• Published 17th Nov 2014
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Memoirs of a Royal Guard - Anzel

Silent Knight assumed his story would be complete once he achieved his dream of joining the Royal Guard. To his surprise, it was only just the beginning.

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42. Into The Gryphon's Roost - Part 2

The exemplar’s warning, in addition to being cryptic, seemed to be without merit. Iridescence and I patrolled the halls, checked on door locks, and shifted our guards around to break up patterns. It led to another long night and further interrupted my sleep cycle.

At the same time, it also seemed to confuse the gryphons to no end. I got the impression that some of them were watching us. It could have been curiosity. It could have been sinister. It could have been because we were doing all sorts of things in the middle of the night.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know for certain. Perhaps by taking action we’d stopped whatever I needed to be wary of. In either event, I was even more weary than wary by the time we were done.

Iridescence stretched and asked, “Are you going to relieve me or do you want me to go get the lieutenant?”

“I’ll take over for now.”

Her head tilted. “Are you sure? You look like you need to sleep.”

“I’ll sleep during the day. There is less chance of anything happening then since Princess Luna will be with King Ranald.”

Iridescence shrugged. “Yes, Sergeant. They’re all yours.” As she headed off down the hall, she paused and looked over her shoulder. “Maybe you really did just see things.”

“Yeah, it was probably just the seasickness and lack of sleep. I’ll be fine soon. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she repeated before disappearing.

It probably was exactly what I’d told Iridescence but, deep down, I didn’t believe it. Not for a minute.

If it’s not obvious, I don’t like gryphons in general. King Ranald was no average gryphon, however. He was a no-nonsense, everything-above-the-table sort of monarch. When he spoke, it was from the heart and his words glimmered with honesty and integrity. Princess Luna seemed to like him and it was tough not to feel the same.

Many of the discussions on the first day were very informal. The pair just walked through the castle gardens and chatted while Thunder Tumble and I stayed two paces back and one pace to either side.

King Ranald had only one guard close to him, but there were numerous others on the balcony above the garden and at the doorways. That made me nervous even though it is customary that the hosting sovereign provides most of the security for visiting dignitaries. To push for more than two personal guards would be an insult and Princess Luna had made it clear we would not be insulting our host.

Besides that, Alton, the King’s personal guard, was a trustworthy sort. I got the impression that he was heavily invested in everything going smoothly. He’d have protected both leaders if something had gone awry. At least I believed he would.

The conversation between our respective charges was light and less formal but it was clear that they were using it as a time to get some of the less important agreements out of the way. That way, when they came to the table, there would already be common ground.

“Equestria delights in many of thine imports,” Princess Luna said. “My sister and I desire to keep trade as free as possible so that thy merchants may continue to find us welcoming partners.”

King Ranald chuckled. “I think there is no danger of my subjects thinking you as anything less than welcoming. There is no secret that ponies are our largest market. Outside of our own lands, of course.”

Princess Luna paused and nodded. “Indeed. Then I would ask, what is thy stance on piracy? We feel as though more ships than usual have fallen victim as of late.”

“Piracy is certainly bad for business on both sides of our common sea. My subjects have also been making their concerns known to me,” he responded.

“Wouldst thou be willing to increase the amount of ships committed to combating it if we were also willing to do so? Could we yet further agree to coordinate and offer protection to all ships, not just those under our respective flags?” Princess Luna asked carefully.

“A joint venture to protect all ships from pirates? That is a novel idea. It may certainly bring our naval forces closer together and it would certainly be better for business. Exactly how large of an increase are you considering, Princess?”

“We feel as though the problem is getting out of hoof. A tenth again over what exists now with the hope that as we work together, the amount of ships required will decrease,” Princess Luna replied.

King Ranald paused and lightly plucked a brilliant rose from a nearby bush. He smelled it before offering it to the princess. “Consider it done, my friend.”

The lieutenant and I sat quietly in one of the local taverns having a cider… or at least what gryphons called cider. It wasn’t remotely the same but it was about the only drink they made that I could stand other than water. The week of negotiations had been going well. Princess Luna was confident that she would have an official agreement signed soon.

“You’re looking better, Sergeant,” Lieutenant Rook said.

With a nod, I replied, “Thank you, sir. I’m feeling more like myself. A couple of good sleeps have really cleared my head.”

Lieutenant Rook smiled and then asked, “See any more ghosts?”

“No, sir.” My tone remained flat. In private, the other sergeants and the lieutenant had teased me a bit. They’d written the whole thing off as paranoia and the exemplar had been her usual confusing self about it.

I still wasn’t convinced yet, but instead of crying wolf I was just going to be extra diligent. “I still think some of the gryphons are up to something. That Captain Alastair rubs me wrong, and he—” My eyes drifted up. “—just walked through the door.”

We both watched as the gryphon approached.

“Well, well. I see you two are not under the princess’s hoof today. Did she give you the day off? If you two are here, who is keeping account of those misfit ponies you call guards?” Captain Alastair taunted as he approached.

Lieutenant Rook yawned and replied, “Our misfit ponies are smart enough to manage themselves for an afternoon. They don’t require an officer’s constant attention to ensure they don’t ruffle each others’ feathers.”

Alastair lightly clapped for the lieutenant and said, “Bravo. My men ruffle each others’ feathers because they’re all winners. I would gladly put them against your little bunch of ponies any day of the week.”

I took a long drink from the cider and set it down. “Hmm, a whole company of gryphons against a mere 40 ponies. I don’t know… You’re being awfully generous with the handicap. Do you have any other friends you could invite to help you? I imagine not.”

He’d never admit it but I’m pretty sure the lieutenant had to stifle a laugh at that one.

Captain Alastair seethed, “You dare insult my company? Is it a challenge you’re after?”

The lieutenant set a hoof down between me and the gryphon. “No, he is most certainly not insulting your company or offering a challenge. We would be poor guests if we did that, just as insulting our unit would make you a poor host, and nobody here is a poor guest or host. Right?”

“No, of course not,” the captain said. “But perhaps before you leave we will see who has the best soldiers.” He turned with a dramatic flare and marched out.

“Hoofing the line a little close there, aren’t you, Sergeant?” the lieutenant asked.

I shook my head. “Oh, no, sir. I honestly believe he doesn’t have any friends.”

Lieutenant Rook’s face contorted as he tried to remain stern. He half-smiled and swallowed another laugh. “Just keep it cool for a few more days. Then we’ll be on our way home.”

“Aye, sir. Aye,” I muttered, finishing the swill they called cider.

I sat quietly in the room I was sharing with Iridescence and Orchid. A parchment rested on the desk in front of me with only three words on it: ‘Dear Crystal Wishes.’ It was proving to be very difficult to write a letter to her and I wasn’t sure why.

When we had first arrived I wrote one and it was pretty mundane. I talked about my poor time at sea and what the Margull looked like. I was not allowed to discuss any of the official business going on and that didn’t make for a good letter to a friend anyway.

“Dear Crystal Wishes. I know you’re into mares and currently with our mutual friend Velvet Step but if you ever decide you want to try stallions please look me up,” I said out loud sarcastically.

I rubbed my face with my hooves. What was I doing? Picking the pencil back up and, starting again, I wrote:

It is certainly not a sure thing but we may be coming home soon. I dread the thought of getting back on that ship but the idea of returning to good friends like you fills me with excitement.

Each day here has been a testament to how important true friendship is and a reminder about what life could be like without it. Though I have no regret in my chosen profession, a trip like this one gives me pause. I can no longer imagine a life solely devoted to the pursuit of war.

I ask that you keep this realization confidential as I would not want to share it with my comrades in arms. Please give my love to Velvet Step and her family. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Your Friend

Silent Knight

Well, that was certainly much more appropriate. I dropped the letter in an envelope, sealed it, and addressed it to Crystal Wishes. Then I tucked it in another envelope, which I addressed to the small Equestrian Consulate that was local to the area. They’d handle all of the cloak and dagger business.

With my missive written, there wasn’t much else to do. I left the room to go find Alton. He and I had been sharing security best practices. It was all general concepts, of course, but he had some pretty solid ideas that I wanted to incorporate. I guess diplomacy was a good thing. I certainly was starting to learn that you could trust some gryphons.

The temple guards were a constant source of amazement and conversation for the rest of the pony retinue. They rarely, if ever, spoke and did exactly what was asked of them without question. Once that was complete, they spent their time sitting in silent meditation or reading from a single book that all four of them shared.

On the few occasions they had been taunted by gryphons, they acted as if they had not heard their would-be tormentor. Their ability to ignore was immense, so much so that one particularly excitable gryphon jumped at Exemplar Ferrel in an attempt to startle her or get any sort of reaction at all. She didn’t so much as flinch. The surprised gryphon landed right in front of her before being hauled off by his sergeant. I wanted that level of self-discipline.

Unfortunately, as a result of their quiet nature, the other ponies tended to steer clear of them. I wasn’t sure if I should feel badly about that or not. It didn’t seem as if the temple guards cared. In the spirit of positive relations, however, I decided to try and spend some time with Exemplar Ferrel to learn more about them.

She was easy to find. When she wasn’t on duty, she would often be sitting in the palace garden with her eyes closed. That is how I found her.

I softly cleared my throat and asked, “Excuse me, Exemplar?”

Her eyes opened slowly. “Yes, Sergeant?"

“I was wondering if you’ve had lunch yet and, had you not, if you’d care to join me?” I offered.

Exemplar Ferrel rose and lightly brushed off her armor. “I will join you.”

With her agreement, we went together to the palace dining hall. King Ranald had insisted that all members of Princess Luna’s retainers have access to it. It was a boon since gryphons and ponies have very, very different diets but the staff there was capable of providing for us.

After selecting some fine bread and vegetables, we sat across from each other. I cleared my throat. “Would you mind if I asked you a few questions, Exemplar?”

“I would not mind, though I may not answer, if that is something that you can accept,” she replied.

“That is only fair. You and your temple guards have been extremely dedicated to our efforts here. I’m only sorry that there hasn’t been more… social mingling. I hope you and yours do not feel excluded,” I started.

“That is of no consequence. We are unaccustomed to ‘social mingling,’ as you put it. Our lives are spent sequestered within the temple walls learning and growing. Here, we are learning different skills and growing in different ways. It is valuable to see the outside world and bring that knowledge back every so often.”

I nodded slowly. “That makes perfect sense to me. I hope to take some of the knowledge from inside the walls and bring it out, if you’ll allow it. May I ask about your title? I realize that the temple guards have long since stopped using the ranks the other royal guards use, but I assumed you were an officer?”

“Nay, Silent Knight. We do not separate ponies between enlisted and officers as you do. In some ways, all ponies are officers and in others, none of us are. An exemplar exists to show the way for the others. It is my duty to not only follow our faith but to also lead by example so that others may walk in my hoofsteps. A pony cannot rise to where I am until she fully understands herself and our ways.”

“Then you are the leader of the Temple Guard? The highest authority?” I asked.

She shook her head. “A leader by example, yes. The leader, no. The Temple is led by the exarch, who presides over the temple guards, the unicorn priests, and the layponies. The highest authority temple guard is my superior, the archon.”

“An exemplar is still very important, it sounds to me,” I said before finally starting to eat my lunch.

Exemplar Ferrel shrugged and said, “No single exemplar is important. The idea of the exemplar is important and the example we set is necessary.” She took my cue and started to eat as well.

This was all fascinating to me. It was like a new aspect to the world of guards and soldiers that my dad had never taught me. “Perhaps when we return, I’ll be able to come visit you on occasion. I would like to know more about the temple. If that is allowed.”

She nodded.

Slowly, a thought dawned on me and I looked around the room. There weren’t any ponies within earshot and most were too busy with their own conversations. My voice dropped to a whisper. “Do you know the name Nocturna?”

The effect on the exemplar was immediate. Her ears shot up and she locked eyes with me. There was surprise in her face for an instant before it disappeared into the usual blank expression. “Yes.”

“Can you tell me anything about her?”

“Can, yes. Will? No. My apologies.” She looked back to her food and the vacant expression hardened. That was certainly a reaction.

Changing the subject, I said, “I imagine we’ll be leaving soon.”

The exemplar paused and looked up at me. “I imagine not,” she replied without explanation.

I swallowed, really disliking the certainty in her voice.

Author's Note:

Diplomacy is a tricky thing. Princess Luna and King Ranald seem to be on the same page though.

A few seemingly unrelated threads are also being woven together here.

If you are enjoying this story, please consider taking a look at Crystal and my's website QuillnBlade.com for extra content such as mini stories, an Ask Us form to submit questions, responses to said questions, and special rewards for the awesome folks who support our Patreon.

2nd Edition Version

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