Arid Seas – Chapter Four
by Dreams in Pink
|← Chapter Three|
Queen Selenity woke early the next morning to the sun’s strong rays beaming through the tall windows. Her sleep had been fitful, filled with dreams of her daughter and invaded by terrible shadows that brought nothing but ruin. Her eyes watered with tiredness, and her shoulders ached with tension. She yawned, rubbing her throbbing temples, knowing that she had no other choice than to prepare for the long day that awaited her.
“Come in,” the Queen said softly, answering a heavy knock at her door.
“Your highness,” a uniformed man bowed, crossing his chest with a fisted hand as a sign of respect, “King Mies is requesting your presence in the great hall. Breakfast will be served shortly.”
“Thank you.” The steward bowed once more, turning sharply on his heel. Accompanied by Artemis, the Queen was escorted down the winding staircase. The walk was silent, yet she revelled in the majesty of the palace. Sunlight danced through stained glass, as colourful patterns played on the cold, stone walls.
The small party reached the great hall; an enormous space with lavish decorations. Thin windows with pointed peaks stretched to the ceiling, and an aged elm table sat proudly in the center of the room. The King and his company rose upon Selenity’s entrance, all eyes watching as both she and her advisor took their seats.
“Good morning,” she greeted them cordially, receiving mirroring replies.
“This is Kunzite,” the King started, introducing a lanky man with silver hair seated to his right, “my master-at-arms.” He then gestured to a stout, balding man, “and Mazarin, my advisor.” To the King’s left sat Elias, who fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat.
“Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Selenity stated, “and this is my advisor, Artemis.” With the introductions finished, the first course of the meal began and servants, clad in taupe aprons, placed a medley of fruit before each diner.
“Kunzite, if I may,” the Queen began interrupting the stale silence, “has there been any progress in the search for my daughter?”
The man glanced nervously at the King before answering. “I’m afraid not, m’lady,” he apologized, unable to meet her gaze. “However, we have sent men to question the Black Cloud. Hopefully their efforts will be fruitful.”
“I appreciate your honesty,” Selenity replied, “I hope so as well.” The rest of the meal was spent with polite chatter, as they all painfully avoided bringing up anything remotely political. With their stomachs full, and moods lightened, the group retired to the drawing room, sitting comfortably in front of a crackling fire. The Queen studied the ornate mantle place with mute interest, occasionally casting stolen glances at her advisories; the King and his son.
“Queen Selenity,” the King spoke, trying not to come across as overly eager, “I believe it’s time we began discussing terms of peace, so that we may move forward.” The Queen’s face turned expressionless, as she took a deep breath to quell her frustration. Had the King not understood last night when they requested that the treaty wait? “Not that I wish to diminish the importance of finding the Princess,” he added hastily, “but there are many things to discuss.”
“I understand,” Selenity replied diplomatically, knowing that delaying the proceedings would accomplish nothing. The King waved over a young servant, who placed a tightly rolled scroll on the table.
“We’ve taken the opportunity to draft some ideas,” Mazarin said, almost timidly. His hands slightly shook as he unfasted the leather binding – an action that did not go unnoticed by the Queen. The woman remained silent, smoothing imaginary wrinkles on her ivory gown. She glanced at the men in her company, expecting Elias to retire for negations to begin. When all attention focused on her, she shot Artemis a look of confusion.
“King Mies,” the Moon’s advisor started hesitantly, “is it customary to have a boy of Elias’ standing present for such affairs?” he chose his words wisely, tiptoeing carefully around the unspoken truth – Elias was not truly a Prince.
“He will be King one day,” Mies replied nonchalantly, smiling proudly at the boy who returned the gesture. “I would like him to see what negotiating consists of,” he explained.
“And Prince Endymion?” Selenity asked, unable to hide her surprise.
“Endymion is…” he paused, as he searched for words. However, before the King could finish, a man dressed in a general’s uniform entered the room, quietly approaching Mies and whispering into his ear. The older man inhaled sharply, his face tightening as he stood and abruptly stocked out of the room, leaving the rest of the party bewildered. They all strained to listen, yet found no clues of what was causing the commotion.
“Queen Selenity,” King Mies boomed, storming through the door, his footsteps heavy and face red with anger. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded, stepping aside to reveal four uniformed girls escorted by three of his generals.
“I’m not sure I understand,” the Queen replied calmly, nodding her head at the new arrivals, who bowed in return with a soft chorus of Your Highness.
“You summoned warriors to a peace talk?” the King seethed, his cheeks flushing with irritation.
“I summoned my daughter’s guardians,” she countered, “as my daughter has been taken by your people,” she stated sharply, eyes narrowing.
“They are soldiers,” the King spat, pointing to the girls, his finger trembling with fury.
“They are her friends.”
“Friends,” he grunted, rolling his eyes; women and their friends. “Do you not trust the abilities of my men?”
“I beg your pardon, your majesty,” Selenity began, struggling to keep her composure under control, “but these four girls are not only among the most skilled warriors in our solar system, they are my daughter’s closest friends, and princesses in their own right. Do you deny their help?” The King could feel the attention upon him, and he clenched his jaw determined to hold back his animosity. The Queen had left him with no choice.
“They may stay,” he conceded, knowing any other answer would ruin all chances he had at a peace treaty, “but they will not be left unattended,” he added, glancing quickly at his generals who replied with a knowing nod.
“Why, do you have something to hide?” A brunette clad in a green uniform with a pink bow asked cheekily, feeling as if she were being treated as a criminal.
“Jupiter,” the always calm Sailor Mercury placed a gentle hand on the girl’s arm as if to hold her back.
“You will not challenge me, girl,” the King snarled, his temper continuing to boil. He turned to the four warriors, taking a deep breath in an attempt to placate his nerves. “You may help in the search for the Princess, but if I or any of my people get the impression that you are here for any other reason you will escorted from this Kingdom,” he stated forcefully. “Have I made myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” the blonde of the group replied, her brows knit with discontent. An awkward silence fell over the room, as the two sides stared each other down, reeling with contempt.
No longer willing to cope with the negative tension, Queen Selenity broke the stand-off. “If you would excuse us, King Mies,” she said politely, “we can continue our discussion at a later time.” With nothing more than a scornful glare and an angry snort, the King exited the room, his party following on his heels and the door closing behind them.
“You are not to allow any of them to leave alone,” the King commanded on the other side, his voice muffled by the thick oak that separated them.
“I don’t like him,” Sailor Jupiter said, as she heard the King stomping away.
“Me either,” the fiery warrior, Sailor Mars, agreed.
“The guards are right outside, I’m sure they can hear you,” Sailor Mercury scolded, knowing full well that insulting these people would not earn their help.
“I don’t care if they hear me,” the brunette spoke louder, “I don’t like them either!” she exclaimed, her companions unable to hide their smiles. The grins did not last, as the weighted tension returned. The guardians exchanged glances, waiting for their leader to make the first move.
“Queen Selenity,” Sailor Venus stepped closer to the older woman. “We are so sorry,” she bowed her head.
“Venus, it’s not your fault,” Selenity replied, lifting the girl’s chin with her finger. The Queen knew that the girl put nothing above her role as guardian to the princess.
“She has had combat training. She can fight,” Sailor Mars stated hoping to quell some of the nervous energy.
“She’s a lot stronger than she lets on,” Sailor Jupiter agreed, knowing that the princess would fight tooth and nail to survive.
“Thank you,” Selenity said, smiling appreciatively. “I’m grateful that you girls came.”
“We will do anything for the Princess,” Sailor Mars vowed, placing her fist over her heart.
“And for you,” the leader added.
“Would you tell us about the last time you or anyone saw her?” Sailor Mercury asked softly, activating her visor with a press of an earring. The blue tinted visor came down over her eyes, and a holographic keyboard appeared near the tips of her fingers. Queen Selenity went back through the events, as Sailor Mercury typed notes into her computer.
“And when I returned she was gone. There was a dagger in the door, and one of the men told me they saw her take off on a horse,” the Queen finished, tears welling in the corners of her eyes.
“Do they know why?” Sailor Venus wondered, brow knit in confusion.
“No one knows,” Selenity replied, “they said it looked like she was following someone.” The room went quiet, each member pondering the possibilities. “She doesn’t know anyone here,” the Queen said, shaking her head.
“Do you have any idea where she left from? Or what direction she was heading in?” Mercury questioned, knowing that the more details they had, the easier their search would be.
“I had one of the men record it. We marked the location with a stake,” Artemis answered, hoping to take some of the burden off of his liege.
“Has the King done anything?” Jupiter was beginning to grow impatient, wanting nothing more than to begin the search for her friend.
“He has men scouring the area.”
“And the Prince?” the brunette pushed; the leaders should be at their wits ends trying to atone for the misfortune and the Earth’s prince was a famous hunter.
“I was told he was ill,” Selenity said flatly.
“You don’t think that’s true do you,” Venus stated, reading the doubt evident on the Queen’s face.
“Her majesty offered my services, but King Mies refused,” Atremis shrugged, unsure how much information he was able to share.
“Okay,” Sailor Venus started, all eyes falling to her for direction. “Mercury and Jupiter, I want you two to go to where Serenity was last seen and start some calculations. I’m sure we can get a map of the kingdom and its surrounding areas. Then we can start to narrow down where she might be,” the two girls stood and nodded. “Mars and I will gather some information on the Black Cloud, it seems like they’re the ones most likely responsible for her disappearance.” The blonde focused her attention back to the Queen. “We will find her,” she promised. With a plan now in the works, the warriors were ready to head out.
“Girls,” Queen Selenity called as they turned to leave, “I know finding Serenity will not be an easy task, but I would like to make one additional request,” she said, stepping closer to the group. “Keep an eye on the King.” Her voice was hushed, and her face solemn, “I don’t trust him.”
“I don’t either,” Venus agreed, as the rest of the party nodded in unison.
“And watch out for Elias,” Atremis added, raising his eyebrows knowingly.
“He’s being favoured for the crown,” Selenity added.
“The bastard?” Mars confirmed, shocked by the information.
“Mars!” the steel haired princess chided.
“What? That’s what he is,” she replied, unable to comprehend Earth’s acceptance of illegitimate heirs; no member of the royal family on her planet would allow such an abomination.
“There’s something not right there,” Artemis warned, unable to shake the feeling that Princess Serenity’s disappearance was only the beginning of their troubles.
Serenity sat with a pout permanent on her face, as she sulked in the blackness of the cave. He had left her alone again, and the time did nothing but drag. Her fingers were raw from struggling with the rope, and her nails stained red with blood. Her head pounded from lack of sustenance, and she began to wonder if she would ever see daylight again. She heard him fumble with the lock on the door, and rolled herself onto her side. She closed her eyes, and deepened her breaths, pretending to be asleep. She listened to him clamber around the room for what seemed like an eternity, stewing silently in her thoughts.
“Wake up,” he ordered, gently pushing her body with the tip of his toe. Serenity slowly sat, watching him sullenly. “Are you hungry?” the man asked, receiving only a slight nod as an answer. “Here,” he set a plate down on her outstretched legs before sitting on a rickety chair with his own. The princess stared at the food; a piece of white meat laid next to green fruit. She brought the meal closer to her face, sniffing it uncertainly. She picked the meat up in her soiled hands, taking a small bite. The taste of actual food overwhelmed her senses, and she dove in, quickly finishing the rest. She moved to the fruit, relishing in its sweetness, the juice dripping down her chin. The man laughed, shaking his head; never before had he seen anyone so happily devour desert rabbit and prickly pear.
“Thank you”, Serenity said quietly, wiping her chin with the back of her hand.
The man moved to collect her plate, the petite blonde meeting him half way, awkwardly handing it to him. As he grabbed it he caught her finger, causing her to wince in pain.
“What did you do?” he asked, dropping the wooden dish to the floor as he inspected her aching hands. “Stupid girl,” he muttered, gently rubbing his thumb over the broken skin. The princess shivered, pulling her hand away. He filled a cooking pot with water, “here, soak your hands in this.”
“It’s cold,” Serenity remarked, grateful for the relief .
“It’ll help.” He sat on the floor beside her, watching as she played with the liquid, running it between her fingers.
“Why do you keep taking care of me?” she asked suddenly, refusing to meet his gaze.
“What would you have me do? Let you go hungry and thirsty? Have your hands become infected and swollen?” he said, exasperated; when would she learn that he was not there to harm her. She frowned, her cheeks turning rosy with embarrassment.
“Will you let me go?” she pleaded, her lip quivering, peering hopefully up at him through hooded lashes.
For a moment he faltered; he almost said yes, but she was far too valuable – and she just might be the bargaining chip that he needed. “You can’t leave now anyways,” he sighed, “there’s a sandstorm coming. You’d never make it back in time.”
“How long do they last?”
“Depends. Sometimes for days.” Her horrified expression made him feel almost guilty. She withdrew into silence, panic simmering to the surface. He watched as the emotions played across her face. Were all people from the Moon so expressive?
“Well if I can’t leave anyways the least you could do is untie me,” she said haughtily, holding her arms out expectantly, water dripping from her skin.
“I’d have to trust you to unite you,” he chuckled, fascinated by her sudden change in demeanor.
“Why don’t you trust me?” the princess asked. He was the bandit, and weren’t princesses supposed to be honest?
“Do you trust me?”
“No.” she replied flatly, earning another laugh from her captor. She bit her lip in contemplation – she needed him to trust her. Fast. “Why do you hate the King?” she wondered, hoping to get him to drop his guard. The man opened his mouth as if to answer, but nothing came.
“What do you know about the royal family?” he returned the question, unsure of where exactly to start.
“I know there’s King Mias,” she said, reciting lessons in her mind, “and the Prince,” she paused, “I don’t know his name,” she shrugged apologetically. “You didn’t answer my question.” The man sighed, nodding his head as he prepared his explanation.
“He is a coward,” he stated resolutely. “He wasn’t always,” he added. “When I was a young boy, he was a strong, powerful King with a Queen who was his equal. They knew what their people needed. They stopped warring clans, and they protected this planet,” he answered truthfully. “They were happy,” his voice cracked with nostalgia. “But one day, the Queen fell ill. She fought, but her illness consumed her.” Serenity could feel the pain in his words.
“Did she die?”
“She did.” He stopped for a moment, as if to collect his thoughts, his jaw clenched. “They say that’s what changed him. They say that was the day he lost everything.”
“But what about the prince?” she pushed, her curiosity growing.
“The King couldn’t stand to look at him,” he scoffed. “It hurt too much, I guess.” He was beginning to become physically upset. “A few years later the King took a mistress. A vile creature, who does nothing but fill his ears with lies, and cares for nothing but power and coin,” his words dripped with contempt, “And they had a child. A bastard who’s treated more like a prince than the rightful heir,” he finished angrily, shaking his head in disgust. “They ignore the people now.” Serenity’s eyes filled with sadness, causing the bandit to feel overwhelmed. How could this alien girl be so affected by a story of people that weren’t her own?
“That’s terrible,” she whispered, diverting her attention back to her hands. “How do you know all this?” she asked, brow raised and head cocked.
“We have sources inside the palace,” he stammered, snapping from his reverie, the emotion fleeing as quickly as it had come. “Now give me your hands,” he ordered, pressing them dry with a towel. He then then began to smooth a fragrant oil over her skin, and the princess closed her eyes, revealing in its floral scent; lavender. It was definitely lavender.
“It’s Endymion,” the man stated suddenly, wiping his now oily hands on a rag.
“What?” she turned her focus back to the man, soon realizing how close they were.
“My name,” he said quietly. The girl smiled, and for the first time allowed herself to examine his face. His skin was bronzed from the sun, yet he showed no signs of age. Ebony locks fell carelessly around his eyes, which reminded her of twilight; golden specks lost in a velvety blue. He was beautiful – for a bandit.
“Serenity,” she returned the favour, inspecting her now treated hands.
The man pulled a small dagger from his boot, triggering an alarm in the back of Serenity’s mind. “Do you promise not to run?” he asked, and the princess felt a wave of relief rush over her.
“I promise,” she replied eagerly, holding out her bound wrists, and turning her head to the side; she did not want to see any blade that close to her skin. With a swift motion he cut through the rope holding her wrists, and moved to free her ankles. The girl stretched her arms out in front of her, rolling her hands and moving her fingers. She pushed herself to stand, her legs stiff and muscles sore. “Thank you.”
The princess teetered to the wall, touching the cool stone, and rubbing its dampness between her fingers. She found a collection of animal pelts stacked in a corner, and basked in their softness. He watched her every move as she explored the small dwelling, amused by her rabid curiosity. She stopped momentarily; it was there. On the table she could see a hint of gold peeking out from under a shirt. She could feel it; its warmth calling out to her. As if not to arise suspicion, she moved on, vowing to rescue it later.
“Is it day or night?” the girl wondered, tired of hours that stretched endlessly into days. The bandit pulled a star shaped pocket watch from a sack that had been discarded on the floor.
“It’s dusk,” he replied, “the storm will be here soon.”
The pair sat in the flickering candle light, both wary yet intrigued. ‘Perhaps,’ Serenity thought, ‘in another time, we would have been friends’. He noticed how her nose wrinkled and her lips twitched when she was lost deep in her thoughts. She was the first person from the Moon that he had truly encountered, and he wondered if they all like her: stubborn, nosey, vibrant, empathetic… beautiful. ‘Under different circumstances, I might have actually liked her’ he mused.
The wind howled as the storm approached, extinguishing the flame. Endymion yawned, welcoming the call of sleep. It had been a long day, and it had been many years since he cared for anyone other than himself.
“Time to get some sleep, Princess,” he ordered, shuffling through the blackness to a pile of furs which he used as a bed.
“Good night,” she answered sweetly, following suit. ‘Be patient,’ she told herself, as she listened to his deepening breaths. She waited in the stillness until she was sure he had fallen asleep. Then, ever so carefully, she rose from her bed, tiptoeing across the floor towards the table, hands stretched in front of her as she squinted through the shadows. Serenity took her time, her breathing controlled and her senses concentrated. She stumbled into a chair, and gasped as it screeched over the floor. Motionless, she clenched her fists and closed her eyes, praying that the sound did not wake him. When nothing happened, she continued forward until she felt the corner of the wooden table. Fabric brushed against her fingertips, ‘the shirt!’ she cheered, carefully working her way along the material, coming to rest on a solid lump. Pushing the shirt aside, she wrapped her fingers around the heirloom, lifting it quietly. Endymion groaned, causing the girl to freeze, waiting with baited breath. Nothing. She licked her lips, and pressed forward, swiftly making her way to the door. Wind crept through the cracks, and her heart beat erratically in her chest – she was so close. She found the lock, twisting it slowly until she heard a click. Nervously, she opened the door, feeling the air rush towards her, trying to push her back inside. Determined not to go down without a fight Serenity put all her energy into facing the storm and moved out of the dwelling. Sand leapt around her, stinging her eyes and biting her skin. Needing protection, she fought against the wind, tearing a large piece of fabric from her dress, still clutching the locket in her hand. Serenity wrapped the material around her head and over her face, instantly feeling some relief. It didn’t matter which way she went, as long as she got as far away as possible – they were looking for her. They would find her.
The cave’s door slammed shut, startling Endymion to wake. His eyes darted around the room, searching for what was amiss. He listened intently, hearing nothing but the screaming wind.
“Princess?” he called, waiting for an answer. “Serenity?” He rushed to her bed, patting it down to find no one there. He staggered to where his cooking pot hung above an empty fire pit, and struggled with flint and firestone to get it to light. “Bloody hell,” he cursed, seeing that the girl was nowhere to be found. Unable to let his conscious leave her to fight against the elements, he followed her out into the storm.
|← Chapter Three|