Good Trooper Gilda

by Mitch H

Chapter 1: A Fledgeling Of Griffonstone

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It wasn't as if Gilda grew up dreaming of becoming a trooper of The Princess's Own Griffish Rangers.

"Gilda! Where is my brass-handled swagger-stick?"

Her kithood hadn’t been filled with tales of that mighty, legendary sisterhood of noble-born griffon soldiers, who patrolled the borders of golden, impossibly rich Equestria, of the realm of the forever pony princess.

"How should I know, lieutenant ma’am? You never let me touch it!"

Gilda hadn't even grown up Equestrian, not like her squadmates had.

"Of course I don’t, you mangy alley-cat! That doesn’t mean you don't know exactly where it is!"

No, not like either the starry-eyed youthful fledgelings eager to earn their spurs in the provincial battalions, nor the bitter old birds condemned to waste their time under arms for the preservation and defense of the pony domination of the occupied Griffish Isles.

"Have you tried your personal effects trunk? The one with the broken magical lock?"

There were more than a few rebel sympathizers among the latter sort in the ranks, but their attempts to talk up the equally bitter young fledgeling hen from storied, imperial Griffonstone had earned them nothing but brutal put-downs and the occasional clawed beak-sheath.

"What? When did that lock break?"

Gilda wasn't an Equestrian loyalist, but she had had her crop's-full of Griffonstonian daydreams.

"About the same time you started demanding I find your personal effects, when you know damn well I can’t unlock a magic lock, lieutenant ma’am."

Treacherous piffle talked of the glories of Golden Grover and his knighthood of the feathered air.

"Gilda! Did you break the lock on my personal trunk?"

It was hard not growing up a cynic in the roosts and alleyways of old Griffonstone.

"No, lieutenant ma’am! It must have been coincidentally broken by breezies the last time you demanded a fresh cravat forty-five seconds before the brigadier was due in the barracks for inspection!"

As far as Gilda was concerned, the only thing golden about Griffonstone was the occasional sunset, and she gathered from loose talk in the barracks-room that this, too, was the possession of the Equestrian princess.

"A likely story! Did you find the damn swagger-stick?"

That saintly princess’s benediction upon a fallen griffish world, the light that lit up the filth and squalor.

"Yes, lieutenant ma’am. Right here. Owch!"

Dreams were something that came with possibilities.

"That’s what you get for touching my swagger-stick. When did its head get dented like this?"

Gilda’s youth had been nothing but a series of reminders.

"Certainly not when I used it to break the lock on your personal effects trunk, lieutenant ma’am!"

Reminders that possibilities were for other people.

"Gilda! I’m going to pluck you bald when I get ahold of you!"

No, the only dream a young Gilda had grown up with was the dream of escaping the roost without her mother successfully tying a life-debt of a kithood's worth of back-rent to her tail.

It was a Griffonstonian tradition to present the fledgeling with that brutal bill as they left the nest, and a secondary tradition for the fledgeling to decamp in the dead of night so as to skip out on the bill. Gilda wished she had been able to pull that one off. Ten thousand, three hundred and fifteen bits. Plus another five hundred thirty bits for the midwife's bill for the laying of Gilda's egg. Her eagle-eyed mother had laid in wait for Gilda on their roost's roof, all night long as far as Gilda could tell, just waiting for her to slip out of the window and flee for the territories.

"Thought you could skip out of town without the reckoning, Gilda my hen?" The old hen squatted on the half-rotted thatch, picking idly at the vermin crawling in the weave. She held the Brutal Bill in her left foreclaw, tapping it against her folded-up wing.

"Mom! Hey. Fancy seeing you up here. On… the roof. At four in the morning. How’s your lumbago?" Gilda had eyed her chosen escape route. The old hen could easily cut her off before she got into the open air.

"No use in buttering me up, Gilda. I’m not a field mouse to be dipped in spiced rum. Here, you faithless child. Your bill."

"My what?"

Her mother rolled her eyes in disgust. "Don’t act like you didn’t know it was coming. It’s tradition."

"It’s daft is what it is," objected Gilda. "I can’t afford to pay you over a decade’s back-rent! When and where have I been making bits?"

"That’s your fault, not mine. I told you to prepare. I told you, didn’t I?"

"Fine!" Gilda snatched the Brutal Bill from her mother’s talons. "Don’t be surprised if we bury you in a cardboard box."

Her mother stood up and let Gilda past, sneering in contempt. "You’ll have to find one, first. Ain’t been too many since the Equestians closed the ports. Remember, it starts accruing interest in six months."

Gilda had torn up the parchment as soon as she'd slipped her tail out of her mother's sharp claws, but she hadn't been able yet to tear up her memory of those sums. Griffons weren't great at learning their letters, but every bird knew from the egg how to do their sums. How else would you know your debts and those who owed you?

Almost nogriff owed Gilda anything.

If the world and the times had been other than they were, Gilda would have shaken the filth of dung-lined old Griffonstone from her feet, flown off to see the open skies, and forgotten that anygriff had any claims on her time and her bits. But the times and the world were as they were, and the borders were locked down tight, with flights of humorless pegasi turning back any bird foolish enough to fly west, and terrifying dragons willing and able to devour a feckless cat-bird if she was to fly south or east.

Which is how Gilda found herself joining a flight of radical young birds who had grown up dreaming of King Grover and his golden-winged knights. Who had grown up dreaming of Greater Griffonia, of a day when to be a griffon was to be warrior and predator, lord of the skies, rich, prosperous, respected by prey and fellow-flier alike. Her friend Gerta had told her about the group of young griffons who were planning to slip over the sea, and sneak onto the isle of Skye in the Griffish Isles.

"Look, the Isles is where things are happening, Gilda my hen! They are making things happen. The revival of the throne will start on Skye!"

"Gerta, they’re under the iron hooves of the ponies. Everygriff on the Isles are slaves to the equines."

"What do you know? You’ve never laid eyes on a pony. They’re creampuffs, wimps."

"Dweebs, you mean?"

"Exactly! Dweebs!"

It had been good enough for Gilda, and so she went.

She found herself flying with Gerta, three dozen fledglings, and a scatter of young griffons as they tried to fly nape of the sea across the narrows. They managed to dodge several Equestrian patrols in the air and below, and Gilda found herself enjoying the chase, despite the danger. A generation earlier, Gilda might have simply flown west, and found her way to Cloudsdale, to see the great cloud-city, almost as legendary as Golden Grover himself, but this was a lot more fun, a lot more challenging. Wasn’t it?

But the days when you could just flit across the borders with a pony song in your heart were over. Those feathered fools in far distant Canterlot had ended those days of free trade, free flight, free hearts. They’d managed to enrage the ponies with some sort of terrorist attack, blown up something important in the ponies’ capital. Before that outrage by the Greater Griffonian monarchists, the ponies had, as far as Gilda could figure out, regarded Griffonstone with a proper spirit of complacent contempt, which, in her opinion, her disgusting, worthless home honestly sort of deserved. But, after the ponies’ ‘Bloody Thirteenth’, they weren’t in a complacent mood anymore.

Ironically, the same bombings that had completely shut down the Equestrians' commerce with impoverished, immiserated Griffonstone, also revived the spirit of rebellion in the Isles. So said rebellion was fierce, recruiting, and apparently the only game in town, at least from the mainland side of things. Especially when the government in Griffonia proper was nothing but seventy-five would-be monarchs of all Griffonia busy trying to assassinate each other in the crowded, filthy alleys and roosts of the old capital.

It had made sense at the time, to join a band of would-be rebels, and to find the fight overseas, where they weren’t all just killing everybody who had some sort of claim on the throne, endless intercene warfare with no payoff and no goal and no end to it. And, most importantly - no bits. Rumor had it the rebels in the Isles had bits, and payrolls.

Unfortunately, her new compatriots proved to be a pack of imbeciles, as Gilda discovered far, far too late. The flock-leader flew them all right in front of an Equestrian sea-cutter, swarming with territorial griffons and their pony officers. Gilda had never seen it coming, but more damningly, neither had the big idiot that was supposed to lead them safe to roost.

In all the chaos, Gilda didn't see what happened to the rest of her flight, mostly because she’d gotten caught in a weighted net along with two other scrawny fledglings. She'd been the only one of the three with an edged weapon, and so it fell to her to saw away at their trap as a bunch of much larger, well-armed and armored blue-feathered griffons pulled them back and forth, flight-magic against flight-magic, with the Griffonstonian fledglings entangled in the net and fatally disoriented.

Gilda herself somehow managed to fall out of the bottom of the now-ruined net. Sadly, she’d also managed to lose her grip on the kitchen-knife she'd stolen from her mother, and was bare-pawed when one of the large Isles griffons followed in pursuit as she fled.

The air around the on-rushing pony boat was full of struggling griffons as Gilda plummeted downwards, desperate, and she nearly was caught a second time in the billowing white trap of what she later learned was the top-sail of the naval corvette Fleur de Lis. All she knew at the time was that the skies were as terrible a tangle as the jungle-wreckage of the old eastern hunting ranges back home, and she found herself flipping tail for beak as her left wing clipped a taut sheet and she spun out into what was all of a sudden the cold, drenching salted embrace of the shivering sea.

It might have ended right then and there, if some freakish miracle hadn't reached into the slate-grey chilly tartarus which was the Gulf of Griffonstone. A magenta glow lit up Gilda's drowning existence, and pulled her out of that evil soaking element and back into the glorious lung-preserving breathing world.

Gilda's brief moment in rebellion against an imperium she'd never known came to an end there, hanging powerless over the deck of a pony ship, in the impossible magic of a grim-looking young horned pony in half-armor.

"Do you yield, rebel scum?" demanded the scowling purple-coated filly, looking adorably fierce. The heavy-bladed claymore she held at the ready in her magic field was somewhat less adorable.

What would you have had of battered, soaked, chilled young Gilda? She'd lost the one possession she'd stolen from her harridan of a mother, her flock was scattering or as captured as she was, and this unicorn's magic was a tighter trap than a dozen hunting-nets.

"Your worship," said Gilda the Griffon, "I will never yield a bit, so if you were wise, you wouldn't buy my bonds. But I'll shine your shoes with my tongue if there's food in it for me."

And that was how Gilda joined the Fifth Griffish Territorial Battalion, and how she met her master, commander and chief torturer, Ensign Gleaming Shield of the Canterlot Sparkles.

Author's Notes:

Thanks for editing and pre-reading help to Shrink Laureate, Oliver, and the general Company.

The cover art is by ChrisTheBlue. I'll add a link on the main story page when he lets me know where he posted it.

[Update: ChrisTheBlue's original copy is here.]

Next Chapter: Fetch And Carry Estimated time remaining: 6 Hours, 60 Minutes
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Good Trooper Gilda

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