“Pardon me, Princess?” I asked for clarification.
“We would like to go out this afternoon and shop with our loyal subjects,” she repeated.
That was not a great idea. “Princess, perhaps you’d rather stay and discuss some games? We could play one together. It is a little irregular, but it would still count as guarding.”
“We would rather not stay. We will go out shopping!” Her tone was pretty insistent.
It was short notice and certainly against standard procedures. With a quick nod, I replied, “Princess, I’ll need to run this by the captain. You’ll be exposed and procedure dictates for you to have a second guard to ensure your safety.”
Princess Luna stood from her desk and asked, “Surely, thou dost not think that we would be in danger in Canterlot, Silent Knight? Wouldst thou not be enough security for us?”
She was right, of course, but we have procedures for this sort of thing. When the princesses go outside the walls we plan for it. We set extra security. We cover our bases. She wanted to go out on the fly. “I may be, Princess, but procedure—”
“Are we a prisoner in our own palace?” she asked, cutting me off.
“No, Princess. I was just—”
“Then let us away to Quills and Sofas.” She tossed on her saddlebags with a flare of alicorn magic and made for the door.
Her stride was bigger than mine and she was on a mission. It took a near double trot to keep up while also staying one pace left and two paces back.
This was bad. The princess had made up her mind and if I left her to follow procedure, she’d probably go alone. If I followed her, I’d break procedure.
The princess was clearly not going to give me enough time to work it out. She walked swiftly and purposefully through the palace, into the grounds, and out of the gates while I looked pleadingly at every other guard we passed. Nopony left their post to help me. Gold-clad, Princess-of-the-Night-fearing jerks.
Once we were away from the palace and on the streets of Canterlot, Princess Luna slowed down to a normal pace. She seemed glad to be outside. The citizens of Canterlot were less glad. As she passed, they bowed deeply and didn’t move until she had gone by. Many were trembling in fear and I heard unkind whispers. Thankfully, Princess Luna didn’t seem to notice.
We strolled slowly by all the fancy stores, peering in the windows, and admiring the wares. I kept my cool on the outside. It wouldn’t help to let anypony know that something was amiss. Confidence would do more to keep away would-be attackers than anything else.
“What dost thou think of this hat, Silent Knight?” the princess asked me as she looked in a window.
Hats. Why did it have to be hats? I couldn’t really see it from my position behind her, but she had asked me to look. Oh, what the hay. I’ve probably already lost my job, so why not move closer and take a look? So that’s exactly what I did.
It was a white hat with a wide brim and was outrageously big. There were also purple flowers on it and, in general, looked like it could shelter several ponies under it. I’m no expert on hats, but I’m pretty sure this one was ugly. What if the princess liked it, though? This would need to be a delicate operation.
“Flowers would be most suitable for a mare, Princess, and I believe you like purple.” Thank you stupid, honest mouth for not saying you thought the hat looked ugly. Because it was a silly, ugly hat.
“We do,” she said but then turned and walked on her way. “We think we might look silly in a hat so large.”
Silent Knight one, hats zero. “As you say, Princess.” I fell back into my position.
We walked in silence until we reached the store she was looking for: Quills and Sofas. It was a strange combination of items and, in my mind, Couches and Quills would have made more sense for a name.
The Quills and Sofas staff were shocked when Princess Luna strode in. I followed along behind her and found that the store lived up to its name. It was nothing but sofa after sofa and aisles of quills. Simple quills, fancy quills, and quills so large that I couldn’t imagine a practical use for them.
The manager approached and knelt down in front of Princess Luna. “How may I help you, Princess?”
“We are just browsing,” she replied loudly in the royal Canterlot voice before making her way to the quills. All of the customers and staff seemed too awestruck to move or make eye contact with her. All except one.
At the back of the store was a white-coated unicorn mare with a long blonde and pink mane that had been done up with some sort of heart-shaped braid. Normally I’d have paid attention to the fact that she was pretty and had big colorful eyes, but I was too busy assessing her as a threat.
She was staring at us intently while hugging a notebook to her chest. The look in her eye was a little weird and overly excited. The same fear that had overcome the staff and other patrons seemed lost on her. It was unlikely that she was actually out to do the princess harm. Despite that, I still kept myself between her and the princess. Fanmares…
Princess Luna browsed the various quills in silence. I estimate she picked up and looked at no less than thirty boxes. I wasn’t sure if she was looking for something specific or just wasn’t ready to return to the palace.
After a time, she settled on two different boxes and levitated them to the counter. “We would like to purchase these,” she announced.
The clerk stared at her with a mix of fear and indecision.
“How much do we owe thee?” the princess asked. Still no answer.
I walked up to the counter and lightly waved a hoof in front of the clerk. “How many bits?” That seemed to snap the stallion out his stupor. I guess I was less intimidating.
“Twenty-five, please,” he stammered.
Princess Luna levitated the bits to the counter while the clerk bagged the quills. Once he had ringed her up, she settled her purchase into her saddle bag.
“We thank thee,” she said and we were on our way.
Thankfully, it seemed like we were heading back towards the palace.
“Silent Knight?” she asked.
“Yes, Princess?” I replied.
“Dost thou think that pony was afraid of us or of Nightmare Moon?”
I thought on that a moment and then replied, “I believe that those ponies were unaccustomed to having an alicorn shopping in their store. I am certain if that occurred more often, they would not react as such.”
The princess nodded. That answer seemed to satisfy her initially, but then she pressed on, “Then we shall have to be a patron of their store more often.”
Great. More last minute trips outside of the palace without proper security. Oh well, that will probably be the next pony’s problem. I doubted my career would survive the day.
“Of course, Princess.”
We walked the rest of the way to the palace in silence. It was drawing near the time for Princess Celestia to lower the sun and Princess Luna would have her own duties to attend to. When we crossed through the gate and into the grounds, it was immediately evident word had gotten out. I could hear some of the other royal guards talking quietly to each other as they stared.
Once we were inside the palace, as expected, Captain Shining Armor was waiting for us. Well, for me, really. The princess would probably be unaware. Tomorrow there would just be a different guard working opposite of Iridescence. My hope was that I could at least remain her roommate.
It would have been sad if we couldn’t be. Some things were starting to make sense between us. I’d worked out that she and I were friends, not just partners. Which was nice. I didn’t have other friends.
“Princess,” Shining Armor said cordially with a bow. “Welcome back. Did you have a good trip into town?” He smiled at her. Officers...
She smiled in return and gave a quick nod. She genuinely seemed happy and, because of that, I was okay with losing my job. Sometimes it is easy to forget that even though the princesses are alicorns, they’re also ponies. Ponies who get lonely or have their feelings hurt. If quill shopping made Princess Luna happy, then by Celestia she should go quill shopping!
“We did, Captain. We found exactly what we were looking for and more,” she responded. “Perhaps next time we shall look at sofas.”
Shining Armor’s smile brightened a bit. “I’m glad to hear that. That would be an excellent idea. I know your furniture is not something you selected. Cadence has expressed a concern to me that your space should feel more like your own.”
Princess Luna seemed to ponder that before nodding. “We agree. Perhaps we will indeed go look at sofas and other furniture. Thou hast my gratitude, Captain. If thou wilt excuse us, we have duties to attend.”
The captain bowed again. “Of course, Princess.” Then he looked at me.
Here it was. He didn’t look particularly angry but anger wasn’t professional, and you didn’t need to be mad to relieve a guard of his duty. Procedure had been broken. Policies were not followed. That was a fact. He was just doing his job.
It still put me in a bind. Should I stop to talk to him, or continue with the princess? I was still on duty, so I chose to fall in pace behind Princess Luna like normal. The captain dropped into step close beside me. So close I was worried I was going to stumble over his hooves.
He spoke very softly to me as he asked, “Went out alone?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, matching his volume. My eyes remained forwards, and we stayed completely in step with each other. Never let anypony shake your cool. There would be no disputing of the facts.
“Anything to report?” His voice was little more than a whisper.
“Most townsponies were afraid and kept their distance. One unicorn mare was very excited to see the princess. Pretty, petite, not big enough to overpower me, but could have been a distraction. Unlikely, though. She seemed more starstruck than anything and kept her distance.”
Shining Armor nodded. “That is to be expected. Not the mare part, but everything else. Good work thinking quickly on your hooves.”
Good work? Seriously? What did he mean by that? “Sir?”
“The princess wasn’t going to take no for an answer. She needs to feel like she has some control. You stuck with her instead of trying to argue her down or letting her go alone while you did the paperwork. That is keeping your eye on what is most important,” he explained in hushed tones.
I suddenly felt filled with confidence. “Thank you, sir. I would never leave her side,” I whispered back.
He smiled and nodded. “I know.” He then paused and added, “You did break procedure, though.”
And there it went. “Yes, sir.” What else could I say? Rules are rules and they’d been broken. There would have to be some sort of repercussion.
“The senior instructor of the Royal Guard Academy has requested that I send him a royal guard next week. He needs somepony to give a lecture on making quick judgment calls. There is value in giving trainees practical experience so that they know what to do when faced with a tough choice.”
Shining paused, then softly clapped me on the back. “You’re now that pony, Silent Knight. Enjoy.”
I can’t say for certain, but I swear it seemed like he was delighted by my misfortune. The captain smiled once more and immediately broke off before I could respond.
He wanted me to give a lecture? In front of a bunch of ponies? I think I would have rather been relieved of duty or executed. Either would be preferable. Officers…
My room had never looked so great after such a stressful shift. Between the unscheduled trip out, the punishment assigned to me, and just the normal day-to-day, I was beat. All I wanted to do was nestle into my bunk and get some extra sleep.
After removing my armor and settling it on the stand, I noticed that there was an unopened letter on the table. It had my name on it, so I scooped it up, carefully tore it open, and hopped onto my bed.
Dear Silent Knight
Putting aside the comment about Dad let me say that I am proud of you. A House Guard? Right out of the academy? You must have done something right!
Thank you for the congratulations. It has been a long road but I’m glad to be here. Now that I have my own squad I have more time to do paperwork and write letters. Plus more time for fun!
Are you having any fun? Have you made any friends yet? I worry about that. You’ve been alone a while.
Worry? Why would she worry? Iridescence was my friend and that was one more friend than I’d had in school. I would mention that when I wrote her back. For now, though, sleep was my priority.