Major Kerrie Kiley paced nervously
in the downstairs living room of Claudius Rodney's Esselian estate.
She had debated the visit throughout most of the day, but finally
she felt that she had no choice. She almost went to the
Admiral himself, but in the end she took the coward's way out and
decided to approach Htaere. Still, this would be difficult for her.
She was trained to follow orders and not to question the judgment of
her superiors, but she had been ordered to protect this man ... and
his family ... and found it immensely difficult to perform that task
Htaere emerged from
the shadows of an archway from one of the parlors, all smiles at the
major's presence. She wore a fitted bodice with a band of woven gold
across the chest and a floor length skirt with a similar golden band
on its hem. The entire ensemble was a midnight blue in color,
striking against cloudy grey eyes. Her sun-kissed red hair tumbled
down her back and shoulders in large loose cork-screw style curls,
emerging from beneath the wide band of a head-dress that encircled
her skull with hand-sized semi-circle ornaments that covered her
ears. Of course the newest edition to her extensive and rather
intricate wardrobe was a certain ring on her left hand. She
approached the woman eagerly and her smile widened further. "Major
Kiley" she exclaimed pleasantly.
"Lady Htaere," Major Kiley said with
a polite smile. She bowed respectfully at the waist to her,
stressing the formality of the occasion. "I regret that I must speak
with you," she continued is a melancholy tone. Her smile soon faded
as her body tensed up in a more military fashion, as she awaited
permission to continue.
insisted before motioning to any number of luxurious repulsorcouches.
Major Kiley nodded politely to
Htaere and took a seat on a rather luxurious sofa that was near her.
She folded her hands upon her lap and looked up at Htaere. A frown
formed upon her mimicked Human face as she addressed her, "I am
afraid your behavior the other night was completely unacceptable. I
do not know where you had the Admiral escort you after your dinner
the other night, but I simply cannot allow that to happen again. I
must know where you are at all times if I am to perform my
duty. This region is far too dangerous for you just too go off on
Htaere's lovely face
took on a very touched expression. "I apologize Major. It will not
happen again" she said, barely able to conceal a grin at the major.
"Please see that it does not,"
Kerrie said in a concerned tone, "The situation here worsens by the
day. We have the means by which to protect you all, but you must
make use of them." Kerrie's face turned more pleasant as she
continued the conversation, "Where did you have him take you
For a fleeting
nanosecond the Hapan's face seemed to contort in perplexion. Under
the impression everything was passive and in order, whatever
"situation" the major mentioned was new and intriguing. However she
dismissed it for later and her shoulders rose and fell in an honest
shrug. "I am not really sure. It was very beautiful, wherever it
was. It reminded me of home" she replied, her voice nearly drifting
off along with her mind into thought and remembrance. She snapped
out of the revelry to fix Major Kiley with a gleeful grin. "I did
get to ride on the bike, which I have never done before. It was
Kerrie's brow furrowed in confusion
at Htaere's statement, "I'm sorry ... where did you get a
"I believe it
belongs to Claudius" Htaere answered. "The speeder bike" she
repeated, as if it could automatically be identified among the
Admiral's presumable cornucopia of "toys."
Kerrie shook her head back and forth
several times, not entirely understanding what she was being told.
"You mean this was his idea?" she asked in disbelief.
"No. I asked to go
for a walk. The bike was already there" Htaere was visibly
recollecting the night in question, as evident by the pensive look
on her youthful facade.
"Well ... please," Kerrie said,
pleading with her, "I would feel awful if anything happened to you
and I was not there to protect you. Do not go off unattended again."
glossy tiers arched upwards in a very bemused grin. "Careful Major.
Speaking as such may lead people to believe you harbor something
other then blind hatred to the man who you claim destroyed your
family." She straightened up and her grin lapsed more casually. "I
am in no danger. There is no hostility to me. I believe you were the
intended target in the market place. I am but a face in the crowd
here" Htaere seemed most pleased with such a statement, rather
liking the ability to meld in and out with no eyebrows raising.
"Everyone is danger," Kerrie said,
as she stood up from the sofa and walked towards Htaere, "The battle
raging in this region does not distinguish between those who wear
the uniform and those who do not."
Htaere's cool grey
eyes observed her inquisitively. She said nothing, digesting the bit
of light shed on her blindness to a reality she was oblivious to.
Kerrie sighed as she reached out to
take Htaere's hands into her own. "You have shown me great ...
kindness," she explained very slowly, "I cannot bring myself to lie
to you. The Rebel insurgents are monsters. They will kill anyone to
spread their message of chaos."
Htaere turned it
over in her mind before her expression brightened instantly.
"Perhaps a delegation of diplomats can speak with them. I am trained
for such. I volunteer" she proposed enthusiastically.
"You cannot negotiate with...,"
Kerrie began to explain when suddenly she felt the ring on Htaere's
finger. Her head lowered to examine it for a moment and she said
nothing. She released her grasp upon Htaere's hands and slowly
backed up several steps before raising her head to look Htaere in
the eye again.
Htaere's large doe
eyes blinked innocently at Major Kiley. Her voice was slow and
painfully sincere. "What is wrong?"
"I am sorry, My Lady," Major Kiley
said in a frightened tone. She was terrified and it showed on her
face. Had she known the Admiral had given her a ring she never would
have been so forward and open. She began to panic as to whether or
not all of what she said would soon be repeated to the Admiral. The
nightmare of being tortured ... or worse ... began to flash through
The dazed expression
on Htaere's face remained, unflinching in her bewilderment. "I do
not understand" she admitted quietly.
"Please, Milady," Kerrie said in a
frantic tone, "Forget what I said here today. Everything is fine
here ... really."
Htaere rose to her
feet, granite pools settled intensely on Major Kiley as her decorum
seemed to slip further and further. She looked crushed. "Please
Kerrie. I am your friend. Have I done something to offend you?"
"No ... no," Kerrie reassured Htaere,
"I just did not realize..."
The slow dawning
came over her, and her eyes dropped to her left hand, lifting it to
examine her ring. When her gaze lifted, a nervous smile worked
across her face, her words were slow, the nervousness manifested in
the near-wavering of her speech. "The Admiral has asked me to marry
him" she mumbled stupidly, as if the concept needed recapping. She
nearly chuckled, her mannerism aflutter. "I have accepted" she
managed between qualmish giggles. She opened her mouth to speak yet
again, hesitated for a moment, and then continued. "I have never
been married before. I am...afraid" she said with a shakey grin,
working hard to communicate, an odd change from the usually
dignified young woman.
"You ... are not going to tell him
about this, are you?" Kerrie nervously asked her as she became
frantic, "He might not understand my concerns and become very angry
with me for speaking to his fiancé in such a manner. I meant no
offense. I assure you. Please ... he need not know about any of
this. I beg you for forgiveness." She fell to her knees in front of
Htaere and lowered her head, hoping to be saved.
hardened for a moment. "We cannot be talking about the same person.
Claudius would not be angry with you" she frowned, extending her
hands down to the major. "Please do not do this" she pleaded. "You
have done nothing to offend. Please, rise. We are equal. I wish not
to see you like this" she stated. She kept her hands out, palms up,
for Major Kiley to take.
"It is not him that I am worried
about, Milady," Kerrie said as she rose back to her feet, but
avoided making eye contact. "There are people who work for him
though that would not be pleased with what I have confided in you.
Those are the ones that I worry about."
"I do not know these
people. But I promise you that I will not allow anything to happen
to you. And should their voices outweigh mine, then we shall go to
jail together, my friend" Htaere grinned, mirthlessly. Such a
concept was beyond the scope of her imagination, but she would not
"Oh thank you," Kerrie said as she
was overcome with relief. She sighed and sat back down on the sofa,
utterly spent from the encounter. She then looked up to Htaere and
for the first time considered the fact that she might have a friend.
She smiled slight, but was still trembling, "I have been selfish. So
... he proposed? What was it like?"
"He asked repeatedly
if I would be happy. He put his face very close to mine...like so"
she said, her accent putting a funny twist to it as she lifted her
hand in front of her face to imitate their conversation. She lowered
it a moment later and smiled "It was very sweet. The night sky was
very beautiful, the sound of the water...I did not see this
Kerrie began to put the pieces
together in her head. "Ohhh," she said as it began to make sense,
"So that is where you went the other night. I understand now
the need for privacy. Please forgive my earlier outburst."
"Your apology is not
necessary. Claudius suspected you would be upset, in truth. But he
seemed so happy to get away, if only for a short while. I could not
have deprived him of that freedom" Htaere answered thoughtfully.
"You said earlier you were afraid?"
Kerrie asked, not quite sure what she meant.
"I am nervous, yes"
Htaere affirmed. "Have you been married?"
"No," Kerrie said, lowering her head
towards the ground, "I gave up on that idea years ago."
"Because of your
employ?" Htaere asked, her head tilting in the slightest.
"Because of a lot of things..."
Kerrie said sadly, shimmering briefly back to her Clawdite form. She
sighed and raised her head, placing a smile upon her restored Human
face for Htaere's benefit, "But this is the time for celebrating.
Have you two set a date yet?"
She shook her head.
"No, but I believe Claudius wants to go to Alderaan to meet his
family. I am...slightly apprehensive. I have met his father in
person once, and been privy to his negotiations with my mother
during the infant stages of this arrangement. I do not approve of
his...mouthiness" she supplied the word carefully. "I dread that the
rest of his lineage will be as unwelcoming as his immediate family,
at least temporarily for some."
"Well just remember," Kerrie said
with a smile, "While you are only visiting his father ... Drusilla
will soon be your daughter, and there will be no escaping her for
the next several years. Have you told the children yet?"
"She will never be
my daughter. I fear the discipline she desperately needs will be too
little too late. And no. I have not. I believe it will be better
received, if such a thing is possible, if he would be the one to
deliver the news."
"Well it is getting late," Kerrie
explained, reflecting on what had happened here tonight. "Again,"
she continued, "Forgive my indiscretions here tonight. And met me
add my congratulations to those you shall soon be receiving."
Htaere's lips lifted
in a grateful smile "Thank you" she said in a hushed tone, nodding
respectfully to the woman.
Claudius Rodney had another
difficult day at work dealing with the increasingly deteriorating
situation on Ralltiir. He groaned tiredly as he ascended the stairs
to where the living quarters were. "In my next house," Claudius
muttered to himself, "My bedroom will be on the ground floor." He
closed his eyes and caught his breath at the top of the stairs ...
he was getting old. He smiled as he saw that Htaere's door was still
open and proceeded down the hallway towards her room. He stopped at
the entrance to her room and cleared his throat, "Still awake?"
From where she
stood, carefully watering one of the numerous plants she'd had
brought in, she turned at the sound of a familiar, welcomed voice.
Her face warmed, smiling towards him, the light from her fireplace
casting a semi-stable shadow across her features as she turned away
from it. "I am. How was your day?"
"It was about the same as usual,"
Claudius explained as he stepped forward into the room and towards
her. He came to a stop directly in front of her and smiled warmly.
"I love you," he said in a much more relaxed tone. He moves his face
towards her and placed a soft, brief kiss upon her lips.
The words nearly
stopped her in her tracks. "Do you?" she pondered aloud. And yet, as
she studied him intensively to gauge his intent, she could come up
with only the same conclusion. She found only genuine conviction. At
ease with her own split-second assessment, her face softened again
into a smile. She put her watering tin down and sidled up to him
affectionately, embracing him tightly and lingering in his scent,
something she did at every given opportunity. "I did not expect this
when our arrangements were made. But I think of you endlessly
Claudius and it makes me smile, proof positive that you are in my
heart" she murmured, her face half buried in the front of his tunic.
"Yes," Claudius said with a smile,
"I am quite charming." He was kidding of course, but he wanted her
to see that he had a sense of humor and with the day he had he
needed a laugh. "How was your day?" he asked with genuine interest
as he wrapped both of his arms around her. Placing his hands upon
the small of her back he held her close to him.
"I had a very nice
visit again with Ker..." she cut herself off. "...Major Kiley.
And..." her voice trailed off as her thoughts sidetracked.
"Claudius...what is really going on here?" She lifted her head from
its resting spot against him and glanced up to his face gravely.
"Major Kiley tells me things...terrible things about these people."
"What kind of things has the Major
been saying?" Claudius asked, loosening his grip and looking down at
her with a concerned facial expression.
"That they are
murderous, as on our attack. And moments earlier, she told me
everything was fine. You say the same." It was not a question. "You
withhold the truth from me? I offered to speak with these people.
Perhaps a non-violent solution can be reached."
"The local insurgency ... while
violate and deplorable ... are no threat," Claudius explained to
her. From his point of view, it was an accurate statement. "As for
Major Kiley," he continued, "Perhaps I should have the security
bureau discuss the situation with her. They can be quite persuasive.
I am sure they can clear this up."
stiffened considerably. "I do not wish you to do anything to Major
Kiley. She is only concerned for our safety." Her lower lip set in
determination. "She is my friend Claudius, the only one I have in
"Shh," Claudius uttered quietly,
"It'll be alright. I assure you that nothing bad will happen to her,
but she should not be worrying you with such things."
"Assure me that
nothing will happen to her at all" Htaere insisted. "I am glad that
she has enlightened me to the danger that you face. Is it not my
right to know?"
"The danger is shared by all who
wear the uniform, Htaere," Claudius explained to her, "But do not
fret, for I have worn the uniform for more than two decades now. I
have been in many battles and survived them all. Do not worry about
the Major, they will just question her."
Htaere stared at him
a moment longer before drawing back, utterly beside herself. More
displeased with her unintentional betrayal, she sought to calm the
rampaging heartbeat barely contained beneath her chest. She looked
back to him, visibly broken. "I can talk to her, but I cannot talk
to you" she concluded audibly before turning away to pluck up the
watering tin and resume her plant husbandry.
"We are talking right now, Htaere,"
he said compassionately as he took a few steps closer towards her.
"What is troubling you?" he asked with genuine concern, "Please ...
She didn't bother to
look up. "Twice...twice I have confided in you, as she confides in
me. And twice you have disregarded that trust, that loyalty, that
very precarious confidence." She frowned, not that the expression
ever really diminished to begin with, simply taking on a bolder
tone. "I am..." she fumbled on the words "...sad for you, Claudius,
that you do not see how you terrify the woman."
"Htaere," Claudius said with a sigh.
He knelt down next to her, groaning as the muscles in his back
tensed up. "How have I disregarded you?" he asked in deep concern.
She put her watering
tin down and panned her sparkling grey eyes towards him. She took
him in visually and her expression softened a bit. "You have asked
for my hand, Claudius. Had you but married me at the behest of your
father, I would not come to expect your honesty. I have no reason to
doubt Kerrie.." as soon as the word was out, she scowled at herself,
closed her eyes and forced the words "..Major Kiley." Her composure
regained, she continued. "And you will punish her for this? For
telling me truths that you will not?" Htaere's head shook as she
haplessly pruned a dead leaf from the plant in front of her. "I do
not understand your society" she confessed.
"I am being honest with you, Htaere,"
Claudius assured her. "Of course it is dangerous, but it is no more
dangerous than any other assignment in the Empire. I do not want to
punish Major Kiley, but I do want to make sure that my officers are
in agreement on the situation. That is all ... really."
She evaluated him in
silence for a handful of heartbeats before lifting her chin. "Then I
have but one request of you Claudius."
"Anything," Claudius said,
attempting to make the situation right.
"I ask that
be the one to tell her where you are sending her, and why." Wild
grey orbs narrowed slightly. "And please, look her in the eye when
you do it. There is something there I think you should see" she
"Of course," Claudius said to her in
an attempt to reassure her. He stood back up and smiled down at her
kindly, "Would you like to be there too?"
became sullen, resigning in defeat. Her gaze remain staid on the
fire, nodding subtley. "I owe her that much" she mumbled.
"You will see," Claudius told her,
"Everything will be fine."
Htaere said nothing,
finishing her bit of indoor garden work without further comment
before looking towards him. "If you are tired, do not let me keep
you" she said. She moved across the room towards him, suppressing
the self-loathing reasonably well and stopped before him, stretching
up on the balls of her feet to leave a tender kiss on his aged lips.
"I am sorry" she said quietly. "I do not wish to pick fights."
"Do not worry, Htaere," Claudius
said quietly after their kiss ended, "When we leave for Alderaan we
will be together all of the time and away from politics and war."