The Warm Beneath the Winter 3

It was cold. Rothana had been cold but this was colder. The sky was a weird silvery grey colour. The wind was strong, sharp and cutting plus it had started to snow. I was not dressed nearly warmly enough for this. I could see Navaari was waiting for us just across the landing pad. I hid behind Thrawn as he walked down the ship’s ramp so that he would shelter me just a little. The ship closed up and he slung the bags over his shoulders. I followed his steps exactly so I would not fall knee deep into the snow. My head was hunkered down and I had bundled myself up as much as possible because I was freezing. The wind was so cold it hurt. It was a completely new experience for me and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I bumped into Thrawn’s back when he stopped and fell back landing on my ass in the snow. The snow was cold and I tried to shake it off my hands before it made me even colder.

“You look like a jax with wet paws.” Navaari’s deep bass laughter boomed around me as he picked me up effortlessly and set me on my feet. “Welcome to Hjal!” he said. I could not see his face but I could see the twinkle of merriment in his eyes. I brushed myself off and watched as he grasped Thrawn by the shoulders and they touched Forehead to forehead. Navaari was much taller than I had remembered. They spoke to each other in Dantassi-Cheunh and laughed. Then Thrawn moved aside and Navaari came to me. He tucked two fingers under my chin and raised my face. I was shivering despite the cloak I was wearing.

“We are well met Akiana’myshk’apavjäska. It is good to be seeing you alive and well. Come, I have brought clothings to keep you warm.” He said as he led us to where a long, low to the ground, sled was sitting on the snow, there were small furry shapes curled up on the snow in front of the sled but I couldn’t see exactly what they were. He took something from the box on the back of the sled and handed it to me. It was a heavy fur lined coat made of animal skins, large and long. He helped me slip it on and showed me how to use the bone toggles to fasten it. He pulled the fur trimmed hood up over my head and fastened it so that it would not slip back when the wind blew. I felt like a little kid.

“You lose most of your body heat through your head so keep the hood up, the mask is protecting your face.” He said. He handed me a pair of mittens that were made the same way as the coat and then handed me a pair of skin and fur boots.

“Those boots you wear will not keep this cold out. Change now. You will thank me later. It is unpleasant to get ice-burn.”

So I did as he said and watched as he tucked my boots, along with our bags in the box tied on the sled. I had to admit I was a great deal warmer now that I was wearing better clothes.

“We go now. You arrive just in time. A big weather system is moving in and this storm will bad, at least three days it will lock us in.” He said. He nodded at Thrawn who sat on the sled with his back against the box. Guided by Navaari’s hands, I sat between Thrawn’s legs and he wrapped his arms tightly about me.

“This way, Tjällh, you will not fall off.” Navaari said with a chuckle, patting me on the shoulder. “Nikätza’arth’pavjäska, hold on to her now. She is so small we will lose her in this weather if she comes off the sled!” He said. I remembered that here no one knew him as Thrawn.

I was not prepared when Navaari gave a yip sound and what had been small furry bundles of snow suddenly stood up and became very large wolf like animals that howled as they shook the snow off themselves, I jumped. With another slightly different sound they suddenly began to move in unison. The sled lurched and I was utterly grateful for the strong arms that held me in place and the legs which braced at my sides. I glanced back and looked at Navaari. He was standing on the ends of the sled’s runners, behind the box, holding on the back brace that arched over the box at the back of the sled. I turned my glance to Thrawn who, in his mask, was Za’ar. He just gave me a tight squeeze and pulled me back against his body. There was nothing else to do but hold on, sit tight and enjoy the ride.

The sled moved at a surprisingly swift pace, the wolf-hound like creatures, harnessed two by two, ran as a perfect team, it was amazing to watch. The wind rushed past us and the snow was falling faster and faster. It was a little like being in a sand storm except that snow was cold and everything was white. I was glad of the bone mask which kept the wind off my face. I huddled as close to Za’ar as I could. We were going so fast and there was nothing to see except white, so I closed my eyes and found myself relaxing. It was the weirdest place in the world to fall asleep but that is what I did. It reminded me of when I was a small child and had gone travelling on some cargo haul transports with my father. I almost always used to fall asleep on the way home, that not quite deeply asleep state that children often find themselves in. I was aware of my surroundings, I was aware that I was travelling. I could hear voices speaking but could never recall what was said afterwards. We would arrive home and my father would lift me out of the seat and carry me into the house. There was something magical about these moments that whispered of being safe. I was aware that Navaari and Za’ar were talking but their conversation was just words lost on the wind. The journey felt as though it had taken an hour or more but I couldn’t tell for sure. I dozed in and out of the world. At one point I remembered smiling because this was not the first time I had fallen asleep in this man’s arms, it was a nice sensation and for this pocket of time, I didn’t want to be any place else in the entire galaxy.

I knew we had stopped. I could hear the yip and yowls of the wolf–hounds as they settled. I could hear Navaari talk to them. I felt Za’ar move but he didn’t get up. He spoke to Navaari in their language and the next thing I knew was a pair of strong arms lifting me up.

“Tjällh, you are as light as a snow flake, lucky for you the wind gods did not want to steal you away.” Navaari whispered in my ear as he brought me inside where ever it was that we were. I wanted to open my eyes but they were just so heavy. He laid me down and got me out of the heavy coat which he then put over me like a blanket. I just curled up and drifted in and out of a dozy sleep.

“The ceremony is planned for tonight in three hours.” Navaari said to Za’ar in basic. “Let her rest until then. It will be a long night.”

“That she sleeps at all is a blessing.” Za’ar replied quietly. He sounded tired. There was a moment of silence and then they switched to Dantassi-Cheunh. I listened to the sound of their voices. Theirs was a musical language and it was pleasing to hear but I understood nothing. The conversation turned serious at some point and from the tone of Navaari’s voice he and Za’ar were not in agreement over something. Maybe it had to do with me because I had heard my name but mostly it was just tone and words. I tuned them out and eventually slept for real.

I woke up slowly on my own. No screaming, no nightmares. The first thing I realised was that my face was bare, I wasn’t masked but I didn’t remember taking it off.

“How do you feel?” Za’ar asked. I looked up and saw him sitting quietly in the chair across from the couch I was on. He had been reading a data pad.

“I’m not wearing my mask.” I said, the grogginess making me slow.

“I took it off after Kirja’navaar’inkjerii left, more comfortable for you.” He said coming to sit next to me. “How do you feel?” he asked again.

“Sleepy, waking up, where’s the ‘fresher?” I asked.

“Through that door there.” He said, pointing.

When I came back he had poured me a cup of tea.

“We have about half an hour before the ceremony. Once that happens we will move. This is just a guest house, separate from the main complex. Navaari has a place for us in his home when this is over with. He already took the bags with him.” He handed me a cup of hot liquid.

I cradled the cup in my hands. The tea had a smoky flavour to it that reminded me of a camp fire. He had sweetened it with honey.

“The ceremony will be in Dantassi-Cheunh, I will try to translate as much as I can for you and tell you when you need to say anything but it is straight forward enough.” He said. “Just follow my lead.”

I nodded and finished my tea. I must admit it helped me to feel better. A few moments before there was a knock at the door, he handed me my mask which I slipped on.

“This is a good thing, A’myshk’a. Do not be nervous, or worried.” He told me as he put on his own mask. “This ritual is rare and for one such as you, unheard of. It is a great honour for both you and me. Enjoy it.” He opened the door and Navaari motioned for us to follow him.

I had not felt this sort of nerves since the first time I was to dance in public. I remembered my training and I did the only thing I could, I breathed deeply.

“Let us go, it is not wise to keep the High Elder waiting.” Navaari said. “Do not worry, Tjällh, he will not be biting you!” he chuckled, patting my shoulder.

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