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The Blueblood Papers: Royal Blood

by Raleigh

Chapter 2

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Despite embarrassing myself in front of Twilight Sparkle, I am a gentlecolt and my word is my bond, and therefore I was beholden to at least try to help get her reforms passed through the House of Lords. More to the point, it gave me something to do besides sitting at my desk trying not to fall asleep during the day and indulging in wine and mares every evening, and I dare say that having some sort of project to work towards, and one that required much less commitment, time, and personal risk than I had anticipated, was more beneficial to my recovery than the assortment of salves, medicines, and remedies I had suffered through in the hospital.

Speaking of my injuries, by this point the pain had become manageable with a combination of painkillers and fine liquor. Though the wounds had healed, more or less, the scars would remain forever. If one was to find an old soldier who had served before the punishment of flogging was abolished, and if one was brave enough to ask him to show his back, one would often find a grotesque lattice-work of scars. A skilled provost was trained to flog the miscreant with clean, precise strokes that maximised pain while leaving as minimal physical damage as possible, resulting in the characteristic but superficial scarring. Chieftain Earthshaker of the Rat Pony Tribe was not skilled, and thus my back was marred with great lines, some an inch thick, of broken, uneven flesh, inflicted in an irregular pattern from my right shoulder down to my left hip, with a few in the opposite direction for good measure. Though I will admit to exaggerating a little to make absolutely sure that nopony will deem me suitable for frontline duties any time soon, a dull ache still persisted, and would flare up on occasion when I happened to twist or turn my body in a way the scars disagreed with.

The main consequence of this, however, was that I was all but forced to wear clothes in public at all times. My tailors were all very pleased with this arrangement, as it necessitated commissioning a number of bespoke lounge suits now that simply wearing a collar and cravat alone was out of the question for informal wear in town, and subsequently did nothing for my old, original reputation as being an effete dandy.

As for the task in question, the problem that now lay before me was a fairly daunting one. As Twilight Sparkle had said, the House of Lords, that great bastion of conservatism in Equestria that stands as a bulwark against the tides of over-eager reformists and iconoclasts who seek to tear down what Princess Celestia had spent millennia building, was overwhelmingly opposed to her reforms. I almost admired that steadfast, pig-headed mentality, blinded by an ideological and irrational opposition to even beneficial change; compared with the opposition in the Commons, who bickered and argued uselessly while accomplishing absolutely nothing but obstructing what was painful but necessary, and all on the basis of preserving their own careers. The defiance of the Lords was formed on the basis of a principle I happened to share. That, however, would make things harder. Despite the apparent impossibility of what I had been asked to do, I did agree to help, and never let it be said that Prince Blueblood violates his word unless there's a way to weasel out of it with absolute safety. Whether or not I succeeded was another matter, however, and if I spoke to a few of my fellow nobles and they still did not see the light, I could at the very least tell her I did my best, or something approaching it, without fear of contradiction.

To start with, it was merely a matter of reminding a few cliens and vassals exactly to whom they had sworn everlasting fealty to; being younger nobles of lesser ranks, they were always eager to please their betters (namely me), when not scheming to usurp them, and often they had very little interest in political struggles greater than whatever scrap of dirt they owned. A few required more material incentives to encourage them to see reason - money, property, promises for support for future endeavours, the services of my chef Sous Vide, and so on and so forth. 'Bribery' is a rather ugly word to describe what I was doing, but an outsider looking in would see this behaviour, being the usual way the aristocracy conducts business, and consider it to be thus. The fact of the matter is this: the entire Equestrian system of governance as it was at the time, and still is if you but peel back the curtain a little and take a peek, relied upon this give-and-take between those who hold power. It was a matter of exchanging favours, so to speak, and it was the only way to get things accomplished while the House of Commons still vacillated on the subject.

I felt sorry for Princess Twilight; it was one thing to know on an academic level the steps through which a law must proceed to be passed through Parliament, but quite another to be involved in the process itself. She had not only seen inside the sausage factory, but was now elbow-deep in the disgusting, mutilated flesh that even a griffon would find nauseating, trying to make it into something more palatable for the consumption of barbaric carnivores.

[A reference to a griffon expression, attributed to Gerhardt, Chancellor of Griffonstone under the reign of King Grover I and was instrumental in uniting the disparate tribes under a single empire. He is alleged to have said 'laws are like sausages - one should never see them being made'. A sausage is a food product made from finely-chopped meat, salt, spices and other flavourings, and other less palatable parts of the prey animal, wrapped up in a cylindrical casing made from intestines. Though popular, even by griffon culinary standards the process of manufacture is considered unappealing.]

For those who were still too stubborn to accept the gifts I had so generously offered in return for their support, there were still even less palatable options for me to take, and take them I did. As the beloved nephew of Princess Celestia I was privy to more than my fair share of the gossip around Equestria's social elites. A party is not merely an excuse to have fun, fun is for the common ponies, you see, instead it's an opportunity for those who seek power and those who wish to preserve what they still possess to uncover material that might come in useful in the vicious sniping of aristocracy. In attending the various galas, socials, races, and so on that make up the Season, I knew all about everypony's skeleton-filled closets, and in some cases that expression was all too literal. A few thinly-veiled insinuations about what I might do with this information was often enough to secure the loyalty of another.

One might consider the threat of another ambitious noble using that very same tactic against me, but to that I have two counters. The first is my skill with the sword, as I merely have to challenge the other to a duel and he'll either retract his insult, regardless of how true it is, or end up with a rapier through the neck for his troubles. The second has more to do with my reputation, in a peculiar, roundabout manner; by embracing the image that others have of me as being a bit of a cad, it meant that such secrets were already out in the open and embraced where they could do me no harm. A pony who discovered that I had slept with Lord So-and-So's frustrated wife would be in possession of information that had already been disseminated across the entirety of Equestrian society, and was therefore useless for the purposes of coercion. And on the other hoof, ponies were more forgiving of my indiscretions after that recent mess at the front.

Despite all of my efforts, the iron laws of arithmetic were against me; to whit, the numbers of lords that I could bribe and/or blackmail was far fewer than those for whom my efforts proved fruitless. I had to be careful, as putting too much pressure on too many of my fellow nobles would only have the opposite effect, and in the sort of power games that the aristocracy likes to play, caution is almost always the best option. It was rather apt, I thought, that as the power of my class began to decline, the viciousness of its members bickering with one another seemed to worsen in equal measure.

I was ruminating on this problem one evening in my apartment's lounge, two days until the crucial vote in the House of Lords and about a week or so after Twilight Sparkle had come to see me in my club. Though she had sent me various letters asking about how I was getting on and if I was experiencing any difficulty, I hadn't seen her since, and I didn't feel as though I could unless I came back with her reforms emblazoned with Celestia's signature (which I was seriously considering learning how to forge, as soon as I could get one of Philomena's tail feathers and enough of that exceedingly rare rainbow ink to do that convincingly). A Neighgroni cocktail, my usual pre-dinner drink, was doing little to stimulate the brain cells as I lay sprawled over my chaise longue and stared out of the window at the ponies passing below.

Perhaps I could host an opera night, and use that as an opportunity to needle more usable information out of my fellow lords. That, however, would mean going to the opera, and nopony truly enjoys attending that particular cornerstone of Equestrian culture. Anypony who says otherwise is lying to you; four hours of being subjected to ponies in ridiculous costumes singing along to a convoluted plot, which could all be resolved if the characters could just be straight about their intentions and feelings, was not my idea of a good time. One only attended opera to be seen, to be acknowledged as a patron of the arts as a noblepony should be, and to mingle with one's peers. Everything else, especially the performance itself, is merely part of the act we put on for the benefit of the common ponies who look up to us. Luna is quite possibly the only pony I know who genuinely enjoys opera, but she also likes bats, spikes, skulls, the post office, and other morbid things, so I wouldn't put much stock in what she says is so great about it.

"Drape Cut?" I called out.

"Sir." My valet appeared by my side, seemingly out of thin air as he is wont to do when I require his services. I have often wondered what he gets up to when I don't need him, especially when I'm stuck at the front risking all for Princesses and Country. While I'm sure he leads a rich and fulfilling life outside of me, I also liked to think that he and the rest of my staff just went into some form of suspended animation until I came home.

"I think I will host an opera night," I said.

Drape Cut tilted his head to one side and arched an imperious eyebrow, which he often did when he disagreed with what I have just said, but, being a mere servant, he knew it was not his place to say otherwise. The damned thing was that he was almost always right about whatever it was to a maddening degree, and I often thought that his talents were wasted doting on an idiot like me; I feared that one day I might actually complete my term of service in the Commissariat, return home, and find that he had been poached by Princess Twilight to head some form of elite scientific endeavour to find a way to put ponies into space.

"You don't think I should?" I asked.

"Forgive me, sir," he said, "but I assume that this has something to do with Princess Twilight Sparkle's request?"

"You assume correctly."

"Then might I be so bold as to suggest that the most direct approach might be advantageous?"

I sipped the last dregs of my drink, fished out the cocktail cherry at the bottom of the glass, and then nibbled on it. "What do you mean?"

"Well, sir, it occurs to me that both you and Princess Twilight Sparkle have been working under the assumption that our country's legislators need to be coerced in some manner in order to gain their support. While this is not an unreasonable supposition when one considers the behaviour of those who have been appointed to make our laws, perhaps dispensing with the subterfuge, and instead convincing those influential ponies who oppose her reforms of the multitudinous merits of said bill would prove to be a far more efficient method to pursuing one's aims."

It took me a few moments to fully digest his words, but once I had translated that uniquely formal servant-speak into a form of Equestrian that you or I might understand, I soon realised that he simply meant 'tell them what's so great about Twilight's reforms'. I chewed on my cocktail cherry, as a dumb bovine does with cud, as I stared up blankly at him.

"Do you really think that will work?" I said. He had a point, I had to concede; the Lords were sticklers for traditional autocracy, and if they saw a pony of my rank come out publicly in favour of these reforms, then it could sway some of those who had not yet made up their minds.

"The realms of politics lie beyond my capabilities, sir," he said, and I knew that to be a damned lie if I ever heard one. If Drape Cut here had been in charge of the country instead of ironing my dress shirts then we wouldn't be in nearly half the mess we were in now. "But, having been a gentlecolt's personal gentlecolt to some very influential gentlecolts over the years, yourself included, sir, it is my understanding that those Lords who oppose the reforms do so because they fear that their power is waning, rather than a genuine opposition to Her Highness' proposals. If you present this as an opportunity to maintain their influence against the Commons in the eyes of ordinary subjects, then it may be enough to convince them."

"There are only two days left until the vote in the House of Lords," I said, leaving the now-empty glass on the table, whereupon Drape Cut picked it up to take away. "I hope that's enough time."

"It should be sufficient to sway a few key members in time for the vote," he said. "And failing that, sir, I have a contingency. The opposing Lords will have personal attendants who are members of the Adytum Club, which is a society of gentlecolts' personal gentlecolts of which I am also a member. If I might take tomorrow to submit some proposals to the club's secretary, it should be possible for me to convince my fellow servants to arrange a few 'accidents' that will delay the more obstinate members long enough to miss the vote. Such a thing would be an extraordinary request on my part, and I shan't think I would be allowed to put forward such a thing twice, so I advise sir to consider it carefully."

I fell into a sort of bleak silence for a moment, staring up at the impassive face of my valet, who looked back with his usual polite attentiveness in anticipation of my verbal approval of this scheme. The existence of this Adytum Club was certainly news to me, and I thought I knew all of the exclusive clubs in Canterlot. Though I had known Drape Cut and other members of my staff to slip out at night once their duties for the day had been completed, I had always assumed that they had merely nipped off to some bar or public house frequented by other domestic workers, where they might while away the cold, bleak evenings of winter by sharing scintillating gossip about their employers.

“By ‘accidents’,” I said, “I’m sure you don’t mean…”

“Oh Celestia, no, sir. Such a thing would arouse too much suspicion.”

"Still, hopefully it won't come to that," I said, wondering how many of the petty obstacles, social faux pas, and minor inconveniences I had experienced over my life had all been part of some clandestine plan, centuries in the making, for goals that I could not possibly comprehend. "But do it anyway."

"Certainly, sir." Drape Cut glided out of the room, carrying the empty glass, and as I watched him and pondered about just how dependent we nobles were upon our staff, I made a mental note to give him a well-deserved pay rise. It would do well to remain on his good side, lest I find myself with a fate worse than having to starch my own collars myself.

[The Adytum Club takes its name from the innermost sanctums of the temples of the ancient pegasi cloud city-states, where oracles were said to commune with the gods The name is intended to reflect the club’s purpose as a place for the servants of high-ranking nobles to meet, relax, socialise, and share gossip about their masters. Despite the mystical implications of the name, it was chosen partially as a joke, as access to the most intimate details of the most powerful ponies in Equestria, my sister and me included, meant its members appeared to have powers of augury to predict the future. Or so they tell me.]

I stared out of the window once more, observing the ponies going about their daily business and wondering if the ordinary equine out there had to deal with even half of the nonsense that I as a prince of the realm had to, but then I remembered they probably had other, more personal matters to be concerned about, like where their next meal was coming from. Then, I remembered something rather important if I was to go about proselytising Twilight's reforms.

"Drape Cut?" I called out again. He wafted back into the lounge as if on a zephyr, and stood by awaiting my command.

"Sir?"

"Would you tell me about Princess Twilight Sparkle's report?" I asked. "I haven't read it, you see; too many words. Actually, before you do that, make me another drink; I fear this may take us a while."

"Of course, sir."

***

It took us all night, but I got it eventually. What Twilight had proposed was not quite as apocalyptic as Field Marshal Iron Hoof’s infamous assertion that the reforms would transform the Royal Guard from an elite fighting unit and into an unruly peasant army. Instead, it was merely a sort of evolution of existing military culture and organisation, which was required to fully tackle the new realities of modern war. There were, however, a number of sticking points that I knew the average, conservatively-minded old aristocratic officer would oppose - the renaming of the Royal Guard into the Equestrian Army, apparently to better reflect its new purpose as the defence of all Equestrians and not just its royalty, was a major one for all but the most liberal of the Lords.

Two days is a long time in politics, and by the same turn I feared it was insufficient to perform the task at hoof. The debates were still raging in the House of Lords, inasmuch as forty ponies, two of them asleep and another inebriated and singing to himself, counts as a parliamentary debate. Though my desire to step hoof inside that damned chamber was about on par with going back to the front, I reminded myself that it would only be for a short while over the next few days and that there shouldn't be any Changelings around wanting to eat my face this time.

[Anti-Changeling measures had been in place in Canterlot since the first aborted attack; however, despite this increase in security, infiltrator cells continued to pop up and launch attacks across Equestria on less-well protected targets, such as the attack on Fancy Pants’ benefit party. Important government locations such as the Houses of Parliament, Canterlot Castle, and the offices of the ministries were subsequently protected by multi-factor authentication systems with both a unicorn and an inanimate, programmed magical device to dispel Changeling illusions.]

Twilight Sparkle proved to be right in her usual, irritating way. The first debate that I attended was sparsely populated with my fellow Lords, but once word had gotten around that I had made one of my very rare appearances and, to the surprise of all, that I was actually contributing to the running of the country as my title demands, the other nobles who might have forgotten that they were supposed to have a hoof in what goes on in there remembered their duties and started attending. I scarcely think that it had anything to do with my oratory, not being much of a public speaker despite various public appearances reciting from heavily-edited scripts, and more to do with both my position as one of the most senior nobles in the country without wings and my dubious reputation as some sort of war hero.

"The House has a choice before it," I announced to the packed chamber on the day before the crucial vote. Ponies were squashed into the seats, perched on the stairs, and crammed into the aisles; whosoever had designed this building clearly had no idea just how many more peers would be inducted into the Lords, but that had been hundreds of years ago when Equestria was a mere fraction of the size it is now.

[The geographical area Equestria controls has not changed much since the end of the Nightmare Heresy when the last of the griffon invaders were driven out from our lands. As the population increased and new cities and provinces within our borders developed over the centuries, the peerage had to be expanded greatly to accommodate. At the time of the debates around the Twilight Sparkle Reforms, there were eight hundred and fourteen peers including those from the overseas territories, colonies, and dominions. According to records, an estimated three hundred attended the debates where Prince Blueblood spoke. Due to the distances between Canterlot and the furthest areas of our realm, there has never been a sitting where all peers were present; they would never all fit in the chamber anyway.]

"That choice is between survival and extinction," I continued, after a suitably dramatic pause. "Survival of Equestria and the Harmony that we hold so dear, or its destruction at the hooves of the Changeling menace.

"Some ponies say that we are an anachronism, a relic of a distant past no longer relevant to a changing world. If this House votes to deny our defenders out there on the frontlines the means with which to end the threat Chrysalis poses once and for all and avenge Canterlot, then we will merely prove them to be right and hasten our decline. But, my fellow lords and ladies of Equestria, whose families have led our proud nation since its birth, if we do what is painful but necessary to give our soldiers what they need to achieve final victory in the field, if we cast aside our dogmatic adherence to military traditions and customs that hinder the prosecution of modern war, we will demonstrate to the common pony that not only do we remain a force for good in Equestria, but a potent counter to the corruption and partisanship of the lower house at risk of losing sight of its principles."

Contrary to the more raucous Commons, the Lords are a lot more subdued in showing their support or disdain, so I only received a smattering of polite applause in response. I hoped what I said was enough, and that it wasn't so obvious to everypony else observing that I had been reading from a set of notes scribbled on the back of my hoof. Nevertheless, the speech written by Drape Cut under my supervision seemed to have gone down quite well, though I still felt it necessary to place my trust more firmly in his devious little scheme.

It was rather close, though, but the reforms were passed through the House of Lords. Of course, whosoever reads this will think that it was all a foregone conclusion, but at the time it was all rather stressful. In spite of my desire to remain apart from politics, affecting my usual sense of aloofness as though the whole business was beneath my dignity (which it was, and it was also beneath the dignity of even the rats that inhabit the sewers of Manehatten), I could not help but feel invested in its outcome.

The turnout was rather low, and far fewer than those who attended the debates. The fear that such a small number of Lords turning up to vote would appear suspicious did invariably feature in my mind, but to my relief, it did not go much further than a few quiet observations in the political journals. A wave of unfortunate but ultimately harmless events was noticed by the politicos, but things such as Lady Zirconium being trapped in her bathroom for seven hours due to a broken lock and the train full of nobles from Prance delayed due to sheep on the line were appropriated to either mere bad luck or divine intervention from Faust herself. But as for Yours Truly, I was simply glad that Drape Cut was on my side, and I would endeavour to keep him firmly there forevermore.

The bill still had to go through the House of Commons, and I was somewhat flattered to learn that Princess Twilight Sparkle had decided to follow my example and delivered a speech extolling the virtues of her proposed reforms to the chamber. I recall the day distinctly, as I was worried that it might all end in failure, forcing me to return to the front with the same idiot officers whose competence was indirectly proportional to their perception of such, that I had spent much of the day stuck in some sort of funk in my apartment.

It was mid-afternoon when the doorbell rang, and I was in such a state that I simply could not wait for Drape Cut to answer the door, so I fancied I could do that simple task myself. I darted across the hall, colliding with a small chair, knocking over a potted plant on a pedestal with my flank, and smacking my muzzle on the door in the process. It was all rather embarrassing, really, or it would have been had anypony else other than my valet seen it. I wrenched the door open, its antique hinges squealing in protest, and the slightly bewildered concierge was revealed to me like a prize at a country fair. Damn, he probably heard everything, including the swearing when I extricated myself from being tangled up in my wingchair.

"Message for His Royal Hi-"

I grabbed the slip of paper from his mouth and slammed the door in his face. With the thing floating just in front of my muzzle, its contents hidden until I unfolded it, I slumped back against the door, ignoring the rough and unpleasant sensation the wood made against my scars. Drape Cut was already in the hall and tidying up the small mess that I had made, delicately picking up the poor, abused orchid and placing it back in its place of pride.

"Opening the front door yourself, sir?" he said with barely concealed-amusement. "Should sir start organising his own cufflinks under his own initiative as well, then I fear my services will no longer be required and I shall have to find gainful employment elsewhere."

Ever since he had orchestrated my little usurpation of the Equestrian constitution for Twilight Sparkle's political gain, Drape Cut's sarcastic, dry wit, apparently endemic amongst servants from Trottingham (which I suppose balances out their usual efficiency in carrying out their regular duties), had only gotten worse. The only reason I hadn't corrected him on that behaviour was because I was more-or-less in his debt. That, and I had no desire to find myself on the receiving end of the awesome, terrifying power that I now knew the servant classes possessed.

I ignored the comment and opened up the paper. While it would be charitable in the extreme to call Fancy Pants a friend, he was at least an associate of Canterlot's up-and-coming nouveau riche whose presence I could tolerate for more than five minutes. More importantly, his personal connections with a number of senior members of Their Highnesses' government, and his apparent belief that the two of us shared some sort of cordial relationship, meant that it was not too much of an imposition for me to ask him to have the outcome of the Commons' vote sent to me the instant the Speaker announced the results (being a noble, I'm not allowed anywhere near that chamber, not that I ever wanted to). He had already done for Twilight in the Commons what I had done for her in the Lords, as was my understanding of what was going on in the lower chamber, so for once our aims converged on the same goal.

'We won', it read. If I wanted more detail I’d have to wait until the next day’s newspapers, it seemed. The implications of those two little words took a while to sink in for me, and I must have spent a good few minutes sitting against my front door staring at them, while Drape Cut busied himself with tidying up the hallway.

What historians would later call the Twilight Sparkle Reforms had finally met Parliamentary approval, and the work in transforming the Royal Guard into a modern military force would begin; tens of thousands of soldiers would have to be retrained, officers educated on the new tactics, militias elevated to regular infantry regiments, the entire command structure of Equestria's armies would be smashed and re-assembled, the Ministry of War gutted to eradicate bureaucracy, and so on and so forth. It is a simple thing to read in a book that these reforms were enacted, as though the military was transformed into something approaching competent overnight. Countless tasks were required to enact the contents of that damned report, and each of those little things merely represented yet another opportunity for it all to go horrendously, appallingly wrong. Just because Princess Celestia had scribbled her signature on the parchment, making the bill into law, did not mean the usual equine capacity to ruin everything had finally been conquered. The relief I felt was, as it must always be, tainted.

I mention all of this because I wish to convey the ridiculous level of optimism that swept through society like a plague, once all of this silly business had been resolved, and pit it against what was inevitably to follow. Not since the aftermath of the attack on Canterlot had I witnessed such enthusiasm for the war. Back then it was out of a sense of outrage and shame for having lost our glorious capital so quickly, but now, after two years of stalemate, it was thought that we finally had the means with which to punish the Changelings.

One of the main provisions of the reforms was to increase the size of the army, more than doubling it. While many of those new regiments were simply converted from the old militia units that no longer served much of a purpose in the more civilised areas of Equestria, the rest had to be raised via a massive recruitment drive. I am certain that anypony who reads this will be familiar with the infamous 'Friends Regiments' posters that were plastered on just about every available wall, lamppost, and tree. When I stepped out of my front door, be it either the Sanguine Palace or my apartment, I would see Princess Twilight Sparkle's face beaming at me from all directions, imploring me to do my bit for Princesses and Country by enlisting in her new army. I could not imagine even for a second that Twilight would ever have agreed to her image being used for such a thing, which accounts for the relatively short life of this particular scheme, but the insanity of seeing her image of all ponies gleefully imploring all to fight and die at the front was especially jarring in those times.

[The so-called 'Friends Regiments' were a highly successful but controversial propaganda drive by the Ministries of War and Information to entice new recruits into the Equestrian Army. Friends who enlisted together were guaranteed to be allocated into the same unit. Tens of thousands of ponies enlisted in the first few weeks of this scheme. Princess Twilight Sparkle did not consent to her image being used in such propaganda, and was upset when she learned about it. After I had a quiet word with Treble Bass, who had regained his old position as Secretary of State for War in a deal to back Twilight's reforms, the posters were discontinued, though they remain a potent symbol of the war today.]

From there, venturing through the streets of Canterlot, and I'm sure this was the same in Manehatten, Fillydelphia, Trottingham, and so on, one would encounter rabble-rousing speakers armed with megaphones promising all who would listen their chance to take the Princess's bit and win glory before it was all over too quickly. As I carried on, walking to my club or out to see a show of some sort, there would be further posters demanding subjects of our realm donate old cloth and metal for uniforms and weapons, refrain from 'unnecessary' journeys via train or airship, and to report suspected Changeling infiltrators to the authorities. The transformation of the city I loved like a dear friend into this hideous temple to vulgar militarism took a few weeks, but it was jarring, nonetheless. It was enough to make one sick that the ancient city upon the hill should sink so low.

More immediately, however, this all spelt trouble for Yours Truly, as when the press and the public alike were once again clamouring for Changeling ichor to be spilt (by somepony other than themselves, of course), they invariably start looking towards their favourite heroes to take up the sword once more. My false reputation, inflated to dizzying heights by my retrieving of the Royal Standard from an angry mob of natives, shoved me front-and-centre and shone a bright spotlight right in my face. I expected that Shining Armour must be going through the exact same thing, except he probably wanted to get stuck in again but his wife wouldn't let him - perhaps marriage was the answer to my problems, but I fancied that even the spectre of war casting its baleful shadow over my life was not worth shackling myself to just one mare. My 'excuse' for still lingering around Canterlot, that I'd been damned-well flogged to within an inch of my life and then nearly bloody killed by a Purestrain, was soon getting tired, and all too often I would hear ponies everywhere - at my club, in the office, even out on the street - tell me that I must be itching to get back into the fight.

In short, the entire country lost its bloody mind and I'm not sure it ever truly recovered.

Returning to the front was still a long way off, thank Faust, and I had plenty of time to think of a way out. The 1st Night Guards and the 1st Solar Guards had been withdrawn from the frontline and returned to barracks. There, they underwent the re-training necessary to learn how to employ their new weapons and tactics in the field. Once all of that was done, they would be joined up along with the newly raised Crystal Guards, representing Princess Cadence, and the Prism Guards, representing Princess Twilight Sparkle, into the aptly named Guards Division of the new Equestrian Army. This at least meant that when the doctors declared me fit for active duty in the following week, despite exaggerated protests on my part that every waking moment was pure agony, I still had a good few months of breathing space while the earth ponies busied themselves with working out which end of those new-fangled muskets was to be pointed at the enemy.

It was a relief to be out of the cold and humourless halls of the Ministry of War, where it seemed that joy in any form was considered to be against regulations, and into the regimental barracks where things were a bit more lively. The troops seemed pleased to see me, judging by the cheering and exultation of my name when I first crawled on through the portcullis gates and onto the parade square. The feeling was mutual to some small degree, as it was hard not to feel at least some element of attachment to one's charges.

Settling back into my old role, sans actual fighting, of course, was something of a small comfort too, in an odd way; rather like putting on an old lounge suit that still fits after years in the wardrobe. Though the tasks of educating the soldiers of the Night Guards about Twilight's new reforms were tedious in the extreme, and likely futile as I still barely understood what was going on anyway despite having made a minor contribution in its passing, I at least had Cannon Fodder back to alleviate the more unpleasant and onerous paperwork that I was expected to deal with. There was quite a lot of it, you see; despite the cuts in bureaucratic red tape, the apparatchiks of the world will always find a way to burden us with forms to fill in and sign in triplicate.

Despite my personal reservations, the officers, Captain Red Coat especially, attacked the tasks of putting the reforms into practice with a zeal normally seen in ponies who have recently discovered religion. I observed the endless, monotonous drill of earth ponies and pegasi practicing loading, firing, and reloading their new muskets over and over until they could manage the target rate of three rounds a minute. That these firearms could barely hit the barn let alone its door did little to dampen their enthusiasm for the noisy, foul-reeking, smoke-vomiting things. Black powder hoof-guns had been thought of as little more than toys, being far too slow and inaccurate compared to unicorn fire to be considered effective enough for war; suitable only to allow the non-magically inclined to indulge in the sport of target shooting or in the more lethal sorts of duels where swords were considered to be insufficient for the insult. I myself owned a pair of duelling pistols my father had commissioned a long time ago, which he had used to kill a Prench duke after some ridiculous falling out. I never touched the ugly things.

I suppose their main benefit was improving morale, for now the average earth pony soldier could do something instead of merely wait for the inevitable charge. When fired en masse into an approaching horde of Changelings, at least a few of the enemy would be felled in the volleys. There was always the bayonet, of course, for even the rose-tinted spectacles of relentless optimism could not obscure the obvious reality that the fight would still be decided in the hideous scrum of the melee. I understood, however, that the reasoning behind the mass-introduction of these weapons was to whittle down the on-coming mob before the charge hits.

Of course, the earth ponies weren't the only ones with new toys. The pegasi received scaled-down versions of these muskets, called carbines, and one of the pegasi companies was labelled the 'grenadier' company and given, well, grenades to play with. [The structure of regiments of hoof were changed to allow for greater flexibility in the field - creating three companies, each with one hundred ponies-at-arms, for each of the tribes for a total of nine companies to a battalion. The first battalion was engaged on active service, while the second was an administrative formation that served as a pool of reinforcements.] I'd watch them from the safety of my office, swooping around like starlings in Spring and dropping small beanbags onto a target painted on the parade ground. Once they had achieved a sufficient and consistent level of accuracy, they were allowed to practice with the real thing. It was only by Faust's own intervention that the only victims of the single accident they caused in training were a few shipments of pencils, which somepony foalish had left too close to the obvious red circle covered in soot and shrapnel. Pencil Pusher was inconsolable for days as a result, which made me enormously happy for a bit.

As for the other two of the pegasus companies, one was designated 'light' and the other 'heavy'. The former were intended to operate on the lines of the griffon jaegers, ahead of the main formation of troops as skirmishers; the latter fulfilled the more traditional role of pegasi in war, as dictated by the ancient warrior codes of Pegasopolis, in clearing the skies above of enemy airborne. Likewise, the unicorns continued much in the same vein as always; stand at a nice, safe distance and shoot at the enemy, then retreat to let the earth ponies deal with them once they got close enough to retaliate.

All of these things brought a myriad number of little annoyances that distracted me from what would have otherwise been a quiet and rather pleasant stay in the barracks, but for the most part I was still free to do as I wished - namely reading, drinking, shopping, carousing, fornicating, and just loafing about as I always did before the war, at least during my off-duty periods. On the occasions where I wasn't able to do those aforementioned fun things, usually because I was expected to be in my office going through yet more paperwork about something or other, I tried to grapple with the problem that continued to cast its deepening shadow over my life. It would only be a matter of time before the constituent elements of the Guards Division would be trained to a sufficient degree to be sent back to the frontline for whatever offensive Field Marshal Iron Hoof was dreaming of, and I had to make sure that I was far away from it as I possibly could be without arousing suspicion.

Fortunately for me, Twilight's re-organising of the army into this division structure appeared to provide just the thing I needed. The Commissariat was likewise expanded to match the more complicated chain of command, from army group, field army, corps, division, brigade, and down to battalion, and they would obviously need commissars with experience in the field to peer obtrusively over the shoulders of commanders and their staff. Being assigned to Field Marshal Iron Hoof's army group would likely be the safest option, I thought, as he very much liked to command as far from the front as his communications and logistics would allow, but I doubted that those bureaucrats would allow somepony as young and relatively junior as me to do so. Besides, he remained utterly tedious company and I didn't fancy spending my time repeatedly bashing my skull into the brick wall that was the moustachioed old martinet's stubbornness. Watching over a general of division or brigade should be sufficiently safe, while remaining close enough to the action that I could at least be seen to be living up to my reputation for personal heroics.

With that in mind, I made an appointment to meet with some bureaucrat or other in the Commissariat late one evening. It should have been simple enough, really; turn up, ingratiate myself with the poor, spectacled soul shackled behind a desk by telling her just how much we at the front appreciate the hard work she and her ilk do to keep us fit and fighting, then explain how my experience could be put to better use supporting the new commissars in their roles. Clearly, I still hadn't learned anything, or rather the relative safety and security of Canterlot these past few weeks had dulled the instincts that told me such things are never easy. I certainly was not expecting to have to deal with what awaited me there.

Author's Notes:

Why yes, I have been reading PG Wodehouse lately.

Next Chapter: Chapter 3 Estimated time remaining: 7 Hours, 7 Minutes
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