• Published 8th Oct 2012
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Blueblood: Hero of Equestria - Raleigh



Like all heroes, Blueblood will always do the right thing... after he has exhausted every other option.

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Honour and Blood (Part 14)

[The following entry is disjointed even by the standards of this text, with the straightforward narrative timeline being interjected with various events that took place days before or after as Blueblood presumably remembered and wrote them down on assorted scraps of paper and even a receipt for some dry cleaning. I have done my best to make this section more readable while maintaining Blueblood's idiosyncratic writing style.]

"Sir, how long are you going to leave Scarlet Letter out there for?" asked Cannon Fodder one quiet and uneventful afternoon. It was quite unlike my dour aide to initiate a conversation or even speak in sentences with word counts in the double digits, especially in the middle of processing the endless amount of paperwork that the great bureaucracy of the Royal Guard generates seemingly out of thin air.

"Until I get tired of seeing him," I snapped back, and then returned to my much more important task of flicking through an old dog-eared copy of a libertine novel to bypass the boring philosophising of sin and get to the interesting parts where such sin actually takes place. I had confiscated it from a soldier, who had acquired it through the black market that always coalesces in times of conflict, but only after a deeply hypocritical lecture about the virtues of forbearance of carnal urges. He had, however, helpfully underlined the more scintillating passages with a pencil, and for that I considered awarding him a medal of some kind.

It had been three days since the execution of that damned traitor, and rather than do the appropriate and correct thing of sending the body back to Equestria for a proper burial I had instead ordered it to be left out on morbid display in the courtyard by the parade ground. I had justified this act of admitted barbarism, more suited to a grotesque medieval execution than the more clinical meting-out of modern Equestrian justice, by explaining to an obviously disturbed Shining Armour that the wretch would be of more use to the Royal Guard in death as a warning to others than he did in life, but really it was just a fit of pique.

"Yes, sir, only he's starting to smell a bit," said Cannon Fodder with no discernible irony in his voice.

I peered out of the large open window from the desk in my quarters to see what remained of Scarlet Letter swaying gently from the tall set of gallows nestled in the corner between the keep wall and a tower. The soldiers in the courtyard gave it a suitably wide berth, and I could not blame them as the past few days in the hot, humid climate had been less than kind to the corpse. I had yet to see it up close since the execution, and I had very little desire to do so despite hating Scarlet Letter to the very core, but I couldn't imagine it would be a particularly pretty sight now. Even from my distant vantage point I could see that the skin had taken a rather grim deathly pallor, and where the carrion birds had torn chunks of pudgy pale flesh from the body the once crimson blood had turned a sickly, ichorous black.

"You're probably right," I said with a sigh, not wanting to generate more needless work for myself unless I could get somepony else to do it. Cannon Fodder puffed his chest out and beamed proudly at the closest thing to a compliment that he's ever received.

"Have Surgical Steel" -I stopped myself; the forthright doctor would carry out the task but only with inordinate amounts of complaining about how this was an affront to equine dignity and a violation of whatever set of medical ethics he subscribed to- "No, have the provosts take him down tonight after the Last Post [The bugle call that signals the final inspection of sentry posts has been completed by the garrison duty officer, marking the end of the working day] and bury him in an unmarked grave outside of the fortress walls."

I had spoken with Scarlet Letter in the morning just before his execution, and in hindsight I might have avoided adding to my already considerable mental anguish if I had the provosts simply drag him out onto the gallows at the first light of dawn in silence. There was some intangible thing, I suppose it might be called 'honour' or 'decency' or some other such rot by other ponies who care overmuch about such vacuous concepts, that had compelled me to speak with the pony whose execution I had just ordered regardless of how much he deserved his punishment. It was a peculiarly cold morning, though I wonder now if that had been a combination of the hangover, lack of sleep, and my imagination deciding that it would be suitably dramatic to feel this way. Nevertheless, when I led the provosts, each wearing the ceremonial black mask over their faces and their cutie marks painted over in accordance with tradition [This practice is to ensure that nopony can recognise the executioners, thus protecting them from reprisals from other ponies] into the cells I could feel an icy chill crawl along my back that compelled me to wrap up tighter in my heavy woollen storm coat.

Scarlet Letter certainly had the look of a pony sentenced to death; haggard from a lack of sleep, and desperately fearful but consciously trying not to let it show. He sat in the corner of the room on a small bench, slouching pathetically and staring up at a tiny square hole about ten feet up in the wall that allowed only a tiny sliver of the dawn's warm light in, clearly designed by whichever pre-Equestrian despot built this place to taunt the imprisoned with the memory of freedom.

The provost unlocked the door for me and I strode in. The cell was small, of course, apparently calculated to be just uncomfortably cramped enough for a stallion of my taller frame. Ponies were apparently smaller back then, so I had read, but I imagined even then that being unable to so much as stretch would drive one insane before long. It stank too of damp and other unpleasant aromas, likely emanating from the bucket in the corner opposite the bench, and yet an extended period of time on the frontlines had rendered me, if not immune, then at least tolerant of it. Scarlet Letter did not look at me, but instead continued to stare at the 'window', as if he could will himself to dissolve into gas like Princess Luna could to slip through the tiny gap and escape.

"Have you come to gloat?" he said before I could get a word in, still looking at this sliver of sunlight. His voice was curiously flat and emotionless, lacking the overly dramatic and plumy tones of his affected upper class Trottingham accent. "You've 'won', Prince of Blood."

"I would hardly call this winning," I said, ignoring the clear sarcasm in the way he pronounced the least favourite of my many titles. "None of this needed to happen."

"No, it did," he said, finally tearing his eyes away from the admittedly beautiful sight of Celestia's majestic dawn to look at the rather less awe-inspiring sight that was me still covered in the filth and mess of the previous day - bathing was still a luxury here. "You had to get in my way, didn't you? But that's still the way things are in Equestria. You aristocrats could never tolerate a commoner like me rising above his station."

"For Faust's sake," I spat, turning away from him. I could barely stand to look at him now; if it wasn't for my own natural disgust at the idea of simply murdering an unarmed pony, even though I knew I could get away with it, at least in the short term, and that I knew he truly deserved far worse than being run through with a rapier blade or being beaten with the chamber pot in the corner, I'd have carried out the sentence then and there myself. "You can't expect me to believe this is all about your infernal class war."

Scarlet Letter snorted and shook his head. There was a strange, cruel smile that tugged on the ends of his lips, as though he somehow sensed my discomfort about what was to happen and, being the utter swine that he is, could do nothing else but his utmost to make it as difficult for me as possible. He knew he was doomed, but he also knew that it was that same doom that could very well lead to mine too at least in the eyes of the Equestrian political sphere.

"Would it be easier for you to believe I'm a Changeling spy?" he said, shrugging his shoulders in mock nonchalance. "But why are you really here? To make me admit to being wrong, or to assuage your guilt?"

My stomach was in knots, and I was not even the one due to be hanged that day. "I have nothing to feel guilty about, you traitor. Ponies died because of your hubris and that is what you must answer for."

"Then why can't you kill me yourself? You coward, always getting others to do your work for you like every stuck-up noblepony. You tell me that my actions killed ponies, but what of yours? How many have died when it should have been you?"

I did not respond, could not respond. He knew, though I had no idea how far he knew the truth behind my supposed heroism; it could not have taken him or anypony else much to dig a little deeper beneath my aversion to the practice of summary execution to find yet further evidence of my apparent lack of adherence to the twisted, brutal ideology of the Commissariat, even in its most nascent form at the beginning of this pointless war. It didn't matter, or at least it shouldn't have now that he was to die soon, but the concept that he of all ponies could have made the most progress in uncovering my true nature was disturbing, for it would not be too taxing for a more intelligent pony, especially a particular purple pony with something of a grudge against me, to investigate what happened in the catacombs beneath Canterlot just a little deeper.

No, that damnable upstart had gotten under my skin, as he meant to. He had just made some kind of lucky inference that happened to play upon some anxiety of mine that tugged and tore at my thoughts until I was all but incapable of reasoned and decisive action. It had bloody worked, too, which was why he still yet lived. I had vacillated over this long enough, and it was that same inaction more than anything else that had led to this mess we found ourselves in. My cowardice that kept me from doing what was distasteful but right at the end of that siege had damned us, but now finally, after all this time and needless bloodshed, it was time for retribution in the oldest, most barbaric, but most satisfying manner. It was time for him to die.

"You still fail to comprehend the scope of your own failures," I said with a sigh that I had affected to sound as sad and disappointed as possible. "Everything is the fault of somepony else to you. But it was you who opened the catacombs in this fortress, you who deserted, you who destroyed the bridge, and you who lost the Colours. You alone bear the guilt. I cannot put it in any simpler terms and there is nothing more I can say. Let's get this over with; I have a war to win."

With that, and feeling precisely none of the closure that my hopeful delusions had promised me, I left the room to allow the provosts to perform their unenviable task. I suppose I thought there might have been some kind of realisation followed by a confession and much begging of forgiveness, but such things never happen in the real world. His refusal to take responsibility for his failures made what was to come next a little easier than if he had shown genuine remorse.

I watched in silence as the provosts gripped the condemned stallion by his hooves, lifted him from his seat, and escorted him through the corridor. Scarlet Letter half-walked and was half-carried through the meandering, maze-like pathways in the fortress, and I followed a few steps behind. We soon reached the open gates into the courtyard, where the early morning sun was just cresting over the parapets of the outer walls of the fortress. There, nestled in the crook where the keep's wall bulged outwards to accommodate a tower, a tall gallows had been erected and was surrounded by a small crowd of ponies. The main platform had been built to about twice the height of an average unicorn, and was supported by an intricate array of scaffolding. Just before it, taking the prime spot up close like the ringside seats at some morbid sporting event, were the officers of the 1st Solar Guard who weren't preoccupied with other duties and whose presence I had personally ordered. Behind them were the rank and file, while not the entirety of the regiment there was still a good hundred or so - enough to witness the proceedings and then go off to tell their friends about that even I, who had taken great pains to build up a reputation for undue fairness and relative kindness, had a breaking point.

Scarlet Letter didn't get to see all of this, however, as just before he was brought out into Celestia's blessed daylight the infamous black hood was placed over his head. There was no protest, no heroic refusal of it, but instead a quiet acceptance that might have been considered noble if it came from a better sort of pony. From there he was led across the courtyard, unable to see the hundreds of pairs of eyes but probably feeling each one staring at him. The provosts guided him up the set of steps to the platform, and then onto the trapdoor. The noose dangled directly over the trapdoor, hanging from a crossbeam held up by more scaffolding on the sides of the structure. One provost placed this length of rope around the neck of the condemned and tightened it, while the other stood by the lever.

The mechanism had been tested earlier with a sack of potatoes and it worked perfectly, which was to be expected after Lieutenant Southern Cross and the survivors of his platoon had pulled an all-nighter to build it. Public executions are a thing of the past, though I felt that the peasant classes could sometimes benefit from a few hangings and beheadings to keep them in line as my forefathers had once done, but I had read enough about the embarrassment that ensues when it all goes wrong; a state-sanctioned execution should be quick, clean, and clinical, like the surgical removal of a tumour from the body of society, and I would have no macabre dance at the end of the rope while I was in charge of this. I have standards. [Capital punishment was still on the statute books in some Equestrian provinces and in the military at the time of the first of the Changeling Wars, though it had not been officially enforced for centuries. Grievous offences that would warrant a death sentence would often be commuted to permanent imprisonment in stone or banishment]

With everything ready, I gave the nod. The provost pulled the lever and the trapdoor opened. Scarlet Letter yelped as he fell through the hole, which was cut short when he ran out of rope. I looked away quickly, unable to watch the very thing I had ordered the assembled ponies to witness. I heard it, though; the sound of a neck breaking is a horrid, wet 'crunch' as the intricate array of bone and cartilage that supports one's head is suddenly ripped in ways Faust did not intend it to be. A provost scrambled underneath the structure, and after a few seconds of fumbling with the body confirmed that the deed was done.

Through the open trapdoor I saw Scarlet Letter's motionless body swung underneath the platform and was partially obscured by the scaffolding, his limp hooves trailing some kind of lazy circle in the dust below. It was done, finally and long overdue, but his death brought no meaningful sense of relief or satisfaction. Nevertheless, at the very least something had been done. I looked out to the audience and they stared back at me with expectant faces, apparently waiting for me to say something. I had imagined this moment often since that siege in this very fort and dreamt of the things I would say as the deed was finally committed, but all of the soliloquies and sermons that I had spent so much time assembling in my mind now felt far too grandiloquent and, in some cases, obscene and inappropriate now. If you will forgive me for this comparison, reader, but in some respects this first summary execution was rather like losing one's virginity; so much build-up and anticipation only for it to be strangely unsatisfying for all involved and with a great deal of mess to deal with in the aftermath.

I spotted Captain Redcoat standing almost immediately below me, staring at the body with an expression that I could best describe as 'aggressively neutral' on his disfigured face, or that could have just been the loss of movement in his facial muscles. Either way, he seemed to feel much the same sense of hollow victory as I did.

"This," I said at last, making everything up on the spot as usual, "is the only reward for treason. Dismissed."

***

Rainbow Dash and the Wonderbolts left a few hours later. I accompanied them outside the fortress to the supply depot that served it, and from there they would take the railway back to Dodge Junction via Maredun. The journey taken by hoof was awkward and quiet, which was preferable to the alternative that I had feared where Rainbow Dash would complain or one of the soldiers along the way would take exception to their continued existence on this mortal world and attempt to fix that problem. I had them take off their uniforms, which they would probably have to return anyway once they reported their utter failure to Captain Spitfire, to avoid such a thing happening because I was still too tired and too hung-over to want to deal with any further drama. What I was not counting on was Captain Blitzkrieg wanting to make his displeasure known to all within a two mile radius.

The supply depot was situated in Black Venom Pass roughly equidistant from both Fort E-5150 and Maredun. Supplies were brought in from wherever they came from in Equestria - apples from Ponyville, weapons and armour from the Manehatten factories, propaganda from Canterlot, reinforcements from regimental barracks, and so on - via the vast and sprawling network of railways of Equestria. Upon arrival at Dodge Junction all off this stuff was packed onto this narrow gauge railway to the depot, where it was sorted by the many loggies [military slang for soldiers in the Equestrian Logistics Corps] according to some arcane filing system that only they and perhaps Twilight Sparkle were capable of understanding, then finally loaded onto carts and hauled to the fortress. Upon entry into the fortress it was inspected by Pencil Pusher, who would usually find something wrong with it and an enormous argument would break out that required my special attention to sort out, because I can never have any damned peace and quiet anymore.

Rainbow Dash sulked for the entire time we walked, responding to my token attempts at small talk about the weather or the quality of the food with monosyllabic words or grunts, much like the perpetual teenager that she is. The other Wonderbolts likewise kept to themselves, though I heard a few smatterings of conversation and a minor attempt at lightening the mood by discussing how they were looking forward to seeing Ponyville again.

The journey through that pass always felt strange; to walk upon the same earth that I had done over a year ago, with the memories of my first experience in battle. With the same dirt beneath my hooves I could feel echoes of that same primal terror that I had experienced when subjected to that artillery barrage, or when we closed with the enemy and the brutality of hoof-to-hoof combat began. Despite the company around me and the traffic of ponies pulling wagons along this pass the outside world had felt muffled and distant, as though viewed from beyond a glass cage, but my mind had fogged it with images of the dead whose corpses littered the slopes of the hills that loomed above us.

We reached the supply depot at around midday, when the troops stationed there would start their break for lunch and try to get some respite from the burning heat in the shade of the hills. Boxes of assorted size, whose contents I could only imagine, were arranged into large oblong blocks, with paths between them like the grid system of roads in a modern city. There were a few tents, under which logistics troops, stripped of their unnecessary armour and wearing only hats and loose-fitted robes, rested and watched glumly as we walked past. Some served as makeshift offices, barracks, and storage areas for things that apparently couldn't be safely stored in convenient boxes, and at least one I had seen had been converted into some sort of primitive leisure facility with groups of off-duty soldiers playing card games, drinking, or listening to a radio they had somehow acquired. One enterprising individual appeared to be trying desperately to make a film projector work while her less-than-helpful colleagues shouted abuse at her.

The only permanent structure was the railway terminus station that was located at the other end of the depot closest to Dodge Junction. It consisted of a small goods shed and a platform for loading and unloading, a loco shed, a water tower, and a set of coal staithes for refuelling. One might be reasonable in one's assumption that I could not care less about this sort of thing, being a pony content to simply ride a train as a means to get to a destination in the relative comfort and luxury of first class, or my private carriage where applicable, with no interest in how they actually operate. I am only familiar with this after having been subjected to Major Starlit Skies' colt-like enthusiasm for trains, when I made the mistake of asking about the scale model of that station he had made in his office and was subjected to a lengthy demonstration of how it all worked.

"So that's it?" said Rainbow Dash in a defeated tone of voice. "So long and good luck?"

"I'm afraid so," I said, doing by best to present myself as somewhat conciliatory. "Let's not make it any more difficult than it has to be."

Whatever fate or destiny or other such vague metaphysical concept that had decided to make my life as difficult as possible must have overheard me say that out loud, for who should force his way through the nearby group of loggies arguing over a dropped box of potatoes but Captain Blitzkrieg himself.

"Right!" he said, slithering over with that disturbingly elegant gait of his. As ever, he moved like a panther slipping silent and unseen through the jungle on the hunt for some helpless prey. "Thought you could go without letting me say my piece?"

"Captain, what are you doing here?" I asked incredulously. "Were you following us?"

Blitzkrieg ignored my question and instead advanced on Rainbow Dash, staring intently at her with those chillingly predatory amber eyes. The other Wonderbolts parted swiftly to form a sort of path for him. I'm not sure why, perhaps there was some subtle element of his body language that my hindbrain had interpreted to mean that he intended to commit bodily harm on the unarmed mare, but I thought I should keep them apart. I stepped forward and held out a hoof to stop him, which he walked into as though he hadn't seen it. He looked at my hoof on his chest and then back up at me, but with an arrogant snarl that gave an unsettling glimpse of the razor-sharp fangs of the Night Guards he simply stepped around me.

"For pony's sake, I get enough lectures from Twilight at Ponyville!" snapped Rainbow Dash, loud enough for nearly everypony in the depot to hear if they so cared. "Alright, fine, let's hear it. I messed up, didn't I?"

There was a brief pause before Blitzkrieg answered, as though he didn't anticipate that kind of response. "Too bloody right you 'messed up', ponies got killed because of you!"

"You think I don't know that?" said Rainbow Dash, stepping forwards with her wings outstretched in that rather absurd pegasus gesture of aggression. "I'm the one who's going to have to live with that mistake on my conscience. I don't need you making it worse for me."

For Faust's sake, I just wanted to get this over with and then go back to the fortress, enjoying the quiet solitude of the long walk with maybe a little detour into the hills where I could enjoy a cigar and a drink from my hipflask without being bothered. I marched between them, holding the relatively diminutive pegasi back with my forehooves; Rainbow Dash stopped herself and moved just out of reach, while Captain Blitzkrieg saw fit to once more walk straight into my hoof and only this time try and fail to push me out of the way.

"Enough of this," I said, using the quiet but firm voice that Auntie 'Tia used to keep foreign diplomats from fighting when she mediated international disputes.

Once again Blitzkrieg ignored me and pushed against my hoof, though it seemed I was a bit too strong for him and he settled for continuing to harangue Rainbow Dash over me. "If you paid attention to our training then you wouldn't be in this mess."

"What training?" Rainbow Dash shrieked, and rather too close to my ear too as she darted around me. I tried to position myself between the two pegasi, but their natural agility and their ability to just fly over me seemed to trump my comparatively clumsy unicorn gait. "All you two did was shout at me, lecture me, punish me, force me to do pointless exercises until I could barely stand, abandon me out in the desert with no water, and for what? That wasn't training, you just set me up to fail because you wanted to get rid of me! And I was stupid enough to go along with it because I thought I could show you I could be a soldier, but I didn't count on everypony here having already made up their minds about it."

She had a point, I had to concede, but I was damned if I was going to accept any blame for her mistakes. After the morning I just had, however, I had gone far past the point of caring. Was it too much to ask for a nice, quiet war? On reflection, yes, because there is no such thing as one, but at the very least I'd like to be able to worry solely about keeping myself alive on the occasion some officer decides I need to renew my 'hero' licence and concocts a mad scheme that involves great mortal peril on my part without playing therapist to a dysfunctional group of emotionally stunted ponies.

"And you were too bloody stubborn to just give up and go home," Blitzkrieg snapped.

Reason wasn't going to work while Captain Blitzkrieg's blood was up. In the vicious snarl and hate in his eyes I saw all the work I had done to civilise this brute had proved fruitless; I could paint a veneer of sophistication and civility over him, but that could only cover the rotted core of the violent and boorish personality that had driven him to his life of crime in the first place. Oh, his heart was in the right place, standing up for his 'gang', as it were, against the perceived injustice of my simply letting Rainbow Dash get off lightly for her exceptionally poor decision, but I could scarcely allow him to assault, verbally or physically, the Bearer of the Element of Loyalty no matter how much she deserved it.

"Blitzkrieg," I said, raising my voice slightly. I saw that I would have to resort to sinking down to his level with base threats in order to get through to him. "I've already executed one officer today, let's not make it two or I might develop a taste for it."

That had the desired effect. Blitzkrieg glowered, giving his best impression of Princess Luna's trademark scowl. It was quite close, though it gave the implication of being gutted with one of the stiletto blades he still secreted over his armour rather than that of my Aunt's, which spoke more of eternal damnation and hellfire in the lowest depths of the pits of Tartarus. I wondered for a moment if he was going to turn his anger towards me, and that I might find a dagger between my ribs at any given moment, as the slits of his cold amber eyes flitted between me and the angry mare on the other side.

"Alright," he said flatly, before slinking away to be lost in the crowd. Common sense, it seemed, had prevailed over his misguided desire for his own version of justice, whatever form it took. Perhaps he had some measure of respect for me, though I had some doubt whether anypony except maybe Princess Celestia actually held any for me, and even then it was directed more at the idea of me rather than the real me [Blueblood, of course I do. I always have. I wish I could have told you this].

With the distraction over with I sent Rainbow Dash on her way with no fanfare, as this occasion deserved. I watched her embark the train, asked her to give my regards to Twilight Sparkle when she saw her [Twilight Sparkle was in Ponyville collating the findings of her investigation], and then she was off and out of my life. In theory, at least.

On the way back to the fort I found Captain Blitzkrieg on a small rocky ledge overlooking the path. Any hopes of a relatively quiet lunch had been dashed and I was forced to consume a hay sandwich I had bought from what passed for the officers' mess at the depot while I walked. He rested there on his belly like a cat, with his forelegs dangling over the edge and crossed over at the hooves, and watched as I walked past. I'd considered pretending not to see him and just carry on walking, but it must have been fairly obvious to him that I had.

"I screwed up, didn't I?" he said as I approached the ledge. At least he had the good sense to look sheepish.

"I have had a rather..." I paused to think of the right word, and bit another chunk out of the sandwich. "...trying morning today."

"You've had a 'rather trying' few days, mate," he said, wagging his forelegs a little as they dangled over the ledge. "Sorry about that just now. I didn't want to see her get off lightly for what she did. I guess I can say 'goodbye' to me ever being a gentlecolt."

I sat down in the shade beneath the ledge and chewed thoughtfully on the sandwich. My services were needed back at the fortress, probably to sign yet more paperwork and attend more meetings as, despite everything that had happened, the war must still proceed regardless. I was not looking forward to the drudgery of military administration, coupled with the general feeling of gloom that permeated the place since the previous day's events. Gliding Moth's absence felt particularly harsh, and as I rested there and watched the troops haul their wagons filled with goods to and from the fortress I felt an inexplicable desire for her to be with me now. That she could not, and will never be again, hurt me there and then more than any physical injury inflicted upon my body in battle before.

"You miss her, don't you?" said Blitzkrieg. Looking up I saw him peering over the edge down at me. "The filly commissar, I mean."

"Yes," I said, doing my utmost to maintain my composure. Were my feelings that obvious? Was the mask that I had done so much to hold up like a shield over the weak and cowardly pony that I truly was slipping so much?

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. I tried to detect any hint of sarcasm or mockery in his voice but I found none. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"I'd rather not, thank you."

Captain Blitzkrieg seemed to understand what I meant by that. I'm sure another pony would have pestered me, tried to get me to 'open up', but what good would that have done? This burden was mine alone to bear, as was my shame. The rest of Equus would proceed as normal, with or without Gliding Moth in it and regardless of whether I gave voice to the bitterness subsuming me from within like a cancer, but to engage in self-indulgent public mourning would have been pointless. Others had their own grief to work through, and many more since that skirmish at the bridge thanks to the now-deceased Scarlet Letter, so I found that I simply could not, should not, add to it in this time of hardship.

"I saw an older photo of you," said Blitzkrieg, attempting to shift the course of the conversation so rapidly and awkwardly that if it were a ship it would have rolled over and capsized. "From the Grand Galloping Gala, I mean. You were wearing a white suit. I was wondering if I ever get to go to fancy events like that I'll need something nice to wear that isn't just my dress uniform. Where'd you get it from?"

He was referring to my summer dinner jacket in ivory-white, which was almost completely ruined after the incident with the cake in the aforementioned party. I told him about my personal tailor on Saddle Row [Prince Blueblood was a frequent custom of Griffons & Hawks, one of the oldest gentlecolt's tailors on the famous street], and suggested that dropping my name there might afford him some kind of preferential treatment, assuming that he did not say or do anything to get himself (and me) banned. For a relatively short moment, however, about an hour or so I spent in the shade of that rocky ledge in Black Venom Pass, I could at least pretend to be a normal pony once more, or as 'normal' as a prince of the realm could be. Explaining to Blitzkrieg the importance of correct and proper presentation through a stallion's suit was a greater therapy than any that a psychiatrist or drug could offer (though a trip to a bespoke tailors' shop is by far the most effective cure for depression in any case), even though I had some small inkling that he was merely humouring me. While the pain could not be completely excised so easily, that it was relieved until it was time for me to return to work was greatly appreciated.

***

Things just sort of stumbled along from there, with no real drive or energy behind it like a broken-down train drifting along under its own momentum. The loss of the Colours had an effect on the entire encampment much like the death of relative to a whole family, whereby in spite of whatever grief one inevitably feels, life and work still must proceed, albeit with the pain of that loss suffusing all that one did. Almost instantly, however, there was a dramatic spike in disciplinary issues, particularly in the 1st Solar Guard, which was to be expected; disobedience, brawling, insubordination, drunkenness, and worst of all desertion. All of the things that were expected of a militia regiment guarding a tiny collection of hovels out in the Equestrian mid-west had suddenly swept through the most prestigious and the most disciplined regiment of the Royal Guard. Officers could dish out beastings, imprisonment, extra sentry and latrine duties, and floggings, but even their hearts were no longer truly in it. Like their stallions, with the Colours and therefore the honour and history that came with being a member of the regiment gone, it was difficult for them to find too much of a reason to care.

Yet the war could not stop for this. Planning for the offensive continued, with the added doubts about the reliability of the 1st Solar Guard complicating each and every decision from the high level operational planning to even day-to-day drill practice. On paper, the regiment was well-equipped and the latest batch of reinforcements had brought it up to full fighting strength, but in terms of that unquantifiable mental state that somehow drives a soldier to ignore both the instincts of self-preservation and reason to follow orders that could very well lead to his death, the inescapable conclusion that General McBridle and his staff had come to but seemed to wilfully ignore was that it simply could not be counted upon to perform in battle.

It was against this backdrop of 'going through the motions' of fighting this war, as it were, that I became aware of the backlash against my decision to execute Scarlet Letter. I should have known that it was a mistake to read the newspapers, for even at the best of times they have a debilitating effect on one's mood and, give it enough time, powers of critical thinking, but boredom and curiosity soon got the better of me. Though I was no stranger to the unfair vilification of the tabloid media, whose sole aim in life seemed to be to find anything remotely questionable in the lives of rich nobles such as Yours Truly and from there invent grotesque moral failings (though in my case they are often at least partially true), seeing 'BLUEBLOOD: ENEMY OF THE HERD' in big black letters accompanied by an old photograph of me striking a servant on the front page of The Canterlot Sun was more than just a trifle upsetting. Interestingly, though, the journalist, though I hesitate to describe the illiterate pony who scribbled those words in crayon on a fast food restaurant's menu and tried to pass it off as journalism as one, seemed to acknowledge my entirely fabricated image of being a decorated war hero, but such things were apparently not enough to justify what he and the editorial team had described as an attack on the very principles of the rule of law and democracy.

The rest proceeded in the same vein, though the quality of writing inevitably increased with more upmarket publications like The Times of Trottingham and The Daily Ponygraph. And so widespread and consistent was the message that the execution conducted under my orders was a grievous affront to civil society that I could scarcely believe that this sudden outpouring of opprobrium was spontaneous. Although the idea that Scarlet Letter had friends who really existed and were not just made up for what I had hoped were empty threats will remain doubtful in my mind, it was clear that his prophecy of his connections making life difficult for me had some element of truth to it. Many such editorials were published calling for the dismantling of the Commissariat and my cashiering, which I would have been all for had it not been for further calls to have me thrown in prison and my royal titles revoked.

This criticism was just that - words with no real action behind them, and I have been called far worse by far better ponies before. All of this would pass with the next scandal. It was only when I had learned that my name had been mentioned in the debates of the House of Commons, along with Shining Armour's and General McBridle's, that I felt genuine concern about my future. Ponies wanted somepony punished for the loss of the Colours, and though the pony truly responsible for this mess had been punished to the fullest extent of the Commissariat's authority, for some it was either not enough or the wrong choice to make entirely.

Hope, however, soon arrived from a most unlikely source - Princess Luna. Over the week following the execution I was inundated with both letters of support and condemnation from the various political factions within both the Ministry of War and the Commissariat; orders to report to Canterlot for some form of show trial would be countermanded by further orders to remain with the 1st Night Guards and carry out my duties, to the point that the officers and bureaucrats seemed to be arguing ideology more with each other through these letters. It was safe to ignore these contradictory missives, and that feeling was validated when I received a letter from the one pony I could not possibly afford to ignore. A midnight-blue envelope had arrived, with my name written on the front in silver ink in elegant hoof-writing. Inside was a sheet of the same dark paper, and in the cool dark of my office in the early morning I could discern pinpricks of white and silver like a cloudless midwinter night. In flowing, extravagant script the letter read:

Honourable Commissar-Prince Blueblood,

I wish to extend my continued gratitude to you for your exemplary service to Equestria and my condolences for your loss. Commissar Gliding Moth wrote fondly of you in her reports to me, and under your guidance she would have made an excellent commissar.

Equestria needs ponies such as you in this era of great peril, yet there are those in positions of power who are blind to the sacrifices required for final victory over the Changeling threat. You are to ignore all summons from the Ministry of War to abandon your post and return for their inquiries, for you will be of greater use to the war effort to remain at the front, and they wish merely to use you as a scapegoat for their own failings. Do not worry, for I shall answer their misguided inquisition in your stead.

You may consider yourself to be under my protection henceforth, for as long as is necessary and provided that the quality of your service is maintained.

Yours eternally into the night,

H.R.H. Princess Luna

P.S.: - Please extend my warmest regards to Captain Red Coat.

It was so like the Princess of the Night to frame a letter of support as a threat - 'provided that the quality of your service is maintained' was Luna-speak for 'don't ruin this and make me regret helping you'. Nevertheless, despite my misgivings I was touched by the gesture, signifying the warming of my relationship with my aunt that only took my saving of her life to start. Coming from her it was the closest thing I was going to a compliment. At the very least it meant that I could put this one thing out of mind, as Luna could generally be relied upon to intimidate, threaten, and otherwise bully the cowardly bureaucrats of the Ministry of War into submission. This cheerfully meant that I could direct my attentions to the more immediate problems of how I was going to survive this new offensive with a perilously unreliable regiment leading the attack.

***

[Prince Blueblood leaves the narrative of the political fallout here. In this case I feel it will be helpful to the reader to elucidate further on the events in Canterlot to better place his description of events in its historical context. The following extract is from an article from The Daily Ponygraph published on the 23rd March 1015 P.N., which, at the risk of displaying some bias here, is one of the better organs of the news media and has a consistently excellent crossword puzzle]

LUNA - 'BLUEBLOOD DID NOTHING WRONG'

Princess Luna appeared before a House of Commons inquiry yesterday evening to answer questions about the recent actions of Commissar-Prince Blueblood. Lieutenant Sir Scarlet Letter, MP for East Trottingham, was summarily executed by Blueblood, who accused the deceased of incompetence and cowardice in the field that led to the loss of the Royal Colours.

The Secretary of State for War, Treble Bass, is Scarlet Letter's brother and has in turn accused the decorated war hero of abusing his commissarial authority to settle a grudge and to mask his own failures. In an official statement, he declared Blueblood to be a wanted criminal who must be brought to justice, which is a charge the Royal Commissariat has rejected. This has caused a rift between the two organisations and cast doubt over whether the role of commissars in the Royal Guard to supervise officers and punish them is justified in military law.

Convention dating back to the Reconstruction forbids royalty from entering the House of Commons, symbolising the sovereignty of Parliament. Princess Luna removed her regalia and 'abdicated' her title as a Princess of Equestria outside the chamber. Historian and constitutional expert Juniper Tonic described this as a 'piece of theatre', as 'nothing really exists to stop either Royal Pony Sister from doing whatever they want'.

The House of Commons was almost completely full for this historic event, with some MPs having to sit or stand in the aisles. Princess Luna took her place before the Speaker of the House and answered the MPs questions. In response to the first question, asked by Chocolate Sun, the MP for the Hayseed Swamp, 'how are you today?' she said 'doing well, thank you'.

Serious questions followed. The Prime Minister asked the Princess on what basis a commissar has to execute a serving officer of the Royal Guard without trial. "On the basis that it is sometimes necessary," she answered. "The officer class today is sorely lacking in military competence and leadership. The result of centuries of neglect by the ponies of this very house."

This answer brought much jeering from some MPs, requiring the Speaker to bring the house to order. Princess Luna remained calm and impassive while this happened and awaited the next question.

"By what right can you say this of Royal Guard officers, particularly my brother, who has served you and your sister with distinction?" asked Treble Bass.

"When I have seen their incompetence with my own eyes," said Princess Luna. "I spent time at the front and saw officers entirely out of touch with the requirements of war. I saw officers who continued to throw extravagant parties while their soldiers suffered, who thought nothing of sacrificing the lives of those soldiers for no real military purpose. As for your brother, he committed an act of treason and should have been punished, yet the Ministry of War saw fit to have him acquitted and returned to the field where he would commit another act of treason. Scarlet Letter was a poor officer and a disgrace to the Royal Guard. He was merely the symptom of a greater rot within Equestria, and I see it before my eyes right now."

The jeers only got louder, and it took five minutes for the Speaker to restore order to the house. Many MPs shouted 'shame' at the Princess, who withstood the abuse with a sense of regal calm.

With order restored, Treble Bass addressed Princess Luna again - "A lot has changed in a thousand years. Equestria is now a democracy, but your actions demonstrate hostility to the idea of self-determination for ponies."

Princess Luna answered, "My ire is directed at this government's conduct of the war and nothing else. A thousand years ago there was war, then there was peace, and until recently there was none. You, Secretary of State for War, must have read von Pferdwitz, Sunny Tzu, Neighpoleon, and so on. I knew them. I even edited 'The Art of War' while your ancestors shovelled dirt in the rock farms."

The Speaker informed the Princess that that was un-Parliamentary language and that she should refrain from insulting the MPs. The Princess appeared to ignore the Speaker and continued to address the house.

"It is true that I still have much to learn of the modern world, like how the assembly I see before me can claim to represent the Equestrian ponies, but as once Warmistress of Equestria the one thing I do know is war. I can say with no fear of contradiction that this is the worst conduct of war that I have seen since Prince Maximilian of Gryphonstone attempted to invade Stalliongrad in the winter with no winter clothing for his troops. Mark me, when Twilight Sparkle completes her report, there will be a reckoning in this house."

The chamber exploded in uproar, with shouting and jeering from the seats. Some Opposition MPs, however, applauded Princess Luna's words. Strawberry Twist, MP for Rainbow Falls, threw a pencil in the Prime Minister's direction and was removed from the house by the sergeant-at-arms. The Speaker's attempts to bring order were drowned out by the commotion, as MPs engaged in loud, angry, unstructured debate with one another. Order was eventually restored when Princess Luna struck her hoof on the floor and employed the use of the Royal Canterlot Voice to stun the entire House of Commons into silence.

The Speaker informed the Princess that she should not intimidate the MPs. Luna responded by saying something in a different language, but thus far nopony has been able to translate it into Equestrian. [Princess Luna here used ancient alicorn profanity here, which, for those curious, roughly translates to 'don't tell me what to do or I will raise the moon up your backside']

Princess Luna continued, "The fatal mistake this government has made is assuming war can be clean and easy. After the attack on Canterlot you were all eager for revenge, as most ponies were, yet you all lacked the foresight to plan appropriately for such a war. It is you who neglected the Royal Guard in the thousand years of peace, but you were so blinded by this revanchist rhetoric that you could not see that the sword of Equestria had been blunted - its size too small for the task; its officers lacking the training, experience, and even base competence to lead; its generals too timid to truly take the fight to the enemy for fear of loss of prestige. Its strategy is outdated and ill-suited to an enemy that relies on stealth and subversion.

"And you all thought it would be over before Hearth's Warming with minimal casualties. My friend, Scorched Earth [The Nightmare Heresy-era loyalist general whose 'March to the Sea' campaign that left much of the south of Equestria in ruins and broke the back of Nightmare Moon's economic infrastructure remains controversial] once stated that war is hell. It is only when the horrible truth is accepted, when all the cruelty and horror of war is realised that you will know to do your utmost to achieve a swift and total victory by any means necessary. So far I have seen that you lack the will to wage this war. You are merely foals playing at it, for which the soldiers of this land must suffer. That is why I have taken matters into my own hooves and created the Commissariat, why my sister has tasked Twilight Sparkle with her report, because you will sit here and debate the just execution of a traitor by a war hero instead of undertaking what must be done to re-forge the sword. Equestria is at war, and it is high time you realised that no war can be won by mere half-measures."

There were no further questions. Princess Luna left the House of Commons, putting on her regalia and having the Archbishop of Canterlot conduct a quick coronation ceremony in the lobby before retiring to the Night Court.

In the press conference after, the Prime Minister told journalists: "Princess Luna is still adapting after her thousand-year absence, so while her delivery was unrefined it falls to the government to tease out the truth in her words."

When asked if he agreed with the Princess's damning assessment of his government's handling of the war, he said: "I don't think it's beneficial at this point to start pointing hooves and blaming ponies. These are very complex issues here, and I have full faith that our government will make the right choices in making Equestria safe."

Treble Bass, however, stated that: "The Equestrian soldier is the best equipped, best led, and best fed in the whole world. The Changelings have proven more difficult than anticipated, but I have every confidence in the Royal Guard. What is at stake here, is that an organisation that is only accountable to Princess Luna now has authority over a government department, and that's just not very democratic."

He was then asked if what Princess Luna and Commissar-Prince Blueblood had said about his brother were true. "Absolutely not. Sir Scarlet Letter served in the House of Commons for ten years. His only desire was to serve Equestria. These accusations of treason and incompetence are slander, and Prince Blueblood will answer for them."

Reporters pressed Treble Bass for further information, with Hot Scoop of Sun and Moon asking if he planned on implementing the findings of the Twilight Sparkle Commission in full. "That depends on the findings of the report," he said, "and whether or not they are politically viable."

Princess Luna was also approached by reporters with questions. She stayed to answer a few before leaving for her dream-guarding duties. When asked if Princess Celestia approved of how she addressed the House of Commons, the Princess of Night explained sharply that she did not need to ask her older sister for permission to do everything, and that they had discussed the state of the war together anyway and were in agreement about what had to be done.

"The truth is often unpleasant," she said. "I make no apologies for not dressing it up in nice words when my subjects’' lives at stake."

She was then asked if her defence of Commissar-Prince Blueblood amounted to nepotism, to which she responded: "No, I have judged Blueblood on merit alone. You need only look back on the past few years before I truly got to know him, when we all believed him to be a spoilt brat of as much use to equine society as a parasprite in a famine. I am glad to say that I have been proven wrong."

This reporter asked the question: "Should ponies put so much faith in the judgement of a stallion who wrote and published a book entitled 'The Grand Tour: A Gentlecolt's Guide to the Brothels and Bordellos of Prance'?" Princess Luna refused to comment and disappeared in a puff of smoke. [The book is mercifully out of print though I hear that what few copies remain fetch a considerable sum at auction]

Political commentator Swansong said of the debate in Parliament: "It's clear that Princess Luna dominated the discussion. She deftly turned the Secretary of State for War's accusations against him and exposed the failings of the Ministry of War. The government clearly misjudged in inviting the Princess to this debate and I wouldn't be surprised if Treble Bass will resign soon." [He did a week later, but took up another ministerial position in the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship]

Commissar-Prince Blueblood has been contacted by The Daily Ponygraph but has not responded. Princess Luna said that he has far more important things to do instead.

Author's Note:

So I had it in me all this time, now I only need to try and maintain this momentum.

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