• Published 14th Nov 2012
  • 20,354 Views, 578 Comments

The Golden Rule - B_25



You are a young lieutenant granted the honour of guarding Celestia.

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I – Of Parades and Old Friends

~I~
Of Parades and Old Friends
A story of friendship, written lovingly by writer.


The command rings out across the ranks, loud and clear.

“ATTEN-TION!”

Click!

The snapping of hundreds of pairs of hooves cracks the chilled morning air like a many-tailed whip, as you and the rest of the platoon snap to attention.

You stand there, still as a stone, not even daring to avert your eyes from directly in front of you.

The height of summer was the time the alicorn had chosen to visit. It had been unusually hot of late, even for summer – but by some miracle, this morning's air is cool, and crisp. Perhaps Celestia had taken a small sympathy on you, and made the sun's intense heat more tolerable to bear from underneath your heavy, pristinely polished breastplate and full parade regalia, but you still feel immensely relieved every time a small gust of wind filters underneath your visor, turning the sweat on your brow into chilling comfort. The last hour has been the most focused of your entire life, and you aren't willing to even mop your forehead, lest you be noticed.

You tense a little, waiting for the command to move. In the near distance, you can see the glimmer of the Princesses' crown as she watches your battalion go through its steps.

“Coldstream guards!” Shouts the unicorn once again. “Shoul-der.... ARMS!”

The glistening silver spear shaft slams into place, just above your left shoulder. You snort a little at the exertion, but the sound is completely lost among the clashing of spears on silver armour as they come to rest, dozens of lethal points readied in respect.

“OFFICERS!” Screams the commander of the guard. “TAKE... POST!”

This is it. This is your moment. The part of your routine in the parade where the slightest fumble could embarrass you in front of the eyes of the entire city.

You take a deep breath, and count to two, like you were instructed. The eyes of the Princesses might be upon you. You know there will be ponies watching from the stands. They're always sold out when the military present the colours to the Princesses. You take four steps forward.

One. Your heart beats in your ears.

Two. You stare straight ahead, not daring to even think.

Three. The graveled parade ground crunches underneath your immaculately polished hooves.

Four. You stop, stamping your opposite hoof in attention.

Still facing away from you, Shining Armour removes his helmet, unveiling a long, cleanly-cut mane of silver blue.

“PARADE!” he barks, his voice all authority and command. “REMOVE... HEAD-DRESS!”

You are a good two metres in front of the column, but you feel and hear the rustle of hundreds of heads simultaneously lowering. You slip a hoof underneath your chin, and lift the silver guardsman's half-helm from your head, hoisting it on your shoulder in readiness and snapping your eyes back to your commander.

For a moment, you stand there, reveling in the moment as the wind does its best to unfurl your slightly sweaty mane. It's the best thing you've ever felt in your entire life after an hour of parade drills, but you daren't move, nor show any sign of relief.

“THREE CHEERS FOR HER MOST GRACIOUS MAJESTY, PRINCESS CELESTIA!” Shining Armour shouts, his voice ringing across parade ground. “HIP-HIP!”

“HURRAH!” the parade ground booms in a deafening response. You thrust your helmet into the air and do the same.

“HIP-HIP!”

“HURRAH!” you yell at the top of your lungs, but your shout is lost in the roaring cacophany.

“HIP-HIP!”

The last cheer is the loudest of all, a crisp blast of patriotism that nopony on the parade ground would dare to overdo.

“HURRAH!”

Silence retakes the field.

- - -

Shining Armour. You've known him for a very long time. Almost as long as you've been in the guards. You joined when he was just a lieutenant, friendly and amiable, an effervescent grin ever on his lips. Now, though, as you stand outside his office, you feel nervous. He'd asked to see you on 'formal business'. What exactly that had meant, you weren't entirely sure.

The last time you saw him was more than a year ago, before he went to the Princess's Royal Guard Academy. You know it's there that they train the best of the best to be officers. The last you'd heard of him, he had made the rank of Brigadier, and had been posted as Captain of the royal guard, its youngest ever. When you saw him enter the parade ground today to lead you in your drill, he certainly looked the part in his full officer's regalia, his head held high, the royal purple-tinted steel cuirass trimmed with gold, his half-helm's crest dyed the same tone of blue as his mane.

You didn't know exactly why he'd come back to lead your battalion personally. In some small way, you'd hoped it was a friendly visit to his old stamping ground. More likely, it had been for the sake of the Princesses. He was the commander of the guard, and he was here to make sure the troops he hadn't seen in little over a year were fit to be presented to her majesties.

You'd hoped for a little bit of recognition from him, too. But that afternoon, when Shining Armour had done his pass over the ranks, he had simply trotted by you, his eyes panning over you like you were just another soldier under his command. Like you had never been friends at all. There was no acknowledgement. No confirmation, no smile, no wink, not even a shift of his eyes. Just the legendary ten thousand feet stare that went straight through you, and cold, hard discipline.

You wonder momentarily if Officer's training had changed him that much that he wouldn't even recognise you. It's a little bit frightening to imagine that, but a better alternative than simply admitting that he wants nothing to do with you anymore. You two used to be very good friends in the mess hall and the sparring hall. He was always the better, of course. The advantage of being the best there was, you used to say. He always claimed it was down to luck.

You knock on the door of Shining Armour's rarely-used office with a hoof, shaking out the last of your jitters.

“Enter,” commands a voice, far more imperious than you remember.

You do so promptly.

Staring out the window, seated on his rump, his back rigidly straight and his brow fixed into a stern frown, is Shining Armour. He is now dressed in a red bandolier's jacket, the insignia of his rank decorating his shoulders, and the epaulettes of his station the same colour as his mane. His suit of magenta and gold armour hangs on a ponnequin just to his right.

You want to smile and shake his hoof. You want to go with him down to the bars in town, and buy him a drink, and talk about old times. You want congratulate him on an amazing performance today. You want to congratulate him on making commander. But you can't. The golden rule of the guards is in effect.

Silence, and obediance.

“It's good to see you again,” he says coldly, without even glancing in your direction. You click your back heels together and salute.

“Likewise, sir.”

That, you can do. But nothing more. Nothing informal.

In the army, it might have been well and fine to speak to him informally. But, once you're picked to go in the guards, you change. Friends become officers. Friends become subordinates. Friends get deployed. You become a fighting machine, trained to protect the princesses. The respect for your fellow guard and the rank they have attained replaces every imaginable bond, including friendship, and you become brothers of the sword, bound by an intimacy and strict adherence to the guard's creed only known to those who have fought side by side, the best of the best.

So not now. Not now he's been made commander. Maybe when he was a lieutenant and you were his sergeant you might have risked speaking to him frankly. Probably not when he had been promoted to Captain though, and definitely not anywhere above. Now he was Commander, it was out of the question.

“Did you see the Princesses today?” He asks you, only the tip of his muzzle illuminated by the light outside the window. Elsewhere on his face, a shadow lies, and a taut frown creases his youthful ivory brow.

Some part of you objects to the unusual nature of his opening question. You'd expected something more formal or informal. Not this.

"Yes, sir. All three of them, sir," you say, knowing better than to ask 'which ones'. Shining Armour smiles somewhat.

“Did you see Princess Cadenza, standing next to Princess Celestia?”

"Yes, sir."

Shining Armour scratches his chin.

“What did you think of her?”

For the first time since you were a rookie, you falter for a reply. But after a brief pause in which you console yourself, you say very honestly that you thought the Princesses looked very radiant today, though you're still feeling slightly uneasy as you finish. The commander smirks a little.

“Is that right?” he says, turning his attention away from the window and back to you.

"Yes sir," you reply, meeting his icy blue gaze.

"Well, I quite agree with you," he says. “Her majesty Cadenza was most radiant today."

"Yes, sir," you say.

He turns back to his desk, on top of which there is an envelope. From where you are standing, you cannot see whose name is written on it - not that you would attempt such a thing, of course. He takes it in one hoof and pockets it, before looking back over his shoulder, eyeing you doubtfully.

"May I trust you with a secret, soldier?”

You say that you are honoured, even though inwardly, you are a little bemused. The conversation was strange enough as it was, but you were used to that. Senior officers treated their junior officers and sergeants as their confidants and allies, even if they hardly knew them. It was not a forced thing at all. That was the expected level of loyalty among the guards. A commander must trust his officers.

The fact that you hadn't seen him for a year was a little jarring, though, and you would not have expected him to entrust a secret to you so readily.

Shining Armour nickers a little to himself, and turns back to you, taking a few slow steps forward before leaning in towards you.

"The princesses were most pleased with today. Celestia herself said it was a fine performance."

You don't smile. You aren't trained to smile. You don't blink and you don't stop staring forward, either. But inside, a wave of relief washes over you, and a little bit of the pressure slides off of your back. It feels easier to stand in place, under your commander's intense gaze.

"You have done well, Lieutenant," Shining Armour says, leaning back and beginning to pace around you. "Your drills were immaculate. I wish I could have said the same for your colleagues, but they have work to do. It was your unit that stood out the most to her majesty. And while her majesty might not know the difference between forming line and forming column, I do."

He stops at your back. You continue to stare at the same point you've been staring at for the last two minutes - a little spot on the wall underneath a painting of a navy cutter in full sail, riding the high seas. Without looking at it, you know the spray is white, and the sea is a turquoise green.

"...Yes, today was a very good piece of work indeed," Shining Armour says, after a pause that you knew he was not obliged to explain. "I will see to it that your consideration for Captaincy is given more merit this year."

A little part of you stings at the remembrance of your previous attempt to become a proper, commissioned officer. But you don't even flinch.

"Thank you, sir," you say.

"But none of this is why I have called you to my office," he says, from somewhere to your left. You hear the heavy, jangling thud of his heavy hoof-falls as he continues his slow circle around you. "Do you know why I have summoned you?"

The little burble of fear in your stomach doesn't spread any farther than your throat. But you're scared, and you know it.

"No sir," you say levelly.

He re-enters your vision again, staring at you. For a half-second, your eyes are tempted to flick to his own. Like two chips of blue ice, they bore into you with a ferocity you don't remember from him.

“I wish to inform you that I intend to marry Princess Cadenza in two months.” He then turns away to the window swiftly, leaving you to digest the information. Your eyes widen slightly.

Shining Armour.

Your friend.

The military officer who rose from a simple, commissioned lieutenant like yourself to become the youngest Brigadier in Equestria's history.

“You're marrying her?” you say stupidly, entirely unable to contain yourself.

Shining Armour spins around, glaring back at you with cold, ice-blue eyes. You freeze, fully aware of your idiocy.

“Lieutenant?” he says, an all-too venomous edge to his voice. “Did I just hear you speak without being spoken to?”

It's a baited question. You know you're in real trouble either way, but you can't reply without speaking more, and at this point, you don't know if it would make him angrier or not.

"Yes sir," you say, after deliberating for what feels like an age.

Shining Armour leaves the window and trots over to you, his brow pulled tight into a curt expression.

“I can't believe it,” he says quietly, shaking his head. “A lieutenant of two years. You'd think you would have learned by now.”

You stand on the spot, rooted by duty, staring straight ahead. In your stomach, fear curdles thickly.

“You've had this coming for a long time, you know,” the royal commander says, bringing his face to within an inch of your own. “Oh, yes. You've had it coming, alright.”

You close your eyes, fearing the worst. You'd be sorry if you weren't, after all.

You feel Shining Armour lean close to you.

“A promotion.”

Your eyes open again. Your brain and heart are panicking, doing overtime, but the information they're receiving from your eyes does not make sense.

The commander – your friend – Shining Armour is smiling at you. Smiling. And now he's laughing.

You're not in trouble at all.

“At ease,” he says, his voice regaining some of his warmth. You promptly collapse back onto your rump in shock and surprise, and he suddenly bursts into laughter, punching you in the chest with a forehoof, his face screwed up in mirth. “Oh, that was golden!" he says, tears rolling down his cheeks. “You should have seen the look on your face! You were scared out of your mind!”

You frown, and feel the kick of a blush on your cheeks as a smile curls across your face. Slowly, it's all dawning on you. He hasn't changed a bit at all, has he?

He speaks your name again, and smiles. You realise that he's speaking to you frankly, as a friend. It's something you've missed. You call him a name and lash out with a hoof, whacking him on the shoulder. This only encourages more laughter, and you dart at the unicorn, shoving him back a little. His mirth only grows, though, and you call him another few caddish names before asking him if he was at all serious.

“Oh yes, perfectly serious,” Shining Armour manages, still chuckling and shielding himself from your hooves. “You're the finest soldier I've ever laid eyes on. When they asked me who might have enough merit to jump up the ranks to take a new Captaincy, I couldn't think of anyone better.” He smiles at you as you stop shadow boxing him. “I came back to see if you were still here, and, well... I'm glad to see you haven't left." He looks you up, and down. "Or changed a bit.”

You are elated, of course. A promotion, a reward for all your hard work. For a brief second, your chest swells with pride, but it nearly comes rushing out again when you think about the little secret he mentioned.

Of course, he must have been joking. Surely.

You ask about Cadenza anyway, an amused grin forming over your face. That was all part of the joke, right? But much to your astonishment, he nods.

Your jaw drops in amazement. For a second, you simply stare at the unicorn, who shifts a little under your stunned gaze, looking half-pleased with himself, and half-embarrassed.

The first thing out of your mouth is a question - how a lug like him had gotten a Princess to fall in love with him.

Shining Armour laughs again, shrugging.

“She was kind enough to accept a dance from me at an officer's ball in Canterlot," he says.

You gasp. What could have possibly compelled him to ask a Princess to dance? He was but a common soldier.

Shining Armour raises an eyebrow at you.

"Not so common any more," he says, tapping his chest, where the solitary, winged gold star indicates his new rank and station. "That was the same night Celestia promoted me. I was celebrating with a few of my fellows, minding my own business, when all of a sudden one of those snobbish Bluebloods bet me fifty guineas that I wouldn't. Didn't think I had the guts to risk getting taken down a few pegs. He was trying to ruin my night, so I asked her. Just to prove him wrong."

Just to prove the point, he reaches into his jacket pocket and withdraws a note that appears to have been written rather carelessly on a handkerchief, passing it to you with a grin.

"I, Sir J. Blueblood, Esquire, in the presence of Lieutenant-Colonel Icewater of the 1st and and Brigadier Montmarre of her majesty's 3rd, bet Brigadier Shining Armour, Commander of the Royal Guard, the sum of fifty guineas to obtain a dance from Princess Cadenza. Should he fail in his task, he must pay the same sum to Sir J. Blueblood, Esquire."

Underneath, the note is signed by various signatures. The victor is apparent by the presence of an attached banknote, which is indeed for the vast sum of money outlined in the bet, for one 'Brig. S. Armour.'

Shining Armour continues.

"I looked up, saw her sitting at the table, downed the rest of my drink and went for it. And apparently, she loves gallantry and bravery in stallions. Who would have thought?” His eyes sparkle at you mischievously. “Caused quite a stir among the Bluebloods, from what I hear, but more's the pity for them, eh? Now that I'm commander, they can't whine without kicking up a stink.”

You inquire about the relationship itself, raising a curious eyebrow.

"It developed rather well that night," he says, rather carefully. "That was months ago. I believe she is somewhat more acquainted with me, now, and we have met and spoken several times since. It is a good thing I work in such close proximity to her, because I admit, I'm fairly infatuated by her."

You make a passing reference to Shining being something of a Romeo. He scowls at you, ignoring you, and after a few moments of grinning, you ask when the news will become public.

“Oh,” he replies, faltering. “I haven't proposed yet, but I will in a little while. In fact, that 'little while' is part of why I've returned to find you.” He smiles. “I want you to help me out for a few months."

You nod. "Of course!" you say, ever willing to do him a favour, and especially seeing as how he's just given you the gift you've been wanting for almost two years now. Your only question is what needs to be done.

"By guarding Princess Celestia while I travel north to meet Cadenza once more, and propose to her," he says.

Again, it takes a little bit for the information to sink in. But when it does, a feeling of utter giddiness overcomes you. You feel like passing out, and you swear your forelegs are suddenly very weak.

Shining Armour watches you with a grin as you gasp in shock, struggling for words.

“Thought you might like that,” he says, retrieving the thick, immaculately white envelope from earlier from out of his coat pocket, waggling it in the air with a hoof. “I've got your comission papers signed and ready.”

Your eyes fall on the envelope, and you gasp. No wonder he had concealed it from you. It has your name on it, in brilliant, cursive gold lettering, and it bears the royal insignia atop a lump of red wax.

Finding your hooves is hard, but you up and trot forward to accept the honour all the same. As your hooves close around the envelope, though, a slightly troubling thought brings you back down to earth with a bump.

The honour of serving in her majesty's guard was reserved for only the most seasoned of officers. You were not enough of a veteran, and you voice your concerns aptly.

“Yes... or, the honour can go to those with outstanding commendations and experience,” Shining Armour says pointedly, giving you a knowing look. “And what better commendation can you receive for guarding her majesty, then that of the Commander of the royal guard?”

For a second, you simply stare at him, gaping. The tension in the air is palpable. He has just offered you a promotion, a commendation, and the job of your dreams, all in the space of thirty seconds. And you are totally, utterly wiped by it.

You cheer, completely abandoning any pretence of formality, and throw your forelegs around Shining Armour, dragging him around and around in a whirlwind of delirious joy, both of you laughing and laughing.

- - -

You adjust your armour as you walk. It's shinier than usual, and that's saying something, given that you were only on parade yesterday. It gleams so brightly, it's almost a little painful to look at.

Your mother was so proud when you told her. You sent her a letter by pidgeon straight away, and got one back less than a few hours later. Your comrades were equally delighted and jealous when you told them you were going away. The seasoned gunnery sergeant who'd helped you out so much as a junior officer was rather teary-eyed. Some of your more experienced fellows, seasoned lieutenants and captains approached you, each mumbling a quiet word of respect in the mess hall that afternoon. Your subordinates cheered you. Even some of the hard-as-nails drill sergeants claimed they'd miss you. It was the best day of your life.

That night, you packed your duffel-bag, too worked up to do anything else. After hours of trotting around your tiny, officer's room, you flopped onto your bed and lay awake, staring at the ceiling, totally unable to fall asleep.

You were also dead tired. Somewhere between the two, you caught a few hours' rest, and when you awoke for the 5am reverie, you felt more refreshed than you ever had in your entire life. That morning, you left the barracks amid a hoofshake or two, still walking on air. By that afternoon, you and Shining Armour were winging your way through the skies, well on your way to Canterlot. And before you could even rid yourself of the euphoria that accompanied the unbelievable turn your life had just taken, you were both in an earth pony carriage, being pulled up the pathway that led up to Canterlot Castle.

It was the Princess's home, or so Shining Armour had said.

To you, it looked more like an entire city.

Towers of gilded gold and royal purple. White marble columns, tapering arches, and high walls of glittering alabaster stone, Canterlot Castle sat, perched on the mountainside far above the city, providing gorgeous views of the vale miles below. It was a marvel of... well, everything you've ever known. Nothing you'd seen had ever been so extravagant and beautiful, or so incredible, or so intimidating. It was certainly nothing you could ever have dreamed of seeing, and your mouth fell slack as you admired the palace from the carriage.

The highest tower, you knew, was Luna's observatory. The giant glass lens poking out from the ceiling confirmed that thought. In line with it were several other towers of varying height and scale, and the main manor itself, which sat in the centre of it all, a palatial, rotund addition to the many wispy spires and tapering points of the castle. Scattered hither and thither were towers of varying height and size, a dozen tapering points with differing heights, widths and thicknesses, some of them connected to eachother by long, glass corridors - but despite the unusual arrangement, the palace still maintained regality. How and why you weren't certain. All you knew was that there was some magic to the place that even a unicorn like you could never hope to learn.

Then, a jolt hits the cart, jerking you back into awareness, and you heard the wheels rumble as they hopped from the gravel path onto to the wooden drawbridge. You glanced over at Shining Armour, grinning nervously. He smiled back, clearly understanding the effect Canterlot was having on you.

“Amazing, isn't it?” he said, before turning his gaze out the window and sighing. “What I wouldn't give to come here more often.”

You rib him with a hoof, and remind him that he might live here one day, provided all went to plan with Cadenza. Now it was his turn to look shy.

“Well, we all live in hope,” he replies, flushing a little.

The cart passes through the gate, travels a little further, does a small half-turn, and then rumbles to a stop. You look up at Shining Armour. He passes you a hopeful smile. You make sure your helmet was on straight. You step out of the carriage.

Incredible. Simply incredible. The day was sunny and fine, and the very stonemasonry seemed to light up in reply, causing the magnificent palace to glow, as if it was enchanted by the magic of the sun itself.

But you can't linger too long just to gawk. Now, as you're torn away from the comfortable safety of the carriage, you follow Shining Armour up a flight of marble stairs, through a small antechamber and into the palace itself. You struggle between admiring the inner beauty of the palace, and making sure everything about you is prim and perfect. Your anxiety is intense, and it only heightens as you twist and turn your way through Canterlot's many golden halls, giving you the chance to sneak a glimpse at the grand stained glass windows, each casting brilliant prisms of rainbow light onto the floor. Curtains of crimson silk frame the windows, all done up with long cords of golden rope. Even more magnificent are the Grand frescoes hoof-painted onto the ceiling, each of them depicting the Princesses during a time in equestrian history, and only some of which you recognise.

It's nothing, though, compared to when you clap eyes on the biggest set of doors you've ever seen in your life. They're made from what looks to be solid gold, hugely tall – almost as tall as the arched ceiling itself – and they're embossed with two metal unicorn heads, each clasping a gigantic golden ring in their mouths.

Golden double-doors. You swallow nervously. There's no mistaking who's behind them.

You proceed down the hallway on a long, red carpet, your eyes totally fixed on the doors as they loom closer and closer. You are flanked on either side by royal guards, dressed in shimmering gold with capes of crimson themselves, and there is a guard every ten paces, not counting the two at the door – but you couldn't care less about them right now.

You only have eyes for the doors.

The two pegasus at the door stand to attention when Shining Armour approaches them. It's only when you pass them that you realise that these are the most elite guards you know of, the royal guards themselves. And they revere your old friend with the same immaculate respect you would expect from privates and corporals in your platoon.

It's almost a little giddy for you to imagine how high he's risen. You're just a novice by comparison.

Shining Armour puts a hoof to each door, and pushes lightly. Despite their immense size, the doors swing open easily, yet slowly, oh so slowly...

The door opens into a forum-like area, with gilded chairs for seating around the edge of the room, where dozens of members of the Canterlot nobility sit, attending court. A hundred heads turn to acknowledge your presence, every one of them a somepony with immense power, and greatness. And in the centre of it all, on a golden throne, at the head of the silken red carpet that you've been treading on for what feels like forever, is Celestia herself.

And you cannot help but think, through your fuzzy head and racing heart, that she is even more ladylike, more beautiful and more regal in person than she was from when you were on the parade ground - when all you could see of her was the glimmer of her crown, and her ethereal mane. She is sleek, snowy-white and tall. Even sitting, you would come up to her neck at least, though you have little time for such trivial thought right now. Your heart races in a mixture of admiration and nervousness.

Celestia glances up as you enter, and puts the letter she was reading to one side, watching you both as you approach.

Artwork by maocha

Her coat is a pure white, and her mane is of a thousand colours, long and lustrous, flowing in a magical wind you can't see, but you can feel. The air itself seems to be warmer in her presence somehow, and the throne room bathes in a heat that isn't at all unpleasant. It's a delightful glow on your coat, one that seeps through to the bone when you look upon her, as if she's been touched by sun itself.

Or maybe you're just sweating like a dog. You don't notice either way.

A coronet of pure gold sits atop her head, its fine, tapering points and elegant metalwork half-hidden by a great, white horn. Around her neck she wears a golden necklace, set with a purple jewel that seems to possess not one colour, but fifty. She is all elegance, the very majesty and radiance of the sun, from the bottom of her golden shoes to the tip of her long tail, a dozen shades of blue, violet and verdant green.

You shudder as she flits her gaze over to your dress for a moment. When she raises her eyes to meet your own for the first time, you nearly freeze on the spot.

Those eyes.

They were magenta. A deep, beautiful shade of orchid, they surveyed you with a wiseness and calmness both unmetered and unmatched. Your heart flutters in a mixture of nervousness and something else you aren't willing to think about, and you quickly break the stare, not wanting to let your gaze linger for more than a second.

But that blissful second burns into your mind like a brand, and even after you look away, you can see a pair of gentle amethyst eyes peering deeply into your soul every time you blink, as if she were a blindingly bright light.

After what feels like an age of trotting, you and Shining Armour reach the foot of her golden throne, and kneel on all fours before her, bowing your heads simultaneously.

You wait. You wait, and you wait, and you wait for what feels like an eternity. It's the longest few seconds you've ever lived.

Celestia begins to speak.