“I realize a lot of you may want to go to the Grand Galloping Gala tomorrow night, but we’re going to need extra security so I’m asking for volunteers to work it. If there are enough, I won’t have to assign ponies,” Shining Armor explained to the group.
My hoof went up. Iridescence shot me a look. Other ponies were also volunteering.
The captain started counting hooves and then cleared his throat. “We’re going to need about ten more. Any other volunteers? Otherwise, I’m just going to have to pick some at random.”
At my side, Iridescence sighed and lifted her hoof. A few more ponies did the same but with less sighing.
Shining Armor counted again. “Close enough. I’ll post the rosters shortly. Thank you, everypony. Next year I’ll give preferential treatment to the volunteers when it comes to leave. That is it for today. Dismissed.”
There weren’t a lot of “whole palace” meetings where both House Guards and the Palace Guard got together. The Gala was a special occasion, though. The palace would be open to a large group of ponies. It was far more access than normal and that meant additional security concerns.
Volunteering was easy for me. I’d never been to the Gala, didn’t have a ticket, and didn’t really care. That seemed more like Iridescence’s thing and she seemed grumpy about it.
On our way back to our room, she said, “We were off.”
“I know. You didn’t have to volunteer, too.”
“We’re partners,” she reminded me.
“I appreciate that.”
That seemed to be the end of it once we reached our room. Iridescence removed her armor, set it on the stand, flopped unceremoniously onto her bunk, and started to look through a magazine. She didn’t utter a single word.
While that was pretty unnerving, there was something else that I needed to take care of. I went to the table and started to work on my response to Winterspear. It was probably past time for me to do that.
Yes, I’m having fun. Most of my off days allow me plenty of time to work out in the gym. That always relaxes me and gives me a sense of progress. It is work-like, but I was doing that long before I became a royal guard.
Did you know alicorns have to exercise to stay in shape, too? I didn’t. They do, though! Princess Luna likes to swim. I don’t think that is a secret but don’t spread it around. That would be a silly thing to end a career over.
Yes, I’ve made a friend. Her name is Iridescence. She’s my partner. Before you pick up the pencil to write that that doesn’t count, it does! We do things outside of work. We go shopping together, have an occasional picnic, and spend our off days together. That all counts.
I actually think she is mad at me right now. We have the Grand Galloping Gala coming up and I volunteered to work so other ponies could go. That seemed to set her off but I can’t understand why.
Mares aren’t as obvious about things as stallions are. No offense.
What about you? Is there anything new going on? Are you taking your job as sergeant serious enough? You may not be patrolling anymore but that is no excuse to loaf.
Tell Mom I said hello if you get a chance.
That was another letter complete. I set the pencil down and lifted the paper up. “Could you help me fold this?” I asked Iridescence.
She shot me an unkind look, but then sighed and did as I’d asked. She must have really not wanted to work that night. Still, she didn’t have to volunteer, too.
“Thank you.” The folded paper went into the envelope and I headed out to mail it.
Once that errand was done, I’d go get Iridescence a treat. Ice cream or something. Mares like ice cream. Maybe that would make her feel better about having to work… or at least less angry with me. Our room was too small to hide from an angry mare.
“Princess, are you certain you don’t want to go to the Gala? It is the biggest event of the year,” Iridescence said while I stood quietly behind her.
The princess waved a dismissive hoof. “We are certain! We would not know anypony there. It would not amuse us.”
Well, that was that. The princess didn’t want to go. We’d have a nice quiet night in her chambers.
“But you might have fun, Princess. You may even meet new ponies and make some friends,” Iridescence said over my thoughts.
Princess Luna paused, as if to think it over, and then replied, “No, though we thank thee for thinking of our feelings. Perhaps we can watch from the balcony? We three can make our own fun, can we not?”
“Of course, Princess,” Iridescence said and looped her hoof around mine and tugged me closer. “Silent Knight and I will be happy to do that. Right?” She gave me a look that read danger.
I had only one response to that: “Yes, Princess.”
“Huzzah!” Princess Luna exclaimed before levitating a box from one of the shelves. “Shall we play a board game?”
“Yes, Princess,” we replied in unison.
Playing games on duty. That wasn’t procedure, but we had a lot of extra security for the Gala. Two house guards and several palace guards. Iridescence could play while I kept an eye on things.
Princess Luna left her quarters and set out for the big balcony on the second floor that overlooked the main hall. We fell in behind her and followed. The whole area had been roped off and was relatively quiet in comparison to the noise coming from below.
The princess set the game on one of the tables and took a seat. Iridescence sat as well while I went to look over the balcony. Things were just getting started and ponies had not been admitted yet. Then I went to look out the window. There was a mass of ponies approaching together.
“Come on, Silent Knight, come sit down,” Iridescence said to me.
“There appears to be a mob gathering outside the gates. They are... singing... and dancing. They are also well choreographed. I don’t think they’re a threat,” I reported and came back over. Princess Luna and Iridescence were levitating pieces into place with their respective magic. Despite knowing better, I settled at the table with them.
Sitting while on duty felt weird. Iridescence levitated the helmet off my head and set it aside. My hooves wiggled after it in a failed recapture attempt. I looked at her. Playing on duty and out of uniform? So it was to be a mutiny.
“Hast thou played before, Silent Knight?”
“No, Princess,” I replied.
Iridescence spoke out of turn and said, “We are so surprised.” Both of the mares laughed.
An instructor had once told me that I could have had a career in comedy. Maybe he wasn’t just being a jerk.
Princess Luna smiled. “Fear not, Silent Knight. We shall teach thee to play. Thou mayest even like it.”
The board was an old timey map of Equestria and had colored lines all over it. The princess slid a group of pieces towards me. I took one in my hoof and peered at it. One of many blue train cars. She then slid four cards over to me.
“Thy goal is to complete the routes on thy cards. Pretend thou art riding the train and exploring our great land.”
Pretend. I used to do that a lot with my sister, Winterspear. We played all sorts of games. At least until our father got wind of it. He said we spent too much time with our head in the clouds. Which, at the time, my sister thought was hilarious. You know, since we’re pegasi.
Dad… well, Dad didn’t find that funny. Winterspear caught the worst of that. She always did. We focused more on our studies afterwards.
Orders were orders, though. “Yes, Princess. I’ll pretend,” I replied and she set about explaining the rules to me.
They were simple enough and I caught on quickly. It was a game about trains, but there was a lot of strategy to how you laid out your routes and blocked others’. I had to win! I also had a job to do. On Iridescence’s turn, I got up to look down on the ballroom. The Gala was in full swing but there was something out of place.
A pink mare with a cotton candy mane was making something of a scene. “There is a pink mare acting peculiar down there,” I said.
“That is fine, Silent Knight. There are guards there. Come play your turn,” Iridescence replied.
I wasn’t sure. “She has a cannon,” I added. “Should I take her out?”
“Nay, Silent Knight. It is thy turn,” Princess Luna said.
I put the crossbow down and came back over to the table. “Yes, Princess.”
Much to the dismay of the mares, I laid down six cards of the same color and placed my train cars. Were they expecting an easy victory over the new pony? Strategy is my middle name!
We played a while. Iridescence and Princess Luna chatted like two familiar ponies might. It seemed a little like fraternizing but I knew my partner. She was a professional. Between turns, I would keep an eye on the ballroom below. Towards the end of the evening things seemed to get really out of hoof.
“Is it typical for everypony to be running in terror at the Gala?” I asked.
Iridescence got up and replied worriedly, “What? Quit fooling around.” Both she and Princess Luna came over to look at the bedlam below.
Things had gone sideways for sure. The pink pony dove off the stage and sent a cake flying. As it approached the crowd, a rather cowardly unicorn stallion used a beautiful unicorn mare as a shield. I’d been told he was a princeling. Not an actual prince that was in the line of royal succession, not that such a thing really existed anymore.
The princeling bumped into the large statue of Princess Celestia that dominated the center of the room and caused it to topple over. To my amazement, a blue pegasus mare managed to catch it and somehow support its weight.
Unfortunately, she immediately bumped it into a support column, knocking it down. I was seriously starting to question the structural integrity of the palace. It seemed that relying on the lowest bidder for royal construction was not paying off. Celestia knows I’d seen some insane things going on with the ponies building over in Princess Luna’s wing.
Just a moment after the column went down, a herd of animals burst into the ballroom with a yellow pegasus mare chasing them and screaming, “LOVE ME!”
At that point, all decorum broke down and the Gala descended into a riot.
I looked to Iridescence and she looked back at me. I’ve known her long enough to read her expressions. This one was telling me: "No, Silent Knight, this is not typical for the Gala."
“Should we move the princess?” I asked.
Iridescence considered that and then shook her head. “Not from the palace but certainly from here. This situation could spill upstairs in a hurry and we’d be overwhelmed. I don’t much care for the idea of knocking down regular ponies who don't mean any harm but are just panicked.”
She was right. Of course, she usually was. I nodded and said, “Princess, shall we finish our game in your chambers?”
“Yes, we would not mind that at all. It is getting quite loud out here. ‘Tis a silly event,” she said and, with little effort, levitated the board, all the pieces, and cards with her alicorn magic. That always amazed me, but I didn’t have time to enjoy it or eye it warily.
Taking the lead, Iridescence said, “If you’ll follow me, Princess.” She started to head towards Princess Luna’s chambers.
I took up the rear, keeping an eye behind me. There were still sounds of chaos and commotion coming from the ballroom.
Thankfully we reached our destination without any excitement. I closed the door behind us while Princess Luna and Iridescence set the game back up. When it was clear that it was safe, I resumed my seat.
We played on quietly until I asked, “Should the columns have been that easy to knock down?”
Both mares looked up at me.
“What?” I frowned. “Nopony finds that weird?”