"Talk to her you must, Qui-Gon."
"Must I, Master Yoda? Tondalla never pays much attention to what I have to say."
"Different, this will be."
A heavy sigh. "As you wish, Master."
Yoda's great green ears twitched. "So agreeable, we are. A punishment, this is not."
Qui-Gon Jinn, senior Jedi Master, cocked his head and looked down at the diminutive green alien that sat in front of him in the Jedi Council Chamber. "Easy for you to say, Master. Obviously Master Tondalla Plesu has never talked your ears off."
Yoda reached forward and swatted him on the knee. "Ha ha, funny joke, Jedi Jinn." He indicated the doorway. "Waiting for you, she is, in the Library."
Qui-Gon's eyes snapped shut for a moment and then centered on Yoda's face again. Bowing low he said, "Perhaps a brother becoming the Regent of Kinas will have even Tondalla struck silent for a moment. I'm going, I'm going," he said, flinging his hands up as Yoda made pushing motions at him.
Knowing it would do no good to dawdle Qui-Gon headed directly for the Library. Although the Library was huge, occupying three full floors of the Temple on Coruscant, he had a fairly good idea where the other Jedi would be found.
The doors slid open at his command and he walked up to the Information Desk, where the clerk greeted him with a smile.
"It's been a while, Master Jinn," the young woman said, looking him up and down.
Qui-Gon Jinn was an imposing figure, tall, broad shouldered, even inch a Jedi, from his dark outer cloak to his heavy boots. He was also in his way quite handsome, with long hair that cascaded back from a high forehead, and bright blue eyes. His nose had been broken too many times to have him considered a perfect specimen of masculinity. Most women however had found the defect to be unremarkable.
His lips rose up in a smile. "I don't have occasion to get down to the Jedi Library too much lately, Dunnett. It's always nice to see you, though."
She grinned broader. "Thank you, Master. I take it you're looking for Master Tondalla."
He arched an eyebrow. "In the back stacks?"
"In the back stacks, yes indeed. But be careful, Master Qui-Gon," she added as he turned away from her. "She's created a minefield today with her datatapes."
Qui-Gon laughed. "Thank you for the warning, Dunnett."
Dunnett watched him stride down the hallway, his long cloak swirling around his legs. She heaved a sigh and turned back to the desk.
As Qui-Gon approached the rear of the floor he began to hear muffled speaking, the voice growing louder as he got closer to the farthest cubicle. Another moment and he chuckled and shook his head from side to side. Master Tondalla was talking rather loudly to herself.
"Where's that blasted datatape? Come out, come out, wherever you are. Blasted, accursed tapes...I know I put it around here somewhere...."
Somewhere around there is pretty far off the mark, Qui-Gon thought to himself. The trail of vids and tapes stretched far from the cubicle's entrance. Better to announce myself now than wait for the consequences.
"Master Tondalla, Master Yoda sent me," he said loudly.
The mutterings abruptly ceased. He heard the scrape of a chair being pushed across the floor and a bright blue scarf appeared above the cubicle cap, followed by a pair of the most enormous goggles that Qui-Gon had ever seen. Her eyes were gray orbs behind the magnifying lenses.
"Ah, Qui-Gon Jinn. What trouble are you in now, that Yoda sent you instead of another Jedi?"
He placed a hand across his heart. "You wound me, Tondalla, you really do. Or should I call you the Most Excellent, the Princess Exalted, the Regent's Beloved Sister?" He bent a knee and bowed low to her, concealing a smile.
"Humph. Don't remind me. So, you're to be my escort at the investiture. You did do something bad, that's for sure."
She came around the corner of the cubicle and stood regarding him with a small frown on her lips. Tondalla Plesu was of middling height, a good meter shorter than Qui-Gon. It didn't help that she was barefooted at the moment. Her Jedi robes, while clean, looked as if they'd been slept in. They hung loosely on her thin frame. Pale freckles speckled her nose and cheeks, set off by the even paler skin. Qui-Gon knew she had bright red hair although he had never actually seen much of it. She kept it concealed under the scarf whenever she was in the library, which was where she spent most of her time. Tondalla Plesu was one of the small force of keepers of the Jedi archives. It was she who maintained the Holocrons that documented the history of the Jedi and their traditions, a job that kept her very busy. It was also a very solitary occupation, one that lent itself to long stretches of silence, as Qui-Gon had come to know. He had accompanied her on two separate fact-gathering sessions and had barely gotten a word in edgewise the whole time.
Qui-Gon looked at her closer, noticing the dirt streaks on her nose and chin. "Have you been crawling around on the floor, Tondalla? And what are the goggles for?"
Her face colored, and she threw up a hand to snatch them off. "I dropped a vid and it went spiraling off across the desk, trying to escape under the shelving. I'm afraid I kicked up a great mass of dust and dirt as I fought to retrieve it. The goggles are so I can compare two fact files at a time. Saves the eyesight, I've found." She dropped the goggles on the workstation top and began rubbing her chin vigorously. "Am I getting the dirt?"
Qui-Gon rolled his eyes and reaching closer, stopped her hand. "No need to remove the skin at the same time, Tondy. Allow me." He rubbed the dirt gently off her chin and then off her nose, admiring at the same time the smoky gray eyes that ranged across his face. He granted that she did have beautiful eyes, when they weren't scowling fiercely at him, as they were doing right now.
"Come and have lunch with me, and you can tell me everything I need to know about your brother's ceremony. And my escort duties." She made a strange sound. "Is there something wrong with that?"
"Only the humiliation of having to have an escort in the first place," Tondalla said grimly. "Tradition, so they tell me. What need should a Jedi Master have for an escort? It's barbaric."
"Tradition, Tondy. Something as a Jedi archivist you should be celebrating, not denouncing."
"Humph. Don't make me out to be a hypocrite. How am I to revel in my martyrdom otherwise? And are you sure that it's a good time to leave your Padawan? You're so newly bonded."
"Oh, Xanatos can get by with being away from his Master for a couple of days. He's coming along remarkably well in his studies."
She began turning from side to side. "Let me find my boots...ah." She pounced on a pile of tapes, throwing the top ones aside. A pair of leather boots emerged, and sitting down she pulled them on and levitated herself to her feet.
Qui-Gon's eyes flew open at the sudden change in her height. She came close to reaching his shoulder. "Heels, Master Tondalla?"
"I've grown tired of being short." Tondalla dragged the scarf off her head and just as quickly threw the hood of her cloak up.
"Ah, stealth mode, I see."
"I'm practicing for the investiture. I get to wear a special 'costume', so I've been told," she said, with a sarcastic tone. "Something with a veil, of all things." Tondalla suddenly threw her hands out. "I can't believe that Master Mace and Yoda and the rest of the Council agreed to my taking part in this! I thought surely my Jedi status would negate everything else."
"Jedi may be removed from their families at an early age, Tondy, but their histories are preserved. And as a member of the royal family of Kinas you could hardly have been expected to disappear."
"I wish I had!" she said vehemently, and then just as suddenly started chuckling. "I am making a very big matter out of nothing, aren't I? Where are we going to eat?" She slipped her hand inside his arm.
"I propose Smuggler's Feast."
"Splendid! I'll buy!"
He looked down at her head, hidden under the crown of the cloak. "What's the occasion?"
"Spending a little of the royal expense account. And you're just the person to talk to about my studies on the Empress Teta period. Do you know, I've found the most amazing connection between then and the thousands of years that've passed, especially in regards to...."
Qui-Gon rolled his eyes, and muted her voice. He knew she would not expect any input from him.
Qui-Gon had ordered the most elaborate item on the menu for both of them, hoping that eating the complicated concoction would slow her down. It hadn't happened. At least she had progressed some 3,000 years forward and was nearing modern times.
She must have seen the look on his face, for she suddenly wiped her mouth and threw down her napkin. "I'm sorry, Qui-Gon. Let me tell you what you're expected to do."
"Not at all, Tondy. I...." He stopped speaking as she wagged her fingers impatiently at him. "I'm the one who should be apologizing."
"No need. I know I talk too much. I lose track of myself sometimes." She signaled for the waiter, gave the droid another order for wine, and then leaned on the table. "It's basically one big party. The ceremony itself takes place in private. Once that's over the Regent emerges from the Assembly Hall followed by the rest of the family, and we meet the escorts. We go back into the Assembly Hall, Jord will make a speech, and then the festivities begin. Your outfit will be delivered later today."
His brow furrowed. "My outfit?"
"Can't have a Regent invested without the proper wardrobe." She plucked at his tunic. "Jedi robes will never do. Regents are expected to follow a rigid system of the right clothing in the right colors. The theme this time is silver."
"Silver. How, uh, interesting."
Tondalla rolled her eyes. "I don't have to be a Jedi to sense how underwhelmed you are by all this. Luckily it's over in a hurry and then you can eat and drink to your heart's content. That's what I'll be doing, anyway."
"I don't suppose we can just cut straight to the party? No, didn't think so," Qui-Gon said as she shook her head gravely from side to side.
Tondalla drink the last of her wine, stood up and looked down at him. "I'll make a deal with you, Master Jinn. You try to have a good time, and I'll promise not to say one word about Jedi business."
He stuck out a hand. "It's a deal."
They shook hands. "See you tomorrow, Qui-Gon. I've got rehearsal tonight, and fittings. I'm sending transportation for you, so be ready by 10 Standard. There'll be ushers to tell you where to stand, that sort of thing. I'll still be inside with the rest of the family." She scowled again.
"The records will still be there when you get back, Tondy."
"I suppose. I'll see you tomorrow, Qui-Gon." She bent down and kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks for agreeing to do this. I know it wasn't something you volunteered for." She was gone before he could say anything.
The spicy scent she was wearing was nice, and he smiled at the memory. Then he thought of something else.
"I just realized she never took her hood off the whole time she was eating," he said softly.
"Qui-Gon, what do you want?!!!? I've got a council session in fifteen minutes!"
"Mace, you have got to come down and see this. You won't believe it."
"Alright. I'll be right there."
Qui-Gon shut the comlink down and turned back to the outfit he had laid on his sleeping pallet. He had questioned the young Jedi who'd delivered the package, insisting that it couldn't possibly be meant for him. Told that it was indeed labeled for "Qui-Gon Jinn," he could only shake his head, certain that the young apprentice would run to his fellows and soon the tale would be all over the Temple.
Qui-Gon picked up the first part of the outfit, staring at it askance. He was holding what could only be described as britches, in a silver fabric that ended at the knee. The shirt, a blousy concoction in the same fabric, was next. With a sigh of relief he realized the shirt was as long as the pants. The only saving grace for the whole thing was the pair of shiny black boots that rose to knee-length.
The quarters door slid open and Qui-Gon whirled to face it, the hanger with the shirt and pants in his hands.
Master Mace Windu sailed through the doorway and stopped dead, a look of horror on his dark face. His eyebrows rose up on his shiny bald head.
"You're wearing that?" Mace started laughing, the loud guffaws shaking his entire body.
Qui-Gon's face darkened, and then he threw the clothing on the bed and joined in.
Both men laughed until the tears were rolling down their faces. Mace stopped first, then caught sight of the clothing and started in again.
"I read about your escort 'assignment,' Qui-Gon," he said, wiping the tears away from his eyes. "What did you do to make Yoda mad enough to put you through this?"
"Nothing, except he knows that Tondy and I have worked together before. And...."
"...And you have more patience than any other Jedi he could get his hands on at the moment," Mace said. "I worked with Tondalla Plesu once too, and once was enough. I don't think she had bathed in a week when I plucked her from the library she was in. And if she owns more than one set of Jedi robes, I've never seen it."
Qui-Gon's arched an eyebrow. "What has happened to your objective, non-judgmental demeanor, Master Mace Windu? So much for following normal Jedi behavior."
Mace waved that off. "We have standards we are expected to uphold. Personal hygiene should be one of them."
"Well, then Tondy has bathed since the last time you saw her. And she was wearing a particularly nice perfume today."
"You have obviously been closer to her than I care to be. Not my kind of woman, Qui-Gon."
"I think I've figured that out." Qui-Gon threw the clothing on the bed and sat down beside it. "Weren't you heading for a Council meeting?"
Mace slapped his forehead. "Thanks for reminding me!" He turned towards the doorway. "Good luck tomorrow, Qui-Gon. How's your young Padawan coming along?"
"Xanatos is coming along just fine. I'll see you later. Much later."
"Don't think you're going to get out of having me see you in such fine clothing" Mace said, pointing at the costume. "The Council has been invited to the investiture. See you tomorrow!"
He waved cheerily and started chuckling again as Qui-Gon threw himself back on the bed. Mace disappeared through the opening, and Qui-Gon could hear his braying laugh echoing down the hallway.
"Mace will never let me forget this."
"What is the matter, Aunt?" Tondalla growled. "All you've done since I got here is complain about something."
Tondalla sat in a chair, her frown getting deeper and deeper. Light from a bright Coruscant sun streamed through the windows of the luxurious suite high atop the best hotel in the city. She was glaring into an mirror back at the older woman just behind her, who was picking the pins out of Tondalla's hair, making clucking noises and shaking her head.
"You should take better care of yourself, Tondalla. Your beautiful hair, especially. Why wear it up all the time?"
"Because I'm a Jedi, Kitla. Not a Princess. My personal appearance is of no consequence to my duties."
Kitla was Tondalla's aunt on her mother's side, a woman proud of her family association. She was perfectly coifed and perfectly made up, her bright red hair rising in towering rings over her head, carefully applied color on her checks and lips.
She was pursing those red lips now. "Luckily your brother recognizes his duties and obligations."
"Which is all that's necessary, wouldn't you agree?" Tondalla said. "Jord will eventually be king, he's got a half dozen children, and our home world will go on as it always has. I'm just glad he decided to do this on Coruscant, rather than make me trek half way across the Galaxy. I can get back to my work quicker this way."
Tondalla was spared an angry retort when the door of the suite opened and another woman walked in, pulling her Jedi cloak off as she strode through the entry.
Tondalla's face brightened. "Nadeau! How'd you ever find me?"
"Connections, Tondy, good connections," Nadeau answered with a smile, her Iekku twitching. Nadeau Dreem was a Twi'lek, a few years younger than Tondalla. They had become friends when both had discovered an affinity for following the swoop racing circuit.
Nadeau nodded at Kitla, who took that moment to let go of Tondalla's hair. It fell in a huge mass, and Nadeau gasped.
Tondalla stared into the mirror, noting her friend's change in expression. "What's the matter? Is something wrong?"
"I never realized you had such beautiful hair, Tondy. By the Force, it's as long as you are tall! Why do you keep it hidden?"
"Uh, why not? It's just hair. I've thought about cutting it off."
Both women said "No!" simultaneously. Nadeau was the first to recover.
"You can't, Tondy. It's beautiful. You're beautiful. Take advantage of it, for once. I hear your escort's going to be Master Qui-Gon," she murmured. "You are one lucky Jedi."
Tondalla raised an eyebrow. "So?"
Nadeau walked over and sat down on the nearest couch. "Qui-Gon Jinn is gorgeous, Tondy. He pretty much could escort me anywhere he'd like."
"You've taken leave of your senses, Nadeau."
"You can drop the stuffy language, Tondy. You've spent way too much time with all those ancient archives. Live a little! Have fun! Look, this lady agrees with me!" She waved at Kitla, who was nodding her head vigorously.
"Oh, sorry, I forgot to introduce you. Aunt Kitla, this is Nadeau Dreem, a Jedi Knight from Ryloth."
Kitla smiled at Nadeau. "Listen to her, Tondalla. You are as beautiful as your lovely mother, who fought the suitors off with Fear Sticks." The two women smiled at each other.
"Tondy, you might never get another chance like this," Nadeau continued. "Have a good time, and enjoy a 'date' with Master Qui-Gon."
"A date." Tondalla thought about this for a while. She had heard all the gossip about Qui-Gon Jinn. She couldn't deny that he was attractive. All of a sudden the library stacks did not seem like the place to be. Then she thought of something else, and she frowned.
"He won't be very happy when he sees what he's wearing." She described the costume to Nadeau, who first starting giggling, then escalated to loud barks of laughter.
"Fine, fine," Nadeau said between deep breaths. "Are all the men wearing this outfit?" Receiving nods, she continued. "Then it's not as bad as it could be. Unless you're wearing something equally silly," she said, her voice deepening.
Tondalla leaped out of her chair. "See for yourself." She opened the closet and pulled out a silver dress, turning it for Nadeau's inspection.
Nadeau whistled softly. "It's gorgeous, Tondalla. With your hair, you'll be exquisite." The gown was simple, with crystal beads framing a plunging neckline. The hemline was very short in the front, tapering to a train in the back. "And I've got just the shoes for it. You'll almost be able to look Master Qui-Gon in the face. And how exquisite will that be..."
Tondalla's face colored. "You're embarrassing me, Nadeau."
"Get used to it, Jedi. Aunt Kitla, shall we get started transforming this lowly Starflower into a beautiful D'ian Orchid?"
"My sentiments exactly, Jedi Dreem."
Qui-Gon rose early, took a shower and checked on the whereabouts of Xanatos before settling down to a small breakfast. The boy had left on a two day field trip with the rest of his classmates. Qui-Gon was very glad that Xanatos would be spared the sight of his master clad in the outlandish outfit.
Qui-Gon suppressed a shudder and picked up the clothing. He had already tried on everything and the garments weren't quite as bad as he'd expected. The long shirt hid most of the short pants, and the boots covered his legs. The silver color was distracting, but something he could live with.
Qui-Gon was tying the usual leather strap around his hair when the entrance chimes sounded. He snatched up his cloak and draped it completely around his body before answering the door.
Another young apprentice stood just outside. He bowed to the older Jedi. "Master Jinn, there's a vehicle outside waiting to take you to the ceremony."
"Thank you, Ecthelion. I'll be along shortly."
The young man bowed again, his eyes looking Qui-Gon up and down.
The clothing has made the rounds already. His brows furrowed together. "Was there anything else?"
"No, Master," Ecthelion said, turning on his heel to leave. He looked over his shoulder once. Qui-Gon made sure his best scowl was on his features.
He gathered the cloak around himself even more tightly. "Duty calls. I must continue to remember that."
The land yacht glided to a halt in front of the Assembly Hall and Qui-Gon was ushered up the steps, then immediately divested of his cloak, forcing him to stand in all his silver glory at the top of the landing. Rather than look down at what he was wearing he trained his eyes on his surroundings. The Lake District of Coruscant was in sharp contrast to the heart of the city. Here at least there was a spot of open space, a tiny water-filled crater surrounded by public pavilions anchored by the Assembly Hall, where foreign delegations gathered to duplicate ceremonies that couldn't, for one reason or the other, take place on home soil.
Another vehicle pulled up to the bottom of the steps, and disgorged a passenger dressed exactly as Qui-Gon was. The man was attempting to cover himself with a coat, and failing miserably.
Qui-Gon grinned. "At least someone who will feel as ridiculous as I do."
He caught sight of a familiar vehicle, and inwardly groaned. The Jedi Council had arrived.
"I will, never, ever live this down."
The Ceremony was soon over, and the ushers had come to bring the escorts inside. There were an equal number of women and men. The women at least looked comfortable in the britches and long shirts.
Qui-Gon spotted Jord Plesu immediately. The new Regent's face was wreathed in smiles, and he had his arm around a petite woman who gazed up at him adoringly. The rings on her silver dress moved up and down as Jord pulled her behind him as he greeted all the guests.
Qui-Gon had seen no one that remotely resembled Tondalla. He began circling the room, homing in on the Jedi presences he could sense. Mace and Yoda were off in a corner speaking to the Mayor of Coruscant City. He knew that Mace was trying to get his attention, and he steadfastly refused to acknowledge him. Chimes sounded, and the guests began pairing off with their chosen escorts.
His mind began working furiously. If you have managed to absent yourself from this, Tondy, you are in big trouble.
"Looking for me?"
Qui-Gon turned slowly, a lecture on his lips, and stopped in confusion.
Nadeau and Aunt Kitla had indeed worked their magic. Tondalla's long red hair framed her head like a crown. He immediately saw that the robes she wore as a Jedi were obviously several sizes too large, for the dress fit like a glove over curves he didn't know she had, the low neckline of the dress adding to her allure. Staring at her shapely legs he realized she had the spicy perfume on again. He also noticed the half dozen men in attendance around her.
All he could see of her face were her eyes, hidden behind the silver veil. He brought his attention back to those eyes as she slipped her hand into his. "Gentlemen, my escort has made himself available to me." They turned away, many of them grumbling.
She looked up at Qui-Gon, her face on a level with his chin, as Nadeau had predicted. She winked at him. "Time to go in, Qui-Gon."
"You look beautiful, Tondalla."
She smiled broadly. "Thank you, Qui-Gon. You're not so bad yourself."
Jord's speech had been mercifully short. The banquet doors were flung open, revealing a tremendous array of dishes, an army of servants and a band playing. Tondalla had immediately been whisked away for a picture-taking session.
Knowing he couldn't avoid Mace forever Qui-Gon had sought out his fellow Jedi. After Mace had finished laughing they had joined Master Yoda on the edge of the dance floor.
Tondalla danced past them in the arms of a man Qui-Gon recognized as the son of the Ambassador from Corellia. The veil had been removed. Dark pink lips were pressed close to the man's ear, and whatever she was saying made her grin. Her red hair flowed behind her like a stream of water as she glided across the floor.
There was no doubt about it. She was gorgeous. Qui-Gon snuck a look at Mace, noting with more than a trace of satisfaction that his mouth had fallen open.
"Careful, Mace, you'll catch Swarm Bugs that way." He suppressed a smile as Mace's lips snapped shut.
"See you soon, Qui-Gon! And I promise, no work talk!" Tondalla said as the couple came around again.
He bowed slightly. "If you can spare some time for your escort, I'd be honored, Tondy."
She blew him a kiss and mouthed "I'll be back," then turned her attention to her partner.
Yoda, standing between the two men, looked up at Qui-Gon, a grin on his face. "Believe, I do, that one should judge after all facts are studied, Master Jinn."
Qui-Gon smiled down at him. "One thing I've found is I'm never too old to learn, Master Yoda."
Mace led a hand on Qui-Gon's shoulder. "Uh, old friend, if you're too busy I might be persuaded to escor...."
"Nice try, Mace."
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