I remember hearing the wind in my ears, before anything else. And it felt warm; uncomfortably warm. It felt like I had been under the sun for hours. My eyes felt heavy, and it was a struggle to open them. Once I did, all I could see was wet sand in front of me. The side of my face was laying up against its soggy, scratchy surface. The waves behind me kept rushing up my body, soaking my hind legs and my tail. When I moved to stand, that's when the pain came rushing back to me. My muscles were sore, and my head was throbbing, especially my ear. I was tempted to stay laying down, to spare my muscles the trouble of working. But the heat of the sun beating down on my back reminded me that I could only stay here for so long before I wound up in trouble.
Clenching my teeth together, I moved my hooves through the sand. Every fiber of my legs screamed out in protest, but I ignored them and kept steady. With some effort, I managed to stand up on my hooves, the entire side of my coat still caked in wet sand. While I was still sore, my legs got used to standing rather quickly. I wiped the layer of sand off of me with a hoof, and winced as I moved my head, a sharp pain still at the end of my ear. I looked up, and I saw a blue crab hanging by his pincer, which was clenched tightly on my ear.
“Ow! Hey, get off!” I shouted at him. I was about to reach up and yank him off, until I saw a reddish hue overtake him. The crab let go of my ear, and the aura disappeared, letting him drop to the ground. I scratched my head, which was covered with a large, thick helmet. I moved my eyes upwards, and saw that I had a white horn pointing forward at an upward angle. That explained the magic that had just taken place, but not the questions still burning in my aching head.
Where was I? And more importantly, who was I? I tried to think, as hard as I could, but I was drawing a blank. I couldn't remember where I was born, who my parents were, what I did for a living, if I even had a living. For all I knew, I had been born on the beach right then and there, a fully grown stallion.
I looked down at the crab who had released my ear, while he was in the middle of scuttling back to the shore. I saw him crawl past a mess of wood, round and smooth on the sides that weren’t broken and splintered. Though I had difficulty recalling my memories,, I recognized that as a mast. I was pretty sure that's what it was, given that I was near the water. It had to be what was left of a shipwreck. Was I on that ship, before it was destroyed? Was I its captain, or merely part of the crew? And what happened to cause the wreckage? Were we victims of a stormy sea, or did an enemy ship take us down?
I decided to stop contemplating my unknown past for a moment when I looked ahead and saw a small town in front of me. It didn't look very big, probably no more than a hundred ponies living there. The area I was in seemed to be a place built for docking ships. Maybe I had set sail from this place? My parched throat and rumbling stomach made me wonder just how long I had been drifting through the sea on what was left of the ship. I decided to prolong gathering information on who I was, and instead make my way towards the town, to see if I could find a kind somepony that might offer me a meal and a drink. After that, I could worry about figuring out who I was, and if I had a home to return to.
Just as I took a step towards the town, the wind picked up and blew a plank of wood from the ship against my head. I was lucky that the helmet on my head protected me, or that would have hurt a lot more. I looked towards the direction that the object struck me, and my eyes locked on something in the distance.
On top of a cliff, overlooking the sea, I saw somepony standing there. I couldn't make out their features, but I saw them all alone, staring out towards the water. I found myself entranced by the sight. Since I had woken up, I hadn’t come across a single pony near me. For the moment, we were the only two occupying this strip of land. I'm not sure why, but I put my need for food and water to the side, instead feeling an intense curiosity to see who this pony was.
Walking along the sand, I felt something rattling inside my helmet. I assumed that when I had been struck in the head, it had knocked something loose. Had I really been hit that hard by a piece of wood? Or perhaps it was already losing its integrity, having protected me from the travesty that had devastated the ship I might have been on. Despite the aggravating noise, I pressed my hooves into the sand and kept moving forward, closer towards the cliff in the distance.
Several minutes of trotting, and I stood a few yards from the bottom of the cliff. I could finally see that the pony standing at the top was a mare. I had to get a closer look at her. I rounded to the back of the cliff, and began my trek up the slope. Strangely, the surface of the cliff wasn't sandy like the shores, but grassy and lush as I climbed it.
That rattling sound in my helmet returned to my attention, and began to grate on my nerves. I wanted to stop and take off my helmet to see if I could fix it. But my eyes caught sight of the mares violet and pink tail blowing in the wind. I was nearly there, there was no need to waste time on such a trivial matter.
I stumbled once during my climb to the top. The journey was more than I expected, and I wondered how a mare such as herself had made such a climb, when I was having trouble myself. My aching legs made me consider that it wasn’t the cliff, but perhaps my current state of fatigue that made it so difficult. I knew that pushing myself wasn’t a good idea. The smartest thing would have been to go straight into town for help, as I had planned to do in the beginning.
But something I can’t explain urged me to keep going, despite my weariness. Whoever that mare was at the top, my heart compelled me to go to her. I knew I couldn’t rest until I laid eyes upon her. I kept climbing onwards. Once I reached the top, I could finally make out the features of the pony standing there, all by her lonesome.
The sight was absolutely breath-taking. The mare had a pale cerise coat, poured magnificently over her poised slender form. Her golden crown sat on top of a multitude of beautiful violet rose hair, with a thin horn poking out from the top. Her wings sat folded at her sides, as she stood regally looking out towards the sea.
Though I couldn't remember anything past waking up on the shore, something deep inside told me that she was the most beautiful mare I had and would ever lay eyes upon in my life. I started wondering, what was such a beautiful maiden doing up here, all by herself? Her crown, and the fact that she had both wings and a horn, signified that she was royalty of some kind. Did a princess as beautiful as her have nothing better to occupy her time, than standing out here all alone, staring at the sea?
I was snapped from my thoughts, when I heard a tiny sound, and realized she was speaking. At first I thought she was speaking to me, but I realized that her gaze was still pointed towards the sea.
“I... don't know if anypony's listening,” she began quietly, her words slow and controlled, like she was holding back a storm within her throat. “I've heard stories from ponies who traveled the sea. They speak of spirits who dwell the oceans, controlling the tide, like pegasi control the weather. They decide the fates of sailors, whether they lived and returned home safely, or died in the water. My aunt told me those stories were nothing more than fairy tales. She said that she knew that outside of Equestria, the weather behaves of its own accord, without any intervention.”
Her voice was frail, like it was made of the finest glass. It was enchantingly beautiful. She could probably lure a stallion away from untold riches if they could hear her soothing voice for a moment longer. The mare paused for a moment, and her shoulders rose as she took a breath. Even from my distance, I could sense she was carrying a great burden in her heart. I waited with bated breath for her to continue, curious if she would relay her plight to me, unaware of my presence at all.
“My lover was overseeing a prison ship headed towards Griffonia. He left these shores telling me that he would be back soon, and that he would be just fine.” She paused again, and when she continued, I heard her voice waver slightly. “There was a violent storm far out to the East last week. It caused the roughest waves that Horseshoe Bay ever experienced. I’m worried that my darling was caught in that storm.”
I felt my heart break for the maiden as she recounted her story aloud, the wind carrying her words to the ears of the open sea. I saw tears rolling down her cheeks as her body trembled. I thought to myself that such a beautiful mare should never know such sorrow, having to bear the burden of worrying if her loved one will return to her and dry her of the tears staining her perfect cheek.
As I watched the mare cry for her lover, the strangest thing happened to me. I remembered faintly that I had a mare of my own whom I loved. I wasn’t sure where she was, who she was, or how long it had been since I had seen her. Was she at home at this very moment, worrying herself to death over my safety, just like this princess was? I felt guilty that I had put my love through such grief, but even worse that I couldn’t remember the slightest detail about her.
Sniffling through her nose, the mare forced herself to continue speaking.
“He's everything I want in a stallion. He's strong, and courageous. He'll leap into battle at a moments notice to protect those that he loves. But he's also a tender and loving soul. I don't care if I'm a princess, I feel so lucky to have him. I want him back. My heart aches every night when I lay next to an empty half of our bed. I feel sick wondering if he'll come back, or if that spot will remain empty for the rest of my life.” She sobbed, drawing a sharp breath before she continued. "I don't know if I'm talking to anypony or anything. Maybe I'm just talking to myself, and hoping for something that isn't there, because I'm desperate. But, just in case there's something out there listening to me, please...” The mare began to sob, as her head lowered towards the ground “Please... Please keep my Shining Armor safe. Bring him back home to me, please!” She begged, before she sunk to the ground, her entire body shaking as she sobbed against the lush grass.
All at once, the fog that had clouded my mind had lifted, and my mind was filled with memories of the mare I loved. I could see her, when we were young, running alongside me through the grassy meadows on a warm spring day. I could feel her holding me when I faltered, supporting me with unyielding loyalty. I could hear her whispering to me that I made her life feel complete, before drifting off to sleep by my side.
Though my eyes shed tears for the princess in front of me, I felt a joyful smile spread across my face. In the maiden's sorrow, she had granted me a wonderful gift. Because of her, I knew exactly who I was, and where I needed to be. It was only right that I repaid the favor in kind.
I slowly made my way towards the crying mare, standing just above her and looking down on her form laying against the grass. I put a hoof gently against her shoulder, and the mare froze in place at my touch. She turned her head slowly and looked at me. Her beautiful purple eyes scanned my white face, my blue mane still matted with sand underneath my helmet.
“You don't have to cry anymore, Cadance,” I said, as her eyes locked in on mine, staring into them with confusion and wonder. “The sea was kind enough to bring me back to you.”
The mare's eyes welled up and her teeth clenched together as she looked at me. In an instant, she squeezed them shut and lunged towards me, catching me off guard.
“Shining Armor!!” She cried, as I felt my back hit the grass. With the wind knocked out of me, I struggled to breathe as she moved her head back and forth, kissing me all over. Her mouth pressed against my chest, my neck, the side of my face, at such a speed that I could hardly keep up with her. Her kisses were rough and forceful, but I welcomed each of them. They were soothing compared to fog of memory loss I had felt moments ago. As she kissed me in a frenzy, my hooves wrapped tightly around her back, savoring the feeling of her weight against my chest.
“You said you would be back soon!” Cadance sobbed against my chest, taking a break from kissing me. “I thought something happened to you— I didn't know if you'd be okay, I... I didn't know... I didn't know, I didn't—!”
“Ssh, it's okay,” I whispered to her, rubbing my hoof gingerly against her back. As I stroked her, her body began to settle, her breathing slowed down and her body ceased trembling so much. “I know honey. It's okay. I'm here now.”
“Don't... don't ever leave me again”
“I'm not going anywhere, sweetheart,” I assured her as I sat up from the ground. “I'm gonna stay right here, by you, forever.”
“Do you promise me?”
Before I could reply, I noticed something to my side, glimmering from the light of the sun. I looked over to see that it was coming from my helmet. I almost laughed when I realized that was the cause of the rattling I had heard on my way here. I ran my hoof across her hair and down the side of her face, before lifting her chin up so she could look at me. Using my magic, I shook out the tiny diamond ring that had been kept safe in my helmet. I saw the diamond twinkle in Cadance's eyes as she stared at it, mouth agape, then looked back at me.
“I promise,” I said with sincerity as I gazed into her tearful eyes.
Still weary, Cadance smiled feebly at me, before leaning forward and kissing me on the lips. After we kissed, she laid her head on my shoulder, and I looked out towards the shore as the setting sun reflected off the surface of the water. As we sat on the grass, I silently thanked the sea for sparing my life, and letting me see my love again. I knew I would never make her bear the burden of worrying about me in such a way again.
I would stay by her side, ‘til death do us part.