I have never been a dress up sort of girl, not much call for it in Mos Eisley, and as a dancer …it is not so much about dressing up as dressing down or better to say dressing in as little as possible and still remain decent. I was always the one who had engine grease under my nails and oil smears on my face and nose as opposed to nail polish and make up. All that girl stuff was just a little bit mysterious to me. Perhaps if my mother had lived that would have been different. It wasn’t as if my father was a lot of help in this area. I got by with the basics. It was a little daunting trying to decide what to wear and how to go about fixing my hair and face and so on.
The dress I had decided on was probably one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing I had ever seen. It was made from a very fine, soft silk that had been dyed various shades of green-blue. It looked to me to be how I always imagined an ocean would look like. The bodice was snug and form fitting with a V shaped scooped neckline and a very low back. It was complicated to describe because of the way the fabric folded, crossed and wrapped around the body. The dress flared out from the hips downward and seemed to form a whirlpool of foamy sea green silk in many layers that never seemed to stay still. The bodice and the hem of the dress had been hand beaded with tiny beads that were iridescent, every time I moved the dress seemed to sparkle. It had reminded me the way sunlight twinkles off water. There were no sleeves to speak of but rather beaded loops to slip the arms through that hung off the shoulders and at elbows, off which hung long flowing wings of silk. It was very elegant, extremely extravagant, completely impractical and I loved it. I had the perfect strappy little shoes to match with just enough heel to make me feel less like a Jawa that I usually did while standing next to Lord Vader. I had done basic make up, just enough to feel pretty but not so much that I felt as though I were wearing a mask. My hair I did up with the gorgeous Zenjji sticks Thrawn had given me, they matched the outfit perfectly. I probably should have worn some other jewelry but there was nothing I had that matched and so I left my neck bare, I thought the hair sticks were enough and the dress was almost jewelry in its own right. I added the last touch of perfume, and just as I was taking one last look in the mirror the door chime rang. My escort had arrived.
He had nodded curtly and said nothing. His hand gesture said to accompany him so I did. I had a light shawl that matched the dress wrapped about my shoulders and a tiny clutch purse that held my ID card, my apartment key and lip-gloss. I had been a little anxious while getting ready but now my heart was starting to pound. I did not ever recall being so nervous. Not even the first time I had ever performed on stage had I felt like this. I tried to remember to breathe as I followed the man who was escorting me to the waiting vehicle. He opened the door to the back seat area and I sat down, he sat silently beside me and the driver drove.
As we got closer I saw that what no one had bothered to tell me was that this was a red carpet affair. I began to nibble nervously at a nail then stopped. For a ride that was no more than five minutes long it lasted an eternity.
The vehicle stopped at the foot of the red carpet reception area and the driver got out and opened the door for me and the silent young man in the immaculate suit who was with me. With a white gloved hand the Driver helped me out of the vehicle and essentially passed me on to my escort. The man who had driven the vehicle said nothing and he left, it was unnerving. I concentrated on my breathing and tried to remember to smile. There were hundreds of people lined up on either side of the red carpet to see all the guests, along with camera crews and reporters galore. I had not been warned about this. I was scared to death. I must have been sending sparks out in all direction because I suddenly felt Lord Vader brush my mind, he was near by, there was a sensation of a whisper for me to calm myself down, he felt annoyed. Just breathe, I thought. My escort turned to me a nodded. With a smile we walked the red carpet. We did not, unlike some of the other guests who were also arriving at the same time, stop for photo opportunities or waves and play to the crowd. We simply walked straight past everyone with out so much as even a glance. The young man escorted me up the great stairs and within a few moments we were inside the great hall entrance. The fans, the curious and the paparazzi all left behind to cheer on the next people to walk the red carpet. I was never more glad to be inside than at that moment. With a curt nod the young man whose name I did not even know gave me a curt military style bow and left. I turned around to see where he had gone and found myself staring at Lord Vader. The Dark Lord gave me a curt come here hand gesture and with a deep breath I did as I was bid. Lord Vader said nothing merely walked into the grand hallway and we stood at the top of a second set of stairs waiting to be announced. It didn’t escape my notice that people had cleared a reasonable space around the Dark Lord.
Each year the Grand ball was held at the palace. The Imperial Palace had been rebuild, redesigned by the Emperor and in the redesign had been an enormous elaborate gala center. It was prominently situated in the center of everything and lavishly decorated. The main entrance has a grandiose designed so that all those who enter are given a spectacular view of the dance floor and seating areas. All of those who are already down in the main gala area must look up when the next guest is announced. Once you have been announced you descend the richly carpeted stairs to the intricately decorative marble floor below.
The ball room is vast and the ceilings are incredibly high with dark vaulting to give them an almost deep- space like feeling. To the right and the left of the main area are the tables and seating areas for the guests, set so that they are slightly above the dance area but not as high as the throne area that sits at the far end of the room opposite the entrance.Lord Vader waited while we were announced and then walked down the stairs, his black cloak flowing like water behind him. It was all I could do to keep up with him. He made polite nods in several directs as people greeting him but said nothing. I tried to keep my eyes front and just followed him.
He strode across the floor to the far side of the room on the right of the Throne, there in the corner was the table reserved for him. I also had place there, as was indicated by the beautifully scripted name card. I left me purse and shawl there, it was surprisingly warmer than I had expected.
“You may mingle if you wish, or stay here. Once the Emperor has made his entrance I shall expect you to be here. Is that clear?”
“Yes, my lord.” I said.
He did not sit but went back to the main floor and began to seek out certain people he wished to speak with. I was, it seemed merely decoration for the evening and of no consequence. That was fine with me. I waited until he was well out of the way and then made my way back down into the main area.
The place was filled with people of all sorts. I recognized the Imperial Navy and Military uniforms. The Palace Courtesans were easy to spot as they were all dressed according to the theme of the evening and I could see Shiv’s style written all over them. They were all quite stunningly beautiful. There were also a surprising amount of alien species given the Emperor’s dislike of anything not human. While I recognized many of the species present I could not have said who they were working for or affiliated with.Every few seconds a new arrival was announced and everyone would look up for a moment to see who it was and then return to their conversations.
It was very overwhelming and I was starting to feel a little like a grain of sand in the desert. I made my way through the crowds and small groups, the talk animated and lively. The atmosphere in the room was vibrant and for the most part cheerful. People glanced at me as I passed them and went back to their conversations. I was unknown and unimportant and I was happy to keep it that way.At the far corner exact opposite from where Lord Vader's table was I spotted Shiv talking to Antygra and I made my way over to them. As soon as Shiv saw me he waved.
“There you are, we were wondering if you were actually going to make it” he said as we greeted with the traditional kiss kiss.
“Not come and stand the Dark Lord of the Sith up? I value my life too much. ” I said as Antygra and I also said hullo in the traditional manner, a little peck of a kiss on each cheek.“Everything looks amazing.” I said.
Antygra nodded. “Yeah, Shiv has managed to do it again.” He said. “Be right back, some people down there I absolutely have to say hullo to.” And he vanished into the crowd.
Shiv gave me the once up and down look and made a twirl around motion so I did.“You look fabulous” he said. “I approve. You were right about the dress, it is perfect. I love what you did with your hair. Where did you get those gorgeous Zenjji sticks?”
“Thanks.” I said. “They were a gift.”
Shiv nodded. “Nice, not easy to get the Zenjji thing right, who taught you that?”
I told him about Bedi Nuale.
Shiv shook his head. “You never cease to amaze.” He grinned. Then his personal comm. started beeping softly. “Oops, gotta go and see what the problem is, probably someone broke a nail or something. I’ll be back eventually so don’t vanish with out saving me a dance, yeah?”
“Okay, I won’t.” I said and watched as he too vanished into the crowd.
Once again I was on my on my own. I liked where I was in though, it was out of the way enough that no one bothered to look at me and I did not get in anyone’s way, near the corner with out being backed into it. I watched the crowd around me as it shifted and moved. People mingled and chatted. The courtesans played their parts well, chatting to the guests with a polished ease that made me feel somewhat out of place. I had never gotten the hang of small talk. I watched two of them work the room. It was fascinating to see how each person they spoke to was made to feel special and the focus of attention. I wondered then, if there was a little more to the job of Palace courtesan than just looking good at the Emperor’s side.
I was certain that the amount of Intel being gathered at this shindig was immense and I wondered now if the Courtesans were also spies. It made sense to me. I was so drawn into my thoughts and watching the two courtesans that I did not notice who was around me. I almost jumped out of my skin when a soft voice whispered in my right ear. “The dress was indeed worth the wait.”
I turned to my side to stare Thrawn in the face. “Do you ever not sneak up on people?”
He smiled. He was wearing the Imperial dress uniform and he looked stunning in it, broad shouldered, slender waist. His blue-black hair had been newly cut, the short military style that I usually hated but it suited him. He had a strong face with strong features. He was all shadowy lines and cut stone angles. The softness of the blue hue in his skin was made somehow more noticeable by the deep dark colour of his hair, tinted with a blue that only comes when one's hair is that black. His hawk-wing eyebrows and long dark lashes made the eerie red luminosity of his eyes all the more strange and other worldly. I would have said his face could have had a cruel edge to it but was somehow saved by the sweetness in the curve of his lips. He was not someone I would have called handsome but his physical presence made my heart race.
“My apologies” He said. “I did not realize you were so deep in thought.”
“Just people watching.”
He nodded knowingly. A waiter came by bearing a tray full of beautiful crystal glasses filled with champagne. Thrawn stopped the man and was about to take two glasses off when I noticed the sparkly things dancing about in the liquid.
“Glow spice?” I asked the waiter.
“Yes, my lady.” He said.
I looked at Thrawn and shook my head. “I am apparently quite allergic to glow spice. I can’t drink that.”
He placed both glasses back on the tray. “Please bring us champagne without glow spice.” He said and the waiter nodded and vanished.
“That is an unusual allergy.” He said.
“Unfortunately for me I had to find out the hard way, a night out with some friends turned into a three day headache with complications.” I said by way of explanations. “Apparently the toxin in the glow spice is not as safe as everyone claims it to be, one in every millionth person reacts badly to it.”
“The latest fad, next year it will be something completely different.” He said a little disdainfully.
I looked around us. More and more people had arrived, many more aliens now many more extra ordinarily beautiful women and very handsome men, there were film stars and musicians, politicians and business owners. The music had begun to play also but no one was dancing yet. I was curious about what sort of dances would be done here.
My mother used to tell me stories about some of the grand events back on her home world and she even taught me some of the simple waltzes and pavans, but I was pretty certain I would be lost when it came to the intricacies of court dance here on Coruscant.
The waiter came back with two glasses of non glow-spice champagne and Thrawn took them, thanking the man graciously. What ever else he was, rudeness was not one of his faults. He handed me a glass and touched it gently with his own. The crystal rang true and clear.
“To the one in a million.” He said softly.I actually blushed and had to look away when he smiled.
“Is it what you imagined?” he asked watching me as I scanned the room.
“No. No, I had not expected it to be so…much” I shook my head. “I don’t know that I have ever seen so many people dressed so beautifully in one place before.” I said. “It is a little over whelming, especially when one does not know many people.”
“You could mingle and get to know people, if that was your wish.”
I smiled and shook my head. “Oh no, I am not much good at that I am afraid, small talk about this and that not my thing.”
“What is your thing, then?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t know, discussing engine types, dissecting dance styles, fawning over ship designs, discussing the relevance of art and myth. That’s a little more my thing, I guess. I could care less about the weather or the current fashion trends, or what ever it is that people banter about at functions such as these. It seems a bit pointless to me to make small talk.”
“It is how people get to know each other, how they disseminate information.” He said.
“I understand that, but I find it tedious. If you want to know something why not just ask?” I said.
“Perhaps decorum dictates such bold questions are not appropriate to the situation.” He countered.
“Hence the reason I am not good at social functions.” I laughed. “I have a tendency to ignore decorum.” I said. “Or I stand back and observe, like tonight.”
He nodded. “It can be tedious, I agree, but it is a necessity one should learn if one is to survive at the Palace.” He said.
“Your advice will be taken under consideration.” I said with a smile. "But I have to tell you, these games and intrigues are...tiresome."
He gave a curious look and leaned a little closer to me "Learn the games, my dear, you may not like it, but it would be shame if you were no longer around to make mysterious conversation with me." he smiled and took a sip of his drink. We watched the crowd for a moment.
“So, when does the dancing begin?” I looked at him. “I thought this was to be a spectacular event, so far it is just meet and greet.” I said. "And, it would appear, a giant play- ground for the verbally challenged." I added.
Thrawn shook his head, "You have a sharp tongue and an even sharper wit." he whispered. "You might want to watch that, it will get you into trouble."
"Perhaps I like getting into trouble." I said.
"Indeed?" Thrawn said ever so softly, dangerously. "And what of the consequences?" he asked.
I looked up into his face, "You didn't answer the original question." I said, avoidance was also part of this game.
Thrawn acknowledged that with a slight nod. "Nothing will start until The Emperor makes his entrance. He likes to be fashionably late. Once he is here, the evening’s programme will begin. Until then it is time for people to see and be seen, to discuss politics and make connections, to make the small talk you dislike so much.” He said. “As I have said, it is about working the room to one’s advantage. It is the one time of the year when everyone who is anyone, gets to play in the big leagues. When the Imperial Military mixes with the civilians, much information will be passed about. Tonight many alliances will be forged or broken, friends and enemies bought and sold, won or lost. It is an elegant dance, Miss Gabriel, but it can also be quite deadly if one does not know the steps.” He added. “Who you are seen with is of equal importance to your appearance.”
“That you are seen with me, what does that say?” I asked.
“One of two things,” he answered frankly. “For those not in the know of who you are, they will think I am being social, chatting with one of the palace courtesans. Make no mistake, my dear, despite your desire to be different, the style you wear and the expense of the dress will tell people you belong to the Emperor. You bear the mark of the palace design.” He paused to look at me but I kept a blank face and waited for him to continue. “For those few who know exactly who you are, but who do not know me, they will think I am talking to you so that I might better my standing with the man you work for, perhaps hope for a private meeting with him for the furthering of my career. Those that also know who I am, will know this is not necessary. I already have the ear of Lord Vader because unlike many, I do not waste his time. For those very few people who know all the pieces of this puzzle, that I stand here and speak with you will be a mystery.”
I nodded, took a sip of my drink and asked. “So why are you standing here talking with me?”
He gave me a lovely smile and was about to answer when suddenly the Master of Ceremonies banged his staff loudly three times upon the floor and announced the entrance of the Emperor and his entourage.Like everyone else in the grand ball room, I dropped to one knee and bowed my head so that I looked to the floor. True to my word and fearful of Lord Vader's wrath should I disobey, I did not look up.