I followed Navaari into the sitting room. I felt the tension in the air crackle before I ever saw Za’ar’s face. When our eyes met I felt the full heat of his anger and I had to look away. I heard Navaari speak to him and looked up to see the two men face each other off, Navaari with his hand on Za’ar’s shoulder.
“A’myshk’a, go and clean up,” he said in a tone of voice that brooked no argument. I glanced at him and then again at Za’ar, hesitating.
“Now, Tjällh!” Navaari hissed.
I hurried past them both to my room and then to the fresher. By the time I closed the door of the bath room the argument was underway and their voices carried low and hard. I was grateful that the water drowned out the discussion. Even though I didn’t understand the words, the tone was unmistakable.
I showered. The hot water felt good and I scrubbed myself clean. By the time I had finished and dressed the heat of the argument had gone leaving only a cold silence in its wake. I wrapped the warm robe over my night dress and walked into the sitting room. Both men stopped speaking and stared at me. It was unnerving.
“Better?” Navaari asked.
“Well, then, I shall go to bed.” He said getting up out of the chair he had been sitting in. “Nikätza’arth’pavjäska, remember well all that I have said.” He came over to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek and then without saying anything else he left us alone, closing the door firmly behind him. The silence he left behind him was the worst I had even known. I could not look at Thrawn and I could not turn and run. His quiet manner was unnerving and while yelling at me would not change anything, that was simply not his way, it would have been so much easier to deal with.
Finally when I could bear it no longer I whispered. “I’m sorry.” The words knotted in my gut and choked in my throat.
He stood up and folded his arms across his chest. He took a deep steadying breath and said in a cold, hard voice. “Merlyn, what were you thinking?” He only ever used my first name when he was displeased or being formal.
“I wasn’t.” I answered.
His jaw clenched. “No. You were not.” His quiet anger hit me like a wave. He was still but his fury was not.
I looked away from his hard stare. A great lump rose up in my throat from my chest as though one of my nightmare monsters was trying to claw its way out from the inside. The grief burned and the more I tried to stop the tears that welled up in my eyes, unwanted, unbidden, the worse the ache got. I tried hard to fight against it but it was a losing battle. I was too tired, too wrung out to control any of my own emotions any more. I knew I simply could no longer stop this tempest from breaking. I turned my back to him and clenched my fists, struggling against the one thing that would finally help to free my soul. I had no idea why I had such a hard time letting go but it always came down to a fight.
“Let it go.” He said not moving from where he stood.
It was emotional vomit and when it hit, it was a kick in the belly. I went to my knees and buried my head in my hands. Sobs which sounded ugly and raw, burned in my ears and tore at my throat. The dam broke and I cried. Vicious, gut wrenching bawling, the kind that made one’s nose run and face blotchy and red. I did not notice him kneel down at my side but when, after a few moments, he pulled me into his body and cradled me against him, stroking my still damp hair I cried even harder. I felt as though I were broken from the inside out and nothing in the galaxy would ever fix it.
He held on to me tightly, whispering in his language words I did not understand but the tone said, ‘there, there child everything will be alright’. I didn’t believe him; I didn’t think that anything would ever be alright ever again. I cried until there was nothing left, until there were no more tears just shuddering, hiccupping breaths. My own body spasming against the sudden release of emotion it had been carrying around for far too long. I had not wept like that in a very, very long time and Jyrki had been the reason for it then as well.
“I hate him.” I said when I finally found my voice.
He tried to lift my face upward but I fought him. “No, I’m all splotchy.” I said.
“Look at me.” He commanded in a quiet voice. I did as he asked. He wiped away the remnants of my tears with his thumbs. He held my gaze as he spoke. “I would kill this man with my bare hands for what he has done to you, but that will not change what has happened.” He said. “Hating him will solve nothing and such a strong word should not be bandied about lightly. It will eat you up inside and turn you into the darkness you try so hard to avoid.”
I looked at him and it occurred to me as he spoke these words that this is what the Emperor wanted from me. Slowly I began to understand, wondering if Thrawn had known this all along. I nodded and looked away from his steady gaze.
“I made your shirt all wet.” I said.
He smiled. “I think I will live.” He tucked two fingers under my chin and made me look up at him again. “Why did you venture out into the blizzard?” he asked.
I shrugged. A dozen answers went through my mind all of them truthful to some degree or another but the one answer that leapt to the forefront was also the simplest. “I wanted to see what it was like.”
He gave me a look. “Even though you knew it meant possible death?”
“Part of me knew,” I said. “But I didn’t care, that was not important.” He frowned but I continued. “I have no good answers, I know you want one but I don’t have any. I wanted to walk away from everything and the storm, well, it called to me. I didn’t think, I just reacted.”
“Have you ever done such a thing before?”
“Yes, but that is a story I don’t want to tell you right now.” that memory made me smile.
He nodded. “There are those among my kind who seek answers to the questions that have no answers. They go to extraordinary lengths to look within themselves and find peace. Sometimes you remind me of these people. We call them Tyn k’etsja tavi vai’jash me akia, the seekers of beauty and light.” He sighed. “You do not understand the reasons for why you do these things because you act on instinct and you trust to something that is indefinable. Your journey takes you far and wide and the path is hard.”
“Seems odd to hear you sum it up like that but, yes that’s more or less what it is like.” I sniffed. He handed me a handkerchief and I used it gratefully.
“Did your walk in the blizzard give you any insights?” he asked after a while.
“You mean aside from the fact that snow and wind is cold and really hard to walk through?” I asked.
He made a face and arched an eyebrow.
“Yes, but don’t ask me what they are because I am still trying to sort that all out.”
“Tell me,” he asked in a tone of voice which said he already knew the answer. “Did you like being in the middle of the snow fury?”
“How did you know that?”
“Recognition.” He said cryptically and then gently added. “Kirja’navaar’inkjerii was right about you when he said he saw in you a, how would you put it, kindred spirit. You and he are much alike. He thinks that you are blessed by the snow gods. Most humans would have perished in that storm, tracer chip or not.”
I sighed a deep shuddery breath. “I would never argue with Navaari, but I don’t think acting like an idiot counts as being blessed by anything other than an incredible lack of brains.”
“Do not underestimate faith, A’myshk’a, it is a far more powerful thing than most beings ever give it credit for and you seem to have it in abundance.”
“I have faith? Faith in what?” I asked. I didn’t understand what he meant bit this.
He just smiled, but he didn’t answer. I leaned my head against his chest, suddenly weary beyond imagining. “Why is it that when ever I am with you I always end up either falling asleep or crying?”
He arched an eyebrow. “Well, firstly, that is not always the case. Sometimes we dance or have the occasional silent but interesting conversation and secondly, I would venture to say that somewhere deep down in that addled brain and soul of yours, you trust me enough to let go and be yourself. I take it as a great compliment, if you really want to know.” He drew a deep breath. “However, I have to tell you, you are a most frustrating creature.”
“Because just when I think I have worked out how you will most likely react you do something utterly contrary to what I expect.”
“You mean you hadn’t foreseen my taking a walk?”
“Not exactly.” He said. “But I am learning that you do have a flair for the dramatic.”
I nodded and sighed. He got to his feet and pulled me up with him. “You must be very tired.” He said. “I know I am.”
“Yes, you’re right.” I agreed.
“We can speak more tomorrow,” He said. “if you want to.”
I paused for a moment. “Navaari told me you knew what it was like to be isolated, to be imprisoned. “
He looked at me for a moment and then nodded. “In a manner of speaking, I do. It is a very long story and I promise one day I will tell you but not tonight.”
“We seem to have many long stories to share with each other, then.”
He smiled slightly. “Well, as long as you do not take any more suicidal walks in violent weather, perhaps we will have time to share them as well as other things.”
I nodded and reluctantly went to my room. I left the door open a little and put the lantern I had brought with me on the bed side table. My mind whirled and I couldn’t still my thoughts. I lay in bed I listened to the sounds of Za’ar moving about the sitting room, turning off lights and also going to bed. Even though everything was quiet, the noise in my head just seemed to get louder. I tossed and turned until I couldn’t stand it any more. Making my decision I got out of bed and quietly opened the door that separated our two rooms. I stood in the doorway backlit by the lantern on my bedside table. He was lying on his back. I thought he was asleep but then he opened his eyes and stared at me. For a moment I hesitated uncertain of his reaction. I was about to go back to bed when he leaned up on one elbow and cocked his head to one side in question.
“I don’t want to be alone.” I said by way of an answer.
He patted the empty side of his bed and pulled the covers back. I went to him without fear and curled up by his side as he lay back down. I rested my head in the hollow where his arm and his shoulder met. He wrapped his arm around me and pulled me close. His skin was warm and he smelled like home. I looked up into his face and for a moment our eyes met. Desire flared like blaster fire, making me gasp. Suddenly all I wanted was to kiss him, was for him to kiss me. It was a greedy, desperate need and I looked to him for answers. He read this easily in my eyes and stroked my hair.
“I know what you want,” he said quietly, “I want it also but now is not the right moment.”
I knew he was right, we were both exhausted but I asked the question anyway. “Will there ever be a right moment?”
He arched an eyebrow and gave me one of those looks. “Yes, do not doubt that.”
I sighed and nestled into the warmth of his body, breathed in his scent deeply. I traced my fingers absently up and down the center of his bare chest from the hollow between his collar bones to his abdomen. He caught my hand with his and kissed my palm. “You do not make waiting easy, though.” He said, shifting so that he was lying on his side. He wrapped himself around my body and he held on to me tightly.
“Good.” I whispered back sleepily, burrowing into his warmth.
He chuckled as he caressed my back with the tips of his fingers. In the grace of his embrace, I fell asleep.
It was the sound of talking that woke me up. Half awake I listened thinking that perhaps it was Navaari but it was not. My skin crawled as the familiar voice, distorted via the holonet filtered through the half open door. I could only hear on side of the conversation, Thrawn’s and it was the tail end.
“Yes, Your Highness, I understand.” He said and then closed the connection.
I watched as Thrawn entered the room and stood at my side. “Good, you are awake. We need to return to Coruscant. I have been recalled to duty, my leave cut short.” He said.
“Immediately. I’ll let Kirja’navaar’inkjerii know we must go now. Get dressed and pack.” He didn’t sound very happy about it though and he added. “I’m sorry.”
“I understand, duty calls. You have to save the galaxy from evil.”
“Something like that.” He smiled slightly and left the room.
Getting ready quickly was easy to do and I didn’t have much to pack. I was ready by the time Navaari came into the sitting room carrying a tray of breakfast things.
“Nikätza’arth’pavjäska will return shortly, he had business with the Tribal High Elder before you both leave. I thought while he was gone you and I could share breakfast.” He said.
I was grateful and I was hungry.
“Are you alright? Is everything settled between you two?” Navaari asked handing me a cup of very sweet tea.
“I think so. He doesn’t ever really let me get away with feeling sorry for myself.” I said.
“Good.” He nodded. “As soon as he is ready, I’ll take you both out to the landing pad.” He told me. “Are you all packed?”
I nodded. This conversation felt stilted and sad. I didn’t want to leave this place and didn’t know how to say what I really wanted to.
“A’myshk’a, I have something for you.” He said suddenly and he handed me a small leather pouch. “It is a way to keep in touch.” he said.
I slipped the small metal disk that was attached to a leather thong, like one of the amulets I wore, out of the bag. It looked more like beautiful jewellery than a transmitter or holonet device.”
“How does it work?” I asked turning it over.
Navaari smiled and took it from my fingers and showed me then handed it back.
“That’s very clever and I can always reach you?”
He nodded. “Unless the weather is really bad and I am out on a hunt in it.” He sighed. “I wanted to give you an option should you ever need help again. You can wear it like a pendant or hide it in something. My people often keep them as a part of their masks. It can also work as a tracking device and most seeker machines will not find it.”
“And people think the Dantassi are a backwater race.” I said.
“We promote that idea, Tjällh. The less the rest of the Galaxy knows about us the better, when you are a thing of myth and bedtime story then you are both quietly respected and left alone to your own devices. Our technology is kept secret for a good reason. The Chiss are much the same. We keep ourselves to ourselves.”
I nodded and slipped the tiny disk over my head, tucking it under my clothes. “Thank you.”
Navaari nodded. “Do not be sad, we will see each other again.” He said. I was about to answer when Za’ar, looking more Imperial and Thrawn like than he had in the last few days, walked back into the room.
“Ready?” he asked as he picked up his things and began to slip on the warm clothes against the journey to the landing pad.
I finished my tea and with help from Navaari got into the long fur coat. There was little to say and the mood was heavy and quiet. Navaari and Za’ar spoke to one another in Dantassi–Cheunh completely ignoring me. It sounded serious. I sat on the sled, as I had when we had arrived and watched the world of white whip by us. It was cold and over cast, the sky a foreboding colour of grey. I wondered if there was another storm coming in. The trip seemed faster than I remembered and before I knew it we had arrived at the landing pad. It was strange to see my ship all covered with snow. I took off my mask and tucked it away in the satchel slung across my shoulder. Thrawn had already opened the ship up and was loading the bags inside. He and Navaari said their goodbyes and then he went onboard.
I looked at Navaari and didn’t know what to say. So much had happened and it seemed like a dream. He moved to me and pulled me into a bone crunching hug.
“Ariathe’Ka Ia.” He whispered in my ear. “If you need me, I am here for you.” He said holding me at arms length and holding my gaze. “Do something for me?” he asked. I nodded. “Talk with your father. Do not lose that contact. Perhaps he did not give you life with his seed, but he raised you and he loves you. Do not throw that away.” He said.
I nodded. “I promise.” I said.
“Do not forget,” he said urgently. “Your job is not who you are, it is what you do. Do not let it destroy you.”
“You sound like Za’ar.” I said.
He smiled. “I shall take that as a compliment.” He said. “You had better go. Do not look back, that is bad luck. We will be meeting again, I promise.”
He smiled. “I am Jhal’kai, I will find you.” And he placed three fingers up on my forehead then touched his own.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
He smiled. “I tell you the next time I see you.” He said. “Now go.” I did as he asked and I didn’t look back. Thrawn already had the engine on start up and by the time I stripped off the heavy coat and had made it to the bridge we were already styling to take off.
The engines blew snow all around us and even though I looked for him I could not see Navaari as we left the planet’s surface. I felt that awful ache of letting go, of already missing someone before you have even left them behind. I sat in the co pilot’s seat and strapped in. The ship began its fight against the planet’s gravity and I closed my eyes. When we had broken through the atmosphere and he had set the nav computer I got up and went back to change out of the layers of clothes into something easier to travel in. I made tea and brought a cup to Thrawn. He was broody and silent and I wondered how serious the conversation with the Emperor had been.
“We should arrive on Coruscant in just under thirty five hours.” He said.
“You’re pushing the hyperdrive awfully hard.” I told him, after doing the calculations in my head.
“I have an excellent mechanic on board.” He told me and smiled for the first time since last night. “Thank you for the tea.”
I sat down and nodded. “Is everything alright?” I asked after a long silence which I could no longer stand.
He was thoughtful for a moment. “Yes, I believe so.” He said, and then added. “Things will change when I return to the Imperial City. I have been given command of a new ship and the duties I now have will take me very far away from the core planets for long periods of time.”
“So what you are telling me is that we will not get see each other very often.” I said.
He smiled. “It is sometimes very hard to hide anything from you.”
“On the contrary.” I replied a little testily.
He nodded. “Of course I tell you this in confidence because I need for you to understand that duty comes before everything else.”
“I do understand, perhaps much more that anyone will ever give me credit for.” I told him tartly. “Is this something you wanted, this assignment?”
He took a deep, thoughtful breath. “Yes. It is necessary for the safety of my people as well as for the security of the Galaxy.” He said.
We sat in silence for a while sipping on hot tea, watching the swirl of hyperspace until I broke it.
“May I ask you something?”
“If we had stayed on Hjal one more night would we have … I mean would you…?” I stumbled, trying to find the right words, feeling very awkward and blushed.
“Would I have bedded you?” he asked simply.
A very slow smile played across his lips. “Miss Gabriel, from the moment you joined me in my bed last night, the plan was to not let you out of it for at least the next twenty four hours.” I blushed even more and that made his smile widen. Then he said. “Sadly, things did not turn out quite as I had imagined and unless you find this ship, good as she is, a suitable place for such a union, I am afraid it could be some time before we have the opportunity for such a precious, intimate … conversation,” He shrugged ever so slightly. “I would prefer that both the timing and place were special instead of one or the other.” Then he added a little too casually, “Although, I am certain you have plenty of handsome, younger suitors who would wish to share this honour with you.”
“Maybe I do, however I prefer wait.” I told him a little airily.
“Why?” He asked, sipping his tea.
I looked at him for a moment wondering if he was asking this as a serious question or if he was playing with me. I decided he was being serious, genuinely curious and not wanting his ego fed.
“Because, Captain, as you so very eloquently put it some time ago, there are some things in this galaxy worth waiting for and you are one of them.” Then added, “And whether more handsome or younger, know this I do not want anyone else. So, unless you change the rules of the game, it stays like it is.”
He opened his mouth to say something but I reached over and placed a finger upon his lips. “The sand people have a saying; Desire is good for the soul.”
He nodded slowly and when I withdrew my fingertip he asked. “How is it that you can be so fragile one moment and so strong the next?”
I grinned. “I think that’s called being female.” I said and I got up to return to the galley. He laughed that deep rich laugh that warmed my being. I took the empty cup he offered me and went to get more tea. I hoped that this return trip would be uneventful and as good as the moment we had just shared.