|The Price Of Freedom Part 2
"Oh, that's lovely." Tawaline's golden face smiled in the mirror as she wove a scarf the colour of new beech leaves into Jemmiah's dressed and braided hair. "I couldn't bear to see you in those sacks a moment longer. You looked like a pretty fairy whose wings had been clipped."
There were times when Jemmiah feared for Tawi's sanity. Quite apart from the nauseating sweetness of her metaphors, how could she look at the scrawny undergrown child before her and see anything to praise?
Tawaline was like a simpering lion, with her sandy-blonde hair plaited and shaped into a complex flower, her amber eyes dancing with enjoyment - I feel like a dress up doll, and the russet dress so stiff with embroidery she could hardly move. Yet still there was something strong about her. At times she would pause and Jemmy would see in her the same poised alertness she saw rare glimpses of in Ben. Then it would be gone, and the girl would be chattering again - as full of fashion and fads as Ambianca or Junine, but with none of their meanness.
"Get up then and feel how it swirls."
I feel like a rancor in dewback's clothing, thought Jemmy, but still... The dress was a dream. A narrow bodice of deep emerald, stitched with climbing flowers and a long, loose skirt, many layered. Each layer was slightly translucent, so the differing shades of green melded and swept away as she moved, the play of light forest-like. As she turned the layers lifted slightly - not enough to expose an ankle, but enough to give the illusion of floating.
"It's a beautiful dress." Jemmy carefully avoided the mirror, not wanting to see how badly she let the frock down.
"And you're beautiful in it. Look." Tawaline swung the door back so that Jemmy was caught off guard by her reflection in the long looking-glass on its back.
That girl looked like a woodland sprite; fine drawn, delicate. The pointed face was not pinched, but exotic, the strange eyes and fiery hair not grotesque but ethereal.
That girl was...not too bad looking.
That's not me. Is it? Jemmy approached the figure gingerly. The pretty girl mirrored her, and when she reached out to touch the glass their fingertips met. Her reflection looked out at her with an expression of puzzlement. It didn't fit her understanding of the universe that she could be pretty.
"Doesn't he ever give you anything nice to wear - that Jedi?" Tawaline appeared over her shoulder, looking amused.
"Does Master Jinn look to you like the kind of man who likes to shop for women's clothes?"
They giggled at the mental picture invoked. "But don't you have a maid?" Tawaline asked, strolling back to her dressing table and picking up an ornate perfume flask. "Or a nurse?"
Like a proper fairytale princess her room was high in a tower. Summer air breathed through the open window and billowed Jemmy's skirts. "No way," she said, "Jedi don't have servants...unless you count Ben, and he's Quiggy's."
Tawi lifted the perfume to her throat, dabbed. The room suddenly smelled of Alderaani roses, but Tawaline's face had grown stern. "On our world your Master Jinn would be a king, if he chose."
The idea of Quiggy as the king of a second rate little world somewhere in the Outer Rim seemed like a bit of a come-down to Jemmy. She wondered if it would be tactful to say so, but instinct held her silent as Tawaline went on, slowly;
"I don't understand why he chooses to live in poverty, like a slave. Can he really be sensible? My father, and Angien's father, will agree to whatever terms he lays out for our marriage. They could hardly not - he has an intimidating presence. But will they be sensible terms? Will the settlement be something Angien and I can live up to afterwards?"
So here was the opportunity she had been waiting for. "What's Angien like?"
"Oh!" The older girl blushed and bent her head over Jemmy's arm as she lifted it and pressed a little perfume onto the wrist, "I like him. He's seventeen - only a year older than me, but already quite a warrior. And he's kind. We've been sending letters and holos since the match was proposed. He's much better than that awful Morgien I used to be betrothed to."
"You're sixteen and you've already broken off one engagement?"
"Morgien and I were betrothed when I was twelve. But his family have no honour. Blackhearted traitors! They turned on our noble lord Renfis and..." She must have seen Jemmy's confusion because she stopped, with a little laugh. "Well, it's all ancient history. Put it this way, we found out in time what scum they were, and my father broke the engagement. So now I'm going to marry Angien."
Jemmiah wasn't sure what she should be looking for - there didn't appear to be an awful lot of the swooning and sighing that in Evla's trashy romance-novels she'd learned to associate with marriage. But on the other hand Tawaline didn't seem reluctant either. "Do you love him?" she asked at last, and got a very superior look in return.
"It's not about love, Jemmiah. I'm...my people call it a 'peace-weaver'. By our marriage our two feuding families are going to be united, and Angien and I will be an example to them of how we can learn to appreciate each other and live together in peace. I'm going to stop the killings and I'm going to bequeath to my children rule over a domain which is twice the size of the one my father rules."
It was all about power? "It sounds very cold somehow," Jemmiah said, shivering in the breeze, "Very sad."
"No," Tawaline smiled, "Marriage for love is self-indulgent. I'm marrying for the greater good. And I'm proud and happy that it should be so. You ought to understand that, daughter of Qui-Gon Jinn."
Well that seemed final. Jemmiah wasn't sure what to say - they'd slipped into some of this 'archaic culture' stuff that Quiggy had mentioned, and she didn't know what to make of it, except that Tawaline seemed completely and unshakably sure. Mission complete, then. I guess. Or at least, it would be when she could report back.
"Do you think he's finished yet?" She didn't want to admit it, even to herself, but she would have felt a lot safer if Qui-Gon wasn't on the other side of the castle, shut up in a room full of warlords. In the Temple there was always the reassuring presence of thousands of other Jedi. But here she was alone among strangers, and there was no way for her to know which, if any of them, had been bribed or coerced into Merdan's service.
"Barely even started I should think." Tawaline looked out into the corridor. "We'll see them again at lunchtime. What about a walk in the gardens in the meantime?"
"Um..." The thought of going outside was not attractive. Oh, Evla would tell her she was being paranoid, but neither Evla nor Qui-Gon truly understood the depths of Merdan's evil. It didn't matter that Jemmiah was unimportant, she had still lived when Merdan wanted her to die. He was not the kind of man to forget a thing like that. "Can I try on some more dresses?"
"What's the matter, Jemmy?"
"It's nothing. It's just..." Tawaline was so much like her; a captive in her own way. Maybe she would understand without contempt. "I'm being hunted. There's a man who wants to kill me. I'm not sure I'll be safe outside."
Tawaline checked the corridor again, with an instinctive wariness almost Jedi-like, and smiled a big sister's smile. "I know what it's like to live under threat, Jemmiah - my father has many enemies. But our own grounds are secure, if anywhere is. Come on."
As they rustled down the spiral staircase, Tawaline stopped outside an oak door, studded with nails. "Ara! Are you coming out for a walk?"
"Yes!" Araniyah, little sister of the household came hopping out, tying on one shoe, the other stuffed beneath her arm. "Oh, gosh, Jemmy, you look lovely. Can we go to the bridge please Tawi? Please?
The knife trembled in the tabletop, flashing dark and light. "Lord Kiffan, calm yourself." Qui-Gon rose, closed his hand over the warlord's wrist and looked at him. If Kiffan's fury overcame him, better that he fought with the Jedi rather than with Tawaline's father.
For a moment it seemed as though that would indeed happen. Kiffan's expression tightened and he pushed forward, testing Qui-Gon's grip and resolve. His green eyes blazed suspiciously as he searched Qui-Gon's face for any hint of challenge or insult; anything he could lash out against. He found only calm.
"It's well known Kaemon's brother murdered my cousin by treachery. Everyone knows it."
"But I'm a stranger," said Qui-Gon politely, "I don't know the full story. Perhaps you could explain it?" He sensed the tension in Kaemon's muscles as his friend absorbed what felt like the Jedi's betrayal and turned before Kaemon too could launch a knife, "And then - because truth wears a different face for each man - I will hear you tell it."
He doubted if either of them had ever heard the other side of this before, and sighed inwardly as Kiffan slowly sat down again. This was not going to be either easy or quick.
Blue sun shone hot on the lake. The slap and dance of the water against the arches of the bridge filled the air with silver reflections. Under the dazzling surface of the water floated filmy creatures, half transparent, half ghostlike colour. They rushed apart, trailing frightened streamers as Araniyah dropped stones from the parapet, then nosed back, curious to see if the missiles had been food.
"Oh," Tawaline groaned, "It's bright today. I'm going back for my hat. I'll bring one for you too Ara, Jem. Why don't you get into the shade? I won't be long."
She disappeared into the muja orchard, leaving Jemmiah alone in a great space of garden, exposed on the top of a bridge with a seven year old child to protect.
Because it's safe. Jemmiah reminded herself; but shade sounded good, shade and somewhere less obvious. There was a marble folly in the distance; a round roof supported on many bulbous pillars. "Come on, Ara. Let's go up there."
Qui-Gon raised his head, sure he'd heard a small voice call. "Did you hear that?"
The Force was full of mild warning. Danger coming, but not yet here. Hardly surprising, considering that Kiffan's hand flexed on his knife hilt every time the Master spoke. Qui-Gon didn't expect to get through these talks without defending himself from at least one physical attack.
Both warlords looked at him with the same suspicious expression. Not sure if he was hallucinating, or if this was one of his unnatural Jedi powers. He didn't know himself. "No?" Better to wait then and let the Force make things more clear. "My apologies... I believe we were discussing your cousin's alleged abduction of Kaemon's mother, Lord Kiffan?"
"Who's that?" said Ara, pointing. A man had just emerged from behind one of the huge pillars and was walking casually towards them.
"You don't know?" Jemmy looked up, and the man's smile froze her heart. That was the smile of the guards on Nargotria. That was Levinstowe's smile. Never mind that she didn't recognise the man, she knew his type.
If he had come for her there was a chance he wouldn't hurt the little girl. "Run, Ara! Get help."
She dug her heels in and tightened her small fists. What had happened to her would not happen to Ara. Or if it did, it would be over Jemmiah's dead body.
"I don't think so," the man gloated softly, reaching into his tunic for a weapon. "Can't let her bring the family. Not until it's too late. Now come here, darling, if you don't want to get hurt."
Qui-Gon hurled himself to his feet. "Jemmy!" The stone walls mocked his shout with an echo, and Kaemon grabbed hold of his arm, looking nervous.
"She's fine, my friend. No one can get through our forcefield without a key. No one can harm her here."
"Then he has a key." Qui-Gon shook off the restraining hand and sprinted to the door. He had flung it back and was half through before he remembered that leaving these two alone together in a small room was inviting disaster. "You come with me."
"Who are you to order me about?" Kiffan bristled, "I'm not falling for your wizard tricks."
Persuasion or force would take too long, even listening to the man's false grievance took too long. "Then Kaemon come."
"I'm not leaving him at loose in my home without supervision."
Oh Kriff! He wanted to charge out of the door and leave them to their own devices. Time was running out; he could feel it like a wire around his throat tightening. But if he left them together there would be war by sunset. How many lives lost...?
"Please, Kaemon. She was with Tawaline. Whatever threatens her threatens your daughter too. Trust me and come!"
Just as he burst out into the garden the Force warning ceased, terrifying him with the feeling of normality.
On the smooth lawn between the lake and the folly a small dot of bright red lay, motionless. Kaemon's pace faltered as soon as he saw it. "No. Ara."
Horror stopped him in his tracks, so that it was up to Qui-Gon to lean down over the child's body and give voice to the terror they both shared. "She's only stunned, Kaemon. But where's Tawaline? And my Jemmiah?"