• 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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5. The Job

I, Radish Root, pledge to serve and defend Equestria and its Leadership, to uphold its Constitution, to secure its Peoples from all opposers, and to discharge well and devotedly the duties of the Royal Guard. This, I swear on my honor.”


Radish guarded. Radish patrolled. Those two duties were his life now. He guarded the galleries. He patrolled the corridors. He guarded doors. He patrolled the grounds, the parapets, the perimeter, and the towers. That was what it meant to be a member of the Royal Guard.

Radish’s time in the Plains Rangers had allowed him to enter the Royal Guard at the rank of lieutenant. A lieutenant in the Rangers would have been one of the highest-ranking officers, but a lieutenant in the Guard was one of the lowest, above only cadet and private. Most cadets and privates were off-site, training in academies and in the field. The training Radish was given by his Guard superiors was geared mostly toward replacing his Ranger instincts with Guard instincts.

The Royal Guard predated Celestia, Canterlot, and Equestria itself, emerging from historical predecessors which guarded the leaders of the disparate kingdoms of the ancient Tribal Period. During the great coming-together which marked the founding of Equestria, the Guard had been known as the “E.U.P. Protective Pony Platoon”, in celebration of the new mingling of earth ponies, unicorns, and pegasi. The name was obsoleted a few centuries later when the service was opened up to non-pony Equestrians, and since then griffons, zebras, bovines, donkeys, and hybrids had served.

Guards who distinguished themselves did indeed move up to guarding more important parts of the palace, including standing sentry next to Celestia herself. Guards could also be sent on long-term patrols outside Canterlot and be stationed in outposts around Equestria, forming what was known as the Royal Excursionary Forces, or REFs. Equestria did not officially have a standing army, but unofficially, there were entire fighting herds around the nation ready to mobilize at a minute’s notice. A robust network of courier pegasi, supplemented by messenger birds, kept the kingdom connected.

There were rumors of other more covert investigative and enforcement organizations working in and out of the palace, which intrigued Radish. He was certain there really was a “Royal Spymaster” somewhere in the palace, an idea that his fellow guards were split on. Those kinds of rumors gave the palace an air of mystique, which Radish badly needed as he did his duty.

As Shining Armor had said, most of his duties involved handing tourists. He had never handled tourists in his life. The Southern Plains would get visitors, campers, birders, herpers, surveyors, prospectors, and strays, but none of them called themselves tourists. Radish had grown up assuming the term was derogatory.

He now was responsible for the safety of hundreds of tourists a day. The Royal Palace (also called “Canterlot Castle”) allowed sightseers, both guided and free-roaming, to visit its ballrooms, galleries, grounds, legislative chambers, hedge maze, and sculpture garden. Radish stayed out of the sculpture garden if he could avoid it- something about the statuary there made him uneasy.

Radish had just finished helping a tourist read their map for the fourth time since his shift began. He checked his pocketwatch and realized he was behind in his patrol of the south corridors. He pushed through one of the palace’s many massive double doors, and made his way down a hall flanked on both sides by suits of armor. Tourists were forbidden from this hall- the suits were unsecured, fragile, and their halberds had a tendency to fall over from the vibrations of a passing pony.

“Mister! Hey, Mister!” he heard a youthful voice call to him.

“Who goes- oh. Hello, Young Master Spike. What can I do for you?”

A tiny purple dragon scampered up to him. Found as a lost egg, Spike was the adoptive brother and academic assistant of Twilight Sparkle. Supposedly, Princess Celestia had a role in raising him, as well. She had magically imbued his natural dragon fire with the ability to transport documents as smoke, making him one of the fastest means of communication in Equestria, a power he frequently used to communicate with the princess, bypassing and having priority over all other methods.

This made his station in the royal court rather ambiguous, as he had personal ties to the highest echelon of power in Equestria, but was still an underage scribe who slept in a repurposed dog bed. He, like Twilight, had free rein of most of the palace, and had duties that had him interacting with officials throughout. It was possible he was actually in the line of succession. Radish had asked his superiors to clear up his exact position (and Twilight’s, for that matter) but they always responded with just enough ambiguity to make him suspect they had no idea.

“You’re Radish Root, aren’t you?” he chirped excitedly.

“That’s right, sir.”

“You’ve been around dragons, haven’t you?”

“Yes, in the Southern Plains. I was responsible for monitoring a napper for over a year.”

“What was it like?”

“It was an adult male needle morph, orange, with-”

“Needle morph?”

“Dragons come in all shapes and sizes. ‘Needle’ refers to one of the most common shapes- long and narrow, with large swept-back wings and a pointed snout.”

“Can you tell what shape I’m going to grow into?”

Radish had no idea what morph Spike would grow into, if it would be a named one at all. His lack of wings at this stage was interesting, and Radish sometimes wondered if he was a true dragon, and not some close biological ally, or a hybrid thereof. But Radish didn’t need to tell him that.

“Probably one of the more powerful ones,” he said, leaning down to Spike. “A big, strong dragon with limbs like redwoods and fire like a volcano.”

Spike’s eyes were shining.

“Spike? Spike!” called out a female voice. Radish knew its shrill tone anywhere.

Twilight Sparkle trotted around a corner. Her face turned foul when she saw them.

“You!”

“Good afternoon, Lady Sparkle.”

Radish had no idea if Twilight was technically a lady of the court, or what that would even mean, but it was more fun to call her that, especially since she seemed to grit her teeth whenever he did.

“Spike, get away from him! You don’t know who that is!”

“Sure I do! He was a ranger! He’s seen dragons, Twilight!”

“He can’t tell you anything about dragons we don’t have in books, Spike. And he is not to be trusted.”

“Why not?”

“Yes, miss. Why not? Have I done something to offend?” Radish asked, adding a measure of mock hurt to his voice.

“Oh, you know exactly what you’ve done. And it’s only a matter of time before you wash out of here and slink back to the desert!”

“Dear me, miss. I do apologize! How may I set things right?” Radish threw in a touch of a Trottingham accent, just for his own amusement.

“You can hop in the moat!”

“I’m sorry, but that would tarnish my armor. Princess Celestia prefers her guards to maintain a tidy appearance.”

Twilight stammered and stomped a hoof.

“You-”

“Twilight, stop!” said Spike. “Why can’t you get along with somepony for once?”

“I don’t need to play nice with a pony who only joined the Guard to… to…”

“To what?” asked Spike.

“Yes, Lady Sparkle? What is it?”

“I can’t even say it in front of a child. That’s how bad it is!”

“Lady Sparkle, Young Master Spike, I must continue on my patrol route,” Radish said with a bow. “Please keep safe, and enjoy your visit to the palace. We love having you over.”

Radish continued on his way. Twilight Sparkle watched him go with a scowl.

“Twilight! Why’d you do that?” asked Spike. “I was learning about dragons!”

“He has nothing we need, Spike. And once I get some real pull around here, he’ll be a distant memory.”

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