• Published 6th Dec 2014
  • 25,983 Views, 747 Comments

Twilight Sparkle of the Royal Guard - King of Beggars



Twilight Sparkle is the newest member of Celestia's Royal Guard. Fresh out of the Military Academy, she's ready to prove herself, but will her first assignment be too much for her to handle?

  • ...
45
 747
 25,983

Chapter 1 - Pissing Off Your C.O. and Other Hazards of Cake Guarding

“Legionary Twilight Sparkle, reporting for duty, sir!” Twilight sounded off with a perfectly executed salute.

The Twilight in the mirror saluted back, bringing a smile to her face. The smile was quickly adjusted as she wiped all traces of emotion away. Royal Guards didn’t smile, they merely watched, ever vigilant and ready to serve at Her Highness’ command and pleasure at a moment’s notice.

She dropped her hoof and managed to hold her stoic discipline for a few moments longer before finally giving in to her girlish excitement.

“Eeeeeeeeeee~!” she squealed as she bounced excitedly. “I’m finally in the guard!”

Her helmet bounced around loosely as she danced in place. She ceased her celebration and pulled the headwear off, careful not to scrape her horn against the horn-port in the unicorn-type helmet she’d been issued.

The Royal Guard, despite being the largest standing armed force in Equestria, had very few mares within its ranks, which really made it something of a pain getting your hooves on a properly fitted uniform or suit of armor. Sure, it wasn't unheard of for a mare to join the Guard, but it was very uncommon, and many armories just didn't even bother stocking female-fitted Royal Guard armor.

As a result of the armorer's poor bookkeeping and lack of planning, Twilight had been forced to make do with a standard issue armor in the smallest size. Sadly, even the smallest suit, while the appropriate size, was still made to conform to a male body type. The armorer had made a few adjustments, but modifications to an off-the-shelf design only went so far. The end result was a suit of armor that was a little too loose in the shoulders, a little too tight on the flank, and a little too wobbly in the helmet.

Her Decurion – her immediate superior – had informed her that a suit that would fit her had been located in Vanhoover, but military efficiency meant that the armor would be held up in red-tape and requisition forms for at least three more months. Some of the other guards had overheard her conversation and commented that by then she'd qualify to put in a request for a custom-fitted uniform and armor. The best option seemed to be to just wait until she could put in the custom order request, but in the meantime she was on her own as far as figuring out how to make the suit fit.

A minute or so of careful study and she pinpointed the problem. A bit more padding in just the right spot and her galea would fit perfectly without chafing. In fact, if she skipped breakfast, she might even be able to catch the armorer before her first inspection.

She lifted the helmet into the air, trailing it behind herself as she left her private quarters – which she was quickly realizing was the best benefit of being the only mare in the Guard – and headed past the barracks, towards the armory to see if the smithy was in yet. A few of the other guards waved to her as they dressed and prepared themselves for breakfast and inspection.

“Today’s going to be a great first day, I can tell,” she told herself with confidence.

* * *

Every potential member of Celestia’s Royal Guard was issued a kit with basic supplies upon acceptance into the basic training camp. This kit contained a number of things necessary for the candidate’s education and indoctrination into military life. There were odds and ends included – which was comprised of things like armor polish, toothpaste, shampoo, and other basic toiletries – but the most important item in any recruit’s kit was their very own copy of The Royal Guard Training Manual.

The Guard’s manual wasn’t too different from the manuals distributed to recruits in other branches of the military. It had all basics about survival tactics, combat techniques, and other life-saving knowledge. Interestingly, a lot of the same information, minus the combat drills and exercises, could be found condensed into The Survival Hoofbook, which was standard issue to members of the Colt and Filly Scouts.

Where the Guard’s manual differed from others was the extra thick section about etiquette and procedure. The Royal Guard was much more visible than other branches of the Protective Pony Platoons. They were stationed everywhere, not just in the castle but throughout Equestria, and followed Her Highness everywhere she went. They interacted with nobles, foreign dignitaries, and civilians alike. Their job, aside from being the elite units assigned with protecting the most valuable asset in Equestria, was to be the face of Equestria’s military might.

Despite the importance of this manual, most young soldiers put off reading it, sometimes skimming over things the final few weeks until graduation and hoping to ‘wing it’ as they went along. Twilight Sparkle knew this to be a mistake. She’d read her manual cover to cover, several times, and memorized its contents backwards and forwards.

That was how she knew that she’d made a very big mistake on her first day.

She stood before the Captain of the Guard – an enormous pegasus stallion with a silver coat peppered white with age – and held at attention despite the need to collapse to the ground and catch her breath.

“Legionary Twilight Sparkle,” the old stallion said coldly as he circled her, inspecting every inch of her in search of a flaw in her posture. “I trust you’ve read your manual.”

“Yes sir!”

A few of her fellow guards snickered, earning a glare of disapproval from their captain for the minor break in discipline.

“Then you can tell me what the Guard’s schedule is every morning,” he asked.

Twilight inhaled deeply and responded: “Reveille is forty-five minutes before appointed sunrise, breakfast to be eaten within a half hour, inspection at first light, sir!”

“Very good,” he said in an unimpressed tone. “Now maybe you can tell me why you showed up five minutes after first light, sweating and out of breath?”

“I was getting my armor refitted in the armory and the smithy lost track of time – we didn’t notice how late it was until he’d finished, so I had to run all the way here, sir!”

“That sounds like something that shouldn’t have waited until the last possible second,” the captain said as he paced in front of her. “Or maybe Shining Armor’s little sister – little Miss Hotshot First-In-Her-Class-At-The-Academy – thinks she deserves special treatment and can just show up whenever she wants?”

Twilight ground her teeth but held her silence.

“I don’t want any confusion later on, so I’ll get this friendly little warning out of the way so everypony’s on the same page, Sparkle,” he said as he leaned in close, lowering his voice so only she could hear him. “I can’t stand nepotism. It’s got no place in the military, and it especially doesn’t have a place in my command. I don’t care who your brother is, I don’t care what kind of grades you got in school – all I care about is how well you follow my orders and how well you keep my schedule.”

He pulled away and spit on the ground in distaste. “Fall in, and if you’re late again you’ll be spending every waking moment from now until retirement doing laps around the castle.”

Twilight’s hoof snapped up in a quick salute and she cantered over to an open spot in the ranks that obviously was meant for her. Out the corner of her eye she noticed the unicorn standing next to her snickering in amusement.

“Somepony got in trouble~” he sang in a whisper.

“Glowstone!”

The unicorn went rigid as he snapped back to attention at the sound of his name. “Sir!”

“Push-ups!” their captain barked. “Fifty of ‘em! Now!”

The other guards, including Twilight, all laughed at Glowstone’s misfortune as he lowered himself into the push-up posture and began counting off.

The captain allowed the laughter, just this one time.

"We've got less than two weeks until the Summer Sun Celebration, ponies!" he shouted, the corners of his mouth threatening to curl into a smile. "Legionaries Glowstone and Twilight Sparkle better be the last two to break discipline between now and then, or I will be displeased! This year's Celebration is going to be one to remember, I can feel it in my bones!"

* * *

In all her years, Twilight Sparkle had never been so humiliated. She still couldn’t believe she’d gotten herself a reprimand in front of her fellow guards on her first day, by the Captain of the Guard himself, no less. To make matters worse, it had been entirely her fault. She and the armorer’s apprentice had gotten into a heated discussion about the importance of a galea’s crest. The young blacksmith had insisted that it made all the guard helmets look like brooms, while Twilight tried to explain that the crests were a way to signify rank and division from a distance.

In short, he’d been dumb, she’d been right, and it didn’t matter because she was still late to inspection. The whole ordeal had been her fault because she’d let that argumentative part of her brain rope her into another academic debate.

Once inspection was over, her squad received their orders from their Decurion – an earth pony named Flat Hoof. Decurion Flat Hoof informed his squad that they would be spending the week patrolling the inside of the castle and standing sentry in high-traffic, high-value locations.

Twilight had been assigned the kitchen, a ‘high-value’ target that didn’t even warrant a second guard. Her entire job for the next week would be to stand outside the kitchen doors, watching for ponies twirling mustaches and carrying vials of poison.

Not that that wasn’t a real fear – the princess’ food was prepared in this kitchen, after all – it was just incredibly unlikely that somepony with such dark intentions would slip this deep into the castle. The only ponies that ever passed through the kitchen doors were wait staff and the cooks. Very rarely did Twilight have to stop somepony unfamiliar and ask their business.

If the boredom wasn’t bad enough, the guard stationed at the kitchen had to do a full twelve hour shift smelling delicious food and being unable to even sneak a snack. It was widely accepted by everypony to be the worst assignment for a day-shift guard.

She wasn’t sure whether she’d pulled the short straw because she was new, or because she was being punished for her earlier mistake, but whatever the case, it wasn’t much of stretch to imagine that she would be stuck on kitchen duty for a good while.

The day ticked away slowly, the way time seemed to slow down while you were staring at a clock. She knew that time wasn’t actually slowing down, and that time only seemed slower because her perception of it was being altered by her mental state, but she took precious little solace in that knowledge.

The only distraction to break up the monotony was when somepony was coming to or out of the kitchens, and she was beginning to look forward to these brief interactions. A few ponies tried to say hello to her, but even though she would have loved to talk with them, she was on duty and merely politely asked that they continue along on their business unless they had something to report.

Growing up, she’d found herself seduced by the tales of romance and intrigue involving Royal Guard members from the distant past. The Pegasi Air Force had their Commander Hurricanes, and the Earth Pony Infantry had their Corporal Tough Crackers, but in the old stories nopony was as heroic or brave as the Royal Guard.

She reminded herself of this fact as a waiter walked past her into the kitchen carrying a tray of tiny, uneaten sandwiches. He nodded to her and disappeared through the swinging doors leading into the kitchen, leaving her to watch the empty hallway with presumed unwavering vigilance. She stared at the far wall, where the needlessly long hall ended into another corridor that ran perpendicularly to the kitchen passageway. Going to the right took you towards the main entry and out into the courtyard, and going left led further into the castle, towards the dining hall, which connected to the throne room.

There was a painting on that wall – a portrait of Fancy Soup, a chef from over a thousand years ago that had earned a few pages in the history books for sniffing out poisons slipped into the princess’ meals. He was so good at it that even friendly foreign dignitaries made it a sort of game – dark game, though it was – to have all of their meals randomly poisoned, knowing that nothing would get past the chef’s keen sniffer. Eventually, the princess had to politely ask her guests to stop trying to poison themselves, as it was becoming very hard to actually get something to eat when waiters would show up with only a single unpoisoned sandwich for everyone to share.

He was also supposedly very good at sniffing out truffles, like a pig. In fact, with his beady little eyes, flat snout, and rotund little cheeks, he kind of looked like a pig if you squinted at him…

Twilight couldn’t help herself as she yawned loudly. All this vigilance was giving her the drowsies something fierce. The sound of the kitchen door being opened snapped her out of her state of mild hypnosis.

“Excuse me, guard.”

Twilight gratefully turned away from hallway to lock eyes with a pretty mare with a lollipop Cutie Mark. She’d been one of the ones who’d tried to talk to her earlier, and funny enough, her name was actually Lollipop.

A dozen more ponies in chef’s jackets and wait staff uniforms filed out of the kitchen behind her, most of them carrying blankets and picnic baskets. The group of ponies continued down the hallway, chatting away and paying Twilight no mind.

“We’re all going to go on lunch for the next hour,” Lollipop said with a smile. “We’re done with cleanup from lunch and dinner prep, so you’re going to be holding down the fort on your own for a while.”

Lollipop leaned forward and gave an exaggerated wink. “If you wanted to slip inside for a drink or something to snack on, I sure wouldn’t tell anypony.”

The mare bounded off, giggling as she went. She quickly caught up with the rest of the group and they disappeared around a corner leading towards the courtyard.

“Great,” Twilight grumbled to herself, “now there’s nothing around to keep me from falling asleep on my hooves…”

She returned to watching the hallway for suspicious activity, but within minutes the monotony once again began to erode at the edges of her focus. She needed stimulus – her brain craved it. Every waking moment of her life since fillyhood had been spent studying and reading, and while most ponies would’ve had a nervous breakdown from the workload she heaped upon herself, she thrived under it. Unless she figured out a way to keep her mind occupied without affecting her alertness, it was going to be a very long, very difficult career in the Guard.

She heard the sound of muffled hoofsteps coming from down the hallway. The kitchen staff had only been gone for a few minutes of their lunch hour, so nopony was supposed to be coming down this hallway for at least another forty-five minutes.

Twilight tensed up and focused her hearing, zeroing in on the sound and trying to glean as much information as she could. The steps were heavy and spaced far apart. It was likely somepony big, and heavy, probably wearing armor. Maybe it was another guard? Was the Captain of the Guard coming to give her another lecture?

Panic began to build in her chest at the thought that maybe she’d done something to further anger her senior officer. What if he found out that she was having trouble concentrating? What if he was still angry about her showing up late? What if he wanted to send her back to military kindergarten?

The hoofsteps stopped and a head popped around the corner, trailing an ethereally floating mane.

“Oh, what a pleasant surprise,” Celestia said with a giggle. She rounded the corner and trotted towards Twilight, giving her warmest, most motherly smile. “I’d heard you were starting this week and was wondering why I hadn’t seen you around the castle. Now I see it’s because you’ve been hiding in the kitchen.”

Twilight relaxed as the realization that it was just Princess Celestia set in. She then tensed up again as she realized that she was now a guard and the Princess was addressing her.

“It’s nice seeing you, too, Your Highness!” Twilight replied. Her eye twitched nervously as her brain registered the fact that she’d just shouted into the princess’ face.

Celestia broke stride for only a moment before giggling in amusement. “Please, Twilight, don’t be so formal. It’s just you and me right now. I’ve known you since you were a filly.”

Twilight flushed a bit at the reminder that she was now officially under the command of somepony that her big brothers more or less considered a second mother. “Thank you, princess. Can I, um, ask why you’re here?”

“Oh, I come down here every day,” she said airily. “All those tasty desserts are unattended while the kitchen staff is out at lunch. It’s the perfect time to burgle a few pastries.”

She strode past Twilight confidently, and nodded towards the door. “You should join me. I think they were baking cakes today.”

“I probably shouldn’t…” Twilight said as her mouth began to water at the thought of finally eating some of what she’d been smelling all morning. “I’m supposed to guard this hallway…”

Celestia pouted far more cutely than anypony her age had any right to. “Legionary Twilight Sparkle, what is your sworn duty?”

Twilight snapped-to and saluted, sounding off with a reflexive: “To protect and serve at your pleasure, Your Highness!”

“That’s right,” Celestia said with a grin as she pushed aside the swinging doors with a gentle shove of her magic. “And it’d give me no end of pleasure if you’d join me for a bit of cake.”

Twilight wanted to refute Celestia’s assessment, she really did, but there was a very clear chain of command and Princess Celestia was sitting at the very tippity-top of it. She shrugged and followed her princess into the kitchen.

“I hope the Guard Captain doesn’t find out about this…” Twilight muttered under her breath.

Celestia laughed as she overheard Twilight’s comment to herself. “Don’t worry about Centurion Steel Century, he’s just a big kitten.”

“I kind of got yelled at earlier by him,” Twilight sighed. “I showed up late for inspection because I was getting my galea refitted.”

“Ah, that’d do it,” Celestia said as she led them to the counter with the desserts. She levitated a couple of cushions from their hiding place atop the highest cabinets and took a seat, motioning for Twilight to join her. “Just don’t show up late again and you’ll be fine. He’s very strict about his schedules.”

Twilight got them some plates from the drying rack next to the sink and took a seat next to the princess. She selected an enormous cupcake with blue frosting and lots of sprinkles while the princess cut herself an extra huge slice of cake.

“He also seems to think I might try to use my relationship with my brother and you to try and get some special treatment,” Twilight admitted. “It was… embarrassing. I’ve never been accused of anything like that in my life.”

Celestia chuckled sadly as she carefully dissected her cake slice. “That boy, I swear. He’s only like that because his uncle was Captain of the Guard when he joined. He heard a lot of backtalk from the other guards and I think he still resents the very implication that somepony in the Guard could get special treatment because of their private relationships. Nopony besides him and me even remembers those rumors, anyway. It’s very silly.”

“I can see where he might think it would be an issue, though,” Twilight sighed. “Shining is your personal student, and you and I haven’t spent a lot of time alone together, but I did used to see you a lot when I’d come by to visit my brothers.”

Celestia closed her eyes and hummed blissfully, taking her time to enjoy her cake. The castle bakers were some of the finest in Equestria, and she had the hips to prove it.

“It was always a pleasure to see you at our lessons,” Celestia admitted as she wiped her mouth. “You were always very well behaved, and very curious. I knew that you’d grow into a fine young lady, and I was right. You should be proud of your accomplishments.”

Twilight stared down at her cupcake in contemplation of the praise. “I haven’t really accomplished anything yet,” she whispered sadly. She took an aggressive bite of the sweet snack to counter the very bitter taste in her mouth that came with the realization that, despite all the hard work up to this point, she was still only at the very beginning of her life and career. It was a very long time between now and retirement, and her first day had been a disaster up until the point when the princess showed up.

“Tsk-tsk, don’t sell yourself short,” Celestia chastised with a cluck of her tongue. “Shining Armor and Spike have been keeping me updated on your studies since you were a filly, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve taken a bit of an interest in you. I hope you don’t feel like I’ve been spying on you, but I’ve been receiving regular reports since you entered the military academy.”

Twilight choked on her half-swallowed mouthful of cupcake. A glass of water appeared before her in a shimmering field of golden light and she gulped desperately at it. She flushed with embarrassment as a thought occurred to her concerning the sort of materials that were at the princess' disposal.

“Did, um… you… my psych eval…?” she asked nervously.

Celestia smiled that radiant, maternal smile of hers. “Don’t worry, Twilight, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” she said soothingly. “Everypony has dreams like that. It’s a part of growing up.”

Twilight buried her face in her hooves and leaned into the counter with a groan. She felt a slight tingle around her head as her galea was carefully removed and placed aside with a ‘tink’ of steel against the marble countertop. Celestia began to stroke her mane comfortingly, despite the sweaty dampness that came from wearing her helmet for several hours straight.

“I am a little surprised that you joined as a Legionary, I must admit,” Celestia said as she gently coaxed Twilight from her shame-ball. “With your grades and special certifications, you could’ve gotten a meritorious promotion right out of the academy to at least Decurion, if not Tesserarius.”

Twilight collected herself with a huff and sat up. “They offered the promotion to me, but I turned it down. Canterlot didn’t need Decurions, it needed Legionaries.”

“I think the Manehattan Guard had a few openings for Decurions,” Celestia offered.

“I wanted to be in Canterlot,” Twilight said firmly. “The Guard’s purpose is to protect the Princess – erm, to protect you. I wanted to be here, in the palace. I knew that this was the place for me, and that the rank I had didn’t matter, so long as I was here.”

The certainty in Twilight’s voice brought a smile to Celestia’s face. She could remember hearing that sort of fire in the voices of other ponies that she’d known over the centuries, and it still gave her a tiny jolt of excitement to see that spark, that nascent glimmer of greatness, in one of her young ponies.

“What about the Unicorn Corps?” She took another bite of cake and waved the fork around, talking with her mouth full in a very unprincess-like fashion. “You could’ve gotten stationed here in Canterlot and still gotten a promotion to Lieutenant.”

Twilight shook her head. “My instructors told me the same thing, but I told them it had to be the Royal Guard. It’s what I’ve wanted since I was a filly. They kept telling me that mares didn’t usually join the Guard and almost always ended up filling the ranks of other branches, but I knew what I wanted.” She looked up at Celestia with curiosity shining in her eyes. “Why is that? Nopony could tell me exactly why the Guard was such a boys club. All anypony knew was that it was ‘tradition'.”

Celestia sighed as she served herself a second helping of cake. "That’s sort of an embarrassing story, but… what do you know about the origin of the Royal Guard?”

Twilight cleared her throat and closed her eyes in concentration as she entered the longwinded lecture-mode that had become the dread of her fellow cadets back at the academy. “The original Royal Guard was founded only a few years after the founding of Equestria itself. It was a force formed by the first Captain of the Guard, Centurion Bleeding Heart, who brought together the strongest soldiers in the Equestrian military to protect and serve Equestria’s royalty. Centurion Bleeding Heart also is the reason why the Royal Guard uses the ancient Lambtin ranking hierarchy, in place of the modern one adopted by Commander Hurricane when she formed the Protective Pony Platoons. He wanted a way to distinguish his soldiers from those from other branches of the military.”

“Very good, but I’m afraid that’s only partly the truth,” Celestia said as she stuffed more cake into her mouth. “The original stallions of the Guard were very powerful, but they were not merely the strongest soldiers. They were… my suitors…”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. “They were your what?”

Princess Celestia never blushed, especially not under the scrutiny of a filly a fraction of a fraction her age, but if anything could have brought a flush to her cheeks it would have been the look that Twilight was giving her.

“I’ve had a lot of suitors over the centuries, especially back then, when I was still very young. I had stallions lining up outside the castle to ask for my hoof in marriage, but I turned them all down… In those days I was something of a snob, you see.”

“No,” Twilight said disbelief.

“Oh, yes,” Celestia confirmed with a chuckle. “As I said, I was young. Anyway, Bleeding Heart and some of the others said that they didn’t care if I’d turned them away. They wanted to be by my side and swore upon their very lives to defend me and serve me for all their days.”

Twilight’s jaw had dropped again at some point during Celestia’s explanation. She closed it with a click of her teeth and said: “That’s… like wow, it’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

“That sort of chivalry was very in style at the time.” Celestia played with the crumbs on her plate, jabbing them with the tines of her fork and rolling around the bits of cake too small to spear. “It’s not as common today, but back then it wasn’t such a big deal. Attractive mares got declarations like that a lot in those days.”

A wicked smile played across Celestia’s face. “A high-quality mare like yourself probably would have also had admirers banging down her door.”

Twilight knew that she was being teased, but the knowledge of that fact didn’t take from the awkwardness of accepting that kind of compliment. “So, they were all your suitors? Is that why they were all stallions?”

“Indeed,” Celestia admitted. “My personal preferences have always skewed more towards stallions than mares – everypony knew it to be so. Bleeding Heart knew, of course, so he made sure to fill my Guard with stallions, which is what started the tradition of encouraging it to be a ‘boys club', as you put it.”

Twilight gasped. “So the original Royal Guard was just hunky-stallion eye-candy!?”

“Mostly, but not completely,” Celestia said, her voice lowering as she shifted through some long-held memory or another. “There were a few mares, but they came later and were chosen by my sister from her own pool of admirers to join her personal Night Guard… Luna always did appreciate a beautiful mare…”

Twilight’s ears perked up at the mention of Princess Luna. Most historians agreed that Princess Luna had existed at some point, but nopony was exactly sure what happened to her. She wanted to press the issue, to see if she could coax the princess into opening up about the mystery around her sister’s disappearance, but the enthusiasm for it died in her chest as she looked into the face of her princess.

Celestia’s eyes had always held a hint of sadness beneath the bright gleam of loving pride. She had the eyes of a mother who’d buried many children and only took solace in seeing her family grow with every generation – but at this moment, at the mere mention of her sister, that pool of sadness seemed more like an infinitely deep well. There were no tears, but Twilight could see regret and sorrow eating away at the edges of Celestia’s royal visage. It broke her heart to see such an ancient, naked hurt in the eyes of the pony she’d sworn her life to.

“There’s so little time left…” whispered ominously. “She’ll be here soon…”

Twilight blinked. “What did you say, Princess?”

Celestia lifted her head, the light in her eyes returning – though somewhat dimmed – as she smiled at her young guard.

“The royal baker,” Celestia clarified. “She’ll be back soon. Their lunch hour is almost over.”

Twilight checked the clock above the door and was shocked to see how much time had passed.

Celestia stood and cleared away the plates, taking care to quickly wash them to destroy any evidence of their use – aside from the missing cupcake and the half-eaten cake, that is. She then gently nudged Twilight off the cushions so they could be returned to their hiding spot.

“There,” Princess Celestia said with a grin as she placed Twilight’s galea back atop her head with a light rap of her hoof. She tilted her head this way and that, inspecting her guard’s appearance. “Good as new and nopony’s the wiser.”

Celestia headed for the door with Twilight trailing closely.

“Princess… about what you were—“

“You’re probably going to be posted here for the rest of the week,” Celestia said, cutting off Twilight’s question pointedly. “I do hope you’ll be willing to indulge me again. It’s always more fun to sneak snacks with an accomplice.”

Twilight took the hint and nodded as she retook her sentry position. “Of course, Your Highness. I’d love to.”

There was something odd in Celestia’s smile as she walked away, but Twilight assumed it had to do with whatever had come over the older mare during their chat and ignored it. She watched the hall, finding the duty much easier now that she’d had a small break from the monotony, thanks to the princess.

Within a few minutes the happy sounds of chatting ponies floated down the hall, heralding the arrival of the kitchen staff. A few of them snickered as they walked by, and one barked openly with laughter, much to her confusion. Lollipop stopped and tilted her head curiously, biting her lip to hold in the laughter.

“So,” she said with a grin at Twilight, “how was your lunch?”

Twilight’s mask of professional indifference shattered at the question. “What? How did you…?”

The pretty chef simply smiled and pointed at the corner of her own mouth.

Twilight wiped her mouth with the back of her hoof and blanched at the streak of blue frosting covering her arm.

* * *

Twilight shed the last of her armor with a weary moan and flopped onto her bunk bonelessly. It had been a very rough first week as her body adjusted to the rigors of standing still for extended periods of time. Who knew that doing absolutely nothing could be so hard on the joints?

The princess’ daily cake raids made the experience tolerable, at least, and Twilight had found herself looking forward to her daily cake break. Apparently, the chefs knew all about the princess’ little excursions to the kitchen – it was hard to miss the fact that snacks kept going missing – and made it a point to keep quiet about her secret snacking as a matter of respect.

The other guards also knew about the princess’ visits, but when Twilight asked if any of them had been invited to join her for a snack, they all shook their heads and said that she preferred to eat alone. This bothered Twilight, because it felt like the sort of nepotism that her Centurion had warned her against, so she took the next opportunity to bring the topic up to Celestia. The princess had merely laughed and said: “It’s just cake, Twilight Sparkle, don’t over think it.”

Twilight had known the princess all her life, but they’d never been particularly close. Sometimes she’d be reading a book while her brother studied or went over some exercise under Celestia’s instruction, and the princess would ask her what she was reading or how her day was going. It was very minor interactions – the sort of bland pleasantries you would exchange with a friend’s younger sibling.

Despite their initially limited acquaintance, Twilight found herself becoming closer to the princess through their shared love of baked goods and need for a respite from their respective workdays. The princess was easy to talk to, very wise, and endlessly patient. They talked about how Twilight was doing in her new position, things in the news, and Celestia had even asked for her opinion on matters of state. Twilight wasn’t conceited enough to think that any of her opinions would affect Equestrian policy, but it was still very flattering to be asked important questions by such an important pony.

Still, Twilight couldn’t shake the memory of what she’d seen for that brief moment in Celestia’s eyes. She’d studied the older mare’s face closely for any hint that it might have been more than a trick of the light or her own imagination, but never once did she catch even intimations of that heart-wrenching grief.

At the start of the week, Twilight had been depressed at the thought that she might end up stuck on kitchen duty for a long time, now she was desperately hoping the next week’s posting would find her once again in that same overly-long, boring hallway.

But those concerns could wait until the start of the next week. Unless she was called to fill in a shift, she was more or less free to spend her weekend as she pleased.

She lifted her head from the pillow she’d buried her face in and levitated her armor off the floor to stow it safely in the locker at the foot of the bed. Her gear secured, she turned her eye to the bookshelf tucked away in the corner of her small private room.

Twilight had originally been a bit conflicted when she’d been told that she would be allowed to bunk in an unused Decurion’s quarters. Having a private room was much preferred to sleeping in a bunk bed surrounded by snoring stallions, but she resented the implication that she required special treatment merely because of her gender. She very much considered herself a soldier first, and a mare second.

Her indignation had evaporated like a puddle in the sunshine when she was informed that the private quarters’ furnishings included a bookshelf.

She squinted in the light of her desk lamp, reading the titles from afar. More than half of the books had been brought with her from home and the rest were checkouts from the Royal Archives. It had been a pleasant surprise indeed to learn that Royal Guards were allowed unlimited checkouts from every library in Equestria.

She began levitating books off the shelf, piling them around herself on the bed in a makeshift fort. A nice, relaxing weekend of quiet reading was exactly what she needed after the week she’d had.

Two books floated off the parapet of Fort Learning and hovered in front of her, awaiting her scrutiny.

She hummed in thought, scratching her chin as she considered what she was most in the mood for. “Hmmm… Better Demolition Through Alchemy or Tackling Treacherous Tropical Terrain: A Survival Guide?”

They were both good books, but she needed something else to get her study-juices going first. She glanced at the Southwestern wall of her fort and was immediately drawn to a slim manual titled Way of the Crustacean: Fifty Crab Maga Strikes, Throws, and Counters.

Just as she was about to settle in for a nice long reading session, there was a knock at her door. She lifted her head from behind her fort and peered peevishly at the intrusion.

“It’s open,” she called.

One of her fellow guards stepped into the room and snickered at the sight of Twilight backed against a wall, surrounded by books. He was out of uniform, but she recognized him as Glowstone, the unicorn who’d taunted her on her first day and – in the words of her least favorite instructor from Basic – “Earned himself a trip to Push-up Town.”

“Hey, Sparkle,” he said with an amused grin. “Me and some of the guys are going to hit up the bar. We thought we’d ask the rook if she wanted to toss a few back.”

Twilight blinked. She honestly couldn’t remember the last time somepony had asked her to join in on a social function, and while she had been old enough to drink for a few years now, she hadn’t been the type to indulge the way her fellow cadets had. She wasn’t even really sure if she liked alcohol.

She’d once read a book entitled Battle Buddies: Fostering Fast Foxhole Friendships that had stressed the importance of leisurely, off-duty commiseration in order to maintain a good working relationship with her fellow soldiers. The book had said that the consumption of alcohol was a time-honored and tested way to cement such friendships.

“Um… do they have cider?” she asked carefully.

Glowstone’s grin widened. “Yeah, they got hard cider – best in Equestria. The owner of the place we’re going is crazy about the stuff. He gets it from some microbrew in Ponyville, I think.”

Twilight carefully extricated herself from her books and retrieved a scarf from her footlocker.

“Were you really going to read all those books…?”

* * *

It was a beautiful, warm Sunday afternoon. It was the kind of day that made you really appreciate how good it felt to not be completely hungover all Saturday after having discovered the magic of hard cider.

But none of that mattered. The beautiful day, the hangover, the half-finished bookfort still waiting for her on her bed – it all took a back seat to her concern over what awaited behind the door in front of her.

She breathed deeply, calming her jittery nerves with breathing exercises she’d read about in a book on combating battlefield stress. As she closed her eyes and focused inward, she noted an irregularity in her racing heartbeat. It was either her imagination, or a stress-induced arrhythmia that was indicative of an imminent cardiac episode that would likely result in a stroke.

Actually, that was a sort of comforting thought. Sure she might end up with partial paralysis, but a stroke would mean that she would be carted off to the hospital and wouldn’t have to keep her appointment with the Centurion.

She’d been minding her own business, chewing her way through her weekend reading, when Decurion Flat Hoof had knocked on her door to relay that she’d been summoned to the Centurion’s office. The Decurion had said he didn’t know what it was about, but the frown on his face said otherwise.

Every step on the way to her meeting with the enormous stallion filled her heart with growing dread – not only because of his stature and manner, but his position. He was Centurion of the Canterlot Royal Guard, a position which came with two additional titles: First Spear, and Captain of the Guard.

While there were Regiments of the Guard in nearly every outpost and city in Equestria, the Canterlot Regiment was considered the primary location. The First Spear – the formal title of the Captain of the Guard – was a Centurion that held control over every soldier in the Guard, even other Centurions. The First Spear even had a fair amount of authority over other branches of the military, so long as it was exercised as an extension of his duty to defend the princess and her interests.

In short: there was nopony in all of Equestria, short of Princess Celestia herself, in a better position to sink a young soldier’s military career – and she’d pissed him off on her first day.

“Ohhhhh, a stroke would be so good right now…” she commented to herself.

“Legionary Twilight Sparkle?” Steel Century shouted from behind the door. “That you out there huffing and puffing?”

“Yes sir!” she answered immediately.

“Enter.”

Twilight took one final, shaky breath and opened the door. To her surprise, the Centurion wasn’t alone.

The Centurion sat in an enormous wing-backed chair behind a huge antique desk, and to his right stood his Optio, a pegasus named Whippoorwill. While some ponies might consider the post of Optio to be nothing more than a glorified secretary, Twilight knew different. The Optio was a position of great power and authority, with the ability to command every soldier under his Centurion’s command.

She saluted and stood at attention.

“At ease, and I’m glad to see you managed to get here in a timely manner,” the Centurion quipped. He didn’t bother waiting for a reaction and turned to his Optio. “You go on now, tell her I’m taking care of it.”

Optio Whippoorwill saluted and turned to Twilight. He adjusted a small pair of spectacles with the tip of his wing as he eyed her critically. He hummed in thought and left the room without a word.

Steel Century leaned back against his chair, the material squeaking noisily as he adjusted his posture. He stared hard at her in silence, his eyes betraying some conflict playing out in his mind, like he was looking at a puzzle he couldn’t quite figure out.

“Seems you’ve been making friends,” he finally said, breaking the tension.

“Sir,” she said nervously. “If this is about the bar fight Friday night, I can explain. That Lance Corporal from the Earth Pony Infantry was completely out of line.”

He raised an eyebrow at that. “Anypony go to the hospital?”

“No, sir.”

“Then why would I waste my time filling out paperwork just because a couple of soldiers couldn’t hold their liquor?” he asked with a scoff. “That’s not why I called you here.”

Steel Century pulled opened a drawer of his desk and ducked his head down. He brought up a small black case between his teeth and tossed it across the desk with a flick of his head.

“Congratulations,” he said without emotion, “you’ve been promoted. There will be no ceremony.”

Twilight figuratively picked her jaw up off the ground. “Whu-wha-what? I don’t understand. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.”

Steel Century pulled a file down from the enormous stack of papers next to him and flipped it open. He squinted uselessly before putting on his reading glasses with a frustrated curse. “First in your class, certifications in demolitions, magical combat, alchemy, first aid, a couple of undergraduate degrees in history, magic, and some sciences…”

He looked up at her over the rim of his glasses. “Should I keep going?”

“No, sir…” Twilight answered with a blush.

He removed his glasses and closed the file. “This is a candidate for meritorious promotion if I’ve ever seen one.”

“I turned down the promotion.”

“Because you insisted on being stationed in Canterlot,” he clarified. “Things have changed.”

Twilight opened the box and found the little metal pin that signified her rank as Decurion. “You’re giving me a squad?”

He shook his head. “No, the promotion is just a formality. It was Princess Celestia’s idea. It seems she’s taken a liking to you.”

The memory of that first day, being chastised and accused of taking advantage of her personal contacts, came rushing back to her as clear as the day it happened.

“Sir! I know you must think that I… campaigned for this, because of my position through my brother—“

She was interrupted by raised hoof from the Centurion. He sighed heavily and rubbed at his temples.

“The princess and I talked already,” he informed her. “I know you didn’t ask for this. The princess seems to think that you’re worth keeping an eye on. She told me she believes you’ll do big things some day.”

He gave a witheringly appraising gaze. “I don’t see it myself, but the princess is smarter than me. She sees further than most ponies – takes the long-view of things. She thinks that when it’s all said and done you’re going to be the kind of pony that makes the books.”

“I’m not that special,” she confessed.

“Sparkle, a word of career advice: nopony ever got anywhere in the Royal Guard by questioning the Big Mare.”

Twilight examined the small, colored bar that would be affixed to her dress uniform, telling everypony that she was now a Decurion. It felt strange to be accepting this, but it looked like she didn’t have much choice. It seemed that the princess was practically ordering her to take the promotion.

“So you’re making me a Decurion, but you’re not giving me a squad to command,” she said in summation. “Do I stay in Flat Hoof’s squad?”

“Like I said, it’s a formality,” Steel Century explained. “The promotion is just a way to give you enough autonomy to perform your new duty."

He reached up to the stack of files again and spread a few out on his desk until he found the one he was looking for. He slid it across the table to Twilight who picked it up with her magic and began reading.

“Princess Cadance?” she asked in confusion.

“Congratulations,” he said as he opened another folder and began reading, “you’re now the personal guard of the Princess of Love. Princess Celestia says she wants to fill you in on the details herself, so after inspection tomorrow go straight to the throne room and report for duty. Dismissed.”

Twilight gave a quick salute and left with the file floating before her so she could read as she walked.

“Decurion Twilight Sparkle,” Steel Century said as she was opening the door. “Did you win your fight?”

Twilight looked over her shoulder and nodded. “We whipped them good, sir.”

“Hoozah!” the old soldier cheered pridefully as he slammed a hoof on the desk. “Oh and, uh, Sparkle… one more thing… let’s not let word get back to the princess that I called her ‘the Big Mare’, understood?”

* * *

Author's Note:

This chapter had two possible alternate titles: "Es mi dia primero!" (Simpsons reference), and "The Private Parts." I was fairly fond of "The Private Parts" because it was kind of dirty, but then I decided to go with a Roman type ranking, so that didn't make as much sense since she wasn't a Private anymore. Oh well.

Next Chapter: The Love Boat

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!