• Published 23rd Sep 2021
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The Only Mark That Matters - CocktailOlive



The story of Radish Root, a pony with obscene cutie marks.

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33. The Suitor, Part 1: Courtship, Plain and Simple

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

I’m glad to hear Fluttershy has learned a bit more assertiveness. Iron Will ran his promotion through Canterlot for a few days, and a lot of Canterlites are now doing that rhyming couplet thing before getting into slap fights. It’s pretty funny to watch.

Palace life is fine. I’m off the Night Shift for now, and back to general guarding. I’ll miss hanging out with Princess Luna, but she said I’m not excused from our book club. At least the tourists are pretty calm in the spring.

I’m working toward certification for a sword. Swords need special clearance because of how dangerous they can be to an unskilled wielder. I’ve got the basics down, but Corporal Shade says I need to get faster. He’s insanely quick on the draw- you should see him in action. I hope I get there soon.

Your Pen Pal,

Lt. Radish Root



Radish stood sentry at the gift shop’s entrance. A teenage mare approached him with an apologetic look on her face.

“Excuse me, sir, sorry to bother you. Could you tell me how to get outside to the lake?”

“Yes, miss. The exit is at the end of this hall. You’ll see a sign for it.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem, miss. Have a nice day.”

The teen trotted away while Radish stretched out his legs.

Not a bad morning shift. Not a bad morning. But then again, spring mornings are Celestia’s specialty.

Gentle sunlight streamed through the hall’s tall windows. Radish could feel its warmth against his armor.

The warmth ended as the world outside went dark.

It took a second for everypony present to react. At first Radish thought a large cloud had been moved over the palace for whatever reason, but as he looked through the windows, he saw there wasn’t a beam of sunlight as far as he could see. It was now night, in the middle of the day.

Oh no. Not again. Luna, tell me it’s not you again!

Radish approached a window. The ponies outside were gazing at the sky, terrified. The tourists and staff around him started to panic. Radish ran through the emergency procedures he knew. There was now a protocol for unexpected nighttime.

“Attention! Remain calm! Please make your way to the designated exits in an orderly fashion.”

“What’s going on? Is Nightmare Moon back? Is it Discord?” asked the gift shop clerk, frightened.

“Let’s not speculate, miss. The best thing to do is to… oh.”

The world outside was full of morning light again. Radish looked out the window. Everything seemed normal. The clerk stared out the window with him.

“What was that?”

“I can’t say, miss.”

The palace’s public announcement system sprang to life with a squeal of feedback. It was Celestia’s voice.

“Attention. We just experienced a temporary lapse in sunlight due to a magical anomaly. Everything is under control. Thank you, and have a wonderful day.”

Radish raised an eyebrow. The clerk did, too.

“Gee, could she be more vague?”

“Well, miss, at least everything is under control.”

“Take it from me, if somepony has to tell you everything is under control, everything is not under control.”

“Yes, miss.”


During his stint on the Night Shift, Radish and other guards with uncommon schedules attended evening briefings held in a large auditorium headed by Barrel Roller. Now he again attended morning briefings headed by Shining Armor. The vast majority of what happened in the palace was irrelevant to Radish- it was a machine of thousands of moving parts that nopony but Celestia fully understood, and his job was simply to keep a few of the parts safe at a given time. Radish always paid careful attention anyway.

“First off, if anypony asks about the sunlight blackout yesterday, the palace has released all the information on it that it’s going to. The matter is closed,” said Shining Armor, clearly annoyed by the questions he was anticipating.

Some of the guards present grumbled. The “anomaly” explanation did not go over well, within palace walls or beyond. Radish had received constant questions about it from tourists in the palace. He had no answers.

“Second, the palace will be hosting a new guest. His name is Halcyon, and he’s from the Far Eastern Edgelands.”

There were some whispers through the room. Radish had heard of the Far Eastern Edgelands only in passing. He didn’t know anycreature lived there. The rumor was that nocreature could work with nature there, leaving it too stark for ponies, too misty for dragons, and too windswept for griffons.

“He’s been given Personal Guest Status by Princess Celestia. He’ll be staying in Guest Suite One for the foreseeable future.”

That’s a bit odd, thought Radish. PG Status is usually reserved for close friends of Celestia. Twilight and her friends get that status. And Suite One is the biggest and nicest in the palace. Who is this guy?

Shining Armor stuck a transparency in his magic lantern projector, putting a picture of the guest’s face on the wall. He was dark gold with bright white spots along his neck, with stern, chiseled features and a short copper mane. His neck was thicker than a lamp post, and his head was massive enough to justify it.

“He has an unconventional appearance, but I know that’s not going to be an issue for anyone in my guard. See that he’s given all the respect a PG deserves.”

Personal Guests were given a lot of freedom throughout the palace, and had access to facilities that tourists didn’t. They had the privilege to command staff, and even guards, for reasonable requests. Twilight's friends liked to push the limits of what was considered “reasonable”. Radish liked to push back.

“Double-check your duty rosters, because some of you may be on guard while Princess Celestia entertains him.”

Radish kept his expression plain, knowing a few in the room were looking to see his reaction. Shining Armor seemed to pause for a half-second to look for it, too. Radish gave them nothing.

“Other than him, AG1 plus Spike will be visiting, as well. They’re all PGs, too, as usual. Guest rooms four through ten.”

Shining Armor had recently issued a memo stating that Twilight's team would be given an official name to be used in Royal Guard communications, arguing that the term “Elements of Harmony” should be reserved for the magical weapons they wielded. He solicited suggestions from the lower ranks, and received a large number, as a lot of guards had their own pet names for the team. Maple Bar called them “Team Harmony”. Cairn called them the “Everfreekers”. After consideration, Shining Armor announced they'd be designated "Action Group One", or AG1. Most guards assumed he threw out all the suggestions and went with what he wanted all along.

Interesting timing. Do they have something to do with this Halcyon?

“Dismissed.”


Radish and a pegasus guard named Shoofly arrived at their first post of the day and relieved the guards already present of their last post of the night. They took their positions guarding the doors to the Royal Breakfast Nook. It was the last place in the world Radish wanted to be.

Princess Celestia and Halcyon were sharing breakfast inside. It had apparently run long. Once in a while, a butler passed through carrying silver trays in or out. Each time the door opened, Radish could hear a snippet of conversation.

He couldn’t make out many words, but the conversation was light. Friendly. Too friendly for Radish’s taste, and punctuated by too much hearty laughter from both sides. Princess Celestia seemed to be having a wonderfully entertaining breakfast with this Halcyon. Radish grit his teeth.

Shoofly looked over to him, and mouthed the words, “You okay?”

He mouthed, “I’m fine.”

She gave him a sympathetic look. The butler passed through the door again. Instead of conversation, Radish heard the scooting of chairs. They were done with breakfast and were standing up. They were coming his way.

They exited the room, sharing another laugh. Radish and Shoofly saluted. Celestia noticed them a beat later than usual, and returned the salute.

“Oh! Radish! Shoofly! I'd like you to meet Halcyon. He’ll be staying with us at the palace for a while.”

Radish took his first look at Halcyon. He was an earth pony, of sorts. He had no cutie mark, and wore no clothes. His gold coat was dappled with white specks, and his lower legs were a shade darker than the rest of him. His right foreleg had long parallel scars, like claw marks.

His proportions were different from most ponies Radish had seen. He was built like a bull- he was only about half a head shorter than Princess Celestia, and was broad-chested, broad-shouldered, and had a thickly-muscled neck and thickly-muscled legs. His tail was like a lion’s.

“Good to meet you, sir,” said Shoofly.

“Welcome to the palace, sir,” said Radish.

“Good morning to you two!” he said, loudly. His voice was deep as a dragon’s. “Thank you both for guarding our repast!”

“You’re welcome, sir,” said Shoofly.

“You’re welcome, sir,” said Radish, feigning knowing the word ‘repast’.

“Come, Halcyon,” said Princess Celestia, brightly, “let me show you the hedge maze. It’s just been rearranged, so even I don’t know the way through. It may take us a while to solve.”

“I look forward to it! It’s a beautiful morning for getting lost.”

“Why, thank you,” said Celestia, leading him down the hall with a wing, “spring mornings are my specialty.”

As they exited the door to the hall, Shoofly swooned, leaning on her spear for support.

“Oh, wow,” she said.

“What?” asked Radish.

“I’m sorry, Radish. But that guy, wow.”

“What? You think that guy’s good-looking?”

She looked around the hall, then leaned over to him.

“I wouldn’t mind having him in my breakfast nook.”

“Criminy, Shoofly.”

“I’m sorry, but, well, I don’t blame Celestia for wanting a nice long meal with him.”

“These are just diplomatic talks. Happens all the time.”

“Diplomatic? He has Personal Guest status. I haven’t heard anything about him representing anything.”

“Well, why else would he be here?”

“Radish, I know you have this… thing for Celestia…”

“It ain’t like that. Not no more.”

“...but no one does business over breakfast. This is courtship, plain and simple.”

“We would have been told if he was royalty."

“You don’t have to be a royal to court a princess. You should know that more than anypony.”

“I was just a boy, speaking out of turn.”

“I thought you propositioned Celestia during your job interview.”

"Yeah, and she said no."

"Did you think she’d say no to everypony?"

"She's not interested in suitors. She said her duties to Equestria are too great."

"Love can sneak up on you, Radish. I’m sure she’s as surprised as all of us that she’s found someone she's interested in.”

“He’s probably just some trade delegate.”

“Then he’d have Delegate status.”

“Or some artist opening an exhibit in the palace.”

“Well, he’s sculpted, all right.”

Shoofly.”

“Radish, you’re letting this get to you. You should get a girlfriend of your own.”

“Gee, great advice. I'll go get one after work.”

A maid pushed through the doors with a cart loaded with the morning’s used dishes.

“You know, lieutenant,” she said, “I don’t trust that guy either. He’s fishy.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve never met a guest who was so nice to the staff.”

“Oh.”

“Or one with such a great sense of humor.”

“Yeah? He’s funny, is he?”

“Well, it was a lot of observational humor. You know, ‘ever notice this’, ‘ever notice that’. Celestia loved it.”

“Thanks, Onion Tartlet.”

“Hey, Onion Tartlet,” said Shoofly, “if you were Celestia, would you like being courted by Halcyon?”

"I wouldn't mind showing that guy around my hedge maze."

“Hey, look at that,” said Radish. “Shift’s over. I’m out of here.”

He collapsed his spear on his back and left. Onion Tartlet leaned over to Shoofly.

“Okay,” she whispered, "Marry, fuck, kill: Radish, Halcyon, Shining Armor?"


Radish sat in the commissary, eating a grilled salad. He stared at the letter he was writing. He didn’t know how to end it.

“Hey, Radical,” said Spats, sitting down with him. He had recently started calling Radish “Radical”, and Radish had neglected to tell him to stop before it became a fixture.

“Hey, Spats.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Because, you know, the whole… you know, thing.”

“What thing?”

“I mean, Celestia and this Halcyon fellow, getting on famously.

“How famously?”

“They were in the hedge maze for hours. They came out in good spirits.”

“It’s a nice hedge maze.”

“Not that nice.”

“It’s none of our business. Good guards don’t gossip.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Got time for a hoof of cards?”

“A quick one. Do-”

There was a clamor in the commissary. Several ponies had left their tables and were gathering around the windows. Spats and Radish craned their necks to look. Spats squinted and stood on his chair, then quickly dropped back down to Radish.

“Oh, it’s nothing. A neat bird. So,” he said, pulling out a deck of cards, “aces wild, and…”

Radish was walking to the windows. Spats cringed and muttered, “Sorry, Radical.”

Radish stared out the window. He put his binoculars to his eyes. He focused them. His body twitched.

Princess Celestia and Halcyon were in a rowboat in the middle of the lake. She sat in the bow facing him, holding a lacy white parasol while he rowed. There was a picnic basket between them.

“Now that’s picturesque,” said a guard by Radish’s side. “Oh! The royal painter thinks so, too. Look!”

On the edge of the lake, Broadstrokes, the palace’s chief artist, had set up an easel to paint the pair. Radish dropped his binoculars to his chest and shuffled back to Spats, who was shuffling the cards.

“Hey, uh…” Spats started.

“Just deal,” said Radish.

“Are you talking to me or yourself?”


With the remainder of his break, Radish went to the palace post office to deliver his letter. The postpony on duty, a sage green pegasus named Swift Sparrow, looked at the envelope.

“Another for Twilight? She’s around today.”

“I don’t always get to see her when she’s at the palace. And she likes my friendship insights in writing so she can file them.”

“You know, back when she lived here, she presented the post office with a report on how we could make mail delivery more efficient. Wasn’t for school or anything, she just thought we needed it.”

“Did you take any of her advice?”

“We sure told her we did.”

“Ah.”

Radish mailed his letter, then, as he was almost out the door, he stopped, turned, and went back to the counter.

“Hey, can we get mail to or from the Far Eastern Edgelands?”

“Nope. No zip codes there.”

“We have archeologists out there, right? How do they get mail?”

“A messenger badger. He's the only thing tough enough to make the journey, but he's pretty slow.”

“Huh.”

“Is this about Halcyon?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I hear that’s where he’s from. The post hears a lot of things, you know, but the post respects privacy. Guards respect privacy, too, don’t they?”

“No, guards have big loud mouths, in case there’s invaders in the palace.”

“The post also treats every piece of mail with respect, no matter where it came from, how its packaging is shaped… or who’s receiving it.”

“You implying something?”

“Not at all. Have a nice day, lieutenant.”


Radish resumed his shift patrolling the eastern wings of the palace. He stood on a parapet and watched the inner commons. A pair of gardeners were trimming the hedges below him. Their conversation was carried up to him.

“Striker just saw him in the bowling alley with Celestia and Team Sparkle,” said one of the gardeners to the other. “Said he bowled a pretty impressive game his first time. And we all know that PC’s a sporto.”

“What, you think he’ll pick Celestia up like a seven-ten split?” the other gardener asked.

“I wouldn’t doubt it. Most of the mares and a chunk of the stallions in this palace are gawking at him.”

“Huh. After all these years, a mysterious handsome stranger comes from a mysterious faraway land to sweep Celestia off her feet? Sounds like a fairy tale.”

“Sounds suspicious.”

“Celestia’s not stupid. But she deserves to be happy for once. I think the last guy who tried to court her was, well…”

“Who?”

There was a pause and a whisper.

“What, him? I mean, if you want to call it that.”

“I wonder how he’s taking it.”

Radish leaned over the parapet and looked down at them. They noticed his shadow on the ground, looked up, and jumped back.

“Good afternoon, lieutenant!” one of them shouted up at him.

“Good afternoon, Morning Glory. Verbena. Tending to the grapevine, are we?”

“Would you like some hedge clippings, lieutenant? They’re fresh.”

“I’m on duty. But you two enjoy yourselves.”


Radish lay in his bunk reading an old detective novel. He didn’t like where it was going. He decided to stretch his legs in the palace’s entertainment quarter, which was open to off-duty guards during certain hours.

He paused to read the outdoor bulletin board, which had news about the goings-on around the palace. There were tea socials, arts and crafts workshops, and a new tour of the castle’s antique doorknobs and hinges. He didn’t see anything that interested him.

“Radish!”

Radish looked behind him. Twilight Sparkle was galloping toward him.

“Twilight!”

She skidded to a stop in front of him, and they hugged.

“Have you met him?” she asked. “Isn’t it exciting?”

Radish sighed with as much annoyance as he could convey.

“Met who, Twilight?”

“Halcyon! A real live visitor from the Far Eastern Edgelands!”

“I didn’t know anycreature lived there.”

“Neither did I!”

“What has he said about it?”

“Not much. I think he and Princess Celestia are planning a big announcement about it together. They seemed pretty excited, but cagey, about something during shakes.”

“Shakes?”

“Yeah, we got a round of milkshakes to celebrate his bowling score! Two-ninety nine! For his first time! But Rainbow Dash thinks he deliberately let Celestia win.”

“She bowled a 300?”

“Yeah, it was amazing. She had laser-like focus. I think she really wanted to impress her new friend.”

“Well, that sounds nice.”

“How have you been?”

“Not so good. I had a bad lunch. And before that was a bad breakfast.”

She put a hoof on his shoulder.

“Please take better care of yourself, Radish! Princess Celestia needs all her guards in top form to protect important guests like Halcyon.”

“You’re right, Twilight. Maybe dinner will be better.”

“It definitely will be.”

“Oh yeah, I just mailed you a letter about a friendship problem I had with Lieutenant Shoofly.”

“That’s great! I can’t wait to read it! No spoilers, now.”

“Of course.”


Radish walked down the palace back halls. A valet stopped him.

“Lieutenant Root, you are cordially invited to join Princess Celestia for dinner tonight.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Proper attire has been made available at the office of the royal clothier.”

“Really?”

“Dinner will be held in the Starry Spire dining room at eight.”

“That’s… thank you!”

The valet looked around, and whispered in his ear.

“Don’t thank me yet. Halcyon will be there.”

Radish sighed.

“Thanks, Hallmark.”

“Oh, you know my name? For security reasons?”

“No, I just… know it, I guess.”

“Thank you, lieutenant.”

“Have a good evening, Hallmark. Someone should.”


The royal clothier was a vintage unicorn named Galloon. Radish had never interacted with him before- his uniform and armor had been provided by the Quartermaster.

Radish was technically supposed to have a dress version of his uniform, but when he asked Barrel Roller about it during his first week, she said they were waiting on the right material. The next day Radish realized she meant she wasn’t sure if he was the right material for the job. He never asked about it again.

Radish entered Galloon’s studio to find him busy over a slanted table.

“Ah, lieutenant. Welcome.”

Being from Unicornwall, Galloon pronounced “lieutenant” as “left-tenant”.

“Hello, sir. I’ve just been infor-”

“Yes, yes. I have it right here.”

He levitated a smart, modern tuxedo on a hanger in front of Radish. Radish gasped.

“For me?” he asked.

“Who else?”

“For, uh, free?”

“No, her majesty makes a habit of demanding a guard’s company for dinner and making him pay to dress well for it. It’s a bit of a racket she’s running, you know.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not used to, well, VIP treatment. Or even IP treatment. Some days I don’t even get P treatment.”

“Go try it on,” he said, pointing to a side door. “Call if you need help.”

Radish went into the side room and unpacked the tuxedo, separating its various parts onto a bench. There was a small note with a guide on how to wear it. Though it was more work than donning his armor, he managed to assemble it onto himself.

He looked at himself in a full-length mirror, brushed his mane with his hoof, and struck a movie spy pose. He liked the way he looked.

“Are you striking a movie spy pose in there?” called Galloon.

“No! Yes. How’d you know?”

“Everypony does it with their first tuxedo. May I see?”

“Yeah. I mean, yes.”

Galloon entered the room and appraised Radish’s look. He made a few adjustments with his hooves and his magic.

“How do I look?”

“Clothing her majesty’s finest in finery has always presented a challenge, with their over-bulked frames and their rough-hewn visages. They often end up looking like gorillas dressed for a stage act. But over the years I’ve become an expert in the matter. Lieutenant, I have outdone myself.”

“Thanks, Galloon. I love it.”

“I took the liberty of including a sample of cologne. It’s a powerful scent of oakmoss and cloves.”

“Thank you. Is that kind of scent popular with, uh, discerning ponies?”

“Like the princess, you mean?”

“Well…”

“The true gentlecolt impresses with his social graces, not his fragrance. How is your dining etiquette?”

“It’s… uh…”

“Hmm.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior.”

“Can you carry a polite dinner conversation?”

“No.”

“At least you’re honest. Stick to light topics that all may participate in. Listen and support others in the conversation- do not dominate it. Be eternally self-effacing, and if all else fails, compliment the wine.”

“Oh, should I bring wine?”

“Good heavens, no!”

“Do you know why I’m even being invited to this?”

“It’s not my place to know or speculate.”

“I see. Thank you for all your help.”

“I wish you well, lieutenant. Do your best to comport yourself with dignity.”

Radish looked at himself in the mirror again.

“First time for everything.”

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