• Published 4th Sep 2015
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Remember the Moonflower - Blade Star

On the run from the Royal Guard following Nightmare Moon's defeat, a group of thestrals make their final stand.

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Chapter 8 - War Crimes

With the governor of San Maretonio now temporarily incarcerated in the Moonflower’s ad hoc brig, Dusk could turn his attention to other matters. He was glad to have finally been able to put the issue of Rare Diamond to rest. From the outset, when he had first come to meet the column outside the town, Dusk had felt that something was amiss with him. Now he knew beyond all doubt, that he was right.

It was one thing for one soldier to kill another in combat. Both had the required training, weapons, and skills. Both stood an equal chance of victory or defeat. But what Diamond had been doing, for Luna knows how long… It made a shiver run up the ageing thestral’s spine. How many other groups had passed through? How many had fallen into the trap that they themselves were now facing? And through it all, Diamond had never shown his hoof. Always playing the innocent bystander, willing to offer some shelter to tired ponies. And in reality, each time, he would call it in, and watch the inevitable happen.

Dusk snorted angrily. This time, things would not be a repeat. They’d caught him out, and at the very least blunted the enemy’s initial assault. The group Flintlock and Sentry had driven off were certainly scouts. The enemy would have to operate with little intelligence. Luna willing, they could use that to their advantage. If their first attacks were strong enough, vicious enough, perhaps they could do an action replay of Richcolt, and convince the Bright Lights there were greater numbers than there actually were.

Flintlock was considerably less optimistic in his outlook. Okay, yes they’d caught Diamond. But it was too little, too late. There was an army bearing down on them, and probably another three behind it. Whichever way you looked at it, this was going to be a close run thing.

Privately, Flintlock had to give some respect to Rare Diamond. The unassuming earth pony had managed to fool them all for quite some time. And, setting aside the morality and sense of honour that some older soldiers, such as Dusk still carried, it was a clever little system. The Bright Lights had realised that there was no way they could cover the whole desert that eventually led out to the Badlands. So, they improvised. They were like fishermen, Diamond was the lure; a promise of safe haven and supplies in the otherwise empty, and lifeless, desert. Once their quarry was settled, all Diamond had to do was tug on the line and the catch would be reeled in. Were the roles reversed, the pony that came up with it would probably get a hoofbump from him if they met.

Whilst Rare Diamond’s arrest had removed one issue from the thestrals’ plate, it had brought out another in its place. The fact of the matter was that they were, illegally, holding the duly appointed representative of San Maretonio and Appleloosa Territory prisoner. By the laws of Equestria’ new monarchical government, he had committed no crime in advising the Royal Guard of the location of known threats to Equestria’s security. Even out in the desert, the people of San Maretonio would not sit idly by, while their governor was held captive. Dusk knew they needed to get ahead of the issue, and quickly. There was also the small matter of explaining to the ponies of San Maretonio that, over the next few days, their sleepy border town could potentially become a war zone.

It wasn’t that long before the first curious ponies cautiously made their way up the front gates of the old Lunar mission. They’d seen Rare Diamond go in, apparently under escort, and he’d not come out since. Whilst nopony thought anything was really amiss, they had after all gotten to know most of the members of the motley group over the course of their stay, they were a little concerned.

Within half an hour, the small band of curious earth ponies had grown to a small crowd, all asking the same question.

“Where they hay is Rare Diamond?” A larger sized stallion bellowed up to the ponies in the gatehouse.

“He’s in here,” replied one of the guards. “Don’t worry; our CO’s gonna come out and explain things in a minute." Turning away from the crowd, the guard called over his companion.

“Tell Colonel Dusk he better get out here now. This crowd’s getting pretty antsy. I’m getting worried about our boys down below in those foxholes.” Indeed, the crowd’s confusion was steadily turning toward anger, and before long somepony would start boiling over.

Having legally arrested Diamond in the name of the legitimate diarchical government of Equestria, Dusk was now hurrying back to the gatehouse above the main entrance to the mission. It was time for him to make a statement about what had just happened. This would go over either fairly smoothly, or it would flare up into a full blown riot. Hay, by comparison, his own civilians were easy to keep under control. For all the hospitality they’d been granted, the thestrals and other lunar supporters were still very much outsiders. It wouldn’t take much for the ponies of San Maretonio to start seeing them as enemies. With Flintlock and Sentry flanking him, Dusk trotted up to the gatehouse to address the ponies below.

As Dusk appeared, the crowd at last began to quieten down. However, the somewhat hostile feeling that it gave off still hung in the air. It was with this feeling pressing down on him, that Dusk began to speak.

“Fillies and gentlecolts,” Dusk began. “I am Colonel Star Dusk, the commander of this detachment. I am here to answer your questions. You are correct in assuming that Governor Rare Diamond is in here. He is currently being detained on charges of high treason against the Kingdom of Equestria.”

The reaction was instantaneous. Shouted questions drowned each other out and temper’s quickly flared. The reaction wasn’t unexpected and Dusk quickly began to try to calm everypony down again.

“Please…please, if you will just listen. I assure you I will explain everything.” At length, the roar dropped to more of a murmur. “It has come to my attention that Rare Diamond has been in communication with the newly reorganised Royal Guard. As I’m sure you are aware, we are attempting to leave Equestria peacefully. We have already been driven from our homes without any good reason, and we are still being chased across this desert. Regardless of what others may say, we are still members of the Equestrian Royal Guard. As such, it is our duty to root out those involved in the usurpation of the throne. We do not recognise this new government, or its authority. As such, by communicating with the enemy, Rare Diamond has committed treason, and shall undergo due process.

“As for ourselves, we will soon be moving out anyway. I for one do not wish to have civilians in the line of fire between ourselves and the rebel forces. Upon our departure, we shall turn Rare Diamond over to the custody of local law enforcement”

At this promise of eventually releasing the governor, most of the concerns appeared to quieten down. Plus, Dusk’s little statement about the current plight of the thestrals helped sway some ponies. After all, whilst it had been what could be called a swing seat, Appleloosa Territory had leaned more toward the Lunar side during the war. However, there was still one pony who was not satisfied. Out of the crowd Dusk saw a familiar mare emerge. It was Crystal Leaf; the governor’s wife.

“And what exactly do you plan to do to my husband then?” she asked, concern and noticeable anger clear in her voice. Picking the mare out from the assembled crowd, Dusk quickly had a couple guards escort her away. For all they knew, she had been in on Diamond’s scheme as well. That and it would be better to discuss such matters privately. As she was escorted away, Dusk however did address her question.

“Rare Diamond shall not be harmed whilst in our custody. He is currently being detained in our cells. Given the current political situation, as the most senior officer of the Royal Guard present, I have the authority to bring to order a special court of justice to settle the matter. Other officers shall serve in the various offices. Diamond will be entitled to a defence, and will have an opportunity to explain his actions and prove his innocence.”

This was something of a stretch on Dusk’s part. As with almost every situation conceivable, there were procedures in place to cope, if the typical norms of law and order broke down. However, the ‘special court of justice’ was not what you might expect from a normal trial. It would be a military court, running under martial law. The court possessed wide ranging powers, up to and including donning the black cap. The rules of the court would also be military in nature, being that of a tribunal and disregarding some of the laws of a civil court.

The whole thing had been devised as a way of keeping order, even if the entirety of the Equestrian government collapsed, as it almost had on a couple of occasions. These kinds of procedures had only been implemented haphazardly when Discord had first attempted to stake his claim on Equestria. It had been considered during the brief appearance of Scorpan and Tirek, but that crisis was over before such measures were implemented. This was the first time the so-called ‘shadow judiciary’ was actually put into practice. And of course, it never assumed half the government would still be functioning and hostile to the other half.

Escorting Crystal Leaf personally, with Flintlock and Sentry breaking off to continue overseeing the evacuation of the civilians, Dusk made his way into one of the larger store rooms in the Moonflower. As there was a need for such things to maintain discipline, the residents of the Moonflower had fashioned this small structure into a rudimentary jail. Large eyebolts on the floor allowed for prisoners to be clapped in irons, while rudimentary wooden walls kept prisoners apart.

It was here that Rare Diamond now found himself. Aside from a ruffled mane and clothes from his brief fight, the stallion looked quite normal. Around his right hind leg, a large clasp had been locked on, this was connected to a chain which fed through the eyebolt and back again, thus chaining him to the floor and limiting his movement. As Dusk entered with Crystal Leaf following, he looked up.

His wife looked tired if nothing else. She had hardly been able to comprehend the tale Dusk had told her. She initially dismissed it as vile lies. Knowing her husband, she knew he was incapable of such actions. Then, when Dusk went on, she did all she could to try and prove his innocence. But by the time they began the walk to the cell, all of those had been cast aside, and now she was moving into the second stage of the coping process; anger. However, Diamond did not yet realise this.

“Ah, so now you incarcerate my wife,” he said, venom in his voice. “To garner more secrets from me, or just for your own amusement?” Dusk snorted in quite real surprise.

“I am a soldier, Diamond, not a monster. Your wife is not under any kind of duress. I am merely allowing her to visit you. Undoubtedly you wish to make arrangements to cope with your absence.” Naturally, taking away one of the most important ponies in the territory was bound to eventually cause problems. Crystal Leaf could help greatly, acting as a liaison of sorts.

“Never mind that!” Crystal interjected. She looked down at her husband. “Is it true? Is it true what the colonel has told me? You’ve been helping those roving bands butcher fleeing ponies?” Diamond scowled at her.

“I’ve been helping to protect us!” he replied angrily. “The colonel here, and his kin are a threat to us all. They serve that vile demon…” Dusk again struck him across the face, silencing him. Ironically, had he let him continue, he would have heard about Nightmare Moon, and perhaps understood why he and the thestrals were pursued so heavily.

“They are still ponies though,” Crystal replied, biting back her anger. Her dark eyes looked like black coals, with a piercing gaze to match. “They could have killed you when they realised what you did. Yet instead they showed you mercy, and are willing to give you a trial.”

“Bah! You mean a show trial,” Diamond replied, rolling his eyes.

“I think that’s almost more than you deserve!” Crystal countered. “How many deaths are you responsible for? Not just these guards, but ordinary ponies, mares, foals. Foals for Celestia’s sake!” On that front, Diamond seemed to lack a sufficient response. Thoroughly disgusted by her husband’s actions, Crystal took her leave, not saying another word to Diamond. Dusk promptly followed her out of the cell and back out into the courtyard.

The exchange had clearly been hard on her. Dusk could not blame her; it was a lot to take in. Her husband had gone from a respectable gentlecolt to a mass murderer by proxy in a single evening. She tried to breathe slowly, but it only came out as shuddering gasps and the occasional sob. Not knowing what else to do, Dusk merely wrapped a foreleg around her, and held her close. At length, she composed herself and prised herself loose.

“I am truly sorry, Colonel,” she said, dabbing her still moist eyes with a handkerchief.

“Don’t be,” Dusk replied. “You couldn’t have known what he was doing.” Crystal snorted angrily.

“He let you into our home, made you his guest, his friend. And yet all the time, he was plotting to betray you.” Slowly, she composed herself. “What will happen now then?”

“The civilians will be moving out soon enough. They’ll do their best to get as far away from here as they can. It’ll take some time for the rest of us to be ready to head off to engage the enemy. I suppose between now and then, we will conduct court proceedings.”

“I see. Do you mind if I, or anypony else, wishes to attend?” Crystal asked. Dusk thought; technically these courts were military only, and not subject to the same rules as a civil court. If he wanted to, he could exclude all non-essential personnel. But given the situation, it was probably best to be as transparent as possible.

“I suppose that would be alright,” he said at length. “But please remember that this will be a military court in wartime. So it may not be quite what they expect.” Crystal nodded in understanding.

With nothing further holding her up, Crystal Leaf departed, heading back firstly to the still waiting crowd and then on to the town. Dusk fancied that she might find herself as an interim leader for the moment. Given how the other ponies respected her, she seemed up to the task. Still, there would be trying times ahead. The trial would not be a pleasant experience.

Officially, it was still a court, with a defence and prosecution. However, given the situation, it was certain that Diamond would be convicted. Treason in wartime carried only one sentence. In that sense, he was right to call it a show trial. Dusk almost thought about turning the earth pony loose; he did after all have more important concerns. But, on the other hoof, justice needed to be done.

It was decided to set up the court in the mess, as it was the largest building in the mission, second only to the temple itself. Father Moonapple was adamant that such a sanctuary would not be used for a trial of any sort. The tables were quickly moved out of the way, and the large open space was rearranged to resemble at least, a courtroom. At the front was the long table with three chairs which would hold the three judges. As the most senior officers present, such a role would fall upon Dusk, Flintlock, and Sentry, the latter of whom decided he was certainly moving up in the world. Due to the unusual nature of the court, they would double as the prosecution. At any other time, this would naturally be entirely illegal, but under the rules of these special courts, such things were permissible, mainly because it was expected that there would be many cases to go through, most open and shut, and ending with a defendant being taken outside.

However, the defendant’s right to have an advocate to manage their defence still remained. Certainly not a job for volunteers; at least not ones without bias. Initially, it was suggested that the remaining officers draw lots to see who got the singular dishonour of defending Rare Diamond. However, this was quickly overruled when Diamond expressed his desire to stand as a pro per; acting as his own defence. With that argument settled, the necessary paperwork was drawn up and the court was called to order.

Naturally, the majority of the residents of San Maretonio attended, being escorted in groups to the ad hoc courthouse by the guards. In addition, under escort, Corporal Arrow Head; the captured guard, was also brought out to appear as a hostile witness for the prosecution. Again, doing away somewhat with the niceties of the civil court, he was all but compelled to testify, lest he be implicated. Or at least, so he was told.

And so, with everypony settled in, and all preparations complete, the ‘trial’ such as it was, began.

The whole procedure was a fairly short affair, both by necessity as the thestral’s time ticked away, and as there was little doubt as to Diamond’s guilt. Once Crystal Leaf had left, evidently word had spread through the town like wildfire. Like most ponies, the townsfolk were appalled at Diamond’s actions, particularly when one considered the extent to which the region had managed to escape the war. Add to that the sheer vindictiveness of his actions, and many in their number were baying for his blood.

The trial lasted a little over an hour. Given its nature, it would be pointless to give a blow by blow account. It began with the charges being confirmed and the presentation of evidence, namely testimony from Arrow Head. As he was to be turned over to the locals here in San Maretonio, he quickly realised it was in his interest to shift as much of the blame as possible away from himself. He explained in detail how Diamond had reached out to his commanding officer when they first swept the town when the second war began. With the new message abilities found in enchanted dragon fire, the Royal Guard and Diamond had established a horribly efficient system for ensuring nopony else made it to the Badlands.

Diamond of course, was given an opportunity to defend himself and explain his actions. However, knowing that such actions would do him no good, he tried a different tack. Since his punishment would be administered by his own people rather than Dusk’s, there was a chance he could revive some old loyalty from them. Instead of offering a defence, he criticised the court and questioned its right to charge him, going so far as to call it illegal. He went on to claim that the guards were little more than fleeing terrorists and deserved the fate he had planned for them.

This did little to sway anypony. Over the last week, the two communities had become quite close to one another, and his stories of ‘lunar atrocities’ didn’t really wash when the genuine article was in the same room.

With his ranting over, the court passed sentence. The expected outcome was the only one available. The penalty for treason, in war or peace, was death. Out here on the frontier, that meant death by hanging. Indeed, a few ponies had even been callous enough to bring a noose with them. However, in a surprising turn, Dusk, and Dusk alone, relented.

Before all the assembled ponies, he admitted that the court was indeed a far cry from the trial Diamond was entitled to. As servants of a princess, they were supposedly the guardians of law, justice, and harmony. To sentence Diamond to death in such conditions as those they faced, would undermine all that. They would be betraying the very government, albeit in exile, that they claimed to defend. And so, to everypony’s surprise, the court placed Diamond under house arrest, thereby turning him over to the people of San Maretonio. Once Equestria had settled again, he would stand trial, properly.

And just like that, the court disbanded.

“You want to enlighten me as to what you just did?” Flintlock asked Dusk as they entered his office.

“I took the most appropriate course of action. You were there, you heard my reasons.” The colonel moved to stand behind his desk. Flintlock snorted angrily.

“And you’re just going to let him go?” he asked incredulously.

“No, I did no such thing. Flint, think for moment. Given what they’ve just sat through, do you think Diamond has a friend left in all of Appleloosa Territory? It’s probably only the fact that we didn’t hang him high that’s keeping him alive.”

“That sorry excuse for a stallion is responsible for maybe thousands of deaths!” Flintlock replied, seething.

“And killing him will of course bring them back,” Dusk replied, equally scathing. “Besides, do you really want to kill a stallion in front of his wife?” Flintlock had no answer for that. “Diamond, and Arrow Head, will face justice. Later. Right now, we have more serious things to worry about.” Snorting again, but apparently accepting his commanding officer’s words, he had after all been treading a fine line arguing with him, Flintlock changed the subject.

“The evacuation group is almost ready to move out. There’s going to be about a dozen guards with them, mostly some of the older guards and a few youngsters. They’ll head for the Badlands as soon as possible.”

“Good,” Dusk said, the usual warmth returning to his voice. “And how about ourselves?”

“Most of my guys are ready to move out as soon as it gets dark.” This time, they’d attack at night, anything to tip the overwhelming odds in their favour. “I’ve had a few patrols out scouting, but no sign of the Bright Lights yet.” Dusk sat down, leaning back in his chair.

“That’s going to be the hardest part, finding them. We find them first, we lash out, and they take the bait. But if, Luna forbid, we miss each other, they’ll catch up the civilians and we’ll all be up a creek.”

“Then sir, we find them first,” Flintlock replied, a confident gleam in his eye. Dusk smiled, glad to have his friend back again. He had been worried that his sudden change of heart regarding Diamond would create a schism between them. That was the last thing he wanted. However, their short reconciliation was suddenly interrupted as they were joined by Swift Sentry, who had been overseeing the final loose ends of the evacuation. Poking his head through the open door, he called out to Dusk.

“Colonel, the civilian column is ready to move out now,” he reported dutifully. The two higher ranking stallions quickly got to their hooves. Dusk had made a point to see them all off.

Heading outside, Dusk and Flintlock found the Moonflower much quieter than it had previously been. All of the visitors from Sam Maretonio had departed not too long ago. They’d taken both Rare Diamond as well as Corporal Arrow Head. The latter would ultimately be turned loose once the thestrals were safely away. However, Diamond was to be incarcerated within his home. He would not have the niceties he was accustomed to, nor would he wield the authority he once did. Again, as with Arrow Head, once the incident was over and done with this punishment would be lifted. However, Diamond would not be released, the townsponies planned to petition Princess Celestia herself. Even among the thestrals, it was understood that Celestia herself was not the driving force behind their current situation.

Briefly trotting up onto the ramparts of the Moonflower, the pair were able to look down on the assembled column. It was almost as Dusk remembered it; a long, vast line of ponies, wagons, carriages, and carts. Each filled to the brim with possessions and supplies. All but a few were civilians. Many were now being separated from loved ones; husbands, brothers, sons, and fathers, who were serving in the guard.

They all had a long journey ahead of them, although the end was now in sight. They would continue their long march south towards Equestria’s borders, eventually entering the Badlands, and ultimately reaching their new home in the mountains there. They would all be safe, free to rebuild their lives as best they could. So that one day, when the princess freed herself, they would be able to return and take their place at her side.

As Dusk looked on, he saw a few ponies making their final farewells to those who were staying at the Moonflower. Unbeknownst to all of them, this would be the last time they would see each other. With a final signal from Dusk, the column steadily began to move out, the tiny guard detail doing its best to keep up a protective ring around them.

The guards all lingered on the ramparts for a while, waving goodbye to their friends and family. Only when the large crowd of ponies had gotten a fair ways off, did they stop and head back to their work.

“Well, that’s two problems dealt with,” Dusk said, mainly to himself. “Now we just have to defeat the entire Royal Guard.”

Author's Note:

Proofread by ThatPonyWithASword.

And that is Rare Diamond dealt with. Originally when I wrote this, the trial scene was much more detailed. But reading it, it just all felt like filler to me. All that really matters to the story is the outcome. With Diamond out of the way and civilians heading towards a safe haven, it is now time to step into the next act of the story.

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