It was all worth it. The hard work, long days, pain, and stress were all going to pay off. Training would be over in a mere three weeks and I’d not only be a royal guard but a member of the Canterlot Guard. One of the elite. It was everything I had dreamed of and worked for since I was a colt.
The whole company was at attention on the parade ground waiting for inspection. This wouldn’t be a normal inspection, either. At week nine the royal guard training regimen called for the Captain of the Canterlot Guard and other officers to come and personally take a look at us. We were the group that had not quit after being worked over for nearly two months. It was our time to shine since we were all that was left of the original two hundred ponies that dared to try.
I stood perfectly still: eyes forward, shoulders squared. I noticed some of the other trainees’ heads moving as they tried to see if the officers were already on the way. It was poor form. My posture and stare were unrivaled, traits inherited from my father. He had drilled me since I was a colt to be quiet, speak clearly when spoken to, and never let anypony shake my cool. I’m sure he’d have been proud to see me that day.
The instructors had left us out in the sun for about half an hour before returning. Walking alongside the senior instructor was Captain Shining Armor. There were a few other officers as well, but he would be the one to impress if anypony wanted to be in the palace guard or the even more exclusive Princess Celestia’s House Guard.
Shining Armor took his time looking us over. He tried to make it look routine but nothing had been routine for my class. The whole royal guard had been on edge during and immediately after the Nightmare Moon incident. Princess Celestia had just simply vanished without warning and it wasn’t the royal guard that restored her back to the throne, either. It was hard for anypony to believe and the strain of it showed on the captain. It wouldn't have been obvious to most ponies but one soldier can read another.
It wasn’t long before it was my turn to be inspected. Shining Armor paused when he got to me. In hindsight I don’t think it was because I was a particularly impressive looking trainee. It was more likely the fact that he and I actually look somewhat alike. We’re both white-coated, blue-maned stallions.
My mane is darker and styled differently, of course. And then there is the fact that I’m a pegasus and he is a unicorn. In any event, if you didn’t know any better, you may think that I’m a cheap knockoff version of him. That isn’t my fault! I wasn’t born too long after he was and have looked this way all my life, even before he rose to the lofty rank of colonel and took on the title of Captain of the Canterlot Guard.
Once the last trainee had been looked over and the inspection was complete, things really got interesting. Shining Armor moved to the front of the formation and stopped to address us. That was highly unusual. Typically by then the captain and associated officers were on their way back to their duties. This was supposed to be largely ceremonial, after all.
Instead, he took a moment to address us. “Many of you know or have heard about the recent return of Nightmare Moon. You’re all also aware that she was defeated and that Princess Celestia was safely returned. What you may not know is that Princess Luna has shed the guise of a villain and now walks among us for the first time in a thousand years.”
When I say professional decorum was lost I’m being polite. The polished trainees let out a collective gasp and there were murmurs in the ranks. It was as if somepony had blindsided us all. What he said next, however, led me to the life I have now.
“It is by the royal decree of Princess Celestia that a new royal guard unit be created for the protection of Princess Luna. Who will volunteer to join her House Guard and protect her with their life?”
That was what he said, word for word. The murmurs gave way to dead silence and blank stares. The captain was asking us to guard Nightmare Moon!
There was no sound or movement for what seemed like forever. It would have been comical if it weren’t for the fact that everypony was ignoring Princess Celestia’s desires. That might have motivated me. It might have not. To be honest I’m not really sure why I did what I did but, in school, I had always felt like Princess Luna was more than just a villain. Things had been tough on her as a younger sibling. That happens sometimes. I think that played a role in my decision.
Without a word I stepped out of line looking calm and confident. In my head I was screaming, “Stop hooves, stop! You’ve got a chance to join the Canterlot Guard. Why would you do something so foolish?”
My hooves didn't stop, however, and I suddenly felt like I had a hundred pairs of eyes on me.
The senior instructor trotted over to me and Shining Armor followed. The captain asked, “You volunteer? What is your name?”
“Silent Knight, sir,” my senior instructor chimed in for me. “He doesn’t say much, but he is an exemplary recruit. Always by the book and professional.”
Shining Armor stared at me. “Why volunteer for this? Everypony else seems to think you’ve made a mistake.”
Looking back, I sometimes laugh at the thousand different thoughts that went through my head. At the time, I had no idea why. Every fiber of my being said I’d done something foolish but, like Dad had always said, never make it obvious to an opponent you’ve made a mistake. Of all the options I had to choose from, I probably selected the one that made the least sense.
“I have lived with an older sister too, sir” was what I said. What does that even mean?
I guess at that point Celestia was watching out for me because he actually smiled. “Well, Silent Knight, I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that but come along, then. You’ve got a very important appointment that you don’t want to be late for.”
The captain turned and started to march off the parade ground. I fell in step behind him. At that point I was completely committed. “Go with your gut and never back down,” I heard Dad say in my head. I’m certain that advice extended to hooves.
We left the parade ground and crossed town to the palace. It was a route all recruits knew well. In the course of training, any royal guard hopeful would march, trot, or gallop that road no less than once a day. I never appreciated the palace for its size prior to then. When you go by quickly it was just like any other building. When you’re going inside it was miraculous. Only a princess could live in a place so elegant.
Shining Armor led me to a small meeting room off of the main hall. “Wait here, please,” he said before disappearing.
Waiting is something I’m good at. I took my parade stance again. Eyes forward, shoulders squared. There is always comfort in that.
It wasn’t long before he returned in the company of Princess Celestia herself. To some ponies that may have been commonplace but, even though I had always prepared myself to be one of her guardians, I was awestruck. With only a second’s hesitation I bowed down and averted my eyes.
She was radiant, beautiful, and perfect. A flawless pony the likes of which made all of the rest of us seem crude and mundane. Princess Celestia was also a lot larger up close. I’m above average for a stallion but she still towered over me. Those were things that I caught at just a glance.
What struck me was that when she spoke, I heard a slight melancholy in her tone. “Only one?” she asked the captain.
“For now, Princess,” he replied. “I thought it would be a good idea to go to the recruits first, as we could train them differently and get to them before they had any biases. Unfortunately, they most likely have career plans that don’t line up with such a wild and sudden deviation like this.”
Shining Armor then shrugged and continued, “Many of our active guards feel as if they failed you and are uncomfortable with the idea of guarding Princess Luna. For now, though, we do have one and I believe he might be a great one. May I present to you: Silent Knight.”
At that moment, my eyes had lifted to risk a peek up at Princess Celestia. She caught me doing so, too. So much for professionalism on my part.
“Silent Knight, do you not have career plans?” Her gaze was fixed on me. “Do you not fear Princess Luna?”
Always speak clearly when spoken to. Even to a princess. “I did and no, ma’am,” I replied honestly.
“Are you certain?” she asked. “You may still decline.”
Was I certain? How could I be? I could have declined, played it safe, and probably ended up in the palace guard. That felt wrong, though. That was the easy way out and a challenge had never frightened me.
Lifting my head, I replied, “It bothered me that no pony stepped forward. Royal guards are supposed to perform their duty before they look after their career. I still believe that even if nopony else does.”
She actually smiled. It was like watching the sun rise after the blackest night. At the time I had never seen something so beautiful. Of course I may have been biased as I’ve always liked it when unicorns smile at me, and the princess was a unicorn and then some.
“He will do fine,” she told the captain. “Please select current members of the royal guard that will also be suited to the task and reassign them. Perhaps if they set an example for their peers we’ll have less trouble filling the vacancies in the future.”
She started to turn away as she continued, “And see that Silent Knight is made a House Guard immediately unless you think he’ll need the remaining weeks of training. He seems to have the appropriate attitude.”
Shining Armor nodded and said, “Yes, Princess.”
And just like that, she was gone. I stood up and back at attention. Alone with the captain.
“You handled that very well. I just hope you honestly meant it,” he said.
What I said was what I meant. All I could do was nod that it was so.
He then asked me plainly, “Do you need any more training?”
It was true. I wasn’t the best trainee in the company, but I was up there. If you make it nine weeks, the rest was pretty much learning ceremony and how to keep your mouth shut. I was the best pony in that department. Being quiet, that is.
The captain nodded. “Very good. We’ll have to do this quickly. The paperwork can come later. Raise your right hoof and repeat after me: I, Silent Knight, do swear on my honor as a royal guard to defend Princess Luna against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I take this oath freely and without reservation.”
As instructed, I raised my hoof. “I, Silent Knight, do swear on my honor as a royal guard to defend Princess Luna against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I take this oath freely and without reservation.”
He continued, “I further swear that I shall root out all threats, both internal and external, and remove them for her wellbeing and, if necessary, give up my life without hesitation so that she may live.”
Those words were far more serious than the ones prior. The royal guard oath was important, but the second part was the oath of a house guard. It meant putting your life and survival second to somepony else’s. For most ponies that was the opposite of rational.
I raised my voice slightly to repeat, “I further swear that I shall root out all threats, both internal and external, and remove them for her wellbeing and, if necessary, give up my life without hesitation so that she may live.”
Shining Armor smiled. “Good. Well, come along, then. We had best get you situated. Since you were brave enough to volunteer, I’ll give you the tour. By the way, the princess’s best designers have put together something special for Princess Luna’s House Guard. I think you’ll like it.”
That seemed like an interesting thing to say. Armor was armor… or so I thought. We walked together in silence. The whole time I started making notes about where things were in the palace. If I was going to be in the House Guard I would need to be very familiar with the princess and her home. There would be research to do and facts to memorize. That didn’t bother me; it was my sort of thing.
The palace was a surprising place. It looked large from the outside but not ridiculously so. On the inside, however, it was almost labyrinthine. The captain showed me the commissary, the throne room, the gym, and all of the other support areas.
Eventually, our tour ended in a simple barracks at ground level. It had numerous dorms and each was exactly regulation: two beds, two foot lockers, two regular lockers, two armor stands, one table, and two chairs.
“This is all yours now,” he said as he showed me into one of the rooms. “I’ll find you a roommate and you’ll be all set. For now, Princess Celestia’s House Guard is keeping an eye on Princess Luna. I’ll be adding you into their rotation as soon as I get all of our paperwork straight. Any questions?”
With a shake of my head, I replied, “No, sir. Thank you, sir.”
He nodded once and then left me alone. This day had not gone the way I had imagined. Not at all but, at least, I was in the palace. Dad would be proud of that.