• 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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53. Winter

Crystal and I stood together on the Crystal Empire train platform, snow buffeting against us and obscuring the city beyond. We’d arrived on the last train after I’d insisted we leave immediately.

Being here felt like exile to a barren wasteland. In some ways, it was. If it weren’t for my wife, it would have been intolerable to stand on that platform, knowing what I’d left behind.

“This is going to take some getting used to,” Crystal said, nestling under my wing.

I snorted. “That’s for sure. It beats the alternative, though.”

The mare peered up at me. “Which was…?”

Keep your mouth shut, stallion. You swore. “Unemployment?”

Her eyes rolled playfully. “Sure, like the Guard would leave you unemployed for long.”

I shrugged and started to trudge through the snow.

Crystal followed close beside me. “Silent, is everything alright? You’ve been moping since you got home from the palace. You were smiles when we got there and frowns when you got home.”

“My exit was not graceful,” I said flatly.

She peered at me. “What… Are you upset because you cried or something? Stallions can cry.”

“What?” My ears flicked against a gust of icy wind. “No. I made some mistakes this year. They came to light in a big way. It’s over, though. We’re here now. This is where we get to start fresh.”

Concern was written across Crystal’s face. “Okay… so do you want to talk about the mistakes? It isn’t like you to make mistakes.”

I winced, but I pawned it off as reacting the bitter snow. Yes, Silent Knight was supposed to be the proper guard that didn’t make mistakes. I shook my head. “I do make mistakes, I just hid them well. I shouldn’t have. Well, I should never have made them in the first place.”

“Did you learn anything?”

I paused to look down at her. “What?”

The mare nosed my shoulder. “You made mistakes. Did you learn anything? Are you going to make them again?”

My tail flicked. “I suppose I learned I can’t bottle everything up. Perhaps some other lessons, too.”

Crystal smiled. “Then it was worthwhile. Whatever doesn’t kill you, right?”

What an apt phrase to use. “That’s true.” It was time for a change of subject. “Are you sure you’re okay living on base?”

“Pfft, of course! I’m a Royal Guard wife now. You keep acting like I was unaware of what I was getting into. We’ll live in quarters until we decide on a place. Plus, I don’t want to buy or rent anything long-term until I know you’re settled.”

My brow arched. “What does that mean?”

“Well… I’m not a hundred percent sure you’re not going to turn around and go back to Princess Luna,” she said matter-of-factly.

I was. I was completely certain of that. Her security would have to be handled at a distance for a little while. It would afford me time to train and get clarity. “Fair enough, honey,” I said before waving at a taxi. “Come on, it’s too awful out here to walk. Let’s get you somewhat covered up.”

She grinned. “Well, thank you!”

As soon as I had her settled in the depressingly empty base quarters, I went to report in for duty. She assured me she didn’t mind being left alone so soon. I had to hope she meant it, because I needed to get to work before I tore myself apart with too much thinking.

Of course, sometimes, not even my Guard training could save me. The blizzard outside was like a metaphor for the inside of my head. Guilt. Regret. Anger. All of the things I thought I’d conquered were back, and worse than before.

A hoof waved suddenly in my face. My hooves came to a halt, which was when I remembered that I’d been following Russet Rook on a grand tour of the Crystal Palace.

“Silent Knight?” he asked. “Hello, are you paying attention?”

“What? Sorry, no,” I replied honestly.

He gave me a soft, understanding smile. “Still have one hoof in the old job?”

“One? Hardly, try three. How did you even stand leaving?”

He shrugged. “It wasn’t as hard for me. I hadn’t been there near as long as you, nor did I have the same relationship with the princess you had. Still, you’re here now.” His smile turned into a serious line. “You want to be, right? You accepted this command.”

Did I want to be? Absolutely not! Did I have to be? Absolutely yes. Even if I hadn’t been sent away by Princess Celestia, there was the fact that Princess Luna was compromised. She was too close to me. I was too close to her.

However, answering honestly was not a great idea on any level. I forced a smile and replied, “I’m grateful to have the command.”

“Cleverly worded, Lieutenant. At least I’m certain you’ll conduct your duties to the best of your ability, even if your heart hasn’t moved yet.”

“You can rest assured of that. When do I meet my ponies?”

He chuckled. “That’s more like the Silent I know. We’ll go over now and do the introductions. I do need to warn you, though, they’re not house guards. At least not yet. Shining Armor picked ponies with a lot of potential.

“Individually, they’re solid. They have the skills and talent, but they need a true leader to put it all together and create another elite unit. That is why you’re here. You have the ability to take a group of ponies and get them up to snuff.”

I nodded in bitter agreement. If I could put together a group of irregulars to defeat professional soldiers, I could teach provincial guards to be an elite protection detail. “I’m glad for the task. The sooner I can get back into a normal routine, the better.”

Russet patted me on the back. “That’s the spirit. Oh, one word of warning on dealing with crystal ponies: their memory of before they were gone is hazy. Sometimes they have sudden moments of clarity and it manifests in odd ways. Just be patient and understanding.”

Hazy memories? That was an odd thing to imagine. It was also odd to imagine being in stasis for over a thousand years, too. “Such is magic.”

“Exactly! Now, as you know, you only answer to the brigadier, but don’t forget who his chief of staff is,” Russet teased.

“Always in command, eh?”

“I take my points where I can get them. Now, come on, let’s go meet your ponies.”

The Crystal Empire was a far colder place than Canterlot. Academically, I had been aware of that. In reality I was not prepared to deal with the snow, biting wind, and ice. Everything was made out of crystal and I had, on several occasions, slid. If it wasn’t for my ability to fly, I’d have broken a leg.

It seemed that the hoofguards issued here had some sort of cleats on the bottoms that my House Guard ones did not. That meant I was wearing mismatched armor just to avoid falling, at least until a new pair of cleated House Guard ones came in. It was a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. Especially when I was trying to show my guards how to be professionals.

Ponies came and went from the Crystal Palace more freely than they did in Canterlot. There was no wall surrounding it and anypony could simply walk up to the door and request entry.

I was showing my guards how to stand nearby and casually look ponies over. We were looking for signs of hidden weapons, stressed expressions, or even potential anger. It was a difficult task because, since arriving, I’d never seen any of the three. The crystal ponies were quite docile.

Of course, I hadn’t seen them much back at Canterlot, either. We’d never had anypony try to sneak in a weapon, but there had been several incidents of somepony trying to cause mischief. I’d personally had to apprehend a suspect who thought they could sneak in with a pillow of Lady Cadence, but I’d heard stories of confiscated silly string, a pool noodle, and… for whatever reason, ‘intimate’ objects.

“I think that is enough for today,” I said, waving them off. “Everypony back to your normal duties.”

“Yes, sir,” they responded in unison before marching back towards the main entrance.

That left me time to stand outside and watch the streets awhile longer. It wasn’t that I anticipated finding anything, it was just that my feelings were still raw and occasionally I needed some time to myself.

“Lieutenant Knight,” a pony called as she approached. The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t figure out who it was, considering she was wrapped from head to hoof in a warm, fuzzy cloak.

“Can I help you?” I responded as professionally as I could despite my wary suspicion.

“As long as the help you’re offering is a polite conversation.” She pulled the hood of her cloak back, revealing her grey coat and a face I knew too well.

Instinct caused me to lower my voice. “Val.”

“Indeed. Shall we walk?”

I motioned a hoof away from the palace and started to make my way towards one of the busier avenues. With the noise of the crowds and the howling of the wind, I doubted anypony could hear us, if they even paid us any mind. Crystal ponies weren’t very nosy.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked. “This is a social call, I hope.”

“Not exactly, no. Word around the water cooler is that the princesses are upset. Not just about what is going on in Sudramoar, either. Nothing is coming down to us, but when I noticed you took off in essentially a night without saying goodbye to Runic, I put it together.”

“I thought turning myself over might solve the situation,” I admitted.

Her head shook. “Not a good strategy, Lieutenant. A false excuse swatted down doesn’t stop the next one. Your services are better utilized with you alive than as a scapegoat. I assume that was the same conclusion that was reached after your confession?”

“It was,” I replied dryly.

“Good.” Her eyes bored into mine. “Am I in danger?”

I shook my head. “No, I didn’t name anypony else. No details, no evidence, nothing. If Sunny didn’t find anything before, she wouldn’t find anything now just because I said something.”

“Very good. At least Runic won’t have to burn down my house,” she said, clearly trying to force some levity.

“You really need to stop making him an accessory to crimes.”

She shrugged. “Family first. You try to stop him.”

“Alright, that does sound like an impossible task. At any rate, nothing has changed.” My tone started to grow bitter. “Only the princesses and Sunny Day know the truth. Sunny was ordered to forget it, and she will. There will be no official repercussion. Even though I deserve it. I—”

Val set her hoof on mine, urging me to stop. “You didn’t do wrong, and you aren’t alone. You were willing to walk this path, but you did have some pushing from myself and Steel Wings. I’m not sorry for what happened. I’m sorry for what it did to you, but the end result was necessary.

“I don’t want to debate the philosophy of it. Everypony has different opinions. You value taking lives differently than I do, differently than Tranquil Dusk does. I just need you to know that if it came down to it, I’d have never let them take you. Never. You’d have gotten lost on the way over.”

I blinked. The seriousness in her voice was a little startling. “Thanks… I guess.” I shook my head. “But you’d have had to contend with me. What would you do, knock me out and hold me hostage?”

Something dark flared in my chest as I asked the question. The memory of being trapped in the bubble flashed through my mind. ‘I will hold you as long as it takes if I have to.

She waved a hoof. “If necessary, sure, but I think I could have made it work. King Kronson is up to something bigger and I’m going to try to find out what. That is why this is also potentially goodbye.”

My ear flicked, and I turned to face her. “What?”

“As soon as we finish here, my airship leaves directly to Sudramoar. Maybe we’ll see each other again, maybe we won’t. I don’t know.” She shook her head and took my hoof in hers again. “Either way, I’m not sorry I met you. I’m not sorry we worked together. All I ask is that if something happens to me, you take care of Runic, alright?”

“Yes, of course. I’ll keep an eye on him,” I replied, finding myself at a loss to say anything else.

Val squeezed my hoof. “Good. See you later, Lieutenant. Take care of that new wife of yours.”

As I tried to figure out an appropriate response, Val backed into the crowd and within seconds I had trouble tracking her. She blended in perfectly and was gone.

Time had a way of moving faster when you had a place in the world. To help deal with my guilt and the way I’d left Canterlot, I’d thrown myself into the task of preparing my new command.

Russet had been right: the ponies were great, but the unit was not cohesive. They weren’t accustomed to dealing with a very important pony’s security. Our job was very different than doing city patrol or standing beside a door.

Still, their relatively green nature was a blessing in disguise. It kept me busy from the time I went to work to the moment I left. That was a benefit.

I arrived home on time as I did almost every day, took off my helmet and set it on the stand, and started to remove my armor. It was a lovely routine and wholly mundane. Not that I minded mundane. Especially when I had Crystal.

She was still decorating our on-base quarters. She’d done a lot with the place, especially given how humble it was. Moving in had been easy. I didn’t own anything other than a game table and Crystal had left almost everything with Velvet.

“Welcome home, sweetie!” The mare levitated some vases past me and onto the top of some bookshelves.

“Thank you. I see you’ve been busy today.”

“Yes, yes I have! I went out and just found inspiration everywhere. The base might look like any old Royal Guard base, but the Crystal Empire is still the Crystal Empire! We’ve been here three weeks and it still amazes me.” She smiled at me. “How was work?”

“Work was fine. Governor Cadence is busy. Brigadier Armor, too. I had lunch with Russet. That was nice.”

She smiled. “Good! Have you made any new friends?”

New friends? No, I had most certainly not done that. “Not yet… I mean, there are a few junior officers around but not a lot. I’ve got you and Russet. You also know how much work these ponies are! There isn’t the institutional foundation that exists in the House Guard.”

“And so you tell me every time I ask, dear. Keep building that foundation! And, well, make some friends! Also, when are you going to unpack that box in the closet?”

The box in the closet was the one holding my father’s thing, laying under the sword Runic had made for me. I didn’t want to look at it and that went double for Stratus Knight’s things.

“Maybe next week?” I suggested instead of the real response, which was ‘never.’

Her brow raised. “That is what you said last week.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” I replied before kissing her cheek.

Crystal waved a hoof and giggled. “It’s fine. As your wife, it is my duty to nag you a little. Get it? I’m a little nag for you?”

“I do… but are you saying that you are, yourself, a nag?”

My wife’s ears flicked and she blinked. “Okay, that didn’t work out. Oh! Mindful Soul sent a letter. She’ll be here Friday for your weekly appointment. She asked that you pick her up at the train station. Which is the least you can do with her coming all of this way.”

“Of course… nag.”

Crystal gasped and swatted at me with her forehooves. I chuckled and looped mine around her barrel and pulled her close.

“Don’t hug me! You called me a nag!”

“You called you a nag.”

“That is my word! You can’t call me my word.”

I chuckled and buried my muzzle against her neck.

“Stop that… don’t...” She started to melt in my hooves. Crystal was a sucker for being nuzzled in the neck. “Mmm, don’t stop.”

She leaned back, I leaned forwards, and we tumbled over onto the floor. Crystal giggled while I continued to nibble on her neck.

“Silent!” She gasped before softly pushing at me with a hoof. “What if the neighbors hear?”

“They’ll be jealous,” I mumbled against her coat.

“I’m a lady. Besides, we have a perfectly nice bed in the—”

There was a knock at the door. Of course there was. With a grumble, I got up, helped Crystal to her hooves, and then answered the door.

It was Quartz Arrow, one of my sergeants. “Sorry to bother you, sir!”

I reached for my helmet and kept my tone even as I asked, “Is something wrong?”

“The governor sent me to fetch you. She didn’t say anything but that it couldn’t wait…”

“Yeah,” I replied before looking to Crystal with apology in my eyes.

She waved a hoof at me. “Go. I know how this works. She normally doesn’t keep you late, so I suppose it is fair.”

I snuck my wife a quick kiss before Quartz and I hurried off into the night. Governor Cadence had yet to have an emergency or anything close to one. The Crystal Empire was an extremely quiet place.

“What do we do, sir?” Quartz asked as we neared the palace.

“We find out the situation before we worry too much, Sergeant.”

“Yes, sir,” he said before falling quiet.

I was still getting used to my new sergeants. They hadn’t been around me long and all of them looked at me like some sort of fabled hero. Quartz in particular was young and hadn’t been an NCO long. He hung on my words more than I was comfortable.

I cleared my throat. “Sergeant, you’re right to be concerned. I just find that the imagination is worse than reality most times. It helps me to stay even until I know the situation.”

His ears perked up a bit and he nodded. “Yes, sir, that makes sense.”

We arrived at the palace and made our way to Governor Cadence’s office. The door was closed and I knocked three times. The response was immediate as the door flew open under the power of unicorn magic. Shining Armor’s magic.

“Come in, Lieutenant,” Lady Cadence said from behind her desk. Concern was evident in her eyes.

That was something I’d seen a few times already. She was a model governor that cared deeply for her subjects and the crystal ponies loved her for it. This, however, felt different.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied before Quartz and I did so. Then we stood to attention.

“At ease,” Shining Armor said before settling off to the side. “Governor.”

Cadence nodded. “A courier arrived shortly after you went home for the night. The princesses have requested the immediate presence of all the territorial governors and provincial commanders. We leave for Canterlot tomorrow morning. I need you to arrange my security detail.”

Canterlot. We were going back to Canterlot? I wasn’t ready to go back yet. I’d just left. My heart started pounding a bit faster. I didn’t let it show in my face, though. “Of course, Governor. We’ll be ready for you. I’ll get your personal train on the track tonight. Leave it with me.”

She smiled and nodded. “I expected nothing less, Silent Knight. I’m sorry to keep you away from your wife.”

“Well, if you’re really sorry, she does so love those lunches you and her share.”

Shining Armor peered at me. “That sounds like extortion, Lieutenant.”

Governor Cadence snorted. “Extortion, my tail. Crystal understands what it’s like being married to a Royal Guard stallion.” She winked at me. “I’d love to have an extra lunch with her once we get back.”

“Of course, Governor. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do.”

“Dismissed,” Shining Armor said.

Once Quartz and I were in the hall, I told him, “Go wake up Jade, I’ll need you both. Send a guard to my quarters as well and let my wife know I won’t be home for a while. I’ll be in my office. Dismissed.”

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

My office, coincidentally, was only four doors down the hall, so the walk wasn’t that far. This was a far smaller place than the palace I’d been working in for years. The one I’d see again soon.

That thought was best pushed aside. I settled behind my desk and started planning. I’d need both of my squads. Plus, we had to get the train out onto the tracks and inspected. It was going to be a long night.

There would be a lot of logistics to arrange and ponies to wake up. My head was down when somepony cleared his throat, pulling me from my thoughts. I blinked, looked up, and then stood up. “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t hear you come in.”

Shining Armor was at my door. “That’s alright, I didn’t knock. I know how you get with your work.”

“All due respect, sir, you sound like my wife.”

He chuckled and replied, “I’m sure. Are you ready to go back to Canterlot?”

I shook my head. “Not particularly, no. I’ll be just fine, though. I’m a professional.”

Shining Armor looked at me long and hard before saying, “You didn’t really ever say what happened between you and Princess Luna.”

No, I hadn’t. I’d relived it in my mind several times, though. Being trapped in the bubble. Princess Celestia’s disappointment. My shame at the sudden and unceremonious departure. The questions I could never answer.

“No, sir. I haven’t really.”

He sighed and shook his head. “And I’ll take that to mean you won’t. Cadence has mentioned that in all the letters she’s received from Princess Celestia, not a single one mentions or asks about you.”

Shining Armor and Cadence were the kind of ponies that picked up on things like that. They were both professionals on top of working closely together.

“I’m not surprised,” I said slowly and carefully. “She was a bit disappointed with my behavior.”

“Disappointed? With you?” His brow raised. “You’re really going to have to explain this all to me at some point.”

“Yes, sir. At some point.” I lowered my gaze. “There was also Princess Luna’s reluctance to let me leave.”

“She was actually upset with you for wanting to come here?”

Quickly, I shook my head. “No, no, sir. Sad, yes. Upset, no. There were other things going on. We got too close and that led to some misunderstandings. I’ll be fine, though. We’ll be fine. It won’t get in the way of my duties.”

His expression softened with compassion I didn’t deserve. “Your duties aren’t what I’m worried about, Silent Knight.”

I nodded. “I know. I’ll be fine. Honestly. We’ll go, do the meeting, and come home. Things will be fine.”

He nodded. “Alright, well, you know where to find me if you need me.”

“Yes, sir, I do.” I glanced up to meet his eyes, trying not to grin. “And you can be sure I won’t hesitate to find you if I need to.”

“Good, then. See you in the morning.”

My ears flicked. “Where are you going?”

He chuckled. “Rank has its privilege, Silent Knight. I don’t have a security detail to plan. I ordered my staff to get on a train. Your train. Now I’m going to go home with my wife.”

“Funny how that works out. What about that promotion?”

He grinned. “You’ll have to wait on the list.”

I nodded, suppressing a smile that didn’t feel appropriate. “Yes, sir. Have a good night.”

“You, too. Enjoy your planning.”

“I will.”

He chuckled and looked back at me. “I believe it.”

Once he was gone, I set to work once more. If we were going to Canterlot, we’d be the most professional delegation there. Regardless of how I’d left, I’d be sure that the governor would be returning in style.

Author's Note:

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