A grizzled old stallion walked slowly through the streets. He never said a word, but the scars and burns on his body shattered any chance of conversation with the ponies of Canterlot anyhow. The graying pony could hardly care much anyway; because today was not his day. No, today belonged to his best friend.
Ahead of the wide berth that the world gave him, dozens of foals were playing in the streets, happily enjoying their day off from school. Sweet smells of barbecued vegetables reached his nostrils, tickling his stomach with it's wonderful fragrance. The only ponies that didn't shy away from him were the ones that were trying to sell him things; a set of horse shoes; a bushel of apples; a beautiful necklace for "that special mare." It didn't matter in any case, the second their eyes met his scarred countenance they quickly hushed themselves and hurried along.
It seemed like just yesterday, but in reality it was nigh on fifty years ago that the very streets he walked on were burning and painted with the crimson blood of hundreds of soldiers; The only smell back then had been of death and sweat. He and his friend had served in the same unit, in fact, it was how they'd met. Among the stink and chaos of war, two ponies had managed to became the best of friends. The howls and cries of ferocious griffons still echoed in his ears; but not so much as the one scream of agony that still haunted him today.
Not your fault... he told himself for the thousandth time. It wasn't your fault.
The old stallion groaned and flexed his remaining wing, the once proud and strong appendage that'd carried him through so much was now weary and atrophied, giving in to old age. Still, despite all the pain, even the loss of flight, he would not trade it for the world; not even the jagged stump where his other limb once stood- it was too important to him, it had saved his life. The same could not be said for his friend...
The foals stopped playing when he reached them. Some of them ran away upon seeing his horrible disfiguration, others stared in awe. "Hey mister!" One little red colt queried. "How come you only got one eye?"
To anypony else it may have been offensive, but the stallion just gave a nostalgic smile. "Let's hope you never have to find out, son," he answered, his voice gravelly and rough. Perhaps there was some pride there too, after all, he was proud of everything he'd done. Just like he was proud of his friend, and his unit, they had given their all in those days. Well, maybe he didn't quite give as much as they did; but that's exactly why he was proud of them.
His friends, for that's precisely that they were, had been through the gates of Oblivion and back. Saving lives and protecting what's right had been their goal; their battle cry. He felt a deep connection with all of them, they were a team, a family. They looked after each other through thick and through thin, and even after all of that, one bond was special: the one with his best friend in the whole world.
The unit may have conquered great perils together, but he and his best friend? They were unstoppable. Back in the day, they would not simply protect- no- You see, it was not simply about protection for them, it was about righting wrongs. About justice, and eventually, about punishment.
By himself, he'd decimated the enemy, cursing fate and calling upon the wrath of the gods. By himself, he'd disregarded direct orders and slaughtered griffon after griffon in a blood frenzied lust for vengeance. By himself, he returned and was promptly given a medal and shipped home for his troubles; never given release; never given justice; never properly punishing the invaders of his country...
The iron gates were wide open, inviting and yet haunting. A ceremony was scheduled to take place today at noon, but the old stallion didn't care, he had some place to be. He continued on passed the metal bars and walked along the familiar, neatly trimmed pathway to an equally familiar scenery.
The stones looked very nice today, probably washed down and decorated for the occasion. The old pegasus wearily sat down, content to enjoy the peacefulness of the landscape. For the first time this week, the sun was shining brightly, no doubt because of the yearly traditions; After all, who would want soggy barbecue? Who would want to swim in the rain? What foal wants their day off of school to be a mud soaked tragedy?
After a few moments, the old stallion picked himself up and made his way to one specific slab of over-polished rock; It hadn't changed a bit from the last time he'd visited. The stallion smiled, his friend was so free, so brash and wild, changing with the days. A soldier like that would never want a stone so plain and official looking.
One day, back in a camp in the Razorback Mountains, his friend had dared him to replace all of the body soap in the Officer's Quarters with ketchup; an act that had nearly gotten them court marshaled. The old stallion chucked at the memory of their always churlish and impatient Captain rebuking them for their prank. "Insolent fools!" he'd roared, still trying to rub the stains out of his coat. "This is a battlefield, not a damn circus!"
Ah, but his favorite memory of his best friend had to be the days leading up to the assault on Canterlot, which had been captured and used as a strategic base by the griffons. It was a warm sunny day much like this one, everypony in his unit wearing full military dress for the occasion. That day he received the greatest award a stallion could hope for; it was the greatest day of his life.
The party afterwards wasn't bad either. It was so surreal to see everypony so relaxed- even Ol' Coral Skin, who hadn't so much as smiled the whole year managed to dance around and have some fun. Those were the days, alright, and he wouldn't trade then for anything- and he knew his friends wouldn't either, even knowing how they ended.
The sun was sinking low now, he'd lost track of time like he always did. Memories are a powerful thing, and he found himself slipping into them more and more these days. Maybe it was his old age, maybe it was his reclusiveness, who knew? But he didn't mind, those days were decidedly better than these ones. His stomach pleaded once more for some form of sustenance, growling loudly to ensure maximum clarity in it's message.
The stallion gave a deep, melancholic sigh before getting back on his hooves and cracking his back. He reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Giving them one last, admiring glance, he leaned them ever so gently against the stone.
They looked good there, he decided. But it was no big surprise, he'd picked the same arrangement, from the same shop, every year for nearly half a century. Roses: his friend's favorite plant in the whole world. Red roses, white roses, even roses that were yellow or blue mingled among each other in the plastic wrap.
His stomach gave another indignant growl. Taking one last look at the sunset, and then at the flowers by the stone, he prepared to leave, but not before leaning in close to the tablet. "We'll be together again soon," he said. "I promise."
With that, the old stallion walked away, just as slowly and deliberately as he'd come. Behind him, the wind tickled the rose petals, gently smelling them. Their fragrance spread among the scene, lightening the once dreary landscape.
In the fading sunset, the words on the stone cast a shadow into themselves, giving the small piece of Equestria a feeling of trues serenity. If you bothered to, you could easily read the inscription:
Gallant soldier, selfless friend, loving wife.
R. I. P.