I made hand gesture that said get on board and walked back to the common area. I heard the door close up and steady footsteps follow me.
“Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be off saving the Galaxy or something?” I snapped as we walked back up to the common area.
He arched an eyebrow. “You are angry with me?” he asked. I didn’t answer him instead I fussed about the galley.
“Tea?” I asked as I put the kettle on the stove.
“Thank you.” Thrawn said coolly, taking off his jacket and sitting down at the table.
We did not speak but I felt his eyes follow my every move.
I sat down across from him and we drank tea in silence until I broke it. I was exhausted. In the last forty or so hours I had had maybe three hours of good sleep and two bowls of soup. I had no patience. “Why are you here?” I asked again.
He said. “I wanted to see how you fared after your first solo mission for the Emperor.”
“Well, you see me. I am fine.” I could not keep the anger out of my voice.
“A’myshk’a…” he began but I cut him off with a flick of my hand.
“What does Tjällh mean?” I asked sharply.
His jaw clenched and there was a sudden hardness in his eyes. “Where did you hear that word?” he asked carefully.
“What does it mean?” I asked again.
He drew a deep breath. “It is archaic Cheunh.” He said slowly. “I need to know the context in which it was used to know what meaning to tell you.”
I dug in my pocket and brought out the pendant Navaari had given me to pass onto Za’ar and laid it on the table in front of Thrawn. “Amdau’inte mikka-mawri’Ka. Ta’chi’sah a’mawri’Ka” I said, repeating Navaari’s words.
Thrawn picked the pendant up and studied it carefully. After a very long silence he asked. “Did he give you one as well?” He laid the bear amulet back on the table.
I pulled the tiny flower pendant out from under my shirt. He stood up and came over to me, pulled me to my feet, close to him and picked up the pendant between his thumb and his forefinger, studying it. I looked up into his eyes but I could not read the emotion that was there. When he let it go he did not sit back down but instead leant against the galley counter with his arms folded over his chest. Distancing himself from me.
I sat back down. I was too tired for games. I just buried my head in my hands.
“What happened?” he asked after a long while. There was a thread of steel in his voice I was not used to hearing.
“Did you know he would be there?” I countered.
Thrawn shook his head. “No, but Rothana is a stop over place for many Bone Traders and the hunt on Kerest takes place in a few days I had hoped that if you needed help you would find it.” He said. “That you would meet up with this particular man…” he shook his head again. “Not even I would have expected this coincidence.”
“He said there was no such thing as coincidence.” I said.
“Well, you do have a strange way of attracting the most unlikely of circumstances about you.” Thrawn said softly.
I picked up the bear amulet from the table and played with it. “This means something to you doesn’t it?”
“It is Kirja’navaar’inkjerii’s way of reminding me of the past.” He said evenly.
“The past has a funny way of catching up with us doesn’t it?” I said shakily and suddenly it hit me like a sandstorm. He did nothing as I buried my face in my hands and sobbed silently. I was furious with myself for crying but I couldn’t stop it from happening either. Thrawn stood and watched without saying a word or moving to comfort me. He waited until I was done with crying and had wiped my tears from my face angrily before he spoke.
“What happened on Rothana that has you so tied up in knots?” he asked.
I looked up at him. “What does Tjällh mean?” I pressed. I could play these games too.
He sighed. “It is an archaic form of the word that means child, but it is no longer used in that context. Did Kirja’navaar’inkjerii call you this?”
“After he knew that I was the one who named you.”
I nodded again wondering why that was significant.
“He was angry with me, was he not?” Thrawn said evenly.
“Did he tell you how we knew each other?”
“He said you helped him and his people defeat invaders from taking their planet. That you and a small band of hunters saved them.”
Thrawn gave me a tight smile. “Then he did not tell you the whole story.” He said. “Tjällh is an avuncular term, a term of endearment usually, but not exclusivly, used between fathers and daughters. While the word is not meant to be condescending, adults would not call one another that. It is a diminutive used for the inexperienced, for female children. The male version would be Tjäl’te. There is no direct translation any more and it is seldom used outside of the family or clan circle and only used by the Dantassi. The use of this word from one to another implies a bond of some sort. In Chiss society no one would utter this word. It is considered old fashioned and meaningless.”
“Why would he use this term for me? I am not his daughter or part of his family and he went out of his way to make sure I stayed hidden under the face paint because I was not of his clan.” I was confused.
“It is complicated.”
“Everything about you and me is complicated!” I shouted getting up out of my chair, wanting to just walk away from him, from the ship, from everything. Suddenly the only thing I wanted was a hot bath and my bed. I grabbed my jacket and my satchel and went to leave. He moved faster than I would have given him credit for and caught me by the arm. His eyes searched my face looking for answers to question he left unspoken.
“Tell me what happened.” He hissed between clenched teeth. His grip on my arm strong enough to tell me he was serious about wanting an answer.
“What ever it is you are afraid to tell me is eating you up inside. I see it in your eyes. It haunts you.”
“Why do you care?”
He took a deep breath but did not let go of my arm. “Because, as Kirja’navaar’inkjerii so cleverly reminded me, I have a responsibility to you and I have been amiss in it.”
“Responsibility?” I hissed.
“Among other things,” He stroked my face gently with his free hand. “Yes.”
His aloofness and his cool tone I could deal with but this tenderness broke through my anger and I suddenly felt utterly lost.
“Talk to me.” He insisted holding both my arms.
“I almost killed him.” I whispered. I did not want to say these words out loud.
Wary puzzlement flashed across his face. “Who?”
“Jyrki.” I said.
This time he did not try to keep his face expressionless. “I think you had better start from the beginning.” He steered me to a chair and I found myself once again sitting at the table.
Without arguing I told him everything that had happened. He did not once interrupt or comment. He sat almost stone still across from me with his fingers steepled at his chin, never taking his eyes from mine. When I was done I had the feeling that time had also stopped and was holding its breath. He reached over to where the bear amulet still lay and picked it up. His fingers caressed the carving thoughtfully.
“I told you the last time we sat here about my first meeting with the Dantassi. I also told you that although I had searched for the ones who had named me and saved my life I never found them again and in that I did not lie. What I did not tell you is that I found others of the same clan, scattered throughout the galaxy, nomadic and hunting. Through these meetings I soon learned that while the Dantassi travel far and wide and are often solitary they are by no means out of touch. They manage to communicate with each other by many, many means and through this, keep up the closeness of community I had come to admire while living with the North Shield clan. Over the course of several years, although I was still considered very young by Chiss standards I had managed to attend many hunts and continue to learn the Dantassi ways. I managed to combine my love for these people and their world with my own world, my own obligations and the expectations of my family, but it was not always easy. It was my deepest secret.” He paused. “I heard about the problem the clan on Hjal was facing through this network and I arranged with as many of the Hunters that I knew as I could that we would fight these Traeth. We trained and planned for several weeks before we made our way to Hjal. As Kirja’navaar’inkjerii told you we trained their people and we beat back the Ninlial.”
“How?” I asked.
“We used our weaknesses as strengths, we turned their strengths against them. They had weapons that could do terrible amounts of damage but what do you shoot these weapons at when you cannot find your quarry? We went to ground and we used the Hjal knowledge of this planet to help. We fought a guerrilla war against a people who had no concept about such a thing. The Ninlial were a race of people who valued order to the point of obsession and had almost no concept of chaos. A guerrilla style war was beyond their ability to comprehend.”
“How did you know this?”
“I studied their art. I studied them.” He said. “And through those studies I learned their weaknesses which we then used them to our advantage. The Dantassi adapt well and learn quickly. It was not difficult to find ways to circumnavigate the attacks. The Ninlial saw this as a sort of magic and feared us, feared me. They are a race blind to the Force and their thinking is very linear. They fear anything they cannot comprehend. They cannot comprehend that which they cannot see.” He explained. He stared at the bear amulet he held. “Several days after our victory, I found myself in a bad situation mostly through my own lack of foresight. I would have been killed had Kirja’navaar’inkjerii not been near by and saved my life. I had been scouting a path across an ice field and for one moment I let my concentration slide. I did not see the crevasse until I was in it, or better to say hanging from the wall by a bone knife. He had seen me suddenly vanish and knew what had happened. It was through his fast thinking and strength that I live. He did not tell you this, did he?”
I shook my head.
Thrawn’s mouth tightened. “Unlike the Wookiee or the Gungan, the Dantassi do not believe in the concept of a life debt. They do not hold with the idea that the people they have saved are forever indebted to them. They believe, instead, that to save someone’s life is to become responsible for that person. Kirja’navaar’inkjerii takes this responsibility seriously.” He said.
“What does this have to do with me?”
Thrawn smiled. “It is rare for a Chiss to be accepted into the Dantassi. I was an exception. That I made you a part of the tribe I am a member of by my actions will no doubt raise many eyebrows. You are a’Traeth. Not only are you not Chiss but you are an off worlder and neither the Chiss nor the Dantassi are known for their love of outsiders. That you are of my get means that I am responsible for you. This, in turn, means Kirja’navaar’inkjerii feels he is responsible for you through his responsibility for me and in some twisted accordance with the Dantassi tradition, he is.” He sighed and sat back in the chair. “Kirja’navaar’inkjerii takes tradition very seriously, he no doubt, finds it difficult to understand that I have not given up everything to live the Dantassi way.”
I just sat and listened.
“I had no idea if you would meet another Bone Trader. I only knew that dressed as one you stood a better chance should you need to hide behind a disguise. I knew this because it is more than just a mask for you or me. Through ceremony and ritual I made it a part of you and I knew you would take it seriously. I had hoped that should you need help you would find it but believe me, that you would meet Kirja’navaar’inkjerii was as far from my thoughts as sunbathing in the Dune sea is.”
“Why did you make me part of your get?”
He smiled but he didn’t answer me. I made a face.
“Listen to me carefully. I cannot tell you if the Emperor knew what was going to happen or who would be there. That he is powerful is of no question but such a power…” Thrawn shrugged. “The Dantassi believe that nothing happens without reason as do the Chiss to a certain extent. In this case I am inclined to agree with them. Nothing about you is ordinary, no matter what you want to think.” He sighed. “You did not kill anyone. When you fought your friend you had no idea who it was and that was probably a good thing. You accomplished your mission, most likely exceeding the expectations of the Emperor and finding if not a friend in this woman you saved, then an ally. You managed to find the one Bone Trader in the galaxy that not only could help you but, through obligations you had no idea of, had to help you. He thinks highly of you despite my inability to fulfill what he sees as my obligations to your Dantassi education. And do not forget I have seen you in action, so to speak. You are surprisingly resilient.” He stroked the side of my face with the backs of his fingers. I closed my eyes as I leaned into his touch. “One day when you trust me enough and you are not completely exhausted I would like to hear the whole story of what lies between you and this Jyrki Andando but until that time I can wait. I will tell you with absolute certainty, that this man from your past is bound to your destiny in a way the Dantassi would call ki’ymäutth, an unbreakable, eternal bond. Your lives are wound together but he is no longer your friend.”
“Are you?” I asked.
“Am I what?”
He looked me straight in the eyes for a very long time before answering. “No,” he said softly. “I am far more than that.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I felt a great tug at my heart. Was this what Navaari had meant by being bound to a person, being bound to this person? The silence between us was heavy. Things that perhaps should have been said were left unspoken and when I could not stand it any more I asked the least intrusive question that was on my mind.
“How do you know Navaari thinks highly of me?”
Thrawn sat back in his chair and chose his words with care. “Kirja’navaar’inkjerii had two younger sisters, twins. They were both killed during the conflict with the Ninlial. Their grandfather had carved them each a small amulet in the shape of a flower to celebrate their birth. These small plants grow in the very harshest of climates, producing clusters of tiny red berries in the autumn and winter and in the spring delicate little white flowers that have a beautiful and distinctive perfume. The berries are sweet, edible and valued as a food source, the flowers have healing properties. The Hjal call them Cracker-berry flowers. One of his sister’s amulets he passed on to his daughter when she was born, the other he always wore. Now you wear it. That he gave something so meaningful to you tells me you must have made quite an impression.”
I shook my head. “He said the same thing about you giving me the little skull amulet.”
Thrawn said nothing and we just stared at each other for a long while. I was so tired. I just rested my head down on my arms and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to talk about anything anymore. I heard him get up and move about the galley, the clink of cups as he washed them out. I felt his hand on my shoulder and I got up almost droid like.
“Come, I’ll take you home. You need to sleep.” He said. I let him put my jacket over my shoulders and take my satchel. I glanced around and made sure everything that was supposed to be turned off was off. We left my ship and I locked her up. He had a small two seat transport waiting and the trip around the lake was a blur. I unlocked the door and he followed me in. I felt like a ghost. He turned on the light under the counter in the kitchen, filled the kettle and turned it on. I watched as he poured a little brandy from the bottle he had left here from the night we had seen the ballet in a cup and added a small amount of honey. When the water had boiled he added that to this strange brew and walked over to the living room with the cup and me in tow. We sat on the couch, side by side and he handed me the cup.
“Drink.” He said, brushing hair from my face.
I looked at the cup suspiciously.
“Normally the Dantassi would use a cracker-berry liqueur, but the brandy is a good substitute. I have a hunch that you would lie in bed and instead of sleeping you will fret and think about everything that has happened without end. You are over tired and over wrought. This will help.” He explained.
I sipped the drink carefully. It was sweet and hot with the right amount of brandy. I wondered what cracker-berry liqueur tasted like. The silence sat between us like a wall. Finally I turned to look at him.
“Why was he there, Za’ar?” This question burned in me. He was right I didn’t know how to let it go.
His face had softened at the use of his Dantassi name. I hadn’t meant to speak it but somehow it had slipped out.
“I do not know.” He answered. “Perhaps to discover the answer to this you need to know what your young dancer friend was doing there.”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to know that.” I told him. “What ever it was it had nothing to do with dancing and I don’t want to get involved.”
He nodded and frowned. “Did he recognize you?” he asked.
I hesitated a moment then gave a small nod. “He didn’t at first but…”
“When I said his name out loud he knew. It just slipped out. I was so surprised.”
He sat back into the couch and sighed. “I am betting he was as well.”
“I think he might be a part of this rebellion, the ones who blew up the Death Star.” I said after a very long pause.
Thrawn looked at me. “Have a care what you say.” he said quietly.
I sipped my drink, tucked my legs up under me, jax like and leaned against him, resting my head against his shoulder. He shifted to accommodate the weight of my body and wrapped his arm about my shoulders. I was too tired to consider the situation odd, instead I welcomed his presence. I allowed a little smile to myself as he plucked the hair sticks from my hair and laid them on the table.
“Do you remember the night of the Grand Ball, when you came to my flat?” I asked.
“The argument you overheard me having was with Jyrki, not a holo from home.” I said.
He looked at me, I felt his body stiffen. “He was in your apartment?”
“He snuck in and out. I don’t know how but he’s very…resourceful and he’s a force user.” I said. “He said he had come to rescue me, he thought I was being held against my will.”
“Why would he have had that idea?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I really don’t know. Not from me that is for sure, I like my job, remember? He thinks the Empire is evil and he hates the Emperor. He assumed I would too. He thought that I was being forced to work here with no choice in the matter.” I said. “He risked his life to come and get me out.” I stopped to steady my voice. “When I refused to go with him we had a terrible fight. He said some awful things to me and I …I slapped him when he called me a palace doxy. He was so shocked that I would like working for the Empire. I had never seen him so hurt.” I had to stop and cover my mouth with my hand to stave back the emotion that threatened to pour out.
Thrawn drew a deep breath. “He is the one who thinks you are betraying what he stands for. He was the one feeding you the information about the Jedi children being slaughtered. No wonder you were so upset.” He said softly, thoughtfully. “I should have seen this.” Then he added with a touch of anger. “You may be many things, my dear, but a palace doxy is most assuredly not one of them.”
I nodded; there was a lump in my throat. “In the end he was right because I’m betraying him now, aren’t I? Just by telling you this….”
Thrawn considered this for a moment but did not answer the question, instead he asked. “Is he a part of this rebellion? Do you know that for absolute certain?”
“No.” I said after thinking about it. “He did not say that he was a part of it in exact words. He just implied that the rebellion was right to destroy the Death Star.”
Thrawn nodded. “Do you think he will try to find you again?”
“I don’t know.” I said, “I hope not.”
“For his sake, so do I.” He said icily. I glanced up at him but his face gave nothing away. Only the slight clenching of his jaw told me that this was a thought which made him angry, although I wasn’t sure why.
“What was he doing on Rothana? Who were those people he was with? Why was he after Lianna? Why didn’t he kill her? Why was the blaster set to stun?” I asked.
“Good questions.” Thrawn said, running his fingers idly through my hair.
“Too many questions.” I countered stifling a yawn. “And no answers.”
“Hm.” He said. “Answers will come in due time, but when they do, you may not like them.”
I sighed. I didn’t like any of this. I didn’t like where it was going at all. Waves of weariness crashed over me and I let it come. The last thing I remember clearly were his fingertips caressing my face. I knew he was speaking to me but I didn’t hear the words. I only knew that as long as he had his arm wrapped around me, and while I was curled up next to his warmth that I was, for a short time, safe. After everything that had happened, it was a welcome sensation. With the sound of his voice in my ears I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.