Secrets of a Royal Guard

by Anzel

19. Hearts and Hooves

Sunny Day burst into my office without knocking. With her floral blouse and well-rested expression, she looked as if she’d just wandered off the beach. “Hellooo, I’m home!”

Azurite, or a pony I presumed was Azurite, was following behind her. She wore a huge floppy white hat that pretty much covered her completely. All I could see were blue hooves under the brim.

“Welcome back, did you two have fun?” I asked as I rested my chin on my hooves, anticipation of my own news already bubbling up.

Sunny nodded. “We did! It was amazing, Silent Knight. For a moment, I almost thought about retiring. I couldn’t do that to Princess Celestia, though. She needs a House Guard commander that is more fun than you.”

I raised my brow. “Don’t you mean, ‘thank you Silent Knight, you’re so wonderful for covering for me for weeks while I ran around in the sun with Azurite’?”

“Oh, don’t be a grump. You should take a vacation, too. It will do you some good.” Sunny tossed her mane and grinned. “So, what did I miss?”

It was time now! I could give her back as good as she’d given me. “It’s funny that you mention that. I happen to have reservations for a trip to the Crystal Empire right here on my desk. That can wait, though.

“I have a very important question to ask you. Lieutenant Sunny Day, have you ever thought about being commander of the palace guard?”

The unicorn’s head tilted and she replied, “No, why?”

I wiggled my hooves in the same way she had before she’d left. “Ta-dah! You’re now in command of the entire palace guard!”

“What!” she squeaked.

“Why don’t you and your walking hat sit down so I can explain it to you,” I replied, gleefully motioning to the stools in front of my desk.

The mares did so and I regaled them with the tale of my ascension to commander of the whole palace. No detail was spared as I joyously listed all of the sick, missing, and training ponies, and then explained how Sunny—because she had seniority—was in command now.

From under her hat, Azurite said, “Maybe we shouldn’t have come back.”

“It’s too late now,” I replied before getting up and collecting my things.

Sunny was staring at me with big eyes. She didn’t speak until I reached the door. “Wait! Where are you going?”

“Home. I’m only in charge of my section now, and my princess is in Haven. Enjoy your new command!” I said with a smile before trotting out of my office and the palace. There were more important things to focus on now.

I had executed steps six, seven, and eight of my Hearts and Hooves strategy and was prepared to face Crystal when the time came. Flowers, chocolates, and a gift had all been secured well in advance. I’d also made arrangements to go to one of Canterlot’s fancy spas to get extra clean.

Those preparations would be accented with a custom suit. That is what I considered my greatest force multiplier. Crystal wouldn’t even recognize me! She would be overwhelmed and defeated. In a good way.

Romance was easier for me when I treated it like a military operation. That is why I’d brought in an expert to give me appropriate intelligence. Winterspear was a mare’s mare. She knew mares because she was one and she loved one. What pony could offer better advice? What pony was more obligated than my sister?

When I was near my quarters I stopped at the lamppost outside my building. There was an X on it so I wiped it off and headed up. I’d swing by Runic’s tomorrow for the latest report. Everything was in order. At least, it felt that way until I walked through the door and saw my mare expert.

“Welcome home,” Winterspear said to me from the kitchen. Her mane was short. Extremely short, bordering on nonexistent.

Dot was sitting on the couch, looking guilty.

“New hair cut?” I asked.

Winterspear shifted. “Something like that, yeah. Dot and I were working on baking cookies together. I was kind of teaching her and… well…”

Dot squeaked, “I caught her on fire.”

I blinked. Other than her mane, my sister looked fine. “Everypony looks alright,” I said.

Winterspear nodded. “Yes, we’re fine. It was an accident. Honestly, Dot, I’m not mad. You have to learn one way or another.”

“That’s right,” I said absently as I just noticed that one of the kitchen walls was now blackened. “Must have been quite a blaze.”

The filly’s ears drooped and Winterspear glared at me.

“And I bet you two handled it wonderfully.” I quickly added. “Don’t worry, Dot, you’ll get those cookies next time.”

“Do you think so?” she asked.

“I know so. Practice makes perfect.” I made a note to hire a contractor to repair the kitchen and headed off into my room to start removing my armor.

“How goes Hearts and Hooves planning?” Winterspear called.

“Great, I’m all set,” I replied, setting my helmet on the armor stand.

“You may want to look in the mirror, then. You’ve got some pretty obvious bruises. You need to relax a bit on that new training regimen or whatever you’re doing,” she yelled after me.

What was she talking about? I wandered over to the mirror to look and frowned at the sight. Winterspear was right. My right cheek showed purple under my white coat. There were also several more on my forelegs and chest.

“How do I get rid of bruises in two days?” I asked as I came back out into the living room.

Winterspear chuckled. “You don’t. You just take it easy for those days. Now, come on and sit down. Dot made a special dinner for you.”

Dot cheered, “I made blackened zucchini and squash!”

“Oh, how sweet,” I said, my even Royal Guard tone coming through as I sat down.

Dot had taken a great interest in cooking. Which was surprising, considering how bad she was at it, just like her older sister. Still, she was trying, and Winterspear and I had agreed we were going to be supportive.

My stomach, on the other hoof, was less than thrilled.

Weeks’ worth of preparation were about to pay off. It was Hearts and Hooves Day, and I was ready to shower Crystal Wishes in romance. I’d been coy when we’d discussed what we were going to do. I didn’t let on with anything.

The flowers should have already arrived. They were the vanguard. That would soften her up without the expectation of more. Now, it was time for the main romantic display. I was in my new suit, perfectly clean, and had my bag full of surprises. It was the perfect Hearts and Hooves ambush!

I landed outside of Crystal’s building and headed up to her unit. Once again, I straightened my tie, smoothed my shirt, pulled out the box of special Sunridge Sweets chocolates, and knocked on the door.

It opened almost immediately. “Hel—Oh!” Crystal said, her expression not one of thrilled surprise.

Very few plans survived first contact with the enemy. I did my best to keep my tone level. “Oh?”

Crystal gasped. “No! Not oh. I mean, oh! Oh, I’m so surprised! Honestly, really surprised. Won’t you come in?” She backed out of the way.

I did so and offered her the box of chocolates. “The first of many surprises, I hope. You received the flowers?”

The mare nodded. She didn’t say a word as her magic accepted the gift. She just seemed to be looking me over. It was probably the suit.

“And I made reservations at Le Bernardin for dinner,” I offered into the silence.

“Wow, I’m... honestly speechless. You did all this for today?”

I nodded. “Of course. This and more.” My pride started to deflate. “Is that not right?”

Crystal slipped closer and wrapped her hooves around me in a tight embrace. “Oh, no you did right. More than right. More than any mare would be expecting today. I just… well, you’ve been so busy. I made dinner for you. I thought we could spend a quiet evening together alone.”

My hooves looped around her in kind. “If you want to stay in, we’ll stay in. I don’t mind that at all.”

“Great!” she said before letting me go. “I’m just going to go finish dinner. Why don’t you and your nice suit have a seat?”

It had been the suit, I knew it. “Of course.”

Crystal hurried about her tasks, clearly in a state of shock. Iridescence had once told me that it is good to be spontaneous and surprise a mare. Mission accomplished today.

It wasn’t long before she had a beautiful meal on the table. Zucchini, noodles, broccoli, salads, and a few different breads all made up a buffet of my favorite things to eat.

“You really went all out,” I said as I helped myself, perhaps a little too eagerly. Non-blackened zucchini was even better than I remembered.

Crystal softly laughed and shook her head. “No, I made a bigger than normal dinner. You went all out, Silent Knight. I’m sorry that I forced you to change some of your plans.”

“There is no reason to apologize. This is perfectly lovely,” I replied as I continued to eat ravenously.

When I’d finally had my fill, I loosened my tie and settled back from the table. “Crystal, you don’t know how honest I’m being when I say that was the best meal I’ve had in a while.” Granted, compared to Dot’s cooking most things were but this had been exceptional.

She giggled. “Well, thank you, Mr. Knight, I’m glad you approve. And for dessert, we have chocolate covered berries. Of course, we can also eat the special chocolate you bought, if you prefer.”

“Those are special just for you. We’ll share what you made,” I said.

She nodded and levitated a small platter of sweets onto the table before slipping over and settling into my lap. My ears flicked and I looped a hoof around her.

“You really surprised me, Silent Knight,” she said softly.

“That was the goal,” I replied while she fed me a strawberry.

“I’ve never seen this side of you. I like it,” she practically purred. Now was the time for the final surprise. The grand romantic gesture that was the master stroke of my strategy!

I swallowed the berry and smiled at her. “Well, suffice to say it is only for you. Now, if you’ll be so kind and exercise that unicorn magic, there is an envelope in my bag for you.”

Crystal’s horn lit up as her magic flipped the bag open and pulled the pink envelope free. As it floated towards us, she asked, “There is more?”

“This is the last gift, I promise,” I said, trying to play it cool.

She pulled the envelope open, slipped the trifold card out, and read it out loud, “To my very special somepony. Celestia’s sun may be bright, but you are radiant. Luna’s moon may be silver, but you are shimmering.”

Crystal flipped the first flap over. “I wouldn’t trade you for the sun nor the moon. You mean more to me than both. Aww…” That last little bit she adlibbed. Her eyes drifted down to the part I’d hoofwritten. “Even in a world full of Crystals you’ll be the one that glimmers the most.”

Her head tilted and she flushed. “That is sweet. I guess there are a lot of ponies named Crystal.”

I smiled, shaking my head. “Open the last flap.”

She did so and blinked. Her magic illuminated the two tickets I’d affixed to the back of the card. “Silent Knight!” She gasped. “Are you serious?”

“Of course. Will you go with me?” I asked.

The mare threw her hooves around my neck and hugged me tight. “Yes! Of course! I can’t believe we’re going to Glimmer World! Just you and me!”

She pressed her cheek close to mine and I chuckled. “Yes, just you and me… mostly.”

“Mostly?” she asked with a skeptical tone, leaning back to meet my eyes.

“I sort of made plans to have lunch with Colonel Armor and Lady Cadence one day while we’re there. I mean, if you don’t want to visit the Crystal Palace that would be fine, too. We cou—” Her hoof landed on my mouth.

“No, no, no, that would be fine. I know how important Shining Armor is to you. I’m sure I can share you for one day. Although today is most certainly not going to be that day! You have been a very, very, very good stallion.”

That was when Crystal showed me some of the gifts she had prepared for me. They were all just between us, though. A stallion never tells on a lady, and I was taught by the best.

When I woke up the next morning, I found myself alone in the bed. Normally, I was the early pony. In the pre-dawn hours of the morning, there were few noises so the sounds coming from beyond the bedroom door were easy to make out. Somepony was cooking.

“Hello?” I called, poking my head out of the bedroom.

“Good morning,” Crystal replied cheerfully. “I’m making breakfast. Why don’t you come and have a seat? You should eat before you go to work.”

“No argument there,” I replied before settling into one of the chairs.

Crystal brought out an assortment of fruits and muffins. “I thought you’d have a healthy appetite this morning.”

I felt my face flush. “A bit, yeah. That smells good.”

She sat across from me and selected a muffin for herself. “So, just about two weeks and we’re off on our special vacation?”

My mouth was stuffed full of muffin, so I just nodded. I had to eat as much as I could while good food was an option. Knowing my luck, Dot would bring me a lunch.

“Mmm, I don’t know if I can be patient for two weeks. I’d like to leave now,” she said wistfully.

After swallowing, I replied, “Me too, but it will be worth the wait. The travel agent told me the weather will be far milder that time of year.”

“Oh good.” She smiled at me. “You thought of everything, didn’t you?”

“I tried, I really did. I wanted it to be as close to perfect as it could be.”

Crystal practically glowed. “I’m sure it will be great. Anyway, I wrapped up several of those muffins and put them in your bag. You can enjoy them at work.”

“Oh, I intend to,” I replied before getting up. “I really should go, though. We’re still short staffed.”

“Of course,” she replied, following suit and trailing along behind me. At the door, we exchanged a brief kiss. “Come back by tonight?”

“Yup. See you then.”

Lately, on the way out I’d said ‘Love you’ in my head when leaving. It was something I’d tentatively been trying out in my private, mental space. It seemed to work out there. At least when I thought it.

“What?” she asked and I stopped cold.

This time, it seemed like I’d said it aloud.

Nothing, I’d been told, can ruin a somewhat new relationship by blurting out the words ‘I love you’ too early. I had to recover. Plenty of words sound like love you. Right?

Stupid, honest mouth, however, had different ideas. “I love you,” it said out loud with more conviction.

Crystal Wishes stood quietly for a moment. “That’s what I thought you said.” She stroked a hoof softly along the door frame. “I love you, too,” she whispered.

I nodded and hurried off to the palace. My hooves barely touched the streets as my wings flapped, keeping me aloft.

She loved me, too. Crystal loved me! The knowledge sent my heart soaring while my mind raced. With everything going on in my life, she was the only constant goodness. My northern star.

This trip to the Crystal Empire suddenly became a whole lot more important to me. To us, even if she didn’t know it yet.

Sunny Day and I sat in her office, looking over the palace guard roster. The palace had one company comprised of six guard sections and one headquarters section. In theory, each section reported to a lieutenant, and they all reported to the company commander, or the company executive officer in his absence.

Currently, Major Aegis was suffering from an aggressive infection that seemed to be lingering. It was so bad that he was in the hospital. His executive officer, Captain Dancer, was out on paternity leave. His wife had given birth to triplets. That left only lieutenants around to run things.

Sunny groaned and put her head in her hooves. “Why can’t the section commanders handle scheduling their own coverage?”

“As best I can tell, they’re accustomed to Major Aegis being extremely hooves-on. So much so that they don’t have to coordinate between each other. They just guard their portion area and ignore the rest.”

She looked at me. “You mean, he micromanages and they never learned to do this stuff on their own.”

“Your words, not mine, Commander.”

“Quit calling me that!” she said with mock irritation.

“You’re the palace commander and I’m your XO. That is the situation and we’ll just have to deal with it. Why don’t we get the section commanders and NCOs in here and just train them? Major Aegis can have it his way when he gets back. Until then, we have our own problems.”

“Says the pony whose princess is in another city,” Sunny snarked.

“We could always put Azurite in charge of a section. That might be fun.”

“I don’t think Lieutenant Brook could spare her. Besides, I just got her relaxed. Don’t you go getting her all wound up again.”

With a light pat on her shoulder, I smiled at Sunny. “Then you’re it, Commander. Awaiting orders!”

She glared at me. “Get the section heads up here now. It is time they got an education.”

“Aye, ma’am!” I replied before heading towards the door. When I pulled it open, I found Major Measure on the other side, a hoof raised to knock. “Ma’am! Great to see you!”

She looked surprised. That was understandable. I was smiling. Probably a bit too much.

“Thank you, Silent Knight, that is awfully nice of you.” She glanced between us. “What are you two up to?”

Sunny grinned like a cat. “Please, Major, come on in, let me catch you up. Have you ever wanted to be in command of the whole palace?”

Major Measure smiled brightly at that. “Have I? Absolutely yes! Why do you ask?”

Sunny and I then explained the whole situation. With the major back, she was the seniormost officer and would be in command. Sunny would be her XO, and I would be free. Free!

“That is true, but I’m afraid your plan isn’t going to work out this time,” Major Measure replied while pulling out a scroll. “You see, I’ve actually been transferred, at my own request, to an assignment that is quite a bit more active. You two don’t need me, so I thought I’d try my lot somewhere else. I actually came here to invite you to my going away dinner.”

I looked over the papers while Sunny stared on in horror. “D… Dinner?” she finally managed to stammer.

The major nodded. “Yes, tonight, actually. The transfer is immediate. I’d been told some excellent officers have been taking care of everything here while I was gone. There is a vacancy that is in desperate need of being filled, so I took it.”

“Transfer? Immediate? Dinner? Tonight?” Sunny babbled.

“We’ll be there,” I said for her while offering Major Measure her orders.

“Great! See you then, and good luck running the palace. I know you’ll do wonderful, Sunny,” she said before trotting out.

“It isn’t fair,” Sunny howled.

“There, there, we’ll manage,” I said flatly.

“How does anypony get a transfer that quickly? Seriously! From a command as important as this?”

My brow arched. “You mean from the command where she does nothing and is little more than a figurehead? Now she’s going to run one of the largest supply depots in the west.”

“Yes! Supply? Supply! She is going to go run a supply depot out west? Instead of taking over the palace? Think of her resume,” Sunny went on, practically repeating me. I wasn’t sure she was really listening.

“There, there,” I repeated, patting Sunny on the helmet.

Her eyes narrowed at me. We glared at each other a while and then she started laughing. It was forced and fake. I knew her real laugh.

She ran a hoof over her face. “This is pretty funny, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it really is,” I said with no amusement.

“I miss Shining Armor,” she said.

“Me too, Sunny, me too. I’ll try and talk him into coming back.”

Slowly, she slumped back in her seat. “You do that. Well, then, I guess we have work to do. Since you’re relatively free, I want you to organize a big going-away gift for the major. Then I want you to spend some time each day with the palace lieutenants. Make sure that, if this turns into a long-term problem, they can actually do their job.”

I nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Anything else?”

“No. Not yet, anyway.”

I left her office and headed out to the courtyard. Before handling all of that business, I had some House Guard affairs to take care of. I’d sent Miley Hooves and her squad down to Haven six days back, which meant it was about time for the first squad to return.

I wasn’t certain exactly when they’d arrive, and it certainly didn’t make a lot of sense to just stand in the courtyard and wait, but I was nervous. Iridescence and Princess Luna had been gone three weeks. I’d had two couriers in that whole time and the details were sparse. I wanted to hear about the princess from my friend.

Fortunately, I only had to wait an hour or so before their chariot landed nearby. As the group of ponies unhitched and started unloading, I approached.

Iridescence caught sight of me and called, “Attention!”

Everypony dropped what they were doing and stood up straight. I waved a hoof. “Carry on. It looks like you all made it back in one piece.”

“Yes, sir. It really isn’t that bad of a ride,” Iridescence said.

“All due respect, Sergeant, that is because you weren’t pullin’,” Nova called. There were some light chuckles.

Iridescence shot the pegasus a mock glare. “Keep mouthing off and all you’ll be doing is pulling.”

I stood by, trying not to look like I was waiting for information about the princess. That was precisely what I was doing, but I didn’t want it to look that way.

“How were things here, sir?" Iridescence asked.

“For the most part, pretty well. Although, I want to warn you upfront: Dot accidentally set Winterspear’s mane on fire and it hasn’t grown back fully yet. She looks a bit rough.”

The unicorn’s eyes went big. “When you say set on fire…”

“Cookie-related accident. Totally mundane. It only took the workpony a day to repair the kitchen.”

Iridescence covered her face with a hoof. “How much do I owe you?”

I waved the question away. “Don’t worry about it. How is the princess?”

“She’s doing well. She’s pacing herself a bit more. Oh, she also wanted me to tell you that she will be attending the Summer Sun Festival in Ponyville. She’d like to see arrangements for that before she returns,” Iridescence reported.

That was good news. It meant the princess was sticking to her timeline. “Good, thank you.” I then raised my voice a bit. “And you’re all to take three days' liberty. Enjoy yourselves. Once you get back, I want you all off to advanced schools.”

That garnered several positive comments. Iridescence looked at me, her head tilted. “Are you okay?”

“Doing fine. You’re off to the advanced NCO course next week. It is going to be time to pin you soon.”

“If you say so,” she replied and then blinked. “You didn’t go to ANOC.”

I shook my head. “No, I didn’t, but you’re going to. Somepony around here should know how things are actually done.”

“I’m gone three weeks and you’re going to send me off to a four-week school after only three days of liberty and a couple days back? Do you not want me to see your sister?” she asked, her voice dropping to a whisper.

“Actually, ANOC is being held south of Baltimare. I hear the beaches are wonderful there this time of year. I also happen to know that Sergeant Winterspear will be attending the same class you’re going to be attending.”

Iridescence blinked at me. “That… sounds convenient. What about Dot?”

“Summer break at home for a bit. She’ll get back about when you do.”

The unicorn mare lowered her voice even more. “Thank you… You must have invested quite a bit of time arranging this.”

“A little, but don’t think it will be all beaches and drinks. You two are going to work hard during the day. I expect to see both of you with a sunburst under your chevrons soon or you’ll have to answer to me. I’ll write you up and ground her.”

Iridescence smiled and replied, “Yes, sir.”