|The Price Of Freedom Part Five
|Qui-Gon reached the sanctuary of his room. Outside he could still hear Tawaline exclaiming over Pietr's rags and bruises; ordering food - sending maids scurrying for bathwater and new clothes. When he had returned with the boy, Kaemon had looked at him - again - as though he wasn't a proper man. As though doing the right thing had lessened him in his friend's sight. It would have been easier to shrug off if he hadn't felt something of the same guilt himself. What is Jemmiah going through, while I act like a Jedi?
Without shrugging off his cloak he knelt and composed himself to meditate. Frustration and self-disgust must be purged, so that in the silence he could hear the Force speaking in his blood. Impatience must be purged.
But I want to find her *now*.
He loosened his hands, placed them open on his thighs where they could not clench again into fists. Then you must be clear, so the light can shine through.
He breathed in the strict pattern he had learned as a child. Forced himself to relax. Pried his thoughts away from the rails of expectation and fear, and gave it all up. Surrendered.
It felt like a long time; just floating in a calm as pervasive as the air, but more golden. And then he thought, with a sensation of puzzled revelation Why is Tawaline ordering all of this, and not Hana? Surely Hana's not *still* in her room?
It was important to find out. Rising, he flung open the door, found one of the droid pages hovering just outside. "Mistress Tawaline wondered if you were well, Master. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"You can take me to Lady Hana. I wish to talk with her."
The door snicked closed behind Jemmiah - a very loud noise, as loud as her breathing. Riarda had walked into the centre of the room, but now he balked at the sight of the large bed and turned to watch her. She licked her lips nervously.
So here I am again. What will I do to survive?
"Um..." said Riarda. He started to take his jacket off but lost spirit half way through, so it dangled stupidly from one cuff. In other circumstances she might have admired his wavy blond hair, and the fine mouth, downturned and abject though it was. In other times... Right now she wanted to scream just because he was breathing the same air as she.
Thinking was like picking her way barefoot across a field of broken glass. That shard there was Qui-Gon. Why had he not come for her? For all his fine words he didn't care about her at all. Not when it came down to it.
That shard was Levinstowe - all the memories of him like hands on her skin.
And this was slavery. How easy it was to slip back into. How easy to be silent and let it happen, and live.
Riarda reached out and brushed his fingers very gently down her neck. Her teeth and stomach clenched.
Hana's door creaked open, and a slice of light revealed tangled hair, eyes wild and shadowed in a reddened, tearstained face. At the sight of him she recoiled, gaze flinching away to the droid. "I don't wish to see the Jedi."
She tried to slam the door shut, but it just bounced from the rigid leather of his boot - which he had wedged in the jam. Panicked, she turned on the droid again, "Make him go away!"
The vehemence of his Force push was perhaps a little overdone. The droid went flying down the corridor, clutching hands still outstretched. Hana's door was slammed back against the wall, leaving a pattern of holes to correspond with its nails. "I will talk to you. Or I will talk to your family. Which would you prefer?"
"You know?" Her lip wobbled, and the already swollen eyes filled again. She drooped against the doorpost, too weak to stand.
Until that point he hadn't actually known. But now he'd been permitted to see it, the inference was obvious. "You feel terribly guilty. And it's not because of something that happened years ago. It's because you are guilty. You arranged the kidnapping. You know where she is."
Hana wiped streaks of makeup from her eyes with the sleeve of her nightdress and sniffed. Then she straightened, as if for execution. "Yes."
"Where is she?"
"I wanted Tawaline to marry into my own kin...I wanted my family back."
He fought the desire to shake the information out of her, kept the condemnation out of his voice - barely. "Where?"
"She was taken by my cousin, Tunnoka Dubal. She'll be at his house."
He turned. "But Master Jinn," her final words followed him, heavy with grief, "There's nothing you can do. She'll already be spoiled or dead. Leave it now. Please."
No. Jemmiah thought. Riarda had stepped close. He was stroking her hair, marvelling. The ghost of a smile warmed his storm-grey eyes. "But you are beautiful," he whispered, "My wife."
No. She couldn't do it. Not this time. He had a gentler nature, but he would not be another Levinstowe to her. This time she would not allow it. She would not connive in her own violation. She would not be a slave again.
"No." she said, rigid with the terror of what she was doing. You idiot! They'll kill you for sure now.
Not the time or place for this memory, but for a moment she remembered a drowsy summer day on Coruscant; sprawling over the couch; the hum of speeders and air conditioning; and Qui-Gon's voice as he lectured his Padawan on ethics. '"There are times when the only alternative to an abhorrent act is death. At those times we must chose to die. If we don't, we can't consider ourselves free - we're at the mercy of every madman with a blaster."'
At the time she'd thought them both hopelessly naive. No one could live up to so hard a doctrine. Now she saw it was not naivety, but an odd, desperate strength. Let her 'husband' try. But she would not help. "No, Riarda. I'm not your wife."
"Of course you are." Riarda took hold of the hand she had pushed him away with and began to kiss the palm. "I was there, remember?"
Jemmy snatched her hand away and rubbed it on her skirt. "I gave a false name. The marriage isn't legal." She had retreated as far as it was possible to go and was now pasted like paper to the wall. Breath failed. And then he stopped moving.
"But that would mean..." His dark eyebrows came together into a frown - separated as his face went blank with horror. She had to finish the sentence for him. "I'm not Tawaline Zabrik. My name's Jemmiah. Your people got the wrong girl."
She closed her eyes, tried not to cringe. Be proud of me Quiggy, I'm going to die like a Jedi. Waited for the blow, the blade.
"Oh, gods, no..." The presence of his arm by her face - its faint warmth grazing her over-sensitive skin. She opened her eyes again to see him slide in a limp huddle to the floor. "Oh gods, I am so doomed."
I was afraid of *him*? Jemmiah thought, looking at the bloodless face pillowed on his own knees. It seemed she wasn't going to die immediately after all.
The wedding dress was hooped, and deformed strangely around her as she knelt to peer into her 'husband's eyes. "It's not your problem. I'm the one who's destined for the unmarked grave when they realise."
"You think they'll ever forgive me this?"
He was dressed like the hero of a historical romance - an indigo jacket with long tails and a high collar, white cravat and a sky blue waistcoat embroidered with silver clouds. Polished boots gleamed. He looked like an expensive doll, broken. Nothing like Ben at all. Not really. "Well then," she said, bracingly, "We'd better escape before they find out."
Qui-Gon jumped off the swoop. Forest enclosed him, growing almost up to the Outer Wall of the Dubal estates. He was greened and bruised from the wild ride through the trees, but certain that no-one had seen or heard him arrive.
Thirty metres high, the wall loomed over him, huge stones fitted mortarless together. No moss grew there, no birds perched. If he narrowed his eyes he could see the reason - the faint rainbow incandescence of a massive force shield. A dome of active destruction shone over the castle, its many courtyards and its inner and outer battlements.
No-one could walk through the forcefield without being vaporised, so here, away from the road and the fields, there were no guards. That suited him fine.
The lightsabre came to life in his hand - always a friendly feeling. He tapped the point against the forceshield experimentally. Much depended on this, but he had no reason to suppose he was wrong. The blade sank in, interrupting the flow of energy, leaving a tiny hole behind it, with edges of blue static.
Monophase. he thought with satisfaction, These semi-industrial planets always go for monophase shields. Thank the Force.
Trees, clustering behind him leant their green, solid strength to his. He reached out and felt their Living Force - the force that could hammer sap up a hundred metres of trunk, to burst out into leaves which fed off light. With that power in him, he took two paces backwards, ran, and leapt.
It was like flying - flying straight at the field of eviscerating energy. No emotion to spare for the joy of it, or the idiotic foolishness. No time to wonder at the fact that he'd set Obi-Wan this very exercise before coming - the Mastery of kossa rin yu: Sealing In.
He tucked himself into a ball. A sensation of exquisite perfection as he hit the instant and he wove out of his own sabrelight an impenetrable globe of protection. Too quick and too dangerous for human hands to sustain, it was there only at the exact moment he breached the forcefield, and then gone, and he was tumbling, rolling to his feet, on top of the deserted wall. Inside the stronghold.
Jemmy gritted her teeth. What was the stupid boy up to? It was obvious he'd never had to do anything by stealth before. She heard doors open and close, the thud of a clothes chest, and then Riarda burst back into the room trailing laundry and looking triumphant.
"Here. This is a swoop riding-habit. The wedding dress is a bit conspicuous, and if you take it off and scatter your...things...around, they'll probably think we're just... Well. Doing what husbands and wives do."
He was quite cute when he was embarrassed. "What?" Jemmy sniggered, peeling off the thousand petticoats thankfully, "Like walking on the balcony?"
"Good idea!" The joke went over his head - no doubt he wouldn't have expected it from her. He strode over to the glass partition of the balcony and swung it open. Then, hopping and clumsy with tension, he changed his own wedding outfit for the nondescript tan of a swooprider's leathers.
Diving into the 'Fresher, he left the shower on, while Jemmy disarranged the bed. She wasn't certain it would buy them much time. But she was willing to humour him.
"Alright?" In action, Riarda was more alive than she'd ever seen him before - heaviness drained out of him. He looked good like this, as though he was finding out he could be someone he liked. His grin was infectious. "The swoops are in a garage at the very base of the citadel." He pulled his helmet on, drew down the visor. "Are you ready?"
Jemmy did the same. "Yes," she said, vivid with excitement - this was better than hoping for a rescuer who wasn't going to come. "Let's go!"
Every muscle locked, Qui-Gon fought the hardest battle of his life. I do *not* want to break his back under my boot. I do *not* want to punch him in the throat until he chokes on his own blood.
He had felt as soon as he'd touched the door the echo of Jemmiah's mortal terror and repugnance - like a stain on the wood where she had been pressed against it. The scattered clothes were ample evidence that her defiance had been in vain.
Looking down at his fists he wished for once that he was not capable of disassembling a man with his bare hands. Perhaps if he wasn't able to do it he wouldn't be so tempted.
Heavy darkness pressed behind his eyes, filling his mouth with the taste of salt. Gods! He knew this feeling - this lust to make them suffer as she had suffered. It swept over him like a tidal wave of gore - stinking, clinging, addictively sweet. No! Force! No!