Inside the Ball Room the mood was bright and full of cheer. People had taken to the dance floor and the orchestra played beautiful music. This was more like what I had imagined a grand ball to be. The music was beautiful, the singer was fantastic. I had never heard music so well played. I stood in awe as the people on the dance floor swirled and spun around me.
We stood side by side and watched the dancing with saying a word to each other. It would have been difficult to say the least to step into the middle of a dance already underway but even more so for me, I had no idea what they were dancing. It was full of complex steps and hand gestures, dancers wove in and around each other always ending back with their original partner.
“A Pavane, “Thrawn explained as if he had read my thoughts. “one of many variations. This one is called The Haarask’eh Pavane, after the man who created it. He was complicated and so is his dance”
“Certainly looks that way.” I said.
“It is a pattern of repeated themes, not difficult once you have learnt the initial pattern. These dances are an excuse for people to talk, and flirt.” He said. “Observe the hands, some people actually touch finger tips and others do not touch at all, while others will place palm to palm, the ultimate in flirtation. Much information is passed about as one steps around one's partner it is easy to whisper in their ear. Difficult to eaves drop on the dance floor, that is why these dances are so …” he paused looking for the right word. “Appreciated by the Imperial Courtiers and everyone else who is here. To a very observant person who knows what to look for, it is not difficult to discover who is in bed with whom,” he gave me a knowing look, “often in the most literal sense.”
“Does anything happen here without some sort of intrigue and double meaning?” I asked.
“No.” he said. “Not, that I am aware of at any rate.”
I sighed. This was a whole new world to me. We watched as the dance ended and the music changed. I recognized this piece. It had been one of my mother’s favourites and the singer was about to sing the story that went along with the music. It was a love song theme for a very old waltz. This was a dance that had originated on Alderaan many many years ago. The Kai’y’en-sai Waltz.
Thrawn held his hand out and I took it.
I had learnt to waltz as a child. I had fond memories of watching my mother and father dancing this particular dance to a holo of this very piece of music. My mother had taught me the steps and I had often danced with my father, standing on his feet with mine as he whirled me around the room in our small house. My mother had often laughed at the sight of us. It must have been funny. My father, contrary to appearances, was a good dancer and liked to dance.
My mother had told me one time that there were three types of men in this world when it came to dance. Those who did not dance at all and no amount of money or coercion would get them on the dance floor. Then there were those who learned to dance because they felt it was required of them to do it. They didn’t mind getting out on the dance floor but they didn't lead well, most of the time, content to get through the dance without really understanding it. Then there were the men who not only enjoyed the dance but when they had you on the dance floor they owned you. I had asked her what she had meant by that, it had not sounded like a good thing to me. She had just smiled and said, ‘one day you will dance with such a man and you will know why that is special.’
The waltz began slowly and quietly as the singer began to weave the tale she was singing about. I could tell she also loved this song, this story. Thrawn placed one hand flat against the small of my back, with the other he held my right hand snugly, forcing mine into the perfect dance position. Part of this particular waltz was posture. I placed my left hand on his right shoulder and he swept me into the thick of the swirling dancers.
I was a little alarmed at first, no one had ever just taken over before and I watched my feet to make sure they were going in the right directions.
“Look at me.” He said softly.
I did and he smiled and nodded ever so slightly. “A little trust, Miss Gabriel.” He whispered.
The directions were subtle and strong, the slight pull or push of his fingertips at my back, direction from the hand that held mine and all the while I did not take my eyes from his face. The song began to pick up pace and the music swelled with it. I closed my eyes for a moment and let the magic that was beginning to well up around me, around us, wrap me in its spell. Step and step, around and around we went, everything else was a blur.
The song wove around us, the tale, somehow fitting, about a spirit of a distant star yearning for the love of a moon maiden he could not have. It was a story about passion, want, desire and the messy end that generally happens when star-spirits fall in love with distant moon maidens.
The Music began to rise in tempo as the last part of the story was sung. Thrawn pulled me in closer and we swung around harder, my dress flared out about me like foamy water, I kept my eyes on his, because if I watched the room around us spinning I would get dizzy. He looked back at me with no expression I could decipher and only when he suddenly smiled and we moved as one did I begin to understand what my mother had meant. The song ended and as it did he pulled me in tight to his waist while pushing back with the hand that held mine so that I lent backwards in an arch that allowed me to see almost behind me. It was a difficult and beautiful way to end the dance, traditional in that the Moon maiden dies in the arms of her star spirit lover who has burned her soul away with his fire. A typical end to an unhappy unrequited love story. Most dancers don’t execute this move, it is too difficult to do well, the balance and the timing need to be perfect. We stayed in position for a moment longer than necessary. He was showing off, letting me know that on this dance floor, I belonged to him. I was too breathless to argue.
He pulled me up so that I could stand and the next dance began. A Pavane I didn’t know. I started to pull away but he would not let go of my hand.
“This is a simple dance, you will learn it very quickly.” He whispered and he led me into position. We stood opposite from each other grouped with five other couples in a line, each line formed spokes towards the center of the room. I was sure this looked stunning from above. The music was completely different, stately and heavy with no singing. The steps were easy to pick up and the pattern was repeated often enough so that by the time we had gone through it twice I was more sure of myself. It was not so much about dancing as walking in time and knowing where to put one’s hands and feet.
The dance involved facing one's partner, palming with right hands and walking around one another, a little like circling cats sussing each other out for a fight. There were some intricate hand movements over the head of the woman while the man circled around her, this was the pointing the dance where if anything was to be whispered in the ear of one’s partner it would be here. Everything else was eye contact and hand touch. The pattern was repeated and the woman handed off to the next man standing in line and so it went one until you were back at your original partner. I danced down our line once, I knew no one else in it so no one spoke to me and no one touched my hand.
“Not so difficult?” whispered Thrawn in my ear as he circled around the first time.
I shook my head as we stepped back and palmed towards with right hands, I shivered as he let his little finger caress the side of my hand slightly. He smiled when he saw my reaction. We circled about again and he whispered, “Now do you understand?”
I nodded ever so slightly and he handed me off to the next man. I wondered when this dance would end, it was a little too predatory for my tastes. The third and final time I returned to dance with my partner. He touched the tips of his fingers to my own. I had not ever imagined that some thing so light and simple could be so sensuous and powerful. As he circled around me for the last time he whispered something in a language I did not understand, but the warmth of his breath on my neck made me shiver. I wanted to know what he had said to me but he gave away nothing except for a smile. His eyes let me know this was far from over, what ever this game was that we were playing, and that he was enjoying it greatly.
The dance ended with the man executing an elegant bow and the women dropping to a deep and beautiful curtsy.
We stood up and the music began for the next dance, something a little lighter in a simple waltz tempo. Thrawn was about to take my hand when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
“May I cut in?” Shiv asked.
I grinned, I was actually relieved to see him and Thrawn arched an eyebrow, but decorum dictated that he give way to the request. He inclined his head and in a very cool manner and with a smile I was not sure I liked, he took me by the hand and quite literally handed me to Shiv. They were both very polite and formal to one another, all according to etiquette, very proper.
“Thank you for the dance, Miss Gabriel, later on you will honour me with one more.” He said with a bow.
I curtsied and smiled. “If you are very lucky.” I whispered. The look he shot me was so worth it. Shiv tugged at my hand and I followed him on to the dance floor and let the music take us away.
Shiv was also a very good dancer, but there was something missing. I could not put my finger on what it was exactly. Shiv gave me one of his dazzling smiles and I grinned back at him as we circled about the floor with everyone else.
“So who is he then?” Shiv asked. “Wasn’t that the mystery man Antygra was on about the other day?”
“Yep I think so.” I said keeping it light. “Captain Thrawn or something like that, arrogant as all get out.”
Shiv shook his head and laughed. “You do seem to attract the sharks.”
“Not my fault.” I told him.
“You having fun so far?” he asked.
“Now I am.” I said. “It was a little hairy earlier on though!”
He nodded. “Yeah, big night for you and I am sorry that I added to the stress, I didn’t mean to dump on the mood.”
“Not your fault, I guess I owe you one though.” I said.
“Don’t think about it.” He smiled. “You know you remind me a lot her actually.”
“Yeah, she had that quality of sparkle and lightness. Like everything around her shone in some way. She had a way about her that seemed to put people at ease. It was as if she could sense the mood of a room before she entered it and somehow change it. She was special. One might even say magical. You are a lot like her in some ways.” He said giving me a look to let me know he wasn’t just speaking in generalities. I opened my mouth but he shook his head and then went on. “I am guessing you’d be about the same age as her, early twenties?”
“Yeah, thought so.” He nodded. “You have a lot of the same qualities.”
“She was lucky to have you.” I told him. “A brother to watch over her like you did.”
He gave me a sad smile. “That’s what brother's are for. I just wasn’t smart enough to see what was before my eyes. I guess that's why I kinda took to you. You remind me of her and I would hate for you to end up like that.”
“No worries, Shiv, a girl doesn’t grow up on Tatooine and not learn how to look after herself.” I told him. “I do have a mean streak you know.”
He considered this for a moment. “Maybe, but I don't think you are as bad or as tough as you'd like everyone else to believe. That's part of your charm.”
I grinned. I had no answers for that but I hoped it was true. I hoped I could keep that dark side of my soul locked away and quiet forever.
The dance ended and we walked away to join the rest of his small group of friends. Someone found me a drink with no glow spice and we stood around and chatted about silly things, the latest fashions and who was doing what with whom. I looked around but I could not see Thrawn anywhere, and I found myself strangely disappointed by that. Lord Vader was also not around and when I looked about neither was the Emperor. I was grateful for small mercies. I wondered where Lord Vader was and if he had left how much trouble I would be in for not, as he had instructed, accompanying him to the grand entrance way. I did not really have long to ponder these things before Antygra grabbed my arm and we went out to the dance floor. It was beginning to get late and the music style was slowly changing to a more modern less formal style. No more patterned, formal steps to follow, no provocative caresses to avoid, just free style dancing, which was fun. We all took turns dancing with each other and hung out in a little group near a corner. It reminded me a little of some of the organized dances at the school I had gone to on Tatooine.
Shiv handed me a drink of something clear and bubbly. “Just water with some fizz.” He said.
I sipped at it gratefully. “What time is it now?” I asked.
Antygra looked at his chrono. “Well after midnight.” He said.
“When did the Emperor leave?” I asked.
“He’s probably in the private chambers. He doesn’t often stay that long. Makes an appearance, speaks to the chosen few, watches some of the stately dancing and then he retires to his private chambers. Your boss went with him. All private secret hush hush meetings.” Ynyth said. “While he makes a big splashy entrance he often leaves the room like a ghost.”
“What am I supposed to do then, wait till Lord Vader shows up to leave?” I asked. I was tired and I wanted to go to bed.
“Why wait for him?” B’byn asked.
“He told me that it was etiquette to accompany him out when he leaves.”
Shiv shook his head. “Pah, that's really old fashioned, forget about it, no one does that any more. He was just giving you a hard time.” He said. "Likes to wind people up he does."
I wondered how he would know that but decided not to ask him here.“Okay but if I get killed for a breech in etiquette it's your fault.” I wagged a finger at him.
Ynyth shook her head. “He won’t kill you.” She said.
“What makes you so sure?” I asked.
“He presented to you the Emperor. That never happens unless the Emperor is interested in meeting a person, means you have been noticed and are noticeable for some reason. He won’t harm you now, it might annoy the Emperor.” she said.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Heck no, but I can tell you this, The Emperor never requests to see someone at the Grand Ball unless he has a vested interest in them for some reason and wants everyone to know it.” She shook her head, her dark curls flying about her face.
“And Vader won’t go against the Emperor.” Shiv said quietly.
“What does he find so interesting about me?” I wondered out loud.
“Beats us, we’ve been speculating all night!” said Antygra. “Along with the rest of the people here. And you really made our Princesses’s day. Did you see the look she shot you?”
Only Shiv’s face said he had a pretty good idea of what lay behind it all but he masked it with a silly grin and cut the discussion short grabbing Ynyth by the arm and dragging her out to dance.
“The red head is the one you call princess?” I whispered to Antygra.
He nodded. “Yeah and looks like she doesn’t have much time for you. Watch yourself around her.”
I nodded. Just what I needed one more person I needed to watch out for.
I turned my attention back to watching Shiv and Ynyth dance. When they came back I said my goodnights. Shiv walked me to the front of the entrance and hailed me a ride back home.
“Stay alive Rim- Girl.” He said. “We’ve planned to go out and try some new restaurant next week if you’re game.”
“Sounds wonderful. If I am not dead by next week, you can count me in.” I told him with a grin.
We hugged, did that kiss kiss thing and I went home.
The part of the palace where I lived was quiet, deserted actually, which for the time of night wasn’t so unusual. Sometimes if things were busy, some people worked really late but for the most part it was a pretty dead place to be. I liked it like that actually. The quiet abandoned quality of it never bothered me, but then I was used to the emptiness of the desert.
I walked in the back way because I had been dropped off on the other side from my usual entrance. I still had music in my ears and was humming when I opened the door to my flat, no lights came on. Annoying really, but sometimes that happened, I called for my droid but there was no answer. That was even more annoying and a bit unusual. I shut the door and went to find the desk where I kept a porta lamp when suddenly someone grabbed me from behind so that I could not move or struggle, and clamped a hand over my mouth tightly then whispered in my ear.
“I’m not going to hurt yer, but if you scream we’re both dead.” The voice whispered. Who ever it was strong and despite their words, they were hurting me. I was terrified.
“If I take my hand away yer won’t scream for help.” It was not a question but rather a statement of fact. I nodded as best I could. Slowly the hand was removed and he let go. I spun around and had to clamp my own hand over my mouth. Even in the darkness with only the faint light from outside to give me any idea of anything at all, I knew who this was.
“Hullo Mouse.” He said quietly. He looked awful.
I could only whisper his name. “Jyrki.” And then I had to sit down because my knees were shaking so much I thought they would give way.