Chapter 1: Never say “yes”...
A/N: This is NOT my story. It’s just a translation of a Russian Thrawn/Leia fanfiction that I totally fell in love with! Since I can’t speak Russian, I have to rely on Google Translator for the most part and I am forced to improvise too. Therefore, I'm very happy that the author, Aequia, lets me do this. Thank you! And now: Enjoy reading. ☺
DEAL WITH THE DEVIL
Beta (eds): Merlin Emerald, Efah
Translation: Pureblood Slytherin
Originally posted at: Ficbook NET (Link: https://ficbook.net/readfic/4725698/12232578)
Dedicated to: Everyone who loves the pairing Thrawn/Leia, as well as the Empire and the dark side of the Force. :)
Motto: "Odero, si potero; si non, invitus amabo." (Ovid)
Chapter 1 – Never say “yes”
Castle Bast, the famous residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial troops, was a quiet, deserted place, which, at the same time, felt technologically luxurious. In a way it was the “Holy of Holies” of the second most powerful man within the Empire. It was the place where he kept many secrets, one of them being that there were no living things, except the Sith himself. But there were droids - his favourite technological toys, which he himself had created, so that they were completely devoted to him and did not react to the commands of anyone else. No one, not even force-users, could overcome the multi-level defense systems of Castle Bast. Here, and only here, Vader felt safe. Here, in this silence, this desertedness, on this almost uninhabitable planet, he could rest from the sheer endless noises of living beings, that constantly irritated him with their pale imprints in the Force.
The only visitors he ever received were of the top elite of the Imperial military and no one, with some rare exceptions, was ever pleased to come here. Today's guest was such an exception, but then again, Grand Admiral Thrawn was a noticeable exception in many regards.
"I hope you have good news, Grand Admiral?" Lord Vader asked.
"I have indeed. The operation went well, my Lord." The hint of a smile graced the edges of his thin lips. “Complete surrender of the enemy. Some leaders of the Rebel Alliance, including Leia Organa, Mon Mothma and Bel Iblis have been captured. Luke Skywalker, unfortunately, managed to escape.“
Underneath his mask Vader smiled. No, he hadn’t expected his son to be caught that easily. True, searching half the galaxy in pursuit of the pilot who had destroyed the Death Star angered him, but still, at the same time their failures gave birth to another feeling - pride. Still, it had been a good idea to entrust Grand Admiral Thrawn with the Battle of Hoth. Growing up on the alien ice-planet of Csilla, the Chiss had been perfect for the job.
"You did as expected, Grand Admiral." the Sith nodded, indicating that the conversation was over.
The Chiss, however, thought differently.
"Have you decided what to do with the princess?" the cautious question brought Vader back to an unpleasant reality. Leia Organa. The Princes of Alderaan. His daughter. It was still hard to believe. Leia was daring and eccentric, with a completely uncontrollable nature. For Luke he had a plan, he knew what to do and how to handle him when he would come to him - sooner or later it was bound to happen – but when it came to his daughter, he was at a loss.
"Do what you think is necesaary" the Sith said irritably.
What to do with a girl that had a rebellious past, a bad temper and, at least in comparison with her brother, had a rather weak potential in the Force? After their encounter on the Death Star, she would never trust him, would never allow him to teach her and she whole-heartily believed in the ideas of the Rebel Alliance.
„My Lord?“ The Chiss asked, always probing the edges of the permissible.
"What would you do, Grand Admiral?" Vader asked unexpectedly, even for himself. With any other person the solution would be easy, but could he kill his own daughter? The Sith found that he could not. Even after all these years he could not betray the memory of Padmé like that. The princess was too similar to his wife. And it was not just the way she looked. Leia had her stubbornness, her reluctance to listen to reason and the same passion for stupid, idealistic ideas. Looking back, he must have been blind not to recognize her at first sight. The lights on his suit blinked. The performance indicators were calibrated for rest, but the situation angered him too much. It was necessary to do something about this "problem" now and then to focus on more important matters again.
The Chiss thought for a moment, his eyes burning slightly brighter than usual.
"She is your daughter, and if you publicly acknowledge her as such, she could become an important political figure. Still, her views contradict yours and an adjustment would prove to be extremely difficult, hence I suggest to keep her away from politics. But she is a girl, a woman, she could always be married, retaining her status, but being shielded from society ... at least for a while.“
And then it dawned on Vader .... The Chiss loved experiments and secretly believed that people were weak and could easily be manipulated. He used people like pawns on a chessboard. Used their confusion. Their confidence. Played with their weaknesses. In extreme cases he broke them. When it came to intrigues the Chiss was a worthy opponent even to Palpatine, and it was for that very same reason the Emperor respected him. However, he himself believed that his greatest strength lay somewhere else, and therefore he preferred devoting himself to military affairs and so far he had been very successful in doing so. Another contributing factor might be, that the gifted Chiss was much more cautious than other War Lords when it came to force-users. He did recognize their superhuman powers, but never made the mistake to express any flattery or fear towards them. He himself was not gifted with the Force, but he respected it, was interested in it, and so far his understanding surpassed that of many others…
Yes, Thrawn might be able to control his daughter and to not let her escape while being wise enough to use the right methods…. He could consider it a personal challenge and at the same time prove his unwavering loyalty to the Empire.
However, it remained to be seen if he agreed. Fortunately, Darth Vader knew exactly what to offer him ...
“So, you agree?” The Sith looked at his daughter. “Think about it, Leia. Is the future of the Alliance really worth your life?” Vader asked, probing his daughter’s feelings through the force. So far, everything went according to plan.
“Yes.” the princess said confidently. “I have made my decision, Lord Vader. I gladly sacrifice myself for the Alliance, but I see that you’re unfamiliar with such a concept.”
“True. There is nothing more important than your life. If you do not have it, you will not be able to help the Alliance.”
“But if I die, my name would be remembered. It would be on the lips of our soldiers going into battle...”
“... or be forgotten within a few years, if you clean up the files properly. But always remember, the dead cannot affect the living and they are the ones who create the future. Never be so foolish to believe that you can predict the future. It is always in motion. The future of your friends, your enemies, even yours.” Leia was taken aback for a moment, but then coldly said: “Well, I've already decided, Lord Vader. And have you decided on my future husband yet?.....”
“Of course. Grand Admiral Thrawn," Vader said carelessly, not looking up from his datapad, enthusiastically pressing some buttons. And when he did look up, he was met by the enraged look of his daughter. It was amazing how much she looked like Padmé when she was angry. Now more than ever he was sure that he had done the right thing.
"What? ... The Chiss?" She asked, not believing her ears.
"Are you dissatisfied, princess? You yourself blamed the Empire of xenophobia on several occasions. Now you have an opportunity to prove that this is not the case. For example….” The Sith openly mocked his daughter. “…Humans and Chiss are perfectly compatible when it comes to producing healthy, strong and durable heirs.”
"That is what people do when they get married, Leia" Vader continued tauntingly. "I am looking forward to having grandchildren from this union."
“What are you talking about?” The former princess of Alderaan hissed angrily. "I did not agree to this ..."
“On the contrary. You said "Yes”. You consented to marriage, without clarifying the details and I can prove it. This will be a real marriage, Leia. It seems that, after all, you were too focused on the future of the Alliance and not enough on your own. You accepted and confirmed your decision. There is no way back now.” He pointed at the datapad on his desk. “And as you can see, the news of the engagement of my daughter - Leia Vader - and Grand Admiral Thrawn - has already been posted on the Holonet. Such news, as you know, travels fast.”
"But….but….there was no engagement…." Leia stuttered.
"People believe what is written. Consider yourself engaged, Leia." The commander-in-chief said flatly. "And now you need to get acquainted with the groom."
“Don’t bother.” Leia said dryly. “We already know each other.”
"But not nowhere close enough." The Sith was clearly enjoying himself and then added. "And this outfit will not do." He pressed the call button.
"Let Sir William Rax come to room 23, a lady needs his service and tell him he has exactly two hours and that I will check the result myself." Without a word, he ended the call.
Less than two minutes later, a guard and a kindly looking officer arrived, reaching for Leia’s hand: “My Lady, I was told to take you to your quarters.”
Leia rose from the large, black leather chair, looking back at the devil with whom she had just made a deal.
"I promise, I will not make it easy for you.” She hissed, before leaving. The Sith smiled behind his mask.
“I would not want it any other way…. But I expect it will be even more difficult for you.”
She was dressed in a long, luxurious, black dress, complemented by a large diamond necklace. Her long hair was pinned up in a magnificent, exquisite hairstyle, and the unusually thick make-up, which emphasized her large, dark eyes, made Leia look more like a holo-star than a serious politician.
However, the princess showed little interest in her new attire, as all her thoughts were currently occupied by ideas of how to escape from Vader's castle on Coruscant, in which she was kept at the moment, strictly guarded day and night. Luckily, she already had an escape plan. She just needed a few more days and some more talks with Han Solo. Reaching the smuggler had, for some reason, not been too difficult.
The room was huge with a high ceiling, had a sweet, spicy aroma and was filled by a mysterious half-light, which was cut by some brighter, coloured lights every now and then. There were quite a few people inside, but still it seemed to be a closed club – whose members were the kind of birds that flew exceptionally high: from the military no one less than a Core-Admiral, ISB-agents in their chic black uniforms with no insignia at all, but more often than not with female companions of rare beauty in expensive, exotic dresses and some noticeable politicians as well.
Leia noticed her fiancé in the far corner of the room, surrounded by several people, who attentively listened to every word the Chiss said. He clearly seemed to be the centre of attention, and his confident posture indicated that this situation was not an exception.
Nodding to Lord Vader, the Grand Admiral swiftly moved across the hall to meet the Sith and his daughter. Leia involuntarily clenched her teeth, unsure about what to expect and how to act, but quickly regained her cool and smiled in greeting:
"Pleased to meet you, Mitth ..." She tried his name, but it was too hard to pronounce for humans that were not used to Cheunh.
"For you, my dear, it is just Thrawn." He took Leia's hand and kissed her wrist. A little more intimate and stronger than what was considered decent.
"I leave Lady Vader in your undoubtedly reliable hands," Vader nodded to the Grand Admiral, and then left, his cloak blowing behind him and then Leia was left alone with the man whom she would soon call husband. *Nonsense! It would not happen!*
Thrawn paid little attention to the princess, although he gallantly held her by the elbow. His crimson red eyes, however, looked out for someone else in the crowd.
“You may do whatever you please within the limits of this room.” The Chiss explained flatly and was then distracted by a gorgeous blonde in a scarlet dress that approached him and then placed a thin hand on his shoulder, while whispered something into his ear. At her words, the eyes of Chiss seemed to flash with red-hot fire and he said “I agree. And how could I refuse you?” The blonde woman smiled.
Then, all of a sudden, the Chiss turned to Leia again and continued his instructions. “At exactly 2 am my adjutant will take you to my estate.”
"To your estate?" Leia arched an eyebrow, dangerously balancing on the brink of decency. To say that she did not like what was happening, would be an understatement.
"You see, my dear ... we are officially engaged, are we not?" Thrawn smiled with one corner of his lips, and the implied mockery was almost unbearable for the princess.
“Where I come from there is no real distinction between a wedding vow and a wedding ceremony. Your word is your bound, the rest is a formality, so as far as I am concerned, you are already my wife, Leia. Hence, it is my duty to provide you with a home…”
For the rest of the evening, Thrawn did not go to his "bride"... However, other guests were not so kind. They had not missed that she had come in the company of Lord Vader himself, and that alone had caused a wave of interest in her person.
Here, in the nest of the Empire, among her enemies, and after such a day, Leia was literally pounding with anger and all the rules of propriety that she had learned from early childhood on could not prevent her from wearing the cold mask of alienation on her face and from giving monosyllabic, almost rude answers to the most ordinary questions.
Even introducing herself was torture now, and so the former princess of Alderaan confined herself to a quick "Leia" or mysteriously remained silent. In the end she would certainly be remembered as she had been noticed and watched closely.
However, Leia was not sure whether the guests present were at all aware of who she was. Did they realize that this mysterious woman in black was indeed the rebel Princess Leia Organa, and future bride of Grand Admiral Thrawn? And if so, what were they talking about? Hypocrisy under the mask of sincerity most likely. Or ... had her father been bluffing? Maybe there were no Holonet news.
Quickly Leia reached for her comlink and entered her name into the search bar and then bright photos of her filled the screen, almost all of them were accompanied by a photo of Grand Admiral Thrawn and ... the emblem of the Empire.
"What an abomination ..." She glanced through other news reports too, while trying to swallow her anger. They were different, but similar in their pompous pathos, reporting on the engagement as an act of surrender of the Alliance and the onset of the long-awaited peace and tranquility in the Empire. These lines were a far cry from the real condition of her agreement with Vader!
Now, examining the endless pictures, Leia realized that ... she almost did not recognize herself. In all the pictures she looked the same - with tied hair, in a stupid white dress and a blaster! None of the Imperials present here had been acquainted with her before, so that it was obvious now why none of them had made the connection between the wild freedom-fighter in the picture and herself. The only thing that actually was the same was the fire burning in her dark eyes. But apparently, nobody had been interested in them.
The articles also disclosed the secret of her origin, her birth, and gave some information about her family from the Naboo side. It turned out that the Naberrie clan was one of the largest owners of plasma producing companies. Plasma for blasters. Now Leia began to understand why there was a blaster in almost every holo-image. Hidden advertisement. Some tabloids even called her the queen of blasters. And no one was surprised by her past as a leader of the Rebel Alliance, moreover, there were rumours that Leia Organa, who some articles already called Leia Vader, had been one of the Imperial agents within the Rebel Alliance that had helped to bring the Rebellion to an end and that had brought about the diplomatic agreement between the Alliance and the Empire.
The fact that the mission on Hoth, led by Grand Admiral Thrawn, had brought down the rebellion was subtly ignored. Although such manners were more characteristic of Vader, and therefore many were certain that he had led the operation, it had been the Chiss, who had stepped back from his usual more moderate tactics, that had literally leveled their land-base on Hoth, sparing no one. He had captured most of the Alliance’s leaders and had killed the rest. Almost no one had managed to escape.
When the gangway of the main shuttle door had opened that day, Leia had been sure to see the dark cloak of the Commander-in-Chief himself, to hear his noisy breathing…. She had wanted to throw all her hatred at him, but then, instead, she had seen the perfect white uniform of the Grand Admiral and his blazing, bright red eyes, which had appeared in her nightmares more than once since then. How many men had died on Hoth? How many friends? The Chiss had been as calm as if he had come to a social reception that day, while she had greeted him with a maelstrom of vicious, verbal blows. And at one point she had yelled: "How dare you commit such terror?!" His gaze had been inhuman, piercing, cold. He had studied her face and then had answered so that all of them could hear him.
"Please forgive my... " He had stopped for a second, while one of this white gloves had glided over the smoking fragments of what had once been a safe haven for several thousand rebels. "...rudeness. But, I am afraid that after the destruction of the Death Star, I simply had to stop this once and for all.”
Leia shook her head, driving out the gloomy memories and struggled to pull herself together. The article went on to say that it had been Leia who, with her diplomatic talent, had settled the conflict between the Alliance and the Empire and had saved many lives.
"What a blatant lie." Leia whispered, barely restraining herself from destroying the innocent comlink.
“What part of it? You really do process outstanding diplomatic potential. However, you prefer to use it only in extreme cases. Like your father ... " The soft, velvet voice of the Chiss sounded very close, and Leia involuntarily flinched and turned abruptly.
"Why do these articles not say a word about your brilliant victory?" Leia asked coldly, but managed to force a smile on her face.
"There are enough victories on my list to sacrifice one ... for the sake of revealing your talents, my dear….. Deeply hidden talents." Thrawn whispered, looked at her and then left.
Chapter song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MInTH47EAoA
Chapter 2: ...because what's inside....
Chapter 2 – What is inside
All the rooms in Grand Admiral Thrawn's estate were arranged in a circle, or rather in a spiral, which slowly turned inwards. Outside, the palace looked like a huge blue hemisphere, illuminated by white light; inside, however, the rooms were covered in twilight.
Last night the adjutant had led Leia through the long corridors to the rooms in which she had spend the night. Her room was coloured in beige and white and gold and had a huge, round window in the ceiling, through which the dark, starry sky could be seen. At first glance, her chambers had seemed cosy and spacious, but as soon as Leia had stepped over the threshold, her heart had ached in anguish: the paintings on the walls showed Alderaanian landscapes, there were two thin Alderaanian statuettes on the table near the mirror, a huge beige chair with her family’s coat of arms and there were flowers – unbelievable! - fresh flowers in a bowl of water – with the same white lilies that had grown everywhere in the garden of her family’s castle. All of it was beautiful and it reminded the princess of home – which did not exist anymore. Leia had clenched her fists painfully, thrusting sharp nails into her thin skin, leaving deep crimson marks on the inside of her hands.
Rumour had it that Grand Admiral Thrawn was a great connoisseur of the arts and that his collection featured things from all over the galaxy. Well, it seemed like his Alderaanian collection had been transferred right into her room. It was kind and cruel - at the same time.
*They would pay for the destruction of Alderaan! All of them!* Leia had thought, while pulling off the uncomfortably tight, black dress. Carelessly, she had thrown the jewellery on the floor and then she had freed her long brown hair. In bed she had covered herself all the way up to her head in a helpless gesture to shut out the ghosts of the past. And while trying to hide from the bright aroma of the lilies, Leia had hoped to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep that would hopefully never end.
The next day, the princess did not wake up until noon. The sickening fear of uncertainty crammed her body and her eyes did not want to react to the golden sunlight penetrating through the round ceiling window. Even when she finally opened her eyes, Leia did not leave the bed for quite some time. A part of her did not want to leave the warm, comfortable, soft bed, but yet another part of her told her to leave as quickly as possible. Leave and escape this room that was filled with vivid memories, which tore her heart into pieces.
Next to her bed, Leia noticed a huge painting. It showed a cosmic battle of enormous proportions: several planets, surrounded by hundreds of ships that greedily waited in orbit. Thousands of bright laser-flashes pierced through the darkness of the cosmos, illuminating it with cold scarlet and green light. It was a symphony of death, with shots waving in a destructive chorus. The battle might be in space, but in the end it were the people on the surface that suffered its consequences, they would either be saved or conquered or enslaved ... or sometimes they just died, dissolved in the cold emptiness of the cosmos, becoming the blue dust between asteroids, like the people of Alderaan….
It was a truly beautiful and horrible work, created not just by the artist, but also by people who had witnessed war with its burning bright colours and who had felt the cold breath of death on their shoulder. Every pixel of the canvas showed, at least on a galactic-scale, how short, fragile, uncontrollable and often meaningless a single human life actually was ...
"I like this work, too." Leia heard a soft, velvet voice coming from the far corner of the room. "I am pleased to find you already awake, princess." Again she could hear the slight mockery slipping through the warm tone of the Chiss. "We need to talk. I will wait for you downstairs."
Leia was so surprised that she did not even have time to respond to his invitation - or had it been an order?…. Leia was not only surprised to see Thrawn so soon, she was also surprised that he had left her and had ask her to come downstairs. Did this mean these rooms were “her” rooms? Not “their” rooms? The thought had crossed her mind last night. It had been a disturbing thought then and it was still uncomfortable now and with this on mind, she hurried to get out of bed, hoping that she would not have to face a problem serious enough that would make her wish to go straight back.
Her black dress from yesterday had somehow disappeared, and instead of it, in that same ill-fated chair, lay another: It was a dark-blue, weightless silk dress that, again, featured a low cut and was rather tight around the waist. And while in general it hid her legs behind the long, wavy fabric, it allowed them to flash throw every now and then. After a fleeting look in the mirror, Leia had to admit that the dress suited her perfectly and it angered her. And what angered her even more, was the fact that such trivialities irritated her in first place. Leia took a deep breath, searching for her calmness and then forced a smile on her face.
Passing through a long, barely illuminated corridor, Leia then found herself in a huge, round, bright living room. Restrained luxury - this is what Grand Admiral Thrawn's estate really was all about. It felt pleasant, comfortable and was tastefully furnished, a striking difference to the cold, dark dura-steel walls of Lord Vader's castle.
The home said a lot about its owner and Vader, being more machine than man, did not need special comfort and did also not surround himself with great luxury. The Sith had quite sophisticated ships and machines and quality furnishing, but still the building had felt plain, even with its high ceilings, which was generally considered a luxury. However, Leia suspected that the high ceilings probably just highlighted the Sith’s desire to rise above everything and everyone and he loved the sky and the blackness of space.
But what did this house say about Thrawn? He seemed to enjoy beautiful things. Everything in this place spoke of a complex, sophisticated harmony; everything was aesthetic; everything was high-end; everything was a perfect fit. Nothing, not even the smallest item that served a solely practical purpose, felt out of place. Everything had style, while still being functional and nothing felt overdone. Everything was…. faultless or at least created the feeling.
“Did you sleep well, my lady?” Leia heard the soft voice of the Chiss. Again from behind. *How did he do that?*
“I did. Before I forget to mention it, I want to clarify one thing, Grand Admiral: As long as there has not been an official ceremony, I do not consider you my husband.” The princess coldly explained, instead of a kind welcome. “And I don’t care how you feel about it. And therefore, I would like to live alone, in my own personal ...”
“It is your room, Leia.” Thrawn said softly, holding a cup of hot, strong coffee. “And only yours. And no one shall disturb you there.”
“Really?” the princess asked, defiantly ignoring the offered coffee cup, as if it contained poison.
“I am the exception.” Thrawn said coldly, smiling with the corner of his lips. He put the second cup on a low table near the sofa. “I have the right to enter where I want, when I want, without asking anyone.”
“What if I don’t agree to this?”
“What a pity ...” the Chiss purred, gazing into Leia’s eyes. He came a little closer. “It seems we have a conflict of interest here. So what do we do now? Under whose rules do we play, my lady?” his last words flew from his lips in a rapacious whisper, burning the princess's neck with his hot breath.
With any other person, any other Imperial, even Lord Vader, Leia would have found the right answer. Usually she had a sharp tongue and a quick mind. But not now. Looking at the burning, inhuman eyes of the Chiss, the princess, for some reason, did not dare say a word. Instinctively knowing that insulting him might have very dare consequences. The space between them was filled with tension, and the silence seemed to slow down time.
Leia angrily realized that she knew very little about the Chiss: their culture, customs, their way of thinking, their worldview and possible physiological differences, apart from well-known facts, were unknown to her. It was rather strange because as a diplomat the princess had met many races and cultures, but she had avoided the Chiss, as for some reason she had always believed that their “Ascendancy” would support the Empire. In general there was little contact between Chiss and Humans ... and for that it had seemed too much of a hassle to learn about their extremely complex culture. That had been a mistake.
For a moment, probably not more than an unbearably long couple of seconds, Leia was silent, but then she found her strength again and boldly said:
"Mine, of course." She smiled confidently and took a step backwards, increasing the distance between them. Her confusion seemed to have dissolved and her famous courage had prevailed.
“No concessions?” He smiled and took another sip of coffee. “We are going to spend the rest of our lives together, Leia. There will be many conflicts .... And I, too, prefer to have it my way." the Chiss whispered. "In that we are alike, are we not, Leia?"
Thrawn took half a step forward and Leia in turn stepped back, until there was only a wall, and he slowly, unbearably slowly approached, bending over the princess, closing the distance between them, until there were only a few millimetres separating their bodies. The cold steel buttons of his uniform jacket met the thin silk of Leia's dress. She tensed, stretching out on the wall, ready to strike or to escape from of this trap at any moment. However, Thrawn was in no hurry - he was enjoying Leia's confusion, the shadow of fear on her face, her anger, which made her scarlet sensual lips tremble.
If he had undertaken something more serious, Leia would have fought him with all she had, but Thrawn had only studied her - carefully, not missing the slightest detail and his lascivious, predatory look had been worse than real touches, revealing the essence of the Grand Admiral's true intentions. He was interested not only in her body, he wanted her very soul - thoughts, fears, doubts and desires.
He hung over the fragile figure of the girl; and only then Leia realizes how much stronger he was…. And there was no one here ... No protection. No servants. Suddenly, a terrible fear stirred up in her chest and from there rushed through all of her body.
"Here you are safe, princess. No one will harm you and no one will violate your rights and freedoms …. if you stop doing stupid things, that is." The Chiss retreated then, leaving her with a whirlwind of emotions. He folded his hands behind the back.
"You know what I am talking about, do you not?"
"I have no idea." she said coldly, through gritted teeth.
“Too bad… I can forgive a lot of things; stupidity is not among them.”
For a minute they stood still there, looking into each other's eyes, then Thrawn’s hand, laced in a white glove, reached for hers and slowly, unbearably slowly, lifted it to his lips and when the burning warmth of his kiss touched her wrist, Leia could barely resist tearing her hand away.
"You, princess, have made a very reckless choice, not thinking about the consequences. Hoping for what? Luck? Friends rushing to your help, like once before on the Death Star?” He did not let go of Leia’s hand, which noticeably tensed from the words of the Grand Admiral. "It will not happen. Han Solo is dead.”
"No!....No!....You… It can not ...”
"Last night he came to Coruscant. Looking for you, no doubt. The patrol services had the order to shoot at first sight. Without a warning. And this time they did not miss." He held out a datapad with reports, finally releasing the hand of the princess, who immediately began to wipe away the treacherous tears dripping from her eyes.
"I believe I should say something like *I am sorry, Princess. Please accept my condolences.*” Despite the frank mockery, his voice sounded soft, soothing. "But you know that is not the case. I gave the order myself and I do not regret it. On my honesty, Leia, you can count ... always.”
With these words Thrawn left, leaving Leia alone with her bitter loss, with an incredible pain in her heart, with the feeling of twilight before the dawn, with the melting of hope.
Chapter song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13HymVYXpfs
Chapter picture: http://pixs.ru/showimage/FotorCreat_8648406_24777495.jpg
Chapter 3: ....might drive you crazy.
Chapter 3 - Crazy
"You cannot remain silent forever," he said mockingly; attentively looking at Leia.
The princess, however, preferred to avoid the burning eyes of the Chiss and stubbornly remain silent.
„So, why not tell me about your day? You see, if I were to tell you about mine it might upset you.“
A combination of taunts with beautiful manners seemed to be characteristic for Thrawn, especially in more private situations. Just like now. In the hand of the Grand Admiral was a glass of strong, golden Corellian whiskey, which in turn meant that he had done something important, after which, finally, he could afford to relax. But at the same time he did not seem too pleased with himself.
The Grand Admiral spoke Basic very well, and apparently had spent many years in the company of humans, so that he was probably beyond prejudice and one could be open with him... like with an ordinary person, or any other man, but still there was something that prevented Leia from choosing the only sensible strategy in this situation - talk. It was the way Thrawn behaved. He was practically impossible to encounter or to provoke, as he was always polite and had not done anything for which he deserved to be slapped in the face. However, it steadily loomed on the horizon, as he always approached a little closer than he should and his attentive gaze burned right to the bone.
"Well ... do whatever you like, but in case you have not noticed, you are only punishing yourself, as there is no one else to talk to.”
Leia threw a hateful glance at the Chiss’ back, who was preparing a coffee. Not for himself - for her. He always did this, he gave her a hot, aromatic and insanely delicious coffee every evening, hoping to continue the conversation with her, but as always Leia stubbornly remained silent, even when her lips touched the delicate porcelain cup, with its skilfully painted brightly coloured lines. She listened closely to every word Thrawn uttered, but pretended to be completely indifferent to his presence and did not react to any of his remarks, while ignoring even the most elementary politeness.
Yes, Leia Organa, the Princess of Alderaan, was actually ignoring all rules of politeness and her status. Well, actually, there was no status to consider anymore…
More or less the same things had happened for a week now: Every morning Leia had found a new dress in her chambers and every evening, Thrawn, after returning from work, had told her to go down into the living room and then she had begun her torture of silence. But the question of who had tortured whom, remained unanswered.
***A WEEK AGO***
"Have you seen the latest news, princess?"
“No. And I don’t intent do. It's all just a pack of lies.”
“Not all. Actually never more than half of it and for someone who can read between the lines, the truth cannot be hidden behind flashy headlines." he said, holding out a datapad to Leia, on which flashed another headline with her in it.
“I do not care and I do not want to see any of it!” the princess said, resolutely pushing the datapad aside, which in turn fell on the sofa. Then she deliberately turned away, stubbornly looking at the pictures on the opposite wall. She must have been so occupied by this, that Leia had not noticed the Chiss coming closer. Suddenly, she felt his hands - his warm palms, deprived of the usual snow-white gloves, - on her bare shoulders. Thrawn then gently, but imperiously turned her face, directing her gaze to where the datapad lay; the bright headline still visible.
"You will do what I say," he whispered and leaned in closer until his lips almost touched Leia’s ear. “At least, sometimes. Look ...”
Thrawn pressed a button and the datapad zoomed in; showing an image and semi-translucent letters.
"It says here," he continued, quietly and relentlessly. “That in a month the ceremony of our marriage will take place ... according to human traditions.”
Leia's eyes widened with fear, and she bit her lower-lip painfully, to prevent herself from blurting out in resistance. Oh, how many words lay on the tip of her tongue. But she refused to say them.
"You wanted it yourself, darling." Again. Unbearable mockery in that velvet voice. “It is time to get used to it.”
“No? Well, of course we could cancel it; announcing that it was nothing but a rumour and that the ceremony had already taken place and that ...”
“No. No!” Leia almost shouted, tearing herself away from the soft, but strong embrace of the Chiss. Then she turned around and sharply said "There was no ceremony!"
“Good. There was not. But there will be. In the Imperial Palace perhaps. In four weeks. You know what I mean?”
"Stop talking in riddles, Grand Admiral, just tell me what you want.”
"What I want?" Thrawn seemed to be somewhat surprised by that and closed his eyes for a moment, thinking. Leia already regretted her bold approach and a treacherous trembling combined with an ice-wave swept through her body.
"You," he finally answered. “I want you. All of you.”
"You ... you just ..."
"... and I always get what I want.”
Fury threw her into a fever; angrily Leia bit her lips again, which were already dark-crimson from the rush of blood by now. Her breathing became heavy and rapid.
*No. That will not happen!* she said to herself. *I'll get out of here. I just need a little more time ... *
Little by little, Leia managed to regain her composure, and when she finally answered it was calmly and quietly, just as the Chiss had done before. It was nothing more than a whisper, but she was sure that Thrawn would hear it.
"We'll see, Grand Admiral ... everyone loses sooner or later."
... Leia involuntarily shivered in the chair, while remembering the evening with which her silence had begun. She had hoped that Thrawn would simply lose interest in her and that she might have more freedom then, providing her with a chance to slip out of this intolerably cosy prison.
Yes, Thrawn’s estate was beautiful, as light as the sky and as beautiful as the touch of an angel's wing - which according to some legends still lived on certain planets. It was exquisite, but it would never become Leia's house.
Much ... too much she liked about it, subtly resembling her own house, and other things she might have chosen herself... but in all honesty, she could not have created more comfortable living arrangements. But there was also this burning awareness that everyone and everything she loved was irretrievably lost. And that the owner of this exquisite splendour had had an active hand in it.
And the more Leia thought about it, the more everything here irritated her: the caressing velvet fabric of the furniture, the beautiful canvases on the walls, the sweet spicy aroma that was soaked all around and the divine bitter coffee. Yes, on the first day she had tried it, she had been surprised by the saturated deep taste and had wanted to drink it forever, but ...
… alas, it was not her.
And nothing here would ever belong to her.
At best, Leia is given the role of an honorary prisoner; at worst ...
Well, she preferred not to think about it.
A week had passed, and her escape plan had not advanced a bit. Perhaps because she had slept till noon and then had tried to cope with a headache, which had become a regular companion to her awakening.
At first ... the princess had thought that the suffocating aroma of the lilies had been the reason for her strange headaches and had ordered to remove them. But after that, nothing had changed. Another, more important factor, was her loneliness. There was not a single soul in the whole estate! The cleaning drones had a very limited amount of memory and functions - they cooked food and performed the necessary household functions, but nothing more. And then there was no one – not even a protocol droid.
Not a living soul was here. Yet, "here" was the part of the estate with the living chambers, however, it was quite possibly that there was another part for the employees and aides, but to that part Leia did not have access. Maybe if she had asked Thrawn - sincerely and politely – he would have shown her the whole estate, but that chance was gone, now that she was silent and tried to avoid the company of the Chiss.
All corridors and rooms in this part of the estate were arranged in a circle, and the end of each level was, it seemed, the living room. Every time the door opened, a panel popped up in the doorframe; so far she had seen four positions, but only the Grand Admiral knew exactly how it worked. But one thing she did know, without the Admiral’s activation there was no panel.
*How does he do it?* Leia looked at Thrawn, who sat silently in the chair, beside her, lost in thoughts, sipping at his glass of golden liquid.
*It seems I have no choice*, Leia thought with a heavy sigh. *I need it, and the remote control seems to be in his breast pocket ...*
“How was your day, Grand Admiral?” the princess tried to hide the ironic tone in her voice, but it didn’t work too well. Her overall interested composure along with a smooth and soft half-smile, however, turned out quite convincing.
“Perfect. But you would appreciate it differently." the Chiss said quietly, while studying Leia. His external calmness and relaxation were an impenetrable mask as he watched the princess’ every word and gesture.
"You definitely have something in mind, my girl, let me see ... what game have you decided to play?"
"None. And you ... must be very tired.” the princess whispered, moving closer to the very edge of the sofa; she was still smiling sweetly, and her hand dropped on Thrawn's armchair, almost touching his arm.
"Why such care, princess? So far, you have only gifted me with silence.”
"I thought ... maybe you were right."
“Maybe?” the Chiss asked mockingly, looking at Leia.
“Yes, I admit it.” The princess said and raised her hands in a theatrical fashion. “You were right. If you are my sole company, I should talk to you.”
"You are drawing the right conclusions." Thrawn whispered, while putting his glass on a low, carved table next to the armchair, before taking off his gloves.
"Perhaps ... I'm a fast learner?" She smiled playfully.
“No, most likely, you just need something from me.”
“And if so, then what ...?” Leia whispered, approaching him. Next she bend over his snow-white, half-opened uniform jacket, in whose upper pocket she suspected the door’s remote control, and then, without a shadow of fear or doubt, she looked at the Chiss, and her lips parted sensually.
"What do you want, my dear?" He ran a hand into her hair, pulling the princess closer. "You could just ask... Who knows, maybe you would even get it." His fingers gently outlined the shape of her oval face. Leia shivered by his barely perceivable touch, while Thrawn's hand slowly descended below, caressing her delicate neck, inevitably heading towards the décolleté of her delicate chocolate-coloured dress, which in turn gave way to the tempting and dangerously open hemisphere of her breasts. .
"What do you want, Leia?" he whispered in a hoarse voice, very close to her ear, in which shone earrings with a transparent stone with an incredibly complex cut; glistened, shimmering, reflecting all rays of light. Another gift of Thrawn, which Leia had ignored for several days ... but had finally surrendered to today, captivated by their beauty.
Thrawn had no doubt that Leia was lying, advancing him with this sudden interest and passion. She was tense and constrained, as if trying to control every movement, every muscle ready to escape at any moment to avoid the next touch. Little by little she relaxed, allowing his gentle touch, but in her body there was not a hint of true desire.
But since she herself had started this game, nothing would prevent him from doing now what he had wanted for a long time - to taste her obstinate lips, to touch her hot tongue, to drink her breath when she started to break away, and to firmly intercept the hand brought up for a slap.
His kiss, contrary to the touch, was dominating. The Chiss’ hand, lying on the back of her head, did not let her go, and his lips parted her mouth greedily, engaging her tongue in a passionate dance.
At first Leia instinctively wanted to escape, but then her resistance weakened and she fell down into the firm embrace of the Grand Admiral - either because she felt that it was useless to resist or because she suddenly remembered her true intentions. With her free hand she traced his shoulders, and then gently touched his neck, before farther opening the chest part of his uniform. Gently Leia slipped her fingers into his breast pocket, while continuing to stroke the Chiss with her second hand, digging her fingernails into his right shoulder, as if in a fit of passion.
Unnoticed - or at least Leia thought so - she hid the remote in one of her dress’ sleeves, and then instantly leaned back, breaking the kiss; breathless and with glowing cheeks. Now the most difficult thing would be to slip out of Thrawn's embrace and to get out of the living room.
"You ... must be tired, and it’s already quite late," Leia whispered slightly embarrassed and smiled with the edges of her lips. "I’m sure it is ... I'd better leave now ..."
She rose abruptly, intending to leave, but Thrawn held her by the hand, and only after touching her thin fingers with his still burning hot lips, he let go of her.
"Good night, princess." His voice was soft as usual, but there was something in it that Leia did not like. Already leaving the living room, she heard him quietly whisper. "And you may keep the remote ... Without the access codes, it is still useless.”
The princess clenched her fists with anger, but pretended not to have heard him, slowly walking towards her chambers.
Thrawn smiled and took another sip of his golden liquid; his eyes unusually bright. Now ..., perhaps, he was pleased with himself.
Chaper song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTMqPi_GVm0
Chapter picture: http://pixs.ru/showimage/FotorCreat_8859681_24980374.jpg
Chapter 4: And when the fire burns...
Chapter 4 – And the fire burns
That night, Leia could not fall asleep. She was outraged by the situation and embarrassed to the core. Her lips still burned from the passionate kiss of the Chiss and she could still hear his velvet voice in her head.
"You'll be mine ..." he whispered, and Leia's cheeks burned with fire "I always get what I want ..."
She clenched her fists and with that thrusted her fingernails into her hands, forcing herself to forget the incident and to think straight.
“You may keep the remote ... Without the access codes, it is still useless.”
How long would it take to crack the codes? A day? A week? No, that would not work – surely he had thought about that...
Leia turned around in her snow-white bed, then closed her eyes again and covered her head with a light, warm blanket, in a desperate attempt to isolate herself from this reality and to fall asleep. Then she rose abruptly, sat up in the bed, tossed the blanket aside and gazed into the thick, impenetrable darkness of the room, as if all the answers to her questions were hidden somewhere there. Waiting for her to point her into the right direction.
"Well, Grand Admiral ... Since you are so sure of yourself.... I will play this game ..." Leia whispered.
The last idea that had come to her mind had been wild - if not insane- as it meant betraying everything she had fought for, but ... it seemed like she had no other choice.
She had to find Luke. He would be able to help her, together they would find a solution. But where was he? The ingenious boy, who had so far managed to escape from the clutches of the Empire? Luke Skywalker, her ... brother. How strange that still sounded. Luke - the famous pilot who was responsible for the fatal shot that had destroyed the Death Star; the young man that had killed thousands... The one person Lord Vader longed to find. His son ...
Leia closed her eyes and looked for Luke over their force-bond.
"Forgive me, Luke. You will understand ... You MUST understand."
"How are you, Thrawn?" Leia was unexpectedly kind and actually started the conversation that evening.
„Things are usually going well when you behave like this. But there is always room for improvement.“
„I agree. Therefore, I would like to talk to my father." She practically breathed the last word. It had been nothing more than a whisper, but once she had said it, it hadn’t been that terrible after all. It was just a word and it meant nothing. At least that was, what she tried to tell herself, while wearing an indifferent expression on her face.
„Really?“ The Chiss raised an eyebrow in surprise. "If I were you I would not do that. Whatever you might think ... Lord Vader will not help you.“
„You never know ... Perhaps there is something he needs ... And I can help him obtain it ...“
„Is one defeat not enough for you?“ he grinned, taking a step towards the girl, looking into her cold face. „Do you want to play a losing game - again?“
"Why are you suddenly so worried about me, Grand Admiral? You are loyal to the Empire, are you not? My defeat will be your victory." She spit out the last words. "I want to speak to Lord Vader!"
Lord Vader sat in his huge, black armchair; the chair itself was tall and massive and somewhat reminiscent of Palpatine's throne. Vader closed his eyes, thinking about when this infinitely long day would finally come to an end. He wanted to tear off this mask, in a quite literal sense, and immerse in a bacta bath, to feel its warm, dense, viscous embrace. No, the method would never heal the Commander-in-Chief, he would always depend on his life-support suit, but in his bacta tank, at least, he did not experience so many inconveniences. By now his retina was completely restored, as was his skin, except for the places were it connected to the prostheses and more often than not, it started to bleed again whenever he had to adjust the rigid mechanics and later the flesh gently grew into the metal once more, providing a greater degree of freedom.
Of course, from a technical point of view, his suit could be better. A lot better. For example the prostheses. But it was impossible to modernize them because at that time, almost 20 years ago, Darth Sidious, had been quite afraid to loose his apprentice. He had put a Sith artifacts into this suit in order to ensure his survival – without any concern of the circumstances.
Vader had survived, crammed in this armour, and, despite his injuries, his Force abilities had grown. The main drawback, however, was that it was almost impossible to technically improve the armour – the thin, sensitive electronics simply short-circuited from the fast streams of the Force, and therefore only old, solid models could withstand the power of the Chosen One. It was uncomfortable, but choosing between technique and the Force, Darth Vader would always choose the Force.
"Lord Vader, you have a visitor." Squealed the black astromech droid that served as a protocol droid, in the Sith's office. Vader wasn’t quite sure why he bothered with him, out of nostalgia for R2D2? Or because of his love for binary codes? It didn’t matter.
Vader was not in the mood for company today or any day. In principle, no one ever came without an invitation – this brave or insane soul might just as well commit suicide. Not even those among the military high ranks were that foolish. Who could it be? For a second the Sith was lost and actually curious.
"Who is it?"
"Leia Organa," the droid blinked and Vader painfully frowned underneath his mask.
*His daughter. His only daughter. The one child he wasn’t missing… What to do with her? Why was she here?*
“Let her in.”
Inside Vader's castle on Coruscant it was rather dark. Economic reasons were unlikely. Maybe the vision in the Sith’s helmet allowed him to see in the dark without any particular discomfort? Or maybe the Sith liked it, but there was just enough light that the droids didn’t need additional lighting.
The astromech droid, that met her in a huge, half-empty, gloomy hallway with polished durasteal-walls that shone like a mirror, bleeped something incomprehensible and went ahead. Leia did not move, unsure what to do next. She had arrived with a whole squad of Thrawn's private soldiers, but they had not been allowed to go beyond the entrance-gate, and now the princess was alone in the dark castle of the Sith ... One on one with Vader, so to speak. Lea was nervous, and with every passed second her idea felt more insane.
*What a stupid habit of using droids instead of people.* Leia thought angrily, remembering Thrawn's estate, which was also lacking human personnel. *But then again who would voluntarily choose to ...* Leia stopped herself before finishing the thought, roughly estimating the generous salary those people would probably earn. People had committed viler deeds for less…. and those two could certainly afford it.
The astromech droid stopped a few meters ahead, turned its visor and broke into an angry squeak. The princess interpreted this as an invitation to follow him. Passing through the castle’s long corridors, Leia wrapped herself more and more in the cloak that Thrawn had so prudently helped her in. The lights of the droid shone in the semi-darkness, while he lead the visitor through many corridors, every now and then illuminating another door. His trill was rhythmic and friendly, like he was giving a tour of his master’s eerie castle.
At the end of another long corridor the droid stopped and waited for Leia, who was just a few steps behind him and then joined him at the entrance panel. Suddenly, the door opened and the princess briefly stopped, not daring to go inside. She had hoped that the droid would show her all the way to her father, but apparently that was not the case and she was forced to walk the rest of the way alone.
Behind the third automatic door, Leia finally found herself in Lord Vader's office and the Dark Lord himself sat, in an almost royal fashion, in an immense, black armchair, behind a huge, shiny black desk. He didn’t move and carefully studied her through the mask's visor.
Fear rushed through Leia's body and she felt a lump in her throat and the desperate need to escape, but then the princess found the strength to calm down again.
*Come on, Leia ... Just one sentence, you can do it.* she assured herself, but fact was that her voice refused to obey her, before she could even utter the words. She croaked a few words, and then, after clearing her throat, confidently said:
"Lord Vader ... father ... I know where to find Luke Skywalker."
“Really? And you want to share that information with me?”
“Yes. I'm ready to share this information in exchange ... for something else.”
"I will find him. One way or another." the Sith said firmly, leaning closer to her. He pointed to a chair opposite the table.
"Perhaps." Leia suddenly realized the meaning of his simple words, and she understood very clearly that perhaps he neither wanted or needed her help - that perhaps, she might have come in vain. That she might have abused Luke’s trust in vain. That she might have revealed her last trump card to Lord Vader - in vain. "But my help will come at a price."
"And what do you want, Leia?"
“One and half a billion credits”
“What about a star destroyer in addition?” Vader threw back mockingly. “Boba Fett’s fees are cheaper, my dear.”
"You did hire him, father," Leia said, looking straight into the visor. “But there are no results yet. And you still believe that, sooner or later, Luke will come to you. But why should he?”
“Do not talk about things you do not understand.” To hear how this girl called him `father´ was almost unbearable for Vader. Some part of him felt like the adopted daughter of Organa had no right to call him that. Even though she WAS his daughter.
"I know where Luke is."
*Dagobah* It was easy to read Leia's mind. He should just throw her out now and let Thrawn deal with her, but ...
“For what do you need so much money?" The Sith asked suddenly.
"I have a wedding soon, father. On Alderaan I had access to a lot of money, but where is my planet now?” Her voice sounded outright rebuke. “And the bank accounts of my family, as well as those of billions of Alderaanians that did not have direct, living descendants were taken over by the Empire. So I only ask for what is rightfully mine.”
"You have come to terms with your fate rather quickly." Vader scoffed mockingly, leaning back in his chair. "Your wedding… I was expecting that you would escape within the first week or that you would at least try to relief yourself of Thrawn’s presence. But, apparently, he approached the matter more thoroughly than I had imagined - or I overestimated you. The spiral structure of the building is good, of course, but vulnerable at the same time. Especially in the lower part of the building, there is an easy way to the hangar with a fairly good choice of transport. I thought you would use this, but apparently you did not inherit my brains.”
*Why is he telling me this?* Leia thought feverishly. *Is he offering an escape?*
“It was a conscious choice, father. I want to take a place in society again - a proper place, and not somewhere in the outskirts of the galaxy.”
“So you want me to believe that you are reconciled with the defeat of the Alliance and intend to live a luxurious life as the wife of a high-ranking representative of the imperial elite? Leia, I am not stupid and you do not know how to lie.”
"I’m not lying, Lord Vader." She leaned over the table and stared intently at the mask. "As I can see that my presence here brings you much more discomfort than any fruitless attempts to recreate the Alliance at the edge of the Unknown Regions ever could. I will consider it an honour to make your life miserable.”
"I could always kill you."
"You wouldn’t dare." she bluffed, but had to control herself to keep a straight face.
“What makes you think so? Much of what is being said about me is true.”
"Luke would never forgive you. And you need him. Unlike me.”
“So you sell your brother and use him as a guarantor for your own safety? I do not know whether to rejoice at your ingenuity or to complain about your immorality. Do you think Luke will be grateful?” It almost sounded like the Sith laughed.
“No. But he doesn’t have to know. It would be better for both of us if he would remain ignorant about who betrayed him. He would sleep much calmer.”
"You do not have what it takes to play such games, girl.”
“Are you sure? I'm your child too ...”
Chapter 5: ....with jealousy....
Chapter 5 - Jealousy
Leia drank the bitter, black Mandalorian coffee. It was very strong, one of the reasons why the technicians on the lower levels of Coruscant loved it. Every day they had to preform the same tedious task: looking through a pile of trash in search of something that was still functional, or that would at least not deny its services within the first few hours after sale. An impossible task, at least without a cup of strong coffee.
How such a coffee had found its way into Thrawn’s exquisite and costly collection was a mystery to Leia. But she considered herself lucky, as the different types of coffee suited her sometimes decadent moods perfectly.
Luke had been found quickly – Thrawn had shared this information with her last evenings, or rather had clarified some of the hottest news that had shaken the holonet that day.
"You have a right to know," he had said and the princess had listened very carefully, catching every word he had said and only occasionally she had asked some simple questions in order not to show her interest in the subject.
Apparently Luke had not even tried to escape, which in itself had surprised her. And it sounded like he was depressed. Well, there was no way of knowing what had really happened that day, on Dagobah, the planet of eternal swamps and fog…
But the fact remained that Luke Skywalker had voluntarily surrendered to the Empire. Lord Vader had personally supervised the operation. And now Luke was here, on Coruscant.
Dagobah ... A greenish planet covered in misty twilight, somewhere at the edge of the known galaxy.
There were dire forests and dreadful creatures living somewhere in the bottomless green slime and the Force was strong here – restlessly rushing through the air - the dark side of the force.
As soon as he had stepped on the planet’s slippery surface, Darth Vader had sensed its vicious, intoxicating presence. How ironic that Luke had been trained here, in this dwelling of pure evil, and that the last great Jedi Master of the Old Republic had chosen this as his hiding place. Just like Darth Sidious had been hiding right under the nose of the Jedi…
Well ... it was a comforting thought that now, finally, the old Jedi master would meet his end here. Elsewhere, he would have been a worthier opponent, but here Yoda was weakened and he had grown old - the Sith felt it. Just like he felt that Luke would not be a hindrance – as right now young Skywalker was being tested, alone with his most terrible fears. Well ... it was about time to turn them into reality.
"I know you are here, Yoda ... and now it is I who will destroy your plans. Now I will have revenge."
The dark silhouette of Lord Vader appeared in the dimness of the cave. The scarlet lightsaber in his hand ominously cut through the darkness and his mechanical breathing echoed frighteningly in the cave, just as the heavy steps of the Sith. Luke hesitated for only a second – his body was on autopilot - a blue blade ready in his hand, and then he parried Vader's first blow.
“No!” he shouted, rage and pain filling his heart. He wanted revenge for the murder of his father, for Kenobi, his teacher. The boy's blows grew stronger, more violent, he wanted to tear, cut the dark figure in front of him into pieces, with thousands of strokes if necessary.
*The force is unusually strong in him* Vader thought, standing in the darkness of the cave, watching the duel between his double and Luke. *He will make a great Sith, despite the Jedi’s foolish interferences…. You wanted to send my son against me, Kenobi? My own flesh and blood?* His heart, or whatever had remained of it, filled with hatred. *One more reason to turn him.*
With a few shattering blows, Luke knocked the sword out of Vader's hands and cut off his head with one violent blow. The massive figure fell to the cave’s stone floor and with a loud bang the helmet that had covered his face suddenly opened, so Luke did not notice who was standing right behind him.
"What is this ..." Luke began, blue eyes looking at the defeated and vice versa, but his confusion and fears melted away, as soon as he noticed that the real Vader was here, rapidly approaching. He felt a piercing cold, making it hard to breathe. He was still clutching the activated lightsaber and Luke brought himself into position, ready to repeat those furious blows, with which he had just struck down the ghost, but this time he found his confidence noticeably diminished.
"There is no need for this." The Sith stretched out his hand. He was unarmed and Skywalker hoped to injure him or even deprive the galaxy of this monster, but his sword suddenly stopped listening to him and was held in its place by an invisible force.
"This sword once belonged to your father," Vader said slowly, his booming voice captivating. "He was strong, your father ... very strong. You are not worthy of his weapon yet ... " Suddenly, the sword flew out of Luke's hand and slid into the palm of the Sith, which was clad in a black leather glove. Vader chuckled and the icy, eerie, inhuman sound echoed from the cave’s stone walls. For a moment, it seemed like hundreds, no – thousands of ghosts of the Dark Lord walked out of the twilight, their heavy breathing creating a surreal death march, which caused all living things to freeze in horror. No, with this kind of power he could not cope…
"But I can teach you ..." the vile metallic voice of the Sith filled the darkness. "You will become as strong as your father, and when you are ready, you will fight with me and ... you will be able to avenge him ..."
"Going to teach Skywalker ... you are not."
“Master Yoda… I have awaited you ..." Vader activated both blades - blue and scarlet.
"Luke, run!" the old Jedi shouted, when the dark figure attacked him without a warning. He reacted instantaneously, creating a force-shield to intercept the crossed swords and then he slipped aside. Yoda was not as fragile as he appeared and he used his old master’s favourite fighting style, Ataru. Nice, but not suitable for fighting in a restricted space like this cave, and Yoda knew it, so he did not plan on defeating the Dark Lord. He wanted to sacrifice himself – to provide Luke with a chance to escape. How noble. How stupid.
“Hold him!” Vader roared, without stopping the duel. A troop of stormtroopers surrounded Skywalker, slowly tightening the ring around him. But strangely enough, he did not resist. Apparently, the words of the Dark Lord had sunken into his soul. *Avenge your father. Become as strong as him.* Yes, he wanted that! More than anything else ...
This time, Vader summoned Leia. Several deathtroopers suddenly appeared in her drawing-room.
"We have orders to take you to Lord Vader’s palace," boomed one of the soldiers, without bothering with a greeting.
"Please," he pointed to the exit.
Well ... there was no choice. Apprehension stirred up in the princess’ heart, but obediently she the followed them to the door.
Upon arrival, Leia had come up with at least a dozen reasons why the Sith might have called for her, but the most obvious one seemed to be Luke’s capture. Leia herself had intended to learn more about it - just a little later.
The deathtroopers escorted her to the very doors of the Sith’s private office - it was on the other wing of the castle and was much more spacious than the official one. Actually it seemed to be some kind of mix between a small, self-designed workshop and a large conference room. It was here where the Dark Lord worked, passionately indulging in both, construction and military affairs. Few people knew that in almost all imperial fighters, the Sith himself had made some personal adjustments, taking KDY’s work to a whole new level. Knowing how all the mechanisms were arranged, he definitely understood how to best use their features in combat and how to squeeze them out to their maximum.
Now the Sith was sitting at a huge durasteal table; surrounded by a lot of holoprojections of some sort of technology, which he closed with a quick swipe of his hand, as soon as Leia stepped over the threshold.
"Here, take it.” Instead of a greeting, Vader threw several credit cards on the table. “Half of what you asked for - 750 million.”
Leia was silent and not sure whether to rejoice in Vader’s unexpected generosity or to be angry about the fact that it was only half of what she’d asked for.
"You could almost say that it was honestly earned." he grinned under the mask, watching as his daughter's face gradually changing from confusion to anger.
“What about the other half?”
“You were generously rewarded, Leia. I offered five times less for information on the location of Skywalker, but you provided exact coordinates, saving me a lot of time.”
"I want to talk to Luke." Leia suddenly demanded, still angry.
Something in her voice alerted the Sith.
"No," Vader said calmly. “Not yet.”
“No? Why not? He's my brother and I want ...”
“I said no. He needs rest and does not feel well. Besides, I do not think...” but Leia did not even let him finish.
"Is he hurt?! What did you do to him?! I knew it was a mistake. ” Vader looked at her in amazement. How much she looked like Padmé at times and how similar they sounded whenever there was this hysterical note in Leia’s voice.
"What part of it?" The Sith asked.
"Trusting you!" Leia spat out angrily.
"You never trusted me."
There was a silence, short, but heavy, like a durasteel plate.
"I want to learn the way of the Force," Leia said then, boldly looking at his mask, and before adding a soft "Father" to enforce her wish. If Luke couldn’t help her, she had to manage on her own.
“Maybe you also want to command a Star Destroyer?” Vader suggested mockingly.
"No. Not yet at least."
"Why are you suddenly interested in the Force? Do you not have other things to do? As you yourself reminded me the other day, you have a wedding soon. Have you decided on a dress yet?" As far as the man who had once been Anakin Skywalker remembered, Padmé had had many outfits, wasting truly cosmic amounts of money and time on them, and somehow he had believed that Leia would be the same.
“No and I’m not interested in the slightest! I could go like this for all I care." The princess casually pointed at the dark-blue dress she was wearing.
“It should be white.”
“I think this is quite fitting, considering that blue is the colour of mourningon Naboo. And it would match the Grand Admiral's skin colour. But I honestly don’t care.”
*The impertinence she has from me.* the Sith suddenly thought.
"Father, teach me how to use the Force or let me at least talk to Luke.”
Leia was bluffing. She had no idea what the Force was, but she was confident that Vader would never teach her because he was not too found of her company. And the feeling was mutual. She miscalculated.
"Well, since you insist." the Dark Lord said intimidatingly and the girl involuntarily shivered from his icy voice. “Come back tomorrow. If Luke wants to – you can talk to him. And if not ... I will teach you the ways of the Force.”
The door behind Leia opened at Vader's command, a clear sign that for him the conversation was over. Like her, he did not care for useless pleasantries - but for Vader it was easier to completely ignore them.
Against her custom, Leia was waiting for Thrawn that evening. She needed to talk – with someone, anyone - and she also wanted to ask if he knew more about what had happened on Dagobah. Surely, the Chiss had not told her everything.
But the one time she actually wanted to talk to him, Thrawn was not there. He was already several hours late. Had anything happened?
*For Sith’s sake! Why today?!* Leia was somewhat upset and suddenly realized that she did not have a comlink number or any other means of contacting Thrawn, which made her even angrier.
*This is just stupid!* The princess bit her lips and wasn’t sure what upset her more - the fact that she could not find out where he was, or the fact that she was concerned in first place!
Recently the Chiss had behaved more restrained and calmly, without trying to drag the rebellious princess into a real discussion. He had also not mentioned the upcoming wedding and had kept a welcome distance. In the evenings, they had had a cup of coffee together and had leisurely talked about different topics. Usually, Thrawn had spoken more and Leia had listened. They had talked about ordinary things - Smalltalk for the most part, so when, by the Emperor, had she started to get attached to him?!
Probably he was still working and that could very well mean that something had happened. Something important. And Leia really wanted to know what.
Angrily she put the cup of unfinished coffee back on the table and went to her chambers – it was almost dawn and she needed to get some sleep or she would go mad.
"You came back rather late yesterday ... Did something happen? Too much work?“ Leia asked in the morning, when meeting the Chiss in the living room, trying to sound as indifferent as possible.
"Oh, no. Quite the contrary. I had some time to spare and decided to have some fun.“
In Leia’s mind the last words didn’t fit to Thrawn. She was so accustomed to seeing him as an impeccable officer with fine manners, a cold strategist whose sole interest seemed to be war and battle ships, but not something as trivial as `fun´.
But he clearly had enjoyed the company of that woman... Leia suddenly remembered their first meeting in the club. She remembered seeing him dancing with that blonde woman in the scarlet dress. Now that she thought about it, the way she had touched him with her thin fingers... It had looked like they were lovers and like both of them had had fun and might have drunken a little too much. But Leia was sure that the Chiss had been as sober as he was now, and surely he did not harbour any irrational feelings towards that woman, which, however, did not exclude physical attraction. But in general Leia was sure that his mind had been as pure and cold as always.
*What was the name of that woman again ...* Leia frowned, trying to remember the strange name of the blonde. *Mirabella ... Mirabella Swan.... Something. An artist of some sorts, who was patronized by the Emperor himself* She couldn’t remember more. *Probably a high calibre imperial slut, ready to do anything to get the attention of the powerful.* Leia added and tightly squeezed her lips in a thin line, contempt written all over her face. But she had to admit that the woman had been in damn good shape and that, maybe, Thrawn had spend the night with her… An unpleasant thought.
“Really? Where were you? And with whom?” She arched an eyebrow and approached him provocatively.
"That does not concern you, my dear." the Chiss answered and smiled shamelessly.
"You are my husband ... according to your people’s traditions, right? So ... in this case…. it concerns me very much.”
"As far as I know, you do not care for my people’s traditions." He reached for Leia's waist and pulled her closer to him; rather unexpectedly she did not resist, and only softly put her hands on his chest. "Maybe I changed my mind," she whispered, then gently tried pulled away a little.
"Are you jealous, princess?" He whispered hoarsely, taking one of her hands into his, stroking its inner surface with his thumb. His burning, scarlet eyes were terrifying and the grin on his lips was cruel, but his hand was surprisingly soft; his other hand gently slid upwards, along her back, until it came to rest that the back of her head. "At first you will determined whether I have any rights on you…. and only then, perhaps, you may pursue yours."
“No. And I do not care ...”
"Nooo." Thrawn breathed into her ear, his hot breath touched her neck, and his lips were dangerously close. "You care. Otherwise, you would not have been up, waiting for my return ..." He said the last words with obvious pleasure, and a low, velvet chuckle filled the silence. "Neither would you have inquired about my whereabouts, Leia, nor would you insist that you do not care ..." His lips touched her ear slightly and then she felt a chain of light kisses descending lower, over her neck, to the gentle hemisphere of her chest.
"No ..." Leia whispered weakly, trying to escape from his embrace, but the Chiss’ hand, which was still in her now slightly messed-up hair, held her back.
“No!" She said again, this time with more confidence, driving away the sweet dizziness that momentarily had taken over. "Let go of me!"
Thrawn, gently, but firmly held her in his arms. Then he smiled.
"As you wish, Princess," he leaned over Leia's fragile figure once more and inhaled her hair’s fragrance. "But next time, my dear, do not ask me those questions, if you are not ready for the implications...”
Chapter 6: ... it’s the beginning of the fall ...
Chapter 6 - ... it’s the beginning of the fall ...
“I keep my word, princess” Vader said slowly in his inhuman voice and Leia’s heart skipped a few beats.
“Luke does not know who betrayed him to the Empire. However, he also does not know about our relationship - and I intend to keep it that way. Do we understand each other?”
“What? He does not know that I’m his sister … and that you’re…”
“And if I don’t agree to these conditions?”
“Then you will not see Skywalker. It is as simple as that.” finished the Dark Lord.
“You have no choice, Leia.”
Luke looked at a tiny mark on the smooth, silver durasteel wall. He either meditated or he was simply exhausted. For several hours he had sat motionless on his bed and his face was impossible to read, while Luke himself was as white as a sheet and looked almost dead.
Then the door suddenly opened, revealing Princess Leia in some very expensive looking attire. Luke looked at her with heavy, almost contemptuous, blue eyes.
“How dare you?” Skywalker whispered maliciously, instead of greeting her. He even avoided looking at the princess.
“You betrayed the Alliance, for reasons only known by you. As for me, I never fully understood what we were fighting for. Surely you knew better… But why did you decide to become his wife?”
It took a while until the full impact of his words finally reached Leia. She herself did not feel engaged and her status – whether it was the new or the old one – was the last thing on her mind. It looked like Luke had read the latest news on the HoloNet and had come to his own, alas, false conclusions.
“No, no, wait ... it's not like that….” but the princess was unable to finish her sentence. She herself could not understand at what point it all had went wrong and where exactly the truth started and the hypocrisy ended, that was now surrounding her from all sides. How to be silent about the most important factor - their kinship – and to convince Luke the she was telling the truth? Leia didn’t know, but it seemed like it would be much, much more difficult than she had anticipated.
Silently they stared at the wall together; no one daring to continue the conversation. Lea suddenly felt guilty, without really understanding why and Luke in turn became angry.
“What's wrong? Has the mighty Sith's daughter lost her voice?” With the utmost contempt the young man stood up from the bed. “Well, there is nothing I want to talk to you about, anyway.”
*And you are the bloody son of a Sith!* Leia wanted to say, but she kept quiet. So far, things did not go as planned and her brother behaved very strangely….
“I need your help, Luke ...” Leia said as sincerely as she could. “The truth is so much more complicated than you think. I ... I want to destroy the Empire from within, end the reign of the Sith, and the only one that can help me with this is you, Luke. Only you...”
“End the reign of the Sith?! One of them is your father!”
*And yours, too, you idiot!* The longer they talked, the more Leia wanted to hit her brother with the truth, so that he would finally come to his senses, but she had promised Vader not to tell him and apparently he had thought this through.
“Luke, that does not matter! The Empire destroyed my home planet! That was a crime against humanity! I will not let them get away with it! And I will use any means necessary to achieve my goal ...”
“Even if that includes your future husband?” Luke looked at her in disbelieve and then a sly, derogative grin appeared on his face, and it hurt.
*I’m your sister, silly!* Leia bit her lips. Why was he so upset about her engagement? Was it that innocent kiss? The one she had given him to annoy Han? Was there a chance that it had left a mark on his heart?....
“Yes, even if that includes Thrawn.” the princess said firmly, while coming closer to her brother. “I will stop at nothing to have my revenge.”
“Wow ...” for a moment Skywalker’s look was clear again “That makes two of us.”
“So what now?” Leia took a deep breath and the hope that was at the bottom of her heart, suddenly came to life again. “Are you with me? Are we doing this together?”
“No. Our goals are different.”
Skywalker paused, his face not betraying any of his thoughts, but it felt like he was somewhere else entirely.
“I want to avenge my father.” He explained then, after an unbearably long moment of silence. “And my teachers Kenobi and Yoda. I’m going to kill Vader ...” he said quietly, but confidently.
“You what ...?”
“I'll kill him. He'll pay for everything he has done ...”
Never before had Leia seen him so cold, cruel and confident; his words like a gloomy cold. Not that she cared about Vader's welfare - sometimes she seemed ready to strangle him herself, but at other times she thought that she could find a common language with him, or could at least be frank with him - in any case the demise of the Dark Lord was not her wish. To her he was more like one of many obstacles on the way to her goal. Thus, Luke's solid determination to kill Vader - to kill his father - made Leia rather uncomfortable. It was wild and - wrong. There had been a time when Vader’s death would have pleased her. But that was her, not Luke, not the bright, naive boy the princess knew and loved. If Luke were to kill his own father, it would destroy him and tarnish his soul forever.
She should tell him the truth, no matter how bitter it might be for him, but…. she couldn’t. At least not yet.
"Luke ..." Leia began slowly, hoping that her simple words could reach him. “This is not a good idea. Lord Vader is very powerful, and you can not just ...”
"I understand, Leia ... he's your father…..you can’t betray him like that. That's why we're not in this together.”
"That wouldn’t make a difference to me ..." She hesitated, realizing that it was impossible to deny the obvious. "He is my biological father - yes, but I’m still me and I will always be the daughter of…”.
“Enough. Just leave...”
“Luke this is mad! Do you really think that it’s that easy to kill a Sith?!”
“Easy? Nooooo ..." Skywalker's blue eyes burned with a strange and almost fanatical fire. "It won’t be easy at all! But it’ll be worth it...”
Leia froze in the middle of the room, unable to say a thing. It was obvious that her brother would not part with this insane idea.
"I do not want to see you, Leia. Please go. We are on different sides now.”
"No ... no, wait…"
“Get out!” The door behind the princess opened and two guards entered, preparing to lead her away.
When Leia came out of her brother’s cabin, she felt utterly broken and bitter tears ran down her face. She had all but lost hope and confidence and there was no one in the whole galaxy left to understand and comfort her. In that very moment, the dark figure of Lord Vader appeared at the end of the corridor, as if the galaxy was playing some sick joke on her. He dismissed the guards with a swift gesture of his hand and remained silent for a while. Then his metallic voice finally cut through the silent.
"Your training starts tomorrow.” the Sith said in his usual, orderly tone. It was not a question.
"What?" Leia instantaneously pulled herself together and quickly dried her tears. Her weakness faded away, only to give way to anger. "No. This is not ….."
"I take it Skywalker has thrown you out…” Vader interrupted her unceremoniously. “…hence he does not want to talk to you."
"This is a ... temporary misunderstanding," she said like a true diplomat. "But we'll settle things eventually."
"No, you will not."
*He is stubborn. He will not let this go.* Leia thought *Just like me*
"Stop lying to yourself, Leia. Your plan, whatever it was, did not work, and now ... you look pathetic. In the depths of your soul, you know that you have lost. I think we can agree on this… But who knows, maybe someday you will be strong enough to take revenge on me.”
“Why do you want this?”
“That depends on what you mean.”
"I don’t know what you said to Luke, but he already yearns for your death and now you want to persuade me to feel the same."
"You hate the Empire. And me personally. So why not?” Vader seemed to mock her openly. Or was he serious?
“Why?” Leia asked again.
"I prefer to know my enemies ... and keep them close enough to smell it when they are ready to strike."
"That's why you serve the Emperor." A terrible guess struck Leia to the core. "You wouldn’t mind overthrowing him, but you don’t do it because other enemies would come to replace him, and Palpatine, at least, you know ..."
"You are not as stupid as one might think." Vader said. "But never be so foolish to believe that you can understand the true motives of my actions."
"I have no desire to even try... I just ..."
"Tomorrow at eight." the Sith said flatly, grinning under his mask. "No delays. I have too little time as it is.”
“I did not give my consent.”
"And I did not ask for it."
"I’m not your possession or some sort of slave that you can order around!"
"We are all slaves of our position ... no matter how high it is." with these words, the Sith stepped towards Luke's cabin-door, adding a final:
"I am confident you will find the exit on your own."
For the first time since she had moved here, Leia was sitting in her cosy beige chambers inside Thrawn’s estate and she felt safe. At the moment it was the only place where she could relax and indulge in thoughts. She no longer cried at night, no. She slept soundly, somehow knowing that she would need all her strength soon.
Not that Leia was no longer sad about Alderaan or torn to pieces by the defeat of the Alliance or the tragic death of Han Solo and so many other comrades-in-arms, whose names she did not even know, those men and women who had worked alongside her at the Echo Base on Hoth, during the attack of the Empire…. No, this heavy sadness would probably never leave her heart, but the sadness was accompanied by something else too ... the belief that there was still hope ... no, not of a return to the past, but of change ... A Hope that was, no doubt, dictated by the irrepressible thirst for life itself.
From what Leia knew about her current situation there is no way out – at least none that she know of, but with every fibre of her being she felt that she had to fight.
With whom? For what? These questions she couldn’t truly answer yet. But the more Leia, in the past Organa, temporarily Vader, and soon, after this ridiculous twist of fate, – Nurudo? – thought about it, the more she understood that she had to take her place in this new world in order to be able to continue her fight, to protect her values as well as the remains of the Alliance.
Leia curled up in a huge armchair and looked at the beautiful canvas depicting the battle scene. She imagined herself fighting in it and that, contrary to the predetermined finale, she defeated the enemy that was far superior in numbers.
Her tranquillity and peace was interrupted by Thrawn, who, by all appearances, had entered her room. Leia had no idea how long he had been there, watching her.
"You did it for nothing." He began instructively and Leia did not like his tone. *What the Sith is he doing here?!*
“What exactly?” she ask through gritted teeth, glancing at the comlink. It was almost nine o'clock. At least now she knew why Thrawn had come to her - usually they talked in the living room around this time.
"I have heard only little about Lord Vader's disciples, but I know for sure that they had a very hard time ... and that their lives were short-lived.”
“It wasn’t my choice ...”
“What difference does it make? You are in trouble.” Thrawn explained calmly, and this angered her even further.
“And why do you care? I would assume this plays into your hand.”
“Not quite. What do you know about the Sith, Leia?”
"Besides the fact that one of them controls the galaxy and the other the military?" the princess blurted out, wishing to quickly finish this strange conversation. What was Thrawn even hinting at?
“Walking on this path, you will experience a lot of suffering, until you are completely broken ...”
"Lord Vader does not look broken."
"He is strong now, I agree, but do you know how much the Dark Lord had to endure? If you think that the Force will help your revenge, if you think that someday you will be able to hurt one of the Sith with it, you are mistaken. The Dark Side of the Force takes as much as it gives and do not think that you can beat Darth Vader in his own game.”
“I do not think any of this.”
“It will be in vain. I think it is time to start….” Leia couldn’t take it anymore, so she jumped up from her chair and walked right up to Thrawn. Anger written all over her face.
"Why are you so concerned about me?! Why do you care?!”
“I have my own goals in this game.”
"And what exactly are your goals?"
"I will tell you, when the time comes ... right now ... you will not like them." he grinned and, for a moment, his eyes flashed with a bright, scarlet light.
“And what makes you think I will like them any better then?”
"I will work on that. Be assured..." Thrawn's voice fascinated her, it was soft and velvet, but, at the same time, whenever she heard it, there was an alarm ringing somewhere in the back of her consciousness, screaming: *He can’t be trusted!*
"What do you want, Leia?" he often asked this question, but her answers differed from "nothing" to "I don’t know”.
“What do you want from me? What place do you want me to take in your game, hmm?”
Leia was silent, hiding her gaze, biting her lips. She thought about it for a second and doubted that the Grand Admiral would agree to any of the options that came into her mind. At various times, she wouldn’t mind becoming a widow; getting rid of his presence. At other times she even considered him as a possible ally, seeing that every now and then they actually shared views on particular issues. However, now, looking at the tall, strong figure of Thrawn with his burning gaze and razor-sharp, clear mind, she knew that none of these options were likely: he was loyal to the Empire and above all to himself. And he was most definitely an obstacle that would be hard to remove.
The silence lingered, but the Chiss seemed to have seen both of her options on her face. He came closer and put his strong hands around her wrist. Suddenly Leia became scared and tried to free herself from his iron-clasped grip.
"Come on," he whispered softly, but his hands were firm and powerful. "If I really wanted to, I would have taken you long ago. By force. And no one would have dared to stop me ... Tell me Leia, why do you think I did not do it?”
“Because you don’t want to.”
"No ... Oh, no, on the contrary ... I want." His hungry lips came down on her neck and his arms wrapped around her tiny waist with predatory precision, pressing her tightly against him. "You belong to me, Leia ... You are mine ... I just want you to get used to it." Then his fingers slid up to her dress’ clasp.
What was happening was unbearable for Leia, and the truth in Thrawn's words burned more than his hot touches. She really had began to get used to him - to his presence, to the warmth of his skin, to his occasional touches and kisses; sometimes the princess had even caught herself thinking that she liked to be close to him, that she wanted to cling to him with all her body, inhaling his smell - spicy and sweet. But the realization that all of this had been his intention, his insidious plan and that she, like a mouse, had run right into his trap, was too much! It turned everything that had happened into something disgusting and so Leia tensed her whole body and tried to break free from his clinging embrace and the touch of his lips, but Thrawn held her tightly and his skilful fingers had already managed to open the clasp and so Leia felt the dress falling from her shoulders.
“Sh-sh-sh-shsh! Do not resist.” With one deft movement, he lowered the dress down completely, and it fell to the princess’ feet, leaving her defenceless, almost completely naked. With one skilful movement, Thrawn took Leia in his arms and carried her to the bed. "I will do it anyway."
He threw back the golden blanket with one hand and gently, despite the princess' attempts to escape, put her on the bed. Then he reached for the blanket and carefully covered her and her sharp fingernails, that surely had left some marks on his neck, with it.
“Time for you to sleep” he said, bending over the girl, gently kissing her on the forehead. “I just thought I should helped you take off that dress.”
“That was help?” Leia hissed furiously.
“Exactly. You should take my help more often. Who knows, maybe I can give you what you need…”
He pulled the blanket a little higher once more, removed a lock from Leia's face and then, with a polite "Good night, princess", he left.
Leia couldn’t sleep for a long time, trying to forget his hot embrace and kisses ...
Chapter art: http://pixs.ru/showimage/FotorCreat_9206148_29724831.jpg
Chapter 7: You long for what is beyond reality…
A/N: Just saw “Solo – A Star Wars Story”. It was surprisingly good! :)
Chapter 7 – You long for what is beyond reality…
"What do you want, Leia?" Thrawn’s fascinating voice whispered, "Maybe I can give you what you need."
It was so wrong to desire his touch.
It was wrong to want to be near him.
He was the enemy. And he was very dangerous.
But the Chiss’ words sounded like an insinuating melody in the princess’ head, leaving her restless.
No. No! No "ifs"!
He was the enemy! Enemy...
But how sweet his kisses had felt ...
Literally broken and battered Leia returned from her first lesson with the Sith Lord. After showing and practising just a few defensive blocks, Vader had given her a real fight test, for which she hadn’t been ready at all.
The training hall was a half-neglected hangar, which consisted of two floors. The first floor was the training floor and it was filled with what, at least to Leia, looked like trash. There were remains of old training-droids that had been torn apart during previous trainings, huge boxes with unknown contents – but for some reason Leia believed that there was something alive inside, a few half-disembowelled shuttles and, surprisingly, there was also a brand-new speeder that seemed to be in perfect condition.
Leia's opponent had been a man in black robes. His face had been hidden by a silver mask and both of them had been equipped with long, wooden training poles. Her mysterious opponent had quickly initiated the fight, confidently and with a series of hard blows. Luckily, most of them had missed Leia. Then the man had taken a step backward and he had laughed underneath his mask. After that, the real fight had begun and the man’s moves had been unexpectedly graceful and destructive at the same time. Leia had needed all her self-control not to go down in the first round, as she had been ignorant about both - rules and boundaries - of their duel. It hadn’t taken long, until Leia had felt utterly exposed to his blows and had started to moved on pure instinct, and her whole body working on fear.
Her opponent had reminded her of Luke at first, however, he had been a bit taller and his hair had been pitch black. If their duel would have featured real light swords, Leia's body would have been cut into pieces many times over, but instead there were uncountable bruises and ugly scars all over her body now.
In the end Leia had given up and had carelessly thrown her pole into a corner, "Enough!" she had shouted angrily, as, to her, all this had felt more like the beating of a defenceless child than a real training session, in which she could have learned something. The man in black had stopped in front of her and then had exhaled contemptuously.
“No!” One last time he had waved his pole, knocking the princess off her feet and then she had crashed down on the floor. Beaten and utterly defeated.
"This is where you belong.” His low and deep voice had said. He had said something else - a phrase in an unfamiliar language – and then he had turned away, heading towards the exit.
Vader had watched the whole scene from the second floor, sitting in a wide chair on a special balcony.
“You broke the record, my dear. No one gave up as quickly as you.”
"It wasn’t fair! And very painful!" the princess had said, frowning.
"And it will remain that way, if you refuse to learn from your defeat and take action."
“I didn’t stand a chance!”
“You had a bunch of chances. There are no limits in this game, Leia. Look around, there are plenty of weapons here, there is even a blaster in that corner, but you chose an honest, alas painful, way of fighting against an obviously stronger enemy.”
"But I ... I mean, you didn’t say that I could ... I mean, I thought ..."
"You did not think. You simply acted in accordance with social conventions. Now tell me, Leia. Are you happy with the result?”
"No," Leia answered sincerely, and deep down she felt regret too.
“Survival, Leia. Survival is the first and foremost goal of every living being. If you cease to exist, there will be no more fights ... regardless of what you are fighting for." Vader continued. "It is easy to die, but your task is to survive, no matter how. Consider this your first lesson.”
“What do you know about survival? You are at the very top of the food-chain, whilst in the galaxy there are billions of creatures that are quite literally on the verge of life and death….”.
“Believe me, I know.”
The next day, Leia could hardly get out of bed; her whole body aching unbearably, and her abrasions burned like fire. Her first training had taken all day and she had been far too exhausted to bother with a bacta-treatment, which she regretted now. Angrily, she patched herself up as much as she could and was already on her way to the next lesson.
Leia reached the training hall just in time, but was still in a bad mood, answering Vader’s questions mostly in a monosyllabic manner, but the Sith chose not to notice and threw a new pole at her, before going upstairs to his observation balcony.
Leia got ready for the fight, at least mentally. Through the door in the far corner entered the same man she had fought with yesterday. He slowly approached her, his face again hidden underneath the mysterious silver mask. Maybe her nerves had played a trick on her, misinterpreting the rustle of the ventilation system for the malicious laughter of the enemy, but the sound somehow caused an inferno of rage in the girl. "Survival is the first and foremost goal." She heard Vader's metallic voice booming in her head, and decided to follow his advice. Survival - by all means. She would not let herself be beaten by the enemy again. There was no place for bruises left on her already battered body anyway.
When the man swung his first solid blow, intending to knock her to the ground, Leia did not try to defend herself, she simply jumped back, grabbed one of the many boxes and threw it at her attacker. It cracked open as soon as it came into contact with the man’s head and then its contents - a lot of small, black, slippery worms – suddenly covered her enemy from head to toe. He roared in rage and then, in one quick motion, he swept the shapeless, black worms off, before he approached Leia. Coming closer with two large steps. He attacked her with a series of blows that would have been devastating if the princess hadn’t decided to put up a fight. She fought with everything she had and continued to use her escape tactic, constantly hurling everything she found at her attacker.
This continued until she was cornered. Then Vader’s disciple struck a fierce blow against her rib-cage. Leia crash to the floor and he cracked her pole in half and would have done far worse if the Dark Lord had not intervened, suddenly grabbing his throat.
"Enough, Kronos." He ordered.
The man fell to his knees, writhing, trying to breathe. In a desperate approach to get air, his mask suddenly fell to the floor and Leia saw her opponent’s face for the first time. It was a young face with black eyes, flashing with hatred. Only when he stopped resisting, the grip on his throat relaxed and he was able to breathe again.
Leia heard Vader's heavy foot-steps. They were close.
"If you do not learn to control your anger, it will destroy you. Get out!” he barked at the young man, who was still coughing and struggling with a burning pain in his chest. He used the Force to get hold of his mask and pole, stood up as smoothly as possible and then walked towards the exit, without turning.
Leia had remained on the floor, half asleep, unable to rise. Her whole body ached from the fresh bruises and there was a deep cut on the shoulder, covering the whole back of her shirt and part of her sleeve with blood.
“Lesson two: You can not run forever. Sooner or later, you have to face your fears. And by running away the situation often becomes worse. That is all for today.”
Most people would consider a leaving Lord Vader the highlight of the day, but at the moment Leia didn’t feel like that. In fact, she was not even sure if she would be able to get to her feet on her own and she definitely needed medical help. Carefully, step by step, overcome by an acute pain, Leia got up. Then she leaned heavily against the wall and slowly, very slowly headed towards the exit - fifty steps equalling an eternity.
Already close to the exit a black astromech droid suddenly rolled up to her and beeped that he was willing to help her. Trying to verify that she was able to walk without the support of the wall, Leia timidly took a step towards the droid, and then, with one hand, leaned down on his semi-circular top. The droid indignantly screamed something and all of a sudden various holders popped out from behind him, but then he calmed down again and together they slowly continued their journey.
After a few more corridors, Leia finally managed to walk more or less confidently next to him. However, it seemed that her physical injuries were nothing compared to the pain Lord Vader had inflicted on personality. Her current situation was truly unbearable for the proud and self-willed princess….and with every step she became angrier.
Before her inner eye she suddenly saw the young man with the silver mask again, who almost had been strangled by Vader. Who is he? One of Vader’s pupils? What evil eyes he had had…. Probably, he had already learned many lessons, but still he felt unworthy ...
How many of them were there? Students or hostages of the Dark Lord of the Sith? And did Luke’s training resemble hers?
Once in Thrawn’s estate, the first thing Leia did was summoning a meddroid to her quarters, but somehow his arrival took a suspiciously long time, as usually all orders were executed in a few minutes. Even if one was to assume that he was the only med-droid in the estate and happened to be stationed at the complete opposite of Leia’s quarters, the droid should have been here by now, so Leia repeated the call several times, but the result remained the same. About an hour later the doors to her chambers finally opened, but the guest, who resolutely stepped over her bedroom’s threshold, was not a meddroid, but none other than Grand Admiral Thrawn himself. The meddroid, however, followed him, at a respectful distance.
“What happened?” He asked in a business-like voice, somewhat more demanding than usual.
"No ... nothing," Leia breathed, pulling the blanket higher so that her fresh abrasions were not noticeable. “Everything is fine.”
“I think not.”
With a few sweeping steps he crossed the room and, with a sharp movement, pulled back the blanket, under which he found Leia’s beaten, almost naked body. Seeing the numerous abrasions and bruises and fresh cuts, partly covered with dried blood, Thrawn grimaced and said something in an unknown language. An expression of displeasure Leia guessed, but wasn’t really sure. However, on the face of the Chiss she could clearly see his irritation.
"Subtlety surely is not one of his Lordship’s strengths," he hissed, tracing one of the deep cuts on her thigh with his hand. “There are many ways to hurt, there is no need to shred the body like this...”
Thrawn’s presence should have comforted her, but the opposite was the case: his words, spoken in a quiet, malicious whisper, filled her body with a wave of fear and forced her to see the Grand Admiral with different eyes again. Not as a successful officer with beautiful manners, not as a strong man whose fingers could be surprisingly gentle, but as a warrior -stern and merciless, with blood on his hands. No, he not only gave orders ... he had definitely killed himself…..and ... maybe…. had tortured people too, getting the most valuable information out of them. An outsider, devoid of sympathy, reaching his goals by any means necessary, one of the Empire’s finest, a connoisseur of the arts for sure, but only a true master in one - the art of war.
No, he did not feel sorry for Leia in a human way, but was annoyed that someone had acted so clumsily, so rudely and that someone had spoiled what belonged to him.
And there was something else too ... gloating, that if he had had the opportunity, he would have done it better. Sleeker. More elegant. Less blood. He would have done it beautifully.
The realization that she was no more than a thing, a pawn in a game larger than herself, made Leia feel extremely uneasy. Thus, she moved away from the Chiss’ attentive hands, who carefully examined her body, and tried to hide under the blanket again, but he did not let her do it.
"Do not be stupid" he said sternly. "I will treat the wounds. If it is any conciliation for you, I am sure there will be new ones tomorrow.”
A cruel truth. No sympathy. Leia bit her lip and shook her head.
"No," she said stubbornly and turned her head. "There won’t."
But her heart shrank with fear because she knew that Thrawn was right. There would be more wounds, much more, until she was ready to fight back. But when would that be?
Thrawn carefully lubricated the damaged skin with some transparent gel-like liquid and then covered it with a bacta-patch. He kept frowning and every now and then squeezed his lips contemptuously.
"There is something on the back, too, is there not?" Reluctantly Leia turn on her stomach, while wincing at the pain. Sure enough, there was a long cut right between her shoulder blades, passing through her entire back.
“Take it off." Thrawn reached for the straps of her thin, silk nightgown and pulled them down; Leia tensed and quickly stopped his movement, bringing the straps back up.
"Do you want me to treat the wound through the fabric?" The Chiss inquired sarcastically.
"I ... I will do it myself." Leia whispered shyly. "Turn around."
There was a soft laugh, but the princess' request was fulfilled. Thrawn got out of bed, turned around and even stepped away a little. The question whether his behaviour was a testimony of fine manners, or if it was simply motivated by the fact that from his new position he had an even better, unobstructed view of Leia’s naked body in the mirror opposite the bed, remains unanswered.
"Done," the princess dug her face into the soft pillows, trying not to think about how she was lying here in front of him, completely naked with only a thin, soft blanket covering her hips.
The cool bacta-gel instantly took away the pain from her back’s wound and with each touch of Thrawn's fingers, with every weightless patch, carefully attached to her skin, Leia felt better. When he had finished, the Chiss gently ran his hands along both sides of the wound, then stroke her head, softly running his fingers through her hair ... His innocent touches confused Leia, but she did not dare to move; his hands went down again, sliding along the girl’s body once more, as if to check if everything was alright. His hands caressed the smooth curves of her back and went down to her hips, slightly sliding under the blanket.
Leia caught herself not wanting him to stop. Her eyes were closed and she pretended to be asleep to not give away her pleasure, her consent; if she were conscious, she would have stopped him immediately. And so … she decided to let it be a dream ...
"My little one," she heard him whisper. His hot lips touched her shoulder, placing a gentle kiss on it. "How much did you have to endure ... and how much more is to come? Tomorrow will be better. I promise ...”
Leaving, he gently covered Leia with a blanket, and her body kept warm for a long time, remembering the touch of his hands.
How long Leia had slept like this, she did not know, but apparently it had been a long time - the sun was shining brightly, just as if it were noon.
"No oh! I overslept!" She had forgotten about her training with Lord Vader!
A realization that worked far better than coffee. Quickly the princess jumped out of bed – By the Emperor, how could that have happened?! Surely the Dark Lord servants would have kicked her out of bed, if she hadn’t been on time. What was going on?
Leia removed some of the plasters and saw absolutely healthy skin. Some spots were still slightly pinkish, but in general there were no more scratches and abrasions, even the dark spots of the bruises had visibly brightened. To her surprise, Leia discovered that her condition could almost be called ideal.
"You are awake, my lady!" a young woman in a simple grey-brown dress that resembled servants’ clothes, politely bowed her head. "I'll help you to get dressed. After all, today is a special day ...”
"Why? What day is it?" the princess asked and felt stupid and slightly nervous too; she honestly had no idea what was going on.
“Well… The day of your dress-choosing of course! Mr. Christian Chaux-Jar picked up the most exquisite and unusual outfits for your wedding. Ah, I understand, my dear! You must be so worried! But you have nothing to worry about, you were born a princess, but on your wedding you will look like a queen.”
Leia did not want to be rude or disrespectful; for too long she had been taught manners and therefore she would not allow herself to be harsh with this generally innocent and nice woman and tell her to just go away. Yet she did not want to choose a dress. She did not want a wedding. But compared to her training-lessons, it was better to choose a dress. "Anything is better," thought Leia, sitting down in a high chair next to the mirror.
The lady behind her smiled.
The entire living room was filled with racks carrying numerous outfits, and a middle-aged man, with a thin anchor-beard and slightly longer, gracefully combed back hair, sat in an armchair, drawing some sketches on his datapad. He was so consumed by his work that, at first, he did not even notice the princess’ presence.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, my dear." he bowed gracefully and kissed Leia’s hand, as was custom. He had a dandy’s smile and his eyes were intriguing - black and attentive, but with a slight squint. Chaux-Jar spoke politely and softly, slightly stretching his words and actively gesticulated while talking. He was one of the people who seemed to be able to say more with their hands than with their tongue. Being tall and thin, he also possessed the grace of a predator; all his movements were quick and accurate and his long tailcoat was perfectly trimmed.
"Your presence here is not necessary, Christian." Thrawn's voice came from the other side of the living room; though he himself was not visible yet, his steps, however, were already audible. "We will manage on our own ..."
"Oh, Grand Admiral Thrawn!" Chaux-Jar bowed his head, but the corners of his lips rose to an unpleasant grin.
"Always a pleasure, but I do not think this is your forte. Should you not be doing something else? Commanding ships on some battlefield? Doing some important and dangerous tasks? Not as dangerous as the art of dressing a woman's body though ... dissatisfied women are incredibly hazardous.”
"You are right, I am better in undressing them ..." Thrawn said casually, leaning down on the armchair in which Leia comfortably sat. “….and leaving them satisfied ... This is, you know, a separate art.”
"Yes, I have heard rumours about your victories on that particular front ...”
"Do not believe the rumours, Christian, as the truth seldom goes beyond the third mouth. Reality is rather boring.”
"Well, this one I have from the very first mouth..." He narrowed his eyes deviously, but then shook his head. "However ... it does not really matter now, does it?" Chaux-Jar carefully eyed Leia with his piercing eyes. "Your bride is beautiful, like a Nabooan lotus. And its spell brought you down?...”
"Oh yes ... How could it be otherwise?"
“Well ... you are right. I am sure your bride’s lovely eyes will find something special in my collection. Grand Admiral! Lady Vader! I wish you all the best!”
The conversation had struck right into Leia’s heart and Thrawn's hands, which lay on her shoulders now, suddenly seemed to burn, as Leia understood that this behaviour was nothing but a gesture to mark territory.
"Mine" his soft touch said, and nothing made the princess want to escape more. She felt like she wasn’t herself and these hints about Thrawn's female “victories” ... were just disgusting! What was she? Another naive and young toy - easy to seduce?
Anger flooded like red-hot lava through Leia's whole body, and as soon as the doors had closed behind Christian Chaux-Jar, she rose abruptly from her chair, escaping from his tender touch, and pretended to be very interested in one of the outfits. But in the end her curiosity prevailed, and Leia suddenly blurted out:
“Who is she? It sounded like Mr. Chaux-Jar and you both had your eyes on the same lady.”
Thrawn gave a small chuckle, and casually said:
"I would put it differently ... when Christian laid his eyes on the lady again, it was already too late ... as his wife was no longer interested.”
"His wife?!" Leia wasn’t sure what surprised her more: the fact that the famous ladies' man was married, or that, apparently, the Grand Admiral had had a twisted affair with his wife.
“Yes. He had to, you know ... marry. There were very favourable conditions. Christian could not refuse, but his lifestyle did not change.”
“What about you? Would you change?” Leia asked with a sinking heart, slowly touching the silver silk of the next dress with her fingers.
“Do not underestimate the impact of a person close to you. It is a big mistake to think that a person does not mean anything to you, just because you did not have time to consider it. People who are near us inevitably affect us ... whether we like it or not ...” he answered vaguely.
“Do not rush, you have all day. Today there will be no training.”
"I talked to his Lordship and he heeded my arguments."
“How did you do that? And what did you tell him?” Leia asked interestedly, examining a beautiful gold-embroidered white dress. For a moment she imagined herself in it and broke into a happy smile. If it hadn’t been for the wedding, she would have chosen it.
"It does not matter." Thrawn drank his morning coffee and put another cup for Leia on the table. “Drink.”
Christian Chaux-Jar: http://pixs.ru/showimage/FotorCreat_4457753_26288409.jpg
Chapter 8: … and dream of what is not…
Chapter 8 - … and dream of what is not…
Descending down the stairs, Leia heard Thrawn's voice - he was talking to someone in the living room - a man, judging by the voice. Cautiously looking around the corner, Leia saw a man in an officer's uniform, who, with his head bowed, faced the Grand Admiral. The Chiss himself was sitting in an armchair, his hands laying on the armrests.
"I already said no, Howard, but you are still here… Do you think I should change my mind?” Thrawn asked calmly, while slightly leaning forward. The man in front of him lowered his head even more, avoiding the Chiss’ burning eyes.
“Tell me why ...”
The Grand Admiral's voice indicated genuine interest. In turn the officer took a step forward, but spoke more quietly than before, so that Leia could not hear his words.
“I see. You should have mentioned this before. Well then, of course, I ... we…. will arrive at the appointed time.”
“Yes, sir!” the man said, nodded and then quickly left the living room through the entrance, to which Leia lacked the access-codes.
"Everything is going to be alright.” The Chiss whispered to himself.
Where would they arrive on time? And why was it suddenly of interest to Thrawn, Leia didn’t know, but it might be important. She stood still for a few minutes, like a mouse, listening. But when nothing happened, she boldly stepped into the light-flooded room instead.
"Good morning, Thrawn!" She greeted the Chiss politely, smiling. They usually didn’t have time for more than a few words in the morning, before Leia had to leave for her training…
During the last two weeks, her training sessions had been ridiculously boring: Vader had shown her some moves that she had to practice with some battle droids afterwards. Thousands of repetitions of the same thing, until the body remembered the movements by pure instinct. Unbearably boring. But save. And there were almost no injuries, which was a clear bonus, but now there was frustration instead.
Yet, learning how to meditate was worse: Leia had to sit in the middle of the training hall with her eyes covered by a tight bandage and her hands were tied behind her back. She was forbidden to move or change position. Whatever happened, she had to concentrate on the sensations of her body and to breathe calmly and deeply. At the very same time, in the very same room, Vader had arranged duelling lessons for Kronos, or he himself trained with some combat droids. Usually it took about an hour to clean the place up afterwards: there were piles of crumpled iron, traces of blood, durasteel and lots of other things. Leia could only imagine what they did, but heard it all - the clashes of lightsabers, the noise of falling objects, the screams of anger or pain, whenever an opponent had wounded the other.
Sometimes Leia felt that there was someone else besides Kronos - someone with an easier step, quicker, brisker, but also strong. It was definitely not Vader. Was it ... Luke? Whenever it happened, Leia badly wished to be able to tear off the bandage and have a look ...
Luke ... She needed to talk to her brother no matter what. She had to tell him about their kinship, but in a way that Vader wouldn’t know about it. But at this point it seemed impossible. But Leia had a plan, in whose success she, oddly enough, believed more and more. Perhaps it was a merit of her regular meditations. Or maybe she was just going insane.
She would learn how to defend herself and then she would ask Vader to arrange some sparring with Luke. But before that, she had to master the art of mental dialogue - Vader had once described it as “an exchange of thoughts between the gifted”. Perhaps one of the most useful tools the Force had to offer. At least as far as Leia saw it, with regards to her current situation.
But even with all the chaos occurring in the training hall, nothing had ever happened to Leia and only small fragments of some things had hit her clothes every now and then or dust had scraped her throat. Yet every time a piece of a combat droid had hit her, she had involuntarily flinched. Not that it had made any difference, as she couldn’t have dodged anyway. So in time she had not only learned how to cope with her genuine fear and helplessness, but also to except the inevitable.
"Just by being ready to part with the body, you will gain power. The body may perish, but the soul is eternal, even if you do not believe it yet." Vader had said and, true enough, the princess was in no hurry to believe him. She still remembered the pain from her first training lessons all too well, and yet it could have been worse.
"Milady" the Chiss greeted Leia in turn. In general it was surprising to see him in the living room so early. “I decided to bring some variety to your boring and restrained life.”
“Really? How?” Leia asked, arching an eyebrow in surprise.
“How do you feel about opera?”
"Will my answer change anything?"
“I hate the opera, Grand Admiral.”
“Few people really appreciate the arts," he said, not without sadness. "But it will do you good ..."
Leia remained at Thrawn’s side all evening. He was hugging her waist, holding her hand, whispering something in her ear, and sometimes lovingly looked into her eyes or left a tender kiss on her wrist – an in those moments his eyes shone a little brighter.
At first Leia was taken aback by this treatment, but did not dare to argue with Thrawn in public. Neither of them was seeking a scandal.
"Just play along, my dear," he softly whispered into her ear.
"What do you want?"
“Liberate me of the society of these pompous creatures.”
Leia grinned and then walked with him to their stall.
"If you don’t like them, then why are we here?"
“Why? Because I love the opera. The art in it.” he answered unexpectedly severe. “I enjoy it. But these people spoil everything. Very few of them are able to comprehend and value the true essence of it. Look at them…" he said, pointing with his hand at some courtiers who were taking their places in the first row of the stalls. "For the majority of them this is nothing more than an occasion to show their new clothes or meet people of their own circle. Almost none of them came to the opera for the opera’s sake. In certain circles it is even considered bad manners not to visit the opera at least once a season.”
“But we will not be alone here either.” Leia said and pointed to the additional seat in their box, which was still empty.
"The person that will accompany us today is …. one of the few people who shares my view."
The Emperor sat on his purple, luxurious armchair and closely watched the happenings on stage. He could be mistaken for a sickly, but good-natured old man, dressed in a simple black robe, who, for the first time in many years, happened to go to the opera again to see a play that reminded him of his youth. However, Leia understood that this image was deceitful and very wrong, but even without it, falling under the magnetic influence of the Emperor was easy.
"You do not really care what happens on stage, do you, my child? Your thoughts are far from the love of which the diva so passionately sings.” Palpatine's voice was soft, but his words hit the mark, as if he had read Leia's thoughts.
“Oh no ... I am sincerely delighted by the performance.” the girl answered politely. She definitely did not like his attention, especially since the Sith was right. Instead of listening to the play, Leia was thinking about which of these people could become possible allies, with whom she could somehow establish ties, and what it would take to get the support of at least a few influential people.
She was caught between two fires, not by choice but still, as she was a stranger among the Imperials and unwanted by the Rebels. A stalemate from which she had to escape. Soon.
*What would Han do in my place? He would say that anything can be bought.* and his cynical assessment somehow seemed quite useful to the princess now.
"Do not lie to me, my dear," the Sith whispered threateningly, turning his terrible face to Leia, looking at her with his golden eyes. “Never. It might end badly for you ...”
He smiled. There was no need for an answer, as Palpatine clearly did not want to continue their conversation. He turned his head back to the stage and his long dry, wrinkled fingers slowly beat to the music’s rhythm on his chair’s armrests.
The fact that the Sith’s lips had not moved while he had talked to her, had not gone unnoticed and his voice had left a bizarre imprint in Leia’s head, repeating "do not lie to me."
*Had that really been a mental dialogue? How interesting.*
"Pay attention to this part," Thrawn said, pulling her out of her thoughts. “When the low and high voices merge into a single melody - this is especially subtle, is it not?”
"Yes ..." the princess replied uncertainly, while trying to inconspicuously free the hand that Thrawn so tenderly held in his. She hadn’t even noticed him doing it.
“The game of contrasts, unity and the struggle of the opposites, in the eternal dance of life ... what could be better?” he ask, trying to involve Leia in his conversation.
The Chiss laughed quietly and released the princess' hand.
Leia experienced some relief, but at the same time her palm still kept the warmth of his touch, and for some reason that prevented her from concentrating on the play again. The music seemed to grow louder and it was impossible to confuse it with background music now; it caught one’s attention and was supposed to kindle a fire in the heart.
Leia, however, could not fall in love with the opera, despite all the efforts of her teachers; her voice and drama lessons, it had always seemed excessively false and detached from life to her. Nevertheless, she had to admit that today’s music was fascinating and that the protagonist sounded very sincere; pretending to be a young duchess falling in love with a simple soldier. Her soul was tormented by doubts, and the choice between love and duty tore her apart.
She recognized Vader's heavy steps, before he had entered their stall, and it felt like the commander-in-chief was extremely irritated. And after having noticed her, his mood only seemed to worsen.
"Your majesty." A metallic voice said, cutting like a knife through the thin lace of the music.
“Lord Vader, how are you, my friend?” the Emperor ask, without taking his eyes from the stage. "Is everything all right? I hope nothing noteworthy has happened in the last couple of hours.”
"Nothing that deserves your attention. Otherwise you surely would know by now." Vader said, not concealing his irritation. "Why did you call me ... your majesty?"
"Ah ..." The Sith lifted a dry, thin finger as if calling for silence. Then he started to sway it smoothly in accordance to the rhythm of the music.
"That is the part ... now…. listen! ..." the Emperor said in a hoarse whisper, closing his eyes in delight.
It lasted only a few seconds, which seemed to last forever. The notes were bizarrely woven and created an amazingly calm and at the same time powerful melody and a female voice, surprisingly deep and captivating, sang about the love she had to sacrifice in order to fulfil her mission ...
*How ironic,* Leia thought, *just like in real life.*
The princess' heart sank as she involuntary remembered Han and it was much more vivid and bright than usual. In that moment everything that had happened suddenly felt unbearable, cruel and unreal to her.
*I want to escape, right now, forever. Forget this life and start all over again.* Leia thought. *Alone and far, far away from this.*
Suddenly Leia felt like she was trapped in a terrible dream. She at the opera. In a stall with the Emperor. A Sith and dictator. An evil and manipulative enemy, who ruled the galaxy by fear. And to her right sits her "husband". He touches her fingertips lovingly and smiles at her, looking right into her eyes. The man who had destroyed the rebellion. Who had brought it to a cold and eternal grave. Who had brutally killed many of her friends. Who had killed her love, Han Solo. How had it happened that she had almost forgotten about this? How could this ever have happened to her?
The princess sat motionless and her breathing became quiet, barely audible. She seemed frozen in this moment of time, somewhere between the past and the future, not daring to accept the present.
And meanwhile, with each tact, the tension in the stall grew and its space somehow seemed become denser. Whether this was the result of Palpatine’s extreme degree of admiration and pleasure or Vader's extreme degree of irritation, Leia did not know. Most likely both.
To distract herself from her gloomy thoughts, Leia began to study the opera diva, whose voice was enchanting everyone. The outlines of her figure and her gestures seemed vaguely familiar. This lady must have been at one of the receptions Leia had been to lately. She was sure she had seen her before, at least from afar. Then her story was coming to an end, her last words deep and determined: "I will love or die ..."
As soon as the play ended, the old Sith opened his eyes, shining with molten gold, and with smiling lips he said:
“A truly remarkable performance, would you not agree?” the Emperor whispered and everyone present nodded. Too quickly to really have meant it. Palpatine's hand jerked up in an impatient gesture and his entire being, that only seconds ago had been totally at peace and relaxed, was now filled with annoyance, feeling the audience’s true mood.
"Yes." Vader said and briefly clapped his hands, which, actually, looked a little creepy. “And, most importantly, almost convincing.”
“Get out!” the Emperor hissed through thin lips.
"As you wish, my master." Vader bowed slightly and once he had left the box, it seemed easier to breathe.
"Lady Mirabella is always beautiful" Thrawn said, not paying attention to the squabble between the Sith. "Her talent knows no bounds ..."
Mirabella ... ?.... Where had she heard that name before? No….wait…. Was this Mirabella Swan-Jar? Leia’s eyes were fixed on the lady at her feet. Studying her even more attentively than before. Yes, now the princess vividly remembered where she had seen this lady. In Thrawn’s arms; the blonde in scarlet.
*At least she is talented, who would have thought?* Well, now at least, all of Leia’s thoughts were dedicated to the opera, at least indirectly. However, the magic of the diva's voice was totally lost on her now, and she felt more than a little irritated by the entire situation. Her luxurious, velvet dress suddenly felt confining and uncomfortable, and its open back was either unpleasantly cold or scratchy, whenever it came into contact with her chair’s upholstery.
“Well, how do you feel about the opera now?” Thrawn asked politely, a slight smile on this face.
"Same as before" Leia answered quickly. She was angry now and did not want to talk at all. At least it would be over soon.
"You were flawless today. I am surprised.”
“Where to go if there is nowhere to run?” she whispered and tightly clutched her bag with her left hand, while trying to calm down the storm of emotions that had risen inside of her and demanded an exit. No. Now was not the time. This she had learned during her lessons with Vader.
"Wise decision, as this is the best strategy for you at the moment." Thrawn reasoned detachedly, not noticing or pretending not to notice the girl's emotions. “You did well tonight, and therefore deserve a reward.”
“I deserve it?!” Leia spit. Her patience had come to an end, she was ready to flare up right here, and to hell with appearances. She suddenly became sad when she realized how many of her principles she had crossed tonight just by being here. It felt like a bitter wave covering her.
"Calm down, milady," the Chiss whispered peacefully. In his hand flashed a speeder-key, which he then handed to Leia. "It is yours tonight. Go wherever you like, just be back in the morning. Otherwise Lord Vader will come looking for you, which is rarely pleasant." He leaned closer and his fingers tenderly touched Leia’s neck in a warning gesture.
“Anywhere?” Leia asked suspiciously. “And you?”
“I? Usually, you are not interested in my plans for the evening." he said sarcastically.
“No! I'm not talking about that ... but in general ...”
“Some decisions require my presence, so I will come back later than usual. But I think I will return before you.”
Leia sat in the front seat of the luxurious, black speeder and thoughtfully ran her fingers along the autopilot-panel.
“Destination?” the device asked for the third time and the princess was still silent. She could not make a choice, as she lacked options. Truth to be told - she had nowhere to go. Looking at the beautiful Coruscant skyline through the speeder’s window, she felt like the city didn’t like her. Of course, there was more than enough entertainment here and something for every taste - from extreme games to sensual pleasures, from noisy, super-modern bars to exquisite, quiet establishments that imitated the atmosphere of life thousands of years ago. But, quite unexpectedly, Leia didn’t want any of it. She was tired and there were only seven hours left before training.
She wanted to fall into a dream of sweet nothingness in order to forget everything that was. And hopefully, when she would wake up again, she would find out, that all of this had been nothing but a bad dream…
The princess sight and chose her destination: Thrawn's estate….her current home.
Chapter 9: …. and you will say: "We are nothing to each other.”
Chapter 9 – …. and you will say: "We are nothing to each other.”
"Good morning, Thrawn!" Leia sat in an armchair, in the one Thrawn usually liked to sit and carefully viewed the latest news on her datapad. Reading the news was usually not a pleasant occupation, but today it fit her mood perfectly.
She hadn’t been able to sleep last night: she had been unbelievably sad and lonely at first, tears rolling down her cheeks and then, when she had finally calmed down and her mind had cleared up again, she had begun to imagine the perhaps most unusual version of her personal future, one in which she was far from being a pawn and not at all a victim of circumstance.
Following that line of thought, Leia had ultimately left the bed and had started to do something useful – namely to create a list of persons who she would like to meet in the near future. It - the list – had turned out to be unexpectedly long and still required some more and fresh background information.
At some point Leia had thought that a cup of coffee would be a good idea and had gone down into the living room. There, she had suddenly remembered Thrawn.
*Had he returned?* Of course, she wouldn’t have heard him enter as they lived in different rooms and Leia didn’t even know the location of his bedroom. However, for some reason Leia had had the feeling that he hadn’t come home yet.
*I wonder what kind of business needs his presence all night long.* She had thought feeling a note of jealousy, which she then had cursed into a mental Sarlacc Pit. *I really have more important things to consider!*
Thrawn’s chair was very comfortable - moderately soft, but with a firm back. It was just right to comfortably sit in it, without being in danger to fall asleep. And it was in this chair the Chiss finally found her, in a light, white dress, with loose, slightly tangled hair and with a slightly fanatical fire in her eyes, drinking her third cup of coffee.
"I see you had an….. interesting night," Thrawn said, taking off his gloves.
"Just like you, I suppose." Leia answered without looking at him and almost accidentally spilled her coffee on the datapad.
"Maybe ..." the Chiss whispered mysteriously, pouring himself a coffee. Usually he was more concentrated and focused; now he seemed relaxed, more than usual. In general he seemed to be in a very good mood. He even smiled at her, which, so far, had happened….rarely.
Looking up from the datapad, Leia suddenly understood quite clearly where he had spent the night. And with whom. She really should not care and she really should have avoided the whole subject, but Leia just couldn’t help herself.
“Mirabella Swan-Jar ... I would like to meet her. Can you arrange that?“ Leia said, looking straight into Thrawn’s eyes.
No, of course, the opera diva was not on her list. She had made that decision rather unexpectedly – actually she had talked without thinking. "You know her, don’t you?"
"Yes," he said slowly. "But why would you like to meet her?"
“Well, why not? She is quite talented, at least as far as I could tell…. and people say that she’s also smart and beautiful. And, judging by her participation in charitable events, kind. I just wonder if all these things are true.”
There was a minute of silence. Leia kept her eyes on the Chiss, as if trying to read his thoughts, but Thrawn's face was an impenetrable mask – there was not a shadow of a smile, no irritation, no surprise. Nothing.
“You are wasting your time. If you want to be jealous of me ... find another way.”
“Jealous? Don’t be ridiculous! In order to be jealous, I would have to have feeling for you first!”
“Right. And you are jealous, are you not? Even if you do not want to admit it to yourself. Even if you do not even know the name of the feeling you have for me. You are no longer indifferent to me ... and this is just the beginning." His gaze was hypnotizing, and for a brief moment, Leia felt very uneasy, but she quickly regained her composure, remembering who was standing in front of her.
A cold and treacherous warlord. Close to Emperor Palpatine. A cunning strategist, who was true only to himself.
A man, an alien, who was much older than he looked; a ladies’ man, who, by all appearances, had had many liaisons in his life. Much more than it seemed.
*He cannot be trusted. You cannot…*
"Enough." Leia whispered angrily. "Even if I would feel something for you ... I don’t think it’s the kind of feeling you would like!"
"Hatred suits you, Leia. A rarity… Well, if you want to know what feeling I would like, I would choose hatred over indifference at any time. It is, after all, a much more intimate feeling than love.”
“Stop it!” Leia jumped to her feet, clutching her fists with anger. The cup with the unfinished coffee fell to the floor, breaking into pieces.
"I ... of course… I will stop." Thrawn stepped closer to Leia, still looking at her. "Kiss me," he said quietly. Leia wasn’t sure whether it had been a question or an order.
“What?!” Leah was totally taken aback by his offer, so much so she didn’t even have time to burst into an angry tirade.
"Kiss me ... then you will know whether these lips touched someone else's last night or not."
“You are crazy! I don’t care if ... “ but Leia didn’t have time to finish the sentence, as Thrawn pulled her to him and, not allowing her to pull away, touched her lips with his. First gently, teasing and then greedily, imperiously penetrating his tongue between her tightly compressed lips, taking possession of her mouth, gently forcing her to respond to the kiss. The Chiss had one hand on the back of Leia's neck, with the other he held her by the waist. Then he bend slightly forward, so that Leia lost her balance, literally falling into his arms. In her new position it was impossible to push the enemy away. The attack had been too unexpected and too quick to react. And his tactics were too gentle to keep up a defence for long. Hence, Leia decided to succumb to his vile provocation and pretended to surrender. Her lips relaxed and parted and at the next moment she seized the initiative and continued their kiss somewhat passionately, hoping for an opportunity to bite his lip. But Thrawn felt the catch and pulled away as soon as her teeth came into contact with his lower lip, leaving her with a feeling quite different to what she had intended.
"Tschhh….. There is no need for that if you want me to stop," his voice, low, velvety,… dangerous. Leia jerked around, trying to free herself from his grip. “Not that I would mind continuing this little game, but then...”.
"... you would be late for training," he smirked slyly and Leia wanted to slap him.
Then Thrawn let go and took a step backwards, finally giving Leia her much-desired freedom, but apparently she was in no hurry to leave.
"You will pay for this ..." she hissed.
"I have no doubt, princess…. for this and for everything else, too.” "the Chiss answered, obviously amused. "And yes, I will introduce you to Mirabella ... since you so desperately want it."
Today training was very welcome. Kronos got all the fury Leia couldn’t - or simply didn’t have the time to - release on Thrawn, and Vader's disciple certainly hadn’t expected such pressure. Several times he had to retreat, overwhelmed by the girl’s storm of violent blows. Vader saw that Leia was physically exhausted, the trembling of her hands and the twitching of her tired eyes giving away her condition, but the Force raged inside of her, giving her support. The Sith had not taught her this, but unconsciously Leia had managed to reinforce her attacks with the Force, creating something resembling a raw and rough form of Djem So. The fifth form of lightsaber combat.
Like no one else, Vader knew this state of physical devastation, the deadly fatigue, in which there was nothing but the Force, filling one’s every cell. For the last two decades the Sith had stayed in this very state, he had lived in defiance and hatred and had thirsted for victory, which in turn had given him strength. Just like the Force worked in Leia now.
Kronos began to retreat, increasingly exposing the defence of the third form, which, of course, Leia had no chance to break through.
“Enough!” The harsh metallic voice seemed to merge with the hail of their blows, so Leia did not hear her teacher's instructions at first. At that moment, it seemed to her that she would succeed, at least once it would be possible to beat this self-righteous, arrogant bastard Kronos. And, quite surprisingly, Leia felt that the fatigue had gone and she felt stronger than ever.
Hit. Hit. Reversal. Hit.
Kronos sluggishly beat off her blows, not understanding what was happening. He was perfectly aware of Vader's order and the fact that Leia continued to press confused the young man to no end. The last blow would have cut his head off if he hadn’t ducked and made an undercut in front of Leia’s feet. Then she jumped back, landing in a kneeling position. Next Kronos quickly got to his feet and left the room. And not before hearing Vader's heavy steps Leia understood why. Hurriedly leaping to her feet herself, Leia turned to the Sith:
“Good morning, Lord Vader.” She said and bowed slightly.
Of course, this was the correct behaviour. Of course, most people behaved like this in the presence of the Dark Lord: politely bowing their head and showing humility. Most of them were terrified by the Sith. But Vader knew this kind of bow, as he himself often bowed in this manner in front of Palpatine. Without a shadow of fear. But with the fire of hatred in his chest.
"Politeness does not suit you, Leia. Your thoughts betray you, "the Sith could not resist.
“My thoughts?” the princess was taken aback, but immediately continued. “Yes, well…. by the way, I have a question. When will I learn this part? Mental dialogues, reading thoughts and all that ...”
Vader wanted to answer – never, as he had never planned a full-fledged training for Leia. Admittedly, he hadn’t had high hopes for Leia at first and had only wanted to show her some basic skills like temperance, so that she wouldn’t do anything too rash and foolish. Like he had done. But, apparently, the Force had other plans for Leia and now the Sith looked at the situation differently.
For some reason he suddenly remembered an episode from his training, when he himself had asked his teacher uncomfortable questions ...
“Master, when will I learn how to raise stones?” a young Anakin ran up to Kenobi, with large, questioning eyes.
“It's too early, Ani. You must learn how to control your feelings first, learn how to meditate, and only then ...”
“I'll ask the question differently, then," the youngling said, obviously unwilling to give up like that. "I already know how to lift stones." He lifted a small stone in the air, but as soon as it had reached the boy's eye-level, the stone suddenly began to tremble and then flew off in an unknown direction, with accelerating speed. "So ... how do I control the direction of its flight?"
Darth Vader smiled under his mask. This memory, one of many, very clearly showed how much he hadn’t fit into the framework of the Jedi training. Even back then - in the very first year of his stay in the Jedi Temple. He always wanted more, faster, stronger. But he was always told: “No. Too early. You must learn how to walk before you can run. It's not worth it.”
However, looking back now, he had to admit that, at least in this regard, Kenobi had been right. You had to be able to control your mind and emotions first. And that was true for both, Jedi and Sith.
"Meditation," Vader said at last, barely restraining himself not to laugh. “You have to learn how to meditate first. It will help you to achieve the rest.”
Leia was not happy. The Force raged inside of her, whispering in a thousand voices. She wanted to act, and not to sit around, listening to the sounds of Vader's training with one of the students or a droid.
"It's boring," Leia admitted honestly and at the very same moment the Sith saw right through her. Not that mental techniques were his forte. They indeed demanded a lot of concentration and detachment, and, as practice showed, once you held a person by the throat, his thoughts were much easier to read.
But even all things considered ... reading Leia's mind was too easy. It must be their blood relationship. He had no other explanation for it. Maybe that was also the reason why Luke was so easy to teach. It was like he grasped everything on the fly, as if his training had begun much earlier than a year ago.
"Is it easy to read me? And is it possible for all Force-users?” Leia ask, remembering her dialogue with the Emperor, which had definitely happened in a non-verbal way.
“Darth Sidious is able to read the mind of almost everyone.”
“Who is Darth ...?” Leia asked, perplexed.
Of course. How could she not have known?
“Emperor Palpatine. This is his Sith name.”
"And yours is ... Darth Vader?"
The Dark Lord evidently did not want to continue this conversation and handed Leia a blindfold.
“Meditate. I am sure, this time, you will not be bored.”
Obediently Leia sat down on a cushion and closed her eyes. The main thing was not to fall asleep inadvertently. Although, Vader had promised that today would be interesting ...
Leia heard the distant doors of the training hall open and the sound of footsteps filled the silence. There were two of them, one of them, most likely Kronos had heavy steps – clear and loud, as if copying Vader's. The young man obviously wanted to add some significance to his walk, everything about him felt aggressive.
Contrary to that, the second person was very calm and quiet, walking a little ahead. For some reason, Leia thought that by this he wanted to be able to attack more quickly.
"Luke, Soresu; Kronos you will you use Ataru." Vader commanded, and then there was the crackling, measured buzz of lightsabers. "Until the first blood has been drawn ..."
*Luke! He's here ... now ...* Leia's heart skipped a few beats and it was very difficult to suppress the desire to remove the blindfold.
Meanwhile, the duel had begun and Leia heard the buzzing and crackling sound of colliding lightsabers and the rapid movements of the two rivals in the hall. One of them it seemed used jumps to be able attack the other from above.
In principle the princess did not have to see the fight to know what was going on, as she had seen most of the classical lightsaber combat styles in action at least once, carried out by Lord Vader, when he had trained with his combat droids, crashing several of them in mere couple of minutes. Once, after their training, he had started to exercise himself and Leia had been told to leave, but she had lingered on, hiding on the upper court floor, watching. However, she hadn’t been able to watch for too long, as the droid, whose task it was to accompany her to the exit, had found her rather quickly, despite her best efforts to hide behind some boxes.
"Go ahead, Luke. Stop walking in circles like a cowardly Hutt.” Kronos' rude voice cut the measured noise of the battle. He was the one attacking Luke from the air, often changing positions, while Luke, judging by his steps, moved rather slowly.
For Leia the couple of minutes felt like for ages. Kronos teased Luke, who silently but efficiently blocked his attacks. And then a scream full of pain filled the room.
*At last you got what you deserve!* Leia thought, realising the scream did not belong to her brother.
The battle was over.
Vader's steps came closer.
"Kronos, you may go."
The footsteps of the young man, who was clearly limping on one leg now, moved away, and when the door of the hall closed, Leia could finally hear Luke’s voice:
A shiver ran through Leia's body. She was sure that Luke bowed his head now. The way he said the word "master" showed respect, but at the same time stubbornness. Will. And caution.
“Attack, Luke. Djem So.” Vader activated his sword and took a fighting stance. "Show me what you are capable of.”
Chapter song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy4mXZN1Zzk
Chapter 10: … but we don’t get to choose who we love.
Chapter 10 – … but we don’t get to choose who we love
“Is everything alright? You look troubled.” Thrawn's voice sounded interested, but not sympathetic.
Leia was silent. She did not want to answer, she did not want to talk at all and even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to find the right words, as she was simply too confused at the moment. Too contradictory were the feelings raging in her heart – and it was dangerous to contemplate them for too long. She could still hear the battle between Luke and Vader inside her head…. shaking her to the core and even the deep breaths she used during her meditation to calm her down did not help much.
“The wedding is in three days," the Chiss said casually.
“What?” Leia suddenly looked at Thrawn, somewhat shocked. Her thoughts had been occupied by things so different that she had totally forgotten about it. "The wedding?"
“Yes. That useless ceremonial act of our union, whose scope and luxury will be discussed in the HoloNet for months to come.”
"But ..." Leia wanted to say something out of habit, or at least ask something. But didn’t really know where to start. "How ... what ..."
“Seeing that you did not show much interest in the event, I instructed professionals to handle it – discreetly and with perfection. They sent me a couple of papers the other day, asking for my approval, but after an in-depth conversation they finally realized that they would have to decide everything on their own. Absolutely everything. I think this could very well be the most complicated job in the history of wedding-planning companies. A real nightmare, judging by the looks on their faces. However, one of the most lucrative ones too ...”
"I mean ... And you did not ... tell me?"
"Only out of consideration for your nerves, my dear; knowing how much you want this wedding.” The Chiss shrugged and sipped a mysterious green liquid from a tall glass. “And I ... love surprises.
“But I don’t.”
The conversation was at a dead end and Leia was getting angry. And the strangest thing was, that she didn’t know why! She didn’t care, did she? Still: the wedding was soon and she had no idea what was going to happen… Suddenly Leia was interested in the details after all...
“And now you are angry again. Wonderful. Well, I take that as a good sign.”
“Is there anything I should know about the wedding?”
“Well, there is the possibility that you will wear a dress instead of a training suit with a lightsaber hanging from your belt, as that surely would fall short of the general expectation.”
“Are you kidding?!” Leia got up from her chair, taking the datapad. “I'd rather have a private ceremony….. Upload some wedding photos on the HoloNet and let them imagine the rest.”
“Oh no. That will not do, princess." Thrawn shook his head. "Since I got myself involved in it ... I want it to be beautiful."
"To have something nice to show the children," the Chiss said unexpectedly serious, looking at Leia. "By the way ... the ceremony will take place on Naboo."
“Naboo? Why there?...” she asked hesitantly, remembering some of the things that had once been written about her in the tabloids.
“The Lake District on Naboo is one of the most beautiful places in the galaxy. You also have quite a few maternal relatives there and surely they want to honour you on such a special occasion.”
Leia bit her lip. Relatives. Everyone Leia considered family had died on Alderaan. Until now, no one of the Naberrie clan had ever made an attempt to contact her. Or ... did they have their reasons?
The Naberrie family had never supported the Alliance, but none of them was a representative of the Imperial Senate either, which indicated that they did not support Palpatine that much. But then again that hadn’t stopped them from doing some super-profitable business with the Empire.
On her list of potential allies there were no relatives… yet. But she was uncertain to say the least. *Who were these people? Why had it never occurred to her to learn more about her real mother?*
Probably because Leia still considered Bail and Breha Organa as her parents and she always would. In her heart they would always be her real parents, no matter what the people said and thinking about her biological mother somehow felt like betraying their memory.
"Very well ... Naboo it is then." Naboo - Leia surrendered. “I want to sleep now.”
Rumour had it that Lord Vader did not need to sleep. Of course this was not true. In extreme situations he could spend a few days running on half an hour meditations instead of a full night’s sleep, but for longer periods such a rhythm was ... unpleasant. He may not need as much sleep as most people, but still, a few hours of rest each day was something the Dark Lord rarely refused himself.
Today, however, there was something that would not let him sleep. Something that needed his full attention - and he had to make some decisions that had to be based on reason and that had to be right.
*Who would have thought that children were so much trouble?* the Sith thought irritated. Their training consumed a lot of time. Much more than he had anticipated. Yes, Luke grasped everything quickly, the Force was almost as strong in him as it had once been in Anakin Skywalker But this was also a danger – therefore, it was necessary to act very cautiously. Harden him, but not break him. Awake the passion, but not let it consume him. Give him a taste of victory, but not let him become too proud. Train him to be strong, without losing control.
Do it right. There will not be a second chance.
But Vader had been prepared for these difficulties. He had known, felt and seen what possibilities Luke’s training might include, and he needed his son to complete what he had started twenty years ago.
The real "trouble" was Leia ... Never, never before had he tried to foresee her future, to see in her face, her place in the misty images of his visions. Never before had Vader even considered the possibility that his daughter might become a serious enemy or ally. Who would have thought that the Force would suddenly awake in her in the way it had done? Who would have thought that her explosive nature was so similar to his own?
Harden by years on the Dark Side and the brutal struggle over its control, the Sith had learned how to handle his feelings, how to control his emotions. To use them and not to be used by them. Most of the time these emotions were hatred and anger and - very rarely - fear. He fed on their fire and used it against his victims. Leia had not known how to do this and he had wanted to teacher.
*I wanted to teach her.*
Such irrational impulses irritated the Sith. And what he had seen in his meditation today, made his inner turmoil even worse. For some moments the Force had shown him the future so clearly, so brightly, as if it had already happened. Such sharp visions were rare and the Dark Lord had only seen a few in his lifetime, Padmé’s death being among them.
But today the Force had willingly opened its veil to the future for him, showing him only one frame: Leia - killing Emperor Palpatine. Stabbing a blue lightsaber right into his back. While everything else, everything that will happen before and after, was covered in a dense fog.
"Always in motion the future is," Master Yoda had preached back in the days and only now Vader fully understood how this was possible. The context was far too important to neglect, but, alas, it was hidden to the Sith. It was a dangerous game.
In his plan, a similar role had been assigned to Luke – he should be the one helping him to overthrow the Emperor. What had gone wrong? What now? Not wanting to deal with the blue fog of the future anymore, the Sith forcefully hit his fist against the meditation chamber’s wall, resulting in a screeching squeak of sensors and a pile of broken glass and crumpled metal. Scarlet lights, which notified the damage, suddenly blinked up, irritating the Sith even further.
He took a deep breath and let the Force flow through his veins, filling him with its dark power, in which all his anger and hatred, passion and determination intertwined into a single thread.
How he loved this moment. The feeling of one's own power and the believe that you can change ... everything. The fate of the whole galaxy in your hands. Anything is possible, if only you want it.
Luke Skywalker had very little free time. Learning how to use the Force was an all-consuming experience and took everything he had. But he was accustomed to hard labour since early childhood, and thus, even now, managed to find a few moments of rest. Giving him time to think.
Vader also taught Leia. Today he had seen her duelling with Kronos and, admittedly, had been surprised. It seemed like the Sith did not neglect his daughter’s training, which by the looks of it, had started a long time ago. This should not have come as a surprise, but somehow Luke had been convinced that the hard and dangerous life of the former Princess of Alderaan, full of insane adventures, had come to an end with the capitulation of the Alliance. That now she would live a life in luxury.
But Leia seemed to have a hard time: there were small scrapes on her suit, for sure, but there were also bruises and abrasions all over her body and she looked tired, with dark shadows under her eyes. Apparently Lord Vader did not spare his daughter any of the pain, teaching her as diligently as Luke himself. For a moment he felt sorry for the girl.
The training of Darth Vader was much more complicated than the strange teachings of Master Yoda. Luke felt how his body was physically changing, his muscles grew stronger and his stamina increased with each lesson. He learned to feel the steady current of the Force, so that it felt a bit like a continued meditation. But the more he learned, the more he comprehended the Dark Lord’s true level of skill and it made him uncomfortable.
His armour was no less a mystery. Was it purely a life support system, as indicated by the variety of sensors on the belt, or did it function as an armour, akin to that of the ones of the Mandalorian mercenaries? There were rumours that Lord Vader was an alien and that the suit was a necessity to adapt to human conditions. But, looking at Leia, this was obviously not the case. The Commander-in-Chief was human, no doubt about that, and many of his lessons were reasonable and applicable in life. A sharp contrast to the foggy tales about the Force that Master Yoda used to tell.
"He killed my father, I have to avenge him." Luke reminded himself every day, fearing that he might respect the Sith and appreciate his teachings a little too much. After all, revenge was his sole aim.
"Why Naboo?" Vader felt himself getting angrier by the minute. " Why not ….. Tatooine?"
"Forgive me, my Lord, that I did not think of this option.” Leia retorted sarcastically. "It really would have been ideal, as no one wants to be dragged to the Scarlacc in the infernal heat. It would have made things so much easier.”
The Dark Lord did not plan to attend the wedding. And there was no one in the galaxy who could make him. Almost no one.
To deny a direct order by the Emperor was impossible. Even more so since there were good and, oddly enough, personal reasons to attend. Yes, security and time issues could be solved, but still the Sith had no wish to attend the ceremony. Unlike Palpatine.
"They say the Lake District is one of the most beautiful places in the galaxy ..." Leia whispered, trying to ignore the pain.
Today’s training had ended in anguish. During the battle - her first battle with real lightsabers - Leia had unsuccessfully substituted for Kronos and now there was a long, deep burn on her leg. It looked terrible, and she had almost lost her consciousness from the initial pain. Once the meddroid had started tidying the damaged tissue, Leia had decided to engage in some conversation with Vader.
"True," the Dark Lord said shortly, much to Leia’s surprise. “Naboo, is indeed one of the most beautiful planets in the galaxy, but there are beautiful landscapes elsewhere too.”
*Why the Lake District? Why the place where his strange love for Padmé, that had felt more like an obsession, had originated?* And with Naboo old feelings suddenly began to stir, feelings that he had thought had been burned by Mustafar's fire long ago. Feelings he did not want to rise from the ashes again. All of this did not please Vader at all ...
"Were you there?"
“Yes” the Sith already regretted that he had come to check on his daughter. He should simply have left, like he usually did.
“How did you meet mom?” Leia asked, not hiding her curiosity.
Vader did not answer. In general, he had not been asked such questions in a long time. And who would have dared?
"I guess many people wonder ..." Leia continued, despite her intuition, which told her to shut up - quickly.
Vader did not care. His personality was a mystery to the whole Empire. There were several rumours, but none of them gasped the truth in its entirety. And the Sith was more than happy about that and certainly did not plan to change it.
"If you take a bacta-bath for an hour or two, you will be all right, but the scar will remain. Consider it a reminder of what will happen when you are not careful." He turned around, but already at the door, was stopped by a familiar voice:
"Lord Vader? I have the right to know about Padmé Amidala. Why she, known for her democratic views, found herself in the company of such a despotic person as you?”
The Sith did not answer right away, but turned around, and it seemed to Leia that the space around them became much denser, her heart missed several beats, and then it became hard to breathe, as if an invisible hand squeezed her throat. Once more Leia cursed her insolence.
"We do not get to choose who we love, Leia.” The door behind the Sith slammed shut and with that it became much easier to breathe. Leia just smiled sadly after him. She really was interested, but it was foolish to count on the Sith’s openness.
Meanwhile the meddroid finished his work and a huge, nasty-looking scar shone through the bacta-patches. But the pain was gone, at least for the time being. Trying to stand on the damaged leg, Leia grimaced, as it did not obey her – apparently the pain relievers had not exclusively taken away the pain, but the feeling in general. Then a strange, insanely irritating sensation crawled over her skin and through her muscles, driving her crazy. Leia felt her injury with every step, which made her angry.
"This is not fair," she groaned, taking another step, carefully leaning against the wall. “I…I hate you!”
Mirabella sat at a table on the second floor in a small, cosy restaurant in the upper levels of Coruscant. It was one of the more noteworthy restaurants and its owner was a Twi'lek named Mardagasar Ali. In the evenings they played pleasant music and sophisticated performers danced on stage in tune to the music. Not in an erotic way, but artistically sensual. An extraordinary establishment, visited by many influential people, but who did not care much for publicity. Accordingly, there was a general dimness in the building and thin translucent curtains surrounded the tables.
Lady Swan-Jar was often here and always alone, but not today. Today, her long-time friend, Grand Admiral Thrawn, was due to appear any minute. Mirabella had no idea why he wanted to talk to her, but, for some reason, she feared she might not like it.
"You are very beautiful. It is impossible not to notice." a velvet voice suddenly whispered from behind. Mirabella shivered in surprise, but did not turn around and waited for Thrawn to take the place opposite of her.
"Thank you," a slight smile flashed on her scarlet lips. “And you're just ... as always.”
"And that would be?" The Grand Admiral didn’t look his usual self today - over a common black suit he wore a black robe with a large hood, which left only the lower part of his face, his lips and chin, visible. And there were no gloves – it was an actual rarity to see him without them. His fingers tenderly touched Mirabella’s, embracing them.
“Unpredictable. One never knows what to expect from you.”
He smiled and finally threw back the hood. His scarlet eyes shone brightly in the dim hall, but their radiance did not frighten the woman. On the contrary, she missed them.
“So…. What do you want from me, my Lord of Ice?” Mirabella asked jokingly, how often had she invented silly names for him? This was her privilege and her’s alone.
"I am afraid it is not a simple task, my beautiful flower. And that it requires talents, which, perhaps, only you posses.”
“Very Smooth. Continue ...” she playfully pawed her fingers on Thrawn's forearm, gently stabbing him with her fingernails.
"It is quite possible that you will hate me for what I am about to ask of you, but believe me ... the reward is worth it."
"Speak," Mirabella tensed and with all her might tried to remain calm.
"You have to earn the trust of Lady Vader." He paused for a moment, watching her carefully. "You must become her ... friend. A close and trusted person. A confidant, a companion, if necessary. You must be ready to support her ideas, even the most irrational ones ...”
“What?!” Mirabella lost her calm and withdrew her hand. Her blue eyes burned with anger. “You’re crazy…”
“I know... I know this must be hard for you, my dear, but it has to be you.”
“Why are you doing this?" Mirabella asked in an icy voice, looking away, tears flashing in her bright eyes.
"I just want to know what is on my wife's mind. In case she decides to do something foolish.”
“Your wife?!” No, not that Lady Swan-Jar was unaware about the news concerning her friend. It was everywhere on the HoloNet. Of course she knew about the wedding, but she had thought that it would be a strategic wedding and, most importantly, an exceptionally fictitious one. A sham marriage. And one didn’t have to be a genius to see his calculation behind it. Marring the Commander-in-Chief’s daughter surely had its merits.
“Yes. In three days she will be my wife." There was an awkward silence between them. "Our relationship is over, remember?" the Chiss said, bending over the table, closer to her. "This is what you wanted, is it not?"
Mirabella bit her lips nervously. Yes, this was what she had wanted because the opera diva had wanted it all - infinite love, fame, recognition and attention. Thrawn greatly respected her talents and patronized them, but for her, attention and admiration were not enough. And she knew perfectly well that this was all she would ever get. Rare but passionate meetings, always in secrecy, as to not attract unnecessary attention ... at first it had been very stimulating and exciting, but over time, more and more doubts had clouded her mind and she had been afraid that one day he would abandon her.
No, not even that.
She had been afraid that one day he would disappear on one of those missions, leaving her, without saying goodbye. The thought alone had been unbearable.
And thus she had decided to leave first.
And the strangest thing had been that Thrawn had just accepted her decision! He had not even tried to argue with her! In the end, however, ... he had not left her life for good.
They had remained ….. what must be called friends. They saw each other every now and then, he personally congratulated her after each premiere, giving her expensive gifts and with that demonstrated his admiration for her talent ... but nothing more.
He no longer tried to get close, even when her temptations were less than subtle. To make it short, he did not try to restore their relationship, and for some reason that hurt. It might have been better if the Chiss had disappeared from her life completely.
"So ... what do you want from me? That I spy on ...”
“No. That sounds too harsh.”
“That I ... watch?”
"Better" the Chiss said, sipping the bright green liquid from his glass.
"... over your future wife and if something causes suspicion, I will report it to you?" Mirabella asked. She did not like this at all.
“Exactly. Nothing you have not done before.”
“Hey! Careful, Grand Admiral. Do not talk about what you...”
"Oh, I know, Mirri. ISB reports are available to me. Or should I call you Agent ...”
“Shut up!” She hissed. "Just shut up! What’s past is past. Alright?!”
"Meaning you can not to it anymore? But that is exactly what I want you to do, my dear. But I will save you from your past, once you have completed your work. Then you can do whatever you want, without ever having to worry about it again. Lady Vader will be your last assignment. What do you say?”
Mirabella only nodded weakly. It was too good a price to refuse and she wouldn’t get another chance like this, but the woman's heart was filled with anger and jealousy. Why? Why did it have to be so complicated? WHY?!
Chapter 11: Your soul will be full of doubts...
Chapter 11 - Your soul will be full of doubts...
The night embraced Leia like a heavy, dark blanket, clutching her fragile heart with an icy fist. The night was dark like the abyss of the cosmos and cruel like its eternal emptiness.
That night Leia suffered from nightmares, but in their sticky delirium the princess realized that they were more than that - a reminder of a reality full of suffering and pain. Time after time, as if in slow motion, Leia saw the green ray of the Death Star piercing through the eternal blackness of the cosmos, turning Alderaan into thousands of fragments, becoming nothing but space debris and dust.
For several times that night Leia found herself on the bridge of the Death Star again, a few seconds before Tarkin gave his infamous order and she heard him say: "You would prefer another target, a military target? Then name the system! I grow tired of asking this, so it will be the last time. Where is the Rebel base?” And then her answer: "Dantooine."
What if she had said something else? Could she, at least in her nightmares, do something to save her homeplanet? Or at least delay the inevitable? But no matter what she did or said the terrible scenario stayed the same. An explosion, followed by pain and emptiness.
Leia awoke countless times that night and hoped time and again to stay awake, but her body was too weak and too tired and so the nightmares with their icy tentacles returned, dragging her to the very bottom of her soul’ abyss once more.
Exhausted by another wave of nightmares, Leia finally found the strength to rise from the bed and out of the warm, heavy blankets. The coolness of the night hit her body and so the princess straightened her shoulders and threw a warm, black-velvet dressing gown over her thin night grown. She needed to get out of here, out of these rooms, where every little thing reminded her of Alderaan.
Overcome by dizziness, Leia slowly followed the corridor-wall, without having the slightest idea where she was and where she was heading. Initially, she had planned to go down into the living room, but now she definitely went into the opposite direction. She knew perfectly well that this branch of the corridor lead to a dead end, but it was far away from her quarters, which, at the moment, held nothing but malicious ghosts of the past.
The wooden panels of the corridor-walls pleasantly cooled her hand’s palm. They were uniform flat with a slight joint every now and then and felt like a path leading away from the darkness. Suddenly she felt something else. There was a hole. For a few seconds she just waited, but then put her hand inside; the internal sensors woke up and blinked yellow, before the wall-panels suddenly parted, revealing another corridor.
"It can’t be worse than here," Leia thought, boldly stepping inside and once the doors behind her closed again, there was only one way to go. Forward. The corridor turned out to be very short and ended at another door, behind which Leia found a living room, furnished with great taste. It was dark inside, but as soon as she’d entered the motion sensors carefully activated a soft lightening, allowing her a first look of the contours of some objects. The stylish furniture had a smooth surface and chairs’ upholstery was made of velvet.
For what or whom these rooms were intended, Leia did not know, but, closing her eyes and listening to the Force, Leia felt ….nothing. There was silence. Peace. It sometimes happened when there was no living being nearby. Not that she was anywhere close of being a master of the Force yet, but, thanks to the many meditations with her eyes closed, she could almost immediately determine the presence of people and the distance to them. These rooms were empty.
Sighing with relief, she slowly moved forward, hoping to find a comfortable armchair or a sofa, on which she could find a little rest. The next room looked like an office with a huge desk and a black chair with a high, rigid back. Leia sat down behind the desk; it would be very convenient to work here - to review reports, ratify decrees and consider complaints. Leia jokingly ran her finger along the desk, as if signing some document.
No, this was clearly no place to rest.
She got up and moved on. Then there seemed to be a bedroom.
"Exactly what I need," the princess thought, relief sweeping all over her. Then she took a step forward and …. froze. She definitely felt someone's presence, although the Force remained silent. She could have sworn that she had heard someone's breath and all her instincts told her that there was someone inside.
“I had hoped that you would come to me at one point, but did not think it would happen so soon ...”
"Thrawn?!" Leia asked in surprise. *Damn it!* This was his house and that this might be his rooms, did not come to mind?! After all, this was the most obvious answer! “Sorry. I'm leaving…”
"And yet, what brought you to my chambers in the middle of the night? I am sure there was a reason." The Chiss' voice was unexpectedly serious. He moved, probably got up on one of his elbows, and with that the motion sensors filled the room in a soft twilight.
"I'm sorry ... I didn’t mean to ... I just ..." Leia didn’t want to share her nightmares with Thrawn and with that showing him her weakness. But even less she wanted to return to her rooms. “I can’t ... stay in my room ... too much reminds me of Alderaan and ... I can’t, I can’t do this anymore ..." Tears sprang from her eyes, treacherous and salty and she leaned her back against the wall’s cool, smooth surface to not lose her balance. "I have these dreams ..."
Leia closed her eyes and clenched her fists, thrusting her fingernails into her palms, trying to stop the memory. She heard sounds – the Chiss had left the bed and was now crossing the room with a few steps. He came closer, very close, and slowly took her trembling form into his arms. Her black dressing gown slipped from her shoulders and fell audible to the floor. She rested her cheek, still wet with tears, against Thrawn's warm chest and, in a flash of hot embarrassment, realized that the Chiss must have slept naked. His embrace was warm and comforting and she did not want to leave, but at the same time she was also too afraid to open her eyes and tried not to think about whose hands were gently caressing the back of her head now.
"My little princess," Thrawn whispered, barely audible. "I shall save you from your nightmares. You will sleep here today. It is very … quiet here.”
Never before would Leia have agreed to this, but what the Chiss said gave her hope. This strange silence he was referring to was definitely there, it had even hidden his presence in the Force. So maybe it could hide her from her nightmares too? It seemed like the Force did not exist here. Like its current had been stopped or like being under a soft and cosy force-free dome that enveloped her like a blanket.
Even before Leia could make a decision, Thrawn easily picked her up and carried her to the bed, laying her down next to him.
"You are still shaking." He tried to hug her, but she protested and pulled away. Yes, she was scared. She would not mind being in his strong embrace again, but the fear was stronger: when his bare thigh had casually come into contact with the silk-cloth of her short nightgown, she had quickly understood the piquancy of the situation. And so she moved a bit father into “her” half of the bed, but did not let go of his hand. She held it tight and clung to his arm, as if it were her salvation.
"Like they say…" the Chiss smiled at her almost childlike naivety. "… sweet dreams, princess."
Fatigue rolled over Leia with a force unknown to her and very quickly she fell into a deep sleep. This time there were no nightmares.
Grand-Admiral Thrawn did not need the Force to look into the future, as he believed that the attentive observer could easily predict a person’s behaviour once he or she was familiar with their usual modus operandi.
Thrawn could not sleep and looked at Shakira. His faithful Ysalamiri lizard, was dozing lazily on her purple pillow in a cage behind the bed, but her defence functioned was obviously not hindered by that. Every force user was affected by the anomaly these creatures created and Leia was no exception. But what did the lizard feel once a force user entered her vacuum? The Chiss thought interested and looked at Shakira. If she could speak, he would ask her if it was uncomfortable for her.
Leia stirred in her sleep and instinctively moved closer.
"The head is reasonable, but the body is easily deceived," Thrawn thought, laying his other hand on the princess' waist and pushed her lightly away, she sniffed disapprovingly and moved closer to him, burying her head in his shoulder, while settling one of her hands on his chest. "As simple as that."
He should get some sleep himself, even if it was only for a little while, but there were too many things on his mind. And one event in particular – today’s meeting with the Emperor. It had been very unusual and it was impossible to tell what impact it might have on the future.
"And you, Mitth'raw'nuruodo, will you be faithful to me?" The Emperor stretched out his dry hand.
"It is my duty to carry out your orders, my Emperor." Thrawn answered, in no a hurry to accept the unspoken terms of Palpatine's game.
"No ... I am not talking about your loyalty as a Grand Admiral in my military ... I am asking for the loyalty of the person, the soul. If you ever have to make a choice between duty and my order ... you will choose the second.”
No one else would have dared to wait, to deny the Emperor, but Thrawn was not afraid. He was more interested in what Palpatine had in mind – after all his intrigues were an art in itself.
"You are asking for my betrayal." The Chiss bowed his head.
"Nobody, but you can do this. No one could survive it. But you ... you could." The Emperor's power felt heavy on his shoulders, trying to push him down on his knees, before his lord.
The Chiss resisted as much as he could, but judging by the Emperor's face, he knew that he would not be able to resistance for long, that – ultimately - it was futile.
"Yes, my Emperor." Thrawn slowly sank down on one knee, as Palpatine demanded, but only bowed his head for a moment.
"And with that,…" Darth Sidious nodded in satisfaction, releasing the pressure on his shoulders. "….you will serve me like no other Mitth'raw'nuruodo."
Recollecting the event gave him a headache. It was difficult to predict what the Emperor had planned for him, but, considering the circumstances, it could be assumed that it would not suit him. No, more that that, it could turn out extremely unpleasant.
Leia shifted uneasy in her sleep again, she moved her head to his chest and then threw her leg over the Chiss' thigh. Her fingertips accidentally touched his cheek, before gliding down to his stomach.
And with that the thoughts of the man took a different turn. He ran a hand over Leia's back and stroke the back of her head. What if he were to seduce her now? Would it be too dishonest considering her condition or would it be exactly what she needed? Giving her body the necessary hormone charge for a full recovery?
If the person next to him would have been Mirabella, everything would be different. It was surprisingly good and simple with her. Bright, bold and sensual kisses. She seduced him with smooth and frank movements and liked it when he eagerly examined her body and admired its every bend.
Leia was not like that. Even if they would do it now, it would not be like that. She was still very young and had little experience when it came to physical pleasure. She still needed time...
Thrawn knew it would be easy to have Mirabella back, if only he chose to. She would return. Despite all the insults and pride. But this time it would cost him dearly, and it would not be the gifts that usually paved her way into his bed, this time he would have to pay sensually, emotionally. The galaxy always wanted revenge. Kindle jealousy in him or test his desires? And he might play along...
She had been one of his best mistresses and, perhaps, one of the few women who really experienced some affection for him. It might have been a mistake when he had brought their relationship to the breaking point rather carelessly. But now it was certainly better if their relationship stayed as it was.
Leia tensed, and then turned around, away from the Chiss, taking the blanket with her.
“Thief," Thrawn grinned and then turned to her back. “Come to me…"
When Leia opened her eyes, it was light outside. She had slept well, there had been no trace of the nightmares that had tormented her before. She sweetly stretched out on the wide bed and was surprised to find that she was ... naked. Her thin, black, silk night grown was lying next to the bed, but she did not remember how it had gotten there.
Thoughtfully Leia touched her lips with her forefinger; they were soft and slightly swollen, as if from kissing. *What?!*
Abruptly she rose and jumped out of the bed, stepping onto the soft velvet covering the floor, she absent-mindedly picked up the nightie. Her body, for some reason, felt great and a sweet tremor swept over her. She closed her eyes and then stretched and bend like a kitten.
"Please, do not stop on my account.” Thrawn stood in the bedroom’s door and apparently had watched the princess for several minutes. Hearing his voice, she hurriedly put on the nighty, which emphasized the charms of her seductive body more than it concealed. Leia looked down, embarrassed, and wished for something to hide behind. His scarlet eyes made her uncomfortable, but her body reacted differently - she wanted to get closer.
As if reading the doubts on her face, Thrawn laughed softly and said:
“Nothing happened if that is what you are worried about. Well, almost nothing." He smiled enigmatically, and Leia flushed to the roots of her hair. "You did not mind, I assure you ..."
"Enough!" She threw her right arm forward, calling for a stop. "Do not say another word!" She grabbed her thick, velvet dressing gown and wrapped herself inside it, finally feeling more confident again.
"I am glad to see you are feeling better." he chuckled. "Unfortunately, there are not too many rooms in this house; I do not like guests very much, you know. Your new quarters will not be ready before tomorrow. You can stay here if Alderaan's spirits still haunt you or you can go back to your previous rooms.”
“Here?” the princess asked surprised, her voice still full of displeasure. She vaguely shook her head, looking at the bed.
"I did not necessarily mean my bed, though it is more comfortable than the bed in the other room.” He grinned at her. “Yes, there is another bedroom here, and yes you can stay there, Leia.”
"Thank you, I guess ..." She took a confident step towards the door. "What time is it?" With all these nightmares, she had completely forgotten about her training and now it seemed like she had overslept.
"I took the liberty of asking Lord Vader to cancel today’s training, as well as that of the next four days. He agreed, although he was not happy. He might bring that up at tonight’s reception.”
Leia took a deep breath. She could very well imagine the Sith’s anger. And oddly enough, the princess wouldn’t have minded training today. The nature of her dreams troubled her. They might be more than a simple manifestation of grief and it seemed she needed advice on how to protect herself from them. But for lack of choice, Leia decided to at least meditate on them, although she was not sure if that was a good idea.
"If I were you I would have left before the whole thing even started," the elegant blonde smiled conspiratorially at Leia. “A congregation of high-ranking hypocrites. Some of them are not as bad as they seem, but only in an informal setting. At events like this, they turn into something between pompous peacocks and overripe Hutts.”
Leia could not help herself and laughed. The woman seemed to be able to read her thoughts and the comparison was actually quite very accurate.
"Mirabella Swan-Jar," she had introduced herself, smiling radiantly. “But you can just call me Mirri.”
"Leia ... just Leia," the princess had answered, picking up the tone of the interlocutor. Such a deviation from the etiquette was welcome as well as useful.
“And rightly so. Not that it matters as most people here know perfectly well who is who, what position you occupy and whom you are related to. Most people are not interested in the person behind the family name. Here it is all that matters. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Leia said nothing. Yes, that was true, if not worse.
“Oh. I am sure." Thrawn took Leia's hand. "Please forgive us, but it is time for us to leave. There are still many things to consider before tomorrow.”
“Yes, of course. A wedding is such a wonderful event. I remember my ceremony, I liked it a lot better than what followed. However, I am sure things will be different for you, "Mirrabella smiled skilfully, intending to go. "I have to confess I am quite curious about what style you will choose, but I am sure the journalists will arrange a superb online broadcast of the event ...
"Are you really interested?" Leia asked, looking up from her datapad.
"The whole galaxy is interested, dear. I think your wedding might be THE event for the next four or five years.” such conversations were more than usual for Mirabella, pouring forth through flattery - a necessary skill in high society.
"Well then, concider yourself invited, Mirri." Leia pressed a few buttons on her datapad, bringing the opera diva to her personal guest list. “The invitation is on its way.”
“Oh. Thank you! "Mirabella smiled, but was trembling internally. No, this had not been part of the plan. She had not agreed to this. In part it was useful for the task that she was supposed to perform, but who was she deceiving? Even now, looking at the Grand Admiral, an arm around his bride, her heart was crushed and she longed to touch him. She still loved him, and it was hard to imagine that she would ever meet someone who could compare.
The awareness felt like poison spreading through the essence of her being, releasing the bitter taste of regret.
While looking after the departing couple, a treacherous teardrop was ready to fall off her long eyelashes. Then her comlink beeped, indicating the invitation’s arrival. Looking at it Mirabella discovered another surprise. She was not just one of thousands of high-ranking guests at this wedding. She was among the entourage. There were no more than a hundred or two of them. She would be able to actually see them exchanging their marriage vows. At the same time the invitation also extended to her official spouse, Christian Chaux-Jar.
The woman laughed, but her laughter drowned in the background noise of other people's conversations and music, which sounded louder than it should. Christian and herself lived separately for a little over three years now. Everybody in decent society knew about this. But apparently the girl was totally ignorant of the on-goings of Coruscant society and simply followed the conservative rule that an invitation to an official event was always extended to the spouse.
Whenever their passes crossed, they pretended not to know each other; the last time they talked had been about a year ago. Nevertheless, officially their marriage was valid and none of them made any attempts to dissolve it. Each of them had their own reasons: for Christian this marriage - initially – had been his entrance ticket to high society. Why her parents had agreed to their marriage was still a mystery to Mirabella. Perhaps, her father had lost a fortune in sabacc to Mr. Chaux-Jar, and this had been his way to repay his debts?
However, of course, there would not have been a marriage if the young people hadn’t liked each other back then. It hadn’t been love at first sight, but later on their romance had turned into an ocean of passion. Christian’s skills as a lover were no secret and his feelings for his future wife forced him to forget all other hobbies for a while. While Mirabella herself had been endlessly fascinated by the talents of the young man, his fashion collections, his subtle and at the same time masculine features, his wit and impudence, his hot lips.
But their passion never turned into love. Over time, Christian had chosen a new muse, who had inspired him to truly luxurious dresses and Mirabella had increasingly preformed on the stage. Over time there had been many very influential and interesting men among her admirers and so both of them had started to live their own life, away from the other.
Everything had collapsed the moment Christian had seen her in the company of Grand Admiral Thrawn. It had been a completely innocent conversation, clearly within the bounds of decency, nothing more, but the way the Chiss had looked at his wife had hurt him and he had become jealous.
These few months, Mirabella still remembered with horror – he had done everything to get her attention. He had arranged receptions in her honour and had created a whole collection that carried her name. He had visited each and every of her premieres, and when some fans had come to personally thank the opera diva for her performance, he had remained by her side, embracing her waist as if to show the galaxy that she was his. He had become very attentive and affectionate, but it had been wounded pride, not love that had driven him to do all these things. And the feeling of that had been unbearable.
When Christian had left for a few days, she had collected all her belongings and had left him, without so much as leaving her new address. She had dived headlong into the arts and the arms of Thrawn, and for a while she had been genuinely happy, and her career had blossomed and she had become famous herself. Career, yes. Thrawn was able to inspire such achievements, he had believed in her talent in a way she herself had never been able to. But, in the end, she had lost the battle for his heart, as the Chiss remained true only to himself.
And now ... Christian would be a living witness to her defeat and Mirabella did not doubt he would not miss a single opportunity to hurt her with it. And he might decide to play her loving husband again and she would not dare to cool his ardour in public.
The sharp squeak of the comlink distracted the woman from her gloomy thoughts.
"Mandi’s Grass Bar, the table near the black entrance, in half an hour." Thrawn. Only he was that precise. But why did he want to meet her now?
As always it was gloomy and quiet inside the Sith’s castle, but over time Leia had gotten used to the atmosphere.
"If you do not want this wedding, I will have it cancelled." Vader's metallic voice sounded cold and steady, but there was a storm roaring inside his soul. He stood near the image of some system and appeared to study some data. Leia sat in an armchair and tried not to remember last night’s nightmares. “This is your chance to escape, probably the last one.”
Not that Vader really wanted to give his daughter a choice – that, certainly, was not his style. Initially, he had wanted to keep Leia away from him, but under control and a marriage with Thrawn had deemed perfect for this purpose, but now the Sith had other plans for his daughter and the Grand Admiral could only be trusted so far. No one that close to the Emperor should be trusted at all. And the Chiss was close.
"Why so noble all of a sudden?" the girl could not resist to taunt. "It was your idea, after all."
“Why did you miss today’s training?” the Sith changed the theme resolutely and sat down behind the desk. Suddenly, the office’s space seemed to have decreased several times. Leia actually felt like the walls themselves were suddenly pressing on her. Something about the fact that Thrawn had cancelled their meeting did not please the Dark Lord, and it was something much more important than issues of discipline or the execution of orders.
"I dreamed about you, my Lord. You and Grand Moff Tarkin. We were on the Death Star, a few seconds before the destruction of Alderaan. My home.” Leia's voice broke from poorly concealed anger, her face showing all her grief. "It's your fault, do you hear me? How could you let this happen?!” She jumped up from the chair and boldly looked down at him, continuing: “I hate you. I hate all of you, and one day, I swear, I will destroy you and your Empire! I will not leave anyone alive who was involved in this. And no one, neither you or Thrawn, or the Emperor himself will stop me, do you hear me?!”
Vader ignored her words, he had stopped listening to threats a long time ago. But he was surprised by another thing, during her fiery speech the girl had shone very brightly in the Force, as if something from the outside had fed her.
“What happens in your dreams, Leia?” The voice of the Sith softened and the room was suddenly filled with some sort of thick fog. The princess became dizzy and returned to her chair.
“Stop it!” She cried, holding her head in her hands. "Get out of my head!"
And indeed, once she had said it, her mind closed off, walled itself against the intruder, and if there had been another force-user in Vader's place he doubted that person would have been able to penetrate her mind, but their blood tie had its advantages, granting him access, helping him to quickly crush her mind’s wall and then he saw a whirlpool of images filled with fear, grief and pain.
"Who inspired these dreams, my girl..." the Sith thought, clearly seeing a certain discrepancy between the images and the charge of feelings associated with them. "This has to be stopped or you might loose your mind."
Leia’s head felt like it had been split into pieces and she sill trembled in her chair. She had tried to defend herself, but the impact of the Sith had been hard and there had been nothing she could have done. Meanwhile, her hatred gradually cooled down and she felt a quiet peace slowly embracing her.
"These are no simple dreams, Leia.”
“What?” the princess asked stupidly, still a little dizzy.
“They are suggestions. Mental attacks. Call them whatever you like.”
“But from whom? What for?”
"That is the question ... I do not know - yet." Vader definitely did not like what was happening. "I can not free you from training. I told Thrawn I would, but this is too dangerous. You must learn how to defend your mind and we will start with this right now. The fact that you managed to cope with this yesterday does not mean you will manage the next time. And there will be a next time.”
Leia did not know what to think. Her eyes gradually regained their sharpness, and she was more or less able to think straight again, but with this ability also came fear. It seemed to her that the whole galaxy was against her. She couldn’t trust anyone. No one.
"The droid will accompany you. Now get down to the hall.”
"Yes, master." Leia said rather unexpectedly, it was the first time she had said it, but for some reason the word felt right. Lord Vader was her teacher. He was the master and she was the apprentice. Like it had always been. He would teach her and she would become strong. For what purpose she did not know yet – but this was her choice.
"If you do not want to participate ... we can cancel it." Thrawn immediately got down to business, which meant he did not have much time. “I think emotionally it will be too hard on you.”
“Oh really? Do you think I'm such a bad actress?” Mirabella's lips curved into a graceful smile.
“You are …. a great actress, but your heart is not made of stone. Unlike mine.” Thrawn carefully studied her reaction to his words. There was a hardly noticeable change, but it was evident that she was surprised by his words.
“What do you want?” Mirabella asked emphatically, bending forward.
“Same as before, my dear ... I want you." With his gloved hand he lifted her chin, while with the other, bare one, he pulled back her hair, before slowly stroking down her neck. For a few seconds she enjoyed the insinuating touch, but then she removed his hand.
"You have a wedding the day after tomorrow." Mirabella said firmly, as long as it was still possible.
“Right. But I have no desire to hurt you too much.”
"Do you think I can’t handle it?" She kept herself well. And a person who did not know her closely and personally, wouldn’t notice a thing, but to Thrawn it was obvious how her lips trembled when she spoke.
"Of course you can. I just wanted to give you a chance to refuse. I do not want your life turning into hell.”
“Don’t worry about my life.” Mirabella said, smiling coldly. "You better take care of yourself, Mitth'raw'nuruodo. You’re always walking on the edge and it’s easy to fall.”
Chapter 12: … leaving a mark on your heart ...
Chapter 12 - … leaving a mark on your heart ...
Heavy thoughts never brought peace and the meeting with Thrawn had brought nothing but doubts: Was the Lord of Ice really indifferent to her? Had he felt nothing? Had there ever been a drop of true affection in his passion?
She didn’t doubt his desire – she had studied him too hard for that. He had not lied – there had been passion in his scarlet eyes and his tightly compressed lips had shown impatience, if nothing else. And the voice ... how much it changed in moments of passion… it was so deep and velvet when he caressed her body from within.
*No! Enough! Don’t think about it!* Mirabella’s body vividly remembered their nights together and she felt the sweet tremor of anticipation swelling up inside of her. As if he were somewhere behind her bedroom door, waiting for her to burn with desire. Mirabella closed her eyes and took a deep breath - the thought alone made her wet. He was a dominant lover, showering her body with greedy hot and almost painful kisses, leaving traces of his lips on her body, burning marks on her pale skin. His strong hands tore her silk underwear to pieces, before tossing the useless shreds to the floor.
He was able to be so wild, like an animal that had emerged from the depths of Csilla itself, hidden under the disguise of a cold aristocrat with beautiful manners.
The memory of their lovemaking was enough to hear an innocent groan escaping her lips. And when he was inside her it was hard, fast, deep…sometimes he stopped to say a few words to her, looking into her eyes. The galaxy alone knew their meaning, but his voice usually had a magical effect on her flesh, bringing about moments of supreme pleasure.
Afterwards he was gentle, as if wishing to erase the traces of his uncontrolled passion. Sometimes he would grace her body with a whole network of weightless kisses. He knew how to be affectionate, but not immediately ... only when his desire started to cool down and the inquisitive mind took over again. He was a skilled seducer and experimenter, who took what he wanted and who took a woman's body, like a man dying of thirst trying to quench his yearning with one gulp.
The memory made her smile, but then Mirabella bit her lip. She should not think about this. Not now and never again. This was the past and it would never happen again. Or would it?...
But all the same, what in the name of the galaxy had motivated him to get married? Pity, sympathy ... love? ….. Knowing Mitth’raw’nuruodo it was calculation. But to what end? *What game are you playing, my king?*
Not for the first time Thrawn asked himself why he had said yes to Leia. And at different times the answer was different too. She suited him perfectly, as an attribute of power. She also suited his title. Her origin was the main trump card though, directly connecting him to the Commander-in-Chief.
If the Sith had treated his daughter like the majority of the human race did, especially those with exceptional status and wealth, a union with Leia Vader would have been an extremely bad idea. But, fortunately, his Lordship did not suffer from irrational affections when his offspring was concerned.
However, when Leia had started her training with Vader, everything had changed. In addition to pure origin she, apparently, had inherited a rare gift from her father and if her character would turn out to be the paternal one too, she would become a very important figure. And while she was making progress, Lord Vader would sooner or later include her in his plans and she would play on his side. Whether he liked it or not.
*And on whose side will you be, Mitth’raw’nuruodo?* That decision would have to wait. But one thing he knew for sure, he had to lay the foundation for Leia's absolute loyalty to him, and he had to do it now. A good attitude, or - as some people said - love. It was much more reliable than any arguments binding one reason to another. And this task was not more difficult than others he had had to perform.
The Chiss smiled. People called him “calculating”, but in comparison to many representatives of his race, Thrawn was “unpredictable” and “prone to risk”. His desire for bright, emotional experiences was deeply connected to his desire for knowledge. That was probably also the reason why he had been with Mirabella for so long. She was the embodiment of emotions interwoven with elegant patterns of artistic talent. Yes, being in her company was a very special pleasure, but quite different from the passion that had possessed them in bed. And if from the second he was reluctant, yet capable to withstand, the first was a necessity to him.
If Mirabella could be compared with the most delicate lace, Leia was as simple as a military uniform. Straightforward and artless, but at the same time strong. Her affection could only be won by actions, which she could appreciate. Highly.
"Can you not sleep again, my lady?" The Chiss asked, noticed Leah's silhouette in the doorway. “Tomorrow will be a very demanding day, you should rest.”
"Yes ... that's why I came. Thrawn. I want to cancel the wedding - my father gave me this right.”
This move was understandable. Initially, he had given his daughter to him to control her, to change her attitude and to get rid of her presence, but now the situation had changed radically. During his last conversation with the Dark Lord there had been a clear threat, should he ever try to influence and use his daughter. A possibility he surely had not considered before ...
… A FEW MONTHS AGO …
"And yet ... I would like to know the boundaries of the permissible, my Lord."
"I do not care. The main objective is that she does not do anything stupid. To ensure this, you may do whatever you deem necessary.”
“Are you quite sure?” the Grand Admiral had asked, attentively looking into the Sith’s visor.
Thrawn was neither cruel nor despotic outside the battlefield. It was easy to loose control once power was at your disposal and many military men had sinned, but not him. At war he tried to avoid cruelty, in his personal life he would not have it. But it had seemed that Lord Vader had definitely taken that into account when he had said:
"Yes, she is yours, if that is what you want."
"I am afraid ... Lord Vader has no such right, my dear," Thrawn spoke softly and insinuatingly, and an unconscious sense of danger swept over Leia. "By the laws of my people you are already mine and tomorrow's ceremony is only a tribute to the traditions of your people. You have a right to it.”
"You can not make me," Leia sighed noisily and clenched her hands into fists.
"Oh, believe me, I can." Thrawn answered firmly and coldly. "But you do not want to check that, right?"
"There won’t be a ceremony tomorrow ..." the princess insisted stubbornly, and in her dark eyes was lightning, ready to strike.
"There will be," the quiet and almost indifferent voice of the Chiss infuriated her even more.
Both of them spoke Basic, but at the moment Leia had the feeling that they were speaking completely different languages.
"You see, Leia ..." the Chiss continued persuasively. "…you underestimate what I am doing for you. Or, rather, what I am not doing.” the inhuman eyes flashed bright scarlet for a second and for some reason it scared her. “I define the boundaries of the permissible. Come closer…”
Leia didn’t move, and then took one step forward. One step no more and no less.
"Closer," he demanded, rising from the bed, but Leia remained in place.
He crossed the room with a few steps and firmly took her hand. Suddenly Leia wondered what combat methods could be applied to free her hand and to bring the Chiss to the floor.
Today she had had a hard training, but she had learned a lot. Enough to believe that she had a fair chance against Thrawn, if necessary. Leia concentrated and jerked away, trying to free her hand and at the same time tried to push Thrawn away. Nothing happened. Neither immediately, nor when she called out for the Force to strengthen her attempts. Kronos would have flown a few meters from such an attack!
"My little rebellious princess ... do not even think of it. That would be very unwise.”
Something was not right. The princess felt a strange weakness and couldn’t reach the force.
"I do not think the bedroom is the best place to demonstrate your fighting skills. Come on, princess, until now your performance as my lover was excellent, especially last night ..." The mentioning of last night made Leia's cheeks flush, and she was quiet for a while, easing the resistance. Thrawn, taking advantage of the moment, pulled her to him. "What does a ceremony matter?"
“Let go! What the hell is going on here? Why ... " Leia hissed, while trying to free herself from the steel embrace of the Chiss again. She kicked him hard with her foot, but Thrawn did not even flinch. He was much stronger than she had thought.
"What? Wondering why the Force does not work here? Well, let it be my secret. One of many.”
Everything fell into place - the inability to apply her new skills, and even the fact that yesterday, she had found her refuge here from the metal attacks. Only last night the silence of these rooms had been a comfort to Leia, but now this strange emptiness and lack of response of the Force irritated her. It was necessary to leave from here and she had to stay away from this bizarre place.
"Thrawn, I do not want tomorrow's ceremony. And with or without the Force, I can sabotage this wedding and if I do, the entire galaxy will remember it for a long time!” She threatened, looking straight into Thrawn's eyes.
"I do not doubt that, princess. But that would in no way benefit your little plan. You see, I saw your "lists of candidates", and I must say your choices are very…. interesting. It will be entertaining to see how you will try to recruit opposition among the faithful companions of the Emperor without my name supporting your endeavour.”
“Why would you do that?” Leia tensed. She had never concealed her intentions, but till now hadn’t known that the Chiss had been monitoring her so closely.
"I will not reveal my motives to you," Thrawn whispered these words so softly that Leia barely heard them, and then added, even quieter: "I want you to trust me ..."
"Trust?" She asked, and sounded a bit more shocked than intended.
"It is recommendable to trust the person with whom you share a bed. Otherwise you might wake up with a vibro-knife in your chest." The Chiss smiled cunningly and led Leia to the bed’s edge with a single waltz step. But she stopped him abruptly.
"I will not sleep with you here!"
“With me? Or here?" Thrawn let her go, and the princess was finally able to feel relatively free again.
“Here! With you! What happened yesterday ... will not happen again.”
“The Nightmares? Probably. I do not know. The rest will. And more than once.” The Chiss grinned laconically and lay down on the bed.
Leia was literally speechless by his words, his self-confidence and impertinence. She turned sharply and headed towards the exit. She was not going to stay a second longer!
“What?!” right in front of her nose the bedroom door slammed shut. She pressed the buttons on the wall panel, but the door did not open. "Let me out!"
“No. I want you to spend the night with me. In my bed.”
All of this seemed to be another bad dream to Leia, a nightmare. She had to admit that the Chiss had cleverly manipulated the situation.
“But I don’t want to." the girl said, clearly angry. "Open the door!"
Thrawn just shook his head and reached for the panel above the bed to switch off the light.
"We will just sleep. I will not touch you, if you do not want it.” His eyes shone brightly in the darkness, and when he closed his eyes it got really dark.
For how long Leia had stood there, at the door, she did not know for sure. Maybe a few minutes, maybe a few hours - time dragged on extraordinarily slow. Perhaps if she had been able to feel the Force here, she could have used it to meditate and spent the night sitting on the floor, but this silence made it impossible to concentrate, and all the physical needs and limitations became suddenly very apparent: her legs were frozen, her head was spinning. She was tired and it was hard to stand. And yet she suffered for as long as she could, before quietly going to the opposite end of the bed, cautiously sitting down on its very edge.
The calm and measured breathing of the Chiss indicated that he must be asleep, but something was telling Leia that he was not. She continued to sit upright, banning even the very thought of lying down on the bed. The thick carpet pleasantly warmed her feet and with that Leia came up with the idea to sleep on the floor.
But before the girl could finish her thought, she found herself in a horizontal position on the bed, with a soft, warm blanket covering her, and with Thrawn's hand peacefully resting on her belly.
"Just….sleep ... " His voice sounded drowsy, but his reactions had been far too fast for a man who had been sleeping.
Leia jerked, trying to get up, but Thrawn's arm was rather heavy, or he deliberately prevented her from leaving. With some effort, she managed to reposition his hand, but the body categorically refused to get up, so she just turned on her side.
She quickly fell asleep and must have slept soundly for several hours before she woke up again, in the middle of the bed, Thrawn hugging her from behind, holding her tightly to himself, one of his hands was on her tummy and she felt his fingers sliding down to the thin fabric of her panties.
Leia abruptly turned on her back and removed his hand. For a second she considered leaving the bed again. But she was too tired… She closed her eyes and heard Thrawn repositioning and then felt him “accidentally” touching her breasts, moving from left to right, as if trying to find the most comfortable position.
“Stop it!” Leia whispered evilly. "I know that you are NOT sleeping!"
The Chiss did not answer, just moved closer and touched Leia's shoulder with his lips. This man was insufferable!
Leia spent the rest of the night tossing around, several times she tried to get up, but every time the Chiss “accidentally” prevented her from doing so. In the morning she finally gave up and fell into a deep sleep, in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder. Already half-asleep she thought he must have opened his eyes – as their scarlet light had faintly lit up the room.
“Good morning, princess.” Thrawn's voice yanked Leia out of her dreams and for that alone she wanted to slap him. Meanwhile, the room pleasantly smelled of fresh coffee, already rehabilitating the Chiss a little in her eyes.
“It’s not good. What time is it now?” She asked slowly stretching in the bed and looking around.
“Never mind. We have half an hour before our departure to Naboo. Your things have been collected and are already on board, only your body remains.”
“Maybe we can do without?” Leia asked cheekily, while simultaneously reaching for the cup of coffee. She took a sip. It was bitter and sweet at the same time, and very spicy. It guaranteed an instantaneous awakening.
“There is another cup next to it. Drink it.” It was old-fashioned silver goblet on a high leg with a dark, thick liquid inside. The same goblet Thrawn held in his hands.
“What is it?”
"It is a ritual drink of my people. We should drink it together. Now.”
"Poison?” She suggested and grinned. “Well, even if it is… it might be for the best.” Leia emptied her goblet with one gulp and her throat burned from the drink’s bitterness. "Arrr… It’s disgusting!" Leia snorted and quickly finished the rest of the coffee to get rid of the horrible taste in her mouth.
Thrawn chuckled. "You are incorrigible." And then he left the room, relieving Leia of his presence.
The trip from Coruscant to Naboo took several hours. Leia had wisely put on a simple, black dress, in which she could curl up in her cabin to get some sleep, without spoiling her look too much.
She hadn’t talk to Thrawn anymore, but as soon as she was asleep, she dreamed that she was still in bed, in the arms of the Chiss, his hands lazily sliding over her body, and this time she was not trying to remove them, oh no. Quite the contrary, this time his hand went down to much more pleasant places...
On Naboo they were greeted by a soft, moist wind and a cloudy blue-grey sky. It was early dawn on this part of the planet. The shuttle landed on the soft, green grass near the gates of a luxurious mansion. Several death troopers greeted the Grand Admiral and they briefly answered some of his questions. Leia remained on the last part of the shuttle’s gangway, as she was in no hurry to step on this planet. Subconsciously, she did not like Naboo - this planet had spawned Emperor Palpatine and that alone was reason enough to stubbornly avoid it. But now it had turned out that her mother was also Nabooian and this resulted in more mixed feelings. With a heavy sigh, Leia took a step on the wet grass and, contrary to her expectations, with each following step she felt better, as if she had returned home, to a native, but long forgotten place.
"Go inside. I am sure they want to meet you," Thrawn said, not looking at Leia when she approached. “I have some business to attend to first.”
"Fine ..." Leia answered vaguely, looking at the gentle, yellow flowers that wrapped around the mansion’s gate. Instinctively she reached out to them and inhaled one of the flowers’ scent, an incredibly pleasant sweetish fragrance. *What kind of flower was this?* And the closer she got to the house, the stronger the fragrance became.
“Do you like them? Your mother loved them. They are quite rare, you know?” an elderly woman in a dark dress said. She stood in the living room and smiled warmly at Leia. "You look just like her ... like Padmé ..."
Leia herself felt uneasy. She didn’t know how to handle this meeting and felt the need to escape.
"My name is Jobal, I'm your grandmother ..." the woman introduced herself and continued her speech about how much Leia resembled her mother and how little she took after Lord Vader.
From this brief tirade, the princess was aware of two things: First, the Naberrie family did not like Lord Vader - the word “tyrant” had actually fallen once or twice - and therefore, it was quite likely that they were against the Empire in general and second, for some reason Leia was irritated by her grandmother’s open animosity towards her father. For a brief moment her grandmother's words had actually provoked anger in the princess. Not that she wanted to be the daughter of a Sith, but since she was able to feel the Force flowing within herself, she was also able to acknowledge Lord Vader’s power, which was truly exceptionable. And she could respect this, despite their fundamental differences in political views.
"Hello, Jobal," Leia said and forced herself to remain calm and polite. “It is nice to meet you…”
In fact, however, the girl felt nothing at all. These people were total strangers to her. Everything here was alien to her. As if noticing her granddaughter's confusion, Jobal said:
"Today is an important day, whether you like it or not," she seemed to probe the waters, trying to figure out Leia's true feelings about the wedding. "I'm sorry about all of this. If we had known about you before, we would not have allowed it…. we would never have given you to ..."
She did not have time to finish her sentence though, as the door opened and Thrawn, accompanied by two deathtroopers, entered the drawing room. He gave a short nod to Jobal and walked on towards Leia, while typing something on his comlink. Lady Naberrie noticeably tensed in the presence of the Chiss and pursed her lips. The otherwise good-natured woman suddenly had a stern look on her face and mumbled something that sounded almost like: "Leave her alone."
Then, as if coming back to her senses, she smiled sweetly and said:
"I’m sure you need rest, my dear. I'll come back later.”
Leia merely nodded, thinking that she had more questions than answers now.
Chapter 13: …. and when you have to choose between freedom and honour...
Chapter 13 - …. and when you have to choose between freedom and honour ...
"Do you really want to wear that dress?" Christian's voice was thoughtful. He was about to finish his second glass of Corellian brandy and still was more serious than expected. Usually he was much more sarcastic and Mirabella only waited for some unworthy jokes about her unsuccessful personal life. But Chaux-Jar kept surprisingly quiet and only paid attention to the woman in front of him. "It would not be appropriate." He ran his hand over the burgundy fabric, embroidered with gold stiches. “Outshining the bride on her wedding is generally considered bad taste. Her dress is much more modest.”
“I don’t care. Why not attract some attention, providing the people with gossip? I could always say that I’m preparing for a new role ...”
"Oh, no, that is not a new role - that is you." Christian smiled softly, standing behind the woman. "There are other ways to hurt someone ... and there is a wonderful azure-blue dress in my last collection. The tone is a perfect match ..." he did not finish, but it was clear what he meant. *….to your Chiss’ skin.*
"I don’t recognize you, dear. Why do you care?”
Christian pondered a little and then finished his glass with a single gulp. His eyes glittered feverishly.
"I could hurt you, Mirri. I could destroy you … with just a few words. But then you would repay me in kind. We could tear each other apart, physically and emotionally. I do not want that ... Besides, let Mickey be a little jealous.” He said and then smiled again. Charmingly. Sly.
"Mickey?" She hadn’t heard about that woman and she kept track about his flames, watching him closely. She didn’t really know why she did it. Maybe because knowing about Christian was a painful reminder of the past or maybe it was just the professional curiosity of a former ISB agent.
"Mickey, Nikki, Millie ... I stopped counting them a long time ago, but recently I started to forget the names as well." He shrugged. "Let me make you some herbal tea. It will help you to relax, and I will show you the other dress ..."
"Martha," Mirabella said unemotionally, remembering the photograph of a pretty brunette, who was lead model of Christian's latest collection. “Her name is Martha.”
“Yes, that is right.” He turned around, apparently not at all embarrassed that his wife was so aware of his ever-changing female companions. Or was it ex-wife now? It felt like it.
“Tea. Like in the good old days?” She asked and her heart filled with a wave of warm memories of the best moments of their life together. "You can put in your own spoonful of Naboo grass, if you don’t like it." Mirabella opened the hooks on the back of the luxurious, scarlet dress and hissed. “And I'll put this pearl back. I'm sure you have someone else for it ...”
“No,” and again his voice sounded unexpectedly serious and somehow warm. “It is yours. I created it with you in mind, my queen.”
Mirabella only snorted. Her husband was a skilful flatterer and the dress turned anyone into a queen. Long folds of a dense, velvet fabric in the colour of thickened blood, trimmed with gold fibres and a long train behind an opulent skirt that covered at least five steps. The top of the dress seductively exposed the shoulders and the tender hemispheres of the chest and a modest tiara with golden rays completed the "queen".
Christian was right. It was too beautiful for the event. She would wear it on the day of her triumph, and not vice versa.
Mirabella closed her eyes for a moment. Christian or something had changed her mind, or she had simply become wiser. In any case, it was better like this, the calmer the day, the more time she would have to realize her plan. The presence of a spouse would help to get rid of obsessive fans too. And, who knew, maybe it would even kindle a spark of jealousy in the crimson eyes of her Grand Admiral.
Leia sat in the armchair opposite the big mirror and looked at her reflection, when she saw the door opening behind her and several women entering.
"I’m glad to meet you, Leia. My name is Sola, I am your mother's sister." The dark-haired woman in a luxurious dark dress smiled warmly at Leia, as if they had known each other for all their lives, instead of meeting for the first time. And in a strange way Leia didn’t like it and therefore was unable to reciprocate the gesture.
"I’m glad too," she answered and hoped to sound as neutrally as possible.
"These ladies here are at your disposal, they will help you to get dressed." The woman nodded to the servants, and they went into the next room to unpack the princess's luggage.
“Thank you.” The usual, everyday conversation troubled Leia a little. At a day like this, it would have been much easier to get rid of the formal etiquette, but at the moment that was not possible.
Sola came closer and, looking intently into her eyes, she quietly asked: "You do not like this alien, do you?" The unexpected question put Leia totally off guard. Too quickly she had reduced the distance between them, between two women who were, in principle, not familiar with each other. "I doubt that it was your choice ... Vader chose for you… He forced you into this marriage, did he not?"
The answer should have been "Yes", and an even more honest answer would have been "No" or "Not quite", but the words were stuck in her throat, so the princess only bent her head, avoiding the other woman’s gaze. She had no desire to share the details of her deal with Vader with Sola. It was too personal.
"The fate of the Alliance was at stake. I did not have much choice." Leia said finally, in a quiet voice. “The Alliance was still destroyed, so I guess I was partly deceived, but the lives of many friends were spared.”
"That's terrible," Sola said and nodded meaningfully, but there was no pity or sympathy in her voice, only a note of anger and her thick lips indicated that she did not care. “A woman has the right to choose her companion. Nabooian women grow up with this awareness, and no one ... “ she particularly stressed the words *no one* “…. has the right to decide for us. We are on Naboo, Leia … you can refuse, even at the ceremony and the Emperor himself will not dare to interfere as his mother did the exact thing once and was respected for it.”
The princess contemplated, unsure of how successful such a move would be. However, she could very well imagine the scandal such an action would cause.
"It’s very simple, instead of consenting to the marriage vows, you just have to say `This is not my choice. I had no right, neither to agree nor to refuse´” there was definitely something else the woman wanted to say, but their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door - short but distinct.
"Lady Naberrie," Thrawn greeted Sola. "Please excuse me, but I would like to talk to Lady Vader in private," he asked politely, but firmly, obviously including the family’s handmaiden working in the background. "Leave us."
Leaving the dress on the bed, the servants hurriedly left, bowing their heads low to avoid the burning eyes of the Chiss. Yet Sola was not in a hurry to leave Leia's chambers.
"Mitth'raw'nuruodo," she pronounced the Chiss’ name almost correctly, a rarity for humans who did it the first time. "It is bad luck to see the bride right before the wedding," a cold smile shone on the face of the otherwise lovely woman. "It is a bad omen, you know."
“The customs of my people say the opposite. But it is absolutely not important…. I will not repeat myself.” He said in his typical quiet, calm voice, but this time with an evident threat in it. Dissatisfied Sola pursed her lips and walked out, but not before throwing an unkind look at Thrawn's back.
Leia was stunned. It seemed that this short scene had showed both, the stubborn nature of the Naberrie women as well as the steel grip of her future husband. And she was uncertain what struck her more.
“How are you? Are you worried?”
"Not at all," Leia lied confidently. Yet inwardly she had been shaking the whole morning, but she did not want to show her weakness.
Just last night she had wanted to cancel the ceremony, however during the night her rejection had melted. In general, the Chiss was right, now she had nothing but seven hundred and fifty million credits and even so, it seemed liked the Empire could just as easily deprive her of it again. So if she would part with Thrawn, what options would she have left? To settle in a tower of Lord Vader’s castle, exhausting herself by learning the ways of the Force? The prospect was not the worst, and it might also allow her to reach Luke and tell him the truth. But what then? She needed allies, and if the Grand Admiral really did not interfere too much, it would be preferable to stay with him.
In the Empire there were many dissatisfied people – both, among the nobility and among ordinary people. Those who had lost loved ones or those who had watched their wealth or position perish. The second should not be taken into account during the first stage, but at the moment all of this was still just an idea. Still there were citizen who could not express their views or could not realize themselves within the rigid framework of the Empire and then there were those who had been faced with some extremely unjust decisions, often carried out by the Emperor’s loyal henchmen. These were the people Leia had to find and to gather around her.
"My brave princess," Thrawn whispered, pulling her out of her thoughts. "There is no need to worry about this wedding… during the day."
“And what exactly are you implying with that?” Leia turned in the armchair - before that she had been looking at the mirror, now she was facing the Chiss, anger radiating from her eyes.
Thrawn was leaning with his hands on a large desk, a charming smile on his lips. He was wearing civilian clothes and the top buttons of his white shirt were undone, as were the cuffs of his sleeves. His short dark hair was slightly rumpled, as if he had just gotten out of bed and his narrower than usual, dark pants emphasized his muscular hips. Leia had not expected to see him so ... relaxed and…. attractive. She even forgot about her fury for a moment.
"I am implying that the whole day of our wedding has a script, and I would advise you to get acquainted with it right away." He put the datapad next to him on the desk, in the general direction of Leia, inviting her to rise from her chair to get it. "Everything about this wedding is planned to the last detail. Only the wedding night…," he lowered his voice insinuatingly, "….has no script."
Leia pretended not to care, or to have missed the remark of the Chiss, and busily flipped through the information on the datapad, before stumbling upon something that clearly outraged her. “And whose idea was this?!”
"I think you are able to figure that one out by your own." Thrawn said, no less sharply. Perhaps he, too, was not thrilled about that particular detail.
“Why didn’t you ... This is….Do you really not care at all?! Or are you just terribly fond of surprises?!”
"Listen, Leia. There is nothing dangerous or humiliating in this ceremony. It could be much worse. His Majesty loves holidays, especially noisy and luxurious ones, so there was no way he could not be invited. And if he expresses the desire to personally take part in the ritual, I have no right to limit his aspirations. Nobody has that right.”
"One more reason to hate the Empire! And you're just ..." Leia started threateningly and wanted to say something like "such an Imperial" but that was too obvious and wouldn’t hurt either. Frantically thinking about how to continue her tirade, Leia for some reason noticed him grinning and it was…. charming and his lips were quiet…. attractive…. He was attractive. *I wish I could…*
"It is not as bad as you might think, Leia. In the end, you probably will not even notice how quickly this day has passed." He approached Leia and tucked a curl behind her ear, gently touching her cheek, and then changed his mind and disarranged a few more locks, destroying the princess’ smooth hairdress.
“That is better.”
They were silent for a while and Leia was surprised by how agreeable his touches had felt, but she still stepped back and continued to study the information on the datapad.
“Eric Quatar as a photographer? Was that another glorious idea of the Emperor?”
“No, that was mine." The Chiss continued, grinning impudently and the princess wanted to hit him, hard.
“What?! Are you serious?! His work is very….frank!”
“Not exclusively. But you are right, he perfectionized the visualisation of the transmissions between and the aesthetics of the human body.”
“The naked human body… And how do you imagine this?”
“Let me see.” Thrawn approached Leia from behind, who was standing in front of the mirror again. With a leisurely movement, he undid the belt of her long, white, silk dressing gown and then hugged her from behind. With his left arm around her waist he pressed her to him and with the other he held her by the shoulder – it was a very frank and claiming gesture. He looked down at her, his nose almost touching her hair, as if inhaling its fragrance. It looked very romantic and sensual at the same time.
"Or like this," he said quietly and sharply turned her around to face him. Holding her tightly in his arms, he moved forward, his lips almost touching her neck. "Such a photo should be enough to convince the entire galaxy of our sincere and trembling love." The Chiss repositioned Leia once more in front of the mirror, and this time his hands, as if by accident, slid over more sensitive places.
“This is ridiculous! Why do you want to do this?” She tried to pull away again, at least far enough to be able to look into his eyes.
"Because…." He took Leia’s hand, brought her thin fingers to his lips and left a hot kiss on them. “….I will spend much more time in the blackness of the cosmos, on board the "Chimera", than on Coruscant, my dear. I need something to remember the more earth shattering moments of our love." Leia was sure the Chiss was mocking her, but his voice sounded quite serious.
"And I do not want anyone to even dare to fight for your heart while I am gone. I want the galaxy to know that you are mine. Only mine.”
Leia caught her breath. His arrogance should make her furious, she should reply something especially sharp, but her body reacted differently, sending sweet tremors through her body whenever he had said the word "mine". She boldly looked into the inhuman eyes of the Chiss, trying to read his true intentions in them. He must be joking.
“What?” Leia tried to sound outraged, but it did not turn out very convincingly. For some reason, she enjoyed this game and his lips were dangerously close.
"You heard me," seeing her doubts, Thrawn pulled her to him and then easily lifted her up, placing her on the massive ebony table. Her silk dressing gown innocently flew open and she did not have time to reposition herself, so that he stood between her spread legs now, her knees resting against his thighs.
“Kiss Me. Now.”
Her usual anger and desire to throw things at him did not arise, moreover, Leia suddenly felt the strange impulse to follow his "orders." She wasn’t sure what to do and therefore remained silent, nervously biting her lips. Her hands rested against his chest in an attempt to keep the distance, but he only pressed her closer to him, slowly overcoming her resistance and then gently rubbed the tip of his nose against her neck, sliding up to her ear.
"Come on, honey ... I will not let you go like this."
"And if I kiss you, you'll let me go, hmm...?" She wanted to sound strict, but it turned out totally different. Her question sounded way too inviting.
"If I like it ..."
Not recognizing herself nor the game she was getting into, she stared at Thrawn and outlined the contour of his lips with her forefinger. Then she approached him very slowly, bending her arms centimetre by centimetre, before gently, almost innocently, touching the hot lips of the Chiss with her own, and then slowly, teasingly at first, drew his tongue into a passionate dance. For a moment, it seemed to her like she was seducing him, and not vice versa. And he, undoubtedly, enjoyed this moment, and then, when Leia was about to break the kiss, he pressed her body to him and seized the initiative, deepening the kiss. His hands eagerly studied her body, bluntly caressing her underneath the silk fabric of the dressing gown.
Leia's whole body was burning and her head was spinning from the Chiss’ greedy kisses, with which he now covered her neck and shoulders, sometimes biting her delicate skin predatorily. How could he be like that? Strong, firm, but sensitive at the same time? Like a long-time lover who knew every curve of her body? He followed her body’s path of pleasure, and yet they have never been together. Leia’s breath became irregular, her fingers began to unbuttoned his shirt, and, without realising, she pushed herself forward to meet him, hugging him with arms and legs alike, pressing her breasts, still enveloped in thin white lace, to his chest.
This was so sweet ... too sweet to be true.
Something was not right.
This awareness did not come immediately, but now that it was in her head, it would not leave, sobering her sudden rush of passion a little.
"What's going on?..." Leia whispered hoarsely.
"You crave me." His fingers slid down to the edge of her lace panties and then skilfully pushed the fabric aside, touching her warm, moist lips for the first time. His fingers slid further and Leia moaned softly when he pushed into her. "Do not deny it." Her whole body trembled when he moved his fingers rhythmically, seductively, between her legs, pushing inside her several times, creating a sweet wave of pleasure in her lower abdomen. "You want it ..."
He did not ask before tearing the thin fabric of her panties, and the silk dressing grown had slipped off her shoulders a long time ago, lying somewhere on the floor now. Her lower abdomen cramped with desire. *Oh Force help me*. But somehow Leia found the strength to pull back. Looking into his burning scarlet eyes, she ask:
“What is this?” Her look was cloudy, and her lips were seductively swollen, capturing the Chiss’ gaze. He laughed softly when he saw how desperately she attempted to keep up a stern look. Leia briefly closed her eyes - he had such a pleasurable, velvet laugh. Thrawn moved his head and then, almost touching her ear with this lips, whispered:
“What? Do you like the effect of my ritual drink?” Leia felt herself tense as everything fell into place. The drink, which, following the tradition of the Chiss, they had taken a couple of hours ago. She hadn’t known its content, but remembered the drink’s bitterness.
"But…" the Chiss began, foreseeing her reaction and intercepting the hand, with which she was about to demonstrate her newly learned combat skills instead of giving caresses, "….this elixir has in fact only one function - it intensifies your feelings and sensations. It is also called the "drink of truth". I always wanted to try it on myself. It is a rarity even on Csilla. And I admit, it was a bit risky giving it to you because if the only feeling you harboured towards me had indeed been hatred, you would have smashed the whole place here to pieces. But as we can see, it turned out a little differently" his voice sounded insinuating. “`Cheun Kar´ shows everything that is hidden or repressed – our fears, doubts, hatred and desire. As a rule Chiss only marry once, so there is little room for mistake. This drink only shows what you really feel for a person and chances are that these feelings will increase with time.”
Leia pondered what she had heard. Her first impulse had been to deny it and to scratch his scarlet eyes out.
“If you do not want me, you can say “no” at the ceremony, the effects of the drink do not interfere with the decision making. You do have a choice, Leia," he whispered to her slightly mockingly. “But it might be difficult to explain why…”
"You are disgusting. You just…”
"Shh-sh-sh-sh ..." He put a finger to her lips, gently gliding over them and as if obeying an unknown, primal impulse, Leia opened her mouth and wrapped her lips around his finger, before touching it the tip of her tongue, gliding over it, slightly drawing. And then she drew back and bit herself on her lower lip, shaken by her own actions.
"My little wild princess ..." He chuckled, touching her lips for the last time, and took his hand away. Leia buried her head in his shoulder.
"I absolutely can not control myself ..." She rubbed her head against his neck. Inhaling his smell, which had been chasing her ever since last the night; driving her crazy. “When will it end? Will it end?”
“During the first day the effect will only increase.” His palm slid down to her chest, slightly squeezing a hard nipple. “After two or three days it will pass completely ...”
Leia groaned something inaudibly, probably something indecent.
"Stop it," she said, trying to push him away, but very weakly, and then she reached out again and pulled him closer, pressing herself against him with her whole body. This was crazy. She did not want to let him go, on the contrary, the desire to merge with him into a single whole was unbearably strong. Yes, she wanted him, it was worth confessing, at least to herself.
"I will wait until tonight." Thrawn turned away, taking her hands into his. "But no longer ..." His eyes flashed brighter for a moment.
He dismissed her, leaving her sitting on the desk in a very frank position. The Chiss stopped in his tracks for some time, as if trying to memorize every bend of her graceful body. His attentiveness aroused Leia so much she had to look down and bite her lower lip. Her cheeks were burning and she was trying hard to pull herself together.
"See you at the ceremony..."
Mirabella's dresses: http://pixs.ru/showimage/Bezimyanni_6756643_30340503.jpg
A/N: Finally! The translation has caught up with the original. The author usually updates once a month (but that’s not a fixed rule – sometimes it happens sooner, sometimes it takes longer). So, stay tuned, guys! And thanks for supporting me so far. Your comments and likes mean a lot to me!
Chapter 14: ... you say “yes” to fate and “no” to yourself.
Chapter 14 - ... you say “yes” to fate and “no” to yourself ...
The wedding was decorated in the favourite colours of the Empire - white, scarlet and blue. On the shore of one of the region’s lakes, a small town of creamy-white tents had been erected, lavishly decorated with beautiful flowers and alleys among high-branched trees, while a golden fence surrounded the whole area.
Entrance was only allowed to those who were lucky enough to be invited and the beauty that lay inside was clearly not meant for ordinary people and it was rumoured that the huge golden platform inside had been constructed for the Emperor himself. Yes, everyone was sure that the Emperor would bare witness to the celebration, although nobody dared to talk about it in more than a whisper.
However, many people, and not exclusively those on Naboo, would be able to witness the ceremony, as the promised holo-transmission would allow the majority of the galaxy to be a part of the most expensive wedding of the last few decades.
And while some people were discussing the Princess and betting on her wedding dress, others were more interested in how Thrawn had not only managed to become a Grand Admiral of the Galactic Empire, but how he had succeeded in making the galaxy’s most enviable bride his own. Or whether this bride was his punishment. She was Lord Vader’s daughter after all.
Other people wondered whether they couldn’t have found another, more worthy husband for the Princess and sympathized with her, whereas some people were proud of her choice, hoping that her example would put an end to the galaxy’s inner-conflicts.
But ordinary people, like the employees of the many off-world-companies who worked on the wedding, did not really care and only wanted the celebration to be over soon in order to receive the promised reward.
"You're out of your mind, mate! The security level will be higher than in the Imperial Palace. I’m not stupid enough to be a part of this!” hissed a man, barely audible into the direction of a stranger, in a white shirt with a prominent leather vest.
"So you don’t want it the nice way? Well, don’t say I didn’t try.” He sharply hit the waiter, who then collapsed on the floor, unconscious.
"This is not how I planned this…" snorted the man, while changing into the uniform of the waiter. "… but I’ll still be dancing at your wedding, Princess ..."
In the main celebration zone the service was exclusively conducted by droids. The commander-in-chief had decided on this for security reasons and this complicated the task of Han Solo significantly.
Pretending to be one of the high-ranking guests - one of these pompous idiots – would be problematic, and if a simple waiter were to enter the VIP zone without a special permission, he might very well be strangled on the spot. Thus, he had to be a bit more resourceful. Luckily the cocky smuggler was just that.
Leia’s dress suited her, or rather the story it told. A long, black dress with a white cloak, completed with high leather gloves, could hardly be called a classic wedding dress and looking at herself in the mirror, the Princess clearly saw the daughter of the Empire’s Commander-in-Chief - strict, impeccable and slightly provocative.
And was this not who she was? The dress was certainly not in tune with her past, but it perfectly reflected the Princess’ true character.
Leia had chosen the dress by accident.
As soon as Thrawn had left her, embarrassed to the core, she had put the black silk robe back on her shoulders, without looking in the mirror, and then had listened to her body’s strange sensations for a few more seconds. Her body required continuation, desired love and was perfectly suited to the strong body of the Chiss and it certainly did not care for political and other disagreements.
Trying to pull herself together, she had gone to the bed on which her wedding dress had lain - creamy white, made out of the finest fabric and decorated with a multitude of pearls. It could be called simple, but refined, and still very tender – and with that it was a reflection of many girls her age - cute, tender and a little naive. And this, all of a sudden, had caused irritation in the Princess and she had reminded herself once more that she would not go down as a victim of circumstance.
On the contrary, she was the person that would destroy the Empire.
Crushing this huge bulwark of tyranny and dictatorship, consisting of dura-steel Star Destroyers, directed by the iron fist of Lord Vader and the thin cobweb of all-pervasive intrigues, masterfully formed by the Emperor.
Now, starting to see the Empire from the inside, Leia realized how naive the Alliance's attempts to shake the power of this huge machine had been. The explosion of the Death Star had been the only noteworthy operation that had cause some real damaged to the Empire and, truth to be told, was almost entirely owed to Luke and his Force potential.
Another thought, like a vision, lit up in Leia's consciousness: Darth Vader had allowed Luke to blow up the Death Star. In one way or another, he had valued the life of his son more than the Empire’s expensive weapon of mass destruction.
No, the only way to destroy the Empire was by depriving it of its centre, by removing the Emperor - the symbol of absolute power.
Leia had no idea how to do this, but something inside her seemed to respond to this insane idea and her whole body began to pulsate and she felt the Force floating through her veins, like it otherwise only did during deep meditation.
Killing the Emperor.
Such a simple solution, but there would be only one chance and it would be complicated.
Leia wouldn’t have refused spice now. Or a sip of strong whiskey. Everything that had happened so far had been catastrophic. She was the almost lover of Thrawn, Grand Admiral of the Empire, and in a few hours she would be his wife. She was the daughter and apprentice of Lord Vader, the second most powerful Sith in the galaxy and the Commander in Chief of the Imperial troops. And at the same time, she was now planning to destroy the Empire and with every crazy thought, her confidence grew stronger.
That's why she had decided to choose a dress that would reflect her inner strength, and that, at the same time, would meet the expectations of the citizens of the Empire.
Surprisingly, instead of the two dresses that Leia had chosen on her own, two dozen outfits had come to Naboo with her. Probably the Chiss had decided to take all the dresses hanging on the nearby racks. Or had he personally chosen the other dresses? No, that was unlikely, after all, a Grand Admiral had other, more important business.
"And I can wear sapphires with this dress…" Leia slowly touched the jewellery’s large stones and closed her eyes; Thrawn's face appeared in her foggy memory and her cursed body vividly recalled the Chiss' touch and his voice, demanding a kiss. Leia did not know what worried her more: how to live through the day without succumbing to this temptation, or how to avoid the wedding night. Given the storm of emotions that raged inside her, a simple "No" would not work. It was unlikely that Leia would even manage to say it firmly enough to sound believable. Oh yes, she wanted him.
Of course, she could blame everything on the effect of the ritual drink, and pull herself together, but deep down inside she knew that there was passion – forbidden and wrong passion - in it. This passion was carefully hidden behind a wall of beliefs and morals, behind a huge sense of guilt and behind doubts about the loyalty and true intentions of the Chiss. But still, in her heart, there was a real attraction to this man.
Not to the commander - with all due respect to his strategic talents - she would never be able to forgive him for Hoth. Not to the influential Imperial Officer, who was neither without political talent nor adverse to the concept of absolute power. But to the man. And even when Leia – as a politician, was against and angered by what he stood for; Leia - as a woman, still wished for this power on top of her, despite her freedom-loving character.
Lost in complex reflections, the Princess was suddenly distracted by a familiar voice, coming from behind her.
"Would you like some champagne, babe?"
She must be going mad. This couldn’t be true.
"Hey, have you turned to ice, Princess? You should drink as the thought of your fiancé isn’t easy on a sober head.”
It was him. Without a doubt.
"The one and only, just tschhh! Not a word about it, or I'll be gutted in front of the guests. Nothing I look forward to.” He smiled at her and handed her a bottle of champagne, but Leia shook her head absentmindedly, whereupon Han shrugged and took another sip.
"How did you ... How could you ..." were no right words. She had cried so many tears, had mourned his death, had learned to carry on, that seeing him here now - alive and well – made this meeting unexpectedly difficult.
“I was almost fried, but as you see, a smuggler has nine lives and I haven’t exhausted my limit yet.”
Leia should be happy. Should fall around his neck. Should kiss him. Should scold him for being such an idiot, risking his life again. Should ask what his plan was and then be furious because there would be no plan. She should at least close the distance between them, but Leia did not want to.
A ringing emptiness filled her heart and it was in no hurry to withdraw. It seemed to her like they had become strangers and she did not know what to do with him. She did not recognize herself.
"How did you get here?" Leia asked, with all the self-control she could gather.
“I admit, it was not easy and I probably have very little time now. I'll get you out of here, Leia. Like I did on the Death Star. I know what I’m doing, well almost ...”
Leia laughed silently, remembering the garbage chute, which had almost killed them. Some things would never change.
"And what is your plan? Did the Alliance send you?” It was necessary to continue the conversation. Just to avoid the awkward pauses that would otherwise undoubtedly hang in the air. To Leia’s surprise Solo hadn’t noticed her detachment yet, and if he had, he didn’t show it.
“No, of course not. There is no Alliance anymore and I was only involved because of you and Luke, to tell the truth. By the way, how is the kid? I hope he can take care of himself now. Anyway, I came for you.”
For some reason, his statement caused nothing but anger in the Princess. He had come far too late and the mentioning of her brother brought up a whole arsenal of gloomy thoughts.
"Luke ... he's here, too," she said with a colourless voice, hiding her gaze.
“Well, if that isn’t bad luck for the Imps! We can kill two birds with one stone! Where is he?!”
"He ... Han, listen, it's not that simple ..." Leia was getting angry. She had already thought of everything. Herself. And then Solo appeared, ready to smash all her plans. *Idiot. Good lord, what an idiot.* She gathered all her strength and said: "Luke… is my brother."
Solo whistled and looked disbelievingly at the princess, but it made it easier for her – to finally share this terrible secret with someone. And, by the looks of it, her “saviour” was not too shaken by her confession either.
"Are you saying that ... your father got lucky twice? I mean… is it true, what is being said? That the man in the black armour is your...”
"It is true." Leia breathed. "And he would hunt us down, believe me. He has ways."
It was weird. Internally, the mentioning of Vader made her feel warm. So, as if he were someone she could rely on. There was kinship and pride. It felt a bit like a child's trust – actually, there was a whole range of new and strange emotions Leia suddenly felt for her father. And it was wild! She wanted to smash something, urgently. But instead the princess only reached out for Han’s champagne bottle and took a huge sip. Not spice, but at least something. The man, if surprised, did not show it and only shook his head knowingly.
“Both of you?” Han was obviously thinking about something and then smirked slyly. "And what if he loses only one of you? Would that work?”
“Solo!” Leia exhaled angrily. "What did you just offer me?!"
"Hush, hush, Princess, or we might have unwelcome guests. I just offered to come back for Luke. Later...”
"I won’t abandon my ..." Leia was already beginning to get angry, although some part of her had to admit that Han's words made sense. The memory of Luke was accompanied by a severe headache and a wave of sadness. How could she abandon this sweet, fair-haired, naive boy who ... behaves like an idiot, Leia finished her thought, with some irritation.
Han hesitated for a while, as if calculating whether this was the right moment, and then took a step forward and embraced the princess. His fingers gently slid along the back of her head as he knew, she loved.
But Leia’s body didn’t respond to his touch, on the contrary, it felt somehow awkward and she wanted to pull away.
"I won’t give you to that blue-skinned guy, you know?" he said looking directly into her eyes. "You only have to go beyond the VIP zone, and then I'll get you out of here.”
"After the ceremony ..." the words escaped her lips before she could comprehend them: "... after the ceremony, it will be much easier to escape."
“What do you mean? Do you really want to ...”
"It's a mere formality, Solo!" Leia said, raising her voice. "This whole ceremony - It’s a complete farce!" she said with as much confidence as she could muster because she knew that it wasn’t true. This wedding was very real, not only for the many guests, but also for herself. But if she were to escape after the ceremony, she would have paid her part of the bargain and she would avoid going to bed with Thrawn. Like this, there would be no scandal - the ceremony would take place and Eric could take some wonderful photos, and what would happen next was of no concern to anyone. Except herself and the Grand Admiral, and with a clear, poison-free head, she would know what to say to him.
"I'll come later ... towards the end of the evening, when everyone is busy having fun – drinking, talking. How can I find you?”
"Take this chip with you, it’ll let me know where you are. Just go out for a walk in the garden, preferably with a minimum of bodyguards, and I'll meet you there.”
Solo leaned in closer, intending to give her a hot kiss, but then heard heavy footsteps behind the door and hurriedly released Leia, rushing towards the balcony.
"See you," he whispered, jumping down.
“Come in!” Leia said loudly, with the intention to drown out the sound of crunching branches, on which she hoped Solo had successfully landed.
The wedding ceremony should have started half an hour ago, but apparently, there was still someone missing. Someone very important. It was rumored that the Emperor had arrived on Naboo last night, but that were only rumors, as no one could or dared to control the sovereign’s movements. But Leia was sure that Lord Vader, too, was not around yet.
"You look like a goddess descended from heaven, humbling the mere mortals with your presence, my dear." The Chiss’ voice came from the shadows of the tent in which Leia rested, tensely waiting for her exit.
"Thrawn ... I thought I'd see you upstairs, as planned ..."
The touch of his lips on the back of her neck was unexpected. Only seconds ago he had been a few meters behind her, and now he was close, very close. His hands closed around her waist, and his fingertips stroked over the open patch of her dress, under her chest.
"A change of plan." Leia felt his hot breath on her neck, while his fingers slid upwards to her breasts. "I will walk you down the aisle myself. To make sure you do not run away."
Leia suddenly rushed forwards and the Chiss let go of her, allowing her to face him.
“I can do it at any time, you know? Escape.”
"Yes, you can, Leia." Thrawn said suddenly, seriously, and his eyes flashed ominously. "Only do you want to? Answer honestly ... at least to me. As soon as you walk out here with me, already on the way to the top, you cannot say "No” anymore. So if you really do not want to ... it will have to be solved here and now.”
"Why are you ..." Leia began, startled.
"Why do I give you a choice?" He grinned. “Consider it an equally delicate and cunning calculation, as altruism is neither typical for my race nor my position. I could even help you escape. But that would be the end of my gallantry. And if, after that, I would receive the order to kill you, I would do it.”
Leia shivered from the steel in his voice. Agreeing to this had been a bad idea. A very bad idea.
“Why do you need this?”
“I have my reasons, but it is your decision. What do you say?”
“I say that this is insane and that this is not how I imagined my own wedding.” Leia laughed bitterly and continued looking into the eyes of the Chiss.
“Grand Admiral Thrawn, you have started this game in vain. I'm a curse, I'll feed your plans to the Sarlacc, I’ll confuse the cards in your game and quite possibly become the cause of your death.”
“Exactly what I need." Thrawn drew her closer to him and exhaled the words, almost touching her lips with his. And then a kiss followed, gentle and slow, blurring the line between sweet dreams and bitter reality.
“I am not kidding.” She said, breaking the kiss. "I want to destroy the Empire from the inside."
"I have no doubt," the Chiss said and closed his eyes for a second, listening. Leia, too, felt the vibration coming from space.
"It is time for us to leave" he said at last and took the Princess by the hand. Again he wore white gloves.
The Super Star Destroyer “Executer” entered Naboo’s atmosphere too rapidly, causing a gust of strong wind rolling over the planet’s surface, and hung as close as possible to the ground, creating an imposing sight. It seemed like one could reach the giant ship with one’s mere hand, which certainly wasn't the case.
There was an ominous silence hanging in the air and even the music suddenly seemed much quieter. The guests became nervous, as all of them understood who was in that black shuttle that was descending to the planet’s surface now. Lord Vader was not liked at court, he was often present, but he seldomely spoke and if he did it was usually nothing good or orders for the troops. His sinister black figure was a symbol of war and his heavy steps and noisy breathing were as chilling, as if death itself was walking alongside the Dark Lord. The military undeniably respected him, but at peace time, in a peaceful society, Lord Vader was out of place. He was a symbol of imminent disaster and next to him it was impossible to relax and enjoy a day like this, just as impossible as it was to dissociate oneself from the unconscious fear that was caused by his dark figure.
Everyone knew that he would come.
Everyone had hoped that he wouldn’t.
Some had thought that today would be the day the giant in the black armour would show his true, human face - yes, by now everyone knew that he was human - but naturally that wouldn’t happen either.
When Lord Vader walked along the path between the rows of guests, those who were sitting on the edges nervously swallowed and felt the air turning cold.
The commander-in-chief took his place on a pedestal at the beginning of a long staircase, over which the bride and groom had to ascend to pay their respects to the Emperor. He had to finalise their marriage to complete the spectacle.
An idiotic ceremony in the spirit of Palpatine, Vader thought, and his irritation grew. The Emperor's hand was felt everywhere and it was obvious that he had missed something. If the Emperor had a hand in this event, he had, of course, further plans for its participants.
When Grand Admiral Thrawn had gotten his rank, it had surprised even Vader. He was, after all, not human. But to a certain extent, he was glad of it now because the military talents of the Chiss had proven very useful to the Empire, but it was obvious that he himself was on far too good terms with Palpatine. At first, Thrawn had caused a lot of suspicions, but over time, most of it had disappeared and he had become one of the few who could be trusted. At least a little.
Vader wondered once more what exactly Palpatine wanted to achieve by starring in this ceremony? Was this entertainment or was there something more? A serious premonition suddenly pierced trough the Sith. Something had escaped his attention. But what?
Vader sighed heavily - as much as the artificial ventilation system allowed – and the guests sitting in the front rows squeezed into their chairs, as if they were surrounded by a wave of cold.
*Leia, my daughter.* This simple awareness had reached the Sith’s consciousness with great delay. Yesterday, during a training session, Leia had accidentally made a Force roll and had brought Kronos into serious trouble. Only then the Dark Lord had finally realized her true potential and it had struck him - his daughter.
Up to this point, despite the obvious facts, the Sith had perceived Leia more as the daughter of the hated Bail Organa, at best as an illegitimate child of Padmé, but never truly as his own blood.
With Luke, this feeling had arisen immediately, probably even before they had met face to face. Even then, sensing the current of the Force in the pilot, who intended to blow up the Death Star, Vader had felt some strange recognition. It had been Luke - whose radiance in the Force Anakin Skywalker had felt all those years ago, when he had put his palm to the belly of his pregnant wife, and he simply hadn’t noticed Leia behind his bright radiance. Already back then.
It was necessary to admit that Leia was breaking down most of the time during her training, but when she was filled with anger, her powers increased drastically. The ideal Sith if taught appropriately - brutally breaking and tempering the character, exhausting morally and physically, only that Vader was somehow hesitant to do so and spared her. Looking at it from a distance, people might think that he was too cruel to his own daughter, but a real Sith training was much more severe.
At first, he hadn’t planned to fully teach Leia, arguing to himself that it was enough for her to be able to defend herself and that she would never be a real fighter. But after the mental attacks that had entailed a series of nightmares, the Sith seriously thought about the fact that he would have to train his daughter to the level that she could resist to those who were behind these assaults. In this galaxy, there were not many gifted capable of an attack at this level. And whoever it was, was no master - for some reason Vader was absolutely certain of this. Contrary to his impassive mask, he was extremely unhappy with what had happened to Alderaan and Tarkin's untimely death - before the Emperor had had a chance to come up with a suitable punishment. But he had understood Tarkin’s motive. The one who committed these metal attacks, pursued some completely unclear motive, which troubled the Dark Lord even further.
Well, not long ago he had almost abandoned his daughter, giving her to Thrawn, and back then everything had seemed right to him. Now, however, he sincerely cared about her and even this wedding seemed like an extremely dubious idea.
Did Leia not mind at all? He had asked her whether she wanted to cancel it, hadn’t he?
Or maybe all of these thoughts were caused by the Lake District ... waking up some long-dead ghosts of the past, so that even the harsh Executioner of the Empire became an ordinary person for a moment. A father.
The Emperor stood on a platform at the end of a seemingly endless staircase. Wrapped in a wide scarlet and gold mantle, he looked even more ominous than usual, although his face betrayed absolutely nothing.
“The galaxy will remember this day for a long time. Swap oaths, my children." The Emperor said slowly and loudly, deliberately stretching his words. “And let the whole world see the power of your union and the power that it bears.”
"I am Mitth'raw'nuruodo," the Chiss began to speak, and a slight swing of the Force was directed into space. "I take you, Leia Vader, as my wife, and I swear to be true to you, like I am true to the Empire."
“I am Leia Vader…” her own voice sounded alien to her and the words flew from her lips as if contrary to her will and common sense. Her name. They had deprived her of everything, even her name. "... and I swear to be yours, until I am merged with the Great Force."
A slight wave of the Force occurred as soon as Leia had finished her words, and an acute sense of danger hit her whole being. In the hand of Palpatine a thin, golden blade flashed, with which he alternately pierced the palms of both, Leia and Thrawn. With a nauseating ringing, a few drops of their blood fell into a large golden cup in which their rings lay.
*Well, at least his blood is red.* Strangely enough, that was the only thought that swept through Leia's mind at that time.
Smoke poured from the cup, which, for a moment, enveloped and concealed the Emperor from the pair, but then they heard the Emperor's voice again, commanding: "Exchange the rings as a sign of the sacredness of your vows."
With trembling fingers Leia pulled a ring out of the blue smoke; it was insanely cold, like ice, and she had to make an effort not to drop it.
Her own ring, the one Thrawn had put on her finger only seconds ago, burned like fire, causing unbearable pain.
Then the Emperor spoke something in an unfamiliar language and his eyes shone with molten gold. The Force was vibrating, piercing through space with thousands of strings that were pulled together into one, connecting her with Thrawn.
In an instant everything ended, the rings cracked, and in their place were burns in the form of the branchy tree, which had been engraved on the inside of the rings.
"Let your alliance serve this galaxy, Lady Leia Vader and Mitth'raw'nuruodo!”
There was deafening applause.
The smoke had barely dissolved and the pain in Leia’s burned hand had not subsided yet. All of this had not been in the script.
"A bloddy Sith ritual," Leia cursed in her head.
"Exactly." Thrawn smirked. His lips hadn’t moved, but Leia had certainly heard his voice in her head.
"How is this possible ... Is it possible ...?" Leia knew that a mental dialogue between gifted people worked exactly like this, but was it possible with ordinary people?
"This is a side effect of the ritual. It will soon pass."
According to the ceremony, the newlyweds briefly bowed to the Emperor and then slowly began their journey down the endless stream of steps.
Each step was accompanied by a dull pain in her temples, but in her heart, Leia was surprisingly calm. So, as if nothing special had happened, as if she had gone to a little too noisy party and had decided to get a small tattoo as a remembrance.
Meanwhile, hundreds of eyes looked at her and Thrawn - attentive, shocked, with admiration and revulsion at the same time. All of the high-ranking guests had been able to witness the ritual on the monitors and the melody that had accompanied it, would remain in their heads for a long time - heavy, gloomy and at the same time majestic. It seemed as if it had called out for time itself to stop, to capture this moment. And even those who were infinitely far from believing in the Sith or the Jedi, definitely felt that they had seen real witchcraft today, and did not know how to handle it.
Leia herself did not feel anything. Her heart was quiet and empty. The chip that Han had given her, had crumbled to dust by the wave of the Force that had enveloped her and Thrawn by the time of their vows, but the Princess did not feel any regret. Nor was she affected by her father's wrath, which she almost physically felt when the newlyweds bowed their heads in front of him, paying homage to the Commander-in-Chief.
He responded by raising a hand and said something, a blessing perhaps? But the gesture of the black, leather-covered hand, looked more like he was giving an order, and the words sounded like they were spoken in some harshly pronounced Hut dialect. Thrawn definitely understood their meaning, while Leia, once again, didn’t have a clue. Then, a second later, still looking at the Sith’s visor, the Chiss answered in the same language.
*What was that all about?* The princess asked herself and felt the need to asked them, but for some reason, she was sure that neither father nor husband would provide her with an exact translation.
The mental connection between herself and Thrawn seemed to have gone.
Warduna - Mannar-Liv
Warduna - Wunjo
Chapter 15: And then the circle closes...
Chapter 15 - The circle closes ...
It always looked beautiful when a few hundred couples in bright outfits whirled around in a slow dance, but it looked even more beautiful from a bird's perspective. Therefore, it was not surprising that this had been the broadcast company’s preferred angle; this combined with occasional large frames of Leia and Thrawn, who moved in the very centre of the spectacle, on top of rose petals, which, in tune to the music, fell like scarlet snowflakes from the sky, creating a truly fabulous picture.
Through most of the event, Leia had felt dizzy, and faces blurred and blended into a single vortex of bright spots. But Thrawn led her confidently through the dance and she could lean on his strong shoulders, while her body moved on autopilot, remembering the movements she had learned and applied for years. So far it had been simple and not more difficult than other social gatherings and lavish balls, the former princess of Alderaan had visited.
"Admit it, it was beautiful ... the ritual, I mean." Thrawn actually seemed to like what had happened, but Leia just smiled grimly. No, she did not share his admiration. Suddenly, the pain in her scarred ring-finger flared up again with renewed vigor.
"You knew," she said softly. Her lips were barely moving, but Leia was sure that Thrawn would be able to hear her. "You knew this was going to happen ..."
"Only in very general terms. I knew the ritual would include the Force somehow, but I did not know the details..." the Chiss answered calmly, while seeing Leia’s dark eyes filling with anger.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Leia felt her anger rising, and with that also rose her desire to hurt Thrawn. How exactly, she hadn’t decided yet.
"Even if I had told you…. that would not have changed a thing, my dear." He gave her a tender smile, which, from afar, gave the impression that the Chiss had paid her some kind of wonderful compliment or that he had declared his eternal love to her, but his eyes showed nothing but cold determination. But unsurprisingly the cameras, which had recorded another close-up of the pair’s profile, hadn’t caught that.
If they had been alone instead of dancing amid a huge crowd of people, Leia would have slapped him in the face. Again he had made a decision for her. And it seemed, he believed that he had every right to do so. So Leia decided to play his game and leaned in closer to his cheeks, and tenderly whispered into his ears:
"You will pay for this.”
"Without a doubt," he replied in the same tone. “And for much more ..." and before the Princess could ask for what exactly he had hinted at with that, he abruptly changed the subject: "I am curious, how do you feel now? How does it look now ... in the Force?”
Surprised by herself, Leia realized that she was interested too. Thus, she closed her eyes and then put her head on Thrawn's shoulder. From the outside, it looked very romantic, and Erik Quatar certainly did not forget to capture the moment, but for Leia this position had a sole practical function, as the contact with the Force, made her head spin unexpectedly. Her perception was suddenly incredibly intense and Leia was hit by a tidal wave of sensations, - voices, music, smells, thoughts - all entwined. It was too strong, too much and almost deprived the Princess of her consciousness. The Emperor looked intolerably black in the Force, and from him dark tentacles stretched out in all directions, with which he not only influenced his scarlet personal guards, but also many ordinary people within the room. Her father shone with a calm, opaque fire, he was lighter than the Emperor, and compared to the older Sith seemed almost light, although he was still an unmistakable servant of Darkness. There was another Force user, dazzlingly bright, not like a Sith, it was a dear friend, a relative. Treacherous tears came to her eyes. Luke. He was here. On Naboo. She only hoped that he was busy with training or meditating and that he had not noticed this Sith ceremony. Her brother was close and he had mastered the mental techniques quickly, yet to Leia it seemed that the closer he was, the harder is was to reach him, especially if he did not want to be reached.
Leia saw herself and others - hundreds of intelligent creatures shone around her in the Force. All of them were to some extent identical. All, except Thrawn. He did not look like a Force-User, but he seemed to glow in his own unique pattern, which, from now on, Leia would recognize among thousands of other’s and between them a subtle connection burned, whose true nature she did not yet understand.
Leia did not possess the skill of mind-reading yet, but still decided to scan the Chiss’ mind. She tapped into their connection and for a moment it seemed to her that she was looking at the world through his eyes, but when she met his crimson gaze, her concentration faltered and the strange experience ended.
Thrawn looked at her questioningly, hoping for an answer.
“Nothing special, except that I felt everything very intensely. Especially you.”
“How curious ... Does this mean that if I were to, let us say die, you would feel it?”
A wave of cold swept over Leia's body. She didn’t know for sure, but the answer came out by itself:
"Yes, I would feel it. I would feel it if something happened to you. Something….. serious."
"Well," he said and meaningfully stroke the scar on her ring-finger. “It was worth it.”
"And how did the ritual affect you?"
"I do not know, Leia…" he said quietly, modestly. "…as the ways of the Force are unknown to me. But I think if something would happen to you, your pain would affect me ...”
The girl nodded vaguely. Her knowledge was too limited to understand what had actually happened here and how it would affect the future. For the first time in her life she wanted to talk to Vader as a father and a teacher, he would be able to explain all this to her, and his confidence would become hers.
*To the Sarlacc with you, Darth Sidious! What are you up to?* Vader cursed silently, while watching Leia and Thrawn.
Vader was not too versed in Sith rituals and considered them useless in wars and battles. To him the Emperor’s ritual made no sense as one of its participants was blind to the Force and not even completely human.
When he spoke to Thrawn at the end of the ceremony, Vader carefully scanned the Chiss’ mind, who did not even wince or look away at the painful invasion. Remarkable, considering that the average person might very well crush under such pressure. It was being said that the Chiss had a high pain threshold. This one certainly had.
Then Thrawn looked straight at the Sith’s visor, and his mind appeared to be unadulterated and open. But without a shadow of fear and nothing more than respect for the Sith and their Empire. Their was no blind submission or devotion in it, only cold determination. In Thrawn’s mind he had made the decision of joining the Empire himself and there was also the burning conviction that he was free to change this decision if necessary. He seemed to be pure determination. Curious.
All his aspirations, values and desires lay open to him; but it was too trivial, too easy to be true. There had to be something else.
"I should not have trusted you, Thrawn. You have far too many secrets. In both, your past and your future.” Vader increased the pressure on his mind.
"My mind is open to you, my Lord." The Chiss voice trembled slightly, but he did not look away.
But there was only emptiness in his mind.
Only the gifted could resist such an invasion, or those grateful enough to be graced with a mental block given to them by a very powerful Force-User. Darth Vader dug deeper towards an area that was hidden underneath a dense fog. It was there, were the Chiss kept all his secrets – he was sure of it. However, the area was closed to him and he would not be able to enter it without encountering great resistance and for that this was neither the time nor the place. But one day, the Dark Lord would get his answers.
"I know a thousand ways to kill and if one day I look at my daughter and find you worthy of death, I will kill you. I will not hesitate.” These words were not part of the official ritual. And instead of a blessing, Thrawn was faced by a threat. But to Vader, this felt much more appropriate. He had done it to get a reaction, to install fear, to see behind his mask and to get a glimpse at the true essence of this alien. But nothing happened.
The emptiness faltered but did not retreat.
"I do not possess the power to stop a hurricane, but should that stop me from coping with the storm? I swear to keep your daughter save. As save as possible. This is my oath to you, as my wife’s father. But more, alas, I can not promise.”
Emptiness. Determination. Respect. But only for the time being.
"I take that oath," Darth Vader said, raising his hand in typical gesture. It was his habit to strangulate. Under pressure, everyone showed their real nature. The emptiness faded before ripples of rage went through it.
In general, it seemed more like self-control than a mental block. After all, only those who were Force-sensitive could control their consciousness and this Chiss certainly did not belong to them.
So what was going on here? How could it have been possible to preform such a ritual?
Maybe the older Sith had simply decided to stage a show, demonstrating his own power, but that would not explain the powerful disturbance in the Force upon the ritual’s completion. The ritual had been real. It raised many questions and Sidious would answer them, whether he wanted to or not.
Carefully scanning Leia in the Force now, Vader did not notice anything special, except that his daughter shone brighter than usual. From her stretched a thin thread to the Chiss, filled with vivid interest, as if she had decided to apply a very shy mental scan herself.
The Sith smiled under his mask. He had not taught her that yet. Apparently, it was necessary to catch up with her. She only needed someone to train with…. Luke was already far ahead of her and Kronos would hardly survive such experiments.
Carefully examining the state of his daughter, he noticed another oddity. At some point, Leia had reached out to him with warmth and hope, as if seeking support. As if she needed him. This had either never happened before, or he simply hadn’t noticed. Perhaps, for the first time in years, the Dark Lord had to admit that some things in life could still surprise him. The rebellious character of his daughter hadn’t disappeared and her hatred for the Empire still burned brightly, yet, at the same time she needed him, the evil Sith that had destroyed her Alliance. The thin thread of their of Force-bond seemed to vibrate.
Or was he making things up? Anyway, he would have to figure it out later and he had to talk to his daughter. Then Vader strengthened his mental shields; preparing himself for an unpleasant conversation with his master.
The last chords of the song were heard and the dance was coming to an end. Thrawn leaned back and kissed Leia's hand, his lips touching the scar of his wedding ring on her finger. Leia’s finger still burned with pain, but it got slightly better once he had removed his lips.
It was exactly this picture that Han Solo saw on the screens while passing by. He caught the tension on Leia's face and imagined it was caused by the pain in the Princess’ soul, which she courageously tried to hide. And with that, the smuggler felt the urge to act. He left his hiding place and headed towards the wedding tents, which he might not have done, had he also seen what followed.
Thrawn drew Leia closer and lovingly looked into her eyes and with that the passion between them suddenly lit up like a fire between dry branches. Each contact-point of their bodies seemed to vibrate with desire, which grew stronger by the second, sweeter, until it was unbearable.
The whole world seemed to slow down until it stopped completely and the sensation of breathing each other's breath silenced even the music.
With the next song, most couples started moving again, but Leia and Thrawn remained frozen in the middle of the hall, silently admiring each other… And many looked at them, waiting for what was to come.
Leia herself wanted to know what would happen next. It was one thing to eat the forbidden fruit of passion behind closed doors in their own chambers or in the shadows of a tent, hidden from prying eyes. It was another, to feel such attraction, when hundreds, thousands of people looked at them. If the offer of escape was still an option, Leia surely wouldn’t have minded using it now.
"I would like to make some changes to our script, my Queen..." the Chiss whispered softly, his palm reaching higher, from her waist to her neck. He slowly ran his fingers along the delicate skin not covered by the dress and cloak’s collar.
“You do not mind, do you?” His thumb carefully caressing her cheek, sending electric charges through her whole body.
Her mind was against it.
She should shake her head, refuse.
But instead, she only chewed on her bottom lip, in a rather seductive looking fashion. Thrawn interpreted this as consent, and in the next moment, his lips touched her’s, drawing them into a slow, sweet dance. Most people would consider their kiss as too candid for the public eye, but at the same time, it was very innocent in light of the passion that was boiling inside of them.
They lost track of time. It must have been a long kiss ... long enough for some of the guests to look away in embarrassment.
Eric Quatar, on the other hand, was beaming with happiness. He obviously had taken many wonderful photos already.
The ISD "Chimera" entered, or rather - gracefully floated – into Naboo’s atmosphere. After firing a ceremonial salvo, the ship changed its course and swiftly left the planet’s airspace again.
Around the same time, Thrawn's comlink squeaked. It turned out that the Emperor himself had summoned the Grand Admiral on some urgent matter, and Leia felt a huge relief. She needed to calm down and think, which was rather difficult standing next to the Chiss. There were still a lot of things on their script…. A few dances and, perhaps, kisses. Several photo shoots against the beautiful background of the Nabooan sunset. And probably another kiss. A salute in honour of the newlyweds. And the night they would spend together…
The glass of champagne that was brought to her was very welcome indeed, and it made her think of another problem, named Han Solo. His plan with the communication device had literally been destroyed, but it would be foolish to assume that he wouldn’t try to get to her anyway. And what would she do then?
Leia tried to imagine herself with Solo, flying away from Naboo, towards the starry sky - and found that she couldn’t. It was…. wrong. On the other hand, she was afraid to be alone with Thrawn, as she was in no condition to control herself around him – that much was obvious. She wouldn’t be able to say "no" if he would touch her again like he had done this morning. And he would.
It was very strange ... to desperately want a man, but not to love him. Or did she ...? No, Leia was neither ready nor willing to follow that line of thought.
"Mrs Vader, please accept my sincere congratulations," a small man in a navy grey uniform said and greeted her with a quick salute.
"Admiral Firmus Piett, Milady” he said, introducing himself. “I am glad to make your acquaintance.”
"Thank you." Leia replied and smiled warmly. With all the emotional turmoil, she had almost forgotten about her main objective, but fortunately, the presence of the Admiral reminded her.
“Tell me about your work, Firmus. If I’m not mistaken you serve on ...”
"…the Executor, Ma'am. Your father's flagship.”
At first, Admiral Piett had been a little shy, but after ten minutes of informal conversation, he had relaxed a little and had shared with her some of the more amusing stories in the life of a Fleet Admiral. And from this conversation, Leia concluded that at least on board the "Executor", Lord Vader was well respected, despite the fear of being the next victim of his anger.
The lounge area was almost empty, except for a luxurious woman, sitting in a soft armchair in the shade of a tree, who most people would never have noticed. Most people, but not him.
"Now is the time to talk to Leia," Thrawn said, as he crept up from behind, like he always did.
"I am somewhat surprised that you have not talked to her yet," the voice sounded cool, almost indifferent, but with a slight of criticism.
“However, I see that you do enjoy the party.” His lips were a little more compressed than usual, making it appear like he was somewhere between anger and contempt.
The woman did not answer but smiled charmingly. Yes, instead of engaging Mrs. Vader - an opportunity, that had presented itself twice already - Mirabella had happily spent her time in her husband’s arms, laughing and enjoying the knowledge that many of her fans had gathered here with the clear intention to draw her attention away from the legendary fashion designer.
"What made you so angry, my perfect one? Jealousy perhaps? Although I find that hard to believe." Mirabella had avoided looking at the screens, and during the newlyweds’ passionate kiss, she herself had kissed Christian. She had heard and noticed everything that had happened around her, of course, but had decided not to think about it too much. She had perfect self-control but, as Thrawn had correctly noted, her heart was not made of ice.
"Trust me, Mitth’raw’nuruodo." She used his formal name to stress the distance between them.
"I will know when it’s the right moment to talk to her. And please don’t intervene, even if you know how to do it better.”
“You are so stubborn, Bella.” Said the Chiss and, in contrast to her, used an affectionate, intimate name for her, while reducing the distance between them. "But I know you too well."
"You are talking about me…." She took another closer, so that the silk of her dress was now touching the fabric of his shirt. "…but you are much more stubborn than I am. Sooner or later your stubbornness, and your pride, will destroy you.”
Mirabella touched the Chiss’ hand and softly ran a finger over the scar of his wedding ring.
"One day it will lead to your defeat ..." She whispered softly.
“Are you a prophet now, my dear? Well... I am almost inclined to believe you. But never forget. This was my choice. And I am the master of my fate." He held her by the shoulders and then said, almost gently:
"Do not worry about me. Just do what I have told you ...”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“My Lord?" The Chiss laughed again. "That is a new one."
“I don’t know why I said it, but it feels right. And henceforth it shall be the only way in which I’ll address you. Lord Thrawn." Mirabella flicked away a tear, a testimony to all her sorrows.
“Oh dear…” He took her in his arms and gently stroke her hair.
"You think I left you, but I did for you. Freedom from me and the Empire is the most precious gift I can give you. I would never have made you happy, I am sure of it. It is hard to admit, but I do not know what love is – not in the human sense. You, however, have brought me dangerously close.”
It took her a lot of effort not to burst out in tears. But he was right.
"Does Leia know how to read my mind?"
“No, not yet. But she may sense it when you lie. To win her trust, I would advise you to be sincere and to share your little secret with her ... Tell her about your brother. I have to go ... but will return in about twenty minutes. Talk to her.”
“Christian, my dear!” Mirabella waved her hand towards her husband, trying to get his attention. “I need you.”
Coming over in two, large steps, the man turned to her, a sly grin on his lips.
"What? Missed me already?"
Mirabella chose to ignore him.
“Let's go. You just do what you do best.”
“What? Right here?”
"No, sweetheart, that was not what I was talking about." the woman hissed sharply. "But close enough. Be charming. Flatter and turn some ladies’ heads – in that field you are even better than in dressing them.”
"If you are serious, that was an insult." Christian did not move. Mirabella knew these compressed lips and stubborn eyes, and thus quickly hugged him and put a gentle kiss on his cheek.
"Come on ... I want to talk to Lady Leia."
"What are you up to?"
A mischievous light lit up in her eyes. I wouldn’t be a simple congratulation – it would be much more complex.
“You'll see. The main thing is that you don’t act surprised.”
"Rise, my apprentice." A phrase Darth Sidious had repeated at least a thousand times during his long life.
"A very special guest has come to us. Have you heard about it?" The voice of the Emperor was cheerful, which usually meant something extremely painful was going to happen.
“Bring him ...”
The deathtroopers dragged a man in a servant’s outfit inside. He resisted as much as could and shouted several curses in Huttese.
“Oh! And here's the monster itself!" Han Solo shouted, continuing his tirade of curses.
"I dreamed of meeting you, but I had hoped that it would be under somewhat different circumstances."
"His fate is in your hands now, my friend." Darth Sidious whispered, waving his bony hand.
Solo began to gasp, grabbing his throat. Then he fell to his knees, bending low before the Emperor's disciple. He tried to lift his head, but an invisible force seemed to press his forehead against the cold, grey steel floor.
"Has the thirst for blood awakened in you, my friend? Then you should satisfy it... Maybe I should provide you with a sword?”
The Sith’s hand closed its powerful grip, completely depriving the captive of air. He fell to the floor, but was still alive.
"Take him" he ordered the deathtroopers, casually pointing a gloved hand at Solo.
"And bring him to a prison cell on my ship. I will question him later."
A/N: This chapter isn’t as long as the others, but it’s important. And be careful – the devil is in the details. ;)
• Bed and the LINEAR - the WHITE the LIGHT
• Jon Schmidt & Steven Sharp of Nelson - by Michael Meets Mozart
• Two Steps the From Hell - Liberty Rising
Chapter 16: ... in a deal with the devil.
Chapter 16. - ... in a deal with the devil.
"I am surprised by your choice, my lady," Christian smiled charmingly.
“You shine like the sun. The dark sun. There is no one in the whole Galaxy who could wear this dress like you. It is an honour that you chose my creation.”
“Thank you, Mr. Chaux-Jar. You are, after all, the best designer in this galaxy. So I really did not have a choice." Leia answered in a sweet tone. And it was true in a way. It had not been her choice, but Thrawn’s. From beginning to end. Alas, she had to admit that her husband had great taste. He really understood beauty.
"In that case, it is my full intention to continue to deprive you of your choice." Christian raised a glass of champagne.
“To you, Lady Vader. You are a real enrichment to Imperial Court, and I hope your radiant presence there will mark the beginning of a new dynasty." He quietly winked at the Princess. A very subtle wish.
The conversation passed slowly, smoothly flowing from one topic to another, successfully distracting Leia from her heavy thoughts and forebodings.
"And how do you like Naboo?" Mirabella asked.
"Oh, it’s one of my favorite places in the galaxy. Maybe that’s because it’s my mother's home planet. Actually, I am a distant relative of his Majesty, but I only learned about it quite recently. It might surprise you, but this is my first time on Naboo. Something always prevented me from visiting it, and now I understand why. If I were to stay a little longer, I might decide to stay and leave the capital for good.”
“Why not? I think that is a fabulous idea, my dear.” Christian said, vigorously involved in the conversation. "I am terribly tired of Coruscant, myself. It is so hard to find inspiration there.”
A black droid drove up to them, offering champagne. Mirabella took a glass and Leia followed her example.
"I understand and share your feelings. And where are you from?” Leia had set herself a goal: She wanted to learn as much as possible about the people she would socialize with in the future. Thus, she sought personal contact to provide her with the necessary information to decide whether or not the person in question could be useful to her at some point. And now, while methodically asking the right questions, Leia felt that she was moving in the right direction.
“I grew up in the Lothal sector.”
“How come?” The surprise in Leia's voice was sincere and with that a breach of etiquette. It showed too much interest.
“Well, my father was governor of one of the planets in that sector. He was later on accused of having relations with the Rebel Alliance and consequently... fled during the case’s investigation. His fate is utterly unknown to me. In the end, my mother and I moved to the capital, whereas my brother decided to stay, hoping to find my father. As far as I know, he has some kind of higher position in the sector’s management system now, but his reputation is somewhat tainted. We have very little contact now.”
"This question may seem a little personal, but I'll allow myself the liberty." Leia smiled warmly and continued: "Why did you decide to break with your brother?"
"To be honest ... I am afraid that our political differences will be stronger than our blood ties. I prefer the happy memories of us tracking wild animals in the forests of Lothal, to meeting him now, at some great social event, with all the things he thinks about me and my life, written all over his face.”
"I guess you are right, Mirabella," the Princess whispered knowingly, but her own heart ached with pain. Luke. What did he think of her now?...
But Leia didn’t have time to plunge into those emotional feelings for too long, as her attention was suddenly attracted by a bright flare in the sky, followed by another and another. This was not a salute and Leia was sure she had seen similar flashes before, when one starfighter had knocked out another. It seemed like the powerful planetary shields were under attack and the music, which suddenly became louder, tried to drown out the roaring explosions. Then three black points of TIE-fighters appeared in the distance, engaging the enemy.
*What, the Sith-fuck, is happening?!*
Soon the whole sky was littered with traces of battle, and no music could drown out the sound of battle now. People stopped and looked up at the sky in horror, waiting for what would happen next. Some feverishly looking around, as if trying to find some kind of miracle escape.
A few minutes later, the Emperor’s voice was heard.
"My loyal subjects," he said quietly, but his voice, like the rustle of the wind, penetrated the people's heads, comforting them, forcing them to freeze in place. “an unknown sabotage group has attacked the planet. There is a battle taking place in space right now and our faithful armed forces are in the process of terminating the threat, without spoiling this special gathering too much. There is no need for concern.”
The last phrase was clearly enhanced with the Force, leaving people unable to disobey his suggestion. Thus, many calmly watched the starfighters destroying each other in the sky, as the wedge of a Star Destroyer suddenly entered the planet’s atmosphere, releasing more black TIEs.
"Who would dare to do this?" Mirabella exclaimed furiously and began to peer into the sky. On the horizon, the rounded outlines of a non-Imperial ship could be seen.
Leia was experienced enough to identify the craft as a Mon Calamari cruiser, and the white points, fighting the imperial fighters were probably X-Wings. The leaders of the Alliance were behind bars, those who had only slightly participated had been pardoned, but were under constant monitoring. All Rebel bases had been seized, their fleet had been taken over or - for the most part – destroyed, with nothing but spare parts and souvenirs left of it. There were only two hotbeds of resistance left, whose fate was unknown to Leia: one on Lothal, in the Outer Rim, where the Empire simply did not have time to make a thorough cleansing and the second was on one of the moons of Endor. A small base, unknown to most. The Alliance had a weapons depot there, together with a handful of fighters and one ship.
Where did this fleet come from and who was commanding it? Leia needed answers to these questions, urgently.
She closed her eyes and tried to feel Vader’s presence. He was probably aware of what was going on. But his Force presence was in the sky, among a group of Imperial fighters attacking the cruiser. He, the Commander in Chief of the Imperial Forces, was in one of them himself? What was he doing there? Why risk entering the battle himself? Was it that serious?
Leia swiftly rose from her chair and headed towards the elevation on which the Emperor sat. He had summoned Thrawn, which meant the Chiss could probably be found there too. In extreme cases, it seemed, Leia was even ready to turn to the main Sith himself – but to sit around and wait was beyond her strength. A heavy sense of anxiety tore Leia apart and her heightened perception caught the sensations of dozens of souls perishing in battle. It was unexpectedly painful. It was terrible to imagine how the explosion of the Death Star might have felt in the Force – and Leia was sincerely glad that at that time she had been untrained and had felt nothing but happiness in the face of her enemies’ dismay.
Thrawn was somewhere nearby. Leia clearly felt his presence, although, looking around, she could not find him.
"Where the Sith are you?" The Princess cursed quietly and suddenly heard his voice coming from behind.
“I am here.”
Leia sharply turned around and almost buried her head in his chest. How did he manage to sneak up so quietly?
“What's happening?” She asked, pointing to the sky.
“Oh, that ... I am afraid you might know more about that than I do, my darling." Thrawn's voice was unexpectedly cold and stern.
“The Rebel fleet left the hyperlane near Naboo about an hour ago. Several heavy cruisers and three dozen smaller ships. We managed to stop most of them before they could enter the orbit, but some, as you can see, reached the planetary defense shields. And believe me, I am very interested in where they came from.”
The accusatory tone in the Grand Admiral’s voice made Leia uncomfortable. She had nothing to hide, yet, for some reason, an unconscious fear locked her throat, not letting her say a word.
“Is there anything you want to tell me?” Thrawn asked, obviously demanding some sort of information.
"I ..." Her treacherous voice trembled and her thoughts were filled with a thousand guesses, which she did not want to put into words.
"I do not know," she managed to say. His scarlet eyes seemed to pierce through her. Even when Vader had rummaged in her head, she had not felt as uncomfortable as she did now. It was necessary to pull herself together, and the anger that rose up inside of her, usually helped a lot.
“Don’t look at me like that! I have nothing to do with this!” She blurted out and turned away, breaking the eye contact.
"I do not think you have," the Chiss said more moderately. "But maybe you have some suggestions on the matter that you would like to share."
Leia was convinced that this fleet came from the Outer Rim, but she had no idea who commanded it - not the slightest idea. But should she share her thoughts? Leia wasn’t sure and her doubts were reflected on her face.
"You know, Leia ... you definitely know something. Maybe you think you have the right to be silent. But I ask you to be reasonable. There are many people – innocent residents of Naboo - in danger because of this terrorist attack. And why?”
Leia had no answer to that question. Meanwhile, the Chiss continued:
"The whole Imperial elite is here today. It is difficult to imagine another place where so many influential people are gathered at the same time. It is the perfect chance to destroy everyone with a single strike. A very seductive chance, is it not? To cut off the Empire’s head, to sow discord and chaos ... Tell me, would you, as a former leader of the Alliance, miss the chance to conduct such an operation?”
"Stop it," Leia managed to say. For some reason, her husband’s words hurt. No, naturally she wouldn’t have missed such an opportunity. She might even have proposed the idea. And Luke and Han would now be in their ships, hunting black Imperial TIE-fighters. And Leia would have watched their successes from a cruiser, under the command of Admiral Akbar.
That’s how it would have been earlier, but now ... Should Leia worry about Naboo’s safety? About her wedding guests? Should she rejoice at every shot carried out by Lord Vader and the other TIEs? Or should she support the remnants of the Rebel fleet at heart? Which, despite the lack of leadership and resources, had not abandoned their ideas and had found the place to hit the Empire the hardest? Should Lea be proud of the pilots who gave their lives today, in the name of duty, regardless of which side they fought on? Or should she be furious that people died for their ideals without even trying to talk to each other? Without any diplomacy?
For these complex questions, the Princess had no answers. And probably never would.
"I think the fleet has come from the Outer Rim," she said. Finally deciding to break the silence. “I have no idea who's in charge...”
"We will find out soon enough." The Chiss came closer and embraced her from behind, pressing her to his chest, his hands closed on her stomach, while he himself stared into the distance. Then one of his hands slid up, gently stroking her neck. Leia closed her eyes - for some reason his touch was so pleasant it caught her breath.
The setting sun hovered like a fireball in the sky and painted it in all shades of scarlet. It seemed like the last enemy fighters were about to be shot down, the remaining TIEs lined up in an even wedge formation and swiped across the sky like a swarm of dark cranes, causing a wave of cheers among the guests standing on the ground.
"It is almost over," Thrawn said, assessing the situation and pointing to the sky, at the other side of the wedge, where a small flash occurred.
"This is the last one."
Eric Quatar witnessed the scene from a different perspective. War had never interested him as much as love. He hid behind the trunk of one of the large trees and, from a fairly large distance, took a few photos of the couple, that seemed quite carried away by each other. The burning sky served as their background with the black wedge of TIE fighters cutting through it. This frame would go down in history.
The speeder ran somewhere, permeating the impenetrable darkness of the Nabooian night. Thrawn preferred to fly himself, not making use of neither the autopilot nor the service of a pilot. A part of their route passed through some large mountain gorges, and the Chiss flew rather fast, turning part of their journey into a somewhat extreme experience, and probably Leia would have been a little scared if it hadn’t been for the sense of complete calmness and confidence radiating from Thrawn. He was in control of the situation. In control of everything. Absolutely.
"We're staying on Naboo, aren’t we?" The Princess hadn’t thought about how the evening would end in order to avoid thinking about the subsequent night. But the evening had come to an end rather quickly, and some clarity was required now. Initially, she had stayed in the house of her mother’s relatives, which had been about 15 minutes from the festivities and according to Leia’s estimations, this ride had lasted for at least 30 minutes already – and they were driving in the opposite direction.
"Yes." Thrawn said shortly and focused on the road. Then the speeder soared up to the very top of the mountain, before swiftly diving down again. Looking out of the window, the Princess saw a beautiful blue marble mansion, located on the shores of a huge, almost sea-like lake, surrounded by blue-greyish rocks.
“We have arrived.”
The cold night air enveloped Leia's body, as soon as she left the speeder, making it necessary to wrap herself in a light raincoat. She wanted to enter the building as quickly as possible to be able to drop her shoes, which had become terribly uncomfortable by the end of the day, but the view that presented itself from the terrace was truly breathtaking, fascinating her with its wild pristine beauty.
The soft lighting of the mansion and the full moon on the otherwise dark, starry sky were the only light sources and it seemed that for many kilometers around them there wasn’t a single living soul. There was only the sound of the wind, the splash of the water and the peaceful sounds of the local nightlife.
Thrawn approached Leia and easily picked her up. The unexpected moved made her scream in fright, before clinging to the Chiss’ shoulders.
“You are tired. Let us go inside. It is just as beautiful there, believe me.”
“Let me go. I can walk on my own.” Leia declared childishly.
“You can. But do you want to?” He whispered slyly, somehow managing to carry Leia and to open the door at the same time.
The Princess just sighed and preferred to relax. In a spacious living room, she was gently lowered onto a soft, velvet sofa. Leia immediately dropped her shoes with those thin, stiletto heels that had caused her so much pain, and leaned back on the couch. Finally.
"As you correctly pointed out, Grand Admiral, I'm tired ... Sith, I'm so tired that I do not want to do anything ... so don’t even think about having a wedding night." the Princess explained happily, examining their luxurious surroundings.
“Today, luck is not on your side.” Then she noticed the playful tone in which she spoke to the Chiss. She truly must be out of her mind, or had the last glass of champagne been too much?
"I think otherwise." Thrawn sat down next to her and then put her legs over his thighs. "I have been more fortunate than I have ever dared to hope." He reached out for one of her feet and slowly began massaging it.
“Oh! This is good!” Leia would never have imagined how pleasant this was. Her feet, her legs - everything ached from the long day. There was tension everywhere, but her legs gradually relaxed, obeying the strong hands of the man.
For some time they were silent, and the silence protected them from unnecessary questions and thoughts. The living room was quite dark, and on the ceiling, there was a hologram of the starry sky, which slowly rotated in a clockwise movement. Thrawn's touch had long ceased to be strong and he seemed to lazily glide his fingertips along Leia's slender legs. It was so simple and at the same time so unbearably pleasant that it felt like she could spend an eternity like this. But how much time had actually passed she didn’t know - maybe a few minutes, maybe an hour.
"I think you are able to walk now," Thrawn decided rather sharply and then rose from the sofa. He held out his hand to Leia, encouraging her to stand up and follow him.
Together they went deeper into the mansion and it was pitch black around them. The Chiss was either able to see in the dark or simply knew this place very well, as he seemed to have no problems with the orientation, which forced Leia to trust him, and it was unexpectedly easy.
They reached a strange place. Strange, because it felt like if there was no floor, and the ceiling went far up. But there was still darkness surrounding them, turning the human eyes blind. Thrawn let go of the Princess’ hand, and headed towards to closest wall, which featured a computer panel. There, he adjusted the lighting, and what Leia saw then, almost made her squeak in delight.
A cave - a real, massive cave – made out of dark-blue, smooth stone, and under her feet was the entrance to the very same lake that she had seen outside. The cave was surprisingly deep and down below white lights were flashing, illuminating the stony bottom, and along the cave’s outline there were bluish beacons, which illuminated the rocks’ bizarre structures. The cave led deep into the rock itself, into some kind of labyrinth filled with water.
"Do you know how to swim?"
"Yes, of course." Leia's eyes lit up with fresh fire, all her fatigue suddenly gone.
"You should touch the water then" the Chiss said and pointed to the shore.
The steps, carved out of the stone, went deep down into a seemingly bottomless pit and Leia involuntarily admired the endless abyss.
At the shore, she stretched out her hand and did not immediately understand that she was already touching the water. The water was just as warm as her body, and it felt far less dense than water should.
“How is this possible?! I was sure it would be icy!” Her surprise was limitless.
"A miracle and yet the most real thing.” For a few seconds, Thrawn was silent, as if thinking about something and then he calmly added: “Undress.”
“What?!” Leia was furious, out of habit. Actually, she herself wanted to dive into this magical water and dissolve in it and feel free, but she was not alone.
"This ... will interfere," the Chiss said patiently and came closer. His hands touched the cloak’s buttons and opened them. The white fabric fell with an audible rustle onto the stone floor. “As will the dress ...” He reached for the zipper and slowly pulled it down, carefully watching the emotions on Leia's face. The situation definitely amused him.
"Enough ... I can do this myself ..." She protested weakly. Too weakly. The dress would be down on the floor at any moment, but then Leia instinctively pressed her hands to her chest, trying to control the situation.
"You can ... of course, you can ..." he whispered sweetly and walked around her, giving her some space, only to approach her from behind this time. He came closer and reached for her wrists on her chest. “Do not be afraid of me…”
Leia wanted to answer that she was not afraid, or, rather, that she was much more afraid of herself than him, but decided to remain silent. She relaxed and slowly allowed him to pull her hands away before he released them from his grip again. Then she pulled down the last straps herself. The dress slipped down, leaving her almost naked. Then she took a step forward and sharply turned around to Thrawn.
“Satisfied? Is that what you want?” Yet she was not completely naked, and this gave her strength. Granted, the barrier between them, in the form of thin, lacy underwear, did not hide much, but behind it Leia felt much more confident.
“No, darling. I want to see all of you.” His eyes darkened for a moment as if merging with the cave's semi-darkness and then flashed like two scarlet candles.
Leia was not prepared for the speed with which the Chiss approached her, and when his fingers reached behind her, opening her bra, it was already too late to resist.
“That is better, but not quite." Like a clever serpent, his hands slipped between her thighs, releasing her of the last piece of underwear, before, as if by accident, his fingers penetrated between her tightly compressed legs, teasing her sensitive flesh. In her mind, the forbidden touch burned like fire, and a strange mixture of shame and excitement overwhelmed her. Blood rushed to her cheeks, and Leia felt the need to dive into the water as quickly as possible, to get rid of the feelings that flooded her. It was wrong. And the more she liked what was happening, the more wrong it was.
*I will regret this. All of my life I will regret this.* Leia thought, but then these thoughts were knocked out by other thoughts: *Is Thrawn undressing himself or should I help him?* The fact that he should undress before sinking into the water seemed reasonable, only ... Why the Sith should she care!
"Thank you for your concern, Grand Admiral," Leia said while grinning artfully. "You, I suppose, will manage without my help." She abruptly pulled away and, rushed off to the water. From the corner of her eye, she watched the Chiss undress. When he walked to the water it was slowly and not at all embarrassed. No, quite the contrary, as if he was trying to drive her crazy even more. For some reason, she could not look away from the man’s strong body: he was perfectly shaped and surprisingly proportional ... in everything. She had clung to his body at night, when her mind had been disconnected, but this was not the same at all.
"You know, Leia," he said, slowly descending into the water, which gradually concealed his body; his skin-colour almost merging with its surroundings. "There is another custom that ..."
"I won’t drink any more of your crazy drinks!" The princess said and shook her head in protest.
"You do not have to," the Chiss smiled softly, and Leia shuddered, her senses literally screaming that something important was about to happen.
"This tradition is called the “exchange of desires”. Newlyweds tell each other a desire, which, no matter what, has to be fulfilled by the other. You start, Leia ... You can ask for anything, and I have no right to refuse you.”
Before this offer, the princess had leisurely swum alongside the shore, while occasionally glancing down and regretting that she had no respirator with which she could dive under water. But now, the whirlpool of white lights threatened to drag her right to the bottom. What Thrawn offered was disturbing, and she needed something to hold on to. Leia swam to the shore and stood on one of the wide stone steps in the water. What the Chiss offered held many great opportunities.
"Can I ... withhold that wish for later, when I need it?" With that, at some point, she might be able to force the Grand Admiral to be loyal to her, to support her side, but it was too early to talk about that.
“No. You must say it now,” he said calmly and inexorably. “Uncertain desire is the same as slavery.”
"Only what I can do. No more, but no less.”
“And who defines the boundaries of that power? For example, it may seem to me that you may be able to do it, but how can I know for sure?” In fact, Leia knew what she wanted. The knowledge had come this afternoon. She was just not sure if the Grand Admiral could do it.
"I think there is very little that you may want and I cannot provide," Thrawn replied, piercing Leia with his scarlet gaze. “Speak ...”
Leia's head was spinning wildly. It seemed that, with her next phrase, she might very well spoil her relationship with the Chiss and place a death sentence on her head instead. Instinctively, she stretched out her arms to the man, rested her fingertips against his chest, and then slid her palms upward, clinging to his shoulders. Their bodies were dangerously close to each other.
"It's insane, I know, but ... I want you to help me to overthrow the Emperor. To kill him.”
Internally Leia was already ready to give up. She knew that it was absolutely impossible for Palpatine's faithful companion to agree to this.
"You put me in an extremely difficult situation, my lady," he said, surprisingly calm. Embracing Leia's waist, he cut the distance between them and pressed her tightly to him. Light vibrations caressed their naked bodies, so as if there were waves on the water’s quiet surface. But, of course, there weren’t.
"As your husband, I have no right to refuse you, as Grand Admiral of the Empire, I have no right to agree. Besides ... it may take a long time to implement this.”
"You're right ... this ..." the Princess was ready to give up, besides, the sudden intimacy aroused her a lot.
"I agree." His eyes flashed dazzlingly bright in the cave’s shadows.
"I will find a way to fulfill your desire, without interfering with my duty to the Empire."
Leia could not believe what she had heard. It seemed too simple.
"But I can not promise that this will happen soon," Thrawn added. "Now it is my turn, dear ... Now I am going to ask you something that you cannot refuse me..."
Leia hadn't even thought about what she would have to pay for her desire. The Chiss was silent, and the silence felt very tense. He looked thoughtfully at her face, reached for her hair and slowly began to pull out the hairpins of her complex hairstyle. There were many, very many hairpins... and he carefully piled them up on a stone ledge, close to the surface.
He definitely knew what he wanted, but for some reason, he remained silent, as if testing the princess. Her complex hairstyle crumbled, and the chocolate strands fell on the blue surface of the water. Leia's nerves were stretched to their strain.
"And you, Leia ..." He touched her neck with the palm of his hand, burying his fingers in her hair. "…will provide me with an heir."
"Gifted with the Force," Thrawn wanted to add, but then decided against it. How could it be otherwise, with such ancestry?
Leia stopped breathing for a moment.
What was he talking about? How dare he?!
This required much more than to recognize him as her husband before the whole galaxy, more than to live in his castle, more than sleeping in his bed or even spending the nights making love to him.
To give birth to a child and see in it the features of a man whom she barely liked and could never love. To give birth to the heir of Grand Admiral Thrawn and to see how the child absorbed all the ideals and values of the Empire she hated, while striving to rise as high as possible within the hierarchy. The fruit of forbidden passion. The child of a Chiss, that would be unlike every other person around it, and that might not even be accepted by society...
Oh, Force! This was terrible.
Her sharp fingernails instinctively plunged into Thrawn's shoulders and would definitely leave marks. She wanted to push him away, but he held her tight, not allowing her to leave.
"Calm down ... it will not happen right away," his voice echoed from the high vaults of the cave. "I will give you time ..."
"Time." Leia repeated absentmindedly. “How much time?”
“A year exactly. Perhaps a little more ... But first, I want to satisfy my desire.” Gently overcoming her resistance, the man sank down on her lips in a demanding kiss.
Leia didn’t return it right away.
But this could be considered a deal.
Quix - Lambo
Amrit Kiran - Mol Mantra
Chapter 17: Captured by temptation
Notes: This chapter is special. It's like a time bomb and the main trump card is presented. If you do not understand what I’m talking about - reread chapter 15 :-)
Chapter 17 – Captured by temptation
8 HOURS 18 MINUTES AGO
They swam through a fascinating water-labyrinth inside the mountain itself. Thrawn was somewhere ahead, whereas Leia had consciously decided to fall behind, as she wanted to be alone – not only to be able to fully enjoy the beauty of this strange place, but also to comprehend what had just happened. After such a deal, her life surely would never be the same again and somewhere, deep down inside, she was scared that, perhaps, she had made a mistake. But only time would tell ...
Some parts of the labyrinth were narrow and low, with only half a meter above the head, but then it expanded into natural, wide caves again, with high vaults. In one of these caves there was a slightly risen place, were one could leave the water to relax.
With gently rocking hips, Leia emerged from the water, her wet skin shimmering silver in the cave’s bluish light. It was strangely quiet here, with only the barely audible splash of the waves echoing off the stone-walls.
Leia reached out to a pile of towels and, after taking one, she slowly dried the shiny water-drops covering her skin, before bringing the soft white linen to her long, open hair. The Alderaanian tradition to always wear your hair in a strict, complex hairstyle had been instilled in Leia from early childhood, thus it felt strange to wear them open now. Sometimes she liked the feeling of the long, loose strands of her hair framing her face and falling down her shoulders in a dark waterfall, but in moments like that she was usually alone… Even in the most difficult days of the Alliance, Leia had always managed to wear a perfect hairstyle, one that not even Han had risked tampering with - not even during the most passionate moments of their relationship. Thus, standing before Thrawn now, with her hair all but loose, felt in a way even more intimate than the fact that she was completely naked.
Han. Where was he now? Had he managed to escape from the planet and had re-joined the remnants of the Rebellion or was he still hiding somewhere on Naboo? Had he tried to enter the VIP-zone, or had he given up on her after seeing the whole ceremony first-hand? Or had he simply abandoned her, after realising who she had become ...
It certainly looked like she had betrayed everyone, whilst in reality, she had sacrificed her past and future for the common goal of overthrowing the Empire. But was it really possible? What if she would become as cruel as a Sith? She was playing on their field now. What if she would cross the line in pursuit of this goal? Even if it was a noble one.
Leia smiled bitterly. She did not know.
"Whatever you are thinking now, leave it." a velvet, male voice brought her back to reality. "Now is not the time to indulge in grief or doubt. Come to me…”
"Just give me a minute," Leia replied absentmindedly, pretending to be busy with her hair.
Leia suddenly remembered how she had felt the people in the Force, after the ritual: they had been indistinguishable, but maybe she could feel Han now, if only for a moment, to make sure that he was alright. It was worth a try. She closed her eyes and plunged into the sensation, but nothing happened – there was nothing but emptiness that cut her off the Force, just like in Thrawn's chambers on Coruscant.
Leia involuntarily cringed. Well, as it turned out, here too ... she was completely defenceless.
"I do not know how this happens ... but tell me, how come that the almighty Force that permeates the whole universe stops its current whenever I’m with you?"
Leia threw the towel into a corner and slowly, but without hiding her irritation, went to the bed, standing over the Chiss, glaring down at him. Something about this did not please her at all. No, more than that. It alarmed her. When the opportunity had presented itself, Leia had somehow not dared to ask Vader about the anomaly in Thrawn’s estate and its possible cause. She might have had her reasons back then, but now she regretted it. She had to know.
Thrawn did not say a thing and just motioned her to him. He seemed relaxed, and carelessly covered by a blanket; lay on his back on a huge snow-white round bed with a lot of pillows.
"Or maybe you're afraid of me?" Leia continued, deciding to provoke the Chiss. Sometimes an attack was the best defence. "Maybe you are afraid of my Force powers?"
"In bed, I need a woman, not a warrior," he said gravely and then sharply pulled Leia towards him on the bed. She did not resist.
"Besides, you are tired today and in this silence, you can rest. No unnecessary burdens. No distractions ... Just you and me.”
Leia listened to her feelings, perhaps Thrawn was right…. But the feeling of injustice, that once again he had decided for her, was too strong.
"And yet ... how does this happen? And what’s its purpose?” Demonstratively, she looked into his scarlet eyes and then said. "I'm your wife now ... I have a right to know. And I sincerely doubt that my wellbeing is your sole intention.”
“It seems to me that this shall be a reoccurring theme of argument in the upcoming years, my dear. Well, is it so hard? To believe that I do care about your wellbeing? And to forget about the ways in which it is accomplished?” The Chiss whispered softly and pulled the Princess on top of him, into a sitting position, so that she was looking down on him.
Her hands reached out for his shoulders, before slowly sliding down his arms and chest, as if studying his body. On his right forearm, there was a slight elevation of a symmetrical scar, which, it seemed, formed some kind of figure. How curious, she would inquire about it later.
“Yes...because that would be far too easy. I've studied you long enough to know that you tend to pursue more than one goal at a time. You like complex games, Grand Admiral.”
"Well, I have no intention to spoil such high opinions of myself." A sly half-smile appeared on the man's lips.
“Alright. I am afraid of you. That you will strangle me in a fit of passion. Or while I am asleep. It is all just cold calculation, for my own safety. Do you feel better now?”
He was obviously mocking her. There wasn’t a hint of fear on his handsome, well-defined face. The tranquillity and impenetrable mask of severity, which was somehow attached to Thrawn's white uniform, now seemed to wear off and his face very subtly conveyed his mood.
"Quite dishonest," he whispered hoarsely and then slowly pulled her down, before claiming her mouth with a passionate kiss. His lips skilfully parted her mouth and Leia felt her tongue gliding against his, in a refined game, while, at the same time, he greedily ran his hands along her body, pressing her down on him.
"Do you know what is really dishonest?" He asked, leaving a seemingly tender bite on the delicate skin on her neck. "To think about how to escape from your own wedding with your ex-boyfriend."
Leia froze and instinctively wanted to pull away, but he held her in place, but then, after several long seconds, he let her go and carefully took her hands, interlocking them with his.
"You ... how do you know?"
"Imperial Security is a lot better than its reputation, my dear. If the guards are not visible, does not mean there are not there.”
Leia’s mind was on fever. They had watched her, which in turn meant they had allowed Han to enter the house.
Thrawn was silent for a while, studying Leia's reaction, before gently stroking the branchy tree on her ring finger.
"But I admit that I am glad that you did not do it ..." He intently gazed into her eyes, and his look seemed to permeate through all of her being. "It makes me think that you decided to stay with me ... out of your own free will, and not out of despair."
He smiled, then released her hands and reached for a glass, which stood on a table next to a small fruit-basket, a plate with biscuits and some other unknown, but obviously eatable things.
He picked up a piece of some soft, yellow fruit and then brought it to her lips. At first, she resisted, but then took it, while being careful not to touch his fingers. Taking the food turned out to be a wise decision because through all the worries and emotions of the day she had almost forgotten to eat, though there had been a truly vast range of dishes that the wedding banquet. Now, however, after taking the first bite, Leia felt how hungry she really was.
Thrawn nodded at the second glass on the table, next to the food.
"I suggest a toast…. let this union bring pleasure to both of us."
"Another potion?" She asked drily, while taking the silvery glass in her hand.
"No, just wine." He brought his glass to her, and a slight ringing filled the silence of the cave.
The white wine had a light and dry taste and with that was perfectly suited to the strange mood Leia felt at the moment.
She looked at the table full of fancy food again and almost immediately her attention was caught by some small éclairs-balls with different fillings, she hesitated for some time, choosing between white and black, and then, perhaps out of habit, took a white one. She was about to try it, but at the last moment changed her mind and offered it to Thrawn, who in turn accepted the treat.
"Hmm. I doubt you would like it. Its taste is too simple." He looked at the table, reached for a pink biscuit on the other side of the plate and then brought it to her mouth.
"Oh my ... this is delicious," she could not resist. It seemed to be some kind of creamy cheese and exquisite fish inside a crispy shell.
Leia smiled and nodded enthusiastically.
"How easy it is to appease you ..." Thrawn, too, could not help smiling. "How could I ever have guessed ..."
“Tell me about your planet ... about the world you come from.” Leia said, trying to change the subject while taking another sip from the glass. The wine was really beautiful.
“A land of eternal ice, lit only by the flames of our eyes ...”
Leia raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“Yes, you are a poet ... And now, could you be serious, please?”
Thrawn smirked and continued.
“I am afraid I am quite serious. It is indeed an ice-planet with a terrible climate and a very tough and complex social hierarchy. In comparison to the Chiss Ascendancy, the Galactic Empire is a completely free-thinking democracy, dictatorship or not. Moreover, practically any inhabited planet within the Empire has a better climate than Csilla.”
“And next, you’re telling me that you were a freedom fighter, who wanted to change a stagnant society, but got exiled in the process?”
Provocation, nothing more, the usual - really, sarcasm without claiming to know the truth. Still, behind all the sarcasm, she was genuinely interested in how Thrawn had managed to integrate into human society so swiftly and how he had managed to climb so high. The official records were insufficient and, like most Imperial documents, of little value and Leia knew better than to listen to rumours. And now, when she finally had the time and opportunity, she wanted to learn everything from the first mouth.
"Not too far from the truth," he said calmly, almost too calmly. “My views and decisions were too progressive for the Ascendancy.”
Leia suddenly felt the need to drink, and choosing between wine and water, she consciously pushed the silver cup further back on the table and chose the glass with the clear liquid instead. She needed a clear head before too many thoughtless words flew from her lips.
But would it also help to prevent thoughtless deeds?
Leia silently thanked the Force when she realised that the clear liquid was indeed water.
"Tell me about your world ..." Leia said, determined to listen.
One glance at him was enough to understand that he would not speak.
Another mystery. Was it unpleasant for him to talk about home? Or would such a conversation really take all evening? Anyway, she would certainly return to this topic.
Their eyes met and Leia felt an energy spark running through all the contact points of their bodies.
Thrawn put his glass back on the table and then pulled Leia to him. Affectionately he let the tip of his nose run over her neck and then placed a chain of weightless kisses on her shoulders. Coming back to her neck he lightly, but precisely, bit her tender skin, before immediately smoothing the scarlet trace with the moist touch of his lips.
Leia moaned softly.
"This is dishonest too ... " She breathed. “It’s the potion.”
"I already told you how it works," he answered calmly, continuing his sweet torture on her body. "It does not bring anything; it only strengthens your feelings," he said softly, insinuatingly, and with a slight smile he brought his lips to hers again.
"But if what you said was true ... if we assume that I am so devious as to expose you to some kind of sex drug, would that not imply that you would be attracted to men in general?"
His hands slowly slid along her spine, from the neck down her back, all the way down to her behind, making her shiver with lust. Without thinking, she leaned forward, her chest touching the muscular body of the man underneath her.
"What are you talking about?" She whispered hoarsely, feeling that she was slowly losing control: her treacherous body was clearly reacting to his caresses and she herself had not even noticed how her fingers had slid into his hair and were now caressing his back and shoulders.
"I was not your only dancing partner, my dear ... What did you feel when your body came into contact with someone else’s?”
He closed his hands around the Princess’ waist, pressing her even closer to him, much closer than during their dance and she felt his hardening cock against her belly.
"They kissed your hand."
His lips almost touched Leia's ear, but she only felt his burning hot breath when he said, "There were a lot of flattering words, and some men looked at you in a very frank manner."
He left several more sensitive bites and kisses on her neck and collarbones, and each kiss was followed by a wave of pleasure running through her body.
“Prince Isolder, for example ...”
“Stop it," she hissed. Leia did not want him to talk, she wanted him to carry on.
“Oh no, my dear, this is only the beginning ... Tell me, did you feel hot from their words, their touches ….. or from mine?”
He did not need an answer to that question. Her body practically burned for him at the moment and Leia felt her ever-growing desire like a tight, hot lump in her lower abdomen. Weightless fingers touched the pointed tip of a nipple, and then he squeezed it, bringing another moan from her lips. And it was not just what he was doing, but how ... the sensitivity and tenderness, strangely mixed with authority and firmness, which drove her insane. He held her close now, with no way to pull away and confidently dragged her further and further down into the depths of passion.
"Do you remember Han Solo?" When he said his name it was with obvious contempt and his hand, which gently ran through Leia's hair, suddenly became firm.
“When he kissed you? ... And I am sure he did when he came to the mansion … Tell me ... did you enjoy his kisses more than mine ... the one we shared in front of the whole galaxy?"
He forced her head back and looked down at her for a second before he consumed her lips with a greedy kiss, his arms tightly wrapped around the Princess. Their bodies separated by nothing more than the thin white fabric of the silk blanket.
"Did you want him to continue and to take you right there, on that table?" His greedy lips went down and clasped around the hard nipple of her left breast, while his hand gently squeezed her right.
"Before, when I was with you ... you wanted it, remember?"
His hand slid down Leia's belly, and his fingers easily plunged between her thighs, touching her wet flesh.
His words were intoxicating, after all, he knew what he was doing. He knew how to tempt. How to slowly, confidently lead her to the line, beyond which there was nothing left, but to give herself to him. And Leia was dangerously close.
"Stop it ..." She said and weakly tried to push the hand away that caressed her. "You're far too presumptuous."
"Really?" He leaned back, released Leia and removed himself from the much-desired body, with only his fingertips touching her sensitive flesh.
"Suppose that I am ... presumptuous..." Two of his fingers pushed forward, plunging into her wet depths, then cautiously turned, touching her most sensitive spot.
“What will you do? How long can you resist your desire?” Another push, and then his fingers left her warm body, leaving her with nothing but the heat of unsatisfied desire.
He put his hands behind his head, showing his indifference and carefully watched Leia's reaction.
This man was the Devil. And the sweeter his speech and kisses, the less trustworthy he was.
Humans lived by emotions ... especially the women. And the coldness and detachment of the Chiss for some reason only attracted them more, especially in contrast to the passion he demonstrated. This was the soil for a mutual, very strong attraction. As for Thrawn, who was in total control of his emotions and never let them dominate his mind, he was utterly fascinated by their vivid manifestations in other beings. One of the reasons he was so fond of art and human females.
He liked to drive them insane, to watch them drown in their emotions, lose their head from his caresses.
He liked to see how they wanted him. How they trembled with desire. It was, in a sense, even better than the very act of intimacy itself.
And now Leia wanted him. His Leia and only his.
The thought was intoxicating.
He dominated women, and never lost control.
But today was different.
There were a lot of emotions. Far too many. They grew like a snowball and made his heart beat faster. He felt almost human. Almost ready to lose control. But still he decided not to deviate from the usual course of action.
Leia’s fingertips shyly touched his face, outlining the contours of his lips. Innocent caresses that he clearly enjoyed. The Devil with the flaming scarlet eyes. How handsome he was now…
She slid forward and pressed her sensitive flesh against his hard cock, and then, giving in to a strange impulse, she leaned forward and touched his lips, a kiss filled with all the passion she did not want but could not deny. This was right. He was right. It corresponded to how she felt inside.
“You're right. To anyone else I could resist much longer.”
"There will be no one else." The features of his face seemed to sharpen, and his tightly compressed lips betrayed his anger.
"Are you ... are you jealous?" Leia laughed, the realisation was unreal and stunning at the same time.
With one jerk, he turned them over, and now Leia was under him, tightly pressed to the bed by the weight of his body.
"Perhaps." His voice sounded low and from somewhere in its depths, a hidden threat was shining through his velvety tone.
"No one, except me, should touch you ..." The blanket was finally dropped, their hot bodies touched and the wet folds of her womb came into contact with his hard male flesh.
Yes, jealousy ... it burned inside him. Never before had he truly understood this feeling, though through human art he had had a general understanding of the term. But today ... there was too much of it inside of him.
He had been just one step away from killing Han Solo right there, in front of the Emperor. It would not have entailed any real consequences, and because of that, the desire to give in to the emotion had been especially strong. He had almost lost control and had almost done it, although, usually, it was relatively easy for him to regain control through the Force.
Back then, he had understood why humans made so many mistakes, why they were sometimes ready to throw away the fruits of years of hard work in order to satisfy their immediate desire.
It had been an interesting experience ... and a very dangerous one.
"Let me go ..." Leia laughed, easily and playfully. She was lost, she knew it. But the knowledge that she had the power to evoke jealousy in him made her feel surprisingly good. As if she had just been handed an extra trump card.
"No." He slowly bent over her and kissed her gently, before claiming her mouth with rigid authority. "You are mine now ..."
He entered her in one quick motion, filling her up completely. It was too fast, too desirable, too wrong, and far too sweet ... It was everything at once and with that too much for her to handle. She grabbed his body and he took it slow at first, small insinuating movements to let her get used to him.
Thrawn's whole body seemed hotter than hers, but inside their difference in temperature felt a lot stronger and with each movement, he seemed to inflame her desire from inside.
"Oh, yes ..." she moaned and squirmed beneath him, exposing her snow-white neck to his greedy lips.
*Sith, how she had wanted this!*
His movements became stronger and harder; his kisses, with which he covered all of her body, became more passionate, and Leia felt like she was drawn into this wild, almost animalistic passion, in the sense of belonging.
She could feel her pleasure rising up and knew that she was close to climax, and, as if sensing the moment, he slowed down and bit her shoulder. It was a predatory gesture, marking her body as his own, as if to confirm his previous words. She should be angry, but she was beyond caring – no, in a sick way she liked it. No one would dare to do that to her ... no one except Thrawn. And her body looked forward to all the other things he dared to do with her...
Her body contracted at the peak of pleasure, pulsating in a sweet tremor. A moment later, to her delight, he followed; clutching her tender body in his arms to a point that was almost painful.
The stars glittered on the stone cave’s dark ceiling and a new universe was born in the resonance of their bodies.
• Five Finger Death Punch - MINE (End This Way)
• Poets of the Fall - War
• OOMPH! - Alles Aus Liebe
• Combichrist - Slave to Machine
Chapter 18: Signs of the Future
Chapter 18 - Signs of the Future
When Leia awoke, the sun was already up and bright rays of light shone through the weightless, golden bedroom-curtains. They had moved here after a while, after their passion had cooled down slightly. Thrawn had claimed that the bed in the bedroom was larger and more comfortable, but at first, Leia had wanted to stay in the dark, grey cave, in the twilight, underneath the sparkling stars that had shone on the high stone-vault. She had wanted to forget herself there, half-asleep in her husband’s warm embrace, to calm her restless mind and to enjoy the strange attraction she felt for him ... She had wanted to stay there without thinking, without contemplating reality. But Thrawn had been adamant, and after a while had left the bed and her. And with that, the stone cave had suddenly become terribly cold. Thus, she had followed his example and had gotten up, before lamenting that she had no clothes to put on.
“Do we have to swim back or ...”
“No, we can walk. There is a door leading to the mansion upstairs.”
Leia had pulled the white bedspread from the bed and had thrown it over her shoulders. It had managed to get her a little warmer, but the icy stone floor had caused the cold to slowly grow from her feet up through her whole body. Hidden in the wall of the cave, there was indeed a door, behind which there was a long staircase going up, and at its end there was another door, leading directly into the mansion; and the soft, silky carpet, that seemed to cover the first room’s entire floor had been a real pleasure after the cave’s hard stone floor.
Suddenly, the fatigue had disappeared and Leia had begun to explore the mansion’s rooms enthusiastically.
The first door had led to the dressing room, in which someone had already delivered her clothes and had hung them on several hangers.
The second door had opened into an office with a large panoramic window and a huge, dark, wooden table.
The third had led to the bathroom, which even included a small pool and a mirror with an old, golden frame that covered almost the entire wall. Involuntarily, Leia had admired her own reflection: a flexible, young body; long, dark hair; seductively parted, scarlet lips, still swollen from kissing ... She had run her hand along her neck and shoulders, looking for the remains of Thrawn's passion, but everything had looked alright... It was amazing how he had managed to calculate just the right strength to not leave marks on her body. She had shivered and had noticed goosebumps on her foreman, before entering the shower, pampering her body with streams of hot water.
When she had returned to the bedroom, Thrawn had already been asleep. Carefully, she had crawled under the warm, soft blanket, hoping to fall asleep straightaway, but that hadn’t happened. Her body had been pleasantly relaxed and exhausted, but there had been too many things on her mind. She had closed her eyes and had listened to the silence, which had only been disturbed by the calm, measured breathing of the Chiss. And then had turned on her side and had crawled closer to him, before finally putting her head on his shoulder. Only then she had felt better, had felt her inner tension fade and then, finally, she had fallen asleep too.
When Leia woke up, she was already alone. Thrawn was, obviously, an early riser. Stretching sweetly, she got out of bed and set off to get dressed.
Contrary to habit, she decided to wear her hair open and only adorned it with a flower. In addition to that, she put on a simple, light, silk, white dress with pearls and thin straps.
Then she went down to the living room, where she met Thrawn, who seemed to be waiting for her.
“Just in time, my dear ... I think you might enjoy this.”
"Gifts. Almost all of these boxes are wedding gifts." He pointed to a table that was covered with colourful boxes in all shapes and sizes. The bigger ones were standing on the floor, as there was simply not enough space on the table.
“Wow!” Leia raised an eyebrow in surprise. Ever since childhood, she loved gifts and surprises like this and the Organas had always spoiled their daughter, so that now an almost childish anticipation flashed up in her eyes, and she actually had to suppress the urge to clap her hands in an outburst of pure delight. However, when she read the name card attached to the very first box, her smile already faded somewhat.
“From Admiral Constantine…”
Cautiously she opened the box and looked inside, and what she saw did not please her at all, on the contrary, it disgusted her. She opened the box completely and then showed its content to Thrawn; while clenching her free hand in a fist of anger. Then the Chiss revealed a portable hand blaster, which was somehow integrated into his glove and apparently was activated by certain gestures or, by default, very sharp movements. He stretched his arm forward, aimed, and from underneath his palm came a small scarlet ray of light, which smashed right into the Death Star table lamp. The cleaner-droid’s activation sensors flashed up immediately and with that, it slowly rolled to the "explosion’s" epicentre.
“Perfect” Thrawn said, looking down at the tiny glass pieces that were scattered all over the floor now.
“It has only enough energy for two or three shots, but that should suffice for a first reaction in an emergency situation. In addition, it cannot be detected by standard security scanners, if you trust its specifications. It is the newest product of the `Arsenal Arms Company´ and goes by the name `Mier-Son´. You should try it.” He handed her a second pair of white, leather gloves, which were clearly designed for women.
“All you need now is a new target.”
He went to one of the bigger boxes on the floor, looked at the card, grinned, and then took out its content – a white and gold sculpture of the Imperial Emblem, which, apparently, was supposed to somehow look antique and, judging by its weight, was hollow inside.
“This affront to the eyes should do.” He put the `target´ several meters away from Leia, then went behind her back and aimed her hand at the sculpture.
“Just make a sharp fist, but think about the blowback if you charge it to the maximum.”
Leia nodded, straightened her arm, and then quickly made a fist. The sculpture disintegrated into a thousand pieces and the Princess actually cried out in surprise, before starting to laugh. Yes, the impact had been stronger than she had expected.
Again, the cleaning droid, who had just finished cleaning up the fragments of their previous target, melancholically rolled over and headed for the next pile of garbage.
“The planet of Hoth as a present?” Leia asked in pure disbelief while looking at a document that was Vader’s gift. “That’s …..horrible.”
Thrawn went up to her, put his arms around her waist, and remained silent for a while; looking at her pretty, but sad face.
“It all depends on how you look at it. From a certain point of view...” He explained and with that turned Leia around, pressing her back to him. His hands slid along her body, caressed her breasts through the thin fabric of her dress, and then went down again, stroking her stomach and outlining her waist and hips. Enjoying every moment, he slowly explored every inch of her body, and Leia felt her body burning in all the places his hands had been. She threw her head back and rubbed it against his shoulder. His fingers gently pushed the dress' straps off and then his left hand caressed the sensitive skin of her naked breast. A wave of excitement swept through Leia’s body and she moaned sweetly when he squeezed her nipple and gently bit her neck. “….it is pretty romantic.”
“What are you talking about?” She seemed to have lost the thread of conversation and had no idea what Thrawn was talking about. Another contributing factor surely was his second hand, which, by now, was sliding down her dress and then went right between her thighs, pushing her thin lace panties aside, touching her moist, sensitive flesh.
“You know ...” he turned Leia around again, so that he could see her reaction to what he was going to say. “….if the operation on Hoth had not been successful, you would not be mine.”
The Chiss smiled insidiously, and then, overcoming Leia’s resistance, touched her lips, engaging her in a long, passionate kiss, to which, at first, she instinctively answered, but then, after realizing the true meaning of his words, she tried to pull away and sharply plunged her nails into Thrawn’s shoulders. However, his arms were too strong, his lips too demanding and Leia’s whole body literally melted with desire for him ... but still, the fury inside her was just as strong.
When he finally broke the kiss and slightly loosened his embrace, he was met by an extremely angry gaze. If the destruction of the Imperial sculpture had gained him any plus-points in the eyes of the Princess, then he had surely lost them again with his subsequent comment about Hoth.
“I hate you,” she held his face in her hands and then her fingers run down his neck, gently scratching his sensitive skin, before she claimed his mouth with a passionate kiss. “I hate you,” she hissed again and sensitively bit on his lower-lip.
“Use your hate ... and let it strengthen you. It is not easy to withstand me ...” he laughed softly and imperiously clung to Leia’s lips. Her airy, white dress was thrown down in one steady motion, which simultaneously caused a thin string of the dress’ white pearls to come off, loudly crashing to the hard floor. With a swift movement, he lifted Leia up on a table, positioning himself between her legs. His hot lips touched her breast, and when he very gently bit down on a nipple, Leia moaned another curse.
They had breakfast - although, considering the time, dinner would be a more appropriate word - on the spacious terrace which offered a breathtaking view of the blue lake and the blue-greyish mountains. Heavy gray-white clouds partially hid the sun and caressed the mountaintops. Here the sky seemed to be exceptionally close, like one just had to reach out to touch the bottomless depth of the clouds.
“I'd like to live here,” Leia said, while admiring the beautiful landscape. “It's gorgeous here, almost paradise-like.”
“It is hard to disagree,” Thrawn said absentmindedly. He did enjoy the peace and tranquility of the place, his mind, however, was already occupied by something else and Leia was more than a little curious about what it was. She could hardly imagine that anyone could just relax without thinking at all, as Leia herself always had too many thoughts, which sometimes even contradicted each other.
“Are you talking about Naboo in general or ...”
“No, this place in particular. It feels so majestic and magical. I would like to live here.”
“I guess now I understand what it means to be the husband of a Princess.”
It took a while before Leia understood the true meaning of his words. No, she didn’t harbor an irresistible craving for luxury. She never had, not even when she had still been the Crown Princess of Alderaan and money hadn’t been in issue. Back then, she could have had everything she wanted - the only thing she had had to do in order to achieve the desired object was pointing at it. During the days of the Alliance, conditions had been a lot harder, but she had been obsessed with the cause and had not suffered too many inconveniences, especially while knowing that in the Alliance everyone was equal.
Naturally, money was important. It always had been. Especially in times of war. War required investments, which were usually measured by millions in loans, but the how and where of such loans hadn’t occupied her mind until very recently. And economics, unfortunately, had never been her strong point. For example, she had no idea how much a mansion like this was worth, but suspected a lot, especially on Naboo.
“I cannot buy this house for us, even if I wanted to, and the reason for that is not the price. We are in one of Naboo’s natural reserves and therefore the land here cannot be transferred to private ownership.” The Chiss took a sip of the green liquid from his glass. "Nevertheless, this place belongs to me ... “
“And how did you accomplished that?” Leia asked warily, already suspecting the unlawfulness of whatever he was about to say.
“It was a gift from his Majesty. For services to the Empire.”
*What kind of services?* Leia thought, but then mumbled: "I guess the laws of the Empire are not the same for everyone."
“No, they are not. And I do not see anything wrong with that. By the way, I have to leave the day after tomorrow.” The Chiss said quietly. “A special mission.”
Leia hadn’t planned to say it out loud, but it had happened anyway. She really should think more before opening her mouth and it was not just what she had said, but how. Her voice had sounded worried and even a little annoyed.
“You can remain here, if you want to. Talk to your relatives and enjoy the nature.”
“No, I wasn’t talking about that ... It's just that I ...”
“What? Will miss me?” He asked ironically, but then stopped himself, before adding, quite seriously. “I know you will ... It is typical for Humans.”
The effects of `Cheun Kar´ had already weakened considerably, and the Chiss’ attitude had become almost normal again, but echoes of what Humans called `feelings´, still lived inside of him. Pale shadows of how Humans truly felt, for sure, but now he understood them better, much better. A valuable experience.
And looking at Leia now, he knew the bitter longing that squeezed her heart, and once they would part, it would only intensify. She would have to find something to occupy herself with, to not have to deal with these feelings, but at night sleep would be more difficult to come by, remembering their nights together and this, he had no doubt, would anger her. Poor Leia ... For a moment, he actually felt sorry for her.
And would he himself be able to avoid the attachment? The jealousy? And all the other useless emotions? Yes, he would. He was sure about it.
“Where are you going?”
He had expected that question, still, he was unsure about what to say. He had to deal with the attack on Naboo, and his first destination would be the Lothal system, from which the last part of the Rebel fleet had arrived.
According to naval protocol, he had no right to share details of upcoming operations, but the general direction, the sector, to which his mission would lead him, this kind of data he could share with family members. But, once Leia would know about the sector she would certainly ask for more details and then would go crazy from the lack thereof.
Thrawn chuckled to himself: never before had he considered the feelings of another being like this, had taken them into account, never before they had served as a powerful argument for a decision. This had to be the empathy, which lead Humans to have a biased attitude.
“If the first mission will be successful, I will head to the Unknown Regions. I will return in three or four months. If there will be difficulties, I may have to return to Coruscant sooner.”
“You won’t tell me more than that?” Leia looked at Thrawn, searching for an answer. If she had been a better Force user, he probably would have felt her eyes’ severe examination on an almost physical level by now.
“No.” He said, his voice firm and detached.
“That’s just perfect!” Suddenly, Leia felt hurt, and she really did not understand why. Angrily, she put her glass of sweet mango juice on the table. “Should I wish you good luck?”
“That depends. I would prefer it. However,…” he took her hand in his, gently squeezed it and then brought it to his lips, leaving a tender kiss on it. “… if luck is with me, our separation will be longer.”
Leia shook her head absentmindedly. She did not want to think about it, but couldn’t help herself. For some reason, she was still angry, but why? Because of what he had said about his departure just now? Because he hadn’t informed her earlier? Because he was in no hurry to talk about where he was going? Because he was leaving her now and for such a long time ... right after gaining a small piece of her heart and after she had learned how to trust him – at least a little? Somehow the prospect of being alone right now frightened her. She had so many questions about her new life and her new status. There were so many things to discuss, and there would be some difficult conversations too, for which she was not ready yet.
“Then let luck be with you.” Leia said, gently releasing her hand. “I like it here, but I do not wish to remain alone in this big house. I'm not used to spend my days in the sole company of droids.”
“They have less flaws in terms of security than sentient beings.” Thrawn explained, pointing in the direction of the droid, which put something on their table right now.
“Maybe, but even the most advanced protocol droid is no substitute for a communication with another sentient being. And there are only droids here, and in your estate on Coruscant too.“
“Would the alternative be more convenient for you? The droids cope with everything I need and I see no reason to hire sentient beings to perform everyday tasks. But you seem to be of a different opinion.”
Leia knew it would be difficult to explain her point of view to him. Really difficult because all his arguments had been reasonable, still she felt differently. In her life, things just always had been different: On Alderaan, they had had many servants, normal people who were treated with respect. She had had living security guards and a personal secretary and later, during her time in the Alliance, she had always been surrounded by people. And almost all of them had been helpful and just as ready to follow her orders as any droid.
Thrawn thoughtfully looked at Leia, trying to understand her, and then said:
“Some people are always present in my house, Leia. Usually, one of my aides, whatever pilot is on duty and some security guards as well. Sometimes, there are technicians too who work on the speeders and yachts. And then there is the head of security, who is also holding the position of manager and who organizes the work of other people whenever they are needed and controls the whole household. Who else do you need? Due to the special circumstances of your stay, you are not familiar with them, but this will change now. I will make sure of it.”
He picked up his comlink and quickly typed a message. The answer came almost immediately.
“I will inform the manager about your current whereabouts. You two will meet upon your arrival. Then there will be a tour of the rest of the house, which you might find interesting.”
“But …. why didn’t you tell me about your living staff earlier?”
“Because you did not ask.” Thrawn said flatly.
“Well …” Leia sighed. He was right, but only from a certain point of view. “Well, what's his name? The manager?”
“Her name is Laura Grag.”
Leia raised an eyebrow in surprise.
For some reason, she was struck by the fact that the head of security was a woman. Of course, she knew that there were women in the armed forces of the Empire - especially among the analysts and pilots - but in general, most of the positions within the Empire were held by men.
“You look surprised, my dear.” Thrawn took another sip of the dark liquid. It was some kind of herbal drink that already looked bitter.
“Women perform better in a peaceful environment: They are less noticeable and usually nicer to deal with. There are quite a few women among my security team and you may find that this has more than one advantage for you.”
“I guess this was one of the many things I don’t know about you.” Leia murmured without thinking.
Leia was not sure how much more she wanted to know about him. Each interaction and casual conversation with him left her with a new part of the puzzle called `Grand Admiral Thrawn´. And the less she knew about him, the easier it was to treat him in a certain way. She could easily recognize his brilliant mind and great taste, but continue to hate his essence - the successful Imperial officer. She could enjoy the company of someone with fine manners, but go crazy whenever decisions were made without her or simply ordered. But by now, these contradictions had become too numerous, and Leia knew that she no longer could engage the man in front of her with hostility or malice. He had a lot of attractive qualities, and it was impossible not to recognize them. The more she learned about Thrawn, the more she…. respected him. But at the same time ... he was still her enemy. He wholeheartedly supported the Empire, and he had invested a lot in its might and expansion...
“Actually, I do not even have your commlink number.” Leia said, suddenly realizing how strange that was. Truth to be told, there were almost no contacts in her comlink’s directory at the moment, as she had no one to talk to. Most high-ranking people did not share their private comlink number lightly; and during their short social talks, they hadn’t dared to ask for hers. It would have been impolite anyway. In addition to that, she also did not possess an official number.
“And I probably need a personal assistant. A secretary.”
“Yes, of course.” Again, he took the comlink and wrote something. “I will send to you one of our specialists in public relations - Caitlin Mallei. It should be easy for her to work with you, seeing that during the last month her sole work was sorting out the numerous petitions of high-ranking people who wanted to meet you.”
“Frankly speaking, your reputation in the public eye is mixed, but the more it is, the more people are interested in you. You are especially interesting to journalists, owners of large media companies and artists. But there are also many requests from charities to support their cause or to provide funding. There was even a request from the Minister of Education, with whom I recommend you to meet, as the impending reform will not do. Perhaps you can share some more sensible ideas with the man, I am convinced he will listen to you.”
Leia wasn’t so sure and she was also still busy trying to figure out her own feelings about the situation. She had actually been cut off from the public to an extent that she hadn’t noticed its vivid interest in her.
“All of this is hard to believe...” Leia said, lost in thoughts. “And what did Mrs. Mallei answer to all those requests? And why did they write to you?”
“Cait temporarily declined all of them and with that, she worked in accordance with my orders.” Thrawn stated calmly and firmly. “As for the other question, I am somewhat known for my philanthropic work and I am the patron of several major art projects, I also have a couple of charitable foundations and several educational programs to identify especially talented young people, from which some, after a contest, get the chance to study at some the best educational institutions of the Empire. So I guess, to a certain degree, it makes sense that they contacted me. Besides, I was your fiancé and you, my dear, were hard to reach.”
Leia raised her eyebrows. Of course, in order to maintain a good reputation, every public person had to be involved in some sort of charity work because in doing so, the person in question – at least formally – showed that he or she was interested in public issues. As Crown Princess of Alderaan, Leia herself had been a member of at least a dozen different public organizations and initiatives, but after the dissolution of the Imperial Senate, she had begun to invest her energy into the Alliance instead and with that had lost contact with most people in those foundations.
“Once you reach a certain position within society, there is automatically a certain degree of interest and an inevitable audience, inundating you with requests and suggestions. However, once your association with me was publicized, the general interest in your persona increased many times over.” He smiled and enjoyed watching the emotions of Leia’s face, which quickly turned from surprise to anger.
“And as outlandish as it may sound, even Lord Vader has his admirers: design offices, arms companies in general and all sorts of technological institutes. Most of them are, in one way or another, looking for his response to their newest developments.”
“That I understand. I guess they need funding and hope for the implementation of their technologies into the huge Imperial war machine. The budget of the Empire’s military sector is huge, and of course, who, if not the Commander-in-Chief, is responsible for its equipment.” Leia sounded pretty certain, but Thrawn shook his head.
“There is more to it than that. His Lordship is an outstanding engineer, and few people realize how much he is involved in Imperial ship design. Some of his comments on certain projects saved billions of credits that otherwise would have been spent in the testing phase and subsequent error detection. Several of his optimizations helped to save a significant portion of funds, which in turn allows us to keep up an army of this scale. If in every area the budget would have been distributed as competently as in the military, the Rebellion might never have happened, as there would have been far less discontent in general.”
Leia was astonished. She had never considered the situation from that particular angle.
“Sounds a bit too idealistic, if you ask me.” She remarked without thinking.
“We all are idealists in one way or another ... “ Thrawn concluded philosophically and then, distracted by an incoming call, went into another room.
“One of two things: either you had the wrong number because you send me a request to call you back, or you came up with some brilliant idea, which, by tragic coincidence, you can not share with anyone else.” Mirabella’s melodic voice said through the phone, skipping the formal greeting.
“Almost right. Are you still on Naboo, Honey?” The Chiss responded, somewhat playful.
“Honey?” she whispered skeptically. “Starting like that, I’m already afraid this has something to do with this job of yours, Grand Admiral. And I think it will be something I don't like. Otherwise, you already would have told me what all this is about.”
“You did not answer my question.”
“Yes, sorry. I'm still on Naboo, where else could I be? It's such a wonderful place, if I stay here a few days more, I might never return to the capital.”
Thrawn ignored her comment and just said:
“Tomorrow evening at eight. I will send you the coordinates.”
“Alright. I shall await our meeting trembling with fear then.” Mirabella said playfully and hung up. She knew that the conversation was over.
Thrawn returned from the living room, holding a datapad in his hand, on which a document was already opened.
"Here is a list of public organizations and foundations of which I am the creator, patron or just an active member," he nodded at a list with at least twenty points.
“The first one could be particularly interesting for you: `The Foundation for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage within the Empire.´ You may want to participate in some of them or all, as I often lack the time to support them in a more deserving way than money.”
Leia looked at the list with interest and her surprise grew with every paragraph.
"I had no idea you had such a wide range of interests."
“And these are only some of them. In any case, this may provide you with something to do in my absence. I would advise you to pay attention to the `Alderaanian Aid Fund´, the organization has existed for several years, but its activities could be better. You were elected its chairman three days ago.”
“In my absence and without my approval?” Leia was shocked to the core. “Do you like to make decisions like that or is this just standard Imperial procedure?”
“Directions like that?” He repeated.
“Fast. Swift. And without the agreement of even most immediate participants.”
"Then the answer has to be `yes´ to both. I love efficiency and this is also how it is done in the Empire. It is a system that works well, and in which it is easy to make quick decisions and to quickly change them again, if such a need arises. Is there anything you do not like about my decision?”
Leia shook her head. The charity work he was offering was quite interesting and also quite in line with some of the other goals of the Princess. The only thing she was concerned about was the way in which he had introduced her to it.
"By the way, there is one everyday task sentient beings do perform better than droids – cooking." He said and brought another piece of steak into his mouth; a not entirely satisfied look on his face.
Leia smiled. In his estate the kitchen consisted of a datapad, listing the best restaurants that offered a delivery in a fairly reasonable time. The droids only served, which was generally quite convenient.
"I want you to understand me correctly: your former way of life on Coruscant was ... a necessary precaution," he continued at last. "You do not have to be alone in the house and you are free to go wherever you choose, but under the condition that there is a constant guard with you - wherever you go, whomever you meet.”
"And the guard will inform you about each and every step I take…” Leia tensed and then sighed heavily. “You can hardly call that being free.”
"I am not as despotic as you think I am, and I respect the personal space of other people. But, as I said, I am used to an efficient system in which my decisions are not questioned. Yes, Leia, I am used to ordering, but I have no desire to assert myself at the expense of others. I considered the pros and cons and have come to the conclusion that this is the optimal solution. I can state my arguments if you want to.”
Leia was unmoved by his explanation. She did not want to agree to this because it really meant that she would be under constant surveillance. In addition to that, she hadn’t had a bodyguard for a long time…. In the Alliance there had been no need, but even as a senator she hadn’t had one all the time. If her security team would consist of people she knew and who were devoted to her personally, convincing her would be much easier. But these were Thrawn’s people and thus an agreement would be much harder to come by, at least not immediately.
"You ... behave as if you always know what is right." She paused for a moment and continued to drill into him with her dark, almond eyes. "No one can always be right."
Thrawn just smiled impudently.
“Is that so?” His confidence was unshakable.
"Tell me honestly ... do you think that I could be in danger, or is it just a kind of surveillance to make sure that I don’t do anything stupid?" Leia decided to ask directly. It was easier that way.
"I do not think that you have fully realized how much your life has changed now." he said thoughtfully. “You are in a vulnerable position and thus you need security. Some people may want to gain you as an ally, while others hate you, no matter what you will do in the future. Indirectly, you are feared as Lord Vader’s heiress.” he continued to say something else, but Leia didn’t hear a thing.
Lord Vader’s heiress? To the rest of the galaxy she might be just that, but inwardly the Princess categorically denied the idea.
“… and that is a good thing. I would prefer it if they were afraid of you, and let the dark mask of the Commander-in-Chief protect you from all ill-wishers, so to speak. But in order to evoke fear, you will have to perform a series of not so pleasant deeds, which will affirm your loyalty to the Empire and demonstrate your Force abilities. But there is another, more convenient way ...”
“What way?” Leia jumped at the opportunity of an alternative, as the previous suggestion did not suit her at all, though it was impossible to recognize its effectiveness.
“I think you should stay away from politics for the next few years, but, at the same time, involve yourself in other social activities. As my wife, you can afford it. Like that, you can also prove your good intentions to the people that surround you. In my opinion, this would be the best option. I have no intention to limit, break or suppress you, otherwise, I would have done it already." He stopped for a moment, and the silence was especially heavy on Leia. "But it is my duty to protect you, and I know how to do it. You just need to trust me and not try to challenge each and every of my decisions.”
"You make it sound like your decisions could be challenged ..." Leia breathed stubbornly, as always, but also relaxed a little.
"I am always ready to listen to reasonable arguments and to take them into consideration," he continued calmly.
“Reasonable arguments... What about emotional ones?" Leia knew how to think rationally; logically. But applying it to the person in front of her was useless. He was a hard man to convince.
"Well, you can always try to convince me..... in other ways..." his voice warmed up considerably, and notes of dark velvet slid inside.
A wave of sweet tremor swept over Leia's back, as she immediately remembered last night. And the morning after.
"Oh, I'll try, be sure." She smiled seductively. “In the end, you might even beg for mercy ..."
“Might I?” He said, a treacherous smile on his lips.
• Two Steps from Hell - The Strength of a Thousand Men (Instrumental)
• Two Steps from Hell - The Flight Of the Silverbird
• Two Steps from Hell - Unleashed
Chapter 19: Alliances
“Your new comlink.” Thrawn handed a large, white box to Leia. “And it has my personal number.”
They were slowly preparing to leave and Leia had decided to spend a couple of more days with her relatives, before returning to Coruscant. She had also planned to visit her mother’s tomb and somehow the thought still caused a wave of inexplicable fear in her, as if touching the cold, marble tomb would finally make her a member of the Naberrie family, rejecting her adoptive parents.
Leia hastily unpacked the box and now looked enthusiastically at the new comlink. It was one of the latest models and definitely had been expensive.
“Oh, wow! I can’t decide what’s the more precious gift ... the number of Grand Admiral Thrawn himself or this technological miracle.” Leia could not resist taunting and at the same time smiled happily. This model even featured a powerful, portable broadcasting unite which enabled the owner to project a hologram of the incoming calls.
“You deserve it,” the Chiss replied; a smug grin on his beautiful face. “You failed to convince me yesterday, my decision about your protection remains unchanged, but ... I liked your methods. Who would have thought that your otherwise sharp tongue could be so gentle...”
“Shut up,” Leia whispered indignantly; her cheeks flaring up at the mentioning of yesterday’s events. What on earth had she thought? Either the effect of Thrawn’s poison had reached its peak or ... she really had wanted him - desperately.
Today, everything that had happened over the past few days felt like a dream — wild and unreal. Was the man in front of her really her husband now? An Imperial officer, an alien to whom she had surrendered her body and with whom she had made passionate love under the stone cave’s high vaults? Was this the man, in front of whom she had knelt yesterday, opening his belt and unbuttoning his trousers with thin fingers to touch his hard, imposing cock with her lips? To taste his passion and to see his composure and steel restrain retreat in the face of pleasure? A strange desire to command this strong man had been born in her chest and had not yet left. A desire to hear how quiet hoarse moans flew from his mouth in accordance to her movements, to feel how his desire pulsated under the tender skin of her lips ... to see how he almost lost control ... Yes, it had been worth it. To have a little power over him....
But that did not change the fact that now, when Thrawn so frankly recalled the occasion, Leia felt embarrassed. And she was anxious too because her body surely reacted to the memory of this dark desire, resulting in a sweet pulsation in her lower abdomen.
No. She had to pull herself together now.
But instead, she took a step forward and took his face in her hands and then touched his lips. She had intended it to be a tender kiss. A kiss to show her gratitude. She had hoped it would divert his attention, so that he would not continue to recall the moments of their closeness, and thus would stop tempting her. But it turned out differently and when her tongue touched the hot lips of the Chiss, their lips began to move against each other in a sensual dance once more. No, it had not come out nearly as chaste as intended. It was not the restrained kiss of a wife, but rather one expected of a mistress, a courtesan, wishing to keep the man in question in her hot embrace for the whole night.
Leia found the strength to pull away a little and broke their kiss. She caught her breath and looked into Thrawn’s eyes. He was pleased — or at least she could not come up with a better description for the expression on his face.
“I was planning to give you a comlink anyway, but with encounters like this…,” he clearly hinted at the last kiss, “… you convinced me to give you my number, although I was unsure to the last minute. Still, I definitely like this manifestation of your character ... Keep on channeling your passion in this direction, and who knows, maybe you will achieve something that no woman so far could ...”
Thrawn knew that every woman wanted to be the one and only for her man. One only had to create competition and scratch the sensitive self-esteem of the chosen lady or encourage them the right way, to see how much she desired to be the one ... no matter how much she really wanted the man. And Leia wanted him a lot more than she was ready to admit.
Leia would protest, of course. Would say something like she wanted nothing and that everything she needed, she would get on her own, and some sharp remark would probably also leave her lips, but right now her restless mind had caught on a different, but no less interesting fact:
“Why were you not going to give me your comlink number? That's kind of unusual, don't you think?” Leia, of course, was not going to call him, but weren’t all those devices invented for communication?
Thrawn nodded discreetly, expressing understanding, but, at the same time, he answered coldly and seriously:
“As I said, I appreciate my freedom. And I also like to determine the time of communication. On the other hand, it is wrong if my wife has to leave a message with my adjutant if she wants to contact me. And that is what almost everyone does.”
“Almost ... but not everyone.” Leia stated.
“Yes. There are a few exceptions. And now you are one of them.”
“You can calm down. I will not call you,” Leia said copying his cold tone. She did not like the arrogance in his voice and the authoritative attitude with which he determined how certain things would work in their life. An unpleasant chill ran down her back. There was still a gap between them, and it was big enough that probably not even time would fill it.
“You are already an exception to many of my rules, Leia. I thought this over and it is a deliberate step. You can call me whenever you want, and I will answer if I have the opportunity.”
Leia nodded stiffly.
It was such a simple thing, but obviously not even that had been easy for him. And how many more surprises would await her in the future?
“In a way, this marriage is perhaps even a bigger step out of the comfort zone for me than it is for you. I do not want to change my way of life too much.”
“I can understand that.” Leia nodded softly. Their conversation had somehow taken on a different turn and was now quite frank. Interesting.
“You can. And at the same time, you cannot. Relationships largely consist of partners manipulating each other. They set up conditions for each other, try to control each other, put pressure on pity and so on ... In long-term relationships, at least in human ones, this system of pressure and restrictions forms the basis of marriage. I have studied this question to some extent. So, what you have to understand is that it will not work on me. Tears are also a waste of time. I am absolutely insensitive in this regard. I am guided by reason and passion equally, but emotions are never a basis for any of my decisions. I suppose such an attitude may hurt, especially women, but there will be no other. You should take it as a fact. And, again, I value my freedom too much to tolerate any form of control.”
“But at the same time, to one degree or another, you intend to control my every step.” Leia stared at the man in front of her.
“Not every step, but ... in general, yes.” a calm voice, devoid of emotions, said.
“But my control ... is a form of care, not of restriction. Please take this into account.”
Leia searched for the right words to show her disagreement, but couldn’t find them. For a brief moment, she seemed to see the world through his eyes — through the eyes of a man endowed with power and with much responsibility on his shoulders. For him making decisions was as natural as breathing. And at the same time, he had spent his life alone till now, without having to consider anyone else. How much older was he? Leia wondered. The documents she had read about him so far had not included an exact date of birth, which in itself was wild. At least two decades, she guessed. So he was probably twice her age then but didn’t look older than thirty-five. And she knew nothing about Chiss family concepts and relationships ... Subjects worth studying, for general development, at least.
Leia sighed heavily. A lot of this was so different and inhuman.
“And I will break your rules. I'm too impulsive to make informed decisions. Consider this, especially when I find trouble next time. And I’ll find it, even if I’m not looking for it.” Leia said, adding her share of frankness to this strange conversation.
“I have already taken this into account in my calculations.”
Instead of rolling her eyes and accusing the Chiss of being overconfident once again, she simply hugged him and placed her head on his shoulder.
Slowly, Thrawn stroked her back and then buried his fingers in her hair, which was now loose. When he reached her neck, he added a little Force to this touch. Human women loved affection, he knew that. Tenderness towards them created the illusion of security and dulled their minds, impeding critical perceptions. He slowly, but surely tamed Leia, and paved the road to a yet fragile form of affection for him.
“I will miss you,” the words of farewell before their long separation were out before she could think otherwise.
“The human response would be ‘Me too’.” Leia explained patiently.
“I am not human.”
“I know,” she said in tune while releasing him from her arms. “But perhaps I can teach you how to become one.”
The Chiss arched an eyebrow in skepticism and shook his head.
“There is one more thing,” he said and took out a chip in a translucent black and silver case. “This is your bank card. With it you have access to quite a lot of money, but should it not be enough to satisfy your royal desires, tell me and we will think of something.” he chuckled ironically.
“Are you implying that I spend too much?” Leia asked, not hiding her irritation. On the other hand, she also did not activate the chip to see what her husband considered to be `quite a lot of money´. She was just stunned by his remark.
“I guess I still spend more than you do. But do not concern yourself with it. Enjoy life, my queen.”
On the terrace, next to her husband’s speedboat, was a small yacht. Two fighter pilots in black saluted to the Grand Admiral and greeted Leia, before taking the suitcases on board which the droids had delivered.
“They will take you to the Naberrie estate.”
The Chiss nodded to some stormtroopers. “And those will be your temporary guard. When you arrive at the spaceport, you will get an additional escort-ship and when you want to return to Coruscant, you have to inform security first.”
“Okay,” Leia tried to stretch the time, she didn't want to part now. “We are going into different directions?”
“Yes. I still have some things to do.” Thrawn was dressed in an elegant black suit, and not in a military uniform. Whatever his affairs were, they were informal, personal.
“Business?” Leia asked with interest, hoping to find out more, but Thrawn only nodded; he was definitely not going to talk about it. He merely raised Leia’s hand to his lips, leaving an insinuating, tender kiss on her wrist.
“Farewell, Leia.” A small half-smile touched his lips. “We shall never meet again the way we are now... So let our time here remain in your memory.”
Leia's heart suddenly hurt painfully. What if she would never see him again? If something happened and ...
“Farewell, Thrawn. And ... may the Force be with you.”
At the appointed place, in the shade of the trees by the lakeshore, there was a white speeder, against whose door a woman in a tight, black jumpsuit, gracefully leaned, admiring the pristine beauty of Naboo’s countryside.
“You're late,” she said, while taking off her sunglasses, addressing the man who just came out of his speeder, which was now parked alongside hers.
“That’s not like you.”
Thrawn ignored her comment.
“I have little time, Mira. Therefore, let us immediately go to the point. I want you and Leia to organize something like a new Alliance.”
Mirabella intently looked at Thrawn. She wanted more information.
“The problem is not that there are those who disagree with the regime. The problem is that their energy goes to the destruction of the Empire, and not into creating something new or working on reforms. There are those who do not fit into the dictatorial regime of the Empire and thus cannot advance into significant enough positions to be heard. We will gather them in a controlled opposition: "The Independent Development Committee of the Galactic Empire." Their most sensible proposals will be accepted. Eventually, Leia will run it, but at the moment, she is not ready for it. Such an organization might prove to be very useful to the Empire, especially so if the propaganda illuminates the right results. In addition to that, I really want some thoughts to be heard.”
“You are not only a brilliant strategist, but also a politician. Bravo.”
Thrawn dismissed her compliment.
For a while they were silent.
“Listen, I am, of course, an actress, and a very good one, but when it comes to politics ... I am not very competent.”
“Drop it. It is in your blood.” The Chiss answered categorically. He had already made his decision and once that had happened, arguing was useless.
“That is why I keep away from politics. Some people might say, my blood is not the best.”
“On the contrary. Ambiguous pedigree - this might very well be a trump card in the creation of such an organization. Besides, you know how ISB works and therefore can hide this activity from them. At least for the time being. You have a lot of connections, and you know how to approach people. And you are extremely loyal to the Empire and to me personally. Is that not so, my dear?”
“Oh, yes ... I am loyal to you, Mitth’raw'nuruodo ... to you and your Empire. But honestly, I don’t know what you want me to do now.”
“Do not worry about that, you will receive detailed instructions. I will be gone for about four months, but I will keep in touch.”
Mirabella shook her head absentmindedly. That was a pretty long time. But she really shouldn’t be surprised by that.
“Alright. I will look after Leia and try not to mess things up. In the meantime, you can do your business, win battles, score victories of the Empire...” Mirabella came closer and brushed away some non-existing grains of sand from his shoulder.
“Take care of yourself.”
A prison cell on a Star Destroyer — Solo was absolutely certain that he was in one of them — and to his surprise, it was more convenient than those of the Alliance. More spacious and on the iron bench there was a mattress and a light blanket, in which Han had wrapped himself now to stop the trembling from inside. His head hurt, his breathing was heavy, and his eyes refused to identify the outlines of objects in the dim light. Several times he had to wipe away the cold sweat that was running down his forehead, all the way down to his nose, while using one rug for both, the sweat and the blood that every now and then came out of his nose.
What the hell was going on here?
He remembered how he had woken up in this place, it must have been about two days ago. On the first day, some officers had interrogated him, in a most unusual, civilized way – they had just asked a lot of questions. It had been very strange – after all, Imperials were known for using various drugs to successfully obtain the wanted information of even the most strong-willed captives and they were also no strangers to inflicting physical violence or other methods of intimidation.
Then he had been left alone and every now and then a guard had brought him a standard imperial ration and water. At first, he had refused to eat it, but then had changed his mind – after all, if they had wanted to kill him, they would have done it a long time ago.
However, a few hours ago, something had changed, and he felt like he was on poor-quality-spice or as if he was suffering from the consequences of an inhuman amount of alcohol, but naturally he wasn’t. There was no reason to feel like he did. His body seemed to be breaking from the inside. There was an alarmingly heavy lump stuck in his throat; his heart was pounding wildly, and his teeth were chattering from the cold shivers of reoccurring fever episodes.
Perhaps, he had been poisoned after all? Or perhaps he, Solo, had died already and this was his personal hell. One in which he had to relive the most terrible moments of his life over and over again.
Han crashed the back of his head against one of the iron bars. It hurt. Looked like he was still alive then…
From time to time he plunged into a brief, but deep sleep, only to encounter icy tentacles, which dragged him into the abyss of his most terrible memories ...
... here he was, a freshly baked smuggler, running away from his pursuers, and his ship was being under fire. It crash-landed on the surface of an uninhabited planet covered with tropical forests. He barely managed to get out of the blazing ship and many wounds covered his body. Then he went into the cruel embrace of the forest, which for several months would test his strengths: The fever had almost killed him, then he had almost been eaten by a flock of large predators, before hiking through hundreds of miles of impassable jungle. Driven by nothing but instincts and luck, he had somehow managed to find a decaying spaceport. There, some people had agreed to give him a lift ... but only if he would except the brand of a slave in return.
To die as a free man in the primitive embrace of nature, to merge with it, become a part of it - or to return to society, but losing one’s freedom? The choice had hunted him for a long time ...
Perhaps it would have been worth waiting for the next ship. But according to these drifters, who had happened to be on this godforsaken planet in the Outer Rim by pure chance, that might have been never or years in the future... and there had been no guarantee the next crew would be more humane.
Solo had spent not more than two weeks on board their ship. Then, when they had reached the next inhabited planet on which the merchants had lingered for several days, he had decided to run away. To ensure the success of his escape, he had killed fourteen crewmembers with nothing but a vibro-knife. It had felt like being back in the jungle again, but this time the predators’ instincts had leapt into him. He had taken revenge on his masters. Revenge for the humiliation, revenge for the blows, which the pilot had repeatedly hammered down on the slave Solo. That day, pure rage had filled Han.
But now his heavy dreams, consisting of episodes of his most hidden fears and experiences, constantly brought him back to the past, and it became increasingly hard to draw the line between the reality of the dura-steel walls of the Imperial Star Destroyer and the cruel images of the past, where he was close to death, humiliated and afraid, where the hopelessness pulled him to the ground, to a place where there was little reason to fight for life.
Then, all of a sudden, everything stopped. Like a thick veil had suddenly been lifted from his eyes and his fears retreated when his mind became clear again.
The cell doors opened and the corridor’s bright light blinded Han for a moment. He grimaced painfully.
“You ...” the prisoner exhaled angrily and abruptly rose from his bed.
“Save your strength for the interrogation, Solo.” Thrawn spoke calmly, but there was also an obvious threat in his voice. “You will need it, I assure you.”
“Leia ... what did you do to her?”
“On our wedding night? Or after it? During the last three days I did a lot of things with Leia ... and believe me, she liked it.” He grinned and measured Solo with a scornful look. “But for the future - I ask the questions here.” The Chiss said harshly; the abrupt change in his mood was frightening.
It seemed to Han like he had been pushed into the chest, and for a moment he caught his breath and leaned heavily against the cold, dura-steel wall.
Thrawn thoughtfully scanned the results of the last interrogation. Solo had said nothing of substance, which was not surprising.
“How did you arrive on Naboo? What spaceport did you use?”
The answers to these questions were part of the general report, but Thrawn was interested in something else — body reactions, the trembling of the voice, the fears and doubts of the prisoner. He wanted to study Han Solo while he was lying, wanted to feel the sensation in the Force, when he consciously replaced facts. Characters such as Han were born liars and able to subtly manipulate facts, while preserving the big picture.
“Central Nospoo, commercial boat, arrived illegally.”
“A lie,” Thrawn said coldly. “The central spaceport was under constant surveillance and exclusively used for passenger traffic during the last week. A merchant ship would not have been given permission to land.”
“Who are you fighting for, Solo? Yourself or the Alliance?”
The prisoner resisted as much as he could, hiding several keywords and names in the depths of his memory, confusing them in a vortex of memories.
“Or maybe for Leia?” There was undisguised irony in the cold voice that painfully slammed into Han's consciousness; it felt like the Chiss’ voice was inside his head. “You think Leia would appreciate your heroism ...” he stated.
Solo was weakened and exhausted by the endless nightmares. Thrawn liked to apply this method before entering the interrogation chamber: he felt the prisoner’s mind from afar, he touched his most terrible fears and pulled them into an endless sleep filled with nightmares. If not stopped, the person exposed to this method would go mad. Walking on the edge of sanity, the victim usually grasped any opportunity to save his mind, his personality.
No amount of pain worked as effectively as this method. Pain depended on the victim’s willpower. Pain could be resisted. One could die of pain, of course, but usually, the victim’s sanity remained intact.
Fear, however, acted differently. It revealed doubts and frailties within rational beings. And the more willful and severe the victim was, the deeper he or she usually repressed his or her doubts and weaknesses as well as the memories connected to them. Even the most stubborn individuals usually surrendered quickly once they came into contact with this part of their soul, Leia was a good example for that. She had not been able to resist his attacks for long.
Yes, Thrawn enjoyed giving birth to doubts in the minds and hearts of people. Almost as much as he enjoyed to see how their inner demons tore them apart.
Real strength could not reveal itself in a fight with an equal opponent, as for such it took a stronger enemy. And if one was to engage in a fight with such a person, one must first accept one’s fears and admit to one’s weaknesses. One had to admit that there is something or someone greater or better than you. At first, this might not look like a promising road to victory, but in the end, resisting one's fears, fighting thеm and returning triumphantly from those fights was the only road that lead to triumph. A principle many sensible beings failed to acknowledge. You had to know your opponent and sometimes that included admitting that he was stronger than you and that there was reason to be afraid. To accept your fears, to submit to them - this was the price one had to pay, to be victorious. Whereas winning and avoiding your fears ... could only end in catastrophe.
He could have broken Solo’s resistance a long time ago, but Thrawn liked to watch his victim suffer. To see him flutter in the Force, which was constantly tightening its grip around his mind. It was ... fascinating. In the face of fear, every reasonable being revealed its true essence.
“You should not do it for her.” The cold, harsh voice suddenly became velvety and deep, like a warm summer night. The pain disappeared and was replaced by a strange euphoria, bliss. “Let go of her image.” Said the voice, gently pushing through his shields. “Leia ... She is a princess, but not yours. She was never yours, you know that, do you not?” Solo caught his breath for a moment, as if someone was squeezing his throat. “Leia ... She betrayed you, you know ... she laughed when she was told that you would come for her…. Why did you think you came so far ... Far enough to offer her to run away with you ... Why was it so easy for us to track you down in the end?”
Solo shook his head wearily. He had used up all his strength by now, but he gathered whatever was left of it to look directly into the Chiss’ burning eyes once more:
“You are lying!”
Thrawn laughed at him. It was a cold and angry laugh, which somehow seemed to shake the cell’s heavy dura-steel walls.
“Yes, of course, I lie.” The Chiss whispered ingratiatingly. “But what if not? You do not know the truth ... You cannot know it ... There are many doubts in you ...”
All of a sudden, the headache became unbearable. Solo squeezed his head between his hands and shouted, but heard no sound.
“I want to know the name of the person that controls the remaining fragments of the Rebellion, and I want to know where they came from. Just say it ... and the Empire will let you go.” The voice, calm and devoid of emotions, continued. “Then you can return to your miserable life and go on smuggling ... You will probably find your Wookiee friend again ... and you might even obtain a new ship. Think about it. There is nothing to lose.”
The scarlet eyes were hypnotizing. Solo’s mouth opened by itself and as in trance, he uttered the necessary information.
“Just like that. Perfect.” Thrawn nodded, and the pain stopped. He slowly put on his gloves, then took a glass, filling it with water and handed it to Solo.
“You did the right thing. The Empire is grateful for your assistance, all the charges have been dropped.” Thrawn reached for the datapad and made some notes there.
Solo emptied the glass in one gulp.
“Well, after we figured that one out, let us move on to the second part.” Thrawn pulled a small cylinder from his pocket, which Solo immediately recognized as a lightsaber handle. It was similar to Luke’s.
Thrawn contemptuously looked at the prisoner.
“And finally you understand, Solo. The Empire is letting you go ... but I am not.”
The Chiss shortened the distance between them and approached Solo until they were eye to eye. Solo did not move and, boldly looking into the inhuman eyes, he said:
“Leia ... she will never love you ...”
A short click, and the scarlet blade pierced through Han's abdomen.
“Who told you I need her love? Her passion is quite enough for me ...” The Chiss said slyly and moved the blade higher, cutting through the ribcage. Usually, he killed quickly, with one blow, but today he wanted blood. The prisoner rasped an incomprehensible curse and after a moment his heart stopped beating.
“Dispose off the body.” Thrawn ordered, while leaving the cell.
For the second time in his short time of service, the ordinary starfighter pilot, generally known as TR-7875, received this order.
It was rumored that, during interrogation, the Grand Admiral never left prisoners alive. And that their bodies always showed wounds unlike those of blasters or cold steel. The prisoners seemed to be burned through, but what kind of weapon could inflict such wounds? The standard equipment of Imperial interrogation chambers certainly did not provide such equipment. Maybe it was some kind of unique Chiss weapon, which was very small, since the Grand Admiral seemed unarmed whenever he left the interrogation cells.
The most superstitious crewmembers believed that the Chiss did it with his eyes. But that sounded more like the ravings of a drunken madman to him.
An ordinary starfighter pilot really shouldn’t think about what an officer did or did not do. Especially not one as high ranking as Grand Admiral Thrawn. But still, he could not help thinking about it, knowing full well that such curiosity seldom ended well.
• Armand Amar - Ice, Air and Winds
• Armand Amar - Life I
• Feder - Lordly
Chapter 20: A Test of Wisdom
The main palace of the Naberrie family was not at all like their summer residence at the Lake District, which Leia had already seen. The spacious building had three floors and was a real masterpiece, in which, a huge number of exhibits from different eras were collected.
Being the ex-crown princess of Alderaan, Leia had a fair knowledge of the arts as discreet luxury had surrounded her from an early age. Bail had been a true connoisseur of the arts and had also visited many auctions, but had only acquired what had corresponded to the palace’s classical style of snow-white marble statues and paintings of beautiful landscapes in mahogany frames or their electronic reproductions. But everything had always matched the antique furnishing and tea sets of real porcelain.
Here, in the Naberrie palace, things of different eras, styles and cultures were mixed in a bizarre way and a small museum could be made from the living room alone.
Involuntarily, Leia stared at four statues carved from a dark-red stone. Taller than a man they towered above her and each one of them had a unique expression on his face.
The first old man turned his face to heaven and his intertwined hands were held upwards. He prayed or desperately asked for something; while his face was marked by sorrow, as if the burden of life had become too much to bare.
The second man was quite different; he stood straight and appeared to be proud and full of willpower, with tightly compressed lips and a steel-hard expression on his face. He raised his hand up too, either to bless the person in front of him or to grant mercy. The folds of his clothes fell like marble waves to the floor and a crown adorned his head.
The third man seemed to be the embodiment of wrath - his stone eyes looked almost insane and seemed to pierce right through the statue’s viewer. He appeared furious and his index finger threateningly pointed to heaven, as if reminding the viewer that everyone was a sinner and unconscious guilt filled everyone who dared to meet his eyes.
The eyes of the fourth man were closed and his arms were blissfully folded across his chest. He was calm and relaxed and a faint smile graced his lips. All in all, he seemed to represent freedom and deliverance.
“One can watch the wise men for hours ...” Jobal Naberrie’s voice brought Leia out of the trance into which she seemed to have plunged. “You may come to them obsessed with doubts and their silent faces will prompt the answer.”
Leia nodded absentmindedly. She had never seen anything like it before. She sat on a sofa near a table with cups of pleasantly fragrant tea already on it. Now, she was sitting with her back towards the statue and imagined to feel their heavy looks on her back.
“I want to show you something,” Jobal was holding a datapad in her hands, which looked a lot like a digital photo album. “Here. These are the photos we collected of Padmé. We did it for many years – for almost all her life.”
Activating the first image, Jobal began to comment on some photos, shedding some light on the life of Leia’s mother.
“And this is Padmé with Shiv after her coronation.”
In the photo was a young girl in a scarlet dress and with heavy ceremonial makeup, which almost completely hid her real face. And next to her was a man in a blue robe, who thoughtfully rested his hand on the shoulder of the newly appointed queen. His hair was beginning to turn silver, and there was a soft, polite smile playing on his lips.
Few people remembered how the Emperor had looked like when he had still been a simple Nabooian senator, but everyone knew his name. Could this really be….
Noticing the surprise on her granddaughter's face, Jobal nodded knowingly and explained:
“Yes, dear, this is the Emperor. Shiv Palpatine is from Naboo and our families were always close. He contributed to Padmé’s nomination when a new queen had to be elected and supported her throughout her reign. In adolescence, Padmé looked up to him, and it was in no small part his influence and guidance that made her the excellent politician she was.”
Leia could not believe her ears. The world around her seemed to crumble. If this was indeed the case, how could it be true that the same Padmé Amidala had become one of the initiators of the “Petition of the Two Thousand”, which was aimed at restricting the powers of the Chancellor, Shiv Palpatine? Or ... had this been nothing but a blatant lie which the Alliance had used to strengthen its position? What if, in fact, her mother had not been such an ardent supporter of democracy? Then, at least, her union with Darth Vader would be more understandable.
Too many questions. Too few answers.
“You support the Emperor, don’t you?” Leia asked directly. She had nothing to lose and neither had her grandmother, as there was no relationship to spoil.
“Bail brainwashed you, my dear.” Jobal looked at her with eagle eyes, and her predatory gaze sharply contrasted with her soft voice.
“You see, there is neither absolute tyranny nor absolute democracy and almost all rulers determine the way in which their worlds are governed in one way or another. In such a huge galaxy, it is impossible to impose uniform rules for all.”
“But the Republic stood for ...”
“…equal rights, equality in front of the law, freedom of speech and so on. However, how could the Empire have been created, if the Republic had worked? And the fact that both, the Republic and the Empire, were or are run by the same person, should have indicated to you that the difference in the two regimes cannot be that significant.” The woman smiled knowingly and took Leia’s hand.
“I can only imagine how hard it is for you, my girl. But do not try to comprehend everything at once. Give yourself time.”
Leia tightened her grip on the woman’s hand. She needed this strange support, but at the same time, she didn’t want to trust this strict lady.
“The principal difference between the Republic and the Empire is in the number of the armed forces and the role of the army within the government. And if you want to know my opinion…. Well, I think it is unnecessary. The intervention of the military in civilized worlds is unacceptable. Somewhere in the outskirts of the galaxy, it might be useful, to bring order with an iron fist or to conquer new worlds - by force or diplomacy. But what happened to Alderaan is entirely to blame on the military, not on politics.” Jobal said carefully, without using names, but nonetheless, she had expressed her position quite clearly.
Leia involuntarily remembered the most terrible moment on the Death Star. Could Darth Vader have prevented the destruction of her home planet? Had he considered its impact in the Force to be permissible? Had he not been able to foresee the cultural and political damage of such an action? Bitterness crept into Leia’s chest and old demons began to torment her with new force. And they demanded blood, retribution.
While leaving, Leia looked at the statues of the wise men again, as if seeking their support, but their stone ears seemed deaf to the young woman's pleas. They had no answer for her and only showed her, with the whole of their appearance, that there was no such thing as a single right path ...
The bright evening lights of Coruscant illuminated the roads and once again Leia thought that the eternal city looked much better from afar than from close-up. She was returning home. It was strange to call her recent prison “home”, but in absence of another ... that’s what is was.
The dome of the semi-circular building opened, and a landing platform moved up. Scarlet lights flashed along its sides, allowing a secure landing. The pilot sat relaxed in his seat and only pressed a few buttons on the control panel - obviously, the landing took place in an automatic mode.
Leia was somehow nervous. She longed for sleep, but it was only 6 pm in the time of the capital and she had to get acquainted with the guards and inspect the house. Yes, it was necessary, but she didn’t really want it. A headache tormented her behind her temples, and some disturbing thoughts loomed in the back of her mind, whose content Leia couldn’t entirely grasp. The world had become alien and insecure again. And was there anyone she could trust?
The shuttle gently lowered onto the landing platform and then the dome’s roof opened once more and, as if on an elevator, the ship slowly descended into the main hangar.
“We have arrived, my Lady,” the pilot suddenly said and his voice, calm and devoid of emotion, pulled Leia out of her thoughts. She leisurely got up from the white leather chair and went down the ramp.
The hangar looked bright: silvery walls and dazzlingly bright lamps made it look more like an exhibition hall, in which at least a dozen ships and speeders of various sizes were assembled.
She heard footsteps, and after a few seconds, a female figure in a tight-fitting grey suit appeared from behind the wing of a black yacht.
“Welcome home, Lady Leia,” the stranger said, smiling warmly. “My name is Laura Grag. I’m the manager of this complex. I have been instructed to show you everything, but I suppose you are tired of the flight and therefore ...”
“No, it's all right,” Leia replied coldly and decisively while straightening herself. She had to do this now.
“Fine.” Laura nodded discreetly and headed towards the exit. “It won’t take long. Please, follow me.”
Mrs Grag was one of those women whose age was difficult to guess. In appearance, she looked no older than thirty, but, most likely, she was about forty. Her platinum hair lay perfectly and nicely emphasized her grey-blue eyes, but her quick steps and the military decisive movements clearly indicated that her well-groomed appearance and business suit were nothing more than a facade.
In a dark room, adjacent to the hangar, were the security guards and, as Thrawn had warned before, most of them were female. Seeing Laura, they rose from their seats and lined up.
“May I introduce, Lady Leia. From now on, taking care of her safety is your direct responsibility.” Mrs Grag handed Leia a datapad, which included a file about each of the guards.
“Let’s do this in an orderly fashion ...”
The lowest ranks were held by two tall women, dressed in black uniforms, who were probably just a little shorter than Thrawn himself. Their blond hair was tied up in a bun on the back of their heads and their straight features reflected inner-calm and self-confidence. Their trained bodies, however, were not devoid of feminine bends, but in their standard aircraft armour they were almost indistinguishable from men.
“This is Rilo. A retired military pilot, who in her spare time pilots passenger shuttles. And this is Kiki. She has a Master’s degree in Martial Arts and teaches at the Military Academy of Coruscant.”
The guards nodded in synchrony and Laura moved on. She obviously was not one to waste time on unnecessary pleasantries, preferring it to do things in a swift and efficient manner.
“And these are Alice and Madeleine - they accompany the Grand Admiral to public events, such as receptions or the opera.“ In Leia’s eyes, these two women looked more like high-class escorts than security guards. They wore tight, black leather overalls, which emphasized all their female charms. If anything, they resembled holo-actresses in an action-thriller, but not real guards. Their open, blond hair fell loosely over their shoulders and their make-up nicely underline their beauty, so that their faces were immediately imprinted into a person’s memory. It was easy to imagine them in luxurious dresses, as well as without them.
“Both are trained to fire any weapon with deadly precision. In the past they served in the ground forces, but only for a short time. They hold several martial arts titles and are capable to perform well in stressful situations. They have an excellent education, are trained in social etiquette and are able to uphold conversation on any topic.”
Noticing Leia’s confusion, Laura quickly looked for an explanation, but the one called Alice was quicker and suddenly said:
“My current free-time activity is being a stunt double of famous holo-actresses in action scenes.” She winked at Leia and somehow her friendly attempt to break the ice actually relaxed Leia a bit.
Then, however, Madeleine explained matter-of-factly:
“The best security is the one you don’t notice. We often had to accompany the Grand Admiral to the opera where we had to sit in his personal box, or to restaurants, where he held informal meetings.” The soft cat's smile, which appeared on the woman's face, alerted Leia. Everything about Madeleine showed her that this woman had an excessive amount of confidence and natural audacity. And she did not know how closely these seemingly breath-taking women guarded the Grand Admiral's body. Leia was frankly uncomfortable. As if Mirabella wasn’t enough to worry about!
Laura, meanwhile, continued, pointing at two tall, well-built men:
“FS-3114, or Fas, and Mk-2114, better known as Mike. They are our servicemen and are a non-permanent part of our team. Periodically, Mitth'raw'nuruodo sends new ones. They are trained combat pilots that already participated in real battles.”
“If you need to kick someone's ass, ma'am, just tell me.” Said the seemingly good-natured Fas, for which he earned a strict warning-look from Laura.
“What? You should not send Kiki!”
“Do you doubt my competence, FS-3114?” The woman asked in a calm tone, but her eyes sparkled mischievously. “Would you like to test it in today’s training session?”
“It would be my honour.” Fas bowed jokingly.
“Perfect. I don’t think I can remember the last time I had a worthy opponent.” Kiki smiled promisingly.
“Stop talking.” Laura said toughly and clearly and then continued, pointing to the last two women in the line that were about Leia’s heights, in other words short.
“New in our team, they actually arrived more or less with you, my Lady, are Lio and Myo Sin.” Their dark hair was styled in intricate hairstyles and their almond-shaped brown eyes indicated a somewhat unusual origin. “They were hired killers in the past and come with a recommendation of Prince Xizor.”
“Greetings, Lady Leia,” they bowed, much lower than they should in decent society. “We are honoured to serve you, my Lady.”
Laura painfully grimaced. It was evident that she was not delighted with these two, but her professionalism forbid her to voice any concern she may hold.
“And in conclusion, a few words about me: I am a former soldier, retired to raise children. Three boys, they may be small, but they make as much trouble as an army when it comes to maintaining order.
Leia smiled sympathetically.
“I would imagine this job takes a lot of time and effort. How do you do it?”
“As far as time is concerned, working for the Grand Admiral is the best position I’ve ever had. He is gone for nine to ten months a year, and during this time I only have to make sure that this complex is looked after and kept in residential mode, which requires minimal effort. When Mitth'raw'nuruodo is at home, there is more concern, of course, but I’m not complaining. Working with him is always incredibly interesting.”
“Interesting?“ Leia couldn’t quite understand how that might be interesting.
“There have been five assassination attempts so far. And up to now the Grand Admiral has survived them without so much as a scratch. Many are dissatisfied with his appointment to Grand Admiral, but who should dare to question the Emperor’s choice? In my opinion, our security measures here are insufficient, but Thrawn loves his freedom too much, so we just have to be careful.”
What a day! And what else would she learn about the people that surrounded her? Leia sighed heavily and followed Laura, who seemed to be showing her the way to a salt-water pool, surrounded by real palm trees.
“And these are your chambers,” Laura finished the tour and handed Leia a key card, which granted universal access. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to contact me via comlink; never mind the time. Goodnight.”
Mrs Grag hastily left the owner’s private rooms, without considering the need to explain where everything was located. From an ethical point of view, this was the correct behaviour, but, looking at the black and white glossy walls of the new rooms she now shared with Thrawn, Leia suddenly realized that she wouldn’t have minded some help. Strict minimalism, smooth wall panels and high ceilings, eye-catching marble statues of humanoids, frozen in motion, looking like they were ready to escape the stone’s hard embrace at any minute in order to continue their dance on the black, velvety floor. And there was a huge fireplace with a real fire inside and not with an imitation, as it was customary almost everywhere else. Leia suppressed the desire to simply sink on the soft leather sofa to relax, and instead admired the scarlet flames. The doors of this living room were nowhere to be found, at least not on first glance, but the bedroom had to be here somewhere, just where was its entrance?
Everything that had happened was intriguing and Leia then decided to take a closer look at the joints of the wall panels. Nothing. But ... how was this possible?
“The electronic control system welcomes you,” said a soft, female voice from somewhere above. “Do you wish to open the dome and admire the starry sky? Or would you prefer an introduction of the standard functions first?”
“Open the dome.”
The starry sky seemed so close that you could reach out to for it with your hand; touch it with your fingertips.
“This is a real-time image of the Coruscanti sky, presented with fivefold magnification. Start rotation?”
The sensors on the floor suddenly flashed red, and then the room began to rotate in a circle, and the sky above also began to move.
“How beautiful…” Leia couldn’t resist the pleasure and finally lay down on the sofa, looking up to the sky. For some time she lay there in silence, contemplating the bright patterns of the starry sky, but then the squeak of the comlink distracted her - Thrawn got in touch.
With a heavy heart, Leia accepted the call.
She could have told him about her visit of the Naberrie family, about their house or she could have asked him where the door to the bedroom was, but instead, after a short greeting, Leia went right to the topic that worried her the most.
“I want to change the guards. Alice and Madeleine.”
“We can discuss this issue when I return. Until then - no.”
“But why them? Is there a spotlight on them somewhere? Who cares how ...”
“I trust them.”
Leia was silent. The conversation was as difficult as she had expected.
She had thought a lot about why Thrawn had chosen to hire such guards. Truth to be told, all the women in his team were beautiful in their own way, and all but the last two guards, who rather looked like Leia, were blonde, had blue-eyes, and for some reason, reminded her of Mirabella. Was this a mere coincidence, or an intentional choice of the Grand Admiral, in accordance with his personal preferences? For some reason, Leia was sure if was the second, and this somehow wounded her pride.
No, the former Princess had never suffered from self-doubts when her appearance was concerned. At balls and receptions, she had noticed many beautiful women and equally handsome men who had craved her attention. But this was different. And these women, who already looked great in their armour or business suit, would undoubtedly look even better in evening gowns, and they were all devoted to one man, Grand Admiral Thrawn. And even if this was their job – if she were to believe Laura - they probably knew more about the Grand Admiral's habits and lifestyle than she did, and they had been here for a long time, pretending to be high-class ladies at receptions or divas in social clubs.
“Have you slept with them?” the question had flown from Leia’s mouth before she’d had a chance to hold it back.
“I beg your pardon? What are you talking about?”
“Your… ‘guards’. Alice and Madeleine. Somehow they don’t look like real ...”
“They do their job well.” he interrupted her coldly.
“That’s not an answer to my question.”
“Because it is of no concern to you.”
What?! How could this NOT concern her?!
Leia was as angry as possible. Was this a "yes"? Or did he just want to pull her down, to show her her limits?
“Yes, it does. I am your wife, I have a right ...”
“Contrary to the tone you use, I like how confidently you apply your new status,” his voice was still calm and devoid of emotions, but his eyes were burning a bit too brightly. “What do you want to know, Leia?” he continued insinuatingly, his words burning into her mind. “If I slept with Alice? Or if I fucked Madeleine? Or are you wondering if I had sex with both of them, simultaneously? Are you interested in the exact details of how it happened?”
“Stop doing that”
“Why? After all, you were the one who asked ...” he was merciless.
“Even if I were to tell you the truth, what would you do with this knowledge? Never ask questions, if you are not ready to hear the answers.”
“So you did sleep with them.” Leia concluded.
“I did not say that. But you expect this answer as if it were a slap in the face, secretly hoping for another. You want me to say "no", so you can dismiss your doubts at least a little. You do not need the truth for more than that. And, even if I repeat myself here, it does not concern you. With whom I slept before I was married to you is my business alone. Right now I would prefer to share the bed with you. But we are separated by thousands of parsecs.”
There was a heavy pause. They looked at each other in silence.
“Did someone really try to kill you?” Leia decided to change the subject. It was pointless to continue this conversation and, moreover, it was dangerous.
“How did it happen?”
“The usual story, except for one. You can ask Madeleine where the scar on her left shoulder came from. That day, she saved my life.”
Silence filled the space between them again.
“I have to go. The time for communication is over.” Thrawn broke the silence first.
“When will you be back? And when will I hear from you again?” No, it wasn’t right to end a conversation like that.
“In three months. Perhaps more. I will contact you next week, not earlier.”
“I see ... So the first operation was successful?”
“Well ... take care.” Leia finished as calmly as possible. Who would have known they would have so little time together?
“You too. See you later.”
The hologram of the Chiss went out and the starry sky became darker for a moment.
Sting - A Thousand Years