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12.14.2011 , 07:11 AM | #4
Chapter Three: Lineage.

I never doubted that I was my father’s daughter. Mandalorians are known to adopt children in order to continue the culture, thus there are some families that are composed entirely of people that do not come from the same bloodline. Cassir and Polus were obviously not blood relatives, and Astra looked almost the spitting image of my mother. Even from an early age people noticed the striking similarities between my father and me. If I sat in quiet contemplation, I was told that I was making “his face”. I had only seen my father smile once, but I hoped that when I did, it was similar to his as well.

But there was more to our similarities than our personalities. Like my mother, Astra had hair that was as red as the dawning sun. My father and I both had brown hair, drawing a clear distinction between which parents we favored. Astra had a face that my mother once said was “meant to weep”. It was an odd thing to hear a mother say to her daughter, but she later went on to explain that those who were beautiful often found themselves trapped in untenable situations. Children would be born; children would die. Husbands would go to war; husbands would die.

I asked her if I would weep as well, and she replied:
“You will have disagreeable days.”

I was comfortable with that. In fact, I was a little relieved to know that the men of our clan would not be hounding after me as they did Astra. Although we all lived in a relatively close area to one another, there was little reason for we Mandalorians to travel to see each other unless a child had passed their rites, or perhaps a wedding was announced. For the most part we kept to ourselves, working in as peaceful a manner as possible, until one day a Mandalore emerged to galvanize us as they had in the past. This meant that when Astra began to come into her own, the young men of our clan had to concoct excuses to spend time around her.

It was amusing, if nothing else, to see her send away suitor after suitor. My father refused to intervene in the proceedings and on more than one occasion I had seen Astra physically expel someone from our property. She was a strong and fiery woman that naturally attracted the warrior spirits of our people.

But when it came to me, I was certain that I would forever occupy the synapses between passable and attractive. I was not the tallest of the girls my age, and I did not have any of the makings that one would usually associate with a desirable mate. Perhaps I was harder on myself because Astra was such a paragon of beauty, but at the time I compared what I had to what she did and found myself severely lacking. In the mind of a child, after all, it did not matter that I might one day mature into those traits. What mattered was that I had not to that point.

Had Polus not died, I believe that my parents would have been more dedicated to getting Astra to leave our home and start her own family. We never spoke of Polus’ death – in fact, when we did speak of him it almost seemed as though we were waiting for him to walk back through the door at any moment. Our memories were of the many times he would fluster himself while trying to keep stride with his brother, and although we laughed each sound was tinged with sorrow. I would often catch my father glancing at the seat that Polus had once occupied; his look no different than how he eyed his armor. Times past – things lost.

It was my mother’s decision not to push Astra out of the nest that truly surprised me. While my father may have been the head of our household, my mother’s presence was one that kept us moving. My father was the rooster that crowed as the sun rose to get everyone’s day started. My mother was the sun. But where she normally would have been the impetus that my sister needed to leave home, she was just as loathe parting with her daughter as my father was. I never heard them speak of it, but I knew that my mother’s silence was her way of holding on to her daughter. She did not want to lose another child. I did not want to lose another sibling.

At the age of ten, I was beginning to anticipate my own rites of passage into adulthood. Astra had passed hers, Cassir had as well. If I looked at it mathematically then I had a two out of three chance of not dying. Sadly, children did not think in terms of mathematically equations and to me the fact that one of my siblings had died was reason enough to be terrified. I used that terror though to train myself better and harder, and even once managed to throw Cassir who had been assisting me in close-quarter combat maneuvers. The look of astonishment on his face was testament enough to my aptitude. Far from embarrassed, he was proud that his little sister had been able to surprise him. We laughed after, though I saw no reprieve from his far greater expertise in the rounds that were to follow.

After one of the training sessions that I had, in which Astra and my mother showed me how to properly tend to assemble my blaster rifle without looking at it, we were informed that guests were on the way. As was previously stated while visits were not frequent they were also not so uncommon that it was a reason for alarm. As we all set to getting properly attired, my mother made certain to note that it would not be a situation in which Astra was being courted yet again.

Good, I thought. I couldn’t stand to see another gawking boy try his best to be a man!

My father and Cassir went out to meet our guests. They both wore their armor, as did my mother and sister. As the only member of the household that had not yet passed into adulthood I felt sorely out of place, but made no mention of it. The time would come when I was worthy of having my own set of armor. There was so much to admire about the armor of others. Each nick and scratch spoke of a battle; each charred mark that was buffered down meant that a near-death had been passed. The colors alone were beautiful: my father’s blue armor, my mother’s black armor, my sister’s green armor, or my brother’s red.

In times past, I had been told, the Neo-Crusaders of the Mandalorian Wars used the colors to designate a person’s rank, but as time had gone on that convention fell along the wayside. The armor became a more personalized aspect of the Mandalorian, and as such the colors designated their favored aspects more than anything about rank or position. I always cherished my mother’s armor the most; the metallic luster of the polished, black ore simply came across as intriguing to me. Perhaps when I was to make my armor, I would take note of hers.

As the youngest member of the family, I knew what my role in the upcoming meeting would be. I was to attend to the needs of others: to ensure that their stay in our home was as enjoyable as possible. When I was younger the duty was taken on with a great deal of pride, but predictably as I aged and grew closer to becoming an adult, I began to resent the people that made me handle their every chore. Regardless, I shouldered on through that frustration. More important than anything else was the need to look and act as a Mandalorian.

The sun was setting by the time that my father returned with our guests. Walking arm-in-arm with my father was none other than Uncle Valgor, my father’s older brother. I had few occasions to meet my uncle, but when I did I knew that I was to show him as much reverence as humanly possible. After Grandfather Dasius passed into the afterlife, it was Uncle Valgor that became the head of our clan. He was a very large man, taller than my father and with a presence that expanded as far as the eye could see. While my father rarely smiled, Uncle Valgor always did. The smile couldn’t necessarily be considered pleasant, but it was prevalent. Like my father, Uncle Valgor wore purple armor.

Further behind my father and uncle was Cassir and then a slew of men I had never seen before. Their armor was varied in colors, some bright and others dark. Each of them had the swagger of young Mandalorians though, eager to test themselves against the fires of an enemy that would never emerge. My father had dedicated his life to protecting our family; my uncle had dedicated his life to rekindling the fading flames of our people. Both men believed in their causes and respected each other not to enforce them upon the other.

All things considered, I liked Uncle Valgor.

While the men had been on their way back to our home, my sister, mother, and I found time to prepare an appropriately sized meal. People may have loved the romantic notion of Mandalorian heroes fighting through hails of enemy fire, but they also loved the idea of being able to eat a full meal without having cause to worry. We may not have been able to provide the former, but my father’s hard work and diligence ensured that we were never wanting for food. The men returned to a feast and I took special pride in knowing I had a hand in preparing it.

The adults spoke Mando’a for most of the evening, laughing and cheering over whatever tales they were sharing. Astra seemed to understand them more than I did, so I simply reacted to whatever she did. If she laughed, I laughed; if she smiled, so did I. The best thing that I could do was keep my head down and eat. I only truly had a reason to look up whenever someone slipped into Basic.

“She’s almost an adult now, isn’t she?” Uncle Valgor asked as he set down his cup. He sat at the head of the table, a position that my father usually occupied. I looked up from my meal and to my uncle, whose warm smile revealed that he had already been influenced by the spirits that were coursing through him. “Ge’vard, are you excited to become a warrior?”

Ge’vard or “almost-a-warrior”, was a title given to people in my position. We were no longer children, but we were not adults either. I looked to my father before I responded. He nodded slightly, so I spoke.

“Of course, [/i]ba’vodu’alor[/i],” I answered. I hated speaking Mando’a, and more importantly, putting those words together was about 60% of the Mando’a I knew. It was a bit of a puzzle: ba’vodu was uncle and alor was a leader. Uncle Leader? I was unsure if I had put the words together correctly or if they even made sense. Uncle Valgor gave me a smile and laughed. I assumed that he was amused if nothing else.

“I’ll never understand why it is you keep our language from your children,” Uncle Valgor remarked to my father. “In times past, that would be a very serious problem.”
My father frowned. “Times past are times past, brother. My children can learn the language if they wish to – I live to ensure that they live to make that decision for themselves. Nothing more.”

There was no trace of hostility on my father’s tongue and I knew that my uncle expected no less from him. I looked toward my mother, but found that she was as devoid emotion then as she always was. An uneasy silence was beginning to spread across the table then, and I was uncertain as to how to alleviate it. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of Uncle Valgor’s men looking at Astra, but her attention remained on her food. She was very good at ignoring the interests of others.

Uncle Valgor leaned back in my father’s chair. It creaked under the weight but did not falter. I always found it odd that Mandalorians could eat, sleep, or simply live in their armor. I could hardly remember when Astra first wore her armor, but in seeing Cassir I knew that it was an art form learned. Initially he shuffled and stumbled, but with time he had learned to walk and then run in it. Now he, like the others sat with ease. “Do you remember the times past, brother?”

“I do.” My father answered solemnly.
“And you, sister?”
“I do.” My mother answered just as coolly.

But I knew nothing of them. My father’s stories always dealt with distant relatives, never his personal exploits. I had always assumed that he was a farmer all of his life, but as my uncle mentioned it I could not help but look at my father’s armor. There were scars on it; scratches and burn marks decorated it just like everyone else’s. When we spent time polishing it, I had always assumed that they were simply there. I did not consider how they had come to be there. Without thinking, I spoke.

“Tell us a story, ba’vodu’alor?” The question left me before I could stop it. The others that were in attendance to our meal slowed in their eating and looked in my direction. I shrank inward but kept my eyes on my uncle, who in turn looked back at me with a degree of pensiveness not usually on his face. He cracked a grin and looked to my father.

“Valgor,” my father said in an almost warning tone.
“I know,” my uncle replied without needing to be informed of what was to follow. “I don’t think there’s any harm in telling your daughter about the first time you saw Sala, is there?”

It was very rare that my father was embarrassed, but when the comment came up he gave an almost worried look in my mother’s direction. The smile that she offered in response was cool and well-maintained, nearly as out of place on her face as my father’s look was on his.

“I think this is an excellent story to share,” my mother said.
Father shook his head. “I don’t.”
“I do,” Uncle Valgor said. “You’re outnumbered.”

“Your mother was a beautiful woman,” Uncle Valor began. His words were drawn to a quick halt when my mother cleared her throat.
“Was?” She asked, almost offended.

Uncle Valgor grinned. “Is,” he corrected. She nodded and so he went on. “So beautiful in fact that men from all over would come along just to have the chance of meeting her. Your father and I often would go out of our way to arrive at her doorstep, sometimes clearing dozens of extra kilometers just for the chance to speak with her. The way word carries it, the same can be said for one of her daughters?”

“Unfortunately,” Astra remarked. She caught the eye of one of the men that had been staring at her and glared. He broke eye contact with her and looked away bashfully. It took every ounce of self control that I had not to laugh at him.

Uncle Valgor chuckled and clasped his hands behind his head. “Now, you may be wondering why it is that if both your father and I would visit your mother that it was my little brother that ended up with her.”

“Father’s very charming?” I offered. My defense of my father only caused him to groan and shake his head. Uncle Valgor laughed.

“I wasn’t there for Sala at all,” he explained. “In fact, I was only there because…”
“Valgor,” my father protested half-heartedly.
Cassir laughed and chimed in. “He’s already brought us this far in the story, dad. You may as well let him finish.” My father shook his head and looked to my mother, whose chilly smile remained in place.

“Let me just say now that your dad, when he was a young man, didn’t have a competitor out there. I count myself lucky that we didn’t have to meet in the battle circle when our father passed.”

My father became uncomfortable with the praise. “I believe you overstate my prowess.”
“Only to cushion the blow,” Uncle Valgor replied.

“Your dad – the same one that could wrestle a boma into submission, or outshoot an assassin droid – was completely terrified when it came to speaking with your mother.”
“I wouldn’t say terrified,” Father complained. My mother’s smile broke as she spoke.
“I would.”

A thin layer of laughter emerged from those present. I looked between my mother and my father and for the first time saw them as they actually were – a couple, two people that were joined in more than the fact that they were together. I began to wonder just what they had been through together before we were born. Expectantly, I looked back to Uncle Valgor.

“Now, even though your dad was terrified of speaking to your mother, that isn’t to say he was any kind of coward. There were other guys that wanted the chance to speak to her, but the more of them that showed up the more that your father sent packing. I once saw him fight two men at once to keep them from approaching her.”
My father furrowed his brow. “You also didn’t mix in.”
“It was your fight,” Uncle Valgor cracked.

“Needless to say,” Uncle Valgor went on, “it was only a matter of time before your mother decided to take matters into her own hands. She wanted to get married and your dad was just chewing up every other contender that might have been a suitable choice. I personally think that every hut’uun that your dad licked wasn’t worthy of being with your mother anyway.”

Cassir took interest in that. I watched his face light up as he looked at our mother. “You would have married someone other than dad?”
“Of course,” she answered. “But your father made a more compelling argument than the others.”
Astra added in. “How’s that?”
“If you impatient whelps would give me a second, I’ll get to that.” Uncle Valgor shifted in his chair again and sat forward. He looked between my mother and father, who shared fleeting glances, before continuing on.

“One day your mother came out of her vheh’yaim and walked on over to us. You know what that is, don’t you?” I knew that he was speaking to me, so I absently nodded. At best I compared the word to shack, but I knew that wasn’t exactly correct. Not wanting to take up more of Uncle Valgor’s time, I did not ask for further clarification and so he continued.

“I’m going to spare you the details on how she walked, but I’ll just say she caught our attention immediately.” That bit of information was more than I needed to hear, but it made my mother offer a smile I’d never seen from her before. Small, quiet, and filled with pride. She was reliving the moment as Uncle Valgor spoke of it.

“We figured that this was it. Well, I hoped it was anyway – I had my own courtship to worry about. So she comes up to us. I can feel your father’s fear at this point; he was three-shades away from passing out.”
Father grunted. “Enough of that.”
“I’m just being an honest storyteller here, vod’ika.” My father’s disdain only made Uncle Valgor smile bigger. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was going to leave his face and become its own person at the rate it was growing. “Your mother came to a stop right before us. Looked at me. Looked at your dad. And before either of us could speak, popped him right in the nose. Broke it.”

At hearing that we, the collective children, looked up in amazement.
“He deserved it,” Mother said emptily.
“I did.” My father agreed.

“She said: ‘If you’re going to chase off every man that comes my way, then you had better be man enough to approach me on your own..’ I tell you this in all honesty; your mother was a scary lady. The same way that Astra has Cadim over there afraid to look at her, is the same way that she had your father.”

At being mentioned, Cadim, the young man that had been trying so desperately to draw Astra’s attention, all but lost the color in his face. He began to deny the accusation, but even as the words formed we were laughing so intently that nothing came out other than stammering refusal.

“Maybe he should take notes then,” Astra remarked humorlessly. I grinned at my sister and was rewarded with a sly one in response.

Uncle Valgor continued. “So your dad’s standing there, blood dripping from his nose, and looking into the angry eyes of a woman that he knew he was in love with. I was about to propose to her just to get him to muster up the courage to speak, when he said that he’d prove his love to her. Alone, he’d bring down a Republic shuttle and give her its cache. If he failed, he wouldn’t be worthy of her respect.”

I could see Cassir’s eyes widening as he heard the story. I knew that he was thinking of how he would impress his future wife; it was the same thought that I saw on the faces of most of the young men present. When Cassier spoke, I could almost hear doubt in his voice.

“Did he manage to do it?”
“Of course he did!” Uncle Valgor cheered. Mother’s smile became just a bit warmer; Father looked just a bit less embarrassed. “And that’s why we’re all sitting here right now. Back then, your dad was really a force to be reckoned with.”

“He still is,” I said, almost defensively. “Father’s the best shot that I’ve ever seen.”
“That, I do not doubt, ge’vard.” Uncle Valgor’s voice was steeped in an interest that I did not grasp at the time. “That, I do not doubt.”

The rest of the meal was completed with intermittent though empty conversation. In addition to the young man that had been introduced as Cadim, there were others that I had met before. There was a saying amongst Mandalorians that family is not defined by bloodline, but I was always mindful of those that shared a visceral ancestry with me. My cousins Ryk and Vasmus, for example, were each certainly of my blood. Ryk was tall and lanky; Vasmus short and stout. The majority of the other men were of varying familiarity, but as I did not know them already I attempted to remain out of their way. After eating there would be drinking and when there was drinking young men tended to act foolishly.

With the adults save for my mother now outside, I assisted in packing away whatever extra food we had to give to our guests. In our culture, supplying guests with rations was a great sign of respect and as Uncle Valgor was our clan’s leader, a good deal of pride had to be taken in ensuring that he and his company of young men were well taken care of. My mother and I rarely spoke directly to one another, more often than not because there was little we had to say. When it came time for training, I trained. If I had chores to complete, I completed them. But the sight of her smile was enough to draw me out of that routine, and as I finished tying off a package I turned toward her.

“Did you know that you loved father the first time you saw him?”

As surprised as I was to actually ask the question, Mother was just as surprised to hear it. She looked away from the food stuffs she was packing and gave me a look more akin to what I was accustomed to: pointed, cold. “Of course not,” she told me. “The first time I saw him, I thought he was an idiot.”

“You married someone that you thought was an idiot?”
“No. I married someone that proved to me that he was worthy of considering.”

The logic in her words was too earnest for me to deny and I nodded. I knew that the time for my marriage was not so far away that I should consider it a fairytale; however, it was not so close that I gave it serious thought. Just as my mother took once more to wrapping food, I spoke again.

“Do you think that Astra will ever find someone that proves her wrong?”
“You mean someone that she will want to marry?”
“I should hope so.”

But there wasn’t much conviction in the words when my mother spoke them. Astra was her first born and as she had only given birth to two girls, that made her the most important child as far as I could tell. I never resented Astra because of my mother’s favoritism, and instead assumed that was the way it should be. She was much more like my mother than I was, anyway.

“Does she have to get married?”
“No one has to do anything other than die,” Mother said bluntly. “But if she wants to live a happy life, then yes she will have to become married. Women that run away from that fate end up old and alone.”

I busied my fingers by working on another parcel. “Is a woman’s only purpose truly to have children?”
My mother shrugged. “Some women don’t think so. Some think they can best serve their people in the battlefield, or acting as doctors or who knows what. I think that the best you can do is having children and making sure that they are raised as proper Mandalorians. The Six Rules agree with me.”

“But we don’t live by the Six Rules,” I pointed out.
“I said they agreed with me; I didn’t say they were why I felt that way. If nothing else, I’ve done that service to our people.”

In hearing these things, I was being shown a part of my mother that I never considered. I didn’t think of her as a happy person, but by her own admission she was. She believed we were proper Mandalorians – that I was a proper Mandalorian. “Do you think that I will ever get married?”

“Of course I do.” I’d never heard my mother answer a question so quickly, but after she did she looked pointedly at me. It was as though she was seeing me for the first time. “In a few years you’ll have grown into yourself.”

“And if I don’t?”
My mother set aside the last parcel of food and clapped her hands together.
“Some women are destined to end up old and alone.”

Those were hardly the words I wanted to hear. As an adult I can understand that my mother was telling me not to worry about “what if”, but as a child I took it as face value. She did not explain herself further and moved outside of our home to join the others. I fought the urge to cry, thinking that I had been cursed with being ugly, and after managing to get my emotions in order, I followed after her.

Bird the Dog was the first one to notice me; I believe because I still smelled like food and had the highest yield of giving him it when he begged. Feeling all sorts of awful, I patted him on his head and looked about the gathered people. How could I possibly die alone when I had so much family? My father would always love me; Cassir and Astra would always be there for me. I knew that Astra would never marry either, because unlike the others she understood that the men we were destined to be with had died long ago – the gallant champions of father’s stories.

I wandered out further away from our home and saw that Father and Uncle Valgor were in the middle of conversation, my mother completing the picture as she accepted a drink from a younger Mandalorian. Cassir spoke with a few of the other young men, no doubt sharing with them stories of his verd’goten. I did not wish to disturb either of them, so I went further still until I saw that Astra was watching two men currently in the middle of a grappling contest. Bird the Dog and I came alongside her.

“You and that horrible mutt,” she muttered as we took our position. Despite her grumping, she gave Bird a pat that he returned by lapping at her hand. As with the other adults, she held a bottle of ale in a hand. She looked at me and I believe saw that I was still distressed over whatever mother had said to me. “What’s the matter, sis?”

“Nothing,” I lied. “Can I have some of that?”

Astra looked as though she was ready to deny me the request, but after she glanced in mother’s direction she handed the ale over. “One swig.” I complied with her directive.

I’ve never liked beer, but it seemed like the ‘adult’ thing to do at the time. The moment that the bitter fluid was in my mouth I wished that it wasn’t, and as a novice to drinking I made the single mistake that everyone does – I forced myself to swallow rather than spitting it out. Surely enough, the beer went down the wrong pipe and I was suddenly coughing into my hand. My face was flushed; Bird even yipped to draw my attention.

Astra took the beer back and chuckled. “You’ll get used to the taste eventually.”

“Ugh,” I protested as my voice returned to me. “I hope not!”

We continued to watch the men grappling. One of them was a man whose name I did not know, but the other was Cadim. His fiery red hair stood out against the night as he fought to overwhelm his opponent. While I did not think he looked like much of a man when he was sitting, when he fought there was a good deal of intensity that sprang out into the air. It made him seem much more masculine.

“Why are they fighting?” I asked.
“They believe that the winner will have the honor of marrying me.”

My eyes widened. “Astra.”
“Of course I won’t marry him,” she laughed.

“Then why are you letting them do it?”
“Because I’ll give the winner the chance to prove to me he’s worthy of being considered.”

The words so closely mirrored Mother’s that I could not help but look back in her direction. She had a hand on Father’s shoulder, a rare laugh leaving her at the behest of something my uncle said. I did not want to imagine that one day Astra would be like that with Cadim or anyone else. If Cassir left with those young men, or if Astra married Cadim, who would I be left with? Bird?

In the middle of the gathering, surrounded by all of my family, I came to understand something.

I, Siana Daue, was already alone.