The yoke would have to come off eventually.
Gold slowed to a halt, bringing the massive plow at his back to a dead stop. He shifted the harness around his neck, wincing at the spots where it had chafed, and drug a hoof through his bedraggled mane. He swept away the film of dirt and grime that had gathered in his hair from the morning’s work and paused, reveling in a sudden breeze.
Yes, the yoke would have to come off. It was worn, corroded, stained by blood and tears and a host of other injustices he could scarcely bear to think about. They would break it if they had to. No matter which way it went, the yoke would have to come off.
Not ten feet away another laborer collapsed, gasping and spluttering as he fell to the ground. It was Cottonball, the poor elderly stallion that Gold had often shared his meals with.
None of the guards paid Cottonball any mind, chuckling under their breath or sparing him a single, passing glance. The old stallion tried to rise, his knees shaking and trembling from the effort, but it was all for naught. He cried out and fell once more, kicking up a plume of dust.
“Why’d you stop, Gold?” The voice came from Gold’s right, stern but with a hint of amusement, as if it was excited for the response. Gold turned, staring firmly into the eyes of his addresser. It was Chainlink, the stout, brutish guard that most of the workers had come to fear.
“You hear me, earther? I asked you a question.” Chainlink smirked, his horn aglow with a soft, blue aura. The baton at his side shifted just slightly in its pouch. It was the subtlest of threats, wordless, but just as potent as if it had been spoken.
Gold blinked once, twice, and then turned back to Cottonball. “No reason,” he mumbled.
“No reason,” Chainlink considered. “Not a good reason. We don’t pay you to sightsee.”
Payment. The aristocracy did so love that word. ‘Slavery’ left a bad taste on their haughty, refined tongues, but as soon as they tossed a few coins in the laborers’ general direction everything was forgiven. It became just another capitalist exchange for services, did it not? That way they could sleep easy at night. Nevermind the fact that the wages were barely enough to feed one pony, let alone a family of four.
The unicorn drew his baton from its pouch and prodded Gold on his flank. “Get back to work. That’s your only warning for today, earther.”
Gold took a deep breath and kept walking, the plow carving a deep furrow in its wake.
They gathered that evening in the basement of the Gaslight Inn. It wasn’t the nicest of places, nor the most spacious, but it was their place. One of the few they could call their own. It was a place of peace, a place provided something approaching happiness, a place where they could pretend that nothing had changed. It was their port in the storm.
Smiling at the rowdy voices and lilting music filtering through the ceiling, Gold pounded a hoof on the floor. The crowd of ponies that had gathered, almost all of them earth ponies, fell silent at once. “Whirlwind, you have the floor.”
The snow-white pegasus sauntered over to the center of the basement and drew back the tarp with an almost showpony-like flourish. A chorus of hushed whispers rose at the sight of what he had revealed.
There were dozens of wooden crates of varying sizes, their sides marked by the emblem of the Earthen Republic. Whirlwind reached over and pried the top off one, giving Gold a clear view of its contents. One by one he did the same to the others, the eyes of the crowd following him like a horde of hungry foals.
Swords. Spears. Guns. Gold strode to Whirlwind’s side and hefted a long rifle from its case. The weapon felt right in his hooves, and it shone beautifully in the lamplight.
“It’s the best I could do.” Whirlwind almost looked regretful, as if it wasn’t enough.
Gold fixed his friend with a look of gratitude, laying a hoof gently upon his shoulder. “They’ll do, Whirlwind. Thank you.” For what he had planned, it was perfect.
Silently, he waved the others over to the stockpile. Gold watched their eyes as they filed past, each pony taking a weapon for herself. He could see it in their eyes: the pain, the anxiety.
There were a hundred doubts they all shared, a hundred fears, and a hundred different ways they could spend their years. But for Gold, there was only one right choice.
There was something else, too. Something far, far more powerful than any amount of doubt or fear the unicorns could instill them with.
There was hope. After all, it only took one spark to light a fire, only one light to guide the way. Gold was going to give the rest of the earth ponies that spark. He was going to show them that light.
Even if it cost him his life.
Earth pony oppression and pegasi who will help them shirk their bonds of servitude to the unicorns. Very interesting. I liked the thought that earth ponies would be used to farm because that just seems to make sense, but it sure is sad. Good work this week!