Chapter One: Smile.
I remember the first time I saw my father smile.
He was a strong man, by any standard of brawn and character. While the former seemed to me far more important for the majority of my life, I learned in later years that it was the latter which truly made a man worthy of praise or respect.
As with all Mandalorians, my father dedicated himself to whichever craft he had on hand. Were he to be given a blaster, he would be a marksman. Were he to be given a starfighter, he would have been an ace pilot. For three hundred years we had been without a Mandalore, which left us but with Mandalore the Preserver’s final command: persevere.
And so we did.
It took two centuries of Daue men and women to discover how best that might be accomplished, but it was my great-grandsire, Regimus Daue, that realized it was tilling the land that might provide us with the ability to survive in a changed galaxy. Centuries ago, our ancestors had lived by agrarian standards, and it appeared that the circle had come full term at last.
The was were over and our people were scattered; however, those of us that could find our way back to that true path did so with varying interest. From what I have been told or gathered from past accounts, Grandsire Regimus was a man that was in no way fond of the idea of farming; however, he did that which was necessary for our bloodline to persevere.
I have heard it said in passing that a Mandalorian is as good with a hoe as he is a blaster. Keeping in mind the number of shoddy farmers I have met in my day, I believe it would be safe to say that I’d rather those people be given chance to prove that adage true. In many ways, I believe, Grandsire Regimus fell into that category. He was the last of our family line to aspire to greatness through combat: who actively sought violence and thrived on chaos. Long before him Ancestor Roga had been killed in battle against the (in)famous Jedi general, Revan. Odd though it may seem to be an impetus to guide people through life, from Ancestor Roga to Grandsire Regimus, the men and women of Clan Daue tried to live by that example.
Thankfully, in the end, they gave up the pursuit.
We became farmers.
No doubt, part of my father’s strength must have come from his agricultural background. I never knew h im to be angry, violent, or even an unpleasant person. But when he was working in the fields; that was the only time that you could see he was content. Content, I believe, is the best way to describe my father’s disposition. Happiness seemed too excessive for him and apathy too dire.
He did not smile when he sewed the land with future bounty; he did not sing songs or even hum. He simply worked, and in working he completed that which he felt our family required; that which Grandsire Roga had set out for him. I would find myself at times marveling at his ability to so completely give himself over to the tasks at hand, and with each day hoped that I might have that level of dedication. I do not believe that even now, so many years later, that I have that ability.
Nor has any man or woman I have ever met since then.
On the day that my father smiled, we had been working harder than ever within our fields. Three weeks had come and gone without a droplet of rain; more importantly, there was none upon the horizon. Unperturbed by this, my father instructed us to continue planting and so we did. The rain, he said, was coming.
My fifth birthday had only recently passed. I was not so old as to doubt my father, but I certainly wondered why it was we were working so tirelessly without any relief from the drought in sight. Nevertheless, I, like everyone else, worked without complaint. There was never a cross word nor a thought to stop that which we were instructed to accomplish.
I believe that it is when working that a Mandalorian family is at its closest. In times past this was seen by tightly knit clans fighting against outside forces, but that was part of a legacy we did not inherit. The enemy was no longer Republic troopers or crafty Jedi, but weeds, insects, and all manners of destructive critters. I did not brandish a blaster, only a small hand shovel. There was no beskar’gam (Battle armor made from Mandalorian iron) to be found upon my body, only thread-bare clothing that my mother had created for my older sister long ago was now mine as I struggled to become the woman she was.
The others worked faster than I did; I have no shame in admitting that. Even with my fiercely loyal mutt at my side I could not do much more than dig holes and plant seeds at about half the pace that they were.
As I think back on it, the dog probably slowed me down more than he helped. He knew how to start digging; it was the stopping that he couldn’t quite grasp. But for whatever trouble that stray may have caused me, I loved him with all of my being. His name was “Bird”, and although he was larger than me then, he never seemed to realize that. Bird was my first true and loyal friend. In later years, he would also be my first true and loyal ally.
But I suppose that all that is important in mentioning him at this juncture is to say that we were a terrible team back then. Despite that, we worked our damndest to see our goals completed.
The benefit of youth is an indefatigable body and spirit. By the time that I had finished my work, I felt no different than I did upon waking upon. Bird and I raised across the fields and through the woods that shielded our home from the nearby Gao’Mi River. Knowing that he had no place inside of her home, my mutt gave me an affectionate lick on the cheek and then bounded off to wherever it was mutts went whenever their companions had no use for them. I, on the other hand, went inside, uniformed I n the grit and grime of a day’s work and feeling every the Mandalorian for it. The way that they looked at me when I came inside informed me that I had every right to feel that way, as well.
From my father to my mother, older sister Astra, and brothers Cassir and Polus, each looked at me with something far better than love. Their eyes were filled with respect.
We ate a healthy dinner that night. After we finished, my sister, mother and I cleaned up the dishes while my father and brothers made certain that the house would be secured for the evening. Even in times of peace, a Mandalorian’s mind is always preoccupied with what could happen, and the best way to prevent any negative outcome must be to be positively sure that all has been done to preclude those realities. When both sets of chores were done we once more joined and my father took to regaling us with another story of our ancestors.
It was a story I had heard before, but I loved it each time that he mentioned it. To us, our ancestors were the “heroes” of all times and though I am certain that they were greatly exaggerated over the centuries, they nevertheless still hold a great deal of importance as to how I view my role in this galaxy.
This evening’s story was of how Ancestor Roga and his brother Crussus the Strong managed to besiege a Republic prison camp and rescue their cousins and uncles from it. The Republic had been slovenly enough to rely on Onderon’s native beastmen to guard the camps; it only took a bit of distraction before the untrained beastmen were attacking the very shadows while Ancestor Roga and his brother led our relatives to safety.
Doubtlessly it is a silly thing to admit, but the characteristics that Ancestor Roga exemplified are that which I have looked for in men ever since hearing those stories: strong, resourceful, clever, and fearless. The ideal Mandalorian man: that which would be able to defend his people, clan, and family without a second’s pause. I now know that these men do not exist in reality; that every person has flaws and no person can truly live up to a lofty notion or an ideal, but as a girl all that I cared about was when I heard of Roga’s exploits, they made me feel joy.
My brothers and sister had heard these stories countless times and hardly seemed to pay attention to them. My mother was a quiet woman that concerned herself more directly with her family’s present situation than the past. This made me believe that the stories that my father shared; the ones that I devoured more ravenously than the food on my plate, were meant only for me. When considering that my father was a man of few words, having the notion that he spoke to me and me alone was far greater than any mundane affection other parents may have shown their children.
I went to sleep in a better mood that night than I usually did. The chirping of insects outside mixed with the cool wind that made its way through my window was a recipe for deep sleep, and I accepted it willingly after my long day of hard work. My sister and I shared a room and bed, greatly reducing the space needed for our family of six to fit into our small home. Nuzzled against her, I always felt safe. The difference between a Mandalorian woman and a Mandalorian man is purely one of physiology; given the chance to protect her loved ones, a woman will fight just as fiercely as a man if not more so.
Astra would have died for me and I for her.
As with all things, time would prove this to be true.
Normally, I could sleep from the moments my eyes closed until Astra called my name, but on that night I was awakened by something outside. It was a quiet sound that pulled at the inside of my mind and willed my eyes to open. Imagine, if you will, a string being placed within a person. Now have it tugged on, and continue to tug on it until the person moves without realizing that they were. That is the best way in which I can think to explain the sensation.
It continued until my eyes opened and even then, went further to encourage me to rise. Astra’s arm was over me, but when I shifted she did not awaken. I slipped out of bed and made my way out of the room and into the next. The feeling was so compelling that I followed it further still, until eventually I found myself standing at the door to our home and looking outside into the darkness.
It was the blackest night I had ever seen in my short life.
My natural desire was to turn and run back to Astra, but even at that age I was beginning to understand the self-reliance that Mandalorians are bred to exemplify. To turn away in fear was to act as a coward and to act as a coward was in no way to bring honor to the name Daue. I balled my little fists and moved out the door, not for a moment thinking as to why it may have been open. My walk came to a sudden halt when the sound of grass at my side being disturbed filled the air, and I froze up in terror.
The feeling of Bird’s tongue against my hand brought me out of my catatonia. I gave him a shy smile which he answered with a soft whine; together we set out to investigate just what the sound was that had so enraptured me. Understandably, a scared little girl became a bit braver when there was a mountain of a dog next to her. With my hand on Bird’s back we moved silently and with great skill until eventually we were at our fields. The darkness of the night was pierced then by a luminescent ray from the moon, which bathed our crops in its beauty and created such an awe-inspiring scene that I felt my breathe leave me. More startling than any of that though, was what was happening in the center of the field.
Even bathed in shadows and moonlight, I could make my father out. That tugging that I felt had brought me to him, and I was suddenly embarrassed that I had not been able to identify it sooner. It was his presence; his feeling that guided me to him. I watched him kneel in the middle of the field, his rugged appearance made just a hint softer by the moonlight as it washed over him.
He plunged his hand into the soft earth that we had previously tilled. When he drew it up, dirt and grit tumbled through his fingers as he held his hand to the sky. The clumps of dirt fell from his hand, describing a descent that seemed to tumble carefully and with purpose from his rough, sturdy hands. He did the same with the opposite hand, then placed both of his hands together and plunged them as a knife into the soft soil. I had no idea what he was doing and my first thought was to run over and ask him – but that presence told me to do anything but, so I remained where I was.
The sky slowly began to darken. Where once the moon had lorded over the crops, now did dark and fat clouds materialize. I drew closer to Bird, who looked up as though enraptured in the same manner that I was. We knew that the sky was clear before; where did the clouds come from? I looked back to my father and saw that he had lifted both of his hands to the heavens, from which a mighty crack of thunder emerged. Now, while I am quite certain that what I believe happened and what actually happened could be two different things, I can only speak to what I remember.
A beautiful ray of light descended from above. It was powerful and fierce, raw and mighty, and struck the ground with such force that a small breeze was created in the wake of its manifestation. Bird’s ears flattened; my fingers and toes curled. The flash of lighting lasted for but a third of a second but is emblazoned within my mind even to this day. I feared that it may have stricken my father, but what followed was so unexpected that I could not be bothered to move.
It began to rain. It was not simply raining – it was a downpour. Fat droplets of rain struck me with such force that I winced, and Bird let off a little groan. We both began to retreat from our voyeuristic position, but just as my feet touched against the now soaked ground, I saw my father stand and begin to turn about in the rain. It was then, with a few rays of moonlight still upon him, that I saw he was doing that which I had never seen before: he smiled. It was an expression far too beautiful for words, and I have lived my life hoping that I might see something similar before I expire. I have seen a star nova, in fact, and that hardly approached the brilliance of my father’s smile.
It was a breathtaking experience, shared between him and nature, and by proxy me for being fortunate enough to be there. I slipped then and fell, the splash of my fall enough to draw his attention to my direction. Far too frightened to see if he actually saw me, I turned and ran back to our home, with Bird plodding behind me. I will say this: I was a fast. Before I knew it I was back inside and Bird was panting next to me. It took me several seconds before I realized that Bird shouldn’t be panting next to me and I promptly kicked him out of the house despite his whining protests.
Dogs belonged outside. Daughters belonged in bed.
My mind was filled with the thought of my father’s smile, so stunning and unrestrained. I returned to Astra’s bed, soaking wet and covered in mud, but once more did not awaken her. Just as I had been pulled into awareness by the sensation that I couldn’t describe, I later learned that Astra could sleep through a volcano’s eruption so long as that eruption would not endanger any of her loved ones. I nuzzled back into place and received a squeeze from my sister for the effort. She gave me a soft snore of recognition and a murmured complaint, before slipping back into deep slumber.
I lay in bed, thinking over what I had seen. From my father’s odd actions to the smile that he had given. Each second that passed seemed to only replenish the image in my head, which kept me from forgetting just how wonderful it had been. I smiled in return to the thought. Perhaps one day, I would be able to make my father smile like that? Not even Cassir or Polus could claim that honor.
I am uncertain as to when I fell asleep, but I only know that I did. My dreams are also a mystery to me that night, but the reason for my waking was not. I felt something soft hit me in the face and was roused from my sleep with a start. Astra glared at me and hit me once more with the pillow, an action that caused me to wince before I rolled out of bed on the opposite side and looked at her with abject bewilderment. Her cheeks were red with anger and her eyes were narrowed. I actually thought that for a moment she was going to attack me. To my credit, I didn’t back down.
“Why are you hitting me?” I spat out at her, my confused and tired voice mixed with irritation.
She pointed at the bed. “You’re too krelling old to be having accidents in my bed, Siana!”
My embarrassment abated when I looked to the bed and saw what she was indicating. Surely enough there was moisture in the bed, no doubt a stay over from my running through the rain. I thought to explain away the events by saying that I had been outside, but I knew I would only get into more trouble for going out without another to go with me. I remained tight lipped on the matter and blushed.
“I’m sorry. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
“You’re krelling right it won’t happen again,” Astra snorted before she threw the pillow at me. Even though it was a soft object she managed to weaponize it in that action and I staggered backward as I caught it. “Now change the bedding and for the love of the Preserver, you had better not tell me what that is on your legs.”
I looked down and saw that the mud had dried and caked. Although I couldn’t help but want to laugh I knew that doing so would gain me another of Astra’s glares.
“You’ll do my chores for a week,” she ordered. “Now go clean yourself up before mother sees you. If you make her angry then you’ll really make me angry.”
I didn’t bother to ask her the logic in her statement, I simply abided by her command. Bowing my head apologetically I scampered out of the room and toward the refresher. I could stomach the teasing Astra would give me for what she thought was my accident. I could do her chores without a complaint. Had she told me to wash her unmentionables, I would have even done that. Because while she may have thought she knew what was going on, she was absolutely oblivious. They all were. I had seen my father smile.
And no one could take that away from me.
“Disgusting,” she called after me.