The music changed to something slow and sensual. He moved cat like, all ease and grace, to catch a hold of me before I could say a word. This dance he swept me up into was seductive and powerful. I didn’t know the steps but that did not matter, as he had so brazenly told me once, he was an excellent leader. It took my breath away. Dancing with Thrawn was like being possessed. I looked up into his face and he gave me a lazy smile. As he stroked my back, I sighed and leaned into his body. I loved the touch of his hand on my bare skin, it was electrifying.
When the music changed to something very different we stopped and for a moment just stood. My heart raced and as I remembered to breathe I wondered what he was thinking. He said nothing, but the gentle caress of his fingertips up and down my spine spoke volumes. I looked up into his eyes but he just smiled, then he moved away from me, picked up the two glasses from the counter and handed me one. We touched glass to glass and he said. “Kha’säri’mahr”
I sipped my drink and breathed in the brandy’s fumes. “Care to translate?” I asked.
“There is no literal translation but I suppose you could say it is a toast for good health and long life.” He said. I gave him a puzzled look. He continued. “To translate it directly into basic it would be something like ‘to slide along the bitter ice with grace and joy’.”
I laughed. “I take that Cheunh is complicated.”
“It is a language based on relatively few core words and the ability to create complex ideas by word combination and syntax. There is much beauty in its complexity. You’d probably like it actually.” He said with a smile.
“Probably.” I said, moving away to turn the music down a little. When I turned back around I found Thrawn staring at me thoughtfully, intently.
“What?” I asked, cocking my head to one side.
He motioned for me to come to him so I did. He took the glass from my hand and set both it and his back on the counter. He turned his attention back on me and touched my face with his fingertips making my heart suddenly skip a beat. I drew in a deep shuddery breath.
“You are really quite lovely.” He said softly.
I went to look away from him but he would not let me. His hands cupped my face and I surrendered to his pull. His kiss was slow, sweet and gentle as though he wanted to learn all there was about me just with the touch of his lips exploring mine. He tasted like brandy and honey. I reached up and stroked the side of his face, then ran my fingers through his beautiful blue-black hair. When he nuzzled the side of my neck, I gasped at the sensation of it and shivered as he laid tiny kisses from my ear down to my shoulder. I slipped my hands under his jacket and pushed it off him. It fell to the ground. He wrapped his arms around my body drawing me even closer to his. His hands, so warm upon my back, explored every inch of bare skin. It seemed to me that time had stopped. I lost myself as his mouth found mine and only when he broke away from me did I look up, only then did time move forward. There was a hunger in his eyes I had not seen before and it was his turn to take a deep, steadying breath. For a moment we just stood in the circle each other’s arms and then, pausing between words and deeds, with a sigh I laid my forehead against his chest. When he chuckled softly, I looked up at him.
“You can be quite dangerous, even now.” He whispered as he reached up and plucked from my hair, the two Zenji sticks that I had almost poked him in the eye with. He laid them beside the brandy glasses then ran his fingers carefully through my hair. “Your hair is beautiful. It reminds me of Adegan fire crystals in the sunlight.”
I stared into his face, into his eyes. Did he have any idea how he made me feel? I longed for something I could not define. This ache, this hunger was all consuming. I yearned for it as much as I feared it. I backed away from him then, picked up my glass and studied its contents closely.
He watched me intently for a few moments before asking, “What do you want, A’myshk’a?” It did not escape my notice that he had shortened my Dantassi name to its core.
I took a sip of brandy, letting the amber liquid warm my tongue before swallowing. I shrugged slightly with one shoulder. Passion and desire shifted around the room like restless sands in unpredictable winds. The magic of the ballet was slowly fading and the task the Emperor had given me was beginning to intrude on my evening.
“There is something on your mind aside from me.” he said.
“I did not think you were force sensitive.” I countered.
He smiled. “I do not need to be to know that something worries at you.”
I looked about the room and wondered how many listening devices there were planted about the place. I was certain that the small job of ferrying this dancer about was unimportant and insignificant. Still, I worried about talking about it not knowing who else might hear. Thrawn watched me carefully.
“Let’s go for a walk, some fresh air will do you good.” He said after a moment and picked up his jacket, carrying it over his arm. I did not argue with him. We made our way in silence down the path to the lake.
It was a beautiful night, still and clear. The air was cool and quiet, there was almost no wind and the water was mirror still, reflecting the stars and the light from the moons. I shivered a little and was grateful when Thrawn slid his jacket over my shoulders.
“Won’t you need it? It's cold out here.” I asked.
He laughed. “Cold? Csilla is cold. This place, even at night, is warm for me. You are the one from the overheated sand box.” He said, caressing my face. I closed my eyes and leaned into his touch. The warmth of it, the gentleness of it was calming.
“What is on your mind that it complicates this evening?” he asked.
I told him about the job the Emperor had given me.
“So he has finally given you an assignment, on your own. Ferrying a dancer doesn’t sound complicated.” His eyebrow arched.
I nodded. “It should not worry me, but it does. Something doesn’t feel right. I just cannot put my finger on it.” I told him. “It is not as if Rothana is all that dangerous.” I added, naming the planet.
Thrawn took a deep breath and nodded. “But why to Rothana?” he said, more to himself than to me.
“He said that this dancer has a performance there, a sort of payment or something for a local business associate.” I told him.
“You know what is on Rothana, yes?” He frowned and moved away from me slightly.
“It is mainly an engineering planet. I assume they manufacture heavy equipment of some sort there. Apart from that I don’t know much about it. It's out in Wild Space.” I said.
Thrawn regarded me carefully. “Rothana is where the equipment for most of the Clone army was manufactured. A subsidiary of the Kuat Drive Yards is based there. It is hardly the place for a dance recital, particularly from one of the Emperor’s prized dancers.”
“So you think there is more to this than just a delivery-baby sit job?” I asked.
“What does your gut tell you?” he asked studying my face carefully and not answering my question.
“That something doesn’t fit. There were lies in the truth he spoke, I could taste them” I answered after a moment.
He nodded and turned to stare thoughtfully out over the lake. “Far be it from me to question the Emperor’s motives for what he does with his people, but take all and every precaution you can. Double check that ship of yours, change the codes and voice protect the door lock just before you leave. When you land on that planet make sure you set the emergency start up sequence on. Tomorrow morning I will drop something off in your ship I think you might find useful.” He said, the sudden cold, business like tone in his voice scared me even more that the thought of this up coming job.
“You think this will turn out badly?” I asked, worried.
He shook his head. “That I don’t know. You are the one with the weirding powers and I believe you when you say it feels wrong. I merely suggest preventative measures that you might not think of. Not because you are not capable but because you are inexperienced. Deception is not in your nature and you do not look for it in others.”
“I guess I will have to learn then.” I said.
He looked back over his shoulder at me. “I hope not.” He said sharply.
I turned away from his stare.
He turned back to face me, the abruptness gone as swiftly as it had appeared. “A’myshk’a, there are precious few things in this galaxy that are not easily corrupted by a lust for power or a need to destroy that which they cannot have. I see it every day. I would not see you fall prey to this.” He paused. “You are so much stronger than you think. What ever this mission brings, you will face it with grace and poise. You will succeed, of that I have no doubt, but do me a favour will you?”
“Use the bone hair stick to put your hair up and wear the Dantassi necklace, hidden under your clothes tomorrow.”
I gave him a puzzled look.
He cupped his hands around my face and looked me in the eyes. “Help comes in unexpected guises. It never hurts to be prepared.” He said.
“You are talking in riddles now.” I said.
“Perhaps I am tired. Perhaps it is time to call it a night.” He said gently. “You have a long journey ahead of you. You should be well rested and alert for it.” He brushed stray curls from my face. I wrapped my arms around his body and he held me close. His embrace was warm and comforting. He kissed the top of my head tenderly. The passion and desire that had flown between us earlier had now been replaced by something else, something very subtle, very powerful and utterly indefinable. He walked me back to the door of my house. He kissed me lightly on the lips and whispered goodnight in my ear. As he vanished into the darkness I got the feeling that he was a little more troubled by the task the Emperor had given me than he had let on. It was not exactly how I had thought the evening would turn out and only once I was indoors did I realise I was still wearing his jacket around my shoulders. It was small comfort to think I would have to see him again if for no other reason than to return it to him.
I lay in bed for a long time unable to sleep. When I did finally fall asleep it was restless and filled with strange dreams. The alarm woke me early. I packed my things and readied myself as best I could before heading out to my ship. My thoughts were cluttered and unfocused, as if to mirror the strange fog that had settled around the lake. Everything was shrouded by an eerie grey mist.
I made sure that the office work was dealt with and sorted things out with my droid, then I went to my ship. Thrawn had been there before me. I wondered how he pulled these things off. I stood and stared at the ornate wooden box sitting on the table in the ship’s common area. I opened it up and took the letter out that sat on top of what was inside.
Akiana’myshk’apavjäska, this name tells any and all in a certain elite circle that would know, who and what you are. Many times you have asked me for its meaning and I have always said when the time is right, well now the time is right.
Pavjäska is the name of the clan to which, by right of passage, you now belong to. In basic it means, very roughly translated, North Shield Clan. When there is more time I will tell you more about this, your extended family. The rest of the name is perhaps more whimsical on my part but it does you justice and should anyone ask you can tell them its meaning is ‘she who dances as light upon snow’.
The Dantassi are proud and brave but also elusive and secretive. You have been accepted into this fold through my words and my actions. I give you the right to invoke my name should anyone ever challenge this.
These clothes are yours. They were made only for you. While you have no bone mask to wear there is provided here, traditional facial paint. You know the pattern you may use, and you know how it should look. The culling stave I have left you was once mine and, as you have held it in your hands before, its weight will be known to you. May it serve you well.
A’myshk’a, do not fear the unknown. You are brave and supple. You will be as wind across snow, as light upon water. You will excel at this task you have been given and we will spend time together when you return.
I read the letter twice before unpacking the box and looked at everything he had left for me. When I was done I repacked the box and hid it out of sight. I took the razor sharp culling staff and tucked it away where no one would see it unless they were dong a very thorough search of the ship. As I began the systems check and walk through of my ship, I could not help but think about what it was that Thrawn knew about this place I was heading to that I did not. That he maintained close bonds with the Dantassi was not a surprise to me, but somehow I got the feeling I was missing a great chunk of information on that side of his life. I knew from the various rumours and court gossip that he was a brilliant tactician and that when it came to strategy there were few among his peers who could top him. So while the reason for his concern, his advice and this gift were unknown to me, I was deeply grateful for them.
I made certain everything with the ship was in perfect shape, picked up some extra supplies and a few spare parts for things that had a habit of breaking down at the most inopportune moments and then I did as Thrawn had suggested. I changed all the ship’s codes, made the door lock voice activated only and made sure the emergency start up procedure was working and in place.
I had sent word to Lianna that she was to be at the ship promptly half an hour before departure time. The rest of my spare time I spent reading up on my star charts and mentally preparing for a very long journey with another woman who did not seem to like me very much. It was going to be interesting no matter what happened.