Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ Holding out for Everything ❯ Bearly Protected ( Chapter 5 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Chapter 5
Bearly Protected

With a cup of tea in one hand and a slice of cinnamon covered bread in the other, Serenity sat and chewed slowly. She felt like death itself in the cool morning air. The last two nights she had gotten hardly any sleep at all. The first night had been the night she was attacked. She was forced to move to another, less comfortable, tent since there was blood covering hers. One man was dead, one severely injured and one that refused to open his mouth once he had regained consciousness. No one could find her rescuer so she could thank him and Artemis had been so intensely high strung that Serenity was sure he'd suffer a heart attack before they were half way through their trip.

The second night there was so much noise and hustle and bustle that she once again hardly slept a wink. She had her own tent back again, though the floor coverings were different, and now two guards were posted inside at all times. She must have argued, pouted and threatened for a solid hour before finally giving up. There was no arguing with Artemis over this. They were to stay in the entryway at least, with a thin bolt of fabric separating them so that she could have at least a small measure of privacy.

Another bite went past her lips and she let out a soft sigh. Getting back up on her horse was seeming less and less appealing. Most of the tents were already taken down and packed up on the waggons. It wouldn't be long now before Artemis decreed it time to leave. The small chair she was sitting on was blessedly motionless and she had no desire to get up from it.

“Your Grace, we'll be ready to depart very shortly. Most of the waggons have left already. As soon as your Grace has finished her tea, we really should go.” Serenity slowly brought her stare up to meet the eyes of her silver-haired soldier. He looked almost as tired as she felt but he still stood tall and straight.

“I want a bath,” she said tiredly. “I ache all over and I don't want to ride all day again.”

Artemis gazed at her apologetically. “I'm very sorry this journey has been so hard on your Grace. The sooner we can get to your Grace's new home, however, the sooner I can ensure all the luxuries that befit your highness are provided.” He didn't seem open for any negotiations beyond that.

Serenity sighed and lowered her eyes back to the small sputtering fire. “I'll be ready shortly. Bring me my horse.” She saw Artemis bow from the corner of her eye before he retreated. It seemed as if only moments had passed and she was back up in the saddle swaying from side to side.

The pace was decent and soon Serenity found little need to concentrate on the ride. The trees that they passed looked just like the trees they had gone by the day before. She was in the middle of the pack and had no need to steer her mare. The sun was shining but the lack of sleep made Serenity feel chilly. The rain had stopped in the late afternoon the day before and the sun finally peeped out from the clouds and the whole group seemed in higher spirits since the rain had stopped. Serenity could hear orders shouted every so often but most of the voice she heard were men talking amongst themselves, joking or just discussing light subjects. At least that was all she heard from the men within earshot.

Her mind starter to drift as the animal beneath her swayed gently. She couldn't stop replaying the scene from two nights ago in her head. In her past, she couldn't remember anyone every trying to cause her harm on purpose. She believed the thing that  she would be most terrified of during the night was the thunder and lightning but soon found out there were much more sinister things around her.

They had stunk of horse manure and sweat. They were wet and dirty and the rain was probably giving them their first wash in weeks. She always thought that she could struggle enough to get help but the men were strong. She had felt absolutely immobilized as their hands ran over her body, trying to do lord knows what. They spoke in a tongue she didn't know or at least didn't think she knew, in her panic.

As quickly as they had come onto her, they were off and all she could think to do was scream. Scream, and scream loud and long. The sound of steel, leather and pain were all around her and it wasn't until she felt, what she thought, was her arm being torn from it's socket that she realized help was on the way. The hand that gripped her wrist felt as strong as iron and she would have screamed again had it not been for the comforting crest of the Moon that peaked out from the cloak of her saviour.

That hand, that voice, those eyes... she felt like a solid wall had just come between her and all the danger of the world. Torches were being carried into the room as more guards stormed in and all she could focus on were those blue eyes staring so intently at her.

Absentmindedly she touched her wrist gently. He had melted into the crowd before she could say anything and once Artemis had come in and taken over she couldn't get a word in edgewise. She was in a new tent and bed before she had time to draw breath, it seemed, with Artemis questioning her relentlessly.

Those eyes... she shivered.

“Your Grace, look up there.” Artemis had ridden up next to her without her noticing and was pointing up the mountains to a waterfall off in the distance. It was beautiful, the water sparkling int he morning light, crashing down the face of the cliff. “Those falls mark the middle of the road through the forest. We should reach them by tomorrow evening. Just past them is the only inn between here and the next village, which about three days ride away.”

Serenity gazed at the falling water. Her view was soon blocked as they rounded a bend and trees rose up all around them once more. “I look forward to passing it. I want my bath and that inn sounds like it could have one.”

Artemis chuckled. “I would think so, your Grace.”

A smile graced her face. “That sounds just wonderful.” Her gaze fell back to the road ahead of her as Artemis fell behind her again. It was several hours before they stopped. They had caught up to the waggons and stopped them just long enough to get some rations before sending them ahead once again.

Cold sausage and cheese tasted almost heavenly at that moment. Serenity ate her fill and accepted a wine skin eagerly. Her meal left her sleepy and content and in a far better mood then she had been that morning.

They set out again once all the horses had been given water. Serenity motioned Artemis to ride by her again. There were all of five women riding with the group and most of them were riding with the waggons so they could start preparing meals as soon as they made their stop for the night. Serenity was left without any ladies to talk to, so someone had to fill in the spot.

“The King, my future husband, has visited the Lunar kingdom only a few times from what I can remember. I didn't see much of him. He was a prince back then and kept in the shadow of his father. I know his lineage better than I know him, I think. What can you tell me?” Serenity remembered all the lessons Luna had given her over the years of the noble families of all the kingdoms and shuddered. Those had been so dull and boring at the time.

“He is the second son of the former King, your Grace. He has been on the throne almost two years now, though a council has been aiding in his rule. He is not truly the King yet since he is too young.”

“Yes, I know of his history and lineage as I said. He's turning twenty in the summer which is when he can fully assume the throne. I want to know about him, though, and the court I'm going to.” Serenity stared at Artemis, trying to make her question clear.

“I fear that I do not know him too well either, your Grace. The few times I've encountered him myself, as you said, he was in the shadow of his father. He was quiet and composed. When his father died I wasn't sent with the ambassador to the kingdom of Terra.” Artemis paused as if he was searching for something else to say. “I do not think he is someone that will treat you unkindly, your Grace. From what I have heard, he seems gentle and thoughtful.”

Serenity nodded and sighed. The King would be twenty and she was not yet seventeen. “Terra and Luna have always had good relations,” she murmured. “I shouldn't fear this.” Tears prickled her eyes.

Artemis looked at the young girl helplessly. He was trained in battle and tactics, diplomacy and etiquette... but nowhere had he been imparted knowledge about how to deal with a crying teenage princess. “All will be well, your Grace. I wouldn't worry about what you will find.” He shifted uncomfortably in his saddle as he turned to look at the meadow they were passing.

Serenity looked at it too through blurred eyes. There was more snow on the ground up this way then there had been earlier. They were getting higher up into the mountains and the air was cooler. No flowers could be seen growing yet, although in a few months the area would be covered in them.

A small movement caught Serenity's attention but before she could even focus on it, a blur of motion was darting across the road. Serenity saw long ears and a cotton tail, and then all she could see was blue sky as her horse shied from the rabbit and reared up, screaming.

Serenity clung to her reigns and gave a startled cry as her mare came back down on all four legs. The horses around Serenity all started to whinny and prance around nervously but her mare wasn't taking any chances. Shouts of warning were sounded but Serenity could only cling to her horse's neck as the frightened filly started a mad dash across the meadow. Her hooves tore at the ground, sending dirt and snow flying behind her.

Serenity could vaguely hear shouts and the sound of horses far behind her as the men escorting her scrambled to come to her rescue.  For the second time on their trip she found herself fearing for her life. What were the odds?

The treeline came up fast. The young princess tried to bring herself upright and regain control of the fleeing animal but found herself ducking from branches as they started to dart through the trees.  Branches clawed at her arms and face as the horse jumped over a log and slid down one side of an incline to a stream. She stopped suddenly by the stream at the base of the steep hill. She tried to back up as Serenity finally managed to sit up, only to see a dark form rising form the bubbling water. Serenity was sure that her hammering heart stopped beating for a few breaths.

The bear was massive. His dark fur sparkled with water from the brook as he sniffed the air and stood on his hind legs. Serenity cried out as her filly reared again, neighing in panic as the trees and banks seemed to box them in. The bear roared and moved towards them, wading through the water, and the horse reared again as she tried to find an escape route desperately. This time Serenity's arms failed her as she tried to grip the animals neck and was sent flying into the mud and brush. She hit the ground with a grunt, pain shooting through her entire body as liquid fear raced through her veins.

She saw the bear swipe at the horse as it tried to dart past him, the white animal suddenly covered in red streaks. The horse screamed as it stumbled in the water. The bear rose again to take another swipe and let out an angry roar, and suddenly he was down, laying in the water, a feathered twig sticking out from his forehead.

Serenity sobbed , trying to scramble to her feet. Her clothes and hair were soaked with mud and her face was soaked with tears. Her eyes darted from the bear to her horse then up to the tree line at the opposite end of the embankment.  The arrow that had killed the bear was shot from above with deadly precision. Serenity saw a figure disappear behind a tree, a dark cloak swirling behind it.

“Wait!” she cried out, but there was no more movement save for her limping horse. It was trying to get away from the carcass in the water, the smell of blood and death in the air.

Shouts of her name and the sound of horses came over the bank, and Serenity looked behind her to see a swarm of her men coming down to her rescue. They had been fast and surrounded her almost instantly. One man grabbed her and carried her up the hill as two others went after her injured horse.

Shaking and bleeding, Serenity could only nod as the man carrying her asked her if she was all right. Her eyes remained fixed to the opposite side of the embankment but no more movement caught her eye. Whoever had shot that arrow was gone and so was any chance that she could thank them.

“Princess, are you hurt?!” Serenity turned her head to see Artemis dismounting his horse as the man carrying her let her feet slide down to the ground. He held her around the waist as she staggered, helping her keep her balance.

“I-I'm fine Artemis. I think my horse needs help though...” her words trailed off as Artemis reached her side and checked her over. He grabbed a handkerchief from his pocket and rubbed it against her face. The white piece of cloth turned brown and red as he dabbed a cut on her face. She hissed and closed her eyes.

“Sir, we found her horse. The beast was attacked by a bear it seems.”

Artemis seemed to forget his first aid as he turned to look at the soldier coming up to them. “A bear? Where is it?” He turned his gaze back to Serenity. “Did it attack you?”

Serenity winced and nodded. “We slid down to the stream and he was there already. Is my horse going to be all right?” she asked the soldier who had approached them. Men were buzzing all around them at this point.

“She'll be a  lot better than the bear,” he replied. “Not much we can do to help that poor bugger.” Artemis stared at him incredulously. The soldier cleared his throat. “Beg pardon, your Grace. Should watch my mouth.”

“He was shot, with an arrow,” Serenity said quickly, bringing Artemis' attention back to her.  “I don't know by whom though. The bear attacked my horse and then just fell dead.”

Artemis shook his head. “It couldn't have been one of ours, we were still well behind you.” He paused. “We'll sort this out later. For now we need to get you back to the column. It's not safe out here.” He sounded like he was going to have an nervous break down right then and there as he considered the fact that he had nearly allowed his princess to be harmed again.

Serenity found herself being lifted onto a horse with a guard sitting behind her. His arms went around her small frame protectively as he took the reigns and walked them back across the meadow. She kept looking around, trying to catch a glimpse of whoever had saved her life. Serenity saw her mare being led as well, the poor thing still limping and looking rather pathetic. A few of the men were examining her wounds, muttering about what to do with them.

They arrived back at the group. Most of the men had gone after her and her fleeing horse but the ones that had stayed behind looked very visibly relieved when they saw her. Food and drink was brought to her immediately as was a sack full of ointments and salves. She found her face washed and plastered with a salve and a skin full of wine thrust into her hands. She drank the liquid and let herself be fretted over.

Artemis and the rest of the company came back soon as well. He ordered one man to ride ahead and tell the waggons to stop at the first clearing they could find. They would set up camp early tonight.

Serenity closed her eyes and turned her face towards the warm sun. She rode with the same soldier who had brought her back to the group, leaning against his chest as his horse carried them along. Her own mare was being led at the back at a slower pace. Her wounds had been covered in salve as well, much to her distaste. She would need some early rest too.

The sun was still fairly high in the sky when they caught up to the waggons. The women were already making fires and food when they arrived and took over taking care of the Princess. Serenity kept looking to the trees, half expecting to see a cloaked figure moving around but all she saw was leaves and branches. The camp was humming as tents went up and food was passed around. Serenity felt ready to just collapse into a bed and not wake up for days.

From a good distance up along a hill, Mamoru watched from his perch. His horse was tethered to the tree he had climbed. He could see the Princess being escorted to her tent and he watched as she turned to look over her shoulder, scanning the forest as though she was looking for him. Her hair was in disarray and she looked like she should be plunged into any body of water and scrubbed down from head to toe.

He sighed and rested his head against his arm that was holding onto the branch above him. He had been lucky, they all had, that he was still using the hidden pathways and not the main road. That was the second time he managed to avert tragedy. What would have happened had he not been there, he didn't know. Most likely the horse would have died, which wouldn't have been as big of a loss as the girl, and the guards would have arrived in time to save the Princess.

It had still been too close once again though. If the rest of the trip was boring as hell, he would be a very happy man.

He climbed down from the tree and prepared to get some rest as well. From the way the trek was going so far, he had a nagging feeling he would need it.

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

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