Author's Note: Hello! To those of you who may have been following The Father, fear not: this does not mean I'm dropping that story. However, I'm struggling to find inspiration on that one right now, and I was viciously bitten by other plot bunnies...So, the theory is that maybe if I pay the new plot bunnies a little attention and distract myself, I'll be able to get back to the first story with refreshed creativity. The Father will still take precedence, and I make no promises regarding this story. If I finish it, it will definitely be a whole lot shorter than The Father.
"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies." Proverbs 31:10
Six years after the events of Mustafar…
The desert was quieter than usual tonight. The man was not. Rather than waiting out the darkness indoors, as had been his habit for six years now, he paced on the rocky bluffs outside, scanning the night landscape with his eyes.
When he'd first arrived in this place, every night had seemed impossibly quiet out in the desert. It was not the first time the man had found himself subsisting in wilderness, but this wilderness lacked the typical noises of indigenous life—probably because there was not much indigenous life to speak of. The wind was usually the only source of sound. Tonight, there wasn't even much of that. Of course, there weren't any clouds overhead—clouds hardly ever appeared over this most barren of deserts, and it was quite the occasion when a few drops of rain happened to waft down from the sky. The vast array of stars, armed with a thousand memories, shone sharply overhead, and the man did not leave his eyes on them or on the scattered moons for long. Yet if memory was powerful tonight, there was no motion or sound or any disturbance; the night was by all measures a supremely peaceful one.
And yet the man could not shake the dire sense of dread that haunted him. It was not the first time he'd been thus disturbed; indeed, these sensations were anything but infrequent, even since coming to this desolate place. But that was far from reassuring, for never did this uneasiness ever lack justification. Sometime later, he would inevitably learn what black event had aroused them. Sometimes the unease was fairly light, passed quickly, and he would find the corpse of some unfortunate local animal in the morning light. But other times—times like this—the unease was intense, powerful, compelling. And those times, the news was not mild. Those times he would hear of an attack on the nearby town, or a slaughtered homestead, or of a small local ship crashed in the canyons nearby.
Tonight was the strongest the sensations had been for six years. Too strong for the man to do nothing. Impatient, not knowing what he could do yet driven by his instinct to take action, the man resorted to treading a groove through the rock in front of his house. Again, he reached with his mind into the night, stretching his thoughts abroad and projecting before his mind's eye the image of a slight blond boy, who was supposed to be deep asleep but who was tinkering with the pieces of a model ship by glowlight.
Usually such images made the man smile and shake his head, perhaps whisper a soft reprimand across space and time in the secure knowledge that he would not be heard by the preoccupied little boy. Tonight they offered only temporary reassurance, which lasted a few minutes at most before his fears again arose and prompted another check. He had been checking for hours now. There had been no hints of unhappiness, no matching sensations of inexplicable dread from the little boy.
The man had finally decided to take himself indoors and cease his pointless worrying when a blazingly sudden spike of terror struck his mind, terror definitely not his own. Horrified, the man stretched out yet again—the boy was slipping out his door, his breathing coming fast and his young eyes wide, moving hesitantly up a staircase. What had prompted this sudden fright the man could not say, but suddenly a new person appeared upon his thoughts, a woman garbed in the local homespun with fear glittering in her eyes, and she took the hand of the little boy.
The man gasped, and dashed inside his house, ripping open a trunk that stood against the wall and digging through it frantically. Feverishly his fingers found what they sought, he seized it, fled the house, ran to the garage and bounded into the speeder. His dread and disbelief surged as the engine sputtered, and then screeched, spitting out sparks and tongues of flame and smoke. Sickness flooded into the pit of his stomach—of all times! There was no time for repairs—the man ran from the smoking maw of the garage and out across the open desert, robes flapping wildly behind him, heedless of what further dangers might lurk in the wild.
The run was a long one, a grueling one, but the man gave no thought to it. He raced across the uneven rocks and up and down the treacherous dunes and never broke his pace the entire way, never even paused for breath, refused to pay any attention to the burning of his muscles. Time blurred, stretched interminably, as interminable as the desert dunes…
And then he saw the flames lighting the night sky ahead, and the confirmation of his dreading spurred him forward yet more swiftly. The first fight had long ended when he swept in against the robed, howling Tusken Raiders and their moaning banthas; the second, despite the weariness of his body, was even briefer. In a few short minutes, so many less than it had taken him to arrive, he stood alone, staring around him at the corpses of Sandpeople and banthas alike, all beneath the fatal, cackling glare of the burning fires.
With a numb thought the man extinguished the blaze, and descended into the stricken remains of the homestead. A man's body sprawled against the side of the stairs, speared through by a gaderffii, his face contorted and eyes bulging. With a shaking hand, the man knelt and closed his eyes, sickened by the slow, painful death the other had clearly endured.
He continued downward, stepping through the wreckage of what had once been a tidy, well-kept home. It took some searching, but he found the woman in the kitchen, beyond the debris of the shattered door and makeshift barricade she'd hoped in for protection. Her eyes too the man closed gently.
Yet…there was no sign of the small boy. No tiny body lay crumpled near the woman, or anywhere else in the house, or outside on the plains near the vaporators. Dimly the man wondered if perhaps the child had been taken captive. If so—if so there was still a slim sliver of tortuous hope that he could reach the little one in time…Carefully the man reached out with his mind for the first time since running from his house.
A frightened young mind instantly met his, surrounded by blackness and tears---but the man breathed an immediate sigh, for he was receiving no sensations of pain. The young one at least seemed to be unharmed. Neither did the bond between them suffer any fluctuation, any increase of vagueness—no, the images and emotions coming to him were actually stronger than was normal, clearer. The boy wasn't on the move, hadn't been captured—they must have hidden him!
The man spun around in the wreckage of the kitchen, searching as much with his mind as he dared, and shouting the little one's name. Very quickly his ears discerned a soft but furious pounding, coming from beneath the woman's body. The man dashed down and rolled the corpse aside, set his hands on the floor beneath. He could feel the pounding in his fingertips, could faintly hear a small voice crying back to him, but there was only the tiled floor, he couldn't find the outline of a trapdoor, couldn't see any kind of control—
A large square section of tile gave a futile surge upward, suddenly. There was a trapdoor, and the boy was trying to push it up, but his weight had been on it, and the woman's before that. The man stepped back and waited a moment until the section of flooring lurched upward again. Quickly he snatched the edge of the panel with his fingers and flipped the hidden trapdoor backward, and only just let go of it in time to catch the boy as he fled out of the cellar and flung himself onto his rescuer.
They stayed sitting in the burnt-out carnage of the kitchen, the man holding the boy closely and trying to soothe his trembling and sobs. He tucked his brown robe around the child to keep him from seeing the young woman's body; but the boy didn't need to see to know what had happened while he had been hidden away in the cellar.
Several hours later…
Smoke was again rising over the small homestead, in unison with the first sun; this time the smoke of a funeral pyre, roughly put together from the wreckage of the homestead. The man stood quietly some distance away, his arm wrapped around the shoulders of the small boy, who was huddled silently underneath a blanket. The child's tears had been spent for the time being. As for the man, his thoughts had flown back across the years and the lightyears to another funeral pyre, another blonde, blue-eyed boy…and another young dark-haired woman.
Especially to that other dark-haired woman.
Presently the man tightened his grip and looked down at the tear-streaked face of his young friend. "Let's go, little one," he said gently. The boy's sorrowful blue eyes flitted up, then back to the funeral pyre. Hesitantly, with many a long glance backward, he followed the man away from the destroyed homestead, on the long trek back across the desert.