Playing the Game 5
Navaari withdrew his hand from mine and studied the bracelet on his wrist for a long moment. Then he pulled his coat sleeve back down and began to refill his pipe, slowly thoughtfully. I wasn’t sure he would answer me but I stayed silent and waited. He regarded me for a very long time, searching my face as if that would give him answers to the questions I had asked. When he took a deep breath and lit his pipe I knew we would be outside for a while longer. When he began to speak I felt a great sense of relief.
“Nikätza’arth’pavjäska was never one to show much emotion about any one person in particular although, on occasion, he has shown a small amount of affection but this was the exception rather than the norm. In all the time I have known him, I had never heard him speak about anyone in the way he spoke about you when I confronted him after meeting you on Rothana. I see the two of you together and I know I have never seen him look at anyone else the way he looks at you. Nor,” He added thoughtfully, “have I never seen him look the way he did when he told me that you had been abducted by the man who was your childhood sweetheart.”
I shivered at that memory. Jyrki’s madness had almost killed me and it had been Thrawn who had saved me by bring me to Hjal. “That was a very bad time.”
Navaari nodded. “Yes and you did not help it by trying to walk to your death in a blizzard.”
I sighed. Navaari was never, ever going to let me forget about that. “Za’ar was so angry and I do seem to excel at making him angry.” I said quietly.
“Anger covers up fear.” He said knowingly then turned to glance at me. “Fear causes us all to do stupid things.” There was so much more behind his words than what was actually spoken and it reminded me of the Jedi creed which talked about fear and anger and hate. No wonder the idea of attachments and love scared them to death; the fear of losing these things was enough to drive anyone mad.
“Do you think he did not tell you or me what he planned at the unmasking ceremony because he feared someone else in the enclave would protest it or stop him?” I asked wondering who might have done that. While Navaari was right and I had made a place for myself in the enclave not everyone was happy with my being there, some were more vocal than others but I knew that I had not been and was still not universally welcome.
“That would also have been a possibility, as I have said his actions with you were unpopular and unheard of.” He conceded, “Although it does not excuse his silence to you. Still, I said my piece on it and let him know what I thought.” He said. “I would have been more vocal but what he did was one way, only tying him to you formally and not the other way around.”
“Maybe I need to remedy that, Navaari.” I said quietly.
His gaze was intense. “Such a thing is not to be done lightly.” His tone of voice suddenly hard.
“I am well aware of that.” My reply sounded crosser than I had intended.
Navaari only shook his head speaking to me as though I were still an unbedded girl whose infatuation had caught the better of her. “Nai’da cannot be performed without both people’s consent and I do not think he would give his.”
“Why not?” I asked.
Navaari sighed. “That answer is complicated.”
“Complicated is another way of saying I can’t be bothered to explain it to you!” I retorted hotly. I knew this because I used it the same way all the time when I didn’t want to speak about something or explain an action.
Navaari bit back the annoyance I know he felt. “I do not think you would want to push him about it. He has chosen you, he beds you, he loves you is that not enough?”
“What if it isn’t? What if I am tired of all this keeping of secrets from me for my own good? Why, for once can’t you all just be straight with me about why you do the things you do? I am not an idiot!”
Navaari snorted. “No but sometimes you act like one!”
I punched him, without malice, on the arm and he smiled then said thoughtfully. “Nai’da is a life bond, A’myshk’a, permanent and binding with serious consequences if you were to decide to back out or seek another to lie with on a whim. Requesting to be bound under this rite in this enclave would be restricting for both of you so please do not push for that because you would not be happy with his answer and you are smarter than that.”
“I know what a life bond means in Dantassi terms, Navaari. I also know that what Za’ar did was different. It was not Nai’da, not even close. Did you think I wouldn’t ask? Did you think I would not discover some of the truth behind what he did? Did you think I would never find out what neither you nor Za’ar nor anyone else would tell me?” I didn’t bother to try and hide some of the frustration I felt.
Navaari’s shoulders slumped a little as he sat back against the back of the bench. It was as if the terrible secret he had been holding onto now suddenly weighed too much and I knew that finally we would get to the real truth. “It was not my place to tell you, little one.”
“Yes it was!” I said hotly. “You were the one who found me in the snow and saved me from freezing to death, you were the one who gave me a home here, helped me heal when no one else could. You took on responsibility for me when no one else wanted to, not even Za’ar so if not you, then who else would have, should have, told me the truth of this thing, who?”
“Nikätza’arth’pavjäska.” He replied with the only answer he could.
“Gah!” I let out an exasperated breath, tipping my head backwards rest on the bench’s backrest. I stared at the ceiling of the porch shelter for what seemed an age before speaking. “Last night Za’ar and I discussed this thing he did, or better say talked around it. All he would ever say is that he is bound to me, he never really explains what it truly means and I don’t understand why. So, I went to see Ma’kehla this morning. I pleaded with her to tell exactly what had happened at the unmasking ceremony to me.”
Navaari was very still as he asked. “And did she?”
“She told me that what Za’ar had done wasn’t ordinary, she called it Pen’nai Da’ataith. But the way she acted when I asked, it was as if the entire thing was some sort of dirty secret.”
“I wondered if she would be the one to eventually break the silence. She hates keeping secrets like this even more than I do.” He said with a heavy sigh.
“Pen’nai Da’ataith is a very old version of the Nai’da binding ceremony….” Navaari replied.
“Well, I’ve witnessed the Nai’da and I know that what he did with me was different.” I interrupted, pushing because while Ma’kehla had told me the name of what Thrawn had done she had not gone into any details about the consequences. That, she had told me tartly, was either Navaari or Za’ar’s job but not hers.
Navaari looked at me steadily and bit on the stem of his pipe then, making a decision, he tapped it against the side of the bench letting the last of the tobacco embers fall out, and black ashes swirled briefly upon the white of the snow then, scooped up by a slight gust of wind, vanished. He took his time as he began to refill his pipe, mulling over his words as he did so. “Listen to me Kycsi’i, if you want to hear this then stop interrupting or else you will never learn what I know and think about this thing he did.” He raised his eyebrows in question and I nodded in agreement.
He began again, “Pen’nai Da’ataith is an ancient Chiss custom that dates back many, many, many centuries. It was drawn up as a way of putting a stop to the practice of arranged pairings in order to solidify power and wealth, giving all people the right to choose their mates, to choose love over lineage obligations. It protected the lovers involved by disallowing their families from disowning and banishing them and was a way of preventing blood feuds and unions of convenience. Once the right of Pen’nai had been called the person who claimed it was, to put it crudely, off the market and not even family could alter this or punish them in any way for what they had done. In centuries, as customs changed, it has been mostly forgotten, considered an antiquated law that no one needs to use any longer as arranged marriages have long gone out of fashion, at least officially any way. However, the Rite of Pen’nai Da’ataith still exists and it has deep meanings as well as great power, it was never removed from the list of laws so technically it can still be used and must be upheld. In my life, until he invoked it I had never seen the Rite Pen’nai Da’ataith performed. The enclave still whispers of it.”
“Why does he always make things so complicated? He could have just asked if I would marry him.”
“Perhaps,” Navaari shrugged, “but to be honest I don’t think that is what he had in mind when he called for the Rite of Pen’nai. He was still courting you and he had not yet taken you to his bed and you, well you were still unsure of your place in his world. I think, in his eyes, he felt you were too young, too untried to be asked to make such a choice….”
“Well then he gave me no credit at all!” I interrupted angrily.
“Perhaps, perhaps not, but there were also other reasons as well, Kycsi’i.” He chided gently. “More pressing reasons.”
“To look after you in part, I suspect. Because he claimed the rite of Pen’nai, he is duty bound to protect you in all things. His duty is also the enclave’s duty. This means he has the right to call upon the enclave’s clans people to aid him in matters which concern you if needs be. All his belongings and holdings pass to you should he die before you do and no Chiss or Dantassi law can deny you this. It grants you many rights and a certain status within his people’s culture as well as with the Dantassi as it was one of the few laws that survived the splitting of our peoples. He would have known all of this. He took great care to see that you were protected not just by your own family but by all that is his as well. Being joined under Nai’da does not grant the same rights as under Pen’nai.”
“But why would he do that?” I asked, my brow wrinkling in utter puzzlement.
“Can you think of no reason?” Navaari nudged.
I closed my eyes and remembered back to the conversation Thrawn and I had had after Jyrki had broken in and destroyed my old flat in the Imperial palace. ‘After your kidnapping I thought about it carefully then I had your name added to the papers on this flat. Should anything ever happen to me, ownership will be transferred to you.’ He had said. I sighed and as if it answered everything I whispered Jyrki’s name.
Navaari nodded slightly, “In part it was a reaction to what happened to you the night you were taken from Coruscant by your mechanic friend. I believe that having you snatched away from under his nose like that frightened Nikätza’arth’pavjäska more than he was willing to say. As soon as he was able to, he came to us asking for the help of the Jhal’kai to find you. He was refused outright. I often wonder if what he did was also a direct reaction to this simple act of refusal on our parts. If we had said yes, perhaps he would not have felt forced to invoke the Pen’nai Da’ataith.”
“What?” I could not keep the surprise out of my voice.
“He did not tell you that did he?” Navaari said sounding unimpressed and not the least bit surprised.
I shook my head. “No, he said that he had asked you to keep an eye out for me.”
“He came here asking for the Jhal’kai Order to actively search for you because your Emperor would not allow him to do so but the council turned him down.”
The sudden hurt I felt at hearing this surprised me more than I could have ever imagined. “Did you say no as well?”
“I did not vote, I was forbidden to because I had known about you long before Nikätza’arth’pavjäska came to ask our aid and I had said nothing about it. That alone was grounds enough for me to be removed from the council although it never came to that because I stepped back from my place in it myself. I told you, what he did with you has no precedence in our enclave. He damned near caused a riot at that meeting and I had never seen him or the enclave’s council members and elders so angry. The Jhal’kai were well within their rights to refuse him and as angry as he was, he understood. All the same, it was not an easy parting. He did not lie to you when he said he had asked for my help, he did and I gave it to him as much as I was able to but council law forbade me from actively searching for you and even I have lines I will not cross, to do so would have meant being shunned and this is my home.”
I nodded that I understood this but because I needed to know I asked. “If you could have voted how would you have done so?”
“I would have said yes.” His answer came easily and there was no lie in it. “But for reasons that I would have been hard pressed to explain to the council. Sometimes there are ties that go beyond blood lines and race. I knew that from the first moment I saw you something larger was at work even though I was unwilling to admit it at the time. They would not have understood this then.”
“Do you think they understand now?”
Navaari snorted. “Yes I do but getting certain members to admit this would be an impossible task. Do not underestimate the power you have for getting inside people’s hearts Kycsi’i. You worked hard to earn your place in this enclave and you have given a great deal to this community, teaching basic, learning our ways, and becoming a part of who we are, adding to our stories. We have Nikätza’arth’pavjäska to thank for this, without him invoking Pen’nai you would never have been allowed sanctuary here and that would have been a great loss for us in so many ways, especially for me but not everyone is happy with a ‘Traeth in the enclave. That is their problem and not yours. You have a home here no matter what.” I looked up at him and his eyes met mine. The sense of love and honour and so much more that I felt from coming him was overwhelming and I had to blink away my sudden tears. I suppose he knew and understood that I felt the same way as he drew me close with his arm about my shoulders. “Do you understand better why he did this now?” he asked.
“You still should have told me what he had done, I don’t get why you didn’t, you know.”
To my surprise he just laughed. “Oh Kycsi’i, you want it all, you know that? You are sometimes impossible to please. What was I supposed to do or say? Every time I tried to talk with you about Nikätza’arth’pavjäska you shut me down faster than a Toydarian trader does a beggar. For the last year you would not speak of him with me, nor about your family on Tatooine or much about your life on Coruscant. It was as if you wanted to erase all pre existing memories of your life before you came here away and start all over again. I did not talk to you about these things because I did not know how to broach the subject without you getting hugely upset. I figured that when you were ready you would come to me and we would discuss it but you never did, not until tonight. Even if I had tried, would you have been willing to really listen?”
I made a face because he was right. “Probably not.” I conceded. “It’s weird, you know that he did this to me in this way. It is almost as if he knew I would need some place to vanish that was safe and out of the way. It’s down right spooky how he plans things sometimes.”
Navaari just made a noise. “His strategic thinking, tactical skills and his ability to plan ahead are the reasons I stopped playing dejarik with him. Sometimes I used to wonder if he could simply see the future but the truth of it is, this is his gift. He plays this game like no other I have ever seen and he is brilliant at it. It is how he thinks all the time, what moves can be made, when and how and then how to counter each and every one of them. But honestly, I don’t think he saw what happened to you coming at all, I just think he wanted to be prepared for anything. He has told me several times that you are one of the few people who truly frustrates him with your unpredictability so I suppose he was making sure all angles were covered. It was a very clever move in the end.”
“So how do I balance out what he did without backing him into a corner?”
Navaari was quiet for a few moments and then he said. “You learn to play his game, Kycsi’i.”
This made me laugh, my breath coming out in white puffs of air. “If only it were that simple.” I snorted.
“Well, it might be.” Navaari said giving me a look which said he had something in mind.
“Patience, little pup, patience.” Navaari just smiled. I had nothing to add to this and the silence between us seemed all the more still because the wind had finally died completely down.
“Strange storm this was, it looks all clear now but it feels wrong.” I said casually getting up to look up at the night sky. It was surprisingly clear; at least the area above us, but when I looked to the south all I saw was a thick darkness.
“Not seen a storm like this in over six or so years.” Navaari said with a grin, coming to stand beside me. “Seems to me that Hjal is not wanting to be losing you just yet. Look out towards the South Ridge.” He pointed to where he wanted me to look.
“Can’t see anything.” Which I realised was unusual. Normally on a clear night the mountains stood out white against the sky.
“This is a kojl’wynt.” He said as if that explained everything. The word meant demon’s wrath. He made a circling motion with his fingers to show me what he was talking about. “A storm that turns back on itself. The wind’s changed, she’ll come back now from the south now and be twice as bad as before. Feel the breeze on your face?”
I lifted my face and closed my eyes. He was right it was coming from the south, south west and that was not all, its scent had changed. There was a needle cold sharpness, an almost cruel hint in the way the wind smelled. Storms from the North East always brought a touch of salt and brine because they swept over the sea flats. This new wind was coming straight down off the mountains and in order to do that, to maintain the cold and be as strong as they were this storm had to be very bad.
“Well,” I said, “This won’t make Za’ar very happy.”
“No, but it does give us a little more time together.” Navaari just laughed.
I winced as a sudden gust of bitterly cold air swept snow into my face. It felt like a thousand tiny cold needles prickling my skin. I made a face, winds from the southern direction made sitting outside impossible. Glancing back over my shoulder I saw a wall of snow heading towards us. It reminded me greatly of the massive sandstorms that sometimes swept in from the desert. When the first real blast of wind found its way into the small shelter, I shivered and huddled closer in my heavy clothes. Now I was starting to feel the cold keenly which didn’t escape Navaari’s notice. He cleaned the ashes from his pipe and tucked it carefully away in his pocket. He activated the force field that had been installed for Southern storms, preventing the build up of snow drifts against the South doorway and slung his arm around my shoulders.
“Come inside before you freeze to death. Enough of this fresh air nonsense! Your Ta’kasta’cariad will be embroiled in conversations with the council now so we will have peace and quiet to continue talking if it is what you are wishing to do.”
I nodded, grateful to be back in the warmth of the enclave. As much as I loved the outside and the wildness of the terrible storms, I love being inside where it was warm even more.