Shining Armor had insisted that I use the lieutenant’s office until we actually had a lieutenant. It was unnecessarily large for me but I did what I was told. He stuck his head through the door and said, “Great work yesterday. I heard the gryphon soldiers were being rude and that nopony even batted an eye.”
“That is correct, sir. It takes more than some feather-brained gryphons to get under the coats of my ponies,” I replied.
“That’s the spirit! Speaking of ponies, I’ve found a good candidate for lieutenant. He is still at the officer’s academy, but I think he’s ready. Plus, he’ll have a great unit sergeant to educate him on how the Royal Guard life actually is.”
I tilted my head. We didn’t have a unit sergeant. Our unit had not been big enough for command to feel that was necessary. “Who is that, sir?”
Shining Armor set a first sergeant pin on the desk and said, “You, obviously. You’ve been running the whole unit for a while and it is getting awkward with Sergeant Orchid and you being the same rank. Plus, after Lieutenant Haze, command and I agree that this unit is too important to deny a new officer the council of a unit sergeant simply because it is small.”
Looking at the pin, I set a hoof on it and pulled it closer. This one I didn’t feel was undeserved. Early? Sure… but I had been committing a lot of time to running the unit. Plus, the captain was right, of course. Unit sergeants for sections had the responsibility of molding new lieutenants. At least the ones smart enough to listen.
I nodded and said, “Thank you, sir.”
The captain replied, “I know it is a bit fast but things change rapidly sometimes. Now, as your last task as unit commander, I need three names of who should get your old position. Then you and I are going to go look this academy pony over and see if he is House Guard material. Understood?”
“Understood, sir!” The captain left me alone to consider who I thought was ready to take on my old job. This was going to be difficult.
Radiant Orchid and I sat at lunch, eating quietly. I looked across the table at her and said, “Orchid, can I ask you something?”
Orchid looked up from her apple salad mid-chew. “Hmm?”
I took that as a yes. “Do you mind that I’ve been promoted so fast? I wanted to see how you felt about that.”
She swallowed and then softly laughed. “You’re sweet to be concerned. Listen, Silent Knight. I wanted to be part of Princess Celestia’s House Guard. I worked really hard to make that happen. You know as well as I do that when you make that choice, promotion opportunities get really slim. Some ponies spend their entire career in the Palace Guard and never make sergeant. That is even more likely as a House Guard.”
Orchid paused to sip her drink. “I made sergeant. That is a big achievement. I also decided to move to Princess Luna’s House Guard. That is an even smaller unit. I’m glad I did. I certainly don’t begrudge you your success. Who volunteers for every extra duty? You. Who knows every regulation and protocol? You. Who looks out for everypony on the team? You. It was always going to be you.” She patted me on the hoof. “No, I don’t mind. You’ve earned it.”
I thought that over and then offered, “But you have more seniority.”
Orchid laughed, shaking her head. “I also have a husband and two foals I like going home to. The higher you go, the more responsibility you have and, as a consequence, the less time at home. That is fine for you—” She winced. “That isn’t what I meant, Silent Knight. You’ll get there. For now, though, it is fine for you.”
The comment hadn’t really stung but she had me there. Orchid had a beautiful family. If I had one like hers I wouldn’t want to stay late, either. My life was all about the job. I smiled at her and nodded. “Then we’re good. That wasn’t why I asked you to lunch, though. I need two names from your squad on who you think should make sergeant.”
Her head tilted and she asked, “From my squad? For your squad?”
I nodded with certainty. “Promotion opportunities are slim and the new first sergeant can’t seem like he favors one squad over the other. Everypony should have a fair shot. I’m going to pick two, you’re going to pick two, and I’ll give the best three to the captain.”
“Look at you,” she teased. “You’re going to make an excellent first first sergeant for this unit. Just remember us little ponies when you make master sergeant and move up.”
I snorted at that idea. Ponies do not make master sergeant easily or quickly and I’d be competing against every pony in both House Guards and the Palace Guard. No, this was going to be home for a while.
“You realize two of these names are from Sergeant Orchid’s squad, right?” Shining Armor asked me.
“I do, Captain. I considered everypony in the unit and asked Sergeant Orchid’s advice on who she thought was ready in her squad. I did the same for mine. I took those ponies and ranked them according to seniority, commendations, and their leadership qualities. These were the three top ponies,” I explained.
“And you’re not worried your ponies will be upset if we bring somepony over from Orchid’s squad?” he asked.
“Not at all, sir. We’re one unit. Everypony is close knit and knows the score. First sergeants can't play favorites and I’ve got a lot of rookies in my squad. Orchid has the more seasoned guards. I took her two recommendations and put them with the best I had.”
Shining Armor nodded and tapped my desk. “Well, you passed the first test. Not that I had any doubt. Now that you have the list, who should get the promotion?”
“I gave you the three names as requested, Captain.”
“And I’m asking you to recommend one to me now, First Sergeant,” he replied.
“That puts me in an awkward position, sir. The best pony for the job per the metrics and Sergeant Orchid’s recommendation is Iridescence. If I pick her, the others may suspect it is because of our friendship.”
“Is she the best pony for the job?” the captain asked.
“Yes, sir. She has the second highest seniority of all of the first class ponies and the most commendations. Her interpersonal skills exceed everypony’s, mine included, and if this were a regular guard unit she would have made sergeant before me.”
“Then make the call, Sergeant,” Shining Armor said pointedly. This was clearly the second part of the test.
I looked at the documents in front of me once more to be sure. Mountain Stone had the most seniority. He had a full year and then some more than Iridescence. At the same time, Mountain had less than half the commendations she did. Iridescence even had a letter of reference from her commanding officer from her time as a palace guard. Then there was Lightning Flash. He was the best of my squad currently, but he really didn’t stack up.
From the group of three, I slid Lightning away and looked back and forth between the two remaining. What would the other ponies think? It was my first decision as unit sergeant and I was going to pick my former special somepony? On the other hoof, how could I face Iridescence if I sabotaged her career because I was worried that other ponies wouldn’t see the facts?
The captain just stood there quietly letting me work it out myself. I slid a piece of paper over to him and said, “Mares rule the world.”
He nodded in agreement. “That they do.”
It so happened that everypony on Princess Luna’s House Guard did know the score and how to read metrics. If anypony was upset about Iridescence making sergeant, I couldn’t tell. The fact that they threw her a small party may have also been a hint.
I eyed the group and said, “Nopony threw me a party.”
Iridescence was sitting beside me, having her cake and eating it, too. “Everypony had expected you to make sergeant,” she said between bites. “You want a reward for doing what you’re supposed to?”
I snorted and then asked, “And why is Winterspear here? She isn’t even part of the unit.”
That yielded a shove from Iridescence, which isn’t strictly regulation but this was a semi-unofficial function and we weren’t in uniform. “I invited her and it’s my party. I’ll invite who I want to. Quit being surly.”
“Fine, fine,” I said before taking a large bite of cake. It was amazing. Crystal Wishes had brought it from Velvet Step’s family’s bakery, Sunridge Sweets. Those ponies really knew cake. I was in a sweets-induced heaven until I saw impending doom. My eyes went wide. It was Miley’s turn to play pin the tail on the pony and she was way off course.
Princess Luna had her back to the rapidly approaching Miley. I opened my mouth to shout a warning but with all of the cake I had just bit into, it sounded like the noises that fluffy pink pony from Ponyville makes.
Time slowed down and I felt my heart pounding in my chest. Princess Luna was about to have a second tail. I pointed a hoof. It was all I could do. Iridescence followed my gaze and gasped.
“Cripes! My backside hath been pinned!” Princess Luna shouted as she jumped straight into the air. Everypony in the room turned to look, horror on their faces.
“What happened?” Miley asked before pulling down the blindfold. For such a darkly coated pony she turned almost as white as me. “P-Princess! I’m so sorry!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. Everypony else was fawning over Princess Luna, who was taking it in good spirit. Golden magic levitated a slice of cake out the door and I distinctly saw a sun cutie mark on the white flank that was beating a hasty retreat. A set up then… the whole pinning had been a diversion.
I got up and went to check on the princess. She was a good sport and we got Miley back on track. Thank goodness our alicorn rulers have a sense of humor… and a lust for cake.
Princess Luna and I walked side by side back to her chambers. Mixer and Cog were two paces back. As far as strolls through the palace went, this was probably one of the most unnecessarily secure ones.
Speaking softly, I asked, “Princess… before the gryphons came. You mentioned you were young before you were banished. If I could inquire… are alicorns ever fillies? You were born just like any other pony?”
“This is not something that we casually speak of, Silent Knight. Many ponies have certain… beliefs about us. Princess Celestia feels that certain things should remain behind the curtain and I agree.”
That made sense. Some ponies looked at the alicorns as living goddesses. “Of course, Princess. My apologies.”
When we reached the doors I pulled them open for the princess and she walked in.
“Silent Knight, I know thou art off duty, but join me for a moment please. I would like to speak privately.”
“Yes, Princess,” I replied before motioning to Mixer and Cog. “You two take position outside the door here for now.”
“Yes, Sergeant,” they replied as I followed the princess in.
After pushing the door closed, I made my way over to where Princess Luna had sat down. I took a spot next to her.
“Dost thou believe that alicorns are goddesses?” the princess asked me.
That was a very philosophical question. “Well, logically speaking… alicorns are immortal, they have powerful magic far beyond unicorns, they can fly, and they’re larger. If they’re not goddesses, they’re certainly more goddess-like than pony-like. I guess by being so close to you I don’t exactly… worship you. At the same time I know you’re not exactly like me.”
“Ageless,” Princess Luna corrected.
“We are ageless, not immortal. I won’t die of old age but I can be killed. Thus why thou art here to protect me,” the princess corrected.
My nose wrinkled and I shivered. The mere idea of the princess being killed creeped me out. “Ageless, then. Princess, you’re as goddess-like as can be… so I guess I do think of you that way.”
“Dost thou believe that Celestia and I have always been?” she asked.
“I did… but in working here, you both talk about being younger and even foalhoods. It is confusing. I know you’re both older than well-recorded history.”
“Indeed.” Princess Luna shifted and looked me over. “I was once a filly and we have not always been. Thou wilt keep that in confidence, wilt thou not?”
“You have my word, Princess.”
The princess nodded firmly and lightly patted me with a hoof. “If thou wouldst excuse me, I would like to take a little rest.”
“Certainly,” I replied as I got up and left the room, leaving the princess to her thoughts.