Title: Drive You Mild
Summary: How do two powerful, individualistic people who were formerly enemies unite? Emperor Luke Skywalker, meet Jedi Knight Mara Jade.
Genre(s): Romance, political intrigue, drama.
Author's Note: Many thanks to Gabri for encouraging, thwacking, and threatening to chain me to my computer throughout the writing of this fic, as well as getting me to write it in the first place. The original idea of 'how does arranged marriage work, anyway?' really spawned out of control, but your glorious feedback kept me going. :p You then topped it off by beta'ing the whole thing in less than a week. huggles You seriously rock, and this fic would not exist without you. ;) The title - well. :p Drive You Mild is the title it started off with, and I can't imagine calling it anything else.
I spent a year writing this story, and I personally consider it to be my masterpiece - the absolute best fanfiction I have ever written. It's long, complex, but, I hope, worth it. :) It's epic on a personal scale. ;) Since I wrote the story before posting, updates should be fairly regular (unless I find plot holes in the meantime :p). I hope you enjoy, and here's the first section. :)
Feedback is, as always and for eternity, adored. :D
The heavy cloak blocked everything out; it was dark, and all that could be heard was the high whistle of the fierce wind – and all that could be felt was the warmth of the cloak and the harshness of the sand.
At the Battle of Corunlder the Rebellion suffered a massive, debilitating defeat.
It is imperative to understand the political landscape that caused such a battle to happen in the first place; in hindsight, the Rebellion's success was not likely and it was a bad tactical move. However, Emperor Vader had just died and his son, Luke Skywalker, was young and untested at only nineteen years of age. It seemed a ripe time to deal the Empire a substantial blow by destroying one of their major shipyards.
The new, young Emperor had anticipated such a tactic, however, and with the advice of his military advisors and his own brilliance, the major blow became a major defeat. Surprise was lost, and the anticipated chaos of succession never occurred. In the first true act of his reign, Emperor Skywalker proved his ability to end the war his father had fought, and the war the first Emperor had propagated.
--- Annals of the Empire, Vol. III.
The place was incongruously known as the Porch, but when one looked at it, it could hardly even be called a room. The ceilings extended a dozen meters in height, with converging arches. The windows were visible as such only by thin, decorative lines spun through them. It was decorated in a lush red, and all of the furnishings were older than the occupants.
"My lord –"
"My decision is final," Luke Skywalker said bluntly. He wasn't even facing the man behind him – he was staring out at the Imperial Gardens. They surrounded the Imperial Palace on Coruscant, muffling the hustle and bustle of the city-planet. They had every plant imaginable, procured from all corners of the galaxy and perfectly attended. This particular view had a sparkle of blue and violet plants set among dark green, lush leaves overlooking a pond with an unusually natural appearance.
Luke heard the sigh. "Very well," Luke said dryly, "if it makes you feel better, present your arguments," he said with a casual hand wave, meeting the dark brown eyes of his advisor.
His advisor was an older man, well into his sixties. Kejal Mauwel had a distinguished appearance – white hair shorn short and a gravely chiseled face with dark eyes. Before Luke he had served Darth Vader, Luke's father, and had done so well; so well that when Palpatine was dethroned and executed, he took the place of Palpatine's old majordomo. Besides his duties in that position, he had often advised his masters in everything imaginable. First Vader, and now his son.
Ignoring Luke's tone, Kejal launched into the explanation of his position. "It makes no sense to parley with the Rebels –"
"New Republic. Might as well get used to it, Kejal."
"The New Republic. They have amassed an army in the previously Unknown Regions, yes, but it is still no match for the Empire and you, my lord."
"But they would cost us dearly," Luke said with an upraised eyebrow.
"Perhaps, my lord. But the fact remains – this manner you have chosen to cease hostilities makes no sense," Kejal said. He stood stiffly, in a militarily correct posture, while Luke slouched in a comfortable armchair beside a huge floor to ceiling window. The rich colors contrasted with the more natural colors of the garden outside. Luke didn't react to the blatant criticism – he looked out the window again. But he was listening. "It implies a long-lived effort at unification between the Empire and the New Republic, my lord. There is no reason for such, and to do so would undermine the Empire's power." He paused, and sighed again, his favorite method of chastising Luke. "Your father –"
"My father is dead, Kejal," Luke said fiercely, turning to stare into Kejal's eyes. His gaze was so intense Kejal dropped his eyes. Luke calmed, realizing that Kejal must be truly worried to mention his father after all this time. "I must act as I see fit, not by my father's memory. I must adapt." He waited a moment for Kejal to look at him again. "You will not refer to my father in such a manner again."
"Yes, my lord." Kejal paused. "If I may, my lord, what is your reasoning behind this move, then?"
"It is not easy to explain, Kejal," Luke said lowly, his intense persona fading. "I have seen something in the Force. We must prepare – we must be ready. We can't afford to fight the New Republic, though I doubt they realize such."
Kejal looked at Luke curiously. "If it is a crisis in the future which worries you, my lord, why have the Jedi not sensed it?"
"I don't know. But they haven't, and regardless of their knowledge or lack thereof, I must go by what I see." He put his elbow on the sidearm of the chair, and propped up his chin with his fist. "She will make a good match, Kejal. She was born an Imperial, though she is one of them now, and that will make the Imperial people soften to her. They will think her misguided, perhaps."
"She is also a Jedi and the leader of their navy," Kejal pointed out.
"Which makes her acceptable to the New Republic as the liaison between us, because they will trust her," Luke said mildly. "By marrying her, I will have shown the galaxy that I am no longer willing to continue this war, nor many of the things the Empire has done. Moreover, she will keep her position in their military forces, but she will still be my consort. It will at least distract against any attempts by them to attack the Empire." He shrugged slightly. "It will balance out well enough with my power as Emperor."
"It will also create a power struggle between the two of you, my lord. She will be in charge of amassing and maintaining an army to use against you, but must still be loyal to the Empire as your consort. You will cease hostilities and open trading routes, true, but she will still be forced to serve the Empire in some sense. I do not see how one can keep such a contract."
Luke looked at him. "Then let us hope that Mara Jade is a reasonable, intelligent sort, Kejal."
After the massacre of Rebel forces at Corunlder, the Rebellion retreated into the Unknown Regions, forming a government and people largely militaristic in origin. Emperor Skywalker chose not to attempt a strike in regions they were unfamiliar with to rid the galaxy of the Rebels; it was considered a surprising decision.
Conjecture quickly ceased, however, when the Emperor kept Rebel forces out of the Empire with as much diligence and dedication as his father had. The Rebellion was permitted to exist outside of the Empire, but any attempt by them to enter the Empire was harshly punished.
Speculation existed that the Emperor was, for reasons unknown, pushing the Rebellion into becoming a stable, independent government. Some believed this was so that the Rebellion could be more easily dealt with later; more wild speculations also abounded.
--- Annals of the Empire, Vol. III.
The area was not the Old Republic Senate by any means. For one thing, it was much smaller – the room held a few thousand at the most. The seats were, however, arranged in a circle with the seats rising upward with each row so everyone could see and be seen.
Mara Jade sat in one of those seats, watching the discussion. Her red hair was, as usual, tightly braided, and she wore the crisp black and gold New Republic uniform casually and easily. The hairstyle threw her sharp cheekbones in relief, made her features seem more severe. She was a naturally beautiful woman, but seemed to be almost working against that in her appearance. She was expressionless as she listened and watched the discussion, the picture of Jedi serenity.
"We cannot be seriously considering this offer," Senator Kelwesh called out. "It's ludicrous!"
"On the contrary," Senator Bel Ilbis, a man from Corellia, said as he rose. "It makes perfect sense." There was a babble, but he continued on, overriding them with his strong voice. "He does several things at once. By taking one of our most famous heroes – the destroyer of the Death Star – as his consort, he immediately downgrades our cause with the public at large even if he does follow through with the ceasing of the Sedition Act. The trade agreements make us seem unreasonable if we don't comply, and to top it all off, he wishes Jade to remain commander of our Navy, leaving us vulnerable through her. Then he turns on us, and we're completely destroyed – and more importantly, our cause lost." He sat down.
"I disagree," Bail Organa proclaimed. "Emperor Skywalker seems more amiable to the New Republic than Vader ever was. He has let us continue here in the Unknown Regions largely without any harassment, even those of us with family within the Empire. This could be an honest offer."
"Then why the marriage to seal the contract? A hostage?" Bel Ilbis demanded, glaring at Organa.
"I would agree that something else is going on, but I am not sure that is what you claim," Organa replied, folding his hands in front of him. "And it may be as it would appear – that he wishes true peace between us." He rose, and looked out at the small senate. "I urge you all to consider this well. Vader may not have taken down the sedition laws, the strict control and lack of true democracy, but he took away the slavery and rampant killing of citizens. Skywalker has shown himself even more inclined towards such over the past decade since Corunlder." He sat down.
The voices rose again, but this time no strong one came out into the forefront, taking control of the situation. Mara was familiar with that happening and stopped paying attention, instead focusing on the other three Jedi also present: Mace Windu, Yoda, and Adi Gallia. They glanced at her as well, and with a discreet wave of Adi's hand, they left. Murmuring an excuse to Commander Del, sitting next to her, Mara got up and left the room to join them.
Adi and Mace were waiting for her, hands in their robes.
"What do you think?" Mara said without preamble.
"The Council believes the Senate will come to the conclusion that such an agreement, even if intended to be a trap, could be beneficial to us if we're careful," Mace said. "Even if it is as Senator Ilbis claims, this will strengthen our resources and might even make the Imperial citizenry more sympathetic if we are seen as possible allies."
Mara nodded. She had suspected the same thing.
"The question is, are you willing?" Adi asked, touching Mara's arm gently.
Mara looked down, then met her old Master's eyes. "I will do what I feel I must. As I'm sure Emperor Skywalker is." Mara shrugged. "It's a contract, not love. I must admit I am surprised – the idea of arranged marriage is a very old one, hardly in use."
Adi nodded. "It seems odd to us, as well. You are a Jedi; he may wish an heir."
"I don't think so," Mara said, shaking her head. "Skywalker's mother wasn't Force-sensitive and he came out a plenty powerful Sith Lord. He knows that."
"Nevertheless," Adi said severely, "you cannot forget what you are, and what he is."
Mara nodded. "I won't, Masters." She looked to both Adi and Windu, and then bowed. They responded in unison with a nod of acknowledgement.
Adi smiled at her for the first time. "We'd better get in there to calm matters down. No doubt they've gotten into a flurry of arguments already."
"I swear they enjoy it," Mara finished with a smirk.
Adi stepped forward and lightly hugged her old Padawan. "Whatever happens," Adi murmured, not having to complete the phrase, laying her hand on the side of Mara's face briefly. Then the Jedi Master in Adi returned, and she nodded solemnly at Mara. Windu had waited patiently, and they went back into the Senate chambers together.
Mara stayed a moment, gathering calm and composure. She wondered what the terms of the marriage contract would be – Skywalker had spelled out the contract between the New Republic and the Empire, but not their marriage contract. And that was what made her nervous. If she agreed to do this, she would probably be doing so before ever seeing it – theoretically, no doubt, she could back out, but that wouldn't happen.
Wondering anew why in the galaxy Skywalker was even bothering with the New Republic, Mara went back to the Senate chambers.
Emperor Vader was known as 'Lord Vader' for the fourteen years he served Emperor Palpatine. His past was largely unknown – his sole claim to identity was as a Sith Lord. It was during the years in which Emperor Palpatine's rule destabilized that he began to build the power base that would allow him to rule in Palpatine's stead. To the day of the writing of this document, the exact cause and manner of Palpatine's death remains uncertain, but it is largely accepted that Vader felt Palpatine could no longer rule, and killed him as a result.
For the galaxy, this turned out to be a boon. Emperor Vader was as fierce and unyielding as Emperor Palpatine had ever been, but during his short reign he abolished the slavery of alien species that Palpatine had ordered as 'necessary', lowered taxes, and crushed all Rebel efforts so thoroughly that once a planet had been taken care of, it would not need intervention again. He was considered to be a practical Emperor for his efforts to treat Imperial citizens fairly, but sedition or disagreement with Imperial methods was still punishable by execution.
He was revered by many even after his death.
--- Annals of the Empire, Vol. II.
Luke's office wasn't particularly opulent. Palpatine had had a taste for the big, the overdone, the plush . . . he loved to show his wealth and power. Vader had cared little for such displays, and at Vader's request, most everything in the Imperial Palace was stripped and burned. It was rumored Vader had said only 'Get rid of it all' and Kejal had done the rest of his own accord; only he and Kejal knew that rumor was actually true. As such, the beautiful architecture of the Palace remained, but little else did. Luke hadn't bothered to do much with it either, just told Kejal to put something subtle and comfortable in and then left the matter alone.
As a result, while Luke's office was larger than most homes, its major feature were the sweeping ceilings and meticulously ordered documents and reports. Luke unordered them every day going through them, and at night his staff would come in and put everything in its place again. Luke was presently doing just that – disorganizing everything, making notes, and giving brisk orders to the questions and reports that came in every few minutes.
"I'm sorry, my lord, there are acolytes in the courtyard again."
"Let them stay there for an hour, then ask them to leave. If they don't, stun them and drag them out," Luke ordered briskly, instantly, not looking up from what he was reading – or even pausing.
"Yes, my lord," came Kejal's voice.
Luke heard him step away. Luke was quickly lost again in the hum-drum of keeping the Empire running. Most decisions could be made by his staff, who were all extremely competent, but some had to be made by him. Even after all kinds of levels, he still had a lot of work to do. And a lot of that he still delegated to others. Scattered among new galactic laws proposed by the Moffs – who served as a Senate, of sorts, as Vader had abolished the original one – were reports of sedition and plans to circumvent Luke. There were even a few plausible assassination plots.
Some time later, he heard Kejal return, but he stopped before reaching Luke. A murmur of voices, and then nothing.
"What is it?" Luke asked, looking up at last. Kejal was looking down at a datapad with a concerned look on his face.
Kejal silently walked over to Luke and handed it over to him, deftly avoiding a stack of documents.
Luke perused it, then grinned. "The New Republic accepted."
Luke looked up at him. "This is a good thing, Kejal."
"If you say so, my lord."
Luke shot his advisor an amused look at the deadpan note to his voice. "I do say so." He put the datapad down. He would give the Republic's reply to his staff to see what they made of it, get their opinion, and have them draft a reply. "What did you come here for?"
"You asked to be notified of the Vaderians' movements," Kejal said delicately.
"Security guards waited an hour, as you said, then asked them to leave. They refused to leave, so they were stunned and dragged out." He paused. "They're back now, my lord, in more numbers."
Luke raised an eyebrow, and leaned back into his seat, which automatically adjusted for the movement. "Did they say why?"
"They believe today is astrologically significant, and that they may see your late father if they concentrate on . . ." Kejal paused, accessing his nearly perfect memory. "Celestial changes."
Luke snorted. "They want to wish him into existence? They may manage to make themselves hallucinate an appearance at the rate they're going." He shook his head. "It baffles me, Kejal."
"That people believe your father will return from the dead?"
Luke gestured dismissively. "That there are so many of them," he amended. "And that some are even successful in life."
Kejal shrugged. "There is another group that thinks the same of Palpatine."
Luke blinked. "Ah?" He shook his head, throwing off his confused thoughts. "Tell them it's by my order, then stun them again and drag them out again. And keep guards posted so they don't return."
"Yes, my lord."
"And call my staff in for a meeting. I need to talk to them regarding the New Republic situation. And the marriage contract."
Though the identity of Emperor Skywalker's mother is no longer secret, very little else is known about the circumstances of his conception, birth, or upbringing. It remains a mystery how she became pregnant with Lord Vader's child, though rumors persist that the Jedi know the tale. Emperor Skywalker refuses to speak on the subject of his father's possible romance or his upbringing other than to say that his parents cared for each other. He went on further to say it was the past and unimportant to his rule.
Regardless, many like to speculate on the clearly unlikely romance between Padmé Amidala and Lord Vader.
--- Annals of the Empire, Vol. II.
Mara Jade's office was unsurprisingly austere – calm, but hardly welcoming. It was the kind of place that Mara liked for both of those reasons, but she wasn't alone at the moment. Master Adi Gallia, Mara's Master when she was a Padawan, was also present, a look of distinct unhappiness in her light blue eyes. She and Mara had known each other since Adi had found her all those years ago in the Empire.
"It has nothing to do with love," Mara said as if trying to convince herself, not taking her eyes off of the marriage contract she held loosely in her hand.
Adi raised an eyebrow. "That isn't what I mean, and you know it," she said, calmly sitting in Mara's chair. "I was referring to possible entanglements with this man. You will be living with him."
"I know," Mara said, finally looking up. "I'll hardly be near him, though. The contract doesn't specify that, and I doubt he wants a Jedi around him all that badly. The Palace is certainly large enough for the two of us." She paused, and added, "It's not a bad marriage contract, as these arranged marriage things go."
"He wants you to stay on Imperial Center for six months, Mara. That hardly suggests he intends on leaving you alone."
Mara shrugged. "Yes, but he's not restricting my movements or actions otherwise. The six months is probably for show for the Imperial citizenry. He can't keep me for longer, and reasonably expect me to keep my position in the New Republic." She sighed. "Why I am not convincing you, Master?"
"I'm worried for you, Mara," Adi said intensely as Mara finally met her eyes.
"It's not that the idea of marrying a Sith doesn't make me ill, but politically, this works."
"Another reason to hate politics," Adi said with a smile.
Mara laughed. She looked at Adi for a long moment, perfectly aware that Adi truly was worried for her. Adi's concern was perfectly reasonable – Mara did not tend to leave things alone, and regardless of anything else, being on Coruscant with a Sith Lord would affect Mara. Whether for better or worse . . . It wasn't as if she was going to fall in love with the Jedi's mortal enemy. Love had been the beginning of Anakin Skywalker's undoing, if not the actual direct reason for his fall. All Jedi knew that.
"It's not unreasonable," Mara said softly.
"It's insane," Adi said in agreeable tone.
For someone on the Council, Mara mused, her Master was awfully contrary. "Sometimes we must do what is requested of us."
"But that does not mean we should act without careful thought first. I wonder if you are truly aware of what you are getting into, Mara."
"We need this, Adi. You know that as well as I. With the trade agreements that Skywalker is proposing, the Republic can grow. At the moment . . ." She shook her head. "We've become a real government. It's time to start admitting it. If we don't get those trade routes – then we'll have to continue working under the Empire's nose to get the supplies we need to make life out here work. And who knows how long that will last? Whatever Skywalker thinks to do with this . . . contract between the Empire and the Republic, the Republic will get out stronger for it."
"That is not what I meant, my Padawan," Adi said severely.
Mara looked at her for a moment, then walked over and bent down to lightly kiss her on the cheek. Adi looked at her in mild surprise. Mara was not inclined to be affectionate. "I'll be fine," she said simply.
Slowly, Adi nodded. She rose, a regretful and faintly chastising look in her eye, like Mara had failed to learn some lesson. Mara watched her leave, then plopped into her chair, staring at the marriage contract.
It was insane. But she'd do it for the Republic.
The Jedi Council thought she could handle it. Or more specifically, Skywalker. She would be at his mercy, of course, surrounded by his men, but they felt that she was a secure enough Jedi that little would rattle her, and whatever plans Skywalker had for in this marriage, that she would be able to counteract that much, at least. That he was asking specifically for a marriage was, they felt, done for reasons beyond the obvious – to weaken morale, to weaken the Republic's position as a cause, even to get information on the Republic's military forces. Skywalker was too smart for it to be only that.
It had been eleven years since he had given the Republic a major blow – when it was then the Rebellion, at Corunlder. But no one had forgotten it, and no one could fail to note how well he ruled, how well he countered their every move, and how well he had kept them out of the Empire.
Skywalker was no longer a child, and he hardly been more than one at Corunlder. But the Republic had grown as well, and however he planned on making the Republic pay for the trade agreements and ceasing of hostilities, he wasn't going to get away with it.
Social customs changed very little during the transition of power from the Old Republic to the Empire and during the Empire's rule. Culture changes over time, and while upheaval might speed the process along and influence the way that change goes, it still takes time – and usually, a new generation.
--- Annals of the Empire, Vol. I.
For the first time in thirty years, a Jedi stepped on Coruscant with the Empire's full knowledge and permission. Mara Jade breathed deeply as she walked down the ramp of the Republic vessel – not because the air of Coruscant was anything special, but because it was Coruscant. From space, it had glittered like a multi-faceted, metallic jewel. There were even patterns to the way the lights shone, subtle curves suggested by the placing of buildings.
While the vessel she had arrived on was one of the Republic's military vessels, Mara was not in her uniform. Instead she wore a dark green dress that served to emphasize her femininity. Adi had helped her in its choosing, as the Emperor's servants had asked her to where something besides her uniform, at least for the initial meeting on Coruscant, when the Empire would get their first look at her. After a brief spat with Adi, though, Mara kept her red hair tightly braided. The break was quickly mended when Adi mentioned how she had never expected to be in this position – virtually that of a mother watching her daughter marry.
Adi had found Mara as a young teenager living on a Mid-Rim world in the Empire. She was Force-sensitive, and the local police were catching onto the fact because she was instinctively and foolishly using her powers. Just in little ways, but the detectives who investigated Mara's petty crimes were quite astute. When Adi found her, she realized the girl was in danger, and took her to the Rebellion and as her apprentice. That was how Mara found herself in the Rebellion – and how she found herself destroying a battle moon with a hastily formed squadron. Mara was a decent pilot, but it was the Force – and her training and knowledge of it – that allowed her to make the crucial shot that destroyed the Death Star.
Ironic that that act would eventually lead her here – as someone suitable as a consort for an Emperor.
While they were marrying – and would be husband and wife – the terms of the marriage had been carefully spelled out. Mara would not be Empress, though she would have a title of nobility, and any attempt at succeeding the Emperor would be illegal and punishable by death. To Mara's relief, the only thing it said about children was that any children born of the marriage would be considered Skywalker's alone – but it also implicitly stated that children were not required of the union. It also stated that if she had a child by someone else, it would be considered illegitimate, not Skywalker's child; punishment for contaminating the line of succession was not stated. Dissolution of the treaty would also mean divorce, though it did not say what would happen if vice versa occurred. It appeared Skywalker wanted to keep his options open, but most everything of great import was there.
As Mara had said, it wasn't a bad contract.
But being here . . . Mara shivered and resolutely walked the rest of the way to the Imperial Palace platform. Even the platform, she noted, was elaborately and stunningly made. Roughly circular, everything was in curves sharply defined.
To say there was a crowd around the area was an understatement. Below the platform, Mara would see thousands of people. Coruscant being what it was, there wasn't much surface room for walking around, and so even more people crowded on nearby platforms. She even saw people smashed up against windows in apartment buildings. She had no idea how many people there were, but certainly in the tens of thousands present – and Force knew how many were watching over the Holonet.
Then there was the noise. Some were cheering, some were booing, but there was a lot of talking. It was like muted thunder.
For a moment, Mara felt overwhelmed. Adi came up from behind her, and while she stayed an appropriate distance away so that Mara would be the focus of anyone looking, Mara felt it and relaxed slightly.
Chastising herself for her lack of proper calm, Mara walked forward. Skywalker wouldn't be meeting her yet – instead, his majordomo, Kejal Mauwel, was to meet her and take her into the Imperial Palace. Mara figured it was likely a demonstration of their difference in social rank.
Kejal Mauwel was well-known in his own right, however. Not necessarily by the public; but they weren't what mattered in this reminder of status. The Rebellion knew him well – he had served and assisted Vader for years, and while he had little to do directly with the persecution of the Rebels, he had on two separate occasions found Rebel spies. He was extraordinarily intelligent, and had advised Vader in everything but war.
It was said that while Vader was away fighting Palpatine's war, it was this man who raised Luke Skywalker. That alone was reason for Mara to be wary.
For all of that, though, his presence wasn't quite what she was expecting. The vaguely military clothing and posture were all expected, as were the piercing dark eyes and chiseled face. The gentle smile and bemused emotions Mara sensed were not expected. He wasn't frightened by her; it would be more accurate to say he was puzzled.
Mara walked another step closer to him, and in a movement so smooth as to be choreographed, he bowed and she held out her hand. He lightly kissed it, his lips dry.
"Welcome, milady," Mauwel said with a smile. He nodded briefly at Adi, the only Jedi who would be accompanying Mara into the Palace – there were more on the ship and in the small contingent in orbit – and Adi nodded back. He stepped aside and gestured. "If you would, milady. Master Jedi." Another nod to Adi.
Mara attempted a smile and followed him into the Palace.
The Imperial Palace was what she expected it to be – huge and grand. Mauwel led them through several halls – each big enough to be a landing bay, though with much nicer furnishings and architecture – until they reached a medium sized room decorated in soft yellows and beiges, with a few dustings of red. It was almost stark, like a desert.
Mauwel gestured for Adi to sit. "My lord insists Master Gallia stay here and go no further. He wishes to meet milady alone," he said, looking at Mara.
"Any reason why I have to stay?" Adi said mildly, sitting and crossing her legs. In her brown robe and cream colored tunics, she appeared at home in the room. Mara stood out.
"My lord did not say," Mauwel said calmly.
Liar, Mara thought. "Very well," Mara said before Adi could speak. "Shall we?"
Mauwel bowed. Adi looked discomfited, but willing to stay put. She shot Mara a warning look – be careful. You cannot forget what you are, and what he is. Mara nodded silently.
Mauwel led Mara out with Adi going into a calming meditation.
They passed through more huge halls, but Mara didn't fail to note the increased – or more obvious – security. When she saw the Red Guards before an elaborately carved wood doorway, she knew she was near him.
She reached out with the Force, both to calm herself and to see what she could sense. To her surprise, she sensed very little. No malevolent evil, no massively strong presence. She could tell someone was behind the doors, but that was all. A test, perhaps. That was probably what this meeting was – an examination of her. It was also a likely explanation for him wanting to see her alone.
Without a word, Mauwel opened the doors, the Red Guards standing by patiently, but still alert. Mauwel gestured for her to enter, and with some trepidation, she did. Mauwel didn't follow. The doors closed, and it seemed like it had a note of doom to it. Mara immediately told herself she was being ridiculous, and strode forward.
The area was some kind of adjacent room to the Imperial Gardens. Three of the 'walls' seemed to be composed of little but windows. All were as high as the ceiling, and that was at least a dozen meters. A few couches and chairs were dotted beside the windows. In the middle of the room, there was one table with nothing on it. The floor was plain wood, and there were no rugs. It was a decidedly spare room.
"I like the simplicity."
Mara jerked her head in the direction of the voice. Only then did she see Skywalker sitting in one of the plush chairs, nearly lost in its seat. He was little more than a dark figure, especially against the dark maroon of the chair. With a shiver of fear, she realized her failing to see him had been deliberate on his part.
He looked quite casual, not at all formal – or evil, for that matter. He was leaning against one of the arms of the chair, elbow propped up on it, and his chin resting in one of his hands. His short blond hair barely caught some of the afternoon light, making some of it appear lighter than it was, and the rest darker. Somewhat to her surprise, he looked as lithe and fit in person as he did on holos.
His crystalline blue eyes were electric when they met hers. Skywalker definitely had a presence – when he chose not to disguise it. She could still sense virtually nothing of the man beyond the fact that he was there. That was a skill that surely rivaled that of Mace Windu – at least.
"Nothing to say?" Skywalker inquired with a lift of one eyebrow.
"I thought that was a statement, not a question," Mara returned easily. She walked forward, until she was a mere few meters away from Skywalker. Emperor Skywalker. No, she shouldn't think about that. She settled into the chair opposite his, noting that his eyes followed her every move.
"True," Skywalker conceded. "How was your trip?"
"Can we skip the banal niceties?" Mara shot back.
"Certainly," Skywalker responded instantly. He then paused, as if thinking. "I expect a number of things from you," he continued, rising. Mara watched him warily, but he made no hostile move – and he was not likely to, Mara reminded herself. It would be pointless at this stage. "Besides what is mentioned in the contract, I expect you to be civil in public to any and all Imperial citizens – no matter what you have against them." He looked at her pointedly.
Mara knew her reputation for a temper – and considering the Empire probably had a few spies in the Republic, he probably did too. "I understand," she said simply, repressing the urge to shoot off a few sarcastic comments about Imperial dignitaries.
"You will have to attend social functions occasionally. Most of these will probably occur before the six month period you stay here is up. I will expect you to repress the urge to use the opportunity to speak your political views. What you do in your Republic is your business, so long as it does not reflect badly on me; but here, you will act as if you are an Imperial citizen." He paused again.
Mara said nothing, knowing there was more.
"Any attempt on your part or any of your retinue to spy or otherwise cause the Empire or me harm will result in a dissolution of the treaty. I trust that will not be too difficult. After the wedding, no Jedi will be permitted on Coruscant, either, besides you."
"Why?" Mara blurted.
"I do not trust them," Skywalker said blandly.
"Because of what happened to your father?" Mara asked, knowing she was probably being daring and not particularly caring at the moment.
Skywalker merely frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I – well, what Obi-Wan Kenobi did to him, putting him in that suit," Mara said with a half-shrug.
Skywalker looked taken aback. "That was between Kenobi and my father, not me and the rest of the Jedi." He looked at her intently. "I am not prone to acts of revenge for the sake of revenge, Lady Jade. If I were, this treaty would never have been proposed."
"Oh," Mara said blankly, thinking that over.
"Anyway," Skywalker said, "as I was saying. The public is rather . . . romantic, so it's best if we're seen at least liking each other."
"You better not be saying we have to snuggle in public," Mara said with a snort.
Skywalker smiled. Mara found herself surprised by it – it was simple, light, no complications in his expression of amusement. She had expected something more sinister. "No, of course not. If need be, I can have a few holos doctored up – but that shouldn't be necessary. Just – hold my hand in public, or something equally harmless."
"And by the way," Skywalker said, looking her over carefully, "your appearance will also matter." Before Mara could react, he had stepped over and loosened a strand of her red hair.
Mara's reflexes caught up as she rose and caught his wrist in a strong grip, her fingers on pressure points. Skywalker didn't react the pain he must have been feeling.
"Appearances can be deceiving," Mara said evenly, quoting Master Yoda, choosing not to think about or mention the fact that he had darted through her defenses easily. Another demonstration, perhaps?
Skywalker looked at her mildly. Did he ever do anything that wasn't mild, for Force sake? "Appearances can be important."
"Only to the fool," Mara snapped back.
He laughed. If Mara had been surprised by his smile, she was immediately caught by his laugh. Why did she have the feeling it was a laugh without pretenses? He made a slight movement with his wrist, and Mara lost her grip as if she was trying to hold water. "You have lovely hair," Skywalker said at last.
"Was that a compliment? We're not friends, we're having an arranged marriage," Mara said acidly.
Skywalker's amused expression faded, and Mara felt a stab of – something. "Not friends, perhaps, but allies, I would hope."
Allies? They were enemies forced into a difficult situation. "You are an odd man," Mara replied, letting her hand drop as her confusion only increased. An odd Sith Lord.
Skywalker moved away from her, not replying to her comment. "Kejal can lead you back to your Master. He'll also inform you of wedding details," he said calmly, evidently choosing to end the discussion. "If you have any questions or concerns, you can bring it to him. If need be, he will bring it to my attention."
"Thank you," Mara said awkwardly.
Skywalker nodded. He made no motion or signal that Mara could see, but the doors opened and Mauwel stepped in, bowing slightly. "Lead Lady Jade to Master Gallia," Skywalker ordered. He looked at Mara again. "It's easy to get lost here," he added. Not a security measure, was the subtle undercurrent.
Mara didn't know what to say, so she said nothing. Apparently a reply wasn't needed – Skywalker turned away to face the windows, and Mauwel motioned for Mara to go with him.
Mara was glad she was going to have the opportunity to talk with Adi. To say the meeting hadn't gone as planned . . . She asked nothing that she wanted to, nothing about the treaty, no commanding him to explain why he wanted to marry her when he could easily do the treaty without (at least, she thought so), and she didn't even ask why Mauwel called him 'my lord' instead of 'your highness'. He had caught her off balance and kept her that way.
At least I returned the favor – somewhat, Mara thought.
Kejal found Luke staring out at the Imperial Gardens after he returned Jade to her Master. He looked curiously amused, but also thoughtful. Kejal knew Luke well; he was thinking, and Kejal would not interrupt his concentration.
He waited quietly by the door, quieting his thoughts.
Finally, Luke turned and faced Kejal. "What do you think of her?"
"Lady Jade? She is what I expected, my lord."
Luke raised both eyebrows. "Really? In what way?"
"She is clearly strong-willed and not easily intimidated. However, she seems willing to cooperate from what I have seen – I did not eavesdrop on your conversation with her, of course, so that is all I can tell. I would say you will have some trouble with her, but nothing extremely significant."
Luke nodded slowly, turning his attention back to the vibrant gardens. "I like her," he said suddenly.
"Personally, or as a good match?"
"Mostly the later, at the moment," Luke admitted, looking down briefly. "Our talk was brief, yet I sensed she is independent from her Jedi masters, which is important."
"Why so, my lord?" Kejal asked, able to tell there was a reason for that being important beyond the obvious.
"We must be allies if this is to work, Kejal," Luke said quietly. "I do not think I'll be able to play a game with her. I'll have to bring her to my side, at least partially."
Kejal paused, struggling to find the appropriate words. "My lord, I do not doubt you, but –"
"I have no intention of turning her," Luke said, truly amused now by the misconception. "You have known me for nearly twenty years; am I my father's heir in all ways?"
Kejal looked at Luke for a long moment. He had known Luke for a long time, and it was almost odd to see him here now, as an intelligent, capable adult. He had first seen the boy as a frightened child, not quite a teenager, under Vader's care; even, for a fortunately brief time, as a child under Palpatine's care, if it could even be called such. He was the one who had tutored the boy, had put him to bed at night when his father was away. He had sought, of course, to remain at a respectful distance, but had essentially failed. Vader hadn't failed to note it, but to Kejal's surprise, he had allowed it. Of all people, Kejal had seen the most how Luke changed his father.
Lord Vader had been a Sith Lord; Luke had merely the skills of one. Kejal knew the difference, as he had first seen it during the very last few years of Vader's life. But it was even more emphasized in Luke.
Kejal sighed. "I fear, my lord, that this is likely a matter beyond my comprehension."
"Ah," Luke said, a twinkle in his eyes. "You mean it's another of my wacky Force things that while you do not trust, you at least confess exist."
Kejal bowed slightly, letting a small smile touch his lips. "As my lord says."
"It was the Force in some respects, but not all. I did choose her for the role she will play long before I even had the idea of arranged marriage."
"So it was the Force that prodded you to add the arranged marriage to the list instead of something else more . . . common?" Kejal prodded.
"Yes, indeed it was," Luke said with a regretful sigh. "The will of the Force or not, it gives me other possibilities, other avenues – I will use them as well."
Kejal nodded. "If I may ask, my lord, what did Lady Jade think of you?"
Luke looked at Kejal in surprise, and then turned contemplative. "I think I unnerved her," he said decisively.
Mauwel had left Mara and Adi alone in the room Adi had waited in when Mara went to speak with Skywalker, after telling both of them they had merely to ask anyone for anything they needed. Mara had nodded, saying nothing. And when Mauwel left, Mara had remained silent.
Adi had already ascertained the room had no obvious spying devices, and it was unlikely anything they said could be of use anyway. Mara knew this as well as Adi did, and the continued silence was bothering the Jedi Master.
To all appearances, Mara could have been meditating. She sat on the edge of one of the two couches facing each other, posture still and correct as her dress pooled around her feet. Her eyes were closed. Yet Adi sensed confusion through their bond. Uncertainty. That was a rarity for Mara Jade – she had always been possessed of boundless confidence, even when it was not entirely called for.
Adi chose to wait. She sat on the other couch, across from Mara, and folded her hands in her lap, falling into a meditative state herself.
It was some time later when Mara spoke. "He is not what I expected, Master."
"In what sense?"
Mara opened her brilliant green eyes, staring directly at Adi. "I sense no darkness in him."
"Is that what disturbs you?" Adi said with an upraised eyebrow. "I'm skeptical of that. He has great skill – we've always known that. That you would not sense something is hardly surprising."
Mara looked away, shaking her head. "He slipped past my defenses like they were nothing. He touched my hair and I couldn't stop him."
"He touched your hair?" Adi asked, eyes narrowing.
"Yes," Mara said with a smile directed at Adi. "He said I have beautiful hair. Not to worry, Master – he also assured me he has no intention of forcing a relationship, though we must carry on some semblance of one for the public."
"Nevertheless . . . be wary of his attentions," Adi said with a frown.
"I will," Mara assured her. "Though I doubt wariness will do much good if changes his mind, save for the fact that I might not be so surprised." Her mouth quirked into a smile.
"What else did you speak of?" Adi asked briskly.
"He essentially told me what he expected of me. Nothing that I didn't expect in that respect – be civil to all Imperials, try to keep quiet about my political views . . . that kind of thing," Mara said, leaning back, clearly going over the conversation in her mind.
"And what else did he say?"
Mara looked at Adi with a slight, thoughtful frown. "I sense something . . . elusive."
"Far-reaching?" Adi queried. Mara had no gift for foresight, no more than any other Jedi, but then this whole exchange was odd.
Mara nodded slowly. "Yes."
Adi was possessed of the urge to grab Mara and take her back to the Jedi, to figure out what was going on here. She sensed Mara was already becoming entangled with Skywalker. Mara would seek him out, try to understand – challenge and question. And that could, very possibly, lead to dark places. But there was nothing to be done about it; Adi knew she would have to trust her former Padawan, trust that she had trained her well to resist the Dark Side, even when only inconspicuously present.
"Padawan . . ."
Mara leaned forward with a smile, her gaze going from distant to present. She placed one of her hands over Adi's. "It's all right, Master. I don't trust him, or what he says. But he's a puzzle . . . and I won't have much else to do for six months but figure him out."
Little happened at the wedding, but it was truly a sight to see.
Mara, of course, wore white; but to call her dress 'white' was oversimplifying. It shone with a beautiful luster, like a living jewel. It covered her from her neck to her ankles, but around her neck, her arms and her back, it was so thin as to be a simple silver sheen across smooth skin. Brilliant green jewels lovingly set in gold were placed around her neck, and strands of gold and green were pulled through her hair, which was set high with a few loosely but carefully placed curls falling down. The train was fortunately not long – only about a meter. It was strangely practical in another sense, too – it had a barely noticeable clip on her hip for her lightsaber.
She and Adi were quite bemused by that, and asked if Mara was actually permitted to wear the lightsaber during the ceremony. They were even more bemused at the affirmative they received.
Of the Jedi, only Adi and Mace Windu were permitted to attend; Skywalker absolutely refused to let Yoda even land on the planet. Very privately, Mara didn't blame him. She would have done the same in his shoes. Nor was Obi-Wan Kenobi allowed to attend, though he had professed curiosity in the son of his old Padawan. Not that most people knew Vader had even been a Jedi, or the origin of his last name. Anakin Skywalker had been wiped from all records save for those of the Jedi.
When Mara walked up the aisle – and it was a grand aisle, with hanging plants and beautiful flowers – past the crowd of people, past her Master sitting in the back, up to Skywalker, she saw why she had been permitted her lightsaber; he wore his. It looked finely crafted and polished to a sheen. He wore black, the opposite of her white, and she mused with a certain amount of humor how appropriate that was. His outfit was more understated than hers, but no less well-made for that. She saw hints of dark blue in the almost military fit, similar to the small bits of emerald in hers.
They went through the ceremony easily, both calm. The worry about the event was over; it was happening. The priest finished, and they finished their lines. They kissed lightly, and his lips were warm and dry; it was not hard to put a pleasant look on her face. He had a similarly pleasant expression.
Then they faced the crowd; the people in the actual room were more understated in their applause, but Mara heard the wild shouts and screams of the crowd outside the Imperial Palace.
They were married, and in the same ceremony, the treaty was signed.