Just before the dawn, when I could stand it no longer I made my way through the empty hallways of the palace to Lord Vader’s office. The polished stone floor was cold on my bare feet and it had not occurred to me that running around the palace in my night dress and dressing gown would be considered more than just a little unusual. I hesitated only a few seconds before activating the holo transmitter. If Lord Vader was awake and not occupied he would answer if he was busy or meditating he’d ignore it. He was awake.
“What is it?” he barked. Never any time wasted on pleasantries.
“My lord, I hope I am not disturbing you.” I said.
“No more so than usual.” He retorted. “What do you want? This is not our appointed time to discuss matters.”
I went to speak but suddenly I did not know what to say or how to put into words what it was I was feeling and fearing.
“Spit it out girl, do not waste my time!”
“I need to speak with you in person.” I said quickly, the words tumbling out. “I... I need your guidance, my lord, but not over the holonet. There are things… well you need to know, I need to tell you…” I felt like a wayward child asking for help from a stern, unyielding parent. It was not the first time I had contacted him out of schedule, nor would it be the last but it was the first time I had felt so helpless. Perhaps, it was something in my voice or stance, something in my manner or maybe he could sense my inner turmoil, I do not know but what ever it was it made him pause. Instead of his usual impatience or anger he answered thoughtfully.
“I shall be returning to Coruscant in three days, we will talk then.”
Three days? I opened my mouth to protest but he raised his hand to shut me up.
“I am currently at the other end of the Galaxy, even if you were to take a shuttle out to meet me, the journey would take you at least three to five days, probably more.” He admonished. “What ever it is that troubles you enough to bother me with now has been on your mind for some time, I have felt this. It will not hurt you to wait a few more days. You need to learn the value of patience.”
“Yes, my lord.” I nodded pondering his right to even use the word patience but didn’t say that out loud.
“In the mean time, I believe it is customary during Winter Fete to take time off. I suggest you do so. You are no good to me stressed out and losing sleep.”
“Yes, my lord.”
He stared at me for a moment and then severed the connection. I shivered in the coolness of the office and wondered what I was supposed to do for the next couple of days. With a sigh I went home, maybe I didn’t know what to do for the next few days but at that moment all I wanted was a cup of tea, a hot bath and some sleep.
Some time in the afternoon, after I had woken up from a dreamless nap, someone knocked on the door. I opened it half expecting to find some token or a glass or something sitting on the doormat but instead I stared into the face of a young man not much older than me. He smiled as he handed me an envelope.
“I have been told to wait for an answer, my lady.” He said.
I had to bite my tongue. I never could get used to being called my lady, it wasn’t something happened on Tatooine all that often. On Coruscant it was the norm.
I took the envelope from the young man’s hands and turned my back to him while I opened it and read the hand written note.
Join me for dinner tonight at 7pm in my home. I promise there will be no interruptions or unexpected visitors.
“You may tell the Captain the answer is yes, I’d be delighted to join him for dinner.”
“Very good, my lady. He said to inform you, should you agree to his request that a driver will be here to pick you up at a quarter to seven.”
“Thank you.” I said and watched him leave before closing the door. I looked at the note in my hands. Thrawn’s handwriting was always so elegant and precise, reflecting his personality. I glanced at the clock and sighed. I had four hours to figure out what to wear.
Five changes of clothing and an hour’s worth of fussing with my hair later, I arrived at Thrawn’s flat. He opened the door and smiled. I had only been here once before and that had been many months ago. It was a beautiful place, high up in the building with a stunning view.
“You look lovely.” He said as he took my wrap and hung it up. I had decided on a simple, ankle length dress made from layers of some light, flowing material the colour of viridian. It was pretty, yet comfortable.
“Thank you and you look very…non military.” I said with a grin.
“You prefer the uniform?”
“No, not really.” I shook my head. He was dressed in a form fitting, long sleeved shirt made from a fabric which was so black it seemed to absorb the light and a pair of tailored trousers that matched. He looked refined and handsome.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asked.
I nodded. He smiled and went into the kitchen. What ever he was cooking smelled wonderful. I wandered around the large airy living room and stopped at the ma’arilite sculpture. It fascinated me, this strange stone that refracted light in so many different ways it was as if I were watching an aurora trapped within its core.
“It calls to you that piece, does it not?” Thrawn asked. I took the glass he offered and nodded slowly. A call was not really the right word, this sculpture sang to me. I just did not quiet understand what it was singing about.
“Kha’säri’mahr.” He touched his glass to mine. I sipped the light sparkling wine and looked around the rest of the room. Nothing had changed since I was here but he had added a new work of art. It was a painting, abstract, strange and eerie. I didn’t really have words to describe it. He had not hung it on the wall but had it sitting on a bookshelf leaning against the wall as though he were still thinking about what to do with it and where exactly to hang it. I stared at it.
“What do you think of it?” he asked.
“At first glance it reminds me of some of my nightmares.” I said.
“And on second glance?” he pressed.
“I wonder how the artist managed to create something that seems to move. It's fluid in a really unnerving sort way.” I said. “Where did it come from?”
“I bought it at an auction. The artist is not known to me and it is believed to have come from the Unknown Region of space.”
“Does it really move or is that just an optical illusion?” I asked watching as the rounded shapes of black and white seem to shift and shimmer. It was as though the painting were more a living breathing thing than a simple work of art
He shook his head. “I am still trying to figure that out myself. I have never seen anything quite like this. It makes me most curious and I might add cautious about the race of beings that could create something such as this.”
“Well, it's just plain creepy.” I told him flatly and it was.
With a smile he walked to it and turned the painting around so it faced the wall. “Better?”
I nodded. It was a strange sensation to see a work of art that sent shivers of fear down my spine. Thrawn placed a hand on the small of my back and guided me to the dining room. The table had been set beautifully and the candles warmed the room, stealing away the chill I had just felt.
“I hope you brought an appetite with you.” He said as he politely helped me to sit. I was unaccustomed to these gentlemanly manners. I felt remarkably awkward despite all my mother’s lessons. I must admit I did enjoy the fuss he was making, though. I had never had a man cook dinner for me before at least not like this.
We started with a salad and then came the main meal, a fish dish. I had not eaten much fish in my life. It wasn’t something natural to Tatooine. I was surprised at the lightness of the flavour and complimented him on it. He smiled as he told me about the recipe, his mother's. Fish were a staple part of the Chiss diet. They were grown and cultivated in underground lakes, several species which were well suited to the warmer waters deep under the planet’s crust had been transplanted from other worlds.
“I have not met many men who could cook like this.” I said, actually I had not known any man who could do that. “How did you learn to do it so well and better still, why?”
Thrawn shrugged slightly. “The answer to the ‘why’ is it was a matter of survival.” He said enigmatically. “As for the how, well, one can learn anything if one puts one’s mind to it. I firmly believe that if you are going to learn how to do something then learn to do it to the absolute best of your abilities. I discovered I enjoy the subtle art of cooking. It is a pleasure to be able to share this once in a while. More wine?”
The meal ended with desert, a plate of sliced fruit most of which I had never tasted before, then a thick, sweet and spiced dark coffee which he served in the sitting room.
All through dinner he had kept the conversation fairly light. No discussion of politics or Imperial work. I had wanted to press him for more news on Navaari but that too seemed some how forbidden. He had steered the conversation in the direction he wanted it to go, subtly and cleverly. As we sat in the sitting room I asked him about it.
“Meal times in my culture are times of peace and harmony. Discussion of weighty topics is to be avoided, most of the time. It is a nice custom and when I can I try to uphold it. Arguments and heady conversations are bad for the digestion.” He said with a smile that made me wonder if he was not half joking.
I shook my head and laughed. “Meal times at my house, as you discovered, are full of all sorts of weighty topics and such. It was the only time we ever discussed anything mostly because it was the only time we were almost all together.”
“So what you are telling me is you have mighty things you wish to discuss?” he arched an eyebrow.
I sipped the coffee thoughtfully. “More like nosey.” I said truthfully.
“Ah, well, curiosity does seem to be one of your more prominent and, I might add, delightful traits.” He teased.
“Well, I was going to ask about Navaari.” I said. “You were not exactly forthcoming last night or did you know the Emperor would show up like that?”
“No, I didn’t know but I suspected he might want to see me.”
“He didn’t seem very happy.”
“He wasn’t. In fact he was most displeased.” Thrawn said airily.
“Okay, I’ll bite.” I said. “Why?”
Thrawn leaned back into the couch we were sitting on. “The Emperor is a man of great wisdom and power but even he does not always see beyond the grandeur of his own scheming. He does not like it when someone refuses him or tells him something contrary to what he believes.” He shrugged. “I will not risk the lives of men in the Imperial navy on ideas and plans I know will ultimately fail. It is a waste of resources. It does not please him when I say no to a plan of his and it is made all the worse when I am right about its eventual outcome. He wanted to discuss this last night.”
“You say no to the Emperor?”
“When it is necessary, yes. I often disagree with him.” Thrawn said.
“And you are still alive.” I shook my head.
“I am useful to him.” He said coolly. “The Emperor uses fear to rule. It is an interesting tool although not always appropriate. I suspect he was making a point with the entrance that he made last night; wishing to instill fear in you and place me in what could have been a compromising situation.”
“Well, he instills fear in me alright.” I said.
“And fear makes his subjects blind.” Thrawn countered quickly.
I glanced at him trying decipher what he meant exactly by that but he didn’t elaborate. I shrugged. “I doubt that simply watching fireworks with me is a particularly compromising situation.”
“Well,” said Thrawn with a wolfish smile. “It could have been.”
I fiddled with my empty cup and tried to ignore the flush I felt in my face. “So, how is Navaari anyway?” I asked, not so adeptly changing the subject.
Thrawn laughed and took the cup from my hands. “I’ll tell you everything you want to know over brandy.”