Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Liz Dorner and Christopher Levy.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:1:31) in the Essesia system: Esseles (New Calamar: Claudius Rodney's estate, Marketplace, and Spaceport) and Kwai.
Flight Lieutenant Haven Anson, Ewwiekewwieikkie, Major Kerrie Kiley, Grand Moff Claudius Rodney, Lady Drusilla Rodney, and Countess Htaere Rodney.

The familiar screech of a pair of TIE fighters broke the mid-afternoon silence over the once serene estate on Esseles that was home to Grand Moff Rodney and his family. Now more a military base than a home, a large perimeter wall had been constructed, with more overt Stormtroopers presence than the small group of Stormcommandos that had previously been assigned by Major Kiley. Ever so often the ground would shake as one of the AT-ST walkers moved closed to the foundation of the structure, its heavy legs stomping the ground, and damaging the plant life that lay beneath it. "Loud!" said Ewwiekewwieikkie, who brought her hands up to cover her ears, each time the war machines moved too close. She had not yet gotten used to it and she did not like it.

The assault to the senses wasn't lost on Htaere either, or her guarlara that she had returned to the estate. In the middle of a brisk canter across the grounds, the high pitched noise of the TIE fighters was particularly offensive to the animal's delicate hearing and in mid stride, it balked to the side before spinning nearly in place and darting off. Despite her good seat and collection, Htaere could only rebalance rapidly the first time, and when the animal snapped direction in a fraction of a second again, she could not recover and became unseated. Hitting the ground with a gut-wrenching thump, it knocked the wind out of her momentarily. Still holding the reins in one hand, the animal pulled away, dragging her a few feet before she was able to reclaim it. Panting, she got to her feet, pausing to gather her wits and give her aching hip a good rub.

For perhaps the first time in her life, a colorful word left her mouth, grey eyes lifting to the fighters overhead before patting the guarlara's neck. "I do not care for them either," she winced, hobbling back towards the stable.

"Oopsy!" Ewwiekewwieikkie said when she saw Htaere fall from the Guarlara, her yellow eyes widening with both shock and amazement as the beautiful young woman went tumbling to the ground. Unaware of the severity she could not help but giggle, particularly when she saw Htaere rise back up, seemingly unharmed. She brought her hands together in a series of rapid claps, bouncing up and down on the ground excitedly. "Can I try to ride?" she asked, looking to the animal, with wide eyes and a mouth agape.

"Oops is correct," Htaere frowned, still favoring her hip a bit. "That was most disgraceful. I am afraid that none of us approve of the sound." Upon Ewwie's request, Htaere contemplated it in mild disdain, eyes vacillating between the guarlara and their adopted daughter. "I suppose, but if you agree to stand right here. It is a bit dangerous a day to be riding it would seem." She removed her riding gloves by the fingers, one by one, before tucking them in to a pocket and motioning Ewwie over. "I shall help you up."

"Can you make them stop?" Ewwiekewwieikkie asked, blissfully unaware of the heirarchy of the Imperial bureaucracy and how such things worked. When Htaere said it was ok, she once again began to clap her hands together excitedly. She moved towards Htaere, her eyes never leaving the Guarlara, feeling a combination of excitement and nervousness as she had never been that close to the animal before. When she stood directly in front of Htaere, she adjusted her composure to stand proudly, waiting. "What do I do?" she asked, having no experience to draw from.

"I am afraid I possess no such influence," Htaere responded grimly. "Put your hands here," she guided Ewwie's furry hands to the pommel and cantle of the saddle. "Bend this leg, like so. On the count of three I am going to hoist you up, alright? Swing that leg over the saddle when you get up there. Yes?" She walked her through the instructions patiently. "Ready? One, two, three..." on the count she lifted Ewwie's bent leg thus sending her entire frame up towards the saddle, keeping the reins around one arm to keep the animal still.

"Wee!" Ewwiekewwieikkie squealed in delight as she was raised onto the Guarlara, following Htaere's instructions as best that she could. Once she had placed her leg over the other side of the saddle, she found herself comfortably seated upon it. "Go!" she said to the Guarlara excitedly, but to her great confusion nothing happened and the creature did not move. "I said go!" she said again, slightly louder, but again nothing happened and a confused look formed upon her fur covered face. "Um. I think it's broken, Htaere," she said, looking down at the woman dejectedly, a soft pout coming over her mouth as she considered the situation.

"I am afraid she is quite excitable today. Slow is the best speed I have discovered on days such as this," Htaere answered, leading the animal slowly as she limped about the terrace giving Ewwie a simple ride. "Perhaps after this, we may take a trip to the market. Get out and stretch our legs some," she suggested before throwing Ewwie a slight grin. "Maybe find a tasty treat whilst we are there. What say you?"

Ewwiekewwieikkie moved her head left and right, leaning over to try and see what was underneath the Guarlara to make it go. "Slow is right," she complained, thinking it would have been much more fun when it was faster. "I like treats. Nom, nom, nom," she said to Htaere, as she began to bounce up and down on the Guarlara in excitement of the promises of wonderful food delights to come. Beneath their helmets the Stormtroopers were throwing disgusted looks at the Grand Moff's foreign wife and alien adoptee, resenting the fact that they were assigned to protect the likes of *them*.

"Indeed. Come then. You go and clean up. I shall join when I return from the stable," Htaere nodded, reaching up towards Ewwie to collect her from down off the guarlara. Setting the Squib back down, she nodded towards the house. "Go on, get ready. I am right behind you." Sending Ewwie off Htaere walked the animal back to the stable to untack before returning to the manor as well. As she climbed the large marble star, she called out to Claudius' other daughter. "Dru? Are you here?" Scowling slightly at the pain in her hip, she climbed the stair slower than normal, running a hand through her hair to brush the grass out of it.

Drusilla had been dealing with the noise of her surroundings by taking a liking to music as so many girls her age had done for millennia. In her case, she had turned to jizz and was blasting the latest from the new sensation from the Outer Rim ... Max Rebo. She had taken her sister's actions in remarkable fashion, viewing it as an opportunity to move into the role of favored daughter, and potential heir to the throne on Delaya. She had wasted no effort enlisting the support of the staff in moving into Jelena's larger bedroom to remove herself from the shared room with Ewwiekewwieikkie. She did not hear Htaere call to her over the sound of the music, and she found herself aimlessly dancing about, with the door open, with no concern for the others who lived there in regards to the volume of the music.

Merely following the sound of loud music, Htaere found herself at the threshold of Jelena's old bed chambers, now Drusilla's. "Drusilla," she called, wrapping her knuckles on the wooden door.

The knocking got Drusilla's attention and she froze, before quickly spinning around to see who it was. "What?!" she shouted over the music at Htaere, surprised to see her standing there. Her hand then motioned to pause the music, using the motion sensor she had set up. "What?" she asked again, in a normal tone of voice, but still with the coating of arrogance that always accompanied her voice. Her arms folded in front of her chest, waiting to see if the woman dared scold her for her actions. There were times when she would act out just to get attention, in the hopes of reminding her absent father that she was very much still there.

"Ewwie and I thought a trip in to town for some fresh air and a treat might do us all some good. Would you like to join us?" Htaere asked, unfazed by Drusilla's disapproval, long since used to it.

"Where?" was Drusilla's one word response, as she took a couple of cautious steps towards Htaere. She was still not sure what to make of this Hapan interloper, whom she had seldom encountered one on one since her arrival last year. In the background she could hear the familiar sound of Ewwiekewwieikkie shaking herself off after a bath, much in the way an animal would do, and a content smile came upon her face with the satisfaction they no longer shared a refresher.

"New Calamar. The variety of shops and eateries. Just to walk around a bit. Change of scenery," Htaere answered. "I am going to clean up. Take your time to think it over if you should like." Htaere noted the dirt stains on her riding clothes and also hearing Ewwie's preparation nearly completed decided she ought to hasten with her own. Leaving Drusilla to contemplate, she moved off towards the master chambers.

Drusilla considered Htaere's suggestion and reluctantly decided it was better than simply sitting around the estate all day. "What to wear?" she murmured to herself, before rummaging through her walk-in closet to find the appropriate attire to wear amongst the peasants of Esseles whom she held in such contempt. It made her feel better about herself to look down to her others and clung to her noble title like a life preserver in the turbulent sea of life the family had found itself in lately.

The sound of rapid footsteps began to fill the hallway as Ewwiekewwieikkie bounded forward, an uncontrollable ball of blue energy. She was very excited about getting out and about, which was something she had not been able to do for quite some time. Without knocking she pushed open the door of the master suite and surged forward, until she finally leapt onto the bed, her fur still somewhat damp. "Yipee!" she said, as she impacted their mattress, which was much larger and bouncy than the small one she had in her room.

Htaere emerged from the closet carrying a somewhat dresssed down gown. Pale yellow with gathered shoulders and a simple braid at the waist, it wasn't as flashy as the attired she sported around the estate. To wear over it, she had a beige cape with hood. Laying it out on the bed, she nodded in approval before looking to Ewwie. "You look very nice," she complimented the Squib. "I am going to shower very quickly so I am presentable as well. Dru may be joining us as well," she nodded. "Would you check on her for me?"

Ewwiekewwieikkie examined Htaere for a moment as she mentioned Drusilla going also and a look of slight concern formed upon her face. "Okay, but don't let her eat my treats!" she warned Htaere, before stumbling off the bed, falling to the ground awkwardly, and then running out of the room without missing a beat. She made her way down the corridor and entered right into Jelena's old room to find Drusilla. "Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!" she said, before taking hold of her young 'sister' and shaking her franticly, as if this girl was single-handedly blocking her from the treats.

"Get..." Drusilla began, as the Squib began to shake her repeatedly, finding it difficult to continue speaking. "...your wet stinking paws..." she continued, stuttering, as her mouth shook violently from the shakes, her teeth chattering with each motion. " of me!" she finally blurted out, screaming, which finally caused her to be released. She rolled her eyes at the girl's excited personality, which she had still not had gotten used to, despite the fact that they had spent her entire life with her. She then wiped off the traces of fur left behind and placed on a pleasant summer dress in varying shades of green, before the duo waited patiently in the case of Drusilla, impatiently in the case of Ewwiekewwieikiie.

Clean, hair rolled into a loose tunnel bun and in her simple gown and cape and a sandals, Htaere gave herself an approving look in the full length mirror before emerging. She looked the girls over in the hallway with a smile. "Very lovely. Now, let us get out of this prison and enjoy ourselves," she stated firmly. Producing her personal comm, she dialed up one of the security personal. "Please have a transport prepped for us for New Calamar at once," she instructed. "Ladies," she addressed the step-daughters and glided towards the marble stair to descend gracefully and move to the main entrance of the elaborate mansion.

As the trio exited the estate there was a flourish of activity among the Imperial personnel. The shuttle had been prepared, and the Stormtroopers were forming up in preparation for the journey. Lieutenant Haven Anson stood at the base of the shuttle, dressed in her black, unkempt uniform with crooked rank insignia and crumpled hat. "I think we're gonna need a bigger shuttle," she said to Htaere, without any formal greeting, as she began to count all of the Stormtroopers that were preparing to board with them. "The platoon commander wants to know the destination so the advance team can do a security sweep, Milady," she said, before being roughly brushed aside by one of the heavy weapons the troopers were loading with no concern for her.

Htaere shook her head. "We shall not be needing the squad today. It is just the three of us if you please," she stated with no room for negotiating. "Discretion is the best for our outing today, not a full presence."

Haven swallowed nervously at Htaere's request, her big blue eyes going wide at the realization of what that meant. "" she stammered, turning her head so rapidly to look at the Stormtroopers that her pig tails began to fly back and worth rapidly. "I don't think your hubby is going to like that, Milady," she said, nervously, unable to look at her as she said the words. "Stop it. Stop it, you guys!" she said to the Stormtroopers, who did not listen to a word the imbecile pilot was saying, to her consternation.

"Claudius is quite busy. So busy that I doubt our activity will be worthy of notice," she replied plainly. " it is every day," she added, frowning. "Claudius is hardly here. We would like a nice outting as a family," she continued. What is left of it, she thought internally, yet said nothing outwardly.

Randi moved towards the commander of the unit and began to argue with him about the presence of the Stormtroopers aboard *her* shuttle, but was quickly reminded that it was the Empire's shuttle. She let out a loud huff, before looking over towards Htaere and the children, wondering how far she should push this. She moved back over towards the Hapan and pulled her hat from her head, and looked towards her nervously. "I dont think we can be rid of them, Milady. I am sorry. Do you still wish to depart?" she asked, noticing the excitement on the young, naive Squib.

Unwilling to budge, Htaere produced her com unit again, this time, calling upon Major Kiley. "Kerrie? Are you there?"

Kerrie Kiley was aboard the command ship, still recovering from her recent, unpleasant encounter with Imperial Intelligence, that seemed every bit as awful as the ISB. When her comm beeped she was at first startled, wondering what she was being summoned for now, before finally realizing it was Htaere on the other end of the line. "Yes, Milady. How may I be of service?" she said, as she ducked out of the main corridor of the Warspite, finding herself in a small room with a redundant terminal that regulated power to some system whose purpose she was oblivious too.

"Kerrie, the girls and I are taking a much needed outing to New Calamar. We should like our privacy and being discreet will be better than being tailed by a small army," Htaere said, releaved to here the Major's voice. "Please tell the squad to stand down. Their presence could be a detriment to us. One security official not in uniform would be sufficient for security. Can you assist with this?"

Kerrie cringed on the other end of the comlink when she heard Htaere's request, as she knew the Governor had given strict orders for the family not to leave the safety of the compound on Esseles without strict security. "I apologize, Milady," she began, weakly, as she scrambled inside of her brain to seek out the words she needed to explain the situation to Htaere. "The recent Rebel activity has made the guard a necessity. They are the best trained men in the sector, I assure you," she informed her, trying to sound confident, but secretly knowing that it was not the answer that Htaere sought. "Would you like for me to lead the detachment?" she asked, trying her best to find a compromise that would both please Htaere and fulfill the Governor's orders.

Htaere's lip twitched in just the slightest. This was not what she wanted to hear, and yet somehow, it did not surprise her. With a well-concealed exhale of disdain, she relented without further protest. "No, thank you, Kerrie. It will not be necessary for you to abandon your duties at present." She cast a sideways glance towards her shopping companions, Ewwie and Drusilla, and managed a smile, fake, but polite. "We shall suffice as we are. Thank you for your time."

Ewwiekewwieikkie looked to Htaere for approval, before scurrying forward into the shuttle with the Storm Commandos. The young Squib was thrilled with the prospect of getting out of the compound, even if she did not understand all that was going on. Drusilla's focus was on the troopers as well, but rather than viewing them as a hindrance, she saw them as something of a status symbol. "Come on then," she said to Htaere, as she slowly made her way up the ramp into the shuttle. She was quick to fasten her harness, and even checked on Ewwie's ... not out of kindness, but to ensure that there were no further delays in their departure.

Unwilling to extol further energy on being unhappy about the current mandated arrangements, and rather anticipating leaving the estate as well, Htaere took her own seat in the shuttle, a bit more jovial at the mere thought of getting out for a bit. Awaiting departure, she looked over her stepdaughters. "Any suggestions as to where we should start when we get to town? Plenty to see and do. Many choices."

Before either of the girls could answer, Haven was blasting the Kwai off the landing platform at the estate and sending them skyrocketing into the lower atmosphere. "Don't worry. I'll have you there in no time," she yelled from the cockpit, in reassuring fashion, as they passed over the distance that separated their estate on the outskirts of the bustling city of New Calamar. There was a great deal larger Imperial presence since the last time the family visited in the city as evidenced by Stormtrooper patrols, atmospheric fighters, and speeders. The once quiet, commercial city now resembled something like occupied territory. As they had priority clearance there was no delay in their landing at the spaceport, where they were greeted by even more Stormtroopers and an armored military transport that would take them wherever they needed to go.

Htaere surveyed the oppressed nuance of the city, finding it vastly different, and unfortunately so. Shoveling down her ever-growing dismay, she fixed a pleasant smile, as best as she could muster, and offered it to Ewwie and Drusilla. "Ladies, your chariot awaits," she motioned.

The Reconnaissance Troop Transporter was hovering next to the spaceport with a trooper visibly manning a light blaster cannon turret above. As the girls boarded the RTT they found it much like the shuttle with it's cold military design, limited comforts, but it was in fact the most safe vehicle they could possibly traverse the city. As the vehicle moved from the spaceport to the marketplace, a troop of four Scout Troopers came alongside with their speeder bikes to offer further security. Overhead TIE Strikers maintained constant aerial surveillance. The Storm Commandos seemed to have gone, but they were there, but doing their best to not be seen. Unprecedented military forces were being assigned to protect the family, to the detriment of more serious military affairs.

In an effort to divert their attentions from the overkill of their military escorts, Htaere perked up. "Any ideas yet on where we should like to start our day? We can find any number of trinkets for Ewwie, gowns for Dru, a lovely lunch and dessert perhaps?"

"Dessert!" Ewwiekewwieikkie squealed, as she unfastened her safety harness, and moved from the RTT into the marketplace. The security detachment found it incredibly difficult to guard the young Squib, and some of them resented the idea of having to guard an alien in the first place. The merchants were glad to see her as she was prone to breaking their items, which were all quickly played for by the family. Each of them began shining trinkets in the air, beckoning her as if she were an animal, which had the unfortunate reaction of causing her to run back and forth in an excited frenzied. "I want! I want! I want! I want!" she screamed, as she experienced a sensory overload from being back in the marketplace for the first time in ages.

Drusilla let out a pained sigh as she watched her 'sister' scramble out of the RTT and behave like an imbecile. "I would love to go gown shopping," she said, as she rose gracefully, and took one of the arms of the troopers as an escort. "How many can I get? Five?" she asked, and then suggested an answer, as she was lifted down from the transport delicately so that she would not fall. Slowly, she was led towards the most expensive fashion boutique in the marketplace, leaving Htaere to deal with the crazed Squib.

Normally Htaere would have objected to Drusilla's infatuation with materialism, yet she found herself unable to deny the girl her request, as if it made up for the guilt of watching Claudius' attention to Drusilla and Ewwie wane in his obsession with Jelena. She could not deny how awful she found his negligence. "Fine. Five. I shall be right there. Mind your manners whilst I tend to Ewwie," she stated solidly towards Drusilla's retreating form. Re-afixing her attention to Ewwie, Htaere glided off towards the trinket vendors, watching the Squib in near envy at how she was contented with such simple notions. "Ewwie," she called to her. "Mind your manners as well, please."

When Ewwiekewwieikkie heard Htaere she stopped dead in her tracks, and affixed her yellow eyes to her. "Aww, but ... but ... but..." she stammered, completely overwhelmed, as her eyes darted between one shiny object and another that was being dangled like a fishing lure to attract her. Finally, she unleashed a beleaguered sigh, and dutifully moved back towards Htaere, sulking. "So many," she explained to her step-mother, as she wrapped both of her furry arms around her in a tug that was much too tight.

Htaere wrapped one arm around her and held up the other hand, flashing her fingers twice in a count of ten. "Yes many took choose from. Pick ten," she instructed gently.

Ewwkewwieikkie's yellow eyes went wide when she was informed she could have ten. She turned excitedly, looking at all of the shops, and was basically panting at the anticipation of what was to come. She stood there for a moment before surging forward towards the jewelry store with the largest assortment of shiny objects. It was always a struggle for her not to yank the gems off Htaere, but she had no appreciation of the value for anything. Something made of tin was just as valuable as something made of silver to her, given the shine. While nefarious clerks tried to steer her towards the most expensive items, she passed most of them up for items that dangled and glimmered in her eyes. She kept forgetting how many she was supposed to get, and quickly had amassed quite the pile. She was practically drooling now, and did her best to count to everything she had so far. "One, two, five ... uh," she began, before seeing something else and snatching it up desperately. Each mass produced trinket was precious to her, and she worried she would never see it again.

Htaere remained quiet and uninvolved, letting Ewwie choose her own keepsakes and exercise independence. It was a rare commodity these days it seemed. Briefly she flashed a glance towards the boutique where Drusilla had vanished off to, trying on half the store no doubt. In an effort to draw some inner peace, she inhaled deeply and briefly closed her eyes, focusing on the warmth of the sun on her face and the sounds of the market. Everywhere she looked she saw the Empire's overbearing military presence. At least with her eyes closed, she could blot them out to some extent.

Drusilla emerged from the boutique wearing a spectacular ball gown, which was not at all suited for mid-week shopping at the boutique. Behind her was an entourage of Stormtoopers forced to carry garment bags containing her new dresses, as if they were servants. She was quite pleased with how the Empire had deployed their forces, as she viewed them all as subordinates whom she could order about as it suited her. "Is she done yet?" she asked, as she came to a stop next to Htaere. While she loved shopping she was remarkably impatient when it came to other people shopping. She looked across at the rapidly moving blue ball of fur, and began tapping her left foot impatiently. "Do hurry," she yelled at her adopted sister, condescendingly.

"She chooses as thoughtfully as you do, I am certain," Htaere replied before gazing over to her stepdaughter. "That is quite beautiful on you," she observed before looking over at the stormtroopers turned bellhops. "Did we limit our selection to five or did we add a few items?"

"Five dresses," Drusilla said, as she moved forward to rush Ewwiekewwieikkie along, as she wanted to get towards eating. "Of course you said nothing about a limit on shoes, skirts, blouses, purses, hats, pajamas," she explained, counting off a long list of garments she had managed to get through the convenient loophole. Her father, despite his laws, was a skilled diplomat and young Dru was not as naive as some might have thought.

Htaere didn't bother to hide her amusement. "I do believe you should make a fine barrister when you grow up," she commented lightly. "You certainly have the mind for it."

From above a Lambda-class shuttle began to approach rapidly, touching down in a makeshift landing zone in the middle of the marketplace rather than in the spaceport. From down the ramp came Grand Moff Claudius Rodney, who had a concerned look upon his face. His tired old eyes scanned the area for Htaere and his children, before one of the Stormtroopers pointed him in their direction. With the Grand Moff present on the surface the entirety of the marketplace was now under military control and a state of temporary martial law had been imposed. "Htaere, my dear," he said, as he approached her. He placed each of his hands upon her forearms and gently moved his face forward to place a kiss upon each of her cheeks. "I was told you were having a day out. I thought I'd join you for lunch," he added, but in reality, he was here out of a paranoid concern for their safety and well being ... despite the overbearing Imperial military presence that surrounded them.

Surprised to say the least, Htaere was rendered momentarily speechless before recovering. An optimistic smile appeared on her face instantly. "My word, Claudius, this is quite a surprise. I have quite honestly nearly forgotten what you look like, we seldom see you." She waved a hand towards Drusilla and Ewwie. "We are indeed having a much needed day out. I am certain the girls would be elated to have you join us." She observed him a bit more keenly and lowered her voice. "You appear as though you need a few days out. You seem quite tired, Claudius."

"Have they left us enough credits to get some lunch, or have they drained the family treasury?" Claudius asked her, half-joking, but also quite serious as he watched an entire squad of his Stormtroopers load Drusilla's garment bags aboard the shuttle. "Come," he said, rather abruptly, as he took his wife by the arm and began leading her towards the nearest bistro. "Ewwie," he called out, which caused the young Squib to scamper off to join the family for their much needed meal. The Stormtroopers preceded them into the restaurant, sweeping for explosives, before they were finally allowed to sit at a table near none of the other patrons in the simple restaurant. "So tell me about your day," he said, as he pulled out the chair for his wife, before moving to sit opposite her. His eyes jumped between looking at her and the menu as he had not had a non-military meal in quite sometime.

"I believe they left us some," Htaere answered. "They were given specific limitations on purchases but I am afraid young Drusilla outwitted me after a fashion with a loophole, as it were." Htaere selected an elegant salad from the menu before folding it before her and smiling across the table. "There is not much to tell I am afraid. I fell off of my guarlara this morning when she spooked at a few air patrols, and we opted to alleviate our distress at such overwhelming military presence with a day in town." She lowered her voice. "You know, none of this is necessary, Claudius. A very small or singular escort would have sufficed."

Claudius looked at Drusilla side-eyed as Htaere mentioned how she had outwitted her in terms of her purchases. "If only my commanders had her cunning then perhaps our war effort might be further along," he mused, before ordering some food and drinks for the table. "You fell?!" he asked concerned, immediately putting down the menu, to look across the table with genuine concern. "I am sorry, my dear," he said, as he reached across the table to take her hand, and give it a reassuring squeeze. "I will order the aerial patrols to increase their flight ceiling so they no longer cause the issue," he said, as he leaned back to allow the sommelier the opportunity to pour the wine. When his glass was filled one quarter of the way, he raised it, swirling it slightly, before inhaling and taking a soft sip. It lingered on his palette for a moment, and then he nodded his head to the man, who began to fill Htaere's glass. "These Rebels are monsters, Htaere. They already got to Jelena. I can't bare to let them get to you or the girls," he said, still in his delusions, as he looked to each of them, simply to remind himself that they were still there with him.

Unwilling to get into any discussion on the matter, Htaere sampled her own wine, finding it enjoyable before returning her gaze to her husband. "I am ill-equipped to comment on such things," she replied very quietly. "I should like to think that wherever she is, perhaps Jelena is being well cared for." Htaere drew herself up and amended the conversation. "You know what I think though?" She flashed a smile at Dru and Ewwie. "I think there are a couple of young ladies at this table who might very much enjoy a special day with their father all to themselves."

Claudius' eyes moved first to Drusilla, who seemed intent upon ordering half the menu, despite having a dining habit of only picking at her food. His eyes next moved to Ewwiekewwieikkie who was more interested in her fork and spoon than any of the food being offered to her. He then looked towards Htaere and offered her a kind smile. "They do seem to be enjoying themselves," he added, as he took a sip from his now full glass of wine. He was careful not to engage her on the matter of Jelena, as it was a particularly sore subject for him that made him prone to irrational outbursts. "There was a bombing not too long ago that took the lives of many fine officers. All they were doing was trying to eat..." he revealed, bitterly, as he began to cut into the small steak that had been prepared for him. It was cooked rare, and the blood that spread out upon the plate was a metaphor for the situation he found himself in. "I do miss your company," he added, as he took his first bite, followed by a contemplative sigh.

"And I miss yours," Htaere replied with an endearing smile. "I wish all of this conflict and war would end, and you could retire. We could find a very quiet and serene corner of the galaxy, spend our days in the warm sunlight on a glorious lake. Fresh air, all the plants and trees and lush forests we could imagine." Htaere moved around a few pieces of lettuce before taking a bite. "I think of such a dream often."

"I promise you, Htaere, the moment this Rebellion is quashed I will inform the Emperor of my decision to resign and we shall live that dream," Claudius said, seriously, as he looked across the table at his young wife. "I have an obligation to the people of this sector to protect them from these vile terrorists," he explained to her, before retreating into his glass of wine. "News from home, I'm afraid," as he changed the subject, swallowing uncomfortably. He was hesitant to bring up such delicate family matters, but it seemed as if he saw her less and less and he knew not when he might next get to inform her. "Father is unwell, and because of my duties as Grand Moff, mother wishes me to step aside as heir for a less ... controversial ... choice," he explained, as he plunged his knife back into the steak to cut himself another morsel.

Htaere recalled the Duke of Delaya, the pompous old meddler who'd arranged for her marriage to Claudius, for all the wrong reasons. "I am so sorry to hear of this. I do wish him a swift recovery," she commented diplomatically. "Step aside as heir? How do you feel about this?"

"The prognosis is not good," Claudius revealed, as he felt Ewwiekewwieikkie would not understand and Drusilla would not care. "Perhaps ... perhaps we should go to him," he said, in an uncharacteristic moment of weakness and emotion, which was quickly followed by another meeting of wine glass to lips. "I never wanted to be Duke. It was something that was always understood, but I do not think I have time with my duties," he explained, as his eyes angled skyward as he entered into deep contemplation. "Besides, you never really wanted to be Duchess, did you?" he asked her, as he decided to seek her opinion, while eating another piece of meat.

Claudius was full of surprises today it seemed. Htaere blinked for a moment before recollecting her thoughts. "If you should like us to visit him, then I am in agreement. As for your birthright..." Htaere appeared unbothered by either option. "While our marriage may have been intended for political reasons, it was certainly not the reason I ultimately married you. I am here because I choose to be. *You* gave me the freedom to make that choice, and I did. Your father and my mother's conspiring had nothing to do with the decision we made for ourselves in the end. Your rank in either society or in the military also has no bearing on my decision to remain with you. Lest you forget, I myself am nobility and born to privilege. I do not need extra titles to justify my own social standing."

Htaere paused for a moment. "I do not know what is entailed in the nobility of Delaya, but I shall say this with the utmost sincerity. I have no desire to serve the Empire as you do. If that is a condition of your accepting your heritage, then I shall continue as your silent spouse." She did not elaborate on her misgivings about the correct side to be on, though such seeds had long been planted. "I am Hapan," she stated, and left it at that.

"Then let's be done with it. My career has been such a burden on our marriage and on my family that we need not take on the responsibility of Duke and Duchess," Claudius said to her, and in one sentence had cast aside a title that his family had passed down for eight centuries. There was a sudden ease about him, as one of the many burdens that plagued him, and weighed heavily upon him, was dropped to the ground like a dead weight. "My brother is going to be a father ... maybe that will cause him to grow up ... perhaps he will be Duke," he said, not particularly caring, as he instead attended to the steak before it cooled too much to chew effectively. "No more politics on this fine, rare occasion. Today I am just your simple husband, and you my lovely wife," he said to her, with a sweet smile, as the staff began to clear the plates in front of them. "And yes ... I do feel we should depart to Delaya at your earliest possible convenience," he said, as he brought the linen napkin to his face, dabbing at his lips gently.

"I believe a congratulations are in order for your brother then. Another reason yet to visit Delaya." Finishing her own meal, Htaere actually found herself enjoying the afternoon. They hadn't shared any real family time in so long, she'd nearly forgotten how much she missed it. She surveyed the girls' plates and took another sip of wine. "When we return, we can begin packing. As to our exact departure, I shall leave that to you regarding your responsibilities here," she nodded towards Claudius.

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