"So Being What We Sow When We Sew"
Written by The Descendant
The rain whipped into them, bit hard, and the seabirds were forced lower.
As they crossed the lands beyond Equestria's borders the seabirds fought hard to make westerly, to cross the mountains…to once again complete the migration that they and their ancestors had made for generations uncounted.
As they crested the mountains, moving into Equestria, their instincts told them something was wrong.
Equestria, though they could not know the name, was supposed to be a place of safety, of certainty…a place where the randomness of weather and predators was not a factor. It is where they could find some rest, here where the ponies controlled the fate of land and sky at once.
Yet, as they came over the mountains and across the Everfree Forest the animal minds of the seabirds knew that something was desperately, horribly wrong.
Before them stood one of the mountains, a towering monolith, and it was wrapped in smoke.
The seabirds instinctually lifted, trying to cross over it, but it was there as well, and it was noxious.
Diving, wheeling they tried to get beneath it, but it was there as well…a deep and horrible smoke, laced with magic.
Dragon smoke…smoke from an ill dragon, one breathing hard, swirled about them. The birds could feel the magic and soot enter their mouths and lungs as they sped about trying to find safety.
Had the late rainstorm not found them, had they not spent so much energy fighting it, and then having to cross the mountains, then perhaps they could have escaped.
But for the tired birds, their wings straining, their mouths wide open, fighting for each breath, it was too much…
…and then, some horrible power, some magic of purpose unknown hidden in the smoke, found them, and their feathers began to rip from their wings.
And, with that, hundreds of birds plummeted in uncontrolled spirals, in tumbling loops, towards the ground.
It should have been a happier day for Fluttershy. As she came up the hill out of Ponyville towards her cottage she had been singing to herself, ruminating on her newfound confidence. She had bested the dragon, and as a few notes passed her lips she saw the other pegasus ponies clearing the sky of the last of the black cloud that it had set about itself. She'd not say so out loud, but in her mind she was happy…happy she had been able to go beyond herself, to find the strength to support her friends, to save her home.
As she looked up these thoughts made her blush, and as she watched the sky became clear.
Something though emerged from the black, and a few of the pegasi reacted to it. Fluttershy strained her eyes to see what was reflecting the light, falling in heaps through the air.
At once the first bird hit the ground down the path, bounced with a sickening crack, and laid still.
Fluttershy, her face a mask of horror and surprise, looked upon the broken bird, and saw that death had found its way into Equestria.
She could not take time to ponder it, for now other seabirds were crashing around her. They fell onto the grass, through the trees, into the ponds…
At once Fluttershy was off running, then flying in a winding course, trying to avoid the unfortunate creatures. "Oh no! Oh dear…oh no!" she called as they came down around her, crashing to the unyielding earth.
She raced up to her little cottage, found there the wooden cart, and sped back to where the calamity was unfolding.
By the time Fluttershy had returned the worst had passed. No more stricken fowl were falling through the air. Yet, a worse scene awaited her in the meadow, and before the pond.
The still bodies of hundreds of the seabirds, denuded of feathers, covered the meadow. Fluttershy was sickened by it, but her eyes turned to the few who were still moving, the horribly forlorn figures that hopped and bobbled around the grassy reaches.
"Oh, I…I'm coming! Stay still!" she cried, trying to calm the featherless birds which could still draw breath. Yet at once something was different, and Fluttershy immediately sensed it. These were not the semi-sentient birds of Equestria, those with whom she could speak. No, these were truly wild birds, and they fled from her on broken legs, flapped with impotent wings, clacked and snapped at her with their beaks.
"No, no...please…I'm trying, trying to help!" she said, tears forming in her eyes. As she picked them out of the pond, scanned the meadow, and raced up the path her tears began flowing freely, and as some died in her hooves she began to bawl.
Thirty-four…this was the number that she brought back to her cottage alive. Five had died in the cart on the way back, and she would soon bury these in the long trench in the meadow. As soon as she had done all she could for the living she would return and bury the others, though by that time all sorts of scavengers had taken their claim of the dead, scooting out of the Everfree and carrying on nature's true cycle.
"An…Angel!" she called, returning up the path, over the small bridge, "Please, please get some hand towels and some splints…oh, please and some bandages as well."
Angel, usually so defiant, looked to his mistress, and knew that she was trying to accomplish something of importance. He looked to the overflowing cart, and then in his wordless ways began to see to her request.
That night, the night when she should be celebrating her newfound strength, was instead spent seeing to the needs of the rescued avians.
It was a thankless task, as the wild birds could not contemplate what was happening to them and around them. The birds that lived around Fluttershy's cottage looked upon their wild kin with disbelief and disgust, and the small animals feared the hideous appearance of the featherless seabirds, and the sharp bills they possessed…the ones they threatened their pony friend with whenever she approached.
For Fluttershy, it was a long night.
She saw to their wounds, at least those she could decipher. As she tried to splint wings the birds fought her, and they tore at the bandages.
She tried to feed them, but something of the fish in her pond disagreed with some, and these rejected it and grew weaker. The birds shivered without their feathers, both from fear and cold, but when she placed them nearer the fire they squawked in alarm.
Yet she had not enough hand towels, and so she took from her own bed her good blanket and reduced it into squares. This she wrapped around the complaining birds, each under a basket or colander to keep them from flapping about, trying to escape in their ignorance from the only place where they were safe.
Finally, long past when Luna had raised the moon, the birds began to lower their heads, tuck them beneath their featherless wings…and sleep.
Sitting on her sofa, watching her charges inside their confines in the light of the fireplace, Fluttershy sighed. Angel, knowing her moods, climbed up beside her and fell asleep, lending her some respite.
At this gesture Fluttershy took some comfort, and she too fell into a dreamless and unsteady sleep.
The next morning, almost exactly as Celestia was lifting the sun, Fluttershy awoke. The scene that greeted her was not pretty.
In their cages many of the seabirds had been tearing their blankets apart, especially those she'd made from her own blanket. They, freed from the swaddling, now fought against the bandages she'd placed on them. They were tearing them from their own damaged and broken wings, spreading the gauze and splints around their containers.
All were a mess, the birds befouling their roosts. To her horror seven had died in the night…mostly those who refused to be fed the night before, and two who had appeared the most week when they arrived.
"Oh, Angel…what are…what can…" she said surveying the mess.
But as the rabbit looked up to her he saw on her face the realization that there was nothing to do apart from what had already been done.
Dividing up the last of her fish from the night before she tried to feed them. Most took it, but to her despair some of the weakest still refused the meal, and one was too weak to take it.
She wrapped them in the blankets once more, and looked to all of her other charges. As she went out to her chickens many of the smaller creatures and birds came to her, as though they sensed her sadness at being unable to help her newfound dependants.
'Thank you…thank you so much!" she said as a chipmunk offered her a bloom of a chrysanthemum. She slipped it behind her ear, hummed a bit, and went about her morning ritual.
Her tasks complete, she returned inside to breakfast to find the weakest seabird dead, and three having shred the blankets once more, and she did not hum again during that long morning.
As the day ground on she was down in Ponyville, flitting past the denizens in her usual demure style. She had bought fish, knowing that her own creek could not long supply the birds. "I…I…wonder how long, they'll have to stay," she said aloud to no one, her expression falling.
The contents of her saddlebag, the dozens of fish fillets and the ice, shifted and she spun a bit in the air. As she did so something caught her eye in the window of a familiar shop.
There, in the window of Rarity's dress shop, was a little display. One of Rarity's magnificent pieces stood in the window, but Fluttershy looked past it to a small table on which the mannequin leaned. There lay a blanket, one so like the one she had surrendered so quickly. She thought of her favorite old blanket, and remembered how softly it had fallen across her on chilly mornings. Her head dropped a bit in memory, but as she looked to it again, and noted that there was something about the edges of it…something she'd not thought to look at before…
Rarity looked up from her measurements as the bell on the front door rang. Her hope that it was perhaps a paying customer did not come to fruition, but it was mitigated by the appearance of her friend. "Hello Fluttershy, dear!" she called from beyond the table where she sketched out the tiny improvements to one of her few orders.
"Oh…hello, Rarity…I, I hope I'm not…intruding," said Fluttershy, looking to the floor. Soon enough the familiar figure of Opalescence was near her, rubbing across her forelegs, and Fluttershy smiled for the first time since that morning.
"What can I help you with, darling?" asked Rarity, placing aside her glasses, crossing over to where the Pegasus pony stood.
"Well," said Fluttershy, "I…I don't want to intrude…but here in the window…I noticed the blanket…"
"That old thing?" spoke Rarity, wrinkling her nose. With an ignition of her magic the blanket unwrapped from the stand, hardly disturbing the display, folded, and landed before Fluttershy. "It's yours if you'd like it," said the unicorn.
Fluttershy looked up in shock, back down in embarrassment, and back up with a faint smile, "Is…is that okay? Re…really? I…I lost my best one…thank you! But, but what I really…really wanted to know was about…this, ummm…"
Rarity looked to where Fluttershy was nuzzling the blanket, the space along its edges. "The stitch, dear?"
"Oh, yes…the stitch…how do you…how is it…"
At once Fluttershy felt her saddlebags lifted from her, and felt herself being lowered into a chair. A flash of magic illuminated the interior of the shop, making Opal dart in surprise, and a length of fabric levitated towards her. A small sewing kit emerged from one of the shelves and floated on the magic towards where she sat.
"It's just a basic blanket stitch, darling!" said Rarity in her practiced tones. "It's one of three common ones…here, dear…just follow along with the magic. It's a rhythm, a harmony. Imagine that you're singing to it."
As Rarity stood nearby magic enveloped Fluttershy, and the Pegasus felt it leading her, the string floating through the needle, the magic guiding her hoof to mouth along the practice piece. Fluttershy looked on in amazement and wonder as she completed the line, as she stitched the tight little turns.
"Marvelous!" exalted Rarity as she looked on the final product.
"Do…you, really…really think so?" asked Fluttershy.
"Why, yes!" smiled Rarity.
Fluttershy stood, looked to the floor, then back to Rarity. "I…I can't thank you enough for the lesson…and the blanket…"
"And the practice kit," added Rarity with a smirk.
Fluttershy watched the blanket roll around the kit, then watched it wrap itself around her saddlebags, Rarity's magic tying it in a big bow of ribbon.
Fluttershy felt herself welling up. She didn't know what to say. Instead she crossed over to her saddlebag and lifted from it one of the fillets of fish. Wrapping it in a nearby newspaper she placed some ice in the tight package, and then she turned back to a bemused looking Rarity. Closing her eyes she motioned to Rarity, and soon felt her take it. "You…you didn't need to…well, thank you dear," said the unicorn in a small tone.
With that Fluttershy, smiling, gathered up her saddlebags and pranced out the door. As soon as she was clear she galloped, then flew into the air, winging her way home.
Rarity stood there, watching long after one of her few remaining practice kits in stock and one of the first things she'd ever sewn with her own hooves, the old blanket, disappeared out the door.
She looked down to the filleted fish in her hooves, the ice melting through the newspaper that she'd not had, and now would never have, the chance to read. It was all together a net loss…
So, why did it feel so good?
"Opal!" she called with a small smile, heading for the kitchen with the fish in hoof, "Dinner!"
At her cottage Fluttershy was relieved to see than none of the other seabirds had died in her absence. Yet, those who had not eaten were in miserable shape. There was no other choice this time, she would have to force-feed them, one at a time if necessary.
Mincing some of the fish and placing the rest in her icebox she pulled a wax-paper confectioners tube from the drawer.
In a long and laborious process she used it to force the fish into the mouths of the most stubborn of the birds. She held their beaks shut, massaged the fish down their throats, and kept their beaks shut until they were beyond regurgitating. She knew how to deal with animals, it was her purpose, and her joy. Even if it was not pleasant, she knew it was necessary.
She found the other birds more willing to eat freely after watching a few of their compatriots being so handled. Soon she had cleaned their messy confines, washed the tattered blankets, and completed her schedule for her other animal and bird friends.
As she bathed that night she imagined what she would do next, practiced the motions she had been taught as the soap covered her and the warm water washed over her.
The sun had set as she came back downstairs. As the fire roared she took the tattered blankets from the drying rack, trimmed them, and began to sew them with the blanket stitch, re-enforcing them.
It was hard at first, and she stabbed herself with the needle more than once. Soon though she remembered the harmony, and as she went Angel looked up from his basket as she began to hum. Hopping to her he sat beside her as she began to sing in tune with her motions. Soon the Equestrian birds in the house emerged from their roosts and nesting boxes, and joined her in making happy sounds.
As Luna's domain settled across the land music wafted from the small cottage on the edge of the Everfree Forest.
As she completed each blanket she wrapped one of the shivering seabirds in it, and though they fought back, they soon accepted it, and each began to settle down into sleep.
She too felt sleep call, and as she took one last look over them one of the seabirds, a small ones, looked to her with a tilt of its head. She responded in the fashion of the ocean birds she knew, lowering, spreading her wings, and for the first time she heard the seabird chirp at her in acceptance.
With that happy thought in mind she blew out the lanterns and wrapped herself in Rarity's blanket. It smelled like the shop; crisp, clean, and filled with the scents of linen and lace.
As Angel lay beside her on the sofa and the fire crackled Fluttershy slipped off to sleep, and that night she dreamed that she was cresting the mountains and was off to the sea beyond…