It was two hours before I got that officer I requested: Shining Armor himself. That gave me some peace of mind. His expression was a mix of concern and relief. The cleanup was just underway and he came to my side.
“Are you married, sir?” I asked him, trying to lighten the mood, even just a little bit.
The captain shook his head. “No, turns out the bride was a changeling queen that feeds off of love.”
“We’ve all been there, sir,” I said and he actually laughed.
We stood in silence for a while and then he sighed. “What a mess. Is it true Astral Dyke froze up when it counted?”
Ending another pony’s career is a tough thing to do. Having bad officers was even worse, however, so I nodded. Besides, what did it matter? A dozen ponies had been there when he froze and my career was over, too. I defended my mare instead of my princess. It was not exactly a banner day for the Royal Guard.
“You saved a lot of ponies today,” he went on, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“You kept your promise, Silent Knight. When all the cards were on the table you rallied everypony and kept them focused. Dyke froze up. You did your duty and that saved lives.”
Did my duty? I had done nothing of the sort. No, I’d acted like a fool. It's true that I had filled in for the lieutenant, but any of the others could have done that. I stood silently. I should just tell him now and be done with it.
“Are you okay to hold the floor here while I handle everything else? The whole city is a mess, there is a lot to take in, and I don’t have anypony to spare. The injury list just runs on and on.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. Better not to burden him with one more thing right then. It could wait until the more pressing matters were handled. He was responsible for the House Guards, the palace, and the city, after all.
Shining Armor nodded and said, “Good. Thank you… Oh, you’ll need this.” There wasn’t much ceremony to it. We didn’t have time. He took the rank pin off my armor and replaced it with a sergeant’s pin.
Looking down at the pin, I shook my head. “I don’t deserve that.”
The captain looked at me, confusion playing across his face. “Well… I don’t have time to argue it with you and I don’t have enough guards, so you’re stuck with it. Carry on, Sergeant,” he said before heading off to attend other matters.
“Yes, sir,” I said once he was gone.
“Sergeant, huh?” Iridescence asked me from her bed in the infirmary.
It was the first time I had been able to get down to see her… two days later. I had been busy filling in our gaps, going over security, and getting things back together. Canterlot was a mess and all of the extra guards were trying to handle that. That left a whole lot less of us for the palace and the princesses. Then there was the fact that I simply didn’t want to face her.
“I guess,” I said, looking her over. She was on her back with a hoof up in a sling. She was bandaged around the body, both legs, and on her head.
She reached out and took my hoof in hers. “Princess Luna isn’t going to say anything.”
I shook my head. “I don’t care if she does or not. I made a decision. Part of me regrets it but the rest of me is overjoyed I did. Let them relieve me. You’re safe.”
Iridescence nodded and smiled… but it was a sad smile. “About that. Listen, Silent Knight, please don’t take this as me being ungrateful. I am very grateful…” She squeezed my hoof. “I… I don’t want to be a burden to you, nor do I want to be the reason Luna gets hurt.” Slowly, she shook her head. “I don’t think you can do your job with me around.”
“What?” I blinked. “Iridescence, what are you saying?”
She swallowed. “I’m saying you had to make an impossible choice that nopony could win. You made it and it worked out. Next time it might not... but there can’t be a next time. I don’t want to be responsible for ruining your career. When I’m well enough to travel, I’m going home for the rest of my injury time. Then I’ll use my leave time. After that, I’ll probably put in a transfer.”
Gently, I let her hoof go and set mine down. “What about us?” I asked, already suspecting the answer.
Iridescence didn’t say anything for a while. I just stood there. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it now. “I don’t honestly know if I’m coming back,” she started. “It wouldn’t be fair to you, anyway. Long distance just doesn’t work and then there are the regulations… I… I think we should call it quits. Okay?”
My chest hurt. Even though I knew it was coming it felt like somepony had hit me right in the gut. I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I finally said, “Okay.”
“Are you okay?” she asked, worry creeping into her voice. “Silent Knight?”
“Okay,” I repeated. I backed out of her room and then trotted quickly away from the infirmary. Under the weight of my armor, I was having trouble breathing. I had to get away and hide. None of it was worth it. The hard work, long days, pain, and stress hadn’t paid off. I had been one of the elite. Now I had nothing. This was nothing like what I had dreamed of.
My heart pounded as I galloped into the palace, half blinded by pain. I found somewhere to hide. A small room off of the main hall, I think. I tossed my helmet off before I collapsed behind a couch. My body shook and I laid my head on the floor.
“Hello? Is somepony in here?” a pristine voice called.
Oh, no… I was going to be found in this sorry state. What did it matter? I tried to be still behind the couch but my armor rattled as I shook.
Hoof steps came closer and the couch illuminated with golden magic. It gently slid away, revealing Princess Celestia. She raised a hoof in surprise. I must have been the most pathetic pony she had ever seen. “You are… Silent Knight, are you not?” she asked, her voice full of concern.
Words failed me at that moment. I just nodded at her and to my surprise she settled onto the floor at my side. The princess wrapped her wing around me and asked, “What has gone wrong, my little pony?”
I told her everything. Every last detail. At least what I could manage as I fought hard not to sob. It was the confession of a pony with nothing to lose.
Princess Celestia just listened. The ruler of a kingdom, a living goddess, just held me while I unloaded my petty concerns on her. That was just the sort of pony she was. No judgment, no anger, just love. That is why I had wanted to protect her so badly and yet she was protecting me.
Eventually, the shaking stopped and I wiped my eyes. The princess lightly stroked my mane and finally said, “I can forgive you, but it will be meaningless if you can’t forgive yourself. Will you do that for me, please?”
“I still have to face what I’ve done,” I said quietly.
She nodded. “Yes, but that is only part of it. Can you forgive?” She rose and I did the same. I squared myself away and looked up to her.
“I will princess. Whatever it takes, I’ll move forwards,” I promised her.
Princess Celestia smiled and replied, “I’m glad. We’re better off with you than without. Good day, Silent Knight.”
“Good day, Princess.” I bowed deeply. She left me to my own devices and I put my helmet back on. I was still shaking but some things in life are like a bandage. They’re easier to deal with if you rip it off quicker. I decided then and there that it was time to inform the captain.
My account to Captain Armor was similar but lacked the sobbing and most of the shaking, thankfully. He listened to it all without any expression. When I finished, he looked at me and said, “I’m honestly surprised.”
I nodded and said, “I’ll clean out my footlocker, sir.”
The captain shook his head. “Ease up there. You made a mistake or two. A few mistakes that have to be weighed against all of your accomplishments. Dating your peer isn’t against regulations. You also didn’t lie about it. You just didn’t mention it was as serious as it was. Obviously, now that you’re a sergeant, you couldn’t be together…” He winced. “Sorry. Poor choice of words.”
“It is fine,” I said, but it felt like throwing salt on a fresh wound.
“As far as I’m concerned, you made a decision that needs review. The regulations say we investigate it and decide if you acted in a fashion that makes the most sense. Nothing is as black and white as you seem to think. You weighed saving a life against protecting the princess from a clearly smaller threat. Even if your judgment was clouded by affection, it was still a decision any of us would have to consider.” Shining Armor paused a moment and paced back and forth.
“Furthermore, the investigation would likely agree that you saved Irid—a fellow guard’s life without exposing Princess Luna to too much danger. Over and beyond that, Princess Luna did not report this incident, which means the investigation would have to agree that she did not feel at risk or that your decision was wrong. Finally, you could have said nothing. You could have hidden this. You had every incentive not to come here and tell me and yet you did. Your personal integrity is without question.”
This was not going the way I had imagined. It sounded like the captain was proud of me. Maybe he just didn’t want to kick me while I was down.
“Silent Knight? Are you paying attention?” he asked. I had gotten lost in thought again.
“I’m confused, sir,” I admitted. “I feel awful and like I let you and the princess down. You’re not angry. You’re… making excuses for me.”
“Is that what you think?” he asked sternly, a bit of temper rising in his voice.
I stiffened and blinked. “I—I don’t know,” I stammered. He had broken my cool just like that. I wasn’t accustomed to the captain being angry with me. It was startling but I managed to recover.
“Listen up and listen good. Mistakes are part of the job. I made them and I’ll make more. You’re not going to last long if you let every small thing eat you up inside. Is it just that you want to give up? Is that it? That certainly is easier,” he continued, his tone firm and unyielding.
“No, sir, I couldn’t imagine life without being a royal guard.” I replied.
He stamped a hoof. “Then act like it!” he shouted. Not angrily, but like our instructors had in the academy.
“The ponies that make it are the ones that make mistakes and learn from them. You have to do better the next time. It is the ponies that keep making the same mistake that concern me. Which sort are you? Are you going to make these mistakes again?”
I shook my head. “No, sir, never again. I learned a hard lesson.”
“You’re right, you did.” he said, his voice dropping. “Now I could refer this to command for an inquiry but that would be, in my professional opinion, a waste of time. The princess would speak for you. You’d get through without even a mark on your record. Do you want me to waste my and another officer's time or do you think I’m making excuses for you?”
“No, sir,” I said loudly.
“Very good. Then would you agree it is time to actually get to work? I’ve got a laundry list, I need a sergeant to handle it... ” His tone changed slightly. “...and I imagine you need something to keep you occupied for now.”
“About time, then,” Shining Armor said before motioning me over to his desk. He had schedules and rosters there. Sergeant Windchaser was injured and I was taking over her squad temporarily… or so I thought. Over the next hour, I found out life was going to be different after today.
Sergeant Windchaser was retiring, Iridescence was going on extended leave, and we were getting a new lieutenant that was solely assigned to Princess Luna’s House Guard. Over and beyond that, high command had decided it was time for additional expansion to ensure our unit was close to the same size as Princess Celestia’s. That meant new faces and a lot of training.
I looked it all over and then across the desk at the captain. “Perhaps we could revisit the part about me quitting?”
“Too late now, Silent Knight. You’re in the thick of it,” he replied and honestly, I was glad. The Royal Guard was there for me and I was going to go back to giving myself wholly over to it.