Blueblood: Hero of Equestria

by Raleigh

Honour and Blood (Part 5)

I have never been one to believe in such things as fate and destiny. The idea that one's life has been planned out to utterly minute detail by powers beyond even Celestia's comprehension is not only horrifying by its implication that the freedom to think and act of our own individual free will is merely a shallow illusion, but it is also ludicrous to imagine Faust had the spare time between creating the universe and making sure that it doesn't collapse in on itself in an orgy of mayhem and insanity to plan events as minor as the time that I lost my virginity. That I have survived where other ponies have not is not down to some divinely-penned cosmic scheme, but through my own under-hoofed cunning, Faust-given ability to lie convincingly, and my unique ability to do something obviously cowardly and somehow be seen as all the more heroic for it. There is no pre-ordained order of things; merely choices and their consequences. I mention this pseudo-intellectual nonsense masquerading clumsily as philosophy (which is largely pseudo-intellectual nonsense even at the best of times) not because I want to paint myself as some pretentious poseur but merely to demonstrate that the events that I am about to describe were merely the product of some inadvertent good timing on my part and not part of some cosmic scheme.

Pencil Pusher was not what one might call a sparkling conversationalist. Our journey towards the main quartermaster stores located deep within the dark bowels of the fortress was conducted almost entirely in silence, with the dour, uncommunicative earth pony apparently finding no discomfort in the awkward silence between us. I considered the idea that he might get on well with Cannon Fodder, if only due to the fact that on the rare occasion that either of them had made the decision to speak it was with sentences that had all of the emotional weight and interesting content of the financial pages of the Equestrian Times, which meant it was unlikely for them to fall out over anything.

"So," I said, finding the relative quiet rather interminable, "how did you know where to find me?"

"Huh?" Pencil Pusher turned his head over his shoulder, but otherwise did not slow his walk.

I bit my lower lip out of frustration, and said: "How did you know to find me on top of the tower?"

"Oh." He shrugged his shoulders, which caused the entirely superfluous armour plates that covered his body to clatter noisily as though somepony had upended a box of heavy cutlery. "You weren't in your office, so I went through each and every room of the fortress until I found you."

I couldn't say I was terribly surprised, and I was about to say something along the lines of 'you obviously have far too much time on your hooves' when, passing a closed door, I heard what must have been mess tins filled to the brim with brown stew dropped on the floor with a clatter of tin and a wet splatter followed by several raised voices arguing angrily. Though I had stopped by the door to listen to the escalating volume and violence of a shouting match which must inevitably be followed by a brawl, Pencil Pusher continued walking. When he realised that I was no longer following him, he likewise stopped, turned his head over his shoulder at me, pulled a face like he had just tasted rancid milk, and then pretended to find great interest in the irregular arrangement of stones that made up the walls.

Realising that he would be of no help at all, I ignored my companion and pushed the door open. Halfway in its opening, a large, heavy object, most likely a heavily-armoured stallion judging by the fleeting glimpse that I received, collided with the door and rammed it shut. The shouting beyond had grown louder, despite the sound being muffled by the thick wood, and was punctuated emphatically the distinctive thuds of hooves striking both mithril armour and bare skin, followed by yet more defenceless mess tins clattering to the floor. While I had no real desire to get involved in one of the many brawls that bored soldiers inevitably start to pass the time, usually over some minor perceived slight or a mare that more than one stallion had taken a liking to, simply trying to ignore it as most ponies might have done in my position would have severely dented the persona of actually caring about my job that I had inadvertently created. Besides, I would rather risk grievous bodily harm than endure another long and tedious meeting with Pencil Pusher again.

I pushed carefully at the door and found that the obstruction had been moved, or more likely had got up to take revenge on whomever had thrown him against the portal. It opened to reveal a scene of total chaos. The room was a relatively small hall, about the size of two tennis courts stacked against one another, and normally served as one of the many small common rooms inside the castle itself. The rows of primitively-crafted tables, stools, and feeding troughs once lovingly cared for by the gallant chefs of the Catering Corps [As any pony who has served with the Royal Guard Catering Corps will tell you, the 'chefs' have equal rank and status as private soldiers of any other frontline regiment. Although they are not generally expected to be involved directly in combat, there are numerous recorded instances of Changeling sneak attacks on supposedly safe rear echelon sections being driven back by troops of the Catering Corps and those of other logistical and administrative units] had been reduced to broken splinters fit only for fuel for campfires. The source was what appeared to be a grotesque, cloying monstrosity of limbs, bodies, heads, and weapons improvised from the broken furniture that churned and rippled like a tempest. The noise, too, once muffled by the ancient stone and solid wood, became a cacophony of jeers, insults, and bestial wordless screaming.

There must have been a dozen or so ponies, though it was hard to tell in the swirling melee, and I spotted the sombre steel-grey of the Night Guards clashing with the gaudy blue and yellow of the Wonderbolts. From what I could tell, the Wonderbolts, being outnumbered and generally less experienced in the brutality of hoof-to-hoof brawling, were suffering the worst of it. This 'storm' had a relatively calm and placid eye - my aide Cannon Fodder had restrained an extremely irate and vocal Rainbow Dash by simply sitting on her back, who made clear her displeasure by flailing those limbs not pinned down by the sweaty mass of the pony on top of her and by describing in graphic detail what she was going to do to him when she got free. Elsewhere, a large, burly pegasus with wings so absurdly small that they should not have been capable of getting him off the ground held a guardspony in a headlock whilst screaming the word 'YEAH' over and over, as said guardspony attempted in vain to free himself by repeatedly kicking his hind legs into the Wonderbolt's side. Globules of brown stew were smeared on the walls, amidst the impressively-sized dents and gouges caused by stray hooves and heads, in interesting shapes rather like a modern art exhibition.

As I stepped into the room, just on the edge of the brawl, a full mess tin arced gracefully through the air and crashed into the wall a few inches to the left of my head. Its lukewarm contents splattered messily on the wall, with some flecks of the horrid brown stew landing on my cheek and my cap. So far they hadn't noticed me, or if they did they didn't care. I turned my head and saw that Pencil Pusher was still standing there, gormlessly looking out of the window apparently doing his best not to get involved.

"Don't just stand there," I snapped, "go and fetch the provosts. Now!"

Pencil Pusher vacillated, before turning on his hooves and galloping down the corridor. By now the fight had shown no sign of dying down as the combatants grow more exhausted. If anything, it seemed to be getting worse, as punches and kicks were thrown with greater accuracy and vehemence, as though the tensions built up between the ponies of the Royal Guard and the Wonderbolts suddenly overwhelmed what little sense the common soldier possessed. I could not afford to simply stand back and wait for the provosts to arrive to break up the fight, and if anything their usual clumsy and violent approach to enforcing discipline was likely to result in somepony getting severely hurt or killed, which would ultimately reflect badly on me.

I spotted Captain Blitzkrieg amongst the rabble, and I would have bet an entire month's income (which, without meaning to brag, was quite substantial) that if he did not start this latest addition to a long line of annoyances then he at least pushed it over the edge. He was shouting, though I could not discern his words, at Cannon Fodder, who I deduced had sat on Rainbow Dash as a means of keeping them apart.

"STOP!" I shouted as loud as I could manage. It is to my continued surprise to this day that it actually worked. As though time itself had somehow ceased in its inexorable advance, the brawling ponies froze still, some with forehooves in mid-swing, but with one exception - I suddenly became aware of all eyes now fixed upon me, and while some had the good sense to look sheepish at having been caught the majority I could tell were still possessed of the rising, animalistic bloodlust that had temporarily taken over their minds. Though striking an officer carried with it the death penalty at the time, especially if said officer happened to be both a commissar and a crown prince of Equestria, good sense sadly becomes an exceedingly rare attribute when a relatively large number of ponies are grouped together and get rather emotional about something. If I didn't follow up quickly enough or used the wrong phrasings without the backup of a small army of armed provosts I could end up uniting the two groups against me.

[It was reported that Blueblood's exclamation was heard from outside of the castle keep itself, implying that he had involuntarily used the Royal Canterlot Voice. This may explain why the fight ended so abruptly.]

Authority is as much projecting an image of possessing it as it is actually having it, and for once the abuse that I had previously suffered at the hooves of Princess Luna paid off. Though I must have looked like but a pale imitation of my daemonic auntie, the effect of standing tall in that uniform so carefully designed to radiate the stern, iron-hard discipline expected by the Royal Guard, and effecting an expression that not only exuded disapproval but hinted at the severity of the consequences to come should that discipline be violated, appeared to have some effect, as the stallions and mares untangled themselves from one another to stand awkwardly amidst the wreckage of the room. From behind a huge upturned cooking pot two ponies wearing the stained white aprons emblazoned with the symbol of the Catering Corps [A large, steaming cauldron suspended over a stylised flame with the motto 'Nos Sustinere', which is translated as 'We Sustain'] peeked out tentatively from their hiding place and stared with open-mouthed horror at the carnage.

"Cannon Fodder," I said, spotting my aide still in the approximate middle of the gaggle of ponies.

"Yes, sir?" he said. His familiarly calm and vacant tone of voice was oddly reassuring to hear.

"Kindly get off Acting Flight Sergeant Rainbow Dash, will you? And while you're at it, go and fetch us some mops and washcloths."

"Yes, sir."

With Cannon Fodder's mass no longer pinning her down, Rainbow Dash staggered to her hooves with a disgusted expression on her face, which, after that ordeal, had a rather sickly green tinge. She quietly muttered something about wanting to take a week-long bath and would even tolerate using Rarity's impressive collection of lotions, shampoos, oils, perfumes, and other assorted alchemical substances to rid herself of the memory of my aide's distinct aroma. I ignored her protests, and those of the other ponies around her, Wonderbolt and Night Guard alike, and knelt down to start collecting the jagged splinters of what was probably a wooden stool into my hooves.

Every now and again I would glance up to see the group of ponies staring gormlessly at me with expressions of confusion in varying degrees of severity. Nevertheless I continued with my task, despite this being mere servant work and obviously beneath somepony of my social standing. It did, however, have the desired effect of distracting them from whatever it was that had caused the fight, which was something that I planned to find out later at the expense of attending yet another tedious meeting with Iron Hoof and the rest of the General Staff. While the usual methods of shouting, screaming, and the threat and use of violence have their places in enforcing some semblance of order and discipline on the common soldiery, quite often another, less direct method is more effective in the long term.

"Uh, sir?" said Rainbow Dash, having pushed herself to the fore.

I had by now collected a sizeable pile of debris, which was being threatened menacingly by a pair of dainty blue spandex-clad forehooves. Looking up at Rainbow Dash was a novel concept for me, though even crouched down as I was my head was roughly level with her chest.

"Yes?" I said, feigning surprise at being interrupted from my work.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm tidying up," I said. Getting to my hooves again and pushing the small pile of splinters neatly to the side against the wall, I looked over at the sea of somewhat bewildered faces staring gormlessly back at me. "Is anypony going to help me? I don't think it's fair to leave this mess to the Catering Corps to clear up, unless you'd all prefer to serve the Princesses by mucking out the latrines for the rest of your lives, which, I might add, may become distressingly short based on your actions over the next few minutes?"

There was a subdued murmur of quiet assent from the soldiers, and those who had managed to escape the worst of the injuries, which extended mainly to sprained hooves, black eyes, and the odd broken wing, slowly started to get to work clearing away broken tables and chairs. The task was greatly aided when Cannon Fodder returned bearing the necessary equipment, and before long the soldiers and Wonderbolts had overcome their initial awkwardness and started working together to clean the room, especially when the NCOs and Captain Blitzkrieg apparently remembered that with their rank came certain responsibilities and expectations that needed to be followed. There were a few minor debacles, of course, which were to be expected when one remembers that this solution was merely a temporary salve to what must have been a deep-rooted issue that had somehow escaped my notice (which is not all that surprising, if you had been paying attention and remembered that as commissar I tended to simply drift along and hope to get through the war with as minimal fuss as possible and preferably still alive). Nevertheless, the occasional re-conflagration of hostilities was easily doused with a sharp, stern reminder from me that I could just as easily have them all flogged instead.

In truth I felt quite proud of myself, for once, for having, if not resolved this issue, then at least ameliorated it in the short term without anypony getting seriously hurt. I would have to sort out something more serious later, and especially have a word with the officers, but for now, the forcing the two groups to work together under the threat of equal punishment from me had the desired effect of keeping their tempers under control. The Royal Guard command structure is reliant upon that theory of management which states that ponies are best motivated and will work better as a cohesive unit when united under a leader that they all mutually fear, and while I had always sought to encourage the soldiers to genuinely like me (which will make them more willing to risk their lives to save mine), sometimes the traditional methods have their place.

As the guilty parties worked together, with a small modicum of something approaching friendly co-operation, I had deduced from various off-hoof comments and from the minor arguments that continued to flare up occasionally that Captain Blitzkrieg had made a rather insulting comment about the span of one of the Wonderbolt's wings and how their diminutive size related to another part of his anatomy [There is, of course, no evidence to this myth]. Though the stallion had taken the insult about as well as can be expected for one insecure enough about his masculinity, it was Rainbow Dash who had stepped in, and it was only a matter of time before it came to blows. In truth, I was more disappointed than angry. I had hoped that my etiquette lessons with the Captain were sinking in.

I was busy scrubbing at some blood splatter on the floor close to the door when the provosts arrived. Two pairs of immaculately clean sabatons stepped into view before me, and I tilted my head up slowly, seeing a small but pudgy and pampered frame squeezed into the brilliant gold lacquered armour of the Solar Guard with the glittering star emblazoned on the chest sparkling even in the dim light, and then up at the face of the very last pony that I ever wanted to see.

"Cleaning the floors?" said Lieutenant Scarlet Letter, the smugness in his voice only worsening my blood pressure. "Isn't that a bit beneath you, Prince?" My favourite of my many titles that I had hitherto collected rolled from his fat, blubbery mouth like raw sewage flowing from an industrial waste outlet pipe straight into the Detrot River.

I rose to my hooves, feeling a bit more assured of myself now towering over the stallion. The shock of seeing him again had rattled me, and for a moment I was rendered utterly speechless. Despite this, I kept my expression suitably rigid so as not to betray that weakness, knowing that he'd certainly exploit it in one form or another. I bought some time by instructing the provosts, the four that had arrived and looked thoroughly disappointed they weren't going to be using their truncheons to crack skulls today, to take those too wounded to help clean up to the infirmary.

"That's Commissar-Prince Blueblood to you," I said, doing my damnedest to sound as though his sudden and thoroughly unwelcome appearance, or even the fact that I was still forced to share the same planet as him, was something quite ordinary. "These stallions and mares respect an officer who would never give them an order that he would be unwilling to perform himself."

Scarlet Letter smiled in that invariably insincere manner that for some reason only seasoned politicians are capable of. "Of course, sir," he said, casting a critical eye over the haggard, worn state of my uniform in contrast to his parade ground-quality armour. If I didn't know any better, I would have assumed that he had bought another suit simply to be annoying. "How silly of me. I return here from Canterlot to find His Royal Highness the Prince Blueblood doing the work of his servants. Oh, how the society pages will relish this news. It's a shame I neglected to bring my camera."

It's a matter of course that I adamantly refused to allow this impudent, traitorous imbecile the satisfaction of getting the desired reaction out of me, and though it went against every single fibre of my noble, aristocratic upbringing during which my father impressed on me most earnestly that any insult to myself or my bloodline must be repaid a thousandfold, I simply shook my head and said: "Better to do the work of servants than that of the enemy, Lieutenant. Don't imagine that I have forgotten about what you did."

That insufferable grin spread wider on Scarlet's face, and he tossed his head back in what he assumed was a defiant gesture. "The court of inquiry acquitted me on all charges, and through appeal my commission and rank were rightfully returned to me."

Looking back, I might have spared myself quite a lot of misery if I had insulted him, challenged him to a duel, and then ran him through on the field of honour. At that time, however, I was acutely aware of the way the wind was starting to blow, the shouts of reform that were inflamed by Twilight Sparkle's yet-to-be-published report, and I was determined to find myself remembered as being on the 'right' side of history. The reader might ask why I had not exercised my right of summary execution, to which I would say that this assumption is based on the thoroughly unrealistic expectations of how commissars work brought about by those horrendously awful stories written by ponies who wouldn't know a real commissar if one turned up drunk on their doorstep and slept with their wives. Summary execution, despite its nature, invariably generates a lot of paperwork after the fact, and executing Scarlet Letter more than a full month after the incident on frankly tenuous evidence after he had been 'acquitted' would reflect badly on me, for being damned unsporting for one.

If he came here simply to gloat over me, which I suspected that he must be doing to placate his fragile ego, then it was working. Faust Almighty, these damned reformists in Parliament speak of equitable justice for all based on reason, and yet when one of their own becomes embroiled in scandal out of their own idiocy they indulge in the same rank corruption that they accuse the ancien regime of. I consoled myself in the most unlikely of sources: Twilight Sparkle. I had faith, despite my misgivings about her, that her commission would inject some much-needed sense back into the Royal Guard, and therefore I would never see the likes of Scarlet Letter again.

I could have maintained this back-and-forth duel of witticisms all day and potentially all night if I sent Cannon Fodder out to locate an agreeable bottle of wine to sustain me, but it was getting me nowhere and Captain Fine Vintage, my regular supplier of such libations, was still several miles away at Maredun. It was lucky then that Captain Blitzkrieg had chosen this particular moment to slink silently by my side, carrying one of the dustpans and brushes that Cannon Fodder had so helpfully brought along in his mouth. I was only alerted to his presence, his movements, despite his steel boots that should have tapped noisily on the ancient stone, disturbingly noiseless as always, when he dropped his cleaning paraphernalia with a clatter to the floor.

"We've just about finished," he said. "Rainbow Dash tried to ram a saucepan on my head, but other than that..."

Blitzkrieg stopped mid-sentence, and then looked directly at Lieutenant Scarlet Letter, who had drawn himself up to look as imposing as his small, pudgy frame would allow, with an expression of utter horror as though he had just accidentally walked in on Princess Celestia indulging with a hapless member of her personal guard in her chambers with industrial amounts of whipped cream and the rather more interesting artefacts from the royal collection of whips and physical restraints [I would like to assure readers that such rumours about the initiation rites of the Princesses' Life Guards are entirely spurious and have no grounding in reality beyond the fevered imagination of deluded fantasists]. Nevertheless, I think he recovered admirably.

"You've got some bloody nerve coming back here!" he blurted out incredulously, jabbing a hoof against the pristine, shimmering breastplate of Scarlet Letter, leaving a smear of dust and grime.

Scarlet Letter cleared his throat and stepped back, brushing at the mark on his armour irritably with a white hoofkerchief. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," he said. "I have merely returned to my rightful place on the frontline to lead my platoon to glory, in the name of the Princesses. I refuse to be insulted by the likes of you."

"Yeah, right," snarled Blitzkrieg. "Be lucky insulting you is the worst thing I'll do to you. I lost a lot of good stallions that day, and none of their spirits will be thanking me while I stand here with you still drawing breath, mate."

"How dare you? I'm not your 'mate'. Commissar, how can you allow your officers to be so damned uncouth?"

"Better, uh, 'uncouth' than a traitor."

I could have let this continue, ending with Blitzkrieg being arrested by the provosts and then court-martialled in a show trial and then hanged for having stabbed Scarlet Letter in what part of his neck was accessible for the rolls of decadent fat with a spoon, but as I had rather grown attached to the Captain despite his rough nature I decided to intervene. His desire to improve himself, though ultimately a wasted effort, was endearing enough to me to generate some modicum of concern for his well-being. As Scarlet Letter and Blitzkrieg continued to exchange verbal barbs at one another to increasingly lowered degrees of wit and taste, I noticed for the first time that behind the unwelcome unicorn was another pony clad in the distinctive black uniform of the commissar. My stomach made that peculiar sinking feeling again, as though it had had enough of this nonsense and simply vacated my abdomen.

"Excuse me," I said, finally putting an end to this intellectually stimulating conversation. I pushed my way past Blitzkrieg and Scarlet Letter and approached this new pony. She was a thin, tall, willowy unicorn mare who resembled a bundle of sticks carefully arranged into the shape of an equine and dressed in the uniform of a commissar. Small, pale eyes stared at me from under a fringe of a maroon-coloured mane, flattened by a peaked cap in far better condition than mine, and though her rigid poise was that of a pony doing her damnedest to appear dignified and calm when presented with somepony she greatly admired, those eyes twinkled with expectant awe.

"I don't believe we've met," I said, offering a hoof out to her. "I'm Commissar-Prince Blueblood."

"Commissar Gliding Moth, sir," she said curtly, and gave a small, stiff bow of her head. Her voice, like that small gesture with its underlying tones of military efficiency and authoritarianism hidden beneath what should have been the softness of a young mare, put me in mind of Princess Luna. I could not help but wonder how much of the darker of my two aunties had rubbed off on what I took to be a young, impressionable mare whose life must be wasted in the Commissariat. "Can I just say how much of an honour it is for me to finally meet you. We've all heard so much about you."

"Not everything, I hope," I said, grinning.


"That was a joke, Gliding." Well, in truth I was only half-joking. I could tell already I was not going to enjoy my time with this humourless mare, and made a mental note to keep any contact with her to a minimum.

When I realised that she was not going to shake my hoof I placed it back on the ground and pretended to ignore that slight; it seemed that whatever training my fellow commissars had been put through (which I had skipped, mercifully perhaps) was not content enough to purge its neophytes of its sense of humour but also what little good manners this benighted generation had. At the very least, she was polite enough to fake a dignified titter of laughter, however poorly.

"Your report on the Battle of Black Venom Pass was required reading in my last year at the Academy," she said. "The first time our principles were applied in the field is no joke, sir."

"It's nice to know somepony reads those things. Nevertheless, it's good to see you here, I thought I might be left alone here by myself."

She gave a small nod of her head, which made her fringe flutter gracelessly over her eyes. "I have been attached to Lieutenant Scarlet Letter's platoon for the duration of my final year. The rest of my cohort have been attached to other regiments across Equestria, but I asked Princess Luna personally for a post on the frontlines."

It was then that I noticed her dainty, thin waist was devoid of the ceremonial crimson sash that was as much a symbol of the commissar as the peaked cap and the absence of a sense of humour or a sane perspective on life. She was a trainee commissar, then, as much as Rainbow Dash and her Wonderbolts were merely enthusiastic amateurs. The prospect of letting her go and get herself martyred pointlessly in the name of Equestria and the Princesses went flying out of the window and onto the metaphorical dung heap the second I realised, with the sudden and inexplicable horror of a pony standing upon a rope bridge and for the first time noticing the supports about to snap, that not only would I be expected to make sure that she survived, but also to act as some sort of mentor and guiding hoof for her. Literally anypony, even Cannon Fodder, could have served that role better than me, but alas, the convoluted circumstances which had thus far ruined what was a comfortable life for me have sought only to degrade it further.

That she was crazy, stupid, and zealous enough to request a frontline regiment when there were plentiful quiet postings in the civilised portions of Equestria available spoke volumes, and bore ill-tidings for my well-being. On the other hoof, having her watch over Lieutenant Scarlet Letter, and her likely being far less tolerating of his idiocy than me, should alleviate some of the burden on me. When Faust closes a door She opens a window, as the commoners might say.

"How admirable," was all that I could say.

Her shadowed eyes looked around the room, which by now was one of two halves: the half that had been restored to some semblance of cleanliness and the other that was still an utter mess. One could determine a visible frontline on the war on untidiness by following where the globules of congealing brown stew stopped where the bare stone walls began. Our gallant soldiers had launched a number of offensives with mops and brooms but a true breakthrough had yet to be made, much like the actual war we were supposed to have been fighting.

"What happened here?" she asked.

Scarlet Letter snorted contemptuously. "An outbreak of ill discipline typical of the First Regiment of the Night Guards. Brought about by its low-born and ill-mannered officers and a spineless political officer too obsessed with pursuing fantastical conspiracy theories to..."

An appropriate glare from yours truly (and, presumably, Captain Blitzkrieg, who was still standing next to me and was sizing up the new Commissar) was enough to stop that diatribe from developing to the point where I would finally have solid grounds to remove his head from the rest of his body. His tone of voice and the speed with which the words tumbled out one after another from his blubbery lips implied to me that he had spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time rehearsing this speech in his head and had been looking forward to delivering it to me for so long. Fortunately for him, and much to my irritation, he made an excuse about having to inspect his platoon and made bid a hasty retreat back into the darkness of the corridors where he and other filth like him belonged.

Blitzkrieg nudged me in the shoulder with a hoof, and then drew it across his throat, his head tilted back to expose it. "One word, Blueblood," he whispered, "and I can make it look like an accident."

"A minor brawl," I said, hoping to distract Gliding from Blitzkrieg's ill-considered words. "So we're cleaning up the mess, and I'll decide on punishment following my investigation." An investigation which, I should point out, I had very little intention of pursuing too hard; give everypony extra latrine duty and perhaps some community service with the Catering Corps to make up for the ruined mess and I could spend the rest of my afternoon enjoying the remainder of that lascivious novel.

Gliding Moth looked over at the mess impassively, and then raised an eyebrow imperiously when her gaze fell upon Captain Blitzkrieg and the bright red mark in the shape of a hoofprint just visible under his dusty grey fur. "Surely the pony who struck an officer must be hanged," she said, "or at least flogged to within an inch of his life?"

I noted that Rainbow Dash, who had been lingering nearby and was doing her damnedest to look as though she was most certainly not eavesdropping, started whistling conspicuously as she trotted away to scrub at the farthest possible wall away from Gliding Moth. Every now and again I would catch sight of her looking over at me.

"There are extenuating circumstances," I said, "which may mean that a less severe form of correction is more appropriate. Captain Blitzkrieg here is not entirely without blame."

The strange, quizzical expression on Gliding's face only grew more intense. "But the Regulations are very clear on this matter."

"They are," I said, nodding my head slowly to show that I understood her point of view, even if I did not agree with it. "But we are trying to integrate a new unit into the Royal Guard command structure, and it would benefit nopony if we were to start executing and flogging their members before they have even had a good look at the enemy."

The mare chewed on her lower lip. "Surely discipline must be rigidly enforced?"

[Though Princesses' Regulations and the Royal Guard penal code are unequivocal on the matter of assaulting a commissioned officer, commissars were, and still are, given considerable leeway in interpreting these rules as Blueblood described. However, they are not beyond reproach as the Commissariat itself may investigate the actions of its commissars and punish where necessary.]

I offered a small, reassuring smile. "I'll ensure these hooligans get punished appropriately. They are good stallions, and I have had the honour of fighting with them twice against the enemy. It would be a shame to waste their lives or their health when both could be better spent more productively."

It must have been a bit of a disappointment for Gliding Moth to have finally met me. I don't know what manner of propaganda, misinformation, and outright lies had been indoctrinated into her by whatever training program the Commissariat had put this perfectly innocent young filly through, but I imagined it had, for one reason or another, placed me as some sort of perfect example of what a commissar should be. While I was no stranger to being placed on a pedestal, I tended to prefer it in my capacity as the leading light of Canterlot's upper class society, not in a situation where I found myself in mortal danger. To find that this so-called paragon was in fact rather more lazy and pragmatic than the idealised version of me that had been projected by the official versions of the events at Black Venom Pass and the Siege must have been rather disheartening.

She stuck around, however, as we finished cleaning up the rest of the room, though she did not do much else but watch with that enigmatic expression of quiet and understated confusion. As I worked on tidying up the pile of splintered furniture into a neat little pile in the corner, Captain Blitzkrieg sidled up to me with a lecherous grin on his face. He elbowed me in the ribs in a manner that I found to be far too familiar for our respective stations on the social hierarchy, and leaned in a little too close to be comfortable for me.

"That uniform don't look half bad on a pretty mare," he said, his grin showing an array of yellowed teeth. "Am I right?"

"Give her a few weeks and then tell me what you think," I said.

"Better make the most of it, then." Blitzkrieg nudged me in the ribs again and snickered inanely, as if at some private joke that he thought we shared but in fact only ever seemed funny to him.

"Fraternising at work's only going to lead to trouble, anyway," I said, stepping back from the pile and admiring the... well, not excellent job that everypony had done, but at least the room was tidier than when I had first entered it.

"Well, if you ain't interested then I might have a go at her."

I chuckled, or forced one, at least. "It's your head, not mine."

Blitzkrieg glanced warily over his shoulder at the new trainee Commissar, who, I was relieved to see, either had not heard our conversation or had simply chosen to ignore it. Instead, she seemed rather more interested in watching Rainbow Dash chatting animatedly with her fellow Wonderbolts, likely boasting about something she had done that she believed must be suitably impressive to the easily impressed fellow 'jocks' that she commanded. Her speech, if I could even call it that, so mixed with nonsensical slang and variations of the word 'yeah!' that it bore as much resemblance to the Equestrian language as I did with common mule, was punctuated with rapid and vigorous movements of her forelimbs, from which I deduced that she was describing something that happened in the air with another pegasus. Looking back at her now that I had somewhat recovered from the initial twin shocks of first finding Scarlet Letter reappearing in my life like a malignant tumour and then meeting Gliding Moth, I could not help but agree to an extent with Blitzkrieg; in terms of physical appearance she was not unattractive, even though she was hardly my type, and if she smiled more she might have been considered pretty.

"I reckon it's still worth it," said Blitzkrieg, winking at me in a manner that made me feel quite ill. "Anyway, you'll be ever so pleased to know my plan worked."

I arched an eyebrow and dusted off my hooves. It didn't help, as my hooves were still caked in enough dust to suffocate an elephant, but it made me feel a little better at least. "And what plan would that be?"

There was a sly glint in his eye as he nodded his head in Rainbow Dash's direction. "You're probably wondering why I said those things to one of her stallions over there, even after all of the lessons you've been giving me."

"I had been wondering about that."

Blitzkrieg nodded his head eagerly, and lowered his voice to a more conspiratorial tone. "Well, I think I'm getting better at being more, uh, more 'polite' and less disrespectful, especially to inbred long-nosed toffs in the other regiments. But I wanted to see how well Rainbow Dash over there was at sticking up for her stallions, and she passed!"

"By insulting one of her soldiers and provoking her into punching you in the face," I said, my voice a flat monotone that would have made Iron Hoof's sound like that of Rainbow Dash. I confess it took me some time to work my head around the backwards logic of Blitzkrieg's argument, it being that of the sort of pony from the criminal under-classes whom more refined ponies such as I prefer to pretend simply don't exist and who have yet to learn that there are other means of solving problems other than the use of violence (those same qualities making them perfect common soldiers and NCOs, of course), but when I did I found it hardly made the situation any better. It's more likely he had once again said something before actually thinking about the consequences, and was now simply trying to justify his position.

"A good leader's got to stick up for his ponies, and Rainbow Dash might be" -he stopped, and momentarily pressed his hoof to the bridge of his nose as he tried to search for the right word- "a boastful, naive idiot, but she at least gives a damn about her ponies. She ain't like one of those officers who don't care."

I sucked in air through my teeth and sighed, all in a manner to appear as quietly disappointed as possible. "That's all well and good," I said, leading Blitzkrieg towards the corner furthest from the prying ears of Gliding Moth, "but you damn well know if I didn't get here before the provosts she would have been court-martialled and even executed for striking an officer."

Blitzkrieg had the good sense to look a little sheepish, and even disappointed. Glancing around, I saw that most ponies had either dispersed to whatever duties they were supposed to attend to or had elected to spend their down time elsewhere before I inevitably came down on them like the righteous angel of the commissariat's retribution. Nevertheless, I discreetly tugged Blitzkrieg away from the few who still lingered, including Rainbow Dash and Trainee Commissar Gliding Moth, and out into the empty corridor.

"Yeah, I know," he said, "but you'd have gotten us out of it. I mean, that's what you're here for."

"Actually, I'm here to make sure that you don't do stupid things like that to begin with, among other things." I rubbed at my temples; dear Faust these ponies were going to be the death of me if the Changelings didn't get me first. I shook my head in mock disappointment and turned away from him, knowing that the idea that he had done something wrong to offend me, somepony who, against all sense of reason, seemed to regard me as a pony whose approval mattered, would likely crush him. The disappointed, puppy-like expression proved that my actions had the desired effect.

"If you want to be seen and treated as a 'proper officer', as you call it, should, then you can't go deliberately picking fights with the lower orders," I said. Now that he was in a state more receptive to being manipulated, I turned to face him once more. Despite suspecting that the truth was rather less convoluted than what he stated, I had decided for his sake to pretend to take his word at face value. "You will not be judged by your good intentions, but by your actions and your words. You do realise I still have to assign you to a punishment detail?"

Blitzkrieg nodded his head, though his stance was rather defiant. In truth I didn't relish having to admonish him like some bloody foal, but sometimes a stern, but polite, word works a damn sight better than simply flogging everypony in sight and then wondering why a mutiny has suddenly broken out. A stallion such as the one standing before me, who had been brutalised for much of his life by an uncaring system, was more likely to respond better to words from somepony he considered, at best, a confidant, than bloody violence. "Yeah, yeah, I knew that was coming, alright. Whatever you're planning I've probably done it before."

"That's the spirit," I said. "See you in Shining Armour's mess tonight?"

"Alright, but you're buying."

I snorted air through my nose and shook my head. "I'm always buying. Noblesse oblige, remember?"

He grinned at our little running joke, and for once it was a relief to see the jagged shark-like fangs imbued by Princess Luna's nocturnal blessing. It showed that he wasn't too upset by my words, or that he was simply concealing a deeply held hatred of me and wanted to lull me into a false sense of security before sticking a cheese knife through my neck and telling everypony that I had a very unfortunate accident eating a slice of brie. I expect I would find out next morning if I woke up at all. He trotted away, and I was about to skulk off back to the relative isolation of the keep tower, though I knew I now had to find an alternative refuge from the general misery that was my waking life now that Pencil Pusher had found it, when I saw Gliding Moth gazing expectantly up at me from the door.

"Come on," I said, beckoning her over, "I'll show you where the amenities are."

And, thought I, try and keep you out of trouble.