Captain of the Palace Guard
A voice mumbled under a pillow. A lavender head popped up from under said pillow and looked around, shaking the hair out of the eyes. When she could see again, Twilight Sparkle tried to spot what could have made the noise that would have woken her up. Last night had been a long study session, and she was certain she’d only been asleep for a few hours.
The noise came again, and she realised that it was the main door to the library; somebody wanted to come in and it was still locked. She crawled out of bed and stretched, various joints clicking back into place. The mare approached the dressing table as fast as possible for her sleepy state, and already had the brush in her magic aura when she got there. With a few quick flicks, her mane was much better, which was more than could be said for her eyes. Sighing, she rushed out of her room and to the door.
As the purple filly approached the door, the knocking began again, harder this time. Twilight quickly unbolted the door and pulled it open and stopped in her tracks. In front of her were two of Princess Celestia’s royal guards, their golden armour shining in the morning sun she brought to the land. Their coats and manes were perfectly groomed as opposed to the mess that Twilight’s own coat. Behind the two stallions was one of the Princess’ chariots with another two pegasai still hitched to it. The shock brought her to full alertness and removed any bags under her eyes.
“Miss Twilight Sparkle? Captain Ironhoof of the Guard requests your assistance. We also need the aide of one of your friends...”
Outside her tree of a house, a light yellow pegasus held a little chipmunk in her hooves. Brushing long pink strands of her mane out of the poor creature’s eye, she finished bandaging the creatures paw. “There you go, you poor little thing,” she said her voice as soft as freshly settled snow. As she put the animal down, her ears perked up. Something was coming her way. She turned and saw the golden chariot landing, its gleam blinding her slightly and blocking her view of the occupants. Shocked, the mare made for her cottage, her wings flapping to give her enough additional speed to get inside and bolt the door before the chariot even landed.
She leant against the locked door, panting. What had she done wrong? She paid her taxes, hadn’t she? Maybe it was that time she forgot to return that book once? Had she been seen flying to close to the ground in a built up area? Or even jaywalking! As these thoughts raced about in her head, she failed to notice legs pounding up the path. She only realised when there was a pounding at the door, which scared her even more. As she dived under a table, the door was beaten upon again.
“Fluttershy, its Twilight, its okay! You aren’t in any trouble; we’re just needed on an emergency...” From behind the door, Twilight heard a non-descript squeak. Twilight sighed and leant against the door. “It’s an animal emergency, one of the animals up at Canterlot needs you, and the Captain of the Guard has asked for you persona-ARGH!”
Twilight had been cut off as the door suddenly opened inwards, the mauve like mare collapsing inside. She saw her friend rushing about, trying to pull on her saddle bag whilst checking on the house AND worrying, all at the same time.
“Ohmygoshwhydidn’tyousaysoearlierI’msosorryletmejustgetmythingsready!” Before Twilight could even realise it, Fluttershy was vaulting over her, only to turn back round and to help her back up. Fluttershy closed and locked her door as Twilight slowly stumbled back towards the awaiting carriage. She hadn’t the heart yet to tell her yet what she getting herself into...
As the two fillies rode in the chariot, Fluttershy shuffled about nervously. Admittedly this was her default stance in life when anything new or unfamiliar was coming her way, but this was a bit different to her. Her thoughts raced back to a few months ago, at the Grand Gala.
“Um, Twilight? I don’t think that the... well, animals will allow me to help them...” The cry of ‘You’re going to LOVE ME!’ flashed in her mind, making her shiver in fear.
“It’s okay Fluttershy, I’m sure it’ll be different this time. Besides, the Captain has assured me it’s nothing to do with those animals.” As the chariot rose, a cloud drew close to it, one of the pegasus guards motioning towards it. “You might want to grab some of that cloud for your ears...”
“What do you mean?” The nervous filly said, as Twilight grabbed some of the white fluff, sharing it with her friend. Both fillies crammed the material into their ears.
“Oh, let’s just say that where we’re going, things have been known to get quite loud.”
Before the yellow filly could respond the chariot started its descent. Fluttershy’s jaw dropped open as they approached what could only be described as a mansion. It was two stories high and even had rooms built into the roof, judging by the windows up there.
“It’s probably around 30 bedrooms, but that isn’t important.” Twilight said as the chariot touched the ground. Green fields went round the structure, and various hedges sat along a straight cobbled path. The hedges looked as if at one point they would have been sculpted, but had long since been abandoned. The fillies made out the occasional limb of somepony or something, now overgrown.
The mauve mare lead the two fillies to the door, but she could just about hear the commotion on the other side of the door before they even reached it. She reached out to knock on the door when it suddenly burst open. The yellow pegasus dived behind her friend at sight behind the door, before even looking at what was there. To the casual glance, it was a monster with an almost uncountable amount of eyes, legs and mouths. To somepony who looked at what was in front of them before running away, it was a group of foals of various age and species.
The young fillies and colts clambered around a central figure, which on its own could possibly be one of the reasons why the image was so scary. The pegasus stallion, and there was no doubt about that, had to be about Big Macintosh’s height, striding over average stallions. His coat and wings were a medium grey and his mane and tail were black, turning to grey with age. Across his face was a thick bushy black beard, turning to grey as well slightly. His eye’s instantly focused on Twilight, and a broad grin formed across his face.
“TWILIGHT SPARKLE! IT’S BEEN FAR TOO LONG GIRL!” The voice boomed, Twilight actually feeling her mane and tail go back in the wind of his voice.
Birds in the distance took off as Fluttershy cowered more. The stallion rose on his hind legs and instantly Twilight hoped the steed remembered how to control his strength. The mare was quickly enveloped in a bear hug, feeling her bones grind together, the occasional crack or pop being heard. Thankfully, he had remembered as he soon let go.
“And this must be your animal expert friend! I’ve heard so much about you young Filly!” The grey stallion cried, his voice becoming noticeably quieter as his eyes turned to her. “My name is Ironhoof, Captain of the Palace Guard, formally Field Marshall of the Equestrian Army and Air Chief Marshal of the Air Corps. A pleasure to meet you my dear.”
For a moment, Twilight panicked that he was going to hug Fluttershy as well, but something clicked in his head that this mare might not be up one of his hugs. Instead he simply smiled at her and beckoned them in with one fore leg, the other shooing the colts and fillies away. As he turned, the two saw his cutie mark; a bluish silver coloured shield divided into four. In each section was a smaller image, the top left being a tree whilst the top right was a heart. The bottom two held the Sun to the left and the moon to the right. At first, Fluttershy didn’t move, remaining still whilst shaking. Once she had regained enough sense in her body, Twilight gently nudged the shaking pegasus forward.
They trotted behind the grey pegasus, taking in their surroundings as one of the fillies shut the door after them. The walls seemed to have watercolours of various landscapes all around Equestria, some seeming very similar. A large grandfather clock ticked in the corner, commanding time be adhered to in the hallway. Twilight hoped for everypony’s sake that Fluttershy hadn’t spotted the umbrella stand by the front door after it was shut; among the variety of umbrellas there was a largish sword. As the stallion went to start up the large staircase in the hallway, the herd of foals went ahead, causing him to sigh out loud.
“My little ones, have you not pestered your grandfather long enough! I’m worn out and have to look after our guests! I don’t wish to detain them any longer then needed!”
The eldest colt of the foals looked up at Ironhoof as the others all made various disappointed noises. “But Grandfather, you said we could explore the woods today!”
“Not today Shergar, something has come up. I promise to make it all up to you! Now go and bother one of your parents!”
As the herd moved off the stairs to the surrounding rooms, he smiled at Twilight and Fluttershy. Twilight’s eye’s followed the group and turned to her host.
“That’s all of your grandfoal’s then?” She asked, a little shocked.
“Oh course not! Not all their parents can visit at once! A good number of my grandfoal’s aren’t here. But then again, some of my great-grandfoal’s are. They’re all important ponies; they can’t be here all the time. Anyway, upward and onward!” Ironhoof almost bellowed, making Fluttershy dart behind her friends flank.
The two fillies followed the senior stallion up the stairs, the decor not changing much. There were still the water colours of the outside world, but now there seemed to be pictures of ponies as well. Some were photographs, some were just paintings. Fluttershy couldn’t help but notice how one or two had begun to fade, but still had only a thin layer of dust. One large painting at the top of the stairs showed an image of a happy couple on their wedding day. It didn’t take much to piece to together this was Ironhoof in the past; much of his body structure had stayed the same. He was thinner, he wore a soldier’s parade uniform of some era long since gone and had a thin, smart moustache. He was beaming at his unicorn bride, hard to make out from her wedding veil. She looked a little stocky and was average pony height.
Beneath the old picture was a double door made of oak which Ironhoof gently pushed open. As the two friends made their way in, they quickly realised that this must have been the master bedroom. A large double bed sat in the centre, and from there it was split into two. One side held wardrobes and drawers and a suit of armour. The other had a dressing table with large mirror on it. It held an assortment of perfumes and other scents. This side seemed a little dustier then the other.
Sat on the bed was a pegasus filly, no more than 3 years old. She had a bright silver coat and red mane and tail. Sat with her was a Labrador puppy, looking down in the dumps. The pegasus looked up, her eyes red from weeping and face filled with concern. Even so, it filled with joy when the eyes fell onto Ironhoof.
“Daddy!” The filly cried, sitting up slightly, trying not to disturb her companion.
“Silver sweetie, did I not say I’d get the best help for you?” The grey Stallion said soothingly as he gently nudged Twilight forward, who in turn nudged Fluttershy.
The timid pegasus was slightly confused. Had this, filly, just cried out to what had to be her great grandfather? Regardless of that situation, Fluttershy trotted up to the puppy and look at it. She could instantly tell by the way it held its posture something was wrong with its right fore leg. She examined it closer and thought to herself. Gently she held out her hoof and the puppy whined at her.
“I’m so sorry little one....” The pegasus whispered as she gently touched the leg, causing a slight yelp and the young pegasus to hug her puppy.
“Don’t you hurt my Penny!”
“I’m sorry, but Penny has a broken leg. She needs to have in a cast to set it straight. Twilight, could you help move Penny please without moving her leg too much? Is there a bathroom near here?” The last question was directed at Ironhoof, who nodded.
As the puppy was raised up by the magic, Fluttershy couldn’t help but notice that left hind leg of Silver was slightly smaller to the other three legs. She said nothing as she followed the confused puppy floating through the air. Silver bounded to her hooves and followed after them, her fast pace only slightly off. Every now and then she had to use her wings to help balance herself out as she followed the three elder ponies down the hall.
“So, um, how many rooms Mr Ironhoof?” Fluttershy asked as he led them down the corridor to break the silence.
“I’m not sure anymore. Not all the foals lived here at once, we moved in here when I was made General I think it was. Then the family grew, and some came back, rooms got knocked into one another, some were converted. It’s hard to keep track!” He chuckled to himself, stopping only to look at one door.
Like the other bedroom doors, this one had a cutie mark symbol noting it as a bedroom. It had an image of a soccer ball and a banner. The doorknob was covered in dust, showing little use. Ironhoof gently stroked the wood with his tail before carrying on two more doors down, finally opening it. Twilight was quick enough to spot this had the symbol of a bathroom on it.
It had been hard putting Penny’s leg in the cast. Fluttershy’s basic first aid kit held some of the materials that were required to make the cast; anything else was quickly found in the bathroom. Twilight had been impressed at the fact her friend actually had enough materials to make a basic cast in her kit.
“I um, always like to be prepared...” The shy mare had mumbled to her friends praise for being prepared.
Penny had been obviously afraid of what was going to happen, and curled up against Silver in attempt to stave off the inevitable. The puppy whimpered at her owner for help from this crazy pony. When it looked as if Ironhoof was about to make a suggestion, he instantly got a Look from Twilight. She’d heard about the old soldier when she was studying with the Princess to know when he was going to suggest something far from helpful. This is a common trait with some males of a certain age and build. To his credit, when he got the Look, he instantly shut his mouth and inspected his hoof. Instead, it was Fluttershy who made the awkward comment.
“So, um, how many foals do you have Mr Ironhoof, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Twilight was agog at her friend’s question. Normally, she wasn’t this forward with, well, anything unless pressurised. It was then that she noticed that Fluttershy had only asked to keep Penny calm, making an ambience in the room. Either way, Ironhoof let out a little laugh.
“I thought you might ask me that. Well, Silver Lining is my 21st foal.” The filly smiled at her father for a moment whilst Fluttershy darted him a look of confusion whilst working on Penny’s leg.
“Me and my wife, we married young; you did that back in those days, especially if you were a soldier. And so, we had a long time to have foals. Back in those days, large families weren’t uncommon either. Plus, two sets of twins helped that number.”
“Silver Lining?” The pegasus asked as she gently stroked Penny to keep her calm and still.
“My wife, well, she didn’t want me to worry about a 21st foal. She wasn’t that young anymore and assumed the worst. We’d decided to stop but sometimes, things happen. She didn’t survive that long after giving birth. But, as they say, every dark cloud...”
His voice had trailed off. He had cried all the tears out of system years ago. Now he just stared at a point at the wall for a moment, until Silver put her hoof on his. He beamed at his daughter, life returning to his body.
“That’s the rule we live by in this house, it’s got me through every battle I’ve been through, and it’s got me through the loss of two sons and the loss of my soul mate. And even a broken puppy leg will have its advantage, in its own way.”
There was a little bark as Fluttershy finally let go of Penny’s leg. She beamed at the puppy, not letting an inch show that she’d taken in what had been said.
“Now you’ve been a brave little Penny, haven’t you? You’ve just got to take it easy and try to keep off of your leg. Can you do that for me?” The puppy reached up and licked Fluttershy’s face happily, already feeling better. The old stallion smirked and clopped his hoofs together.
“Well, the least I can do is give you some two young fillies some lunch, considering I had you dragged up here at such short notice!”
It was over an hour later. The unicorn and pegasus found themselves in what Ironhoof called the thinking lounge. It was a lounge or living room that regular rooms dreamed of growing up into. Its size allowed for a lounge area, an office, a small library and even a small painting area. A mare a few years older than Fluttershy had come in with some sandwiches and drinks for them as Ironhoof had got a fire going in the fireplace. Narrative would have dictated that the fireplace be at least 10 foot wide and go through forests at a rate unknown to all but cattle owners. This one on the hand was 2 foot at most and somehow managed to spread a lot of heat.
The plastered Penny dozed in front of the steady fire whilst Silver sat next to her, staring intently at the flames. She’d managed to convince her relation to bring in a crumpet for her instead and was now gently toasting it on an old fashioned toasting fork. Ironhoof watched her from his large pillow chair, sometimes reminding her to move back slightly as he gently munched on his simple cress sandwich. On the other hand, Twilight who had been running on no food since the day before found herself greedily gorging on her daisy and buttercup sandwich. Manners had been forgotten until she realised she was almost halfway through whilst the others were still just starting.
After the meal, they’d started talking. Like the distant uncle of any family, Ironhoof listened intently about anything and everything the two fillies said. Twilight knew that he was actually storing all that he was being told. He never forgot a date, a name or an event. As he had often said to various guards and even to Twilight herself once or twice, you don’t go from a soldier on the frontline to commander of all the armies under the Throne and troops in the sky with a memory like a net. He’d explained that when he’d remembered part of a conversation the two had once several months prior. Maybe this was normal, but it was part of a spell she’d been researching that she’d blabbered out. As the conversation swayed to the last time Fluttershy and herself had been in Canterlot, the grey stallion roared with laughter.
“The animals! Yes! I had heard of that! Well, we were clearing up after the event after all!” He chuckled away at the revelation whilst Penny, risen from the thunderous laughing went back to sleep. Fluttershy’s cheeks went bright red at the thought of what happened, which Ironhoof soon spotted.
“Young filly, I know how it is. I remember my first time at the Grand Gala. My wife, she was so Proud...” He made sure the capital Pee was pronounced. “What you did wasn’t as embarrassing as the way I got out of the blasted event. I went and declared war...”
Their looks showed both surprise and a demand for him to continue down this dark detour in memory lane.
“Well, we had just been invaded by the Griffons at the time. It was that or support a pillar in the corner as my lady went off to raise us through the social ranks. Yelling out ‘To war!’ very loudly and storming out the room can ruin an event. Sadly, they didn’t ban me...”
Eventually Fluttershy began to blush and looked up at Ironhoof.
“Mr Ironhoof, um, why did you ask me to see to Penny? Surely Canterlot has its own animal doctors...”
The questioned stallion rose from his seat and looked at his daughter. She’d fallen asleep next to Penny, curled up slightly.
“Parent’s only ever want what’s best for their foals. So I used privilege of status for a change. I heard about your attempts with the Phoenix. And of course, news does sometimes reach the lofty heights of the capital. It sometimes even enters my ears. News of an excellent animal carer in a town so close to here, who also happens to be Element of Kindness. Besides, I wanted to give you a better trip to the city.”
Silence fell upon the room, except for the occasional crack from the firewood and soft breathing from the two sleepers. The blush went deeper on Fluttershy but there was a smile attached to it. She hid her head behind her long pink mane and squeaked “Thank you...”
Not long after this, Ironhoof was escorting Twilight and Fluttershy to the chariot at the end of his drive. Four different pegasai guards stood there, waiting patiently. The timid pegasus’ bag was slightly heavier than before, due to the Bits that had been placed in there. Whilst she had declined, Silver had insisted, emptying her piggy bank’s contents into the bag. The final attempt at a protest had been stopped by a wink from the Captain; the piggy would be filled again by nightfall. Silver was on the back of her father with them, humming to herself. Ironhoof went to help them onto the chariot despite any protests.
“Twilight, come and visit now and then. And bring Spike next time! The place doesn’t seem right without the pair of you, gallivanting about the place over research!” The stallion stated, helping the purple unicorn onto the chariot.
“You know, you can always come and visit Ponyville. You can fly yourself no doubt; maybe have a relaxing break for a change.” Twilight replied, making him chuckle to himself. He helped up Fluttershy, ignoring the blush forming and smiled to the pair of them.
“Thank you both and I am sorry about dragging you out here suddenly. Have a pleasant ride back home and if you ever need any help, just ask!”
“Thank you Miss Fluttershy! Thank you Miss Sparkle!” piped in Silver, leaning her chin on her father’s head. They waved goodbye with their wings as the chariot took off, Silver waving until they were out of sight.
As the clouds went by, the two fillies sat in silence for a while. Eventually, Fluttershy smiled at her friend.
“Do you ever get the feeling, that in another lifetime, he’d be an actor?” Twilight giggled at the idea.
“Yeah, he’d be the sort that the whole audience can hear!”
The pair giggled, Fluttershy’s bag jingling slightly. They went back to looking at the passing scenery. They wouldn’t have much of an afternoon when they got back to Ponyville, but it had been a filled morning. It wasn’t entirely wasted in the end. The unicorn noticed her friend stirring slightly and looked at her.
“Erm, Twilight? Why was there a sword in the umbrella stand?”
And it was going so well...