ACROSS THE STARS
Chapter Thirteen

Late the next day, Welzin Saramar, a Parni priest that Cleon Bukater had known since childhood, arrived at the estate to conduct the Senator's memorial service. He was accompanied by Dola, a Nem holy woman from Az who had advised Cleon during the civil war. Both had admired the Senator, Saramar from the years he had spent watching a boy grow into a fine young man and Dola from helping in his efforts to end the civil war and stop the hatred and violence that had caused it and threatened to flare up again in the aftermath of the war.

Saramar was quite elderly now, and the long trip from Telsni to the Bukater estate was difficult for him, but the thought of refusing the request of Cleon's widow to perform the traditional private memorial service had never occurred to him. When Dola had heard the news, she had insisted upon accompanying him.

They had originally planned to accompany the Bukaters to their wilderness home, but Saramar's health was frail enough that he and Dola had decided to take an extra day to reach the estate. They had taken a later transport from Telsni and had stayed the night in Az before proceeding.

When they reached the estate, driven by a Nem youth from Az, Maira and Jack greeted them at the gate, checking to be sure they really were the Arcadian clergy whom Ruth had informed them would be coming. The Nem youth was also checked before being allowed through the gate by the two Jedi, who were now disguised as guards for the estate.

/Do you know them, Master?/ Jack inquired through their bond.

Maira answered, a bit hesitantly. /I met Dola a couple of times when accompanying Lati here—they are of the same clan. As to Welzin Saramar, I know of him—I understand that he was a close friend of Cleon Bukater. I have never met their driver before, but I don't sense a threat from him./

/Nor do I, but Master—are you sure you haven't actually met the priest before? He seems to know you./ Jack glanced from Maira to the elderly man, who had greeted her with a smile, a twinkle of recognition in his eyes.

/Perhaps I have, Padawan. I've met many people over the years, more than I can remember./

Jack gave her a doubtful look, but kept further questions to himself, knowing that there were more important matters at hand.

"I will inform the Bukaters that you have arrived," Maira told the visitors. "They have been waiting anxiously for your arrival." Unsure of how much the young driver understood, she gestured to him, "You are welcome to stay for now. It will soon be sunset, and the woods are dangerous at night."

The boy's eyes widened. He wasn't used to meeting Parni—at least, that was what he thought Maira was, though something about her made him unsure—who understood and used the Nem sign language so well.

"My thanks," he gestured in response. "I will return to Az in the morning."

Maira nodded, turning to her Padawan. "Jack, please escort them to the kitchen. They've had a long trip and I'm sure they're hungry. I will inform the Bukaters of their arrival."

*****

After the evening meal, Saramar and Dola escorted the Bukaters and their servants to the small shrine in the center of the house for the memorial service. Ruth and Rosé had made the arrangements for the service earlier in the day, placing a holo of Cleon Bukater on the altar, along with the urn of ashes and the traditional candles, seven in all.

There was nowhere to sit in the shrine unless one wished to sit on the floor—ceremonies were conducted standing or kneeling, though a person who was not physically able to stand could bring a chair without repercussions.

Much to Ruth's dismay, Rosé had insisted upon bringing Buguiness to the service, and any attempts to remove the animal had resulted in tears from Rosé and angry snarls from the caline, who had been clinging to her since she had let him in late the night before.

Rosé was embarrassed by her own lack of control over her emotions. She had kept them under tight control, for the most part, on Coruscant and during the journey to Arcadia, but since she had been reunited with her pet, her emotions had been spilling over. The more distressed Buguiness became, the more upset his mistress became, their emotions feeding off of one another.

Maira thought she understood, suspecting that the girl had formed a bond with her pet that allowed their emotions to be transferred back and forth. She had noticed the same thing many times with her Padawans—if she or her Padawan felt strongly about something, it would spill over the bond. Rosé seemed to have a similar bond with the caline, but unlike the Jedi, she had never been trained to handle it.

Maira wanted to talk to Rosé about it, but there had been no time that day—she and Jack had spent the most of it exploring the estate and the surrounding forest, looking for possible threats. It was a large area to cover, so by the time they were finished, Ruth and Rosé were already in the shrine setting things up for the memorial service, so there had been no time to talk.

Now, Ruth, Rosé, and Buguiness stood at the front of the assembled group, listening as Welzin Saramar spoke of Cleon Bukater, speaking of his life and his accomplishments. He had already performed a public memorial service for the Senator when his death had been announced, trying to comfort the grieving people. Cleon Bukater had been well-liked in most quarters.

Dola, too, had much to say about the deceased Senator, though she was unable to speak the words. Instead, she used the most formal, eloquent of gestures from the Nem sign language, her speech appearing almost like a dance. Even those who did not understand her gestures were moved by her expressive motions.

Rosé stood silently between her mother and her pet, reaching occasionally to wipe her eyes but otherwise making no gesture or sound. Her mind went over all the years with her father, all the good times she had spent with him—accompanying him on Senatorial business, walking with him on the wilderness estate, her joy when, after much pleading, he had allowed her to raise the orphaned caline she had found in the woods. In spite of her silence, her grief was so strong that she didn't know how she could bear it, especially when Buguiness gave her a look of infinite sadness and tried to wrap himself around her protectively.

At the end of the memorial service, Dola and several Nem servants gathered together and played the traditional drums and flutes used in Nem ceremonies. Though Cleon had been a Parni, he had been loved and respected by both peoples.