna, you will proofread it. In the meantime, I will draft a royal communiqué to the current Prince of The Lowlands, informing him of our intent.”
“Which is what?” Luna dares challenge her only but older sister.
“We will honor this treaty, in my mother’s name,” Celestia declares in steely resolve. “No matter what the consequences.”
“Yes Sister,” Luna agrees in equal determination. “We shall.”
Twilight swallows hard because she knows what this means but nonetheless manages to squeak out, “Right away, Your Highness.”
Later on, while working on the copy that will be sent to The Lowlands, Twilight raises a concern that occurs to her. “Luna, what if this is a fake or a forgery?”
Luna doesn’t even look up from what she’s doing. “I know my own mother’s signature,” she levelly explains to the other. “And Tia does too. She wouldn’t make that kind of blunder.”
It occurs to Twilight the reason both Princesses are so preoccupied with this is because of the strong memories and emotions this treaty from the past has evoked, and because it is so obviously authentic. She resumes work, still dreading the days to come but confident in being on the side of right and justice.
Princess Celestia had been prepared to send Princess Luna as ambassador to the south, if her letter and the treaty copy had produced no answer, but she is surprised by the swiftness of the response, in the person of the Montjoy who craves admittance to her court, along with his aide:
“Your Highness, lately sending into our country, did claim some certain dukedoms, in light of this ancient treaty. To which, my master, the Prince, says: you savor too much of the past.
For we are no longer Lowlanders of the Lowlands, but proud and upright citizens of Escambria, long may she reign. And we are a free and equal people. But, owing to the obligations of the past, my master sends you this trove of treasure, in exchange of which, to let those dukedoms that you claim hear no more of you. This the Prince my master speaks.”
Every pony in attendance fully expects Princess Celestia to blow her stack sky high over this but she surprises every pony by remaining cool, at least at first. “What treasure, Sister?”
After motioning for the aide and giving the contents of the receptacle the most perfunctory perusal, the Dark Princess pronounces, “Ping-pong balls, my liege.”
“Yaaaay!” Pinkie Pie initially squeals in joy but immediately regrets it when every other pony in attendance sternly regards her and her outburst.
“We are glad the Prince your master is so pleasant with us,” Celestia begins after a long pause, softly and haltingly at first but building steam and louder as she rises and locks eyes with the Montjoy. “His present and your pains, we thank you for. When we have matched these balls against our paddles, we will play a set and knock his crown off his head. And we understand him well, wishing to consign the contents of this treaty to the dust and dirt of the past. But this is my mother’s signature–” here shoving the original copy into the Montjoy’s nonplused face “–as surely as the sun burns hot in the darkness of space every single day. And her intent will be as honored as her memory is so seared in my heart. Let me be clear: I will keep my state, be like a Princess and show my sail of greatness, when I do rouse me in my throne of Escambria, or whatever the Low Countries are called these days. And while you’re at it, tell the pleasant Prince: this mock of his will turn his balls to cannon fire and the vengeance that shall fly with them. And this lame attempt of changing the name of his country to escape your true and honest obligations from your own past sovereign lords will not deter us, but will only heighten our resolve to claim what is rightfully ours.” Here she stops, realizing she’s about to seriously lose her temper. “So get you hence in peace and tell the Prince: his jest will savor but of shallow wit, when thousands weep, more than did laugh at it.” Here she turns to Rainbow Dash and Soarin’. “Convey them with safe conduct,” she instructs them and has one final rebuke to the Montjoy. “Fare you well.”
After the foreigners depart, Twilight queries Luna, “Well what happens now?”
“So, are we keeping the ping-pong balls or not?” Pinkie asks no pony in particular.
The Dark Princess minimally shrugs, as if the answer is obvious, while ignoring Pinkie, as does every other pony. “Now we wait.”
“This means war, doesn’t it?” Twilight follows up with after a few minutes.
“If it be, never was there a holier or nobler cause,” Luna darkly intones in dread and resolve. “No, never!”
“Then war it is,” Twilight Sparkle silently pronounces, mostly to herself, in quiet epiphany.        
“Luna,” the Princess of the Sun commands. “Build me an army worthy of Equestria.”
“With all possible haste, my Sister,” the Dark Princess concurs.
“Now all the youth of Equestria will be on fire,” Twilight foretells as if by ancient prophecy, as would a chorus. “And silken dalliance in the wardrobe lies. For now sits expectation in the air. And hides a sword from hilts unto the point, with crowns imperial. Crowns and coronets, promised to Celestia and her followers.”   
When Soarin’ and Dash return from escorting the Escambrian ambassador and his aide back to their own country, R.D. relates to both Princesses, “Just so you know, they offered both of us a lot of money to betray you. For both your heads.”
“You’re kidding,” Pinkie Pie challenges her friend.
Soarin’ shakes his head no. “She’s not.”
“So they’re not only dishonest–they’re cowards too,” Celestia pronounces in honest disgust and revulsion.
“Sister, this kind of treachery must not be tolerated!” Luna herself exclaims. "Lest example of it breed more of such a kind."
“I agree, Luna,” Princess Celestia ominously intones. “We shall have our revenge. How soon can we attack?”
When Luna doesn’t answer right away, Twilight takes this opportunity to announce, “Princess? Queen Fluttershy has sent by royal decree, that she stands ready to aid in our attack, however many of our Pony Griffonland Occupation Army as you see fit.”
“And from the north, Princess Cadence sends to us that the Crystal Empire stands ready, to do its part,” Carrot Top quickly follows up with.
“Thank Queen Fluttershy and Princess Cadence for their offers, and advise both we may take them up on it,” the Princess of the Sun regally decides. “First, however, as this is our fight, we must lead it ourselves.”
“Absolutely, Sister,” Luna fiercely agrees. “Our army will be ready soon; that I promise you.”
“If we have to empty every factory, business, farm, school, library–whatever it takes,” Celestia advises Luna.
“We’ll get on it,” Twilight Sparkle solemnly promises her Princess. “We’ll make it happen.”
“Dismissed,” Celestia announces to the entire assembled court after she is satisfied that every pony is on board, and all scatter to the far corners of Equestria, to prepare for this campaign.

“Once more into the breach, dear friends. Once more!” Princess Celestia entreats her exhausted army at their first embattlement. “Or close the wall up with our Equestrian dead!”
She continues after her horse rears and then relatively calms down. “In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a pony than modest stillness and humility–but–when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the actions of a tiger! Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage; then lend the eye a terrible aspect! On, on, you noblest Equestria! I see you stand like greyhounds in their stalls, straining against the start. The game’s afoot! Cry, 'All for Celestia, Luna and sweet Equestria!'”
“All for Celestia, Luna and sweet Equestria!” cry all ponies in unison as they charge.
All except for the CMC, that is. They cheer all right, and encourage all around them back into the fight, but they themselves wait until every other pony has left before they attempt to skedaddle, when they see that one pony has outsmarted them.
“Up to the breach, you dogs!” Pinkie Pie shouts as she menacingly draws her sword, standing behind them, blocking their escape route. “Now!”
Whereupon chagrined and contrite Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo also rejoin the fray.
After the battle rages for a few more hours, Celestia takes advantage of a lull in the fighting to address the besieged city:
“How yet resolves the Governor of this town? This is the latest parlay we will admit. Consider well your best move here. For as I am a soldier, if I begin the battle once more, I will not leave this half-achieved border city till in her ashes she lies buried. Therefore, you brave fighters, take pity of your town and of your people, whilst yet my soldiers are in my command. Whilst yet the cool and temperate wind of grace overcomes the filthy and contagious clouds of heady murder, spoils and villainy. If not–why, in a moment look to see the reckless and bloody soldier with foul hand defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters, your fathers taken by the silver beards and their most reverent heads dashed to the walls, your naked infants spitted upon pikes, whilst the mad mothers, with their howls confused do break the clouds! What say you? Will you yield, and this avoid? Or, guilty in defense, be thus destroyed?” 
“The Prince of Escambria, whose succor we entreated, has returned to us that his powers are not yet ready to raise so great a siege,” the City Manager intones in weary but candid resignation to his fate. “Therefore, great Princess, we yield our town and lives to your soft mercy. Enter our gates, dispose of us and ours, for we no longer are defensible.”               
As the ponies make preparation to enter the city, Princesses Celestia and Luna share a private moment while the former gives the latter orders. “Go on and enter the gates; remain inside and fortify them strongly against an Escambrian counter-attack. Use mercy to them all. For us, dear Sister, tonight in decent beds will we rest, so that tomorrow for the march are we well addressed.”
“I’ll take care of it, Tia,” Luna quietly vows.

As news of the ponies’ initial victories spread, it is not greeted everywhere with cheers; for example, in the capital city of Escambria, in the Prince’s royal court, this information is cause for much consternation and debate:
“‘Tis certain Celestia has passed the River Somme,” one of the Prince’s lords details.
“And if she is not fought with all, let us not live in Escambria,” their General entreats the Prince, who remains momentarily silent and noncommittal on this score.
“Equestrians!” another lord sees fit to exclaim in astonishment and resentment. “Stupid freaking ponies! Where have they this mettle? Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull?”
“Where is our honor?” yet another lord cries out in frustration.
“Our honor indeed,” the first lord replies. “For now our madames mock at us and plainly say our mettle is bred out. And if we don’t stop them, now and in their tracks, I say we are not fit to call ourselves Escambrians!”
“Where is Montjoy the Herald?” the Prince intones at last, having heard enough of this. “Speed him hence. Let us greet Equestria with our sharp defiance. Up Lords, and with spirit of honor more sharper than your swords, rush to the field. Bar Celestia her way back to Equestria, who sweeps through our land with pennants painted in the blood of that first border city. Go down upon her–you have power enough–and in a captive chariot into Escambrian City bring her our prisoner!”
“This becomes the great,” the General now congratulates the Prince on his bold decision. “And sorry I am her numbers are so few, her soldiers sick and famished in their march; for I am sure, when she shall see our army, she’ll drop her heart into the sink of fear, and for achievement, offer us her ransom.”
“To that end, General, haste on Montjoy,” the Prince agrees with relish. “And let him say to Equestria that we send to know what willing ransom Celestia will give. Now forth, my General and Lords all, and quickly bring us word of Equestria’s fall.”   

“Where’s Tia?” Twilight asks Luna one fateful morning, bright and early.
“She has herself rode to view their battle,” Luna responds, referring to the Escambrians.
“Why can’t we just go around?” Pinkie Pie entreats any pony who will listen.
“For the last time Pinkie,” Spike minces every word. “That just won’t work!”
“Of fighting Escambrians, they have full three score thousand,” Apple Jack ominously details.
“That’s five to one,” Twi grimly comments. “Besides, they are all fresh.” 
“Those are some fearful odds,” Carrot Top in a voice bordering on panic contributes.
“Oh had we here but one ten thousand of those ponies in Equestria that do no work today!” the Dark Princess loudly laments.
“What’s she that wishes so–my own sister Luna?” Celestia presently speaks up, having overheard and choosing now to make her presence known. “No, fair Sis, if we are marked to die today, we are enough to do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer fighting, the greater share of honor. By our sacred mother’s will, I pray you wish not one soldier more; rather, proclaim it, Sister, through our host, that those that have no stomach for this fight, let them depart. Their passport shall be made and currency for convoy put into their purse; we would not die in that Equestrian’s company who fears their fellowship to die with us. This day is called the Feast of Nebula, my own dear mother’s birthday; those that will outlive this day will yearly on the vigil say: tomorrow is Queen Nebula’s Day. Then shall they strip their sleeves and show their scars and say: These wounds I had on Nebula’s Day. Old ponies forget, yet all shall be forgot but those that fight will remember what feats they did that day! Then shall our names, familiar in their mouths as household words: Celestia, the Light Princess, Luna, the Dark Princess, and Twilight Sparkle, the other Princess, Carrot Top, Rainbow Dash and Apple Jack, Scootaloo Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, along with Spike the Dragon, be in their flowing cups freshly remembered. This story shall the good Equestrians teach their offspring, and Queen Nebula’s Day shall never go by, from this day until the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of Equestrians, for he and she today that sheds their blood with me shall be my kin, be they never so vile, this day shall gentle their condition. And Equestrians now in bed will think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their citizenship cheap, while any speaks that fought with us upon Queen Nebula’s Day!”   
Once the cheers die down, Rainbow Dash exclaims, “My sovereign Princess, bestow yourself with speed! The Escambrians are bravely in their battles set and will, with all expedience, march upon us!”
“All things are ready, if our minds be so!” is the Princess’s confident and enthusiastic response.
“Perish the Equestrian whose mind is backward now!” Luna in turn yells, the camaraderie becoming infectious.
“You don’t still wish more help from home, Sis?” Celestia challenges her younger sibling in good humor.    
“Heavens above, my liege, would you and I were here alone, without any help at all, could fight this royal battle!” the Dark Princess retorts.
“You know your places,” Celestia urgently instructs her compatriots. “Good fortune be with you all!”
Unexpectedly, the Montjoy, all by himself, appears out of nowhere on horseback and stops a respectful distance away, doffing his hat in reverence, before he explains himself. “Once more I come to know of you, Princess Celestia, if for your ransom you will now compound, before your most assured overthrow.”
“Who has sent you now?" Celestia inquires in a withering voice.
“The General of Escambria,” Montjoy simply replies.
“I bid you bear my former answer back,” is Celestia’s immediate response. “Tell him: here I am; achieve me and then sell my bones! Goodness gracious, ponies! Why does he mock poor soldiers thus? Let me speak proudly. Tell the General: we are but warriors for the working day; our lightness and our gilt are all besmirched with rainy marching in the muddy field, but by the mass our hearts are in the trim. Herald! Do yourself a favor; don’t come back here again for ransom, gentle Herald, for they will have none I swear. But these my joints–” here her army cheers her “–which, if they shall have them, after I leave them, shall yield them little enough. So tell the General.”
“I will, Princess Celestia,” Montjoy promises and makes ready to leave. “And so fare you well; you never shall hear Herald any more.”    
After he does take off, Celestia gives him a look that reads to Luna as, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Rainbow Dash again speaks up. “My Princess, most humbly on my knee, I beg the leading of the vanguard.”
After she motions for the banner and hands it to R.D., Celestia intones, “Take it, brave Dash. Now soldiers–march away, and how we please Providence dispose the day.”
And so the battle is joined; after the first hour and a half, this is the assessment of the Ecsambrian high command:
“Why, all our ranks are broke!” the Escambrian General would have enunciated with greater force, if he hadn’t been just now mortally wounded.
“Profoundest of shame!” another lord cries.
“How did this happen?” yet another lord incredulously inquires of the open air.
“Are these the same ponies we laughed at all last night?” the Prince himself hears his own voice wonder aloud.
“Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong,” the first lord exasperatingly answers the second.
“Shame, shame, nothing but shame,” the General repeats with his dying breath. “Eternal shame.”
“Is this the Princess we repeatedly sent to for her ransom?” another voice fills the air in the stunned silence that follows the General’s passing
“Let us die in honor! In arms!” the second lord entreats his fellows. “Once more back again! We are enough living in the field to smother up the Equestrians, if any order might be called upon!”
“The devil take order now!” the Prince exclaims as he prepares to lead the charge. “I’ll happily go to the throng; let life be short, or else shame will be too long!”
On the ponies’ side, with the confusion of the battlefield, at one point a little later, Princess Celestia urges her compatriots, “Well have we done, thrice-valiant Equestrians! But all’s not done, still yet the Escambrians keep the field!”
Then Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash return to the camp in the rear, after they see some Escambrian soldiers leave from there in a desperate state; they soon discover the reason why.
“Kill the foals in the luggage,” Pinkie intones in shock and amazement after she and R.D. find the blood-stained bodies of the CMC. “It’s expressly against the laws of arms.” She turns to Dash with tears in her eyes. “This is as arrant a piece of knavery–mark you–as can be offered–in your conscience! is it not?”   
Rainbow shakes her head after Pinkie bursts into full-blown sobs. “It’s certain there’s not a kid left alive; those cowardly swine, they couldn’t win on the battlefield, so they sneak back here and pull this!"
Upon coming on this scene, Princess Celestia exclaims to her sister, “I was not angry until I came into Escambria, until this instant!”
“Here comes the Herald of the Escambrians, my liege!” Luna is quick to point out.
“How now! What means this, Herald?” Celestia very nearly screams at the Montjoy after he dismounts his horse and is pulled up by his collar by the enraged Princess. “Dare you return here again for my ransom?”
“No, great Princess,” Montjoy manages to squeak out even as he is held fast by the neck. “I come to you for all charitable license, that we may wander over this bloody field, so that we may record our dead, and to bury them; to sort our nobles from our common men. For while many of our lords lie drowned and soaked in mercenary blood. Give us leave, great Princess, to view the field in safety, and dispose of their dead bodies.”
“I tell you truthfully, Herald–I don’t know if the day is ours or not,” Celestia honestly confesses to the other in a much softer tone after letting go of his clothes.
“The day,” the Montjoy pronounces as he thought he never would. “Is yours.”
“Praised be Queen Nebula’s will, and not our strength for it,” Celestia announces aloud in the general relief that engulfs the ponies. “Tell me–what is this castle, that stands by this field?”
“They call it Agincourt,” the Montjoy simply affirms.
“Then call we this, the field of Agincourt,” Princess Celestia announces so that all ponies may hear. “Fought today on the anniversary of my own dear mother’s birth.”
Presently, as if by Providence, the rain that has been falling on them all day stops and with a swiftness of bracing wind that seems to all magical and effervescent, the clouds part and joyous radiance bursts upon them, as every pony stands enraptured by the glorious sunset, brightly shining off the glistening, shimmering castle.
Princess Luna confides to her sister, “This must have been what our mother had in mind, when she signed that treaty.”
Celestia nods in agreement. “I think it was. Twilight?”
“Yes, your Highness?” T.S. speaks up.
“Remember when you asked at your coronation what you were the Princess of?” she rhetorically inquires of her most faithful student. “Well, I think this is it.”      
"Destiny," the Dark Princess intones in the silence that opens after that proclamation. "I remember her 
telling me a story once, about a beautiful Princess ruling from a grand castle in a distant land, that didn't 
make a lot of sense to me at the time, but now it does."   
"Luna, will you help me?" T.S. earnestly asks in the sepia glow of the fading but still triumphant afternoon.
"Certainly, Twilight," the Empress of the Night immediately responds. "With all my heart."