I should have mentioned that it was an overnight stay.
Yesterday we were seven ponies, one dragon and a mannequin riding the late morning Friendship Express to Canterlot. Me, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, Lyra Heartstrings, Pinkie Pie and Spike. The mannequin was for the talk. I was far too distracted to notice the trip.
Minuette met us at the train station and gathered up my companions to show them where they could drop off their overnight bags. While they were off trotting about town, I headed to my old place, carrying the mannequin. There I met up with Moondancer and we prepared for the talk. A few hours later, Moondancer left to catch up with the others back at the train station where they welcomed our yak guide, Machur Lulach. I went straight to the Canterlot Explorer's Society hall to test the set-up in the ballroom, dress up the mannequin for northern exploration, and stash my cards, transparencies and Treatise on Ponies in the podium.
Not much longer now. I went into the room reserved for their guest speakers, furnished with a table, a cushion, water to drink, quills, ink, scrolls, a mirror and a wash basin. Hay wafers on a silver tray. I couldn't eat. Shelves packed with old issues of the Canterlot Explorer's Society quarterly journal. I couldn't read. The wait had me sweating and champing at the bit. So I made myself stop pacing. Worked on my breathing. Focus. Live the moment. Like Zecora taught me. Calm and ready.
Just in time.
There was a light knock on my door. I opened it to find a pony waiting to tell me it was time. Down the hall I could hear the sound of many ponies chatting. This was it.
I waited at the stage door as the crowd grew silent. The chairpony of the Canterlot Explorer's Society made a brief statement, introduced me and during the polite applause, I took her place at the podium.
Good evening. To every adventure there is a beginning, and this adventure began with a tale in a foal's storybook. I was given this book by Princess Mi Amore Cadenza of the Crystal Empire, along with many other volumes, to help restock my personal book collection after the Golden Oak library was incinerated by Tirek. The storybook tells a cute story about how Winter came to Equestria, and it goes like this.
After Moondancer gave her account of what drew her to travel so far into the Frozen North, I talked for about an hour. It was distracting to talk to a room full of ponies seated at round tables, sipping their drinks, whispering to each other from time to time. The lights in the room were dimmed a little to make my transparencies easier to see, but I could see everypony very well. Did I know that pony? That other pony looks familiar too. Was that pony laughing at something I said? So many ponies dressed in sequins in the room, sparkling like frost in the night. Now everypony is looking at me. Change the transparency! Next subject!
After the applause, there were many questions. About the Haycartes spell, about why didn't we map Winter's ice castle, did we bring home samples of the frost, will we be going back, what did it feel like to be in such an ancient building, is Winter a threat to Equestria, and so on. Then it was over and I got to sit down for supper.
I was at the Very Important Ponies table, with the society heads, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, and other notable ponies. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that Fancy Pants had a chair at the VIP table. He does seem to be the type that enjoys hearing of exploration and adventure exploits. As it was, I did a lot of talking, and not much eating.
I think my friends had more fun at their tables. They were seated at two tables of seven. Pinkie and Dash sat with Lemon Hearts, Moondancer, Minuette, Twinkleshine and Lyra Heartstrings. That was the party table. The other table was much more sedate: Rarity, Fluttershy, Spike, my parents, Applejack and our yak guide, Machur Lulach.
Between Dash, Pinkie and Minuette, the gags, balloons and confetti were flying every which where. The food too, as there were at least two impromptu food fights. It looked like bread sticks versus croutons. Lemon Hearts is a Canterlot palace event organizer and there she was, under princesses's noses, constructing makeshift crouton catapults out of the cutlery. I obviously have not been going to the right parties at the palace.
At my parents' table, things were much less wild. Machur was the epitome of yak sophistication and panache, manipulating pony utensils and glassware with ease, dressed to the nines in gold leg bands and sparkling crystals that dangled from braids in his mane. Rarity was in her element, my parents looked charmed, and Applejack looked like maybe she would have preferred to sit at the party table. But then Spike got a scroll, quills and ink, probably from Moondancer, and he was busy writing things down. The whole table was intently discussing something. They told me later that they were trading recipes and techniques.
Princess Luna got my full attention when the conversation at my table shifted to talk of constellations. She pointed out that a constellation is made of several stars and thus out of several personalities. The pegasus that saved us could not have been just Summer. Summer may have been the dominant personality, as evidenced by her driving Winter back, but the other stars may be her companions from her life time, or just other ponies with similar nurturing tendencies. It's rare for constellations to form a figure that resembles their form in life. The form a constellation takes is the embodiment of their collective drive, in the same way that a cutie mark is the illustration, often symbolic, of a pony's drive or ability. The map is not the territory, but it is an abstraction of the essence of the territory. A constellation is an abstraction of the essence of the collective motivation or commonality of the stars that joined it. The point is, the constellation may not have been Summer but it could be the combined will of many lives that together act as Summer would. You can't exactly go up to a constellation and ask, either. If you can get their attention, constellations generally don't speak. Their actions and replies are the consensus of a myriad of voices and as such, that generally results in simple activities and an entity that forgets that you are there and just listens to itself think.
The dinner finished late and rather than leave early and run to the station to catch the last train back to Ponyville, we stayed overnight in Canterlot. That way we could see Machur off safely to his morning train the next day. Rarity went to her boutique (with her mannequin); Machur stayed at my old place; Pinkie and Lyra stayed with Minuette; Twinkleshine put up Fluttershy; Dash and Applejack "crashed" at Lemon Hearts's house; and Spike and I stayed at my parent's place.
This morning we got up early, said goodbye to my parents, collected Machur and went to meet everypony else for breakfast at a restaurant Minuette recommended. After breakfast, Rarity went back to review some orders at her boutique, Twinkleshine and Lemon Hearts left, Moondancer went to the library, and the rest of us gave Machur a guided tour of some of the things to see in Canterlot.
Machur, his saddle bags laden with Canterlot specialties, caught his train back to the Crystal Empire, and soon after, Rarity arrived and we boarded our train back to Ponyville. Home at last. Canterlot Explorer's Society dinner: a success.