Lieutenant Rook learned quick. Far quicker than any lieutenant I'd seen. Within a month he was up to speed and acting every bit like the officer Princess Luna’s House Guard had sorely lacked. Instead of adding an extra layer of complexity, he helped streamline our operations.
We formed a very effective partnership. Everything was running so smoothly that Princess Luna’s House Guard was earning a reputation that rivaled its sister unit. With the lieutenant assuming so many of the administrative duties, I was able to spend more time training our guards. It was excellent.
The downside to our arrangement was that I saw the captain a whole lot less. Shining Armor made it clear that he had no desire to meddle with a unit that had a capable officer and unit sergeant. We were largely left to our own devices. I missed our mentoring sessions, but it was good to know he had faith in us.
I had relieved Harvest Moon on Hearts and Hooves Day. As I stood guard in Miley Hooves’s stead, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. It hadn’t been that long since I had last been there myself but, in some ways, it felt like a lifetime. Make no mistake, being a unit sergeant was wonderful, but there was a familiar simplicity to standing guard.
“Silent Knight, thou lookest most pleased this evening. Thou art not upset to be filling in for other ponies on thy day off?” Princess Luna asked me.
I shook my head. “Not at all, Princess. In fact, I was reminiscing. It wasn’t too terribly long ago that I was standing here myself and look how far I’ve come. Standing guard has a purity to it. Perhaps I’m a strange pony, but no matter how high I might climb, I don’t think I’ll ever mind standing watch over you.”
Princess Luna smiled at me. “That is certainly a flattering sentiment. Perhaps Lady Cadence was right and thou hast come here for a date.”
Softly, I cleared my throat. “Lady Cadence has some interesting ideas about regulations, Princess. At any rate, if my desire to protect you is an indication of affection, then consider me most affectionate.”
The princess rose from her seat and crossed the chambers to where I stood. Looking down at me, she smiled. “Then I will consider thee most affectionate and loyal. Thou art a rare gem, Silent Knight. I believe myself lucky to have thee at my side.”
“That is high praise, Princess. Being called a rare gem in the long litany of ponies that must have come and gone before me is very flattering. Perhaps I’ll linger in your memory for a while once I’m gone.”
Princess Luna’s ear flicked and she peered at me. “A while? Pony philosophers may claim that a lifetime is but an instant to an alicorn, but they imagine so as outsiders looking in. Allow me to assure thee that they are wrong. I was painfully aware of the lifetimes that passed me by while I was banished.
“Thy life is not the brief, unremarkable candle flame that they would have thee believe. No, thou and the ponies I’ve called friends over my life are more special to me than thou might be aware.
“Time may pass differently for us, but where our lives intersect, it is memorable. I have come to know many ponies and I often see them in their foals. Then I see them in the foals of those foals, and so on. Just as I see past lives within thee.”
She set a hoof on my shoulder. “It is time we share a secret, Silent Knight.”
“A secret?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied before looking past me and tapping my armor where it rested over my cutie mark. “I am certain I knew thine ancestors over a thousand years ago. Thou mayest find it hard to believe, but I remember them as well as I remember yesterday. They were good and honorable ponies that chose to sleep during the day so that they could be with me at night.
“So strongly were they bonded to me that they foresaw my fall. Thy matriarch warned me, but I was too foolish and proud to listen. My youth and the lack of a mentor made me reckless and jealous. Thy forebearers were not enough. I wanted as many ponies to love me as loved my sister. I saw her as competition.”
The princess lifted the helmet from my head and lightly touched my tufted ears. They were pretty unique as far as ponies went; only my father and I had them as far as I knew. “Ponies looked a bit different back then.”
Her eyes lost focus and vacantly glanced into the past as if she were reliving a moment. “One final time, thy matriarch did plead and she swore an oath that as long as I remained true, her family line would be my protectors and companions. There is no doubt in my mind that thou art of that line.”
I blinked and asked, “Princess? Are you saying I was fated to be your guard?”
Princess Luna shook her head. “Fated? Certainly not. Ponies have free will. Guided? Perhaps… but thy cutie mark shows our bond. Thy flank is not the first to bear that crescent moon nor do I suspect it will be the last. The ponies I seek are also of thine ancestor’s line. That is why it must be thee to do this work.”
It was a lot to take in. Did I have an instinctual knowledge of my obligation that motivated me to step forward all that time ago? Had the princess recognized my cutie mark and assumed that I was oathbound to her? Was I necessary to find the ponies she sought and did that cause her to treat me differently?
No… that was not like Princess Luna. She treated the other ponies that protected her just as well. Besides, her motivations didn’t matter; fate or not, I was honored to protect her.
My eyes rose and met hers. “I am proud to be sworn to you if it is so, and honored that you’ll remember me when I’m gone. To be honest, I don’t know where I’d be without you, but I know that right now I would be far lonelier. I’m lucky to be close to you.”
Princess Luna looped a hoof around me. “Thou art a good pony and a fine companion, Silent Knight. Make no mistake: thou matterest to me and I shall always remember our time together.”
My rigid stance fell away and I returned the hug tighter than I probably should have. Being told you matter by anypony is wonderful. Having an alicorn say it is indescribable. It simply can’t be put into words. In that moment it was something I had needed and the loneliness I had been feeling lifted.
It was also in that moment I knew that I'd do anything to protect the princess. Go to any lengths, walk through any fire, and do whatever it took to ensure her safety. Just like the oath demanded.
“Thank you,” I whispered as we held each other.
It dawned on me that I’d probably never see Princess Luna in the same light again. We’d shared a moment, however brief, where we were just ponies. She had generously given me a glimpse into what it was like to be her.
There is a lot of literature available on alicorns and, if I know anything, I know that most of it is just guesses. How many books are there by mortal ponies trying to make sense of a concept they cannot understand? My favorite quote was that alicorns are just regular ponies with sufficiently powerful magic.
Alicorns are ponies, too, without question. They make mistakes, feel emotions, and care about their fellow ponies. There is more to them than that: a power beyond unicorn magic. That isn’t something I understand but the one thing I do know, however, is that when you need them they are there. When you’re sad and alone, they will be with you.
They are hardly regular ponies. In my eyes, I came to view alicorns as living goddesses and I was proud to have the opportunity to protect one.
The lieutenant relieved me a few hours later and I decided to head home. Princess Luna wasn’t going to be awake too much longer and games aren’t always fun with only two ponies. I also had a lot to think about. My father’s cutie mark did not contain a moon and yet, at the same time, Princess Luna was trapped for the vast majority of his life. Was my family’s oath excused while she was Nightmare Moon?
It was something I was still pondering when I reached my room. My attention immediately shifted after the door opened. There was no way what I was seeing was actually real. Winterspear and Iridescence were together on the bed… kissing. So much so it took them a moment to notice I had arrived.
“Oh!” Winterspear gasped as she pushed Iridescence aside. “Silent Knight, wait—”
I took a few steps inside and took my helmet off. My teeth clenched and I had to remind myself to keep my cool. Iridescence opened her mouth and I lifted a hoof. “If you’ll excuse us, I’d like a word with my sister.”
She got the message and trotted out in a hurry. I shut the door a bit harder than I had intended, and when it slammed, Winterspear flinched. I wasn’t sure what to say. In fact, I didn’t have anything to say that wouldn’t be regretted later. In an instant, I had gone from calm to furious. Too angry to be rational, so I turned and reached for the door handle. It was best if I just left.
Winterspear pleaded, “Wait, Silent Knight, please let me explain!”
Pausing, I replied cooly, “Explain.”
“I kept it a secret because I didn’t want to hurt you. I was afraid you’d get angry and send me away and, when it started, if it had ever been a choice between you and her, it would have been you.”
“And this is better?”
“No! Of course not, but there was another reason I didn’t say anything!” She sighed. “I didn’t think it would last. You didn’t see it, but I did. She’d look at you with regret. I thought she just wanted me because I was the next closest pony, her second place prize.”
I frowned and stamped a hoof. “Why would you let her do that to you? You deserve better!” My feelings switched just like that, from anger at my sister to confusion and concern for her.
Winterspear’s ears fell and she lowered her head. “Caramel Mint hurt me really badly. I asked her to marry me and she left me on the spot. She said we were barely a fling. I was just a pony to have a good time with. I never told you… I didn’t want to seem so pathetic. When Iridescence showed interest in me… any interest…”
Tears fell from her eyes. “I just didn’t want to be alone anymore, Silent Knight. Even if I only had her for a little while.”
Moving quickly, I pulled my sister into a tight embrace. “Silly pony,” I whispered softly.
She cried on my shoulder. “I love her, Silent Knight, and I think she actually loves me. I’ve wanted to tell you but I didn’t know how… but if us being together is too much to bear, I’ll break it off. I will right now. I won’t lose my only brother.”
I shook my head and stroked down her back. “Silly pony,” I repeated. “If she makes you happy, I think I can be happy for you. What she and I had was fine, but we work better as friends. No more secrets though, okay? I’m a big stallion. I can take it.”
Winterspear quickly nodded, wiping her eyes. “I promise. No more lies. I need to go get her—”
Stepping back from my sister, I said sternly, “No. She and I need to have words.”
My sister lifted a hoof to protest, saw my look, and lowered it. How could I have been so blind? I turned and left the room intent on finding Iridescence.
I didn’t have to try too hard because she was waiting outside. I’ll give her credit: she wasn’t a coward. She had not run away a second time. I stalked over to her and looked her over. She looked back, deep shame in her eyes.
“Dot was confused about me being a stallion,” I said.
“Mare potion?” I asked.
“Not something you normally do?”
“If you hurt my sister, we’re done. If you’re just playing with her because we’re not together, I’ll never forgive you. Ever. Iridescence, I swear I’ll make your life a living nightmare. She isn’t a second place ribbon. Am I perfectly clear?”
Iridescence looked me in the eye and said, “Crystal clear. I promise it isn’t about you. I’m not going to stand here and swear that it will work out, because life doesn’t work that way. Look at what happened with us. I will swear that it isn’t about you, though. What she and I have would have happened with or without you. Is that good enough?”
“I’m a big enough stallion to know that is as good a promise as one can give in the matters of the heart.” I leaned in close and Iridescence stiffened, prepared to take a verbal blow. I whispered, “Be good to her. Her last mare was cruel and broke her heart. She is in love with you.”
She nodded, swallowed, and asked softly, “We’re… okay then?”
“Celestia, no. Not at all, but for her sake I’m going to walk away.”
I left Iridescence there. She looked stunned and I felt like I needed a drink. Sometimes it is tough being the bigger pony.
It seems like the Spearhead Tavern was not a popular location late on Hearts and Hooves Day. I had the whole bar to myself while I sat, drinking cider.
I turned to find the captain at my shoulder. “I couldn’t even begin to explain,” I said and then tilted my head. “Didn’t you have a special evening planned with Lady Cadence tonight?”
Shining Armor sat down next to me and ordered a round for the both of us. “I did. Something really great actually. Dinner, a play, and such. Midway through the play I was summoned on royal business. Cadence took it gracefully but I’m sure she is long asleep by now. I’ll have to make it up to her tomorrow. What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t understand mares,” I explained simply.
“Said every stallion that ever lived,” the captain finished for me. “What specifically this time?”
I wasn’t sure I should say. Was this private? Looking over to the captain, I shrugged. Why not? He had never seemed to judge anything before. “I caught Iridescence and Winterspear together.”
“Oh. By Celestia,” he started and put down bits for more cider. “That is not what I was expecting. How’re you handling that?”
“I was quite angry at first, then I felt bad for Winterspear and my desire to protect her kicked in. Right now, I would very much like to punch something. I’m so confused… Do all mares like other mares?”
The captain shook his head. “I don’t think so, otherwise society might fall apart. No foals and all that. Some ponies like both, though. I guess Iridescence does.”
“Why my sister? Is it because of me? Or is it really unrelated? This is just so confusing,” I replied before I drained my mug and picked up the newly arrived one.
“I’m sure it is,” he mused over his mug. “So what now?”
I shrugged. “The career thing is working out pretty well. I figure I’ll just keep that up. Plus, I’ve got good friends. Maybe that is enough.”
Shining Armor frowned and said, “Don’t say that. If you wall yourself off, you may miss something you’ll regret missing later in life.”
That was certainly easy for him to say. He was married to a unicorn that almost rivaled the princesses in beauty. I thought about that and sighed. He was also right, though. Sometimes I hate when he does that. “Yeah… yeah…”
“Good,” Shining Armor replied before patting me on the back. “Now, unless you have any other plans, I’d like to rant a while about the work-related idiocy that interrupted my evening. Would that be fine?”
That sounded like a good plan to me. I had nowhere to be and it would be a good distraction. Plus, I wanted to know what was so important that they had to go pull the captain out of a play. “By all means, sir. Anything to take my mind off the idea of my sister and my ex being together.”
Shining Armor shifted on the stool, waved at the bartender, and then gestured for more cider as he said to me, “You’re probably going to need another. My thing isn’t nearly good enough to distract from that.”