Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ Holding out for Everything ❯ On the Road ( Chapter 3 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Chapter 3
On the Road

The morning air was cool and crisp and filled with the impatient nickers of horses. Serenity pulled her riding cloak tight around her shoulders and turned her face towards the rising sun, letting the rays warm her skin. Absentmindedly she wondered if the sun in Terra would be as warm as it was as home and right away chided herself for such thoughts. Of course the sun would be just as warm there. Of course the air would smell just as clean and the grass feel just as soft and the roses look just as red. There was no reason for anything to be different.

Of course, everything would be different.

She pushed the self-pity out of her mind before her eyes got the chance to begin to water up again. She had spent the better part of the night catching her tears in her pillow and the better part of the morning trying to remove the red and puffy look from her eyes. She knew she looked calm and collected now and she needed that to stick. She was to be the Queen of the people in her escort, and she needed to show them that she was strong.

Serenity's train of thought was stopped when she felt a soft pressure on her leg. She looked down and her eyes met those of her mother and at that moment her resolve not to cry almost broke. “I promised myself I would not cry,” her mother said softly, adjusting her gaze to the horse's neck. “Please be careful and please don't be angry with me.” The two statements sounded as common as if she was telling her daughter to bundle up and be careful in their own garden while she played rather than going to some distant land where they would be separated. When she looked up, though, her face betrayed a flood of emotions that her voice didn't even hint at.

“I will and I'm not angry.” Up until that moment those words would have been a lie, but in that cool morning air Serenity's words rung true and sincere.

The queen smiled up at her daughter, her eyes glittering with tears. “I’m sorry that you have to be sent away. And I’m sorry you didn’t have a chance to grow up more first. You’re going to a good man though and I know he’ll take good care of you. I’ll come and visit as soon as things here are cleared up a bit and more settled.”

Serenity nodded. “I—I’ll be fine.” Her lip quivered. “I just don’t know what to expect.”

The Queen gave her daughter’s leg a light squeeze. “I know you’ll be just fine.”

“Your Majesty, I’ve sent out scouts ahead already and we are ready to leave, with your permission.” The silver-haired soldier that rode up to them was one that Serenity had known since she was little. His name was Artemis and he was one of the youngest to join the rank of the officers in the Lunarian army.

The Queen gave Serenity’s leg one last light squeeze before letting go of it. “Then I suppose it’s time that you were on your way. Artemis, signal your party to start moving out. The sooner you leave, the sooner you can get to your destination.” She paused and turned her gaze back up to Serenity. “And the sooner you can start living your new life. Think of it as an adventure. You’ll do splendidly.”

Serenity nodded and bit her tongue to hold back tears yet again. The Queen smiled as she turned and walked away from the horse. She walked to the outskirts of the processions and she watched as everyone prepared to leave. Within a few short minutes Artemis had gotten them ready and gave the signal to move out. The horses at the front set the pace, a slow amble at first. The streets had been prepared for their departure only that morning. Serenity knew that little warning had been given about their trip so people weren’t crowding around to see her leave. She was glad, it probably would have only made her cry. She kept her hood up over her fair hair and her eyes fixed to the buildings they were passing. She tried to memorize all the stones and bricks and windows and doors. She knew that she would come back to visit at some point but still she wanted warm memories.

It took the better part of an hour to reach the city gates. More than once they had to take a longer path around ruins or rubble. Each time they passed a scorched building, Serenity felt sorrow tugging at her heart. She wanted to stay and help rebuild, not run away with her tail between her legs. These were here people and her city and she wanted to help them both heal.

“Princess, once we leave the city it will be much more dangerous for us. Please stay close to me and don’t try to wander from the circle of soldiers around you.” Artemis smiled cheerfully as she spoke, bringing his horse in beside hers.

“Thank you. I don’t think I could disappear from this group even if I wanted to.” She smiled back, trying to be cheerful. Mind over matter, she thought to herself, and this journey won’t be too bad, I hope. She drew back her hood and let the sun shine on her hair.

“We’re expecting nice weather for the next day or more. That should make travel easier. I hope your Grace will be comfortable.”

“I’m sure I will. How many are in our party exactly? I was surprised to see so few with us.” To be honest, she didn’t mind the smaller group but she was a little surprised that her mother had allowed her to go with such a small escort.

“Fewer riders can travel faster. There’s about sixty of us with a few wagons behind. We’ll stop around supper time and they should catch up to us within an hour or two.” Artemis paused as he moved his horse to avoid a hole in the road. Serenity found the sway of the horse comforting as they moved at a decent pace. “Once we reach the main road,” he continued, “we will pick up the pace a little but once we reach the wooded areas there are some roads where we’ll have to slow down on a bit.”

“And you do not fear robbers or bandits?” she asked teasingly.

Artemis grinned. “I don’t think any robbers or bandits would want to come against sixty armed and armored swordsmen. The groups that live together aren’t usually much larger than what we are and half of them are women and children.”

Serenity nodded. “I suppose you’re right.”

The air was warming up and birds flew overhead twittering cheerfully. Spring was in the air and Serenity was glad that the winter was finally melting. Nights were still fairly cool but overall the days were getting longer and warmer. They passed a few patches of snow on the sides of the road but they were small and glistened in the sun as they melted at their snail’s pace.

At midday the procession stopped. A river crossed with the road and the field next to it offered a nice open spot for everyone to rest. “We won’t be stopping like this every day,” Artemis told Serenity as he set up a stool for her to sit on while she ate. “We’ll find ourselves eating as we ride just to make good time. I apologize if this doesn’t appeal to your Grace.”

Serenity scrunched her nose a bit. “It looks like I have no choice. I don’t like eating while I ride but it won’t be the first thing I do on this trip that I don’t want to do.”

Artemis gave her a sympathetic smile. “I will try to make the trip as quick and smooth for your Grace as possible. I understand this trip was rather… forced, if you’ll pardon my impudence for saying so.”

Serenity stared at the cheese and fruit on her plate before she picked up a slice of apple and nibbled at it. Her words caught in her throat and she said nothing.

By the time the party was ready to leave Serenity felt exhausted. It had only been half a day but her legs were sore and her rear wasn’t faring much better. Her hunger had been satisfied but she would have taken a nap if she could have. Instead of a soft bed she got a horse and instead of blissful sleep, a steady sway as they plodded along the road. Her body did not thank her for the trade.

Artemis still rode close to her but kept his conversation minimal. The road became more and more worn as they rode further and further from the capital towards the mountains.

They made their next stop at a tavern by the roadside. It was dinner time and Serenity was grateful to know there was a bed and hot meal waiting for her. They rode into the small dirt courtyard. Most of the men stayed outside of it near the stables since they would be sleeping outside in tents with their horses close by.

Serenity felt stiff and awkward as Artemis helped her get off her steed. The filly nickered softly as a groom led her to the stables, clearly eager to get some food in her own belly. Serenity could help but smile as she walked to the door of the tavern behind Artemis. Five guards flanked her as they entered the common room. In innkeeper was there, sweeping her several deep bows as he expressed his joy and honor at housing her Grace and her company.

“I’m pleased that our messengers were able to get these accommodations,” Artemis said as he rested his hand on the pommel of his sword. “We’re tired and would appreciate rooms and food.”

The innkeeper bowed a few more times, hat held in his hands, as he stuttered through more formalities and offerings of hospitality. Serenity didn’t listen as she let her eyes wander tiredly around the room. The ceiling was held up by soot-covered beams made of thick, dark wood. The hearth had a low fire burning in it and the wall behind it was covered in paintings and tapestries faded with time and smoke. There didn’t seem to be any other guests in the tavern, though that was probably on purpose. They had enough people along to fill the place to the rafters and then some. Besides, she doubted her escort would have wanted to worry about each person milling about who didn’t seem to belong.

“We are most grateful for your hospitality. I think her grace would like to rest though after our long day.” Artemis turned a little and offered Serenity his arm. She accepted it and stepped forward, giving the innkeeper a tired smile.

“Yes, it has been a long day. Please lead us to our quarters so we can get some rest.” Her own voice sounded tired to her ears. The innkeeper bowed low again and scurried on ahead as Artemis led her after him. They walked up a narrow staircase to a small hallway where several doors were closed. They went up one more flight of stairs and down another hallway before the innkeeper pulled out a brass key and opened one of the doors.

Two of the guardsmen entered the room first. The rest of them waited outside the door until they returned and motioned for them to enter. Serenity was not impressed but not appalled either. The room seemed to be clean enough, though sparsely furnished and aged, as was everything else in the tavern. The innkeeper apologized profusely as he wrung his hat in his hands, his anxious gaze darting around the room to see if any specks of dust or debris had been left behind.

Serenity gave him a smile. “This will do nicely for tonight, thank you. I’m hungry and thirsty though and would appreciate some supper.” With those words she walked over to the window to peek out at the courtyard below. The innkeeper took his queue to leave and went to arrange a meal for them.

She could hear the guards bustling about behind her, arranging things and going to get her bags. Artemis came to stand next to her and looked out the window with her. The place was a flurry of activity. Everyone wanted food, both men and horses a alike, and tents were sprouting up like mushrooms all around the courtyard.

The window creaked quietly as Serenity unlocked it and pushed it open. A small breeze came into the room, freshening the air. “You’re Grace can rest for a while. I’ll go and make sure everything is being taken care of and carried out properly before supper arrives,” Artemis said before offering Serenity a bow. “I’ll return shortly and you’ll have these fine gentlemen outside your door should you need anything.”

Serenity nodded as she walked over to the bed and sat down. The mattress wasn’t terribly soft but, as everything else in the inn, it would do. She let herself fall backwards and just laid there, relishing the feeling of zero motion. Maybe by tomorrow my legs won’t be so cramped, she thought to herself. Maybe tomorrow we can just turn around and go back home and I can wait for someone dashing to come and sweep me off my feet one day, instead of me riding to him and doing all the work. She knew it wouldn’t happen, but it was certainly nice to daydream about. Her daydreams gave way to real dreams as her heavy eyelids couldn’t stay open any longer and she drifted off into sweet sleep.

As the torches along the walls sputtered and glowed, Mamoru walked to the hallway where the princess’s room was. He was glad Nephrite had been able to drop off a soldier’s uniform as he had asked and getting a key from the innkeeper had also been easier than it should have. He now had access to a room down the corridor from the princess and, with no one around to notice he didn’t belong, he slipped in through the door before he was noticed by the five guards sitting outside her Grace’s quarters.

It was too easy, Mamoru thought as he closed the door behind him and locked it. Anyone could have pilfered a uniform and done the same thing as he had. The innkeeper had few protests when Mamoru had approached him and sternly asked for the key to the room. He was a nervous man who probably wanted the royal visit to go and smoothly and quickly as possible so that he could get back to his regular crowd of travelers, merchants and entertainers. The stress of such a royal visit was too much for him and he was only more than happy to comply with any requests just to avoid conflict.

Well, he was glad that so far there didn’t seem to be anyone with similar ideas to his.

The small balcony on the opposite end of the room was along the same wall as the princess’s would be. From there he could climb up onto the roof easily and drop down to where she was. It was late, well past midnight, and the girl would probably be fed and asleep.

Mamoru opened the small door leading to the balcony and slipped out into the cool air. He could hear a few men still talking down in the forest of tents, their voices mingled with the occasional nicker of horses and the cheerful crackling of fires. A tree blocked most of the view which was in his favor. He tested the thin wooden railing. It would hold his weight; he just had to be careful he didn’t slip on the damp wood.

Once he had climbed on the railing he pulled himself up onto the moss covered roof. Getting up there from the ground would be no walk in the park without a ladder or grappling hook, and using either would attract a lot of attention. Artemis had been thorough in setting up patrols and guards for Serenity. Mamoru felt, thus far, rather useless and unnecessary on the trip. Still, he would do what he needed to do and a bit of what he just could do.

His steps on the roof were muffled buy the moss as he crept to where he knew the balcony he wanted was. Leaning over the edge to peek down proved to be a little challenging since the wood shingles under the moss were slick, but Mamoru managed to check without falling. Once he was sure there was no one up and about, he turned and slid down on his belly until he felt the railing under his feet, then silently he lowered himself to the balcony and walked to the small door. He was both relieved and irritated to find the door unlocked. It made his entry easy, but it would have made it easy for anyone else as well.

The room was dark and still. He could hear soft breaths coming from the bed, slow and steady. Easing his way slowly across the floorboards, he slid towards the bed. He could feel the floor quivering a bit beneath his feet but it remained blessedly silent.

When he reached the bed he saw the girl laying on her side, one hand on top of her pillow in front of her face. She had been exhausted, he knew, after their ride. She seemed little more than a child. Her skin and slightly plumped cheeks spoke of youth, though the fingers on her dainty hands were long and slender. Her hair was braided into two long braids and her nightgown was sliding off her shoulder. Mamoru had to admit she was lovely despite being so young. As she shifted in bed, the light from the moon glistened off the golden crescent moon on her forehead.

Mamoru shook his head and stepped away from the bed. Noiselessly he walked around the room, checking all the corners and peeking around all the furniture. It made him feel at least a little useful. As quietly as he had entered, he left the small room, locking the door behind him with the key he’d used in the other room. He glanced into the chamber once more and froze.

Serenity was sitting up in bed, staring towards the door he had just exited. Through the panes of glass she could most likely only see shadows and leaves from the vines growing around the balcony but he wasn’t sure. Mamoru’s breathing stopped as he willed all his muscles to remain frozen. He watched as she brought her blankets up to her chin, her eyes darting back and forth across the balcony. After several long moments, what seemed like an eternity, she finally seemed to relax. Letting out a yawn, she stretched her arms above her head and then returned her head to her pillow. He could see her staring up at the ceiling, toying with something -a pendant perhaps- on the chain around her neck. He waited still, allowing himself to breath at least, as he waited for her to fall asleep again.

Soon her fingers stopped toying with the pendant and she closed her eyes. He watched her chest rise and fall and waiting a good fifteen minutes before he deemed it safe to make his escape. The slick moss didn’t make his climb any easier than it had his descent. He nearly slipped back down but his foot found some stable footing on the wooden roof.

Once he was safely back in the other room with the door locked, he quickly adjusted his uniform and ran his fingers through his hair, making sure he looked presentable. He exited the room and headed down the stairs as if nothing had happened. He left the key the innkeeper had oh so graciously loaned him with the young boy tending to the fire in the kitchen in exchange for some bread and made his way outside.

His tent had been set out outside of the camp in a small wooded area. He made no fire and ate the bread in the darkness. The tree he was leaning against was hard and moist and the ground was covered in brown, wet leaves. The thick leather cloak he wore did much to protect against the dampness at least. He leaned his head back and looked at the starts peeking through the branches.

Mamoru couldn’t help but smile as he thought of the delicate hands and innocent eyes of the girl he was watching over. She was probably a sweet thing, naïve and vulnerable. She would be well taken care of where she was going and getting her there would probably be easy.

Thoughts of the young princess danced in his mind as he closed his eyes and fell asleep. He dreamt of her searching for him, holding out her arms for help and protection. He hoped she wouldn’t need it and yet subconsciously he pleaded with the gods that she would.

I do not own the rights to Sailor Moon or any of the characters. That honor belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, and I am simply a lowly author who can use her characters for my plots.

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