|The Price Of Freedom Part 4
|Qui-Gon walked through the Forcefield Gate in the company of a group of traders. No-one looked twice at him, or thought it odd that his hood was up and his brown cloak far too dowdy to blend in. He took care that they did not.
In the Market between the Outer and Inner Gates it was easy to be inconspicuous, but getting into the castle itself took more direct action. Two guards.
He paused in shadow, breathed - once, twice - and let go of all expectation. The Force would be his guide and his ally. Then he stepped up and stood unthreateningly in front of the grizzled thugs. "I have unfinished business with Lord Morgien. I am welcome to come in."
No. Jemmiah looked from the mother to the son. He was scuffing the floor with one elegant boot and would not meet her gaze. But he looked miserable and guilty enough.
"We will leave you to contemplate your future, then. A future as an honoured wife of this house, or return as a whore to face your father's contempt."
The latch clanged down. There was a rattle and creak as a massive iron key was turned in the lock - the door was the door of a dungeon, metal strapped and brutal in its simplicity. Just like the other trap in which she was caught.
She got up. There was no mirror and she didn't want to undress in case someone was watching. Pressing with her hands found bruises on her face, back and legs. But I don't feel...
Would she feel anything though? If he'd been careful?
How had Draigon Woman known? How had she known about all those demons in the past that this stirred up? And what if she was right?
Three years ago now Qui-Gon had rescued her from the brothel on Nargotria. He tried every day to shelter her from the full realisation of what happened in such places, not thinking that his little girl was old enough to know. And every day she had sheltered him from the fact that she understood all too well. What would happen now? What he had not believed of her at ten would not be so easily discounted at thirteen. Would he think she was soiled? Would he not want her back? He was very strict about such things...
She swallowed, looking at the locked door. I don't want him to hate me.
The only way past the locks was to accept the marriage.
Evla would understand. Evla would take me back even if Quiggy didn't.
It wasn't a Jedi exercise, but somehow that thought hurt so much it was better not to think about it at all. She put it aside. And when I'm an 'honoured wife' it'll be a lot easier to escape.
She took hold of the bars and rattled them. Immediately, a guard came. "Tell your Lady," she poured the full force of her anger into her Tawaline voice, "That I will marry her stinking, craven son, and I will raise up children who hate her."
When he'd gone, she sat down on the bed and began to count the flecks of mica in the stone walls. It was very important that she should count them. She should count every one. She didn't need to think about anything else. Nothing. Nothing at all.
He expected her to be held in the guest quarters, guarded, but provided with every luxury. Why did the Force pull him towards the dungeons? Had they found out already who she really was?
Speculation was useless; taking his mind off the moment. As he turned down into the prison-level he concentrated instead on stealth. Pressed to the wall at one end of a guarded corridor he made a lamp stutter and flicker at the other end - shadows like movement down the hall. The guards shifted, walked a little way to find the cause. While their backs were turned he slipped around the corner into the aisle of cells.
The Force picked out a door - massive, primitive. Behind the bars was darkness. He could barely make out a form sitting disconsolately on the edge of a ledge or bed. "Jemmiah!" he whispered, and pushed the door gently, just enough to make a little tap, to get the girl to look his way.
The door rattled. Jemmiah refused to look up. Let them do all the running. There was a pause, the sound of the lock turning reluctantly and then boots planted themselves in the line of her vision. She felt a gaze on the back of her head.
The slumped figure straightened and turned to him. If Qui-Gon thought he had been surrendered to the will of the Force he forgot it now. No. This could not be true. Surely this was some kind of cruel joke?
"A Jedi!" said the red-haired boy, his starved face open with wonder and relief, "You've come to rescue me!"
For a moment Qui-Gon was speechless with the sense of having been betrayed. He'd followed the Force blindly, trustingly, and it had lead him not to his daughter but to a complete stranger. Something of the anguish he had felt at Tahl's death returned. This was a second blow on a place already broken. Jemmiah could be dying at this very moment! How many of my loved ones must you ask me to sacrifice before you're satisfied?
A stupid question. He knew the answer already: All of them.
"You have come to rescue me?" The boy was perhaps ten years old, with huge eyes and a vulnerable, beaten look. Not Qui-Gon's child, but someone's.
"Yes." The Master allowed resentment and hope to fall away and be silenced. "Yes. It seems I have."
The boots were the same blue kidskin she had seen on the son. Nicely tooled, with an interlaced pattern of kaadu racing across the top.
"I..." Strangely enough, at the sound of his hesitant unhappiness, she pitied him. Whatever he'd done obviously hadn't been done willingly. "They said we should get married now. I brought you...the dress."
His hands were like Ben's - well kept, pale, but strong. His haunted grey eyes also reminded her of her big brother, except that she could not imagine Ben looking so cowed. Spineless, his mother had called him. Jemmiah could understand why. He hated this almost as much as she, but he did nothing. Let him suffer then. "Where are my maids?" she demanded imperiously, "You surely don't expect me to dress myself, like a servant?"
"I'll...I'll get you some. You have to stay here. They won't let you out except for the wedding."
"Out of one prison into another."
"Yes," he said with a startled smile, pulling the door closed behind him. "Yes, exactly."
Qui-Gon brought the Force to bear on the lock. The wards were stiff and the bolt came free with an audible clunk. Immediately he pulled the door open, slipped through and closed himself in the cell, flattening into a pool of shadow on the wall.
Footsteps and voices approached. "Did you hear that?"
"I heard something..."
He followed the two presences with his mind, felt them pause and consider the empty peaceful corridor of closed doors. "First the light, now this. I don't like it, it's...creepy."
Qui-Gon concentrated. Nothing is strange here.
"You've been reading too many horror stories. The lamp's old and a prisoner kicked a door. There's nothing strange." The sound of movement away.
"We'll just let them settle." Qui-Gon whispered to the wide-eyed boy. "In the mean time, can you tell me if there's a girl named Tawaline being held captive here? She would be Lord Morgien's intended bride."
"No." The lad shook his head emphatically. "That can't be right. Morgien's about to get betrothed to Lord Phisher's daughter - the guards are full of it."
It was, in a way, good news. A mercy that he had not allowed Kaemon to sack a house full of innocent people. But at the same time...if she wasn't here, where was she?
"What's your name, little one?"
"Oh. I see."
The Draconi were an old family of declining fortune, whose extensive lands bordered on those of the Kashyik's - Morgien's people. The kidnapping of a Draconin heir would certainly lead Pietr's family to go to war. A war they were too poor to win. After terrible slaughter the Draconin lands would end up conquered and annexed to Morgien's already over large fief. He had not needed Tawaline's land at all. He had other plans.
"When you get home, Pietr, what will you do?"
"I'm going to get a big army, come back and make them sorry."
There were distinct disadvantages to an archaic culture, Qui-Gon thought, sighing. Brainless macho posturing for one. "Pietr, that's exactly what Morgien wants you to do. Now, you'll give me your word you won't start a war with anyone. Or I won't rescue you. Understood?"
Pietr pouted at the thought of not being allowed to send his people to a glorious defeat. "Yes Master Jedi," he singsonged at last, reluctantly.
The guards were engrossed in a game of Dejarik. Qui-Gon scooped the boy up into his arms and gently pushed the door ajar.
"I'm not a baby. I can walk."
"Perhaps. But I can move faster and lighter, and conceal you better like this. Now be silent." He drew the edge of his cloak over his unexpected guest and glided like a burdened ghost back the way he'd come.
"She's a bit scrawny, isn't she?" One of Jemmy's new aunts pinched her arm and looked up, quizzically at Tunnoka - Jemmy's father in law. The wedding ceremony had been almost indecently short, but the reception was proving to be one of the longest sustained periods of humiliation she had ever suffered.
"Probably die in childbirth." Tunnoka said with satisfaction. Like his wife, he was big - but not fat. Oh no. Taller than Master Jinn, he was at least twice as broad, and all of it muscle. Jemmy had never seen such a brutal looking man - and she felt that was saying something. "Then we can get him a more sturdy one."
"Just smile and nod." Riarda - Jemmy had learned her new husband's name during the ceremony - gripped her elbow and whispered with mortal terror in her ear. "Don't say anything to upset him, please."
"Smile and nod?" Seething, Jemmy bared her teeth and produced a version of Tawaline's accent that was almost as icily smooth as Obi-Wan's, "What kind of a man are you? Didn't you hear what he said to me?"
"Hmn!" Tunnoka laughed at her, though the glittering eyes did not blink, "Or perhaps we'll keep the girl and marry her to a new heir, eh? One with a bit more of his father's spirit."
"Please!" Riarda dragged her out onto the dance-floor. The thousand petticoats of her elaborate gown fouled her feet, and she stumbled through the dance to the music of courtiers laughing at her. "Please, Tawaline. I may be the oldest son, but I'm not the only one - and he likes my brother better. Don't you understand? I'm trying to stay alive here! You've got no idea how easy it is to have an 'accident' when your father hates you. Do you want us both to die?"
"I want to stop dancing.
"That's..." the liveliness Riarda's fear had given him collapsed into misery again, "Not such a good idea. If we're not dancing they might remember that we still have to consummate the marriage."
It took her a moment to work out what that meant, but when she did the mere pressure of his hand on her arm made her feel sick. "Oh, Kriff!" Qui-Gon, where are you? I need to be rescued, and fast.