• Published 17th Nov 2016
  • 2,917 Views, 91 Comments

The Prisoner of Zebra - Tumbleweed

Flash Sentry: hero, heart breaker ... and self-admitted coward. For the first time, he details his own undeserved rise to heroism (as well as the trouble such a reputation brings him) in his own words.

  • ...

Flash Sentry and the Percheron Conspiracy

The key to maintaining a heroic reputation is humility. If you start strutting about and waggling your medals in everypony's face, they'll rightly label you a boor and stop inviting you to parties. However, if you just put on a brave face and spout off some malarkey along the lines of, “I was just doing my duty. Anypony would, in my horseshoes,” you'll never have to pay for your own drinks ever again. A little bit of mystery can only help.

I steadfastly refused to talk about just what I'd done the day of the wedding-- within a week, I went from slaying one changeling and capturing another to trading blows with the Changeling Queen herself, cutting a swath through the invaders' ranks like a thresher through a wheat field. I didn't confirm these rumors … but I didn't deny them, either.

By the time I was released from the hospital, my overinflated legend had been cemented. Admittedly, Twilight Sparkle and her friends were even more lauded than I was, but they lived in Ponyville. Therefore, whenever somepony wanted a great hero to make an appearance to liven up their party, they invited me.

Without the looming threat of invasion hanging over the city, the Royal Guard had no responsibility beyond standing around and looking impressive. Plus, with Captain Armor whisking off on honeymoon with Princess Cadenza, it was even easier to shirk anything that sounded like proper work. Thus, I had ample opportunity to enjoy the myriad pleasantries Canterlot's high society had to offer. Which is how I wound up Fancy Pants' domicile for the sake of a party. Again, if I'd known what sort of trouble I was getting into, I would've burned Fancy Pants' invitation. But, that's hindsight for you.

Fancy Pants lived in a sprawling but pleasant villa at the far outskirts of Canterlot. It was a long distance from the changeling-ravaged center of town- or anywhere else, for that matter. While Fancy Pants' house was far from the center Canterlot culture, you couldn't tell once you got inside. He had enough sculptures and portraiture lining his walls to start his own art museum. For all I knew, perhaps he had. Then again, most museums I'd set foot tended to have far more patrons than Fancy Pants' study did. The monocled and mustachio'd unicorn was the only other pony present-- which made for somewhat of an awkward party, let me tell you.

“I haven't arrived early, have I?” I said, even as Fancy Pants poured me a whiskey.

“Oh no, you're right on time.”

“Then … where is everypony else?” I perked my ears and looked over the back of the high-backed chair Fancy Pants had steered me into.

“It's an exclusive gathering.” Fancy Pants noted.

“Just … how exclusive?”


“But … there will be ladies in attendance, yes?” I blurted. “I mean, er. Not that I can't appreciate the occasional spot of male bonding, but I've found that a female presence often adds a great deal to just about any gathering.” There were occasional rumors of just how much 'fancy' Fancy Pants put in his namesake, of course, but I'd paid them little heed. And even if such rumors were true, that just meant more opportunity for me to impress some lovely mares with my heroic demeanor and impressive plumage.

“Ah, yes.” Fancy Pants waved one hoof-- and if on cue, two young ladies entered the study. The first was a tall, elegant unicorn I recognized as Fleur de Lys-- Fancy Pants' best friend, or lover, or distant relation, or some combination of those three, depending on who you asked. I didn't recognize the other: an earth pony with a voluminous orange mane. She was pretty enough, in a solid sort of way.

I sprung to my hooves, and favored the pair with a thoroughly dashing smile. “Ladies.”

Fleur silently countered with a mysterious smile of her own, while the earth pony just nodded-- polite, but not exactly friendly.

“Allow me to introduce my good friends-- Fleur de Lys, and Golden Harvest.” Fancy Pants said. Hoofshakes went all around-- I considered kissing the top of the ladies hooves, but I thought the better of it when I saw the stern look in Golden Harvest's eyes.

“A pleasure.” I said.

“And now that everypony's here, we can get on to the important part of the evening?'

“The … important part?” I sipped at my whiskey, and shivered slightly as I felt the liquor sear its way down my gullet. Good stuff, even to my untrained palate.

“Tell me, Flash-- have you ever considered a change in career?” Fancy Pants eyed me from behind his monocle, appraising.

“Can't say that I have. Soldiering is all I know.”

“You're young. There's still plenty of time to learn.”

“True, true. But honestly, I couldn't see myself anywhere else. It's so much of an honor to serve Equestria, after all.”

“An admirable sentiment.” Fancy Pants said. “One that every pony in this room shares with you. It's just that some of us serve Equestria in a somewhat more … roundabout manner.”

“Roundabout?” I glanced over Fleur and Golden in turn.

“Intelligence.” Fancy Pants said. “Information. Clandestine operations. The sort of thing that requires a … delicate touch.”

“Delicate.” I said, and kicked back my whiskey. “I'd be the last pony to handle that sort of work, to be honest.”

“Don't put yourself down, friend.” Fancy Pants idly ran a hoof over his meticulously waxed moustache. “In fact, Lieutenant, you're the only pony who can help us with our … situation.” Fleur de Lys and Golden Harvest just kept watching me, silent.

I nearly choked on my drink. “Situation?” I rasped, and thumped myself on the chest. A tingly sensation started in the tips of my feathers, in a far-too-familiar feeling that things were going to go to hell, and quite soon. “Oh hell, it's not something to do with that changeling I … captured, is it?”

“Not at all.” Fancy Pants said with a knowing smile. “In fact, the less you know about the changeling, the better.”

“Then … what is the situation, exactly?” I asked.

“How well do you know your geography, Flash?” Fancy Pants graciously refilled my glass.

“Not very.” I took another sip, just slow enough not to pour it down my windpipe.

“So I'll presume you've never heard of Perchertania?” Fancy Pants's tone was entirely too casual for my liking.

“Can't say that I have.” I settled back in my chair.

“I suppose I can't fault you that. Perchertania is quite a distance to the southeast. It's a vassal kingdom-- technically independent, but still tied closely to the Equestrian throne. Perchertania is small, but quite important, given its location along several key trade routes. And, in an effort to reinforce those trade ties, Prince Percival Percheron is set to wed Princess Ianthe of Zebrica in just two weeks.”

“Well, jolly for them.” I said. “I just hope their wedding's not nearly as eventful as the recent festivities here.”

“About that.” Fancy Pants said, flatly. “As it stands, Prince Percheron is … indisposed. He's taken ill-- we've got our best doctors working on it, but even their most optimistic prognoses have the Prince bedridden for a month. Maybe longer.”

“So they'll have to delay the wedding? Damnably inconvenient, but there's nothing to be done, I suppose.” I said. My wings shifted a little against the back of the chair as I waited for the other horseshoe to drop.

“Wrong, Lieutenant. On both counts.” Fancy Pants smiled in a way I certainly wasn't comfortable with. “It's more than 'inconvenient.' It's catastrophic. This isn't a romantic wedding-- it's a political one. Every aspect of the ceremony, from the location down to the catering, has been painstakingly negotiated. Rescheduling on such short notice is next to impossible. Not to mention there are political elements within both Perchertania and Zebrica that will take any deviation from the agreed upon preparations as an excuse to call off the wedding … and the alliance. Depending on how things play out, there could even be war. Which, of course, would be against Equestria's interests.”*

*Fancy Pants is not exaggerating here. The Perchetanian/Zebrican Florist Accord is studied by students of international law to this day.

Fancy Pants set his glass down, and then leaned forward. De Lys and Harvest moved to either side of his chair, still silent, still watching.

“But, as luck would have it, there is something we can do. Specifically, something only you can do.”

“I don't understand.” I said, because I didn't.

“Fleur,” said Fancy Pants, “be a dear, and show the Lieutenant Prince Percheron's portrait.”

The tall unicorn's horn glowed, and she levitated a brass-framed photograph over in front of me. At a glance, it looked just like any other royal portrait. Prince Percheron stood tall, wings flared and his chest puffed out, all the better to show off a dazzling array of medals and awards and other decorations. But as I looked closer, past Prince Percheron's bushy moustache, past the faint scars along his hairline, the pieces fell into place. A sleek, sun-darkened coat. A luxuriously combed blue mane. A square jaw, and the sort of big blue eyes that the fillies absolutely die for.

It like looking in a mirror. Maybe one of those magic ones that showed you a terrible future so you could learn a life lesson or somesuch.

“Impossible.” I seized the portrait between my front hooves and looked in closer, looking for signs of forgery or other such chicanery. Not that I knew what to look for, but there had to be something, anything, to show this all to be a cruel and elaborate prank.

“Not impossible. Just improbable.” Fancy Pants said. “The Sentry family has a long, storied lineage-- it's entirely possible one of your great-great-great ancestors sowed some proverbial oats in Perchertania.” He smiled roguishly, and winked his non-monocled eye. “Trust me. I've met Prince Percheron in person. And now that I've met you in person, I can say that you're a dead ringer for the colt.”

“Dead ringer.” I echoed, perhaps putting a little too much emphasis on the 'dead' part.

“So it's simple!” Fancy Pants grinned. “Until Prince Percheron recovers, you'll take his place. I know living the life of pampered royalty isn't your style, Flash, but, well, like you said-- it's an honor to serve Equestria, isn't it? And I dare say this'll be a far better use of your talents than just standing around Princess Celestia's court like an over-polished statue. This mission won't be easy-- but it's small beer compared to what you've been through already, what?”

“This … this is insane.” The portrait fell out of my hooves-- Fleur caught it before it hit the floor. “There's no way you can expect this to work. If these ponies are so twisted up about a wedding, what do you think they'll do when they find out their beloved Prince is an impostor? That'll definitely be war. Plus, it'll be me they throw in a dungeon somewhere.” I paused, realizing I was coming dangerously close to admitting my cowardice. “And I won't be able to do a lick of good for Equestria rotting in some foreign jail.” I added on, if a bit lamely.

“Actually, Perchertania still uses the guillotine for special occasions.” Golden Harvest noted, businesslike.

“My point still stands.” My voice cracked, if slightly.

Fancy Pants poured me another drink. “Which is why you're the perfect colt for the job, Flashy! Most ponies would crack under the pressure-- but you, you I can tell are made of sterner stuff. Already considering how best you can serve Equestria. I've rarely met a pony so devoted to duty as you, sir.” Fancy Pants held a hoof over his heart and looked off into the distance, wistful. A tear glimmered in the corner of his eye. Either Fancy Pants really did believe all this patriotic nonsense, or he was the finest actor I'd ever met.

The unicorn shook his head, and went on. “And don't worry-- Fleur de Lys here is an expert on both Perchertanian and Zebrican etiquette, while Golden Harvest will tutor you on the … strategic situation, as it were. She's also a master of hoof-to-hoof combat, so she'll be giving you a few tips on the Perchertanian style of fighting. Not that your record's not impressive enough, Flashy, but Perchertania has a somewhat more … martial culture than ours. Part of the independent spirit, you know. Might come in handy, too, in case there's an assassination attempt.”

“Assassination?” I felt the blood drain from my face. Repeating the key points of Fancy Pants' planning just seemed to make things worse, but I couldn't help myself.

“Oh, we don't expect anything, but we'll make a few standard precautions.” Fancy Pants waved one hoof airily. “The first of which being that you'll be staying here for the duration of your training, before we catch the airship to Perchertania. We've cleared everything with your commanding officers, of course, so you won't have to worry about being declared a deserter, either. It's all quite official.”

Which meant, in turn, that fleeing from this insane scheme would be seen as desertion, complete with an entirely-too-long jail sentence. I rolled over the options in my head, for just a moment-- a life spent in magic jail vs. one prematurely ended by an assassin's dagger or a revolutionary guillotine? Neither option was particularly appealing. And, of course, criminal charges would ruin my heroic reputation, so any chance of a social life when I got out of prison (if I got out) would be nonexistent.

“When you put it that way, what choice do I have?” I forced a smile, making the damnably true statement into a joke.

“That's the spirit, my lad!” Fancy Pants clinked his glass against mine, beaming. “Any questions before we begin?”

“Er, just one.” I searched, however vainly, for the silver lining. “Just what does Princess Ianthe look like?”