Written By: Donald Lewis
This story was inspired by Robert W. Chambers' short story The Demoiselle d'Ys, which can be found as part of his 1895 compilation The King in Yellow.
Luna's smile seemed to go on forever. With her wings spread wide, feathers catching the breeze, it felt like she could glide on forever. The new moon illuminated the countryside with a glow that rivaled the majesty of even her elder sister's sunrise. Far below her the tiny homes in Ponyville each came to life in turn as candles were lit and placed carefully on windowsills.
It was always hard on Luna to know that most of her night would be missed by many of the ponies that lived in her kingdom. Sometimes the thought of it tormented and shook her to the foundation of her soul. Yet after her exile the bitterness and pain had abetted. She no longer felt as empty, knowing so few joined her night, but sometimes the lonesome thoughts would drive her to utter despair.
Yet tonight her mind could not be farther from such wretched thoughts. The sheer exhilaration of being able to fly again over her home was intoxicating. The sweet scent of the apple blooms, the songs of the midnight frogs, even the moonlight gleaming off the clouds that dotted her night sky caused tears of joy to swell in her eyes. The flickering starlight above reflected in every tear that fell from her beaming face as she angled towards the Everfree Forest. Lonely as the night was, it just felt good to fly again.
With a graceful motion only possible by an alicorn, Luna tucked in her wings and descended in a gentle spiral towards the ruined building below. Her left fore-hoof touched down with a softness that mirrored the touch of moonlight in her midnight blue mane. Despite her best efforts the broad grin she only moments ago carried was replaced by a more stoic expression. The ruins of the Moon Castle stood before her, the dark shadows within giving each disheveled turret the illusion of a glare directed to those who dared stand before the once brilliant castle's ruined grounds. A harsh wind knifed through Luna's mane and caused her to turn away from what was once her home. A tremble passed from her nose straight down to the tip of her tail.
Luna brought her gaze deliberately to rest on the farthest tower, where not so long ago the Elements of Harmony had broken her bond with the hate filled Nightmare Moon. Her brow furrowed at the thought of the pain, the emptiness, the anger that had consumed all she was for over a millennia. She had lost so much of herself to the darkness, so many years, wasted.
Yet Luna tried her best not to let the bitterness turn to resentment. She had to be strong. The whole purpose of returning to the ruined home was to confront the darkest part of her soul, to ensure the wickedness of Nightmare Moon never again would gain hold of her. Before she could return to her throne, she had to confront herself, and any darkness that still lie within. Her eyes flashed with a fiery resolve, confidence building as she kicked off the ground and soared to the lonely tower. Luna's glide brought her to rest squarely in the center of the once proud room, the shattered remains of her past lying around her.
The cold walls felt close, encumbering, unforgiving. Luna kept her head high and let her silvery eyes travel back into the farthest recesses of her memories. There, on the cracked dais, once stood the twin gilded thrones her sister and her had shared. A smile slipped onto her lips as a recollection of long passed hide-and-seek games played in her head. Celestia had made the funniest face Luna had ever seen when she found her little sister hiding behind the thrones. The two had laughed for what now seemed like a distant eternity.
A shimmering misty cloud passed over the moonlight and cast the dais into darkness, plummeting Luna's mind into the darkness simultaneously. A shattered throne, broken windows, screams of words too harsh to mean and too late to take back, jealousy, resentment, anger. Then, fear. Fear as kind, gentle Celestia reared above her little sister, mane radiating power the likes of which Luna had never known. Sunlight burst through the little sister, penetrating Luna's being to her very core. She remembered burning inside and out, and then cold. A millennia of relentless cold.
Luna jerked back to reality as she collapsed to the floor. Her legs felt hollow, the strength she felt upon entering the room was replaced with despair. In a great rush the moon princess was overwhelmed by all the suffering she had caused her sister. For the first time the gravity of what Luna had made Celestia do hit her. She could feel the icy touch of the stone embrace her coat and overtake the warmth of her flesh. All of the emotional turmoil she had struggled with was nothing compared to the suffering she had made her dear Tia endure. A wail of despair pierced the night as Luna let her heart pour free. In an instant a thousand years of resentment gave way to tears of sorrow.
Luna let her heart empty its burden until her eyes were unable to release another salty tear. She pulled her legs close under her trembling wings. Luna knew that Celestia had long since forgiven her. Tia had even made a point of spending many nights talking until dawn with her little sister just so she wouldn't feel so alone. Even so, Luna had come here not to seek forgiveness from Celestia, but to confront herself. Never again could Luna allow her loneliness to control her, no matter how desperately she craved to never again be alone.
She felt warmth in her heart as her thoughts turned to the kindness Tia had shown her since returning. Luna couldn't keep a smile from blossoming on her tear strung face with the thought of her sister's loving offer of friendship, despite all she had done as Nightmare Moon. Luna could feel warmth flowing through her as the misty clouds recoiled, allowing moonlight to again flood the former throne room. For the first time since being freed the moon princess felt as though she could resist the feelings that for too long had controlled her. She could feel the strength return to her legs, and Luna brought herself to a stand. Resolve coursed with the warmth through her veins. Nightmare Moon was gone, and Luna would never allow her to return. With a burst of pride she trotted to the balcony window. A triumphant grin flashed in the moonlight. It was over, and Luna felt as though she could finally let the emptiness inside her go. With a mighty kick she took to the sky, leaving the hollow feelings of her heart behind in the darkness.
Luna beat her wings with renewed vigor and soared higher than she had long since dared. Below her she could see much of Equestria, her kingdom's borders sprawling into the distance. She let her beaming smile fall with the beams of moonlight. Then, one by one, the lights in Ponyville went out. Tired ponies hitting the hay after a long day of hard work. The princess' smile shrank with each light that dimmed. In short order, all of the homes below had gone dark, and Luna painfully remembered how alone her nights really were. The same feelings she had thought were triumphantly vanquished in the ruined halls below now rushed over and through her core.
A mixed expression of sadness and despair took over her features. Despite the love Tia had shown her, despite the warm welcome her subjects had given upon her return, despite having poured her very soul forth in an attempt to overcome her inner turmoil, the simple feeling of emptiness returned in force and overwhelmed her. Absolute loneliness. Even the glow of a new moon did little to comfort the princess now. She looked across the fields below and watched as a single tear fell from the tip of her muzzle. She was still, after everything, alone.
Her lazy gaze followed the tear as it fell towards the forest floor below, as though a single drop of rain had escaped the clear sky. A single thought pulsed through the princess' mind in that moment.
"If only I had one true friend I could spend the night with, I know I would never feel this way again."
Luna felt a pain in her heart, pain that could only come from feeling abandoned. The loneliness was about to overtake her, when a light caught her eye. A small glimmer from near Dragon Mountain seemed to reach with purpose through a low hanging mist that rolled over the foothills. Luna could barely make out the shape of a small estate through the thick clouds of mist, but there it was.
Somepony was still awake.
Without any conscious effort Luna flew towards the estate. Though the misty clouds milled close to the hilltops around the home, a steadfast opening in the clouds guided Luna directly towards the light. The princess dropped below the level of the mist, and paid no mind as the clouds rolled shut above her, enveloping the whole area. Her eyes were focused forward to the courtyard of the home. What had seemed like one light from so far away was actually a circle of lanterns that hung on the walls of the estate's stonewalled courtyard. Luna perched gingerly on the wall and watched as a shadow moved inside a barnlike structure built along the southern wall, across from a well built, aging estate house. The sounds of a female voice humming reached her ears.
Through the barn door walked a young, dainty earth pony. Her right fore-hoof was clad in a leather gauntlet, and a silvery falcon perched purposefully on her extended hoof. Brilliant golden hair flowed like a river off the pony's shoulder to the ground below, matching her shining coat. She trotted with an elegancy that often was reserved for high nobility, but her garb suggested much more humble origins. The most surprising thing to Luna though was the song, a tune that had once been popular in Equestria when she was very young, but as far as the princess knew, had not been sung for a thousand years. Despite the beauty of the song, the tune somehow struck a cord of sadness in Luna's heart.
The pony stopped in the center of the courtyard and pulled a black hood off of her falcon's head. Almost on cue the mist above parted and moonlight filled the sky. With an eager cry the falcon took flight, his master smiling contentedly below. The bird of prey flew within inches of the princess before disappearing into the woods beyond. Luna ducked instinctively, and heard the melodious voice below startle.
"Oh my! Hello up there!" Luna could hear the young filly approach the base of the wall. Luna stayed low, quiet, afraid to have disturbed the only other pony awake at this hour, afraid she would want nothing to do with such a rude intruder. The delicate voice reached upwards again, friendly singsong notes punctuating each word "Is anypony there?"
Luna guiltily poked her head over the wall, "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to bother you."
"You're not bothering me at all," a simply charming giggle riddled its way through her words, "I'm just surprised to see anypony out here. Not too many ponies come by this way, especially at night." Her smile was simultaneously the most inviting and friendly Luna had ever seen, "It's so nice not to be alone at night!"
The alicorn landed carefully in the courtyard. The golden pony seemed so familiar, yet Luna could not even attempt to recall her without feeling a pain shoot through her chest.
A shriek from the forest beyond indicated a triumph from the hunting falcon. The earth pony let out a long melodious whistle, "It sounds like Pierce has had another successful hunt. This is perfect falconry weather you know," her leather clad hoof extended just as Pierce swooped over the walls and dove onto his waiting perch, "The full moon makes a falcon's job so much easier." The silvery falcon ruffled its feathers in pride as it wolfed down the rodent it had brought back in its beak.
"He is a very majestic bird," Luna commented, genuinely impressed by the shine of the falcon's feathers, "You must be very proud of him."
"Oh I am!" practically squealed the filly, "Falcons are very noble birds you know! You have to treat them with the dignity they deserve or they won't heed your call." The golden pony watched her silver friend thoughtfully, "Pierce is just about the only company I have out here, especially this late at night." They both looked on as Pierce finished his prey and yawned contentedly, when the earth pony jumped.
"Oh, but how rude of me! I haven't introduced myself!" She tossed her mane in a regal manner, "My name is Preen, and it is a pleasure to meet you!"
Preen courteously extended her hoof, apparently forgetting a falcon rested on it. The bird shrieked as it was brought close to Luna's face, causing the princess to recoil slightly.
"Oh Pierce! Behave! This is our guest!" Though said in a scolding way, the tunes leaving the pony's lips made it sound more like a tease than a reprimand. Even so, the falcon understood the command and straightened its wings, bowing regally to the moon princess. Luna found herself charmed by the good graces of the otherwise fierce bird.
"My name is Luna," the alicorn extended her own hoof in return, "and the pleasure is mine. Usually the nights are so lonely for me," Pierce hopped onto Luna's hoof as the ponies exchanged greetings, and the princess found herself chuckling warmly as the falcon curiously pecked at her coat, "It does my heart some good to see I'm not the only one who enjoys the night."
"Oh! Nights are simply the best!" Preen beamed in the same musical voice that seemed to compliment her almost too well. The earth pony looked down bashfully for a moment, averting her gaze from Luna's, "I'm afraid I'm not very good at entertaining guests though, you see
I don't really have any friends."
Luna blinked in surprise as Pierce found his way to her shoulder and buried his beak inquisitively into her mane, pulling at several hairs, "Surely you don't live out her all by yourself?"
"Oh, it's not so bad!" Preen beamed, "Pierce keeps me company! But
yes, besides him
you see, my parents often spend time traveling, and there just aren't many ponies that live around here
and it is my duty to tend to the estate while they're gone! I simply couldn't leave it!" Luna could hear the sadness masked by Preen's cheerful notes, a feeling all too familiar to the moon princess.
"Well, I'd like to be your friend," Luna smiled as warmly as she could, hoping no desperation escaped with her voice. Pierce seemed to perk up at the idea as he perched gently on Luna's head, nipping at her ear. Preen lit up as though her golden mane were made of flaming sunlight, her smile absolutely consuming her face.
"Oh! That would simply be wonderful! I have dreamed for ever so long of having someone to spend the night with!" Preen embraced the alicorn in a hug, catching her completely off guard. Immediately relief flooded Luna, and as she returned the hug the princess realized she had been holding her breath. It was like a dream come true. Fear, uncertainty, even the crippling loneliness vanished instantly, replaced by burning warmth in her heart. Luna could almost see Celestia smiling just as warmly at her sister finding a friend to spend the night with. Tears of joy swelled in Luna's eyes, her voice choking. It was gone, finally gone. She wouldn't be alone anymore.
Preen took a step back, "Oh! We must celebrate! Come on Pierce, we have to give our guest a proper welcome!"
The falcon flapped onto Preen's forearm and spread out a shimmering wing. With one quick motion, the falcon pulled a pristine feather from his wing. With neck extended, Pierce reached up and tucked the feather in place behind Luna's ear. The silver feather complimented Luna's features perfectly. Pierce chirped in pride as Preen giggled, "Oh, it simply looks wonderful on you Luna! Now, you simply must follow me inside! I have something I have been saving for just this occasion!"
Preen pranced into the nearby estate house, again humming her tune cheerfully. Luna took a moment to admire Pierce's feather before following. The golden pony disappeared inside, still humming, and Luna called after her, "I meant to ask you Preen, where did you learn that song? I haven't heard it in
Luna nudged open the door, and found herself looking into a ruined home. The ceiling and floorboards had long since cracked and decayed. The remnants of once masterly crafter furnishings were scattered around the estate house. Cobwebs and dust punctuated the interior. Preen and Pierce were no where to be seen. Luna wasn't able to finish her question, her voice locking up. Looking on in disbelief, she stumbled backwards, into misty darkness.
Her gaze turned to the courtyard, or rather, what had once been a courtyard. Through low hanging mist she saw shattered lantern posts, weeds growing uncontrollably, and large sections of stonework missing from the overgrown walls. Luna felt a coldness sweep over her the likes of which made the moon seem warm. The stable had completely collapsed and rotted away. Above, the rolling clouds of mist again allowed a small opening, letting Luna's unspoiled moonlight illuminate the scene around the moon princess. Crumbling ruins surrounded her, and sheer terror gripped her once joyful heart.
"Preen?" Luna managed as a whimper. She moved forward on trembling hooves, looking desperately for any sign of the golden pony. Pain shot through her heart. Unfortunately, as Luna stepped forward, she found what she was looking for.
In the center of the courtyard, where once had been clear ground, the moon princess found a small, raised stone. The black rock of the stone was riddled with cracks, and the mist in the air seemed to cling to it. Falling to her knees with a quivering voice, Luna cried her friend's name again, "Preen?" Her voice seemed to die on her lips as she brushed away a thin layer of moss to read the misty stone letters before her.
"Pray for the Soul of Preen, Who Died in her Youth, having Never Known a Friend"
Luna wept uncontrollably, letting despair wash over her. The moonlight threw the shadow of the weeping princess onto the ruined stonewall. Her quivering shadow shook violently as tears of unabated pain burned her cheeks. Luna never noticed the mist gather around her shadow, nor how her shadow began to darken and take the form of a much taller, slender alicorn. As Luna buried her head with screaming tears, her darkening shadow seemed to throw back its head in a terrible, silent laugh.
Through her turmoil and tears she never noticed the silver feather, which fell from her mane onto the cold stone. The elegant feather lay motionless on the old grave until one of Luna's tears fell upon it. Immediately a radiant beam of light shot forth from the falcon's gift, dashing into the sky. Then another. Within an instant the feather had become a pillar of golden angelic light, piercing high into the night sky, obliterating every fragment of the misty clouds above.
The beaming light burned through Luna's closed, tear filled eyes. The princess felt her trembling cease as the warm light enveloped the old courtyard and poured into her heart. Hesitant, Luna carefully peeked out from behind her mane at the source of the welcoming glow. As she turned her head up in awe, her darkened shadow recoiled with an unheard hiss.
"Oh my! You've kept me waiting a very long time!"
Standing within the column of pristine light, mane shining more radiantly than the dawn, was Preen. A glistening white falcon sat proudly on her shoulder, both suspended above the ground within the beam of light. Her melodious voice was unmistakable, her cheerful nature echoing in every syllable that passed from her lips. Luna's voice was still lost to her as Preen continued to speak.
"It is so good to see you again Luna! Oh, I should have listened to Pierce! He always knew you would come back!" The stunning white falcon screeched in the affirmative, a powerful note that tore through the very shadows of the night.
Luna continued to gaze at the beatific being before her. After a hard swallow, the alicorn's voice struggled to the surface, "Preen? I don't understand
We were just about to go into your home." Luna turned to see the ruined estate house, still disheveled even though bathed in golden light, "What happened?"
"Oh!" Preen's harmonious laughter filled the air, "I was hoping you already would know, Luna! Or have you let the mist get to you again?"
"The mist?" Luna furrowed her brow, a thought nagging at the tip of her tongue but refusing to make its presence fully known. Then, in a flash, memories roared into the princess' mind. Painful, hate filled memories of Nightmare Moon, memories she had tried hard to block out and never experience again. She remembered everything the wicked alicorn had done; Twisting the mist to form a thorn to pain the gentle manticore, willing the dark fog to take the shape of monstrous trees, even bending the smoggy clouds to take on the form of the Shadow Bolts. Finally, the first memory she could recall without pain, of Celestia standing over her in regal majesty. The fear, the uncertainty of the moment had drawn her attention away from the foggy mist that escaped Nightmare Moon's shattered remains. A mist that she thought had vanished. All of these thoughts raced through Luna's mind in a fraction of a second. With an intense fire in her eyes the moon princess turned forcefully to her shadow.
"You!" Her voice thundered with the command of royalty. Trapped by the golden light, her misty misshapen shadow twisted before her, unable to escape. Luna's voice burned with passion, not unlike the golden light dancing in her eyes, "How could I have been so blind. All along, you never let go. You never vanished. You've just been waiting for you chance to drag me under again."
Nightmare Moon's silhouette flailed frantically on the wall as Luna purposefully stepped closer. The dark shadow cowered as the princess came close enough to touch the wall. Her eyes narrowed into slits, and Luna brought her stern face as near her shadow as she could without touching it. No larger than a newborn filly now, the misty Nightmare Moon whimpered silently. Absolutely disgusted by the site, Luna snorted hot air from her nostrils.
"Listen to me," each word Luna spoke with the forceful authority of a queen, "I will no longer tolerate your existence Nightmare Moon. You are nothing but malice and hatred, and there is no place in my kingdom for you, nor in my heart." The twisted shadow shrank before Luna to the size of a small rodent, though appearing far more wretched, "By the power of my throne, I order you! Return to the shadows from whence you came, and never return."
A tormented shriek slashed through the golden air as Nightmare Moon shrank into nothingness. For a moment, Luna glared at the now vacant wall, and allowed her gaze to soften in relief as her own shadow phased back into existence. Every trace of the misty darkness had disappeared, vanquished into golden light. Luna sighed in relief as the weight of the burden she had carried for over a thousand years dematerialized into nothingness. At last, Nightmare Moon was no more.
After taking a moment to admire her old shadow Luna turned to see Preen cheering passionately, "Oh, Luna! You were magnificent! Simply magnificent!"
"Preen, there is something I have to know," Luna approached the golden pony suspended slightly above her, "Are you real, or just one of the tricks Nightmare Moon created to torment me?"
Preen blinked at Luna with a blank expression before bursting into teary laughter, "Oh Luna! How absurd!" Preen positively roared, trying desperately to catch her breath. Even Pierce joined in.
"Oh, my dear Luna! Of course I'm real! As real as you! I remember the night I met you very well. Oh, there was such a beautiful full moon that night!" Preen wiped her eyes clean of joyful golden tears, "The night I made my first real friend, it was the happiest of my life."
Luna shook her head, still uncertain, "But how is that even possible? I only just met you, and you're
" the princess hesitated, letting her sad gaze fall to the ground.
"Dead?" Preen asked nonchalantly. Luna felt the warm caress of Preen's hoof on her chin as the golden pony brought her head up, "Oh Luna! Just because earth ponies don't live as long as alicorns doesn't mean we ever really die. Don't you know?" the shimmering pony beamed radiantly into Luna's eyes, "Friends live forever in your heart."
Luna felt Preen's golden hoof touch her chest, and again images flooded her mind. Years of memories, blocked by Nightmare Moon, exploded in a supernova of warmth throughout Luna's being. As if looking on from a distance Luna saw herself running in a forest, a golden earth pony by her side. She saw laughing fillies chasing each other around old country estates. She saw a silver falcon swooping through low branches and dashing close to the young mares, ducking and weaving through their legs. She saw years of exploring, hunting and playing pass in less than an instant.
Then she saw herself slowing down to let the golden pony catch up. Saw her friend wheezing for breath. The frantic call for the doctor, the weeks of bed rest that followed. She saw a sickly pony that never stopped smiling, a worried young alicorn putting up a brave front. Finally, she saw herself, devastated, crying inconsolably in her big sister's arms. The final memory, the first time she had ever felt truly alone, the night Preen had died.
"I remember," Luna had fallen to her haunches and silent streams rolled from her eyes, "Preen, how could I have forgotten?"
"Oh Luna, I know how much harder it was for you to accept what was happening to me," Preen looked at Luna with a warm gaze of complete understanding, "I had known my whole life I wasn't the strongest of ponies. Oh, how I wish I could have been there to comfort you!" Preen caressed Luna's cheek with her hoof, wiping away the tears. She studied the princess' face for a moment before continuing.
"You have nothing to be sorry for Luna. I know how losing me hurt you, and I know how Nightmare Moon twisted your memories to torment you. Oh! If only I could have been there for you my dearest friend!"
Luna felt her lips quiver as Preen's kind words filled her, the moon princess managing to speak in a shaky voice, "Its my fault Preen. For always pushing you so hard when we went exploring. I always blamed myself for what happened," Luna couldn't keep eye contact with her friend, "I deserve to be alone."
"Oh! Now I won't hear another word of this!" Preen bopped Luna on the head with a raised hoof, sending a wave of intense heat through the princess. Luna recoiled slightly before peeking up with one open eye. Preen stood over her with her fore-hooves on her flank in a mock-stern stand. Luna remembered how often Preen had stood like this and sarcastically rebuked her whenever she worried too much, and the princess couldn't keep from giggling.
"Now that's better!" affirmed Preen with a nod, dropping back to her hooves, "Oh Luna, my death was not your fault! You simply must stop blaming yourself for everything, it isn't healthy!"
"I just wish I could have prevented it," Luna let her sentence trail off into the night air. A cool breeze rustled the branches of the forest, the sound of a bird echoed in the distance, and Pierce looked off expectantly.
Preen smiled at the moon princess knowingly. "Oh, I know my dearest friend, I know. But please Luna, don't cry! I will always be your friend!" Pierce shrieked indignantly in Preen's ear, causing her to chuckle, "Oh! And Pierce too, of course!"
Luna could feel the warm smile on Preen's face grow onto her own, slowly dispelling the emptiness of loss inside, "I miss you Preen." Pierce turned his beak up with a huff, "Yes, and you too Pierce."
"Oh, but you don't have to silly!" Preen giggled in her singsong voice, "Or did you already forget what I told you?" The golden pony embraced her friend, "Friends live forever in your heart!"
Luna clung to Preen and let the golden warm light consume her. As the two old friends held each other the rays of pristine light grew in intensity and flashed out in every direction. Luna closed her eyes but was still blinded from the intensity of the growing glow. Then, as quickly as it had first appeared from Pierce's silver feather, the light was gone. Luna sat in the old courtyard of her friend's home, the moonlight casting gentle rays over everything.
For a long moment, Luna stared up at the moon, through the space Preen had previously occupied. She missed her friend, but with the memories reawakened in her heart, Luna couldn't feel sad. Preen wouldn't have wanted her to dwell in sorrow anyways. Despite finding herself physically alone once more, Luna could not feel a single bit of loneliness. Inside her chest golden warmth burned intensely. Preen would never really be gone, not as long as Luna held her inside.
"Thank you Preen," Luna whispered, turning her eye to the grave. Luna blinked, taken aback, when she saw the headstone. Pure, white marble, unspoiled by any plant growth, now stood in place of the cracked dark stone with misty letters she had first seen. Resting on top of the marble was a leather falconry gauntlet, a silver crescent diligently embroidered on the facing. Luna disbelievingly pulled the gauntlet on her right hoof, smiling broader than she had in ages. She gripped the leather tightly and let her mind travel backwards in time, to the night she met Preen. The same night she had been introduced to falconry, and the same night her golden colored friend had excitedly given Luna her very own gauntlet.
Luna stretched out her gloved hoof, imagining the times Pierce had perched there centuries before. She fondly recollected the first time the fickle bird of prey had picked her hoof over Preen's when suddenly, as though on cue, a brown spotted falcon landed abruptly on her raised gauntlet.
The princess jumped with a yelp and the large falcon turned a cocked head to examine its perch, amber eyes searching Luna's features discerningly. Before Luna could say anything she heard a voice yelling from beyond the courtyard wall, "Talon! Get back here! We have to finish training!"
A freckled young mare galloped around the ruined gate, and skidded to a halt just short of running over the princess. Her sky blue eyes looked back and forth at Luna's before shrinking as the mare realized who her falcon had landed on. With a squeak of surprise, the ginger colored pony dropped to her front knee and tried to hide her embarrassed red face behind her flowing blonde mane.
"P-p-p-p-princess L-l-l-u-n-n-n-n-a" the young mare stammered, not daring to look up, "I-I-I'm so sorry! Talon just got away from me while we were practicing! We never meant to
Luna's genuine kind laughter made the ginger mare cut herself off, "It's perfectly alright. Talon here seems like a perfect gentlefalcon to me."
The freckled pony looked up tentatively at the smiling princess. Just as a look of relief began to pass over her features, Talon craned his neck up and nipped at Luna's mane, pulling at several hairs. Again the pony squeaked and shot to her hooves.
"Talon! Leave the princess alone!" A look of horror was on the pony's face, but the look turned to one of confusion as Luna giggled and nuzzled Talon with her muzzle.
"I used to know a falcon that would do the same thing. He was a very noble bird, and I assure you, it's a welcome gesture."
Again the mare sighed with relief, "Come on Talon, we've bothered the princess long enough," she extended a ginger arm and in a stern voice ordered, "Talon! Come!" The falcon turned its head lazily to address the earth pony before yawning and ruffling his feather, settling contentedly and defiantly onto Luna's arm. The mare looked on with frustration as Luna again burst into laughter.
"Falcons are proud birds my dear, you have to treat them with the dignity they deserve, or they'll never heed you," Talon nodded approvingly as the princess continued, "A very good friend of mine once taught me that, a long time ago," Luna's eyes flickered with a distant gaze, and for a moment the earth pony thought she saw a glint of gold in the princess' eyes.
Luna turned to the younger earth pony, "I haven't had the privilege of hunting with a falcon in quite some time, would it be alright if I joined you tonight, miss
The freckled pony's jaw hung wide open at Luna's proposition, "Of course! It would be an honor! I mean a privilege! I mean
The moon princess giggled, cutting the stammering mare off, "That's a long name," Luna smiled, sticking her tongue out playfully, making the ginger pony flush red again.
"My name is Gingersnap, princess" the mare said embarrassedly, hiding her blushing face behind her blonde flowing mane.
"Please, Just call me Luna," the princess smiled warmly.
As the new companions trotted into the forest, the nighttime breeze again rustled the trees. Talon took flight with a proud shriek, casting off a speckled feather that drifted lazily on the breeze before coming to rest on the white marble that marked Preen's final resting place. The feather sat there for a moment, gently caressing each of the painstakingly carved letters.
"Here lies Preen, Who Died in her Youth, a Truer Friend no Pony has Ever Known."