Book 2 Chapter 6
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An invitation came two weeks later for the Princess Serenity and her Senshi to visit Earth as guests of King Arrendel and Prince Endymion. Of course, it was assumed that the ladies would bring their maids with them. As they excitedly prepared for the visit, the maids chattered happily among themselves as they hurried back and forth, packing gowns and slippers and toiletries, but none of them spoke to Naru. They had been snubbing her just as badly as the Senshi had. But Naru didn't care - her dream of seeing Earth with Nephrite was going to come true. It seemed too wonderful to be real.
There was a moment, the night before they left, when Naru was afraid it really was too good to be real. As Serenity and the Senshi sat at dinner, talking about the upcoming visit, Minako asked, "Does Naru have to come with?"
Makoto put her fork down. "Do you think I can't compete with a servant, Mina-chan?"
"Of course you can," Rei said. "But some girls don't fight fair. They use illegal tactics. Or, should I say, improper tactics."
Naru blushed and looked down at her hands. From Princess Rei's tone of voice, it was quite clear what she meant by "improper tactics."
Serenity cut into the conversation. "She's my maid, and she's coming with, and that's that."
The stinging mixture of humiliation and gratitude Naru felt made her eyes fill with tears. She looked down, praying that no one would notice her crying. Nephrite, she thought, I wish it didn't have to be this way.
* * * * * * * *
The morning of the eagerly-awaited Transport, Naru wasn't feeling well. Her legs trembled with fatigue, and she was hardly able to eat at all. She shook off Serenity's concerns, insisting that she would be all right, she was just excited and a little nervous. But when she arrived in the Transport station at the Palace of the Earth, she was finally forced to give up what little breakfast she had eaten.
When she was done in the privy and stepped out of the station, she saw that the Senshi were already standing in a group with the Guardians. Naru hung back with the other maids, who ignored her. Then Nephrite smiled at Naru from behind Princess Makoto. Naru smiled back, suddenly not feeling so lonely anymore. She didn't care what anyone else thought of her; she was Nephrite's beloved, and that was all that mattered.
The ladies were shown to their rooms to freshen up, then the Prince and Guardians took them on a horseback tour of the lands surrounding the palace. The maids remained at the palace to unpack the trunks that were still arriving from the Moon and to learn their way around. As Naru shook out Serenity's gowns and arranged the Princess's other belongings in her room, she tried to push aside the sharp envy she felt towards Princess Makoto. One day, Naru reminded herself, she would be the one sitting and walking beside Nephrite. Until then, she had to remember her place, so that life with the Senshi and the other maids wouldn't become unbearable.
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Nephrite endured the tour as politely as possible. It wasn't that he had anything against the Princess of Jupiter, other than the fact that she was too tall for his taste, and had brown hair instead of red, and the two of them had very little in common. Not that he had had all that much in common with Naru when they met, he reflected, but with her, each new thing he learned about her was like a jewel uncovered in an ever-more-intriguing treasure hunt. With Makoto, there were too many of those awkward silences when, despite the fact that they were both intelligent, well-educated people, neither of them could think of an interesting response to what the other had said.
Princess Makoto and a few of the other ladies had fallen behind to admire a view of a narrow lake-beaded valley. Nephrite reined in his horse while he waited for them to catch up, but his mind wasn't with the ladies. He was worried about Naru. She had looked rather pale upon her arrival on Earth that morning, and had had to make a hasty visit to the privy inside the Transport station. He hoped she was feeling better, and he especially hoped she wasn't too ill for the reunion he had planned for them that night.
The ladies caught up to the rest of the party, and the entire group rode on, looking at the wonders of the mountainous country surrounding the palace. Nephrite could only think of how Naru's face would look when he was able to show her these same sights.
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That night there was a formal banquet and reception. Naru sat in attendance upon Serenity, stealing glances at Nephrite where he sat with the other Guardians and the Senshi. As usual, he seemed bored with the company and the conversation, which mostly seemed to revolve around the tour that day. Naru listened eagerly, trying to imagine the beautiful views that the ladies and gentlemen were talking about. Be patient, she told herself yet again. Her turn would come, one day.
Late that night, when the ladies finally returned to their rooms, Serenity pressed a folded piece of paper into Naru's hand. "From him," the Princess whispered.
Naru folded her fingers around the note. "Princess, I'm sorry if I'm causing difficulty for you with Princess Makoto."
"It's all right," Serenity said. "Good practice for when I'm Queen, I guess." She paused, then sighed. "Have a nice time tonight. You deserve it." She hugged Naru before disappearing into her room.
Naru was sharing a room with two other maids. She went in, and retreated into the privy to read the note. It gave directions to an unused room in the palace, and told her to go there as soon as she could. If he wasn't there already, he would come soon.
She hurriedly helped Serenity get ready for bed, then told the girls in her room that she was going out for some air.
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Nephrite waited in the room where he had asked Naru to meet him. One day, he vowed, they would not have to find hidden places to meet, or wait until no one was watching. One day they would be able to be open about their love. He sat in a chair, swirling the last drops of wine around in the goblet, waiting.
There was a timid knock at the door, then it opened slowly. Nephrite put down the wineglass and stood. Naru slipped in, saw him, ran into his arms with a small cry. He held her, overwhelmed with joy. He wasn't sure why; it had been less than three weeks since they last saw each other. But seeing her was like having the sun come out from behind the clouds. It was like coming back to life.
After a moment of just holding her, he kissed her firmly, then went to the door and closed it. She trailed along, her arm around his waist. Once their privacy was assured, he turned to her again and gave her a proper kiss, long and messy. She clutched at his shoulders, and he realized after a moment that she was crying.
"Hush," he whispered, running his hands along her hair and back. "One of these days it'll be you sitting beside me at a banquet. I promise."
"I know," she wept against his chest. "It's just - I'm so glad to see you. I miss you so much when you have to go away."
"Hush, I know, I miss you too. I thought the day would never end. I'm sorry you couldn't go on the tour with us. I wanted so much to show you everything...."
"You'll be able to, one day." Naru wiped the tears from her eyes, then gave him a trembling smile.
Nephrite touched her cheek, caught a few more tears with his thumb and pushed them away. "But tonight," he said softly, "there's a very special place I want to show you." He took the chain from around his neck, removed his ring, and let Naru put it on his hand. Then she took her ring out of a small pocket she had sewn inside the bodice of her gown, and let Nephrite slide it onto her slender finger. Nephrite then moved his hand to her back and began unbuttoning her gown.
When they were both undressed, Nephrite pulled the quilted velvet bedspread from the bed, then gathered Naru close against him. Every time they were together, he thought, her skin seemed softer and warmer than he remembered. "Hold on tight," he whispered. She put her arms snugly around him, then he gathered all his power and teleported the two of them.
They materialized in a small clearing high up in the pine-covered mountains. Though the nights up here were still cold, the grass in the clearing was thick and green and soft. Naru, trembling in his arms from the dizzy sensation of teleporting, looked around with wide eyes. Then she closed her eyes and breathed deeply of the crisp, pine-scented air. "It makes me feel alive," she said softly.
Nephrite laughed a little. "I know. Here." Gently, he lowered her to the grass, then lay down beside her, pulling the bedspread over them both and cuddling her close to him. "Look at the stars," he whispered.
"Ahh," she breathed. After a moment she said, "They're so big and bright. They look like diamonds. They don't look anything like that on the Moon."
"That's because the atmosphere on Earth is different from that of the Moon, allowing the stars light to pass through more freely. Also, at night on the Moon, the Earth is always full, while the moon, seen from Earth, grows larger and smaller. The light from Earth is much brighter on the Moon than the light from the Moon is on the Earth.... You know," he said, getting distracted by the softness beneath his hand, "have I ever told you what a truly admirable body you have?"
She made a most unladylike snorting sound, and started laughing. Nephrite laughed with her; he couldn't help it.
Naru finally managed to say, "Only about twenty times, I think."
"Well," he said, "that isn't nearly often enough."
"I'm very flattered, Lord Nephrite. But what does that have to do with why the stars are brighter here than on the Moon?"
Nephrite flopped onto his back. "Is that all you're interested in?" he laughed.
"Yes. I only care about your astro - astrono -"
"Astronomical, my love."
"Your astronomical knowledge. That's all I'm interested in." But she began doing something that proved otherwise.
"Well," Nephrite gasped, "the other reason the stars are so bright from here is that at this... this altitude... stop it, Naru, you're distracting me...." But she didn't stop, and the lecture on astronomy was interrupted for quite some time.
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"So, Kunzite," King Arrendel said, "you agree with me that tomorrow evening is a good time to make the announcement?" The two men were alone in the King's private study.
"Absolutely, your Majesty."
"Nephrite still is not being very cooperative."
"True, your Majesty. But once the announcement is made, he will have no choice but to cooperate. He is too much of a gentleman to do otherwise."
"He'd damn well better cooperate, after all the trouble I went to to convince Renato of Jupiter that he isn't an incompetent menace.... Very well. You're dismissed, Kunzite."
Kunzite gave a stiff, formal bow. "Thank you, your Majesty."
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"So, now, Nephrite," Naru eventually said, "what is the other reason why the stars are brighter here?"
"They're embarrassed at seeing what we just did, that's why."
Naru dissolved into helpless giggles. Nephrite laughed too. It felt good to be comfortable enough with someone that he could say idiotic things just for the sake of laughter. Once upon a time, the friendship between the four Guardians had been like that. But age and responsibility and, perhaps, ambition had put an end to that. Nephrite missed the old friendship, but it hadn't come close to what he was feeling now. There was something different about being able to joke and laugh like this with the woman he had just made love to.
"No," Naru said, still gasping with laughter. "Really. I want to know."
"It's because the air up here is thinner and purer, that's why."
Naru thought about this for a moment. "That makes sense. Well, since we can see the stars so clearly from here, tell me about them."
They snuggled together under the velvet bedspread in the chilly meadow, as Nephrite pointed out the stars and constellations and told Naru their names and stories. As the night passed, new stars come into view.
"You see that bright, bluish one?" Nephrite said, pointing.
"That one is often called Vega. It's the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, which resembles a harp or lyre. In some parts of the world, it's said that the harp belonged to a man who died of a broken heart after his wife died on their wedding day. His harp was taken up into the heavens, to watch over lovers who are separated by death."
"That's so sad," Naru murmured. "But beautiful, too."
"I don't place much faith in those stories. There is a lot of knowledge, wisdom, and power to be obtained from the stars if one studies them long and deeply enough. But I don't think it's as simple as the stories say."
"They're still interesting to talk about, though."
"True." Nephrite smiled and cuddled Naru closer against him. Talking about anything with her was a pleasure. Naru shivered. "Cold?" Nephrite asked.
"Let's go back."
"Only if you promise we'll come here again."
He kissed her. "I promise." Then he teleported the two of them back to the bed in the unused guest room.
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The next day was more of the same. The Prince and his Guardians accompanied the visiting ladies on a genteel excursion to the seaside, while the maids attended to their chores at the castle. Naru's workload was actually much less that it was at home; she wasn't having to tend to Queen Selene as well as to Princess Serenity, and she didn't have her usual household chores. She spent her unaccustomed free time looking at some of the beautiful artworks that graced the public rooms of the palace and exploring the gardens. She couldn't wait to tell Nephrite about everything she was seeing, and to hear what he could tell her about them. He knew so much; she felt like she would never get tired of learning from him.
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That evening's supper was smaller and more informal, with no guests, only the lady's maids who were sitting in attendance upon the Princesses. In the smaller company, it was harder for Nephrite to watch Naru unobtrusively. But he managed to see enough of her to determine that she didn't look quite as pale as she had the day before. He wasn't able to judge whether her appetite was good, because the maidservants would eat later, in the kitchen, when the supper party was over.
When the meal was finished, King Arrendel arose. "On behalf of Prince Endymion and his Guardians, I would like to thank Princess Serenity and her Senshi for another delightful day. It has been a pleasure showing such lovely ladies the wonders of our beautiful land." There were nods and brief, gracious murmurs of return thanks from the Princesses. Nephrite stared into the wine in his glass, wishing the evening would end.
"There is something else I would like to say on behalf of the Guardians. The Guardians would be honored to have the hands of the Senshi Princesses in marriage."
Nephrite jerked his head up to stare at the King, then looked at Naru. She had gone pale; her eyes were wide as she stared at Nephrite with a stunned, disbelieving expression on her face. Serenity was looking at him with almost the same look on her face. He shook his head very slightly. Damn, he should have guessed it was all leading up to this, the Guardians' presence on every one of Endymion's visits to the Moon, the Guardians and Senshi being constantly pushed together in a group.
"I believe," the King continued, with a slight, deliberate chuckle, "that the specific pairings have already sorted themselves out. Allow me to be the first to wish all four couples the greatest of happiness. Pending, of course, the approval of Queen Selene and your parents. Though I strongly suspect that won't be a problem. So, to happiness." He raised his goblet, and everyone else seated around the table followed his example. Nephrite and Serenity were the only ones who showed any hesitation.
After everyone drank, Arrendel said, "Now, I am older than the rest of you, and it is time I retired for the night. However, before I leave, allow me to say that it is a beautiful spring night in the gardens, ideal for young lovers to walk together." With that, he left the dining room, followed by his page.
As soon as the King was gone, Kunzite stood, made a courtly bow to the Princess of Venus, and offered her his arm. "My lady Minako, will you walk in the gardens with me?" Her pretty face shining, the golden-haired Princess took his arm, and the two of them left the room. Immediately, Zoisite stood and imitated Kunzite, though adding an extra flourish to his bow that made Princess Ami of Mercury smile. The two of them walked off together, then Jadeite stood. "Come along, Rei. You heard the King's order."
Princess Rei rolled her eyes and said, "You'd better not try anything, Lord Jadeite." But she took his hand and went with him willingly.
It was only Nephrite, Makoto, Endymion, and Serenity left in the room, along with the maidservants, who could not leave until all the nobles had left. The Senshis' maids were whispering excitedly about this unexpected turn of events. Naru was very pale, and held herself rigid and expressionless. Nephrite decided it was time he had an honest talk with the Princess of Jupiter.
He stood and bowed slightly towards her. "Princess Makoto," he said stiffly and formally, and held out his arm to her. Her face shining, she wrapped her hands around his arm and accompanied him from the room. As he went through the doorway, Nephrite was very aware of Naru's wounded eyes watching him.
He and the Princess walked in silence through the moonlit gardens until they came to an alcove that seemed fairly private. There was a short bench, just large enough for two, on a circle of cobblestones that was nearly entirely surrounded by tall rosebushes that were just coming into bloom. Makoto sighed as they sat down. "It's such a beautiful evening."
"Princess Makoto," Nephrite said, still in a very formal tone of voice. Damn, she hadn't done anything wrong and now he was going to have to break her heart, all because of Kunzite's maneuverings. He knew this whole charade was Kunzite's idea. It had to be.
The happiness on Makoto's face faltered a bit. "Yes, Lord Nephrite?"
"Makoto. I had no idea that the King was going to say... what he said. I was not consulted, and I never expressed to the King, or to anyone else, a wish to marry you."
"Oh." She looked away, then down at her long, slender hands.
"I don't love you, Makoto, but I have developed a great deal of fondness and respect for you, too much to trap you in a loveless, dishonest marriage. The truth is that I cannot and will not marry you."
"It's because of Naru, isn't it," she said, not raising her eyes from her hands.
Now she looked at him, pleading in her eyes. "Nephrite, you wouldn't have to give her up. I promise."
Nephrite closed his eyes. She wasn't making this easy for him. Well, he deserved it, not being honest with her before now. "Makoto, I will not be an adulterer."
"But having a mistress - that isn't really adultery - everyone does it -"
"I'm not everyone, Makoto." He decided he would have to tell her the full truth. "Princess Makoto, I am putting my life in your hands by telling you this. Naru and I are already married."
"What?" She stared at him, shocked.
"It isn't a legal marriage. I married her against the King's orders. But as far as I'm concerned, she is as fully my wife as if we did have King Arrendel's permission. And she is the only wife I will ever have."
"It figures," she finally said. She sniffed, and wiped her face with the back of her hand. "The others are all loved, but I couldn't even compete with a servant...." She covered her face with her hands while her shoulders shook with her silent crying.
"Princess," Nephrite said.
She uncovered her reddened, tear-damp face. "What?" she asked, still crying.
"Perhaps Jadeite loves Rei. I can't say. And it seems that Zoisite and Ami have managed to grow a friendship between them. But I can tell you, with absolute certainly, that Zoisite does not love Ami, nor does Kunzite love Minako. I can't tell you how I know this, just believe me."
"Then why -"
"Purely political reasons. To increase Earth's status among the planets. With the Moon Princess married to the Prince of Earth, and the Inner Senshi married to the Guardians, the Court of Earth would be the center of power in the Solar System."
"I see." She rubbed the tears from her face and twisted her hands in her skirt.
They sat in silence for a few more minutes, then Nephrite said, "We should go back inside. I'm very sorry, Makoto. The King never said anything about this to me. If he had, I would have asked him to wait until I had had a chance to speak to you privately first. I'm sorry it had to be like this for you."
He stood, as did the Princess. "Thank you, Lord Nephrite. You've done this as kindly as was possible under the circumstances. I appreciate your honesty." Again, he offered her his arm; she took it in the formal, polite, distant fashion of a lady being escorted by a gentleman who was of no particular significance in her life.
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On the other side of the rose hedges, Zoisite and Princess Ami stared at each other. "Is it true?" she asked.
"Ami, I..." Zoisite had no idea what to say. All he could think of was that Nephrite claimed to be married to that little red-haired slut. Kunzite needed to know about this. "Nephrite's jealous because it was Kunzite who originally approached the King about the four of us wanting to marry the four of you. He thinks the King will favor Kunzite over him now." Yes, that sounded good. He had to try to salvage what he could. "I - I do love you." I'll say it for your sake, Kunzite, he thought. "Come inside, Ami. It's growing colder, and I don't want you to catch a chill." Arm in arm, they returned to the palace.
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Inside, Nephrite saw Makoto to the Princesses' apartments, then went to his quarters. He was sitting in the common room, reading a book and drinking a glass of wine when Zoisite came in. "Made an early night of it?" he casually asked as the emerald-eyed Guardian poured himself some wine. Zoisite said nothing as he went into his private suite and closed the door behind him.
Two hours later, Jadeite and Kunzite still hadn't come in. Nephrite decided to take the risk of passing them or the Princesses in the hallways, left the Guardians' quarters, and made his way to the guest room where he and Naru had met the previous night. As he walked, he tried to prepare himself for the possibility that she might not be there. Naru, forgive me, he silently prayed. I didn't know this would happen. I didn't want this. I only want you. Stars, help her understand. Let her be there.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 2 Chapter 7
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury