• Published 22nd Sep 2019
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The Princess's Bit - Mitch H

Adventure is nothing but other ponies having a terrible time somewhere picturesque. But you take what you can get, when you take the Princess's bit.

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A Foreign Legion, or, Innocence Abroad

Fish Eye sat on the roof of the coach and aimlessly polished her precious camera, staring unseeing at the greening fields bumping wildly past. She supposed she could be flying, but why fly when you could ride? Nogriff in her family had ever been much for flitting about, not even those half-forgotten fledgeling days before said family had packed up and taken her off into a year's exile.

It was now ten years and counting. And Hawk Eye didn't give a squawk! That crazy mare was happy where she was. Fish Eye could still smell the blood on her lunatic big sister, the hypocrite. She could call it surgery, but the younger hippogriff had grown up with her sister, knew that sadist. Who else would let that maniac dissect ponies and griffons and other thinking creatures on a table, right out there in public and in the sight of everygriff! The military, that's who.

And then that ass had the temerity to yell at Fish Eye for coming out to the Isles to find her way in the world. As if there was space for a grown hippogriff in Equestria. The school had kept her as a sort of mascot, or pet for the popular ponies. So long as she kept herself small, kept up the cute act. Fish Eye knew how to clown about, and play to the 'happy little monster' template that ponies had in their heads.

Even if most of the blunt-muzzled idiots mistook her for a griffon. And couldn't that get awkward? Nopony loved griffons on the mainland, what with the terror bombings and then the long, grinding war in the Isles. After a while, Fish Eye's beak got tired and achy from all the rictus-like grinning, and she started thinking she might as well jump into the griffish pool if she was going to catch all the grief for the shit those vicious cat-birds got up to.

Sometimes Fish Eye tried to remember a time when she wasn't alone among the suspicious and herd-minded. When she was a happy little fledgeling, and not just playing one for the herd.

She'd charmed her way all the way out to the Isles, out to Bridlederry, and it wasn't as bad as ponies said! Well, at least the ponies around here looked confused, rather than hostile. One thing about Griffish Isles ponies, they knew what a griffon looked like.

And Fish Eye didn't look anything like a real griffon. So that was nice.

Of course, it freaked out the real griffons. Whom Fish Eye hadn't actually had the chance to meet before getting on that freighter out of Baltimare. There'd been two deckhoofs working the sails on that slow lug. Deckclaws? Decktalons?

The thing about being mostly educated by ponies, your vocabulary got poisoned by their words, your world-view by their prejudices and peculiarities. Fish Eye barely remembered what lost Aris looked like these days. She'd been too young. There were some faded memories of the skies full of proud-crested, wide-winged hippogriffs like a luminescent cloud, or a volcano erupting pastel-winged predators on the wing for fish and the free air.

But just flashes. Like picture postcards in her head. If she was being honest, home was her room in that rental suite on the edge of the diplomatic quarters. The hippogriffs didn't rate an embassy anymore, after all.

There were no more hippogriffs, none that anypony could find, anyways, aside from a scattering here and there in the provinces and a few ports around the Celestia seas.

Just the damn yeti invaders and their mercenaries, ruthlessly sweeping out from wherever the heck bipedal shaggy piratical fleets swept out of, raiding here, burning there, and occasionally squatting, so the reports said, in scorched, empty Mount Aris. That's all the spies and the long-distance reconnaissance reported, that Aris had been abandoned. That the Storm fleets had complained that there had been no rapine, no plunder, no slaves. Just empty buildings and a ghostly abandoned island.

Over the years, things had become increasingly awkward for Fish Eye's mother, an ambassador for an abandoned country, an envoy for an empty island. A glorified consul taking care of the strays and singletons floating around the world and Equestria after home had gone away. The increasingly greyed Swift Eye was still lurking among the diplomatic corps in dull, boring Canterlot, taking care of the smaller and smaller matters that represented the pitiful scraps of the accidental hippogriffic diaspora, such as it was.

Fish Eye and her mother hadn't been able to find anything to say to each other at the graduation ceremony, so Fish Eye took her diploma, ran away from the ceremony, and hopped on the first eastbound train out of the city. She had been saving to join her friends on the traditional Grand Tour, but in that moment, Fish Eye realized that she didn't really know any of those ponies, and they sure as fish oil didn't really know who she was.

So she took her money out of the bank before her mother could catch up with her, and made her own Grand Tour. The berths she took were an abyssal depth of a lot cheaper than the plans her group had made, and so far it'd taken her to lots more interesting places than they'd made their plans for. Who cared about Tall Tale and Vanhoover and the more tourist-friendly Tenochtitlanian ruins? She'd seen the gritty docks of Baltimare, and the gritty docks of Manehattan, and then the gritty, rotting docks of Trottingham!

Fish Eye had to admit that so far her Grand Tour had included a lot of grit and perhaps just a few too many docks. But it was all in the pursuit of tracking down Hawk Eye! She had been so sure that she would know what she would do with her life when she found her big sister, who was off being brilliant and heroic saving ponies from the griffon menace!

That dream had wafted the young hippogriff across thousands of miles, and dozens of charmed co-conspirators, right up to that moment when the two sisters came beak to beak and Fish Eye… smelled that stench.

And saw the blood dried on her sister's claws.

She'd known her big sister was a surgeon. Which wasn't so respectable as being a nice internist, or a cardiologist, or even a pediatrician. But it was still a doctor!

Hawk Eye had smelled like a butcher shop.

Oh, her sister had squawked and shouted and yelled about 'wandering around war zones' and all that, but Fish Eye didn't know what the older hippogriff was so pissed about. Fish Eye wasn't the one who smelled like emptied bowels and dead things!

The lower depths with Hawk Eye. Fish Eye could make her own way.

She raised her camera to her eye and caught the image rolling past the coach, timing the shot perfectly, precisely. A griffon pulling something off of a burned half-skeletonized ruin, black and grey and brown in the middle of an achingly beautiful field of deep brown and spring-sharp green shoots. A pony standing a few lengths off, looking at the griffon with something in her expression Fish Eye hadn't even worked out when her claw triggered the camera mechanism.

That would be a good one, Fish Eye was certain. She wasn't a pony, she didn't have a cutie mark. But she had something in her heart that screamed this was what she'd been let loose into the world for, this was why she'd been cast loose from everything else she'd ever known.

It was a big world, and it needed someone to see it.

"So it is definitely the Crystal Guards, then, Sergeant Gilda?" asked the grizzled batpony, sitting at the counter of the recruiting booth.

"What else would it be, Fruit Salad? Right there on the commission and everything. And on the transfer paperwork, I'd think?" Gilda replied.

The batpony corporal was interrupting Gilda's break. She was sitting out back behind the booth, reading a newspaper, still wearing her finest feathers and finery, which Rarity had stitched her into earlier that morning. The first pass at Rarity's attempts to replicate Gleaming Shield's cracked illusions, they were. Gilda wasn't certain she approved of the new uniform, it was a bit… gaudy. Even by Stinging Needle standards.

It certainly brought in the would-be recruits, though. While Gilda was on the clock. Which she wasn't. At the moment, she was trying to concentrate on The Beak and Bone's surprising well-informed analysis of Cadance's 'Mustang' reforms to the Territorials. Which both Gilda and the captain had been strongly encouraging. If only the plan hadn't convinced the new duchess that she couldn't spare Gleaming Shield as a military advisor…

"All the rumors said, and the paperwork we got cut, said was 'Sixth Equestrian Guards'. Everypony assumed…" Corporal Salad said through the curtain, looking troubled.

"None of you blasted bat ponies will say what you were expecting, just that we haint what you were lookin' for," snarled Gustav from beyond the curtain.

The recruiting booth, squabbling non-coms and all, were set up by the Bridlederry Gate, in the hope of catching ponies heading out and griffons coming in. But business was waning on account of the two older non-coms cutting up at each other. Not that Gilda was about to step in, not for the life of her. They were actually talking. And talking over the bat pony problem, at that. None of the rest of the thestrals were talking, but up to this moment Fruit Salad had not been talking louder than the rest of them combined. He was younger than the other two noncoms that had come in with the transfers, but somehow Gilda had gotten the impression that he somehow ranked above the rest. Something hidden and opaque and obscure - like, she was beginning to understand, everything when it came to thestrals. They loved their secrets, bat-ponies

"Well, we haint much of anything yet," Gustav was saying, sounding a bit steamed, "But just you all wait and see. We'll be something yet. And the way we'll be won't be slinkin' about in th' shadders, a-knifin' those that need knifin'. But the way yer bats are pullin' us, we'll be 'alf thestral before we're done."

"You don't know me, old bird, or my ponies, either," replied the batpony, calmly. "Don't assume you know what we want."

Gilda peered out beyond Fruit Salad, and saw that the brewing argument didn't have an audience. No need to intervene, yet.

"Then bloody what are ya all doin', crowdin' our barracks? It haint to be th' Crystal Guard, that's clear as the beak on me face. An' iffen th' plan weren't ta be all shiny and obvious inna Crystal Guard, you and yer mango-suckin' demon-eyed night-haunts, alla ya a-'idin' in the shadders, waitin' for yer bluddy turn ta join th' Guard, can all go ‘ang!"

Getting closer, though, Gilda thought as she finished reading the council notes in the broadside. This next article was… huh

"…we ain't ta be a legion ov shadders, no, ner sneak-thieves, or silent gullet-slitters neither. Wave off, Fruit Salad, wave off, I tells you!"

"Not to interrupt a wonderful lecture, Gustav," Gilda interrupted her subordinate's hectoring rant, "but have you seen yesterday's Beak? We made the papers. Again. Has somegriff been talking to ink stained griffons again?"

Gustav tore aside the curtain with an oath, making eye contact with Gilda. "What? No, winds blast them all! I'll 'ave the barstard's tailfeather wot talked to that libelous rag! What do they say, marm?"

"Hmm, waste of taxes, stormtroopers of the peytral - the usual. Oh, somehow, they got the news about the captain's all-tribes recruiting standard."

"Well, that haint no secret, we've been trumpeting that to th' rafters. Tho some as only heard the 'not excludin' batponies' portion," Gustav growled, eyeing his fellow corporal.

"Yes, but that apparently means we're plotting a foreign legion, Gustav. A tool of bloody-hooved repression of griffons abroad."

"What, like Griffonstone? Who'd want it, let alone the Duchess?" smirked the older griffon.

"The Princess, now, Gustav, you've taken the Princess's bit."

"Pshaw. Same mare, same bit, same me."


Thankfully fate chose that moment to interrupt with a commotion over by the gate proper. Gilda got up and craned her neck through the curtain, trying to figure out what had gotten the 10th Territorials riled. Pony Territorials could be fussy about the strangest things. The word 'spy' wafted high and sharp over the general yammer, and that caught her attention.

"Toms, let's put a pin in this. Sounds like something interestin' is brewing over there on the daily coach," Gilda threw over her shoulder as she passed through the booth and and trotted in the direction of the furball.

Two Territorials had somegriff pinned to the cobblestones with their spears, while two more were digging through something just out of sight. The crowd was too thick for Gilda to see who they had on the ground until she was almost on them. Half the crowd were in uniform, the Bridlederry Gate was near one of the main garrison barracks-complexes, and there were a good many troops about.

Most of them better be off duty.

Gilda's eyebrows climbed into her crest, as her eyes fell on a freakishly familiar creature. It wasn't Hawk Eye, but damn if it wasn't a close first-order approximation. The pony-monkey-bird thing was squawking with two shafts crossed over her wings and neck, forcing her beak into a gap between the badly-laid cobbles. Over the twitching, wailing hippogriff, a pony corporal was looking at a sleek mechanical device.

Gilda squinted for a second, and realized she was looking at a photographic recorder. What were they called again? A camera.

"Shall we see what you were taking back to your masters, monster? Let me just pry this open, and we'll see the secrets you've stolen from us, the soldiers you're going to betray with your infernal device of espionage!" The crowing pony wasn't exactly the greatest advertisement for Her Grace's Service, in Gilda's opinion. His breastplate was more rust than plate, and his eyes had that bloodshot look that the drunker sort of NCO got after their third demotion-and-promotion cycle.

"No, no, it's not an instant, please dear sir, you'll ruin the roll!" cried the smallish hippogriff in the reedy accents of a young Canterlot aristocrat.

Gilda blinked at the incongruity. Hawk Eye had sported a somewhat more foreign accent.

"Here now, here now," Gilda blustered, fluffing up her feathers and trying to look like the senior non-com she technically was. "What's all this then? Why do you have this good… hippogriff in the fewmets?" The cobblestones near the Gate weren't exactly the dirtiest portion of the city, and even griffons were prouder than to leave actual filth in the streets. But it got the idea across.

The pony Territorials didn't quite know what to make of a griffon in an exotic, unfamiliar uniform. "Er, sir - ma'am, this spy was caught on the afternoon coach from the countryside. Surveilling right here, in the shadow of the walls!" The corporal looked proud of that ‘surveilling'. Score one for the former duchess's educational reforms in Trottingham!

Gilda briefly wondered if the pony actually knew what it meant.

"Oh, come on now, officer, what sort of agent would be photographing the countryside under Celestia's own sun? I'm a photographer, it's what I do! I was not hiding, I just thought that roofline with the two hens sunning themselves was a good frame, I wanted to see if I could capture the com-oW!" One of the Territorials stopped the flow of fruity Canterlotese with a sharp push of his spear, bouncing the hippogriff mare's head off the stones below.

"Corporal - sorry, what was your name?"

"Corporal Lamp Post, ma'am! I'm sorry, I don't recognize that uniform. Those almost look like sergeant major stripes. What regiment?"

"Sixth Guards, Corporal Post. I think perhaps we're over-reacting here. Let that mare up off the ground, I'm going to get a crick in my neck looking down at her."

"Mare? Mare? This mutant griffon is no mare!"

"Calm your tits, Post, that's not a griffon. Hippogriff, right?" Gilda asked the creature forced into a kow-tow by the now-nervous-looking rankers.

"Yeah, that's, pftf blech, ugh. That is right! Marvellous! I've never met anyone who's gotten it right without being told. Hello, I'd introduce myself, but all I can see of you is your talon-guards. Can somepony let me up so I can do the propers?"

"Colts, I think we're more likely to be raided by parrots than killed in our sleep by a random hippogriff. Let the poor bird up, I'll take responsibility. Corporal Post, send a copy of the report to the Duchess's Quarters in Garrison #5, would you?"

There was a bit of a shuffle, until the Territorials finally got over their sense of institutional self-regard. Gilda persuaded them to help gather up the slightly battered hippogriff's bags and camera, and let her carry off her new captive. The two of them walked slowly over to her subordinates, who had been watching the entire farce with an air of bemused confusion.

Gilda looked over the limping hippogriff, and made a decision.

"Come on, then, you're technically under arrest for carrying surveillance gear through a checkpoint. Take a seat here, and we'll find out why an unaccompanied fledgeling is wandering alone in a war zone."

"I'm not a fledgeling! I'm a proper graduate of Her Royal Highness's Farrow Polytechnic Institute!"

"Really! That's quite impressive." Gilda had never heard of it, and wasn't really sure what the hippogriff was claiming. She was sure Gleaming Shield would know.

After all, the captain had explicitly mentioned that she wanted to recruit hippogriffs. Why she wanted this, was the captain's business.

"What did you say your name was, again?" Gilda asked the hippogriff as she sat behind their booth, rubbing her bruised rear paw.

"Oh, hello, sorry, my lamentable manners, I'm Fish Eye, very nice to meet you…"

"Really! Any relation to Captain Hawk Eye of the 93/1st?"

The hippogriff stopped dead just in front of the recruiting booth, and gaped in astonishment.

"How did you know? That's amazing!"

"It's a small world, kitling… Let's talk about why an innocent little crabcake like you is rambling unaccompanied through this bad, sad world full of evil griffons. Like me."

"Depths claim it! I knew my sister was up to no good, if evil griffons know her name!"

"Kitling, you have no idea. Come on, I think you need to talk to my captain."

"Ooh! Oh! Am I being foalnapped? I've always wanted to be foalnapped."

"Think of it as more of a social engagement." Impressment could be very socializing, Gilda was proof positive of that. "Are you an adult, by the way?"

"Yes, I am! Fully grown, and graduated and everything! No matter what Hawk Eye says."

"Mmm-hmm. Gustav, Fruit Salad, see how many more actual recruits you can bring in by dinner. I'm taking this young lady into garrison, we're going to check on her claims, OK? Now tell me more about that degenerate Hawk Eye's background. It's always been a mystery…"

"Hey! Only family are allowed to call my sister a degenerate sadistic monster!"

"Really! Tell me more…"

Gilda would show the bloody Beak and Bone a bleedin' foreign legion! Now if she could only find some innocent diamond dog puppies to complete the set…

Author's Note:

Thanks for editing and pre-reading help to Shrink Laureate, Walker of Voids,Oliver, and the general Company.

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