• Published 29th Feb 2016
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Trials of a Royal Guard - Anzel



Duty, honor, and loyalty above all else. That was what Silent Knight had been told ever since he was a colt. They had guided him all his life and he was more than ready to follow in his father’s hoofsteps by dedicating himself to the Royal Guard.

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1. Welcome to Nordanver

Nordanver. Why had I come back to Nordanver? This was where everything had changed. This was where things had started to go wrong for Equestria. It was here that I’d been ambushed and my ponies had been killed, all in an attempt to assassinate Princess Luna. It was here where my life had started to go off the rails.

Now I was back. It had been a miracle that I’d survived the first time. Not just physically, either, but mentally and emotionally. Was I ready for this again? Probably not. Despite that, when the crowns required warriors, I did what every Knight before me had done: I answered the call. I was here to help the Nordanver gryphons protect their kingdom and expel the forces of their southern neighbors, Sudramoar.

That is the core of the Knight family values. When Equestria called upon its warriors, as rare as that was, we answered whether we wanted to or not. I was not ready but I had too big of a stake in this to let other ponies fight for me.

From my vantage on the deck of the TMS Honor, the entire northern kingdom looked peaceful and calm. We were, after all, currently far from the front. General Ironhoof and his staff would begin meeting with King Ranald today to formulate a plan.

“Deep in thought, Silent Knight?” the general’s voice came from my side. He was tall, stocky, and had a pristinely maintained coat. He had his signature flat-top mane, but its famous jet black color had faded to almost all gray at this point. His coat had, too, but he still looked as fit as any young pony I knew.

“Yes, sir. I never thought I’d see this place again,” I replied.

“That is the way it is. I hoped I’d never see Sudramoar again but that is how it is. We’ll do it right this time, though. No half steps, no restrictions, and no leaving those we can't trust at our back.”

The general was speaking about the last war and make no mistake, it had been a war even if we called it a peacekeeping operation. At the request of King Kronson of Sudramoar, ponies had been dispatched to protect his citizens while he fought it out with King Alfwer of Austveger.

Things had quickly turned bad with both the ponies and gryphon civilians caught in the middle. Our 'allies' from Sudramoar fell into attacking us alongside the Austveger gryphons. That was my father’s war. That had led to turning him into a cold and distant parent who let his hoof do the talking as he trained me to be a soldier.

This war, however, was mine. What would it do to me? How would I approach my foals? Assuming I ever had the opportunity to have any with Crystal Wishes.

“I understand, sir,” I replied absently.

Off to the north, the TMS Harmony slowly pulled into position above the city of Margull. She was beautiful even after being loaded full of royal guards and supplies. Truly the most amazing ship ever to sail the skies.

“It's wrong,” the general said softly.

“Sir?”

“To turn a vessel like that, with her entitlement, into a warship. It's wrong. There is nothing harmonious about war. If we’d had more time, I’d have insisted we not use it, but that is the nature of conflict. Foolish kings never wait for my convenience.”

“That they don’t, sir.”

He nodded and then turned his attention to Clement Knight. “Sergeant Major, see that our chariots are ready. I want the headquarters off this ship and set up before my first meeting with King Ranald.”

“Yes, sir!” Clement replied before tending to his duties.

During my life, I had not spent much time with my father’s father. My mother hated him and didn’t want him around Winterspear and me. It had been a shock to find out we’d be serving together. A shock and an embarrassment. Our first words to each other were not kind.

To be fair, Stratus Knight hadn’t really liked him much, either, and I’m sure they shared many unkind words, too. Perhaps sour relationships with our fathers was the nature of this family.

And yet, while my father had died in an accident caused by his own foolishness, here was Clement Knight, Sergeant Major, Senior NCO to General Ironhoof, serving in the same unit as his grandson. We’d kept it all professional since exchanging those tense words. That was for the best.

Clement Knight had given up his wife, his family, and everything else for the Equestrian Army. He was the model soldier. Good for him... and good for me that I’d figured out that wasn’t what I wanted in life.

“Captain Knight,” the general said, using my rank. That meant orders were coming. He always switched back and forth between Silent and Captain depending on whether it was a military matter or just personal.

“Yes, sir?”

“I want you to go over the topographic maps for the Rindaire Province. You’re going to be my expert there. If we’re going to help the Nordanver army, we’re going to need to see every angle and know every surprise. If there is a cave, stream, footpath, or rabbithole, I want you to know it. Am I clear?”

“Crystal, sir!”

He nodded. “Then get to it as soon as we’re surface side. I’ve had my fill of clouds. I’ll leave it to you pegasi.”

“Yes, sir.”

Topographic maps were something I understood very well. They were important even in a battle where both sides' soldiers could all fly. Fighting was exhausting. So was flying with a full battle kit. Flying and fighting while in a battle kit was triply so. Whether soldiers had wings or not, a lot of battles actually take place on the ground.

I excused myself and leapt off the deck of the Honor. There was no sense taking a spot on a chariot. I’d just fly down to the surface and help prep the headquarters. The closer I got, however, the more my right forehoof trembled. I’d been to this city before. Twice, actually, although the second time I was so near death I’d been oblivious to it.

Nordanver. Why had I come back to Nordanver?

King Ranald had offered us a hall for our headquarters. This would be central command until we were ready to move south. It wasn’t bad as far as locations go. It was near the palace, dry, and large enough to get the work done.

I stood off to the side going over topographic maps while the enlisted ponies moved everything in and started to get set up. It almost seemed like a waste but, then again, maybe not. The Royal Guard could take over once we moved out.

“No, over there! Do I have to do it myself?” I heard Clement Knight order sternly.

“No, Sergeant Major!” some poor pony replied in fear.

I didn’t pay them much mind. My thoughts were focused on Rindaire. It was an ugly place to fight. The ground was rocky, there were lots of places to hide, and the foothills provided ample defensive positions. It wouldn’t be easy to dislodge a dug-in defender.

That is, most likely, why King Kronson had executed his plan the way he did. He’d caught the Nordanver gryphons by surprise and unprepared. Plus, he’d used overwhelming force to do so. Then his generals had started to build up their position there before they advanced north. It was a sound strategy.

I guess they hadn’t anticipated our involvement, but what can you do? Sometimes your assassin fails to kill the alicorn target. Live and learn.

“Captain?” Clement Knight asked, looking over my shoulder.

“Yes, Sergeant Major?”

“If you’d prefer to sit, I’ve got your desk step up already,” he said, his tone flat.

I turned to him and then looked into the room. Sure enough, there were two stations ready: General Ironhoof’s and mine. “Thanks, Sergeant Major. I’ll use the desk but I prefer to stand. Give the chair to somepony who needs it.”

“Yes, sir!”

I rolled up my maps and carried them over to the desk only to spread them out again. North of Rindaire was mostly plains and at a lower elevation. Not an ideal place to base an attack from.

“Sergeant Major, where is my desk?” a voice called from the back of the hall and I turned to look.

It was Colonel Hammer. Lightning Hammer. Yes, his parents had actually named him that. Both were royal guards and he came from an extremely long line just like me.

Colonel Hammer was the headquarters battalion commander and, from what I understood, one seriously powerful unicorn. He was the one that had relieved us in Canterlot when the cockatrices had attacked.

His coat was as black as night, his mane was yellow, and he had piercing amber eyes. Most ponies gave him a wide berth because, while polite, he was a no-nonsense officer.

“You’re next, Colonel. We’ve got the general and the tactician set up. I suspected you’d be with the brigadiers.”

“You suspected right. I’ll share Silent Knight’s desk until you’re done. Make it quick, though. I didn’t like some of what I heard and I have orders to write and have the general sign off on.”

“Yes, sir!”

My grandfather motioned at several ponies. “You heard the colonel! Get his desk set up now!”

They scrambled to do so.

When the colonel came over, I stood at attention and he waved a hoof. “Don’t do that. I accept that you respect me. I respect you. We’re good. I see you’re already at work. How does it look?”

“Bad. Really bad.”

“Yeah? Fill me in.”

I briefed him on the situation. The hills, the rocks, the hardpoints, the surrounding area. All of it. He stood there, unmoving. When I finished, he shook his head. “Better them than us. I want a written report immediately. We’ll need to present it to the boss and the feather commander.”

Feather commander. I snorted softly. Evidently, Lighting Hammer didn’t like gryphons that much, either, but that was no surprise, really. His parents had been in the last war, too. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. We’ll need to move on this quick before the bas—”

The door opened and a gaggle of ponies marched in. They were following General Ironhoof. “Sergeant Major!”

“You’re up front, sir!” Clement Knight responded.

The general made his way towards his desk. “Good. All of the rest of you, find a spot. We’re going to do this quick before heading over to meet with King Ranald.”

The ponies that were in the general’s wake were mostly known to me. There were the various members of the military headquarters staff, what looked to be some civilian ponies who were probably right out of the palace, and a third group that lingered around a very familiar pony: Val.

Ironhoof continued, “Listen up, everypony. I’m sorry to welcome you here to Margull, but this is going to be our home for a while. You’re all professionals and I know I don’t need to tell you that but sometimes it is nice to hear. For most of us, this isn’t our first rodeo. For some, it is.

“In either case, we’re going to get the job done right. Now we don’t have a lot of time. We know the Sudramoar are building up their defenses and massing for an attack. Our allies want to launch a preemptive strike. We’ll support their war effort as best we can. That means we offer them the best intelligence, advice, and data we can.

“You are all the tip of this spear. Everypony in this room is going to play a far greater part than I can impress upon you. I need you at your best. Make me proud. Before we go, though, I want to go around the room.”

The general pointed at what looked to be the lead civilian pony. “This is Ambassador Freehoof. She will be representing Equestria during this time. We’ll be keeping her in the loop with most everything we do.”

He then turned and pointed to Val. “This is deputy director Maya of the Equestrian Intelligence Service, Nordanver division. She’ll be working with our intelligence section.

“We can all get to know each other later, but these are the players. You’ll all have desks somewhere in here. Alright, ponies, we have a meeting in one hour. I need all of your reports and any information you have on my desk in half that time. Get to it!”

Controlled chaos followed. We started writing reports, consolidating data, and putting it all together. The general was tough but it all had a purpose. Do the job right the first time to minimize the risks and losses. I could get behind that.

Margull Castle was familiar to me. I’d lived there for a few weeks during our diplomatic mission. The tone inside its walls was quite different this time, however. There was no jubilation or excitement over seeing ponies. It was all business.

King Ranald was hunched over a map with his military staff surrounding him. General Ironhoof and the rest of us were opposite of them. This was their kingdom and their war. We were just there to provide support. As such, most of our assistance, thus far, had been logistical.

“It seems clear to me Kronson does not intend to be satisfied with what he has gained. It is far more likely that he will advance further north. General Ironhoof, is that what you believe as well?” King Ranald asked.

“Yes, Your Majesty. From the information our intelligence services have reported, the Sudramoar gryphons are fortifying and massing. They’re also expelling or interning non-gryphons. That is going to make getting any information through our channels more difficult.

“Additionally, I’ve had one of my tacticians looking over the province and terrain. They are greatly advantaged where they are. Our recommendation is to either move fast or pull back. We fee—”

“Pull back?” a brown-feathered gryphon in a very exaggerated uniform cut in. “You want us to pull back and give up more of our sovereignty? Absolutely not! We will wipe the filth from our lands.”

So, moving fast was the plan.

King Ranald waved a claw. “Forgive us, General Ironhoof. We are very passionate about this and sometimes speak out of turn.” He then shot the uniformed gryphon a look. “Field Marshal Skye is most eager to see this conflicted ended. As am I. I believe we have enough to start. What is the status on your forces?” His eyes briefly flicked to me before returning to the general.

“The Equestrian Army is here and ready to go. I’ve already deployed most of them south to provide a buffer. They have stopped well north of Rindaire and set up in a favorable position. It is unlikely your enemies will be able to come that far.

“Royal guards continue to come in shiploads at a time. There is a receiving facility that is coordinating their stations. That will obviously be something that will take a lot of time as we’re pulling individuals and creating new organizations. Commander Tsunami is in charge of that effort and there are few ponies better.”

“Very good. Thank you, General. I think for now that will be all. If you could spare him, I would like to have a word with Silent Knight. He is known to me,” King Ranald said.

General Ironhoof nodded. “He is at your service, sir. Everypony else, come along. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The general and his staff marched out and off to work. I lingered behind, wondering what this was going to be about. I was known to the king. I’d walked behind him on Princess Luna’s security detail. However, we had not spoken together.

“Leave us,” King Ranald said, waving his ministers and generals out. Once they were gone, he looked me over. “I am surprised to see you here. You are Princess Luna’s bodyguard, are you not?”

“I was, Your Majesty. Now I work for General Ironhoof’s headquarters.”

He nodded. “I see. It is a shame that you no longer walk behind her. I know how devastating it can be to lose a good bodyguard. You knew Alton, after all. He and I were close.”

My coat bristled slightly as the gryphon’s face flashed in my mind. “Yes, sir. I would say I called him friend. We bonded quickly in our short time together. His death angered me greatly.”

Greatly was probably an understatement. Alton’s death, in addition to the loss of my ponies, had set me on a path of retribution. A path that had led me here.

A grave look crossed the gryphon king’s face. “Yes, I felt a great deal of anger and grief. Grief for him and for my kingdom. That such a thing could happen here is inexcusable. It was difficult to explain to the families of the gryphons that were lost how their loved ones were killed by supposed allies.”

“The letters to the families of our ponies were difficult, too. I empathize with you, Your Majesty.”

“Indeed. We will have many more letters to write before this is over.” He reached into his robe and produced a pendant. It was simple. Nothing more than a strand of some sort of fiber looped through a hole in a grey stone.

“This was Alton’s. A gift from his father to him when he became a soldier. You see, he came from a family of poor, unsuccessful farmers. Despite that, he grew strong, learned what he could, and managed to join our military. This was all his father could give him when he left. I want you to have it.” He offered it to me.

“Majesty?” I reached out, my hoof shaking slightly. This was a memory. This was a treasure. What business did I have with it?

“He’d have wanted you to have it. Alton always appreciated other soldiers and I’ve never been one. You are, though. Now you come to fight for my people.” He set the pendant into my hoof.

I brought the pendant to my chest and held it tightly. “Thank you, sir. Alton’s family… how are they now?”

“They will never want for anything again,” he said, turning towards the door. “I have duties to attend. Thank you for coming to save my kingdom.”

“I could do nothing else, sir. Thank you once more.”

He turned and left me alone in the room. What else could I do? Alton flew up to do recon and was killed. It could have been me. Then I’d gone after Alastair. What a mess. I slipped the pendant into the small pouch under my armor.

It was time to get to work. Do the job, focus on the tasks before me, and get home to my wife.

What a long day. I’d had long days as a royal guard but my heart had been in that. Now it wasn’t. Sure, I was committed but a piece of me was waiting back home, worried. It was time to sit down and send her a letter.

I settled a blank sheet of paper out on my desk and started to write.

Dear Crystal Wishes

I—

“Sir,” Clement Knight’s voice said,

Of course. I looked up. “Yes, Sergeant Major?”

“Working late?”

“No, I’m trying to write a letter to my wife. What do you need?”

“The scouts brought some new information for you. Evidently, there was a pretty bad flood a month or so back and the maps don’t reflect it.” He offered me the stack of documents.

I peered at him. “You brought these yourself? This late at night?” That was most certainly not the duty of the sergeant major.

Clement Knight shifted. “Yes, sir. I assumed you were the sort to work late. You could have spent all night working on bad data. That would be a waste.”

I nodded. “Thank you, Sergeant Major, you’re right. That could have happened. Dismissed.”

He stiffened briefly to attention and walked away. My focus turned back to the letter.

I’m sorry that I didn’t get to write you sooner. As you probably surmised we are—

“Sir?”

“Yes, Sergeant Major? What is it?”

He was back at my desk. He stood there a moment as if making up his mind about something. Finally, he said, “Was Stratus Knight treated with respect afterwards?”

What? I set my pencil down. “He was treated with dignity. His wishes were respected and I personally returned him to the wind and sky from which he was born.”

Clement nodded. “Good… good… thank you.” He turned and walked off.

I’d never heard of my grandfather express any interest in sentiment before. According to my mother, he was even more extreme than Stratus. I guess we Knights have been mellowing over the generations, although the idea of Stratus being mellow was laughable. I would have hated to see my great-grandfather if that was the case.

Back to my letter.

As you probably surmised we are extremely busy helping the gryphons prepare for the upcoming battles. Our forces have been deployed south but not into the province in conflict. I am personally with the headquarters unit that is far from the front.

It is not what I expected for a war but it eases the guilt I feel over what I’ve done to you and our relationship. I have not treated you wit—

“Sir?”

I took a soft breath and hid my irritation. “Yes, Sergeant Major?”

“I understand that you don’t have any fondness and familiarity toward me,” he said.

My brow arched and I set my pencil down to meet his gaze. He looked determined. A good war face plastered on. There was something off, though. Perhaps doubt? Good soldiers can always see when it is faked for the sake of morale.

“Yes?” How was I supposed to answer that? It was true. I didn’t know him, I didn’t care for him. He just reminded me of Stratus and I still had unresolved anger there.

“As is fair. I have no other family. My son is dead. You are my grandson whether you like it or not. My wish is that when I leave this world, you show me the same dignity and respect you showed your father. Will you do that for me?”

My ears folded back. This was not a conversation I was expecting to have. I disliked him, sure, but I wouldn’t deny him a wish. A soldier’s last request. “I give you my word, Clement, that I’ll do so. Exactly as you wish and exactly as I did for Stratus. One soldier for another. Blood for blood.”

Blood, but not family. Family cared about each other. Clement and I shared blood, but that was about it. He cared about the Army. But I could do as he asked. Everypony should have their last wish.

“Good. Thank you, Son… sir. I’ll leave you to your letter.”

“You’re welcome.”

I waited this time. He got halfway across the room and it looked like he might actually leave. Emotion suddenly swelled inside me. He just wanted to know somepony cared enough to see to him after he departed. I couldn’t be so cold. I was a different kind of Knight.

“Sergeant Major,” I called.

“Yes, sir?” he asked, looking back.

“Try not to leave this world any time soon. I don’t think the general would approve and I am not interested in a new sergeant major that doesn’t know how to do your job.”

Clement Knight nodded sternly. “Yes, sir. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, dismissed,” I replied.

Clement left and I turned back to my letter.

I balled it up and threw it away. It was time to start over.

My beloved Crystal Wishes

Author's Note:

Welcome to Trials of a Royal Guard, the final story in the "of a Royal Guard" trilogy. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to share this with you all. We've got a lot of ground cover and will be doing so in three major arcs.

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

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