Book 2 Chapter 3
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A note from Lady Fenita was waiting in Nephrite's apartments when he returned to Earth. He was so cruel to stay away for so long, she would die if she didn't get to see him soon, her birthday party hadn't been any fun without him there, her husband was such a bore.... Nephrite decided it was time for his standard "It was interesting while it lasted" note.
But as he sat at his desk and dipped the pen in the ink, different words came to him. "I've fallen in love with someone," he wrote. "She's the first woman I've ever truly loved, and she'll be the last. I know this will hurt you, and I'm sorry, but I've found the one I belong with and I'm giving all of myself to her."
He blotted the letter, folded it, and sealed it with a drop of wax and a press of his signet. Then he wrote a letter to Fenita's husband, suggesting that he take his wife to their country home for a while and pay attention to her.
His page was playing marbles with two other boys in the hallway outside his rooms. Nephrite gave him the two notes and instructions for delivering them, then watched as the skinny, black-haired boy ran down the hall to carry out his errand.
That business taken care of, Nephrite went into his workroom. The walls and tables were covered with charts and maps of the heavens; books and papers covered with his own writings and diagrams were stacked in teetering piles on the tables and floor. In the ceiling was a large round window of glass and lead, a rendition of the orbits of the stars and planets. It was daytime, but while the stars were not visible, they were still present and so was their power.
Nephrite stood beneath the center of the window, closed his eyes, and recited the invocation that centered his mind and released his power. "The stars know everything... I call upon the power of the stars..."
The familiar warmth appeared in the center of his forehead. He knew that the mark there had appeared, the symbol of his power. He felt a similar warmth above his heart, where rested the golden rendition of his symbol that he wore on a chain around his neck. The link with the stars was complete.
"What of Naru?" he asked out loud. "What should I do about her?" He stood still, allowing the stars to send their answer to him.
Soft, chiming words entered his mind. She is for you. You are for her. Your love is something beautiful, that will shine forever. Be patient, though. We see from a much broader perspective than you do.
Nephrite barely heard the stars' admonition to patience. All he could think of was that he and Naru were meant to be together. Their love was true and real and lasting. Nephrite thanked the stars, then, with a deep breath, broke the connection. He hurried back to his study, to his desk, and penned a note to King Arrendel, requesting a private audience for the next day.
* * * * * * * *
"Sit down, Nephrite."
Nephrite seated himself across the desk from the King. Arrendel finished signing the documents in front of him, then looked up at the auburn-haired Guardian. "What did you wish to see me about, Nephrite?"
"Your Majesty, I wish to marry."
The king looked at him for a few seconds. "Permission denied." He turned his attention to the next set of documents on his desk.
"King Arrendel -"
"As a Guardian, you cannot marry without my permission. That permission is denied."
Nephrite had expected that it would be difficult to get the King's permission. But he hadn't thought the King would deny his request so flatly. "I am aware of that, your Majesty. But aren't you even going to ask whom I wish to marry, or why?"
Nephrite tried to tamp down his frustration at the King's arbitrary refusal. "My King, may I say something?"
"Certainly, Nephrite. But it won't change my answer."
"King Arrendel, I have served you and your son for the past eighteen years. I was ten when I was taken from my home into your service. I gave up the remainder of my childhood, I gave up my youth, my home, my family, my name, to your service. I am yours to command at any hour of the day or night, as are all of my talents, powers, and abilities. I would gladly give up my life to protect your son, or you, or the Realm of Earth. In return, I ask only this one thing - that I be allowed to marry as I please."
"Your life does not belong to you, Nephrite. It belongs to the Royal House of Earth. You will marry the woman I choose at the time I choose. Disobedience in this matter will be considered an act of treason. Do you understand me, Nephrite?"
"Yes, your Majesty." Despite Nephrite's efforts to hide his feelings, fury clipped his words short.
"You are dismissed." The King returned his attention to the papers on his desk.
Nephrite arose, gave a bow that went unnoticed by the King, and left the room. Kunzite was waiting in the sitting area; Nephrite gave him a brief nod as he walked out of the King's apartments.
* * * * * * * *
"Yes, Kunzite?" the King said as the silver-haired Guardian seated himself.
"Have you given any thought to my suggestion, your Majesty?"
"I have. I think it an excellent suggestion, Kunzite. In fact, I had had the same idea myself. The fact that you have also thought of this plan confirms its worth."
Kunzite smiled to himself, a private smile of satisfaction.
"You are quite right," King Arrendel continued. "Marriages between the Guardians and the Inner Senshi would do much to secure the stability of the Solar System and increase Earth's status as a base of power among the planets. One thing concerns me, though - Queen Selene's feelings regarding purely political marriages. I do not believe she would have consented to the betrothal of her daughter and my son if there had been no affection between the two."
"Women can be foolish that way," Kunzite said.
"Yes, they certainly can, can't they? Although the Senshi are princesses of their own planets and all have living parents who must consent to their marrying, as Senshi they must also have the Moon Queen's permission. We would have a better chance of securing her cooperation, I think, if we can convince her that these marriages you've proposed are based on feeling as well as on political considerations."
Kunzite smiled. "I think that can be done, my King. I have grown rather fond of the Princess of Venus, and I know that Zoisite is quite taken with Ami of Mercury." If the King believed that he and Zoisite had fallen in love with two of the Senshi, they would be that much safer. "Jadeite and Princess Rei of Mars, though they seem an unlikely couple, got along splendidly during our recent stay on the Moon. And Makoto of Jupiter was all eyes for Nephrite."
"I fear, however," King Arrendel said, "that the Princess of Jupiter's feelings are not reciprocated. Nephrite was just in here asking for permission to marry."
Kunzite didn't like being taken by surprise. He fought to keep his voice and expression casual. "Really? Who did he want to marry? It could have been Jupiter."
"I didn't ask." The King sighed. "Foolish of me, but I didn't want him getting ahead of any plans you and I might make. I doubt it's Princess Makoto, though."
"I watched the two of them together. Nephrite hardly seemed enthralled by the young lady's company. To the contrary, he looked extremely bored."
"Nephrite always looks bored."
"He didn't look bored when he met that young maidservant of Serenity's," the King said, "or when he was dancing with her at the engagement ball."
"You don't suppose that's who he wants to marry?" Kunzite asked in disbelief.
"It hardly seems likely," Arrendel admitted. "Especially since she's a servant and he could have her any time without going to the trouble of marrying her. But I discussed the matter with him, that first day, and he told me that he intends to respect her virtue."
"What virtue? She's a servant."
"I know. That statement worried me. I believe he has fallen in love with the girl."
"Damn." It couldn't happen. Kunzite refused to allow some stupid little snip of a maid to ruin all his plans. Earth's supremacy in the Solar System, the squashing of Beryl's rebellion, the establishment of a Commander of the Guardians, these were all too important. Nephrite couldn't be allowed to jeopardize these goals by losing his head over some pretty little nobody.
"I have reminded Nephrite of his duties," the King continued, "and what he owes the Realm of Earth, and I believe he now fully understands those duties and will carry them out faithfully. In the meantime, let's see if we can't get him to take a liking to the Princess of Jupiter. You may go now, Kunzite."
"Yes, your Majesty. Thank you."
As he walked back to his apartments, Kunzite thought regretfully of the distance that had grown between him and the other two Guardians ever since he and Zoisite had begun their affair. He had been too wrapped up in his new-found love, had felt too different from the other two men... perhaps even slightly superior to them. He was taking a tremendous risk to conduct at least that one portion of his life as he saw fit. Would either Nephrite or Jadeite have the same courage? He doubted it. But it was time to set these feelings aside, to resume the old friendship, so that he could persuade Nephrite to marry the Princess of Jupiter. It was for the good of the Realm and the glory of the King and Prince. And he and Zoisite would be that much safer....
* * * * * * * *
"What did you think of Princess Makoto?" Kunzite asked Nephrite the next morning during sword training. Jadeite and Zoisite were fighting a practice battle of their own on the other side of the training ground.
Nephrite was silent a moment, concentrating on some new moves Kunzite had invented. The Guardians trained with real swords, which meant real injuries if one weren't paying attention. Once he was comfortable with the new pattern, he answered, "She's a nice enough girl, I suppose."
"Attractive," Kunzite said.
"I suppose. A bit on the tall side for me, though... Damn!" Nephrite spun aside too late. Kunzite's sword had got past his defenses and put a scratch on his side. Nephrite inspected the cut over his right ribs. "What was that for?"
"You're getting slow in your old age, my friend," Kunzite grinned.
"Slow? Old age? You'd best watch what you're talking about, Kunzite." Nephrite raised his sword again and, in a series of quick and ruthless moves, drove the silver-haired man back into a corner. "Who's slow now?" he laughed. Suddenly it was almost like the old days, when the four of them had been friends.
Kunzite also laughed. "I let you do that." Together, they walked over to the water jug and poured cups of water. "You know," Kunzite said as they leaned against the wall, watching Jadeite and Zoisite continue with their own training exercise, "they say that Princess Makoto is quite intelligent, much more intelligent that you would guess based on her reputation as a fighter."
Nephrite shrugged. "That may be. We didn't find a whole lot to talk about."
"You aren't still enamored of the Lady Fenita, are you?"
"No. In fact, I sent her husband a note requesting that he take her to their estate in the country and pay some attention to her for once."
"Good decision. She always seemed like she was more trouble than she was worth." Kunzite drained the last of the water from his cup. "You know, you could do a lot worse than to marry the Princess of Jupiter."
"So now you're a matchmaker."
"No, I've just been thinking. The four of us, the four of them... Have you ever considered the advantages?"
For one thing, the King would be less likely to suspect you of buggering Zoisite, Nephrite thought. "The King will be the one to tell me who to marry. Not you." It was a sore subject, and he didn't want to talk about it any more. Nephrite picked up his sword again. "Come on. I'll show you the weaknesses I spotted in that new pattern of yours." He walked back out to the training area.
Kunzite followed him. "Weaknesses? You're the one who took a hit."
"Only because I was distracted..." They resumed their training, while Nephrite thought again that it was like the old days, with the laughter, the boasting, the teasing, the friendship of four boys who had grown up together, dedicated to one of the most important and difficult positions in the Realm of Earth.
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A few more days went by while Nephrite tried to decide what to do about Naru. He had expected that the King would object to his marrying her because of Naru's position as a servant. Nephrite could have dealt with that, possibly by persuading the King that the circumstances of Naru's birth were unimportant, that in terms of intelligence, deportment, and beauty she was the equal of any Lady of the court. Failing that, he could have petitioned Queen Selene to raise Naru to some minor status in her own court. Surely she could be persuaded, if it was true that Naru was nearly a daughter to her.
What he hadn't expected was that the King would object on the grounds that Nephrite had a duty to marry as the King saw fit. To disobey under those circumstances would indeed be considered an act of treason under the law. And with Beryl's rebellion a growing concern, even small acts of treason would be dealt with harshly. Defiance of a direct order from the King could very well result in execution. Nephrite wondered if King Arrendel would really execute one of the Guardians over the matter of marriage. He doubted it, but still...
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One afternoon, several days later, the four Guardians were summoned to meet with King Arrendel and Prince Endymion immediately. When they were all seated around the table in the King's council room, the King asked, "Have any of you been approached by Beryl?"
Nephrite, Jadeite, Zoisite, and Kunzite all looked at each other, surprised by the directness of the King's question. Nephrite finally spoke. "I have, my King. She has spoken to me three times. Not face to face, but through telepathic communication."
"Three times? Why haven't you told me about this?"
There was something in the King's tone of voice that made Nephrite bristle. He made an effort to keep his voice calm and impassive. "I did not think it necessary. The things she said were no more than foolish boasts and meaningless promises. Each time, I ordered her to leave me alone, and she did."
"Are you sure that's why, Nephrite?"
Now Nephrite realized what it was that was making him feel angry and defensive. "Your Majesty," he said stiffly, "I hope you are not implying that I would ever consider swearing loyalty to Beryl and joining her rebellion. Didn't I tell you, only a week ago, how important my duty as a Guardian is to me?"
"True, you did," the King said thoughtfully. "Tell me, when did these incidents take place?"
"The most recent was the night of the Prince's engagement ball. The first two were during the weeks before that, I don't remember specifically which days. My King, one of the things Beryl said to me that last time was that one of the other Guardians had already pledged to her. I refused to believe her, and I told her so. I would stake my soul on the loyalty of my fellow Guardians."
The King met Nephrite's eyes and held them in a long, steady look. Finally he said, "Very well, Nephrite. I believe you. Have any of the rest of you been approached?"
None of the other Guardians spoke, though Nephrite knew that Beryl had spoken to each of them at least once. None of them would meet Nephrite's eyes, and he realized that, though the King might not have meant to do so, Arrendel had made an example of him. Admitting to having even been approached by Beryl would draw the King's suspicion.
"Good," the King finally said. "Now, you must be wondering why I've been concerned about this all of a sudden. Queen Selene has reported that two of the Outer Senshi and three of her own servants have been approached by Beryl. And, more disturbing, a servant here in this very palace was caught last night trying to sneak into the Transport station with a message for Beryl. The man was, of course, summarily executed."
"Why weren't we informed of this until now?" Kunzite asked.
Now the King turned his cold stare to the eldest Guardian. "I wanted to assure myself of the Guardians' loyalty first." He looked at all four men, and at the Prince. "That woman is the curse of my life." His voice was quiet, but held a sharp edge of intensity. "First trying to seduce my son, then shaming me by stirring up rebellion on other planets, and now trying to turn one of my Guardians against me...." He fell silent for a moment, then spoke in his normal voice. "You all understand that the things that have been said here are considered matters of state security, and are not to leave this room."
"Yes, your Majesty," all four Guardians replied.
"Good. You are dismissed."
* * * * * * * *
"Why didn't any of you say anything?" Nephrite demanded that evening. The four Guardians were at supper in the private dining room in their complex of apartments. "I know you've all been approached by Beryl at least once. Why did you leave me hanging out to dry like that?"
"As you said yourself, we didn't think it necessary to say anything," Kunzite answered for the three of them. "The Guardians should be completely above suspicion. And the King doesn't need to be worried over minor annoyances."
Nephrite drained his goblet. Jadeite had chosen the wine; Nephrite had to admit that the blond Guardian had almost as good taste in wine as he did. It was too bad he wasn't in a mood to fully appreciate it. "I doubt very much that Arrendel will be overcome with gratitude when he finds out you've been keeping secrets from him. At least I told him the truth."
"When are you going to learn," Zoisite said, "that there are times when honesty is not the best response?"
"I have my faults, but being a liar is not among them, and I don't intend to add it to the list." Nephrite refilled his glass. "I told Beryl, the last time, that we would all resist her to the last drop of blood in our bodies. I hope I wasn't lying about that."
"You know that's the truth, Neph," Jadeite said.
"How do I know?" Nephrite replied. "You lied to the King, why wouldn't you lie to me?" He looked at the other three. They all looked deeply offended. "Oh, hell, I'm sorry," he grumbled, and left the common rooms, headed for the gardens.
* * * * * * * *
The Prince was in the moonlit gardens, staring up at the source of the silvery light. Nephrite watched him from behind for a few minutes. Several times, Endymion's shoulders rose then sagged in deep, exaggerated sighs. "My Prince," Nephrite said softly, so as not to startle the young man.
Endymion turned, a morose look on his face. "Oh. Nephrite. Good evening." He returned his gaze to the Moon, and sighed again.
Nephrite walked over beside him. "Missing someone?" he asked, glancing at the Prince.
The black-haired young man flushed. "Yes."
"So am I." Nephrite smiled, just a little. He was still getting used to the idea of actually being in love. If he could only see Naru again, he would know what to do, he just knew it... A wild idea took him. It was ridiculous, he told himself. Such spur-of-the-moment notions were completely unlike him, they would never get away with it, it was foolish... "Come with me," he said to Endymion, and began walking towards the palace's outlying Transport station.
"What?" Endymion asked, running after him.
"We can be there in no time at all, see a certain pair of ladies for a while, then come back and no one will ever know we were gone."
"You mean just go, without telling them we're coming or being invited or anything?"
"Why not?" Nephrite laughed. He felt wild, free... happy. Of course, this would mean that Endymion would find out about him and Naru, but he didn't think the Prince would reveal anything. And it would be good to share his secret with someone.
The guards at the Transport station moved to block the door, then saw that it was Nephrite and the Prince. "May I ask where you are going, your Grace, Lord Nephrite?"
"Important matters of state security," the Prince replied haughtily. "Absolutely top secret. And we've no time to lose."
The guards stepped aside. Nephrite and Endymion entered the station, stepped on the transdimensional tiles that were coded to link to the Moon, and appeared in the Moon Palace's Transport station. Nephrite waited patiently while Endymion divested himself of his dinner and rinsed his mouth, then they walked past the guards outside with the same words about top-secret state business.
When they drew near to the palace, Endymion pointed to a window on the third story. "That's Usa - I mean Serenity's room."
"How do you know?" Nephrite asked.
Endymion blushed again. "I just know. I - we haven't done anything wrong, or anything - I just know that's her window." He picked up some white pebbles from the gravel walkway and threw them against the glass. The clattering noise sounded like thunder in the still night, but no one came to investigate.
After a moment, a blonde head appeared at the window. Nephrite was sure he saw a head of red hair peering from behind the Princess. The two girls disappeared, then, a few minutes later, Serenity came running around from the end of the palace wing, followed closely by Naru. They wore lacy, embroidered nightgowns, dressing gowns, and slippers. "Mamo-chan!" the Princess cried softly as she ran into Endymion's arms. The Prince enveloped her in a huge hug and covered her face with kisses.
Naru hesitated, looking at Nephrite then at the royal couple, who appeared to be oblivious to anything but each other. In only a few steps they were together, Nephrite's arms went around Naru, he lifted her up and kissed her. She threw her arms around his neck and held on tight, returning his kiss eagerly.
When they pulled apart, Nephrite realized that Endymion and Serenity were staring at them. He lowered Naru to the ground, but they kept their arms around each other. "So that's who you meant," Endymion said. "I thought... Never mind."
"Naru, why didn't you tell me?" Serenity asked quietly.
Naru blushed and buried her face against Nephrite's chest. "I was afraid," she said.
"Of what? That I'd laugh at you, or tell you it was wrong? You know I wouldn't do that, not when I'm the one who introduced you to him." She looked up at her Prince. "Come, Endymion. I wish to be alone with you for a while." Hand in hand, the pair walked off into the gardens, leaving Nephrite and Naru in privacy.
With their arms still around each other, they started walking in the opposite direction from that taken by the Prince and Princess. "Why did you come?" Naru asked.
"We were lonely. He was missing her, and I was missing you."
"So you just came? Just went to the Transport station and... came here?"
"That's what we did."
"Does the King know?"
"No one knows except the station guards. We told them - actually, this was Endymion's quick thinking - that we were traveling on important matters of state security. Absolutely confidential."
Naru giggled at that. Her laughter was sweet, light, musical. Nephrite stopped walking and turned her to face him. "Naru, I realized I never came right out and said it when I was here before - I love you, Naru. I love you with all my heart and soul, and will forever."
Tears suddenly swam in her eyes. One slipped down her cheek. "I thought - I mean, I hoped - I - Oh, Nephrite, I love you too. I've loved you since the first time I saw you, and I'll always love you."
He bent down and kissed her. The kisses he had shared with her were so different from any other kisses he had ever experienced. It was as if they were speaking to each other, heart to heart, soul to soul, telling each other the things they could never put into words. And her mouth was so soft and sweet, he could never get enough of it. His tongue teased at her lips, and she opened herself to him....
After a long time they pulled apart, breathing hard. Nephrite cradled Naru's head against his chest and ran his hands along her thick, soft hair, down past the curve of her waist and hip. "Oh, Naru, I don't know what to do, my love. I don't know what to do about us."
She shifted to look up at him, and rested her hands on his shoulders, tangling her fingers through his long hair. "Nephrite, I know you want to be honorable, and not treat me as just a casual dalliance. But if that is all we can have together, then I will take it and be glad of it."
He pulled her head back against his chest. The top of her head didn't even reach to his shoulder; she felt so fragile in his arms. "No. There has to be another way. I came here because I knew that seeing you would help me find an answer. If I can just hold you a little longer, I'll know what to do."
They walked a little farther, their arms securely around each other, then sat down on the edge of a fountain. The falling drops of water glimmered silver-blue in the Earthlight. Nephrite snuggled Naru as close to him as he could. It wasn't close enough, so he lifted her onto his lap. She was so warm and soft, and her body seemed to mold perfectly against his.
Nephrite considered his options. They could be just lovers, participants in a casual affair that had no substance when they weren't together. This was the most socially acceptable alternative, and the sort of relationship he'd always been engaged in before. But Naru wasn't like any of his other lovers, and he didn't want to treat her as if she were. He could make her his mistress, which would entail a legally binding financial obligation on his part. But Nephrite didn't want to turn her into what was essentially a glorified prostitute with only one customer. The indefinable quality she had about her, that warmed his heart and made her into the most brilliant star in his universe, could not be bought and sold. To do so, he suspected, would destroy what he loved so much about her.
He could defy the King's orders and marry her. He could commit treason and risk execution for the sake of making Naru completely his, without shame. Such a marriage would have no legal standing, and it would have to be kept secret, at least for the time being. He didn't want his love for Naru to cause disruption among the Guardians at this particular time, when Beryl's insurgence was a growing threat.
Sitting by the murmuring fountain with Naru snuggled in his lap, Nephrite considered all the options. Naru raised her face to look up at him, and he saw the earth and stars reflected in her big, soft eyes. "This is like a dream," she said quietly. "I know you can't stay long, but right now I feel like I'm in a dream. I'm so happy."
He brushed some strands of hair away from her face. The decision wasn't so hard, after all.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 2 Chapter 4
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury