• Published 11th May 2015
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Secrets of a Royal Guard - Anzel

Life has never been better for Silent Knight, but he finds himself shackled to the past by guilt, anger, and regret. Even though he tries to hide his true feelings from those he loves, he knows that the secrets he keeps will come at a cost.

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17. Unsupervised

Just before lunch, I’d finally cleared out the queue of ponies waiting to see me, the de facto military leader of the palace. I’d also attended a record number of meetings. Attended, organized, and ran.

Most of them were procedural, dry, and boring. It amazed me how much the palace guard lieutenants looked to their superiors for guidance. These were supposed to be some of the best and brightest, but they could have also just been the foals of important ponies.

In the midst of all the dull meetings, there was one of great interest. Evidently, a group of dragons was moving in nearby and the local civilian leadership was extremely concerned about it.

That was a problem I wasn’t going to solve in a day, so I got up to try to take five minutes to myself and find some food. When I opened my door, Iridescence and Miley Hooves were standing right outside it and looking very upset.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Iridescence didn’t say anything. She just pulled Miley’s helmet off. The small mare’s raven mane was now a rather fetching shade of platinum blonde.

“Okay? So she dyed her mane. That isn’t against regulation and it looks good.”

Miley shook her head. “No, sir! I WASHED my mane this morning and then this happened about an hour ago.”

I smirked. “You knew the risk when you shopped at the store and got involved with Runic. I figured after the extra-long growth from the last serum, you’d stop.”

Iridescence put her hooves to her face. “That isn’t the problem. Princess Luna wanted a luxurious bath before traveling. She asked for something new and exciting, so Miley went to her locker and loaned her the bottle.”

Miley cut in quickly, “Before my mane changed color! Before! I only washed my mane, though. Princess Luna took a bath in this stuff.”

My heart skipped a beat and I stared at the two mares before asking flatly, “What color is our princess?”

“We are a glorious blonde!” Princess Luna cheered as she sailed over our heads. She was indeed blonde from head to hoof. Her coat was a rich gold color and her mane sparkled like an afternoon sunset with various shades of brown, yellow, and orange.

The princess landed delicately and looked over her shoulder. “Chase me!” she shouted before galloping off, giggling.

I blinked. “Is she happy or is the soap having an effect on her brain?”

“We’re not exactly sure,” Iridescence admitted.

“Sweet Celestia.” I took a deep breath in and put on my serious expression. “Miley, go get your stallion and bring him here. Iridescence, you and I are going to chase the princess. Go through the break room and try to cut her off before she can get out of her wing.”

“Yes, sir!” they responded in unison.

I galloped down the hall after Princess Luna, trying to sort through what I was going to have to charge Runic with. The alicorn was moving quickly and shot right past where Iridescence jumped out from an adjoining hall.

Iridescence squealed in surprise as I came barreling down behind the princess. Before I collided into her, I leapt, spread my wings, and flew over her head. I called over my shoulder as I landed, “Keep up, Sergeant!”

“Easy for you to say!” she yelled after me before giving chase.

Keeping the princess inside her wing was an impossibility. The two house guards standing at the arch that separated it from the rest of palace stared on in shock as their golden charge shot past them.

“Don’t just stand there, help us catch her!” Iridescence ordered after I’d shot by. That resulted in more hooves thundering along.

Luna was bouncing all over the palace and looked like she was having a great time, too. She knew the palace better than I gave her credit for and was excellent at avoiding the guards I kept sending ahead while I personally pursued her.

When I went past the palace administrative offices, Raven stuck her head out. “Lieutenant, what are you doing?”

I slid to a stop, paused, and hurriedly replied, “Playing tag with the princess,” and then continued my pursuit.

Raven called after me, “Very good. Carry on… I guess.”

The princess was proving to be a far more elusive prey than I’d credited her. All of the growth she’d gone through seemed to have given her more stamina and speed. After a half hour of pursuit Iridescence and I stopped to take a break. Regardless of how in shape we were, both of us were sucking wind pretty hard.

“Where is Miley?” I growled.

“Beats me,” Iridescence replied. “Runic may not have cooperated or they’re working on some sort of… Sir, what are you doing?”

I was taking my armor off, that is what I was doing! My patience was wearing thin. “I’ll be faster without all of this weight. If blondie thinks she is getting away from me she has another thing coming.”

“You realize that blondie is Princess Luna, right?”

“I do now,” I replied and shrugged, “She wants to play tag, I’ll play tag. Remember, I played hoofball in secondary school.”

Iridescence chuckled. “This is not going to end well.”

I flew off down the hall and cheered, “For Equestria!”

Princess Luna bounded across my path at one of the four-way intersections. I made the tight turn and was right on her tail. She laughed and called, “You’re cheating, Silent Knight!”

The princess bounded through a big set of double doors just as I caught her. Literally caught her, mind you. I landed on her back and wrapped my hooves around her middle. She laughed more and slid to a stop.

She giggled. “Very well, you have caught me!”

“Yes, we can all see that,” Princess Celestia’s voice said.

I looked up. We were in the throne room. We being me, out of uniform, and on the back of a crazy blonde alicorn. Princess Celestia was on her throne and several dignitaries from various other pony territories were there. Confusion played on their faces.

Princess Luna’s eyes went big a moment before she stood and walked regally up to her place beside her sister. She sat down and I slid off her back to rest behind her. “We have arrived, Celestia.”

“Thank you for coming…” Princess Celestia replied before she looked at me inquisitively. I held up my hooves and shook my head. Without missing a beat, the princess turned back to the crowd. “Now that we’ve been graced with Princess Luna’s surprise presence, we should get back to business.”

It was the most awkward four hours of my life. I sat behind Luna for the whole conference while thinking up numerous ways to explain. At least for the first half. During the second half, I plotted my revenge against my cousin.

Outside of my immediate situation, there was a part of me that shuddered at the idea of the palace running without me for one hour, much less four. It was less robust than I’d given it credit for. That was likely due to the lack of Shining Armor’s strong guidance.

While I mused on how much chaos was waiting for me, the meeting eventually came to an end and everypony filed out while the princesses waited patiently.

Once the doors were closed, Princess Celestia looked over at her sister and asked, “Are you okay?”

Princess Luna laughed heartily and replied, “Yes, I am so sorry. I was having fun at the expense of my guards. Everything has been so serious and tense lately, I thought a little levity was in order. I didn’t mean to come this way.”

“You were faking?” I asked incredulously from behind her.

Princess Celestia gave me a look that told me to hush, so I did. Her attention returned to her sister. I expected a lecture, but instead, her gaze softened and she laughed. “You look ridiculous. Pretty… but ridiculous. How did this happen?”

“Runic Phial strikes again,” Luna replied before joining in on the laughing.

“Why isn’t Silent Knight in his armor?”

“It seems I am too fast for him when he is laden,” came the reply with more giggles.

I flushed and just sat there feeling silly. I didn’t mind being the object of their humor, though. It was rare for the princess to cut loose and have some fun. Especially insane, silly fun.

She was right, too: levity was something we’d needed around the palace. I was wound up so tightly that everything was getting on my nerves. This was something I could enjoy now that I knew Princess Luna’s brain wasn’t being turned to mush by a potion.

The door to the throne room creaked open and the princesses fell silent. I tilted just enough so I could see around one of Luna’s wings as Iridescence marched in and Runic Phial followed reluctantly. He was being pushed along by a panicked Miley Hooves.

“Princess? Are you okay?” Iridescence asked.

“I’m so happy!” Luna threw her head to the side and I watched one of her eyes roll. “A-ha! Happy go lucky me!”

Princess Celestia pointed at Runic Phial. “Thirty days, dungeon.” She sounded quite serious, too.

Miley piped up, “Please, Princess! We brought the cure. Right, Runic?”

“I think so,” he said before Miley bonked him on the snout. “Yes! The cure.”

Princess Luna shook her head. “Oh, no, thank you. No cure. I like this. This is now me forever.”

Princess Celestia laughed and waved a hoof. “Very well. Princess Luna is pleased, so you are free to go.”

It was at that moment that I crept out from behind Princess Luna and sat beside her.

“Hi, Silent Knight!” Runic said, waving and seemingly having already forgotten the potential trouble he was in.

“Hi, Runic,” I replied, my tone deceptively warm.

In the wake of the incident later known as ‘Banana Luna,’ Runic had received an unofficial visit from Equestrian Health and Pony Services. The inspector had given him several suggestions on how to properly separate products.

The reality of the situation was that Miley Hooves’s friend, Val, knew an inspector and the two of them had convinced that pony to come scare Runic a bit. I thought it was a good idea.

In addition to that, I realized I hadn’t been spending as much time with him as I’d used to. That was something I needed to fix and was the reason he and I were now lounging in his store together, a ‘Closed’ sign on the door and starberry fizzy drinks in our hooves.

“I’m honestly not sure how it happened, but my special twelve-tone blonde mane dye got mixed in with the twelve-scent orange blossom shampoo-and-coat wash,” Runic explained.

“You’re not sure how? Are they both orange and kept in near identical bottles?”

“Well, obviously, but that doesn’t explain the mix-up,” Runic muttered as he swirled the last few sips in his bottle.

I went to point out the obvious but shrugged instead. “What was the cure?”

Runic laughed. “Soap and water!”

That made me laugh as well. “Your brilliant plan to fix the princess was soap and water?”

With a shrug, Runic replied, “I wasn’t certain that my dye could actually impact her behavior. That would have been a new side effect not yet reported. I suppose we were lucky that she was just having fun with you.”

“You’re right about that,” I replied while idly looking over at the dead drop I shared with Maya. That could wait, so I changed the subject. “How’re things with you and Miley?”

Runic perked up a bit. “Oh, they’re going well. We do alchemy one night a week, science another night, and dates on the weekend. We have a good time.”

“I’m glad to hear that. As long you two are happy.”

“I am, and I think she is, too! We’ve got a good thing going.” He shifted and lowered his eyes. “I’ve noticed you haven’t been around as much lately.”

I brushed a hoof behind my neck. “Yeah… I am sorry about that. I’ve been spending a lot of my free time with Crystal. When I get free time. I hope you don’t think less of me.”

Runic shook his head. “Not at all. We all have our hobbies.”

Laughing, I asked, “Hobby? I wouldn’t call Crystal a hobby.”

“Tomato, potato,” Runic replied.

The two of us sat across from each other in companionable silence. It was good to spend time with Runic.

Finally, when I’d finished my drink, I stood up. “Alright, well, why don’t you head into the back and get the workshop going? I assume I can still be your assistant… or is that only for Miley now?”

“Of course you can, you had the job first!” Runic chimed happily. He disappeared through the door with a merry trot.

“I’ll be right there,” I called before setting my bottle down and heading to the special table. It took a moment to find the secret latch but it clicked, the box popped out, and there was a file inside. I slid that into my bag and closed the compartment before heading off to do some science with Runic.

The sun was peeking over the horizon as I watched Iridescence and her squad moving about the palace courtyard. It was preparation I watched with trepidation. They were getting ready to take Princess Luna to Haven without me.

This was a reality I was not comfortable with, but it was time to place my confidence in my friend and soon-to-be first sergeant. She had to know that my discomfort wasn’t a reflection on her. It was just how I was.

“Sergeant, a word,” I called to her.

Iridescence quickly excused herself and trotted over to me. “Yes, sir?”

I lowered my voice. “You know I’m struggling with letting her go.”

She nodded. “It isn’t obvious to the others, but I know you. I can see the look in your eyes. We’ll be fine, I promise.”

We’d been friends long enough that I took her at her word and smiled. “I know you will. Why do you think I’m sending you to get her there? It was you and me before, partner, and it is going to be you and me again soon.”

She tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

“Orchid is transferring and you’re taking her place,” I explained. “Providing you want to.”

Iridescence just stared at me as if she was letting the words sink in. She shifted and then nodded. “It will be me.”

“Good mare. I’ll miss you, but don’t worry. Winterspear and I will take good care of Dot,” I said softly as pride filled me. She was going to take responsibility.

The unicorn softly chuckled. “No doubt about that. Dot likes Winterspear more than she does me. Still, I’m more worried about you two than her. She is more than a hoofful.”

“Well, you know how fillies are. You used to be one. At least, I think you were. Obviously with you being so much older than me, I can’t say for certain.”

The glare I received was both frightening and a warm reminder of a shared bond. Then she winked. “Take care of yourself, too, Silent Knight. Don’t let the job run you ragged.”

“I’ll do my best. Enjoy the flight.”

She nodded, looked like she was going to hug me, and then thought better of it. Out in the courtyard, that would have been a breach of protocol for sure. She simply saluted and hurried back to her squad.

It was about that time that Princess Luna strode out of the castle and made her way towards me. When she was close, I remarked, “Back to your usual color, I see?”

The regal alicorn nodded. “I liked it, but the ponies of Haven may not approve of me looking like an alicorn of the day.”

“That’s unfortunate. I don’t care what anypony says, you made an excellent blonde.” I chuckled. “Are you all set?”

“I am. Although, before I leave, I wanted a brief word with you.”

“Of course, what about?” I asked.

The princess stepped in closer. “You’ve taken an awful lot upon yourself, Silent Knight. I see more than you might realize. I just want to remind you that sometimes, the thing we believe we want most comes at a price that is too high. Do you understand?”

Understand? I didn't, and yet I felt a chill run down my spine. What did she know? Had she found out what I was up to? Was she going to stop me?

With an even expression to hide the panic I was starting to feel, I looked up at her. “What do you mean specifically?”

She smiled and shook her head. “Today, nothing specifically. Just remember, Silent Knight. There was once a filly that wanted everypony to love her. She wanted it so badly that she was willing to do anything to make them cooperate.

“She gave up who she was, and if it weren’t for a miracle, she’d never have been saved. Remember that as you navigate this time while we are apart. Alright?”

It was a coincidence. It had to be. She couldn't know. Nopony could know. “Of course, Princess. I’ll do just that.”

“Then we should say our goodbyes,” she said.

My head shook. “No. I’ll see you later, Princess.”

Princess Luna smiled brightly at that. “Yes, that is indeed more fitting. I’ll see you later, Silent Knight. Make sure the palace is still here for my return.”

“That is a tall order, but I’ll do my best.”

She chuckled and made her way to the chariots. I stood and watched as they took off into the dawn sky, heading south. My chest hurt, but I kept watching.

I wasn’t going to see her for nine weeks. The last time we’d technically been apart that long, I’d been in a coma. It was going to be a big adjustment. One of many.

I’d sent most of my ponies to advanced training. My own schedule had been fully freed of the day-to-day House Guard activities. Orchid could run our skeleton crew while I took over the day-to-day operations of the palace.

I waited until the chariots were long gone before heading back to my office. As usual, there were ponies waiting for me and my decisions. They could barely wait long enough for me to get inside and sit down before the first one was already talking at me.

The next few hours were a procession of small problems, petty issues, and a few concerns that actually did deserve the attention of the palace commander. Unfortunately, I never knew who I could blow off until their speech was done.

It was truly taxing my patience. I'm not ashamed to admit that I snapped at more than one pony who came into my office. I'm a little proud to note that my intimidation rolls were always a critical hit. Not that I'm making light of losing my temper, of course. That normally never happened to me.

The pony in front of me now was one I probably could have rescheduled, but now he was in my office. The dark grey stallion had made an appointment in advance, so being respectful of that was the least I could do. He was running long, however.

My eyes briefly drifted up to the clock as it neared time for an off-the-books meeting. I didn’t want to miss that, but everypony deserved my full attention when they were in my office. And right now, that meant Shadow Hunter.

“… All that is to say, sir, I’d like to just change roles to medic. Lieutenant Day said she’d look into it, but she’s on leave and training opportunities are coming up, so…” He trailed.

My brow shot up. “You want me to make a permanent decision for Princess Celestia’s House Guard even though I’m just temporarily in command?”

“More or less, yes, sir. If anypony would know the commander’s mind, it would be you,” Shadow Hunter said, buttering me up a bit.

I shook my head. “I’m not comfortable with that, but I’ll meet you halfway. I’m not promising you that you’ll be able to change from a guard to a guard-medic, but I’ll override the training requirement. You can go take that advanced medic course. Lieutenant Day will then make a decision when she returns.”

Shadow Hunter replied, “That is fair, sir. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Dismissed.”

I didn’t even wait for him to get out the door before I stood up and started walking out, too. It was time for me to put on a little scene. The ponies waiting in line outside my office all looked up when I appeared.

“I’ve a meeting to attend. You can come back later or maintain your place in line,” I said without giving them anytime to protest.

I hurried over to the intelligence section and waited in the lobby until Sergeant Major Granite came to fetch me for the meeting.

When we got into the briefing room, Intelligence Officer Guise was there, but on this occasion, there were a lot more ponies lingering around the outskirts of the room. Some had been in before, but most of them were new faces.

I glanced around before saying, “I saw your note. What is the update?”

The sergeant major lightly cleared his throat, looked over to the intelligence officer, and then looked back to me. “They missed, Lieutenant.”

It was show time. “What do you mean, they missed?” I asked, my cool guard stare wavering ever so slightly.

“Exactly what I said. We went with the extrication plan, brought in the local gryphon security, and—”

I cut the sergeant off, turning my attention to Guise. “I’m sorry, did he just say you brought in the gryphons? To catch him? Why didn’t we use our ponies?”

“Of course, we did!” Officer Guise snarled. “We have no jurisdiction! We can’t just snatch a gryphon out of there without their help.”

The glare I leveled at him was withering. Unfortunately, he wasn’t an easily spooked pony. “Where is he now?” I asked through gritted teeth.

“We don’t know, but he didn’t go south. They drove him further north. The gryphons will be making certain the border is tight,” Granite put in while Guise and I continued our staring contest.

I broke it long enough to roll my eyes. “I’m sure they will! You’ve bungled this and made us look like fools. Relying on gryphons to catch a gryphon, surely you’re not so st—”

“That is enough, Lieutenant!” Guise shouted to cut me off and silenced the room. For as good as he was at staring, he didn’t seem to keep his cool under pressure. He was falling into the trap I’d laid out.

“I’ve about had it with you, Silent Knight,” he growled while thrusting a hoof in my direction. “I don’t care who you have backing you; you’re out of this operation! You have no business being here in the first place.”

I straightened to my full height, putting me almost a head taller than him. “I’m out? You think I’m out? I don’t think you have the clout to throw me out. You’re lucky I don’t get you reassigned so that a competent pony can run this operation.”

He snorted. “Don’t be so sure about that, Lieutenant. You’ve been nothing but a pain in my flank since day one. I’ve had it. Get out of here and go tattle on me if that is the kind of guard you are. I’ll take my chances.”

Giving up too easy might be obvious. I fixed my stare on him once more before finally turning and heading to the door. “Fine. It’s your command. At least for now,” I said before throwing the door open and leaving the intelligence suite.

Once I was outside it took some effort not to smirk. I did my best to look angry while I stomped my way down the hall and across the corridor.

A voice cut through my thoughts. “Well now, little colt, don’t you have a way with others?” The voice was rough and gravely. I turned towards it. A pegasus stallion was standing in the corridor that ran perpendicular to the one I was in.

He was older, much older. Probably around my father’s age… well, the age he’d have been. His coat was a dark grey and his mane was such a pale shade of blue that it was almost indistinguishable from white. He had sharp features, the cut of a warrior, and piercing green eyes.

What really stood out was that he wore a plain dress shirt. No armor, no uniform, but on one side of his collar was a chief warrant officer’s pin and on the other the insignia of an armsmaster.

“That would be Lieutenant Little Colt, chief,” I said dismissively.

The stallion chuckled and shook his head. “Yes, little Lieutenant Colt playing where he shouldn’t be.”

The hair on my neck stood up. Even if I had acted the very part he was calling me on, his tone and insinuation was starting to make me legitimately angry. Then it hit me: he was intentionally trying to get under my coat. He was using the same tactic on me that I’d employed against Guise.

That fact immediately deflated my rage and I shifted into a mode of suspicion. Who was this pony? I didn’t recognize him from the faces in the room, but I never paid much attention to anypony else. With a guarded and clipped tone, I replied “As you say,” and turned to start walking away.

He followed. “Come on, is that all? Surely a little toy guard that spends all his time mothering a princess might want to throw that clout around.”

It was that moment that I lost the high ground and stopped being the bigger pony. I suddenly stopped, turned, and stepped across his path. The anger returned and swelled into my breast. We almost bumped into each other but he came up short, reacting quickly.

“Listen up, Chief. If you think you’re going to upset me, you’re not. I may be a new lieutenant, but let me make something clear: if you’re going to continue this pointless attempt to get a rise out of me there will be consequences.

“You’d best respect the rank. If not, I’m certain I can correct that discipline problem for you in a more traditional way,” I threatened with absolute confidence.

That brought a grin to his face. I wasn’t positive, but his teeth looked sharper than mine. “Is that so? Now there is some fire. You actually think you’d come out on top in a fight?”

“Highly unlikely against an armsmaster, but I’m quite certain you’ll have something broken when the palace guard hauls you off for striking an officer,” I replied, filling the tone with ice.

We glared at each other and then he smiled. “So, where was this cool when you were inside?”

“That pony knows how to get to me,” I lied, poorly.

“Crabapples. You wanted out.”

Confirming him would be a bad idea. It was time to get out of the situation, so I turned and started walking. “You were more interesting when you were insulting me.”

He hurried up to get at my side. “You wanted out. You were a little too dramatic compared to your previous appearances. A colt like Guise would be stupid enough to believe you. He just sees you as meddler and has his own ego to protect. He doesn’t see what is underneath that violet armor.”

I glanced at him. “Oh yeah? What is underneath, then?”

“A warrior. You wear that guard armor, you protect that princess, but I can see it plain as the sun. There is a fighter under there, and he’s ready to get back on the field and stomp on the gryphon that hurt him and his ponies. I like that. We need more guards like that, in fact.”

We made the turn to the connection between the palace and the Royal Guard building. “I appreciate that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a palace to run. There is work to do.”

“Yes, sir. Real work and I think I can help you,” he pushed.

“I really appreciate that, but I have enough friends and I—”

A hoof landed forcefully on the wall in front of me. I came to a quick halt. “You’re not listening, sir. I’m not some by-the-book Guard intelligence officer. I’ve been over there and I’ve fought those feathered demons.

“More importantly, Risky Storm was my nephew, and I have as much of a score to settle as you do. When I heard about some Celestia Cross veteran looking into the trade, I had to check it out, and you didn’t disappoint.”

That was not something I expected. It could still be a trap, but it could also be an opportunity. “Alright, Chief, what are you proposing?”

“I figure, if you let yourself get tossed out of there that easily, you must already have something planned or another avenue of intelligence. I’m still on the inside and may have a few favors owed to me. We use your plan and my knowledge to keep chasing Alastair and his brigands until we can close the book.”

Maya had been clear: do not reveal her. The chief had no idea where I’d gotten my information from, though. He probably thought I was using the same channels I’d leveraged to get into the meetings. He could be a valuable asset. Valuable enough to take a risk.

“Step into my office, Chief…”

He smirked. “They call me Steel Wings.”

Guardian. It is a word that I thought I understood well. At least until I had inherited the responsibility to protect and mentor two nox ponies.

I wasn’t their physical protector; that would have been very easy for a pony like me. No, I was their guide in a world they barely understood.

It was a responsibility I hadn’t had much time to pursue given what was going on in my life. In a way, Princess Luna being in Haven was a positive thing. She’d given me back some of my day. That time could then be shared with Crimson Dawn and Tranquil Dusk.

The two of them had decided to embark on a training regime to prepare for the Royal Guard. Crimson was set on it, and Tranquil was just following along. She’d been spending far more time in the archives when we weren’t together.

After much discussion, Tranquil had decided that she didn’t want to be apart from her brother, so if he decided to join the Royal Guard, she’d join with him. I didn’t have the heart to explain to her that it doesn’t work that way.

For now, my role as guardian meant pretending to be a training instructor. Tonight, we were working on muscle building and endurance, so I stood over the pair while they did pushups. Far more pushups than most ponies could do.

“This may be a basic exercise, but it is one of the best," I said in a stern voice. “Keep going until your forelegs give out and you can no longer lift your body! A royal guard needs to be strong and still keep going.”

Crimson grunted as his stamina finally failed him. He slumped onto the mat and couldn’t push himself back up no matter how hard he tried. Tranquil did a few more reps before she joined him on the floor.

I came over to help them back upright. “Very good, both of you. You’re already in better shape than most ponies that start basic training. Don’t let that go to your head, however. If you’re serious, you want to be in the best shape you can be in.”

“When do we learn how to fight?” Crimson asked, brushing himself off.

“We don’t,” I corrected. “We learn to defend ourselves, defend others, and subdue. Fighting is for undisciplined brawlers and the Equestrian Army.”

Tranquil Dusk’s head tilted. “I am confused, Silent Knight. The forms you practice alone do not look as if they are for defense or to subdue.”

Crimson Dawn shot her a look and hissed, “Hush.”

My ears stood to attention and I looked at her in surprise. “Pardon?”

The mare’s cheeks turned bright red and her head ducked.

What in Equestria was going on? I could feel my hackles rising. “Have you been spying on me?”

She looked ashamed as she nodded.

“Why?” I asked, trying to work out if I’d done anything foolish or embarrassing when I thought nopony was looking.

Tranquil Dusk shrugged. “You’re the most interesting pony we know. Well, you’re the only one we know, and you’re often too busy to spend time with us, so we thought we could learn by watching.”

I brought my hoof to my face to hide my expression. She was right about the busy part. “How often?”

Crimson cleared his throat. “All the time. Although when you visited that walled garden we couldn’t follow.”

“Okay, two new rules. One, no more following Silent Knight around. I like you both, but I need to have a little privacy. You’re invading my personal space.

“Two, training is going to go both ways. I can’t believe you’ve both been stalking me and I didn’t even have a clue. That is a skill I want to know. I’ll keep training you, and you start showing me how you move around so stealthily.”

Tranquil looked up with clear surprise. “You… want us to train you?”

“I do. We’ll consider it a fair trade for all the training I’m sharing.”

Crimson shifted. “What about the other knowledge? The things you practice alone?”

That was something I had to be firm on. I shook my head. “I’m afraid not. I gave my word that I wouldn’t share it. It is for me and me alone until I’m released from that promise.”

He looked frustrated but gave a resolute nod. “Very well. Outside of that, what if I want to learn to be a soldier like in the tales of old? Is that the same thing?”

For a young pony, he was clever in his tactics. “Technically, it isn’t. We have a small army. You could learn those skills there or from a veteran.”

Tranquil Dusk’s head tilted. “Veterans like you,” she said plainly.

She was always the more insightful one. I really needed to be on my guard around these two. “I suppose so. Although, I don’t teach that sort of thing. It’s very rare that ponies find themselves in combat.”

“But you did!” she blurted before quickly covering her mouth. “Apologies. Your guards speak proudly of your actions against your gryphon foes.”

Anger started to swell within me, but I tried to change it to determination. Enough was enough. It was time to put a stop to this.

I drew myself up to my full height. “That may be true, but that isn’t something you should go looking for. Death and war are usually permanent solutions to temporary problems. Now, if you want to join the Army, you have that right. I’ll help you, but there needs to something clear between us.

“Those tales you may have read leave out a lot about the reality of it. Far more than I understood and far more than I was ready for. You need to realize that going in before making some flippant decision.”

“What do we need to realize?” Crimson challenged. “What more could there be?”

“Anguish, guilt, and remorse. The weight of dealing with death and being around it. It took me a while to get right in the head after my battle with the gryphons. I left a part of me there. We all did.

“I’ll personally be far more cautious in the future when it comes to life-and-death situations and I certainly don’t intend to train two young ponies I’ve promised to protect how to kill. You’ll have to accept that. For now, I will get you physically fit and teach you how to be a royal guard. What you do with those skills is up to you. Agreed?”

The pair stood still and stared at me quietly. They briefly exchanged a meaningful glance before turning back to me.

“Agreed,” they responded in unison.

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