Book 2 Chapter 7
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She was there. She sat in the middle of the bed, wearing a lacy blue nightdress and dressing gown, crying. "Naru," Nephrite said softly as he approached the bed.
She looked up at him, her face streaked with tears. "Nephrite. I didn't know if you would come." Her voice shook with sobs.
"No, Naru. I was afraid you wouldn't come." Nephrite sat beside her on the bed and took her hands in his. She was wearing her wedding ring.
Gently, she pulled her hands away. "I should have known." She was still crying, but she sat up straight, fighting to maintain some dignity. The sight broke Nephrite's heart. "It just couldn't be," Naru went on. "I am who I am, and you are who you are, and it couldn't be the way I hoped it would be. You were meant to marry a princess."
He caressed her face, resting his hand against her cheek and wiping away tears. "Why should I marry a princess when I'm already married to a goddess?"
He had hoped to make her smile with that, but it didn't work. She looked at him with wide, tear-filled eyes. "But -"
"Naru, my darling, I had no idea that the King was going to do that. I didn't know. No one asked me if I wanted to marry the Princess of Jupiter. I think the whole thing was Kunzite's idea. I had nothing to do with it. I'm so, so sorry this happened."
"I've told Princess Makoto that I will not marry her. And I've told her why."
Naru's eyes widened even more, in fear. "You told her about us?"
"I had to, to put an end to the discussion. She offered to let me keep you as my mistress; I had to let her know why that wasn't good enough."
"But aren't you afraid she'll tell someone?"
"No." Nephrite took a deep breath. "Naru, I've decided I'm going to tell King about us tomorrow. It was foolish and cowardly of me to want to keep our marriage a secret. We've done nothing that we need to be ashamed of."
"Nephrite, are you sure? I don't want anything to happen to you."
"I'm sure. Don't you worry. If he's angry and I can't persuade him to accept our marriage, I'll resign my position and we'll go into exile. That should satisfy him. Please don't worry."
"If you say so," she said as he leaned close to her. He pressed his mouth against hers, kissing her deeply and comfortingly, and she lay back beneath him on the bed.
"I thought you were really going to marry her," Naru said in a small voice, her lips just brushing his ear.
Nephrite raised himself onto his elbows above her, to look into her face. "Naru, I love you. I vowed my faithfulness to you. Don't you remember?"
She closed her eyes and turned her face away from him. "Forgive me, Nephrite. I shouldn't have doubted you. I'm sorry." Fresh tears leaked out from beneath her eyelids.
Nephrite kissed them away, tasting their salty wetness. "Naru, my darling, my love, it's all right, you've nothing to apologize for. It's all my fault, for being such a fool. Tomorrow, I promise, everything will be all right. We'll have everything out in the open, and we won't have to hide any more. I promise."
She put her arms around him and held him tightly. "I believe you." Then she let go so he could sit up and begin undoing the laces of her nightgown.
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Zoisite and Kunzite were hurrying towards the King's private rooms. Zoisite had silently followed Nephrite to his tryst with the servant girl, then had found Kunzite in the gardens with the Princess of Venus. "It's urgent that I speak with you," he said, interrupting his lover's conversation with the young lady. In the first private place they came to in the garden, Zoisite repeated what he had heard Nephrite say to the Princess of Jupiter.
"The King needs to know about this, I think," Kunzite said. "Something has to be done about Nephrite's rebelliousness, before it ruins everything."
"I - I suppose so." Zoisite suddenly felt as if everything had gone out of control. This wasn't all just an intriguing game, he and Kunzite were about to accuse one of their fellow Guardians of treason. He hurried after Kunzite, who had already begun walking quickly to the King's rooms.
They arrived at the door to the King's suite. The guards there did not question them, but stepped aside after opening the door. The two Guardians found the king sitting in an armchair beside the fireplace in his sitting room, drinking a brandy and staring into the flames.
They bowed. "Your Majesty," Kunzite said.
The King looked at him. "I hope you have a good reason for invading my peace, Lord Kunzite," the King said. "I've known little enough peace lately, thanks to Beryl."
"Your Majesty, Zoisite overheard a conversation between Lord Nephrite and the Princess of Jupiter. He is refusing to marry her on the grounds that he is already married to that maidservant from the Moon."
"What?" Arrendel demanded. "Zoisite, tell me exactly what you heard Nephrite say."
Once again, the golden-haired Guardian repeated Nephrite and Makoto's conversation word-for-word.
The King closed his eyes. "Damn. Just what I need, a rogue Guardian. How will we ever defeat Beryl if I can't trust my own Guardians? I never would have thought that Nephrite would... Of course, until he met her, everything was fine. It's only been since then... He's been approached by Beryl, he destroyed a village full of harmless peasants on Jupiter, he's disobeyed a direct order from me, all since meeting that girl..." His voice trailed off as he stared thoughtfully into his brandy. Then he looked at Zoisite and Kunzite and addressed them directly. "Find Lord Jadeite. The three of you go to the courtyard and await further instructions. Oh, and if any of the Princesses are about, tell them there is a small security problem which has arisen and they are to remain in their quarters until further notice. The same for my son. Where is Nephrite right now?"
Zoisite told him.
The King sighed heavily. "Thank you, Zoisite, Kunzite. My trusted Guardians. You may go now."
Kunzite and Zoisite bowed, fists over their hearts, then left the room.
"The courtyard?" Zoisite asked as he and Kunzite hurried to carry out the King's orders. "But -" The courtyard was where executions took place. "You don't think he's going to -"
"The king will do what he feels is necessary under the circumstances," Kunzite replied.
Surely the King wouldn't execute Nephrite, Zoisite tried to tell himself. Especially with a war looming, the Realm of Earth needed all four Guardians together. Zoisite didn't like it that Nephrite was so opposed to Kunzite being named first among the Guardians, or that Nephrite knew about their affair, but that didn't mean he hated the man. They had been friends, once. He hadn't intended to get Nephrite put to death by telling what he had overheard.
In the gardens, they found Endymion and Serenity walking together. "There is a small security crisis," Kunzite said. "The King has ordered that the two of you return to your separate rooms and wait there until you are given permission to come out."
"But why?" Endymion asked, as Serenity looked up at him, fear in her eyes.
"I am sorry, my Prince," Kunzite said. "That is the order from the King, your father."
Endymion sighed. "Very well. Come, Serenity, I'll see you to your room."
Deeper in the gardens, they found Jadeite and Princess Rei kissing quite passionately, almost indecently, in a small alcove. The two stood, startled and blushing and straightening their clothes, when Kunzite cleared his throat. "There has been a small breach in security. Jadeite, the King has ordered that you escort the Princess to her quarters, then join us in the courtyard."
Jadeite nodded and left, accompanied by the Princess. When he came back outside into the courtyard, he said to Kunzite, "Where's Neph?"
Kunzite didn't answer. Zoisite looked away from Jadeite.
"This is about Nephrite, isn't it," Jadeite said. "What the hell is going on?"
Kunzite said stiffly, "We do not know how the king is going to handle the situation. All we know is that Nephrite has refused to marry the Princess of Jupiter, because of that maidservant. We are merely carrying out the King's orders. He has not confided in us; we are simply to await further instructions."
"Damn," Jadeite whispered.
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There was a knock on the door. "Lord Nephrite."
Nephrite stirred in Naru's arms, shaking off the light doze he had fallen into, wondering how anyone had found him here. "Just a moment."
He got up and pulled on his uniform trousers and shirt, then went to the door. A member of the Palace guard stood there. "Yes?"
"Lord Nephrite, a traitor has been found within the palace. Your presence is required immediately."
Nephrite sighed. Everyone was so jumpy about traitors these days. "Just a moment." He went to Naru and kissed her. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
She smiled at him and touched his face.
The guard led Nephrite to the torchlit courtyard, where the King, a dozen or so very large guards, and the other three Guardians were waiting. "What's going on?" Nephrite whispered to Jadeite.
Jadeite shrugged, not meeting his eyes. They waited for several minutes, while Nephrite wondered what the hurry had been.
Suddenly there was a commotion from the doorway, men shouting, a woman wailing...
Four guards came through the doorway, dragging a struggling, crying Naru with them into the dim, flickering light of the courtyard. She clutched a blanket from the bed around her, trying to keep herself covered as the guards hauled her to stand in front of the King.
"Naru!" Nephrite cried. He took a step towards her, but immediately, hands grabbed his arms. He looked at who had stopped him; two of the burly guards. Nephrite tried to shake them off but their grips held fast. "Let me go. That's an order."
"Hold him. That's the Kings' order."
Nephrite's head whipped around at the sound of Kunzite's voice. The silver-haired Guardian stared coldly at him. "You!" Nephrite said sharply. "Why?"
The King was speaking. "You are accused of treason," he was saying to Naru, "specifically, of seducing one of the Royal Guardians of the Realm of Earth away from his duties to his King and to his Realm -"
"No!" Naru cried, still struggling, while Nephrite shouted, "That isn't how it happened! It's my fault, accuse me! Let her go!" He fought harder to shake off the guards who were holding him. He felt the right sleeve of his shirt tear loose. A third guard grabbed him from behind in a choke hold around his neck.
"Silence!" the king ordered. He resumed speaking to Naru. "You've done this in order to win him over to the side of your mistress, Beryl. You've tried to seduce Lord Nephrite as Beryl tried to seduce my son --"
Naru was sobbing too hard to say anything.
"No!" Nephrite cried. "That isn't true. She has nothing to do with Beryl!" The guard who was holding him from behind tightened his grip, and Nephrite's vision swam as he fought for breath.
"These charges have been brought by two of my trusted, faithful Guardians, and their word is beyond question. For your treason, and your attempt to subvert Lord Nephrite, you are sentenced to die immediately."
"No...!" Naru collapsed, sagging in the guards' grip.
Nephrite roared, "No, let her go, kill me instead, it was my fault!" One guard cursed as Nephrite's elbow slammed into his ribs, but he didn't loose his hold. The chopping block was pushed into place, and the guards holding Naru began dragging her towards it. "Nephrite, help me!" she begged, sobbing, as she struggled to break free.
Nephrite finally landed a vicious kick in the kneecap of the guard who was choking him, then slammed his head back against the guard's nose. The man yelled and let go his hold on Nephrite. With a desperate burst of strength, Nephrite pulled himself free of the other two guards, and started running towards Naru. Someone grabbed him from behind and slammed him to the ground. Everything went black briefly. As soon as his vision cleared, he struggled to get up, but there were at least four large men holding him down. He could hear Naru's screams as the guards dragged her to the chopping block. He tried to move his arms, but they were pinned down, preventing him from using any magical attacks. Desperately, he struggled to work his arms free.
Naru was forced to her knees behind the chopping block. A guard pushed her neck down into the groove, so that her head hung over the edge. The executioner, holding his long sword, took his place and raised the sword above Naru's neck.
"No, oh no!" Nephrite cried. He fought even harder, Naru's screams forcing him to keep trying to do something, anything. He sank his teeth into the hand that was pushing his left shoulder down. Another fist struck the side of his head, hard enough to make him briefly black out again.
Suddenly, other hands pushed his head down to the ground. "Don't look," Jadeite's voice said harshly.
Nephrite heard the whistle of the headsman's sword as it descended. "Naru!" he cried, drowning out the other sounds of the beheading. Then all he could hear was the silence where Naru's screams had been. He tried to look, but Jadeite whispered, "Don't. Wait till they take her away."
He barely heard Jadeite. Even when his captors let go of him, he didn't move. He lay where he was, shuddering with sobs that were so great and deep that their sound couldn't force their way out of his body, if they did he would burst. He thought the pain he felt inside would kill him; he wished it would. He was a soldier, and he had seen death too many times to deny it when it happened right in front of him. Naru was gone.
After a long time, he felt the nudge of a boot-toe in his ribs, and looked up to see Kunzite standing over him, contempt all over his icily handsome face. "You are a Royal Guardian of the Realm of Earth," Kunzite said coldly. "You will conduct yourself as such. Get up."
He was a Royal Guardian of the Realm of Earth. That was all that was left. Nephrite got to his knees, then looked over to where the chopping block had been. It was gone, and a charwoman was just beginning to clean away the blood that glistened on the cobblestones. Naru's blood. "Naru!" he gasped as new pain seized his stomach and heart, making him double over. He swallowed his tears and forced himself to straighten up and get to his feet. He would not permit Kunzite to feel contempt for him. He was a Royal Guardian of the Realm of Earth. "Why?" he asked Kunzite when he was standing. His voice was ragged and hoarse.
"You know why."
"Yes. I know." Nephrite let his eyes stray to Zoisite, who stood a small distance away, a bored expression carefully arranged on his face. He met Kunzite's eyes again, then turned and walked into the gardens.
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It was over, the terror was gone, the pain had been so brief she hardly felt it. Now there was nothing but the sensation of being drawn somewhere, towards a distant light, where there was peace....
No, child. Gentle, chiming voices surrounded her. Not there, not yet. Come with us.
Where? she wondered.
To a place where you can rest, where you will be safe, to wait for another time and place...
Silence. Then, Do not forbid us. She is beloved of our favorite son. We will preserve her for the time and place when they can be together again. Do not deny us this privilege. Another silence. We thank you. Come, child.
She saw another light, much closer, glowing silver with a million colors mixed in. A presence surrounded her, guiding her towards it. The light was blinding; she felt afraid.
Do not fear, child. You will be safe here.
The brilliance surrounded her. Instead of burning her, as she had feared, it comforted her. She felt warm and safe. She could rest here a while. Please, she said to the presence before it could leave her, please, don't let him be too sad.
We will give him as much comfort as he will allow us to.
Thank you. She was growing sleepy. Tell him I will always love him. The light slowly dimmed, and Naru slept.
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Queen Selene awoke to a blinding flash of light. She looked to the glass case where she kept the Crescent Wand. The Silver Crystal set into the crescent's lower curve was glowing brilliantly.
"What --?" the Queen gasped. She hastily jumped from her bed and ran to the case. Frightened, but knowing that she had to know what was happening, she removed the wand from its case.
The glow was slowly dying away. She thought she heard sounds from inside the crystal. A faint, chiming sound, more felt than heard, and a soft voice, barely a whisper. ...I will always love him... Selene thought she knew the voice.
"What..." she whispered. She attuned her mind to the workings of the crystal. It was using its power to preserve the soul of someone who had died for future rebirth. Someone who had died...
"Naru," Selene gasped. Tears came into her eyes, and choked her voice as she said, "Oh, Naru, oh no...."
Cradling the wand against her breast, the Queen rocked back and forth, weeping as though for her own child.
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"Are you sure we did the right thing?" Zoisite asked Kunzite. They lay together, exhausted and sweaty. The night's events had lent an edge of desperation to their lovemaking, and now, though they were worn out, neither of them could sleep.
"We did what had to be done. The realm of Earth cannot afford a rogue Guardian, especially not now."
"I didn't think Arrendel would have her put to death." Zoisite couldn't stop seeing the girl's wide, terrified eyes as she was forced to kneel before the chopping block. He couldn't stop hearing her screams and Nephrite's anguished cries.
"Better her than Nephrite." Kunzite was silent a moment. "Or would you rather it were you?" Kunzite had not expected the evening to end in death the way it had. But he couldn't afford to let Zoisite or anyone else know that. He had to be in charge, in control. Deep inside him, a voice he had long ago dismissed as weak and useless cried, Nephrite, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it to turn out like this, I'm sorry. Kunzite silenced the voice. "The King did what he thought was necessary."
But if the King executed a maidservant who was really guilty of nothing but being loved too much by a Guardian, what would he do to Zoisite if their affair was ever discovered? He looked at his golden rat's fair, slender neck, imagining skin, muscles, tendons, veins, spine parted by the swiftly descending sword, blood flying... No. He would do whatever it took to protect Zoisite.
Zoisite finally spoke again. "I guess you're right." He felt sick, deep inside. Kunzite was right; it could easily have been him under the headsman's sword. If he and Kunzite were discovered... He couldn't get the girl's eyes out of his mind. He could have been where she was. He could almost feel her helpless fear. All because he had repeated what he had heard...
No, really, it was Nephrite's fault. Nephrite's fault, he told himself, trying to will himself to believe it. It was Nephrite who had tricked the girl into an illegal marriage, it was Nephrite who had disobeyed the King and left the girl to take the punishment. Zoisite had only been doing his duty in repeating Nephrite's conversation with the Princess of Jupiter. It was Nephrite who had done wrong. Zoisite and Kunzite weren't to blame. It was Nephrite's fault.
Repeating those words to himself over and over, Zoisite was finally able to fall asleep, though his dreams were filled with blood and screams and a young woman's terrified eyes.
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Nephrite sat in the garden alcove where he had talked to Princess Makoto earlier that evening. Before the world had ended. On the outside he was still and silent, but inside him, something was howling, like a fierce, cold wind tearing over a vast, barren, lonely place. He had no words for what he felt, for the pain and sorrow and loneliness. There was only the feeling, and, as the night passed, the knowledge of what he would do.
An hour or so before dawn, Endymion and Serenity found him. Serenity was huddled beneath her Prince's arm, her face red and blotchy and tear-streaked. She was still sobbing helplessly as she and Endymion approached Nephrite.
Endymion held out his free hand. "I was able to get these for you," he said quietly.
Nephrite held out his hand, palm up. Into it, Endymion placed Naru's slender golden wedding ring and a lock, about six inches long, of her wavy red hair. Gently, Nephrite folded his fingers around the ring and the hair, and pressed that hand close against his heart. He said nothing; there was nothing to say.
"Nephrite," the Prince continued, hesitantly. "There's something else. I wasn't sure whether to tell you, but you'll certainly hear about it through gossip anyway. Better you hear it from me."
He looked at the Prince.
"Nephrite, the physician who examined the - who examined her, for the official report, found that she is - was -- pregnant."
Serenity collapsed against Endymion's side, crying even harder. Nephrite didn't say anything, didn't feel anything. Perhaps one day he would mourn the unborn child he had never even known about, but for now there was no room in his heart for any more sorrow. He just looked at his Prince, who would die because of the decision Nephrite had come to this night. And at the Prince's beloved Moon Rabbit, who would not live to see her wedding day.
Endymion stood very straight, his face serious and stony. He spoke stiffly and formally, though a slight tremble in his voice nearly marred the effect. "Lord Nephrite, I am most sorry and ashamed for what my father has done this night. On his behalf, I apologize most deeply and sincerely."
Nephrite nodded slightly. Suddenly Serenity flung her arms around his neck. "Oh, Nephrite, I'm so sorry, so sorry," she sobbed. "I miss her so much already, and it must be just awful for you."
For the first time since the nightmare in the courtyard, Nephrite felt tears sting at his eyes. Gently, he pried Serenity off of him. "Thank you, Princess," he whispered. And I'm sorry too. You don't deserve to die, but it can't be helped.
Endymion put his arm around Serenity and led her away, murmuring softly to her as she continued to weep.
When they were gone, Princess Makoto crept out of the shadows into the dim moonlight in the alcove. Tears shone on her face in the moonlight. "Nephrite," she said, "I'm sorry, I didn't - I didn't have anything to do with this - this awful thing, I wouldn't have wanted it to be this way, I'm so sorry."
"It's all right, Makoto," Nephrite said quietly. "I know you weren't involved. I know who is responsible."
"I - I'm so sorry for you and - and for her," Makoto sobbed. "I wish it hadn't happened."
Nephrite nodded slightly. "Thank you." The Princess turned and slowly walked away. Nephrite watched her go; she would die too. All the Senshi would die. Everyone would die. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered.
He had served his King and his Prince as faithfully as he knew how. He had given up his boyhood, his youth, his family, his inheritance, even his name. He had been honest even though it brought unjustified suspicion on him. He had destroyed part of his own soul when he destroyed innocent people in trying to save the Kingdom of Jupiter and his own King's honor while his hands were tied. He had given everything he could, everything he had, everything he was, and asked only one thing in return.
That one thing had been destroyed. The King, Zoisite, and Kunzite had subjected his innocent Naru to an ordeal that would have made the most battle-hardened soldier weak with terror. They had murdered his beloved. They would pay.
Nephrite closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and concentrated. Beryl, he thought, I'm ready now.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 2 Chapter 8
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury