Please upgrade your browser for the best possible experience.

Chrome Firefox Internet Explorer
×

Remastered: Memoirs of a Mandalorian.

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > Community Content > Fan Fiction
Remastered: Memoirs of a Mandalorian.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
12.13.2011 , 08:48 AM | #1
Preface:

I'm Gestahlt and for the past few years, I've been writing fan-fiction specifically dedicated to SWTOR. Memoirs of a Mandalorian was my largest project and leads into a very long story arc about Siana Daue, so if you like those kind of things then welcome aboard and if not, see you in a different thread.

For first time readers, I'll say this much: I learned about Mandalorians by writing through the eyes of one. You won't find this to be a Karen Traviss carbon copy, but you also won't find it to be without homage paid to a woman that, though controversial, did add elements to a previously empty archetype. Love her or hate her, she did that much.

For return readers, the remastered version is me trimming the fat or making certain parts shiny. You won't run into a "Koga shot first" moment, but I do intend to tweak and adjust certain scenes to better fit the vision I had at the end (since you know how it ends, anyway). Skim or read, up to you, but the experience should be a little different.

Anyway, I've rambled on long enough. I will probably do an update 1-2 times a day, simply because I have everything pre-written and I don't want to flood people that haven't read yet. Questions, comments, critiques - please, leave them.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Part I -
01: Smile.
02: True Mandalorians.
03: Lineage.
04. Ambition.
05. Perseverance.
06. Blood and Honor.
07. End of an Era.
08. Verd'goten.

Part II -
09: War.
10: Stories.
11: Half Truths.
12: Bitter Medicine.
13: Half Kill.
14. The Ring.
15. Second Chance.
16. Taking Point.
17. The Struggle.
18. The Siege.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
12.13.2011 , 08:49 AM | #2
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.
“I know!”

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
12.14.2011 , 07:08 AM | #3
Chapter Two: True Mandalorians.

In many ways, I am quite certain that people would not see my father as a “true Mandalorian”. Neither he nor my mother made any real effort to teach us the language, although when we would use slang to deride it, we were often reprimanded. I once made the mistake of telling a boy that he was a “moron’ika”, and when my father heard me he slapped me so hard in the mouth that my ears rang for two days after. It was odd to not be taught the language yet be forbidden from mocking it. In many ways, it made me resent Mando’a and the people that spoke it fluently all the more.

I understood certain words, naturally, but to use them would mean I would reveal myself to be all but a foreigner to the language. Things like ori-jate (“Very good!”) and k’uur (“Hush!”) were learned in passing, often from elders of the clan, but when I spoke them they came out more like songs than words and often time were stammered, or worse yet mispronounced. When a fellow Mandalorian heard me attempt the language they often developed a slightly embarrassed look, which in turn kept me all the more from wishing to speak.

According to my father, being a Mandalorian was about more than knowing a language. It was a way of life that transcended simple rules and went further still to define a man and his character. He informed us that if we wanted to be “true Mandalorians”, then we would act in a way to bring honor to the Clan Daue, and whatever we did would surely be what a Mandalorian would do. There were times when I wished that my father was more like the others, who fought and raised all forms of hell, but as I am now older I know that he had only one goal in mind: ensuring that the Clan Daue did not fade away as so many did around us.

I had very few occasions to see my father’s armor, and even less chances to see him actually wearing it. Once a year he allowed me to polish it with him, refitting and refurbishing parts of it that had worn as it waited to be adorned. There were times when I would see my mother and father look at their armor and then exchange glances, almost as though to relive something that I could never understand. I would later discover that there was much more to the youth of my parents than farming, but at the time I simply thought it was their desire to live out something they never could. Their longing gazes were never lost on me.

Although we did not exemplify every one of the actions in the resol’nare, or Six Actions, my father did make sure that we knew them. I had heard him several times speak Mando’a, usually with fellow clanmates, and although I always found the language ugly, I envied him for being able to. Still, whenever I brought it up to him he refused to teach me it. He said that like with many things in life, should I really wish to learn it then I would on my own. Like most people would do, I learned the “bad words”, but the joy in that was short-lived. The present condition of my family took precedence over it, and so I abandoned my learning almost as quickly as I began it.

I have never considered myself to be the ideal Mandalorian.

The first time that I can recall seeing my father wear his armor is when the twins Cassir and Polus were preparing for their verd’goten, a warrior’s initiation rites into adulthood. Although I will always consider Cassir and Polus to have been siblings to me, I believe it is necessary to point out that they were not blood relatives. Zabrak children that had been orphaned in a raid on their village, my father took them in and raised them as his own sons. He said that they were fortunate to have each other and so when the time for their initiation came, they were to complete it together.

My father’s armor was beautiful. Like many men of the Clan Daue he knew the secrets to smelting Mandalorian Iron and used the inner beauty that I knew was within him to create armor that simply defied words or explanation. As I think of him now, with the glistening, blue armor of his catching against the sunlight, I am moved to tears. How anyone could deny that my father was a true Mandalorian is beyond me, but to see him was to know that the might of Mandalore was not shattered even though its children may have been lost within the galaxy.

I often found myself watching Cassir, Polus, and my father practicing for the upcoming trials. I was seven at the time and growing ever closer to my own rites. I knew that once I became a true woman of the Mandalorian people, that I would be expected to do more than I was at that moment, but I could not help but be excited. My mother was an excellent teacher in many ways; I had once seen her throw my father in a demonstration of a self-defense technique, but although I loved my mother I did not particularly like her. She was my superior and I respected her, but there was something missing from our relationship that I have now come to understand as warmth.

Sala Daue was a cold woman. Far colder than any blade I have ever held in my hands. Her severity was a testament to her life though, and as I grow older I know that people will feel the same of me. Where my father was a quiet person, she was a silent one. Where my father was introverted, she was standoffish. I often wondered if she would have been happier without her children, but even as a child I knew that it was a foolish question. Without her children, a Mandalorian woman is nothing. The only way that we can persevere is if we continue to populate the galaxy, which means that severe women like my mother must produce young Mandalorians like me.

This was why the training that I went through, and that which Astra had already completed, were so vital for young Mandalorian women to understand. One day I would be the one teaching my children, and my husband would be preparing them for their eventual rites. I took pride in that idea even as a child, and could not wait until I was one day able to fight alongside my future husband, who undoubtedly would be far too good to be true. The same work ethic that had earned me respectful stares following our days in the fields was applied to my training, and I made certain that when the time came I would be prepared.

The night before Cassir and Polus were to undergo their rites, we all ate dinner early so that they could get additional rest before the big day. Although father did not make mention of it, I knew that he accepted less food so that his sons could have more. It was a silent sign of respect that I envied the moment I saw it – they were no longer children, they were going to be men. I am uncertain which of the twins I liked more, but I know it would be a lie to say I liked them equally. Cassir was a clever while Polus was stronger and quieter. Between the two a single powerful Mandalore could be made if only they had been born as the one and not two.

Father’s story that night dealt with Ancestor Roga and his duel with a Jedi Knight by the name of Valo Arris. It was one in a series of duels that would eventually culminate into an epic showdown; a story that showed how resourceful and bold the warriors of Clan Daue should be. While I had once sat in Astra’s lap during these story sessions, I had since grown too old to do so any longer. I was a young Mandalorian woman in my mind, and as such I had to present myself as one. Astra and my mother sat with their legs crossed: so did I. They looked intently at my father to absorb his every word: so did I. I may not have been able to learn Mando’a, but I would learn how to be a true Mandalorian.

“It was a misty evening,” my father began in his deep and rumbling voice. Cassir and Polus, who normally were more than eager to avoid stories of the past, nevertheless listened in. “The war on Onderon had been going well for the Clan Daue. Perhaps too well. The Republic, beaten and battered as it was, had turned to the Jedi for assistance. The Jedi, who time and time again sacrificed themselves needlessly to protect those that could not protect themselves.”

My father’s voice dipped a notch then. While I cannot speak for all Mandalorians, I can say that I have found the Jedi to be an extremely confusing aspect of our culture. We are supposed to hate them, this I know for a fact, yet by the same token we constantly seek them out and are defeated by them. Even Mandalore the Ultimate, who many view to be a man far larger than life, knew that he would eventually fall at the hand of a Jedi should they enter his war. I have been told that we are a masochistic people, but I do not know if that is entirely true.

Yes, we seek out defeat, but we do not necessarily covet it. My father’s views on the Jedi were never made completely clear to me, but he seemed to take offense if we dared to insult Revan or even Valo Arris. In his opinion the Jedi that Roga fought were honorable warriors, and so I suppose it makes sense that they should be respected. After all, if we were to demonize the Jedi that defeated our people, would that not in turn make us look all the more insignificant? It is something that has caused me pause on numerous occasions, and a question that even now perplexes me.

In any event, my father’s story continued. “Roga, along with Cassus, were stowed within the depths of the mist, waiting for the Republic and their saviors to cross their path. They had selected a path against a hill, permitting them excellent advantage over the Jedi when they finally arrived.

“They launched their attack when the Republic had nearly passed them by. Cutting into their middle, young and brave Mandalorians rushed forth to destroy their startled foes. As expected, the Republic fell apart at the first sign of combat. In the mist they could not see one another and like frightened children they could do little more than cry out and beg for help. By the time that the Jedi entered the fray their detachment had almost been entirely routed. But when the Jedi did enter the mix, oh… it was something to remember.

“They say that Valo Arris was a mountain of a man, a rarity. Most were little more than twigs; boys that swung glowing swords and used magic to defend themselves. He brandished a wicked lightsaber that cut through flesh as easily as it did the mist, and sent many stalwart Mandalorians to early graves. Roga, who knew that his men could well be slaughtered if the Jedi was not checked, sped forth on his speeder and met the Jedi in combat.”

This was always my favorite part of the story – it was the part that my mind played over and over regardless of how many times I heard it.

“Roga and the Jedi met in several clashes, vibroblade against lightsaber. Where one struck, the other parried. Where one thrust, the other dodged. Their speeders met and broke time and time again, each round becoming all the more impressive as they battled. It was not until Valo dismounted Roga that the two took to fighting on the ground, where once more they met in combat. Roga, summoning the courage of a Mandalorian champion fought with his every fiber against Valo, whose power came from their Force.

“While Roga and Valo fought, Crussus was hard at work finding a way to assist his brother. He saw his chance when Valo broke from combat to refresh himself and without warning, Crussus unleashed cover fire for Roga to take advantage of. There was no doubt that Roga would die if he continued to fight Valo, but he knew that if he did not find a means to stop him then all would be lost. He tossed a grenade toward the Jedi and ran for his brother’s position. Valo may have escaped the immediate blast of the grenade’s detonation, but by the time that it had cleared Roga was back amongst his men and the Mandalorians were retreating.”

And that was it. There was no miraculous victory. There was no great showing from Roga. In that he had not died while fighting Valo there was cause for celebration, but my father was never one to embellish a story. He could have said that Roga fought the Jedi to a standstill, but to what avail would that be? If nothing else, it would only further disgrace Roga by saying his actions were not ‘good enough’.

I now understand why it was that my father chose that story to tell on the eve of Cassir and Polus’ verd’goten. He wished for them to see that even against unlikely odds, two brothers were capable of standing against a dangerous foe. At the time I did not grasp that concept.

Unfortunately, neither did Cassir and Polus.

Cassir returned from his verd’goten. Polus did not. When I looked on Cassir, who had become a man in every sense of the word, I saw that he had changed. He was stronger, he was more driven, and he was also tinged with a sadness that I could not understand. I had lost a brother, yes, but I had not lost my twin. In later years Cassir told me that losing Polus was no different than having to cut off his own arm. The deeper meaning to that would be revealed to me shortly thereafter.

I wanted to cry when I found out that Polus had died. I wanted to throw myself down and demand that the news be taken back and proven not to be true. But at the age of seven, I did not. My mother did not cry; my sister did not cry. I could not cry.

The lesson that I learned from my brothers was a simple one and one that I still live by. One can live as a true Mandalorian. One can die as a true Mandalorian. Although Cassir passed where Polus failed, I never considered one more authentic a Mandalorian than the other.

Live or die, a person’s status as a Mandalorian does not depend on what someone else says of them. It depends entirely upon whether or not that person is willing to give their life for the pursuit of being a Mandalorian. Cassir was a true Mandalorian. Polus was a true Mandalorian. Astra was a true Mandalorian. My mother and my father were true Mandalorians.

I knew that when my time to be tested came, I would be a true Mandalorian as well.
That was what the Clan Daue needed, and I would never let my family down.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
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?”
“Yes.”
“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.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
12.15.2011 , 07:37 AM | #5
Chapter Four: Ambition.

Uncle Valgor and his men remained with us for an additional three days. Throughout it, I would often see my uncle attempting to convince my father of something, but never had the courage to approach them and find out what it was. After my revelation that I was effectively alone amongst my family, I entered a predictable depression that greatly caused me to retreat from those around me. No longer was I a part of their general collective: I was an observer watching their lives progress from the outside.

Despite Astra’s protestations in regard to Cadim and his attractiveness, the two began to spend more time together. I was so used to seeing Astra reject men out of hand that when I saw her smiling at what one said, I felt personally betrayed. There was no doubt that she would one day leave me to be with him, and that I would be that much closer to losing even the tertiary comforts that I might have taken in knowing she was close by.

With Bird the Dog as my only true companion, I tried my best to remain out of eyesight. My training did not end simply because we were entertaining guests though, and as expected some would watch as my mother instructed me in some of the more advanced techniques that a Mandalorian should know. Begrudgingly I complied with her directive to ignore the others and focus only on her. I still had a bit of anger with how she’d spoken to me last night in my system, and mistakenly I believed that this would in some way further hone my acuity.

As my mother was quick to show me, it did anything but.

I’ve often heard of people saying how they enter “berserker rages”, or any number of foolish notions that place the concept of losing oneself in the fight as a positive trait. I do not doubt that there are more experienced, better, and smarter fighters than me in the galaxy – I have had the privilege of meeting several of them and living to talk about the encounters – but one thing that I know for certain is that anyone that allows sheer anger to drive them will end up losing more than they gain. This lesson was almost driven home for me when my mother came within a hair’s breadth of breaking my arm after I attempted to muscle through her defenses. Worse yet, after she released me from the hold she told me to try again. It was hardly my most impressive day of training.

The session could have gone longer, but I suppose that my mother did have some sympathy in her heart. After it ended, I retreated back to my tree and sat beneath it, a hand as always positioned on Bird’s back. The more that I thought over the session the more that I wanted to cry, but in crying I knew I’d only further shame myself which made me even angrier, and thus made me want to cry all the more. It was a vicious cycle that placed piping hot tears in my eyes, waiting for the chance to fall but refusing to do so.

The last person that I wanted to run into that day was Cadim, but as fate would have it he was just the one to approach me after the showing. He always seemed ready to give some form of shy smile, a quality that may have been endearing if I didn’t detest him, and with my arm now overwhelming me with pain I had little occasion to suffer him beyond the most impersonal of greetings. Sulking and angry, I wiped my eyes before nodding.

“Your mother’s a real fighter,” he said with what I supposed was his most personable grin. When I only glared at him, he increased it even more and proved me wrong in my initial assumption. “When you make that face, you look just like your sister.”

I bristled under the sound of his voice. “Are you going to marry me too?”

My question was spoken without any hint of levity, yet he chuckled in the face of it. I tried my best not to look at him; shame and anger did well to prevent me from being able to do anything other than grump.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that. She won’t let me get more than three words in edge wise.”
“She usually won’t let anyone get more than one in. You’re three times as lucky as the others.”

Again he laughed. “You’re quick with numbers. Siana is your name, right?”
I didn’t answer him. He stepped closer and then knelt across from me. Bird’s eyes opened and he gave him a warning growl, but did not rise. Most people would have backed away from a dog the size of Bird growling at them, but Cadim patted him on the head.

To my surprise (and chagrin), Bird didn’t bite him.

“You have an amazing dog. Strong, loyal. If this is the kind of man you end up looking for, I’m pretty sure you’ll be even harder to please than your sister.”

“You don’t believe that you’re strong or loyal?” I asked the question with a feigned degree of innocence, but after it escaped me so too did a little glare. Cadim chuckled and took his hand away. “Why do you keep laughing?”

“Because I know what you’re going through – it’s what I went through a few years ago when some di’kut was sniffing after my sister.” The word that he chose di’kut was one of the few ‘bad words’ that I knew. It translated at best to ‘idiot’, and whereas I would have never used it, I did not see a reason to disagree with it being applied to Cadim. I must have smirked just a little, because he grinned even more. “I thought he was a real shabuir.”

“What’s that?” I asked. I was still angry, but Cadim had a way about him that did encourage you to let down your guard. Still holding onto a bit of rage, I refused to look directly at him or give him the satisfaction of seeing me smirk again.

“It’s like calling someone a jerk, but a lot meaner.” He paused then and looked gave a clever smirk. “I don’t know if you know anyone that would fill that role?”
“I can think of someone.” I chimed. Cadim laughed again.
“I bet you can.”

I could feel even more of my anger dissipating and it almost distressed me. I was supposed to hate Cadim because he was taking away my sister, but with each word that he spoke I found that he was easy and fun to talk to. His voice was smooth and gentle, yet at the same time strong in the way that Bird was. It was like hearing someone say in the nicest way possible that they would be able to protect you, and at the same time knowing that it was true. I hated it. I hated that I liked him.

“I really admire the life that your family has carved out here,” Cadim said as he sat down and petted Bird again. This time, Bird did not even attempt to growl at him. Apparently he liked him too.

The concept of admiration was not something I had ever heard from others in regard to our family. Amongst the Clan Daue we were an extreme: if not for the fact we were directly related to Uncle Valgor I believe we might have even been persecuted to a degree. While Grandfather Regimus’ decree was minded by all, none had settled down quite in the fashion that we did. They were nomads, moving from location to location – we were settlers, producing from year to year.

So to be told someone admired us was not only startling, but confusing. I could only think of one thing to say.

“Why?”

“Well,” Cadim began with a pause that told me he was either thinking of how to best say what he felt, or how to best lie. I was overly critical of him then and looked up to see if he gave away any tell-tale signs of deception. When he spoke, I noticed that he did not appear to be lying. Perhaps he was just very good at it. “You know what you will eat tomorrow and where you will sleep. Your dad’s done a lot to make sure that you can live like this, and it’s a goal to aspire to.”

“Aspire to?” I asked the question as though he had told me Bird had five legs. “If you want to be a farmer all you have to do is start tilling the land.”

Cadim smiled softly. “It takes more than that, Siana. Your dad earned his place in this clan when he was my age. If I tried to do it now, I’d be cast out – be declared dar’manda.”

My father had earned his place? I knew absolutely nothing of his childhood. In fact, the story about my mother breaking his nose was the only glimpse I had into the fact that they weren’t always married. Curious as I may have been about what Cadim meant, I didn’t want to reveal that I knew less than him about my family. I instead focused on the tail end of his sentence, the word that he said with such derision and contempt.

Dar’manda, those that were no longer considered Mandalorians. In many ways he was correct and my family should have probably been cast out, but it had never been brought up to us and I never feared that it would be. Whether we were seen as ideal Mandalorians or not, we knew that we believed in the Mandalorian way and lived to ensure that it was continued. But with what Cadim had hinted at, I had to wonder whether or not we would have been outcast if not for my father’s exploits, whatever they may have been.

“How are you going to earn your place, then?” It was the most oblique manner I could think of bringing up what my father may have done without admitting that I did not know. Cadim leaned back against his hands.

“Fighting, mostly. Your uncle has some revolutionary ideas and I think that if they’re given legs, they may take us into a new era of Mandalorian Society. That’s why he came here – to ask for your father’s help in seeing it come to life.”

“Revolutionary ideas?” I repeated the phrase cautiously. “What are you talking about?”

Cadim hesitated. I saw it in his eyes more than on his face. “Probably better if I let your uncle bring that up tonight. All I can say is that when it’s all said and done, I hope that I deserve a family like the one you have – like the one your sister deserves.”

He meant those words. I could hear it; I could see it. There were a lot of Mandalorian men in the galaxy and most of them were good, but the few that I had come in contact with generally had an obnoxiously jocular nature to them that made me think they saw their wives as nothing more than components in their legacy. Cadim seemed to care about Astra and while I hated him for what he wanted to do, I did not hate him for who he was.

“Do you know why I named him Bird?” I asked the question to end the silence that was settling over us. Cadim nodded.
“I was wondering it just now, actually.”
“Really?”
“Nope. But now I am.”

I almost felt a giggle leave me. It almost made it out of my throat before I wrestled it back down. “It’s because when I found him, he was in a tree.”

Cadim’s laugh said all that it needed to. He thought I was telling a story!

“It’s true,” I protested. “He was in a tree!”
“How, in the name of the Preserver, could a dog get up a tree?”

I clapped my hands together and then expanded them. “By flying, of course! That’s why he’s Bird the Dog!”

While I had thought that Cadim’s voice was smooth, when he laughed it was both rich and charming. I instantly understood why Astra liked him, and furthermore, felt that I did just a little bit as well! He had tears in his eyes by the time he finished laughing, and I could not help but giggle just a bit in response to his mirth. It helped me forget my anger and shame; it helped me forget that I was supposed to hate him.

In the blink of an eye, I had come to like Cadim.

We continued to talk into the evening about things that ranged from the nonsensical to the obnoxious. Cadim was not much older than Astra, but had already taken part in several tribal conflicts. His stories weren’t told with the same depth as my father’s, but they had a level of personality to them that worked well with his general vibe. I’m sure that it isn’t difficult for a person to imagine a young girl developing her first hopeless crush, so I’ll skim over those details and instead say that I liked him very much. Particularly when he would try to sneak a lie into the middle of his stories.

“You’re lying,” I would say with an almost serious edge to my mirthful outbursts. “That didn’t happen!”
Cadim, always surprised when he was caught in his fib, protested spiritedly. “Wait, so you believe that I could defeat a wookie in a wrestling match, but not that I could make him say ‘uncle’?”

“Of course not.” I challenged amidst my laughter. “Maybe you can beat a Wookie, but you can’t make one speak Basic!”
“Well, he said it in Shyriiwook, then!”
“You can’t change the story. Now I can’t believe any of it. You’re such a liar!”

It was embarrassingly silly, but in that conversation I found myself liking Cadim more than anyone I had ever known in my life. By the time that we were finished laughing, it took all of my self control to keep from hanging off of him girlishly as we made our way back to the house. Bird, who normally walked beside me, made an effort to walk between us so that he could be near the two people he liked.

When we entered the house, I could feel that something was different. Outside many of the men that had come with Uncle Valgor were sitting on the porch or on the grass, while a few more were inside the house. Astra was on the outside of the happenstance meeting, so I stood beside her. I did not mind that Cadim stood on the other side of me. Without knowing it, I had done exactly what Bird did outside.

In the center of the room, my father and mother sat opposite my uncle. Father’s face was drawn as ever in a contemplative manner, while Mother was stern yet supportive in her presence at my father’s side. Cassir was still closer to them, a designation that filled me with wonder. Just what was going on?

Astra looked between Cadim and me and gave a little nod. I returned it and instinctually took her hand. The small squeeze she gave it reassured me, if nothing else.

“Times are changing, brother,” Uncle Valgor said. His voice was no longer as merry as it had been before, but there was a depth to it that implied he was not being critical – serious, but the meeting wasn’t hostile. “Grandfather Regimus did the best that he could for his generation. He ensured that our clan wasn’t swallowed up into the pointless fighting that decorated the galaxy. We’ve grown stronger since then; bolder and more numerous. Clan Daue is now one of the largest Mandalorian clans in this part of the galaxy.”

“And if we do what you wish, brother, that will soon change.” My father’s voice was just as strong as my uncle’s, his conviction not at all folding under the pressure from above. “Pointless fighting will only further divide our people and shatter our base.”

Uncle Valgor lifted a hand as though to command the room. “This is far from pointless, Decimus. All over the galaxy, other clans are solidifying power bases. If Clan Daue does not move now to secure its position, then we run the risk of being consumed by the malicious chaakar that are already galvanizing.”

The news that was being discussed was important, but I was just happy that I knew what chaakar meant. “Bastard” was a good thing to know how to say to someone, after all.

“Answering their violence with more violence will only increase the power of the storm,” my father replied. “The best way to prevent this from spreading is to keep our heads down and wait for these hounds to tear each other apart. When a Mandalore is named –“

Uncle Valgor snapped his fingers. “Brother! When a Mandalore is named? How long has it been since we have been without one? The Preserver told us to persevere, did he not? We will be swallowed in this storm if we don’t move against it first. In this system we are more or less established, but there are still contenders for our ancestral holdings. Clans Vace and Hundar are already mobilizing against one another. The victor of that conflict will be poised to move on our territory.”

Mandalorians fighting Mandalorians? While I knew that it was not an impossible notion, it was one that I did not expect to hear about. In our home it had always seemed that the world was steady and calm. What my uncle was saying implied anything but.

“What are you proposing, aliit’alor? That we wait for the victor to be announced and attack him while he is weak?” My mother’s inclusion was without any sign of support, but also lacked derision.

Uncle Valgor took her question at face-value. “No. To do that would leave us fighting against an enemy that knew we were coming. What I am saying we do is ally with Clan Vace. They’re the likely loser in the competition and will need more assistance. Once Hundar is removed, we can turn on Vace and be rid of them as well.”

“Treachery,” my father muttered.
“Logical,” my uncle answered.

Mandalorian honor was not something that was earned by being conventionally “honorable”. Treachery was fine so long as it was done to a positive end: if you betrayed someone and advanced, more the better for you. You deserved the victory because they were foolish enough to fall for it. Of course, failed traitors were treated as dogs and often cast out. It was a high stakes game to play. Like all high stakes games, it meant either big winnings or horrible losses.

“Our brave men are ready to meet with Vace now and offer them support. But there are others in Clan Daue that look up to you, brother, for what you did in the past.”

“That was a life time ago, Valgor.”
“But its effects are still being felt!”

Another reference to my father’s past. I looked up to Astra, who gave me a slightly worried look. If she knew what they were talking about she did not reveal it to me, buts he did squeeze my hand again. I was glad to have her there. I was also glad that Cadim was.

“I cannot give you support on a cause that I do not believe to be right,” my father stated.
“If I were your Mandalore you would.”

It was a statement that nearly robbed the room of its breath. Although my uncle had not declared that he was seeking the title of Mandalore, even I knew that it was being implied.

“You are not my Mandalore, brother,” my father stated.
“I am not your Mandalore,” my uncle repeated. “Yet.”

And there it was; the confession that would remove all doubt from the room. While the title of Mandalore generally came with the ceremonial helmet, there were those that dared to gain the right through brute strength and aggression. It rarely ended well for the person to begin the movement. I now understood what Cadim had been speaking of earlier. I looked up at him and he nodded his head. This was the revolutionary idea.

“Times have truly changed, brother. The stakes are higher than ever. Whoever wins these skirmishes; whoever claims these victories will become the most powerful Mandalorian in the galaxy. His will shall be that of the Mandalore.”

“You covet too much,” my father warned. “You climb too high. Brother, this violence will consume you and everyone that follows after you!”

Uncle Valgor stood, the room’s eyes moved with him. “Do not pretend that you never wanted this for Clan Daue. I heard the words come from you before. You had a vision; foresight and a tactically sound plan!”

“As I said, that was a lifetime ago. I was a foolish boy.”
“And what has truly changed between then and now?”
“I do not wish to be a foolish man.”

The tempers in the room were flaring and my father was not backing down. I knew that if much more was said then there would be no way to avoid the two men coming to blows. I wanted to do nothing more than stop them, but as little more than a child I didn’t have the position to speak out. Even Astra, who seemed just as concerned as me, dared not leave her position.

“I will go with him.”

The statement came from a source I did not expect to hear from; a source that I’d never have imagined would speak out in opposition to my father. Sala Daue, my mother, stood. “Siana’s training is near completion. If you will accept me, aliit’alor, I will serve you. I may not have my husband’s support, but there are members of our clan that will answer my call to battle.”

It was a bold move, but my mother had found a way to wedge herself between the two brothers. She was right; there was not much more that I could learn from her and she did not seem ready to have yet another child. This meant that for the first time in a long time she was without any direct duty to her children, which freed her to act as a warrior. Uncle Valgor hesitated at the suggestion, not because he doubted my mother’s prowess, but because he had not expected her to speak out anymore than I had.

“Sala,” my father began, but did not finish. They were partners after all; it was not that he ruled over her or she him. “This is…”

“What I should do,” she finished for him. She looked squarely at my uncle. “Will you accept me into your ranks? Though I am older than I once was, I am also more experienced – wiser.”

Uncle Valgor found his voice. “Please, sister, you’d never need to sell your worth to me. I can see that you’ve kept up with your training; these children each speak to your aptitude and I doubt they’ve even a fraction of it. You are correct, if you were to join, more of the conservatives might agree with our vision.”

Cassir stood up as well then. “I want to go with her. Uncle Valgor’s right; if we don’t strike out now, we’ll only be swallowed up in the abyss.” I understood why he said it immediately: he wanted to receive the same kind of acclaim that my mother had. Since losing Polus I had not seen him appear more driven than he was in that moment.

Although my uncle may have been an ambitious man, he was not a cruel one. “I will not force a son to disobey his father’s desires.”
“But I’m a man in my own right!”
“And still his son.” Uncle Valgor’s voice was stern.

I looked at my father’s face then and for the first time saw that he was without an answer. He wanted to stop Cassir, I know, but Cassir had become a man and deserved the right to win his own acclaim. Likewise, he wished to stop my mother but she was doing what she believed was right. I saw his eyes flit toward Astra, and glanced up in time to see her demurely shake her head. She would not be going with them. That was perhaps the only comfort he could take from the incident.

“Cassir is right. He is a man,” he conceded with pain on his voice. “If he wants to fight for Clan Daue, I will not stop him. I do not need to speak to my wife’s decision, as that is her own.”

It was a complete defeat for my father. If he offered himself in the place of either my mother or my brother, he would be implying that they were less capable than he. If he changed his mind and went as well, he’d be showing that he was wrong in the first place. My father was no saint: he had pride, just like any man. With his hands tied by the circumstances he simply allowed things to progress as they would.

“We’ll be leaving for Vace territory in the morning then,” Uncle Valgor said. “If you change your mind, brother, you will be my right-hand.”

“May your exploits bring honor to Clan Daue,” my father answered in what I supposed was his least offensive manner. Uncle Valgor left, followed by most of the men that had been with him. Cadim gave my sister a meaningful glance and then patted me on the shoulder before leaving as well.

No one moved for several moments. I looked at Cassir, who seemed uncertain of himself, to my mother who was entirely sure of what she had done. My father’s grim reservations acted as the perfect division between them.

My mother broke the silence when she looked to Astra. “Siena’s training is nearly completed, as I said. I expect you to see her through the rest of it.”

“Of course, mother,” Astra replied. I could hear a small degree of sadness in her voice, but she kept it from her face. I squeezed her hand just a little bit more. “I will teach her everything that you taught me.”

The room began to approach silence again and I could think of nothing to say. Should I hug my mother? Should I congratulate Cassir? Should I comfort my father? They were all so very different in their mindsets. Why couldn’t we go back to the fields and till the land? That was simple. It was easy.

It was the way I wanted life to be.

“Sala,” Father said her name as he stood up. “Valgor’s being a fool. I know that you gave him your word, so I can only ask you –“

“Take care of Cassir,” she finished once more for my father.
“And yourself.”

There was something unspoken between them that I could see but not understand.

“Siana, Cassir – help me prepare the provisions for your travel. The weapons should probably be treated before sending everyone off.” Astra’s tone was a bit tighter then, as though she were trying to mimic my mother’s. Cassir nodded and moved toward the cache; I followed once Astra started to move.

We had always been diligent in keeping our weapons in vintage condition, which made me suppose Astra just wanted us to busy ourselves with something or another. Half way through cleaning out the stock of a blaster rifle I remembered that I had forgotten one of my spanners upstairs. I went to retrieve it and witnessed something that I had never seen before.

Mother and Father were still standing in the middle of the room, but they no longer were at an arm’s length from one another. My mother’s head rested on my father’s shoulder; my father’s arms were around her. I watched them hug for an entire minute before I realized that they were not closed to finishing. It was the first sign of affection that I had seen openly between them, but even as a child I knew they were doing more than embracing.

Sala and Decimus Daue were saying goodbye to one another.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
12.16.2011 , 07:06 AM | #6
Chapter Five: Perseverance.

I imagined that if the land could cry, it did so when my mother and brother left with Uncle Valgor’s regiment. That morning we awakened at the same time that we always did and made certain that everything was in order. The night before we had worked nearly into the early hours of the morning to ensure that everything was in place, but in gathering to piece over them once more we gave ourselves a little more time together. It would be the last time that we were all together for quite some time, after all.

Cassir promised me that he would send regular updates once they were established in Vace territory. To hear him speak of the future it sounded as though he expected to become a champion in his own right. Considering all of the time and effort I had seen him put into his training I did not doubt it, and told him that if he became lazy in sending me updates I would hunt him down and beat him. It was an empty threat that displayed affection more than anything else, and after I said it I made certain to hug him. Young Mandalorians did not have very high life expectancies.

Following Cassir’s well-wishing, I was given a chance to address my mother. Four days prior I had believed that I hated her, but as I looked at her standing there with her glistening black armor and her repeater slung over her shoulder, I realized that I loved her more than words could express. She was, after all, the woman that had given me life. Even in our most bitter of times she cared for me and protected me. I wanted to smile at her, but I found that the courage to do so was buried deep within my heart. The thought of hugging her was all but forbidden.

She stared at me. I stared at her.
And that was all there was to it.

“Make sure that she remains diligent in her training,” my mother said to Astra. The nod that she received was all the affirmation she’d require. I recalled that I had seen Mother and Father embracing the night before and wondered if I would again. They shared nothing more than a look, a nod, and with that my mother was walking off with Cassir in tow.

I did not know what it was, but something told me I would never see her again. I tried to muster up the courage to hug her one final time; to tell her that she was everything I wanted to be, but it was not there. Astra’s hand fell to my shoulder and I turned toward her and cried. There was nothing more to say of the matter.

It rained for nearly two weeks following the departure of Mother and Cassir. In that time, Astra informed me of the very real fact that Mother was not the fiercest taskmaster around. When I trained with her in the past she had always known just when to stop to prevent me from injuring myself. I suppose it made sense – she had trained three children before me. Astra on the other hand had never before had anyone follow her word and so I was as much a test for her as she was for me. Unfortunately, regardless of which one of us failed I was the one to feel the pain of it.

The rain was too bloated to farm, so my father remained indoors. He tried his best not to show us his sorrow, but when I came trudging inside in need of some form of medical assistance, I often caught him looking at where mother’s armor had once sat next to his. Stubble was forming on his chin already and he made no effort to shave it away. I had the good fortune of having a brutal drill instructor to occupy my time: my father had only his memories to fill the void between waking and sleeping. We no longer shared stories when dinner time came; there were no longer trips into the field in the middle of the night. Until my mother returned, it was as though my father had gone with her.

To Astra’s credit, there was ingenuity to my sister’s madness that would have been admirable had I not been the one to suffer through it. Each morning she awakened before I did and left to complete some task of another. It was not until the following week’s end that I was given witness to it. No longer was it raining but my father still had no desire to till any land. When I left in the morning he was sitting in his chair: when I returned at night he was still there. It was on a morning that I left that Astra revealed to me what she had been creating.

I had never seen an obstacle course before, but once I did I understood what it was. If a fish sees water, it knows to swim: if a bird is pushed out of a nest, it knows to fly. Astra’s clever machinations had created a rudimentary though functional course that would have me climbing, jumping, swinging, or vaulting. The trees near our home had been repurposed for this and in all, I knew that I had a good deal of work to complete before I was going to be able to accomplish my task. On top of the combat training, marksmanship, and survival lessons I had, the obstacle course introduced problem-solving and endurance.

My sister was trying her damndest to ensure that I became the ideal Mandalorian.

I hated her for it.

The days following Uncle Valgor’s march were the hardest of my young life. I awoke in the morning, prepared for my ever-approaching verd’goten by doing calisthenics with Astra, worked the fields with her until midday, and then returned to preparing for my verd’goten with one of the several training routines she had for me. When she fought she did not hold back; when we practiced shooting she did not give me easy targets; when I had to track something she made sure to leave almost no clues behind. Each day that I went to bed I was exhausted, and each day that I awoke I was sore. Through it all though, I kept a single concept in mind. I had to persevere; we all did.

One day, perhaps it was because I looked as though I was ready to collapse, Astra said that we could go swimming for our daily routine. Any that have been forced to choose between running six kilometers or having the chance to swim should know that even though both are aerobic, one of them is a treat. Although Astra made certain to have me brave some of the stronger currents initially, by the time that we normally would have been ramping up my training she allowed it to taper off. She wanted to relax. So did I.

“Are you going to marry Cadim?”

I don’t know why the question escaped my lips, but it did. Perhaps it was the mixture of fatigue and soreness, or the fact that he had been on my mind nearly as much as anything else. I was aware enough to give a negative twist to my tone, but the way that Astra smiled revealed that she either did not hear it or did not care about my perceived derision.

“Now why would you ask a silly question like that?”
“Because if you don’t, then I will.”

Astra grinned at me and dunked my head under the water. Even though I was growing stronger, I was hardly a match for her. She let me back up after I made a show of struggling. “And just who are you to go taking my man, huh?”

“So he’s your man now?”
“More mine than anyone else’s,” Astra warned playfully. “I thought you didn’t like him.”
“I didn’t.”
“But you changed your mind.”
“Yep.”

At the time I had expected Astra to view my pronouncement as something of a threat, but I now understand that she truly had nothing to concern herself with. I was her gawky kid sister, nothing more.

That was a factor that I had actually been thinking over as I thought of Cadim. My body was changing then, slowly but surely. I was slimming down in some places and blossoming in others. Adolescence, I have been told, is perhaps the most violent process that person’s body goes through: factor in the regiment I had and you can imagine that was nearly thrice as painful. I was forced to consider a duality of attractiveness that I still struggle to maintain: I had to appear feminine enough to attract a mate, yet strong enough to protect my family. My mother was a shining example of these traits, as was my sister. Each day that passed, I only hoped that I would follow in their steps.

On that day I came to realize that I was not as gawky as I may have once been, but I was still nowhere near as developed as Astra. I suppose that part of that can come from the fact I never felt (and still do not feel) that I measured up to my sister, and the other part was simply the byproduct of hormonal imbalances. Whatever the case may have been, I did try my best to ensure that at the end of the road I would emerge as more than an ugly duckling. After meeting Cadim I greatly desired to deserve a man like him, and as my mother had said there were only two paths for women: happiness or loneliness.

“I guess I changed my mind about him too,” Astra said and effectively pulled my thoughts away from my own insecurities. She motioned for me to follow her and sat on the bank of the river, her feet still in the water. Like any younger sibling, I copied her. It felt more adult to sit the way that she did.

I sat beside her quietly, the topic at hand one that neither of us wanted to directly address. Cadim may have been fun to think about, but in thinking of him we were confronted with the grave reality that at that moment he was properly fighting for his life against members of Clan Hundar or whatever foe Uncle Valgor had decided to throw his men against. When I thought about it I drew my legs in and hugged them to my chest.

“I think everyone’s alright,” Astra said, almost comfortingly. When I glanced at her I saw that she was looking in the water, so I lowered my eyes. “Cassir’s going to send us a message saying that Cadim’s already killed ten men.”

“Which means he’s actually killed four,” I joked. Astra chuckled and nodded.
“He’s such a liar.”
“The biggest.”

This was the hardest part of warfare, I would come to learn. Being the one that sat behind and waited to find out whether or not a loved one gained acclaim or was sent to join with the afterlife. I did not want to think of my mother or Cassir dying, but at the same time I wanted to imagine that they were both leading the vanguard and claiming as many kills as possible. High stakes, high risks. I would do anything to have them back, yet wanted them to return as champions.

I dug my feet into the soft silt and thought of when I had seen Father digging his hands into the soil. It seemed like a life time ago, yet hardly more than five years had passed. “Do you think he’ll be okay?”

“Dad’ll be fine,” Astra answered without having to ask who I meant. “You have to think about it; he hasn’t been without mom for nearly twenty years now. Takes some getting used to, you know?”

I nodded my head and placed my chin on my knee. “He just seems so sad.”
“He is,” Astra stated. “But he’ll get over it.”
“How do you know?”
“Because that’s what we do.”

I had to admit she was right. We Daue were all about persevering in the face of resistance. Just as Mother was forcing herself to overcome whatever obstacles were in her way, Father was going to have to push aside his anguish and dejection. I wanted to believe that everything would work out and that before I knew it they would be back together. But that sinking feeling I had when she left returned once more and I knew that I’d find no reprieve from it.

“I’m scared.” I confessed.
“Me too,” Astra said. I looked at her once more and found that she had abject sincerity on her face. She wasn’t lying to me; this was a side of Astra that I didn’t know existed. “But we can’t let Dad know that and we certainly can’t let it stop us from doing what we have to do. Mom and Dad have been through a lot more than clan warfare. She’ll be fine.”

Yet again my father and mother’s histories were mentioned, but I knew absolutely nothing of it. I recalled that Astra had looked nearly pensive when Uncle Valgor mentioned it before. If ever I would be given a chance to explore the depths of their history, now would be the time.

“Why doesn’t Father ever talk about his youth?”

Astra was silent for a minute. “I guess you’re old enough to hear some of it.”
“Some of it?”

“Don’t be greedy,” she warned me. “When I was born, Dad and Mom were just starting to settle down, but they weren’t always that way. Grandfather Regimus told the Clan Daue to settle, but Dad thought that he knew better. He wanted to make a name for himself – for the Clan Daue.”

I tried to imagine my father as a young man. He had always seemed solemn to me, but I suppose that was because I had never seen him anything other than it – and now, depressed.

“After he married Mom, they had me. This meant that Mom had to stay at home and raise yours truly, while Dad went out to gain more praise for the clan. He joined up with a band of mercenaries or pirates – I can’t really remember which, and quickly became one of their best men. As you can imagine, we Mandalorians are leagues ahead of the dreck that usually fills those outfits, so Dad was a shoe-in for a captain.

“Unlike the folks in his company that wasted their money on frivolous things, Dad saved up his credits and sent back only enough for Mom and I to survive. I was too young to remember anything directly, but from what I’ve heard we didn’t live in the best areas. Not that it mattered; Dad’s plan was to buy us enough weaponry to start an army of our own. We managed while he went around, robbing freighters, fighting the Republic and local militia – you know, all of the things he says that other heroes did.”

It was a good point for my sister to bring up. My father’s stories detailed the same exploits, but he never spoke of his own?

“Uncle Valgor signed on with him for a few missions and before long the Clan Daue had a nice little nest egg saved up, yes? Of course, Uncle Valgor wasn’t very frugal with his spending, but you know how he is – he wants this now, no matter what they are. They were twin terrors – Hellhounds, people called them. More beast than man! Wherever they went, chaos and violence followed. Dad was a brilliant strategist and Uncle Valgor could get things done. By the time that I was about three, the Hellhounds were feared by nearly everyone in this system.

“When Grandfather Dasius died, everyone thought that the Hellhounds would take over the system. With Uncle Valgor at the lead they could do whatever they wanted; attack whenever they wanted to and do it as a clan rather than a company of thugs. But that didn’t happen. One day, after a mission, Dad returned home to mom and I with Cassir and Polus, little more than babies at the time.”

She paused when she said Polus’ name, but I didn’t expect anything else. It was sad to think that in the upheaval of recent events he had almost been forgotten, but I suppose that was what my mother meant about the pains of beauty – so many loved ones to lose.

“He never told me why it was that he quit, but I know that it had to do something with how he came to adopt Cassir and Polus.” Astra gave a thoughtful shake of her head then. “Whatever it was, it made him want to settle down and start a family, so here we are now.”

I was having an extremely difficult time reconciling the image of my father was a fierce warrior. True, he always had a silent nature of command about him and even Uncle Valgor seemed to respect that quality, but he was a farmer, not a mercenary. If he was that good at hiding who he was, I had to wonder just how much of my father I actually knew. Was it possible that I didn’t know him at all?

“What happened to the credits he saved up?” My question was more one to break the silence than one of interest. By that point I was too focused on the identity of my parents to really care, but silence was the last thing I wanted to hear. I believe Astra picked up on that, because what she said next was so outlandish it drew me out of my stupor.

“He bought Mom a really big ring with it,” she said. “If you saw it up close, it’d look like a star sparkling.”

I had never seen my mother wear jewelry – in fact, the word itself meant very little to me. I looked up at Astra and saw that she was trying her best to conceal a smirk.

“Why would he buy her a ring?”
“Because he wanted to show her that he loved her, of course.” The explanation was given matter-of-factly.
“I’ve never seen Mother wear a ring.”

Astra clapped her hands and stood up. “That’s because she lost it when we were crossing this river to build our home, you see? If you come out here at night you can see it sometimes, glowing deep down in the bottom of the river.”
I couldn’t help but protest that notion. “You’re such a liar!”
“About some things,” Astra admitted. She gave me a clever grin. “But not all of them. Now let’s get back home. Your day’s vacation is over.”

I stood up as well and dusted some of the silt off my body. “You’re going to work me to death.”
“Only if you’re lucky.”

That night when we ate dinner I couldn’t help but look at my father more closely. Since he was normally clean shaven I would not have normally noticed it, but as his beard grew in I could see tufts of white hair where brown should have been. His face was so drawn, tired in a way that I couldn’t understand. To his credit he had started working the fields again, but we didn’t have so much work that it should have sapped him to the degree that it did. Even the way he chewed his food seemed to be without life, like it was an action that he completed out of necessity more than desire.

How was it possible that the downtrodden man that was sitting at the head of the table was a man that had taken on an entire Republic shuttle by himself? I could not wrap my head around it, yet I knew that it had to be true. Uncle Valgor had no reason to lie and Astra’s story only further added veracity to the claims. Whatever silent strength that my father had though, was diminishing with each passing day.

There was rarely any talking at the dinner table, and I saw no reason to encourage it that night. With three chairs that had once been filled now empty, it felt almost impolite to have a discussion without them. Astra broke the silence a few times by mentioning the growing seasons, but other than give noncommittal grunts or respond with a few words, my father had little to say. Even if he was not the warrior that he had once been, it broke my childish heart to know that he was no longer the man he had once been either.

Was I supposed to tell him that things would be okay, or challenge him to live more like he once had? In both cases I felt I would be stepping outside of my station and since Astra did not make an effort to do either I supposed she was correct in being reserved. She was, after all, my guiding light. But I couldn’t sit by and do nothing as my father wasted away before my eyes. After I had put away our dishes and tidied up the house, I went to bed and began to plot. There had to be something that I could do to make my father feel better.

Astra and I no longer shared the same bed, although we were still in the same room. While I could have taken Cassir or Polus’ bed, I didn’t feel that it would be appropriate to do either. I instead slept on the floor while she used the bedding as her senior age merited. With my thin blanket pulled over me, I tried my best to think of a solution to the problem at hand. It was when my mind began to enter the realms of sleep that an idea struck me.

Now, as I look back, I understand that it is rarely a good thing when an idea manifests in the realms of sleep, but as a child I thought it was a sign of brilliance. Astra had said that her story was only partially false, which meant that some of it had to be true. There was a possibility that Mother’s ring was still in the water and that I could get it for my father. If he had it, perhaps he’d remember the good times and forget the sadness of the day. It was truly brilliant, how could anything go wrong? I was a strong swimmer. True, I had never swum at night but it was not as though I had to see very much anyway. If the ring glowed like Astra said, it would be easy enough to obtain.

The only difficult part to my plan would be waiting until Astra had fallen asleep. I heard her enter the room a few minutes after my plan came about.

“Goodnight, sis,” she said to me.
“Goodnight,” I replied.

I waited until I heard her snoring – she denied that she did it, but I assure you that when she snored it sounded like a windstorm was trapped in her nose! After several minutes of her nocturnal choir, I crept off of my bedding and made my way into the hall. Five years before I had done the same, but that time I had not known why I was doing it. This time around, I had a plan. I was going to give my father a reason to smile again.

Our sitting room did look empty without my mother’s armor being on the wall. For so long it had been a fixture that seeing it absent was no different than when Polus had not returned from his verd’goten. I did not want to think that my mother had met the same fate, but that sinking suspicion had not left me. I could understand why my father would be so depressed over her absence and that only further strengthened my resolve. I had to do this because if I didn’t, my father would be swallowed up in his own grief.

When I made it outside there was a cool breeze waiting for me. Bird the Dog groggily lifted his head and looked at me as though he were irritated that yet another adventure was to begin. I never made him come with me, so why he was irritated was beyond me. Needless to say, the moment that I left the porch he yipped and followed close behind. We were on a mission; I the commander, he the soldier.

The moon shone down on the river as we came to it. The water looked murkier than usual, but I supposed that was because the sunlight was no longer illuminating its depths. As I had rationalized in the realms of sleep, if I was to find the ring I would be able to see its glowing from the surface, anyway. I walked down the length of the river, my eyes constantly skimming for any sign of luminescence but finding little to nothing. It was still possible that Astra had made the whole thing up – she was nearly as bad as Cadim when it came to lying.

There was also the very real notion that I did not want to go into the water. During the day our river was like an old friend, but as I saw it at night there was a dark and mysterious edge to it. I didn’t know what was in there and I didn’t want to find out. If I couldn’t see the ring then I would have to call off my mission and go home, right? It may have been disheartening to fail at something I set out to do, but there was no reason to splash around if it accomplished nothing.

I hated myself for thinking that way. I had gone to the river to help my father and I was letting fear misguide me. Bird’s presence as always acted as a deterrent from cowardice, and just as I was prepared to forsake my plan and simply leap into the water to forage for the ring by hand, I saw a distant glimmer downstream. It could have well been the moon reflecting off of water, but I doubted it. My mother’s ring was down there and I was going to retrieve it for my father.

I kicked off my shoes and took a running start. Bird the Dog barked and ran behind me, as though to indicate that he would be entering not long after I did. I splashed into the water and instantly felt the cold chill of its touch wash over me. A gasp left me as my body acclimatized, before I took in a deep breath and dove into the water below. This was the best thing that I could do for my father, I knew. The sound of Bird splashing into the water after me only further helped me believe that to be the case.

It wasn’t a lie when I said I was a strong swimmer – when you spend all of your free time training different muscle groups, you develop a knack for most physical exercises. Of course, this was further improved upon by the simple fact that I generally liked the water. I could hold my breath for about two minutes before I started to become lightheaded, and another one before I needed to come up for air. Later that number would nearly double, but for a ten year old it was not such a bad feat.

The murkiness of the water had not alleviated when I opened my eyes. I could see what was directly in front of me, but the rest was cloaked in the shadows of the deep water. I searched for any sign of the glowing ring, feeling as best as I could and trying to ignore the squishy undergrowth that played against my fingers. Thinking about it now I’d never go feeling around in a dark river unless I had to, but I suppose that is a lesson learned from experience.

My three minutes were up and so I pushed off the ground and swam back to the surface. When I remerged I gasped and allowed my straining lungs to fill with oxygen once more. Bird was still paddling in the water, but he seemed much less willing to dive. I gave him a little grin and then dove back into the water.

Again I searched for any trace of the ring and again I was rewarded with nothingness. When I came back up Bird was on the shore and barking up a storm. I was of half a mind to see what was bothering him, but as I began to look in his direction I saw the glowing again. It was closer and this time I knew where it was.

“Stop barking or you’ll wake everyone up!” I snapped at Bird. He whimpered and then started barking again. So maybe I wasn’t the commander – or at least, not a good one.

I plunged back into the water, my body by now used to the depths. In my mind I had charted where the ring was and swam with greater speed to get to it. Surely enough, as I made my way closer to the glowing object I could see its sparkle through the darkness. A piece of kelp brushed my leg as I moved inward and grabbed it. It was difficult to believe that I was going to be able to rescue my father.

And that’s when I realized that the kelp was doing more than brushing my leg.

At first it felt like something was tugging me backwards, almost as if to test what would happen. That sensation was soon replaced, though, when I felt a tentacle slide over my leg and forcefully yank me away. Startled as I was, I knew that the greatest mistake I could make was scream and allow the water that was around me to rush into my mouth. I balled my hands into fists and tried to swim to the surface, but the tentacle was joined by another and I was pulled back down.

I had another minute and a half before my air reserves were going to be lost. As I turned about, I saw the bulbous eyes of an octopus looking back at me. It was the largest one I had ever seen; easily as big as me and with enough arms to weigh me down with ease. I shoved and panicked, but it hardly seemed to notice. I felt the small teeth on its tentacles piercing my skin, and kicked out sharply. It pulled me closer, so I used the hand that was not clutching my ring to jab my thumb directly into its eye. We Mandalorians learn how to fight at an early age, and I was using whatever it took to escape from a watery grave.

Panic would be an understatement – I was terrified. If I couldn’t escape from the mass of tentacles that were holding me down I was certainly going to die. The thought of adding to my father’s grief only further weighted me down though and rather than think of that I focused on the fact that I needed to get air. I twisted my thumb in the octopus’ eye until it released me and retreated a step. Freed from its grasp, I surged up to the surface and broke the water with a gasp and a cry of shock. I don’t know what I said, but I know I said something.

The octopus wasn’t done with me yet, why would it be? It caught hold of my ankle and pulled me back down, while at the same time rising toward the surface so that it would wrap more of its tentacles around my body. The muscular strength of an octopus is something that a person cannot appreciate until they have one wrapped about their body – even an adult male would be hard pressed to escape one. I struck out again at it but it was hopeless. The octopus began to position itself so that it could sink back into the water and drown me.

That was when I heard Bird enter the water again. We were still close enough for him to see that I was in trouble, and my dog was not about to let me die without a fight. He splashed about and snarled, and then seized hold of the octopus in his jaw that could all but lock once it had what it wanted. The feeling of Bird’s teeth must have been more threatening than my feeble punches, because the octopus released me and turned its attention to Bird. I struggled back to the surface to get air, then looked to see that the octopus was preparing to sink with Bird. Just as he had saved me, I refused to abandon him to the horror of drowning.

I entered the water again and slid the ring’s gem through my fingers. Using it as a weapon of sorts, I struck the octopus several times on the side of its head, then jabbed it again in its eye I had previously injured. It released Bird, who scrambled away and broke for the shoreline. I knew that if I was going to survive I would need to follow after him, and so on his heels I swam as fast as I could. The octopus released a screen of ink that coated the area about us and made it even more difficult to see. Bird made it the shore first and turned back for me. I felt the river’s silt in my hand before that familiar tug caught hold of me.

“Run, Bird!” I demanded, wanting nothing more than for him to escape even if I couldn’t. It was a silly sentiment in retrospect, but Bird was my truest friend and losing him would have been more than I could stomach: even if it meant I had to die in the exchange. Not very logical, but children rarely are. I was, after all, swimming at night in search of a ring.

Once more I was pulled down, and this time I didn’t have the fortune of avoiding the taste of water and ink in my mouth. I watched as the moon faded into a watery blur above me and knew that even if I managed to fight the octopus off, eventually it would win. I twisted and turned, swiping at it as best as I could with the ring and praying that I could at least wound it badly enough that it would remember me for the rest of its life. One of the tentacles draped over my neck and I felt it constrict. I kicked outward with both of my feet and broke the surface again for air, only to be dragged down. The glimpse of the shore showed me that Bird was nowhere in sight.

Struggling against an octopus is an extremely taxing activity, and I was already close to collapse. I struck for its face with the ring again, but it evaded. Furious and terrified at the same time, I used whatever adrenal graces I had to pull back and strike at the octopus again. This time when I hit it, I caught its good eye and effectively blinded it. It released me and I was given the chance to grab just a bit more oxygen before I was pulled down again. My lungs were sore and my body ached; there wasn’t much fight left in me.

They say that when a person dies, she sees a light at the end of a tunnel. I started to see that light, though in all honesty I believe it was more from oxygen deprivation and my body slowly shutting down. I could hear my heart thudding in my ears and knew that it was only a matter of time before everything was over. I broke free of the octopus for what I knew to be the final time and gasped for air. This was it.

I heard Bird’s barking again and prayed that he wouldn’t jump back into the water after me. The world was no longer making any sense; I saw spots before my eyes and the octopus’ strength was too much for me to deny. As I sank back into the water once more I felt the octopus roll again and begin to fall to the bottom of the river. This was to be the end of my story: the last thing I would see was that blurry moonlight streaming down through the river.

I had given it my all to survive: done what any Mandalorian would have. I protected Bird (my family) and deserved a warrior’s death. For a ten year old to come to that realization should speak to how certain I was of my death, and although I refused to stop struggling I knew that soon I would no longer be able to. I had nothing left in me.

The statement that your life flashes before your eyes is not a false one. Mine did. Granted, at the age of ten there was not much to flash about, but what did was as meaningful to me as possible: the first day that I met Bird, when Astra showed me how to do a cartwheel, Polus chasing after Cassir because he tied his shoelaces together, Mother showing me how to field repair a rifle, Father smiling, Cassir's adulthood ceremony, Cadim's jokes.

But the thing that people often forget to mention is that you also see the things that wouldn't ever occur. I would never see Bird again; I would never again see Cassir or my mother. I would never get to experience love, or have my own family. I would never see my father's smile again. No one would ever find me, lodged at the bottom of a river with whatever scraps the octopus didn't devour of me.

I would never become a woman.

The sound of splashing again met my ears, and I recall my most strenuous thought being that I didn’t want Bird to die with me. But just as I was ready to see my canine defender come to my aid, I instead felt myself being dragged out of the water. The octopus struggled to prevent it, but against my savior it could not apply enough weight – I had, after all, injured it in the struggle.

I was pulled out of the water and placed on the ground. My lungs were filled with fluid, but I could distinctly make out the figure of my father as he hoisted the octopus into the air and slammed it to the ground. There was such power and drive in him when he did it that the cephalopod actually bounced before it released me and slithered back into the river. I struggled to cough, but could not. My eyes closed.

My father told me that it took him nearly a minute before he got me to cough up the water that was in my lungs. I recall the acrid feeling of my throat after I’d done so, but not the revival itself. As he lifted me in his arms, the white parts of his beard were all that I could see. I don’t know why, but that was what stuck out in my mind.

“Have you lost your mind, girl?” He asked me, his voice a mixture of anger and concern. I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I saw that worry was on his brow. “Why would you go swimming, alone, at night?”

“I wasn’t alone,” I whispered. “I had Bird.”
“And a good thing that you did,” my father snapped. “If he hadn’t of gotten to me in time, you’d…” He didn’t finish the sentence. I didn’t want him to. He hugged me closer to his body.

Astra was just leaving the door as we returned home. I could hear her shouting and yelling, but the words all seemed like a stream of one sentiment of disapproval. Father told her to get me some blankets and she complied. My blood was flowing naturally again and I could feel the ring in my hand. As Astra set to drying me off, I coughed and held my hand out to my father.

“I wanted you to have this.”

My fingers uncurled slowly and a bit of the water I had been grasping slid down my hand. In the center of my palm was a golden band, etched with writing that I certainly could not understand. My father took it from my hand and looked at it as though it were some ancient relic. His eyes moved to Astra, and then back to me.

“What does it say?” I asked the question sheepishly. Astra continued to towel me off.

For a moment I thought that my father didn’t hear me, but as I prepared to speak again he looked up and smiled. It wasn’t the smile that I had seen him give so long ago; this one was sad, but just as beautiful.

Ner cyar’ika, gar ka’rta cuyi’ ner runi. Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum..” He ran his finger over the surface of the ring again. “My beloved, your heart is my soul. We will know each other forever.”

It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard someone say. A look that I had never seen on his face appeared then, as he looked between my sister and me. I now know what it was and can understand why he revealed it: shame. While he had been moping my sister and I were trying our best to carry on. He did not say that he was sorry for it, but we did not expect him to. All that mattered was that he changed. We were of the Clan Daue; we did not sulk, we persevered.

My father patted me on the head as he stood up. “Make sure that she gets to bed soon,” he said. “We have a long day of work in the morning.”

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
12.19.2011 , 07:23 AM | #7
Chapter Six: Blood and Honor.

Six months after my ill-fated midnight swimming session, we received our first recording from Cassir. I had just turned eleven and was two years away from my verd’goten. My father was much closer to how he had been before my mother’s departure and worked the fields without us when Astra said that I needed to increase my training if I was to “ever have a chance”. I know now that she was only looking out for me, but I cannot help but feel my abdominal muscles tighten whenever I think of her grueling sessions.

I do not believe anyone in my family went through the preparation that I did and while it seemed excessive at the time, as I look over the course of my life I understand why that was the case. More than Astra’s inexperience, there was an urgency and method to her madness that had not needed to be there with any of the others. For so long the Clan Daue was divorced from warfare that the verd’goten while challenging and potentially deadly was more a ceremonial rite of passage than a marker for one’s battle readiness. But at that moment Mother and Cassir were in the deep of Vace territory, and the potential for that to spill back our way was very real.

Astra was forging a warrior. She wanted to make sure that I was her masterpiece.

Unfortunately, most smiths do not deal with organic materials. When they heat them and bend them, the materials don’t actually feel the manipulation. For example, if you were to give iron the chance to scream at you, I doubt that it would be quiet as you made it complete its seventieth crunch. So no, I was not the most gracious recipient of my sister’s good intentions. In fact, I was a downright terror.

“I hate you so much right now!” It was one of the nicer things that I shouted at her, and when I did it I was given the pleasure of having her place her foot on my chest so I’d have to struggle to complete another crunch. I grabbed for her other leg to pull her support out, but she shifted and gave me a mean little smirk as she looked down at me.

“Little Miss Octopus Wrestler thinks she’s so tough, right? Well. Keep it up! This isn’t going to be over until you can’t go any further!” My heart sank when I heard her say that. While every day was hell, the days that she made sure that I hit the wall were by far the worst. I had more or less mastered her obstacle course by that time, so she no longer used it as the ultimate measure; climbing and jumping, swinging and running, were now the warm up rituals to my day. Even with an hour of stretching after I got done with everything, there was no way to get away from that lactic burn.

Those were the easy days.

Days like this meant that all of my exercises were going to be put into one power session. I would be given a break to rehydrate, but after that it was right back to the grind. The irony of it is that I burned so many calories I could have eaten the fattiest junk food in the galaxy and not have gained an ounce. Unfortunately I had no idea what fatty junk foods were as a child, and so it was an opportunity lost. I was battered, sore, and disoriented, but I was damned fit! There’s no workout routine like the one a worried Mandalorian will give her charge when she feels that her life may soon be on the line.

To her credit, Astra never made me do something that she could not do. When I was told to jog somewhere, she was running backward right alongside me. If I had to climb something, she was already at the top to make certain that I wasn’t cheating and skipping a ledge or two. I think that in a way the fact that she could also do it actually made me resent her more. Why couldn’t she be one of those lazy trainers that you laughed at because they could never do what you did? I didn’t even bother to say that something was impossible because my sister was the type of person that led from the front. I knew it could be done because she was doing it.

I also think that in letting her see how crazy her regime was, I was actually helping whatever future nieces or nephews I had. Perhaps they’d be spared a few extra two-a-days. Just the thought makes me tremble.

By that time, my father was beginning to take more of a hand in my training as well. Just as I had seen Cassir and Polus transition from my mother’s tutelage to my father’s, I was slowly being broken of Astra’s hellacious routine and given over to Father’s guiding care. He was no less strict than she, but his purpose was of a more manageable nature. My body was being honed into a weapon, but I need to know how to use it. Astra had done a good job teaching me marksmanship and close-quarter combat techniques, but my father was the one that really took me on my first survival lessons. I had learned to track or hide, but I had not learned how to survive.

Usually we simply waited in a position for a long time – far longer than I would have normally – and watched the woods around us. Just when I thought that my father was wasting our time so that I might catch my breath, he’d point out some different form of wildlife that he had known was coming. It never failed; time and time again he could spot an animal before it even knew where it was going. I had to assume that my father’s expertise came from the life that he led so long before I was born. It was somewhat mystifying to see this part of him, and I was glad that I could.

His beard had been shaven off, thankfully. Whatever weight he had lost in his depression was put back on in the form of muscle, and he was leaner and more driven than I had ever seen him before. My mother’s ring was worn around his neck on a chain, its presence at times reflecting off the sunlight and giving a glow that reminded me of the first time I had seen it. When she returned, it would be the first thing she would see. What better welcome home present could she be given?

“Your first instinct is always the correct one,” my father explained to me one day when we were sitting in a tree. When we were out in the wild he rarely had anything to say to me – or at least, less than he normally didn’t have to say to me. Considering that these woods were completely foreign to me, I had all the more reason not to expect him to speak. So when I heard his voice I paid close attention to it. He was soft spoken, but always assertive. “If you think that a position isn’t well defended; don’t remain there. If you feel that you’re not alone; you aren’t. Your gut’s going to tell you whatever you need to know. Your brain’s going to try to explain it away.”

I nodded. “So don’t listen to my brain?”
“Of course you should listen to your brain,” he corrected. “Just not when it disagrees with your gut.”

At that moment my gut was in more pain than any other part of my body. Those crunches were going to be with me for the better part of the week. Before I could speak again my father held up his hand and I stopped speaking instantly. He lowered the hand and pointed toward the distance. What I saw was something that I had never before encountered.

It was a beautifully authoritative creature. Alone, against the woodlands, it would have been imperceptible if not for the fact we had the vantage point of the tree tops. Its fur was sandy, yet the brown bands on it made it blend well with the forest floor. There were two sets of eyes on its head and a series of teeth that looked more like something that belonged in the mouth of a shark than a feline. Its stride was smooth and commanding, and with each step that it took I could see a rippling of muscles beneath its pelt.

The creature stopped and lifted its head into the air, sniffing inward. I was certain that it would spot us, but rather than come our way it instead headed in another direction. Whatever the cause for its decision may have been I was glad. Even if we had heavy repeaters I would have felt overwhelmed in confronting something so impressive. As it turned to leave, I noticed that its tail was split and completely hairless. They swished about for a moment, before they vanished behind some shrubbery.

“What’s your gut telling you right now?” My father asked me.
“To get the hell out of here,” I answered.

Not surprisingly, we did just that.

On the way back, I questioned my father on just what we had seen.
“A predator,” he answered. “That feeling you had when you saw it; remember it. It doesn’t matter what type of predator something is so long as you know it’s a predator.”

His explanation was simple and understandable. I knew exactly what he meant by the feeling. Yes, I had been entranced by the creature but I also felt abject dread when I considered that it might see us. It was a pure and cold feeling that raced up my spine and told my brain that there was something amiss. The creature hadn’t been hunting us and yet I knew that I should be wary of it. That was all I needed to know.

Astra was waiting outside for us when we came home, and I could tell from the smile on her face that there was good news. I hustled in my step and ran up to her, half expecting her to tell me that Mother and Cassir were home. The news that I received instead was almost as good. We had been sent our first transmission from Vace territory! I turned and told my father, who despite his normally sedated nature, sped up just a little bit more as well.

While our family made sure to keep basic working equipment, we did not have any of the fancy technology that I would come to enjoy later in life. More often than not we had no reason to pay attention to our holo-player, and while it was kept functional with the same diligence we showed our weaponry, it was nearly as ceremonial. Astra had pulled the flat surface into the middle of our sitting room, and as we all entered hit the switch to begin the playback.

I almost clapped with joy when I saw Cassir’s face materialize on the blue-green transmission. It had only been half a year, but he looked much older than he had before. He was stronger now; more tested. The transmission did not detail all of his armor, but I could see there were a few new scars to it. Normally I would have been concerned, but the fact that he was smiling said all that I needed to know.

Sorry that it’s taken me so long to send you guys a transmission. After we met up with the Vace we had to scramble to help them prepare their defenses against the Hundar. Uncle Valgor was right – this planet is really changing and there are clear lines of influence on both sides. It’s crazy to think that when you guys get this you won’t be hearing the blaster fire or explosions that we do, but… wow! It’s amazing!

My brother’s exuberance bordered on childish, and I couldn’t help but giggle as he related to us all that he had been through. I glanced at my father and was relieved that he looked at peace with what he was hearing.

Mom’s taken on a command position for the Vace auxiliary forces. I’d always heard that you and she were excellent fighters, Dad, but on the first day she took out seven Hundar alone! Uncle Valgor said that if you’d come with us this would be over in a matter of days, but I guess I’m lucky that you didn’t. If you did, what chance would I have to get some honor, eh?

“We’re moving deeper into Vace territory tomorrow; Uncle Valgor thinks that if we can position ourselves properly then everything will work out when the time is right. They’re not really shoddy fighters, but they’re not really all that impressive either. They’re good people. I hope that when all of this is over, we can all join together as one clan again.


That was wistful thinking and even I knew it. I could see a smile forming on my father’s lips when mention of my mother came about, and Astra’s hand on my shoulder tightened just a bit.

“[i]Everyone’s started calling me ‘Farmboy’, but I don’t really mind it. This farmboy, after all, has three confirmed kills to his name already and is going to make that double in a week. Astra’s loverboy only has two. Guess we were doing something right on the farm, weren’t we?”

At the mention of Cadim, I smiled, which meant that Astra must have been beaming. When I looked up at her I could see a bit of color on her cheeks and grinned. She flicked me on the ear and pointed back to the screen. Apparently she knew something was coming that I did not.

Anyway, I’m going to let you guys hear from Mom for a bit. We miss you a lot! If everything goes well, we should be back home before the year’s over. I’m not making any requests here, but if you happened to have some bantha steaks ready for me when we got back, I wouldn’t be upset about it.

“Steaks,” Astra complained, her affection hardly kept from her voice. “We’re working the land and he wants steaks!”

Father’s voice was just as mirthful, though he tried his best to hide it. “A man likes to eat.”

The transmission fizzled and flickered for a moment, before my mother’s face appeared on it. Unlike Cassir, she didn’t look as though she had aged at all – in fact, she was more vibrant and animated on the transmission than I had ever seen her in life. There was the making of a smile on her lips and although it didn’t manifest fully, I was certain that everyone else saw it as well. Wherever she was, she was doing something that she liked doing.

Decimus, you had better be eating properly. I don’t want to come back and find skin and bones waiting for me. Astra, you’re going to kill your sister if you keep working her as hard as you are. Siana, do whatever your sister says – even if it kills you.

We could do nothing more than gawk at each other in amazement as Mother effectively explained what we were all going through. I suppose it made sense; she knew as just as well as we knew her. I heard my father murmur some half-hearted denial, but nothing more came from him. Mother looked away from the recorder for a moment and then back to it.

I’ve been told to inform you that Cadim has four and a half kills to his name, not two. – Now they’re arguing about how someone can have half of a kill. As Cassir informed you, I have been made commander of the Vace Support Group. We’re doing mostly sniper work, Decimus, so you can rest easily. You’d think that these people had never been under sniper fire – when one of them falls, another pops up to see what happened. I almost feel bad adding them to my kill count.

She paused then. Her smile flashed for a split second, but I knew that I had seen it.

But I am going to. Only thirty more until I catch up to you, Decimus. Don’t expect me to stop there. ” The teasing glibness of my mother’s voice was from an era I did not understand, but I could see why my father had fallen in love with her. I wanted to know this woman just as much as I wanted to know my father when he was younger. If Cassir and Cadim were any indication of what Uncle Valgor and Father were like, then I am certain it must have been fun to work alongside them.

I am going to end this call here. I love you all. Siana, be prepared for a renewal of my training when I return.

And just like that, the transmission ended. I waited several seconds and hit the replay button. No one complained and so we watched it again and again. Be it Cassir’s grinning or Mother’s micro-smile, we were drawing more sustenance from that footage than we had from our food for a week.

Somewhere, far away, I knew that my mother and brother were thinking of us just as we were of them. With each person that they killed our family gained more honor, but more importantly they were saved from having to face another combatant. I wanted more than anything else to be able to be with them; to be worthy of my own armor and my own stories. When we had finally finished watching the transmission, Astra put the holo-player away and we ate.

That night when I laid on my floor mat, I did not think of the pain that was in my body or the fact that the next day Astra was probably going to ignore my mother’s command. I thought of that creature I had seen with my father; its glistening teeth and its hateful eyes. It was a creature that had been perfected for what it was; its every fiber was meant to assist its body in performing acts of predation that far exceeded the limitations of most.

I wanted to be that creature – I wanted to be that fierce. I wanted people to feel me coming and know that a predator was amongst them. My mother and brother were more than likely fighting at that very moment, and they were exchanging the blood of their enemies for the honor of our clan. When it was my turn to join a conflict; when I was called to arms, I desired nothing more than to be the Mandalorian that made others feel terror.

Astra shifted in the bedding and didn’t begin to snore. These two things told me that the galaxy’s most infamous snorer was not yet asleep. I sat up with the help of my elbows and looked at her.

“Why didn’t you go with them?” I had never thought to ask the question until that point. When she chose to remain I was relieved, but Astra’s presence did not make a world of sense to me. She was older than Cassir and more experienced in combat. Why would she stay behind, when she could have gained acclaim alongside her future betrothed?

Astra turned over in her bed and looked down at me. “Because if I left, who would teach you?”

“Father could teach me,” I said.

“No, Dad can show you how to become a Mandalorian, but he can’t teach you.” She laid her head back down. “There’s a saying that you should train your sons hard, but your daughters harder. Do you know why that is?”

I didn’t answer, so she went on. “Sons are meant to die; daughters are meant to continue. Dad can show you how to hunt, kill, and fight – but he can’t show you how to be a Mandalorian woman. Your day of testing is fast approaching, Sis. By the time that you become an adult, you need to know so many things. You need to be prepared to sacrifice everything for your family if need be.”

It was the first time that I heard my sister speak of sacrifice, but I knew what she meant at once. By remaining behind she had ensured that she would not be given the chance to gain the same honor that Cassir was at that moment. I began to wonder if she resented me for it – if she felt that I was her anchor.

An apology almost escaped my lips, but as it began to manifest I swallowed it back down. What was I going to apologize for? Having an excellent older sister? I would have to show her my gratitude, not simply state its existence. I would become the great predator that I had seen in the forest. Iron didn’t complain when it was forged and neither would I. I’d do whatever it took, I’d listen to Astra just as my mother had told me. My verd'goten was in a year and a half. I refused to fail.

A Mandalorian woman’s first armor was her spirit, the second set she gained after her verd’goten. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from becoming the best Mandalorian that I could be. Luckily, Astra wouldn’t have it any other way.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
12.31.2011 , 08:42 AM | #8
Chapter Seven: End of an Era.

By the time that the next year and a half had passed, neither my mother nor Cassir had returned from Uncle Valgor’s expedition. We received updates infrequently of how things were progressing, and much to our dismay they were not going quite as well as initially projected. Uncle Valgor had been wounded in battle and many of his men lost in a foolhardy charge that to this day I suppose was his attempt at capturing the esteem of his brothers. The expeditionary force was placed on the defensive and there were rumors that Vace would surrender to Hundar.

Even if not for Cassir’s messages though, which he attempted to deliver with as much verve as possible, we would have known that things were changing in the war. Refugees from engagements were moving closer to our home, and while we tried to feed and shelter some of them, the tide continues to grow at such a rate that it became obvious we needed to turn others away. The violent storm that my father had mentioned was brooding on the horizon, and we could only hope that our family could weather the storm.

I had grown another meter in the interim of the expedition’s departure, now standing at 1.67 meters. While nature and biology ensured that I would continue to grow, Astra was the driving force behind my development. When the refugees began to arrive she made sure that I was at all times prepared for moving, and sometimes woke me up in the middle of the night to be certain that I could move silently out of the house. I told her that as long as we didn’t head to a river I would be fine, but my jesting only caused her to frown. She was scared. I was scared. The difference was, she was the one that we were depending on.

It was late autumn when we heard that the Clan Daue had been dealt another harrowing defeat. I had been outside, practicing my knife training with a displaced soldier by the name of Fendar, when a disheveled man from the north arrived with the news. I quickly retrieved Astra from the kitchen and told her we had another visitor. She prepared for him a meager helping of food and met him at the door. I had not recognized him, but she did.

“Vasmus,” she gasped as she helped him find a seat. Once I heard his name I recalled that he and his brother Ryk had been amongst the youths that left with Uncle Valgor. His face was covered in soot and there was a good deal of scaring to his armor. I excused myself from the training session with Fendar and looked to my sister. I was hers to command. “Go find Dad and tell him that Vasmus is here.”

I acted without hesitation. The wind was hard to run against that evening, no doubt an aspect of the approaching storm. I ran with all of my might, arms pumping and lungs laboring, until I saw my father working in the field. We had allowed several of the refugees to stay on as hired hands, exchanging food for services. His works looked up and gave me varying degrees of salutation, but my focus was singularly on my father. I called out to him and he dropped his hoe, and then ran over to me.

“What is it?” He asked.
I took a moment to catch my breath and then pointed back at the house. Before I could even get a word out, he was already moving for our home.

When we returned home Astra had removed some of Vasmus’ armor and was applying bacta to his wounds. He looked up first to my father and gave him a tired nod. It was a nod I would come to understand in years later to be the expression one had when they realized they were on death’s door. Despite his acceptance of that fate though, Astra worked tirelessly to stabilize him.

My father knelt beside Vasmus. I had never seen someone as battered as he was, so I hung back. Foolishly, I thought that his weakness might actually be contagious.

“Vasmus, what’s happened?”
“Ambush,” he began and then shook his head. “We were ambushed.”

“By the Hundar?” My father asked.
“By the Hundar and the Vace.”

The latter part struck each of us with a severity that could not have been prepared for. I gasped, Astra slowed in her mending, and my father clenched his jaw. He placed a hand to Vasmus’ cheek and willed him to look into his eyes.

“Tell me what happened.”
Astra interjected. “Dad, he needs to rest.”
“After he tells me what happened!”

It was very rare that my father raised his voice, and I understood at once that he was beyond concerned. After all, not only was Clan Daue now in a precarious situation, but mother and Cassir were amongst those that were in the field. Vasmus struggled to think and then nodded.

“Aliit’alor, your brother, told us to assist the Vace in protecting their western region. Intelligence told us that the Hundar were preparing for a big offensive there, and if we could cut them off then we’d effectively have smashed them in a blaze of glory. It was the kind of battle that the clan leader always wanted for us to experience.”

We all listened patiently, waiting to hear of what happened to our loved ones. It was a sad day that any of the Clan Daue died, but the Mandalorian generalities that family did not matter as much as the clan is something I doubt anyone truly believes. Vasmus had not been the one to hold my hand through storms, or who taught me how to shoot. That was Cassir or my mother. It was only logical that we should care more about them.

“Commander Sala moved her auxiliary forces into position back in a collection of trees. You know, a crow’s nest,” he paused and rubbed at his throat. “Could I have some water?”

“Siana.” Father and Astra spoke at once. I complied.

With the water nearly spilling out of a cup, I lowered it to Vasmus’ mouth and allowed him to drink. His thirst must have been great, because no matter how much I tipped the cup he made sure to swallow it all up. Once I had done he smiled up at me, a dejected expression that showed thanks. I nodded and quickly retreated to stand behind my father.

“I was assigned to the clan leader’s squad: I didn’t get to see too much of what happened up there, but I can guess.” When no one moved to stop him from continuing, Vasmus went on. “We’d been expecting the Hundar forces to be surprised, so Commander Sala put most of her men on the offensive. I’m sure that she had an escape route – she always does, but… I don’t think she was prepared for them to hit her position as hard as they did.”

I saw Father’s jaw clench once more and placed my hand to his shoulder. Astra tried her best to look strong as she wrapped Vasmus’ wounds.

“They wanted her. I mean, she’d been sniping them for a year now. By the time that we realized her position was being attacked, the clan leader’s forward guard was already taking casualties. We had prepared to catch them by surprise, so most of our heavy gear was left behind. It was frantic fighting, but…”

“My wife,” Father began. “My son. What happened to them?”

Vasmus was quiet for several seconds. It was the most gut-wrenching pause I had ever experienced in my life, and I would never wish it upon anyone else. We all knew that it was possible Mother or Cassir could die, but we placed it form our minds. Nearly three years worth of worry was suddenly brought to the fore and it was eating away at us. I stood as strong as I could for my father – for Astra.

“I don’t know,” Vasmus finally said. “Cassir had been with us in the clan leader’s group, but broke ranks when we found out that Commander Sala was under attack. We tried to offer them as much support as we could, but when the Vacian forces swarmed us, it was all too much. I can’t swear to the fact, but I can’t imagine anyone surviving everything that they were throwing at their position.”

I was waiting for Vasmus to continue with the story and say that against all odds he saw my mother emerge from the smoke and ash, but he fell gravely silent. I thought back to the micro-smile she had given us when she first reported back from the frontlines, and felt my knees grow weak. Everything in me wanted to collapse and begin to cry, but I managed to hold on. It was impossible that my mother, the Mandalorian matron, had been killed.

I didn’t want to believe it – I couldn’t believe it.

Vasmus looked between us and lowered his head. “I’m sorry. If I could have done anything to save her, I would have, but…”

“It’s alright, boy. Sala knew what she was doing when she went to battle – it’s as fitting a death for a warrior as anyone could ask for.” I had never heard my father sound so cold, but there was sincerity to the edge of his words. He didn’t blame Vasmus at all and he did believe that my mother died as she would have wanted to, but that did not deny the grief I knew he felt. He was too strong to show us it though – I know that he had vowed never to let us see him despair again.

“I can’t say what’s going to happen now,” Vasmus muttered. “I heard report that the Clan Leader’s pulled back to Wesmer province, but there aren’t enough of us left to assist that position. If I were you, uncle, I’d look into arming these refugees you have here and preparing for what’s coming.”

Father took the suggestion and nodded. His voice was heavy, bitter. “I told Valgor this would happen,” he said when he stood up. I took a step back and looked up at him. “Can I count on you to help protect the remnants of the clan, Vasmus?”

“With my life, uncle.” Vasmus stated.

I looked from Vasmus to my father. “Are we going to leave our home?” I asked, my voice awash in sadness. It was hard enough to comprehend that my family members had died, but for some reason the thought of leaving our home was nearly as painful. It didn’t matter if Mandalorians were a nomadic people – we weren’t. My father shook his head without needing to think, much to my relief.

“This is where we make our stand,” he answered. “After we have some defenses set up here, I’ll go around and gather those that are willing to fight. This home will be our base of operations.”

Vasmus nodded with complete agreement and spoke again, obviously hoping to temper the bad news with a bit of good. “Two days from here I know where there’s a weapon cache. If you’ll lend me some men we can get it and come back. I don’t know how long it’ll be before the Vacians and Hundarii make their way down here, but when they do we’ll need everything we have to hold them off.”

My father looked to Astra then. “Gather some supplies and men and go with your cousin to this cache. He’s right – while our stockpile is decent, we’ll need more if everyone is to be outfitted.”

I do not know what Astra said in response; I only know that she replied. While they went about the business of preparing our home for defense, I found myself swimming in a maelstrom of grief. It didn’t seem possible that one minute my mother could be alive in my mind and the next she was dead. Shouldn’t I have felt something? Shouldn’t I have known that she was dead? She was the woman that had given me life; how was it fair that the only way I’d know that she passed was if someone told me?

I’ve given the speech to men and women time and time again, how we should grieve but take joy in the fact that our loved ones have fallen in battle. I know them to be inherently empty words that actually provide little more than shame for feeling what any sane person would. At my current age I do not take much joy in having to tell anyone the news or hear it, and just on the cusp of adulthood I certainly did not want to imagine that my mother was in a “better place”. I wanted her here with me.

I could hear the others talking and further strategizing. This river would be defensible, or that valley would have to be abandoned. Some of the field hands were experienced soldiers and could fight for us; others were changeable and didn’t seem like the sort to trust. While I heard what everyone was saying I did not comprehend it. It was not until I heard Astra saying my name that I realized they were speaking to me, and more importantly, that I had cold tears dripping down my face.

“Sis, I need you to help me with the travel provisions.”

Travel provisions? Was I really supposed to care about travel provisions? I wiped my eyes and fought to see through my sorrow, but it was a difficult task to complete. Astra needed me and I was only going to bring shame to my family if I didn’t get it together. I swallowed down a sob and nodded, then followed her in as she moved ahead of me. Before I left my father’s side I felt his hand take hold of mine, and I looked back to see what it is he wanted.

The pain that I was showing on my face was hidden deeper within him. If not for the look in his eyes I would not have known it was even there. He did not speak and instead squeezed my hand to express all the affection that he could muster at the time. It meant more to me than anything else in the world, and ashamed that I was acting like such a child I turned and followed quickly after Astra.

We worked in silence. I was still in a state of disbelief and Astra was fighting to keep herself from entering one. Travel supplies for a small group were easy to come by, especially when we had yai’yai, a specialized food group that was high in calories and low in density. It would give a person the energy they needed to get from point A to point B and was a common component in most field rations. I knew that Astra did not really need my help in gathering the provisions. She just wanted me to be away from Vasmus.

“Aren’t you sad?” I asked emptily. I knew that she was – I could see it in her eyes, but the fact that she hid it so much more effectively than I did was infuriating. Why was she such a better woman than me? Why did she grasp our culture in a way that I could not? I wanted her to be upset so that I had an excuse to be upset, but she mechanically divvied up the rations.

She gave me a very short look and then went back to work. “Of course I am,” she told me. “But that isn’t going to make this get done any faster, is it? The time for crying is behind closed doors, Sis. You need to pull it together.”

Had she yelled at me, I would have had an excuse to run out of the house and cry somewhere, but she didn’t. I don’t know if it was because she knew that was what I wanted to do, or she simply didn’t see a reason for being harsh with me, but in either event I had to accept what she was saying like an adult. We were in crisis mode, and there was no time to sit around and mope.

After the kits were readied, I helped her carry them to the door. “Do you think Cadim is alright?” While I did care greatly for Cadim, he had understandably been lower on my priority list than Mother and Cassir. As my brain began to play over the reality that most of the men I had met were now to be numbered amongst the dead, I found it difficult to wrap my head around it. They had all been so strong – so imposing.

Astra’s response was a practical one. “I hope not,” she said. “But if he isn’t, worrying about him won’t bring him back.” There was a noticeable lack of compassion to her words; a tone that indicated she was more interested in the present than my childish questions. I picked up on it, but still I continued.

“What about Uncle Valgor?”
“I wasn’t there, Siana,” Astra said plainly. “I can’t tell you what happened.”
“I asked you what you think,” I protested.
“And I told you to help me with this. Now do what you’re told and stop wasting time!”

I had thought I wanted to hear her be upset, but as I heard her voice crack I realized I was horribly wrong. The sternness with which Astra spoke was not at all like what I had become accustomed to from her. It was staunch and unrelenting; devoid affection or exception. In that moment, she sounded more like my mother than she ever had in my life, and I could feel my tears brimming again. Embarrassed, I preemptively wiped at my eyes and tried my best to hide the return of my weakness.

When we returned outside, Father had gathered up the men he wanted to go with Vasmus. They were mostly the men that had come from our area, the ones that I knew he trusted. Fendar was numbered amongst them and he gave me a sympathetic smile as I looked at him. I tried my best to return it, but knew I had failed from the sadness that crossed his face.

“Two days there, two days back,” my father repeated to the men that were gathered. “We’ll start setting up the area’s defenses now. If we’re lucky the Hundarii and Vacians won’t be coming this way for a week. Winter’s almost here, and if we start getting snow I doubt they’ll bother to march until next spring. That’ll give us all the time we can ask for.”

“If it snows,” Vasmus repeated.
My father looked at him and spoke without doubt. “It will snow.”

Before everyone left, my father took Astra and me aside. I watched them just as I had watched my mother and father before she left those years ago, and could feel sadness welling inside of me again. I didn’t want Astra to leave – I didn’t want her to vanish into memories just as my mother had. Once Father finished telling her his instructions she turned to me. I had been too scared to approach my mother when she left, but I wouldn’t let that happen again.

I hugged her. Even if she was covered in her armor, I took what warmth I could from her and held on with all of my might. I imagined that she was Mother and that if I could hold her strong enough – long enough, that she would not be forced to make a march that I knew to be doomed. I had felt that upon Mother’s leaving; however, I did not know if what I felt when Astra left was because I was sorrowful or if I actually did think she would not come back as well.

“I love you,” I whispered to her.
“I love you too, Sis. We’ll be back before you know it.”

I highly doubted that it would be before I knew it, but I did believe that she meant it. I finally convinced my arms to release her and she mussed my hair before shouldering her kit and moving off with the others. I watched them until they were in the distance and then looked back to my father.

“We have a lot to do here,” he said as he motioned to the area about me. I had expected him to tell me how he felt about Mother’s passing, but he did anything but. The way he spoke – the way he looked, it was the same manner that he had been speaking with Vasmus in. I wasn’t being addressed as his daughter; I was being spoken to as a Mandalorian. “We’ll need to have a few men bring down a few of those trees in the woods and have pits dug out. The cache’s mines are going to be vital in preparing.”

I stared at him, stupefied as he spoke. I understood him well enough and nodded, but I found it hard to believe that he was talking to me as though I was his equal. Was I supposed to respond to him? Was I supposed to wait for him to finish saying everything? Put on the spot like this, I didn’t even know what my name was. I wanted to curl up and cry somewhere, and yet he was applying pressure to make sure I did just the opposite. I had to throw my shoulders back and stand tall. I had to think, act, and look like an adult.

“Come with me and I’ll show you where I want the mines laid.”
“You want me to do it?” I asked in disbelief.
“Why wouldn’t I?”

If I was going to survive – if my family was going to survive, then I had to do what I was told. I nodded with as much strength as I could muster in response to my father’s directive and accompanied him as he detailed the areas we would be fortifying. In all, our home was in an advantageous place that I have come to believe he always expected to act as some kind of fortification. We were uphill so no one would sneak up on us, and with our vantage point we also had a superior firing range should we spot a distant enemy.

The fields could be turned into trenches; the river was a natural barrier against invasion from the west. While I knew that a person could easily cross it if they wanted to, to do so would give us enough time to snipe off anyone that thought they would get the drop on our base of operations. The woods were always a danger, but by the same token they could be converted into lookout and scout positions. If need be, they could be set ablaze and the enemy cooked alive within them. These things I was told with a rapid-fire pacing as my father explained to me the intricacies of combat. We would require watch towers to ensure that no aerial raids were coming, and the bunker he had built beneath our house would need to be expanded if we were going to accommodate the other warriors we had taken on.

There was definitely a storm on the horizon. Just as I felt the wind brush against my face, I could also sense the approaching chaos. I do not know if I should blame Uncle Valgor for what happened. Perhaps if he stayed where he was we would have been able to easily repel any invaders, or if he had not challenged my father so openly my mother would not have gone out as she would. But in that moment I realized the lesson that my mother tried to teach me those years ago – the lesson that I bristled under.

It didn’t matter whether or not something if might have happened, all that we needed to concern ourselves with was what did happen. There was now a war going on and the Clan Daue was in its most vulnerable position ever. The odds were certainly against us if Vace and Hundar were working together, and although I wanted nothing more than to make them pay for what they had done to my brother and mother, I could not forget that thinking like that was what had gotten us into so much trouble.

As though my father knew that I was coming to understand the ways of a warrior, he turned his attention to me. “So what do you think we should do, Siana?”

I wasn’t quite certain how to answer. I knew that attacking preemptively was a mistake. While defense would be nice, no Mandalorian would want to be stricken and not strike back. There was only one answer that seemed right to me – my first instinct. I didn’t question it and responded with confidence.

“We should persevere,” I said.
“So we shall.”

We made our way back to the home. Bird the Dog began running alongside us, seemingly aware that something in the air had changed. I still wanted to cry, but I had learned how to keep it buried deep inside of myself. The walk came to an end when we were at the porch.

“So are you ready for tomorrow?” My father asked. I looked at him without bothering to mask my confusion.
“Tomorrow?”

He placed his hand on my shoulder and nodded. “I can’t afford to look after my daughter in the coming times, Siana. I’m going to need a Mandalorian warrior at my side.”

But that transition required an act that I didn’t know if I was ready for. I opened my mouth in disbelief and then closed it. The denials that were welling up in me were weak; far weaker than the crying I had done previously. The Clan Daue needed me to act like a Mandalorian woman now, not a child. I had to sacrifice; I had to be willing to lose it all if it meant helping my people. My mother and Cassir had done that in the north.

The least I could do was continue that legacy.

“I’m ready,” I told him. I was scared and he knew it, but I managed to hide it just as he was whatever he was feeling. He gave me another pat on the head and then entered our home. I looked to Bird the Dog and sat down on the porch. When he nuzzled his head against me, I laid my head down and cried into his fur. I got rid of everything that I was holding onto: my fear, my sorrow, my grief, and my anguish. I emptied myself completely of these things, because I could not afford to carry them with what was on the horizon.

This was to be the last time that Siana Daue cried.
Tomorrow, I would become a woman of the Clan Daue.

AlyxDinas's Avatar


AlyxDinas
01.01.2012 , 06:06 AM | #9
I just have to take the time to say that seeing this on the forums again fills me with no shortage of joy.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
01.11.2012 , 10:27 AM | #10
Chapter Eight: Verd’goten.

I had never been in this part of the forest before, and I knew that I would have to rely on the few tools I had to survive. My father had given me two weapons: a dagger that I now wore about my neck on a thin cord, and an antiquated blaster rifle that he said my mother had used during her verd’goten. I knew that the dagger was not the sharpest, nor the rifle the most accurate. I was going to have to rely on the only other thing I had at my disposal:

My training.

This was what the last ten years had been all about; this was what everything came down to. Every sacrifice that my mother and Astra made culminated at this point. The legacy of the Clan Daue depended on my ability to be resourceful and bold, and as I refused to do anything other than continue that legacy I knew that there was but one option. I was going to survive and complete my initiation.

Father gave me a single directive before he left me in the middle of the forest: kill the most dangerous creature that you can find. The meaning behind it was simple and powerful. I could be the type of person that didn’t look for a challenge and killed a rabbit, or I could be the type of person that hunted down a worthy opponent and slew it for the honor of my family. Both options could be seen as Mandalorian choices: being clever and focusing on the words ‘can find’, or being brave and focusing on the words ‘most dangerous’.

As a member of Clan Daue I knew that I could only select the latter. To do anything but would be a disservice to those that had come before me and greatly diminish their sacrifices. A crying girl had been left outside of the forest: it would be a strong woman that emerged from within.

I did not know where I should look; I knew only that I should look. The forest was foreign to me and I felt through it as a blind person might a new room. There were vague similarities to the one near my home: the trees were similar, the shrubbery could be considered related, but for every similarity there was also a stark difference. To further compound the situation I felt a constant cold chill racing through the area. I had nothing but a thin tunic and a pair of pants with which to protect myself from the elements. The trace amounts of sunlight that streamed through the treetops told me that it was not yet noon. The best I could hope for was that I completed my mission before night fell. Then, the cold would become unbearable.

Futilely, I tried to convince myself that I needed only to worry about the present and not what was going on outside of my verd’goten. I wanted to believe that I could rise above my concerns and focus only on that which pertained to my graduation as a warrior, yet with each second that passed I found my mind pulled back to the outside world. How were we going to be able to overcome the combined might of the Vacians and Hundarii if we had already lost most of our warriors? How would we be able to avenge Mother or Cassir if we didn’t have tools with which to fend off the invading tide?

The chirping of birds penetrated my awareness, but did little to draw me away from my thoughts. At that moment, Astra, Vasmus, and the others were marching in search of supplies. Father was back at home, preparing it with his workers for whatever was to come our way. All of my life I had thought that we would continue in Grandfather Regimus’ steps, and in a matter of months that had changed. We were at war, and there would be nothing that could change that until the land was saturated with blood once again. Clan Daue no longer needed farmers, it needed warriors.

I would become a warrior.

I came to a sudden halt as I heard something in the distance. It was a minute rustling that slipped through the din of the forest and touched my ear. When I looked in the direction of the sound I saw a shrub moving slowly, and then saw the head of an iriaz emerge from within. Although they were naturally native to Dantooine, Grandfather Regimus had imported some of additional food supplies for roaming Mandalorians and the predators of the forest. It looked at me, bleated once, and then took off in the opposite direction. An iriaz would not do for my kill, anyway. Even with its spiraling horns and powerful legs, it was more game than opponent.

Somewhere in the forest there was an adversary worthy of my skill and when I found it, I would emerge victorious. I had not been given any food rations when I left, but I knew which things could be eaten from the forest floor. Mushrooms were always dangerous, but they also supplied the most nourishment if properly selected. Berries, also, had a good deal of toxicity to them, but the rhymes that my mother had taught me assured me that there were some that were harmless.

Red and blue; nature’s wealth. Red and black; depletes your health.

When I had learned the song I thought that it was childish and silly, but thinking of my mother singing it then made me feel a bit warmer. I knew that if I thought for too long on her though, that I would become distraught and lose my focus. Unwittingly I began to hum the tune to myself and by the time that I realized I was, was too engaged in the activity to bother stopping. It made me feel less scared. It made me feel more like a Mandalorian.

I tore a strip from the bottom of my tunic and used it to fashion a pouch. Carefully, I collected the berries that I saw that were not poisonous and picked up a few that were. Their utility would come in handy later, but that was something that I tried not to concern myself with for the time being. As I walked, I popped a few of the healthy berries into my mouth and chewed soundlessly. I’d need my energy not only to stay alert, but also to keep warm. Until noon rolled around I was going to be doomed with cold, and when evening fell I’d be shivering for certain.

At the latter end of autumn, animals were beginning to search for hibernation chambers. This meant that the larger creatures like bears and tigers were more than likely already sleeping, although the possibility that some were still foraging for their last meal presented itself. It was wise to remember that I may have been a hunter, but that I was also potentially one of the hunted. There were creatures in the forest that not even a squad of Mandalorian veterans could overcome, and if I drew the attention of any of them I was surely going to die.

After the berries had all been eaten, I used the pouch I had created to crush up the poisonous one I’d found. Once they were made into a paste, I unsheathed my dagger and stabbed it into the pouch. With the bag folded around my hand, I coated the dagger as best I could and then removed it. The faintly red and black sheen attributed to the blade was all that I could hope for. If I had to use my dagger I was more than likely going to die, but the irritant that the poison offered might give me a second longer to prepare for that eventuality. With the pouch now empty, I placed it in my pocket and resheathed the dagger.

Walking about aimlessly was going to burn away my entire caloric intake. I decided to climb a tree and see if I could spot any signs of potential predators or larger fauna. The forest was sparse in one direction, but I knew that there was also less chance of encountering anything within it. Any predator that was still around would be lurking deeper in the forest, and the only way to get to them would be braving the shaded groves and praying that I saw them before they saw me. If it was the other way around, I was doomed.

I descended from the tree and made my way toward the darkened patch of woods. If I ran I’d burn too many calories, and if I walked I’d become too cold. Jogging proved the best means of movement, and it also gave me just enough awareness of my surroundings that if I needed to sprint away I could without my muscles being cold. By the time that I made it to the woods the sun was higher and thus they were just a little bit brighter. Shadows still lurked, but I could at the very least see where I was going.

This was a world different from any I had seen before. While the majority of the forest was unknown to me, the deeper parts of it were unprecedented. I stood still and looked around, admiring the majesty of the wilderness. Once more the chirping of birds sounded, and as I looked up a pair flitted over head and deeper into the darkened area before me. There was a certain degree of vibrancy – of life, to that secluded patch of trees that I could not have anticipated until I stepped within and although I knew I was going to encounter shadows, I did not expect for those shadows to be bursting with life.

My right hand fitted against my rifle’s stock, no doubt an attempt to bolster my resolve as I began walking forth. Somewhere in this part of the forest, I knew, was my quarry. The only problem was that this was not my territory; I had no advantage when it came to the hunt. While some may have continued to search, I instead thought back to the iriaz I had seen. I had to do more than aimlessly wander about. I needed to do more than think like a Mandalorian. I needed to be a Mandalorian.

The dagger that hung around my neck was removed and I turned my attention to a nearby tree. Noon was fast approaching and the most time I would have to work with light had arrived with it. I used the edge of the dagger and began stripping away pieces of bark, bit by bit. It was going to take hours before I had even come close to completing what I wanted, but preparing seemed better than wasting time hopelessly searching. With long pieces of bark on hand, I sat against the tree and placed my rifle to the side. What was to follow was nothing short of mind-numbing.

When I was doing it I did not want to think about braiding the bark into rope, so now I hardly want to revisit the moment. It is safe to imagine that a thirteen year old, working with little light, and afraid that at any point in time an animal would leap out and eat her, was hardly the most careful of workers, but I was the most driven. With the light that noon gave me I continued to toil at my task, carefully braiding and pulling as my mother had shown me countless times in the past. My plan was going to require more than a simple thin piece of rope, though. It needed to be tough and thick enough to stop a moving target. This meant that every fiber had to be braided again, and each piece of length strengthened with a solid knot.

My fingers bled; my eyes hurt from straining against the darkness, but I did not give up. Once I had finally completed a respectable piece of rope, I wound it over my shoulder and began with the length back into the lighter parts of the forest. There were still iriaz around; I could feel it. I laid the rope against the ground and tied one end against a tree, then stepped away and allowed the other end to remain slack. My stomach growled, but the berries that I found had to be put to better use. I ground them up with my hands and smeared them along the surrounding trees, then placed the remnants on the floor. To sate myself I licked at my stained fingers, but that did more to whet my appetite than appease it.

Now was the time to wait. I had been waiting for thirteen years to become an adult; I told myself that I could wait another few hours. If there were any iriaz about, which the dropping I had seen and the scent on the air told me there were, then they would have to be drawn to the happenstance smorgasbord that I created for them. If luck favored me it would not be a buck that made its way past me, but perhaps a young doe or even a fawn: anything that wouldn’t take too much of a struggle to bring down. Crouching behind a tree, I tightened my hold on the rope and tried my best to be patient.

I thought again of our home, which was now absent everyone but my father. The thought of our dinner table, once so full and gay, did not leave me without bittersweet memories, but the accumulation of tears brought with them tinges of joy. They were remembrances to cherish, in which our family had been complete and whole. There were dark days ahead of us, yes, but there too was a brightness in the past that could help guide us through them.

I did not need to think of Astra marching with others, because I could remember when she had shown me how to fish. I did not need to think of my mother’s death, because I could remember when she taught me the rhyme I’d used to identify berries. Father wasn’t a warrior – he could still be a farmer, tilling the land with as much dedication as anyone. Cassir and Polus didn’t need to be dead: they were still my older brothers, fighting endlessly and yet at the same time expressing their love. I didn’t need to be terrified, because I was doing what they all wanted of me.

Another pair of birds flew over head, this time chattering more gaily than the previous had. I broke away from my memories and saw that in the distance an iriaz was sniffing the air. More than likely it caught my scent, but more importantly it was enjoying the promise of berries. The few that I had gathered were perhaps some of the last in the forest, and with the wind flushing the forest with their scent; it had to be a draw. It was a bit larger than I would have liked, but not so large that my plan was doomed to failure. So long as it took my bait, I would be in business.

The chirping of the birds was all that punctuated the low, doleful whistling of the wind as it wound its way about me. The iriaz could easily turn around and render my plan useless. Furthermore, if it did then I would be without any means of recovering the time lost. I had to hope that luck was on my side and that it would come my way. I remember grinding my teeth as I waited and hearing my heart in my ears. More than anything else, I needed this to work. My clan needed it to work.

I almost cried with joy when I heard the soft galloping of the iriaz’ hooves against the ground. My trap had worked in enticing it. With the berries a few meters beyond me it was going to plod as quickly as it could to the bounty. My fingers were alive with energy as I drew my breath in and counted the sound of each clopping stride. The closer it came, the more I prepared myself for impact.

And then it was in position.

I pulled with all of my might against the rope and brought it ripping up from the ground. The iriaz was in mid stride when it was caught and its hind legs struck soundly against the cord. I heard it bleat in dismay, before it toppled over. There was still struggle to it, and I could feel the rope sliding away from me. I dug my heels into the ground and pulled back, every trained muscle group I had responding to my call. The crunches that Astra forced on me came back as my core strength proved to be enough to further upset the iriaz’ balance, and after bucking again, it fell onto its side. I had to act and I had to act quickly.

With the animal disoriented, I lifted my blaster rifle and rushed to its side. It was getting back up when my rifle’s stock descended upon the side of its head, crashing with enough force to cause it to bleat again before toppling back down. Still it struggled to rise, and still I hit again. I did not want to kill it, but the animal had to be subdued. With the third strike it remained down. I checked its breathing and then quickly set to the next part of my plan.

It would be a lie to say that I was not grinning from ear to ear at that moment. I used the end of the rope to the Iriaz’s back feet together, and then undid the knot by the tree and drug it behind me. The conditioning and training that I had been through made it seem like the act of dragging a 45 kilogram animal was not at all a difficult thing. When considering I barely weighed more than that at the age of thirteen, it went a long way to explain just how vigorously I had trained. The unconscious critter slid against the ground easily, and I took my prize back to the darker part of the woods.

I did not stop where I had been before. Loitering on the outskirts of the shaded grove was not going to get me the results I wanted. Each meter that passed as I moved deeper into the woods seemed to imply a new level of bravery. It was when I could no longer see the lighter forest that I stopped and set to work once more. Nearby trees were robbed of low-lying branches. I used my dagger to get the healthiest stakes possible and pinned them into the ground, then after cutting my rope in half, tied one end of it to the iriaz’ forelegs and the other to its hind. I checked its breathing to make sure that it was still alive, and then slipped back into the darkness. Rather than wait on the ground floor, I climbed another tree and removed my rifle from my shoulder. It was another waiting game, but I knew this one would not take as long.

The iriaz slowly began to awaken, its bleating at first disoriented and then alarmed. It struggled against the stakes, but I had been smart enough to wedge them deep into the ground so as to prevent its surging muscles from purchasing any real hold on the earth. I watched it struggle feebly and could not help but feel some degree of sorrow. I made the mistake of looking into its eyes and saw that they were large and innocent, pleading in despair. To prevent that from going any further, I looked away and tried my best not to listen to its frantic bleats of protest.

I wondered if the iriaz had a family somewhere. I wondered if it was foraging so that it could feed its young. I knew that I should never identify with my target, but it was easier to be told that than to abide by it. My smile went from wide to dim, from dim to nonexistent. It was truly pathetic to hear it struggle, and I was only glad that eventually it exhausted its strength and lay still once more. I used the scope of my rifle to make sure that it was still breathing and then scanned the darkness again.

That rifle was in no way a work of art; in fact, I am certain that it was probably the worst one I had ever held. My mother did well to keep it up to date, but as I held it I could already tell it wasn’t properly fashioned and more than likely had been handed down to her from her mother. An heirloom was nice to look at, but much less utile when a person was waiting to shoot something and claim their adulthood. Yet in thinking that some time ago my mother had been in a similar position, thinking a similar thought, with the same brought a smile to my face. I thought of that small smile she’d given in the holo-recording and pressed the stock to my shoulder once more.

I was going to become like her, no matter what it took.

Something happened that completely changed my surroundings. Where once there had been the sound of birds flying about or small fauna rustling for food, now everything was silent. Only the wind dared to play through the area, and even then it brought with it a distinctive chill that seemed separate from the temperature about me. I looked back to the iriaz and saw that it was struggling again. When it bleated, there was urgency to it that denied its previous attempts to escape. It was not content to surrender; it thrashed so mightily that I could see its bones beginning to strain against muscle. I looked through my scope and instantly understood what had happened.

That coldness that I had felt, the chill that was carried on the wind, was indeed caused by something different than a drop in temperature. The sun was beginning to set and the woods were much darker; however, I could make out the outline of something moving toward the iriaz. Slowly and with purpose it prowled; its body low to the ground. Each shadow that it passed presented a band of beige fur to my eye, and to counteract the shade I flicked on my infrared input in the scope. That primal chill became just a bit colder: I was scared.

Sneaking as it was, the nexu was within a dozen meters from my bait. I could tell from the tension in its haunches that it could clear that distance in a single bound. I remembered seeing a similar creature with my father, although to my credit this one seemed to be an adolescent. Just as I was out hunting to become an adult, so too was it. I felt myself seizing up with fear as my finger refused to fit against the trigger of my blaster rifle. Was the weapon reliable enough to fire and clear the distance? If not, could I get off another shot before the nexu lunged for me?

There was always the choice to look for something else to kill, but my gut told me that I was meant to fight this animal, this time. I watched as its twin tails lashed contemplatively behind it. The iriaz was almost free of its bonds and something told me the nexu was waiting for it to break free so that it could pounce on it. I had to assume that it delighted in taking its prey on the run. The intelligence in that alone was enough to fill me fill even more dread, but I knew I had no other option but to continue. I fit my finger against my trigger and breathed in.

It doesn’t matter the type of predator it is, so long as you know it’s a predator.

If failed in this, I was going to become the prey. The iriaz was almost free and once it stood I was certain that the nexu would snatch it up and flee. Despite the cold chill that washed over me I could feel sweat beading on my brow; running alongside my head and dripping against my tunic. I took in another breath and forced myself to look at the nexu. My trembling finger was brought into line and I squeezed the trigger.

Nothing happened.

I heard the click of the trigger moving, but did not see any flash from my rifle’s muzzle. The nexu looked up instantly at the sound and through the scope I could see that its glistening teeth were pulled back into the same malicious smile that the other had. So eager was I to set to hunting that I forgot to do the most important thing that any Mandalorian could: make sure that my weapon was functional. Not that it much mattered at that point. The nexu saw me and knew that I was going to be a more interesting kill.

Unless you have had a jungle cat rush at you, I don’t believe it is a describable experience. The nexu tensed for just a second before it bounded into the air and toward me. I had begun to stand in the tree and the impact of its striking the tree was enough to dislodge me. Rifle and all, I fell to the forest floor and landed with enough force to jar my senses. It was instinct and muscle memory alone that told me to roll away as I hit the ground, for the nexu finished swiping at the tree and leaped down to land before me. It circled to the left and I lifted my hand to my dagger. I no longer had the ability to be afraid: I was in fight mode.

My encounter with the octopus so many years ago had taught me that I had the fight in me to survive; however, it also revealed to me that fight alone was not enough to survive. There would be no Bird the Dog to rescue me: my father was not going to be there to see me through this. The nexu’s teeth were so large and spread apart that as the rising moon caught against them they reflected light. It lowered its torso and gave its hindparts a bit of a wag as it prepared to leap again. I knew that it was faster, stronger, and more agile than I. The only thing I had to work with was my mind.

The nexu lunged for me again. I dove to my left and unsheathed my dagger. The swipe that the predator unleashed in my direction tore into my shoulder and instantly caused my tunic to run red with blood. I knew that I wanted to panic, but I held myself together long enough to fight off the sensation. My knife-fighting lessons had taught me long ago to hold the dagger so that it was against my forearm, rather than how one might hold a sword. The nexu was playing with me; I could see in its four-eyes that at any given time it could bring our fight to an end. That sadistic glint in it was all that I had going for me. As far as it knew I was just a little girl with a bloody shoulder. It didn’t know that I was a Mandalorian – that I refused to die.

Against it batted at me. This time when it did, I stepped closer and swiped outward with my dagger. The movement was enough to brush against the side of its face, and open just a bit of the skin hidden beneath its fur. It gave me an irritated shriek and rose to its hind legs to pounce on me. I rolled against the ground, using my good shoulder to my advantage. I felt its claws dig into my leg, but I pulled myself away. Now bleeding from my shoulder and leg I knew that I should have given up fighting, but my adrenal impulses were too great. The pain of training had prepared me for this: my armor was my spirit.

I scrambled for another tree and began to climb it as quickly as I could. The nexu snorted beneath me and began after me, effortlessly climbing as I tried to outrace it. I used my dagger to cut a branch, then dropped to the ground with it. The nexu fell after me. When it turned about to bite me, I thrust the branch forward and into its mouth. I can’t speak to just how much bite force a nexu has, but I can assume it’s much greater than that of even the most vicious dog. When the nexu snapped down, the branch stabbed up through the roof of its mouth.

I’ll never forget the roar that it gave me then. I could feel my bones turning to jelly from fear, but I didn’t give up my fight to survive. Hobbling as I was, I made my way over to the iriaz and began cutting at its ropes with my dagger. Just as I freed its legs, the nexu came back for me. In what I have to assume was an act of my ancestors looking down on me from above, the iriaz kicked outward just as it came inward, and jammed its sharp hooves into the nexu’s face. It was hardly enough to stop it, but the moment the nexu turned its hatred on the iriaz gave me time to act.

As I had expected, the nexu could devour the iriaz in a matter of seconds. I listened to the sound of bone and sinew being torn asunder under the pressure of its jaws, mixed with its own feral roaring as it gorged itself. With little time on my hands, I ran back over to my rifle and looked down at it. The fastest that I had ever field stripped a rifle before was within 45 seconds. Losing blood and frightened, I knew it’d be near impossible for me to hit that mark again.

With little light and jittery nerves, I tried to think of my mother telling me how to complete the actions. The nexu was still eating and I could hear that the iriaz was no longer struggling. The takedown pins popped out quickly, and the rifle fell into two portioned halves. I had to make a split decision: the malfunction was either in the upper or the lower partition. My gut told me to look for the upper, so I did. I checked the chamber and was about to move to the lower when I decided to see how the energy convergence port was holding up. What I found inside nearly stunned me.

Glistening against the moonlight, my mother’s ring was wedged in place. My father must have expected me to check my weapon like any smart Mandalorian would have done and found it, but as I had been in such a hurry to prove myself I had not even given it a second thought. I slipped the ring onto my finger and felt its cool, metallic surface calm me. It was just as cold as my mother’s voice had been when she told me how to do a field repair. Don’t panic – focus. I could almost hear her voice on the wind that brushed by me then.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw that the nexu was near finished with the iriaz. I had mere seconds to complete the reassembly. My hands no longer shook though, and my mind was surprisingly clear. I inhaled and began fitting the pieces of the weapon back together. The stock was the last to slide in to place and the pins attached. I turned around just as the nexu rose from its position and began to prowl for me again. I knew that the weapon did not have the stopping power to simply fire blindly at the nexu, so I would have to wait for the right time to strike.

The nexu gave me another of its smiles, though this time it was far more menacing. The remnants of blood and viscera from the iriaz caused a red tint to be applied to its teeth, and as it parted the shadows toward me I knew that this would be my last chance to overcome it. I can say with pride now that my hand did not shake; that my eyes did not move away from it as it made those strides for me. Live or die, I was going to do it like a Mandalorian. There was no fear, because I was ready to accept the consequences of whatever was to come.

Seeing all of those teeth open toward me was like something out of a nightmare, but I refused to give into the primal fear that I felt. I knew that I had only one shot and that if I didn’t take it at the right moment then I was going to become a meal for the jungle cat. I found strength in thinking of my family and the pride that they would have had if they saw me at that moment.

I, Siana Daue, was a warrior.

When the nexu lunged for me, I narrowed my eyes. My finger compressed the trigger and I remember thinking for a moment that I had made a mistake in placing the rifle back together. The thought was soon dispelled from the muzzle of my blaster rifle was projected a single, red bolt that tore through the air and struck the back of the nexu’s throat. The flash from the blast was enough to light the area. I could see the madness in the creature’s eyes as it prepared to descend upon me, and I knew that it could see the determination in mine.

The nexu slammed into me. At first, I thought that I had failed and it was going to eat me, but though the force of its body was enough to pin me down, it did not move after that. I lay with the deceased predator on top of me and breathed in and out slowly. The blood that escaped its wound; the life energy that fled from it… I could feel it wash over me. In claiming its life I had become the predator. I luxuriated in that sensation for several minutes.

At last I managed to free myself from the nexu and looked over the battle scene. My arm was bleeding, my leg was torn, but I had won. I ripped the sleeve of my tunic off and tied off the wound on my arm. The one on my leg was treated by removing the lower half of my pant leg with my dagger, then wrapping it tightly. I didn’t feel happy or excited. I wasn’t even afraid anymore. Passing from childhood to adulthood felt like waking up from a long sleep.

I was alive. That was all that mattered.

With my dagger as my guide, I began to pry the nexu’s teeth out of its mouth. While I knew that there was no need to bring back the entire beast, I had seen people take trophies form their defeated enemies before. In the moonlight I could see just how impressive the adolescent nexu was, and was all the more proud of myself. Alone, I had killed it. No child could do that; no mere person. Only a Mandalorian was strong enough – smart enough, to accomplish a task like that.

Once I had the nexu’s teeth in my pouch I fashioned a walking stick from a nearby branch. The art of killing the animal was only the half of it. Now, I had to find my way back to my father. I did not know which direction to walk in, but I knew that if I did not walk I would die from blood loss. It was a cold enough night already, and the thick blood on my clothing told me that if I didn’t move soon I’d simply fall asleep and not awaken again.

It was not until I had left the shaded forest that I realized precipitation was falling from the sky. Flaky and soft, the snow that decorated the area brought with it another cold wind. I recalled that my father had told Vasmus it would snow, and knew that the Clan Daue would be safe for the winter. With my walking stick, I plowed onward and continued through the forest, forever searching for a sign of my father.

I found him standing by a tree, our family’s speeder at his side. When he saw me making my way over to him I noticed moisture come to his eyes. His little girl – the last of his children, had emerged from her verd’goten. He was smiling and this time, the smile that he gave was meant only for me. It was filled with pride and joy, and did more to alleviate my pain than the medical kit he had brought with him did.

“Your mother would be so proud of you, Siana,” he told me as he finished cleaning my wounds. The kit had with it enough bacta to stabilize my blood loss and encourage me to produce more blood, but it would be a week before I was back to top condition. Once I was placed inside of the speeder, he entered as well and draped a blanket over my shoulders.

I hugged the blanket closer to myself and closed my eyes.

“When Astra and Cassir passed their verd’goten, I told them that I would answer one question for them.” My father’s words carried with them a seriousness that I had never heard before. He was naturally a stern man, but when he spoke then it was as one adult to another. “You can hold off on asking me a question or do it now. That choice is yours.”

I understood then why Astra and Cassir had known more about my father than I did. It was not that he hid the information from me, but that I had not yet earned it. Now, with a pocketful of nexu teeth and a blanket fighting the cold, I had joined their ranks.

There were millions of things that I could ask about: Grandfather Regimus, my father’s youth, why he had not gone with Uncle Valgor, what would happen to our family in the future. I had before me the chance to ask anything, and yet only one thing came to my mind. I hugged the blanket to myself more.

“A few years ago I woke up in the middle of the night,” I began. My father’s attention rested on me, undivided. “I had this… feeling to find you and so I did. When I saw you, you were sitting outside in the field and were putting your hands into the dirt.” What I was to say next felt foolish, but I didn’t want to let the chance to know what I had seen pass without being answered. “And then you made it rain, Father. How did you make it rain?”

My father did the unexpected then: he grinned. “You weren’t very good at sneaking around back then, Siana. I knew that you were out there – by the Preserver, a blind man could have followed the trail you left behind.” After he finished speaking, my father looked me in my eyes. “I didn’t make it rain, Siana – I can’t, and I doubt anyone can do that. I asked it to rain, just as I asked it to snow.”

I was not satisfied with the answer. “But how?”
“I can’t really say,” my father admitted with a bit of shame. “It’s just something I have always been able to do. I listen to the wind and speak to it in return, and sometimes it grants me my wishes. It’s a system of barter.”
“Bartering,” I repeated. “What does it ask of you in return?”

I’ll never forget my father’s answer, because I knew it before he said it. He began the speeder’s engine and I felt warm air rushing out to protect me from the cold.

“It asks only that we persevere,” he told me. “Through all that is to come, Siana, we have to persevere.”