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A modest proposal for Changeling Accomodation (Concluded)


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"Are we all in order? Is all our company and comrades present? The cry goes round the castle walls, 'Now is the time for all good ponies to come to the aid of the party!' Present non-equine company also included, of course."

The young unicorn aristocrat Wordworth Psmith beamed over the tea-table, laden with little cakes for his guests, while beside him a stocky Earth Pony refrained from rolling his eyes. He knew his friend's ways well enough; the unicorn always said 10 words when 3 would do, and took on a frivolous formality which just managed to be inappropriate for every occasion, whether solemn or flippant.

Whether the other two present would understand this, though, Might Batsman hardly knew. After all, one was a disguised changeling they'd invited over in preparation for an audience before Princess Celestia herself, in order to discuss an alternative Equestrian policy towards their... somewhat insectoid neighbors. And then there was Red Cedar, called as a witness and support who barely knew either of the two young ponies.

They'd arranged to meet in Psmith's house, which was in Canterlot; and spare beds had also been arranged for the guests, to save hotel expenditures, and the subsequent risks of exposure. Small talk (most of it by Psmith) had been the rule of the hour until he'd deftly managed to secure the absence of his parents, and the presence of tea and snacks. And so it was that he called the meeting to order...

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Naj stared at the table in front of her. She had made a token effort at small talk, enough to avoid looking out of place, but for the most part she remained quiet. Since the four of them were alone for the moment, she felt safe enough to drop her disguise, and that made her feel a little better though she was still thoroughly nervous with the current situation.

On receiving a message from Psmith, and a detour through Stalliongrad to inform and gather her friend Red Cedar, with the latter in tow she'd headed straight for Canterlot. For much of the journey, she'd been filled with a fierce determination, and maybe even excitement. This was her chance! If this worked, she might actually be able to stop living in hiding, and start looking for something like her previous sense of purpose. And she had to admit, a part of her was simply curious to see if Psmith was right that Princess Celestia would be so understanding.

When she (as 'Spring Breeze' of course) and Red approached the mountainside capitol, two thoughts grew in her mind and grew to where they almost crowded out everything else: that this was the sight of the failed invasion, and that she was about to throw herself at the mercy of her former enemy in the heart of their territory. The first was causing her to reminisce about battles past, some victories but predominantly failures. The second was an expectation that if Equestrians were on guard for changelings anywhere, it would be here. The closer she got to the Canterlot, the further her chances to escape dwindled, should something go wrong.

As such, by the time they actually entered the city 'Spring Breeze' had gone almost completely silent. She responded in passing to what conversation was directed toward her, and was able to pass off her demeanour as concern about a 'family issue', but she was nonetheless relieved when the pair finally arrived at the large residence of their friend. If nothing else, it would give her a chance to stop and rest before the main event.

"Are we all in order? Is all our company and comrades present? The cry goes round the castle walls, 'Now is the time for all good ponies to come to the aid of the party!' Present non-equine company also included, of course."

Psmith's statement, apparently directed at the whole group, snapped Naj back to the present. She looked at him, tilting her head in confusion. Distracted as she was it took her a moment to make any sort of sense of the statement, and even then she still wasn't sure. Still, the mild absurdity in the statement caused her a small smile.

It took her a moment to remember that Red likely hadn't had a proper introduction with Might and Psmith. She looked at Red first. “...Oh! Um. Red, this is Might Batsman and Wordsworth Psmith.” She pointed a perforated hoof to each pony in turn. “We met...well, during that freak snowstorm during the Winter Wrap Up a while ago, basically.” She turned towards the pair now, and pointed to Red. “This is Red Cedar, and we...I guess we're kinda in a relationship.” That was it to the best of her understanding at any rate, no point in not calling it what it was. “...And I think that's everypony.” That being the most she could managed for introductions, she eventually added, “...Sorry, I'm a little...distracted right now.” She kept her ears open to the conversation, but also resumed her staring in the vague direction of the table.

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It had been a whirlwind couple of days, from when Naj had come to see him again in Stalliongrad to his securing time off from his job to deal with, as he put it, "personal matters in Canterlot", to getting on the train and entering the huge city. He'd never spent much time in Canterlot. He thought Stalliongrad was large enough and he preferred to visit quieter, smaller towns when he travelled, so he had been a little apprehensive about coming to the capital himself.

He certainly wasn't as apprehensive about it as Naj was, though. He couldn't blame her, of course, but watching her go from excited and optimistic to almost silent over the course of a train trip was hard for him to see, and all he could do was assure her he'd be right there with her the whole time.

Red smiled as Naj made the introductions. Reaching over to shake Might Batsman's hoof, he said "I seem to remember talking about our favourite hoofball clubs during the Wrap-up in Ponyville." Then he turned to Psmith, offering his hoof again. "I don't think we had much chance to talk before, but, thank you for arranging this," he said with a smile. Sitting down again, with a barely touched cake and cup of tea in front of him, he reached over and gently stroked his hoof down Naj's back, hoping to be of some comfort to her.

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Might had been wondering where he had last seen his fellow earth-pony, and he was pleased to know that they had all seemingly met at the same event. "I do remember, and it's jolly good to see you again, both of you!" And he extended to Red a hearty hoofshake.

Psmith was, if anything, even more delighted. "Comrade Cedar, this is a most felicitous development! We shall confound all theories of permanent enmity by presenting the facts, simply the facts, of harmonious coexistence. Confusion to the rajas of realpolitik! I have never agreed with the griffonian professors in this respect-"

Knowing quite well that if he let the unicorn go on like this, they'd be here all day, Might cleared his throat. "Right. Er, don't you think we ought to go over the plan?"

"Ever direct and to the point, Comrade Batsman, we bow to your superior wisdom." The young noble took a short pause to pour out some tea for himself, and sipped it thoughtfully. "I have secured a promised audience with Princess Celestia, as a representative of my own House, on the subject of Changeling relations and a petition for amnesty. You all I shall introduce as fellow signers to said petition, speaking of which-" He whipped out a roll of paper, which bounced and unrolled across the tea table, over the edge, and halfway to the door. "You all really ought to sign it now; it is a mistake to present these things before the ink dries, as said the gallery owner when they tried to pass off a forgery to him."

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After introductions were made, Red started giving Naj a small backrub in an effort to comfort her. She leaned into him, thankful that he was there. Thankful for all three of them, in fact, having friends at her back would likely make this whole affair easier, for several reasons. It was a comforting thought, and and though she still wasn't quite calm she was noticeably more relaxed than before. She took a breath and steadied herself. That's right, as long as she had the support of her friends, she could make it through this.

Every the straightforward pony, it wasn't long before Might got things back on track, and coaxed Psmith into explaining the plan. The cover story such as it was, was that they were a group of ponies concerned about the state of changelings, and wished to offer amnesty for any that wanted peace. Which might not even technically be a lie, though Naj hoped she wouldn't be forced to test that. Naj nodded her agreement. “I like the idea.” Thinking in relation to what she considered the primary goal, she added, “if nothing else, we might be able to simply establish some policy, which I could reveal myself through later.”

Psmith mentioned that they should all sign the petition now, to avoid any complications during the audience itself. Naj hesitated a little, before accepting the offered quill. After a moment's contemplation, she decided to sign herself with the name Spring Breeze. Though it was arguably a lie, it would at least be an understandable one. She couldn't safely put down her natural name, and she was Spring Breeze as much as she was Naj on some level. Gripping the quill with her little used telekinesis (which was a dull green in colour), she chose a line and jotted down the name. Looking over her contribution, she winced. “...Well, hopefully messy writing isn't an issue. I do a lot more reading than writing currently.”

Passing the paper and quill to her right, for the next pony, she looked to Psmith. He had mentioned that the audience was on behalf of his house, Naj began to wonder. She was a little concerned about the possible involvement of ponies who didn't know what was going on. “Hey, Psmith, just how much does your family know about what we're doing?”

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Taking the quill from Naj, and looking to the end of the very long piece of parchment, Red Cedar tried to look over at least some of the wording of the petition he was putting his name to. Predictably, however, it was such a long and flowery piece of work, sprinkled liberally with both eloquent arguments and references to legal precendents that he could feel a headache coming on. Taking the quill up in his teeth, he signed his name to the bottom, hoping that some of the verbal arguments in favour of granting amnesty to changelings that he and Naj had come up with during her visits would be concise enough to sway the Princess when she was otherwise faced with a lot of reading to do.

Passing the petition and pen on to Might Batsman, he nodded his agreement. "Yeah, at least this way we can get a feeling of if this is going to be well received or not. If so, Naj is home free. If not, well," he didn't like to say it, as it still meant she was living in fear and hiding, but he added "Then at least she won't be in prison."

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"We Psmiths," Wordsworth practically preened as he replied to Naj's question, and that was no easy thing for a unicorn to do, "Have a long and proud tradition of forging the future of the state upon the anvil of politics. I simply told my progenitors that I intended to follow in their hoofsteps, and, I perhaps flatter myself, but I believe they took it better than any previous declaration of my intentions. Particularly, the one about becoming a lawyer." After they had all put down their names, he began to carefully roll the document up again. From time to time, he would pause, lingering over a favored turn of phrase, before finally reeling the last of it in.

Might was nodding his head in agreement with Cedar, when Psmith tapped the end of the petition on the table sharply, rattling the saucers. "Just a moment, comrade Cedar. Let us not ignore the possibilities of imprisonment, as a method of political activism. Indeed, should the worst come to worst, I believe it were best that we go quietly, or at least some of us. Present a picture of dignity, and of pathos. Outside, those free should stage demonstrations, visitations, and arrange for newspaper interviews. In short, if the authorities are to be so unwise as to unjustly imprison Comrade Naj, we shall make of it a huge and embarrassing scene. Capture the moral high ground, and sweep the field!"

Psmith had assumed an oratorical attitude over the course of his speech, and ended with a pose, standing atop his chair. Might, on the other hand, merely shook his head and swallowed a muffin. "So, are you planning to be the one behind bars?"

The unicorn paused, apparently to give the point serious consideration. He looked down at himself contemplatively "You know, I rather fancy myself in zebra stripes..."


Everyone save Wordsworth was startled at the sudden bang-door entrance of an older unicorn, a little more heavyset than his son, and with a grey mane and whiskers, but with a considerably spryer gait. "Your mother was wondering- By Faust, what is that?" He stopped short before the undisguised Naj, blinking in surprise and leaning his head back, as if to get a better angle of view.

Unperturbed by this sudden development, the younger Psmith replied calmly. "A changeling, father. We are campaigning for their political rights, and thus are supporting precept by example."

"So you are, eh?" Psmith senior had no indoor voice, and it would have been a little overwhelming to deal with him at close quarters. Levitating an enormous monocle out of his pocket, the elder unicorn screwed it into his eye and peered at Naj through it. Might was about to speak, but Psmith waved him back down. Right now, it was up to Naj and Cedar to demonstrate theirselves before this trial audience...

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Naj nodded in Red's direction, pleased to hear that everypony was on the same page. It was a pretty straightforward plan, and those two facts made her considerably more relaxed.

Naj shot Psmith a disapproving look with his comments about causing chaos should she end up imprisoned. In some ways she sided with Might, though the whole conversation made her a little concerned. “Much as I'd appreciate the sacrifice, I'd really prefer a plan where nopony ends up in a dungeon.”


Naj's heart leap up into her throat, and eyes wide she slowly turned to face the newcomer, an older, grey-maned unicorn with a certain resemblance to Wordsworth. Naj had a moment of pure panic, as her friend informed his father that there was in fact a undisguised changeling in the room, and she was certain she could feel the whole endeavour collapsing around her.

And then a curious thing happened: nothing. The elder pony didn't run away, lunge at her or start shouting for the guard. Instead, he simply regarded her for a moment, seeming to be more curious that anything else. Between the uttered question and Wordsworth's encouraging expression, she eventually clued into the implication that she was supposed to be and capable of explaining her situation.

Fortunately, her time in Ponyville gave her a familiarity with the unexpected, it only took her a moment to react, though she was still evidently shaken. “Er...yes,” she began a little weakly, “I'm hoping I won't have to spend the rest of my life in hiding...and maybe, just maybe, if I can make some headway we can create an opportunity for more general changeling and pony reconciliation.”

She stood up onto somewhat shakey legs, and extended a hoof to the elder unicorn, and gave him a somewhat nervous smile. “My name's Naj...I don't think we've been formally introduced.”

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Red was less than thrilled with the notion of going to jail, even for the purpose of providing a focus for political protest, but he absolutely didn't like the idea of Naj ending up in a dungeon. Being isolated and surrounded by ponies who were likely to be overtly hostile towards her was akin to a sentence of death by starvation for her. That was assuming a guard didn't decide to forgo due process and dispense their idea of justice themselves.

He was about to voice that concern adamantly to Psmith when the door suddenly opened, revealing Psmith's father, who uttered his surprise at what he found. Red looked about the room, wondering if he was going to have to block the older unicorn while Naj made a hasty flight out a window, but the elder pony instead took the time to calmly put a monocle in his eye to take a better look, apparently curious to see one up close.

As Red remembered to breathe again after the surprise, Naj took it upon herself to explain her own situation. She carried herself admirably, Red thought, even though it was clear she had been terrified a moment ago. Red rose from his seat as she introduced herself, and stood beside her. "And, my name's Red Cedar," he added. "Naj is my fillyfriend. We're hoping we can get others to see that it's far better to be on good terms than fighting." Even as he said it, Red recalled Naj's words to him about it not being society's business what the two of them did together, but he hoped that explaining it that way would show how much trust could be built up between a pony and a changeling, especially when he was trying to convince an aristocratic pony who had likely been in the city during the invasion. Red extended his hoof as well, smiling bravely as he awaited the elder unicorn's reaction.

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(Sorry for the slow pace on this so far; I'd hoped to get out replies faster than this)

The best verb for what Psmith Sr. was doing while listening was probably 'puff.' His beard seemed to increase and decrease in volume as if it were a paper bag he were breathing into, attempting to keep himself calm and collected. His head tilted on one side, as he first looked to Naj, and then to Red as each spoke in turn. There was a moment of breathless silence as the issue was considered.

"So..." And now they might be able to see a slight twinkle in the monocled eye. "She's your lovebug, is she?"

"Such is the impression we receive. I don't know the full story, but one look in his eye, and I say, 'There goes a stallion who walks into lamp-posts thinking of somepony else.' As for her, the less we speak of windows left with impact impressions, the better." As usual, Wordsworth had seen fit to open his mouth, and spout what can only be called 'piffle'. It made his father laugh, though.

"So!" And he cheerfully gave the changeling a pat on the back that might be called bone-shaking had she not possessed an exoskeleton. "Don't suppose you'd mind telling this old romantic how the story went, eh? The old tale, boy meets bug?" And here he began to laugh again.

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[No worries, I'm still pretty happy with the pace actually. If you need the time I say take the time, I have plenty of other things I can work on in the meantime.]

Red as usual, came to Naj's aid, introducing himself and mentioning their relationship before contributing his broader reasons for participation. Naj hadn't thought to bring it up, she was hesitant to get others more involved than they already were, but in truth she was a little glad he did. That level of attachment, especially from somepony who could be a third party in this particular conversation, could go a long way toward convincing other ponies of her honest intentions.

There was another small back and forth wherein Psmith junior confirmed Naj and Red's statements. Naj snorted at the of the puns, and was left with a small grin. While a part of her wondered just how appropriate they were at the moment, they were kinda funny and either way she'd needed the laugh. Plus, if they were willing to make little jokes like that, they were obviously somewhat comfortable with her in the room, and that was a positive sign. Finding this a relatively safe place prior to her 'trial', she was even starting to relax a little herself.

She still wasn't expecting the friendly pat on the back, which might have knocked her off her hooves if she hadn't caught herself in time. As it was, she stumbled forward a bit.

"Don't suppose you'd mind telling this old romantic how the story went, eh? The old tale, boy meets bug?"

Still reeling slightly from the pat on the back, it took Naj a moment to process that a question had asked of her. “...How we met? I mean it's not that interesting, I don't think, but I guess if you really want to...” She cleared her throat.

“We first met, briefly, during the most recent Winter Wrap Up in Ponyville. Not much came of it though, until we met up later at...a garden opening, I think? Red's was one of the few faces I knew, and we got to talking. The subject of changelings came up, he seemed surprisingly...” she waved a hoof as she searched for a word, “...tolerant of the ideas than some other ponies I'd spoken to. With that, and needing friends, I took a calculated risk and revealed myself.” Naj smiled a little awkwardly. “It turns out I misinterpreted some of why he came to talk with me, though it worked out in the end.”

“That's how I remember it anyways.” She looked over at Red. “...Maybe you can tell it better than I can.”

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There might have been a time when Red would not have minded the term "lovebug" being used to refer to the one he cared about most, but hearing Psmith's father call Naj a bug, not once but twice, left a bad taste in his mouth. It sounded dismissive, as though she were inconsequential, and not a thinking, feeling being at all. As much as he may have wanted to say something about it, he bit his tongue. Strictly speaking, they were still guests in this house and he didn't want to jeopardize anything yet by making a scene. As it was, Naj seemed to have taken the comments in stride and Psmith's father was being open minded enough to give her a chance. Red reminded himself that the objective was to convince Princess Celestia to grant asylum to changelings. There would be time to change other ponies' attitudes after that.

As Naj asked Red if he could tell the story of how they met any better, he smiled to her, then said, "That's about how it went. After the horrible snow during the Wrap Up I went back to Ponyville a few weeks later to actually enjoy some Spring weather. She was in disguise, of course, and she found me at the garden opening," he said, reminiscing. "I remember it was a far warmer, nicer day. We started to walk along the path, through the woods, and talk, and that was when she asked me about changelings. I said I couldn't understand why changelings didn't want to be friends if they relied on feelings of love to survive and that I hoped any changelings in Equestria saw that, too. And, I think that's what convinced her to drop her disguise for me the first time." At that he smiled and looked at Psmith's father. "Believe me, I was just as shocked as you were just now. Maybe more!" he said with a chuckle. "Anyway, we saw each other a few times after that, when she visited me in Stalliongrad, and over time, and a lot of conversations, we realized we weren't just friends any more." He looked over to Naj and smiled again, then back to Psmith's father. "And, that's how it happened."

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The elder Psmith made a noise that is usually transcribed as "Hmm...", but if rendered phonectically, would have come out as something more like "Har-ummm..." There was something more forceful than mere reflection in it. When he snapped out of his reverie, there was a light in his eyes and gallop in his voice that his son recognized quite well, but was somewhat surprising when encountered suddenly in a stallion of his age. You saw it more often in a young colt who just found a new game or toy.

"Yes, good start, I'd say! Thrown together by the mad whims of nature and all that. Fantastic opening, bit slow in the middle, be anticlimatic if it ended that way, but now, with you going to the palace? Capital, capital, rising finish. Get the drama out of the way before the wedding bells, and all domestic life is harmonious afterwards. Take it from me! Why, back before I settled down from a career of piracy-"

With the deft interruption of the practiced social butterfly, Psmith junior interposed himself. "Quite, quite. Stories that begin with wedding bells are tragedies, but those that end with them, comedies. Just what all the critics rave. But perhaps you had better let mother know that we require more tea for the planing session?"

"Yes, yes, capital, capital! Fuel of the mind, tea..." It took about five more minutes for the parent to be extricated from further embarrassing his progeny be remaining any longer in the room. At least one could see where Wordsworth got his verbosity, though his mercurial calm and social sense probably had to come from the other side of the family. It was only with a slight, but visible, sigh of relief that Psmith closed the door behind his father, as Might commented,

"So, does he think we're writing a play, or what?"

"I hardly know, comrade Batsman, what passes through his head half the time." Pmsith gave a tired smile to Naj and Red. "I'm dreadfully fond of the old fellow, don't get me wrong, but he's... rather trying to live with. And his opinion, I must say, is about the easiest thing to sway in Canterlot. Mother's carries more weight in such matters, but... I think we had best wait for Royal approval before asking hers."

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Naj watched, wide-eyed, as the elder Psmith was ushered out of the room following his critique of Naj and Red's story. Though perhaps it should have been the least of her concerns, she really hadn't been ready for their story being spoken of like a work of fiction. She also wasn't the only one confused, as Might voiced his own confusion. Psmith tried to give an explanation, such as it was. All Naj could get from it was that his father had a strange way of looking at the world, and that she probably wouldn't be in any danger from him but she wouldn't get much help from there either.

It took Naj a second to process Wordsworth's mention of his mother. Apparently she was a ruling member of the household, though with what she'd just seen of his father she was hardly surprised. She looked at the unicorn. “Should I get back in disguise then, just to be safe?”

It took her a little longer to get herself back on track. She was starting to feel like she'd had enough adventure today and they hadn't even reached the main event yet. “Right! Planning,” she said suddenly. “What do still need to sort out?” After a moment she added, “Oh, and do we have a private audience, or are we working with a public one?”

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  • 2 weeks later...

Red also looked like he was wondering exactly what had just transpired. Either Psmith's fatehr was remarkably easy going, and he was as easily swayed as Psmith suggested, or his supposed career in piracy affected him more than he cared to admit. Though Naj had asked Psmith about getting back into her disguise, Red looked to her and said, "Might be an idea. If she were to come barging in here as well, who knows how it would be taken."

Red nodded again as the topic was brought back to their impending audience with the Princess. "Also, how much time will we have to make our case at this audience?" he asked. "I for one would like to make sure I get every possible point covered, so it'd be good to know in advance how long any of us have to speak to her on it. We want to give as much convincing information as we can."

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Wordsworth nodded sagely at the suggestion that Naj resume her disguise. "You could pursue no wiser course, at this point. Parental policy prevents locking of internal doors during certain hours, and the risk of that is some blighter or other might just walk in out of the street and start talking about himself. Provided, naturally, that he got past the butler. It has happened; two dukes and a swindler who passed as a third only just took that advantage last month. Of them all, the con pony was the most respectable."

Perhaps the elder Psmith's eccentricities were more hereditary than previously thought. Or maybe it was just the atmospheric influence of the house of which he was the head. In any case, Might had long gotten used to the fact that his friend was an outlying point on the nobility, and so passed on to further business. "I dunno if you can call it a private interview; I mean, we can't exactly ask her to dismiss her guards, but we're not having to make our case to the whole castle."

"Indeed, Comrade Batsman. As for time, the minimum allotted is, I believe, 10 minutes, with Princess Celestia reserving the right to add as much as she deems necessary for consideration. Most of the details in our demand are in writing for that reason, as full enumeration of them would take anywhere from 1-3 days, with suitable breaks for meals, tea, and sleep. If you wish more time to make your case personally, a well-timed dropping of disguise will probably gain attention, and curiosity." It would, of course, be left to Red and Naj to decide if that was wise. It brought with it high risks, but a great deal of persuasive power as well.

"To review the main part of our contention: in light of recent events, a foreign policy of 'live and let live' is insufficient to address the needs of Equestrians. A more active engagement with other races, even those previously counted as enemies, is needed to ensure peaceful and political solutions. Our specific proposal involves changelings, and offering open asylum and acceptance for those who decide not to follow the course of hostility. We are all agreed, I think?"

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It would seem everypony was in agreement, that it would be best if Naj were back in disguise. She was a little disappointed, one of the things she liked about this group was that she could be herself around them, so to speak. She sighed, but otherwise did not complain as she re-applied her disguise with a flash of green fire.

'Spring Breeze' snorted and smiled at Psmith's story, thinking how the con pony must have been the only one with a reason to be nice, though she was a little to nervous and preoccupied to actually comment on it.

The audience was as private as could reasonably hope for, as Might explained. They couldn't expect a princess, and the leader of Equestria no less, for what amounted to a group of random ponies, at least as things went in Canterlot. “I guess it'll have to do. I don't think it'll be a problem. I'd guess the princess' personal guard is well trained enough to not attack me without her order, if she'd not threatened. So you're right about her, as long as I don't agitate Princess Celestia we should be okay...” She trailed off again. The plan sounded fine in principle, but there were too many 'if's involved for 'Spring Breeze' to be comfortable.

Red wanted to know how long they had to make their case, so he had a sense of how much time to prioritize his time speaking.

The reply was that they could expect ten minutes which, while Naj had to concede was probably reasonable given the princess' station, left them in a potentially difficult spot. Fortunately, Wordsworth (or maybe Wordsworth and Might, she couldn't say for certain) had accounted for this, and had prepared a written document containing the detail of their proposition. Wordsworth also proposed that dropping her disguise at the right time might give rise to enough curiosity for more time to make their case. It was in some ways the purpose of this whole exercise, even if the prospect of it still filled 'Spring Breeze' with trepidation.

The gist of the petition was simple. In light of recent events, they felt that Equestria needed to be more diplomatically active in order to maintain peace. They would start with changelings, offering asylum for any who agreed to peaceful coexistence.

Straightforward enough. 'Spring Breeze' worried about a few of the details, such as how to keep changelings from abusing such an opportunity, or how the four of them would react if this ends up expanding to other species, but with some effort she set them aside for now. For their purposes, this should work well. They'd have plenty of time to worry about details later.

'Spring Breeze' took a breath to steady herself. “Well, I think that's everything I need to know.” By the sound of things everything was sufficiently planned. All that remained now was actually speaking to the princess.

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Red frowned a little. Ten minutes didn't sound like a lot of time to plead for a changeling to be given a second chance at a normal life in Equestria, but then, considering who they were actually discussing it with, it was not unreasonable or unexpected.

It just meant he was going to have to make his points quick, especially if Psmith actually let him get a word in edgewise. So, he would try to make the case for asylum to show Equestria as merciful to the changeling hive, and perhaps persuade them to friendlier relations by showing how changelings could stay fed through friendship rather than conquest. That was perhaps the best angle to come at it from.

Then there was the possibility of Naj revealing herself in front of the Princess. That was likely to be risky no matter what, but they'd have to make sure they had a very good reading on Celestia's feelings on the matter or it might definitely be an extension of the time she'd spent on them as they were put on trial. Even explaining Naj's actions in service to Equestria might not sway an unsympathetic ruler.

“Well, I think that's everything I need to know.” Naj said, after taking a deep breath. Red took one himself, putting his hoof around 'Spring Breeze's back again. "Same here," he agreed, then looked back to Psmith. "So, when is our appointment?"

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There was an awkward shuffling of the notes as Might tried to locate the last sheet of the meeting agenda, but he got to it at last. "Right-o, there we are. Hm, seems we're being set at half-past ten tomorrow morning."

Psmith nodded taking an extended sip of his tea. "Quite right, too. Itinerary: waking, morning ablutions, breakfast, and a carriage ride to the palace. Sensible sort, our Princess, never schedules early morning appointments, sleep is far too precious. It's just as somepony, whose name I forget, said, that a number of resting ours, the exact number of which escapes me, makes a pony something or other, that I can't recall just now. However, there you are. As you said, naught remains but the doing of the thing. Action! That's the ticket."

And so on. The rest of the afternoon was spared the rigors of planning, instead being devoted to relaxing interludes in the back garden, where the matron of the family pointed out her proudest gardening efforts. Wordsworth's mother was much more respectable in her posture than his father, but no less welcoming to well-behaved guests.

Dinner was sumptuous and entertaining, as the mutual conversation of the males of the family spun off into more and more amusing verbal nonsense, followed by a restful night's sleep.


Morning saw the group approach the palace, in a much more serious mood. Psmith had hardly spoken since breakfast; those who knew him well could tell that this indicated some deep wells of emotion were surging in him. The unicorn spoke a lot when he had little to say, but he had been inculcated with enough aristocratic reserve to have difficulty revealing his deeper feelings.

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It was taking nearly all of 'Spring Breeze's self control to not flee at the sight of the castle. The previous day had been a big help, providing a period of calm prior to the audience. For a few moments, she'd even been able to set aside what they were here to do, and enjoy herself. But it couldn't last forever. They had a goal to accomplish, and they couldn't accomplish it by sitting around chatting, as pleasant an idea as that was.

As they entered the castle itself, 'Spring Breeze' was able to avoid furtive glances at the guards. She knew it would only draw attention to herself, and kept her eyes forward, though an observant pony might notice the slight tremble as she walked. She was glad that she'd been trained to have a fear response of keeping quiet.

She forced herself onward. One way or another, this would mean the end of waiting. After this, regardless of the outcome at least she'd know where she stood.


Princess Celestia sat upon her throne, awaiting the next group of petitioners. Her posture was formal, though she took care to avoid being stiff. Not only would it be uncomfortable over a number of appeals, but it could sometimes leave ponies ill at ease, and that often risked more problems.

Celestia considered the next audience, Wordsworth Psmith. She knew the name, the family was minor nobility and had been present at a few functions. This would be the first time she'd held audience with the son however, which made her wonder. In and of itself there was nothing unusual about a first time petitioner, plenty of her subjects only requested her time once, and never felt the need to return. Still, it lent a certain air of unpredictability to proceedings.

Celestia regarded the group that entered the chamber, consisting of a unicorn, a pegasus and a pair of earth ponies, with interest. She frowned, somewhat concerned, as her attention was drawn to the last of them. The pegasus mare appeared to be afraid of her, for whatever reason. Which she could concede that she had quite the presence, Celestia had always tried to inspire hope rather than fear, and for the most was successful. It made her wonder at the mare's fear, and a few possibilities came to mind, though it was too early to confirm anything.

The rest of the group seemed sombre, possibly concerned, but didn't share the same fear.

Well, there was only one way to get to the bottom of it. “Wordsworth Psmith, and company,” she began with a disarming smile, “you are recognized.” She waved a hoof in front of her in an open gesture. “Please, make your case.”

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Only on one previous occasion had Psmith ever been in the Royal Presence directly; two if you count the Grand Galloping Gala, though it had been Luna who greeted him at the door. The other occasion had been in the fighting surrounding the cocoon Celestia had been ensnared in during the Nightmare Night invasion of Ponyville. Given that he was in costume at the time, he doubted she would remember him.

Might had been elsewhere on that day, but he remembered it well enough. He followed his friend into the audience chamber, and gave the customary bow along with Wordsworth. When the unicorn came up again, a slight smile had returned to his lips, and he began with the case:

"My comrades and I wish to present a modest proposal for Changeling accommodation. The subject may strike you as odd; the cry goes 'round the barracks rooms, 'Accommodate the invaders, after we worked so hard to fight them off?' Indeed, but I ask you to cast back to the specific Night of the second invasion. We were both there to witness in the fight, that there was one changeling that fought on our behalf.

"The incident provoked curiosity, and through a little digging, I have come across further testimony," He indicated Red and Naj with a wave of his hoof, "To the fact that changelings are, in fact, capable of what we may call redemption; not unlike many threats which have come to our fair land. But consider; what consequences follow a changelings defection from their queen? Answer: complete ruination. Cut off from home and family, exiled among strangers, and potentially hostile strangers at that, without any resources or connections whatsoever. Is it any surprise, therefore, that such defection is rare?

"Thus we come to meat of our petition." And here, with a grandiose flourish, he laid the rolled parchment at the hooves of the Princess. "The details you may read at your leisure, but the main matter is simple: a declaration of asylum for all who desire to live in harmony with us; and a solid support network for all who take up that offer."

Might let out a held breath. By the mercies of fate, Psmith had refrained from piffling over-much. True, his style, while not pompous, was still soaked with all his class upbringing, but he'd gotten to the point quickly enough.

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All through the castle, as they walked towards their appointment, all Red wanted to do was to reach out and offer some sort of comfort to 'Spring Breeze'. She wasn't just scared, she was terrified, that much was obvious. At the same time he couldn't help but wonder how much of a show of support to her would be seen as just helping a friend get over her case of nerves and how much would be seen as suspicious once the subject of their petition was revealed.

As they entered the audience chamber, Red couldn't help but be awestruck. There, on the throne, in the midst of the bright surroundings, was none other than Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria for as long as he, or any other pony, had known. He bowed low, lower than Might or Psmith had, as though he thought that not headbutting the floor would have been disrespectful, but the look back up at the Princess' smile almost put him at ease.

Almost, but not quite. There was still the matter that one of the group was a disguised changeling.

Psmith had, in his presentation, quite deliberately pointed out Red and 'Spring' both as having some measure of experience with the matter at hand. As he finished speaking, he could only guess that if he were to speak his mind on the subject, such an introduction would have to suffice as being invitation to do so. Trying to resist the urge to look at 'Spring Breeze' and give away any hint that he was speaking primarily on her behalf, he took a deep, shaky breath.

"Your Highness," he began, after clearing his throat to ensure his voice didn't come out sounding like that of a young choircolt. "As Psmith suggested, imagine the fate of a changeling exiled from the hive for any reason. They would be cut off entirely from the social structure that is in place specifically to allow them to survive. Their only hope would be to seek out sustenance from Equestria. But what kind of living would that be? They'd be constantly afraid, thinking one slip could mean the end of them. It is either that, or risk everything to find some pony - anypony - willing to accept them." He paused a moment, thinking back to a morning in a garden before continuing.

"If Equestria showed mercy and compassion to those few desperate changelings and allowed them to live freely, to find friends to nourish them, body and mind, the threat of exile would carry no weight any longer, because if changelings knew there was a way to stay fed without violence or deception, what sane being would not take the opportunity to stay on Equestria's good side? Only those who still insisted on doing harm as they did at the Royal Wedding, or at Nightmare Night, would be at risk of starving in that situation."

He took a deep breath in order to give what he hoped would be the deciding appeal. "If we turn out changelings who are, on their own, no threat to us, and maybe even an ally, we're no better than a hive that didn't care if they lived or died. If we allow them to stay, it could be the first step towards a lasting peace."

His part over, he took another deep breath, trying to relax now that the speaking was over, but still not at ease yet, not so long as there was still a decision yet to come down.

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Naj, coming up from her own deep bow, felt a little relieved that she didn't have to speak, at least not yet. Watching Might, she picked up that not everypony in the group needed to be a part of the initial appeal at least, which was a relief as she didn't trust herself to make a persuasive argument at the moment. She wondered briefly if the presence of all four when two were needed was suspicious, though she guessed and a little bit dreaded that each of their turns would likely come.

Celestia listened to the paired appeals quietly, contemplating. Their arguments carried a lot of obvious appeal. In fact, Celestia imagined that in only marginally different circumstances it would be her making these same arguments, in an effort to persuade another. The only complicating factor was the particular subject of discussion.

Changelings. It made the puzzle almost disappointingly simple, making sense of why a pony would be so afraid of her yet willingly walk into the castle. Or should she say, an apparent pony. Though it was yet too early to make clear the discovery. If her theory was correct the changeling before her was, by one means or another, trying to reach out diplomatically. She didn't know how the changeling would react to the sudden revelation, and it wouldn't do to scare her off.

Besides, there was still much Celestia didn't know for certain, and some things she wanted to impress upon the ponies before her. She calmly and gracefully stood up. She lifted the scroll and placed it beside herself then began to walk toward the group, both to get a closer look and to prepare for her next action.

“Never let it be said that I'm a mare opposed to peaceful resolution,” she began, with a serious expression, “indeed, I've always felt Equestrian tradition is to build bridges, rather than walls. I will some time to read through the full petition. But for now, I wonder if you know just what it is you ask. I have a duty to my subjects, to protect them as much as to up hold their ideals. Above all else, changelings are known for their deception. How would tell the genuine applicants from those which will merely abuse such a thing to further harm Equestria? You would have me open our doors to all of them.” She came to a stop just a few paces away from the group. “Are you truly prepared for that sort of risk?”

And thus the game begins, she thought to herself, though outwardly her expression was unreadable. Celestia had chosen her words carefully, and she was watching very intently for the reactions to them.

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If he could at all help it, Might wished to avoid speaking at this meeting at all. He had less reason to be shy than Naj, but shy he was. The earth pony was more than content to let his friend do most of the talking, but his plan was thwarted when the unicorn looked back at him, apparently expecting Might to answer Princess Celestia's question first! "Er, well, yes." It's hard to know what else he could say, given that he had actually been willing to trust Naj within a half-hour of knowing her true nature.

Wordsworth, looking quite pleased, took up the cue. "In such matters, I trust Comrade Batsman's judgment implicitly. Observe his countenance! Does he not present the very appearance of common sense and sanity?" The house of Psmith was not especially known for either, as one might have guessed from the unnecessary silent 'P' they put in front of their name. "And if it comes to matters of trust, your majesty, for aught we know, you are actually a changeling replacement, culmination of a great conspiracy, of which the two invasions were merely feints! You will say to me, of course, that such a thought is pure paranoia, and that paranoia is no sound basis of policy. To which I reply, 'precisely'."

Psmith smiled, posing like a debater that had just scored off his opponent. "To return to the matter at hand, what is our situation, vis-a-vis changeling-kind? The only alternative to peace is war, and a war that can only end in the subjugation or extermination of one sapient race by another! Even if we win, we lose. We risk nothing by offering the olive branch that we might not also lose by thrusting the blade." Suiting the gesture to the word, the noble had already taken his silver-topped walking stick, and had actually thrust it out at the Princess!

Might, watching this display, began to worry once more that this was going to end in disaster and dungeon-time. The Princess was known for tolerating a casual attitude, but this, surely, was going too far!

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"And if it comes to matters of trust, your majesty, for aught we know, you are actually a changeling replacement..."

Following that turn of phrase, Red himself could only join Might in watching Psmith's soliloquy with his jaw hanging open. While there may have been some valid points to what he said to the Princess, Red thought Psmith's delivery could definitely have used less flair for drama under the circumstances.

Thinking quickly to bring the points of discussion back on track and to a somewhat more calm and coherent level, he quickly looked up to Celestia and said, "As far as leaving Equestria open to risk, Your Highness, Psmith has a point. We've tried keeping the changelings out, and we've been invaded twice, so we are hardly at no risk at all with that policy. Allowing changelings who wish to live peacefully to do so here would be as much in our interests as theirs. The more changelings see they can be fed without trying to take over, the less incentive they'll have to fight."

Red took a deep breath as he continued. "We already allow many other beings into Equestria every day. Minotaurs, Diamond Dogs, griffins, zebras. We hardly give any of them a second glance, they've become so commonplace, but any one of them could be intent on harming Equestria or its citizens. We just don't consider it because they cannot change their appearance and we haven't fought a battle with them in centuries, if ever. As far as the changelings' reputation for deception goes," he added, pausing as if building up for a major counterpoint, "As I recall, you yourself granted amnesty, and then a pardon, to a being that, If I remember my history correctly, once usurped your control over all of Equestria, single-hoofedly. Footedly. Whatever that thing has for limbs." he said, uncertain himself as to how best to describe such a creature. "He alone was far more dangerous than even an entire changeling army. What risk do we face from individual changelings in the face of that?"

Pausing to let that sink in a moment, he took another breath and continued. "I have no doubt that you put some conditions on Discord's freedom, even if I don't know what. I see no reason why some reasonable limitations could not be put on a changeling that sincerely wished to live freely here. For example, at the very least, they would have to make themselves known to authorities as a changeling so that they did not by themselves arouse suspicion by being here. Then, if there were any sort of incident, it would greatly reduce the number of suspects." He stopped short of suggesting any sort of limits on their ability to disguise themselves. Naj herself may have enjoyed being able to go without her disguise and be herself in front of those who knew and trusted her, but it may still have been a handy talent if needed to help others or, Celestia forbid, hide from any pony with a chip on their shoulder intent on doing her harm.

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