"My council was wise, and you did well to obey; now that you are home, things will remain this way."
Artemis was being her usual self. I patted her on the back, because she was actually right, even though I hadn't listened to her advice at first. I'd done a bad thing, running away, but I knew never to do it again. Everyone faces bad times, and we just have to deal with them: that was something I'd learned during my time away. Running away doesn't help anyone, and instead just gets you into bigger trouble.
My father had been in a bad way while I'd been in Ponyville, and when I first rang the doorbell of our home after returning to Manehattan, I was really nervous about what he might say. I expected him to punish me in the Trottingham way. But the father I had run away from was not the father I returned to: upon seeing me standing in the doorway he had embraced me and pulled me close; and had kissed and caressed my face; and had tugged at my mane and wrapped it around his hooves; and had squeezed me tightly so that, he said, he could prove that I was truly there.
He had thought me dead. That, or injured, or tainted. But none of those things had happened to me, and he was relieved, more than anything, of my good state of health. Clemency wasn't home, at first, and instead me and my father remained in the living room hugging for some time. I curled up in front of the fire with him, and he combed my mane, for he said that it was messy and frayed, and I believed him. All the while he was smiling, despite the tired look in his eyes, and I felt guilty, but only because I had caused him so much grief.
Eventually, the tone of conversation had to become serious, and I was prepared to speak with him as an adult, in a way that I had never done before. It was my usual custom to hold my tongue in his presence, because in Trottingham, mares are taught to listen and respect their fathers, and only speak when spoken to. I hadn't been a good Trottingham mare recently, but, thankfully, we were now in Manehattan, where mares could speak their minds without fear of being ridiculed and ignored.
"Why did you run away, Farleigh?" he asked me, although he wasn't angry. It was as if he partly already knew, but needed it confirming.
"I was sad about mum," I said, "and I didn't like living with Clemency." As I spoke, he stroked my hooves.
"I can understand that," he said apologetically. "I moved in with Clemency because I didn't want to think about your mother's ghost. I needed company, you see? But, to think that I placed my own selfish interests above the well-being of my only daughter...I am truly sorry for behaving in such a way."
"Don't be silly, dad," I said, shaking my head and pouting my lips. "You deserve happiness. I was being a silly little kid. I should have spoken to you about my problems. Instead, I just kept them inside, bottled up until they exploded in me running away. I caused you so many problems...I heard you got into trouble with the police..."
"That won't be a problem now," he said, hushing me. "There is nothing to worry about, Farleigh."
"Then everything will be back to normal?" I asked happily. He nodded, and I plunged my head against him, holding onto him tightly. It was more emotion than I usually showed, but I just couldn't help it! He was my dad, after all, and all daughters love their fathers, deep down; I was sure of it.
A few more things happened: he asked me where I had been staying, to begin with, and I admit that I told a little bit of a lie. I didn't really want dad to know that I had been staying with a stallion, because I knew how protective he was of me, and I didn't want to get my Ponyville friend in trouble. So I just said that I had been staying with a family in Ponyville instead. While I'd been roaming the streets shortly after arriving in Ponyville for the first time, I'd found an inn near a fountain, which I'd attempted to spend the night in. Sadly, without money, they hadn't let me stay, but I remembered that the family had a mum, a dad and two daughters. I said I'd been staying with them, and, thankfully, he left it there. He did ask if anyone had done anything bad to me, but I told him that they hadn't, and he dropped that subject as well.
Then he said that he had someone to contact, and that it was of great importance, and he asked if I would be okay on my own for a while. I said that I would be, and he left quickly, so that he could be back sooner. While he was gone I found my old room. This was one of dad's Manehattan homes, and we'd used it as a holiday home, sort of, for a few years. I'd only stayed there two or three times, but a room had been set up for me all the same. I imagined that father was currently spending his time between two homes: Clemency's apartment and this smaller manor.
I found my room and threw myself upon the plush double-bed, rolling onto my back and facing up to the ceiling, my hooves in the air. There was a mobile hanging up, which reminded me of how young I must have been when staying there the last time. I batted at the mobile and watched it twirl. It was decorated with creatures from all around Equestria: griffins and dragons, and even phoenixes! It was very pretty, but I felt a bit too old to be playing with it now. As it span it played a little tune, and I remembered that mother had fashioned a small music box into the mobile to make it play when spun. It was playing a song from Act 2 of the Symphony of Seven Paladins - a short arrangement that lasted for about thirty seconds and soon I was humming along with it.
"It's good to be back," I exhaled to Artemis, turning to face her. She was staring back with her small, black-bead eyes, and I tapped her with the tip of my hoof. She wobbled on the spot, almost falling over, but thankfully her legs were full of thick stuffing, and she was able to keep her composure. As I looked more carefully at her, I noticed a small brown smudge on her back leg, and I pondered over what it could be. I sniffed at it dubiously, recognising the smell to be coffee. I couldn't think of how she had gotten coffee on herself. I tutted and licked at it until the smudge was gone.
"You're so mucky, Artemis," I said with a sigh. "You shouldn't be drinking coffee. It'll make you super-hyper!" I giggled and cuddled her tight, rolling onto my back again. I gripped onto the duvet and moved to the side, coiling it around me like a blanket. I made sure to slide my glasses down my snout and place them on the bed-side table before closing my eyes. It didn't take long for me to fall asleep, and I must have been sleeping for a few hours. When I woke up, my father was nudging me firmly, asking that I get out of bed.
"Farleigh," he said, "some nice ponies are here to talk to you. They just want to ask you a few questions."
I yawned and climbed out of bed, although father practically scooped me out at the same time. I put my glasses on and blinked a few times to catch my vision. My mane must have been a mess again, but he said that it didn't matter; he took me through into the living room, where two ponies were standing in conversation. When I entered the room they turned to me and smiled. One of them, who was wearing a suit with a big gold badge pinned on it, approached me and patted me on the head.
"Hello, Farleigh," he said. "I'm Detective Brumby. I'd like to ask you a few questions, if that's okay?"
I looked up to my father, who stood by my side the entire time. He nodded and so did I, which caused the nice detective to grin. Another pony approached; he had a notepad in his breast pocket and a pencil in his mouth, which he spat out into his hoof after shaking mine forcefully.
"It's nice to finally meet you!" he said energetically. "The Farleigh Cross! I've been writing a lot about you recently!"
"You have?" I asked with wide-eyes.
"You betcha!" he said. "All nice things, of course!" Upon delivering his last word, he looked over to my father. Dad didn't seem to like this pony as much, as he merely grunted in response.
"This is Gazette, Farleigh," dad said. "He's a journalist writing for a newspaper called the Rococo Report. I would have preferred Black Burst, but what can you do?"
"Nothing, 'fella!" the journalist replied. "They send me because I'm the guy with the panache, the skill and the endearing personality! Black Burst is more of a word-drone."
"Just get to it, both of you," dad said to the detective and the journalist. I think he wanted them to ask their questions and then leave.
"-Where were you this past month or so, Farleigh?" the detective asked. "Do you remember how long you've been away from home for?"
"About a month, as you say," I said. "I'm sorry, but I can't remember when it was, exactly. But definitely a few weeks." I paused while the journalist wrote something down onto his pad of paper. "I was in Ponyville, staying with a family there," I added.
"What were you doing in Ponyville, Farleigh?" Detective Brumby asked.
"I missed my mother..." I said, not really wanting to answer them. "I just wanted to get away from Manehattan."
"Did your father do anything to make you want to leave?" the detective asked, which took dad by surprise, but I was already shaking my head.
"-No!" I yelped. "It wasn't dad's fault."
"What about Miss A. Clemency?" Gazette chirped. "How would you describe your relationship with her, on a scale of one to ten, with one being 'eww' and ten being 'awesome'?"
"I uh...don't mind her," I said dismissively. "My dad likes her so I just sort of get on with her, I guess."
"What made you want to come back, Farleigh?" the detective asked, moving in front of the journalist slightly. "Did something bad happen in Ponyville?"
"No," I said. "I just really missed home. And...I saw in a newspaper that dad was in trouble with the police...because you thought he'd done something to hurt me."
The detective didn't quite know how to respond.
"Look at me," I said, raising my hooves. "I'm perfectly fine. My father didn't do anything to hurt me, and neither did anyone in Ponyville. They were all very nice to me and Artemis."
"Artemis?" the detective asked, but father intervened.
"-Artemis is a toy that Farleigh carries around with her," he said, and the detective dropped the subject. I didn't like Artemis being described as a 'toy' she was my friend! I would have pouted, but it wasn't the best time.
"-Is there really any more information that you need?" dad asked, and the detective and the journalist looked to him with concern. "You have proof here that I did nothing to my daughter. She is happy and content, and both of us would like to get back to our daily routine as soon as possible. Ask any final questions you may have, and then please respect our privacy from now on. You have all been hounding the Cross name for too long these past few months."
I could tell that dad had invited them because he wanted to prove that he had nothing to do with me going missing. And while the detective and the journalist had other questions, I could tell that they had received all of the information that they immediately required. Father spoke to the detective in private, probably dealing with some important legal stuff, and the journalist sat next to me.
"I bet it's good to be home, isn't it?" he asked, and I nodded. "You know, when I was your age, I ran away from home as well."
"You did?" I asked curiously, cocking my head to the side.
"I did," he replied. "I was born in Old Manehattan. Do you know much about Old Manehattan?"
"I know that the poor ponies live there," I said. "A lot of them are sad because they want bigger houses and nice things."
"Yeah," he chuckled, "that's Old Manehattan, pretty much. Well, anyway, I grew up there with a small group of friends. There were three of us, really - two stallions and a mare. We all dreamed of leaving Old Manehattan. If you live there, you pretty much have to resign yourself to being a sewage worker, or, back then, a miner. They don't do as much mining nowadays, but back when I was a colt, mining was the big thing."
I listened to him carefully. For some reason, I felt invested in his story.
"-So, anyway, me and my two friends didn't want to spend our lives in that place. We wanted to get out there and do something. One day, the mare moved away, and I was left with my stallion friend instead. Watching her go motivated us to finally go through with it, and leave Old Manehattan for good. So, one night we went out into this courtyard outside of where we both lived, and we had some supplies with us, and we said that we would leave and never return."
"What happened?" I asked.
"We went off together. We managed to get outside of Old Manehattan, which, at that age, was pretty impressive. We had to go through the richer part of Manehattan to leave the area. We'd heard that Manehattan never slept, and it was true: even though it was the middle of the night, we found ourselves surrounded by rich folk. One of them must have noticed that we were from Old Manehattan, because he alerted the authorities. I don't think he wanted to touch us himself."
"What did the authorities do?" I questioned.
"They stopped us and asked us where we were going. We explained that we were leaving Manehattan, but they wouldn't let us; they said it was too dangerous for colts to be travelling late at night. So they took us back to Old Manehattan. But we'd told our siblings that we were leaving, and we were too proud to return home, because it would have been way too embarrassing. So we ended up staying around in various places in Old Manehattan for about three weeks."
"How did you pass the time?" I queried.
"We managed to find a bit of work. One place we worked at was a saloon. My friend was bigger than me, so they had him sweep the floors. They realised that I had a pretty quick hoof, and so they used me as a scribe of sorts to write things. Just notes and orders and stuff."
"Is that when you started to enjoy writing?" I asked, hinting to the pencil that now rested behind his left ear. He looked up and smiled.
"Yeah, you could say that," he grinned.
"Why did you eventually go home, then?" I questioned.
"The same reason why you did, really," he shrugged. "I missed home. My friend never admitted it, but I'm sure that he did too, deep down."
"Did you regret going home?"
"Not at all," he said. "It was a good choice. Leaving home and striving for independence is something to do when you're older. I learned from my experience of being away from home: I realised that I was good at something while I was away writing and then forged a career out of it."
I thought upon his words carefully. I had also realised that I had a skill while I was away, although my talent was making dresses.
"-Everything is a learning experience," he said. "I'm sure that running away, in many respects, did you some good. Right?"
"Right..." I said. And then, because I sensed that our conversation was coming to an end, I asked him one last thing: "What happened to your friend?"
"He's not my friend any more," he shrugged, "but he ended up inheriting a lot of money. The lucky bugger had a rich relative who died and left him a house in Trottingham. He ended up moving out there shortly after our little adventure together. We kept in contact until last year, although, y'know...ponies change."
I could tell that he was saddened, even if he didn't want to show it, but he soon bounced into energetic-mode once more, wishing me a fond goodbye and then saying something to my father. Apparently, he would be seeing him again shortly, although I didn't mind; father may not have liked the journalist, but I did. They exchanged a few more words, and I saw father give a satchel of coins to the journalist, which seemed odd as he didn't like him. The two ponies left shortly after.
Then father explained that he had to go and see her in order to update her on the situation. I pondered about the future of their relationship. He assured me that he would be back soon, and even invited me along, but I told him that, having been away by myself for so long, being left in a secure manor would not be a problem. He kissed me on the cheek and twice on the forehead, leaving in a hurry and explaining that he would likely be back in just over an hour. I bid him farewell and returned to my room, safe in the knowledge that everything had returned to normal.
I stretched out on the bed and caressed Artemis between my hooves. Father had described her as a toy, but she was so much more than that: she was a voice of reason and strength. I held her closely and spoke idly to her, my words forming slowly, for I was still considerably tired.
"The nice journalist gave me some advice," I said. "He said I should view being away from home as a learning curve."
"A curve it was, and dangerous too," Artemis replied, "now things are resolved for me and you."
Some time must have passed before I heard movement coming from outside. I may have been asleep, or daydreaming, but I was quickly pulled out my thoughts by a tapping at my window. I looked up dubiously, only to see my friend from Ponyville standing outside, his face pressed up against the glass.
"Uh-oh," I said to myself, gulping. As long as he couldn't get inside I'd be safe.
"Farleigh!" he hissed. "Let me in!"
"I can hear you just fine from this side of the glass," I said. "What do you want?"
"An explanation!" he replied. "You totally fucked me over! We had a deal!"
"I didn't make a deal!" I huffed. "He wanted me to work at some gross factory for him! He was horrible!"
"His bloody thug came to the boutique right after you left!" he called back. "He found your note and everything. You know - the one mentioning that we felt we were in danger?"
"I'm sorry that happened!" I said sadly. "But it looks like you're okay!"
"He pressed a gun against my back and threatened to kill me!" he roared, and he took me by surprise, because with his words came an action - he slammed a hoof against the window, causing it to tremor precariously. I'd known that those ponies were dangerous, but I had no idea they would threaten him in such a terrible way!
"What do they want from you?" I asked after taking a bit of time to think about what I should do next.
"They want me to bring you back," he said, and my heart sank.
"I'm not doing it..." I said, plucking up the courage to say no. "Listen! I managed to run away. You should just do it as well."
"Run away!" I nodded frantically. "Just go! Go find somewhere to stay and keep away from Mr. Orange and his crazy thug guy. I managed to escape from them okay."
"They know that you're here, Farleigh," he said. "Mr. Orange needs a dress-maker to continue production. You're all he has right now."
"I was talking to a police officer earlier today," I replied. "The next time I see him I'll make sure he knows about Mr. Orange and his threats."
"Why didn't you tell him already?" he challenged me, but I had my reasons: all I had wanted to do was clear my father's name, and by mentioning Mr. Orange I would have also needed to mention where I'd really been staying in Ponyville and the mess I had wound up in. It was a lot simpler to avoid speaking about it. I didn't want to tell the stallion that he was on his own, but I knew I couldn't go and work for Mr. Orange again, especially not after hearing that he had hired ponies with guns to threaten my friend.
A thought overcame me, and I wondered if he knew anything about it. "Is my father safe?" I asked. "Does Mr. Orange want him hurt? Killed?"
"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "He didn't mention anything about that to me. I wasn't allowed in on their little meeting. All I know is that when the thug gets back from Canterlot after finding out that I was lying about why I was there, I'm fucked."
My dream of everything going back to normal had been tampered with. I was unsure of what to do next, when I heard a second voice outside. It belonged to another male, and it was muffled. As he drew closer I could hear that he was asking in a strong manner who the intruder was, and why he was at my window I couldn't identify the voice, but I was glad to hear it.
"Is there a reason why you're standing out here, 'fella?" the newcomer asked. He seemed slightly timid, but his words were enough to surprise my Ponyville friend, who stepped back.
There was a short period of silence, during which time the new entrant moved in front of the window, allowing me to see him. I couldn't make out much, aside from that he was wearing a hat, and that he had a mottled grey coat.
"I was just speaking with the girl," he eventually replied. The newcomer seemed doubtful.
"It looked like more than speaking, y'know, what with you banging against the glass and all," came the response.
"And who are you supposed to be?" the Ponyvillian asked, measuring up his foe.
"I work for Aston Dartmoor," he said confidently, as if there was weight behind the name alone. I didn't recognise it, but it seemed enough to worry my old companion more; he appeared to be moderately aware of who this 'Aston Dartmoor' pony was.
"What are you doing here?" he mustered up the courage to ask.
"I've been instructed to make sure that the Cross residence is kept safe from certain ponies," the timid pony replied, now with slightly more confidence in his diction and posture. "Who are you working for? Mr. Orange?"
That was enough to shock my old friend, who backed further away from the window. "How did you know?" he asked.
"You tell Mr. Orange that Aston Dartmoor is coming for him," the pony sneered, noticing his obvious retreat.
It was then that I heard another voice; a softer, feminine croon that I recognised, despite its muffled nature: "Dreadfuls, have you caught someone?"
With my face almost pushed up against the glass I saw her, and I was, for once, glad of it. I didn't recognise the stranger who had defended my home 'Dreadfuls', was it? - but I realised that he was some friend of hers, and whatever the story was behind 'keeping the Cross residence safe', it was definitely something I could get behind!
"What are you doing here?" she asked my Ponyvillian friend. He mumbled something in reply as she moved closer to him, bridging the gap between him and this 'Dreadfuls' character.
"I'll ask you again," Miss Clemency said, looking back to the window and peering through. She checked that I was safe, before turning back to him. "Why are you here, and what do you want with the little mare in there?"
He seemed at a loss for words. He hadn't expected to be caught twice. Miss Clemency moved to stand in front of the window, obstructing my view of him. "Do I know you?" she asked sternly. "Your face is familiar."
"No," I heard him say.
"One word from me, and I could have you on a list for potential sex offenders," she said snidely. "Get off of this property or I'll tell the press that you were spying on the little mare."
I felt sorry for him, I really did, but I was also relieved that Miss Clemency had turned up when she had. Things had been getting worse, and I was sure that he would have tried to take me back to Mr. Orange by force. I saw, though, by looking over Miss Clemency's back, that he was hesitant to remain. It was likely that he didn't want any extra attention from the media being directed his way. For whatever reason, he turned and quickly scurried away, most likely incapable of taking on both Miss Clemency and 'Dreadfuls'. She watched him go, and when she was satisfied that he was away from the house, she turned to me and tapped the glass.
"Hello, Farleigh," she said. "I'll be in in a second."
She was acting oddly nice, for some reason. I heard her bid goodbye to 'Dreadfuls' and he left as quickly as he'd arrived. I shrugged and checked myself in the bedroom mirror, brushing my mane briefly, just so that she wouldn't comment on my appearance. Then, I made my way through into the living room and sat upon the chaise longue, hearing the door open and Clemency step through in high-heeled shoes.
"This is a nice surprise," she said, walking through into the living room. She removed her coat and then went through into my father's room for some reason, before emerging a few seconds later and taking a seat opposite me. "I came as soon as I heard you were back."
"Where is father?" I asked.
"Your father needed to speak with an important stallion," she said. "He asked if I wished to go with him, but I couldn't neglect seeing you and wishing you back into the household first."
"Thank you. Who was that stallion outside?"
"Which one?" she asked.
"The one that...well...both of them?"
"The one I sent away was probably just some homeless pony. Did he say anything to you?"
"No," I replied, shaking my head. "Nothing."
"The second one," she went on, "is a good friend of mine. He's been keeping an eye on the house."
"Are we in danger?" I asked.
"No, child," she said with a chuckle. "There's nothing to worry about."
There was a short interval of silence where I decided that I wouldn't question what was going on. It was complicated and I didn't see any problem with ponies checking up on my family. It didn't take long for Clemency to continue talking, though, by bringing up the obvious elephant in the room:
"It was rather silly of you to run away, Farleigh," she smiled, "but your return is what matters most to your father and I. Now we can start again, just the three of us."
"The three of us?"
"Of course," she said. "I believe that we may have met under unfortunate circumstances, and after your mother passed away rest her blessed soul I feel as if you felt that I was imposing."
"You were imposing a long time before my mother's death," I said bluntly, remembering my father's prolonged affair with her as his mistress.
"Even so," she grinned, "I would like us to attempt to be cordial and polite, for your father's sake. Can you do that, Farleigh?"
I looked directly into her eyes, through those impossibly long, black eyelashes. It all seemed like an act to me, but I wanted my father to be happy, and I didn't see any benefit in keeping up my dislike for her. It would only make living with her all the more difficult, and I suppose she wasn't completely horrible. She was pretty, for one thing.
"Okay, Miss Clemency," I said. "I'll be polite."
"You really are a good girl," she said soothingly, kissing her hoof and then reaching it out to touch my cheek. I shivered slightly and felt the instinctive desire to bat her hoof away, although for some reason I didn't. She moved my mane from my face, and puffed out her lips, assessing me for some unknown reason.
"You're gorgeous, Farleigh," she whispered. "You are so very pretty."
My lip trembled and I sat back, which caused Clemency to move her hoof away from me.
"Miss Clemency?" I asked after clearing my throat, doing my best to change the awkward atmosphere. Quite suddenly, I had an idea enter my head that she could help me with.
"You know a bit about dresses, don't you?"
"I have a great knowledge of fashion," she said pridefully. "I have spent years associating myself with the highest form of-"
"-Can you make dresses?" I asked quickly.
"I can, yes," she replied with a hint of hesitance, probably because she didn't get to finish her story.
"Could you teach me a few techniques?" I asked. "And, if you have any books about fashion, could I borrow them?"
"Why the sudden interest, Farleigh?" she asked in an odd sort of voice.
"No reason," I replied. "I'm just interested, is all."
"I could definitely teach you a few things," she said softly, her eyes scanning me, perhaps evaluating me for the role. I beamed up at her, eager to see what she had in store for me.
"Where should we begin?" I asked.
"I have a wonderful book," she said, rising to stand and encouraging me to do the same. "A Guide to Baroque Attire. If you're serious about learning, that is the one to read."
"Let's get started," I said. "But...do me a favour - don't tell father about this."
I expected her to ask why, but to my surprise and elation, she asked of me the exact same thing.