The sun was just starting to sink in the sky when the Princess’s party returned from their diplomatic trip. The sound of gasps arose when the carriage was wheeled in, horribly battered and scorched in places. The guards and lancers that accompanied it looked a little worn as well, scratches on their armor and surcoats tattered and slashed. Several ponies bound with ropes followed behind them, sour looks in their eyes.
Two ponies -- one soaked, and the other caked with mud -- drifted away from the rest of the detachment and into a door at the base of one of the towers. Once the door shut behind them and a pale field of magenta light covered the door, The soaked pony pulled their helmet from their head with a flash of magic and a grunt of disgust.
Princess Rarity tried to wring the water from her mane and shot a glare at her companion.
“Was that really necessary, Twilight?” sulked Rarity after tying her mane into a tail.
“You’ll have to be more specific, my Lady,” Twilight replied, pulling her own helmet off and running a hoof through her short mane. “After all, we were rather busy today.”
“I’m talking about you throwing me into the river just because of a bandit attack!” After struggling for a moment to remove the sword at her side, she started unhooking the armor plates. “I happen to think that I’m a rather accomplished swordsmare.”
Twilight turned her gaze on her mistress. “No, you aren’t.”
Rarity paused and focused a glare on the soldier across from her. “What?”
Twilight sat and worked one of her greaves off. “Not once, in all the years you’ve trained, have you used a longsword or worn armor while practicing.” She removed her other greave and turned her tired gaze on her charge. “Armor slows you down if you aren’t used to fighting with it, and there are differences in wielding a rapier rather than a longsword. You may be good with a training rapier, my Lady, but you aren't near ready to stand alone in a fight. That’s why I was assigned to you as a bodyguard, if you recall. ”
Rarity sputtered for a moment. “But was it really necessary to throw me into the river?”
Twilight flicked at a muddy strand of mane. “It was either the water or the mud, my Lady. I assumed that you would take less offense to the river.”
“You could have cut that cannonball in half instead of pushing me,” she sulked.
“I can’t cut a cannonball with my sword, Lady Rarity,” Twilight rolled her eyes.
“But why not? After all, you’re an excellent swordsmare.” The disdain in her voice was thick and sharp.
“Because the speed and mass of a cannonball exceed anything I can counter. I might be able to connect, but the impact would shatter my blade and continue on to crush me as well. I might as well try to slice a mountain in two.”
“Well, then,” Rarity agreed. “Then may I ask a question about your plan, then?”
Twilight nodded, dropping her breastplate on the ground, the drying mud flaking and falling from her coat.
“You never told me why I was wearing this dreadful armor and walking instead of riding in a comfortable gown.”
“Because there have been reports of brigands along the route back from the envoy. If they knew there was an important guest riding in the carriage, they might try to avoid the guards and would have focused on the wagon hoping for some sort of ransom.”
“But they fired the cannon straight at the carriage!” Rarity shuddered in memory.
“Yes,” Twilight said. “But they also demanded that we stop first, with precise directions. It’s clear now that they never intended to try for ransom and sought to sow discord in the country by killing somepony of great import. I simply took the most direct course for protecting you in the chaos of battle.”
“By shoving me in the river.”
Twilight stood and turned slightly, revealing a long but shallow wound along her side between a set of broken armor plates.
“You didn’t see the sword swing coming towards you.”
“Twilight, my gods!” Rarity said, pulling the rent armor plate from her bodyguard’s side. “Why didn’t you tell me you were wounded?”
“My role has always been to protect you, my Lady, even before I was chosen as your personal bodyguard.” The Unicorn looked at the princess. “I am to stand by your side to deflect all attacks, to skulk in the shadows so that you can walk unimpeded in the light. And, if necessary, I would fall in your defense.”
With that, she turned and walked away. “I’ll fetch a healer, and have her look over any hurts you might have taken.” Without another word, she left, leaving Rarity to stare gaping as the door closed behind her.
The piece of armor the princess had been holding dropped absently as her attention wavered. She felt her lip tremble as she thought about somepony else willing taking a wound meant for her. Or even dying to protect her. It pained her, deep in her chest. She didn’t like it. She didn’t like it at all. But she didn’t know what she could do to change that fact. This seriousness in her bodyguard was such a change in the pony that had snuck books into training sessions just to finish a chapter.
Rarity approached the door of the wardroom. She fiddled with her cape for a moment before raising a hoof to knock. Before she could, though, it opened and revealed a bandaged Twilight. They both froze as they looked at each other.
“Oh,” Rarity stammered, taken aback. She hadn’t quite worked out what she was going to say to her bodyguard yet.
“My Lady,” Twilight answered, pulling on her surcoat. “Did you need me?”
Rarity fidgeted for a moment. “I just wanted to see how your wound was, and…” Words failed her. She was always good with words, so why was it so hard now?
“I’ve had worse, Princess,” Twilight replied, continuing her walk down the corridor, the princess following behind. “Surely, you didn’t think I came by these scars incidentally, did you?”
“I’ve…never thought about it.” Rarity stopped for a moment, touching her peytral. “I always thought soldiers just came with them.”
Twilight turned with her head tilted. Then she approached and sat before the princess and tapped at the scar running down her face.
“I got this before I saw any action,” she said. “Before I even had a rank. It was a training exercise with another soldier who got a little too carried away.” She pulled down her surcoat and brushed her fur slightly to reveal an almost perfectly round scar over her breast. “An enemy Unicorn stabbed me here with their own horn, trying to use a magic surge to stop my heart. They took too long to charge the spell, however.”
Twilight stood. “I am a soldier, my Lady,” she said. “Injuries are a part of the job. But I have a duty to protect you and I will carry out that duty to whatever end may come of my walk in the darkness.”
Rarity smiled slightly for a moment before rising as well and planting a small kiss on Twilight’s cheek.
“For my hero,” she whispered before pulling away. She saw the blush on the soldier’s face and grinned.
“Is that a blush?”
Twilight turned away abruptly and snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Oh, it is!” Rarity cooed as she slipped to the side and saw the redness deepen. “What, never been kissed before? Or is it something else?”
Twilight began walking down the corridor. “I don’t intend to get drawn into a duel of barbs with you, I’m tired, hungry, and want to find out what happens in the next chapter of the book I’m reading.”
Rarity danced around in front of the soldier and got in almost nose to nose with her.
“Oh, what’s the matter? Do I make you nervous?”
Twilight sputtered for a moment as Rarity smiled and turned around, heading down the corridor.
“Well, don’t just stand there!” Rarity tittered. “Let us get something to eat. I’m most interested in hearing about this new book.”
As she danced around the corner, Twilight stopped for a moment and felt her cheek where the phantom feeling of the Princess’s kiss still tingled.
“My Lady,” she whispered and continued down the hall.