It was a warm spring day. Clever Clover had gotten some early archaeology work already, but it had been short-lived. Now he found himself with plenty of time which he mostly spent walking about the hills around Friendship Garden. His houseguest, Minoko, would walk with him at first, but she soon grew bored with walking. Belle Star also liked to spend time with Clever Clover, but she had a job that kept her busy.
It was late one afternoon when Clever Clover got home from one of his walks. He paused for a moment on his doorstep and looked at the wall of the house. He couldn’t put his hoof on it, but ever since he had gotten back from his latest trip to the Isle, something had seemed not quite right. But he had better things to do than contemplate walls. Inside he found Minoko and Belle Star in the living room watching TV. Ryo was sleeping on the couch between them, and Pixie slept on Clever Clover’s armchair.
“Hey guys, how was your day?”
Minoko shrugged. “Eh, the usual.”
“My day was awful,” Belle Star sighed. “I spent all morning mopping the market floor and then these two baby ponies with muddy hooves came running through so I had to mop the whole floor over again. Then the baby ponies came running through again and I told them not to run through the market with muddy hooves, then I started mopping again. But the baby ponies went to their mother and told her that I had yelled at them and she complained to my boss and he yelled at me and told me that if I yelled at baby ponies again I’d loose my job. I tried to explain to him that I hadn’t yelled at anyone but he wouldn’t listen.”
“Oh…kay. So, what would you want for supper?”
Belle Star’s face brightened at the mention of supper. “How about stir-fried vegetables? I just love your stir-fried vegetables!”
“Why does she always get to stay for supper?” Minoko whined. “It’s not like she doesn’t have a job. Let her buy her own food.”
“Speaking of jobs, why haven’t you gotten one yet? It would be nice if you could contribute a little bit, you know.”
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Clever Clover set down the zucchini he had been chopping. “I wonder who that could be.”
“Huf, it’s probably Morning Glory inviting herself to supper again. If there’s one pony that annoys me more than Belle Star, it’s Morning Glory.”
“I don’t think so. She said she’d be working late at the flower shop to get ready for Water Lily’s fancy dress ball.”
Clever Clover opened the door and found two ponies in capes and hoods. “Uh, hi. What can I do for you?”
The larger stranger spoke in a familiar voice. “Well, we’ve had you as our guest; how about returning the favor, cousin?” The stranger threw off his hood to reveal himself as King Oak.
“Your Highness! And Gooseberry, too, I presume. Come in, please!”
The royal couple entered Clever Clover’s humble home. “There’s no need for titles and honorifics, cousin. We’re traveling incognito. We needed to get away from the castle and away from all the fuss and bother of royalty.”
“Well you got here just in time . I was just starting supper. I hope you like stir-fried vegetables.” Clever Clover led his guests into the living room. “Oak, Gooseberry, you already know Belle Star, and that is Minoko.”
Belle Star shot to her feet. “Your highnesses! It’s so nice to see you again! Your wedding was so romantic! I hope you’ve been well since then.”
“Oh yes, we’ve been quite well,” replied Gooseberry. “And how have you been?”
“Pretty good, I guess. But I’ve been upset ever since my boss yelled at me earlier today.”
Oak approached Minoko. “So, you are the infamous demon-pirate Minoko? It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I hope that we can put the past behind us and begin to heal the wounds that have separated our people.”
“Yeah, whatever. You’re blocking the TV.”
* * *
After supper, Clever Clover and his guests sat around the table drinking tea (no, really, this time it really is tea). “It’s nice having the opportunity to talk to you in such an informal setting for a change. I’d really like to be able to meet some of your other friends and neighbors, but I’m afraid that if word got out of a visiting king and queen it would cause quite a commotion. That’s why we’ve had to leave Lady Moonshine in the dark about our visit.”
“Hm, Water Lily is hosting a fancy dress ball tonight. I hadn’t planned on going, but it might be your only chance to get out and mingle without being seen.”
Oak slammed his hoof on the table. “Splendid idea! What do you say, my love?”
“What about you two... Belle Star, Minoko; you feel up to it?”
Belle Star clapped her hooves in excitement. “Oh yes, it sounds like such fun!”
Minoko threw her forelegs around Clever Clover. “Well, if you’re going, I guess I’ll have to go. You can’t let me out of your sight, after all.”
“Uh, yeah, whatever.”
Belle Star stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to my apartment to get my fancy dress!”
“Right. The rest of us will meet you in front of the apartment. Come to think of it, I don’t have any fancy dress. But I think I know something that will do the trick. What about the rest of you?”
Minoko kicked back from the table. “Don’t worry about me.”
“Yes,” said Oak, “we should be able to take care of ourselves.”
* * *
Clever Clover went back to his bedroom closet and got out a large and heavy box. Inside was one of the enchanted armors that had guarded Jack O Lantern’s Isla Soja fortress. Enchantment had ensured him that it was safe to keep and that no black magic remained. The purple prince began to strap on the armor piece by piece. Once he was fully armored, he walked noisily into the living room where Oak, Gooseberry, and Minoko waited in full fancy dress. Oak wore the motley of a fool, Gooseberry wore a glittery mask and fairy wings, and Minoko wore a lop-eared bunny suit, clearly modeled after her pet, Ryo.
At the sight of Clever Clover in his armor, Minoko summoned her energy horn and charged toward him. “You’re not taking me again, Jack O Lantern!”
Clever Clover stumbled awkwardly backwards in the heavy armor. “Hold on, Minoko! It’s me! Clever Clover!”
Minoko held her charge with her horn mere inches from Clever Clover’s face. “Don’t do that! You want to get yourself hurt?”
Oak slapped him on the shoulder. “Splendid fancy dress, cousin. You look positively knightly.”
Minoko, who had regained her composure, struck a pose. “So, Clever Clover, what do you think of my fancy dress? Nice and soft and cuddly. Of course, you’ll have to lose the armor before we get to cuddling.”
“It’s really cute. Now shall we go? Belle Star is probably waiting for us.”
The four ponies strolled through the fading light of evening into Friendship Gardens. It was dusk by the time they got to Belle Star’s apartment. As they approached, they could make out her form in the darkness; but not until they got close could they make out the detail of her fancy dress, a Ryo suit just like Minoko’s!
Minoko grabbed Belle Star. “Hey, you copycat! What do you think you’re doing, dressing up in the same fancy dress as me?”
“Ulp, I’m sorry! I didn’t know you also had a Ryo fancy dress. But I put so much work into it and I don’t have anything else to wear!”
“Calm down, Minoko.”
“Hmph! Mine’s cuter.”
* * *
They arrived at Water Lily’s house shortly. “All right, Minoko, behave yourself in there. We don’t want to make a scene.”
“Why are you picking on me? Besides, without Morning Glory it just wouldn’t be any fun.”
Clever Clover sighed and rang the doorbell. A moment later the door opened. Belle Star jumped in fright. “Ah! A giant toad!”
“Oh brother,” Minoko mumbled.
“Calm down, Belle Star. That’s just Water Lily in her fancy dress.”
“Clever Clover? Is that you?”
“Uh huh. Some friends of mine from the Flatlands showed up and wanted to do something fun while they were in town. I couldn’t think of anything more fun than a fancy dress ball.”
“Oh, I know! I just don’t know what I’d do without fancy dress balls! Come in and enjoy yourselves!”
Inside was a crowd of ponies in all manner of fancy dress. “Oak, dear, when we get back to the Isle we’ll have to think about having a ball. That castle has become so glum lately. We need to lighten the mood a bit.”
“I agree, but remember to call me Jaques.”
* * *
Minoko was hanging off of Clever Clover as he tried not to attract too much attention in his noisy suit of armor. “You know, Clever Clover, this is a ball; we’re supposed to be dancing.”
“Uh, yeah. We came here to mingle. And I’m not much of a dancer, especially in this suit.”
“Come on, ponies will be suspicious. Besides, we’ll draw attention away from your guests.”
“Well, if you put it that way…”
Minoko dragged Clever Clover onto the dance floor. They made quite the unusual couple, the black knight and the lop eared bunny. And as Minoko had predicted, they attracted quite a bit of attention. In particular, they caught the attention of a pony in a sunflower fancy dress. The sunflower-dressed pony marched onto the dance floor and grabbed Minoko’s big floppy bunny ear. “Humph, I should have known it was you! Taking advantage of my professional obligations to make your move on Clever Clover!”
“Oh, it’s you, Morning Glory. I thought you were working late at the flower shop?”
“I was arranging flowers for the ball! Which means I had to be finished before the ball started! Since I was already here, I decided to stay and enjoy myself. I didn’t think you’d move so fast to steal Clever Clover!”
Minoko looked around the room at the flower garlands and bouquets. “You did all that? That would explain it, though.”
“What is that supposed to mean!?”
Clever Clover tried to calm them. “Hey, come on you two, don’t make a scene.”
“You stay out of this!” the two girls chastised Clever Clover in unison. The armored prince backed away from the arguing ponies, hoping to disappear into the crowd. Once he was sure that the arguing girls were the center of attention, he sought out Oak, Gooseberry, and Belle Star, none of whom had yet taken to the dance floor.
“Hey guys, I’m sorry about the commotion. If I had known Morning Glory was here, I never would have danced with Minoko. Those two just can’t behave themselves.”
Oak laughed. “It’s not your fault. Besides, there are some ponies who wouldn’t consider it a proper ball if there was no scandal to report the next day. I’d wager the guests are enjoying this distraction.”
“I hope you’re right. By the way, what have you been up to, just standing over here?”
“Belle Star has been introducing us to all your neighbors,” said Gooseberry.
“That is why we came to the ball, after all, but it would be a shame to waste the evening without at least one dance. Shall we, my dear?”
“Of course, Jaques. And what about you, Clever Clover? Are you going to let Belle Star go the night without a dance?”
“Uh, I don’t know. After my last dance, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”
The royal ponies pushed Clever Clover and Belle Star onto the dance floor. “Nonsense. Minoko and Morning Glory are too caught up in their argument to even notice. Now, as you king, I insist you finish at least one dance tonight.”
And so the two couples took to the floor, staying as far away from the Minoko and Morning Glory as possible. Clever Clover was relieved that the band was playing a slow song, not that he was particularly fond of slow dancing, but between Belle Star’s reputation for clumsiness and his ungainly armor it could be dangerous to attempt anything too lively.
When the band finished what turned out to be the last dance of the night, the ponies gradually started to leave. Minoko and Morning Glory’s argument had ended in a staring contest, neither wanting to let the other out of her sight so she could make a move on Clever Clover. Clever Clover and Belle Star had managed to finish the dance without incident. “That was fun,” Belle Star said.
“Yeah, it wasn’t bad. We’ll have to try it again some time, without the armor.” Clever Clover was mostly just being polite, but truthfully he had found the dance more enjoyable than he thought he would.
Oak and Gooseberry met up with Clever Clover and Belle Star at the edge of the dance floor. “So, cousin, I trust you enjoyed yourself?”
“Yeah. It wasn’t so bad.”
“Splendid. We’ve decided to have a ball of our own once we get back home. I hope you’ll be able to make it.”
Belle Star clapped her hooves together. “That sounds like fun! I’d love to have a chance to visit the big castle again!”
Gooseberry giggled. “Well, it seems we can be expecting at least Clever Clover and Belle Star; will the rest of your entourage be coming as well?”
“Uh, gee, I’ll need some time to think about this.”
“Oh, I’m so excited, your highnesses. I can hardly wait!” Belle Star rambled as Minoko and Morning Glory approached.
“Who are your friends, Clever Clover, and why did Belle Star call them ‘highnesses?” Morning Glory asked.
Oak bowed. “I am Jaques, the King of Fools, isn’t that right, Clever Clover?”
“And this is my Fairy Queen, Titania.”
Gooseberry curtsied. “We are friends of Clever Clover’s from the Flatlands.”
“Oh. Your voices sound so familiar. Have you been to Friendship Gardens before?”
“No, this is our first time.”
“Hm, I could have sworn I’ve heard your voices before. But I’ve never been to the Flatlands, except for that one trip to the Isle…”
Clever Clover cut her off. “Well, it’s getting late and we really have to be going. Good night, Morning Glory.”