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Gates to Green [Open to for Apple-clan]

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In those few hours since Squall and Applejack met at the later's apple stall, the weather have turned foul.

 

Not that Squall was bothered by it. Befitting his name, he rather enjoyed the dark clouds, buffeting wind and sound of rumbling thunder coming from over the nearby Everfree Forest. Being in good mood, he hummed to himself the melody of one of his favorite symphonies, while the gift basket he brought levitated next to him.

"If only a rain would come with that. This scorcher lasted far too long." Swift mused as he entered the Sweet Apple Arces grounds.

 

For all his travels - to Ponyville, around Equestria and even beyond realm borders- this was a first time he was in 'Honest to Aeather' orchard. Ranches? Yes. Farms? Absolutely! Orchards? Well, about time he checked out that one.

 

As such noblepony made curious glances left and right, taking mental noted and making comprehensions to places he visited before. After all this was a new experience, and Count Squallcoast was always hungry for new experiences.

 

Finally he passed through small archway in the fence just before the house. That's odd. Twilight - because of course he sough Sparkle counsel before this visit - mentioned that upper part of the door were usually open, bad weather or not. Unless no one was inside that is.

"Certainly she didn't forgot.....?" Squall turned around shoot a question to a surrounding space, but predictably, it didn't rewarded him with an answer.

 

Squall again faced the door, and rose his hoof to knock, but hesitated. Instead he respectfully touched the house entrance. The multiple layers of old pain he could see. Numerous scratches around the keyhole, the signs of wear on stone pathway made by a thousands of hoofsteps. This place was old. And yet no signs of crock or rust, the latest paint layer no older then a year, and everything was clean. This told him a lot. Yes, this place was old, but was cared for, loved. Swift smiled slightly. Honestly he should expect nothing less.

 

This time he didn't pause. Noblepony knocked at the door a few times, but the silence was all he could hear. Swift waited for two minutes before knocking again, this time stronger - yet the result was very much the same.

"......Are they out because of weather....?" swordstallion guessed. For Squall, physical efforts was always a welcomed way to spent his time. Yet he had to admit to himself, he had little idea how it could be applied when living in the farm. Was this weather necessitated actions to protect the crops, explaining Applejacks and her family absence?  There was only one way to find out.

 "Perhaps I could lent a hoof..." he murmured at he directed his steps deeper into orchard grounds in search for a hat bearing mare.

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Applejack had long ago abandoned any pretense of holding the Ponyville weather team to any semblance of supposed competence but even for them, this was a little much. Normally they would give her warning if there was going to be a storm. One was needed and needed badly, she agreed. But boy howdy was this a poor day to have one on no notice. She had been too busy kissing ponies all dang day and making over five hundred bits in the exchange to get the notice, delivered far too late by several days, of an impending storm over the area. It was originally going to be in three days but they had a meeting and decided to make it today for reasons Applejack didn't really want to hear about, since she had to drop everything she was doing to panic-prepare the orchard for the incoming deluge. She only hoped Zap Apple would grow up be a considerate weather pony- if he didn't turn out to be a guardpony, farmer, train conductor, actor, animal tracker, or any of the other hundred or so career paths his momma envisioned for him.

 

Applejack ran about the orchard, checking her trees one by one with a list in her mouth. They kept the watering levels of each tree and its root system at certain levels. Too much and you would overwater and essentially drown parts of it, which were bad for both immediate yields and long term health. Each tree and root system had their own drainage network which filtered into the larger irrigation system the Apples had built generations ago, all of which helped pump the excess water to a pony-made small lake- moreso a pond, but a large one- on the north side of the property. The same system, build and maintained by Earth ponies and their magic, would allow them to irrigate the orchard from this same water source later. So in the long run, sure, this'd be beneficial. But a full day's work was being crammed into two hours and the entire family was feeling the burn.

 

Applejack was running around, checking the trees with a small wagon of covers trailing her. Those who could intake the coming storm were left alone. Those who could not were draped with covers and the ground covered likewise. Apple Bloom, Granny Smith, Granpa Strudel, even cousin Valen helped set containment rocks on the side of the main irrigation systems. Because if the strength of the deluge and the amount of water not being intaked by the trees, it was bound to overflow. Interlocking rocks in the divots and ducks of the system would hopefully prevent any small scale flood. Big Mac hauled the necessary supplies for both jobs and helped when he could. The Apples worked their tails off and then some, but Applejack knew from the moment they started they wouldn't be able to visit every part of the orchard. Luckily she had her master list, so she was able to prioritize her time, and she managed the others as well.
 

When the storm started to hit in full force, Applejack knew they'd done the best they could and ordered everypony back home. Apple Bloom declined since the treehouse wasn't too far away, and she had everything she'd need out there anyway. Applejack wanted to tell her no, but she was a big filly now. Valen made a beeline off the property. He was busy with Rarity. Big Mac was going to check in on a silo- and knowing him, take a nap- while the elder ponies were going to head back to town for some event. The meat of the storm hadn't hit Ponyville yet, so it was a safe place for them to go. This left Applejack alone to make her way home.
 

She trotted, enjoying the rain and weather as much as she could. She never did like lightning or the harsher elements of the weather like some other ponies did. She was the one who had to go out afterwards and heal shattered trees, chase off lost Everfree critters, and work double hard on the crops. That was why they had a weather team, a weather team that communicated and worked jointly with the farmers of town to create a harmonic solution to the problems they faced. She'd bring this up to them the next town hall meeting with them. This was...very, very annoying and she knew they'd suffer some tree losses because of it. You always did- she loved her orchard but she knew that everything was fated to end- but the losses this time were going to be pointless.
 

Uggh. She hated it.

She continued the trot towards her home when she saw another figure trotting into the orchard. It was...Swift Squall? She kicked herself. Oh right, she was going to cook him dinner tonight and talk about his proposition. Dangit, another casualty of the night's events. Still, she would entertain him as best she could. Nopony would be home and Zappy was with Momma Dash, so at least they'd be able to focus.
 

Her hat was off. She had taken it off when she got home from the kissing booth and had been in too much of a hurry to retrieve it. At some point she had lost control of her ponytail, so her mane was wild and wet. Sweat glistened along with the rain off of her body, and her tail was equally loosely bound. Why, she looked like some mustang off the pond in Mustangia. Or at least she felt like one! "Howdy there, Mr. Squallcoast. Sorry Ah wasn't here ta greet you," she said as she bounded up to him. "Had a bit of an emergency. Follow me inside, we can get ta talkin'," she offered jovially. In a moment she was at the door and opened it, holding it open for her guest.

"Sorry 'bout not havin' dinner ready. Them weather pegasi threw us for a doozy with no real warnin'. Ah'll get somethin' warm in yer belly none too quick, though. Feel free ta take a seat, livin' room or kitchen, whataver fits yer stockin'," she said as she trotted into the kitchen and got the materials for some carrot-apple soup. She poked her head in. "For a snack, how about a Mcintosh? Gala? Red Delicious? Golden delicious? Fuji? Braeburn? Crispin? Honeycrisp? Jonagold? Granny Smith? Cameo? Jazz? Macoun? Ambrosia? Paula Red? Cortland? Cripps Pink? Empire? Autumn Glory? Breeze? Celestial Crisp? Kiku? Kanzi? Koru? Opal? Lady Alice? Pinova? Roam? Suagar Bee? Smitten?"

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Squall conjecture was validated as soon as water droplets started to rain down on the Ponyville. Lo and behold, Applejack was returning from whatever activities required her presence.

And judging from her disheveled look look, that were some taxing tasks indeed.

 

"It's alright, think nothing of it Miss Applejack." he said while shaking his head. "I can tell your afternoon was as strenuous as it is without worrying about that." Swift continued while conjuring force-field above their heads to serve by makeshift umbrella.

 

Once they were inside noblepony continued with giving his surroundings a curious glances.

"Please, you don't have to apologize. As you yourself said earlier, it was an emergency." Swift answered, although he raised his eyebrow when she mentioned a meal. Oh right,  she DID mention it, didn't she? And he expressed interest in her culinary skills. How shortsighted of him, it only added more work for already tired mare.

 

That's said, Squall knew better then to tell her to not to bother. Seeing that he himself was a stubborn pony, Swift understood full-well Miss Applejack wouldn't acknowledge refusal - after all, that's how he would react if their situations were reversed - both of them wanted to be a perfect host for their guests.

"I would take Mutsu, thank you." unicorn answered while moving to the living room. Stallion set the very large gift basket that he brought on the floor, before making himself comfortable on the couch....

 

Well, not THAT comfortable. After all, Squall's thoughts were already circling around wok proposition he had for the apple mare. He also couldn't help to feel a little guilty. The young mother's was already overburdened, and he planned to only add to that. At least Swift could take solace in fact that he wouldn't make her do that work for peanuts. Unless those peanuts were cast from solid gold. Then he probably could pay her with that......

 

"So......" Squall started, in an effort to keep conversation going. "....I must admit, I expected your residence to be more...lively. Especially at that late hour." swordpony mused.

Only then he noticed piano standing in the room. Strange, Twilight mentioned that her friend could play guitar, but not that instrument. Was that a new feature? Something they inherited from the relative? Or was this something they were temporarily holding on as a favor for somepony?

 

Regardless of the reason of why it was here, Squall couldn't pass the opportunity to pass time in more creative manner.

Stallion pressed first few keys - as it turned out, the instrument was well tuned. This made the count smile before he proceeded to render Applejack's cooking task more pleasant.

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She nodded at his apple selection and then vanished into a pantry. A few moments later, she left with a single Mitsu apple. She entered the barrier between kitchen and room and tossed him his desired apple. "Freshly harvested just last night! Hope you enjoy it. Dinner'll be some nice caramelized apple risotto in mah own homemade broth, apple an' cheddar soup, a side of butternut squash, and then a fritter or four for dessert. Sounds good, don't it?" She asked with a backwards glance as she trotted back into the kitchen and started considering what she had to do.

He said it was a little quiet. He was right about that! "Well, thar ain't nobody here at tha moment 'cept you an' Ah. Zap Apple's with her other momma an' tha rest are finishing up. We'll have some alone time 'fore the rest get back an' this place has all the sound an' fury of a circus. Usually just because of Apple Bloom," she said with a laugh from the kitchen as she went to work.


Applejack had already taken out the ingredients for her dinner before the night had turned so drastically. A nice caramelized apple risotto, a perfect dish to end a perfect night, with apple and cheddar soup, butternut squash, and some fritters on the side.

She had her arborio, olive oil, some parmasean cheese, her sea salt, some hard cider, two Braeburns and two large onions ready to go. The broth- her own concoction of garlic, celery, green peppers, tomatoes, turnips, cloves, parsley, and peppercorns- was being brought to a simmer soon enough. She took out her chopping knife and diced the onions and went to work paring the apples. As she waited for the broth to boil she started work on the soup and the fritters as well, turning her kitchen top into a maze of dishes.

 

She hummed to herself at first, but soon the sound of the piano entered her ear in a pleasing way. Of course, she didn't recognize what he was playing. It wasn't one of the classics, she knew that much. Momma had played them so often that Applejack could vividly remember the progression of the Lunar Sonata as she lay drifting off to sleep more than a few nights. She always did play it late at night, a soothing activity that stayed in the memory. When she had passed on, one of the hardest things for Applejack to get over was how silent the house was at night, with the uncomfortable and aching silence where once the dulcet tones of Equestrian classics had lived. It hadn't sat untouched, though. Granny Smith had dutifully kept it tuned and when Applejack was a bit older and Granny's motor skills had started to fade Applejack had taken up the task. She had been taught by her momma who in turn had been taught by her husband who had been taught by Granny who had been taught by her momma, and so it went on.

 

Applejack sometimes wished she played it more, but she had other instruments that spoke to her more, namely the violin and the guitar. Still, she remembered those notes so very well. One of the many great memories that she had, and made her proud of where she came from.

She finished the first part of her cooking expedition and with everything just needing time, she stepped ut of the kitchen and trotted into the living room, taking a seat.
"Mighty fine playing there, Mr. Squallcoast. It don't get played as much as it used to, Ah'm afraid. As for dinner, it'll be a few. Lookin' mighty good so far!" She said excitedly before a small yawn overtook her. "So, what's on yer mind?" 

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When Applejack threw the fruit at Squall he couldn't help but smirk while catching it. "Well, well, well.....You listed so many cultivars that I thought you ran out of space on your demesne. And yet, once a again it's Me who ends up surprised." he admitted. "How big is your estate anyway?"he prodded while taking big bite from the fruit.

 

"It does." Swift agreed then the apple mare described the planned course. "Apple fritter I assume?" he asked, even if answer was obvious. He was IN Sweet Apple Acres after all, so of course their meals will be dominated by their own products. And when in Roam, do as Roamans do.

Besides he really shouldn't be the pony to complain. This will be the first comprehensive meal he had in month - jumping all around Equestria and beyond didn't left time to kick back and enjoy breakfast, lunch or whatever.

 

"Must be nice to have siblings....." Squall mused, his voice calm but with a grimace of envy on his face. This always came up when Fire mentioned her sister or one of her numerous brothers, and now when Applejack did the same it was no different.  Good thing she didn't saw his reaction.

 

Fortunately, the music he spun was enough to dismiss those vexatious. It perhaps relaxed his a bit too much, seeing that Applejack unintentionally sneaked up on normally very alert stallion.

"WhattheintheTart.....W-What?" he snapped, almost falling from the piano stool before he was able to process farm-mare words.

"Oh....That? I wasn't really focusing to be honest. It was more muscle memory than anything. I was actually taught in very young age, got some very talented tutors. Soon music became one of those things I came to enjoy, seeing I had a talent for it. Just....not the special one." Swift said, and his expression made it clear that Applejack should push for further details, at least for the time being.  His face quickly softened when he begun reminiscing about more pleasant past experiences.

"...When I was hired to be bodyguard for 'Ashened Coppers' I picked up electric guitar, bass and drums as well. Couldn't ask for better teachers, those guys are so laid back when not on stage. I still keep in touch with them, you know? They insist that I should've become their sixth member....." he mused while scoffing at the idea. His life would surely make a very different turn if he would've picked their offer back then.....

".....But enough about tales of mine....." Swift said with a wave of his hoof and half-spin on the stool to better address the orange mare.

"Miss Applejack, how familiar You are with rivalry Fillydelphia and Manehattan have with each other?" Squall asked.

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Applejack took in what her guest had said about the size of the Orchards. She even understood what fancy word he just used! "Oh shucks, outta land? That's impossible ta fathom. Sweet Apple Acres is...sixty-five hundred acres, last Ah checked. Tryin' ta get an extra five hundred from tha town on account of growth an' such, but we'll see," she said hopefully. She wanted to expand her Honeycrisp and Braeburn hauls. Both were excellent for eating and even better for baking. Speaking of, she had to give him his props. He certainly knew what a mare named Applejack would be all about. "Ya'll asssume right. Tha day Ah cook somethin' other than an apple fritter is tha day Ah hang up mah stetson," she snorted decisively and derisively. She loved herself some pear treats but no fruit was better served in a fritter than an apple and that wasn't even arrogance talking. That was just science!

 

He didn't say it very loud and she didn't catch his face, but her ears twinged at the comment about siblings. It was a blessing and a curse, though she counted her blessings mightier than the curses. "Well, there's certainly somethin' ta be said for havin' some alone time. This house is oftentimes so hectic that Ah have a hard time thinkin' straight. Ah stay up late some nights just so Ah can run over tha weather reports an' tha routes in peace and harmony. Wouldn't have it any other way though!" She said declaratively, poking her head back into the kitchen. It was smelling really good! She heard bits and pieces of his musical journey, deciding to keep whatever questions she had 'bout the piano to herself. Clearly something there, but she wasn't close enough to comment. Far be it from her, a relative stranger, to pry and comment.


Jumping ahead of that and onto a more vital topic, he brought up some rivalry between Fillydelphia and Manehattan. Well, she knew her history some. Fillydelphia used to be a big-shot city and with the development of airship travel lost a bit of lister to Manehattan. Beyond that, though? They were nearly on opposite sides of The Strand and didn't seem like they were engaged in anything too exciting. Still, the noblepony had come all the way here, so he must know something she didn't. "Well, can't say Ah'm too familiar. Ah mean, Manehattan and Fillydelphia are leagues apart. Y'all could go to Vanhoover and it'd be tha same distance. Manehattan has ta tango with Baltimare and Hoofington for a lot of business since they all serve tha same bay. 'Course, it isn't like Ah know either city all that well. What sorta rivalry we talkin' about?"

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Sixty-five hundred acres.....That equaled one third of the Squallcoast Manor and the estate surrounding it. The difference was, most of the grounds around Swift's own residence was greenfield and woods. Sweet Apple Acres in comparison was an orchard. ALL OF IT, their own house and bard excluded.

"That....that would be equivalent of 2600 rugby fields.....And you work on it....with just four of you. With one pony being senior, while other is not out of the school yet!" Swift said, being close to completely flipping out. Even if you disregard that various apple cultivars were harvested at different times......

 

How in Tartarus....how in Tartarus this mare didn't dropped dead from overwork yet?! And how could he put himself in position of demanding anything from her? At this point he should shake her hoof, rain money on her and then go to Canterlot to DEMAND out of Celestia to award this orange earth pony with Equestrian Medal of Diligence! And this wasn't her only responsibility wasn't it? She was also Guard AND a parent!

 

Alright, calm down. After all he knew precious ZERO how much work they needed to put into the orchard. After all this wasn't like a wheat field right? Where almost all of the harvest processed before being usable. And after all this was a family that did it for generations. Very extended family. One would assume that various branches of it would devise clever tricks to lessen their workload, and pass them around to each other.

"S-Sorry...I was distracted by math of it without considering...well, anything else." Swift apologized for his reaction.

 

"I bet you wouldn't....." noblepony managed to answer to Applejack's explanation about her family ties....before pondering his lot as the sole remaining heir to ancient Squallcoast line.

Applejack own family was numerous and diverse, while his own closest family - aside from his parents and grandfather - consisted of Blueblood, Presteza and their own amilies...and even then, their last common ancestor lived two and a half centuries ago. Calling Pretzy 'Cousin would be a bit of a stretch.

 

Squall nodded when brought up her own history knowledge. All of those was true.

"....Not to mention Applewoood, Los Aerioness and other settlements." he added "But you see Miss Applejack, Manhattan and Fillydelphia are the first, the oldest cities at the southern coast. And as such their rivalry is more ponysonall, more intimate and at times more....petty" unicorn explained.

"Many assume that it was development of air travel that made events go as their did...but no. After all Fildelphia has so much more space then Big Orange to build enormous airfields, does it? The true answer answer is Aquelia. Or rather how much closer Filldelphia is to it. And that was...not a good thing during when we joined the Second Sparkling Sea's War. Yes, Celestia managed to squash that conflict quickly with her superb diplomatic skills, but back then big business in Filly had no way to way to know that. And so - in fear - they relocated...farther from the potential front-lines. To Manhattan. Events turned less scary then they predicted, but rapid relocation weren't really....affordable. And this Miss Applejack, is one of the reasons why Manehattan is as big as it is, along with it excellent localization and few other factors. You can imagine Fillydelphia is a bit....bitter about this turn of events. Sure, in time it managed to find some pride in being Equestria's granary, but some resentment remains. Recall every hoofball game event where  teams from each city played against each other for example. They are are more...volatile then other match-ups aren't they?" Swift pointed out.

"Sports, literature, art, universities, film. The horn measuring contest continues in everything Miss Applejack. With one notable exception. Grand, monumental city hallmarks, and I can tell you that. I may be Count of Fillydelphia, but I was born and raised in Big Orange, ya know?" Squall said, effortlessly slipping into Big Orange accent mid-sentence.

"Becuse it's home to so many  miloneeres, Manhattan has wallet deep enough to afford such projects. While Filly simply does....not. In fact, I am the biggest investor that decided to set up shop there in centuries. And even I had other, ulterior reasons to do so. But because of those reasons I care. Not about that petty rivalry, no. But making something, big and grandiose would create hundreds of workplaces, bring prestige to Filldelphia and most important of all - show that the City of Sisterly Love is a place worth of investment again. Not to mention educational benefits that will come with that particular project." Swift explained.

With his magic, noblepony reached towards the gift basket that he brought, and pulled exotic looking fruit out of it, before passing it to her.

"Have you ever been in botanical garden Miss Applejack?" Swift asked with a gleam in his eye.

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"It's all about schedulin'," Applejack replied quickly, very excited it seemed to talk about her farm. "Only one-tenth of tha orchard is ever needing'immediate attention in any given week, excepting a few special cases. We work on 'bout six-fifty acres at any given time. Takes maybe ten minutes ta work an acre if yer doin' it right, including buckin' and haulin' if it's harvestin' time. Five minutes if yer doin' just maintenance. Ah do it for 'bout six ta eight hours a day, Big Mac 'bout eight ta ten. Granny does 'round four at a slower pace and Apple Bloom does four at an increasin' pace. An' that don't even account for times we have family from outside tha orchard. We keep everythin' rotated jus' so, seasonal an' everything, so we aren't ever too overwhelmed by tha workload. 'Course that don't mean it can't get a bit heavy, but it still leaves time ta work with tha animals an' other fruits and veggies we grow," Applejack spoke rapidly and proudly, digging into a nearby desk and coming back with a set of notebooks.
 

The first notebook, marked Orchard Rotation Schedule: Year of Celestia's Reign 1029, Fall, was laid open. It was a day by day planner of what sections of the orchard were to be worked on and what tasks were to be accomplished. Row after row, page after page, meticulously detailed and cross-referenced with other books, were the actions of the Apple family. It continued on past the current date in a very precise manner for several weeks, and then became vaguer. What was constant were the sections, even if the occasional scribbling made clear that the future was far from perfect. "As long as know tha weather and keep up our end of tha work, we can predict what section will need our work months in advance. We only get harvests that come upon us faster or slower, maintenance and output problems, an' a host off smaller problems in these here sections of the orchard if we fail to do our due diligence," she replied with an obvious sense of pride before her eyes looked skyward, "or if they start screwing us with random weather," she grimaced, "its mostly tha second."
 

No matter that. She took enough time boring him with her farm labor and she trotted back into the kitchen while he started talking about the rivalry between the two cities. Well, consider herself educated. She never would have thought of even half that, especially since all the history books on this subject attributed it to air travel. Still, that was why she was considering herself educated. While he spoke, she cooked. It was time to set the soup on and get the risotto hurried along, and the fritters were ready to go in the oven too after she allowed the ingredients to settle. By the time he had finished explaining the history, she put the fritters in and took the soup off. She took a small taste from her large ladle- tasted mighty fine! Deeeeelish! She poured two bowls and set them on the table along with spoons, and poured two crisp glasses of hard cider. "Alright, time ta move inta tha dining room, yer nobleness," she said as she took her seat and soon when the noblepony entered saw the Star Apple.
 

Yep, she knew that one. It had been in one of her granny's books about exotic fruits and varieties. "Why, Ah think that's a Star Apple. Ain't seen one 'round these parts in years or so. Tha weather they want isn't exactly nice ta tha other varieties. Pa used ta call them imitator apples, since the don't have a normal lookin' apple core. Mah great uncle Honeycrisp tried ta give it a go of it in tha tropical isles a while back. They ain't bad or nothin'. Ah reckon their juice throws ponies off, kinda has a milky texture. Why, whatcha wanna do with it? Start growin' them in the tha Fillydelphia region? Mah cousin Apple Pie an' her sisters run her own orchard there, Tiny Apple Valley. She's had a bad run of health though, so Ah reckon that's why you ain't contacted her. That and its a mite too small for what ya have in mind, Ah'm guessin'," Applejack said as she took a swig of her hard cider.

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Applejack may have assumed that noblepony was indifferent towards all that management talk. But while Swift was a noble and a warrior, he was also a businesspony.

As such, when the orange mare brought up notebooks, Swift ears perked up in genuine interest. So much so, that he pulled out his reading glasses from one of his pockets. After all, keeping orchard running was a business. A vastly different one that his own, but still a business. And Swift was keen to compare work of  one professional with his own.

"My, my...." he mused as he sized few of them with his magic to study few at once "....I seen actual accountant books less detailed than this. This is assiduousness to be respected." Swift said admiringly.

 

Swordstallion could only groan when his host called him for the meal.

"Yes, like I never heard that one before, O Miss Lad-ette...." he snarked as he got up from the piano stool. As he moved to the table, Swift noticed two pinches of cinder placed on it. His brows raised in confusion before the realization that dawned on him added frown to his face.

"I am sorry, It's my fault. I have strict no-drinking policy. I should've mentioned this when we stepped inside." he said, genuinely apologetic as he took the seat.

"....Although that and and all those number reminded me of something I wanted to ask for a long time. I read the story from my copy of the Friendship Journal, and got recount of the event from Sparkle. But I also wanted to hear your thoughts Miss Applejack. About that Cinder Squeezy 6000 machine...The more I pondered, the more i wondered why didn't you bought it. Ye, you would've have to hire an unicorn to keep it powered but..." he paused,, weaving hos hoof to encourage the answer from the orange mare. In the meantime he occupied himself with the soup. it was really, really good! Easily worthy of 5-Star restaurant. It was clear that Applejack practiced making this dish a lot!

 

"Imitator......not the description I would have used. I would say it's more of the...homage." he mused while way more fruits flew from the basked. Judging from her expression, Applejack recognized them all. Mammee apple, cashew apple, iceapple, wax apple, thorn apple, sugar apple and much more. All of those soon found their place on the table alongside Caimito he pulled out earlier.

"Durian is often called king of fruits, but if this is true, then it's clear there is a grey-eminence behind it's throne that really calls the shots...." Swift sent a meaningful gaze towards all apple-shaped decorations around the room.

"...Just like there is more agriculture oriented families out there. Some may be bigger, others richer and others are louder. But if you want something to be done efficiently, you know to which Clan you want to turn.The no-nonsense professional among them..." unicorn stallion continued with buttering up, while sending Applejack meaningful gaze.

 

"Oh you can say I will be growing them. Along all of those too...." he waved at the batter of fruits he brought. "And you are also right about BIG part as well. Twenty thousand hectares big to be precise." he explained before he leaned over the table. His gaze becoming even more intense more intense.

"Miss Applejack, I am funding the largest botanical garden in the world. And whole of it. Under.Roof. And not of the glasshouse variety" he said before returning to his seat.

"And I need You, to ensure it will also be the best." he pointed at the earth pony mare.

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She took the compliment about her accurate bookkeeping well. Ponies assumed that all that went into farm labor was straining muscles and exertion when it was a whole lot more complicated than that. The amount of planning that went into the Orchard was immense, intense and never-ending. Every new weather schedule that came out would result in weeks added to the forecast for the orchard down to the final tree. As he denied her offered drink to a no-drinking clause, she accepted that too. No biggie there. She moved his glass over to hers, got a new one, and filled that with a non-alcoholic cider.

It gave her time to answer his question. And drink in between some of the words, seeing as she had two mugs to down.

"Like ya said, Ah'd need ta hire a unicorn to power it up. And that unicorn would hold tha keys to everything we'd be doin' cider wise. Secondly, tha maintenance on that- well Ah doubt them Flim Flam brothers would be talkin' about it, but Ah heard from others that rented from 'em that it broke down a lot. Even when it didn't break down that inspectin' part of it could go haywire. Produced a lot of bad cider, needin' somepony specific ta run it? Bad enough. But tha part of mah orchard that they touched with it never really grew tha same again. Ah'd reckon that that little machine royally messes with earth pony magic, makes tha ground less fertile. 'Course Ah'm biased against snake oil pitchers, liars, cheats, and no-good thieves, so maybe Ah'm wrong," She said with the barest hint of bitterness. She never would forgive them for messing with her livelihood, that she knew.
 

She reckoned he could understand. As she returned with his drink and he unveiled the project fact he had in mind, she knew why he had come to her. The Apple family did not have the single largest farm anywhere in Equestria but if you took into account every aspect of their business, they were the best, they were the biggest, and they were tested by the rigors of time. This project sounded like it needed that sort of drive and work ethic. If that held true, then he had come to the right place.
 

"Now that there is a project! That's nearly fifty thousand acres! All of that inside?" She whistled. "Woowee, that is a lot of internal growin'. How tha hay yer plannin' on keepin' tha garden properly growin' with tha ground cutoff of magic?" She pondered out loud. Greenhouses and greenhouse like structures were notorious for short term success and long term failure- compared at least to the consistency and vibrancy of a more natural environment tended by Earth Pony hooves. Artificial structures constricted Earth Pony magic. She shrugged. "Ah'm sure you thought of somethin', so no matter that. Still though, that sounds like it could work. So whatcha needin' me ta do, exactly? Ah can draw you up tha right sorta growth plans, a seedin' rotation. Oh, maybe even a supply chain? Ah can write it out an' send it ta ya, of course. What's yer address for this here shindig?"

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"At least you self aware. Good. You have no idea how refreshing it is to see that." Swift said with a smile before his expression turned more serious.

"And since you was honest with me and myself, I in turn will be truthful to you. Now before I begin I should tell you. I not going to say to you how you should run your estate. Frankly, I wouldn't know where to even begin.  But my grandfather made billions, so did my father and I only added to the pile - I know something about business so to speak. What I have is some ideas - as a gift - to improve your lot. You can take them, or leave then, your choice." unicorn said  before pausing to take his reading glasses off.

 

"First? Let's back to that machine. Yes, yes, I know, I know but allow me to be a Devil's Advocate here. Let's start with the unicorn thing. It doesn't work like that. Or at least, it shouldn't." Swift revealed  "My TEMPEST works a lot with magic powered devices so I can say this from experience. Only some really heavy machinery requires for horned ponies to be near or inside it all the time. Tunneling machines, strip miners - we are working with machines so large you would think they come from some Neighponyse anime. But Squeezy? Nothing of such size should require unicorn presence for a whole day, just an initial pouring of magical energy and that's it. Maaaybe another one in the middle of the day if the work was really intense. And let' be frank, being responsible for keeping Squeezy running gives no power to that hypothetical he or she. You still own the machine, materials and product. Anypony would start something funny, and any lawyer would eat them alive. And with such large family, you certainly have one or two relatives that deal with law to fall back on, for a minimal fee, right?" noblepony said with a smirk "And besides, it's not like you would leave that unicorn without supervision anyway. Your family is too smart for that." Swift pointed out before pausing again to make Applejack digest this information.

 

"Second, that odd growing thing? More common than you think. I myself had issue like that to deal with when I started my TEMPEST. Renovation job of Baltimare historical park ruined lawns, henges and so on, seemingly out of blue. Reason? Machines itself were fine, the problem was who build them. Turns out you it's not the power source to blame either. Heck, you could even enchant them no issue. But all the other parts? When it comes to dealing with, well, plans?" Swift waved his hoof "Has to be made by Earth Pony. Every. Single. Bolt. We had to scrap a lot of equipment when we found out. At least we got some money back for raw materials...." swordstallion reminisced "So yes, again, that Squeezy machine as a concept was fine, it's just, well, made by Them." Swift gave a deep sight. "Would also explain maintenance problems you mentioned, they probably made everything as cheap as they could. I just can't wrap how much of an idiots those two were. Think about it, they made three - correction - FOUR machines in one." Squall said.

"A picker, a sorter, squeezer AND a hauler. One wouldn't need to even have make cinder with this one...... It could turn for you Applebucking Season into Applebucking DAY. Those Flim-Flam brothers were absolute fools Miss Applejack. They could have made fortunes, fair and square, by turning the thing into four separate machines and marketing it all across Equestria. But instead....they drove around the realm, conning ponies into cinder-making races. Idiots, complete idiots!" noblepony lamented the lost potential while facehooffing.

"Sorry....I am just...allergic for such things" he apologized before straightening out. "Errr...where was I? Oh yes, the quality thing. Well, clearly your family makes the best cinder in all Equestria.....But they gone head hooftip-to-hooftip for most of the race didn't they? Don't try to deny it Miss Applejack. As I said earlier, I got details from Sparkle beforehoof. Heck, they were so confident they have this in the nag,  that the bent rules a little and allowed you to get *ehem* 'honorary family' to help. It's only when they panicked and they overclocked the Squeezy that the quality tanked." Swift pointed out before his voice darkened.

"Also, I don't know if you realize how close of the shave that race was. If they served the FIRST cinder barrels they made of that batch instead of the LAST....." he pointed out, allowing for terrifying realization to sink in. "And if the machine was made with quality materials, they could best you even with all the help you got. Did you ever wonder why pegasi manufacture so much weather in factories, instead of making it by the hoof like their ancestors did? Same reason."

 

Since his first 'advice' turned out to be quite a mouthful, Swift decided to leave rest for them for later and refocus on what he wanted to hire Applejack for.

"Yes, all internally,. We used quite and amount of tricks to work around the issue, but it's better to explain them when we get to the site.I failed to mention it, but we about 70% done with the first floor I think, we may expand if it will be deemed necessary, so the garden may turn out even larger in the end." Swift said, before continuing upon seeing Applejack's reaction "The garden itself is on the first floor. On the second it will have botanical branch of Fillydelphia University, as well as paleontologist museum that will focus on extinct plants. Maybe another one dedicated to honor scientist and explorers responsible for breakthroughs in that science field. On the floors minus one to minus four we planning to have laboratories dedicated to research uses of various plants. Floor minus five will be dedicated seed bank, with another one build in the frozen north, beyond Crystal Empire."

 

Swift shook his head when Applejack proposed to take make things work through correspondence.

"Miss Applejack while I appropriate the offer, this is something we could hire any of your relatives that live closer to do the same. No, what I need is......dedicated inspector for the garden itself as a whole." Swift said before explaining.

"It has to be an Earth Pony, for obvious reasons. It also has to be one that works with plants - again, that goes with out saying. It also has to by somepony known for diligence and being honest opinion." Swift gazed intensely at the orange mare "And you Miss Applejack are a Honesty as far as the World is concerned."

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