Book 2 Chapter 1
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"You're late," Kunzite said disapprovingly as Nephrite arrived at the Transport station.
Nephrite didn't deign to answer Kunzite's criticism. If he was late, that was between him and the King. Who also, as it happened, had not yet arrived at the Transport station. Besides, he was in no mood to talk.
"He's been arguing with the Lady Fenita again," Zoisite said in that gossipy way of his.
"I take it the Lady Fenita is not happy about you spending the next two weeks on the moon?" Jadeite asked.
"As far as I'm concerned," Nephrite said, "the Lady Fenita has nothing to say on the subject."
"But isn't her birthday party in three days?" Zoisite asked.
Nephrite shrugged. "Her husband will be in town for it. She won't need me there." He wished the others would drop the subject.
"Ah," Jadeite said. "Now we come to the heart of the matter. Her husband."
"The heart of the matter is that she's as silly, stupid, and shallow as the rest of the ladies of the court."
"I thought Fenita was different," said Zoisite. "After all, she attends the meetings of that scientific society you belong to."
"The only reason she goes to Academy meetings, I've discovered, is so that she can lure idiots like me into her trap."
King Arrendel and Prince Endymion finally emerged from the palace and began crossing the courtyard. The Prince looked impatient, and kept drifting a few feet in front of his father instead of remaining four paces behind as protocol required.
"My friend," Jadeite said as the four Guardians watched the king and prince approach, "when it comes to the important things, it doesn't matter how good a conversationalist a woman is."
Nephrite only grunted in response.
The Transport station was a small, heavily guarded outbuilding on the edge of the palace grounds. There was another Transport station inside the palace, but it had been disabled after Lady Beryl fled Earth and began stirring up rebellion on the other planets. King Arrendel had wisely decided that it was best if rebels and other assorted enemies not have direct access to the palace. All the other planetary rulers had come to the same conclusion, and disabled their own private Transport stations.
"Well," the king said as he and his son entered the windowless building. "We're all ready, then?"
"Let's just go, Father," Endymion said.
"Yes, Your Majesty, we are ready," Kunzite said formally.
"Come on!" Endymion insisted, walking towards the transdimensional tiles in the center of the room.
"Ah," the king chuckled affectionately. "To be young and in love..."
Nephrite grunted again. Jadeite snorted, his face turning red with his effort to not laugh.
The group stepped onto the glowing, colorless tiles that formed the transport area. As each man set both feet on the tiles, he faded away, to reappear on a square of similar tiles in a similar building not far from the Palace of the Moon.
Nephrite hated Transporting, hated the feelings of nausea and dizziness it always left him with. At least he rarely threw up, unlike Zoisite and the Prince, who had, as usual, hastily excused themselves to the privy conveniently located off the main Transport room. After a moment, Endymion and Zoisite, having relieved themselves of their breakfasts, rejoined the rest of the group. The party from Earth stepped outside into the thin, pale atmosphere of the Moon, to be greeted by Queen Selene's personal guard.
As the guard escorted the men from Earth to the entrance to the Palace gardens, Nephrite started to relax a little. It was good to get away. Fenita had been growing altogether too possessive lately. She had even been meaning to flaunt him in front of her husband and all her birthday party guests. There was nothing wrong with two people in their position having a meaningless dalliance, even if one of them were married - in fact, it was almost expected, but Nephrite had no intention of allowing Fenita to make a spectacle of him. Under the circumstances, the Moon, or just about anywhere in the galaxy, was a better place to be than on Earth at the moment.
Besides, maybe he would see that handmaiden again, the little red-haired one.... Nephrite didn't know her name, would certainly never be properly introduced to her - protocol absolutely forbade it - but just seeing her made him feel... like there was hope. Like life couldn't possibly be that bad. Sometimes he thought that if he could just see her one more time he would find something he was lacking. Not happiness; happiness was for people who didn't think. But, perhaps, a measure of contentment, even of peace.
Queen Selene, elegant as always in white silk, was waiting for them in the archway that led to the beautiful gardens surrounding the Palace of the Moon. Her daughter, Serenity, had not yet reached the age of majority and therefore was not permitted to greet visiting dignitaries upon their arrival, even if one of those dignitaries was the prince to whom she would soon be betrothed. Nephrite noticed Endymion tapping his fingers restlessly against his thigh; the Prince had little patience with protocol, especially when it stood between him and his beloved Moon Rabbit. The Prince didn't fully appreciate how lucky he was, Nephrite thought, that the political marriage that had been arranged for him was also a love match.
"Welcome, King Arrendel." Selene bowed her head graciously, the proper greeting of one monarch to another, and extended her hand.
"Queen Selene." The king took the queen's offered hand and bowed over it, bringing it within a few inches of his lips. The proper greeting of a male noble to a female.
"Prince Endymion." The entire ritual was repeated with the prince. Selene then turned her attention to the Guardians. "Gentlemen." She nodded to them.
"Your Highness," the four Guardians said, more or less in unison, bowing deeply.
"Come," the Queen said. King Arrendel extended his arm to her, and she rested her fingertips lightly on it. Surrounded by the Queen's guards, the group began walking towards the Palace. "It is a shame," Selene said, "that we are unable to open our private Transport rooms. Beryl continues to evade the agents you sent out to... remove her?"
"Unfortunately, yes, she does," Arrendel replied.
"My offer remains open, should you wish assistance from any of my men or from the Senshi."
"Thank you, Selene, but no. Beryl is Earth's problem. We will take responsibility -"
The King's words were cut off by a high, excited voice calling across the gardens. Nephrite and the others looked towards the Palace, to see two young women running towards them. The taller girl was slender, clad like the Queen in white silk. Her long golden tails of hair streamed out behind her. She was dragging a shorter girl by the hand; this second girl had a mane of long, wavy red hair tied at the back of her neck with a blue bow, and she wore a dress of blue linen. It was the redheaded handmaid. She seemed to be trying to protest, but was laughing too hard. Nephrite couldn't take his eyes off of her.
"Mamo-chan!" Princess Serenity cried out the Prince's nickname again. Endymion's face lit up and he opened his arms to the girl. "Usagi!"
The Princess let go of the other girl's hand and ran into Endymion's arms. He lifted her up and spun her around, then kissed her long and firmly on the mouth.
The King, the Queen, and the Guardians could only stare speechlessly at this flagrant violation of protocol. Even being young and in love was no excuse for such behavior.
Endymion and Serenity finally pulled apart, but before either of their parents could speak, Serenity said, "Mamo-chan, I want you to meet someone." She gestured to the red-haired girl, who approached shyly, her eyes looking downward, her hands twisted in the skirt of her dress. Serenity took the girl by the hand again and pulled her to stand beside her. "Mamo-chan, this is Naru. She's a handmaid in my mother's service, but she's also my best friend. Naru, this is Prince Endymion."
Naru, Nephrite thought. At least now I know her name. Naru.
Blushing, the handmaid curtsied deeply to the Prince, who seemed at a complete loss. This was a circumstance so far beyond the bounds of protocol that no guidelines for dealing with it had ever been set forth. Finally, Endymion seemed to decide that it would be better to not be rude to a member of his hostess's household. He bowed his head graciously. "I am pleased to meet you, Naru."
The maid curtsied deeply again. "Thank you, your Highness." At least she had manners, and was making a better display of them than Serenity was.
Serenity then turned to the Guardians. Even she wouldn't be so bold as to introduce a servant to a visiting King. "Naru, these are Prince Endymion's Guardians, Lord Kunzite, Lord Zoisite, Lord Nephrite, and Lord Jadeite."
Once again, Naru curtseyed very prettily. Nephrite noted that her figure did full justice to the low neckline of her high-waisted dress. "My Lords," she said.
Kunzite and Zoisite barely nodded. Jadeite bowed his head a little more deeply and said, "Naru."
The girl's eyes rested on Nephrite a moment, then she blushed and looked away. So that was what this was all about, Nephrite thought. He didn't know what got into him, maybe it was that Fenita had put him in a contrary mood, or maybe he was just sick of being held prisoner to the stifling rules of protocol. He took the girl's hand, bowed over it, and pressed his lips to the soft skin. A scent clung to her of herbs and beeswax and something... female. Then he straightened and looked into her large blue-green eyes. "Naru," he said in a low voice, speaking just for the two of them. "A lovely name for a lovely girl. It is a pleasure to meet you, Naru."
A smile spread over her face like the sunrise. Their eyes met and held. Nephrite saw something there, something... Answers. He thought that if he looked deeply enough into her eyes, he might find everything he had ever wanted, everything he had never even known he wanted.
The girl spoke softly, wonderingly, her voice barely a whisper. "I know you."
The moment hung suspended, apart from time. Then someone cleared a throat, breaking the spell. "Lord Nephrite," Kunzite said. "Perhaps we can continue with our discussion."
Nephrite lowered Naru's hand. "Of course."
Kunzite turned to the Queen. "Your Majesty, perhaps it would be appropriate for the Princess to join in the conversation." He emphasized the word "Princess," making it clear that the other girl's presence was neither necessary nor wanted.
The King lifted one eyebrow disapprovingly at Kunzite. Correcting a member of Queen Selene's household in front of her, along with the implied criticism of the Queen, was as flagrant a violation of etiquette as Serenity's behavior had been. But, of course, nothing could be said about it now, in front of Selene, Serenity, and the maidservant.
Queen Selene stepped into the debacle. "Naru," she said in a kind but firm voice.
"Yes, my Queen." The girl spoke softly and curtseyed.
"Naru, the yellow roses are beginning to bloom. I would like you to cut some and arrange them in my apartments."
Despite the Queen's soft voice and tact, Naru seemed to understand that she was being reprimanded. She blushed miserably, and Nephrite was sure he saw tears shimmer in her eyes. "Yes, my Queen." She curtsied again, and left the group.
Nephrite watched her go, silently cursing Kunzite's snobbery. Surely the girl would never dare to even look at any of Endymion's Guardians again. But a few seconds later, Naru stopped, and glanced back over her shoulder at the group. Nephrite met her eyes. He wanted to tell her something, he wasn't sure what. I'm not like him, I don't want you to go, don't be afraid of me... He winked at the girl. A smile bloomed across her face, then she turned and ran towards the rose gardens.
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Kunzite spent quite some time alone with King Arrendel in the King's study later that afternoon. Nephrite and Zoisite waited in the sitting room of the guest apartment. Endymion was making his formal greetings to Serenity, with Jadeite as chaperone.
Nephrite stood by a window that overlooked the gardens, catching occasional glimpses of a red-haired figure in a blue dress moving here and there, busy with her duties. "This is taking a while," he said. "That must be quite a dressing-down Kunzite's getting, don't you think?"
The youngest Guardian, occupied in twirling a long tendril of golden hair around his forefinger, shot Nephrite a poisonous look out of his green eyes. "I'm not going to let some stupid slut of a maidservant ruin Kunzite-sama's chances for promotion."
"What chances? What promotion? You know perfectly damn well there's never been a Commander of the Guardians. The Guardians have always been equal, and answerable only to the King."
"There should be a Commander, and Kunzite-sama would be the perfect -"
"Careful, Zoisite. Your very personal interest in this matter is becoming too apparent."
Still twirling the lock of hair around his finger, Zoisite closed his mouth and stared at Nephrite out of narrowed eyes. Nephrite didn't think that anyone else, even Jadeite, knew of the forbidden relationship between the youngest and oldest of the Guardians. Nephrite himself had no intention of telling, but sometimes he found it necessary, and satisfying, to remind Zoisite and Kunzite of their precarious position. Strange, he reflected, the Guardians had all been friends until Zoisite and Kunzite began their affair. Now it was as though Zoisite and Kunzite had formed their own exclusive unit, whose interests they placed above the interests of the Guardians as a whole. Kunzite's sudden ambition to be made Commander over the other three was the most blatant example of this. Nephrite had to wonder how much of Kunzite's ambition was attributable to Zoisite's fascination with power.
Kunzite emerged from the King's study. He closed the door softly, then said, "The King wishes to speak to you, Nephrite." His deep voice was soft, but his pale eyes and handsome face were stormy with rage. "Come, Zoisite."
The smaller man rose to follow him from the room. "Oh, and Zoisite," Nephrite said. Both Zoisite and Kunzite turned towards him. "A gentleman never casts aspersions upon the virtue of a lady about whom he knows nothing."
"She isn't a lady, she's a servant," Zoisite snapped, then left the room behind Kunzite.
Nephrite entered the study. The King sat behind a massive carved desk, a few papers detailing the arrangements of the coming betrothal spread in front of him. He had changed out of his dress uniform into more casual shirt and trousers, and his salt-and-pepper hair was mussed. He looked tired.
Nephrite bowed. "My King."
"Sit down, Nephrite." The King gestured carelessly to the chair in front of the desk.
Nephrite obeyed. "You wanted to see me, Your Highness?"
"Yes." The King marked something on one of the documents with his quill, then set the pen down and sighed. "You were quite taken with that handmaiden this morning, weren't you?"
On reflection, Nephrite decided he had been rather obvious about his feelings. "Yes, sir."
"I suppose one can't blame a bright, high-spirited girl like the Princess for breaking the protocol like that."
"Well, that isn't my concern. Kunzite's rudeness to the Queen is my concern. As is this - Nephrite, you know there is nothing wrong with a casual dalliance with a serving girl. If you wish to, ah, avail yourself of her favors, I have no objections - in fact, I can hardly blame you. She is quite a pretty little thing. And quite well-formed. However, she does seem to be a particular favorite of the Princess's, and we do not wish to give offense at this juncture. Also, given the, ah, obviousness of your feelings this morning, I would caution you to remember your position and hers. You are one of the Guardians of the Crown Prince of the Realm of Earth. She is a servant. Your respective duties preclude you from engaging in anything more than the most casual affair."
It was perfectly true what the King was saying about servant girls. Nephrite didn't know why he was so offended by the idea that this particular one should just be treated as a convenience. "May I say something, Your Majesty?"
"With all due respect, Your Majesty, I think it unfair to assume that the handmaid Naru is a woman of loose virtue simply because she is a servant. I intend to respect her virtue."
"I see. Well, Nephrite, if that's what you want... You may go now. I need to finish reading over these papers."
Nephrite stood and bowed. "My King." He left, not sure why he felt so angry.
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Late that afternoon, while on break from his duties, Nephrite sought out the maidservant Naru. She appeared to be a very busy girl, moving from place to place, always one step ahead of him. Finally, he caught up with her in the kitchen garden, where she was gathering herbs. He stood beneath the vine-covered trellis leading to the shady, fragrant garden, watching Naru as she knelt over a bed of lavender, carefully selecting leaves and flowers. Enjoying the scene, and not wanting to startle her, he remained silent until she looked up and saw him.
"Lord Nephrite!" she exclaimed. Hastily, she got to her feet, brushed the dust from her skirt, and curtsied. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were there, can I help you with something?"
"No, no. That's all right, Naru. I was just wondering if you have a moment to sit with me and talk."
"I -" She looked at him, puzzled, a wary expression in her wide eyes.
She probably thought he wanted what any visiting nobleman would want from a servant girl. "It's all right. I just want to talk to you."
"All right." She walked over to a nearby bench and sat down. Nephrite sat down beside her, his long legs tucked under the bench, hands gripping the edge of the seat.
After a moment, he spoke. "I wanted to apologize for Lord Kunzite's behavior this morning. He is extremely particular about protocol, and I'm afraid this sometimes makes him rather careless of others' feelings."
"Oh, that's all right." Naru sounded bewildered. "I was behaving very improperly."
"Perhaps. I don't think it was your fault. I saw the Princess dragging you along like she was trying to break your neck."
Naru laughed a little and looked down at her hands, which were folded in her lap. "She gets these ideas sometimes, and nothing anyone says can stop her. I should have tried harder, though."
"Well, in any case, it wasn't Lord Kunzite's place to reprimand you. That should have been left for the Queen to do, in private. Personally, I'm glad I finally got to meet you."
She looked up at him, her eyes wide. "You've been wanting to meet me?"
"I've been noticing you ever since I first came here with the Prince."
"I never thought that you would ever notice someone like me." She blushed very prettily, Nephrite thought.
"Oh, I've noticed you. There's something about you... You always seem so busy and content and... peaceful. Rare qualities to find among those who live in palaces."
Naru blushed even more and put a hand in front of her mouth, concealing her smile.
"Besides," Nephrite went on, "I think you're the prettiest girl in the palace."
She looked like she might burst with delight. Nephrite had never seen anyone look so genuinely, unselfconsciously happy before, especially not because of something he'd said. He liked the feeling this gave him.
"That isn't true," Naru said. "There are lots of girls here prettier than me, like the Senshi Princesses, and of course Serenity's more beautiful than anyone else."
"That may be," Nephrite said, "but, as you might guess, I've got a preference for redheads."
Naru giggled, a soft, musical sound. She looked away from him as she toyed with a lock of wavy red hair that had come free of her bow. "You're just saying that to be kind."
"Believe me, Miss Naru, I never say things just to be kind. I'm a thorough curmudgeon, and I always tell the truth no matter how much it hurts."
She laughed again, and looked up at him, her face shining with happiness. "It's - I feel - I was telling Usagi, Princess Serenity I mean, just this morning, how much I wished I could meet you but I was sure it would never happen because you're a Guardian and I'm just a servant, and now, here we are, and I can hardly believe this is really happening."
"But it is really happening," Nephrite said softly. Cautiously, as though he were about to touch something unthinkably fragile, he reached out his gloved hand and brushed two fingers along her cheek. Naru closed her eyes and leaned into the touch. He brought his fingers to her jaw, he wanted to raise her face towards his and kiss her, but he stopped himself. This couldn't go any further. He wasn't going to use her as an amusing distraction during his visit, but, because of who they were, nothing else was possible between them. It would be wrong to lead her on.
Reluctantly, he pulled his hand away from her, and stood. "It's been delightful talking to you, Miss Naru. But I've been away from my duties too long, and I've also kept you from yours long enough. Good afternoon." He bowed his head slightly to her and walked away, trying not to think about the confusion and dismay in her face at his abrupt departure.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 2 Chapter 2
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury