Summary: Rei's a princess–an illegitimate one, if you must know, and an unruly one at that. So when her brother becomes king, he'll do anything to get her off his hands, even marry her off! Before Rei knows it, she's married to a drunkard of a king–but is there more to him than meets the eye?
Author's Notes: I came up with this a few summers ago, didn't work on it for months, and then was able to use it for a class project. As a result, it's pretty much already drafted out, so I wanted to finally start posting it for you guys – especially since STC is still a ways away. It's a different Rei than you're probably used to…
Tremendous thanks to Jade. She is too wonderful for words.
Disclaimer:Naoko Takeuchi owns Sailor Moon.
An Elysian ensign was standing guard at the parapet overlooking the shore when a burst of hisses and cursing from below drew his attention. He lifted his crossbow, looking down to aim. His hands shook slightly, his knuckles white. It was his first day as a palace guard, and he was anxiously eager to do a good job.
But the more experienced guard with whom he was on duty glanced down and laughed. "At ease, boy. There's no need to shoot anyone. Look."
The ensign obeyed, leaning over the parapet. The source of all the hissing and cursing was a black-haired girl in a gown that was soaked nearly to her knees, the hem caked with sand. She was shrieking and kicking at the two stoic-faced guards who were dragging her from the shore to the palace gates.
He lifted his eyes to his superior, aghast. "A prostitute?" He had thought that the nobles at court had special, kept ladies for that sort of thing, not whores dragged off the street.
The other guard howled with laughter. "A prostitute? You dolf, that's the princess! They probably caught her riding His Highness's horse on the beach without permission again."
"You think this is funny, Chad?" came a shout from below, and the young guard looked down to see that the princess was on the palace side of the parapet now, glaring straight up at them and yanking her arms free of the guards' hold.
"I do, Princess Rei!" the older guard called down to her. "You're carrying on so that the new guard up here just mistook you for a street wench!"
Visions of being drawn and quartered danced before the ensign's eyes. He felt the blood drain from his face.
But instead of shouting an order to have him clapped in irons and marched to the dungeons, the princess just retorted loudly, "That's funny, Chad, I mistook your wife for the same thing the first time I saw her!"
"Ruining your best day gown. Taking His Majesty's favorite horse out of the stables without permission. Squabbling with the guards–" Luna put down the roll of parchment with an exaggerated care that suggested she greatly wanted to slap it down but was too well-bred to do so, "allbefore breakfast! Well, never let anyone tell you that you are not an over-achiever, Princess."
Said princess had thrown herself into an armchair across from her former governess, now glorified lady-in-waiting. Water still dripped from her soaked gown, and she had her arms crossed over her chest. "Chad hardly counts as just a guard," she said. "I've known him since we were children. His mother was my wet nurse. We drank from the same–"
"It doesn't matter if you drank from the same…female," Luna interrupted delicately, ignoring Rei's saucy "Breast? Do you mean to say breast, Luna?" "He is a commoner, and you are a princess. Regardless of…circumstances."
She paused as if to give Rei a moment to interpret her hint. As if Rei had somehow managed to forget that she was not a real princess, that she was the late king's illegitimate seventeen-year-old daughter and her current title of princess had been acquired only through a decree made by the late king from his deathbed a year ago.
Rei had not forgotten this fact. It was very difficult to, when everyone in the palace, from the maids who served her breakfast on the coral guest china instead of the royal mother-of-pearl dishes, to her own half-brother, King Endymion, who would not let her participate fully in the nobles' councils. If she had been a true princess, for example, she would be in one of his war councils at this very moment, not up here in her tower chamber being scolded by Luna. And if she had been a true princess, a common lady-in-waiting like Luna, no matter what duke she was the fourth daughter of, would never have dared to speak to her so condescendingly.
"You're right, Luna." Rei swung her legs over the chair's arm and stood up. "I am a princess. And as such, I order you to leave me for the day. Off you go." She made a shooing motion with one hand and began to unlace her gown with the other.
Luna made a scandalized sound–whether from Rei's words or the fact that she was beginning to undress in front of her, Rei didn't know–and swept out of the room.
"Good riddance," Rei muttered, shimmying out of her soaked skirts. A few minutes' work had her in a fresh gown and slippers. Her hair was stiff and knotted and smelled of salt from riding Endymion's beautiful new stallion nearly all the way to the point, where the palace walls sloped into the sea, so she gave up trying to brush it and just yanked it into the semblance of a braid and pinned it up. Then she strode through her rooms to the door and yanked it open.
The same guard who has been on parapet patrol with Chad stood just outside it. His eyes widened at her. He was red-faced, his arms stiff at his sides, and his eyes looked anywhere but at her as he blurted out, "His Highness requests that you pass the day in your chambers until he can come speak to you!"
Rei swallowed a sigh. Before their father's death, she and Endymion had always joked that getting a "request" from their father was like finding a jellyfish in the water. Phrased as something so polite, it seemed easy to avoid, floating so slowly, but try to be clever and swim around it, and you just found yourself swimming into a whole smack of them. Like the time he had "requested" that Endymion stop taking Rei to the guards' grounds to ride the horses, and they had decided to start sneaking out at night to do it instead–until the hostler who had turned a blind eye to their riding was turned out of the palace on the king's orders. Now, Endymion was the one who gave orders and thinly veiled them as requests. Sometimes she felt like Endymion the one who had died hadn't been her father but Endymion.
Rei looked at the guard. He was watching her from beneath his bangs like a puppy expecting to be kicked.
She smiled demurely at him. "Of course. I'll be waiting." Stepping back into her chambers and letting the door fall shut behind her, she leaned against it and listened for the guard's footsteps to head back down the stairs.
But there was nothing but the squeak of his new leather boots as he shifted slightly.
Rei hrmphed. He must have been ordered to stand on guard there like a human door bolt, since it wasn't seemly actually to bolt a lady's door from the outside. Although Endymion would snort at her if she claimed to be a lady, she thought with a twist of her lips, remembering how he had made fun of her all the times she stole his outgrown riding clothes to wear herself.
That had been before he was king, though.
She ignored the melancholy that was wriggling its grimy fingers into her thoughts and shucked off the gown that she had just put on. She changed into an old pair of the very riding clothes she had stolen a while back and kept hidden in her drawers for occasions such as this. She tied her hair back more securely, scraped the last of the sand from the soles of her boots, and sat on her windowsill. It was open to the air outside, giving her what would have been a breathtaking view of the ocean if she wasn't so used to seeing it every day. The breathtaking view was also a bit dizzying, when you stared out at it with your legs hanging over the open, empty space with nothing below you but the rest of the castle, twenty feet down, but Rei was accustomed to this, too. This wasn't the first time she had used this route to creep out of her tower room.
There were shells embedded every few feet in the rough stone, rather like a flattened staircase, as though the people who had built the tower had wanted handholds for themselves as they built it. A sensible plan, in Rei's opinion, especially as she didn't believe what the tales said about Elysion's castle having been a gift from the gods. It was said that a tremendous wave had crashed down and swept all the unworthy from the earth, leaving behind only the true King and his followers, and they had been the first Elysians. As the wave drained away, a glistening castle of pink-white stone as smooth as the inside of a conch shell had been left behind. Rei didn't know how a place as magnificent as the palace had been built, but she was sure that the flood story had to be rubbish, probably just some long-ago courtier's attempt to ingratiate himself to the king by glorifying him.
She eased herself over the sill, finding the first shell with her foot, then the next with her other foot. Shell by shell, she eased herself down, the castle's brine-roughened stone walls catching occasionally at her tunic. Her heart was beating fast by the time she got to the point where the handholds ended, just a few feet away from the parapet. This was always her least favorite part, the jump to the parapet. If she didn't make it, she would drop the fifteen feet to the shore below and break quite a few bones, if not worse.
But she had made the jump a dozen times before, and she made it this time, too. From there, it was a simple matter of sneaking past Chad–he was talking to a squad doing drills in the courtyard below–to the passageway that led to the guards' quarters. Located in one of their armory lockers was a grille that she slithered into, banging her hip painfully on the stone. There was a small compartment beneath it, like a very small and ancient cellar, which their father had shown to Endymion when he was fifteen and which Rei, following them without their knowledge, had also seen. He had explained to Endymion that the most dangerous rebellion always came from within the king's own warriors, and this place had been kept as a secret for generations for Elysian kings to listen in on their own guards. Little did her father or her brother ever suspect, Rei imagined, that a totally unrelated party would use it to spy on them. The little cellar led off into a cramped tunnel that took her, among other places, a craggy crack through which she could peer down into the small chamber where Endymion preferred to hold his councils of war.
Despite its small size, the chamber was as luxuriously equipped as all the others in the castle, dominated by a long, ancient table of polished driftwood and hung with tapestries. It was one of the colder rooms in the palace, too deep inside the cliff to receive any of the balmy breezes off the sea. Rei's brother, King Endymion, sat at the head of the table, the top of his dark black hair just barely visible from the angle through which Rei could see through the tiny crack. The white- and silver-haired heads to his left were several noblemen, including Lords Malachi and Artemis, and to his right were two dark heads that had to belong to the marquis and marchioness of Bleu.
Rei's hand crept up surreptitiously to pat down her salt-crusted hair, for all that she knew that if anyone happened to spot her in her hiding spot, she would have much bigger concerns than the marquis witnessing her disheveled appearance. The marquis, Sapphire, was the same age as Endymion but had been marquis for much longer than Endymion had been king. His father had died when he and his sister, Ami, were little more than children. He was not often at court, and even when he was, Rei rarely saw him, for he was always closed-up in secret councils with her brother, but when he did see her, he always greeted her cordially and bowed the exact angle demanded for a princess of Elysion, not a degree less.
As Rei watched, the marchioness turned her head and said something to Endymion. There was too much murmuring going on in the room for Rei to hear what she said, but her brother inclined his head to listen, and Sapphire, on Ami's other side, leaned closer as well, his gloved hand curling on the tabletop.
If only Endymion would treat Rei the way Sapphire treated Ami! Ami wasn't officially the marchioness of Bleu; whomever Sapphire married–Rei cringed at the thought–would hold that title, but Ami may as well have been, for Sapphire treated her as his equal in all things. She had her own seal, she ran the estate in his absences, she always accompanied him to council meetings–and when she spoke, he listened.
Endymion was nodding now. He touched Ami's hand once, gratefully, and then stood.
The noise in the room died down, but not completely. Though most heads turned toward him, their owners falling silent, a few glanced toward him and then away again, continuing their conversation–namely, the silver-haired noblemen across from Sapphire and Ami.
Rei glared at them from her hiding spot, simmering. It was one thing for a nobleman's daughter like Luna to condescend to Rei, an illegitimate princess, but it was quite another for noblemen to disrespect their pure-blooded king! Endymion was the dead queen and king's son, of older, bluer blood than any other king or prince around, more so than the Nemesian princes who were little more than warlords, and certainly more so than Andalusia's regent-turned-king–how dare these men disrespect him so!
"Excuse me," Ami said in her soft, clear voice that cut through the lower voices of the men. "I believe our king has something to say."
The men fell quiet, but their expressions were those of adults humoring a child. Rei couldn't see Endymion's face, but she would have put money on it being cold and hard.
"There is news of Nemesis," was all he said, and he sat back down, his head turning toward Sapphire. Rei saw his profile. His jaw was clenched.
"What is it?" asked one of the lords near the foot of the table. "Has it been uncovered whether the crash in which the king and crown prince were killed was part of one of the other prince's plots?"
Sapphire turned his head toward the nobleman. He did not stand, but his shoulders and back were rod-straight, as usual. "We have not yet been able to ascertain whether one of the princes arranged for the accident. But last week, one of the last two living Nemesian princes, Rubeus, was found dead. His after-supper tea had been poisoned. We believe that his brother, Diamond, is the party responsible for the poisoning."
"Then the in-fighting among the Nemesians is done at last," said a lord at the end of the table whose name Rei would have known had she ever paid attention to Luna's endless drillings about who was lord of what and whether they merited a "Your Excellency" or "Your Grace." "We'll be able to resume trade with them without worrying about one brother's army picking off our caravans for fear that we were supporting another brother."
"Not so quickly, Lord Nephrite," Ami said. "Rubeus's loss is not necessarily our gain."
Rei glanced back at her brother. He was sitting far back in his chair, back pressed against it, gripping the table edge as though to brace himself against it as he stared straight ahead.
Ami continued, "In the time since we received the news of Rubeus's death, Diamond has declared war upon Tranquisel and absorbed Lunaria."
Gasps burst from around the table. Tranquisel was a small country bordering Nemesis to the south. Rei knew that it shared no borders with Elysion, but the fact that Diamond was blithely marching to war with it when he had only just gained control of his own country spoke volumes about his confidence–or about the size of his army.
Still, this was nothing compared to the news about Lunaria. That tiny kingdom did share a border with Elysion, though it was only a few miles long at most. On top of that, its Crown Princess Serenity, who was so beautiful that minstrels sang ballads about her, had been betrothed to Endymion since she was in her cradle. Their marriage had been set for the upcoming summer.
So what did this mean? Did Diamond mean to take Serenity for himself? Did he really think Endymion would stand for this? Elysion was barely half Nemesis's size, but such an insult could not go ignored. Serenity was Endymion's, this meant war–
Endymion stood up, abruptly. "I have summoned you here today to declare war on Nemesis."
Protest broke out at once. "Your Highness," Ami began, her eyes wide.
"Much too rash–" said Malachite.
"The sheer number of men Diamond has at his disposal–" another was saying.
"–and he hasn't threatened us yet," blustered a third.
Rei, who had been watching her brother's jaw tighten more and more with each voice, looked away when she heard Sapphire's quiet voice say, "Your Majesty," and watched him splay his hand carefully on the tabletop.
"Yes?" Endymion said loudly over the racket of the noblemen.
"I would not advise war yet," Sapphire said slowly, his gaze and voice steady. "We have only just received the news of the absorption. It could be that Diamond intends to use the princess as a bargaining piece to gain alliance with you and will not touch her."
"In which case declaring war on him might remove his only incentive not to marry Serenity himself," Ami added.
"We are already at war!" Endymion snapped. "We have an army positioned to charge into his land, and he has one waiting to meet them! The only thing remaining is a bit of parchment declaring that we intend to kill each other!"
Lord Artemis was frowning. "A bit of parchment which would need all of our seals on it."
Endymion turned toward him. "Excuse me?"
Rather than being cowed by Endymion's icy tone, Lord Artemis pursed his lips disapprovingly. "A declaration of war requires ratification by at least two-thirds of this council. You know that, Endymion."
"You speak," Endymion said softly, "as though two-thirds of you would not be willing to sign this parchment."
"I believe you will find that to be the case," said Lord Malachi.
Endymion's head turned toward him. "I'm afraid you will have to explain your reluctance to me." He was still using his dangerous voice, the one he used on Rei when he found she had borrowed his riding gear without permission. "I was under the impression that I was your king and that subjects are meant to obey their king's commands."
There was silence for a moment, some uncomfortable shifting. Then Lord Nephrite said, his expression serious but his tone sly, almost deprecating, "We are not the only ones you have trouble forcing to obey your orders, are we, Your Majesty?"
A cry of outrage escaped Rei. In the silence that had followed the nobleman's defiance, it was clearly audible. Everyone in the room jerked around to look up at the ceiling where she was.
Rei's heart leapt into her mouth, the blood seeming to drain from every inch of her body as she shrank backward. Then she was scrambling through the tunnel, racing back toward the cellar. She fairly flew across the parapet, her heart pounding crazily as she scrambled up the shells in the tower wall, shredding the skin of her palms in her haste, her mind oscillating wildly from certainty that no one would think the noise had come from her, since she had a guard stationed at her door, to distress, for Endymion somehow had a sixth sense about these things just as her father had; he would somehow guess that it had been her–
She had just managed to heave one leg over her windowsill when the door to her bedchamber swung open. Her eyes met Endymion's burning blue ones, and for a minute, she felt her body waver, tipping dangerously far back into empty air. Then she pitched forward and toppled onto the floor on top of the wet, sandy gown she had discarded on her floor that morning.
There was a gasp. Rei's eyes slid past Endymion to see the guard from before standing behind him, his eyes wide and fixed on Rei.
Endymion did not turn. "You may leave, ensign."
The guard fled faster than a crab scuttling from a flock of gulls. The door fell shut, leaving her alone with Endymion.
"Not very brave, that one," Rei said with a crooked smile, trying to sound casual and unconcerned, as though she thought her brother had just come up for a spot of idle conversation. Her breathlessness from climbing up a whole tower rather ruined the attempt. "I don't know if he's cut out for guard work."
"Are you trying to have me overthrown, Rei?"
Rei's eyes flew wide. "Overthrown?" she echoed. "I want to help you! If you'd just let me come to those councils like Ami does, I'd tell those old–"
"Like Ami does," Endymion repeated. His voice held the same dangerous edge he had used on Lord Artemis. "Tell me, Rei, when have you ever heard of the marchioness tromping across the beach unchaperoned, screeching like a fishwife in the courtyard for everyone from the vizier to the scullery maids to hear?"
A dull flush spread across Rei's neck. She hadn't felt embarrassed when Luna scolded her for that morning's antics, but hearing Endymion describe them like that made her feel as small as a grain of sand. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I didn't think–"
"You never do!" Endymion took a swift, angry step toward her. "You always do whatever you please, and I'm the one who looks ridiculous because of it! Even our servants laugh behind our backs at your constant attempts to disobey me, Rei! Do you know how that looks? How am I to convince the council members to trust my decisions to rule this kingdom when they see that I cannot even control my own sister?"
Rei stared at him. The stinging realization that the council members' disrespectful treatment of Endymion was her fault stung her like sharp seashells underfoot. She was the reason they wouldn't let him attack Nemesis to save Princess Serenity. She was the reason that Endymion was sinking onto her bed now, his hands over his eyes and his jaw clenched as though against tears.
She twisted the hem of her tunic in her fingers. "I'm sorry, Endy," she whispered.
Endymion didn't say anything, just made a low, angry sound and dug the heels of his palms more deeply into his eyes. Rei flinched and curled her fingers more tightly into her tunic, thinking that if he were the marquis and she Lady Ami, she would touch his shoulder. Instead, she babbled out, "I'll stop, Endymion, I swear, I'll do everything right from now on. I'll be good, I'll be so good even the marchioness'll look like a scarlet woman next to me, I swear–"
A sharp rap at the door cut her off. Her eyes jumped to the door. Chad stood there stiffly, a scroll of parchment in his hand. The wax seal held a sun-shaped imprint.
"Your Highness," he said, bowing to Endymion. "There's a messenger for you."
Rei looked back at her brother just in time to see him standing up. His face was as blank and impassive as always, though red faintly rimmed his dark eyes. He brushed past her without a word, taking the scroll from Chad and exiting the chamber. His boots clipped audibly down the stairs.
Chad hesitated at the door. "All right, Princess?"
Rei sniffled, realizing for the first time that her nose was running. She swiped her sleeve across it. "Fine."
Chad nodded and closed the door.
Rei sniffled again, her eyes falling to the full-length mirror in the corner. Looking at her reflection, she felt suddenly disgusted by every bit of herself, from her tangled hair to her too-tan skin to the grubby, threadbare men's clothes she wore. It was no wonder that ensign had mistaken her for a street girl.
With savage fingers, she tore off the riding clothes. She pitched them out the window, watching them flap in the wind down to the ground like heavy, ugly brown birds that had forgotten how to fly. Then she turned back to her room and rang the bell for a bath.