Hello again, everyone! Here's
the next (hopefully long awaited) part to Generals' Hour.
I introduced the next bunch of main characters in this part and I hope
that no one wants to kill me afterward. :) As usual, none of
these characters are mine, well, except for Maggy the Terrible Tyrant of
the Kitchen, that is... :) All standard disclaimers apply.
Anything else that I feel needs explaining can be found in the Author's
Notes. Hope you enjoy!
BTW, I'd also like to thank everyone who's been providing comments on GH, you've been very helpful. Hopefully, the e-mails will keep rolling in! I'd especially like to thank Sherri-Lee Thornton, without whom this poor story probably never would have found a title. :) Thanks for getting me thinking! And now without further ado, I present...
Generals' Hour: Part 1
The sun gracefully emerged from behind the great body of the Earth - lunar sunrises were always spectacular. This one shone with muted greens and blues from the surface of the Moon's sister celestial body. Sadly enough, only two people on the Silver Palace's grounds noticed this breath-taking sight. They stood just at the edge of the Glacial Forest. The Moon did not have trees, per se, so these carved moonstones were the closest that most Lunars ever got to the real thing. Still, it was a wonder when the Lunar sunrise touched these great stone monoliths, causing them - if but for a moment - to seem alive. The man and woman - one human and the other Lunar - had been waiting nearly three hours to see this particular sunrise. When the sun finally rose into the sky above the Moon, the young man gave a deep sigh.
The woman smiled and then queried, "You liked it?"
Her lover tried to respond, but words failed him. He merely pulled her closer to him as the tears glistened in his eyes.
The Lunar lady settled back into his embrace and closed her eyes. There were too few good moments for them these days. They seemed to grow fewer and fewer as time wore on. It isn't fair, she thought, We love each other! We were meant to be! Why does it have to be so hard to do something so right? Why are there so many forces trying to pull us apart? If there was an answer, it would not be forthcoming. She knew from long meditational arguments with her Planet God that the times ahead would only get harder, and if she and her love managed to stay together at all, it would be a serious accomplishment. That was why this sunrise was so important to them. It marked the passing of the second year that they had spent together, an anniversary so important because it might be their last. She had wanted to give him something special, something to keep with him and treasure through the coming darkness, something that would always remind him of her. After weeks of searching, she had found her gift. This Lunar sunrise, which coated the icy whiteness with the lush green that they both knew from their homeworlds, would stay with her love forever - even if she could not.
After a forever moment - the sort when time seems to hold its breath - he spoke. His voice rough with barely suppressed emotion, he managed, "Thank you. I can't think of anything better to say. I never expected..." he trailed off. After a breath, he pulled back from her and held her at arm's length. "I don't think that I would have survived here, if not for you." She moved to interrupt, but he shook his head, "No. Let me finish. For once," his smile softened the words. "You have been the only warmth for me, amid all this icy cold. Humans don't usually do well outside the greenery we call home. You showed me that there are other ways to see beauty. I would like to give you your gift, now. This gift, well, it has a special significance on my world. I would like you to accept it in that spirit, but if you don't think you can, that's well enough." With those words he pulled a small velvet box out of his uniform pocket and handed it to her. "Open it."
The young woman looked extremely puzzled, wondering what wondrous object could be hidden in such a small package. She opened the lid and was almost disappointed at what she saw inside. A small golden band sat nestled in yet more folds of velvet. A small but perfect diamond sat nestled in an emerald green casing at the top of the band. She pulled out the ring and looked at it quizzically. She looked back at her lover only to find him on one knee at her feet. Her puzzlement deepened as he took her left hand in his and took the ring from her with the other hand. When he spoke it was nearly a whisper. "On my world, when a man loves a woman enough to want to spend his life with only her, he offers her a ring." He held up the one in his hand. "I have wanted to give you this for nearly a year, although I did not know if you could accept it." He looked up at her for the first time since he had knelt on the ground. What he saw made him grin. Her eyes shone as brightly as the sun behind her with sudden understanding. "I think that maybe I needn't have worried," then he gathered up all of his courage for the next sentence, "Lita, will you marry me?"
One part of her mind screamed at her not to give in to this temptation, You have no right! it said. You are a Sailor Scout, sworn to protect the Princess at all costs! You can't afford an entanglement like this! What if you have to fight him someday? Remember your duty! Usually, Lita listened when this voice spoke, and was an excellent Scout as a result. Today, for the first time in her 32 years of life, Lita told the little voice to go to Hell in a handbasket. She turned back to her lover and held out her finger to accept the ring. She said simply, "Yes."
His eyes triggered alarm for a moment, as if he wasn't quite sure what she was saying "Yes" to. "Yes, what?" he whispered.
Lita took his head in her hands and pulled him up so he was face to face with her. She then kissed him fiercely. When they pulled back for air, she said seductively, "Yes, General Nephlyte of Earth, I will marry you!"
He laughed for sheer joy, and then swung her up into his arms and kissed her even more deeply than before. His eyes showed such radiance that she could hardly imagine what he had expected she would say. She couldn't help it, she giggled, "Nephlyte! Put me down, this instant! This isn't exactly the most dignified way to get around, even if you are my betrothed!" Her pretended indignation didn't get her very far this time. He swirled her around and said, "Betrothed. That sounds so wonderful," he smiled, "And who's worried about dignity, anyway?"
A soft harumph from behind them pulled them up short. Nephlyte abruptly put Lita down and they both turned to face the one who had intruded on their moment of joy. Lita had a sharp retort ready on the tip of her tongue, but she let it die in her throat the moment she saw who it was.
General Malachite gave them a slightly apologetic half smile and said, "I certainly hope I'm not interrupting anything?"
Nephlyte went red to the ears at the implication behind that question. "N-no, sir," he stuttered. Malachite raised an eyebrow. "Sir? Since when have I been 'Sir' to you, Nephlyte? For goodness sake, we grew up together! Your mother raised me, for crying out loud!"
Nephlyte seemed a bit taken aback by the sudden anger in his old friend's voice. He took a better look at his friend and superior. He didn't like what he saw. Malachite was terribly pale, even for a human living on the surface of the Moon. In fact, he looked almost sick. Nephlyte glanced down and saw that Malachite's hands were shaking. His eyes went wide with worry,Not now, not now! Please Mother Earth, not now! We were so happy! he pleaded. Out loud he said, "Malachite, is something wrong? You look absolutely terrible."
No longer able to hide his mood, Malachite shuddered a bit before he got himself back under control, "It's nothing," he mumbled, "Nothing."
Lita finally decided to add to the conversation, "Like bloody Hell it's nothing! You're shaking all over, and even for a Lunar that skin tone would be unhealthy! What did you do? Have a vision of Armageddon?"
Nephlyte winced. I have got to try to teach her about the finer points of tact. This is ridiculous. He opened his mouth to apologize, but Malachite shook his head, "She's right. I didn't realize that I actually look as bad as I feel, or I'd have done something about it," his shoulders slumped, "I had a really rough night." He lifted his head and said meekly, "Do you mind if we go sit down somewhere?"
"Not at all," Nephlyte answered. He wrapped an arm around Malachite's shoulders, he looked like he needed the support. Lita wrapped her arm around him from the other side. It was easy to tell that he was still shaking from that proximity. She said, "Easy. It's not that far. There's a little thicket just inside the Forest. We can talk freely there." He nodded and let them guide his steps. Their eyes met over his head and they both realized that the other was scared as well. Malachite was the most stable individual in the Queen's employ. Prince Darien might lead the Army, but Malachite was the glue that held it together. If he cracked, they were all in big trouble.
They reached the thicket and sat down on the picnic blanket that Lita had brought with their breakfast all those hours ago. It seemed like forever, now. She realized that Nephlyte had spoken. Her eyes narrowed when she realized that she had missed what he said. Malachite saw her plight and managed a ghost of a smile, "He'd like to know if I'd like to tell you about it." She nodded, "Do you?"
Malachite stared at the ground for a moment and finally answered, "Not really. But, I can't see as I have a choice. You really should know," he took a deep breath and launched into a summary of the events of the previous night. When he finished, he looked up and saw Lita frowning. He said, "Jupiter. I understand what you're feeling. I didn't want to believe it myself, at first. But I just know that she's been planning something! Serenity is not the pampered little princess that everyone wants us to believe that she is! She's dangerous, damn it!" He calmed down a bit, then started again, "You can see it in her eyes when she looks at you, as if she's calculating what you're worth by what she could get for selling your body parts on the black market. She's been even worse lately. It's as if whatever she's been planning all these years is finally coming to fruition. I'm afraid that she'll try to harm the Queen tonight!"
Lita would have none of that. She couldn't contain the Sailor Scout inside of her, who blurted, "Are you nuts? The Queen is her mother, Malachite! She wouldn't hurt her own mother! I don't care what kind of a monster you think that Serena is! I am a Sailor Scout and sworn to protect her, and in the name of Jupiter, if you harm her in any way I will see you dead!" She had risen to her feet and was shouting by then. She was seething in anger at the slight to her beloved Princess. Malachite and Nephlyte rose to their feet as well. Nephlyte's eyes held only pain and anguish. I don't care! He deserves it! I knew it. They're horrible, all humans are scum if you give them a chance to show it. I should have listened to my conscience. It knew all along. She bolted out of the thicket to try to work off some of her anger. After she ran a ways, she grabbed the ring off of her finger and threw it on the ground. Who needs him, anyway? She didn't even notice the tears streaming down her face, or the grim smile on the face of the woman hiding in the stone tree above her.
The woman gave a low laugh, I thought that might happen. Maybe I should thank General Malachite, later... the timing of that treasonous remark was impeccable. She suddenly spun around when she heard a gasp from the ground below her. Jupiter was gone, but a handsome young man stood beneath the tree. He said, "Serena, what have you done?!?" She said haughtily, "Only what needed to be done to ensure her loyalty." With that she hopped to another tree and disappeared.
The young man picked up the forgotten ring from the ground where it had fallen. His blond hair fell roguishly into his eyes. He recognized the ring that Nephlyte had wanted to give to Lita, and shook his head. Haven't they suffered enough? They didn't need this on top of their other problems. It isn't fair. He looked up and saw Malachite and Nephlyte running up to him. He straightened the uniform jacket that was his right as one of the Generals, and unconsciously stood at almost attention. He was the youngest of the army's Generals, closer in age to Darien and Serena than the two senior officers, Malachite and Nephlyte. He had only earned his commission that very year. He knew of the easy friendship between the older two generals and wished that he could be a part of it, but realized that that probably wasn't possible. The two had been raised as brothers, there would be no room for him in that relationship. The young General settled for keeping a watchful eye on them and helping them when he could. He had thought that he had ensured privacy for Nephlyte and Lita this morning, but Princess Serenity was hard to outguess. He should have been more careful, he berated himself.
Finally, Malachite and Nephlyte reached him. Nephlyte looked surprised to see him, but Malachite took it in stride and said simply, "Jadeite, did you see anything? Where did she go?"
Jadeite shook his head and said, "You won't find her, sirs. She took off like the Devil herself was on her tail," And her name is Serena... "I don't know exactly what happened, but I saw Princess Serenity hiding in this tree, just after Sailor Jupiter ran off. I think that whatever got to Jupiter was her doing."
Malachite nodded, "So that's what this morning was about... She was probably trying to test Jupiter's loyalty," he turned to Nephlyte, "I'm sorry, Nephlyte. I hope she comes back to you."
Nephlyte nodded and held out his hand to Jadeite. "I saw you pick it up, Jadeite. If she's that certain that she doesn't want me, I at least want the ring back as a memory." There was a closed quality to him now. Jadeite moaned inside, He's so sensitive. He bared his soul to her this morning, and she trampled all over him. I hope he can recover from this. He reluctantly handed the diamond ring to Nephlyte.
Malachite's eyes went wide when he recognized the ring for what it was. "She didn't!..."
Nephlyte cut him off, "She did, and that's that. I should have known better. Her duty is more important to her than anything else. I should have known that compared to that I'd come in a poor second. I shouldn't have bothered." He turned to leave and said, "Please don't follow me. I need some time to be alone, right now." Behind that calm was sheer agony, and Malachite knew that, but he also knew that Nephlyte wouldn't thank him for intruding on his private grief. He nodded, but Nephlyte had already left.
He turned to Jadeite, "I never even knew..."
Jadeite responded quietly, still somewhat lost in his own thoughts, "I don't think anyone did. What no one sees, though, is that this thing between them, it isn't just love. It's a Lifebond. That's why they're so miserable, they won't be happy unless they can be together, and thanks to the Princess that may be impossible, now."
Malachite shook his head, "Lifebonded. Great Mother Goddess, no wonder. Do they know?" When Jadeite shook his head Malachite said, "Good. Whatever happens, don't tell them. That would be the straw that broke the camel's back, as it were. I can't believe I didn't see the signs!"
"You had a lot on your mind, sir, I'm sure," Jadeite answered.
Malachite grimaced, "Not that much. Hell, it's too late to do anything about it now. I just hope that I can handle the damage control this time." With that, he turned and headed back to the palace.
Jadeite stood in stunned silence, That's right. Heartbreak or not, he still has to plan the protection for the one who caused it all. Damn it! There's so much hypocrisy in this kingdom it makes me sick, sometimes. For the first time in his career on the Moon, Jadeite wished with all his heart that he could go home, but trouble was brewing there, too. The Prince was to marry Serena in a year, and Goddess help them all when that dread event takes place. There seemed to be no escaping the woman. He shook his head to clear it and then followed Malachite back to the palace.
When the sun finally assumed its place in the morning sky, the palace was in a flurry of activity. Servants bustled about getting food on the table, all the time worrying about that night's ceremony. So much to do - prepare the food, wash the tablecloths, shine the Royal Silver, scrub the Great Banquet Hall and the Ball Room, clean the tapestries... the list went on and on and the servants were frantic. Those in charge were not much better. One young maid was sent to the General's office with food for him - Malachite had a tendency to forget that he needed food when he was working hard. The servants had developed a certain liking and protective feeling for the still young General. He always treated them with respect and honor - more befitting a Lady than a kitchen maid.
The girl knocked on the door to his office and waited patiently. She heard a faint, "Come in," and opened the door. "Sir, I've brought ye some breakfast, sir. Ye didn't call te request anething, and we was worried ye might be gettin' a might 'ungry, sir..."
The General smiled at her as he took the tray, "Maggy always thinks of everything, doesn't she..." He inclined his head in inquiry.
The young girl blushed for a moment, "Sorry, sir, my name's Molly, sir," she stammered. After lowering her eyes for a moment she raised her head and smiled back, "Ye know how Maggy is, sir, thinks 'o' you as 'er own son, she does. She gets te worryin' over ye when ye don' eat. Ye scare 'er somethin' awful when ye do that, sir."
Malachite laughed, "Well, Molly, when you get back downstairs give Maggy my most heartfelt apologies for causing her grief. I'll try to do better in the future."
Molly laughed with him, "Oh I'll do that, sir, I will. She'll be so glad te hear it, she will." A quick glance at the wall clock informed Molly that she'd been gone far too long. She gasped, "Oh no! Look at the time! I've got te be gettin' back downstairs! Maggy'll skin me if I'm not there te help with preparin' the food and all!" She made a dash for the door, but Malachite's hand on her arm stopped her. He said, "I'll come downstairs with you. There's something I need to see to in the kitchen anyway," he gave her a fierce grin, "And I'm not afraid of 'Maggy the Tyrant'! Come fair maid, allow this unworthy, young knight the pleasure of defending her from the wiles and tempers of the Evil Headwoman!"
Molly giggled as Malachite bowed to her. "Of course ye may, sir knight! It'd be a real honor te accept such a generous offer!" She placed her hand on his arm and he led her outside, the tray forgotten on his desk.
As they walked back to the kitchen Malachite thought, At least some of us are happy. Jupiter will never forgive me for this morning and I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for causing a fight between her and Nephlyte. He sighed and looked down at the happy young girl on his arm. She can't be more than 16, but she's so beautiful... Her hair was cropped short - just above her shoulders - but it perfectly framed her heart shaped face. It was a rich mahogony brown that seemed to glow with the vivacity that embued her being. I might find myself liking her if she weren't less than half my age...
Molly looked up at him and couldn't help noticing how sad he looked. Maggy'll cheer 'im up! I hope.
When they reached the kitchen they both heard the sounds of shouting coming from within. They ducked back behind the door and smirked at each other like schoolchildren. Malachite whispered, "Seems to be in a bit of a snit, doesn't she?"
Molly whispered back, "This? This ain't nothin', sir! Ye shoulda seen 'er when they 'eld the ball for the Earth ambassador's first visit. She was a ravin' lunatic, she was!"
Malachite shivered, "I'll bet."
"So, brave knight, ye ain't feelin' so brave now, are ye?" Molly wheedled.
Malachite stood up straight and said, "Never fear, fair lady! I shall brave the *gulp* wrath of the dread Maggy! Stay close, lest she call her minions to bear on us! Charge!"
The sight of Malachite striding boldly into the kitchen as if Queen Beryl herself were there, caused all activity to suddenly cease. But not for long. Spotting Molly behind Malachite's back, Maggy straightened in mock fury, "Where have you been, young lady? Hmmm? I've been waiting forever for you to get back. We're short-handed as it is, and you..."
Molly gulped and looked up at her "knight" for assistance. Malachite raised a finger and tried to interrupt Maggy's rant, "If I may interject a comment - "
Maggy ran right over him, "...needed you to turn the spits, and know we're behind schedule, and..."
Malachite tried again, "Excuse me, Maggy, but - "
This time Maggy turned her full attention on him, "And you! What did you think you were doing? We all know you've been staying at the palace this week and we didn't get one request for a meal from you, not one! What are living on sunlight and air? You're a growing boy! Need good food in your stomach! You can't go about scaring a poor old woman to death because she thinks you're starving yourself..."
Malachite's eyes went wide as his face got a few shades paler. He turned to Molly and mouthed, "What'd I do?"
She mouthed back, "If ye listen, I think she's tryin' te tell ye just that, sir."
Maggy grabbed his chin and dragged his head around so he was forced to look her in the eye, "...and you will pay attention when I'm speaking to you! Everything I say is for a reason, and you don't even listen! And - " She stopped short. "What's - so - funny?" Maggy had suddenly become aware of the fact that everyone in the kitchen was suppressing giggles (or trying to, at least). "Well?" she demanded. Someone pointed at the door.
She turned and saw General Jadeite bent double in an effort to control his mirth. Maggy let go of Malachite with a harshly muttered, "At least I have better control over my subordinates. Hmph!"
Malachite gave her a brief hug and a peck on the cheek, "And that's why you run the Palace and I only have responsibility for the Army."
Maggy gave him a shove and said, "Oh go on with you! Go ahead, shoo! We have work to do!" As he left the kitchen he heard her mutter, "And I'll bet he still hasn't eaten!" before turning back to terrorizing the kitchen staff. The door slammed shut.
Jadeite finally got himself under control and wiped the tears from his eyes. "Do I even want to know?"
Malachite thought for a moment and then said, "No, you most definitely do not," then after a moment, "Do you think Maggy would be interested in working for the Army as an Interrogator?"
Jadeite stared at him in disbelief and then doubled over, again, with laughter. Malachite shrugged, "I guess not..." Neither of them noticed the dark shadow slip past them down the hall. Fortunately, that suited a depressed Sailor Jupiter just fine.