Notes & Disclaimers: While the character names in this story are the possession of Takeuchi Naoko, Kodansha and Toei, the characterizations thereof are my own twisted idea.
This story, oddly, is NOT the product of insomnia, although it seems like it. To be fair, it was written at 3 AM. It is dedicated to Elizabeth Peters, a.k.a. Barbara Mertz, for writing the immensely silly Amelia Peabody novels. (I bet this story is the first Victorian romance/archeology/mystery novel and Sailor Moon crossover ever. We will pray it is the last.)
If you like it (hell, if you even understand it) let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
It was the heat that really struck me first. The heat was overwhelming, stifling, like a blanket that had been placed around my head and drawn tight. I could barely breathe, much less speak.
Awakening in the dark carriage, with nothing but the heat and my “companion” for the ride, was undoubtedly one of the least pleasant experiences of my life. Here I was, a young, and dare I say, beautiful, woman, entering the prime of her life, and I had been sold…yes, SOLD. To pay debts my late, unlamented father had incurred, my mother, (not as tearfully as I might have hoped,) agreed that I should become the wife of a powerful sheik.
So here I was, my only companion a taciturn woman, dry and shriveled with desert life, and nothing but the heat to think of. How could this be happening? Were free women still sold as chattel? I tried to pull back the thick black cloth from the window to see what landscape presented itself, but my hand was roughly slapped away by the woman who sat across from me.
Her voice was harsh, muffled from within her suffocating layers. “You must not look out. You must not be seen.”
I sighed, but I did not ask why. I had already been told too any times. I must never been seen by the men who guarded me, for men were weak and unable to control their animal urges. As a pretty young woman I was too much of a temptation to evil. I felt hot tears in the corner of my eyes, but did not allow myself to be seen as so feeble in front of this old crone. The first moment I was alone, I would have a good cry.
The ride was interminable, lasting several eternities. I could not read or sew by the thin light that came in past the curtained windows, nor would I have been able to concentrate had I been able to do so. So I sat, and let my thoughts wander and wondered about my new home.
I had been told little – just that my husband was a powerful sheik and that he had other wives. How many I did not know, nor whether they would be kind, or horrible, or unspeakably dull. The latter, I supposed.
Time passed, and at last I could sense that we neared our journey’s end. The carriage slowed, stopped, then after a pause, the door was opened. I tried not to show my relief, but I did take a long, deep breath of the cool night air. As I did so, the old hag threw a scarf around my head, covering neck and mouth, effectively stifling me once again.
She gestured abruptly. “Come.” And away she sped, her feet hardly seeming to touch the floor. I had to hurry to catch up with her, so had no time to take in my surroundings – the point of this exercise, I surmised.
We nearly ran down a long passageway, then turned into a smaller one, finally ending up at a large, highly decorated door. Carefully carved wood gave the impression of a forest’s eaves. The carved trees slid back silently and the old woman rudely pushed me forward, pulling the scarf off me as she did so. The doors shut behind me with a clang of finality. The shock was so sudden and the implications so horrific that I did what women have always done in such a situation…indeed it was the only thing I could have done.
I awoke to the sensation of cool water on my face, and in my mouth. Compulsively, reflexively, I swallowed, and my eyes opened upon a sight I cannot fully describe. Eyes of such beauty looked down at me with grave and gentle caring, that to this day I have never seen such a look again. Her eyes were violet, a deep violet such as exist only in a bird’s bright plumage, or a deadly nightshade. Her hair, black and thick, hung loose upon her shoulders, but where the light hit it, it reflected back the same rich hue as her eyes.
“Are you alright?” her voice was sharp, but kind, and I managed to nod after a moment. “Here, have some water, it will refresh you.”
I sat up and looked about me, still numb with the multiple shocks I had encountered. For one brief second the silence filled me, then a tremendous din erupted, the like of which I had never before heard. Nearly a dozen voices exploded all at once, asking questions, giving answers, talking to myself and each other in the most pressing, the most probing of tones.
I began to panic, and looked about me for some solitude, some refuge, but all I could see were expanses of floor covered by cushions, divans and in one corner, a small pool, as might be used for bathing. Once again I felt the tears well, but this time I was not at all sure I could control them.
“Will you shut up?!!” The angel of mercy that had given me comfort, lifted her voice in a shrill command that quieted the others instantly. One, a woman with luxuriant blonde hair tied back with a red bow, made a face behind my savior’s back, then winked at me. I managed a small, if wan, smile for her.
Turning back to me, my defender spoke, her voice now gentle once again. “I am Rei, the Sheik’s chief wife.” She turned and gestured broadly. “I won’t bother introducing everyone just yet. You won’t remember their names anyway. You just sit and drink and when you are ready, come join us. Gracefully she stood, and joined the ranks of staring faces, shooing them to the other side of the room.
I did as she suggested, using this time to regain my shattered composure, and to drink deeply of the cool, clean water. I wet my handkerchief with a few drops and wiped down my face and hands, more for inner tranquility than that they were in need of washing.
When I felt quite myself again, I stood and slowly turned about the room, gathering what information I could from my surroundings. Rei sat next to the blonde woman, and they appeared to be engaging in a friendly discussion. At least the argument appeared friendly on the blonde’s side. Rei had a decidedly sour look on her face. Four more women sat in a cluster, playing a fiercely fought card game. One of these women was dividing her time between a book, placed on cushion to her left and the cards. To the disgust of her fellow players she kept winning, despite her partial attention to the game. Two young men sat next to each other, one dark-haired, one blond, and the blond seemed to be teasing the dark-haired lad. It looked to be a tired tease, and the dark-haired boy was trying to take it in stride. Separated slightly from them, a green-haired woman sat on a cushion, ostensibly primping herself in a hand mirror, but the looks she cast at the two boys were obvious, even to me.
Perplexed, I sought out Rei, trying to gain some perspective on the conversations I could hear.
“Ha, you think I can’t beat that? Well, I can. I’ll see your twenty and raise you another twenty!”
“You know you want to but you can’t…isn’t that rich?”
“Do you think I’ll get to wear the short skirt again?”
“You wouldn’t know a winning hand if it bit you on the…OW!”
“Heheheh, c’mon, isn’t it funny? You know you want me…”
“Sigh….I said “SIGH.”"
“Will you stop reading? Pay attention to the damn game!”
I shook my head and the motion drew Rei’s attention. She stood and walked over to me, taking my hand with a reassuring air.
“Are you feeling better now?” I nodded and she led me over to the blonde woman, who reached up to shake my hand, then drew me down, a little presumptuously, to sit with her.
“I’m Minako, welcome! Aren’t you excited? This is your first night! The sheik is soooo cool. Just…well, you know.”
I had no idea and said as much. Rei cleared her throat delicately and gave Minako (such a *strange* name!) a warning look, but the blonde was off and running. Something about schoolgirls and short skirts and super heroines…I could make neither heads nor tails of what she said, but I nodded politely. Rei rather abruptly interrupted Minako to introduce the other wives.
“To our right you will find Makoto, Ami, Setsuna and Hotaru, in clockwise order.”
“Makoto has the ponytail.” Minako interrupted helpfully. Rei shot her another look.
I looked at them, letting the strands of conversation drift over to me.
“Seriously, Ami, if you don’t want to play, I wouldn’t care, but…”
“Um…I’ll see your twenty…”
“Auggggghhhhh!” The ponytailed woman slammed her cards down, then threw her arms into the air in frustration. Three sets of eyes watched her with amusement. “Ami” appeared to be an intelligent and lively young woman with deep blue eyes and hair almost the same hue. I wondered at that, but then glanced at Rei’s hair and its odd highlights. Ami smiled brightly up at Makoto and put her hand on the ponytailed girl’s arm.
“One more hand.”
“Fine. But at least pay attention this time!”
The woman who dealt, Setsuna I supposed, smiled with a self-possession that clearly spoke of her age. Her eyes were sad and a bit lonely, and I had to stop myself from staring at them, for they were the strangest shade I had ever seen. If I had not known better, I would have sworn they were red! And her hair, a deep shade of black reflected the light so oddly, one could have thought that it was the deepest green. I shook my head a bit to clear my eyesight, but the impression would not budge.
“Four? Oh come on! You can’t expect me to believe that you need four cards…really, Ami. I swear you do this to me on purpose!”
“C’mon, laugh with me…it’s funny. You can’t have me or any of us! How funny is that?”
At sight of the last of the four my heart stopped. “Why, she’s only a child!” I turned to Rei, who had turned back to resume her conversation with Minako. They both looked at me strangely.
“She’s nearly 14. That’s quite old enough to be married. And in truth, the Sheik took her in for protection. How would it seem if the Sheik took her mothers in marriage and separated them from her?” Minako spoke gaily, but my mind seemed to mishear what she had said.
“Well, yes.” Minako responded, confused once again. She pointed at the older, dark-green haired woman, Setsuna, (another strange name!) then over to the three in the corner.
“Surely you don’t mean that one of the men there is her father?” I asked, straining my neck to seem them more clearly.
“Certainly not!” Minako cried, then burst into laughter. Turning she called over her shoulder, in between gales of fresh giggles. “Haruka! Our new blood thinks that either you or Mamoru are Hotaru’s father!” The blond boy turned towards Minako, then all of a sudden every woman in the room was laughing. Even Hotaru, the child. I failed to see what pleasure they could get from my faux pas, as the assumption had been a natural one.
Rei apologized quickly for their mirth, and patted my hand comfortingly as things once again settled down. Conversations resumed.
“I’ll raise you ten.”
“Ten? Hah? You must be bluffing! I’ll see your ten.”
“Wasn’t that rich? You as Hotaru’s father? Hahahah. How funny. It must drive you crazy, all day long with us here…”
“Let me finish introducing you.” Rei said. She turned slightly to include the three in the corner. “Setsuna is one of Hotaru’s mothers. Michiru, mooning over Haruka there in the corner…” the green-haired girl smiled radiantly at me, then turned back to the mirror, shooting an angry glance at the direction of the two men. “…is the second, and Haruka, the blonde sitting by the door, is her third mother.”
“What?!” I surely must have misheard this time. “That boy? How can he be…?”
Haruka turned and stared at me, grinning. Nudging the dark-haired boy once more (who stoically ignored him as he had been from the beginning) Haruka grabbed his own shirt from behind and pulled it taught across his chest. With great embarrassment, I could clearly see the outlines of very…feminine…features. I blushed and turned away delicately. The murmur of conversation filled my ears, along with the rush of blood, as my head pulsed with confusion.
“What can I say? Unlucky in cards…”
“Too funny. Really, and here we all are and there you are, and you can’t touch us.”
“Haruka…I’m tired of sitting here sighing. Will you kindly shut up and leave Mamoru alone?”
“Oh, please Rei, can you ask the Shiek to make me wear the short skirt again? I look so *good* in it!”
“Minako, you are so weird.”
I shook my head again, this was all too much for me. None of it made any sense. None at all.
“Rei, please forgive my indelicacy,” I began, “but please explain to me, then, if Haruka is not a man, why she and the others are all Hotaru’s mothers?”
“I’m still in.”
“You would be.”
Rei paused in her discussion with Minako. “It’s a very long story. Really, some other time, okay?” She looked at me and apparently took pity at what she saw. “Alright, let me just clarify that none of them are blood relatives. Haruka and Michiru are lovers and they…” she stopped and stared at me. “Are you alright?”
“Hahahah. And there you are, not being able to touch any of us. I know you want to.”
“I’m fine.” I lied through clenched jaws. Could this place be any more horrific? “I am sorry for troubling you, truly. I only have one question more then I believe I will lie down for a while. It was a difficult journey.” Rei nodded as I sipped from the water cup she handed me. “Who then, is the other young man sitting with Haruka?” I looked at her through narrowed eyes. “I suppose he *is* a man?”
“Haruka…shut up right now and come over here.”
“I’ll see your ten and raise you…”
“Who, Mamoru?” Minako laughed. “He’s male alright, but no man.”
My patience snapped. “What…do…you…mean?” I grated.
Rei looked me oddly once again and I was forced to breathe deeply and calm myself.
“He’s a eunuch of course.”
“Let’s see ‘em, you. I’ve got three of a kind, Queens high! Hah! Beat that!”
“AAAAAAUUUUGGGGHHHHH!” With a bellow like a bull, Makoto leapt up and stormed off to the corner. I could see as she stood that she was uncommonly tall and looked immensely strong.
I sighed. This was hell, surely.
I closed my eyes against the noise. The card game continued, the young eunuch was tormented by Haruka, and Michiru’s voice, though not yet strident, was beginning to sound seriously upset. And to think I had been worried that the other wives would be too dull! The enormity of it was enough to drain the energy from my limbs and the will from my mind. I slumped on my cushion.
From outside, I could hear a rhythmic noise. It became gradually louder, then, with a rush, it passed by like a small train. The noise in the room ceased for a second, then Minako squealed delightedly.
“The Sheik has returned!” All the women cried out with joy, but I sat quivering with trepidation and fear. The women approached me with great happiness and enthusiasm, and lifeless as a doll, I allowed them the bathe and dress me. I did not resist their efforts, seeing only a prolonged unhappiness in that direction. Once I was washed and dressed, the other women stood me up by the door, supporting me where necessary. I remained powerless and limp, as footsteps approached the doorway.
Mamoru pulled at the doors, just as the footsteps stopped. Noiselessly they slid open and I was confronted by a figure wrapped in layers of soft flowing cloth. Blue eyes, brilliant and vibrant, were all I could see between the wrapping that covered mouth, nose and forehead. Stout boots framed solid legs, but above that and beneath the eyes, all else was lost to me.
The voice was clarion-like from beneath the cloth. It said but one word, and in that word I sensed my fate. “Come.”
Compelled to move by that single word, I gathered my body underneath me and I stepped behind the striding form. What would he be like, this Sheik that aroused such loyalty in his other wives? I prayed that he would be tired from a long journey, and only wished to be tended, not…my mind wheeled away from such thoughts.
Entering into a wide apartment, the Sheik pointed at a tray of fruit and water. “Eat.” he commanded. So I sat, and surreptitiously watched him from beneath lowered lids, as he disrobed. I nibbled nervously at some figs, noting that he was slightly built, and not tall. Once the boots were doffed, his height was no more than my own. His hips were slim and his shoulders no wider. I was surprised to see such a youthful form. From behind he looked to be no older than Rei or Minako. Could that be true? This man was one of the most powerful men in the world it was said.
At last my…yes, I had to say it finally…my husband, turned around to face me. His face was delicate, almost elfin and his eyes blazed with a humor that was nearly infectious. I sat, riveted, a fig in my hand, as he reached for the turban upon his head. I watched in fascination as the headdress was removed and out tumbled, in streamers of golden silk, two long, gleaming ponytails!
I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances.
“Naru! Naru-chan! Wake up! You’ll be late for school!”
Naru sat up, her eyes bleary with sleep that had been restless and full of surreal dreams. She rubbed her eyes and sat hunched over, her arms on her knees.
“Now that had to be the strangest dream I’ve ever had!” Naru shook her head, as she turned to gaze at a small book lying face down on her nightstand What was it called? She couldn’t even remember. “I swear, no more romance stories, anchovy pizza and strawberry shortcake right before bed!” She placed her hand over her heart, then smiling at her own joke, got up and got ready for school.