• 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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9. Haven - Part 1

Crystal and I stood out in the courtyard of the palace, staring at each other. My head was held high and she was giving me a mock glare. Ponies were watching, and I felt extremely uncomfortable. This had been a trap.

"Oh, come now, Silent Knight, they don’t care,” Crystal said.

Princess Luna chimed in, “Yes, Silent Knight, we don’t care. Kiss her so we can go.”

I politely glared at the princess and group of ponies sitting in the chariots waiting on me. They were all watching with their beady little eyes. Very quickly, I leaned in and dotted a kiss on Crystal’s lips. “See you soon,” I said.

“Be careful,” she replied with a smile.

I backed away before trotting into the back of the larger chariot with Orchid and Exemplar Ferrel. “Alright, let’s move out.”

“Yes, sir!” Nova replied loudly. She and Cloud Lance started to gallop, and our ride lurched forwards. Within a minute, we were airborne.

Princess Luna was right behind us with Lightning Flash pulling the smaller vehicle.

Radiant Orchid leaned in to whisper to me so that none of the other ponies could hear, “Aren’t you two adorable? Smooches!”

“Yes, Sergeant, we are,” I replied dryly. “And I’m not above ordering you to pull the chariot.”

Orchid just grinned. “I’ve never flown before, so it would be totally worth it!”

“Uh-huh. We’ll see how you feel when you get air sick.”

“Air sick?” she asked in surprise.

I didn’t reply. I’d just let that idea sit in her mind while I laid down on the bench to rest my body. Eventually, I’d need to take a turn pulling us.

The ride was pleasant enough since nopony really spoke. Orchid had spent most of her time just staring at Ferrel who, in turn, had just stared back at her. It was quite the contest.

What really stood out to me was that we weren’t moving as fast as I had alone. All of the weight was slowing us down. That wasn’t unexpected, but it was annoying. We’d be lengthening our trip considerably by traveling this way.

At some point, I’d nodded off. It was a blissful nap that was suddenly cut short by the feel of Orchid poking me in the nose with her hoof.

“Sir, sir get up,” she whispered.

I yawned and stretched. “What? What’s going on?”

“I need to stop,” she hissed.

“We just stopped recently. At least, I think recently. I haven’t been asleep that long.”

Orchid glared. “I need to stop again.”

“Why?” I asked.

“You know…” She trailed.

I looked at her in confusion. “What do I know?”

“I have to go!” she said louder than I’m sure she intended.

She had to go? Again? I glared at her. “You should have gone when everypony else went!”

“I didn’t have to go then, and my bladder is older than yours!”

I cupped my face in my hooves and grumbled, “Any chance you can just hang off the back?”

“Sir! I am a lady!”

“Of course you are.” I flew off the chariot and over to Nova. She was taking a turn pulling Princess Luna. “We’re going to have another break. Follow us down.”

The brightly colored pegasus nodded. “Yes, sir!”

Both chariots came to a landing and Orchid hopped out as soon as we were down and galloped off into the bushes. I’m pretty confident I’d never seen her move that fast during physical training. Evidently, I’d been using the wrong motivation techniques.

As I looked around at my fellow pegasi, I could tell they were worn out. The larger craft took two to pull it effectively. The smaller may have only needed one, but it wore that pony out just the same. At any given time, only two of us could rest. It was less than ideal.

I called out, “Since we’ve stopped, we might as well make camp here for the evening. I don’t want to arrive exhausted.”

I went over to the chariot to grab the tents and laid them out in a circle. Everypony else pitched in and started putting them together.

Even Princess Luna helped. Her magic was exceedingly useful for this sort of thing. I could tell she didn’t want to stop, but she wasn’t going to fight me on the topic, especially not in front of my ponies. Our disagreements were generally kept private.

It wasn’t long before camp was made and we were relaxing. My body ached and I was tired, but it was all physical. It didn’t quite seem like a time to fall asleep. At least not yet.

After some awkward silence passed by, Nova pulled out a deck of cards. “Anypony fancy a game?”

“I’m in,” Lightning Flash responded.

“Me, too!” added Cloud Lance.

Radiant Orchid nodded. “My foals need new shoes. I hope you two brought bits.”

I knew better than to gamble with Orchid. It was one of her lesser-known talents. Golden Touch seemed to have similar misgivings, so the two of us quietly backed out.

“I’ll play, if that is alright,” Exemplar Ferrel said, surprising everypony into looking at her.

“Sure…” Nova trailed somewhat uncertainly, then smiled. “I don’t see why not. Have a seat. Do you know how to play?”

“I do not,” the exemplar replied.

Princess Luna looked on with interest and whispered to me, “This evening just potentially became far more entertaining.”

“Mmhmm,” I replied idly while I looked around.

With us out in the open and in a poorly defensible position, I had settled almost side to side with her. Some may call me overprotective, but diligence is important.

The princess and I kept an eye on the game for a while, enjoying the comedy of enlisted guards trying to explain gambling to a temple exemplar. The first round was more of a practice game, but by the third, Ferrel seemed to get the gist.

She was also, according to Orchid’s occasional exclamations, unnatural. I could have told her that.

Once the novelty wore off, I returned my attention to watching our surroundings. Everything outside of our small camp was quiet. I didn’t like quiet. Quiet was suspicious.

Keeping her tone to a private level, Princess Luna asked, “Is there anything going on you would like to tell me about, Silent Knight?”

One ear flicked to give away my annoyance. More prying into my relationship. Couldn’t ponies just leave me alone to be happy with my mare? “Crystal and I are taking it slow. Well, I think we are. I just do what she tells me, mostly.”

“That is wise.” There was a long pause that was filled with laughter from the playing ponies. “Although that isn’t what I meant.”

My eyes shifted to her and I tilted my head. “Oh?”

“Indeed.” She didn’t look at me, at least not directly. I could see tension in her expression. “You’ve been keeping yourself busy at the office. Anything I should know?”

Perhaps I should have played the cards. I knew my poker face was flawless. “I have, but no, not yet. I’m just dealing with things in my own way. You know I wouldn’t do anything foolish without letting you know.”

It wasn’t a lie. I was being very careful. Just talking with a mysterious, thus-far-disembodied voice wasn’t foolish.

She chuckled softly. “Well, that is certainly something to say. That does not mean you aren’t going to still do something foolish after you tell—”

“I don’t believe this!” Orchid shouted in exasperation. “How can you have a straight flush?!”

Exemplar Ferrel peered at her cards in confusion. “How? You dealt these two to me and those others to us all. Isn’t that how this game works?”

“Yes!” Orchid tossed her cards down. “Unbelievable. What am I up to now?”

The exemplar looked at the scrap of paper in front of her. “Thirty-two thousand, seven-hundred and fifty bits.”

My ears shot up at the number. When had the stakes gotten so high? This was meant to be a friendly game, not a life debt.

“Double or nothing!” Orchid groused.

The other guards stared at her in shock.

Clearing my throat, I called, “Sergeant, why don’t you quit while you’re only indebted to the exemplar for a small house?”

Orchid waved a hoof at me. “I’ve got her, sir. She has a tell. I bought my first apartment with bits I earned playing cards. No pony is this lucky.” She stared straight at Ferrel. “Deal them.”

I leaned back and replied, “When we get back I’m just going to make a note in your file that you have a gambling problem. I’m frightened you’re going to sell the Princess’s hoofguards.”

“She had best not, I just finally got a set that fit right,” Princess Luna said absently to nopony in particular.

Orchid looked my way and then shrugged as the cards came out. The game went back and forth a bit and ultimately came down to one more card flip.

Exemplar Ferrel turned her two cards over. “This makes four princesses. Sun, Moon, Heart, and Diamond.”

Even in the dark and from across the camp, I could see Orchid’s eye twitching. “You… you… you waited on the river to make four of a kind?”

Ferrel blinked. “Should I not have?”

“NO!” Orchid’s head hung and she mumbled, “Okay, you win. When we get back, we’ll set up some sort of payment plan.”

“For what?” the exemplar asked.

“To pay you the tens of thousands of bits I owe you.”

Ferrel’s head tilted. “We were playing on paper. I did not realize we needed real bits. I have none. Perhaps we should call it for fun?”

Relief washed over Orchid’s face, flushing away the ill expression she’d held a moment earlier. “Alright… for fun then. I’ll buy you lunch sometime, though.”

“That would be fun. I shall look forwards to it, especially if we can get noodles. I like noodles.”

I stood up and brushed off my legs. “Alright, little ponies. Get to sleep. We’ve got another day of travel ahead of us and then a short day after that. No more gambling, either. I don’t want to explain to Orchid’s husband why the Unicorn Temple owns their foals.”

At the princess’s insistence, we started off the next morning before the sun had risen. We pulled on through the day and into the early evening. It had been completely uneventful, even though we’d had to land in the Badlands on a few occasions for breaks.

I was starting to question the name, given the lack of anything bad thus far but, at the same time, I was glad. We had enough to deal with where we were going.

My ‘no gambling’ rule had been enforced once we made camp. That was not a popular order so to subtly get back at me, my small contingent of guards sang campfire songs for two hours straight. Sergeant Orchid, of course, led the group as a morale-building exercise. They were excellent royal guards, but they made a horrible choir. Bedtime became the greatest of blessings that night.

On the next day, Princess Luna was pensive the whole time. She hadn’t slept well the night before and was clearly nervous. She may have been able to hide it from the others, but not from me. We spent too much time together for her to hide her true feelings.

For the final leg of the journey, I decided to pull the princess’s chariot personally. It seemed like a good idea that my face should be the first one the nox ponies saw. They knew me, more or less, even if they didn’t trust me.

“Sergeant,” I said, “we’re going to take the lead. I want you and the rest of the entourage to follow close.”

Orchid nodded from the back of the larger chariot. “Yes, sir. Will do.”

“One more thing. Exemplar, please keep your cloak on. I don’t anticipate a problem, but I don’t want to discover at the last minute that there is some sort of ancient disagreement between the nox ponies and the Unicorn Temple.”

“You make a valid point,” the exemplar replied before pulling her cloak tight and donning the hood. “I am not aware of such, but caution is never unrewarded.”

I glanced back at her. “I don’t suppose you have any knowledge about whether or not we’re about to fly into a trap, do you?”

Exemplar Ferrel shook her head, “I am afraid not.”

“Wonderful.” I sighed before flapping my wings harder and pulling forwards to take the lead. Lightning Flash and Nova slowed up, letting the bigger vehicle fall back behind me.

It was easier to find the cut between the main peak and the offshoot during the day. I settled the chariot down and turned into the opening to make room for the larger transport. Once we were under the cover of the mountain, I touched the crescent moon on my breastplate and the night vision enhancement kicked in.

“This is a scary place,” I heard Lightning Flash whisper behind us.

“Hush,” Orchid admonished. “Everypony, keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.”

I kept my mouth shut, too. Never get in the way of a sergeant doing the right thing. I left the other chariot and its occupants to her and continued to pull the princess down into the depths of the mountain. We crossed under the threshold and into the big open cavern.

At the outskirts of the town, there were a few nox ponies out and about. When they saw us coming, one immediately galloped off towards what I remembered as the center square. The others saw Princess Luna and threw themselves to the ground, fully prostrated.

We pulled on to the square without addressing any of the locals. A crowd was already building ahead while numerous ponies were following along behind us. Once we arrived, I unhitched and helped the others do the same.

Princess Luna stood tall on her chariot and looked around at the assembled masses. The crowd was growing larger by the minute and was already far larger than when I had arrived. That made me nervous. We would be hard pressed to fend off this many ponies.

Of course, they were nervous, too. There were murmurs and quiet conversations going on as they watched and waited. It seemed like we were going to be making the first move.

As quietly as I could, I ordered, “Perimeter around the princess. Close to the chariot. Make it look casual.”

“Yes, sir,” my ponies whispered in response before doing as I asked.

I took a deep breath, started flapping my wings, and leapt into the air to get above the chariot. The crowd was massive and spread out in every direction. There would be no galloping out. Nothing could be done about that, so I decided it was time to start the proceedings.

“Greetings, my gracious hosts. As many of you know, I am Silent Knight, emissary of Luna the Student. We have traveled far so that she could look upon you herself. I ask that you join me in welcoming her.” I dropped from the sky in front of the chariot and bowed low to the princess.

The host of nox ponies did the same. That was a good sign.

When Princess Luna finally spoke, her voice was confident and loud. It carried throughout the cavern, likely enhanced by magic. It was weird to hear her speak in Early Modern Equestrian again, but I knew how to translate most of it in my head.

“Citizens of this hidden refuge, you have my deepest gratitude for your hospitality. It is my honor and pleasure to stand here before you. For far too long you have been separated from your House. I have come so that I may get to know you and, more importantly, allow you to get to know me.”

The princess hopped from the chariot and slowly spun to take in the entire crowd. “We have been apart for an age and you should be skeptical. I am deeply moved that you honor the old traditions but I am here to earn your respect, not simply have it given. Please, all rise so that we may stand as equals.”

There were more soft murmurs from the crowd, but they did as the princess bid and stood. Obedience and order remained. With this many ponies, that was critical.

“I am so glad to see you all. Once again, I must thank you for opening your town to us and allowing me the opportunity to reconnect. In the coming days, I hope to spend time with many of you and learn your history. Until then, I request the presence of your matriarch so that I may not disrupt the order she has clearly cultivated.”

As if on cue, the crowd slowly started to part as the nox ponies cleared a lane. Moonlit Star limped her way forwards with Crimson Dawn on one side and Tranquil Dusk on the opposite. When they reached the clearing, they all bowed deeply.

“Silent Knight,” Moonlit Star said to me, “you have indeed brought an alicorn before us.”

“Yes, Matriarch, and she would very much like to speak with you,” I replied.

“And I to her.” The matriarch rose and approached so that she could look up to the Alicorn of the Night. For a moment, she seemed to be studying her.

Finally, Moonlit Star said loudly, “You are, without a doubt, Luna the Student. I never imagined I would meet you in my lifetime, and I consider it an honor to do so. It is without reservation that I welcome you home.”

All around us, the nox ponies exploded into cheers and stomped their hooves. The roar of the crowd was overwhelming and reverberated within the great cavern. It was deafening and filled with unbridled joy and relief. These ponies wanted the princess. They needed the princess. They were no longer alone.

Moonlit Star motioned out of the square and said, “Lady Luna, would you join me on a tour of our home?”

Princess Luna nodded in agreement. “That would be delightful. Lead on, Matriarch.”

The crowd parted in the direction that had been indicated and we started off. Moonlit Star walked beside the princess. She needed the aid of Crimson Dawn, but he was quiet and respectful.

Twilight Dusk trailed behind them with me. The other nox ponies were curious and excited, but they gave the princess and their matriarch a wide berth. That was comforting.

The rest of my ponies followed in precise formation. Orchid was giving us plenty of room but was remaining close enough to be of use should the sudden hospitality take a different turn.

“Of course,” Moonlit Star began to explain, “our ancestors had done their best to recreate the look and feel of Midnight’s Peak. It didn’t seem appropriate to build the keep, though… and, of course, neither we nor they had the magical faculties to recreate the stained glass.”

“You’ve done wonderfully. What do you call your town?” the princess asked.

The matriarch replied softly, “Haven.”

The briefest of frowns crossed the princess’s face before she nodded. “I understand. Haven is beautiful.”

Moonlit Star smiled. “Thank you. It is amazing to have you amongst us. Perhaps this generation will build the keep and sculpt the statue our square has so desperately needed.”

The princess smiled gracefully and replied, “That is appreciated, but I certainly wouldn’t want to burden you. I’ve grown a lot when it comes to the desire to be recognized and revered.”

“Those are words of great comfort. Words that your ponies have hoped to hear for generations. That means, of course, you are more than ready to see what I’ve been eager to show you. If you are interested, that is?”

“Of course! I wish to see everything.”

“It is just this way.” Moonlit Star motioned up the larger road in town. Our procession changed course and we were shortly outside of the doors to the library that I had wanted to explore during my prior guided tour.

“This is our treasure and greatest pride,” Moonlit Star explained. “It is where we have kept all of our knowledge. For centuries, we’ve protected it and passed it down so that one day it could be used once again. Crimson, if you please.”

Crimson Dawn broke rank with me and walked to the door. He reached into his saddlebag and produced a silver key. The matriarch did the same. Together, they fit two separate locks and, when both keys were turned at the same time, there was a soft click followed by a loud sound that I could only imagine as a beam being hoisted aside.

The heavy metal doors parted inward and revealed the rows upon rows of books inside, all illuminated by unicorn lanterns. It was a sight that rivaled the archives in Canterlot and perhaps even surpassed it. All of the knowledge of the nox ponies was here.

Princess Luna walked in and looked about in wonder. I motioned for Orchid to stop on the entrance. She nodded as the rest of us stepped inside the trove of knowledge.

The library’s interior was astounding. It was three stories tall and filled with endless rows of books, scrolls, and tablets. Plush purple carpets ran along the main thoroughfare down the center of the building and covered the smooth, cut stone floor. In the pale light of unicorn lanterns the whole expanse seemed like something out of a fantasy novel.

“This is wondrous,” the princess said finally. “The history of my ponies, the knowledge of old, and so much else. You’ve kept it all.”

Moonlit Star beamed at her. “Yes. When our ancestors fled, they took all of their knowledge from every town and village and brought it here… but that is not the only treasure here. Behold.” The matriarch pointed to the back of the library where a silver-railed fence separated off the entire northernmost wing.

Princess Luna looked at the matriarch curiously before the four of us crossed the vast expanse and came to stand outside of the gate. The stacks beyond it were made of stone. Many were lined with purple silk-bound books. The others were a pale blue.

“What are these?” the princess asked.

“These, my dear, once belonged to Nocturna the Mentor and Azuleka the Ruler. They are your inheritance.”

Princess Luna gasped and covered her mouth with a hoof. Tears pooled in her eyes and she asked, “You have their libraries? I thought them lost!”

“No, child, not lost. Hidden. Protected. They, like me, have been waiting for you to return, to claim them and the knowledge contained within.”

The tears pattered onto the carpeted floor as Princess Luna found herself at a loss for words. She finally turned and asked, “Will you teach me?”

The matriarch bowed deeply. “I have prepared my entire life to do so. I am at your service.”

The princess set her hoof over Moonlit Star’s and whispered, “And I will be a better student to you than I was to your namesake. Let us begin.”

Author's Note:

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