Chapter 2: Royalty

“You’re saying I’m not good enough!” Tabby’s voice rose shrilly at the clinic one morning, on an unusual day on which Tabby had beat Strawberry to work.

“No! I’m just saying, you have too much work as it is and it would be beneficial to have another pony around to help,” Thomas attempted to soothe her ruffled feathers. “With Elaine joining the practice in May, we’ll be taking on more clients, and another set of hooves wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

“Hmph!” said Tabby, still cross.

“With a larger staff, we could look at expanding into grooming services, maybe even boarding,” Thomas went on.

“Maybe,” said Tabby, forelegs crossed. “But I have a say in who it is. I’m not going to work with just anyone.”

Before they could continue, the back door swung open, and Strawberry ran in, waving a newspaper.

“Tabby, Thomas! Isn’t it so exciting about the royal twins!” the receptionist trilled. “A prince! We have a prince now!”

“Royal twins were born?” Tabby said, looking incredulous as she took the paper from Strawberry.

“Like in Roseland? I didn’t know any of the royals were expecting,” Thomas said; though, admittedly, he didn’t really follow the lives of royalty across the sea.

Tabby, ignoring Thomas, tossed the paper aside and grimaced. “I don’t know why you’re so excited,” she complained. “It will just mean higher taxes for all of us.”

“Why is that?” Thomas asked, failing to see how foreign royalty would directly impact local taxes.

“Well, the town pays for their upbringing,” Tabby said matter-of-factly. “It’s supposed to be made up for in tourism dollars or something; but really, it just means there are higher taxes and more entitled brats running amok in town.”

“I think I’m missing something,” mused Thomas.

“Oh, don’t you know about the custom?” asked Strawberry. Both mares pinned him with a piercing glance.

“No, I guess not,” admitted Thomas. Despite having lived in Misty Hollow for over a year now, he still found himself learning about local customs that were foreign to him.

“Prince and Princess are titles handed out at the town level to those born here with the ‘mark of royalty’,” said Tabby with an eye roll.

“The mark of royalty?” Thomas repeated.

“Sparkly hair!” Strawberry clarified.

“Oh… I see,” Thomas said, frowning. The unusual biological feature of hair made up of tinsel-like fibers seemed an arbitrary trait to assign prestige to, but what did he know? “I thought when ponies talked about princesses, it was along the lines of a county fair queen.”

“It’s been quite some time since we’ve had a new royal–why, there hasn’t been one since Athena,” Strawberry said.

“Ahh,” said Thomas, recalling the silver-maned pegasus. Tabby gave him a sharp look. “I was just thinking,” he continued, “that the attention has probably affected her haughty demeanor.”

“Yeah, and it was no small factor in the election of her mother to local politics,” Tabby said. “Mayor Ainsworth’s always milked her daughter’s royalty for all its worth to increase public opinion of her.”

“So these twins–their parents aren’t royalty?” Thomas asked, wrapping his head around the concept.

“Nope, they’re plain ole…” Tabby picked the paper back up to consult. “…Melonball and Springtime.”

“We could go to the hospital over lunch break and see them,” Strawberry put forth hopefully. “It says there are public viewings.”

“You’re a sentimental goose,” said Tabby, without animosity, “but fine, I’ll tag along.”

* * *

How had she gotten here? Springtime considered, looking over the flowers, balloons, and cards that filled the maternity suite to bursting.

It had been her sister, who had dearly wanted Springtime to see little Honoria’s dance recital. Springtime’s niece was a little brat, but she knew she would never hear the end of it from her younger sibling if she didn’t come. So, despite being eight months pregnant, she and her husband had hopped on the bus and made the trip from Hayton to Misty Hollow.

But during the recital, pains had started that could not be ignored, and Springtime had ended up that night at Misty Hollow General Hospital to deliver the foals.

Springtime had envisioned the happy scene often enough, the foals being placed in her forelegs. In the reality of it, she had feared there was something wrong at first, hearing hushed voices whispering. Then she was dimly aware of various attendants taking out phones to snap pictures, which seemed unprofessional, but she had other things to focus on.

The beaming nurse presented her with the first, a little filly–and not long after, the second one, a colt. A boy and a girl, a perfect set, with complementing blue and green colors. And the sparkle! Springtime marveled at the tinsel-like threads shot through their manes and tails.

“You have a little prince and princess,” the nurse observed.

“This is a momentous occasion!” someone else enthused, pumping Melonball’s hoof enthusiastically.

Well, yes, for the parents, Springtime concurred; but this sort of thing–delivering foals–happened all the time.

“There hasn’t been a new birth in nearly thirty years! Babies!” The awe and wonder continued in the rapidly-growing crowd around the hospital bed.

That seemed a little unlikely, Springtime thought, frowning. Misty Hollow was a growing community.

Eventually, the truth of the situation came out–in this jurisdiction, sparkly hair was held in high regard, and those born with such a mark were given titles and a prestigious place in society. Springtime forced back a laugh–what a fanciful custom! That was all well and good, but she and her husband weren’t from Misty Hollow, only visiting.

“Oh, you’ll stay! You have to!” the nurse said emphatically as Springtime had tried to explain this.

“Enough about that–she needs to rest,” the doctor had admonished, and some of the flurry subsided, for which Springtime was grateful.

But by early morning, the local news station and paper had stopped by for photos. Springtime found herself wishing that her foals had not been born quite so special, as they were absent for another feeding.

“Nurse, the foals must be returned to me,” said the perturbed mother. “We agreed to a few photos, but it’s been over an hour.”

“So sorry,” said the frazzled nurse who was in attendance. “Yes. of course. Just a moment.” She scurried off.

“Don’t worry,” said another nurse, bustling over to Springtime’s side to check her blood pressure. “We fed them bottles.”

“Of what–formula?! They’re exclusively on uddermilk!” Springtime shouted. Stress and hormones seemed to be contributing to short-temperedness. This outburst sent the nurses running, and the babies were always returned to their mother for feedings after that.

The foals’ father, Melonball, was ostensibly keeping an eye on things; but it seemed that he had had his head turned by the locals’ enthusiasm, and embraced the idea of royal offspring.

“I do hope you’ll consider our offer,” said Mayor Ainsworth at the conclusion of her pitch–the dignitary had wasted no time in making contact with the couple. “We would love to have your family here with us in Misty Hollow.”

“We’ll be in touch,” said Melonball with an enthusiastic hoofshake before the mayor exited the room.

Springtime merely rolled her eyes.

“Did you hear all that, babe? They’re royalty! They’ll be famous!” Melonball was ecstatic.

“It doesn’t really mean anything,” Springtime protested.

“We knew they’d be something special, didn’t we?” Melonball beamed.

“And they would be, regardless of whether their hair sparkles or not!” Springtime scoffed. “As it is, I’ve hardly seen them–they’re constantly being pulled for news crews to take photos!”

“But Mayor Ainsworth said–we’ll have to get the details in writing, but if it’s true–”

“You’re not seriously thinking about moving here, are you?” Springtime asked, looking at him incredulously.

“Well, why not?” Melonball asked nonchalantly. “I can do my job from anywhere, and with the payments we’ll get from living in Misty Hollow, you won’t have to work!” He talked quickly, the gears clearly turning in his head.

“There must be a catch,” Springtime protested. “They can’t seriously be offering to pay us for the next eighteen years because our offspring have sparkly hair.”

“You heard the mayor,” Melonball insisted. “It’s worth it for the tourism dollars, and ponies will lose their minds over royal twins!”

“So this will be the rest of our lives,” Springtime snapped, “separated from our offspring by camera crews?”

“It won’t be like this all the time,” Melonball said, attempting a soothing tone that only rankled Springtime’s nerves more. “They’ll make a few appearances at community events, but otherwise life will be normal. It’ll be fun!”

“Well, it sounds as if you’ve made up your mind already,” Springtime said, her forelegs crossed. “Why couldn’t they have been born in Hayton?! They would have been normal. Now, they’ll be hounded the rest of their lives.”

“You’re tired,” Melonball realized, kissing her placatingly. “We’ll talk more about it later.”

“Hmph!” said Springtime with a reluctant smile.

* * *

It was a madhouse, Tabby and Strawberry found, realizing that they weren’t the only ones with the idea to visit the hospital. Word was spreading far and wide, and everyone in town (and beyond) was eager for a peek at the new royal twins.

Tabby and Strawberry fought their way through the crowd to the viewing window, where two baskets were placed side-by-side, each with a sleeping baby pony. Someone had already seen to it that they were each issued a wand (uncharged with magic at this time) that would serve as a teether until the age of responsible magic use had been reached. The princess was issued a conical damsel hat, and the prince a crown, as were the customary adornments.

“Aww,” said Strawberry, gazing at the newborns rapturously. “Look at their little hooves!”

“You’ve gone all mushy,” Tabby said chidingly, ushering her friend along in the flow of traffic. “I wonder if they’ve been issued their Fuzziwug servants yet.”

“I wonder how the parents are bearing up,” Strawberry said. “This is a big day for them!”

“They seem to have left their offspring to the vultures,” Tabby said with a significant look at the bustling crowd snapping pictures.

“Maybe we should get out of the way,” Strawberry said, perhaps coming to regret her voyeurism.

“Yeah,” Tabby agreed, leading the way.

* * *

Springtime switched off the TV, having had about enough episodes of Incognito Boss (which appeared to be the only programming available) to last a lifetime. She sat, appreciating the momentary silence. But soon enough, there were hoofsteps in the hall, and the new mother braced herself for another visit from a doctor or nurse or chaplain or any of the other countless ponies in the hospital who wanted to check on her well-being.

“Tabby, I don’t think we’re supposed to be here,” she heard a mare’s voice say beyond the door.

“Well, I wasn’t going the other way, past Toby!” said another voice in an agitated manner. “Gah! There he is!” The door to Springtime’s suite swung open, and Springtime looked curiously at the two mares who burst in.

“OMG, I am so sorry,” said the pink unicorn apologetically, facing the mare in the hospital bed. “It’s just that I’m trying to avoid running into my ex-boyfriend.”

“Oh,” said Springtime, a bemused look on her face. She had to admit, she found these mares much more diverting than most of the hospital staff, all of whom were wearing on her nerves.

“He’s coming this way,” the white mare with red hair noted, peering out the window in the door.

Thinking quickly, Springtime suggested, “The shower stall,” and gestured at the walled-off area. Without a second thought, the pink unicorn dove into the alcove, dragging her friend with her.

“Hello, Springtime,” greeted Dr. Collins, entering the room moments later. “How are you feeling?”

“I thought motherhood might include being more with my foals,” Springtime griped.

“Oh course,” the doctor said soothingly. “We’ll see if we can’t get them back in here. Everyone is very excited,” he added, apologetically.

Some matters of health were discussed; and, satisfied, Dr. Collins went on his way.

“The coast is clear,” Springtime said, raising her voice for the benefit of the intruders.

The other two mares crept out of hiding and stood sheepishly before Springtime.

“So, that’s your ex? He’s cute,” Springtime said, breaking the silence. The prospect of gossiping about stallions seemed a welcome respite from arguing about royalty and feeding times. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Someone better came along,” said the pink unicorn with a cheeky grin.

“We’re so sorry about this intrusion,” the other mare said, looking abashed. “So, you’re the twins’ mother?”

“Yes, as much as they’ll allow it,” Springtime said, frowning. “Would you believe, they are being fed formula?”

“Well, that’s no way to build an immune system,” said the unicorn, shaking her head.

“I know, that’s what I’m saying!” Springtime said, sensing a sympathetic listener at hoof. “And taking them away to put on display!”

“I agree! Taking a newborn away from its mother is reprehensible,” the unicorn agreed. “I don’t know why it’s even a thing.”

Springtime looked at her curiously, assuming she spoke from some experience. “How old are yours?” she asked.

“Mine?” The unicorn looked taken aback. “Oh, I’m not a parent, but I’m in healthcare,” she explained. “Veterinary medicine.”

“Is there a clinic here in town?” Springtime asked. “I hear we might be moving here.” She smiled wanly.

“Why, yes! Here’s our card,” said the unicorn, nudging her friend, who in turn dug in her purse. “I’m Tabby; this is Strawberry. We both work there.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Springtime promised, accepting the business card.

“Well, we’ll get out of your way now,” Strawberry spoke-up. “S-Sorry again for the intrusion. Your babies are adorable, by the way.”

“Oh, yeah. Congratulations,” said Tabby as an afterthought.

The two mares scurried out of the room, and Springtime was left in solitude.