Once upon a time there were two Chiss brothers. The pair had lost their family early and so they had more or less raised themselves.
The elder brother was intelligent and quick witted and made friends easily, he quickly gained a powerful position among the Chiss. The younger of these brothers was named Thrawn, and he had never been afraid of anything his whole life.
He was an otherwise fine strong lad, just as intelligent and witty as his brother, though more introverted. He was much loved by his elder brother.
But it had always sat ill with him that he did not know fear. What if it overtook him suddenly one day- and having never felt it before he was overcome? And fear was useful, or so others said. He could feel every other emotion you could name, why not this one?
His family and friends tried to comfort him- but his desire to experience the one feeling it seemed he could not consumed him.
Some of his loved ones even tried to scare him themselves, but if a rampaging wampa or the howling of a fierce blizzard that was bent on staying past it's welcome did not scare him, nothing his friends could do would.
Finally one day Thrawn decided to set out and see the world- and to try to find something in it that would teach him what it meant to be afraid as well.
And this was how he came to that small tavern near the border of Lysatra, sipping beer and asking anyone who came by if they knew of anyway to scare him.
“What about spendin' a night at the gallows?” one drunk asked. “We hung a bunch of villains this mornin'.”
“I've tried that already, the worst thing about that night was the terrible company.” Thrawn explained. “And no one had better try sneaking up on me with a sheet or anything. That won't work either.”
“If you really want to be scared friend, there's a haunted villa near the capital.” the barkeep told him. “No man yet has been able to spend a night in it's walls. You could even land yourself a prince if you're lucky.”
“How might I do that?” Thrawn asked. “Is there a ghost prince living in this haunted villa?”
The barkeep laughed. “Not that I know of sir. No the young prince has decided he will only marry the person brave enough to spend the whole night in the villa.”
“Hmm... that sounds like the kind of declaration one makes when they don't wish to be married at all- if this villa is as haunted as you claim.” Thrawn said.
“Perhaps sir, I cannot speak to the prince's mind, but the king and queen support him in this. It wouldn't hurt to go to the palace and see if he's to your liking at least, since you've nothing to do but wander about looking for something to fear.”
“I've no desire to be a king.”
“Oh no worry then sir, the prince is the youngest of the royal brood- there's six older sisters in between him and the throne and by all accounts he's just fine with that.”
Thrawn puzzled over the barkeep's advice that night- and decided he was right. He would go to the capital and see this prince- and learn more about the 'haunted' villa at the same time.
With that plan fixed in his mind Thrawn set out the next morning on the road to the capital.
Thrawn's travels led him by the haunted villa in question. It was a strange forlorn structure hanging over the city proper from a hill just outside it's limits. Despite it's looming it seemed shrunk in on itself in it's derelict state.
The people living near the villa assured him it was indeed haunted. Screams and wails could be heard coming from the villa and dark shapes could be seen moving on the grounds. It sounded to Thrawn like vagrants had moved in to the villa, but some of Thrass' lessons in manners must have stuck, for he did not tell the locals his opinion.
They also mentioned their young prince, showering praise on the man, and igniting Thrawn's curiosity even more.
As he continued on into the capital of Lysatra he came upon an enormous bustling market. The space was elegantly designed so that even with so many people about it was not too crowded, and there was plenty of shade from Lysatra's warm sun.
“The prince designed it.” One proud merchant selling stationary told him. “The lad has an eye for design- and commerce. I've heard his father has him sit in on council meetings he so values his advice.”
A nobleman at the stall with Thrawn laughed. “Or the king just wants someone else to handle the mucky business.”
“Perhaps my lord, your usual order then?”
The young lord nodded, and turned his gaze to Thrawn as he waited for the merchant to put together his order.
“I've not seen a Chiss in these parts since I was a child.” The nobleman said- he was not too much younger than Thrawn and could not have been a day over 21 so this was not an excessive amount of time truly. “What brings you here friend?”
“I am traveling about seeing the world,” Thrawn explained. “Would you know the way to the castle good sir?”
“I would, do you plan to attend open court this evening? Then you could see the castle from within and without.”
“That sounds like a fine idea.” Thrawn said. “Do you know if the prince will be there? I desire to look upon him.”
The merchant laughed heartily. “You're in luck then sir, the prince is at open court most days. Perhaps you may even get the chance to speak to him.” He handed the nobleman his parcel, which the young man then tucked away in his satchel.
“Why is it that you wish to see the prince?” the nobleman asked.
“In truth I left my homeland looking for something that would scare me- for I have never been afraid a moment in my life. I learned of the haunted villa in this land and mean to make an attempt to stay there either way- but the people here speak so highly of the man I decided I should see him for myself and see what I think of him.”
“You would wed someone based solely on their looks?” the noble asked.
“No,” Thrawn explained. “I would not wed anyone I did not think I could be at least friends with- and I would not wed anyone- not even a prince with a massive dowry- if they did not feel the same about me. But since I've no guarantee of speaking with the prince I will at least learn something of him at this open court.”
The nobleman smiled. “Indeed. Court is not for some hours yet. If you would like I can show you around the city?”
“I would appreciate that.”
“Then let's go.”
The nobleman- “You may call me Eli.”- was an excellent tour guide and seemed to know every point of interest in the city. He was also good company- intelligent and not afraid to reply to Thrawn's quick wit with his own remarks.
He was also quite handsome. Thrawn had not thought much about humans and their odd variety of coloration before leaving home- but he found Eli's brown hair, skin and dark eyes quite appealing.
In truth he was enjoying Eli's company so much he was almost disappointed when it was time to head to court.
Eli blushed prettily and laughed when Thrawn admitted this and promised him he would enjoy court as well.
When they arrived Eli lead Thrawn straight through the crowds -taking him by the hand- to a spot near the front of the long audience chamber.
“Here,” he said, letting go of Thrawn's hand and pushing him towards the railing separating the audience form the petitioners.
It was an excellent spot but, “Where will you-”
Thrawn turned to address Eli, but found he was now alone.
He did not have the chance to look for him though, before the rest of the audience crowded in and it was time for the royal family's entrance.
The king entered first and as he was seated three of his children joined him, two daughters- and Eli.
Thrawn would admit later he had not heard much of the proceedings. He had first been too surprised by Eli's reveal, and then distracted recalling the subtle clues he had missed during their day together.
Eli's attention did not waiver form the proceedings once until the very end when as he was departing he shot Thrawn a look and winked.
Thrawn was very glad Chiss did not blush easily.
He waited at his spot until most of the crowds had departed- and was rewarded for his guess when Eli reappeared beside him.
“Are you mad?” he asked.
“Not at all,” Thrawn said. “It was an excellent way to learn more about me without having to worry I was altering my behavior to gain your favor your highness.”
“I told you you could call me Eli.”
“Eli.” Thrawn corrected himself.
“Do you still plan to stay overnight in the villa?” Eli asked. “You don't have to.”
“No man has yet made it past midnight.”
“I am not most men.”
Eli scoffed. “At least you still claim to be a man and not some divine creature. Come then you must meet with my parents.”
The royal couple accepted Thrawn's suit. And it was decided that Thrawn would attempt the haunted villa the following night- as it was already growing dark.
He was surprised to learn he was the first person to attempt this challenge since Eli had set it.
“You may take any three non-living things you wish into the villa.” the king told him. “Think on it and let a servant know what you require tomorrow morning. In the meantime let us find you a room and a good supper.”
The king was as good as his word, and Thrawn was put up in a guest room and brought a hearty meal.
That night, perhaps an hour after the corridor lamps had been snuffed, Thrawn received a surprise visitor. Eli slipped into his room through a door hidden behind a tapestry.
“You should be in bed.” Thrawn said.
Eli, clad on a long nightgown and naught else climbed up beside Thrawn. “I am in bed.”
“How much do you know about the haunted villa?”
Thrawn sat up- his eyes caught on Eli's exposed collarbones for a moment before focusing on his face.
“It is a villa that is haunted. No one has yet been able to spend the night there.” Thrawn said. “Is there additional information I should know?”
Eli launched into the stories from the survivors, and details from the search parties sent the times the villa claimed lives- or when people simply disappeared.
Thrawn listened intently, adding the information Eli gave him to his own plans.
It was past midnight when Eli exhausted his supply of scary stories. When he finished he sighed, “You really aren't afraid are you?”
“No. I suspect I can't be.”
Eli yawned, quickly covering his mouth with a hand.
“You should rest,” Thrawn said.
“Do you have a plan for tomorrow?” Eli asked.
“I do,” Thrawn said. “Lay down beside me and I'll tell you.”
Eli did, and was soon fast asleep.
Thrawn sat up a while longer considering his plans, then he laid down too and went to sleep as well.
The next morning Eli was cross with him for letting him sleep, but Thrawn reminded him that if he dallied much longer a servant might discover him here- or missing from his own bed- and the prince left using the same secret door to return to his rooms.
As he prepared to go a servant came asking what items he wanted to take with him to the haunted villa.
Thrawn requested a firestarting kit, one of the dummies from the castle's training yard, and a deck of cards.
He decided to arrive early and explore the villa by daylight, so not long after midday, he was loaded into a cart with the items he'd chosen and off they went. He was surprised when Eli and two sisters he had not yet met came with him- riding alongside his cart on their horses. There was also a small contingent of guards.
Thrawn used the ride to examine his supplies. The training dummy was a standard vague man shape made from burlap and stuffed with straw. He was pleased to see the dummy still had a length of rope wrapped around it- clearly it had simply been cut from it's post and deposited in the cart.
The firestarting kit was the most elaborate Thrawn had ever seen- he suspected Eli had had a hand in picking it out- it had flint and matches as well as a small flask of oil and tinder, there was even a small hand ax to assist in collecting wood.
He did not see a deck of cards but before he could ask after them the cart stopped at a crossroad to let a shepherd with a flock of sheep pass, and Eli abandoned his horse and hopped up onto the cart with Thrawn. One of his sisters deftly caught the horse's reins- this was clearly a planned event.
“Are you ready?” Eli asked as he sat down beside Thrawn.
“I'm short a deck of cards.” he admitted.
Eli drew a pack- held together with a green ribbon- from his coat and held it out to Thrawn.
“It's my lucky deck.” Eli explained as Thrawn took it. “Though if I get only one back I'd much prefer you over the cards.”
“I will be fine.” Thrawn reassured him, tucking the deck into his pocket.
Eli sighed, “I suppose we'll see.”
Thrawn had not known Eli very long, and he was a prince, but in the relative privacy of the cart he reached out and took Eli's hand. Eli squeezed his fingers and did not let go until they reached the villa.
His exploration of the villa uncovered very little. He could find almost no furniture in the house and many of the doors on the upper floors could not be opened. He also could not open the basement door- it didn't even have a knob.
He decided to make his 'camp' in the large entrance room. There was a fireplace for him to build his fire in and from here he could see both the front door and the staircase to the upper floors.
The only furniture he had found in the whole house was a three legged stool in the doorless icebox in the kitchen. He brought it out to the front room and set it near the fireplace. There was a stock of wood in the kitchen too- he fetched some of that as well.
By the time he had finished his explorations the sun was setting, so Thrawn built a fire in the fireplace and settled in.
As the night grew darker he settled in, taking the deck of cards out of his pocket and starting up a game of solitaire. He carefully tied the ribbon around his own wrist so as not to lose it.
Not long after the last light faded from the sky Thrawn heard the first whispers.
He ignored them- or pretended he was ignoring them. He continued playing his card game as he noted the location of the voices- the upper landing and the kitchen mostly- and tried to discern what they were saying.
Their talk was indistinct though he could catch only the occasional word or phrase- “treasure,” “trespass,” “get out”- seemed to be the most common themes. The 'treasure' bit was news to Thrawn and did not interest him over much – he was here to win the prince's hand and perhaps learn what fear was, treasure did not interest him.
The voices grew steadily louder, some seemed to creep closer but Thrawn could see nothing in the fire light.
“We'll pluck out your eyes and use them to light the front steps.” a deep voice said from behind him.
Thrawn whirled, ready to attack whatever was behind him- but there was nothing there.
Now the mysterious voices were chuckling as well as whispering. Thrawn simply turned back to his game. Threats were to be expected and so far the voices had not given any indication they could actually harm him.
The deep voice did not return, but the other voices crept closer and closer but still Thrawn could see nothing.
And then all at once the voices stopped.
After a long moment of silence Thrawn looked up from his game. There was nothing out of the ordinary- Except that suddenly there was now a large bed not five feet from him.
Thrawn regarded the obvious trap with interest. He gathered up his cards, tucking them safely in his breast pocket and went to investigate.
The bed was large enough for two with soft looking sheets- it looked, in fact to be the same bed Thrawn had slept in last night.
That annoyed Thrawn, as it clearly meant someone was poking about in his mind without permission.
He went and got the training dummy and put it to bed, making sure to tie the dummy to the headboard with the length of rope. Not a moment after he tied the knot the bed began to buck wildly like an unbroken horse. If he had been on the bed he would surely have been thrown, But the dummy tied as it was would not come loose.
The bed bucked around the room, then up the stairs and around the second floor...
Eventually the bed began bucking down the stairs and faltered. It tumbled end over end down the rest of the stairs, landing upside down in a heap- it's legs still moving, like an overturned insect. If Thrawn had still been on it he surely would have been killed. The bed seemed to have neutralized itself though- so Thrawn returned to his spot at the fire.
Nothing happened for some time.. the whispers did not even return. Thrawn returned to his cards. He could hear the nearest belltower in town chime in the distance if he listened hard, and it had gone ten only minutes ago when Thrawn heard thumping on the roof.
It did not last for long though, before half a man- the top half to be exact- fell from the chimney, somehow missing the fire and slamming wetly into the hearth nearly in Thrawn's nap.
Thrawn examined the partial corpse for a moment before calling up the chimney, “Is the other half up there?”
And sure enough the other half of the man bounced down as well.
The halves began to twitch and Thrawn watched with interest and the halves began to squirm towards each other.
“Fascinating.” Thrawn said as the pieces reformed into a whole man.
Once the man was whole he regarded Thrawn with odd flat eyes that did not reflect even the firelight before turning and calling up the chimney on a deep voice. “Mind the fire lads!”
On that cue more body parts began tumbling down the chimney- most missing the fire- though a few landed on the burning logs and then seemed to jump off of their own accord.
The limbs squirmed about on the floor until they too formed into men.
There were six of them in all, all taller and broader than Thrawn with strangely mottled skin. They looked more like relatively fresh corpses than men, Thrawn realized, and all were watching him expectantly.
“Anyone for cards?” Thrawn suggested, noting there was nothing particularly hostile in their blank gazes.
“If you have coin and dice we can play Sabacc.”
The men heartily agreed. One of them reached into his own mouth and pulled out one of his own molars, which had the traditional Sabacc markings on it. Thrawn decided not to comment on that.
The games went well, though Thrawn was sure not to win too often- to keep the men friendly.
This worked for several hours until one of the men took issue with another- before Thrawn could defuse the situation a punch had been thrown and the men all fell to brawling- pulling Thrawn into the fight.
He held his own – dodging punches and giving as good as he got.
All at once all the men froze- and in the sudden silence Thrawn could hear the bells chiming the hour in the distance as the belltower chimed two in the morning.
All at once the men fell to pieces again and the pieces rolled away, back up the chimney one by one.
The last piece up was the head of the man with the dice tooth, as he had to pause to collect his tooth before going. The head winked at Thrawn before hopping back up the chimney.
Alone again Thrawn picked up his scattered cards- pleased to see they had survived unscathed.
The fire was burning low so once he tucked the cards away Thrawn went to build it up again.
As he worked Thrawn considered his status. He was beginning to feel quite tired now- a nap would be in order once the sun came up- but dawn was less than four hours away. He was a bit disappointed honestly, he had seen and heard many strange things that night, but nothing that had scared him in the slightest. He sighed, it seemed he would have to resign himself to never knowing as he doubted Eli would wish to wander about looking for a scare with him.
Once the fire was built back up Thrawn sat with his back to it, watching the moon and clouds pass by the window. Another hour passed this way, but as the bells began to chime three Thrawn became aware something was watching him.
He could see nothing around him- though he now realized the rest of the house seemed to be growing darker- he could no longer make out the stairs across the room.
“Get out.” the deep voice snarled in his ear- and his fire snuffed out all at once by a mighty wind that suddenly filled the room.
There was mist as well, filling up the room and obscuring the rest of the space- including hiding the windows and the moon.
“No,” he said aloud to the voice. “Not until dawn.”
The voice snarled wordlessly- like an animal and spat, “There is no treasure you will gain nothing by staying- if you do not leave now I will kill you where you stand.”
“I did not come seeking treasure.” Thrawn said. “And I will not leave.”
A gust of icy wind swept though him and he watched in amazement as the fog grew thicker and small laces of lightning sparked through the dense mist.
A bolt of lightning struck the fireplace above his head.
“This is the dead's house now! The living did not want it before and shall not have it now!”
All of the lightning and mist seemed to be emanating from the kitchen... so Thrawn began making his way there through buffering winds.
“I don't want the place either.” Thrawn said. “I only need stay until dawn.”
Once he made it to the kitchen doorway- an arduous task with the wind constantly pushing him back and the mist obstructing his vision- he found the door to the basement wide open. The mist and a strange purplish glow emanated from it.
Thrawn pushed forward. Most of the stairs had protruding nails or sagged ominously in the middle, forcing Thrawn to pick his way carefully step by step.
As he neared the bottom of the stairs the voice returned shouting “DIE!” as the step under his feet gave way.
Thrawn jumped, clearing the last four steps and landing solidly on the basement floor.
The basement was a large space and here was the villa's furniture piled up nearly to the ceiling and draped in dusty moth eaten sheets.
As he navigated between the shrouded furniture Thrawn noted the dark shape of a potbelly stove in a corner, But the light emanated from the other side of the basement, and that was the way Thrawn headed.
He found the source of the light in the far corner of the room behind a couch. The deep voice howled in his head as he uncovered a strange wooden idol in the corner- it came up to his knees and seemed to depict a strange moose- turtle creature.
“I won't,” Thrawn said. “I will stay until dawn so that I may win the prince's hand, and then I will leave you be.”
“You must not spend the night!”
Another bolt of lightning shot from the statue missing Thrawn by inches. That wouldn't do.
Thrawn picked up the idol- it was much heavier than it looked and if he had not been a fit young man he would have struggled to lift it.
The moment his hands touched it the idol began to emit such cold he almost dropped it- if he had not been a Chiss he would have. At the same time Thrawn seemed to catch a glimpse inside the spirit of the idol's thoughts.
The spirit had cursed the villa, but if Thrawn stayed the whole night the idol's power would be broken and the villa returned to normal.
But Thrawn had no intention of waiting until morning to be rid of the statue and it's meddling.
The idol roared in his head so loudly his ears rang but he stumbled towards the stove all the same. Just behind him a dresser fell, nearly crushing him, but he pressed on.
There was a lock on the door of the stove. Thrawn dropped to his knees before it and set the idol down.
He fumbled with his firestarting kit until he freed the hand ax. He struck the lock with it- once, twice, three times- until it gave way.
The idol was white hot when he tried to pick it up again, but Thrawn managed to hold it long enough to shove it in the stove.
It took forever to get the fire started, the idol was still making wind which would snuff out the matches as soon as he lit them. Finally Thrawn doused the thing in oil and used his flint to light it directly.
The flaming idol screamed so loud and so long Thrawn thought he'd go deaf- but at last the screams cut out, and Thrawn sat back against the wall and shut his eyes.
He awoke sometime later to the sound of voices overhead.
There was light- daylight pouring down the stairs. It was then that Thrawn realized things had changed again as he slept. The basement was empty but for him and the stove.
He checked inside the stove and saw nothing but ash... and a small pile of keys. He fished the keys out- his fingers and palms were blistered badly but he kept on. Unsure of what else to do with the keys but sure they were important Thrawn strung them on the green ribbon he had from Eli.
With nothing else to see in the basement he made his way up the now-pristine stairs.
He stopped in shock when he reached the top and saw the kitchen had been restored- as if it had never been abandoned.
“Thrawn?” he heard a voice- Eli- call and he put aside his surprise to go find his rescue party. They- Eli and several guards- were in the main room and no sooner had Eli laid eyes on him then he had his arms full of the young man.
“You did it!” Eli said.
Thrawn smiled. “I did.” Then he held up the keys. “Care to see what these do with me?” he asked.
Their exploration was postponed when Eli caught sight of Thrawn's hands and he was quickly ushered over to a lavish settee that had not been there before so the doctor Eli had brought could look at his hands. As the doctor treated him Thrawn looked around the room he had spent most of the night in, taking in the changes that had been made by the breaking of the curse.
“Who lived here before it was haunted?” Thrawn asked.
Eli shrugged. “I know only that the family was very rich and there are none of them left now. Perhaps my parents would know more.”
Once his wounds were wrapped they went and found the locks for Thrawn's keys and discovered that each locked room- there were nine in all- were full almost to bursting with treasure of various kinds- gold, silver, jewels, and art.
Even the rooms not full of treasure were now furnished with beautiful antique furniture.
Indeed the only thing that had not changed from the night before was the stool Thrawn had set up by the fireplace- it remained right where it was.
After their explorations they returned to the castle where the rest of Eli's family greeted him. The king gifted Thrawn a lordship, and the villa along with his son's hand.
Thrawn could not have been happier and set to giving the King whatever assistance he could- along with a selection of his new riches.
Thrawn then sent word to his brother- so that he could come to the wedding and meet Thrawn's betrothed.
It had not been obvious before- but Thrawn's new home had a beautiful garden which overlooked the entire capital. One evening he and Eli strolled through it, discussing Thrass' latest letter- indicating he was on his way- and their upcoming vows. As they talked Thrawn admitted that though he had resigned himself to it he was still a touch disappointed he would never know what fear was.
“That is a shame,” Eli said solemnly, and let go of Thrawn's hand. “As I do not know if I can wed someone who has not the same feelings I do.”
For a moment Thrawn swore his heart stopped- before it began beating wildly in his chest. His hands shook and he felt as if he had swallowed molten lead- and he found his lungs would not let him speak to beg Eli to change his mind.
“Do you now know what fear is?” Eli asked.
All of the terrible sensations drained away and Thrawn took a deep steadying breath.
“I do,” he said. “I cannot say I enjoyed it-”
“I am sorry.” Eli said immediately. “I just thought it would work and you did want to know...”
Thrawn took Eli's hands and pulled him in until he could lean down and press their foreheads together.
“I did. And you have no reason to apologize, you've taught me something valuable about myself and the world.”
“What will you do now that you have learned what fear is?” Eli asked.
“I think,” Thrawn said. “That with your permission I would like to marry you and do my utmost to never feel so terrible again.”
Eli kissed him then, and not long after the pair were wed and lived happily ever after.