I began the Courtly Tales of Crystal Tokyo series a little more than a decade ago with Kuroko, Senshi of the Kitchen and Sailor Jupiter and the Green Knight. That second story is still one of my favorites. ^_^ It seemed so obvious to me that each of the Senshi, archetypes as they are, fit neatly with an Arthurian knight. In 2006, I was contacted by a Ph.D. candidate from Australia, who asked me which Senshi fit which Arthurian characters. At the time, all but two stories were written, so she asked me who Mercury and Venus were. Without a moment’s hesitation, I replied back. “Bedwyr and Lancelot.”
And so they are. And here, at last, is the final entry. It is a story that means a great deal to me, as it incorporates a key element from the original anime, and also serves as a kick in the balls to T.H. White. I hope you enjoy it.
The Morning Star Burns Brightly, the Final Courtly Tale of Crystal Tokyo
I come outside to sit in the sun and drink to my own health and what do I find? A gaggle of you, waiting to be told another story. Honestly! Will you be satisfied after I tell one more? Will you return to your own lessons and chores and leave me to mine? Well, then, I will tell you one last story of the greatest of the great hearts of our beloved Crystal Tokyo….
It was late summer. Fruits lay heavy on vine and tree. Our magnificent Queen declared that the day would be a holiday for all, that games and contests would be celebrated in the green grass that surrounds Crystal Tokyo. The entire city was festooned with streamers and banners, so that the flickering and flashing of them in the sun were blinding. Dressed in their finest, men, women and children poured out of the gates to the great park that surrounds our beautiful city. And for miles around, one could hear the music and laughter and smell the scents of all manner of food. It was a delightful day – and a memorable one. I shall grow old and feeble of mind, and still, I shall never forget that day.
Of course the Queen herself was surrounded by her pride and joy, her Senshi. All of them were arrayed in their colors. Even from a distance it was possible to identified fiery Mars and gentle Jupiter, accompanied upon that day by her companion Lii Ran. Wise Mercury who had seen the Fisher Queen’s Castle sat at the right hand of the Queen. Uranus was visible overseeing contests of speed and strength, while Neptune gravely judged works by city artisans. Mysterious Pluto could be seen watching over the young Princess and her bosom friend Saturn. But where, people wondered, was shining Venus? Venus, who among all the Senshi, was ever first to attend party or celebration, and who was ever first with a cheerful word or a bright smile. No one could see her anywhere. As her absence was notable, her absence was noted.
It wasn’t long before the rumors for lack of fair Venus’ presence made their way to the Queen herself. She rather enjoyed hearing that she and her dear friend had quarreled, or that Venus was busy shaping a surprise for her, but when the rumors started to take on darker tones, tales of conspiracy and betrayal, the Queen decided that she had had enough.
She stood and commanded that all should heed her words.
“Thank you all, citizens of Crystal Tokyo for sharing today with me!” There was a murmur of approval at this, for who did not enjoy those things that made their dear Queen happiest?
“I hear that some of you are concerned at the absence of one of our Senshi. Venus has been away on a journey, but I trust that when she returns, she will give a reasonable account for why she is missing my party!” The last few words had become rather more petulant than the Queen intended, maybe, and a few who stood close to the royal dais later swore that they saw her, quite probably, stomp her foot.
As if it had been prophecy, just then, there was a ruckus at the very back of the crowd. A noise, unlike any that had been heard for many a year, a person crying out; in distress, or haste, one couldn’t be sure. But a voice crying out, that was certain. And then amazement flooded the faces of the guests, because the voice belonged to none other than the subject at hand herself – the shining Morning Star of Crystal Tokyo, golden Sailor Venus.
“I’m sorry I’m late!” where the words that the wind carried towards the Queen. I have it on good account that those on the dais wore the most amazing countenance, as if they were, against great odds, trying not to laugh. But of course that could not possibly be true of our noble and always gracious court.
Venus flew through the crowd, waving what appeared to be a handkerchief, calling out apologies as she ran. The crowd fell into a subdued silence….one might also have thought that they were trying to keep their laughter in check.
At last, Venus made it to the dais, where she took a few deep breaths and bowed most humbly to her monarch. Then, amazingly, she turned to the crowd and did the same. It was too much for the spectators and many of them fell into hearty laughter at the apologetic face of one of the most powerful people in existence, bowing deeply as she asked forgiveness.
Turning to her Queen once again (possibly to ignore the crowd, which was now laughing uncontrollably, despite itself,) Venus became quite serious.
“Is it still my Queen’s law that no morsel shall pass her lips until she has heard a great adventure or seen something amazing on feast days such as this?”
Queen Serenity cocked her head at her dear Senshi. “It is. Do you have such a tale for Us?”
“I do!” Venus said with such enthusiasm that the crowd once again felt they were very close to laughter. “Be seated and I will regale you with an amazing tale. Seriously amazing,” she assured both crown and crowd. “Really…it was amazing.”
When court and crowd were seated, the Senshi stood in front of all and began recounting….
“You may remember not too long ago when the Court was taking a ride through Crystal Tokyo? I volunteered to stay behind to keep a presence in the castle itself, although I dearly love to talk with the people of this city. But all my sister Senshi had taken their turn at remaining behind, and so I thought it just that I also take my turn.
“And so, I was alone (and a little bored, if truth be told) in the castle when the messenger came. He was a rough man, beaten and tired. He asked me if I represented the court of Crystal Tokyo. When I said I did, he handed me a letter in the most boorish manner then took himself off. I set the letter aside, with a reminder to tell Your Majesty about it when you returned.” Venus took a deep breath as this had all come out in a single rushed breath. There was a pause as she considered her next words. “But…”
“But , you forgot” said the Queen with the smallest of smiles.
Venus ignored her. “When I found the letter again, some time had passed and as I read, I realized the situation contained therein had become even more urgent….”
There as a short pause, at which Mercury spoke up. “The situation?”
“Yes, the situation.” The Senshi’s voice was dire, but the crowd was so high strung at this point that even dire news was to be met with more laughter. “You see, the letter was from a young woman, who was trapped in her own castle!”
The crowd was now enrapt, as were the Queen and her court. What fairer start to an amazing tale could there be? A fair maiden trapped in her home? There was rustling as everyone settled down for an adventure.
“The letter was from a maiden, Elaine she called herself, of the Vale of the Mist. I had never heard of the Vale of the Mist, but that’s totally beside the point. Lady Elaine wrote that she was besieged in her own home by a brutish cur who would not…” here she paused for a deep breath, “…take no for an answer.”
There was dead silence at this, at which Venus scowled and continued her tale.
“Well, as the Goddess of Love, I couldn’t possibly let this slide. So, as soon as I could I left Crystal Tokyo and headed to wherever it was that Elaine was. To rescue her, of course,” she turned and addressed the Queen, who nodded solemnly enough, but whose eyes were most assuredly laughing.
“The journey was hard and long and there were so many obstacles! For instance, did you know that…” Venus stopped herself, thought about it and changed her mind. A few coughs were heard as the crowd used their last measure of control to not react.
“Anyway, it was a long, hard journey and eventually I reached the castle in the northwest, called Raven Hill. It was a gloomy place, kind of overgrown and the trees had things hanging from them, you know….” Venus lifted her hands to shoulder level and wiggled her fingers as they hung downwards.
“So, into this grim wasteland I came, and not one person was around to greet me – I really could have used some tea and a snack, but no, there was only the dark castle on the hill and me…and this encampment thing. Mercury, what do you call it when there’s like a tent and a fire and weapons and like a little wall around it all?” Venus turned to the blue-haired woman.
“A biouvac?” The Senshi of Wisdom offered, trying not to look anyone in the eyes.
“That’s it – it was a biouvac. So I walked right up and said, ‘Are you the guy bothering Elaine?’ and the knight inside – did I mention there was a knight? There was this guy sitting inside the tent, and it was he whom I addressed,” she took a breath and gave a sharp look at the persons sitting closest to where she stood, who were starting to shake a little.
“He stood up – I was really surprised to see that he was the guy who delivered the letter in the first place. I took a good long look at him this time. He was kind of hairy,” she gestured at her chin, “and needed a bath, and he had these dark eyes. I think if you cleaned him up he’d look okay though.
“So I pointed my finger right at his nose and said, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself!’ You know what he did? He smiled! Well that put me in a pretty bad mood, so when he said, “Great Senshi of the Court of Crystal Tokyo, you are far more beautiful than I had heard.” Her voice dropped to indicate a man’s voice. “I probably cannot defeat you, but I have no choice but to fight you, for no one will enter Raven Hill but me.” Venus lowered voice and brow to speak the strange knight’s part, and people around her shook quietly in fear…or so we may believe.
Venus pulled herself to her full height and declaimed, “So I bested the Bear Man in fair combat and proceeded to the castle.” The crowd gasped at the suddenness of the knight’s defeat and the lack of detail with which it was presented. Later, informants nearest to the Court were heard to say that if she didn’t regale the crowd in excruciating detail, it “must have been pretty ugly.”
“The castle wasn’t empty, but the people seemed to take no notice of me as I walked around. I approached one old woman to ask where the fair Elaine was, she looked at me kind of funny and pointed down a hall.
“Slowly…stealthily,” Venus hunched herself over to mimic her stealthing skills, “I walked down the hall until I heard the sound of running water. I followed the sound and found myself in a bathroom. While I would have loved a nice soothing bath right about then, I surely could not have considered bathing in this tub, for the thing was surrounded by flames!” With this, she flung her hand to the sky. At the crowd’s lack of response, she turned to them and shouted, “Flames!” throwing her hands up again. They caught the cue this time and gasped with an admirable show of shock.
“And, more horrifying, in the bath itself sat a girl about my age.”
No one in the crowd or on the dais had the heart to point out that her age was rapidly approaching her thousandth birthday.
“I asked the girl, ‘Are you Elaine?’ and when she said she was, I introduced myself. Posing heroically, I declared, ‘Fear not fair maiden, I am the Goddess of Love, Senshi of the Court of Crystal Tokyo, Venus! I will rescue you!'”
This time the crowd caught the cue right away and burst out in applause and cheers. Venus favored them with a gratified smile.
“I took a step forward, but the girl stood suddenly, put both hands out to her sides, and shouted ‘STOOOOPPPP!’
“So, I stopped.
“‘Senshi of Crystal Tokyo you may be,” the girl declared, but these flames cannot be borne by man or woman, by hero or heroine. They are flames created by a grudge and their curse is unbreakable by all but a soul whose heart is pure.”
At this, the crowd gasped with genuine surprise. But the only reaction to be seen on the Queen’s face was the slightest twitch of an eyebrow.
“Well, that didn’t faze me, no sirree!” Venus declared to the crowd and court. “Because as you all know, my strength is that of ten, because my heart is pure!”
The crowd was heard to murmur “pure, pure, yes very pure” at this. The look on the Queen’s face was, I am told, indescribable.
“So I took a deep breath and stepped into the flames.”
“NO, YOU DIDN’T!!!!”
“There I was,” Venus spoke dramatically, her voice raised ever so slightly. “Flames everywhere, of course they didn’t bother me.”
“YES, THEY DID!!”
“Flames licking at my hair, and skin, I waded in bravely to save the fair maiden…”
“I GOT OUT ON MY OWN!”
By now, the crowd was turned completely around, and the Queen and her court were all on their feet at the spectacle of a young woman running toward the dais, shouting, waving her arms.
“I waded in *bravely*…”
“You stood there, complaining, until I got out in order to shut you up!”
“Bravely…” Venus tried one last time, barely getting the word out before she was tackled by a fair brown-haired young woman of Venus’ apparent age.
There was a brief scuffle in which some hair might have been pulled and the sound of slapping was heard if tales be true, but after the briefest of moments, the Queen’s voice was raised.
“Stop that. This instant.”
Immediately, combatants withdrew and, leaning over and panting in an unseemly fashion, the newcomer turned her gasping for air into a deep bow. “My name is Elaine, of the Vale of Mist. I have a tale I must tell!”
Venus opened her mouth, but the Queen held up a hand and she subsided.
“Fair Elaine,” the Queen spoke without irony, for Elaine was indeed fair, if currently flushed and with a few grass blades in her hair. “Tell your tale, so that We may eat before dark today.” Our noble Queen, pointed at Venus then at the dais. “You, here.” Venus opened then shut her mouth, brushed grass off herself and sulked up to the dais where she took her position next to Jupiter, who put a hand gently, but firmly on her shoulder.
Elaine cleared her throat and began. “My life has been cursed by a grudge, a grudge formed before I was ever born. My father was called away to war, and while he was gone, I was born. It was ever that as leader of men, my father excelled, but that his skills at math were exceptionally poor. He never believed I was truly his.”
Lips tightened, angry murmurs were heard.
“And, so, as I grew to womanhood, my father cursed me, that I would remain surrounded by fire, unreachable, unless my rescuer’s heart was pure, believing untruthfully that my mother had been unpure.” A sob escaped her.
“Even so, I had a suitor. He is a noble man and I would be married to him, but our, um…hearts are, not, um…all that pure, so…” Elaine cleared her throat and hurried on.
“Word came to us of the Morning Star of Crystal Tokyo, the Goddess of Love herself and we thought, surely she can grant us our love! So my lover went to invite her.” Elaine wouldn’t meet Venus’s angry gaze as she continued. “We may have exaggerated some in the letter.”
“And so it was that Venus herself came to my help, or so we thought, but the first thing she did was beat my dearest up. I watched from the window, but could do nothing. I waited for the Senshi, not even daring to hope that I could at last be rescued.
“I watched tirelessly, waiting for the glowing light of hope that I had been told was Venus. Instead, this…woman showed up at the gate of my house and beat up my boyfriend! When she stood just inside my room and insisted that her skin would blister if she came too close, I lunged at her.”
Venus brushed at her uniform lightly, as if some unseen ash needed to be removed. “But you have to admit, that did get you out.”
Elaine gaped openly, “I…you…”
Venus smiled brightly at the other woman, “It was my plan from the very beginning.”
“Yes! I knew you could free yourself if only you had a pure motive. So I gave you one!”
Closing her eyes, Elaine shook her head slightly. “You gave me…a pure motive.”
“Sure!” Venus lifted her hand towards the girl, “You really, really wanted to get out, didn’t you?” She looked around in triumph at the crowd, the dais and, last her Queen, whose smile one might have described as “rigorous,” if one meant in the vein of “rigor mortis.”
The crowd was silent, waiting for the Queen’s response. Tension hung heavily over the crowd, as Queen Serenity passed a hand over face. She took a deep breath. “Well, that certainly was a…story,” She managed. “Let’s just eat.”
And the crowd roared with approval.