Tengri - Chapter 1

Qui-Gon Jinn's personal ship was as fast, elegant, and every bit as inconspicuous as he could manage to make her. The sleek black Marauder was one of the few indulgences he'd allowed himself since the Council had called him to be a Jedi Master. Before that, he'd needed a personal ship only when he went on holiday from his regular duties and wanted to get away from everyone and everywhere. But being a Jedi Master meant that a great many of his assignments required a great deal of sneaking with no hired transportation allowed.

Unfortunately, word had gotten round the Council that Qui-Gon owned the ship, which meant that they had less hesitancy in sending him on rogue missions. He knew that he was getting a reputation for breaking the rules whenever necessary but getting the job done. On one hand, Yoda and the others were incensed with him. On the other hand, they kept sending him out, didn't they? On missions like the one he was currently serving.

It sounded simple enough at first hearing: as part of a planetary development agreement between Prascene and Erachnis, Princess Tengri of the former and Prince Vol of the latter were to marry. Erachnis was a private, almost paranoid planet, conducting all of their Republic business via courier rather than in person. Now they were refusing to allow the full Prascenian guard to accompany Tengri to her new home. One ship, one escort, that's all they'd permit.

At the express request of the Queen Mother, the Jedi Council had agreed to send one Jedi Knight to escort her daughter to Erachnis. Qui-Gon was it. The only problem was that, in his experience, simple missions like this one had a tendency to become tiresomely complicated.

Upon exiting his ship, he was escorted through the palace and into the heavily ornate rooms of its King. The young man upon the throne seemed more intent upon having his manicure than discussing interplanetary matters with a Jedi Knight.

"So you're the one taking Tengri to Vol?" He scarcely glanced at Qui-Gon. "You look competent enough. As long as she gets there, and we get the building materials we require...."

He gave a slight bow. "I shall do my best, Your Majesty."

"I'm sure you will." He waved the guard forward. "They'll show you to your rooms, you and Tengri will leave in the morning. The agreement, of course, has already been signed."

"Yes, Your Majesty."

The rooms were comfortable enough for his purposes, though Qui-Gon would have preferred to simply stay in his ship. Ten cycles later came a quiet tapping at the door. Opening it, he discovered the Queen Mother waiting with a dinner tray on the other side. Instantly taking the tray from her, he bowed her into the room.

"Your Majesty, it is an honor and a privilege to serve you."

"You are protecting my daughter, the honor is mine. Do you require anything more this evening?"

He shook his head, set the tray aside. "Everything is ready."

"Everything, except Tengri. Oh, she'll go with you to Erachnis." The woman grimaced. "She would go anywhere my son ordered, so obedient is she. My husband sheltered her even as he pampered and spoiled his son. As a consequence, Tengri will do her utmost to please others, even at the expense of her own life."

The Queen turned worried eyes on Qui-Gon. "This prince she is to marry... He worries me. We've never laid eyes on anyone from Erachnis, much less Prince Vol. As for my son, he cares nothing for his sister. He simply wants the materials necessary to develop our planet. Tengri is part of the price of those materials."

"I find it strange that they will not allow your own guard to deliver her."

"One guard," the Queen confirmed. "My son agreed, of course. No one has thought to mention to the Erachnis that my daughter's escort is a Jedi. I thought it better that way."

"Does Tengri know?"

The Queen Mother nodded. "Keep her safe for me, Jedi. I do not care for this arrangement, and feel as though I am sending my daughter into great danger."

"I will keep her safe, Your Majesty."

"I would wish a different life for her, but there's nothing I can do. My son has spoken. And he is king." Pacing to the door, the Queen Mother allowed Qui-Gon to open it for her. "Until tomorrow, then."

* * *

Checking the coordinates one last time, Qui-Gon pressed the lever to send his ship into hyperspace. With nary a shudder, the Marauder made the transition, replacing the steady starfield with streaks of light. Turning from the console, Qui-Gon ducked down the hallway and back into the living quarters. Pausing in the bulkhead to discard his cloak on one of the Princess's wardrobe trunks, he considered the young woman he'd recently welcomed on board his ship.

Tengri sat staring out of the window, her waist-length brown hair wrapped securely in its braid, her hands folded neatly in her lap, and her lovely face as blank a slate as Qui-Gon had ever seen. Submissive to a fault, she practically had to be told when to breathe. It was the Jedi's impression that she was neither stupid nor ignorant: more numb and resigned to whatever fate her brother had assigned to her.

I don't matter, said her posture, as well as the waiting look in her eyes. Regardless she looked to be in her twenties, she reminded Qui-Gon of a young child, untouched and unremarkable.

It was unfortunate, for she really was quite a beautiful woman. At least, she would be if she smiled. Well, he'd run into plenty of shy women in his day; far be it from Qui-Gon to let go the opportunity to draw out a beautiful woman.

"Do you play Bachhi?" he asked, sliding onto the seat beside her and palming the game controls before she had the chance to reply. "Yes," she replied softly.

"Do you prefer to be scaled or slimy?"

Startled hazel eyes stared across at him. "I beg your pardon?"

Smiling, he gestured to the hologram playing field. "The fighters. Do you want to be a Roctilian, or a Wurrem?"

"I..." She seriously considered the question for a long moment. "I should prefer to be neither. When I played, Master Qui-- Qui-Gon?"

She stumbled over his name, uncertain of pronouncing it correctly and desperate to do so. He nodded reassurance, letting a slight twinkle creep into his gaze even as he rested his chin in his hand. Whatever she said, he made it clear that he was listening to her, heart and soul.

His attention made her stammer. "I... I played with other characters, I'm afraid."

"Such as?"

"Sand-dragons and... and..." She blushed, stared down at her hands.

"And what?" Leaning over, he sought to meet her gaze. "What enemy did the dragons eat, hmm? If there were no Wurrems in your game, then perhaps they ate... Kittens?"

"Certainly not!"

"Puppies, then?"


"Children? Small and noisy ones?"

"NO!! They... The sand-dragons ate..." She squirmed visibly now. A blush rose on her check.

By the Force, she's as embarrassed as a twelve-year-old would be, he noted. Sheltered, said her mother? This one's a total innocent, the gods help her.

"My mother reprogrammed the program. The dragons ate..." She could not meet his eyes. "My brother."

Her brother? So... she didn't like being ordered about like so much inventory, and there was some spirit in there, after all. There may be hope for you yet, child.

"Ah," was all he said aloud, being careful not to inflect that one word with anything she could misconstrue. And he waited. Less than a minute later, she glanced up at him through her lashes, as though checking if he were angry or upset with her.

"Well, I can't give you sand-dragons and the King, but I can give you 'droids and Wookiees."



"You asked before if I wanted to be scaled or slimy. Slimy." She summoned a shy smile for him then, still unable to meet his gaze, but he saw the spirit she'd been trained so well to hide.

"Slimy, it shall be." Pleased with his probing, Qui-Gon set the machine.

* * *

He demolished her easily within a matter of minutes, as she had known he would. After all, he was a Jedi Knight, wasn't he? How could she win any game against a Jedi?

That was only part of the problem. The other part was... well... Qui-Gon himself. When her mother had first told her who was escorting her to Erachnis, she envisioned a slight, smoothfaced, eager knight of her own age who would rush her on board, fly her to her destination, see her quickly handed over to the Prince, and not give her a second glance as he bolted back to Coruscant. That was how her brother's friends treated her. She knew she was nothing special to look at or to talk to, and had come to expect nothing less. Indeed, she'd come to welcome it, for it meant that nine times out of ten her presence was not required, anywhere, and so she could do whatever she wanted without interference -- which was basically to hide and pursue her own interests. Alone.

She'd never regretted the lack of male attention or company. For that matter, she'd never met any male who'd had any affect on her whatsoever. From what company she had to choose from, alone was definitely preferable. Until Qui-Gon Jinn had walked into her rooms. He towered over her in a way no one ever had before, the breadth of his shoulders making two of her even as he leaned down to look her in the eye and take her hand in greeting.

"I am here to protect and serve you, Your Highness."

His low voice made her knees tremble, his touch made her want to sit down and stare at him. Which she did, while her mother fussed about with her traveling cases, distracting Him. Tall and lean, he definitely was, with shoulder-length bronzed hair, legs that went on forever only to be ensconced inside calf-hugging boots, and a v-necked tunic revealing a spread of light-brown chest hair that had her... well, longing to touch it in ways she'd never expected to want to touch any man.

What's wrong with me? she asked herself, even as she followed him down the palace corridors to the flight deck and his plane. Qui-Gon's cloak swung before her, the fabric brushing her sandaled foot. He's at least fifteen years older than me. And worse, he's a JEDI! It's ridiculous to feel this way! It confused her even more that she'd never felt this way about anyone before. Is this what it feels like to have a crush on somebody? Well, it's a perfectly awful feeling. I don't know why people write about it so much, as though it's something wonderful. I want to blush every time I look at him, my palms have gone all sweaty, and that voice... She trembled just to hear him murmur some unintelligible reassurance to her mother. This is embarrassing.

She probably could have kept her composure about her and her words together around him, if it wasn't for the fact that he kept... well... touching her. A hand to her shoulder to guide her up the gangway of what had proven a beautiful little ship and not the military monster she'd been dreading; a caress of her fingers as he'd taken her small overnight bag and settled it inside her private cabin. And then there were his eyes, which seemed to have a power all of their own. Until Qui-Gon had looked at her, Tengri had never known what it was to have someone really look at her -- as though what she said or felt or thought in the next few seconds actually mattered. As though she mattered.

Well, that's a total fantasy, she berated herself. No one's ever cared a bit what I think or feel. He's a Jedi Knight! she reminded herself. It's his job to be... well... knightly. Every one of them probably treat all women like this.

If they did, then it was an absolute miracle to Tengri that the Jedi hadn't fathered children from one end of the galaxy to the other.

How do you know they haven't? she questioned herself. How do you know that this one hasn't? He's certainly old enough. Where do you think little Jedi apprentices come from?

I suppose I could ask him....

And what would he think of that? Are you volunteering to help? Leave the subject alone. Leave the Jedi alone, too.

She lifted her eyes, only to find that he was watching her, waiting for her to make her next move in the newest game he'd programmed for them. Calm blue eyes bore into hers, as though he was trying to fathom her thoughts. She envisioned voicing her question aloud: Excuse me, sir, but how many brats have you begetted, just on the strength of your gaze alone?

Embarrassed at the thought, she cast about for a safe comment or question and noticed, for the first time, his broken nose. Without thinking, she reached out and stroked its length. "How did this happen to you?"

His skin was smooth; the bone beneath was not. Snatching back her fingers, she immediately began apologizing.

"I'm so sorry," she babbled, positively mortified that her fingers had escaped her control that way. "I'm not usually so rude. Please forgive me!"

His warm hand overlaid hers on the gaming table, burying not only her palm but her fingers and wrist as well. By the gods, but the man was huge.

"It's all right, Tengri. I don't mind." His fingers stroked the side of her wrist. " Calm yourself."

With the words came the feeling, almost as though, with his touch, he was pouring serenity into her: it really was all right, he didn't mind, and she hadn't done anything bad, anything to be scolded for.

"You're curious, that's all," he murmured. "A Jedi must be something exotic to you."

Mutely, she nodded. Her throat tightened at his caress, his kindness. Tears pricked her eyes. Is it really so seldom, then, that anyone besides my mother touches me, or is kind to me? she wondered.

Qui-Gon's eyes flickered for a moment, as though he'd caught the thought. But no, that was impossible, wasn't it?

"A fellow apprentice broke my nose in practice when I was about sixteen," he revealed in a voice so soft that Tengri had to lean closer just to catch the words. His breath stirred her hair. "We had just begun practice with real lightsaber hilts, much like this one." He gestured to the weapon clipped to his belt. "Luckily, our the sabers at that time were only colored plascine and not gamma."

"How terrible of him to hurt you!"

He gestured dismissively. "It was my own fault, I stepped right into it. It bled endlessly, gave me two black eyes, swelled to the point I was afraid it would never go back down so that I could see properly again, and it hurt for a very long time."

Came the shy question, "Did you ever get hit there again?"

"Never." And I never will, said his determined jaw.

She eyed the lightsaber at his side before fiddling half-heartedly with the game controls. Her gaze kept flicking back to his weapon. On impulse, he unclipped it, set it on the table.

"Have you ever seen one of these before?"


"Would you like to?"

She shrank back as though fearing she'd made some unspeakable request, regardless she'd never opened her mouth. "I... I can't. That's yours. It's personal and...."

"It's not sacred, I assure you. It is merely a tool, although a rather specialized one." Rising to his feet, he loomed over her. "Come. Join me."

A hand to her elbow, and that's all it took to get her on her feet, even if it was with the intention of putting as much space between her and him as the small cabin allowed.

He seemed willing to have none of that. When she skittered up against one of her trunks, he followed to stand beside her. Palming the saber, he activated the blade. She stood mesmerized as its glowing green light filled her field of vision, its hum magnified tenfold in the small space.


Without thinking, she let him hand it off to her. As soon as the full weight of the weapon was in her hand, she let go. It clattered to the deck, the blade winking off the minute it left her hand. Horrified, she shrank back again.

With a chuckle, Qui-Gon retrieved his lightsaber. "It won't bite you, Tengri. I've slid the intensity beam far down to almost nothing. If it touches you, or if you touch me, it will do nothing more than make our flesh tingle."

Feeling foolish and not knowing what reply to make to that, she simply took the saber from him once he'd activated it again. It felt heavy, and warm from his touch. Stiffly, she wrapped both her hands around the hilt, brought it parallel to her face, and stared.

"Now what do I do?"

Stepping behind her, he wrapped his arms around her. Instantly, she was pressed up against his chest, encircled by him and the weapon.

"This is your circle of life," he announced, turning them both in place. "If you invade someone else's circle, you can cut them down. Likewise, if you allow them to invade your circle, they can seriously harm or even kill you. Position one is so. Position two--"

He showed her, his own muscles effortlessly overriding her stiff ones. His breath stirred her hair, his chin was over her head. His well-muscled arms went on forever, having to pull back to accommodate her shorter ones. She smiled at the thought, wondering if they looked awkward in this demonstration.

"And there's your first lightsaber lesson." He shut off the weapon, but seemed to take forever releasing her.

Turning within his circle of life, she looked a long way up to meet his gaze. "Thank you."

He bowed. "You're most welcome, Princess."

The minute he used her title, he knew it was a mistake. The smile faded from her lips, her shoulders sagged, and she remembered why she was with him in the first place.

"When will we get to Erachnis?" she asked, her voice flat.

"Early tomorrow."

"Then I guess I should get some sleep." She summoned a weak smile before ducking past him. "Thank you for showing me... Thanks."

And then she disappeared down the hall, closed the door to her cabin behind her.

"Well, you certainly messed that up, didn't you?" he muttered, heading for his own cabin.