As the carriage rode away with the captured lizards and the other Thunderian guards keeping them prisoners inside, Cougan thought he spotted the blacksmith that he had bumped into earlier among the dissipating crowd. He squinted. Yep, definitely him, and he had that frowning, unamused look on his face. Cougan arched an eyebrow. What was his deal? They had all cheered for him save that one grumpy clouded leopard. The carriage turned a corner and the cat was out of sight. Ah well, he had other more important matters to think about anyway.
Like what excuse he would give the Chief this time.
One very silent ride later, the carriage arrived at the Royal Guard headquarters, which also doubled up as a temporary prison for petty criminals before their further fate was decided. As his colleagues marched the lizards down into the dungeons, Cougan headed above ground to where the Chief’s office was. He rapped on the door.
“Hey, Chief!” said Cougan cheerfully as he plastered a huge grin on his face and stepped into the Chief of the Royal Guard’s office. It was a large and sparsely decorated room, just like the man himself. The expression on the Chief’s face was eerily similar to that of the blacksmith’s.
Cougan sat on the chair opposite him and began talking. “Look, we both know the drill. I’m sorry and I can’t help it it’s my duty to - “
“Who gave you the permission to talk, much less sit?” snapped the Chief. The young cougar fell silent at once and got to his feet. The Chief really meant business now.
The Chief sighed and massaged his right temple. “Look, Cougan, I know that your father was a legendary member of the Royal Guard and that you aspire to follow in his footsteps, but wrecking chaos in Thundera’s most populous and socially problematic area, not to mention an area where most of its residents are cats that barely earn enough to get by every day, isn’t the way to go. You’ve set a bad example and - “
“How was I setting a bad example?” he nearly shouted. Screw the Chief, even if he had been a family friend. “If I had done nothing like the other guards, the lizards would have gotten away and we’d have disgruntled Thunderians instead.”
“That’s not the point!” bellowed the Chief with a slam of his fist on the desk. “You’re out of control, Cougan! You don’t listen to anyone, you think you own Thundera’s streets, and you don’t take anything seriously. Everything is just one big game to you, isn’t it, including the Royal Guard? You want to be like your father but you don’t have what it takes to be him. He was disciplined, honest and trustworthy - qualities in a Royal Guard that are far more important than agility and excellent marksmanship alone. I don’t think you get all that, Cougan, from the astounding display of mischief that you have enthralled us all with these past few months.”
“But I do get it!” said Cougan indignantly. “I was being the good guy, Chief, don’t make me sound like the bad one - because I’m not!”
“I know you’re not,” the Chief replied wearily. “But at the same time I don’t think you get the whole point of the Royal Guard. We’re here to keep the peace and to serve as role models for the citizens. Imagine what you must have seemed like to the young ‘uns. Your repeated recklessness is bad for both the Royal Guard and the Thunderians.”
Cougan could see where this was going. “No, Chief, please no…” he whispered, his eyes wide with plea. “Please… I was only doing my job!”
“This has been the ninth incident of this sort, Cougan. If I don’t take decisive disciplinary action the King will have my head on a silver platter. And I have to be fair to the other Guards,” he paused. “You’re dismissed.”
His jaw dropped. “What? But - but you can’t!”
“Oh yes I can,” hissed the Chief. “Now hand over your helmet and get out of my office.”
Cougan merely stared back at him in disbelief. He couldn’t have meant it. He couldn’t. What would he do with his life? How would he get on without the money?!
“I’m sorry, Chief, I truly am sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“If I let you carry on like this, I will be disrespecting your father’s memory,” replied the other cat in a low voice. “Don’t make this any harder for both of us, Cougan.”
With a heavy lump in his throat, he finally acquiesced. He placed his helmet reluctantly on the Chief’s desk and took a few steps back.
“I’m sorry, Cougan,” said the Chief. “Duty is duty. As a former Guard, you should understand that first and foremost.”
Cougan no longer had the heart or the will to face the Chief, the cat who had at first promised Cougan a long, prosperous career with the Royal Guard, the cat who had always dropped by his home and regaled Cougan with stories of their days as rookie guards when his father had still been alive. He left the room without another word.