The swords clashed with the harsh sound of metal on metal. Both men leaned their weight against the swords, staring each other down over crossed blades. With a grunt, they forced each other apart and continued their battle.
“I just can’t believe Father agreed to house the little brat,” Endymion said through gritted teeth. “It’s ridiculous. Luna and its damned Alliance are our enemy!”
He swung his sword at Jadeite, who just barely managed to parry. Endymion could tell the blond was tiring. He moved in, once again clashing swords. This time, he shoved with all his strength, sending Jadeite to the ground. Endymion kicked his opponent’s sword out of his hand and put his own blade against Jadeite’s throat.
“Yield?” he asked, cocking a brow.
Grinning Jadeite replied, “Well, since I’m now unarmed, it’s not as though I have much of a choice, now is it?”
Endymion helped Jadeite up, and the two walked towards the other men who sat watching.
“It’s all politics, Endymion,” Zoisite said. “It’s a game. Your father does a favor for the Lunar king, and Cadogan owes him.”
“I’d rather forego Cadogan’s favors,” Endymion replied roughly, running his hand through his dark, sweat-drenched hair. “We’ve gotten along well enough without Cadogan and his precious Alliance’s aid. We don’t need his favors.”
“Still,” Nephrite said, “it’s not as though they’re asking us to aid them in a war and risk our men’s lives. All we have to do is let their princess stay here until they think she’s safe.”
“Ah, yes,” Endymion said, “entertain the brat princess for however long they deem necessary. I’d be willing to bet quite a bit of money that she’ll expect our finest chambers and to be served her meals on gilded platters. She’ll expect every person in the palace to cater to her every whim. A perfectly well-bred brat, I dare say.”
Jadeite chuckled. “You certainly sound excited to meet her, Endymion. At the very least, we can hope that she’ll be pretty enough. I’ve grown bored with the same faces day in and day out.”
“Let us hope she isn’t pretty,” Kunzite warned.
“And why the hell would you hope for that?” Nephrite demanded. “A new fetish of yours, Kunz?”
Kunzite smacked Nephrite upside the head. “No, idiot. We don’t want her to be pretty because of Endymion.”
Each of the four men laughed and looked at their prince. Endymion crossed his arms over his chest. “And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”
“Face it, Endymion,” Kunzite said. “You have a large appetite for beautiful women.”
Endymion laughed. “I cannot help it if I have standards. We’ve all seen the women Jadeite goes after when he’s had too much to drink.”
Everyone but Jadeite burst out laughing. Scowling, Jadeite grabbed his sword and punched Endymion hard in the shoulder. When the prince turned to strike him back, Jadeite jumped back, his sword raised.
“En guarde,” Jadeite warned, grinning broadly as he widened his stance. Laughing, Endymion took up his sword and slashed it against Jadeite’s, beginning yet another duel.
Serenity had spent days sulking in her chambers, refusing to speak to either of her parents. She barely said a word to anyone at first. Eventually, she had conceded to speaking to the sailor soldiers as they helped her pack some of her things.
It had been decided that Serenity shouldn’t bring much with her, so only one bag of clothes and jewelry lay at her feet while she, her guards, and her family waited for her escort to arrive at the interplanetary travel grid. Any minute now, her escort would appear and take her away from the only home she had ever known.
It was only for a little while, she reminded herself. Only until it was safe to come back. It wouldn’t be long. Just a little while.
She had promised herself a few days ago that she would not cry anymore. She had to be strong and brave, because in just a few moments she would be alone and unable to rely on the strength and bravery of her family and friends. On Earth, she would have no one to rely on but herself.
Suddenly, the light on the grid shimmer. Serenity clenched her hands tightly as two men appeared.
The first man was very tall, with long white hair that reminded Serenity instantly of her brother’s hair. His skin, however, was tanned. His eyes were as gray as steel. He held himself like a soldier, hands clasped behind his back, chest puffed out.
The second seemed far less formal. His blond hair was short, but it fell in waves over his dark eyes. He too was tanned, hands at his side. They both wore grey uniforms, but Serenity could tell they were soldiers; she supposed they’d chosen not to wear armor in order to avoid appearing threatening.
Both men stepped off the grid and bowed at the waist. The bow was merely a courtesy, Serenity saw; they did not wait for her father to ask them to rise.
“King Cadogan,” the white-haired soldier greeted. “I am Kunzite. This is Jadeite. We are of Prince Endymion’s personal guard. King Alexander sent us to escort your daughter to Terra.”
“Give us a moment,” Cadogan told them. He turned to his daughter, his hands on her arms. “Serenity, this is only for a short while. The instant it is safe, we’ll send for you.”
“I know, Father,” she said softly. Cadogan kissed the top of her head before stepping aside.
Her mother was more emotional. Selene gathered her daughter into her arms, eyes filled with tears. She kissed Serenity’s cheek gently. “You’ll be home soon enough, Serenity. It won’t be long. I love you, my darling.”
One by one, the sailor soldier’s embraced their princess, each one barely able to let go.
“Don’t get into any trouble,” Rei warned, holding Serenity at arm’s length. “Don’t go running off on your own.”
“I won’t,” Serenity whispered, pulling Rei into a hug. When Rei finally released her, Serenity turned to Mina, who was on the verge of tears. The two girls hugged one another tightly.
“Try to have fun,” Mina told her. “It’s the first time you’ll be anywhere but here, after all, and the time will go so much faster if you do.”
“I’ll try,” Serenity promised, but she doubted she’d be able to have fun.
“I love you, cousin,” Mina whispered.
When Serenity at last turned to her brother, she could tell that he was incredibly tensed, holding himself straight as a board. She hugged him close and felt his arms encircle her.
“Be careful,” he whispered. “Just promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I promise,” she whispered in his ear. He pulled back and kissed her on her forehead.
Finally, Serenity turned to face her escort. She picked up her bag and walked toward them. Kunzite took her bag from her without question and helped her step up onto the travel grid.
“This is your first time traveling this way, isn’t it?” Jadeite asked.
“Yes,” Serenity replied, barely audible.
He held his hand out to her. She stared at it in surprise for so long that he chuckled softly and said, “Take it, princess. You won’t know how to do it, so I’ll have to help you along.”
Embarrassed, Serenity took his hand, wondering at how, compared to his skin, hers seemed so impossibly white. Suddenly, the world around her blurred. Thousands of butterflies swarmed through her stomach, and everything around her vanished.
The instant there was ground beneath her feet again, Serenity collapsed onto it. She was very confused, but her entire body felt a hundred times heavier. Even her hair seemed to weigh her down. She could barely breathe, let alone stand.
There were hands on her shoulders, helping her to sit back. She looked up – even her eyes felt heavy! – to see Jadeite’s face. He smiled reassuringly at her.
“It’s the gravity,” he explained. “It’s much stronger here than on the Moon. It’ll take you a few moments to adjust.”
Serenity was able to nod slightly, and she struggled to breathe evenly. For a few moments, she just sat there, waiting for the heaviness to subside.
They were all staring at her. She was suddenly aware that there were more people present than the two men who had escorted her. Glancing to her side and looking through a veil of silver hair, she saw three other men.
One had long, wavy auburn hair and light blue eyes. Another also had long, wavy hair, sand-colored and pulled back, with green eyes. She could feel all the men staring at her, but there was another man, and it was his stare she felt the most.
He was staring at her intensely with deep blue eyes framed by a shock of black hair that was just long enough to brush his eyelashes. He had a strong jaw, full lips, and a straight, partisan nose. He was quite possibly the most beautiful man she had ever seen, and he was staring at her as though he could bore a hole in her skull.
There was something about the way he was looking at her that made her annoyed. She felt as though he thought she was weak for her inability to stand against the Earth’s gravity. Irritated, she slowly got to her feet, standing to her full height, even though her entire body felt heavy, and brushed her hair out of her face.
They still stared at her, making Serenity extremely uncomfortable. She felt heat rising in her cheeks, and she cleared her throat softly.
“We should get going,” Kunzite said behind her, breaking the spell. “The king is expecting us.”
It was then Serenity noticed the horses behind the men. “Are we… are we riding those?”
“Yes,” the dark haired man replied. “Is that a problem?”
Again, there was something in his voice that bothered Serenity, as though he expected there would be a problem. She lifted her chin slightly. “There’s no problem at all.”
As Jadeite helped her up onto his large brown horse, which she would ride with him to the Terran palace, Serenity regretted her words. There was a problem, a very large problem. The horse was the problem. She’d never been on a horse, not once in her life, and though she’d always wanted to, now that she sat perched on top of one, she was horrified. When the beast started moving, she wrapped her arms around Jadeite’s waist, pressed her cheek against his back, and held on for dear life. She just barely managed not to scream.
They were slowing down, allowing Serenity to finally see more than just green blurs. She was finally able to make out the shapes of the trees, so enormous in comparison to those on the Moon. The green of the leaves was brighter than the pale green she was accustomed to, and she was amazed by the different flowers and fruits that bloomed right there in the woods.
It wasn’t as though the Moon was without its beauty; it was just a softer, more pristine beauty than this. This was vibrant and full of life, and Serenity drank it all in with wide eyes.
Endymion watched her. He hadn’t missed the way her white cheeks had grown even paler when she’d seen the horses. Neither had he missed the look of absolute terror in her eyes when the horses began moving. Typical, he’d thought to himself. Of course, the pampered brat had probably only ridden in litters. Cadogan surely wouldn’t have risked her delicate little neck by allowing her on the back of a horse.
He was glad when the palace came into view, and he secretly reveled in the shock and wonder that filled the princess’s blue eyes as she saw it. He was sure that she had expected them to live like barbarians, their most advanced building a hut or perhaps a cabin. He was ruthlessly glad to see that she was impressed. She should be, he thought.
The gates opened before him as he led the party inside. They veered right to the stables, where Endymion watched Jadeite help the princess down from the horse before handing the animal to a stable hand. From there, they walked to the main doors of the palace. Endymion led them through the large halls. He didn’t glance back to see Serenity’s wide-eyed appreciation of the arched ceilings and the brilliantly colored tapestries that hung from the walls. Two sentries stood guard at the council room doors, but they opened the doors when they recognized Endymion.
King Alexander stood when the party entered. He motioned with his hand for the men to part, and they did so, giving the king a clear view of Princess Serenity.
She bent into the lowest curtsy she could manage, her head bowed. She was suddenly very nervous; her father and King Alexander despised each other. Would he be cruel to her?
A hand gently forced her chin up until she was looking into soft brown eyes surrounded by a number of tiny lines. King Alexander was a handsome man, his black hair beginning to turn gray like her father’s, his smile warm. She felt calmed by his smile.
“So you are Serenity. Cadogan’s daughter,” he said, helping her rise out of her curtsy. He laughed suddenly. “Well, luckily for you, you take after your mother.”
“You know my mother?” Serenity asked.
“Oh, yes. Long before you were born, your father and I had a much more agreeable relationship, and I traveled to the Moon to meet with him and your mother. It was just a year before your brother was born, I believe.” He took her hand and led her to a seat, lowering her into it. “You must be exhausted, this being your first time on Earth. The gravity must be awful for you.”
“It was shocking at first,” she admitted. “No one had warned me, but it wasn’t too awful.”
She hesitated, trying to gather her words, and she saw him smile again.
“My lord, I must thank you. I know that relations between our kingdoms are not the best, and yet you offered me your protection. I—“
“Say no more,” he told her. “No one could allow a man like Diamond the chance to do what he planned on doing.”
Alexander gestured to the men, and the dark-haired soldier stepped to his side. “Have you been properly introduced to my son, Princess?”
Serenity felt the shock rip through her, but she managed to stop her eyes from widening. “No,” she replied, standing, “not properly.”
“Well then, allow me to present my son, Endymion.”
She curtsied, though not as low as she had for his father, and held her hand out to him as was proper. “My lord Endymion.”
As he bowed, he stared her straight in the eyes, smirking strangely, and he took her hand and pressed his lips to the skin just below her ring. She suppressed a shudder as he kept his lips on her skin for just an instant longer than was proper. He pulled his head up, never breaking eye-contact. “My lady Serenity.”
Serenity finally fell back against her bed, sighing heavily. She was truly exhausted now, and despite being able to walk properly, her muscles ached from a day of straining against the strange gravity of Earth.
She had spent some time speaking with King Alexander, and after that he’d had Endymion’s men show her to her chambers. She’d gotten to know them on the way; the palace was just as large as her own, and it took a bit to get to the wing where her rooms were located.
She’d been completely shocked by the grandeur and size of her apartments. She had expected to be housed with servants, perhaps lesser lords if she was lucky, but her rooms here were furnished just as lavishly as her rooms at home. The king had even assigned her a few servants to help her.
After the men had left, she’d been practically assaulted by women who had apparently been ordered to help her build a wardrobe. Serenity supposed the king had seen the small pack Kunzite had carried for her. She was being measured in every way imaginable, dresses being brought in and out of the room as the woman in charge dismissed them as too large, too plain, too extravagant, or simply stating that they’d look awful against her pale hair and skin. Over the course of what felt like an eternity, the wardrobe in her room had been filled to the brim with dresses in colors and styles she had never seen, let alone worn.
Just as all the women had milled out of the room and Serenity had thought she’d have a moment to rest, more women piled in, carrying shoes and jewelry and hair accessories. Serenity was sure she didn’t have nearly this much clothing and accessories at home, but she was flattered that the king was trying to make her feel accommodated.
When those women had left, Serenity had given herself five minutes to wait and see if more would come. When none did, she allowed herself to fall back against the soft comfort of the large four-poster bed.
This was certainly not what she had expected. Serenity had always been skeptical of the rumors that circulated the palace about the Terrans and their “barbaric” ways, but she’d always assumed that there had to be some truth behind the muttering. Of course, she’d discounted the idea that the Terrans killed their infants if they were too weak or the rumor that the Terran royalty was descended from a god of death, but surely, she had always thought, some of the rumors were true. The constant violence, the criminals waiting at every bend in the road to rob or rape the next passerby. The cruelty, the lack of propriety. Surely, she’d always thought, her father hated the Terrans for a reason.
But what she had seen so far was nothing like what she had been expecting. She certainly hadn’t expected the incredibly beauty of the land or the colorful garden that rested below her balcony. She hadn’t expected kindness, either, or generosity.
Of course, the prince wasn’t exactly kind or generous. Even now she could remember the way he had studied her, as though she had met an expectation she was sure she would not have wanted to meet if she’d known it.
Serenity was not used to disliking people. Usually, everyone was respectful and friendly to her, and she was an amiable person. But this Prince Endymion… something about him made her feel as though she had to prove him wrong. When she’d fallen, she could practically see in his eyes that he thought her to be weak and pathetic. She didn’t like being judged like that, and she found that she didn’t care much for the prince.
He was handsome, of course, more handsome than anything or anyone she had ever seen. Whenever she’d caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eyes, it had taken her a moment to readjust and stop herself from openly staring. But beauty did not excuse his rudeness. He was arrogant, certainly, and judgmental. He was unlike anyone she had ever met. She was sure she disliked him and vowed to avoid him at all costs.
Endymion took another gulp of his wine, lying back on the couch in the sitting area of his chambers. Jadeite and Zoisite were playing a card game, and Jadeite was losing miserably as his friends watched, laughing.
“I don’t find this amusing,” he told them, glowering as Zoisite pocketed the last few coins Jadeite had. He drained his wine and sat back, propping his feet on the table. “But let’s discuss what’s really on everyone’s mind.”
“And what might that be?” Nephrite asked, pouring more wine into everyone’s goblets. “The amount of money you’ve lost this week alone? It’s a daunting number, to be sure.”
“No,” Jadeite snapped. “The princess.” No one spoke, and Jadeite rolled his eyes at them. “Oh, come off it. I know you four well enough; you’ve all been itching for me to bring her up. That’s why you’ve given me so much wine.”
“Have we, really?” Kunzite asked, shaking his head in amusement as Jadeite downed a full glass. “Perhaps we’ve given you so much because you’re amusing when you’re completely drunk.”
“Regardless,” Jadeite said, slurring his words every so slightly, “I know you all want to talk about her. She’s gorgeous, isn’t she? I’ve never seen anything that beautiful in my entire life. When I first saw her on the Moon, I thought something had gone wrong with the interplanetary travel, that my eyes had been fucked with in transport.”
“Maybe not your eyes,” Endymion joked, “but certainly your mind.”
“Oh, knock it off,” Jadeite said, putting his goblet down forcefully. “Am I the only man in this room? Have you all suddenly decided you care more for looking at each other than at a beautiful woman?”
“Fine, fine,” Nephrite said. He ran a hand through his hair and smiled softly. “I have to admit, I’ve never seen a woman quite that…”
“Stunning?” Zoisite finished for him. “She’s like… I can’t even think of how to describe her. But I’ve never imagined a woman could look that amazing.”
“When we were riding, she was pressed against my back, and… sweet god in heaven, I’ve never smelled anything as sweet as her skin,” Jadeite told them. “But you must know better, Endymion, you kissed her hand.”
“She’s beautiful enough, certainly,” Endymion agreed, “but just as spoiled as any other princess, if not more so. Did you see the look on her face when she realized she’d be riding the horses? I thought she’d die right there.”
“Endymion, how many women of noble blood do you know who actually ride horses?” Zoisite asked. “Not a one, I’d wager. It’s nothing out of the ordinary.”
“She didn’t strike me as particularly snobbish,” Nephrite said. “She was actually rather humble for a princess of the Silver Alliance, don’t you think?”
“Please,” Endymion argued, standing to pace the room, goblet in hand, “did you see the look on her face when she saw the palace? Complete shock, as though she’d been expecting us to live in caves. She thinks we’re completely barbaric and uncivilized.”
“Well, she’s certainly gotten under your skin,” Jadeite slurred, standing and draping an arm around Endymion’s shoulders. “I haven’t seen you so hot and bothered by a woman since your voice cracked for the first time.”
Endymion shoved Jadeite, and the blond laughed as he fell onto his back, splashing wine onto himself.
“I’m not ‘hot and bothered,’” Endymion argued.
“Then admit it,” Nephrite challenged. “Admit that you think she’s beautiful.”
Sighing, Endymion sat back down. “Of course I think she’s beautiful. She is beautiful.”
“The most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen,” Zoisite added. “Admit it.”
“God almighty, yes, all right?” Endymion shouted. “She is. Lord, you’d think the lot of you had turned into a bunch of gossiping kitchen wenches!”
“Fine, fine,” Zoisite said, smiling. “Come, lads, let’s play another round. Make Jadeite lose his shirt, this time.”
Endymion hastily picked up the cards tossed at him, but he was very aware of Kunzite’s steady, studying gaze.