The sun was at its highest point for the day and the heat was setting in. It was abnormal; we were supposed to be in the end of fall and yet it felt like midsummer. I was sitting under a tree in the academy courtyard, trying to enjoy my lunch break. The shade helped but, in general, it was miserably hot. It also didn’t help that I was wearing my cadet’s uniform. I’d take armor any day over wool clothing.
“You are Silent Knight, are you not?”
I opened one eye to find Cobalt standing over me. He looked awful. His thick mane was plastered against his head and his uniform was a mess. My guess was that he was even less acclimated to the heat than us locals.
I nodded. “I am. What can I do for you?”
“I understand that you help other ponies. Do you help anypony, or only ones that are not near you in the ratings?” he asked.
Softly, I chuckled and shook my head. “Anypony, depending on what you need help with. I’m not an expert in most areas. What did you have in mind?”
The frost pony moved into the shade. “The other ponies look up to you. They do not seem to relate to me at all. I cannot be an officer if ponies cannot or will not speak to me.”
What a strange world I found myself in, where another pony came to me for advice on how to relate to other ponies. This poor cadet had it all wrong but I was willing to try. I rose and replied, “You’re right about that. I think it’s because you’re an imposing figure and they don’t know what to think of you yet.”
His brow raised. “Imposing how?”
“Think about it. I’m a pretty big stallion. You and I are about the same height and build, but you look bigger because your coat is thicker. Plus, you have that mane. Surely you notice in our hoof-to-hoof combat training that your opponents hesitate to engage you.”
Cobalt stood silently and was probably thinking it over. Finally, he said, “I thought they were frightened of my combat prowess.”
That made me chuckle. “You’re good, there is no doubt there. But you’re not so insurmountable that that alone scares them. It’s your figure. It’s an advantage in that situation.”
He frowned. “I see… but now I’m not sure I see a way to fix this. I can’t be a different pony. What do you suggest?”
“I’m no expert but I think that part of what you’ll have to do is approach other ponies first, whether you need something from them or not. Like you did with me. Introduce yourself, spend some time with them, maybe even share a little bit about yourself and learn about them,” I explained.
The frost pony’s violet eyes fixed mine for a moment before he looked up at the tree. “What you’ve said makes sense. Where I come from, it is considered rude to inquire about other ponies’ business. If they don’t offer, you don’t ask.”
“You must feel like everypony here is rude, then. Canterlot ponies are curious by nature.”
He nodded idly. “So I have discovered. What is special enough to warrant this curiosity in me?”
“Nopony here has ever seen a frost pony… or a pony with a lion-like mane. They stare at crystal ponies, too. New and different is interesting. For instance, if I were curious, I’d want to know whether or not frost ponies had disappeared with the Crystal Empire or not.”
Cobalt shook his head. “We did not. We live much further north. When they disappeared, we assumed the worst and kept to ourselves, lest the same happen to us.”
“And that is profoundly interesting. A group of ponies in a frozen wasteland living on their own for over a thousand years. You have your own culture, art, and customs that may shed light on our own society or history.”
The pony let out a light sigh. “And I am to just stand and be interrogated so that I am approachable?”
I laughed and shook my head. “No, you’re not going to be interrogated, and the ponies here would consider it rude if you didn’t ask your own questions. Consider it—” I thought it over. “An intelligence exchange. They ask, you answer. You ask, they answer.”
He stood in silence again, contemplating that concept. “What do I ask about?”
That was a tougher question. Ponies that weren’t used to asking anything might ask some wildly inappropriate things. “Just… general things. You might ask what they’re interested in or what hobbies they have.”
We stood in silence for a while. My best guess was that he was trying to come up with something to ask me. I was willing to wait.
“Do… pegasus families… typically leave cloud cities?” he finally asked.
It was good enough for a start. I nodded, “They do. Not always together, though. My parents live in Cloudsdale, and my sister and I live here.”
“I see. Do you not miss your parents?”
I coughed lightly and tried to answer that one in my head first. I didn’t want to discourage Cobalt. After a moment, I shrugged. “My parents and I aren’t really close. To be honest, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized my father is not a nice pony… I can’t say I miss him most days. Maybe the idea of him, though. How about you?”
“I see,” he repeated before following up with a nod. “Very much so. I miss my little siblings and my parents. Our family is very close and being away has been a strain.” He then shifted and added, “I hope it’s okay that my family is close. I’m not trying to one-up you.”
I shook my head. “No, most ponies’ families are like yours. I hope you’ll get to see them again soon. We should probably head back inside, though. It’s close to the end of lunch.”
Cobalt replied, “Yes. Well… this has been… awkward, but thank you.”
“No problem at all.”
My quarters looked different than usual. Winterspear had been making herself at home even though she claimed to spend most of her time at Iridescence’s place. Not that I minded. Everything was decorated for Hearth’s Warming Eve and I was feeling the spirit.
“Alright, be a good colt and blow out the candle,” Winterspear said as she sat a cupcake down in front of me.
“You know I don’t really care about my birthday, right?”
“Yes, I do, but I care and I almost lost you this year, so shut up and do this for me, okay?”
I shrugged and blew the candle out. “Thank you for this. The place looks great. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to help.”
Winterspear shook her head. “You’re in school. It is a miracle you got enough liberty for the holiday. We can spend more time together after you graduate.”
“That’s true. Perhaps we can even double date.”
“Come again?” My sister looked confused.
“Crystal Wishes and I with you and Iridescence,” I explained.
Winterspear just stared at me. “Seriously?”
“Yup, seriously. We’re going to date.”
She blinked. “What? She is into stallions? But I thought she was with Velvet Step.”
I held up a hoof. “Honest to Luna. She doesn’t like mares like that.”
“She could have fooled me!”
“Fillyfooled you?” I tried not to grin.
My sister groaned and shook her head. “No more jokes for you.”
I stuck my tongue out at her and then smiled. “I asked her out and she said yes. She and Velvet were extremely excited about it. So… we’re going to go out. Which is a lot easier than the signals I was getting. I thought I was going to have to date them together.”
Winterspear looped her hooves around me to hug. “It is about time you got back out there. When you… found us, I was worried you weren’t going to bounce back. It was all Royal Guard stuff. What happened?”
Softly, I nuzzled her cheek and hugged her. “I almost got killed and realized I wanted more in life than that Celestia Cross. Nearly dying puts a lot into perspective… like how it isn’t worth it to stay mad at a sibling, or a friend. Or finally figuring out you’ll never find that certain approval because it won’t ever come. A pony can get caught up focusing on those things and then suddenly everything is over, and what is left?”
“You’re not a colt anymore,” she whispered softly to me as we cuddled.
I shook my head. “No, but I’ll always need my big sister and if she ever needs me, I’ll be there for her.”
She squeezed me and replied, “I love you… Moving here was the best thing I ever did.”
“I love you, too. And I’m glad you did.”
My sister gave me one more squeeze before leaning back and peering at me. “Did you really think you were going to figure out a way to date them both?”
Sometimes I regret that I have a solid memory and recount stories accurately. Too accurately. “I did.”
My brow arched and I peered at her. “Ambitious, huh?”
She laughed and playfully shoved me. “Ambitious, hilarious, foolish, insane, and other similar words. Stick to one. You’ll live longer.”
I huffed in mock offense. “I’ll keep that in mind!”
I sat quietly at my desk, looking down at the test booklet in front of me. It had been a challenge, it had been stressful, it had even been confusing, and it was nothing like the tests back in the Royal Guard Academy. This test had been full of ethics questions, hypothetical situations, and scenarios that ended up with ponies dying no matter what.
That was what bothered me the most. Hypothetical, non-existent ponies dying really bothered me. It was the nature of being in command, though, and I had made the best decisions I could. That was really all that the guard asked for. I just expected better from myself.
Now the test was over for me. I felt pretty confident with my answers but I was concerned I had finished too soon. Most of the other cadets were still working. Onyx was sitting back and scratching his head. Cobalt had his eyes closed. I shrugged and waited for the time to expire.
Waiting gave me a moment to reflect on everything I had learned. Being a royal guard was all about making sure you did what you were supposed to. There was always a pony around to tell you exactly what to do. Being a Royal Guard officer wasn’t the same. A pony was expected to make decisions and take responsibility for them. Those decisions might be measured in lives.
It was a frightening prospect but I had faith I could handle it. I had already sent ponies into battle and lives had been lost. Now I was going to be responsible for my actions and theirs.
At the head of the room, the small clock chimed and the sergeant major rose. “Alright, cadets, that is time. Pencils down. Bring your exams up and go on your way.”
Some of the other ponies made sounds of dismay. I rose and approached the desk at the front and set my booklet on it. Briefly, I nodded to the instructor and he returned it. Now there was nothing to do but wait.
A group of ponies stood huddled around the scroll that had been posted on the wall outside of the classroom. I waited patiently as they shouldered each other aside to look. It was a spectacle. Some ponies looked and their heads fell immediately. They would not be graduating. With any luck, they’d just be held back a class.
Other ponies, seemingly unaware of their failed peers, would cheer, dance, or do some other obnoxiously loud activity. Cody fit into that category. These ponies would graduate and receive their commission.
I felt the presence of Onyx to my side and he asked, “Look yet?”
He snorted and shook his head. “Not you. Me. Go look.”
That made me chuckle on the inside. Cooly, I nodded and got up to go take a look. The ponies had dispersed and were breaking into groups of congratulations and consolations. When I got to the list, the chuckle on the inside broke out.
I read the parchment loudly over my shoulder, “Number one in the class. Onyx Mace.”
The stallion got up and grumbled on his way over, “Not funny.”
I tapped the parchment and said louder, “Number one in the class. Onyx Mace!”
He shouldered me aside and looked at the parchment in confusion and disbelief. “How?”
“No clue. It certainly isn’t your social skills.”
That made him snort. That was generally as close to a laugh as Onyx got. He slid his hoof down. “Number ten. Silent Knight. Pretty good."
“Agreed,” I replied before looking at the list again. There was one more name I wanted to see. Cobalt Thane, number twelve.
Onyx turned and said, “Get your stuff. Drinks are on me.”
If Onyx knew anything, it was tradition—and tradition stated that the number one pony had to buy the drinks. I was more than happy to oblige him in that as we headed off to the Spearhead.
Winterspear helped me straighten my uniform. She carefully aligned all of my medals and then slipped the Celestia Cross around my neck.
“There. Perfect,” she said. She was dressed in her armor and it had been buffed to an immaculate shine. My sister had an important role to play today.
“To be honest, I’m shocked it is already over,” I admitted. “Twelve weeks just flew by.”
“Such is getting older,” Winterspear replied. “I’ll see you after the ceremony. Congratulations!” She went to hug me but then stopped. “Hugs can wait… Wouldn’t want to muss up your uniform.”
I nodded and headed out for the academy. After checking in, I found Onyx. We stood together as we waited for instruction for our pass-in-review. His eyes occasionally dipped to the medal around my neck. It caught the attention of several other cadets and soon we had a small crowd.
Gently, I deflected questions until I was rescued by the sound of Sergeant Major Blackhoof coming in. He was in his ceremonial guard armor and it was polished to a high shine.
“Ponies, today is the first day of your new life. When you cross that field, whoever you were will be gone. In the place of that pony will be a new, stronger version. That is a necessity because the roles you take on from here on out will not be easy. Your successes and failures will be measured in lives. Never forget that. Fall in!”
The pony who I was would be gone? Could that really be the case? Could simply marching across this field really turn me into a new Silent Knight? Maybe he was right, but I quickly shook the thought away and started to assemble.
We all fell into formation. The top-performing cadets moved into the front and I was placed on the wing of the first rank. I had done pretty well while I was here, and so had Onyx—though for him that was an understatement.
I was going to miss him. After today, we would go our separate ways. We all would.
The drummers started drumming and we began to march in place. The instructors pushed the large doors to the academy headquarters open and we began to move forwards in perfect step. Waves of cheers hit us as we crossed the threshold. The families and friends of the cadets were in the stands to share the special day. When I had graduated from the guard academy, if you could call it that, there was nopony there to cheer me on. This time, however, I had a whole section.
In exact time and rhythm, we marched across the field. When we reached the midpoint, we perfectly pivoted to face the crowd in a maneuver that made us look like a wave of rushing water. At the head of the field, in front of the stands, was a dais where the commandant of the academy was waiting with his senior staff.
“Company halt!” the senior instructor called and we did so. The commandant began to speak but I honestly wasn’t paying much attention to him. It was all pretty standard: duty, honor, responsibility, et cetera. My mind was focused on the crowd and how I had found a life I’d never expected.
Iridescence and Winterspear were there in ceremonial armor. They really did make a good couple. It had been so difficult to adjust to but I was glad my sister was happy. After my run in with the gryphons, I had let go of any lingering resentment. It just seemed petty at that point. Today, they were there and looked as proud as anypony else.
Miley Hooves was beside them dressed in her armor, which really contrasted with Runic Phial who, evidently, looked great in a suit and top hat. The little mare was holding hooves with him, full of confidence and glee. She certainly had come a long way and I was so glad to have paired her with Runic. They were good for each other… and they had been good to me.
Velvet Step was there, too, in a lovely summer dress. She sat close—but not too close—to Crystal Wishes. There wasn’t a more loyal friend than she. Velvet had invested a lot of her time and energy into putting Crystal and I together. I could never repay her for that.
And then there was Crystal herself. She was in the most elegant of gowns. Nopony else could have held a candle to how she looked that day. Her blonde and pink mane wasn’t in the braid; instead, she had left it long and flowing, and it accented the shimmering silver gown she wore. Radiant would be the only word to describe her. I was certain I’d have that memory of her for the rest of my life.
Last, but certainly not least, Princess Luna rounded out my cheering section. She was my surrogate mother, more or less. I was not certain if I really protected her as much as she protected me. I also didn’t care. We loved and protected each other like families ought to. Normal families, anyway.
Princess Luna sat next to two empty seats. I’d invited my parents. That seemed to be a foolish gesture but it honestly didn’t bother me that they didn’t come. My real family was there, and a pony couldn’t have asked for a better one.
“And so I charge each and every one of you to remember one thing for your entire career: we do not exist to cause war or conflict. We exist to ensure peace. In everything you do, try and promote peace and harmony, and our world will be a better place for it,” the commandant continued. “Mares and gentleponies, it is my pleasure to present to you this season’s graduates!”
The stands erupted into cheers and hoof stomping. It was deafening, but it also felt right.
Sergeant Major Blackhoof shouted, “Fall out and be pinned!”
We broke ranks and started off individually towards the stands. I reached out a hoof to briefly touch Onyx’s shoulder. “Been a pleasure,” I said.
“Likewise,” he replied before heading off to find his wife. I’d probably never see him again, but that was okay. That is the nature of the Guard. We were brothers even at a distance.
My gaggle of ponies found me. There was a lot of individual cheering.
“Silent Knight, we have a surprise for you,” Princess Luna said with her wings spread wide to keep something hidden. I tilted my head and she stepped aside to reveal Shining Armor.
He smiled and approached. “If you will allow it, I would like to have the honor of pinning you, Cadet.”
A new lieutenant has the right to choose who places their rank pin on their uniform. Usually this is done by a father or family member. I couldn’t think of any pony better for me.
“It would be a privilege,” I said.
Shining Armor stepped in front of me while levitating a small wooden box. Winterspear moved in beside him. The colonel opened the box and carefully removed the silver bar from it. With a combination of magic and hooves, he pinned it on my uniform and stepped fluidly out of the way. I turned ever so slightly to face Winterspear directly.
Winterspear stiffened to perfect attention and lifted her hoof to render my first salute. I returned it crisply and offered her a pure silver twenty-bit piece. It was an old tradition and one I liked. That made it official. I was a lieutenant now.
My friends stomped and cheered while my sister hugged me tightly, tears in her eyes. “So proud!”
“You have done well, Silent Knight,” Princess Luna said as I shook hooves with Shining Armor and Runic.
“Thank you, Princess. This wouldn’t have been possible without you and the colonel. I owe you both a lot.”
Shining Armor shook his head. “You don’t owe me anything. Just keep looking after your ponies. That is all I ask.”
“Verily! Come, it is time for us to celebrate! For on the morrow, we must go back to work!” Princess Luna cheered.
“And so we do!” I replied.
We all left the field together. I made sure to stay beside Crystal Wishes. After all, what sort of officer and gentlepony doesn’t walk with his lady?
The new Silent Knight was right where he should be. He was a Silent Knight who knew there was more to life than a job. A Silent Knight who no longer worried about his family name.
A Silent Knight who was now his own pony.