Author's Notes: Thank you, KD Skywalker and Morgan, for your kind reviews! I'm sorry I've been absent for so long. I don't even have a good excuse, except that it seems like often when I try to update here I have technical difficulties and I got frustrated and gave up for a time. But your encouraging reviews inspired me to try to post the rest of the story. Hope you enjoy it!Sandstorm Part 5
The ride to Anchorhead was tense, and for the most part, silent. No one spoke much. Anakin guided the Naboo Angel across the empty desert as quickly as possible, but it was still almost an hour before the little town appeared on the horizon. Everyone was crowded into the cockpit, and as Anchorhead came into sight, they all leaned forward as if that would help speed their arrival.
As the squat, light-colored stores and homes became visible, Luke saw, with a sinking feeling in his chest, that the battle had already begun. Groups of Tusken Raiders and humans fought in the streets, laser bolts from the settlers' rifles and metallic glints from the sandpeople's gaffi sticks flying through the air. The injured and dead from both sides lay on the ground, and some were running around in aimless desperation, just trying to find a safe spot to hide.
Luke reached for his lightsaber. "Lower the ramp," he said to Anakin and rushed for the hatchway.
"Be careful!" his father called after him, even as he adjusted the Naboo ship's altitude. Owen and Beru followed their nephew, both of them hoisting the blasters they had unpacked as they had neared their hometown.
Tyee Harun gazed out the window for just an instant longer, a pained expression on his face, but then he slipped his own blaster from the holster and went after the others.
The Angel glided in a tight circle as Anakin searched for a safe spot, He couldn't let Luke and the rest out right in the middle of a fight-that would be too dangerous. They might be killed or injured before they could even land on the ground. He saw a quiet area on a side street and headed for it.
As soon as the ramp had lowered halfway, Luke jumped, using the Force to cushion his landing. He ignited his saber in mid-air and ran in the direction of battle the instant his feet touched the ground. Just as he approached the end of the narrow side street, four Tuskens came barreling around the corner.
One of them let out a high-pitched, undulating screech, whether it was intended to inspire other Tuskens or to terrify their victims Luke didn't know, and threw its gaffi stick at him. At such close range, anyone except a Jedi would have been decapitated, and even Luke nearly didn't make it out of harm's way. Only his Force-enhanced reflexes enabled him to dodge the wicked blade in time. It landed in the middle of the road, where Tyee swept it up as he ran by a few moments later.
Luke raised his lightsaber and blocked a vicious blow from another Tusken while reaching out with the Force and causing the sand underfoot to swirl up into a blinding dust cloud. He ducked away from the gritty mass and met up with his aunt and uncle who were running towards him as fast as they could.
Unlike their nephew, Owen and Beru had to wait until the Angel's ramp had completely lowered and the ship was a safe distance above ground before they could jump to the street below. But they had followed him and seen the incident with the four Tuskens. Owen raised his blaster, ready to shoot in defense of Luke, when the sand cloud rose and enveloped Luke and the Tuskens, and obscured Owen's view. He swore furiously, and raced after Beru, who hadn't even paused, but ran towards the cloud, determined to help her nephew in any way she could.
But just then Luke slipped out of the whirling sand right before them, apparently unharmed.
"This way," he said, leading the way around the dust cloud and down the main street where they could see crowds battling ahead. "And stick close to me."
"But what about those sandpeople?" Owen demanded.
"Oh, they'll be all right," Luke told him. "Their breath masks filter out most of the sand, I think. They just won't be able to see as long as I keep that cloud around them."
Owen scowled back at the obscured Tuskens hidden in the dust. "That's not what I meant. They would have killed you."
But Luke had already run ahead towards a young woman who was struggling to defend herself against two Tuskens, and there was no more time for talking. They found out later on that the battle was actually quite brief, no more than half an hour, but it was hard to judge time in the middle of the fighting.
Everything seemed a blur of nightmare images and sounds: people in bloodstained clothing, screams of pain, anger, and despair, Luke's green saber blade flashing through the air, and rifle and blaster bolts zinging past.
Owen and Beru met up with their longtime friends, Huff and Aileen Darklighter, and the four of them banded together, taking cover behind an abandoned speeder and aiming at sandpeople as they went by. Tyee fought the Tuskens hand to hand with the gaffi sticks in the middle of main street, while Luke seemed to be everywhere at once.
He briefly recognized familiar faces. Biggs' little sister, Chloe, had been the young woman he'd saved from the two Tuskens earlier, and he thought he saw Fixer chasing a Tusken Raider away from the school at one point, but there was little time to dwell on that.
Luke tried to use his skills defensively, as much as he could. He didn't want to kill the sandpeople. His duty was to save as many as lives as possible, and that included the Tuskens, but it was impossible not to shed any blood at this point. The only hope was to end the battle as quickly as possible.
As much good as Luke was able to do on the ground, it was Anakin who could really be credited with bringing the fighting to a swift conclusion. Instead of landing the Angel and joining the others, which was his first inclination, he realized he'd be more use to them from the air and kept the ship circling overhead. He tried to separate the humans and Tuskens by shooting lasers between them, and gradually the two groups began to draw apart.
As the Tuskens pulled away from the town, the settlers cheered and started to pursue them, but Anakin wouldn't allow that, either. He admitted to himself that there was a small part of him, deep inside, that would have liked to see the sandpeople destroyed, but he knew that feeling was wrong and he was ashamed of it. It was unworthy of a Jedi, and he had been so blessed, so fortunate,to have been forgiven of all his crimes and to be the recipient of his family's love. He couldn't let them down now. He had to prove himself worthy of their faith.
So when the townsfolk of Anchorhead began to surge after the Tuskens, Anakin shot lasers in front of them, a safe distance ahead so no one would be hurt, but still as an unmistakable warning for them to retreat. As they grudgingly complied, Anakin set the Angel down on the outskirts of the town and hurried down the ramp.
He was certain Luke was all right. He would have sensed it through the Force if anything had happened, but he still wanted to see with his own eyes that his son was unharmed. Fortunately, Luke was waiting for him nearby, along with the Lars, the Darklighters, and Tyee.
"I'm all right," Luke called, even before Anakin could ask. "That was a great trick with the ship, too, Father."
"It was just the quickest way I could think of to end it," Anakin replied, feeling faintly embarrassed at the praise.
"Now we need to try to talk with them," Luke continued, turning his gaze towards the group of Tuskens gathered in the distance.
"Talk with them?" Huff Darklighter said incredulously. "Luke, I think you've been away too long. The Tusken Raiders won't talk with you. They'll be too busy trying to kill you."
Inwardly, Anakin thought the man had a point, but Luke just frowned stubbornly. "It's our duty to try to negotiate with them."
"Same as ever, aren't you?" Huff shook his head with a wry grin. "No one ever could talk any sense into you."
For just a second, Anakin frowned at the other man. He didn't like anyone disparaging his son, and his protective paternal impulse was to come to Luke's defense. But then he saw how the other man smiled affectionately at his son, and how Luke grinned back at him, and he realized that it was meant fondly.
Even in the midst of a serious situation like this one, Anakin couldn't help taking a second to study the Darklighter family. They were an important part of Luke's past as well. Luke had told him more than once how Biggs had been his closest friend all the years he'd been growing up on Tatooine, how he'd been an accepted member of the Darklighter family, and that over the years he'd spent a lot of time with them. They would have a wealth of information about Luke second only to the Lars themselves.
Huff was a tall man with black hair that was now turning iron-gray, probably in his mid-forties, the same age as Owen and Anakin. He had tanned skin and dark eyes, and wore a light gray shirt and black pants and boots.
His wife Aileen was perhaps a few years younger. She had short, curly strawberry blonde hair, and light blue eyes. She was average height and weight. There was a small bloodstain on the right sleeve of her yellow dress, but she seemed perfectly composed.
Another woman, or girl perhaps-she was just at the age when she was crossing the threshold of adulthood-stood beside Aileen. She was slender and had Aileen's heart-shaped face, but her father's darker coloring . Her ash-brown hair was braided down her back, but long strands had come loose during the fighting and the wind kept whipping them across her face. Every few minutes she would impatiently push them aside, only to have them blown back almost immediately. Like her parents, she was covered in dust, but her light blue pantsuit was obviously expensive.
Anakin hoped he would have the opportunity to get to know them better, but right now he had to push that thought away and concentrate again on the task at hand.
"Well, it may not be sensible," Luke responded to Huff. "But we still have to try. Right, Father?"
"Yes, but I wish you would stay here and I'll approach the Tuskens," Anakin said. He knew Luke wouldn't agree to that, but still felt he needed to try to keep the boy safe.
Luke simply gazed at him. "You know I'm coming with you, Father. We'll be safer together."
"Luke, your father may be right this time," Beru said anxiously. No matter if her baby was legally an adult, and a Jedi at that. She still didn't want him walking into the middle of a tribe of Tuskens.
"There's no need to worry, Aunt Beru," Luke gave her a hug. "I'll be fine, and Father knows it, too." He looked over at Anakin. "He just forgets that I'm not ten years old sometimes."
Anakin tried once more, "I do know, but you should-"
Tyee spoke up. "The Tusken symbol for a truce is a piece of bloody cloth tyed on the handle of a gaffi stick. We'll approach them with that, and hopefully, they'll allow us to speak with them."
Aileen Darklighter tore the sleeve off her dress and quietly handed it to them. Tyee still had the gaffi stick he had picked up in the streets of Anchorhead. As he fastened the cloth to the handle, Luke and Anakin brushed dust from their tan tunics and pants and tried to make themselves look presentable.
"Go in my speeder," Huff offered, pointing to a red speeder nearby. "It'll get you out of there quickly, if it comes to that."
Tyee started to hand the gaffi stick to one of them, but Anakin shook his head. "No, you hold it. Luke and I may need to have quick access to our lightsabers."
Tyee nodded and shouldered the Tusken weapon. Anakin and Luke exchanged glances, straightened their shoulders, and the three of them began walking towards the Darklighters' speeder. Owen followed them.
"Uncle Owen," Luke began when he noticed Owen coming with them.
Owen gave him a fierce look. "If you're going, I'm going."
Luke sighed in frustration. He'd used almost those exact words before, to his father, and he knew how terrible it was to let someone you loved go into danger without you. But he really didn't want his uncle placing himself in danger for his sake.
He glanced at his father, but Anakin seemed to recognize the same determination to protect loved ones in Owen that was so powerful in himself. It was useless to argue with that, and they needed to make contact with the sandpeople before they either left or attacked again. And he thought they could protect Owen if things did turn bad.
"As long as he keeps his mouth shut," Anakin ordered and kept on towards the speeder.
Luke sighed and gave in. "Let's go, then."
So it was a party of four that drove out to meet with the Tusken Raiders.