The Art of the Blade
It had all started with the unusual request of a Saddle Arabian dignitary.
The political air between the two kingdoms had been tense as of late, and the Duke had come to prove that relationship between the kingdoms was as good as ever. His visit to the Kingdom had just ended, however, and now he and his servant stood in the throne room before the young alicorn Princess and her bodyguard, which is why—
“Princess Twilight,” he’d began, a shining smile on his lips. “May I be so bold and make you an offer?”
The Princess fidgeted uncomfortably in her seat. She was admittedly still not very used to being in a position of any amount of power, and even less so when favors were being asked of her, but an almost imperceptible cough caught her attention.
Her eyes flicked towards her bodyguard besides her. There she stood, in her impeccable metal armor which was decorated with golden streaks that matched the gold of Twilight’s wings and mane. Her helmet was on, hiding her short magenta mane, but not the scars streaked across her left eye. The outcome of a thwarted assassination attempt of years past.
And yet, even with cold, obscuring armor, even with angry red scars all around, she still looked radiant and stunning and deadly and—
Rarity coughed again, gesturing for Twilight to straighten herself, and so did the Princess turn back to the stallion, making an effort to sit up straight and smile.
“An offer, Duke Sands?” she asked. “What offer?”
The stallion stepped back and gestured for his two burly bodyguards in the distance to approach. When they did, Twilight was confronted with what she could only describe as two stallions who probably exercised and did nothing else at all ever. Even beneath their armor, it seemed as though their muscles had muscles.
Her eyes flittered towards Rarity for the briefest of moments, and though she had very rarely ever seen Rarity without her armor, the small glimpses had shown her that Rarity was as well-toned as they were, but looking much more physically appealing, at least.
Which, in retrospect, was not a quality that really ever mattered for a bodyguard, but it certainly mattered to the Princess that was hopelessly smitten with her.
“I’d like to suggest a trade for a day,” he said.
Twilight arched an eyebrow, her voice more slow and deliberate. “A trade?”
The Duke glanced at Rarity now. “A trade with both of you,” he elaborated, and now it was Rarity’s turn to arch an eyebrow when the Duke winked at her. “Miss Rarity. Ever a pleasure to see you.”
A flash of overprotective jealousy did not course through Twilight. Nope. Absolutely not.
The Duke cleared his throat. “Princess, I will be frank with both of you.” He turned towards Rarity, and he gave her a charming smile. “I have no choice to admit that I am very taken by you, Miss Rarity. The moment I laid eyes on you, saw how fiercely devoted to the Princess you are… Well… I don’t want to say love at first sight, but…”
Twilight had to stop herself from telling him not to say it, because love at first sight was actually just his body releasing higher levels of dopamine, which she should know about because she studied it extensively after the first time that the thought of Rarity kept her awake an entire night.
So, no, he should not say love at first sight because it is incorrect and also because no.
“Right,” was all Princess Twilight said.
“So!” The Duke again gestured towards his bodyguards. “I would like to offer a trade for the day! Twist Armor and Bit Lance here are the best bodyguards in my kingdom, Your Highness. They will keep you safe while I…” He turned to Rarity. “Would like to take this lovely Miss with me to Canterlot’s finest restaurant.”
“Why, Duke! I’m flattered!” Rarity said, and now she gave him a charming smile, which was her just using her social skills to create the best outcome, and not because she was genuinely flattered. “How kind.”
“Is that a yes, then?” he asked.
“Duke Sands,” Twilight interrupted, not wanting to give Rarity the chance to even reply. With the tense relations, she knew that the risk of offending a Saddle Arabian dignitary could bring… troubles, to put it lightly, so she spoke with care. “My guard isn’t somepony I can just replace with another. She was trained by my father’s royal guard, not to mention—” A flicker of magic and a rolled-up scroll appeared beside her. “I have an extensive set of rules, and meetings, and habits to prepare me as a future ruler that only Rarity has fully memorized.”
The Duke did not relent. “Princess, I’m sure my men can memorize four or fi—”
The scroll unfurled itself, revealing to be nearly as long as the length of the throne itself.
“A hundred-and-fifty-seven," the Princess declared with a hint of smugness in her voice.
The Duke let out an incredulous laugh, surprise written clearly across his face. “A hundred-and-fifty-seven?”
Rarity smiled. “A hundred-and-fifty-seven. I would know.” She turned to Twilight and grinned mischievously. “I had to memorize them all.”
Initially, Twilight sat up straighter, proud of her bodyguard’s dedication and excellent memory skills, until then she realized she was being teased and promptly shot her guard a rightfully offended look.
“Well, Princess, I only intend on taking her away for a couple of hours,” the Duke still insisted. “I’m sure my guards can handle things for such a minimal amount of time. I would have waited until Miss Rarity’s day off, but I leave for my country tonight.”
Twilight wanted to protest, but…
An errant and alarming thought crept insidiously into her mind.
What if Rarity actually wanted to go on the date with the duke?
And more than that, Duke Sands was a diplomat from an ally country. To upset him might bring about conflict, and if there’s conflict, then he might speak badly about Equestria to the Sphinx King of Saddle Arabia, and then that could strain the Equestrian-Saddle Arabian diplomatic relationship, and then they’d go into war, and then there would be famine and devastation, and all because she had a crush on her bodyguard!
Her words and resolve grew dim. “I…”
“My Lord,” Rarity’s voice rang, drawing Twilight’s attention as it always did. The guard smiled brilliantly, as she always did, and spoke with a magnetic elegance, as she always could. “Flattered as I might be by your alluring invitation, I find myself in the ghastly position of having to decline. To leave our crown Princess in the care of anypony other than her royal guard would be to flirt with danger, and…” She tilted her head and then winked at him. “I fear that is not the type of flirting I indulge in.”
Right. By that point, if she’d actually learned anything from reading the romance novels Rarity sometimes read, then it was clear that Rarity—her bodyguard, friend, and crush—was absolutely flirting with Duke Sands.
The Duke laughed, Rarity’s charm having clearly worked. “Incredible! You really drive a stallion to beg, Miss Rarity.” He cleared his throat. “When is your day off, if I might ask?”
Whenever you’re gone, Mister! Twilight wanted to say, but she didn’t, and she was very proud she didn’t, because she really did want to say it. She also wanted to dictate to him the etiquette book she’d memorized where it probably said somewhere that flirting with a princess’s bodyguard was a faux-pas, but she didn’t.
Mostly because Rarity had told her the other day that she lectured ponies too much, and she was still a bit self-conscious about it now.
“Tomorrow afternoon is my only personal time in the foreseeable future,” Rarity coolly replied, much to Twilight’s horror.
“It’s settled, then,” the Duke said. He turned towards his servant. “Glass Vine? Tell the King and Queen we will be extending our visit last minute until Wednesday morning, and ask if there’s still board for us here.”
“But— But—!” Twilight sputtered. “I mean—! Are you sure? What about your train?!”
“I am,” he exclaimed, and then playfully arched an eyebrow. “And I admit I’m even more interested in getting to know Miss Rarity if her charge is so protective of her.”
Caught red-hoofed, Twilight’s face turned several shades of red. “I am not!” she hotly denied, even though she very much was, darn it all. “I’m just—! You know—!” she defended, with all the eloquence of a well-read princess. Truly, a model orator as she stood there, stumbling over her half-spoken words, her cheeks turning progressively pinker.
“My Lord, don’t tease her so,” Rarity spoke up, and when Twilight looked to her, the guard’s eyes sparkled with affectionate delight. “I have been with her since our early teens. She is simply looking out for my heart, as it were.” She then winked at Twilight, which admittedly was very effective at making Twilight’s heart somersault. “Aren’t you, Your Highness?”
Maybe if she studied really hard, she’d find a spell that would make her immune to Rarity’s… Rarityness.
“Then it’s settled, Miss Rarity,” the Duke concluded with a note of finality. “Will you allow me to treat you to dinner tomorrow?”
“It would be my honor, Duke,” Rarity replied, the words drawing out a grin from the stallion and driving a knife into Twilight’s chest.
It would be an honor, indeed.
One by one, the stars diagrammed the constellations in the night sky, positioning themselves around the moon as its soft glow filtered through the castle and wove dark shadows. No clouds obscured the view towards the astral designs, no night had been clearer for weeks, and yet a young princess could not be bothered to take her telescope and lose herself in the stellar abyss.
In fact, try as she might, she couldn’t be bothered to do much of anything.
Though not many have had the privilege of encountering the Goddesses, it is said that a meeting with either one will almost always result with their eternal blessing. There are many theories surrounding their motives against our land, but it has been made clear that they do not desire control over the kingdom. In fact, during the years of the Great Tempest War, a rumor circulated that Commander Dawn Bright, who scaled Mt. Caelum to reach their sacred temple, was rewarded for his bravery and his army saved from devastation.
Four times she’d read that paragraph already, and yet it felt as if her mind could barely process, register, memorize, or any other word that could express the comprehension of new information. Thoughts of the Duke and Rarity intruded in every sentence, an event that was quickly starting to annoy her.
A cursory glance at her room revealed it to be as much a mess as her brain currently was, which only further added to her irritation. Unread books were strewn about chairs, unfinished scrolls waited atop the desk in the middle of the room, and all around the room were the things she’d tried and failed to distract herself with.
It probably had to do with the fact that Rarity had yet to check on her the entire afternoon save for a brief few minutes. Any other day, not a single second of alone time was wasted when faced with a bodyguard that did not understand the definition of small talk, but that day of all days, Rarity hadn’t been a distraction at all. She just came in every hour, made sure Twilight hadn’t been assassinated, and then excused herself to guard the outside of the door.
Ugh! She knew Twilight scheduled in time for her to interrupt, so why was she not interrupting? Was this going to be a permanent change? She couldn’t just do these things without consulting with—
Twilight’s eyes went wide.
What if it was because she was in lo—attracted to Duke Sands?
At the thought, Twilight’s face met her book, and a pained groan left her lips. What did Rarity even see in him? Besides the fact that he was traditionally attractive, and he was polite. But! But, much like his namesake suggested, he had a tendency to edge himself into places you didn’t want, and you don’t mind sand at first, but then it’s hard to get it out of your horseshoes, and it’s annoying, and uncomfortable after long periods of time.
She wished she could silence her brain and its running thoughts. She wished she could overpower them with—
Sound. Specifically, the distant bell of the city’s clock tower ringing. She focused on it, her mind for a blissful moment silent, waiting for nine chimes to sound off before changing her focus to the sound of her voice as she murmured under her breath.
“One. Two. Three. Four. Five…”
The words left her mouth in a steady rhythm, all the way up until she counted to two-hundred forty-seven seconds and three knocks at the door interrupted.
“Your Hiiiiiighness~?” sang a lovely voice, and Twilight kept her face pressed against the book. “May I come in?”
Though some part of Twilight was tempted to say no, she was not allowed to come in, and especially less so four minutes late, the other part of her reminded her that just as with being a monarch, personal feelings should not intervene or modify her attitudes towards mandatory protocol.
“You may come in, Rarity,” she called, willing her face off the book and watching as the door swung open, her bodyguard stepping in with a hoof covering her eyes.
“Are you decent?” Rarity asked in a hushed tone, and when she took her hoof off, a clear wave of disappointment marred her face at the sight of the unclothed princess. “Oh. You aren’t.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Rarity, why do you always ask that? I only wear clothes during social functions.”
“I know, I know,” she replied, closing the door behind her and letting out a theatrical sigh. “I’m nothing but a deluded fool with the undying belief that, perhaps, one day, you might actually use the fabulous dresses in your closet because you actually want to, not because society demands it.”
Though she wasn’t by any means Twilight’s mare-in-waiting, said fact never stopped Rarity from acting as one, constantly berating her over what to wear, when to wear it, what to say, and when to say it. Her almost innate ability to effortlessly know what to do or how to look in any setting was very practical for blending in with Twilight’s entourage, but it certainly didn’t help in waning her crush.
“Alas, tomorrow is another day,” Rarity continued, striding across the room and shooting Twilight a grin. A pulse of her magic closed the window and blinds, while another occupied itself with gathering the mess of papers scattered about.
“H-Hey! I wasn’t done with those!” Twilight protested, even though she couldn’t remember what any of ‘those’ were. She took the papers in her own magic, levitating them before her and stacking them in proper order, thank you very much. She then cleared her throat and proceeded to read the first paragraph over and over.
“Your Highness, are you going to tell me what terrible thoughts ail you?” the guard asked, standing on the opposite of the table. “Or are you going to continue to pretend to be reading the entire night?”
“I’m not pretending!” Twilight's feeble protest was paper-thin.
“Your usually impeccable room is a mess, you’ve yet to point out I was two minutes late, and you’ve just spent about a minute staring at the same page,” Rarity replied, taking off her helmet and revealing her short mane. She placed the helmet on the table. “Princess Twilight, it wounds me that you truly think I know you so little.”
“Well, I wasn’t pretending!” Twilight insisted, a damning red streak painting her cheeks. “And, also, you were actually four minutes and seven seconds late, not two! I know because I counted! And I’m not upset about anything!”
Rarity arched an eyebrow. “You’re not? I see,” she said in that way she said everything whenever she knew Twilight was lying. She hummed, picked up another stray scroll from the desk, and read it over. “Princess, it is unbecoming of you to bury your head in the sand.”
Twilight's heavy silence again damningly betrayed her.
"Princess, I'm flattered!" the guard exclaimed, a vulpine smile on her lips. "Are you afraid the dear Duke will steal me away, perhaps?" She bit down on her lip and hummed, rubbing a hoof against her mouth. "I've always loved our brief visits to Saddle Arabia..."
Twilight frowned. "That's against the law, though."
Or was it? She was almost sure it was. Unless it wasn't.
What if it wasn't?
With a quiet grunt, she closed her book, resisted the urge to shove it aside, and then levitated her precious law book over from its bookshelf. However, just as she opened it to read, so did blue magic close it and her gaze fell on her bodyguard's innocent expression from the other side of the table.
"Your Highness," Rarity said, and before Twilight could even reply, she continued, "let me put your mind at ease by assuring you I do not intend on running away with the stallion just because he's asked me out for dinner, so..." The law book was levitated away from Twilight and put back in its place. "Rather than trying to find out whether stealing a bodyguard is a crime, might I suggest you go to bed?"
"But I'm not tired," Twilight said. "Because somepony didn't interrupt me for fifteen minutes at twelve o'clock, half past four, and then a quarter to six, I'm forty-five minutes ahead of my schedule."
"Yes, I know," Rarity replied, moving to the bed and pulling back the covers, "which is why I said go to bed, and not to sleep. Though I sincerely believe beauty sleep won't hurt you, I'm also tired of pretending I don't notice you using your hornlight to read books under the covers." The guard lifted a pillow and revealed the book hidden beneath, which she promptly inspected, her mouth slipping open to let out a gasp of giggly surprise. "Your Highness! La Princesse? And you said you didn't want to read my silly romance novels!"
"I'm not reading it because of the romance!" Twilight protested. "I'm just interested in the portrayal of the cultural clash between the royal families of Equestria and Prance!"
Rarity hummed thoughtfully. "Oh? My, my, my." She tilted her head and arched her eyebrow, a smirk working its way across her face. "Considering the kind of, shall we say, heated clashing that takes place between Princess Platinum and Princess Eventide, I would have thought you of all ponies would have sought that knowledge in anatomy books, not romance ones."
Twilight's face burned. "R-Rarity!"
"Oh dear, have I spoiled something for you?" she asked with mock innocence before following it with a string of completely shameless giggles. "Your Highness, it is far too easy to fluster you."
"You know what? Maybe I will go to bed," Twilight quickly said, getting up and making her way towards her bed, past the delighted bodyguard.
"Eager to get back to studying the art of love, I see!"
"Rarity, stop that!" Twilight all but screeched, snatching the book away from the unicorn.
"But I thought you liked to studyyyy," Rarity continued, even as the scandalized Princess magically pushed her far, far away. However, it seemed as though she'd had enough with her teasing, as she sighed in defeat when Twilight let her go. "Well, you're being no fun tonight, Your Highness, so I shall leave you to your non-studying."
In truth, when Twilight saw her guard take her helmet and put it on, some part of her regretted her actions at seeing that Rarity was actually going to leave.
"Oh… I..." She allowed silence to settle, not because she desired it, but because she was too ashamed to ask a question. But, ask she eventually did, for she was ever a stickler for precision, even if it meant knowing the exact time of future dreaded events. "Where will you be meeting with Duke Sands?"
"He asked to meet at Eclipse Park," she replied. “And his two guards will report to you at three o’clock sharp.” She paused for a moment, licked her lips, and asked: “Do you happen to know how their armor works, Princess?”
Twilight knitted her eyebrows together, getting up on the bed. “I… No, I haven’t studied Saddle Arabian smithing yet. Why?”
Rarity hummed, grabbing the covers and tucking the Princess in. “Oh, nothing in particular! I was merely inspecting their armors today, and apparently, it’s segmented. Held together by slightly exposed straps you can cut off. They’re very meticulously painted to look like metal.”
“Why would they have exposed straps? That seems ill-advised.” Twilight asked, covering a yawn with her hoof. “Though they live in Saddle Arabia, so the armor would have to be easily removable and breathable to fight the intense heat and the sand.”
Rarity was pleased by the deduction. “Precisely! All that sand in their armor! It would chafe their coats in three seconds flat. Interesting, isn’t it? I shall ask more about it to the Duke.”
Twilight sank further into her bed at the reminder of the Duke.
“I suppose…” She looked back to Rarity. “At what time are you meeting with him?”
“At half past three until my break is over, I believe,” she replied.
Twilight's ears fell. That wasn't going out for dinner! That was spending the entire afternoon with him! Even though her brain protested that life wasn't like Rarity's romance novels, and ponies didn't actually fall madly in love in a single afternoon, that was Rarity going on the date…
"Princess," Rarity spoke up, her tone and expression soft, doubtless having seen Twilight's inner turmoil, "I did mean it when I said I don't intend on running away with a stallion simply because he's asked me out for dinner."
"I know," Twilight replied, finally admitting to her fears.
Rarity wouldn't run away with a stallion because he smiled at her.
Duke Sands hadn't been the first stallion to try and woo Rarity, after all, and though he probably wouldn't be the last, Twilight had yet to ever see her bodyguard ever express any sort of interest in them.
Though she opened the door to leave, Rarity lingered still, apparently hesitant.
"Princess," she said suddenly, turning to the royal, "do remember that everything I do is with your best interests in mind."
Twilight snorted in disbelief, her eyes narrowed and head leaning forward. "What? You going on a date with Duke Sands is in my best interest?"
"It is indeed," Rarity replied. "I would never lie to you."
Times without Rarity were usually the strangest for Princess Twilight.
Not the moments where she was alone in her room, reading or studying or taking lessons, but the ones where she knew Rarity was not nearby, waiting to assist Twilight with whatever she needed—which, more often than not, was Twilight calling her in for admittedly simple tasks just so she could see her.
It was fascinating to see how a single pony had become such a staple of her daily life; Rarity's presence in Twilight's every moment was as natural and unobtrusive as breathing itself.
So now, walking through the castle city with Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie instead of Rarity, the princess found breathing was somewhat harder.
"What did she even mean by that?" Twilight asked for the upteenth time, leading Lady Pinkie and her bodyguard into Whisps Marketplace. "How is going on a date with Duke Sands for my benefit?”
"Maybe it’s a sign!” Pinkie said, skipping joyfully next to the Princess in a very distracting manner. Didn’t it tire her to constantly bounce everywhere? “Or maybe...”
Pinkie threw Rainbow a pointed stare, forcing the pegasus to roll her eyes and clamp her ears against her head. Once Rainbow was out of earshot, she cleared her throat again and continued, glancing to the sides in a conspiratorial fashion and leaning close to whisper, “Maybe this is a test!”
Twilight’s ears perked up, as did her attention. “A test?”
“A test to see who she likes best! You or the Duke!”
Twilight scoffed. “That’s a silly test,” she replied, because it was, “and how would that even be to my benefit?”
Pinkie tapped a hoof to her mouth. “I dunno...”
“Can I uncover my ears now?” Rainbow yelled. “Or do I still have to pretend you’re not talking about having Rarity replaced with me?”
Twilight hung her head in exasperation. “Ugh.”
“Aw, don’t be grumpy, Twi-Twi,” Pinkie consoled, patting Twilight on the back as she sulked onwards. “That silly duke was going to ask her out anyway, so this way she made sure you had two super big guards replacing her.”
Twilight glanced over her shoulder, eyes settling on the Duke’s two bulky guards as they marched behind her in a clockwork-like rhythm. Neither of them had spoken a word to her, which was to be expected of bodyguards. They simply followed, observed, and protected, which reminded the Princess that Rarity was an exception, not the norm.
Not to mention the fact that Rarity wouldn’t be able to not voice her thoughts even if it was against the law to do so. Which it was, technically speaking, but the Princess had shamefully and regretfully resigned herself to waiving many of the rules Rarity nonchalantly ignored.
“Bulky One and Bulky Two keep givin’ me the stinkeye,” Rainbow Dash noted, though the fact did not bother her. “Probably ‘cause I don’t need to look like an overinflated balloon to show I’m tougher than ‘em.”
“Rainbow!” Twilight hissed, throwing the guards an apologetic glance. They didn’t seem to have noticed, and in truth, they probably didn’t even care.
“What! I asked them their names, remember?” She turned towards the two guards. “Hey! What’re your names?” she asked, and when they didn’t deign themselves to reply to her, she turned to the Princess and shot her an expecting look.
Twilight sighed, not even bothering to tell Rainbow that their names were Twist Armor and Bit Lance since she knew the pegasus couldn’t be bothered to remember.
Despite what she felt of their master, the two guards didn’t deserve her scorn. Daisy Flower and Silver Spade usually acted as Rarity’s replacement, but to use them rather than the Duke’s bodyguards could be taken as an offense.
And even so, she knew they were only extra precautions, because even if Rainbow was technically guarding Pinkie, Twilight knew the pegasus was equally acting as her own bodyguard. A hint of pride washed over her at the idea that Rarity didn’t trust two Saddle Arabian guards alone with her well-being.
The Princess continued down the bluestone path, smiling awkwardly at the many ponies who excitedly waved, gasped, and gawked at the crown princess. There were dozens of them—old and young, mare and stallion, rich and poor—scattered all the way up to Eclipse Park, which just so happened to be Rarity’s meeting place with the Duke.
Eclipse Park was the spot where the deities Celestia and Luna supposedly appeared before the Great Prophet Brazened Awe nearly a thousand years ago, passing down unto him many prophecies relating to the kingdom’s future.
There was a statue of the Prophet in the middle of the garden, towards which Twilight marched if only because it made it look like she had some sort of purpose. She was not looking around for Rarity, and she was only interested in studying the statue up close.
“Do you really think the Goddesses talked to him?” Pinkie asked, joining Twilight before the statue and looking up at it. His stare was as cold as the granite he was made of, and Pinkie stuck her tongue out at him. “He looks like a grumpy old meanie.”
“Pffft, probably angry everypony called him a fraud,” Rainbow jeered.
“He wasn’t considered a fraud at the time, Rainbow,” Twilight quickly corrected, turning to her temporary-bodyguard. “Now they do, but at the time he was an esteemed and wise pony. According to Granite Rest’s Statuary Encyclopedia, this particular statue is meant to represent the turmoil he felt towards the prophecies.” She turned back towards the statue. “Take for example, The Fall of the Three Birds, that said the kingdom would be ravaged by three great wars. Or The Weary Travelers of Caelum, that said the king would fall ill and his daughter would die atop Mount Caelum trying to find a way to save him. However, to dispute his prophecies, we’ve only had one great war since he lived, and no princess has ever died on the mountain.”
“Are there any prophecies of dukes taking away pretty bodyguards?” Pinkie playfully asked, to which Twilight curtly replied, “No, there are not.”
“A shame,” said a horribly familiar voice, grating against Twilight’s ears like sandpaper, “it seems I will have to make my destiny for myself!”
Willed forwards by damnable politeness, Twilight turned around and faced Duke Sands, his ‘charming’ smile greeting her. What she didn’t see, however, to both her concern and relief, was somepony who was endlessly and effortlessly more charming than his smile could ever hope to be.
As her eyes scanned the crowd and failed to find the armored guard, she privately hoped that maybe Rarity had run away, or gotten bored with the duke, or something. She saw an old stallion, a mare and her daughter, a gorgeous mare in a dress, a fill—
Her thought process screeched to a halt, and her eyes went back to said gorgeous mare, who was now trotting up towards them with a radiant smile.
Twilight’s breath caught in her chest at the sight of her usual heavily armored guard in nothing but a simple yet elegant blue dress. It was very rare for Twilight to see her guard dressed in such a way, and she couldn’t help but think that, were circumstances different or if they found themselves in some alternate dimension, Rarity would make a fine princess—scars and all.
“Well, well, well. What do we have here?” Rarity asked, a devious and almost predatory smile shaping her lips when her gaze met Twilight’s. Though her words denoted surprise, her diction and expression said otherwise, as if she’d been expecting such an event. “What a surprise, don’t you think, dear Duke?”
“A very strange surprise indeed, dear Rarity,” he replied, his eyes fixated on the princess with genuine fascination. “I was under the impression our dear Princess was to stay at the castle today?”
“Yes,” Rarity replied, and in her tone Twilight detected suspicion. “I thought so too! I practically have to drag her out of her library, and yet here she is, out of her own free will!” She stepped forward, offering Twilight that smile, the slightly curved one that turned her heart to a puddle, and said, “And yet here you are! Exploring the city much like Princess Eventide in chapter seven.”
Twilight frowned, rapidly filing through her memories. Princess Eventide? From the novel? Wait, what happened in chapter seve—
Her eyes went wide, and it took all her willpower not to step back in a flustered flush. As Rarity had said, Princess Eventide did indeed go out into the city in chapter seven, not to explore but to go find and declare her love to Princess Platinum. In fact, the entire chapter was all about their unconfessed feelings!
No, she wasn’t.
But what if she was? Was Rarity trying to… imply… There was no way she didn’t know or understand the subtext beneath what she’d just said, right? There were plenty other moments in the story where Princess Eventide went into the city, like chapter four, scene three; or chapter eleven, scenes five and seven; and—
“Unfortunately,” Rarity continued, her voice enticing the Princess out of her whirlwind of delusional hopes, “you and Princess Eventide don’t share your love of decor.” She stepped back and sized Twilight up, her lips curving into a moue of dissatisfaction. “I don’t see you wearing a dress.” Her eyes flicked towards Rainbow. “I shouldn’t be surprised you’re not proper considering the company you’re in.”
“Hey!” Rainbow snapped, her feathers clearly ruffled, frowning at Rarity’s grin. “I can be totally proper and stuff!”
“Like that dinner with Lady Fleur De Lis and Sir Fancy Pants?” Rarity arched an eyebrow. “I’m certain that using a knife to pick your teeth is considered proper somewhere,” she said, and to that Rainbow had no retort. Everypony in the castle probably remembered that little incident.
Rainbow scoffed in response, her face turning to the side. “Whatever. You were the one who asked me to watch over the Princess anyway, so I don’t know why you’re complaining,” she pointed out, and only the years of being with Rarity constantly allowed Twilight to see the flash of alarm that crossed her guard’s eyes.
“Why, Rarity,” he said, turning to her in mock-offense, “don’t you trust my choice of guards? I don’t want to feel offended but…”
“Dear Duke! Perish the thought!” Rarity exclaimed, aghast and whatever trace of alarm quickly vanishing. She pressed a hoof on his chest and fluttered her eyelashes at him. “It’s not you I don’t trust,” she purred, and indignation filled Twilight when Rarity’s gaze then shifted towards her. “Our dear Princess can be quite the hoof-full, hm?”
Rarity’s words wounded the princess. She had been led to believe Rarity might reciprocate her feelings, and yet was now being treated as a misbehaving filly. She didn’t actually know what hurt her more: The fact that Rarity was lying through her teeth, especially when she always berated Twilight for leading such a ‘party-free’ life, or the fact that Duke Sands believed it, his irritatingly boisterous laugh filling the air.
Maybe Princess Eventide had gone into the city to confess her love to Princess Platinum, but Princess Twilight didn’t have anything to say to her guard.
“Yes, I guess I am,” Twilight replied, every syllable as icy as any further conversations she’d be having with Rarity for the foreseeable future. The Duke certainly didn’t seem to mind his frosty relationship with his guards, so she ought to follow his example.
Again, for a fraction of a moment, concern flashed through Rarity’s eyes, and her ears very lightly lowered. If Twilight cared about how Rarity felt, she would hope Rarity felt bad, but she didn’t care about how Rarity felt.
Or so she told herself over and over even though not wanting to care was in itself an act of caring, and technically, it was scientifically impossible to stop herself from car—
“Well then, Princess, I hope you’ve regardless been finding my bodyguards to your liking?” the Duke asked, drawing the conversation towards himself. He glanced at Bulky One and Bul—Twist Armor and Bit Lance. “I trust they’ve kept you safe?”
“They have,” Twilight quickly and loudly replied, hoping to drown out Rainbow’s skeptical snort. A terrible idea blossomed in her mind, and she playfully added, “So good, in fact, I wonder if we can make the change permanent, Duke.”
The stunned silence that followed was deafening.
Rainbow and Pinkie looked as if they'd been smacked across the face, Twist Armor and Bit Lance traded the briefest of glances out of everypony's sight while a hint of a smile tugged at the side of Sands’ mouth, making him look pleasantly surprised. Rarity, to Twilight's surprise, remained stoic and unblinking, tilting her head ever so slightly at the princess’ suggestion.
“Twilight!” Pinkie exclaimed in shock, but Twilight couldn’t be bothered to quell her fears. She was too busy smiling at the guard with all the propriety she always berated her with, and for a moment she faltered when Rarity’s ears lowered further.
Not a single word was uttered by anypony else.
Twilight wondered if she’d gone too far, but she kept her ground.
“Princess Twilight! It would be a great loss for me to lose my guards, but to gain this fine mare in exchange, well…” With a grin as bright as the sun, he straightened his pose, and Twilight regretted her words even more. “I can’t complain. What do you think, Lady Rarity?”
“Well, as I told Princess Twilight once before,” Rarity eventually said, a smile on her lips, whether sincere or not Twilight could not tell. Unlike her charge, who more often than not cracked under pressure, Rarity had always and would always excel at masks, at serenity when faced with duress. “Everything I do is in her best interest. If me leaving is her wish, then I will comply.”
If Twilight had ever learned anything from being petty, it was that the satisfaction of it was short-lived. Whatever relief, whatever higher-ground she’d achieved with her statement was very quickly lost at Rarity’s almost resigned statement. For now, they simply stared at one another, both behind masks, and much like on the day they first met, an anxious princess trying to read the expression of a mare as stone-faced as the statue itself.
It was proving to be too much, not knowing what Rarity was thinking, but before Twilight could apologize or make amends, her guard turned to the stallion.
“Shall we then, Duke?” she asked, and though they made a move to leave, Rarity stopped and turned back to Twilight. “I hope you enjoy the rest of the book, Princess. I urge you to pay attention to chapter eighteen. I think you’ll like it.”
When Rarity left, Twilight did not think of chapter eighteen. Twilight did not want to think of books, or chapters, or anything, but her bed, and the covers under which she could hide herself from that day that seemed to continually get worse and worse.
She wanted to go home.
“Uhhh, sooooooo,” Rainbow Dash said, rubbing a hoof against the back of her neck. “Where to now, Princess?”
She wanted to be alone, and Pinkie and Rainbow Dash’s presence only reminded Twilight of Rarity’s earlier comment.
“Our dear Princess can be quite the hoof-full, hm?”
“I’m going back to the castle with Twist Armor and Bit Lance,” Twilight said. She looked away from them and towards the two guards. “I want to be alone.”
“Wait, what do you mean alone?” Rainbow asked. “We’re coming with you.”
Twilight winced, ears flattening against her skull. “Rainbow, I’m fine. The castle isn’t far away, and Twist Armor and Bit Lance will protect me.”
Rainbow seemed unrelenting, glancing back and forth between the Princess and the guards. “But, Princess Twi, I don’t—” She furrowed her brow and stood tall, trying to seem intimidating next to the bulls besides her. “Look, no offense to your, uh, new guards, Princess, but Rarity appointed me to be your Equestrian security. So, I’m going with you.”
Twist Armor had spoken for the very first time since, well, ever. His voice was deep, and the intensity in his stare was enough to force Rainbow a step back.
“Do you question the skills of Saddle Arabia’s finest guards? To question us is to question our Kingdom.”
Rainbow faltered. “I—I mean, no, but—”
Bit Lance spoke next, his voice cutting through hers like a razor-sharp blade. “Do you offend Saddle Arabia by believing we would allow harm to befall Princess Twilight Sparkle? Do you believe us to be incompetent?”
“Hey!” Pinkie exclaimed, pouting at them. “Stop being meanies!”
“Yeah, I didn’t say that!” Rainbow protested, stamping her hoof against the floor. “Stop putting words in my mouth!”
Twist Armor was unrelenting. “And yet you—”
“Stop!” Twilight exclaimed, a flare of her wings and a quick crack of her hoof against the ground ending any further argument. They were having a completely pointless argument, because Rarity was with the Duke, and they weren’t about to get Equestria saddled into an even worse diplomatic conflict with Saddle Arabia over a show of ego. Rarity always told her to bask in her privileges as a Princess, and so she would.
“Twist Armor and Bit Lance are escorting me to the castle alone. End of discussion,” she commanded, keeping her wings open in an attempt to look as severe as she sounded.
Rainbow’s wings flared, and had she not been a friend, Twilight could have easily taken that as an offense to the crown—which, considering how quickly her mood was souring, well…
It thankfully didn’t take Rainbow long to realize she was out of line, and her wings folded beside her body quickly as she reluctantly relented.
“Fine… Fine! Whatever,” she mumbled. “You don’t care ‘cause you won’t have Rarity on your case.”
“It’s okay, Dashie,” Pinkie said, rubbing her hoof on the pegasus’s shoulder armor. “We’ll wait for Princess Twilight at the castle entrance, right?” she asked, turning her sights to Twilight and looking almost pleading. “She just needs a liiiiittle time alone.”
In truth, Twilight didn’t want a little time alone. She wanted the entire night alone, preferably to read Starswirl's Theorems of Magic Thermodynamics, but she knew better than to upset Pinkie Pie. She’d done that once, and she did not want to go through that again.
“Well, okay, but—” Rainbow turned to the guards, eyes narrowed whatever care and respect for Saddle Arabia gone with the wind. “If she’s not there in twenty minutes tops…”
“Rainbow!” Twilight exclaimed, but before any severe reprimand could be administered, the pegasus pushed her charge away, throwing the guards another suspicious look as they got further away.
“Oh, brother,” Twilight muttered, then turning to the guards with a deeply ashamed and apologetic smile. “Please forgive her, she—”
“She is protective of you,” Bit Lance said, and caught her off guard when he smiled. “We understand.”
Relief swept over Twilight, and she was glad that at least somepony was acting rational.
“Princess, we suggest taking a more covert route,” Twist Armor continued, his eyes scanning the crowd of curious onlookers. “Your guard has made a scene, and the quickest path would be the less crowded one.”
Not a moment after he’d finished his sentence, Bit Lance continued, both speaking practically as one.
“I will take the lead, Princess,” he said, and as he spoke, the other stallion stood behind Twilight, boxing in the Princess between them. “I trust this is acceptable?”
And because she was tired…
Because she was tired, and upset, and Rarity was off getting cozy with the Duke, and because, ironically, of all the ponies not thinking logically, she was the greatest offender, she nodded and followed them into the back alley streets of the castle.
As they trotted past the empty back alleys, Twilight’s thoughts meandered towards the bodyguard that possessed Twilight’s heart and more. Her heart felt heavy, as did her soul, and she couldn’t help but resent the fact that she was the one feeling bad.
But then again, Rarity hadn’t done anything wrong, either. She’d gone out on a date, which she was allowed to do, and… Ugh.
“I hope you enjoy the rest of the book, Princess. I urge you to pay attention to chapter eighteen. I think you’ll like it.”
Why did Rarity even say that? She knew Twilight had already read up until chapter twenty-three.
The memories bubbled up to the surface, the Princess finally trying to decipher the message Rarity had sent, if there even was one. In chapter eighteen, Princess Platinum departed to her home land of Prance for a short visit. However, on the way there, her trip was unexpectedly interrupted by an ill-planned assa…
By an ill-planned assassination attempt.
One by one, like pages quickly turning in her head, Twilight began to piece together the story she’d been missing. Had… Had Rarity suspected foul-play from the beginning? It would explain why she’d requested Rainbow Dash to look over Twilight, and it would explain her sending the message through book references.
If she were to falsely accuse the Duke of an assassination attempt, the King of Saddle Arabia would have more than enough grounds to declare war on Equestria. The perfect excuse, and if she actually was assassinated, her father wouldn’t hesitate to attack Saddle Arabia.
Her steps contradictorily slowed down compared to her frantic heart, her mind reeling with some sort of attempt at a plan. She tried to nonchalantly look around and found that indeed she was trapped in an empty alley, boxed between two stallions that may or may not try to kill her in the following minutes.
If she tried to run away, they would catch up.
If she tried to preemptively attack, and it turned out they were innocent…
“If I am not there with you, you must use this to stun them.”
“Stun them?! Rarity, I can kill them with this spell! I have alicorn magic, and I don’t know how to use it, and I would have to be extremely precis—”
“Princess Twilight, I shall put this simply. You may hesitate to stun them, but they will not hesitate to murder you in cold blood. They will not have the compassion you are displaying.”
“If I am not there, you will use this to stun them. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”
Twilight swallowed again.
“Er, excuse me, sirs?” she asked politely, and restrained a squeal of fear when Twist glanced around and stared her down. Her eyes caught the hilt of his sword by his side, and she found herself desperately wishing she’d never sent Rainbow away.
“Yes, Your Highness?” he asked, smiling at her much like the executioner would be kind while leading a pony to the guillotine. He stopped and turned to her, allowing her a brief view of his armor and the straps Rarity had warned her about.
She smiled with hesitation, hoping to look more relaxed than she felt. “I think I feel better now. Why don’t we go back and take the main path?” she asked, moving away so her back would be against the wall and she could face the two stallions.
“Princess, don’t you think this is the path we should take?” Twist asked.
“I don’t,” she answered, though his tone had suggested his question was more of a statement.
“Let me rephrase, Your Highness,” he said, and the moment his hoof touched the hilt of his sword, she mentally went through Rarity’s lessons on using her tiara as a makeshift dagger, “this is the path we will take.”
Don’t wait for them, Princess. Do not give them the opportunity. The moment you are sure...
It all happened very fast.
With a deafening crack, she teleported behind Twist Armor, her tiara already poised to stop the sword that came swinging down on her like an axe when Twist turned towards her. She used the moment of confusion to push forward, kicking Twist towards Bit Lance and then used the tiara to slash away at the nearest strap.
Just as she’d hoped, the armor came undone, the chest plate sliding down just enough that she had a clear shot at his chest. Before her nerves failed her, she quickly took a step back, lit her horn and shot him with a beam of light.
Twist was thrown back, narrowly avoiding Bit, and crashed against the wall, his body falling to the ground with a sickening thud and his sword clanging against the wall. He did not move afterwards, and judging by Bit’s pause and wide-eyes, a terrible thought pushed itself into her mind.
Did I… Did I kill him…?
A sound caught her attention, and she found Bit unsheathing his sword, anger burning in his eyes. He would not be careless enough to give her a shot at slashing his straps, and the panic and regret of having potentially murdered somepony were clouding her mind and thoughts.
And, just as Rarity had warned her, while she hesitated, the enemy wouldn’t.
Bit Lance lunged forwards, the sound of galloping filling the air, the sword headed straight to her, and she closed her eyes and waited. Waited for death, and wished to have seen Rarity one final time. The sound of metal clanking against metal resonated in the alley, and yet Twilight had not felt the sword pierce or even touch her metallic regalia.
It sounded, actually, like two swords colliding.
“Shall we dance, darling?”
Her eyes cracked open, and an immeasurable relief pulsed through her at the sight of Rarity standing defensively before her, Twist’s fallen sword in her magical grasp. And yet, to Twilight’s horror, blood was smeared all over Rarity’s hindquarter, her ripped dress revealing a stab wound.
Had the Duke…?!
Bit Lance jumped back, baring his teeth at the mare. “You—! How?!”
“How? Fabulously, that’s how,” she replied, and again, the two swords clashed in dance, though it was not the most elegant duel Twilight had seen Rarity engaged in. It was clear that the unicorn’s wounded leg was damaging her stance, and judging by the irritation laced on her face, Rarity was aware of it too.
“You know, Bit, it’s a terrible, terrible shame what your master did to me. I am more than a bit cross,” she continued. “It is so very rare for me to have the chance to impress my Princess in the elegant art of the blade, and yet now not only is my dress ruined, but I have the most unseemly stab wound distr—”
“Quiet!” he snapped, rushing forwards to attack her, and yelping in surprise when Rarity flung her sword away with uncharacteristic flippancy, grabbed him with her magic, and slammed him against the wall.
“Did I say, dear sir, you could interrupt me? I don’t believe I did.”
He struggled against her grip, trying the impossible task of shaking off a shackle that had no physical form. Before Bit could let out a grunt, his jaw was wrenched open. A gray and unremarkable capsule half the size of a tooth tumbling out from his mouth, his cry of frustration piercing the air.
“No assassination attempt is complete without a suicide pill should the assassin fail in their mission,” The line Rarity recited was smooth and well-rehearsed, in the same way a school-going foal dictated a passage from a textbook countless times before in a classroom. “Now that you stallions have no easy way out, we have all the time in the world.”
“Now, I am going to ask my Princess a very simple question,” she began. “If you value your life, which you clearly don’t as you have more than just vexed me, but for the sake of pretending you do… If you value your life, then you should pray to whatever Goddess you pray to that the answer is no.”
Rarity’s eyes fixed on Twilight.
“Your Highness, did they harm you in any way?”
Twilight shook her head, and Rarity smiled.
“Fabulous,” she said, and still holding the stallion against the wall, she trotted towards the one on the ground. She leaned down, pressing a hoof against his neck, and after ten harrowing seconds went by, she spoke again, “If you were wondering if you’re a murderer, Your Highness, which you aren’t as you acted in self-defense, he’s quite alive.” She opened his jaw, and a pill came tumbling out onto the ground. “It seems he didn’t eat in his pill in time, either.”
“Hah!” Bit spat at the Rarity's feet with a bared snarl. “That little filly is as weak as your king. The Princess of Saddle Arabia wouldn’t have hesitated to kill.”
Rarity hummed, still inspecting the unconscious pony, “Well, I shan’t speak for dear Princess Oasis, but the reason Princess Twilight Sparkle stuns and not kills is because—” She turned to him, and a charming smile decorated her lips “—that is my pleasure entirely.”
Now that, that shut him up.
She strode over to him, still hauntingly elegant despite the blood smeared across her hindquarter, and then stood right before him, so close Twilight was sure the stallion must have felt Rarity’s breath on his lips.
“You and your little friends have done something very foolish today,” she said. “Do you know what that is?”
He spat at her again, and though Twilight was angered into moving forwards, Rarity lifted a hoof and stopped her. Once Twilight had stepped down, Rarity’s lifted hoof did not return to the ground, but instead it was the instrument of a swift and very painful sounding slap.
Bit Lance groaned in pain, trying to turn his head away only for Rarity to use her hoof and force him to face her.
“Let me tell you, dear sir, what exactly you have done today,” she hissed. “You have tried to worsen relations between our kingdoms, you have tried to rob Equestria of its most capable Royal member.”
She inched closer.
“And, worst of all,” the bodyguard concluded, “you have slightly inconvenienced me.”
Rarity sighed theatrically, turning to Twilight and shaking her head. “I must say, dear Princess, on my list of bad dates, this one is truly exceptional.” She turned back to the guard, the hoof she’d been using to hold his face now almost lovingly stroking his cheek. “Now, you will be a very good boy, and do as I say, hm? Starting with an apology to the Princess.”
Another slap, and Rarity fluttered her eyelashes.
“You know, slapping ponies is really not my style.” She gave a sigh, as if she was tending to a dull and monotonous chore. “It’s unrefined, crude, and the mark of desperation, but I can always grab your sword and try and emulate the lesson your master has taught me today, so! ” She fluttered her eyelashes. “Shall we try again?”
He gritted his teeth, but the apology eventually came.
“I apologize, Princess Twilight.”
“Good boy,” Rarity purred, and so did she slide him down onto the floor, her magic taking hold of the other assassin. She stepped back and turned towards the distance.
“Princess,” she said, “after you, please.”
Twilight’s eyes filled with tears. “B-But your le—”
“The wound in my leg, Your Highness, is but a scratch compared to the one in my heart had I arrived too late,” she said with a soft smile.
“So you did know!” Twilight exclaimed. “You were trying to warn me by reminding me of chapter eighteen.”
“I was, yes,” she said, her smile hiding the wince of pain that followed. “I’m delighted to see it worked. I was worried it wouldn’t after your reaction to my mention of chapter seven.”
Twilight’s heart nearly stopped. Once again, Rarity explicitly mentioned the chapter where the two mares confessed their love for one another. Twilight didn’t quite know what to say, and whatever she did want to say, she was afraid to be wrong about it.
“Princess, though I am by duty bound to protect you, there is another reason that I am so willing to live and die for you,” she said carefully, and yet instead of expanding on it, she again gestured towards the alley’s exit. “Now, it is late, Rainbow is waiting, and my leg is in pain. So, if you please.”
A stunned Twilight somehow found it within herself to nod and move forward, only briefly stopping to consider the action of nuzzling Rarity. She refrained in the end and carried on, Rarity strutting by her side and the stallions levitating behind the two of them, their heads and tails hung low in complete defeat.
It was the sixth time an attempt on Twilight's life had been thwarted by Rarity.
It was strange to be back in her room after the day’s event. It was, actually, irritating, especially when she’d been kept completely in the dark about what was going on. Rarity had escorted her to the castle, Rainbow had dragged the Duke to Captain Armor, and Twilight had been forcibly sent to her room before she carved a groove by pacing too much outside the infirmary.
As such, she’d entertained herself with reading The Astral Archives for the fifth time, studying Oh Deer: A Reference On Deerkin for the tenth time, writing the third draft of her essay on Equestrian Civil Marriage laws, and rereading chapter seven of La Princesse.
Her life had been at a high risk of ending not even five hours ago, and there she lay on her bed, completely consumed by the completely ridiculous notion that Rarity might feel the same way.
She didn’t feel like reading. She didn’t feel like writing. All she could think about was Rarity, which though not unusual, it was…
“Princess, though I am by duty bound to protect you, there is another reason that I am so willing to live and die for you.”
She was the Princess of Equestria. Her entire life was and should be devoted to the Kingdom, and yet whatever sense of sacrifice she felt for her kingdom paled in comparison to the one she felt for Rarity, driven by the irrationally intense romantic affection she felt for her guard.
The mere idea that Rarity felt the same was heady, ridiculous, impossible, and no matter how much she wanted to disprove it, to stop herself from living in a fantasy, she couldn’t help but to think and to think and to want it from the very bottom of her heart.
Sound filled the room; specifically, the distant bell of the city’s clock tower ringing. She focused completely on it, her breath held in her chest, waiting for nine chimes to sound off. When they did, she practically jumped off her bed and rushed to the closed door, closing her eyes and murmuring under her breath.
“One. Two. Three. Four. Five…”
The words left her mouth in an unsteady rhythm, every number matching the beating of her heart, all the way up until the number two-hundred forty-seven when three knocks at the door interrupted her entire world.
“Princess Twilight? Permission to enter?” Rainbow Dash called, and Twilight’s world went from static to spinning out of control. Why was Rainbow Dash coming for her? Where was Rarity? Surely she didn’t di—
“Ye-Yes!” Twilight called back, bracing herself for whatever news awaited her.
The handle twisted, the door swung open, and Rainbow Dash stepped in, looking relaxed for somepony potentially about to announce the death of Twilight’s life entire.
“I’d yell at you for sending me away earlier, but I think you’ve been punished enough,” she said with the insolence friendship allowed. “The Duke and his pals are locked up in the dungeons. The King asked me to tell you to prepare to testify tomorrow, and—” She cut herself off, poking her head into the hallway and stamping her hoof against the floor. “Hey! I thought you said you didn’t need my help, slowpoke!”
“I do NOT need your help, thank you very much!” the most heavenly voice screeched back, and the breath Twilight had been holding left her lips when Rarity limped into the room, her armor gone and her hindleg heavily bandaged. Her mouth was open, seemingly about to hurl another harsh exclamation, but the moment her eyes landed on Twilight, everything changed. Her eyes softened, her scowl vanished, and a tender smile splashed on her lips.
“Why Princess, you’ll never guess what happened on my date tonight.”
It was all Twilight could do to stop herself from rushing forward to embrace her beloved.
“You’re out of a job, that’s what happened,” Rainbow scoffed, until she saw Twilight’s horrified expression and swiftly elaborated. “Just for the next week until her leg heals!”
“Don’t worry, Your Highness,” Rarity said, stepping into the room and past Twilight, displaying the old and fresh scars that marred her body since devoting her life to Twilight. “I shall still be with you at all times, so if you thought you were free of my ‘nagging’, as Rainbow puts it, you are sorely mistaken.”
A gasp of delight left her lips, and she turned to Twilight, eyes sparkling.
“Does this mean I’ll be your mare-in-waiting for a week?! Oh, Princess, you shall sleep in beautiful dresses, mark my word!” she asked, and to see her so unrestrained and natural brought in Twilight a relief that drew tears from her eyes. “And you too, Rainbow!”
“Hah! Are you kidding?!” Rainbow snorted, adjusting her helmet and trotting out the room. “I’m ditchin’ this joint before you get any ideas. Scream if you need me.”
As soon as the door closed, Rarity rolled her eyes.
“I’ll make a lady out of her yet,” she murmured before turning towards Twilight. “Now, seri—Princess! Goodness, I know you’re not fond of wearing dresses, but it’s no reason to cry!”
“I’m not— I’m—” The choked words tumbled out of Twilight’s mouth, and it was dumb, and silly, and stupid because Rarity was fine and yet her heart was thundering in her chest, and her thoughts were too wild for her to handle, and she could see blood seeping through the bandages and—
And Rarity might love her back, and she was terrified of the mere idea.
Rarity almost never used Twilight’s name. It was always Your Highness or Princess, but never Twilight. Never Twilight, so when she used it, it made the Princess pay attention, revel in the taste of her name in Rarity’s lips, in her dulcet tone, and desperately wish she could hear Rarity one day utter her name without the royal title.
They gazed at each other from the gaping distance—physical, emotional, social—and tears burned the Princess’s eyes anew when Rarity—exposed, scarred, invincible—extended her foreleg and offered a hug to Twilight—hopeful, terrified, in love.
Twilight shook her head. She couldn’t, she didn’t dare for fear three words might spill out her lips and heart.
Rarity lowered her hoof. If she was hurt by the dismissal, she did not show it on her expression.
“I apologize, Princess,” she said instead, her ears dipping. “To go with the Duke so as to confirm a hunch was a very foolish mistake on my part. I should have never allowed you to be left alone with those two brutes.”
“I left the castle,” Twilight replied immediately, defending her beloved even as she struggled to hold back the tears. “I put myself in that position.”
“And you’d never have gone into the castle city had I not gone with the Duke, but to play the blaming game at this point is an exercise in futility,” Rarity concluded. “You’re here, you’re alive, and that’s all I frankly care for.”
It was hard to speak. She wished she could send Rarity away, practice fifty times, and then ask the question that burned her soul. She wished many things.
“You said there’s another reason you—you serve me,” Twilight said, forcing herself to keep eye contact with Rarity. “Another reason beside being my bodyguard.”
Rarity smiled. It was beautiful and terrifying.
“I did,” she replied, and her smile grew, doubtless revelling in what little information she’d offered. “I did indeed, Your Highness.”
Twilight swallowed, wishing she wasn’t so nervous she could actually be irritated by Rarity’s games.
“We can’t,” Twilight said. They couldn’t, they couldn’t, they couldn’t, and to try might be more lethal than any assassination attempt.
“Yes, we can,“ Rarity said, and she stepped forwards.
“It’s against the law,” Twilight protested, tears filling her eyes.
“Laws can be rewritten,” Rarity continued, closer and closer, softer and softer.
“It—It doesn’t work that way,” Twilight continued, even as Rarity was inches away, even as a gentle hoof brushed her cheek. “I-It’s not that easy.”
“Most wonderful things usually aren’t, Your Highness,” Rarity whispered, their lips brushing, “but to lie in your embrace every night is certainly a future that I’m willing to fight for.”
As it turned out, a kiss from Rarity was much more heavenly than Twilight could have ever hoped for. She wasn’t sure if it had been her who moved forward, or her lover, but one of them had, and for a glorious moment, Twilight decided she did not care if she was a Princess. She did not care for laws, propriety, or society’s expectations; all she cared about was that she nearly died today, and she wanted to kiss her lover, and if anypony had a problem with it, there was a spot next to the Duke waiting for them in the dungeons.
It was heady, and wonderful, and when it was over, when their lips pulled apart and their breaths and shaky laughs intermingled, Rarity spoke.
“Well,” she said, her tongue brushing Twilight’s lips when she licked her own, “I think I shall take that and a few more as thanks for my daring rescue today.”
Twilight laughed. She laughed, and giggled, and kissed Rarity again, and again, and again, knowing that she was no safer in anypony’s hooves than Rarity’s.
After all, there is no better bodyguard than one who’s in love with you.