Raiding the Raiders (The Farmers' Story)
author's note: This is part of my 'Tatooine Incident' stories, and is actually the repost of an older story of the same name. I had written Raiding the Raiders long before I read R. A. Salvatore's novelization of 'Attack of the Clones'. The sequence of events narrated here will vary greatly from that of the novel. Despite the fact that this is technically an 'AU' story, I hope you will still be able to enjoy it.
Thirty of us went looking for her.
Four of us came back.
There had always been occasional scuffles over the years between the two communities: a couple of years back when the Sand People tried to stop a new family from settling at the fringes of the existing community of moisture farmers; and of course, the periodic offensives that were always demanded from the farmers whenever the Raiders attacked wayfarers. But the last time moisture farmers had prepared for an all-out raid was so far back that most men Cliegg's age had only vague memories of sitting up late at home with their mothers, waiting for their fathers and older brothers to come home. Clegg Lars returned to his family but he was one of the few who did. The raid was a success: The Sand people had been driven to the outskirts of the Dune Sea and forced to inch their way inland ever since. But a high price had been paid for that victory. But it was one that the farmers paid willingly. They would forever be willing pay the price of their freedom with their own blood before succumbing to living at the mercy of the Tuskens: succumb to literally sacrificing their women and children to appease the Sandpeople.
Tonight, they were getting ready to pay again.
For me, thought Cliegg. For my failure., thought Cliegg.
He shook his head suddenly as if he could shake out the thought. It was futile and melodramatic and irritated him to no end. There was no failure. Shmi was still alive - she had to be - and he would find her. Tonight.
Cliegg Lars sat in the farmstead land speeder, in the middle of a line of assorted vehicles that formed an ominous strip against the white desert sand. Every homestead was represented in the turn-out this night. The older ones waited in the transports, grim lines of determined awareness etched in their faces. The younger men, Owen's mates and older, stood in small groups, young bodies and low voices tense with outraged excitement.
Their attitude worried some of the older men. A family had been attacked some months back on the way across the Dune Sea. They had defended themselves and escaped but not before a boy had been badly injured and he died a few weeks later. His mates had been all but ready to storm the nearest Tusken village and, in their words, "wipe them out once and for all". It was only the intervention of Col Darklighter himself, that had finally instilled reason into their minds.
They could have prevented this... And we should have let them...
Cliegg's brooding thoughts were interrupted by the sight of a dusky, tow-headed man pulling himself out of his speeder. Col Darklighter moved into the view of all the assembly and the soft murmur of by-conversations petered and stopped.
When he spoke, it was with the confident brusqueness that made the man their natural leader.
"Okay, people. Let's go get Shmi."
As one, the farmers got out of their vehicles. Most of them were already strapped with weapons and they gripped the assortment of rifle blasters, shooters and archery closer to their bodies.
Cliegg checked his own artillery and re-tied the flapping sleeves of his outer tunic. Then, before he could persuade himself not to, he walked over to where Owen stood with his friends, Marxus Jin and Sholh Dorr.
"You boys stay put, okay?" he said gruffly, looking at each of them sternly.
Marxus and Sholh nodded smartly. "Yes, sir."
Owen folded his arms around his stomach and gave his father a blank look. Earlier on in the day, when the men had assembled together to plan their strategy, Owen and the other two boys were assigned the job of staying behind and watching all the transports. Owen had a general reputation for being a docile, hard-working boy and his spates of rebelliousness were always startling. The other farmers had been startled today. Cliegg, already short on nerves over Shmi, was infuriated. The two men had had one of their rarer and characteristically ugly confrontations. And in the absence of the mediating presence of Shmi or Beru, no reconciliation had been reached as of yet.
Owen's silence did not go unnoticed. Cliegg felt pinpricks of irritation accumulating against the back of his neck. He had not come here for a fight but he would be damned if he was expected to apologise to his own son.
"Okay?" Cliegg repeated loudly.
"Yes, sir," snapped Owen finally.
Cliegg's temper flared at once. "You mind your tone of voice, boy."
Owen glared at him in apology.
"Is there a problem over here?" Col Darklighter could spot trouble faster than a krayt dragon could fly and he was between the Lars in a flash. "Cliegg Lars, what do you think you're doing? We're all set to go."
The other men were gathering nearer. Nathan Kendall placed a hand on Cliegg's shoulder.
"Cliegg, we're wasting time," he said gently. "Come on."
Cliegg shrugged the hand off and gave Owen one last hard stare. The boy returned it wholeheartedly. Then Cliegg turned on his heel and walked off. After a while, he could hear the other men follow.
Cliegg cursed himself all the way, unable to remove the image of Shmi's disappointed face from his mind, unable to stop thinking that in the likely event he did not come back, his last words to his only son would have been in anger.
The Sand people camped in a stretch of land at the East of the Dune Sea. The land lay in the shadow of a steep crag and was bounded by a crude semicircle of boulders. It was a well-chosen, geographically protected enclosure.
The farmers had scouted out the Tuskens' village during the day and they abandoned their transport ten metres from the camp before they made their way across the sand on foot. To do otherwise would have been folly. In the windy night, every sound was magnified and echoed for metres across the sand. The farmers moved stealthily under the sound cover of the far off cries of krayt dragons and other desert scavengers. Cliegg steadfastly resisted the persistent urge to look over his shoulder. Owen and the boys were as capable as anything. They would be fine.
They were close now enough to the settlement to make out the individual lights of each rounded hut. There were a lot of lights. Cliegg had never been this close to a Tusken camp but his inexperienced eyes realized all the same that the number of huts was unusually large. He glanced at the face of the man walking nearest to him and saw his own apprehension mirrored on there.
There were two Raiders patrolling the settlement; the farmers shifted their path until they were blocked from view by the nearest boulder. They had borrowed a trick from their enemies and they moved in two single files.
When they reached the boulder, they stopped at Col's hand. He turned to face them; Nathan and another man drew nearer to him. All the men as one bent to a crouch and looked at each other. In the moonlight, their faces glowed strangely with a pale and lifeless sheen. Cliegg shivered and channelled his thoughts on the reality of getting his wife back.
Col nodded to the rest of the group. "We all know what to do. You guys stay put and Nat, Jin and I will see what we can find. Unless I give the signal, nobody here moves, you got that?" His eyes shifted to Cliegg and rested there.
Cliegg was not part of the scouting team for the same reason that Owen had been left behind to watch the transports but that Col unnecessarily singled him out grated.
Cliegg nodded curtly.
The three men stood up, turned their backs on the rest of the group and moved to the edge of the boulder. There was a pause while they waited for the patrol closest to them to complete his forward motion and turn his back to them. Then they were moving swiftly, running to hide behind the next boulder, and then behind another one, all the while, going further in and then further in, until they disappeared completely from sight.