Every beginning has an end.
Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil arrives November 16, the final installment in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn prequel trilogy, chronicling the rise of the legendary military strategist. The tale finds the Chiss Ascendancy slipping into war, with Thrawn forced to uncover dark secrets in order to save his new home. And StarWars.com has an exclusive excerpt, revealing a key moment in Thrawn’s life.
The “memories” chapters have served an important role in expanding the story explored in the Ascendancy trilogy. In Lesser Evil, the memories once again delve into Thrawn’s past, going back to his earliest days as a member of the Mitth family, this time through the memories of a character whose relationship with Thrawn may be the most important that the future-grand admiral ever had. A legendary character referenced in the previous two Ascendancy novels, but who, in the finale, takes center stage: Thrass.
Here, we see the fateful meeting between Thrass and Thrawn, at a party welcoming new members to the Mitth family. Check out the preview below in print and audio form, and get a first look at artist Jeremy Wilson’s stunning poster included with the Barnes & Noble exclusive edition of the book, featuring Thrawn and Thrass.
Of all the duties foisted on low-ranking family members, Aristocra Mitth’ras’safis had often heard, the task of welcoming new merit adoptives to their formal rematching dinner was one of the worst. The newcomers were either highly skilled additions to the Mitth, in which case they tended to have an overblown opinion of themselves and their value; or they were freshly initiated into the Ascendancy military, in which case they were self-conscious and, well, extremely military. Nearly all of the blood, cousins, and ranking distants opted out of reception duty, leaving most of the burden to fall on Trial-borns and other merit adoptives, none of whom had enough pull to avoid it.
Which made Thrass a definite anomaly . . . because unlike practically everyone else in his circle of friends, he genuinely enjoyed the service.
Of course, he’d only been doing it for the past three years, and in that time he’d only welcomed eleven merit adoptives. Maybe after a couple more years the excitement of meeting and evaluating new people would fade and he would become as cynical and world-weary as everyone else.
But he doubted it. Every one of these people had been approved by the Patriarch’s Office, a fair percentage of them by the Patriarch himself, and Thrass liked to see if he could figure out what made each of them special in the family’s eyes.
This one, for example. The young man freshly renamed Mitth’raw’nuru was standing inside the reception room, looking around the walls at the Avidich landscape paintings and the corner statuettes representing or created by some of the ancient Mitth Patriarchs. To Thrass’s eye he looked just a bit lost, a fairly common reaction from someone who’d been rematched from a nondescript family on a minor world into one of the greatest of the Ascendancy’s Nine Ruling Families. Thrawn was wearing the uniform of a Taharim Academy cadet, which meant he’d been taken from his home directly to Naporar and then been brought here to Avidich for his welcome and orientation.
Thrass frowned. For new warriors it usually went the other way around, first to Avidich and then to Naporor. Apparently, someone in the family had wanted him signed into the Expansionary Defense Fleet as quickly as possible, before even his formal welcoming.
Hopefully, he wouldn’t look as intimidated in the heat of battle as he did in a grand Ruling Family reception room. The one common attribute of Ascendancy military types was their outward confidence.
The younger man turned as Thrass walked in through the archway. “Cadet Mitth’raw’nuru?” Thrass asked formally.
“I am he,” Thrawn said.
“Welcome to Avidich,” Thrass said. “I’m Aristocra Mitth’ras’safis. I’ll be guiding you through the various protocols that will fully and officially rematch you to the Mitth family.” He waved a hand to encompass the room. “And try not to be overwhelmed by all the fancy flourishes and curlicues. This reception room is also where dignitaries and emissaries from other families are brought in, and we like to make sure right from the start that they know who they’re dealing with.”
“I wasn’t intimidated,” Thrawn said mildly. “I was merely noting the unusual fact that the same artist who did three of the landscapes also created two of the statuettes. It’s uncommon for a single artist to excel at both artistic forms.”
Thrass looked around. He’d been in this room dozens of times, and had twice visited the Csilla homestead’s collection of official family art, and as far as he could remember none of them had visible signatures or other identifiers.
In fact, that was the whole point of these displays. These were Mitth artworks, to be seen as coming not from individuals but from the family as a whole.
So how did Thrawn know which pieces had been done by which artist? “Which ones?” Thrass asked. “Show me.”
“Those three landscapes,” Thrawn said, pointing. “And those statuettes.” He indicated a pair in one of the corners.
Thrass stepped over for a closer look. Just as he’d remembered, there was nothing to indicate the artist on any of them. “What makes you think they’re by the same person?”
Thrawn’s forehead furrowed in a frown. “They just are,” he said, sounding a little confused. “The lines, the color, the material mix. It’s . . .” His lips compressed briefly.
“Obvious?” Thrass suggested.
Thrawn looked like he was going to agree, then seemed to think better of it. “It’s difficult to explain,” he said instead.
“Well, let’s find out,” Thrass said, pulling out his questis. The artwork here might not be labeled, but the specific artists were surely listed in the archives. “Anything else you can tell me about them?” he added as he started the search. “The artist’s height or favorite foods, maybe?”
“No, neither,” Thrawn admitted. If he’d noticed Thrass’s little joke, he didn’t show it. “But I believe a personal or family tragedy may have occurred between the creation of these two.” He pointed to two of the landscapes, one showing a churning ocean tidepool, the other with a snowcapped mountain jutting into the sky. “Actually, the tragedy may predate all of the pieces except the one with the tidepool. I also have the sense that the artist was a woman, but that’s just an impression, not a solid conclusion.”
“Why that impression?” Thrass asked, peering at his questis. There was the listing. Now to sort through and tag the five pieces Thrawn had specified.
“It’s something about the line and edging,” Thrawn said. “But as I say, I don’t claim that’s necessarily accurate.”
“I understand,” Thrass said, suppressing a smile. Though of course an assertion like that did give him a fifty–fifty chance.
His hidden smile became a hidden grimace. Earlier, he’d told himself he would never get cynical about meeting newcomers to the family. Was he breaking that promise already? The listing came up . . .
He stared at the questis. No. It wasn’t possible.
“Is there trouble?” Thrawn asked.
Thrass threw a hooded look at him. No—there was no way the cadet could have simply looked at the works and come to those conclusions. He must have dug into the archives himself in advance.
Except that there were hundreds of thousands of Mitth family artworks, and they were rotated frequently among the various family holdings and official offices. The odds that these particular ones would be on display in this particular reception room at this particular time were practically nonexistent.
He took a careful breath. “You’re right,” he said, forcing his voice to stay calm. A Mitth cousin had no business reacting in even moderate awe to a freshly chosen merit adoptive. “All five were created by the legendary Twelfth Patriarch, Mitth’omo’rossodo, sometimes called the Tragic. All four of her sons died in battle—” He pulled up her bio and did a quick comparison of the dates. “—three months after the tidepool piece.”
“All four,” Thrawn murmured, looking again at the landscape. “A terrible loss indeed.”
“According to the archives, she was determined not to let it influence her rule,” Thrass continued. “But that mountain landscape was the last piece she ever did. Or at least, the last surviving one.”
“I can understand that,” Thrawn said. “An artist of such skill and self-awareness might well have seen how the scars of memory had affected her inspiration and resolved to put her artwork aside until she could regain her former tranquility.”
Thrass winced. “Only she never did,” he murmured.
“No,” Thrawn said softly. “Some losses run too deep to ever fully heal.”
Thrass studied his face, noting the fresh tension lines in his cheeks and throat. “You sound like you’ve had experience.”
Thrawn shrugged slightly. “No more than many others in the Ascendancy have suffered,” he said, the tension lines smoothing out.
Though it took a conscious effort, Thrass saw. Whatever pain was lurking behind those eyes, it wasn’t going away anytime soon.
But that sort of ache wasn’t for public display. It certainly wasn’t for a new acquaintance to casually poke at. If life had taught Thrass anything, it was to respect others’ privacy. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, gesturing toward the door. “Perhaps a discussion for another day. Let me show you to your room. Dinner’s in three hours, and you may want to practice your part of the ceremony.”
Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil arrives November 16 and is available for pre-order now.
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