The Life That Late He Led: Chapter 5

“You realize,” said Twilight Velvet to her newlywed daughter, “that every filly who buys or borrows a copy of Modern Bridle is going to want a dress that changes colors, just like that.”

The young bride smiled. “Believe it or not, it was his idea.”

Night Light turned toward Desert Brush. “For an earth pony, you certainly have a way with magic.”

Brush grinned somewhat sheepishly. “It helps to be working with the best. And anyway, I didn’t actually design it except on paper. I came up with the scheme, but it was Rarity who made it work.”

“She thought you were crazy,” Twilight Sparkle said.

“You mean she and I actually agree on something?”

The princess poked him in the side. “You’re so silly sometimes.”

“Silliness is a virtue,” Brush declared. “I wish I could be silly more often. In a serious sort of way, of course.”

“I’m still getting used to the idea of a son-in-law older than I am,” said Twilight Velvet.

“If it helps, I can try not to act my age,” Brush quipped.

Twilight Velvet smiled. Just like her daughter, thought Brush. “I’m not worried,” she said. “It’s only a couple of years. What matters is how you act in front of our little filly.”

“I am not a little filly,” Twilight Sparkle half-grumbled.

“Sure you are,” said her big brother. “To me you’re always going to be little Twily.”

“I’m okay with that, BBBFF.” She hugged Shining Armor. “Just remember: you answer to three princesses now, not counting the ones you actually work for.”

Shining Armor recoiled in mock horror. “So cruel, this … this …”

“Sibling?” said Brush helpfully.

“You’re not helping,” Twilight Sparkle pointed out.

“I know. I’m just stalling until Cadance shows up. You know, one of the princesses he answers to?”

“Two, if she’s picked up Skyla from the foalsitter.”

“Which she has,” said Shining Armor, pointing toward a small wagon.

“You didn’t send a Royal Coach for her?” Twilight Sparkle demanded.

“There are times when you don’t want to be too conspicuous,” replied the Captain of the Royal Guard. “Not everypony in Canterlot is overjoyed at all the pomp and circumstance.”

“Well, tough turnips,” Brush snorted. “If I have to get used to this royal stuff, so do they.”

“You’re drawing a salary from the Treasury,” Shining Armor replied. “They’re not. You’d be surprised how many ponies think there’s something wrong with that arrangement.”

Brush sighed. “No, actually, I wouldn’t. We had the same sort of issues back where I came from.”

“Where was that, exactly?” Shining Armor asked.

Brush looked off into the distance. “Somewhere … that way.”

“He doesn’t talk about it much,” Twilight said.

Cadance and little Skyla climbed out of the wagon. Skyla took one look at Brush and promptly burst into tears.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” Cadance said. “It’s like she’s afraid of him or something.”

“Well, you know, I’ve been officially part of this family for something like half an hour, and she didn’t see any of it happening.” Brush made what he thought was a funny face at the foal; the foal responded by disgorging some foul-looking, fouler-smelling fluid.

“Yech,” Twilight said.

“Have they invented dry cleaning yet?” Brush asked. “Because this suit is going to have to be scoured down to the molecular level.”

“You’re such a worrywart,” said Twilight, casting a brief spell that collected all the liquid into a small pink sphere, which she then cast upward until it took its highly improper place in the sky.

“Be careful,” Brush said. “She’ll make more.”

“I would say,” Shining Armor announced, “that whatever Skyla’s reaction is, it’s certainly not fear. She’s looking him straight in the eye.”

“Biding her time until she can reload for a second strike? Sounds logical to me.”

“Now stop that,” Cadance demanded. “She’s just a foal. She’s not capable of strategic planning.”

“Technically, this is more tactical than strategic,” Brush replied.

“Whatever,” said Cadance indifferently. “She’ll come around, once she gets used to you.”

“I’ve heard that said before in a totally different context,” Brush grumbled, “and it didn’t work out then either.”

“ENOUGH!” shouted Twilight Sparkle. “This is my wedding day, and none of you are going to spoil it!”

“Including me?” said Brush sheepishly.

Especially you,” she snapped.

“Looks like I earn my stipend for marriage counseling this month,” Cadance said. “Shining, you watch Skyla. Newlyweds? Come with me.”

<======>

“It’s a good thing this happened before the reception really got going,” said Cadance crossly. “Not that it’s a good thing at all, but you really don’t want your friends to see you carrying on this way. Now what’s the matter? Twilight, I certainly wouldn’t have expected this of you.”

“Buyer’s remorse,” Brush said. “She’s thinking she might have gotten a better deal elsewhere.”

“I am thinking no such thing,” Twilight said indignantly. “And where do you get off making fun of Skyla? She’s a princess too, you know.”

“Whatever happened with Skyla, I assure you, I came off second best. Maybe third. Unless radioactive puke is normal in these parts.”

“May I remind you,” Cadance interrupted, “that not one hour ago the two of you pledged your undying troth in front of damned near everyone in Canterlot. There’s no excuse for this sort of behavior.”

Twilight whirled. “I just want to know why you wouldn’t have expected this, whatever ‘this’ is, from me. Would you have expected it from him?”

“I would not,” said Cadance. “His commitment runs deeper than yours.”

“Deeper? How so?”

“I’d kind of like to hear that myself,” Brush said.

Cadance sighed. “Isn’t it obvious? Twilight, all you had to do was be there. Brush went through a death-and-life cycle to be here with you. And even if you’d never met, he would still have wanted you.”

Brush raised an eyebrow. “You think?”

“I know,” said Cadance. “I found out while you were being tormented by my daughter.”

“I’m lost,” Brush said.

“Don’t be. If she’s affected by you, to the extent that she wants to fight back, I want to know why.”

“Now I’m lost,” Twilight muttered.

“Skyla can’t control the magic she has,” Cadance explained. “She’s never met Brush, so she has no reason to dislike him, unless something deep inside of her saw a threat.”

“I try not to be threatening,” said Brush.

“And you’re not. I didn’t find anything inside you that should have caused her alarm. But I found something else.”

“Should I be worried?” Twilight asked.

Cadance laughed. “Hardly. I’m just surprised you hadn’t figured this out for yourself by now.” She looked Twilight in the eye. “He is bound to you, and always has been.”

“Bound? How?”

“Inscribed upon the deepest part of his heart,” said Cadance, “you will find what looks like a design for a puzzle. It is not. It is the equivalent of a spell, in an ancient pre-Equestrian tongue.”

“A spell? How is that even possible? They don’t even have magic where he comes from.”

“There are only two explanations. It’s easier to believe that it’s a random design that happens to match a string of old runic characters. But I think it’s a spell, and I can’t pronounce it while he’s here, or something might happen.”

Twilight looked at Brush. “We’ll be right back.” And the two alicorns shimmered out of sight.

<======>

“How did you find this?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

“Skyla’s reaction was emotional,” said Cadance, “so I went digging into his emotional core.”

“Why wouldn’t I have seen it?”

“You weren’t looking for it. Or you did see it, and you thought it was purely random, not worth bothering with. He’s an earth pony, so you saw the usual earth-pony magic traces, and maybe you figured you didn’t need to look for other sources of magic.”

Twilight hung her head. “You’d think I’d have seen an actual spell.”

“Especially one with your name in it,” Cadance replied.

“Wait a minute. My name is in that spell?”

“Mostly,” said Cadance. “For now I am half, but soon to be whole, O light of my life, sparkle of my soul.”

“That’s … beautiful.”

“It is. But there is no explanation for why it is there, except for the obvious one: it was foreordained, at the moment he was born, that he would someday find you and fall in love with you.”

“But that makes no sense!” said Twilight. “He was more than fifty years old before he ever even knew that I existed. How can … oh, no. It can’t be. But … it has to be, doesn’t it?”

Cadance nodded. “This is why all his previous relationships failed. All his life, he’s been waiting for you. He just didn’t know it.”

“I’m not sure I want to ask this, but … ”

“Is there a spell that binds you to him that way? No. Only the pledge you took in the Great Hall this evening.” Cadance smiled. “Which should be enough, don’t you think?”

“I still don’t get it,” Twilight said. “Why would some mysterious mage want to make somepony fall in love with me?”

“Perhaps because she thought nopony else ever would?”

“Seriously? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to put the spell on me?”

“You have magical power and knowledge,” said Cadance. “You could break a spell, given the time and the motivation.”

“I … I guess that’s true.” Twilight shuddered. “What would have happened if we’d never met?”

“I suppose he’d have gone on with his life as it was.”

“And never knowing why. It almost sounds like he was … somepony’s puppet.”

“Having free will doesn’t make you any less predictable,” Cadance said. “This Mysterious Mage, as you call her, may have seen all of this in advance.”

“Do you have any idea who she might be?”

Cadance shook her head. “I haven’t a clue.”

“And should we tell him?”

“I think we have to.”

Twilight flinched. “I still don’t understand how this was supposed to work. He wasn’t a pony when he was born. He knew nothing of us, and we knew nothing of him.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Cadance, “there’s something in his background that might explain it. But we still have to tell him first.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Twilight said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Skyla is family. You responded instinctively to what you thought was a threat to a family member.”

“He wouldn’t have hurt her. He loves foals. He reads to them at the library now and then.”

“I don’t think Skyla would let him read to her,” Cadance said. “There’s something about him that she doesn’t like, and I don’t think it’s just an occasional burst of uncontrolled magic.”

“Well, it’s not like they’re going see each other all the time,” Twilight retorted. “I mean, you’re running the Crystal Empire, and we’re always down in Ponyville.”

Cadance very visibly choked. “Is something wrong?” Twilight asked.

“I guess she hasn’t told you yet.”

“Told me what?”

“Your royal duties, whatever they are, are about to take precedence over your library duties. Once you two get back from the honeymoon, you’ll be moving up here to Canterlot.”

“Canterlot? But my friends…!”

“They’ll be coming by from time to time,” Cadance assured her.

“Who’s going to run the library? Spike?”

“No. Spike’s your Number One assistant. He stays with you.”

“Owlowiscious?”

“He’s your pet. Why would you not keep him?”

Twilight glared. “So who’s running the library?”

“I d-don’t know,” stammered Cadance. “I assume they’ll reassign a librarian from some other town.” Taking a deep breath, she looked Twilight squarely in the eye. “You didn’t think you were going to stay there forever, did you?”

“I guess,” Twilight said slowly, “I did think that. For a while, anyway.”

“Can Brush run the library?”

“Kind of. He knows the circulation routines and the record-keeping. But he’s never ordered new books or anything like that before.” Twilight stared. “You don’t think that —”

“I think,” said Cadance, “that Celestia will ask him to fill in as the temporary librarian.”

“For how long?”

“For however long it takes to get a new librarian, I suppose. I’ve never worked in the staff pool.”

“Great,” said Twilight dejectedly. “Not only do I have to tell my husband that he’s controlled by a spell, I have to tell him that we’ll be spending even more time apart.” She gave out with a decidedly cacophonous snort. “Some wedding day this is.”

<======>

“You’re kidding me, right?” Brush couldn’t quite believe his ears. “My first marriage was doomed because I really wanted a pony I’d never even met?”

“Nopony knew,” said Twilight softly. “It just … happened.”

“Are you angry?” Cadance asked.

“No, not really,” he said, a touch of weariness in his voice. “It’s just that it would have been nice if somepony had told me about it. But that wasn’t in the plan, I guess.”

“And you do love her,” Cadance pointed out.

“That much,” Brush said, “is true.”

“Do things like this happen often in your old species?” asked Twilight.

“There have been examples of prophecy, yes. Usually they didn’t pertain to couples, though, unless they were going to have a child or something.”

“Which we can’t,” said Twilight sadly.

“Would this prophecy, or whatever it is, count as fulfilled if we adopted a foal?” Brush asked.

Cadance shook her head. “We don’t know if that was the purpose of the prophecy.”

“And anyway, it’s a little too early for that,” Twilight said. “We’re not even on our honeymoon yet.”

“We should definitely be getting back to the reception,” Cadance said. “By now everypony is wondering what happened.”

I’m wondering what happened, and I was supposedly here for most of it,” Brush grumbled.

<======>

“And now,” Pinkie Pie announced, “the happy couple will have the first dance!”

The spotlight came up on — nopony.

Dead silence.

“Pssst! Over here!” said Brush in a voice somewhere between mock-gruff and asthmatic, and the lights turned toward the corner where the bride and groom had just rematerialized.

Cheers from the crowd, and Twilight smiled. “Nice save.”

“What can I tell you? I’m a nice pony.”

As they reached the center of the Great Hall, the music started, Sweetie Belle launched into “Love Is In Bloom,” and to Brush’s delight, rather a lot of the guests joined in on the chorus.

“I really don’t know what you see in that song,” Twilight said teasingly as she and Brush whirled around the room in something almost, but not quite, approaching synchrony.

“Just seems perfect for a wedding. Except for that ‘handsome groom’ business.”

“Oh, shush,” Twilight replied. “You look fine as frog hair.”

Brush broke into giggles. “Where in the wide, wide world of sports did you pick up that phrase?”

“I can’t help it. You’re starting to rub off on me.”

“That’s a good thing, right?”

“Oh, shush.”

It was just after midnight when Twilight Sparkle pitched the bouquet into the crowd, and about seven tenths of a second later Rarity found something stuck on her horn, of all places.

“I can’t help it,” Rarity said with as little sheepishness as she dared muster. “Beautiful things are just naturally drawn to me, and I to them.”

<======>

The newlyweds had their own ceremonial car on the eastbound train, and for the first several minutes, not a word was spoken between them.

“You’re awfully quiet,” said Desert Brush. “I guess it’s been a long day.”

“It has.” She curled up a little closer to him. “And they’re going to get longer.”

“At least until the Summer Sun Celebration, if I remember my foal-level astronomy,” he said.

“There’s more to it than that,” Twilight Sparkle said. “We’ll be leaving Ponyville.”

“Eventually, I suppose we will.”

“If by ‘eventually’ you mean ‘three weeks from today’,” said Twilight sadly.

Brush rolled his eyes. “High-level Princess stuff, I assume?”

“I’m afraid so. I’m not sure how high, but Celestia has been saying I would have greater responsibilities.”

“That’s usually the deal with great power,” Brush said. “So who runs the library?”

“For the moment, Spike does. After that, until they name a permanent replacement, I think you do,” Twilight answered.

“Oh, wow. Is there a pay raise involved?”

“Be serious for once. We’re going to be apart for long periods of time.” The young princess shivered. “I’m not sure I’m ready for this.”

“Twi, dearest, you’ve faced down the scariest situations this world has to offer. Not having to look at me can’t possibly be one of them.”

“That’s not the point. We’ve been married half a day and already we’re being torn apart. Is that fair?”

“We’re not being torn apart. It’s just that there is work to be done, and we can’t do all of it together.” He smiled. “You don’t think Celestia would have any reason to want to break us up, do you?”

She made no reply.

“I didn’t think so. Look, we’ve had a rough day. A few things got said that maybe shouldn’t have been said. Perhaps Celestia, or maybe Cadance, thinks we do better if we’re not constantly under each other’s hooves.”

“Do you think that?”

“I’ve never seen a couple who didn’t have their differences now and then, and I’ll bet you haven’t either.”

Twilight pondered for the moment. “The Cakes, maybe?”

“Maybe. But we never see them behind the scenes, and it’s not like Pinkie’s telling us horror stories about late nights at Sugarcube Corner.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Twilight said doubtfully. “But it’s still not fair. This is supposed to be the happiest day of my life, isn’t it?”

“It’s two in the morning. I think that happiest day was yesterday.” He pulled her closer. “Today we’re on a train to Fillydelphia. Let’s just see what happens tomorrow.”

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