Healing (The Lars' Story)
"Accept it son, your mother is dead."
The weight of his father's large hand on the boy's shoulder was not as heavy as the stark words that were intoned gently above his head. The boy stared numbly at the figure being mummified. A month earlier, his two-week old sister had died in his arms and he had wept until his head felt hollow. Now, as his mother's face disappeared under the wraps of the embalming cloth, his eyes were so dry, they smarted.
From outside came the roar of the scoop engine, the peculiar whine of high-energy repulsor-lifts against sand, and then silence.
"Your mother is dead, son. Accept it."
Pain had not so much suffused Mother Shmi son's face as it had bored through it, hollowing it out and leaving it stark with grief and anger. He had actually lifted his head, and shaken it slightly as if surprised at its sudden lightness.
Owen stared down at the scratch marks on the wooden table. He could feel his father's gaze on his neck and Beru's small hand in his elbow but inside he felt nothing, empty. It was not that he had forgotten so quickly. He doubted if any of them could ever really forget, but he had pushed the useless rage and bitterness into a rarely opened compartment in his mind and put himself to his work with a passion. Now, Anakin Skywalker's return had brought all those feelings to the fore again: the anger, the misery, the bitterness, the guilt. And he could barely stand to be in his own skin.
He pushed back from the table.
"I have work to do," he declared. Beru's hand slipped out of his elbow and she and Father watched him sadly until he left the room.
"This will be hard on him," Father said needlessly.
Beru sighed. "It will be hard on all of us, Shmi's son especially."
Father Cliegg shook his head gravely, as if he could not possibly comprehend the level of grief that Anakin Skywalker must be going through.
"There is a chance, isn't there?" Beru asked suddenly. "Father Cliegg, he's a Jedi. Wouldn't he know if his mother were dead?"
She could see hope struggle desperately against realism on Father Cliegg's face. "I don't know, Beru. I don't know."
The comfort of routine had always suited Owen. Life had taught him early that grief and anger were best channelled into productive work or they would prove self-destructive. It was a lesson he had learnt after his mother's death.
By early evening, he looked at the harvest he had collected in half a dozen vats and he felt his spirits rise with a sense of accomplishment. He was locking up the storage room when he heard footfalls behind him. Automatically his hand went to the hand blaster that he always carried around now on the farm but before he could turn, he heard his name. He let his hand fall.
Beru was walking towards him, the foreign woman in tow.
"Finished?" she asked when she was within speaking distance.
He shrugged. "For today." A month ago, the work he had just completed in a few hours would have been done leisurely in one day; but the farm had lost a lot of money since then - money spent on Father's medical treatment and additional security facilities for the property. The farm had also lost a pair of hands to the raid on the Sandpeople.
Father had been indisposed early in the crisis and Owen had been forced into making some hard decisions on his own. Those decisions would have grievous consequences in exactly two days if by then the farm had not broken even and a little more.
Owen realized suddenly that his mind had wandered off and he forced himself to pay attention to Beru.
"So, can you go now?" Beru asked again.
Owen stared in confusion.
Beru looked at him, the expectant expression on her face bellying her alarm. Owen's distractedness had started a while ago, weeks after Shmi's capture and failed rescue. Father Cliegg had noticed it as well and he explained to her that that was Owen's coping mechanism. The normally stern taskmaster had been unusually accommodating of Owen's absentmindedness - something that would have caused him a stern talking-to in the past - and for that Beru was grateful.
"Padmé needs to collect her things from their transport," Beru repeated gently. "I'm busy in the house. Could you take her there in the landspeeder?"
She knew very well that even if she were not busy, Owen would not allow two women to take off from the farmstead on their own but he let her words slide without comment.
Owen nodded his acquiescence. Beru turned to Padmé, gave her arm a comforting squeeze and left the both of them. He kept his eyes on her until she had disappeared down the steps of the hut and the red the force field indicator light flashed on. He then turned to Padmé.
"Come with me. The speeder is out back."
The ship was not far away. It was actually walking distance from the farmstead and ordinarily, Owen would not have dreamed of wasting precious fuel on such a short journey. But the sand people had grown alarmingly fearless since the failed raid. They had lost relatively far less of their numbers than the moisture farmers and they were probably aware of it. A small boy had been taken a week ago from Dorr's farm. He was the only male in the family after his father and his uncle had died on the raid. Now his mother and his two even younger sisters were all alone on the farm, doing the work of five men because they had lost their hired hands as well and were too sensible to hire unknowns in their present state of vulnerability. None of their neighbours could help; almost every farmstead had suffered losses in that raid; it was all one could do to run their own farm, much less talk of helping others.
Owen felt the same powerless anger as before.
He glanced over at the foreign woman to distract himself. What was her name, again? Padmé. Yes. His brow furrowed.
He slowed down the speeder enough so that the wind did not carry his words away. "You've been on Tatooine before?" he ventured.
She looked startled. She too must have been lost in her own thoughts.
"Yes, I have," she replied, turning her head away from the wind. "About ten years ago, in fact... When Anakin left."
"I thought so," Owen answered and fell silent.
Padmé looked at him expectantly for a while, and then she shrugged and looked away.
The ship was exactly where she had said. It was a Nubian, sleek and streamlined, gleaming in the binary sunlight. Owen stared slack-jawed at it for a few seconds. Like any other young man his age, Owen knew a great deal about various types of space transport and he knew that this vessel was no average starship.
Padmé didn't exactly smile but her erstwhile sombre face brightened marginally. "I can just go inside and get my things while you wait here," she offered.
Owen snapped his jaws closed. "No. The raiders are not called sand people for nothing. There might very well be some hiding around here, staking the ship until its owners' come." Padmé shivered slightly. He held onto the rifle as he swung out of the landspeeder. "I'll follow you."
While she rummaged the ship for her belongings, he stood guard by the hatchway; he did not so much as glance into the ship for fear that the one moment he took his eyes from the endless sand would prove fatal.
"I'm finished." She said, coming down the hatchway and activating the locking mechanism. He looked up then and caught a brief glance for a large cockpit and state of the art equipment and furnishings before the hatchway sealed itself. She was holding a small bag.
"Will that be enough?" he asked surprised. Beru had carried a great deal more when she had started spending nights at the farmstead.
"It should be," Padmé said firmly. "I can always go back for more." His face must have shown some expression because she looked alarmed. "That is… if it won't be any problem." She added hastily.
She was their guest and he had no other choice than to be civil. Otherwise perhaps Owen would have explained to her how much fuel had been used on this trip and how foolhardy it was running around even the perimeter of the farmstead after what happened to Mother Shmi. But she was their guest and his brother's … friend so instead Owen merely said: "Please take as much as you might need. We have to be on our guard against raiders so this is not a trip that we should make very often."
A look of consternation crossed her face. "Of course," she said quietly. "I'm sorry. Please give me a little longer." And she went back into the ship.
It was long hours after they had switched off the power generators. The vaporators had been shut down and aside for the low hum of the solar batteries that supported the force fields, the farmstead was quiet.
An hour ago, Beru had taken Padmé into her improvised room. Until that afternoon it had been an abandoned storage room with piles of junk and spiders as its occupants. The two women busied themselves clearing out the room. Most of the junk consisted of damaged droids and machines, long abandoned because it was cheaper to improvise than repair but they found two strong mattresses and one large, thick white muslin cloth that could serve as a screen for privacy. Threepio made himself useful by carrying the junk down to the garage outside. Beru and Padmé cleaned out the empty room and opened the windows to free the dust. Beru covered the mattresses with Shmi's special flowered blankets. By the time they were through and Threepio brought in stones from the rock garden, the humble room was beautiful.
Padmé sat on the edge of her bed. By the light of the single candlestick on the floor, she looked at the old chrono they had salvaged. It was now six hours since Anakin had driven off into the horizon. Her eyes filled with tears.
At once, Beru sat down next to her and hugged her.
"It's OK, Padmé," she said, soothingly. "He'll be back."
"This shouldn't be happening," Padmé whispered. "This should never have happened."
"No," Beru agreed softly. "But what can we do?"
Padmé didn't answer. She was lying on her side on the bed with her feet on the floor.
"Please. let nothing happen to him, oh please," she whispered - to Beru, to her deities, to herself.
The melodramatic words almost sounded incongruous in the bleak emotionless voice that said them, but the starkness of the words was more convincing than if they had been cried out with passion. Beru's chest clenched sympathetically.
She recollected her own self - during the night of the attempted rescue by the farmers, waiting for news of Shmi from Owen and Father Cliegg, just waiting for Owen and Father Cliegg to come home, then waiting for news of Owen and Father Cliegg, venturing out of the farmstead the next morning to hear the horror stories of the massacre that had taken place the night before. She recollected the crippling, paralyzing fear of not knowing whether Owen had survived or not that had consumed her, then the equally paralyzing relief at his returned that afternoon from the clinic in Anchorhead where Father Cliegg's leg had been mended.
No one and nothing could have given her comfort during those hours of waiting and grieving except Owen alive and right in front of her; and no one except Anakin could comfort Padmé now.
Beru lifted the thick shawl on the foot of the bed and gently laid it over Padmé. "Get some rest," she said - uselessly, she knew. "We'll let you know as soon as he comes back." The candle was still burning long after she left the room.
Owen was not in his room. Beru found him downstairs by the kitchen window, his pensive face illuminated by the light of the three moons.
He made room for her on the bench and she sat, resting her cheek against his shoulder. He threw his arm around her shoulder and they comforted each other wordlessly.
After long moments, Owen was the first to speak.
"I wish I was double-jointed so I could kick myself."
Beru wiggled her arm until it was around his waist and squeezed.
Owen went on: "It's just that I felt..." He tried for words. "He's her son... and he's a Jedi. If anyone could say for certain that she's still alive... it would be him."
"I think so, too." She said softly.
Owen's grip tightened around her so suddenly that she felt his fingers dig into her shoulder. "But even then - what are the chances that he could... that he can do anything? There were thirty of us, Beru. Thirty. And Anakin is just one man."
"One Jedi," she corrected.
Owen snorted. "Do you believe all that Jedi stuff they show on holovids?"
"If you didn't believe in them, you wouldn't have let him go," said Beru sensibly.
"I don't think I could have stopped him anyway." His voice dropped into a heavy whisper. "He wouldn't have been able to stop me."
Beru rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. The silence swelled easily around them.
"It's four a.m. in the morning, Owen," she finally said, reluctantly. "And you haven't slept all day."
"And have you?" he retorted.
She shrugged. "There's nothing we can do until daybreak."
Owen squeezed her again.
"What if he doesn't come back?" He asked suddenly. "I gave him the scoop ... I helped him. I could have told him much more about the Raiders. I didn't tell him enough." Beru felt the pressure behind the words and held her peace so he could finish. "And if he does come back?" his voice dropped again. It was a mere whisper now and thick with emotion. "What if she's been alive all this while and we just abandoned her, left her for the dead? What does that make us? What does that make me?"
"Blameless," Beru said, with firm gentleness. "None of us are. And you did the best you could. You checked. Twice."
"That second time we barely even got close to the camp."
Owen grimaced as the unpleasant memory was forced to surface in his mind. It was a scene from a nightmare, that afternoon, so many times worse than the night of the raid where confidence in the beginning and adrenaline until the end had made him almost insensible to the violence going on around him. The second time had been in broad daylight. Although it Marxus Jinn's idea to venture into the Tusken settlement, Owen had accompanied him gladly.
The sight of the corpses shrunken and decaying and lying in a heap at the south side of the camp had struck fear and revulsion into their hearts and they had left as silently as they had come.
"I saw bodies, Beru," Owen declared. He felt the familiar maelstrom of rage, bitterness and trepidation swell inside him. "Things are going to be... Father said we've had these fights before, but he also said that it's never been this bad. They've become bold. The tribes must have banded up or something. They were so strong that night. And we lost so many. So many."
The silence that followed was not light and comforting but thick with foreboding.
"Do you think that they'll -" Beru ventured.
"I don't doubt it," Owen said firmly. "They're biding their time, trying to understand how to get past our new security... Then -"
"No!" gasped Beru.
"Yes," Owen said firmly. "I'm sure of it. They've done it before. Raided through an entire settlement. And they'll try it here. They know, you see, that there'll be no-one to stop them."
The truth of his words was as tangible as the coldness of the night. Beru shivered and huddled further in his arms. He held unto her firmly and they remained like that until the last moon disappeared beneath the desert horizon.