Starswirl stepped out of the fortress gates, directing his apprentices to follow the road in front of them. The apprentices, all unicorns, nodded and pulled the wagons full of bottled reagents and neatly wrapped powders. Some of the fresh apprentices struggled as they pulled their wagon; they hoped that their load would be lighter by the time they approached the villages.
Starswirl cast an illusionary spell. Even though the region around Canterlot was largely regarded as safe by many merchants, the occasional deserter or bandit would appear and try to rob them of the caravan’s goods.
A green, smoky flash enveloped the apprentices and Starswirl. They were dressed in tunics and wore caps of green, fashioned out of grass and weeds that scattered the road. The wagons filled with glass jars and wooden boxes turned into covered carts that housed barrels of spears, armor, and whetstones. The apprentices were dressed in the same uniform and were given sheathed swords out of dirt and clay.
Starswirl walked down the road, and his apprentices followed.
“Take a look at the farmland,” Starswirl noted, “all the animals except for the chickens are allowed to graze. Why is that?”
The caravan of students were silent. They continued to gaze at the farms dotting the gently sloping land. The chickens were in fenced pens, idly flapping their wings upon the island of dirt surrounded by grass. Some of the students whispered guesses to each other.
“Chickens feed on worms. Doesn’t their method of foraging disrupt the topsoil?” one of Starswirl’s apprentices said.
“Most farms house canaries and other songbirds, which use the same foraging techniques. They do not live in cages.” Starswirl answered.
“Their sociology?” Another student answered. His voice was light. Once of the younger apprentices.
Starswirl raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“How they react to danger?” The young unicorn said.
Starswirl nodded. He gestured towards the chicken pen and told his students to slow their pace.
“Watch what happens when I cast a wind spell to spook a chicken.” He narrowed his gaze at the chicken pen. He spied a solitary chicken clawing at the ground. The chicken was away from the others as it scrounged for food at the edge of the wooden fences.
A glint of light escaped Starswirl’s horn. A sudden burst of air lifted the chicken from the ground. The chicken let out a frightened cry and dashed across the pen, flapping its wings hopelessly. It rammed into other chickens, sending the peaceful group into a panic-stricken frenzy.
Some of the apprentices snickered at the mischief their mentor had caused. They figured that the farmer would have to spend an hour to control his flock. Starswirl withheld a smile from beneath his beard.
“Do you see what has happened? All of the chickens have been frightened. Rather than approach a problem, the frightened chicken makes other chickens afraid, resulting in a mass panic.”
“But you used magic, Master Starswirl. Chickens cannot comprehend magic.”
“Neither can a dog.” Starswirl argued, “but when I do the same thing to the dogs in Canterlot, they bark and confront the Air Blast spell.”
“Why do we need to know this?” A student asked. It was a student following closely behind Starswirl, one of his older apprentices. “It seems pointless to point out animal behaviors when spells can directly control their minds.”
“Nopony has the ability to control an entire crowd’s emotions through magic. Instead, you must understand instinct when using mind manipulation spells.” He pointed towards the chickens.
The hysteria in the pen traveled to the grazing animals. The cows moved away from the pen and other animals avoided the chicken pen.
“If you’re capable of causing fear with at least one pony in a crowd of ponies, its very likely that the scared pony will frighten other ponies far better than a Mass Fear spell.”
Starswirl walked down the road faster. The farmer in charge of the chicken pen scrambled to control his chickens.
“We can see this sort of fear manipulation during uprisings and battles to control a throne. Now, can somepony tell me why the Great Chaos took approximately thirty days to subdue? We’ve already discussed part of the reason one mile back.”
Commentary from Donny’s Boy
I like how you went the direction of having the story be about Star Swirl the Bearded and, further, tied in the lessons good old Star Swirl was teaching into the events of “Luna Eclipsed.” I’m also intrigued by some of the spells they apparently had in the-preclassical era and whether they’re still in use in Equestria today—the mind control magic seems like it might have been something now classified as forbidden or dark magic, in the modern era.