“Sergeant, I notice that this unit doesn’t write a lot of citations for its members. There was a brief period where you did and then it just stopped. Why is that?” Lieutenant Rook asked.
Maybe he wasn’t going to work out. “Citations are for guards that don’t do their duty at all or well enough. Without sounding arrogant, by the time a pony is brought into a House Guard, they’re quite professional. Minor citations for little things are largely meaningless and just hurt morale. We save them for when we actually feel corrective action is necessary.”
Lieutenant Rook flipped through his manual and said, “According to the officer’s manual we should write at least one per month.” He then picked up a pencil and crossed it out. “Oh wait... now it doesn’t.”
Okay, maybe he would last after all. “So noted, sir!”
“Next question, Sergeant. Almost every unit of the palace guard keeps different shift hours and some run three shifts. What is the thought process behind our shifts?”
“Princess Luna keeps different hours than most ponies and we’ve adjusted accordingly. She wakes around lunchtime and goes to bed shortly after the dawn.”
“When you don’t keep her up all night playing games,” Russet interjected.
I couldn’t help but smile. “Correct. I should note that having a personal relationship with the pony you guard is essential to success. We do not want to be detached. We must know our VIP so that we can anticipate her and protect her while also being transparent. We are not her captors. That is why our shift change occurs in the middle of when she is asleep. That way both shifts will get to spend time with her.”
The lieutenant tossed his officer’s manual into the waste basket and said, “I don’t think that is going to help me much.”
With a shrug, I admitted, “I ran into the same situation, sir. Sometimes I still struggle with it. Manuals and oaths are black and white. Equestria has many shades of gray. Sometimes you have to make a gut decision and stick with it.”
“So I am seeing. I think if I’m going to truly learn how we do our job I need to experience it from the ground up like you did. Sergeant, I want you to put me on the schedule.”
My brow lifted. A lieutenant pulling guard duty? That was largely unheard of but it was the best way for him to learn what we actually do and spend some time with Princess Luna.
“Yes, sir,” I said, flipping open the schedule book. “You’ll take over for Harvest Moon. I need to train him up a bit for his Guard 2nd Class test anyway.”
“You do that?” the lieutenant asked.
“Of course, sir. A good leader makes everypony else look as strong as possible. If your whole unit looks strong, there will be no doubt as to why. Don’t we owe it to our team members to help them excel?”
“That we do, Sergeant. That we do.”
At that point, I felt confident that Russet Rook was going to do just fine. “Keep that up, sir, and you’ll be general soon.”
“Let’s just start with lieutenant for now, Sergeant.”
“Aye, sir. Aye.”
I sat quietly at the secretary’s desk in Princess Luna’s office, working on my sketches of Crystal Wishes. Lieutenant Rook was standing guard. He was doing well enough but officers’ training doesn’t really prepare you for standing still for hours on end. It was clear he was wearing out but from his expression, I knew he was going to tough it out and learn.
Princess Luna was having tea with Lady Cadence. Her mood had dramatically improved lately and we had not spoken at all about my mission. She and Lady Cadence were discussing the upcoming Hearts and Hooves Day. It was still a month or so away but I guess there is no harm in planning early.
“What dost thou and thy stunning captain have planned?” Princess Luna asked.
Lady Cadence clapped her hooves together. “He says he has a big surprise for me! I have been trying to figure out what it is. The suspense is just too much to bear!”
It was weird hearing about the captain in such a way. I tried to ignore it. “What about you, Luna?”
Princess Luna replied, “I am not certain. Hearts and Hooves is not a favorite holiday of mine. Most ponies will be busy, so I may simply catch up on some work.”
“Oh, Luna, that's no fun! It is the most romantic time of year! I could help you. A pony that may already fancy you might just find the courage to ask for your hoof thanks to some love magic,” Cadence said with glee.
“Thy concern is most kind, but I shall not be sad. It is enough to let the other ponies have a good time. Besides, it would be most inappropriate to just ensnare some poor pony with a crush.”
Cadence reached out to tap the copy of Princess of the Knight that was sitting on the coffee table. “Oh, you can’t fool me. I know you like romance. Perhaps I’ll cast my spell on Silent Knight over there.”
Across the room, I saw the lieutenant’s eyes go large. He wasn’t accustomed to banter yet. I should demonstrate how it is done.
Dropping my pencil, I said flatly, “Oh were it possible for a pony as low as I to love the moon so bright. It is forbidden! It must not be! I could fly into the night sky to reach her and still fall short to her magnificence. Alas, I must only admire from afar.” Yeah… I read Crystal Wishes’s book. Sue me! I got bored sometimes.
Everypony in the room stared at me and then Princess Luna started laughing. “Thou readest the book! Silent Knight, thou never ceases to amaze and delight.”
“One of the many services I offer, my Magnificent Lady,” I said in an over the top way before I bowed.
Lady Cadence giggled and waved a hoof in my direction. “Now I know why you like him so much, Luna. He isn’t all stuffy. You’re safe and you can still be yourself.”
That seemed to ease the lieutenant’s mind. He had been looking pretty stunned. Just another lesson for the new officer’s manual.
“And how about you, Silent Knight? What are you going to be doing on Hearts and Hooves Day?” Lady Cadence asked.
“If I have my way, I’ll be here playing a game or two with Princess Luna. Single ponies need to stick together. She owes me a rematch, anyway.”
“Verily!” Princess Luna cheered.
Being single wasn’t so bad when you had a princess to play games with. In fact, I’d say that it was almost preferable.
“If you say no, it is completely okay. I wouldn’t hold it against you at all… I just felt like I needed your permission,” Iridescence said.
“You do need my permission,” I replied.
She huffed at me. “You know what I mean. Not for the schedule change… for the date. Are you okay if I have a date on Hearts and Hooves Day?”
“I am,” I replied mostly honestly. Iridescence had met somepony and that was fine. We hadn’t been together for quite some time and her dating hadn’t impacted our friendship at all. I simply ignored that part of it.
“Can you cover for me that day, then?” she asked.
I stroked my chin. “I don’t know… maybe I have a date too and I’m technically off.”
The unicorn mare glared at me. It didn’t work this time but I was playing anyway. She asked, “And who is your date with?”
Iridescence slapped a hoof to her face. “Then cover for me and have a date with her! It is the same thing.”
“It is hard to cuddle in armor.”
I could tell she wanted to pop me one but the beauty of this particular conversation was that she couldn’t. “Please, Sergeant?”
“Oh, well, when you put it like that... Yes, of course I’ll cover for you.”
“Thank you! Thank you so much!” she exclaimed, happily leaning in to kiss my cheek. She then froze, her eyes going wide. Slowly, she reached over, took my helmet off, kissed my cheek, and then replaced it. Leaning back, she nodded. “Thank you, Sergeant.”
“You’re welcome. Dismissed,” I said as I felt my face flush.
“Miley Hooves? You, too?” I asked incredulously. “Iridescence wasn’t in here but two hours ago.”
Miley squirmed. “I know, Sergeant! I asked her first. That is why I’m here. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
I leaned back and steepled my hooves. “I’m listening.”
“Runic and I are going to a show. I actually asked him and he said yes! The only tickets I could get were for Hearts and Hooves Day. I really want to go,” she begged.
“Far be it for me to stand in the way of your passions, Miley.” I said. Since Runic and Miley had been doing ‘research’ together, she hadn’t had a single accident. I actually wanted that to work out for the both of them. “Okay. I’ll cover your shift for you.”
Miley squealed in delight, “Thank you, Sergeant! You’re so sweet! I mean… you’re great,” she trailed, pushed my helmet up, and kissed me on the cheek.
“No problem. Dismissed.” Twice in one day…
“You said yes to both of them,” Lieutenant Rook said. He had been in the office the whole time just observing.
“But why? You had the evening off and now you’re going to be standing guard.”
That was a fair question. I sat quietly a minute before I explained, “Iridescence rarely uses her leave since she has came back on duty from her injury. They’re stacking up and when somepony else needs her to cover for them, she does it. Sergeant Orchid has a family and I don’t. We’re the only two that can cover for Iridescence, so I’m the logical choice.”
“And Miley Hooves?” he asked.
I grinned. “She is an honest and hardworking guard. She never changes her shift and has a perfect attendance record. My cousin, Runic, is an eccentric guy. If she had the courage to ask him on a date and he said yes, I’m not getting in the way of that. I’m already covering and I actually like standing guard.”
“So in that case it is slightly personal?” he asked and I nodded.
“Exactly, sir. Personal feelings aside, though, I’d have still said yes in her case. She’s earned that much.”
“It all makes sense. You did slightly miscalculate the situation, Sergeant,” Lieutenant Rook said.
“Sir?” I asked.
“There are three ponies that can cover for Iridescence. You, Sergeant Orchid, and me. It also so happens I don’t have any plans, either, so you will be working the first half of Miley’s Shift and I’ll work the second.”
“That sounds an awful lot like an order, sir.”
“It is,” the lieutenant replied.
I smiled. “Very good, sir. Thank you. You’re most kind.”
“Please don’t kiss me on the cheek,” the lieutenant said hastily, leaning back.
Clearing my throat, I replied, “No problem, sir. I wouldn’t unless you bought me dinner first.”
I knocked lightly on the door to Crystal Wishes and Velvet Step’s condo.
“Just a minute,” Crystal Wishes called from inside after a few lights came on. The latch turned and she poked her head out. “Oh! Sergeant Knight… I’m a mess!”
In fairness, I had come by slightly later than intended. There had been a minor scuffle between Thunder Tumble and one of Princess Celestia’s house guards. I handled it but it had made me late. Not that Crystal Wishes was expecting me in the first place.
Crystal Wishes stood in her doorway wearing her night robe. Her mane was pulled up but still showed the wonderful blonde and pink mix. I certainly couldn’t have agreed she was a mess. Yes, she may not have been done up like she is when she goes out, but that made it all the more impressive. She was stunning even when she wasn’t trying. I really shouldn't have been thinking that.
“I apologize for disturbing you this late. I had intended to come over earlier. I know Velvet Step is gone and I wanted to look in and make sure you were getting on fine,” I explained, taking my helmet off.
She blinked and then said, “That is so sweet of you. Please, do come in.”
“Thank you,” I said, following her in as she stepped to the side. I’d never been inside her condo before. It was nice. Well-decorated, of course, but not overly so. Crystal Wishes was a pretty successful author but she didn’t live like one of the wealthy ponies. She was comfortable and that was one of the many reasons she was so approachable.
“How are you getting on?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m fine, honest,” she said, offering me a pillow. “Have a seat?” I did and she went on, “This is the new normal for Velvet and I’m growing accustomed to it. She is getting popular and she’ll be taking off with them a few times a year to perform in other cities. Sure, I miss her, but I wish all the success in the world for her.”
“You are one of the kindest ponies I’ve ever met,” I said quietly. “I have no doubt that you mean it. Besides, I’m sure she’ll be home soon.”
Crystal Wishes nodded and smiled. “Thank you. Yes, she will. Now, isn’t it a little late to be getting off work? And to come all the way here just to check up on me. Who is the kind pony now?”
“Occupational hazard. Staying late, that is. Checking up on you is just being a good friend.” I rubbed my cheek a bit. “Thunder Tumble got into a little fight with a rookie on Princess Celestia’s House Guard.”
“Over what?” Crystal Wishes asked. “Isn’t Thunder Tumble the sweetest, quietest guard in the lot?”
“Only until the first punch is thrown.” I chuckled and then smoothed my hoof over my mane. “It seems that there was a debate over who had the best unit sergeant. Evidently, I was described in less than flattering terms regarding my rigidity. Thunder took exception to that.”
Crystal Wishes laughed. “He was defending your honor? How did you handle it?”
I laughed with her. This wasn’t an everyday occurrence and I couldn’t help myself. “It was tough, I have to be honest. I got them separated of course. Thankfully, Sunny Day responded as well. We agreed it was a wash and that we’d handle our guards individually. Thunder was really upset. It took me a while to get him calmed down.”
“Will he be in much trouble?”
I shook my head. “Small slap on the hoof. He should have been the bigger pony but he really knocked that other guard down a peg. Between you and me, off the record, I was proud of him. He won the fight hooves down.”
Crystal Wishes covered her mouth as she laughed again. “You’re proud of him for winning a fight? I don’t know that I understand stallions.”
“My father always taught me never to start a fight but, if I found myself in one, I had best be sure I finished it. That is what Thunder did,” I explained.
“I guess that makes sense in some way,” Crystal Wishes said.
“How is the writing going? Princess Luna is very eager to get her hooves on it. She just may be your biggest fan.”
Crystal Wishes looked over at her sofa. It was covered with pages. “It is coming along… It feels a little forced at the moment. I need a stallion’s perspective on something and since you’re here, would you mind?” she asked, looking back at me.
“Not at all.”
“If you were in love with two different ponies and had to choose between them, how would you do it?” she asked.
That was one heck of a perspective question. I also wasn't an expert in the matters of the heart. “That is tough… You might not like my answer.”
“To start, I’d have to make a list of why I thought I loved each pony. If I truly did, couldn’t I say why? If I couldn’t, that might make it easier for me to see I only loved one… or neither,” I explained.
“Alright, you have your lists. What if you could make them for each pony? Which one would you pick then?” she pressed.
I inhaled and thought about that. “I guess I would look for the pony with the more long-term traits. When I imagine being in love, and I don't often, I don’t worry so much about physical beauty and such. Not that I don't appreciate that.
"My mom always says that true love is long term. I’d love the pony that is patient and kind. The sort of pony that will put her desires after my own but would also know when to let me do the same for her. She would have to be my friend and confidant. The sort of pony I could tell anything without being judged.
“It is easy to be trapped in infatuation but I’d take the sweet pony every time. That is how I’d know she was the one. There can’t be two ponies like that, can there? Surely the lists would make it clear and I would know right away which was love and which was infatuation.”
Crystal Wishes was staring at me, her eyes big and soft. They were hazel and unique. Nopony had eyes like hers. I was sure of that. “You’re a romantic,” she whispered.
“Perhaps I am. Perhaps I’m looking for a pony that doesn’t exist. That is fine, though. She’ll be worth the wait. I’d rather get the right one than settle for the wrong one that just comes along sooner,” I said.
“I’m sure she exists, Silent Knight. I just know you’ll see her eventually,” Crystal Wishes promised me.
“I believe you’re right,” I said and then stood. “I should let you sleep. I’ve kept you longer than I should. Thank you.”
Her head tilted and she repeated, “Thank you?”
“I came here to check up on you, but instead I feel suddenly more hopeful about my prospects of love. Thank you, Crystal Wishes. You’re the sweetest pony I know.”
I turned to leave and Crystal Wishes asked, “Oh, Sergeant, what are you doing for Hearts and Hooves Day?”
“I’m covering for Iridescence and Miley Hooves. They both had plans and I didn’t. How about you?”
Crystal Wishes lightly shrugged. “Oh, I’ll probably hang out with Velvet, I guess. She’ll be back by then.”
“I’m sure you two will have fun. Goodnight,” I said as I walked out into the night alone.