Major Kiley emerged from the turbolift,
making a final adjustment to the appearance of her uniform as she
crossed the threshold into the Admiral's personal suite. She had been
sent on special assignment to retrieve the Lady Htaere. This was the
first assignment she had been given since her 'return' from exile, and
even though it was tedious she nevertheless felt quite nervous. She
cleared her throat, which was rather dry and walked towards Htaere's
bedchambers, under the assumption she would be there she raised her
right hand to the door and knocked audibly three times. "Lady Htaere?"
she asked in a tone loud enough to be heard through the door.
"Enter" came audibly from beyond the
sealed door. Htaere stood near a viewport, as she often did, staring out
into the dark void of space. In her glorious flowing gown and intricate
hair style, she never failed to be nothing short of glowing and radiant.
She turned to face the entrance to her quarters, waiting for the voice
she recognized to be paired in short order to Major Kiley's face.
Obediently, Kerrie turned the handle on
the door between them and opened the door. A genuine smile formed upon
her mimicked Human face as she stepped forward into Htaere's personal
chambers. Since this was the first time she had been inside them, she
looked around intently ... noting that they were a far cry from her room
on Esseles. "Good evening, Milady," she said cheerfully as she stood at
attention near the open door.
Her face warmed into a happy smile,
pleased to see Kerrie back and resuming her usual responsibilities.
"Hello" she beamed towards the major. "How are you feeling since your
"As always, Milady," Kerrie began in a
proud tone of voice, "I feel I am more than capable of performing my
duties." The smile never left her face as she stepped towards her.
"...and regarding those duties," she continued, "I have been sent to
bring you to the Admiral."
Htaere nodded, moving towards Kerrie,
fingers woven together in front of her. "That is good to hear. You look
much better." she commented eagerly. "I am ready if you are" she added,
waiting for Kerrie to take the lead.
"Thank you, Milady," Kerrie said
nervously as she lowered her head to conceal the embarrassed glow on her
face. Upon raising her head back up she nodded politely to her second
comment, and proceeded across the living chamber of the room back
towards the turbolift. She felt it was strange that the Admiral would
dispatch her to 'summon' Htaere like this, but she was merely an
Htaere followed quietly, a pleasant
enough smile fixed permanently on her face. In the turbolift, she turned
to gaze at Kerrie. "Should I have dressed better? Is this a formal
"I have been provided with no details,
Milady," Kerrie explained truthfully as she activated the controls for
the turbolift. It began to descend towards the lift towards one of the
ubiquitous cargo bays.
Htaere's smile thinned a bit, if only to
appear momentarily confused before she accepted Kerrie's answer and
resumed her jovial outlook. Her eyes dropped to her own clothing to
evaluate if they were sufficient. Deciding it might be acceptable, she
let it go, eyes lifting back to the meter over the door to watch the
The door to the turbolift opened,
revealing an expansive cargo bay seemingly devoid of any unique
features. It was a strange setting for a Lady to be in, but nevertheless
it was the correct destination. Claudius Rodney, wearing rather
athletic-looking attire consisting of a t-shirt, athletic shorts, and
running shoes. It was quite out of place. Unknown to Htaere or his
family whenever he felt nervous he would run around this cargo bay to
clear his mind and maintain his health. He smiled as he saw Htaere and
Kerrie as the lift he arrived. It was not a happy smile, it was clear
that he was up to something. He was a terrible liar and even worse at
deceiving people. A large curtain divided the room. It was dark and no
shadows could be made out behind it. "Htaere!" he exclaimed loudly as he
saw her, "Please. Come in."
Htaere threw a sideways glance at the
major before striding forward towards him in the cargo bay, attention
drifting every few steps to gaze around the setting for such an unusual
request. It actually made her wary. "Claudius, is everything ok?" she
looked a bit concerned, her own smile waning a bit.
As Htaere exited the lift, Kerrie
grinned widely. She could tell that the Admiral was in rare form and he
had something planned. Deciding not to spoil the moment, she allowed the
lift doors to close in front of her, planning to return to duty.
"Everything is perfect, my love,"
Claudius said happily as she approached. With anticipation, he rubbed
his hands together twice. He looked at her in a few moments of silence,
smilingly proudly. "I love you," he said, a bit dumbstruck as his mind
Htaere smiled in response, though faint
traces of apprehension were present across her features. "And I you" she
answered, pulling her attention from the bay to his attire. "If I am
interrupting, I shall wait" she remarked.
"No," Claudius said interrupting her
quickly. "I realize the wedding is still more than a week away," he
continued, his voice starting to tremble, "but I would like to give you
my present now. I can no longer hold this surprise in." He smiled
nervously and looked to the curtain, waiting for her response before
Htaere's soft grey eyes blinked in
confusion, her mouth opening slightly. For the first time, the occasion
offered her a clarity of insight regarding her marriage that had been
previously unknown to her. She almost paled a bit, but retained her
composure. "Oh...well if you are sure..."
Claudius lifted up the curtain to allow
them to walk beneath it. The other side of the cargo bay was no
different with one exception ... there was a majestic Guarlara pacing
the floors in repetitive circles. The horse-like creature was native to
the planet Naboo. It sported a well-kept mane and two white horns
protruding from its head. Its coat was black in color and well kept. It
had taken quite some effort on the part of the Admiral and his staff to
export one from Naboo, in fact he had to go through the local Moff to
arrange it. This particular creature came directly from the Queen's
personal stables. It was already sattled and well-equipped for riding,
for which it had been trained. He stopped moving to allow her to
continue, nervously waiting for a reaction.
Htaere stared at the creature in
complete perplecxion. For a long time, she didn't move, simply staring
at the large animal with mouth open and expression fixated in stunned
stupor. Finally, she seemed to come to...her face taking on a confused
look. "It lives...on this ship as well?" she asked...simply dumbfounded
and trying desperately to figure out how the creature was sustained
aboard the Empire's war ship.
"Until last week this creature lived on
the planet Naboo," Claudius explained as he walked towards her and
placed his hand on the small of her back gently. "I had it brought here
for you," he explained as he looked at the majestic beast, "I thought it
would provide you with some animal companionship. Since you have never
been a fan of my Worrt, I thought this was more suited to you. It is
fully trained and I have hired the appropriate staff, but I believe in
time you will choose to perform such tasks yourself." He paused before
concluding, "That is 'if' you accept the gift." He swallowed nervously,
waiting for a reply.
For the first time since she had laid
eyes on the beast, Htaere's head turned to gaze up at Claudius. "Oh
Claudius...you spoil me far too much" she said a smile emerging. "I
have never seen such a thing before. It is very beautiful" she remarked,
eyes drifting up and down the length of the animal to take in it's
strangeness. "What is it? Is it friendly?"
"It is called a Guarlara," Claudius
answered, going over the name slowly to pronounce it clearly. He laughed
lightly at the second part of the question, "Someone as beautiful as you
deserves to be surrounded by beauty. And as for safety ... this animal
has been trained since birth by the finest keepers on Naboo. You do not
have to concern yourself. This animal was not simply plucked from the
wild and dropped here for our 'amusement.' Since the moment its hooves
first touched the ground this is the only life it has known." He leaned
forward and placed a gentle kiss upon her forehead. "If it didn't bite
as bitter a person as Lieutenant Ames," he concluded, "It most certainly
won't have a problem with such a lovely person as yourself."
Htaere resorted back to the utter
awestruck and statuesque by the magnificent animal. "I...I do not know
what to say. I have never had a pet before" she admitted. "Is it a male
or female? What is it's name?" she turned her focus back to Claudius
momentarily before looking back and the exotic equine. Nervously, she
inched towards it, extending a shaky hand towards the elongated face and
lengthy forlock that hung nearly beyond the tip of its nose.
"It 'was' a male ," Claudius pronounced,
as he lowered himself lightly to look beneath the guarlara to confirm
the report he had been given. "As for a name," he said with a slight
chuckle, "I'm afraid that's the first obstacle you're going to have to
overcome. Choose wisely. I remember when I named my Worrt, I did not
think it through and he has been stuck with the name 'Crassus' for years
Htaere's hand snatched away from the
creature a few times nervously before she finally worked up the courage
to pet it's long flaxen hair, and ultimately the sloping forehead and
nose beneath it. "It is amazing" she said, more to herself. She flashed
a strange grin back towards Claudius. "Oh Claudius...you have simply
outdone yourself" she grinned, sidling back towards him and slipping her
arms around him, careless of whatever personal perspiration had soaked
parts of his shirt. "Will you teach me to ride it?" she asked
"It is very easy, my love," Claudius
said as he too reached out a hand, less nervous, to stroke the beast. "I
was very careful in making the selection," he continued to explain, "It
is very docile and has had experience as a mount for dainty nobles such
as ourselves." He squeezed his hand upon the small of the back,
emphasizing his joke.
Htaere's gaze returned to the animal,
evaluating it for a second before looking seriously back to Claudius. "I
do not own any riding clothes...what does one ride in?"
Claudius tilted his head slightly, a
confused look appearing upon his face as he pondered the question. "I am
familiar with many things, my dear," he began with a coy smile, "but I
am afraid the world of women's fashion is not one of them." He chucked
lightly before concluding his thoughts, "Something comfortable I assume.
A shopping trip can be arranged prior to our trip home."
To that, she nodded, turning to admire
the Guarlara again. She shook her head. "I still cannot believe you
brought it *here*" she pondered aloud. "Is there no place locally where
we can establish residence planet-side?"
"I needed to find a present as grand as
my love for you," Claudius explained proudly as he pulled her closer to
him. He surveyed the beast, quite pleased with himself. "As for the
second question," he continued, "I'm afraid there is no port nearby
where such a thing would be possible." He lowered his head in
contemplation before concluding, "We will bring him with us to Alderaan.
Many places to ride there."
Htaere made a mental note to spend much
time this evening scanning the web for various items for the creature,
eager to fawn over it incessantly. She flashed a small smile to her
intended husband, stretching up on her toes to plant a soft peck on his
cheek. "I do so love it, Claudius. I thank you for such a wonderful
gift" she commented, a rather giddy hue to her tone.
"I love you too, Htaere," Claudius said
happily as he turned her around to face him. He lowered his head
slightly to look her directly in the eyes. He smiled, moving his head
forward and resting his nose against hers for a tender moment. His eyes
then closed, his head tilted ever so slightly to the right and he placed
a soft, gentle kiss upon her supple lips.
Htaere was all too eager to reciprocate,
elegant hands reaching up to cradle his face tenderly while she savored
the display, heedless of the potential notion that most militaries
frowned upon 'PDA'.
Something about the evening made
Claudius feel a bit young and daring. Perhaps without even thinking he
slid his tongue through his lips and pressed them softly against hers.
Teasingly, he licked her top lip before pushing it forward between her
teeth. Slowly, he began to move the bottom of his tongue back and forth
against the top of hers. He had not done anything like this in more than
decade. He probably did not even know he was doing it.
If the brazen move surprised her, it
didn't last long. She let him take the more direct approach, enjoying a
taste of him she had not previously experienced. She drew him further
into her own mouth, exerting a firm but gentle suction on him before
releasing him, holding his lower lip a moment longer in a subtle nibble
before withdrawing slightly, the gesture evolving into a more
conservative nuzzle, lest he become upset.
Claudius maintained his embrace of her,
but slowly moved his face away from hers as the kiss broke. As his eyes
opened a surprised look appeared upon his face. He had realized what he
had done, but did not feel it was appropriate. "I am sorry," he said
quietly as his cheeks reddened with embarrassment.
"I am not" she whispered in response.
While their exchange had yielded, her embrace did not. Her eyes closed
and she rested her head against his chest, willing to hold on until he
pushed her away.
"This is going to be the longest week of
my life," Claudius said quietly to Htaere as he held her close against
him. He turned his eyes to look at the Guarlara for a moment, pleased it
was the only witness to his romantic outburst.
To that, Htaere's eyes opened. She
lifted her head off of him and gazed up towards his face, a grave look
manifesting itself across flawless features. "I am...nervous" she
"You have nothing to be nervous about,
my dear," Claudius said quietly, moving his face towards her to place a
reassuring kiss upon the tip of her nose. "It will be a wonderful day,"
he said as he moved his face away again, "Everything will go smoothly. I
can assure you."
"That is not what I meant" she replied,
her eyes remaining on him intently. "I am nervous about getting married"
she confessed rather shyly.
"Oh," Claudius said quietly as he looked
at her more intently. "Well," he continued, trying to explain, "It's
normal to be nervous. It's a big step for anyone to take. Is there
anything that worries you in particular?"
She reflected on it for a moment before
shrugging slightly. "I suppose not...just...the process, the
ceremony..." she hesitated a moment. "I will be glad when it is behind
us" she added.
Claudius' smile widened as he chuckled
slightly. "Do not worry about the ceremony," he said to her
reassuringly, "That is more for our parents than for us. On that day
with all that will be going on all that matters to me is you." He sighed
softly before moving his face towards her to place another soft kiss
upon her lips.
She smiled, but it was only brief. She
looked pensive again, pursing her lips before pursuing an even more
serious topic. "Claudius...I must ask...only to be certain.." She took a
deep breath and continued. "It is not too late, should you decide this
is not what you want. Given the circumstance of our meeting, there *was*
a bit of pressure from both sides." Her eyes were glassy, but she looked
sincere. "I shall not be offended if you entirely sure you are ready for
another commitment. I..." she debated how to word it before pursuing the
statement to its end. "...I in no way wish to infringe or replace your
wife, and the mother of your children. I do not wish for any parties to
feel as such, and I understand if this is something you are apprehensive
about, and think twice of."
Claudius took a moment to consider what she had said. Although he knew
that he wanted to marry Htaere, he thought it would be rude to just
blurt out an answer to such a serious question without considering it.
"I love you, Htaere," Claudius began in a soft, gentle voice, "There is
no one I would rather spend this next part of my life with. Julia will
always be a part of my life, but the last thing she wanted when she
passed away was for my life to end too." He paused, exhaling deeply. "I
know this was an arranged marriage," he continued nervously, "and that
neither of us knew what to expect of the other, but I have come to care
for you very deeply. I love you, Htaere. I want to marry you. I want to
spend the rest of my life with you. There is no doubt in my mind." He
smiled and nodded his head silently as he concluded.
She nodded, accepting the answer
passively, willing to let it go from here on out now that she had
offered a chance for things to be dissolved. Words escaping her, she let
the moment be, the near silence lifting the mood.