“Listen up, ponies!” Shining Armor called from the front of the room. “As you all now know, an anonymous threat has been made against Canterlot. Princess Celestia has requested extra security and we are obliged to provide it. We’re not certain when or if an attack will be carried out, but command is inclined to think it will occur near the upcoming wedding. It is a high profile event, which makes it a prime target.”
That also meant that the captain, his bride, or both could be the target of the anonymous group’s aggression. This was simply unheard of, but royal guards stick together and this was starting to feel personal. An attack on our captain and his family was an attack on us all.
Shining Armor continued his briefing. “We’re doubling up on security everywhere and, in some places, tripling it. We’ve called in guards from other cities to temporarily bolster our numbers. They’ll handle perimeter duties and other lower-level functions. You all know this place better than anypony else and I want my top players in key positions.
“Princess Celestia’s House Guard has enough depth to handle the double shifts and then some. Princess Luna’s House Guard is still growing, which means I’ll be assigning some PCHGs to her unit. I realize a lot of you have more seniority, but I’m keeping the PLHGs in charge there. Princess Luna is different and they know her well. Be a good teammate and follow their lead.
“Keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Report everything and do your duty. This is what we get paid for, boys and girls. Dismissed!”
We all started filing out into the hallway. For the time being I was a watch leader. That meant every pony during my watch reported to me. In this instance, that was Miley Hooves and myself. I reported to the watch commander, Sergeant Windchaser. She reported to the officer on duty. It was all very efficient and I would have loved it if I weren’t concerned about the fact that it meant we were in danger.
Miley Hooves was an efficient enough guard. She had been one longer than me but had not been promoted to guard first class. I think it was because calamity seemed to follow her. Prior to being on Princess Luna’s House Guard she had been a Canterlot Guard. She was responsible for keeping the city safe in general. That was something she did pretty well. Keeping it safe from herself, however, was a different story.
Minor incidents and events always seemed to follow Miley. They were never big, dangerous, or even noteworthy. It was just that they happened frequently: a broken table here, a smashed window there. I was amazed at how much collateral damage the little earth pony had done in her career. It made me shudder to think about her insurance premiums.
“I’m sorry, Silent Knight,” she mumbled as we swept up a broken tea cup in Princess Luna’s chamber.
“It is okay. It was an accident,” I soothed.
Miley frowned a bit under her helmet. Her coat was a dark chestnut color and her mane was black. When she was in her armor she almost disappeared in the shadows cast by the helmet. I suppose that is why when she was a filly the other foals teased her and called her 'black cat.'
If it wasn’t her coloring, the others also teased her about her size. Miley wasn’t just petite for a guard. She was petite for a mare and was mistaken for a filly in secondary school on more than one occasion. There was a long list of 'short' nicknames for her, too. Those were just a couple of stories she told me while we were working together. I never had a nickname… much less several. Oh well.
We had the mess squared away just before Princess Luna wandered in from her private bedroom. “Good morning,” she said to us.
“Good morning, Princess,” we responded in unison.
“Your breakfast has just arrived,” I added and indicated to her table. It was all there minus a tea cup.
“We thank thee,” she said before sitting down. The princess looked around and then under the table. “Silent Knight, the tea cup appeareth to be missing.”
Miley’s shoulders slumped a little.
“Small accident, Princess. The steward will be right up with a new one. Until then, we have this…” I sat a mug on the table that I normally used on breaks. It was from the Canterlot Palace gift shop. It was dark blue and ‘My Favorite Princess Raises the Moon' was written on it in white letters.
Princess Luna looked at the mug, looked at me, and then laughed. “Very well, this will do.” She then proceeded to pour her tea into the mug.
I went back to my spot next to Miley and patted her on the hoof. She perked up a little and whispered, “Thanks, boss.”
Boss? That was a weird thing to hear another pony say to me… but not in a bad way. Truthfully, I was pretty good as a royal guard. I'd never thought of myself as a boss but maybe I should. Perhaps I could even be an officer someday?
I nodded at her and we stood quietly while Princess Luna ate her breakfast.
Shift changes had been extended to half an hour. That was so that the oncoming guards could be fully briefed. Unfortunately, since nothing was happening, it led to us with far too many ponies in one place. I stood quietly with Iridescence while Miley stood with Harvest Moon.
When the princess was out of earshot, I asked Iridescence, “How is it being watch lead?”
She shrugged and replied, “There isn’t much to it. Harvest stands there most of the time and if we can talk, we mostly discuss his family’s farm.”
I hedged a bit and then asked, “What would you think if I said I might want to try for officer's candidate school someday?”
Iridescence blinked and turned to look at me. “Really? You never were much on officers before… but you’d be good at it." She added in a whisper, "Of course, that complicates our situation a lot. That isn’t just inappropriate. It is completely against the rules.”
Right… fraternizing. How could I have forgotten about that? “Ah, you’re right. Oh well. It was probably a silly notion anyway,” I said with a shrug.
“What? Are you kidding me?” Iridescence turned completely to face me. “What has gotten into you lately? You’re not just meeting me halfway; you’ve leaped way over the line. It is like you’re a different pony.”
“I thought you wanted me to think about us,” I said, trying to stay faced forwards. “If I become an officer it will be really hard to have an us.”
“Yes, but we’d deal with that then. You can’t give up on your dreams and ideas because it might have an impact on us,” she said in ever increasingly loud whispers. “This job is important to you. You love it. I don’t want you to wake up one day and feel like you gave it all up for me… and then hate me for it.”
“Impossible, I could never hate you.” I said plainly.
Iridescence poked me with a hoof. “You’re a young stallion. You need to learn a little about moderation, Silent Knight. First it was all the job. Now it is not about the job at all. Find a middle ground.”
With a snort, I replied, “I feel like regardless which way I go you’re telling me I’m doing the wrong thing. I can’t sort it all out… why don’t you just—”
“Boss?” Miley broke in. She and Harvest Moon were right there. How had we missed that?
“Yes, Miley?” I asked, turning back.
“It is time to go. You know… unless you’d rather… um…” She trailed off.
Iridescence said with a scowl, “You are relieved.”
That was good enough for me. Harvest Moon took my spot while Miley and I headed off duty.
“Captain?” I asked nervously. “Captain, are you okay?”
“Huh, what?” Shining Armor rubbed his eyes with his hooves. “Silent Knight? Yes, I’m sorry. It's another migraine. I’m getting them more often now. What can I do for you?”
I hated to tell him, so I stalled. “Do you think I would be right for officer’s candidate school, sir?”
Shining Armor nodded. “I don’t see why not. You’re an excellent guard with a perfect record. To be frank, you’re already on the sergeant list. If you were willing to take a transfer, you could be one immediately. I know you like your position, though.”
“I do, sir. I may want to discuss my options with you at a more appropriate time. If that is okay.”
“Of course… but that isn’t why you’re here, is it?”
I shook my head. “No, sir, I’m afraid not. It is time for you to refresh the barrier. I’m sorry, sir.”
The captain pulled himself up from his chair with some effort. He looked rough. Professional, but rough. “Lend me a hoof?”
Without question, I moved to his side and let him subtly lean against me. It looked like we were walking in tight formation. It kept morale high. Most guards didn’t know the state Shining Armor was in and we were going to keep it that way. He could lean on me today. Perhaps some day in the future, I’d have to lean on him.
We moved together out onto the balcony and despite his fatigue, pain, and strain, he did his duty. Once he was done, we carefully returned to his office and he slumped into his chair.
“Thank you, Silent Knight,” he said quietly.
I nodded. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, sir. I see you have some reports to catch up on there. About twelve. I estimate it will take exactly two hours to do them. I’ll close your door and check in on you then.”
“Very good,” he said, already half asleep. “Dismissed.” I swept the reports into my duty bag and walked out, closing the door behind me.
Miley was outside waiting and I motioned to the door. “The captain is doing reports and is not to be disturbed. If anypony calls for him who isn’t an officer do not let them in. If it is an officer, knock loudly three times, wait five seconds, and then open the door. Understood?”
“Yes, boss,” she said and moved in front of the captain’s door. I headed off to the library to review the reports.
The watch leaders for Princess Luna’s House Guard stood at attention in the Captain’s office. That included me, too, of course.
“I’m sorry, sir. We won’t be attending the wedding?” Iridescence asked.
We stood next to each other, but the two of us hadn’t been speaking much this last week. Everypony was a little stressed and we had been snippy with each other. I didn’t like it, but for some reason I just kept doing it. I'm sticking with stress as the reason.
Shining Armor shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Command has decided that having both princesses and Lady Cadence all in the same place is too dangerous. Princess Luna and her guard will be on watch while Princess Celestia officiates.”
“Who will be the officer on duty, sir?” I asked.
“Lieutenant Dyke will be. I’ll obviously still be in charge if something happens, since that would interrupt the wedding, anyway. But to be honest, we won't have to do much if that happens. I shudder to think about what would happen to anypony that interrupted Cadence’s special day.”
We laughed. The captain knew how to keep our spirits up at just the right time. He was a great officer that way, all smiles and confidence on the outside while being exhausted on the inside.
I didn’t have the same level of confidence in Astral Dyke. The lieutenant was efficient and all, but I just didn’t get the same vibe off of him that I did from most other officers. At least the captain would still be around.
It made sense to keep the princesses separate. The plan was a solid one and most of us didn’t mind missing the wedding. It was supposed to be a joyous day, but we weren’t really feeling it. Well… at least I wasn’t.
“You’re dismissed. Silent Knight, a word,” the captain said as the others filed out to their duty. “Door,” he added.
I closed it. “Sir?”
The captain staggered a bit and braced himself on the desk. I stepped forwards but he held up a hoof. “I’m fine. Listen, we need to talk. Do you believe in a soldier’s gut instinct?”
I nodded. “Absolutely, sir.” Soldiers get feelings. My father taught me that and, more importantly, he trained me to listen to them.
“Good. I’ve got a big one. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen today at the wedding. I’m not sure what it will be, exactly, but every fiber of my body says it is going to be bad.”
The room seemed to chill and I frowned. “Perhaps we should cancel the event, sir.”
Shining Armor shook his head. “No… It is time to end this. The game of cat and mouse has gone on too long. We need to face it. I’m just not sure how much strength I have left.”
“What do you need me to do?” I asked, feeling inspired.
“Sergeant Windchaser is an exceptional guard, but her days of fighting are long over. When we get into the thick of it, you need to remember that. She might not be able to keep up and the others will be looking for someone to lead them.”
The captain walked to me, wobbling slightly. He set his hoof on my shoulder and looked me dead in the eyes. “I’ll have your word that they won’t be without somepony to look to?”
I held his gaze without any hesitation. “You have my word, sir.”
The captain gave me a nod and said, “Dismissed.”