“Of course I knew she was writing fanfiction,” Iridescence said to me. “What did you think she was doing all the time?”
“Official business,” I replied and paused to think about it. “Plus, it didn’t seem like it was any of my business to pry into her tasks. She does her work while I stand by the door and keep the dangers out.”
Iridescence chuckled at me while we walked down the street. We were out about the town on our day off. “She does that, too, but she has to have a life of her own. Writing is currently her creative outlet and she's very good at it.”
That wasn’t a shock to me. “She is the princess, so of course she is,” I said confidently.
Iridescence bumped my flank with her own. “No… She is good at it because she is good at it and practices all the time. Being a princess doesn’t make her a good writer. Nor would I say she is good at anything just because she is a princess. That would hurt her feelings.”
Ponies were complicated. Iridescence saw my confusion and asked, “What would you say if I said you were good with a sword because you’re a royal guard?”
“Thank you.” Which was clearly the wrong answer.
“No! Not every royal guard is as good with a sword as you are. Didn’t you learn to use yours before you were a guard? Isn’t it a matter of pride that you learned enough to best your older sister? Do you really want to boil it all down to the fact you’re just a guard?”
That phrase bothered me: “just a guard.” All I had ever wanted to be was a guard, but when she said it that way it seemed meaningless. I realized then what Iridescence meant. Princess Luna wasn’t "just a princess" and I barely learned anything about using a sword during my time at the guard academy. My skill with the blade was well beyond that of my peers due to the fact that my dad had trained me since I was a foal.
That was a far different perspective than any I’d ever considered before. It was a revelation, actually. All royal guards aren’t the same. My cutie mark has a sword in it. Iridescence has a shield in hers. We did the same job, but we have different talents.
When Iridescence explained things they made sense. How could I express my appreciation of that to her?
“I see.” Nailed it.
“Good,” she replied before looking up at a street sign and then turning a corner. “I heard there is a new store in town, The Phial and Filly Alchemist Supply. It sounds like a neat place. Why don’t we check it out?”
“Alchemy? Isn’t that magic? That sounds… good?" I shrugged. "Tell me one more thing. Princess Luna said she liked to write her fanfiction, but some ponies complained because she didn’t like to 'ship' in it. What does that mean?”
My unicorn companion looked over at me, ignored my reservations about magic, and asked, “Do you ever speak back to the princess, or do you just listen?”
“She talks at me a lot,” I said, somewhat defensively.
“Of course. You know, you can ask questions if she is engaging you. Perhaps even have a conversation? Princess Luna needs ponies to talk to, not just talk at.”
I didn’t really respond. In my opinion, I wasn't a great pony to talk to. It just wasn’t one of my talents.
She went on, “Anyway, shipping means forcing characters into a relationship. Say Princess Luna was writing a story about you and me. A fanfiction writer likes that story and decides to write their own about us and, in that story, they decided you and I would become very special someponies, even if that wasn’t the princess’s intent.”
“That would be silly.”
I’m not sure why but Iridescence gave me a look and it wasn’t a good one. It was something like the look an opponent gives you before a sparring match. “Why would that be silly?”
Finally, an easy question. “We’re partners.”
“You’re a special pony, Silent Knight,” she quipped before shaking her head. “Anyway. Princess Luna doesn’t ‘ship’ her own characters with any of the main characters the original authors wrote about. She only puts hers in relationships with the other original characters she wrote. Some of her fans don’t like that.”
Thank Celestia for Iridescence. “You’re saying somepony writing a story might do something silly like have Princess Luna fall for me and then we would become very special someponies?”
“Exactly,” Iridescence said.
“That wouldn’t make any sense at all,” I said cautiously and looked over at her. I got a nod. Finally, I was catching on. What sort of pony would ship me with the princess, anyway? That would just be weird.
Then I frowned and continued, “Wait, did you say fans? How in Equestria are ponies getting Princess Luna’s stories? More importantly, how is she hearing about what they think about her writing? I’ve never seen any ponies coming or going during my shift.”
Iridescence’s brow arched. “How can you be so observant and miss all of this? The green journal that shows up once a week? The princess reads it cover to cover. She sends her stories to the group that prints it, they publish them and other stories, and then forwards all of the fan mail. They don’t know she is the author, but it is still a pretty big deal for her. She converses with a lot of ponies via mail.”
“I’d never made the connection between the journal and the writing.”
“You’ve never asked.” Her tone was chiding. “Learn your VIP, Silent Knight. Rookie mistake there.”
Conversing with the princess wasn’t something I really imagined doing but Iridescence was right. Rookie mistake.
After wandering around Canterlot, we finally found the Phial and Filly Alchemist Supply store. It had a big “Grand Opening” banner hung over double doors that were propped open. The whole place was packed with ponies and most of them were mares.
Shopping is not a talent I possess. Iridescence, however, was a master and I was becoming comfortable with being her packhorse. My task was to carry the basket and hers was to fill it wherever we went.
I often wondered where she found all the bits to shop like she did. Royal guards don’t make a lot and she was the same grade as me. The price tags of what she bought frequently caused my heart to skip a beat. It wasn’t my place to ask where the bits were coming from, though. That was just rude.
In our usual fashion, I held the basket and walked behind her as she looked around. Iridescence took her time so that she could touch, smell, and explore the various potions and products. When we reached the section labeled “Mare Care,” she stopped and started levitating bottles.
“Which one of these would you prefer I smelled like?” she asked me and started floating opened potions by my nose.
It was like an assault on my sense of smell. I’ve crawled through mud and muck. I’ve showered with a bunch of sweaty stallions. I even fell into the sewer once. Nothing had ever smelled as intense as the bottles floating by.
My vision went blurry and I was certain I was going to faint just before one particular scent went by. It was subtle and sweet. It smelled like berries. “That one,” I gasped before covering my nose with a hoof.
The bottle levitated into the basket and the rest went back on the shelf. I eyed them warily. It would probably be a good idea to check if they qualified as weapons and inquire if the pony who made them had a license to do so.
Iridescence picked out a few more things before we went to the counter. A grey pegasus stallion with green eyes was waiting to ring us up. He was wearing some sort of green flat cap. I kept an eye on it as I set the basket on the counter. Hats…
“Thank you for coming in today,” the stallion said warmly. “I am Runic Phial, the proprietor. Did you find everything you needed?”
“Yes,” I stated flatly.
“Almost everything,” Iridescence corrected. “Would you happen to have any love potions?” Her tone was teasing and she nodded in my direction while winking at Runic Phial.
I nodded back. I’m not sure why. It just seemed appropriate.
Runic Phial looked confused and nodded along with us. “Love potions, hmm? Romantic scents for your special somepony? I make perfume, bubble bath, coat glitter, and hoof lotion. Something like that?”
Shaking her head, Iridescence replied, “No, real love potions. The kind that make a pony fall in love with you?” She bobbed her head towards me again and looked from Runic Phial to me and back.
I wasn’t sure what we were doing so I just nodded again.
Runic Phial also nodded, clearly perplexed as well. He started ringing up Iridescence’s purchases and said cheerfully, “I’m sorry, ma’am. Those aren’t something I can make. Ethics and all that. That will be 54 bits, please.”
I was still nodding. She wasn’t anymore so I stopped. Iridescence paid and looked a little grumpy. I’d be grumpy, too, if I’d spent 54 bits on toxic potions. Runic Phial gave me the shopping bag and I carried it out.
“Don’t worry, Iridescence. You won’t need a potion to have a special somepony. You’re smart, attractive, and nice. Any pony would be lucky to have you.”
That made her smile, which made me happy. She leaned a little closer and asked, “Really?”
I nodded and smiled back. “Yes, really… and I promise I’ll help you find him.”
Royal guards get a decent amount of days off because of our long hours. Most of mine were spent training. After a 12-hour shift, I was rarely in the mood to go to the gym so off days allowed me to catch up.
Exercising was a passion of mine. Not because I had to do it for my job but because it made me feel good. Back in secondary school, I’d been a hoofball player and had gotten bit by the “workout bug.” My teammates rarely spent as much time with the weights or on the track as I did.
It was a habit that had largely paid off as a royal guard since my fitness rating was always an A. There was also the perk that the palace had a gym in the basement. I didn’t have to go far to indulge my passion.
My usual workout involved a lot of repetitions with low amounts of weight. That always got the heart going and kept me fit. Plus, it is dangerous to do heavy weights without a pony to spot you.
That was what I was doing when I caught a burst of pink come through the door. It was Lady Cadence, the captain’s fiancée and Princess Celestia’s adopted niece. I’d heard she was pretty, but that was the first time I’d seen her myself.
The rumors were definitely true. She was a magnificently beautiful unicorn. Good for the captain.
My tastes have always slanted towards unicorns and Canterlot had no shortage of them. They were usually smaller than pegasus mares and more elegant. It may have been a condition brought on by living around them so long. Either way, when Lady Cadence hopped up on the treadmill and started trotting, it became more difficult to just focus on the weights.
“Silent Knight, I didn’t expect to see you here on your day off.” The voice was the captain’s and came from behind me.
My head whipped in his direction and almost directly into the bar resting in the bench’s crooks. “Sir! I was… working out.”
“I see that.” He chuckled. “It is still your day off, though.”
Maybe he hadn’t seen me looking. “Old habit. I played ball in school. Never looked at exercise as a chore.”
“Good stallion. You want a spot? You can use more weight that way.”
“If you’re willing, sir.”
Shining Armor nodded and slipped two more plates on with his magic. “No problem. Just be sure you keep your attention on the bar when you’re lifting.”
White coats don’t hide blushes well. I’m certain my face was red… literally and figuratively. “Yes, sir,” I replied meekly before we went to lifting weights.