The Ashes and the Fire 5

Naboo is beautiful. It is lush and green and full of life…did I mention that it is green? I stepped out of the shuttle and the first thing that hit me was the scent of living things, plants, sweet and humid. Everywhere I looked there were trees and flowers. Even the architecture here matches the landscape. The buildings were all stately and elegant, with high copper covered domed roofs that had turned green with verdigris. The stone work walls on all the buildings had intricate patterns carved into them as decoration. There was a feeling of age here, of peace and quiet and maybe even sanctuary. I could see why the Emperor liked to be here, it was a haven in comparison to Coruscant.
The retreat is in a quiet area away from most of the major cities, but with a shuttle service it is easy enough to get to the capitol, Theed and the nearer city Nabubu. We flew over Theed on our descent to the retreat and it looked stunning. I was looking forward to exploring it.

The retreat is a vast complex hidden in the hills near a gorgeous lake. There are a couple of Imperial outpost bases near by where some training goes on and I guess it is always good to have a few garrisons at hand. The main building is built up out of the surrounding hill and most of it is underground. Surrounding it are the residences for the support staff, the concubines and courtesans and so on. The houses and living quarters all look out over the lake and it is all very serene.

In the off seasons when the Emperor is not here this place is run by a skeleton crew but now it was a hustling, bustling place and as we flew in on approach to the shuttle landing pad I could see we were probably among the last to arrive.

I was tired and every bone in my body ached. Lord Vader was in one of his not speaking to anyone don’t bother to ask or even think about asking me anything moods. I followed him into the main reception hall as we went to essentially check in. He told me to talk to the person behind the reception desk to obtain my living quarters while he spoke to one of the Imperial Officers on duty.

The man behind the desk was tall, elegantly dressed and had manicured nails. The look on his face when I approached told me right away that we were not going to get along.

He gave me one of those snooty glances that said ‘and just how are you going to bother me today?’

“Good morning, “I said. “Merlyn Gabriel, Lord Vader's Assistant checking in.” It doesn’t hurt to be polite.

He twiddled with his data pad stared at it for a few seconds and shook his head. “No, sorry that name is not on my list.”

“Could you please check again? Perhaps I am listed under Lord Vader?”

“Spell your name please?” he said with a sigh.

I did. He checked again and shook his head. “No, sorry you are not registered.”

“Well, I am here now so where am I staying?” I asked…. That twinge of impatience and annoyance starting to creep in.

“I am sorry Miss…er… Gabriel was it? You are not listed I cannot issue a residency pass. Who did you say you were with?”

“Lord Vader, I am his personal assistant.” I said trying to remain calm and polite.

He shook his head again. “Lord Vader? No, I have no record of him sending in a residency request for you. Lord Vader never stays here, we do not have accommodations set aside for him or his party. And, “ he added. “We are full up now you will need to find accommodations elsewhere.”

I looked behind me, Lord Vader was still on the other side of the foyer talking to the Officer. I pointed to him. “Well, he is here now, and so am I and I need a place to stay. You must have something.” I asked.

He began to shake his head again and I lost it. I was tired and cranky and I hurt. I wanted a hot bath and a decent bed because I really wanted to sleep. I reached over the counter and I grabbed him by his clothes and dragged him to me. Anger made me fast and strong.

I brought his face as close to mine as was possible with the reception desk between us and I said between clenched teeth.

“I would very much like to have my accommodations now, if that is not possible then please let me speak to someone who will make this happen today!” I was sending sparks all over the place and I didn’t really care.

He glared at me and shook his head then his eyes moved away from my face to something behind me. I heard the tell tale breathing and felt the hand that was placed on my shoulder. Lord Vader's fingers bit painfully into my flesh.

“Release him.” He commanded.

I did.

The receptionist had turned an even paler shade of bone white but remained as dignified as he could, straightening out his collar and clothing.

“Is there a problem?” Lord Vader asked.

“No…no…. Lord Vader…no problem…. We were not expecting you or your…” he gave me a dirty look. “Assistant so er…uhm…soon.”

“Your expectations are not my concern, you are wasting my time!” Lord Vader snapped.

The receptionist looked from me, to Lord Vader, to the hand gripping into my shoulder and back again. He swallowed and hastily consulted his data pad once more. “Ah yes, we do have one place open.” He nodded. “At the other end of the complex I am afraid, by the lake. It is about thirty minutes walk from the main buildings.”

“It sounds fine.” I said. I waited as he fussed about with the data pad and encrypted the key for me. He reached under the reception desk and brought out a small folder and handed them both to me.

“The shuttle will take you to your accommodations, Miss Gabriel, Lord Vader. I wish you both a pleasant stay here.”

“Thank you, have a nice day.” I said as we turned to leave. Once outside Lord Vader turned to me and said. “There will be a reception tomorrow night in the main hall at nine, dress accordingly and do not be late. As it appears accommodations are in short supply this year I will be onboard my ship. Unless anything of importance arises I expect to be undisturbed.” Which was Vader speak for do not bother me unless it is life or death or it will be you will suffer the consequences, “There is an office set aside for you in the main building and here is the data you will need.” He handed me a data pad. “We will discuss matters of your duties here tomorrow, for now I suggest you improve your temper and get some rest.” And with that he turned away and headed back into the main building, off to see the Emperor I supposed.

The drive to the place where I was to be living for the next couple of months was short and silent. The driver dropped me off and took my meager luggage to the door, which was followed by my protocol droid and left with saying a word.

The receptionist had been right it was certainly far away from the main complex, although I could see the backside of it, where the big bow shaped balcony was. I guessed that was where the main hall was, it would make sense, over looking the lake and all.

I unlocked the door and went inside. The house smelled musty and was cool. It had not been used in some time and I suspected was only ever occupied when there was nothing else available. Most people I guessed liked to be in or very near the main buildings, to see and be seen. I went through the house and opened up all the windows to let the fresh air in. While it had not been used, the little house was clean and tidy, and I was grateful for small mercies. I was happy to have a place to myself.

There was something nice about the stillness here, it reminded me of Tatooine. I wandered about the place looking to see what was where. There was a small kitchen with a tiny dining area, a decent sized living room space, sort of open plan with doors leading out to a nice balcony which over looked the lake. I went out onto it and stood there staring out onto the shimmering water. I could hear the wind rustling through the leaves in the trees and the sounds of birds. It was amazing. I went back inside and explored the rest of the house. There was a guest bathroom downstairs and then upstairs there was a nice sized bedroom with another small balcony that looked out over the lake, a bathroom with a bath and shower and a small study sort of room. It was the perfect size for one or two people. I guessed that usually they bunked two in such a housing unit. I was happy I did not have to share.

I went back into the kitchen, searched through all the cupboards and found the kettle. I had brought some things with me and my Tatooine mint tea was one of them. While the water heated up I unpacked my things which didn’t take long. I had not brought everything I owned and even if I had it still would not have been that much.

I found bedding in a linen closet and made the bed up, as soon as I had some tea I was going to sleep. I told P2B4 to check through the house stuff and see if there was a grocery service, there was. I made a list and got the droid to do the ordering. One thing you can say about the Emperor, when his entourage moves en mass, everything is well organized.

I made my tea, dragged a chair out onto the balcony, sat down with the book I was currently reading, one of the ones Thrawn had given me, and relaxed. I didn’t get days off all that often and I really needed this one. It occurred to me that I would have to dig through the clothes I had brought with me to find something with sleeves to hide the bruises that were now becoming really amazing colours on my arms. I had not had time to think about Lord Vader's lesson, but I was reminded of it every time I moved my arm. I put the book down after reading the same line five times straight. I was tired and my thoughts kept straying. Looking at the book in my hand made me wonder where Thrawn was and what he was up to.
I shook my head. I didn’t want to think about him, men like him were a breed apart. I was not sure what to make of him at all. He was educated and intelligent, powerful and arrogant, sexy and detached all at the same time. His cool reserve and sharp wit were things that I didn’t usually find attractive yet I was drawn to him as a sand- moth to flame. If I closed my eyes I could still feel the touch if his lips upon mine and still felt the ache of longing it had given me. I did not know how to feel or think about him. I could not begin to imagine what someone as sophisticated as he would even begin to find attractive about someone like me. I wondered, and not for the first time, if he was playing games with me. I could not figure him or his motives out. If seduction was an art form then what happened once the piece of art was completed? Was it put up on display or left and forgotten? My instincts said stay the hell away from him but my heart just wanted more and more. I neither knew him nor trusted him yet I yearned, ached for his presence. It was just an awful sensation and I knew it to be nothing but bad news.
I sighed and decided that thinking about him would get me nowhere. He had not been in contact with me and I had not tried to figure out where he was. Our relationship, if you could even call it that, was based on chance meetings and moments of such intense passion that anything more would probably drive me insane.
I had met men such as him before, married to their ships, to space, their careers, yet, there was more to him, a back story I didn’t know but suspected was there. He was a man who had many tales to tell, someone who was deep and careful about almost everything. I could not see Captain Thrawn doing anything is haste. I wondered what it was in me that brought him into my life because, after all, he was the one doing the chasing. If I was just a conquest then this affair would be short lived and probably not sweet, but I did not think he was the type to do that. He was a still, thoughtful man and they had a tendency to run deep. I could see him standing up to Lord Vader and even the Emperor and living to tell the tale.

I was tired and I needed to sleep. I took the chair and my book inside and then I went to bed. I thought that, with my mind in turmoil, it would take me ages to fall asleep, but I was wrong. I lay down curled up on my side and that was all I knew until my droid woke me the next morning.

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