Book 2 Chapter 5
* * * * * * * *
That evening, back on Earth, Nephrite thought about his responsibilities toward his new wife. Since their marriage had to remain a secret for the time being, the only way he could respectably support Naru would be if he made her his mistress, which of course was out of the question. That was why he had married her in that secret ceremony beneath the stars, because he wanted her to be more than just his mistress. Occasional gifts of money would offend Queen Selene, in whose employ Naru was, and would make Naru look like something even less respectable than a mistress.
Nephrite thought about it, and decided that the one thing he wanted most for Naru was that she not have to spend her entire life as a servant. If the King could be persuaded to allow their marriage, she would be able to live at Court as his Lady. But if something happened to him before then...
Despite his attempts to comfort Naru that morning, Nephrite was looking at the situation realistically. Though he was of exalted rank, he was still a soldier, and a war was coming. Soldiers died in wars. If Nephrite died before their marriage could be made legal, he wanted Naru to be able to leave Queen Selene and Princess Serenity's service and live independently, if she so desired. And, of course, if there were any children, they would need to be provided for.
He got distracted for a moment, thinking about the prospect of having children with Naru. His previous lovers had all been experienced and sophisticated enough to avoid any unwanted complications, which was fine with him, but with Naru it was different. He decided he liked the idea of having children by her. His only reservation was that he hoped none would come before the King legalized their marriage, so that his children would be completely legitimate.
Having thought all this out, Nephrite took some sheets of paper and refilled the inkwell on his desk, then wrote late into the night. Satisfied at last, he called in Marten, the tall, thin, balding steward who oversaw the Guardians' material affairs, to witness his signature. As Marten signed, he glanced at what he was signing and said, "My Lord, that's quite a large sum of money."
"I didn't ask you to approve the document, Marten. I only asked you to witness it."
"Yes, my Lord. But... to bequeath that much to a servant girl?"
"I'm very fond of the girl. I want to make sure she is provided for."
"Yes, my Lord." Marten finished signing the paper in silence.
As the steward stood to leave, Nephrite said, "Of course, this will be kept confidential," though he already knew the man wasn't foolish enough to betray any of the Guardians' secrets, not even to the King or the other Guardians. The Guardians were highly skilled fighters and mages; Marten was neither.
Marten bowed. "Of course, my Lord, it will remain confidential. As always." He bowed again, respectfully, but as he left the room Nephrite heard him mutter, "It's always the ones you never expect."
* * * * * * * *
Endymion and his Guardians visited the Moon about twice a month over the next few months. Nephrite was conscientious about carrying out his duties, and went through the motions of participating in the myriad of social functions. The Guardians and Inner Senshi were always grouped together, and Nephrite found himself in the company of Makoto of Jupiter at least a few times a day. As he got to know her better, he realized that she was a pleasant enough girl, with an excellent sense of humor and quite intelligent despite her athletic reputation.
But she wasn't Naru. She didn't fill the places in him that Naru filled, she didn't warm his heart the way Naru did. She didn't make him want to be the very best man he could be, the way Naru did. Late at night, when he and Naru met in an unused guest room or in the heart of the maze in the gardens, was when he felt truly alive. That was when he felt like the person he wished he could be.
There were nights when Naru was exhausted from her duties, or afflicted with the feminine inconvenience, when they did nothing more than lie close together in each other's arms or with Naru lying across Nephrite's chest, and talk softly until they fell asleep. Nephrite was surprised to find these nights as satisfying to him, though in a different way, as the nights when they indulged themselves in each other until they were drained and immobile.
* * * * * * * *
"Tell me about the sea," Naru said one night, lying with her head on Nephrite's chest. She had been run ragged that day; the preliminary fittings for gowns for the royal wedding had already begun and the head seamstress had had a hundred and one errands for Naru to run, with barely a pause in between. In addition, she was suffering badly from cramps, and was deeply grateful for Nephrite's willingness to just hold her and gently rub her back and talk to her.
"I love the sea," he said quietly. Naru thought how much she loved the sound of his deep voice as it resonated in his chest. "It's big and wild.... Imagine being surrounded on all sides by water as far as your eye can see."
"Isn't it a little scary?"
A gentle laugh. "It can be, if you aren't on a good ship with a good captain. My favorite place on Earth to look at the stars is from a ship in the middle of the sea. Either there or high up in the mountains, where the sky is clear and dark and it's peaceful."
"I'd like to see both those places," Naru said.
"You will, someday. I promise."
* * * * * * * *
One day, shortly after the end of another visit from Endymion and his Guardians, Naru sat in Serenity's dayroom with the Princess, the Inner Senshi, and young Princess Haruka of Saturn. Naru had sensed an increasing coldness from the Senshi Princesses towards her. Before they had been accepting of her as Serenity's friend, if not looking upon her as a friend themselves. But now they no longer spoke to Naru, instead speaking to each other in front of her as though she weren't there. Today was no exception, as they gossiped and chatted about the latest visit from the Guardians.
"To look at them," Princess Minako said, "you'd never think they could be so nice, or so much fun to be with."
"I know," Ami added. "I had no idea Zoisite had such a fine scientific mind, or such an appreciation of art and poetry."
Rei said, "It would be a lot more fun if someone would keep her claws out of someone else's man."
Naru glanced up sharply from her embroidery, to see Rei looking right at her. She blushed miserably and looked down, her eyes suddenly stinging with tears.
"It's all right, Makoto," Minako said. "He won't keep ignoring you forever. He isn't stupid."
"I think it would be a nice day for a walk," Serenity interrupted, a slight shrillness in her voice as she tried to change the subject.
Naru decided to spare her the trouble. "Excuse me," she said, hastily stuffing her needlework back into the bag, and fled the room. She went to her own small room and sat on the bed, trying to choke back her sobs. She felt so humiliated, and so lonely. "Nephrite," she whispered, wishing the two of them could just go away somewhere, where they could be together all the time, where there weren't any Kings or Princesses or anyone else to try to keep them apart.
* * * * * * * *
Several times over the last few months, Beryl's insurgence had flared up suddenly on the outer planets, then died away almost as abruptly. No one could figure out what she was trying to accomplish; she won no battles, overthrew no rulers, captured no cities. She appeared to have no plan at all, and it was impossible to anticipate her movements. King Arrendel found this infuriating. He seemed to feel that his personal honor was tarnished until troops from Earth defeated Beryl, no matter what planet she was stirring up trouble on. But always, by the time word got to him of where she was and he sent soldiers to capture her, she had moved somewhere else.
When she reached Jupiter, though, everything changed. She started several hundred miles away from the capitol, and began cutting a path of destruction towards the great city, leaving behind villages full of dead people who didn't have a single wound on them. All the troops who were sent out to block her advance disappeared entirely. The few survivors, perhaps four or five men out of thousands, told wild stories of hideous, invincible monsters backed by a vast, malignant, powerful presence.
When Beryl's intent to attack the capitol of Jupiter became apparent, Arrendel sent a message to Renato, the King of Jupiter, offering to send Earth troops to help intercept Beryl. At first, the Jovian king refused help, but as Beryl's forces continued to advance, he was forced to accept Arrendel's offer.
Nephrite, rather than one of the regular army generals, was assigned to command the expedition. He suspected that this had something to do with the way he was always being pushed towards the King of Jupiter's eldest daughter, but said nothing, choosing to pretend it was strictly a military assignment with no political overtones whatsoever. He did not, however, hold his tongue when King Arrendel only authorized him to take two hundred troops with him.
"Your Majesty," he said, fuming, fighting to keep his voice under control, "Beryl is no longer just an embarrassment to Earth. She's dangerous, and we know next to nothing about her methods or her real objectives."
"Your point, Nephrite?" the King asked.
"My point, your Majesty, is that if I'm going to face a dangerous enemy about which we are nearly ignorant, I want more than two hundred men with me."
"Lord Nephrite, I've given you two hundred of the Earth's elite soldiers. You shouldn't need more than that in order to put down a rebellion by a discontented courtier."
"Beryl is more than that, now. She's -"
"That is enough. You are dismissed, Nephrite. You and your troops be ready to transport at dawn tomorrow."
Nephrite bowed, right fist against his heart. "Yes, your Majesty." He stalked away, wondering what on Earth he had done to deserve being put in charge of what was certain to be a complete disaster.
It got worse. The next morning, Nephrite was standing outside the Transport station with his two hundred soldiers, waiting for the mages to finish retuning the transdimensional tiles to all connect to Jupiter, when he saw two elegantly-dressed men walking across the courtyard. One was Lord Frederik, who was not only Lady Fenita's husband but a high ranking member of the diplomatic corps. The other, younger, man appeared to be his assistant.
When the two diplomats reached the Transport station, Nephrite nodded stiffly to Lord Frederik, as a man would to the husband of a former paramour whom he had been glad to get rid of. "Lord Frederik."
"Lord Nephrite," Lord Frederik said with just a touch of coldness, as a man would to the former lover of the wife in whom he was no longer interested. "I trust the transport station is nearly ready?"
"Why?" Nephrite asked, though he was afraid he knew.
"We are to accompany you, of course. King Arrendel is sending me to negotiate the terms of Earth's assistance in dealing with Beryl."
"What terms?" Nephrite demanded. "We offered to help them. We begged them to let us help them."
"Essentially," Frederik said smoothly, "you are not to move until the King of Jupiter agrees that when Beryl is defeated, all the credit will go to Earth. It's quite a point of honor with King Arrendel, you know, that Earth solves the Beryl problem."
"Oh, that's just bloody wonderful," Nephrite muttered as one of the mages announced that the Transport station was ready. "We're all going to bloody die." Damn diplomats, he thought, and damn King Arrendel. Why couldn't they just let him and his troops do their job? As he stepped onto the transdimensional tiles along with the diplomats and the first group of fifty soldiers, he felt certain that he would never see Earth, or Naru, again.
* * * * * * * *
The diplomatic wrangling took five days. During this time, Nephrite channeled his restlessness into questioning the few survivors of the battles against Beryl. They told the same story, of monsters who couldn't be killed, of whole companies of soldiers being overrun and swallowed up by the dark, howling force that followed the monsters. Only one man had anything to add. In one village, he had seen villagers being grabbed and held by the monsters, then falling to the ground, dead but without a mark on them. After this, the monsters and the presence that followed them were even stronger than before.
Nephrite pondered this, and discussed it with the chief mages of King Renato's court. As a Guardian, he had received magical as well as military training, and had excelled in both areas, but he didn't have as much knowledge of particularly arcane areas of magic as someone who had studied magic exclusively for twenty years. The conclusion that he and the mages came to was that Beryl's monsters and the force that was backing them up were feeding on human life-energy. Remove this energy source, Nephrite reasoned, and Beryl's forces would no longer be able to advance. Once the diplomats had reached their agreement on the terms of Earth's assistance, he went to the King of Jupiter and asked permission to evacuate all the towns and villages along Beryl's projected path.
Obtaining this permission took another three days of arguing, during which time Beryl's forces drew closer and got stronger. Finally, orders came from the king to begin evacuations, beginning with the towns closest to the capitol. Nephrite had wanted to start just ahead of where Beryl was known to be, to save as many towns as possible and prevent Beryl's forces from gaining any more strength, but the King refused to see the sense of that. So Nephrite took his two hundred men, who were bored and discontent after more than a week of waiting, along with another thousand Jovian troops, who were resentful at begin placed under the command of a foreigner, and rode out on strong, swift Jovian horses to begin what would have been a much easier task if they had started a week or even three days earlier.
Panicked refugees from distant villages had already begun to reach the towns nearer the capitol. Nephrite tried to keep the evacuations orderly, but as rumors and panic spread, he finally gave up. His attempts to keep things under control were probably only causing more trouble at this point. He and his troops just started riding from town to town across a thirty-mile path, giving orders for every last person to move up as close to the capitol as they could get.
After five days they finally met up with Beryl's forces. The monsters had come upon an unguarded village full of refugees, and were having an energy feast. The villagers had all been herded onto a grassy area at the center of the village, while the monsters took turns seizing prey, draining their energy, and leaving them dead on the ground. A ring of monsters, who were waiting their turns to feed or who had already fed, surrounded the common, keeping the panicked villagers from running away while also, it appeared, keeping an eye out for enemies.
Nephrite held his troops back, away from the village, observing from behind a long, low hill. If they had started out closer to Beryl, the soldiers could have been between the monsters and their food source. But now it seemed there was nothing they could do but watch as the monsters and the dark, howling cloud strengthened themselves. He spoke to the Jovian captain he had named as his second-in-command. "They may be vulnerable while they're feeding. See, they're taking turns keeping watch. If we attack now, we may be able to destroy some of them and leave the rest weak and with no nearby source of energy."
"But, sir, the rest of the people in that village - they'll be killed if we go in and start a battle right now."
"They'll die anyway, sucked dry by those creatures." Nephrite didn't want to be thinking what he was thinking. Silently, he cursed the diplomats and officials and politicians whose stupid delays and bad strategy had put him in this spot.
"I'm sorry, sir. We won't do it. I won't order my men to kill our own civilians on orders from a foreigner."
Nephrite had been afraid this would be the Jovians' reaction. He also knew that if he sent his own two hundred soldiers in alone, it would mean their certain death. "I won't ask them to do it. I'll do it myself. Now, leave me. Ready the troops in case I fail and we're attacked."
The captain obeyed. Nephrite went to the top of the ridge, keeping himself down low to the ground. In the village below, terrified people were still trying to run away, only to be herded back into the common by the monsters. The pile of dead bodies was growing. He crouched there for a long time, gathering his strength and imploring the stars for help. I call upon the power of the stars, he silently prayed, focusing his mind on the effort ahead of him. I need all the power you can give me. I don't want to do this, but I don't know what else to do.
You have no choice, the stars replied.
Nephrite felt the power of the stars fill him until it burned inside him, until he couldn't bear it any more, until he must scream with the agony of it or be destroyed. Sweating and trembling, barely able to keep command of himself, he crossed his arms in front of his chest. With great effort he focused the power inside him onto the point where his arms crossed. When he had concentrated as much of the power as he could, he cried out his command, "Starlight Destruction!" and flung his arms apart.
The world ended in an explosion of noise and light.
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite came to, still on the ridge above the village, and peered down. Where the village had been, there was only a massive hole in the ground, littered with charred corpses and body parts. Some of them were identifiable as human, some as monster, some were not identifiable at all. The dark force that had followed the monsters appeared to have retreated far into the distance and was growing smaller as he watched.
Silently, his legs barely able to support him, he walked down the hillside. The soldiers, Earth and Jupiter troops alike, stared at him silently, clearing a path for him as he walked among them. He reached his horse, climbed on, and said in a voice so low it should not have been heard, "We're done here. It's time to go back."
It took them only two days of hard riding to get back to the capitol. They paused only a few times to tell groups of refugees that it was safe to return to their homes. When they reached the palace, filthy and exhausted, Nephrite went immediately to the throne room, where the King, diplomats, and advisors had hastily assembled themselves.
Nephrite made his report, which was followed by dead silence from those listening. Finally the King of Jupiter spoke. "You destroyed a village full of innocent people?"
"And the monsters who were feeding on their life energy."
"Surely you could have done something else?"
"Your Majesty, your soldiers refused to fight. I could have sent my two hundred soldiers to certain death, but the villagers still would have been consumed and the monsters would have been even stronger."
"It shouldn't have come down to that. I'm going to recommend to Arrendel that you be reprimanded, if not stripped of your rank. I can't believe he would entrust his son and his realm to a Guardian as incompetent --"
Nephrite wasn't going to listen to this any more. "Your Majesty, what about all the villages full of people who were being sucked lifeless by these demons while you and these fools from King Arrendel were arguing? If I had been allowed to move as soon as I got here, and to go directly to where Beryl's forces were, a lot of innocent people would have been saved, and I might not have had to do what I did. This is warfare, not a game, and it should be left to those who know what they are doing." He was too angry; he'd better leave before he said anything further. He bowed stiffly, then stalked out of the hall, headed for the Transport station.
He stepped onto the tiles that were linked to the Moon, and found himself in the Transport station at the edge of the Moon Palace gardens. It was late at night, nearly midnight. As he stepped out of the station, the guards recognized him and bowed. "Lord Nephrite," one of them said. "Would you like us to inform the Queen that you are here?"
"No, thank you. I'm not here to see Queen Selene."
"Ah, you're here to see a certain lady, then." The guard winked.
Nephrite wondered if he meant Naru or Princess Makoto. It didn't matter what the guard thought. He nodded. "I'll just see myself to the palace."
The remnant of the vast amount of star power he had used to destroy the village and the monsters was making him feel weak and shaky. He decided to teleport, to burn off the extra power. He closed his eyes, concentrated on Naru, and teleported to where she was.
Fortunately, she was alone in her room, asleep. It could have been awkward if she had been with the Princess or the Queen. But Nephrite didn't really care about the niceties of social situations right now. He knelt beside Naru and shook her shoulder gently. "Naru," he whispered, and her eyes opened a little.
She looked at him, then sat up and flung her arms around him. "Nephrite!" she cried softly.
He buried his face against her breast. He was ashamed to feel tears sting at his eyes. "Naru, I need you so much."
She let go of him, pulled off her lacy blue nightdress, and let him take her quickly and desperately. Then she held him in her arms while he told her the whole story.
"You did what you had to do," she said when he was done.
"What worries me is, what if Beryl gets stronger? How will we ever stop her?"
"I don't know. Maybe you can use what happened to convince all the rulers how dangerous Beryl really is and they can't be wasting time when she appears."
"I don't know if they'll listen to me. King Arrendel wouldn't, the king of Jupiter wouldn't -"
"Nephrite, don't think about that now. We're together; let's just think about that." She lifted the silver chain from around his neck, unfastened it, and took his wedding ring off of it. "Here," she said, sliding it onto his finger. "We forgot to make sure everything's proper. My ring is over on my dressing table, in the little gold basket there."
Nephrite laughed a little as he fetched Naru's ring. As always, she had managed to remind him that things weren't completely hopeless. He lay back down beside her and put the ring on her finger. "All right," he said, "now that we're proper, let's try it again."
"Slower this time."
"Anything you want, my love...."
* * * * * * * *
"Naru, I thought I heard something -"
Naru, her sight and thoughts blurry with pleasure, turned her head to see Serenity standing in the doorway, staring at her and Nephrite. Nephrite evidently was too carried away to notice the interruption.
Serenity clapped her hand over her mouth when she realized what she was seeing. "Oh, I'm sorry!" She fled, pulling the door shut behind her.
Not thinking anything of what had happened, Naru turned her face back to Nephrite, who hungrily sought out her mouth, and the intrusion was temporarily forgotten.
* * * * * * * *
They lay together, exhausted. When Naru was able to think again, she murmured, "I'd better go talk to Serenity."
Nephrite laughed a little, down low in his chest. "Tell her she should knock first."
"She's probably figured that out already." Naru kissed him, pulled on her nightdress and the matching blue satin-and-lace dressing gown, kissed Nephrite again, and silently left the room.
Serenity wasn't in her room; she was standing on the balcony that adjoined both her and Naru's rooms. "Serenity," Naru said softly, approaching her from behind.
Serenity looked at her, and she realized the Princess was crying. "I'm so sorry, Naru. Just walking in on you like that. I'm so embarrassed, I hope you'll forgive me."
"Of course I forgive you, Usagi." Naru used the Princess's childhood nickname, that only she and Endymion still called her by. "Just remember to knock first after this. Although," she looked down at her hands and blushed, "we usually aren't in my room. We're usually in one of the guest rooms."
"I see." Serenity sniffed, and wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. "I - I'd suspected you two were, well, you know, but... I guess I know for certain, now." She smiled, then sniffed again.
"Remember when Mamo and the Guardians came for a visit, right after the time when he and Nephrite showed up in the middle of the night?"
"Is that when it started?"
Blushing again, Naru nodded.
"I guess I'm happy for you, I know how you've loved him for so long, but, Naru..." Serenity hesitated. "I hope you don't take offense, but, well, I'd hoped it wouldn't be for you like for so many other servants. I'd hoped you wouldn't..."
Naru decided it was time for the truth. She held up her left hand, with the gold ring on the third finger. "Usagi, it's all right. We're married."
Serenity's eyes went wide. "Married?"
"It isn't a legal marriage. He doesn't have King Arrendel's permission. He asked for permission to marry, and the King refused. But we've made vows to each other, and we each have a ring."
"But, Naru, he could really get in trouble for disobeying the King!"
"I know. But he doesn't think it would be treated as anything too serious, especially not now, with all the trouble with Beryl. The King has more important things to worry about than who the Guardians marry. And he's willing to take the risk, so he can be with me in a way that's at least somewhat honorable."
Serenity sighed. "That's so romantic, that he'd take a risk like that for you...."
Nephrite came around the corner, from the door that led to Naru's room. He had put on his trousers but no shirt, and his long dark hair flowed in waves over his bare shoulders and chest. He came to Naru and wrapped his arms firmly around her from behind. "Princess," he said, "I love Naru with all my heart. I've vowed to keep myself faithful to her. No matter what my King says, she is my wife. I've even made provision for her so that, if I should die, she'll be able to live independently."
"Nephrite!" Naru gasped, turning her head to look at him. "Don't say -"
"Hush, love. I don't really plan on dying. Not when I've got you to live for." He kissed her, then looked at the Princess again. "You don't need to worry about her, Princess. I'll take good care of her."
"I know you will." Serenity looked at them and smiled, though there was something sad in her face. "I hope you two can be happy together." With that she went back into her room. She closed the glass-paned door, then drew the drapes across it.
Nephrite and Naru stayed out on the balcony for quite some time. They looked at the Earth, a distant blue jewel shrouded in places with white clouds. "I can't wait till I can see Earth with you," Naru said. "It looks so beautiful from here."
"I want to show you all my favorite places, Naru," Nephrite said. "Maybe one day you can live there with me."
"I hope so," she sighed, nestling back into his arms.
* * * * * * * *
You're very strong, Nephrite. I'm impressed.
Leave me alone. I will never join you.
Never? Laughter. I can give you anything you want.
I've already got everything I want. He tightened his embrace around Naru.
More laughter. For the moment.
Nephrite held Naru as close as he could, feeling her warmth against the skin of his chest, trying to ignore the cold seed of fear within his heart.
* * * * * * * *
Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 2 Chapter 6
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury