Chapter 31: Rodeo and Juliet (part I)
The loud cheers of spectators and the blare of the announcers were muffled while Bismarck took a deep breath and exhaled. Climbing into the bucking chute and onto the back of the enormous bull, Bismarck’s hoof tightly gripped the flat braided rope that would be his only way of clinging onto his dear life. All his life he had prepared for moments like this one. Underneath him, he could feel the rumbling of the bull’s laughter as they awaited their launch.
“So,” it said with menacing resonation, “the greenhorn thinks he’s somethin’, don’t he? You won’t make it four seconds! Ah guarantee it!”
Bismarck’s heart sped as he spoke. Though he had done this before, they both knew that there was a reason bull riding was known as the most dangerous eight seconds in sports. Making it even half that time required skill and training, but even that would not guarantee him from bodily harm. What’s worse, this bull in particular found pleasure in both humiliating and hurting his riders, and had earned the name “Bloodslinger.” Bismarck looked up to the stands to see Radiance one last time before he began. Though she was far away, his mind pictured her smiling nervously, praying that he wouldn’t get hurt. He smiled back, glad to know he had a friend to be there for him no matter what happened.
“Are you ready?” the rodeo assistant shouted over the crowd noise.
Bismarck nodded. Inside, he counted down the gate’s release.
Three… Two… One…
And the world grew silent. Nothing mattered to Bismarck but the bull and himself as he focused in on their every movement. The massive beast sprang into the air with vicious strength, throwing Bismarck back like a ragdoll, but he held on tight as the first buck came to a close. With nothing but one rule-regulated hoof to hang on with, Bismarck’s body contorted with its savage kicks, bending violently to keep balance, but what felt like an eternity had only been three seconds. Bloodslinger was not done yet and began to spin as he threw his giant body up and down. Bismarck gripped with all his might, trying to lean against the weight of the opposing forces. Five seconds had passed and Bismarck was determined. Bloodslinger raged as he continued to thrash with all his might, but it was to no avail. As they fought, a lone sound pierced their deafening grunts, pounds, and breathing. It was the buzzer! Bismarck had lasted over eight seconds!
‘Music to my ears!’ Bismarck thought as he allowed himself to get bucked off.
As he hit the ground with bruising force, he quickly stood back up and backed off.
“You disappoint me, Bloodslinger!” he yelled. “Fer a moment there, ah thought you’d be a real challenge!”
The bull’s eyes burned with intense hatred as he watched the rookie walk away from him. With hot steam blowing out his nostrils, he charged. The circus “clowns” tried to distract him, but Bloodslinger had a vendetta and wanted Bismarck’s head. Seeing him coming, Bismarck jumped the fence and watched as the beast slammed its massive cranium against the bars.
“Oooohhhhhh, that looks like it hurt!” Bismarck laughed. “Better luck next time!”
“A fantastic finish by Bismarck Apple!” the announcer exclaimed to the escalated cheers of wild fans. “With a final score of 91.00, Bismarck is tonight’s bull-ridin’ winner! His first 90 point ride!”
Bismarck lifted his arms in victory. As he and the crowd cheered, Bismarck could see the angry faces of some of his competitors glare at him with distain. As a relative newcomer to the professional sport, he had been an outsider looking in. They all looked like a rough, tough group of cowboys who all seemed to hate Bismarck’s near-immediate success and somewhat-arrogant confidence. Bismarck ignored them and glanced back at where Radiance was standing and waved. Later, when the stadium had cleared out and all that remained was a few contestants and janitors, Bismarck looked for Radiance outside of the arena. Carrying his prize money in a small pouch, he searched for her, but didn’t see her.
“That’s funny,” he mumbled. “She said she’d meet me afterwards.”
“Looking for somepony?” a foul voice asked.
Turning around, Bismarck saw himself faced with Wrango and his gang of rodeo riders, a group of the most bad-tempered scum of stallions in the sport.
“Well now,” Wrango said, approaching Bismarck with a greasy smirk on his face. “If if ain’t the bigshot greenhorn. Betcha feelin’ pretty good about yerself, ain’tcha?”
“Ah didn’t see you get kicked in the head this time,” Bismarck replied, “so ah guess ah can’t win them all. Well, except fer all the events… and yer fans… and the prize money.”
Wrango and his thugs grew even angrier and slowly began to surround Bismarck.
“Funny you should mention the money,” Wrango said, spitting on the ground. “The way ah see it, as soon as the games end, whatever happens to it is out of the league’s hooves. It ain’t their problem. So here’s what ah’m thinking: you give us the money that you lucked into and we don’t beat your pretty face into the ground.”
Bismarck clutched the pouch in his hoof.
“Save the schoolyard bully routine fer another time, Wrango. This money is going to mah sick brother.”
“Which is why you should just give it to us. Better to take the loss than have to pay for two Apple boys’ medical bills, right Biz? Now… give us the money.”
“Why don’t you come here an’ take it, then? Or is four against one not enough fer you to handle?” Bismarck retorted.
Wrango growled and pointed at Bismarck.
“Get’m!” he shouted.
Two of the large stallions rushed Bismarck from both sides, each taking a swing at him simultaneously. Being a large and heavy stallion, Bismarck knew he could take a hit and was not worried about damage. As they charged him, he pushed himself onto his front legs with a mighty force and sent the first one flying. Knockout. Detecting a punch incoming from the second one, he lowered his head to minimize the blow. The lackey’s hoof connected with his head and whipped his face to the side. With the third stallion jumping at him, Bismarck regained his footing and tackled the second headfirst, taking the earth pony to the ground, throwing a few punches to the face before he was tackled from behind. As he went down, number three got a few shots in of his own. Bismarck had to admit that they were all very strong, but like the bull he had ridden earlier, he bucked and thrashed his foe until he let go and used the chance to elbow the stallion in the nose. When his enemy was stunned and staggering back, he turned and kicked him with all his might. The stallion hit the ground hard, unable to get back up.
“Two down,” he smirked, wiping the blood from his mouth. “Two to g…”
Before he could finish, Wrango had appeared from the side and given him the hardest sucker punch Bismarck had felt in a long time. Losing his balance, he fell to the ground with a loud thud, knocking the dusty ground loose from under him. Wrango laughed as he and number two stood over him.
“You know, that’s just like you, Biz,” he sneered. “Thinking that you’ve won by default, just because you participated! Well this ain’t a Ponyville competition no more. This is the real world, and in the real world, you get beaten! That’s just a fact.”
Bismarck could feel hot blood seep from his cheek and nose. It wasn’t often that somepony was able to make him bleed. With a grunt, he began to pick himself back up, but a vicious kick to the stomach stopped him.
“Sorry about that, Biz,” Wrango lied as number two handed him the pouch of money that had fallen in the fight. “Just needed one more fer the road.”
“What’s the hurry, boys?” a familiar voice asked as Bismarck picked himself up to see what was happening.
As his eyes focused on where the voice had come from, he saw a very quick Radiance give number two an uppercut to the jaw, finishing him off for good. Turning towards Wrango, she stood in fighting stance with horn charged.
“You! Give Bismarck his money back!” she demanded.
Wrango took a short look at the unicorn mare and lost it.
“Yer Radiance, right?” he laughed. “The big-time supermodel? What makes you think ah’m goin’ to give you this back? Ah ain’t afraid of you and ah ain’t afraid to hit a mare!”
“Neither am I,” Radiance grinned. “Now are you going to hand it over or am I going to have to smack a filly?”
“Bring it!” the angered stallion shouted as he charged her.
Taking a swing at her, he was shocked to see that she had dodged it easily. With a charged horn, she blinded him with a eye-burning light.
“Ahhhh!” he screamed, clutching them. “My eyes! Ah can’t see!”
As he stepped back, she pulled back and decked him in the nose as hard as she could. Wrango staggered from the unexpected blow. His eyesight slowly began to return, and when he was able to see again, he saw an enraged Bismarck charging at him. Taking it as a sign to retreat, he quickly turned tail and scampered away as fast as he could, but not before getting launched into the ground by Bismarck’s massive shoulder. Wrango clawed at the ground to get away, but this time, Bismarck let him go. As he retreated, Radiance shouted at him angrily.
“Yeah, you better run! Tell your friends how a supermodel beat your flanks!”
Bismarck stared in amazement at what he had just seen.
“What the hay was that?” Bismarck asked, his non-black eye wide-open. “That was incredible! Ah’ve never seen you fight like that!”
“That’s because I’ve been taking self-defense classes,” she smiled. “You never know when they might come in handy when your job takes you on the road as often as mine does.”
Watching the two remaining stallions drag their unconscious friend away from the battlefield, Bismarck smirked.
“Yeah,” he said. “It can come in handy.”
“Who were those guys and why did they want your head?” Radiance asked. “You’re not in trouble, are you?”
“What? Nah, it ain’t like that. Wrango and his goonies are just a bunch sore losers who used to be some of the great rodeo cowboys in
Equestria. They haven’t taken kindly to mah being better than them, so they’ve been bullying me fer some time.”
“But isn’t that against regulations? How have they not gotten in trouble?”
“It ain’t the league’s responsibility who does what, when. We’re not like some other sports. Outside of the events, they have no control over us. It ain’t worth the hassle, not that ah can blame them. It also doesn’t help that ah also have a bad habit of makin’ enemies.”
Radiance pulled his face towards her and inspected the damage. Bismarck had a bloody nose, bruised and cut cheeks bleeding inside and out, and a black eye.
“I just wish you’d be more careful,” she sighed. “These guys look like they’re serious.”
“Don’t eeyup me, Bismarck,” Radiance grumbled. “You’re in over your head here.”
“Ah appreciate the concern,” Bismarck replied, lightly pulling her hooves off of his face, “but ah’m fine.”
“Sure you are,” Radiance said, rolling her eyes. “Come on. You can walk me to my hotel and we’ll get you patched up. Luckily it’s just around the corner.”
Bismarck reluctantly nodded and allowed her to pull his arm in the direction she wanted to go. The walk was a silent one, but once they made inside the hotel, Bismarck began to open up once more.
“Hey,” he said as she unlocked her room’s door, “ah know ah didn’t say it at first, but… thanks fer bein’ there fer me. It means a lot seein’ a friend here since mah family wasn’t able to make it. In mah mind, runnin’ into you was a much better experience than winnin’ the rodeo events.”
“Oh,” Radiance replied, surprised by the compliment. “Thanks... and you’re welcome.”
A few seconds of eye contact passed before she realized the uneasy situation and cleared her throat suddenly.
“Now, um, uh, go sit down and I’ll grab my first aid kit and an ice pack,” Radiance ordered, awkwardly rushing into the bathroom. “I know I have it around here somewhere!”
Bismarck looked around at her hotel room. It was an impressive piece of architecture with high ceilings, expensive looking wood and rugs, and plenty of space. He whistled in admiration as Radiance returned with the kit and ice.
“Alright now, hold still,” she said, picking up a piece of cotton and dabbing the cut on his cheek.
After the initial blood had been cleaned up, she dabbed a new cotton pad with rubbing alcohol and paused.
“You’ve got more than just a papercut on your cheek,” she said. “This is going to hurt a bit.”
“Hold on a minute,” Bismarck said, taking hold of her hoof. “Ain’t you supposed to let the cut stop bleedin’ first?”
“Oh yeah,” she said, sitting on the side of the bed. “I forgot. Sorry. I guess I’m not as used to getting into scrapes are you are.”
Bismarck sat beside her with the cotton pressed onto his cheek.
“There are a lot of ponies who haven’t gotten in as many fights as ah have,” he chuckled. “And you should take care of yer hoof, too. Ah know it had to hurt to deck Wrango in the face like that.”
“It did,” Radiance replied, inspecting her hoof, “but it still felt good.”
“It was a brave thing you did back there,” Bismarck said genuinely. “Thank you. Because of you, ah still have the money ah needed fer mah brother’s medical expenses.”
Radiance glanced up at her friend, her smile now faded.
“So how is Bucky doing?” she asked worryingly. “Is he going to be alright? I got a message saying that he needed to be taken to the hospital.”
Bismarck let out a long, miserable sigh.
“He’s not doin’ good,” he replied. “Mom said that the sickness was worse than they thought. They… they need him to stay the night in the hospital.”
In that moment, Radiance could see Bismarck’s stoic pride melt into worry. Family meant everything to the Apple family and it was just as evident in him as it was his mother Applejack.
“We don’t have much money, and ah had to do somethin’ to help,” he said, “but ah should be home with them! Ah should be with mah little brother, takin’ care of him, not performin’ in front of a big crowd! Ah feel like ah’ve let him down.”
While some ponies would say these things to voice their thoughts, Radiance knew that he meant every word.
“I know it’s hard, Biz, but what you’re doing is the right thing,” she replied. “The fact that you would travel across Equestria just to make enough money for your sick brother is one of the most selfless acts I’ve seen you do. I mean it. I’m… proud of you.”
Bismarck’s face regained its warmth, his emerald eyes regaining their vivid color. Closing them gently, he slowly leaned towards her for a kiss, and without thinking… she kissed him back.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Rarity nearly fell off of her fainting-couch in shock as Radiance continued her story. With Applejack having ordered Big Macintosh to give the family and other kids a long tour of the farm and orchards, AJ, Rarity, and the two kids were all who were left.
“Your hotel bedroom?!?” Rarity coughed. “You two… hooked up… in a hotel?!?”
“Yeah,” Radiance answered.
Thinking about it a second time, her eyes grew wide and her expression panicked.
“Wait!” she cried. “No, no, no, no, no! Not like that! Nothing happened! I swear!”
“We just kissed!” Bismarck exclaimed, avoiding eye-contact with his mother. “It was just our first kiss! Nothing else!”
“Then when did it happen, Bismarck?” an impatient Applejack demanded. “And why did none of yer friends know about it?”
“You told our friends?” Radiance squealed. “You said you’d let us tell them!”
“That was before ah found out that mah son is the daddy!” Applejack responded. “So forgive me if mah shock and disappointment is comin’ off too strong, because ah’m tryin’ very hard to keep calm right now.”
“As am I!” Rarity added. “I would think that Applejack and I each raised you two to be responsible! We understand there are impulses that are very difficult to resist, but to sleep around in secret?”
“And gettin’ yer girlfriend pregnant?” Applejack exclaimed. “Ah mean, what were you thinkin’, Bismarck?”
“Ah know how this sounds,” Bismarck replied, “and we completely understand what yer feelin’!”
“But there’s more to this story if you’ll let us continue!” Radiance interrupted.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Radiance looked out the window as the train began to approach Ponyville. Ever since she was a little filly, she always loved riding trains. They reminded her of all the times she would go to Canterlot and back with her parents. All her life she had grown up backstage, watching the beautiful models and dresses with wide-eyed wonder. Never in a million years would she have thought that she too would be one of those beautiful young mares who dazzled the world with style and confidence. But as glamorous as it was, she lived a lonely life. To the world, she was a goddess, placed upon a pedestal to be desired, but never touched. If that was not enough, Radiance typically despised the few who were confident enough to approach her, as they were arrogant, self-absorbed, and shallow, caring little for who she really was.
But then there was Bismarck.
Bismarck. The little colt she had grown up with her whole life. The colt who pulled her hair when they were foals. The colt who spent more time with his fellow Cutie Mark Crusaders than her. The colt who grew up to be a sought-out stallion by the other mares in school. The stallion who drove her crazy at times, but was always there for her when she needed him.
Bismarck. Her best friend. Could years of friendship grow into love, even if she didn’t realize it? Radiance didn’t have an answer.
“Hey,” Bismarck smiled, interrupting her thoughts.
“Hey,” she replied, returning the look. “What’s up?”
Bismarck scratched the back of his head. He looked anxious.
“So, uh, ah’ve been wonderin’. Umm, the other night… was that just an in-the-moment kiss or… ah don’t know… can we… ah mean ah understand if you don’t… cause ah... ”
Radiance’s smile grew into a wide grin until she began to giggle at the sight of him getting twist-tongued. Bismarck tried to remain serious, but ended up chuckling alongside her.
“Oh come on, quit it!” he laughed. “It’s hard enough sayin' what ah’m tryin’ to say without you making me lose mah concentration!”
“I know, I know,” Radiance replied, trying to calm herself. “It’s just… I never pictured you of all ponies getting flustered like a little school colt like this! It’s adorable!”
The two chuckled a bit more before quieting down again.
“Look,” Bismarck continued, “what ah’m tryin’ to ask is if this can work.”
“Really? Because it sounds like you’re asking me on a daaaaatee!”
“No! Wait, yes!” Bismarck fumbled, causing Radiance to laugh again. “Dangit, Radiance! Stop messin’ with me!”
“Never!" she replied.
Now Bismarck was more confused than ever.
“Wait, are you meanin’ that you’ll never date me or that you’ll never stop messin’ with…”
As he spoke, Radiance leaned in and gave him a kiss, surprising a wide-eyed Bismarck. After a few seconds, she let him go and scooted back in her seat. Bismarck shook his head quickly, as if to wake himself up.
“Oh,” he said. “Okay then! Yeah, that’s fine by…”
He stopped, his eyes glued to the window.
“Bismarck? What’s wrong?”
“Look outside!” he said, pressing the tip of his nose against the glass.
Turning her body to get a better look, Radiance blinked twice to see if she was hallucinating. In the distance a gigantic crowd of photographers stood in and around the train station. It was one of the largest group of gossipers she had ever seen.
“What’s the paparazzi doing here?”