Kenya StarflightRated K+ (PG) for violence and language
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Star Wars.
NOTE: I can't find as much information on the Tusken Raiders as I would like, so for the most part I'm making up their culture and daily life. I'll try to remain true to the movies and the Visual Dictionaries, which I see as "canon" sources, but as for the rest I'll rely on imagination.
A few months ago I held a story contest on my blog, and one prize was being written into a story as a side character. So Wednesday42, who placed second in the contest, will be written into this story as Wind-Dancer.Chapter I -- Child Lost, Child Gained
The twin suns of Tatooine glared down upon the parched earth and scattered, weatherworn buildings like a pair of fierce white eyes, their stare hard and unblinking. Moisture and color seemed to shrink back and flee under their scrutiny, and the beings of this planet, native and immigrant alike, avoided the gaze of the suns as much as possible. It was as if those eyes belonged to a harsh deity, and if the god observed an action or dealing that displeased him, he would arrange for the perpetrator to die under his unflinching, fiery stare.
But even gods must have to sleep, for tonight the white-hot eyes had faded to crimson as if half-lidded in sleep. Shadows lengthened, the air seemed to relax and release its heat, and beasts and sentients finally dared wander freely now that the gaze of the suns had turned away.
It was under the weary gaze of the suns that a lone swoop bike shrieked across the desert, throttle open all the way, a dozen pursuers howling after it with grim determination.
Obi-wan Kenobi glanced over his shoulder at his pursuers. Hutt-hired bikers, he theorized. Imperials would be firing on him by now. The bikers wanted him alive – the local slug obviously didn't pay well for corpses. And with a fantastically high reward posted on the head of every renegade Jedi… of course the Hutts wouldn't be at all averse to dealing with the Empire if it meant cold hard credits.
His hand unconsciously drifted to the armored capsule behind him, strapped firmly to the bike. Thank the Force they wanted him alive. If they shot, they would most likely hit the capsule…
Which could spell the doom of the precious life within – and any hope of saving the galaxy.
He leaned hard to the left to dart through a natural archway. A metallic crash told him that at least one of his pursuers hadn't been so lucky navigating the landmark. Emboldened, he continued to weave through the wind-hewn sandstone pillars with the ease of an accomplished podracer. It was by no means difficult – no worse than traveling through Corusant rush-hour traffic, really…
The Force screamed a warning. He turned to his left to face a burly human man, who had caught up with him while he'd been lost in thought. They roared on side by side, engines at full power in an attempt to pull ahead and cut the other off.
The biker heaved his bulk and the bulk of his bike to the side, ramming Obi-wan. Obi-wan flinched but kept his course steady. Again the biker slammed into him, and this time he retaliated, backing his returning ram with a thrust of the Force. His opponent's bike flipped, tossing its rider into the dirt and cartwheeling away. The biker scrambled to his feet and shrieked curses at the Jedi's rapidly receding back.
Obi-wan brushed young Luke's mind with the Force to ensure his safety. He needn't have worried – the baby was still asleep. The capsule was specially designed for transporting infants; with the help of straps, plenty of padding, and a gentle magnetic field, it kept the encased child safe and protected in case of an accident. If the capsule fell down a mountain, Luke probably wouldn't awaken… not that Obi-wan wanted to test the theory.
He turned again to check out the rest of the pack – down to nine now. He would have to throw the others off his trail somehow before resuming his journey to Anchorhead. The last thing he needed was for a swoop-bike gang to descend upon Owen and Beru Lars' household and threatening the safety of young Luke…
A churning column of blue energy slammed into his bike, and all systems went instantly dead. Sithspawn! Of course it would be his luck that one of them would have an ion cannon!
The swoop bike dropped like a rock, its heavy back end plowing into the gritty sands first. Obi-wan jumped clear, at the same time shoving Luke's capsule free of the bike with the Force before the rolling bike could crush it. He hit the sands himself, rolling to his feet almost instantly, his lightsaber ignited.
"We got 'im!" hooted the biker's leader, and the gang swooped in to bag their prey.
The Force stabbed into his senses, and he whirled.Damnable Sith! Just my luck!
The chase had led, of all places, to Beggar's Canyon – and the capsule had rolled to the very brink of the chasm. It hung there now, slightly crooked, vulnerable to the slightest touch…
Grimly he did the only thing he could think to do – he turned to his swoop bike and plunged his saber into the chassis, the searing blade cutting into the power coils.
The resulting explosion killed all but two of the oncoming bikers instantly, and the other two would succumb to their wounds within hours. By all accounts, the blast should have vaporized Obi-wan as well… but it hadn't.
For Obi-wan wasn't one to foolishly stick around when the situation became too hot to handle. While the power coils had still been in the process of detonating, he had flung himself clear and thrown himself after the teetering capsule. It wavered slightly… he extended his arms…
Too late. It vanished over the edge, and with a frustrated scream Obi-wan plunged after it.
Luckily, neither capsule nor Jedi had far to go. The capsule ricocheted off the cliff face a few times before rolling to a stop on the canyon floor. Obi-wan, meanwhile, landed in a graceless heap behind a scrabble of boulders, some ten meters from his charge.
Through the metal shell and padding he could hear a baby's screams. He brushed the infant's mind, sure he would find terror there. No, Luke wasn't frightened, just upset that he had woken up hungry and no one had been right there to feed him. He had missed the drama of the situation entirely.
Obi-wan heaved a sigh of relief… and of deep regret. This child had been Anakin's crippling secret, the terrible fear he could not divulge to even his Jedi Master for fear of expulsion from the Order. This had been his reason for turning to the Emperor for help, his reason for becoming… a monster. A Sith. All that he had once fought against.
And yet this child was the last hope of the Jedi Order. For he was just as strong in the Force as his father – and could very well be the savior of the galaxy if trained…
Voices and footsteps drifted his way. Someone was coming down the canyon. His hand moved to the grip of his saber, and every muscle in his body tensed as he prepared to defend Luke…
He froze, bewildered. Wait for what?
Wait, the Force seemed to murmur again. Wait and see what they will do.
Puzzled, he remained where he was as the interlopers rounded the corner, even though the sight of them made his palms sweat around his saber's hilt.
Perhaps THIS was the canyon, Wind-Dancer thought, scrambling atop a heap of rubble from a long-ago rockslide. Her boots slid in the loose rock, but she bravely kept her balance as she scrambled to the very top. Easing herself to her feet, she flung her head back and gave a shout of triumph that was a high-pitched imitation of the one the warriors made when coming back from a successful kill.
"Get down from there, Cubling!" ordered Father.
She grimaced beneath her face wrap but jumped down anyhow. How she hated her child-name! But her parents insisted on calling her by it, even when she pleaded for them to call her Wind-Dancer. Only nine more summers, she consoled herself, until her Adulthood Ceremony when she could shed her child-name and finally go by the adult-name she had chosen.
"Father, is this the canyon?"
"Quiet, child," he admonished. "Sound carries far here."
"But is this the canyon where the Sky-Father split open the Earth-Mother so she could give birth to the suns and moons?"
Her father shook his head. "Not even the Sons of the Suns know that, Cubling."
"Wind-Dancer," she retorted, bending down to pick up an interesting rock.
"Not until you have eighteen summers," Father reminded her.
She huffed in exasperation, but a bright yellow rock lizard scuttled into view at that moment, and she forgot her annoyance in merry giggling pursuit of the reptile. When she had finally snared the creature, clenching it firmly in her hand to prevent its escape, she turned around to cry her triumph to Father. But he was busy talking to Mother… well, holding her was more like it. Holding her and talking softly to her as she buried her face wrap in his shoulder.
Wind-Dancer sat down on a rock to wait for her parents to catch up, opening her hand to examine her catch. But in her zeal she had clasped the little lizard too tightly, and it now hung limply over her gloved fingers. With one finger she prodded the yellow body, but it didn't even twitch. It was dead.
Just like the baby, she thought, and she suddenly wanted to cry again. She had been so excited when the tribe's healer had announced it was Mother's time to go into the desert and bear her child – she would finally have a little brother or sister! And when the Daughter of the Moon who would help Mother and the healer bring the baby into the world had taken Wind-Dancer aside and specifically requested that she be a guide and guardian to her younger sibling, she had been thrilled that one of the tribe's holy women had chosen her for such a task. One wasn't given the task of guardian lightly!
But then Father had chased her from the tent… and hours later, the Daughter of the Moon had taken a little wrapped bundle away from the tent and buried it. And Father and Mother had explained to a bewildered, disappointed Wind-Dancer that there would be no baby… and no need for her to play the role of guardian.
She tasted salt tears on her lips, and she wondered how long she'd been crying. For a moment she considered flinging the dead lizard away, but instead she carried it to the rock pile and buried it in the loose stones. It was only right.
The rest of the party rounded the bend in the canyon – the healer, the Daughter of the Moon, the two warriors who had accompanied them to provide protection, and the six banthas that had carried their gear. Wind-Dancer wouldn't receive a bantha until her next birth-day, but she had always had a friendly rapport with all the bantha cubs in the tribe, so she didn't really have a preference for which one she was given…
A shrill cry filled the canyon.
"Cubling!" shouted Father.
"Wasn't me," she insisted.
The warriors lowered their gaderffis and ran forward to ascertain the threat. Father scooped Wind-Dancer up before she could run after them.
"I wanna see!"
"This is a warrior's work, little one," Mother told her, her voice slow and sad. Wind-Dancer knew she was still hurting over the baby and didn't want to lose another, but it wasn't as if she didn't know how to take care of herself…
The Daughter of the Moon cursed softly and ran after the warriors, who were poking and kicking a strange shiny rock on the canyon floor. Was it Wind-Dancer's imagination, or… was that rock actually screaming?
"Leave off, fools!" the holy woman barked. "That's an outsider artifact! You don't know what it does!"
The warriors backed away warily. Wind-Dancer felt a chill spread through her nerves. Outsider artifacts were wonderful, terrible things – and you never quite knew what one would do if you found it. If you were lucky, it would dispense water or food, or provide light for your journey. But if you were unlucky, you might find yourself looking down at a stump that used to be your arm, or you might be reduced to ashes.
The artifact continued to wail, a strange high sobbing sound, but otherwise it did nothing. It was shaped like a lizard's head and metallic white in color, with a funny crack running the long way around it. Small slits had been cut in neat rows on the top as if to let in air, and at the very tip of the end facing them was a square of gray with smaller green and red squares set into it – "buttons," she thought they were called. That chilled her even more, for buttons were what made these artifacts work such miracles and madness…
The Daughter of the Moon bent down and touched a green square.
"No!" shrieked Wind-Dancer.
The holy woman laughed gently. "Don't worry, little fledgling," she assured her. "Among outsiders, green means safety and red means danger." She pushed on the green button.
Wind-Dancer braced for something horrible, but the artifact only popped open like a hatching egg. The Daughter of the Moon carefully lifted the top half and peered inside… then laughed again.
"Moon-Blossom, you must see this."
Hesitantly, her fingers twisted in her robes, Mother edged toward the artifact. The holy woman nodded encouragingly and gestured inside, and Mother bent low to see for herself. What she saw made her gasp in surprise.
"What is it? What is it?" Wind-Dancer was hysterical with curiosity.
"Stop thrashing!" Father demanded, putting her down. "Stay behind your mother!"
"Have no fear, Red-Dragon," the holy woman advised Father. "There is no danger here."
Wind-Dancer was past fear now – only burning inquisitiveness remained. She pushed the top half up higher, letting orange sunlight fall upon the artifact's contents.
It was a baby… or something that looked like one, anyway. The only babies she'd seen were wrapped up, but then, they didn't come into the world that way, did they? This child was wearing only a bottom-wrap and a tunic, both white – and it was screaming at the top of its tiny lungs.
"Father, it's a baby!" she shouted.
"A what?" He joined Mother in staring at the infant. "Outsider!"
"Stands to reason, doesn't it?" growled a warrior. "Outsider artifact, outsider baby."
The healer muscled her way past the gawkers – she was never one to be shoved out of the way of her duties – and gave the baby a swift but thorough examination. "Boy child," she observed. "No older than a week, most likely younger. And it most definitely needs this changed." She pointed to the bottom-wrap, which Wind-Dancer noticed had taken on a rank odor.
"What's an outsider child doing alone out here?" wondered Mother.
"Outsiders are barbarians, remember," Father said sourly. "Like massifs and krayt dragons, they must abandon the weaker offspring to concentrate on the stronger."
The Daughter of the Moon cocked her head at him as if amused. "So quick to judge, are you?"
Father's head jerked up in surprise. "You sound as if you're defending the outsiders…"
"Not at all," she assured him. "But the term 'barbarian' is subjective, remember."
"A barbarian is a barbarian…" began Father. "Wind-Dancer, don't touch it!"
She jerked her hand back. "Can we keep him, Father?"
Father made a shocked noise. "Keep it? An outsider? A barbarian?"
"A child," Mother corrected, and she bent down and collected the crying infant in her arms. "A defenseless baby."
Father turned to Mother. "Moon-Blossom, it will never replace the son we lost…"
She bundled the baby closely. "Maybe the spirits of the desert are at work here, Red-Dragon," she replied softly. "Maybe they took our child early because they knew this child would need our care. Or maybe they provided this child in repayment of our lost son. Would you really risk the wrath of the spirits by rejecting this child that so clearly needs us?"
Father looked about to protest, but instead he placed an arm around Mother's shoulders, holding both her and the squalling baby close.
The healer turned to the warriors. "One of you ride back to the main camp. Tell the tribe we'll be an extra day. And hurry!"
"And one more thing," the Daughter of the Moon admonished sternly. "No word of this reaches the rest of the tribe. Moon-Blossom gave birth to a son. That is all they need to know."
The warriors nodded, and one mounted his bantha and urged it away.
"I'll have a baby brother?" asked Wind-Dancer, bright hope burning in her breast.
The holy woman nodded. "It will be no easy task being this child's guardian, little fledgling," she warned. "Already I sense something very special about him. After all, he is no ordinary child."
Wind-Dancer nodded so solemnly that the Daughter of the Moon chuckled at the sight.
"You will do just fine, little fledgling," she replied. "Just fine."
"Come, Cubling," Mother told her daughter softly. "We must get your brother back to camp."
And she made a final fold to the blanket, covering the child's face… as it would remain for years to come.