• Published 27th Mar 2024
  • 420 Views, 39 Comments

Parks and Wilderness - stphven

A routine monster hunt goes wrong, stranding a lone guardsmare in the desert.

  • ...

Chapter 28 - Escort

”Princess Twilight is here!”

Or at least, that’s what Fruit Punch wailed as she returned to our tent, scrambling to get her armour back on.

Turns out she wasn’t entirely correct.

Emerging from Anon’s tent, I step out into the blistering afternoon sun. The camp around me, previously calm and sleepy, is now alive with activity. My fellow PWG ponies are busy disassembling tents and packing saddlebags. Sergeant Oak moves to and fro among them, shouting directions.

The cause of the excitement is obvious: a pair of sky carriages have parked at the mouth of the canyon. Resting in the shade nearby are a dozen newcomers, all Royal Guard. The style of their armour and carriages - all gilded edges and silver filigree - speaks of a more ceremonial branch of the Guard. They must look quite noble in Canterlot, but out here I think them almost comically out of place.

One pony stands out among them by virtue of her more plain (and practical) armour: Lieutenant Cookie, my commanding officer.

”Glacier!” Cookie exclaims, noticing me. “Thank goodness! Are you alright?”

The stocky tan unicorn canters over, a relieved smile on her lips. I snap a quick salute, wincing as I shift some weight onto my injured leg.

“I’m alr- OOF!”

She pulls me into a tight hug. Really does nothing to improve my leg situation.

“Err…” I wheeze, physically and mentally thrown off balance. “I’m… I’m okay, ma’am? Uhhh… H-how are you?”

My ears redden at the chorus of snickers directed my way. The new guards are at least trying to maintain a straight face, but my PWG buddies are grinning openly. They know how Cookie gets.

Sugar Cookie is by far the most maternal officer of any us have served with. How she ended up in the rough-and-tumble Parks and Wilderness Guard, I’ll never know. Not that I normally mind - an officer who genuinely cares for her ponies is great. But I doubt I’ll ever get used to an officer showing affection. And in front of another unit? Mortifying!

”I’m just glad Oak managed to find you,” Cookie says, pulling away. “I was afraid the desert might be too much for my little northern filly.”

She eyes me up and down. Noting every bandage and bruise. I shift my weight awkwardly.

“Well. I, er, had some help.”

”Oh! That’s right.” Cookie leans in conspiratorially. “Oak said you actually befriended a human?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I reply, regaining some composure. “Completely unintentional, I promise. Or at least, it was at first. But it soon became clear that he meant me no harm, and that we’d stand a much better chance of survival if we worked together.”

A small smile creeps to my lips, unbidden.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t have made it back without him.”

”Goodness!” Cookie exclaims. From her expression, she’s still clearly still struggling with the idea of a harmless human. Turning aside, she continues: “Well, it certainly sounds like you were right, Captain.”

”The Princess is usually right about these things,” says a new voice, relaxed and with just a hint of Griffish accent. “Princess of Friendship, and all that.”

I stiffen into salute at the word “Captain”. Without turning my head, I see a large, blue pony - no, a griffon? - stride casually into view.

”Of course, sir,” Cookie nods. “Well, sir, this is Sergeant Glacier - the little lost filly I was telling you about.”

I wince internally, doing my best to remain expressionless as Cookie continues:

”Glacier, this is Captain Gallus, Commander of Princess Twilight’s Palace Guard.”

“Hey there,” the captain smiles. “Glad you made it back to Equestria. At ease, sergeant.”

I lower my hoof, though I let myself relax only slightly. A captain is already a big deal. But I'm talking to possibly the most important captain in Equestria! And he’s a non-pony? Clearly he must be an extraordinary officer.

Despite his relaxed demeanour, I feel a certain intensity about him. Maybe it’s the service medals and honours gleaming on his armour. He’s clearly accomplished more in his career than I ever could. Or maybe I'm just not used to griffons. Those curved talons and unblinking eyes remind me uncomfortably of another predator.

I wish I had my armour on. I'm feeling very exposed right now.

"I hate to say it," the captain continues. "But - speaking from experience - you look like you've been wrestling a dragon. Should you be up and about? We can fly you to a hospital if we need to.”

“I’m fit for light duty, sir,” I insist. Oak would probably disagree, but he's not here. “And uh, incidentally, you’re not far off about the dragon thing.”

”Huh.” He raises an eyebrow. “You’ll have to tell me about it sometime. But right now, I’ve got a human to meet. If you’re sure you're up for it, then perhaps you can introduce us?”

“Of course, sir,” I nod, a little hesitant.

Sugar Cookie must have noticed my confusion, as she helpfully adds:

”The captain is here to determine if the human is, well, safe enough to meet the Princess. She’s apparently very keen on meeting him.”

She bites her lip, apparently not very comfortable with the idea. I can’t blame her - I wouldn’t want the Princess anywhere near an unfamiliar creature from The List, either.

Though where is the Princess? My eyes flicker over to the sky carriages. They certainly seem fit for royalty, but I don't see anypony else inside. Cookie, perceptive as ever, simply shakes her head.

”Princess Twilight is waiting for us in Tranquility Springs. I thought it would be best to confirm the human’s safety before bringing him into town. She was kind enough to lend us her carriages.”

I give a grateful nod.

”Understood, ma’am. Sir, please follow me.”

I lead the officers towards Anon’s tent. A pair of Palace Guard corporals join us, flanking the captain. Guess they’re not taking any chances with the human, either.

Reaching the tent’s door flap, I remember Fruit Punch was still getting changed when I left her. Stalling for time, I loudly announce:

“Ahem. Anon? It’s Sergeant Glacier. Captain Gallus of the Palace Guard is here to see you.”

I hear a faint “Eeep!”, followed by muffled rustling. But I can only delay for so long, so after a short pause I push through the flap.

Fruit Punch is standing at attention, saluting as the officers enter behind me. Thankfully, she’s managed to get all her armour on in time. (Though I think I spy some unfastened buckles towards the back). Anon is also standing, watching the newcomers with interest. I wish I’d found him something more presentable to wear; his tattered human rags don’t make a great first impression.

The ponies and griffon finish piling in. There’s a moment of tense silence as everypony realises just how tall the human is. With the low ceiling and limited space, Anon is forced to literally loom over us all. Sugar Cookie gulps audibly, while the corporals subtly shrink back.

Captain Gallus, though, appears unperturbed. He merely eyes the human with a sort of mild professional interest. Perhaps it helps that the size difference isn’t so great - though still shorter than the human, the griffon is likely nearly as heavy.

“Captain Gallus, Lieutenant Cookie, may I present Anon the human.”

”Hey, big guy,” the captain says, extending a claw. “Nice to meet you.”

Anon gives me a questioning glance. I reply with what I hope is a reassuring nod towards the captain. The human doesn’t look entirely sure of himself; maybe he feels the same way as I do about the griffon’s claws? But after a moment he extends his own hand, and the two of them share a slightly awkward hoofshake. Clawshake? Whatever.

“Ahem. Please excuse Anon, sir. He only knows a hooffull of Equestrian words.”

”Oh? I don’t suppose he speaks Griffish, does he?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. Private Punch here,” I nod towards her, “is from the Harmony Corps, and she doesn’t recognise Anon’s language at all.”

Gallus turns to Punch.

”Harmony Corps, eh? At ease, private. So what languages have you tried?”

”Sir! We’ve tried Griffish, Prench, Old Thestral, uhh, Neighponese… Oh, and a couple of the Buffalo dialects. He’s not familiar with any of them.”

I was surprised to learn Fruit’s such a polyglot. Trying out different languages with Anon was one of the first things she’d done. When asked her about it, she’d explained that she’d grown up in a multilingual household - apparently, she’s got a bit of batpony heritage. She’s always found other languages and cultures fascinating, hence her appointment to the Harmony Corps.

”Hmm,” Captain Gallus frowns for a moment, then shrugs. “Oh well. I’ll leave the language problem for the Princess to solve. I’m sure she’ll have fun with that. But in the meantime, you two have been able to talk with him, right? Or at least, found some other way to communicate?”

“Yes, sir. To an extent. It’s, uh…”

I glance at Anon, trying to figure out how to phrase this without sounding too foalish.

“Honestly, it’s mostly just been a lot of pointing at things and then naming them. Or miming actions and then naming them. Sometimes drawing stuff. Uhh. A bit like playing charades, maybe?” I trail off lamely.

”She’s actually pretty good at it, sir,” Fruit chimes in. “It doesn’t take them long to share new words.”

She gives me a reassuring smile. I shoot her a quick “thank you” look.

”Well,” the captain cocks his head. “If it works, I don’t mind how you do it. I just need to figure out this guy’s deal. See if he’s safe enough for civilisation. Since he hasn’t tried to bite my head off, I’d say we’re off to a pretty good start. Still, if you think you’re up for translating, I’ve got a couple of questions I’d like to try.”

”Of course, sir,” I say, heart sinking. This is going to look very silly. But a request from an officer is as good as an order. So I grit my teeth and do my best.

“Anon, please stop touching me there. It’s inappropriate.”

It’s later. Anon is grabbing onto all sorts of things he shouldn’t be. Fruit Punch is sitting nearby, grinning. She likes to watch.

“You know," I say, glaring at her. "You could help.”

”Nah. This is more fun.”

The sky carriage hits another patch of turbulence. Plush seats shudder beneath me. Anon clings even more tightly, holding on for dear life.

The three of us are crammed into what had looked like a spacious, luxurious cabin. But even a carriage built for a Princess is apparently too small for the human. Between the limited space, periodic shaking, and some mild panicking on Anon’s part, I’ve somehow ended up in his lap. On the plus side, this seems to have helped calm him down somewhat. (And, much as I hate to admit it, it's more comfortable than anywhere else.) But on the minus side, he's latched on to me like a filly with a teddy bear. Those big, strong hands of his keep inadvertently finding their way to some rather sensitive areas.

“Hey!” I squeak. “Cut that out!”

I swat a hand away.

“Come on, Anon, it’s not that bad!”

I do feel a bit bad for him. It's clearly his first time flying. Maybe if the two of us were alone I wouldn't mind so much... But with Fruit Punch sitting right there, giggling at my predicament, I just feel all kinds of embarrassed.

I shoot another glare at the cheeky pegasus.

”Sorry, sorry," she grins, clearly not sorry. "Though I’m actually surprised you’re handling this so well. You seem pretty used to it.”

I blush a little.

“W-weeell, Anon and I have been together for - I mean, not together together, just together, you know? - we’ve been physically, platonically together for a few days. And, and it gets cold in the desert, so we, uh, we had to sleep next to each other a couple times, to stay warm. Because he doesn’t have a fur coat. A-a-and then when when we were in the mines it was really cold and cramped and we had to sort of snuggle up a few times and-”

Fruit doubles over, cackling wildly. My blushing quadruples.

”Oh mare,” she manages to wheeze out, blinking back tears. “Tha- That's not what I was asking about at all! But wow! Your reaction was priceless!”

“Y- Wha- I didn’t-” I sputter helplessly, face burning. I glance toward the carriage window, wondering if I could survive jumping out mid-flight. It’s probably worth the risk.

A comforting hand pats my shoulder gently. Anon, still a little green around the gills, smiles down at me. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he can tell when I'm upset.

Of course, this just reminds me of how compromising my current seating arrangement is. I put my hooves over my head, praying to Celestia that the chariot explodes.

”Aww, come on, don’t be like that,” there's still a hint of laughter in Fruit’s voice, but she sounds reasonably apologetic. “I promise I’ll stop teasing you.”

I think I hear her whisper “For now,” but glaring up at Fruit I see nothing but angelic sincerity. I glare harder.

“Fine,” I eventually grouse, sitting up. (As much as I can sit up while wrapped in Anon’s arms.) “So what were you talking about?”

”How well you're handling flying. I’d expected something like this from Anon,” she gestures to the human, who keeps peeping out the window, wincing, then ducking back in. “But most unicorns aren’t much better, to be honest. I was trying to pay you a compliment.”

“Well. Thanks,” I shrug, a little mollified. “I’m just used to it, I suppose. We get ferried around Equestria fairly often in the PWG.”

”Cool,” Fruit nods. “In the HC, we’re usually told to catch a train or make our own way to wherever we’re stationed. Not too bad for us pegasi, but I hear the earth ponies and unicorns complaining about it all the time.”

“Mmm. Well, it’s probably because we’re normally stationed so remotely. Whenever there’s an emergency they’ll send a fleet of pegasi to pick us up. The alternative would be to wait a week for us to trudge back to civilisation.”

”Yeah, that-”

Whatever she was about to say is interrupted as the chariot starts rattling again. The wind picks up, whistling noisily through the open windows.

”Sorry about that, sergeant,” calls one of the pegasi from outside. “We’re still getting used to these desert updrafts. Might be a little bumpy for a few minutes.”

“Okay,” I shout back.

A glance out the window shows the orange desert is still comfortably far away, and not getting any nearer, so I let myself relax back into Anon. Fruit seems to decide it’s too loud to continue conversation, so she settles back too, watching as Anon redoubles his panic-hugging. I squirm as best I can, trying to find a position with at least a little more dignity. But his arms are like fuzzy boa-constrictors, pinning me to his chest. Eventually I'm forced to resign myself to this embarrassing fate. Though I swear I’ll make Fruit sit next to Anon next time.

At least the flight shouldn’t last much longer. We’re only headed to Hoofrest for now. Less than twenty minutes away. It seems our little Q&A session with Anon was enough to satisfy Captain Gallus. With Fruit’s help, we’d mimed some basic questions, and eventually worked out Anon’s answers. Nothing very new for me - Anon doesn’t know how he got here, doesn’t even know where “here” is, and feels nothing but grateful to Equestria - but that was apparently enough for the captain.

”He seems harmless enough,” Gallus commented afterwards. “Of course, it’s my job to assume the worst, so we’ll be keeping an eye on him all the same. But I wouldn’t worry too much. Princess Twilight thinks he’s okay, and even if he’s up to no good, the Palace Guard have dealt with worse.”

Just to be safe, the captain politely requested the PWG’s continued assistance. Which works out pretty well for everypony. Anon is free to enter Equestria, under the supervision of the Palace Guard. The Palace Guard are advised and assisted by Equestria’s foremost monster wranglers. The PWG get to stay in the loop, backed by the most elite Royal Guards they could ask for. And Fruit and I get to stay with Anon, acting as his translators and chaperones.

So now here we are, flying back to civilisation in luxury. The rest of the PWG are either flying back in the other carriage alongside us, or trotting back on hoof. So for now it’s just me and my two best friends. Sure, I'm still a little sore and tired, and I'm still all tangled up in a human’s limbs. But all in all things are going great.

”Ah, I see a smile,” Fruit waggles an eyebrow at you. “So has Anon started putting those fingers to good use? Started using them properly?”

“Properly? What do you m- YOU SAID NO TEASING!”