Caprice gasped at the sight of Dietrich’s swollen black-and-blue muzzle when he showed up at Agatha’s apartment in the morning. “What happened to you?” she cried.
“One of your father’s henchmen,” Dietrich said grimly.
“I can’t believe he did that,” Caprice said in dismay, falling into his embrace. “Did you go to the hospital?”
“It’s nothing serious,” he assured her. “I’ve kept ice on it.”
“But here’s an open cut and it’s not dressed properly at all,” Caprice fussed, taking a closer look. “Agatha, we need supplies.”
“Check the medicine cabinet in the powder room,” Agatha’s voice carried from her bedroom where she was getting her appearance in order.
Caprice silently got to work with disinfectant, ointment, and gauze. “I’m so sorry,” she said at length, tears springing to her eyes.
“It’s not your fault,” Dietrich said tenderly.
“But it’s because of me that you’re in my father’s crosshairs!” Caprice wailed.
“Soon we’ll be away from all this,” he assured her. “And I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful doctor. Most unicorns I know would just use magic.”
“Oh, you never know what can go wrong,” Caprice said vehemently. “They’re even talking about putting restrictions on the use of healing magic, you know. There are too many incidents of malpractice.”
“There’s quite a lot that the equine mind can accomplish without magic,” Dietrich said, agreeing with the sentiment.
“I’ve always felt funny about using it.” Caprice hesitated. “My family… there’s a ceremony of sorts to pass magic on to the next generation.”
“Yours, too?” Dietrich asked, intrigued.
“What did you go through?”
“I sat through some absurd ceremony to pass the ‘magic of Atlantis’ along to me,” Dietrich said with derision.
“And humans in dark hooded robes.” Caprice shuddered. “I had it conferred on me last month. It was just creepy.”
“It’s not real,” Dietrich said impatiently. “There’s inborn unicorn magic, but no such thing as an extra dose of Atlantean super powers.”
“Our families are so caught up in these old fairy tales–they’re out of touch with reality,” Caprice said sadly.
“Yes, the games they play with that society are entirely too much, all over some silly hereditary magic,” Dietrich said, his mouth set in a grim line.
“It’s strange that both our families are involved in the society,” Caprice pondered, “given their passionate dislike for each other.”
“Nothing about this feud makes sense,” Dietrich said.
“No, I suppose not. I would be just as happy,” Caprice began with a shy glance, “if our children didn’t have to worry about it at all, not thinking about who was watching them from the shadows or wanting to use them.”
“I’ve heard that, with disuse, magical powers go away on their own.” Dietrich’s voice picked up speed as he went on excitedly: “Think about it, we can be unicorns without magic. No more opportunity for manipulation.”
“Magic is only a stumbling block, and makes us targets,” Caprice said softly.
“We give up a little teleporting and walk instead; earth ponies do it all the time,” Dietrich continued. “It’s not a huge sacrifice.”
“Hubert’s here if you’re ready to get going.” Agatha poked her head in, interrupting the tete-a-tete. “We could teleport; the distance might zap your energy reserves, though.”
“We’ll walk,” Caprice cut in, smiling at Dietrich.
“As you wish,” Agatha said, lifting her brow but not arguing the point.
“Oh, I just remembered, we were supposed to go out and get drunk last night, weren’t we?” Hubert exclaimed, walking up next to Agatha. “Sorry. My bad.”
“That’s fine,” Caprice assured him.
“Better to keep a clear head for today,” agreed Dietrich.
“But traditions should not be tossed aside,” Hubert argued, “without first considering the purpose they serve in society and–”
“Let’s get going, shall we?” Agatha interjected, stomping lightly on Hubert’s hoof.
* * *
“Are you sure about this, Hubert?” Dietrich looked skeptical as the group approached a little decrepit shack deep in the woods.
“I’m as sure about Tiny as I am about the lost kingdom of Saliscarres!” Hubert said staunchly.
“It’ll be fine, Dietrich,” Caprice said, squeezing his hoof.
“Tiny?” Hubert called, knocking on the door.
It was opened by a shaggy Bigfoot, a good eight feet tall, covered in russet brown hair. He wore a fringed leather vest and tie-dye headband, and a pipe dangled from his lips.
“Hubert, welcome!” he said, stretching his arms open wide. “The stars foretold a fortuitous meeting of friends.”
“Well met, sir!” Hubert replied heartily. “And I did, indeed, bring some friends.”
“All are welcome; please, enter my humble abode.” Tiny stepped aside to allow the ponies entry.
They gathered around the circular table in the middle of the room. Tiny offered the pipe to Hubert, who shook his head. “Not today,” the stallion said hastily.
“What kind of research have you been working on?” Agatha asked, looking at him suspiciously.
Tiny cleared his throat. “What can I do for my equine brothers and sisters?” he steered the conversation.
“We wondered if you might do us a favor and marry these two,” Hubert said, getting straight to the point.
“The universe unites us all in love,” Tiny observed sagely, his glance flickering over the star-crossed lovers. “But if you wish to plight your troth to one another, I can oversee the process.”
“Are you sure your authority is legitimate?” Dietrich asked, frowning.
Indignant, Tiny drew himself up to his full height. “I am fully accredited,” he stated, “by the Ponyland Confederation of Non-Pony Clerics.” He pointed to a framed certificate on the wall.
“I guess it checks out,” Dietrich grumbled.
Tiny opened a desk drawer and pulled out an old leather-bound book. “Fill this out, please,” he said, extracting a piece of paper from inside the front cover. The couple filled out the form, and then the ceremony got under way.
“Dietrich and Caprice, have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?” Tiny intoned. They answered in the affirmative, and he continued: “Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live? Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God?”
“We are,” they said.
Tiny was about to go on with the exchange of vows, when Hubert interrupted: “Wait, you didn’t ask for objections!” he protested, stepping forward from his place at Dietrich’s side.
“That’s more of a movie trope,” Tiny explained. “It’s rarely used in practice.”
“That’s a shame,” said Hubert, disappointed. “I think it adds a snappy dramatic element.”
“It’s fine,” Dietrich said impatiently. “Continue.”
“I mean,” Hubert spoke-up again, as Tiny was opening his mouth, “on the off-chance that there was a jealous ex-suitor that just happened to have delayed entry to the ceremony, it would give him an ideal opening to burst in here.”
“Hubert, shut up,” snapped Agatha.
“I’m just saying!” huffed Hubert.
Just then, the door swung open and banged against the wall.
Framed in the doorway was a tan stallion entered. “Stop the wedding!” he shouted. All eyes turned to him. He was trembling and out of breath, and in his hoof held a gun pointed at Dietrich.
“You’re an idiot,” Dietrich growled. It wasn’t clear if he meant Hubert or Storen. “You don’t want to do this.”
“How did you find us?” Caprice demanded.
“You were spotted entering the forest,” said Storen, tremulous but putting on a brave front. “I’d heard rumors of a Bigfoot witchdoctor out by Falcon Rock, so I collected my firearm and came as quickly as I could. Mr. Monk will take me seriously when I return his wayward daughter to him!”
“Storen, don’t be a fool. I know what I’m doing,” Caprice said, stepping forward while Dietrich tried to hold her back.
“He’s one of them! He’ll ruin you and– and–”
“We’re getting married and starting a life together. I have no regrets. You can tell Father.”
“Let her go, you fiend!”
“I’m not holding her. She’s here of her own accord.”
“Caprice, your father only wants the best for you, as do I–”
“Oh, can it, Storen,” said Caprice impatiently. “You only care about advancing your own interests, and ‘rescuing’ me would put you in a sweet spot with the CEO.”
“Nonsense! This is for you!”
While talking was going on, Hubert had slunk around to the side of Storen and stood poised to disarm him.
But Storen noticed in the nick of time and turned the gun on Hubert. “No closer! I know what I have to do!”
But the ponies hadn’t even noticed the Bigfoot leave his position and slip into the shadows. As Storen turned on Hubert, Tiny was ready and stabbed a syringe into Storen’s foreleg. The stallion’s eyes rolled back and he crumpled to the ground for the second time in less than a day.
“The benefit of sleep will offer great peace and insight,” Tiny observed wisely. “Well, then, where were we?” he asked cheerfully, dropping Storen on a cot in the corner.
“I believe it’s time to exchange vows,” said Caprice, eyes shining bright.
“Ah-hem, yes, let’s see…” Tiny found his place in the book. “Dietrich, do you take Caprice to be your wife? Do you promise to be faithful to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her and to honor her all the days of your life?”
“I do,” said Dietrich, and Caprice shortly echoed the sentiment.
“I now present Mr. and Mrs. Dietrich Fairfax,” stated Tiny with a flourish. “Now, if the witnesses would come forward and sign this certificate…” He looked at Hubert and Agatha.
“It does look good seeing our signatures together like this, Agatha,” Hubert commented. “I just had an idea–why don’t WE get married?”
“That’s your proposal speech?” Agatha asked, flummoxed.
“What’s wrong with it?” the prospective groom asked, puzzled.
“Well, you’ve had a number of years to come up with something a little more elaborate,” said Agatha, frowning.
“How about…” Hubert shuffled around on his hooves. “Agatha, you’ve always been there for me, and I can’t imagine life without you. Will you marry me?”
“Hubert, you are absolutely insufferable with your history lessons and conspiracy theories and hare-brained expeditions. And I’m crazy about you. Of course I’ll marry you,” Agatha announced, embracing him.
Hubert looked at Tiny expectantly. The Bigfoot shrugged. “May as well get it out of the way,” the stallion said.
“Very expedient,” Agatha said, looking admiringly at her soon-to-be husband.
“Dietrich, Caprice, might you halt your departure long enough to witness our vows?” Hubert asked.
“Certainly. We’d love to,” Caprice said, smiling warmly.
“I’m not sure we have the time,” Dietrich said, peering out the window suspiciously, as if afraid of further interruptions.
“Of course we do,” Caprice shot him down, and the ceremony was performed forthwith.
Afterwards, Caprice hugged Hubert and Agatha as they stood outside on the stoop of the shack, both couples poised to go their separate directions. “I will write to you,” she promised.
“We’ll get together the next time we’re in New Pony,” Agatha agreed.
* * *
“Storen, you idiot!” shouted Cecil during an audience later that day. “You threatened Dietrich Fairfax with a gun!”
“I was trying to rescue Caprice!” Storen whined.
“You should have gotten the police, you nitwit!” Cecil snapped. “They would have put a stop to all of this.”
“I thought we could take care of it in-house, so to speak. I know you like discretion,” Storen pointed out.
“Discretion!” Cecil laughed bitterly. “There is nothing discrete about a gun! What if you had actually taken a shot? I wash my hooves of you! The scandal of that alone would have ruined her just as much as her carrying on with this Fairfax.”
“It was for Caprice!” Storen pleaded.
“Shut up!” Cecil thundered, sending the other stallion packing.
* * *
As twilight was descending, Dietrich and Caprice got off at a little bump in the road community that boasted a sketchy-looking motel and not much else.
As Dietrich fumbled with the key card to their suite, a dark figure emerged from the shadows. “Congratulations on your union,” the human said in a low voice.
Caprice instinctively huddled closer to her husband.
“Who sent you?” asked Dietrich harshly, putting a foreleg around Caprice.
“I intend no harm,” the figure said, raising his hand in a peaceful gesture. “Regardless of the attitudes of your parents, the Krulotin are pleased by your union.”
“You have no power over us!” Dietrich snapped.
“We understand that you feel… misused,” the figure explained. “But you must remember, this isn’t about you–it’s about the welfare of the world.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Caprice sputtered. “We’re ponies, the same as everyone else, and should be allowed to live as such.”
“We will not be party to your games any more,” Dietrich added. “We are cutting off magic from our lives from this day forward.”
“This is a grave mistake,” the figure warned. “You don’t understand what you’re doing.”
“If we have the great power you say we do,” Dietrich challenged, “isn’t it better to let it fade away, and not be a temptation?”
“You risk putting the world in peril if you continue on this bend,” he said, shaking his head.
“We don’t believe your conspiracy theories!” Caprice said shrilly. “You may have hoodwinked our parents, but we think for ourselves.”
“There will be no further contact, do you understand?” Dietrich said harshly.
“It is our sworn duty to protect you,” the figure said. “We will always be there.”
“If you come near us, I’ll–” Dietrich formed a fist with his hoof (which is totally a thing ponies can do).
“–call the police,” Caprice interjected. “We’ll get a restraining order.”
“This is most irregular,” he said, shaking his head vigorously and taking a step back.
“Away with you!” Dietrich shouted.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” the man reiterated grimly. “The Krulotin will never be far if ever you need us. We have not given up on you, even if you have given up on us.”
“This discussion is over!” Dietrich hissed.
“As you wish.” Bowing respectfully, the figure disappeared back into the shadows from whence he came.
“Our families aren’t so different after all,” Caprice said sadly as they entered their room. “They both fell under the power of those lunatics.”
“We’re going to do better with our family,” Dietrich pledged, scooping her up in his forelegs.
Taking in the peeling wallpaper, grimy coffee maker, and garishly colored comforter, Dietrich felt doubt for the first time. “Caprice, you deserve better than this,” he said, sighing remorsefully. “Silken sheets, champagne, rose petals.”
“Those are just things that pale in comparison to the reality of you,” said the bride, entwining her forelegs around his neck.
“You don’t know what game you’re playing.”
“Then show me,” she said with a piquant look.
* * *
“This was a perfect wedding,” Agatha sighed blissfully when they were back at her apartment. “Big shows are so ostentatious.”
“I thought big shows were your business,” Hubert observed.
“My business, but not my life,” she corrected him. “This is special. It’s for us.” Her voice became huskier.
“Er–um–Agatha.” Hubert swallowed nervously. “You know, the natives of Drastein have an intriguing marriage tradition wherein–”
“Hubert, shut up and kiss me,” Agatha ordered.