The Silent Maiden

Chapter 1

She saw him for the first time when she was buying groceries. He was doing his best to stay unnoticed and she could not help but notice this. He did not try to talk to her and she, of course, did not speak to him. They were each alone in the middle of a swarm of customers, most of them anxiously spending because they were not sure how much the currency would be worth come a few months. The Mandalorians have lost the war, due to her contributions, but the fighting had not stopped and last stands were proving as costly as any other battle. She listened to the holonews reporter articulate the progress in a voice forced into calmness. The cashier droid called out in hollow tones for the line to move forward and she paid for her purchases in silence, as always.

The next time she saw him was two nights later, when she handed a bag of sandwiches she made to a beggar child while keeping her credits close so the boy would not pickpocket her. Without the Force, it had been hard to know when to move and what to do; she had relied on it so thoroughly for most of her life, but in a way it was a bit freeing, to open the rest of her senses and hone them. This was to be who she was, after all, and if there was nothing else she could take from her training, she could at least fall back on the philosophy that there was no use denying what she was. Three years was enough time for her to get use to living without it, and now she could hardly remember what the Force even felt like anymore.

It felt good to be normal, but in a way it was disappointing. She had heard talks, from the soldiers under her command: fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins coming for the holidays, special occasions, birthdays, sentimental gifts and deep friendships, and imagined that this was what normal people had. Perhaps she was not truly normal, but away from the Order she found herself more alone than she had been as a Jedi. At least back then, she had Revan, Malak, Mical, Kavar, and the entire Order had been her family, a place she belonged in, people she admired and respected and understood. Now she was all alone in the entire galaxy, nameless, wordless, with nothing to say and nothing to give except a few sandwiches here, a few credits there, a service or two in exchanged for some living fees, an arm to defend against brutes.

"I don't know what you think you're doing," He said to her, "But it's not going to work."

She looked at him, hoping he would say more, because she could not ask him to elaborate.

"This," He gestured at her empty bag, "You think you're making a difference. You aren't. Galaxy's too big for you, babe." He seemed to be chewing on gum, and as he spoke he emitted a small pop from his mouth. "Far too corrupt for some sweetcheeks like you to fix. You're best off staying at home when it's this late, like a good girl."

She was nineteen years old, but he did not look much older. There was no use calling him out though—she could not even if she wanted to, so instead she opted to ignore him, folding up the now-empty bag between her two hands and discreetly checking her pocket to make sure the ragamuffin did not steal her credits. He let her go without another word.

The following day she accepted a mission to deliver a package. People liked to give her missions because they knew she could not talk. She had her ways of checking the morality of her quests, though—people always talk more around silent types, and rarely suspect them of sabotage. This was one of them. It was some bomb parts, and she stole a vital component before resealing the package expertly. She left the receiver briskly and disposed of the component in an alley, where she saw him again.

"Huh," He noted, looking noticeably hung-over, "You look familiar."

He honestly looked ghastly in the daylight, unlike his almost menacing figure at night, starved and sick and tired with black around his eyes and bits of vomit in his hair. Any other woman would have fled, because he looked like a manic rapist.

She was not so practical.

He gripped her with sweaty palms to ground himself, and she let him, standing still like an anchor as he recovered his bearings.

"Son of a schutta," He muttered, "Someone chop off my head, please."

Back in the days when she still had the Force, she would have used it to soothe him a little, at least enough so that he could get home by himself. She had no such option now. She could not just leave him here though, so she looped one of his arms around her to support him and guided him out of the alley. He groaned when daylight struck his eyes as they cleared a building and headed out into the open. A few people passed by, but no one paid them any attention. Such was the cruel world of a city's ghetto.

"Agh!" He moaned, "Krething sun!"

She tolerated his cursing and swearing in silence as she helped make their way to the hospital. By now, the receptionists were use to seeing her bring in strays, so they looked at him with resigned annoyance and sent her on her way. He had his eyes closed at this point, squeezed shut to block out lights, and did not see her leave.

That night, she passed by the cantina, distributing more sandwiches and water, and he melted out of the shadows like a wraith.

"Hey," He called.

She looked at him from under her hood. It was raining lightly, and the air felt chilled. She had started sniffling an hour ago but wanted to at least empty the bag before heading back. However she was suffering, she knew the homeless were suffering even more.

"Um," He looked awkwardly at her, "I think you're the one that brought me to the hospital? Nice trick, could have done without the medics, but—ah, that wasn't…really what I called you out for. I'm kind of messing this up; thanks. Is all I'm saying." He stared at her uncomfortably.

She ducked her head in acknowledgment and moved to pass by him, but he suddenly blocked her way.

"Say, you could say 'your welcome' or even 'leave me alone', you know. No need to act like I'm not there." He sounded faintly annoyed.

Like so many times before, she wished she had not lost her voice. She stared helplessly at him and after a moment, gestured a 'your welcome' with her free hand.

He blinked uncomprehendingly for a while. "You're not much of a talker, are you?"

She smiled hesitantly, ducking her head again in contrition, before moving again past him. He moved to block her again.

"You're that Silent Maiden aren't you?" There was an odd gleam in his eyes. She sniffled and guiltily thought to herself that she really did not want to accept any more quests tonight. "They say you can't talk! I didn't know you…were you…" He scratched at his wet hair.

She watched him quietly, wondering if there was anything else he needed from her. A drunkard like him could not possibly have important business, could he? Of course he could. She resigned herself to another long night.

"Do you pass out sandwiches every night?" He asked, seeming genuinely curious.

She shifted the bag closer to her.

"Hey, I'm not going to steal from you. Sheesh."

That was not why she shifted the bag, but she let him think what he would, as she allowed so many over the years to think what they would of her. It did not matter anyway. Something about this man was starting to rattle her; his gaze was far too piercing, penetrating. He recognized her, and that was always reason to pack up and leave. She looked away, making plans in her head to move from her shelter tomorrow. It was time to switch neighborhoods, perhaps even cities or planets.

"What do you say I buy you a drink?" He then flashed a smirk that looked far too comfortable on his face to be an accident, "Owe you at least that much for good intentions, anyway."

After this morning, the man still wanted to drink? She took a step back.

"Oh come, don't do that," And he pressed up to her, crowding in her space, "I'm trying to be a nice guy here. You can't monopolize all the good deeds now, can you? That's very ungracious."

Hard words, from a man who looked more like a foolish scoundrel at first glance. She was feeling intimidated now. She had not intended to start any sort of fight, and while she could probably take him, without the Force it was much harder; he was tall and strong and obviously no stranger to force and violence, even if it looked like he had not eaten proper meals for a while. She had not eaten too many proper meals herself, and the rain was making her feel a little unwell. She gave him a pleading glance.

"Just one?" He held up a finger, still smiling cockily, "Promise I won't bite. Unless you want me to. Most women do, once they get to know me." His grin was smarmy. "I think your pals could wait on those," He gestured at her bag.

She found herself looking around despite knowing that it was no use; no one helped anyone else in this ghetto, which was probably why she attracted this man's attention. The man reached out and laid a large hand on her shoulder, almost crushing in its finality. "One drink. Come on. And maybe some pazaak. You know pazaak?"

She twisted from his hand, and his eyes took on a dangerous glint.

"Come on," His voice got a little hard, "Am I not good enough for ya?"

No, but he was scaring her, and she wanted to say so, but the words were locked in her throat, as they had been for the past three years.

"Just a drink," He promised, and the way he said it implied that it was not just a drink. She willed herself not to reach for her blaster. "My treat. You can't refuse free drinks, babe." He rested that large hand on her shoulder again and this time she knew better than to twist away.

They went to the cantina, where the stifling warmth served to somehow make her sniffling worse. There was loud music and the lights were dim, the smell of alcohol thick in the air. He ordered two drinks from the bartender as he guided her to one of the stools.

"Back for more rounds, Rand?" The bartender slammed several shot glasses on his bench. "Who's this pretty lady you've got there?"

She kept her eyes lowered, unable to raise them. Her fingers tightened around the strap of the bag and her heart felt like it was racing. She really did not want a drink.

"My date for tonight," Rand winked at the bartender.

"Haha," The bartender sounded less amused than his enunciation, "Say, maybe you want to get her cloak for her. She looks a bet wet. Haha!" This one was more genuine.

I just have to survive this, She thought to herself, digging into the reserves of patience she had built up over the many years of being unable to articulate her own feelings.

A glass slid over to her.

"Drink up," Rand said to her, swinging his up in the air and downing it in one go. He slammed it to the counter and beckoned at the barkeep for another. "Don't let it go to waste, hon."

His stare was heavy, and she closed reluctant fingers around the glass, sniffling and wishing that her nose were not running because it sounded like she was crying.

"Eh," Said the bartender, as he poured a mix, "Sounds like your date's been out in the rain too long."

"She's hardy," Said Rand, sounding uncaring. He was still watching her, so she took a sip. It was bitter, and she swallowed with a grimace. She hated cantinas.

"You should get her out of that cloak. Hey lady, you wanna take it off? Say, you look familiar. Krething schuttas, Rand! Is that the Silent Maiden?"

The bartender had yelled the last part, and at the name everyone in the cantina turned their heads. The dancers faltered slightly, though they kept with the music, but the patrons were all eying her, their beady eyes scrutinizing.

Sith. She should have realized that people were getting to know her when Rand had tossed that name. She should have realized that was a title, should have realized that people were recognizing her. Of course, one lone mute girl, even hooded, handing out sandwiches in a ghetto where no one else cared, how could people not? Some of the faces did look familiar; she had encountered them before, perhaps even sabotaged a few of their plans.

With a jerk, she darted from the stool to head to the entrance, but Rand was faster than she thought he would be, and her breath gushed out in a soundless gasp as she buckled over the arm that suddenly looped around her.

"Hey hey there, sweet thing, no running. You're famous! That's a good thing! Come on! You still haven't finished that drink!"

This was intolerable. She elbowed him in the sternum, and when he only grunted in surprise, yanked her head back to collide with his nose. His arm loosened and she jerked it over her head, then twisted it around, spinning him and pulled it up his back. Before she could dislocate it, she planted her boot on his rear end and kicked. He stumbled forward as she flew toward the doors of the cantina. Patrons were standing up in alarm, but before any of them could react, she was out the door, in the now heavy rain. Thunder boomed overhead and she raced down the sidewalk, past the parked speeders, splashing in the collecting puddles as the doors of the cantina parted open again and voices, incoherent, resonated in the night.

She did not stop running until she arrived at her shelter, an abandoned residence that had no electricity but did have running water. She was drenched by then, dizzy and tired, and she slumped near the wall in the darkness and gasped, choking on silent sobs. For crying out loud, she use to be a Jedi, she use to be a General; when did she become so weak and cowardly?

Why could she no longer talk? It would have solved so many problems. A simple no, a clarification that she did not like cantinas, all of that would help her avoid what happened today. She would have at least finished handing out her sandwiches—which reminded her that she had left them at the cantina, along with her bag. Grabbing her face, she tried to calm herself. Serenity. Serenity.

She should have died on Malachor V. It did not make sense that she lived and they all died. The Jedi Order should have gotten involved in the war—their duty was to serve the Republic, and they should not have remained as aloof as they did, but she should not have gotten involved. Had she known her judgment was so poor, she would not have been so quick to assume the title of General. And now, what had she become, but a poor wretch for those like Rand to pick on? Her tears subsided and she looked into the darkness of the room, shadows flickering as the streetlamps outside fizzed and puffed. All was silent around her except for the patter of rain, the rumble of thunder, the roar of ships overhead and the occasional speeder down the street.

She should change out of her wet clothes, but could not summon the will to. She was so tired. A dark void was in her heart, had been there ever since Malachor V, and it had only grown over the years, until she could no longer even take momentary joy in the light of morning, or the steady rhythm of rainfall. She looked at happy families and could only see that she had deprived so many of the soldiers of the same thing because of her own poor judgment, poor assessment of the situation, bad priorities. A Jedi had to be responsible for many lives and she had taken that responsibility for granted. Really, the black despair in her heart was not nearly equal to the atrocities she had committed all those years.

She hugged her knees and waited listlessly for dawn.

Morning brought a severe cough. Her throat ached and felt hot and she felt tired and ill. Her clothes were still very damp, and moving inspired chills. She sniffled and blew her nose on some spare toilet paper as she gathered her meager belongings—another bag, some spare clothes, another blaster and a modest collection of credits. She hoped it would be enough to garner her passage somewhere.

The station was moderately crowded. Everyone ignored each other, all business and no smalltalk. Some families gathered together, pulling their children close, though a few younglings ran about with toys in their pudgy hands, and several infants squealed at their mothers. She chose the cheapest moon to go to and paid for her ticket before heading toward the waiting area. She had four hours before boarding, and tucking her bag close, she drew her hood over her eyes and tried to nap.

Her coughing kept her up and kept others away from her, but she did fall asleep; she was aware of herself losing track of time. Her headache woke her, splitting in its intensity, and she looked around for the chrono—two hours had passed. As she turned her head, she sucked in a breath and tried not to cough. Standing in front of her was Rand. He did not appear to notice her, for his back was turned. He was searching the same section of the waiting area, before taking a seat several rows from her.

Was it the will of the Force? She shook herself. She did not believe in the will of the Force, not anymore. If the will of the Force was to allow so many to die, their names barely acknowledged in the aftermath of Malachor V and no one to comfort their families and loved ones, well, she would make do without it. Besides, she was no longer a Jedi—she was deafened to the Force, and thus had no obligation to answer its summons.

The scoundrel did seem to show up a lot recently, however. She considered switching to a later flight, but perhaps the freighter was large enough that he would never notice her? As long as she kept her hood on, he should not recognize her. She pressed back the doubt that formed at this thought. He recognized me in the rain, in the dark.

She should switch flights.

Standing up proved to be too taxing, however, and she realized with a sickening lurch that she could not get up. Efforts to do so resulted in dizziness, and she crumpled against the seat, swallowing thickly and coughing into the sides of her hood. Her skin felt like it was burning from the inside, yet the outside was cold, almost freezing. Despite her earlier antagonism toward the Force, she wished bitterly for it, if only to relieve the fever and the itching in her throat.

No one came to her—they all avoided her. Everyone was out for themselves these days, and why not? Even the Jedi were out for themselves, and they were supposed to be the ones to serve others most of all. Perhaps it was fair—she had killed so many, caused so much death and destruction; in her hour of need it was fitting that no one should help her.

Deep breaths. Calm yourself. Everything had to do with calm. She made another attempt to stand, and this time succeeded. Her body aligned itself in that instinct to remain upright and steady, and she took a step, two—

Then the world tilted and she lost sense of what was up or down. Pain cracked against the side of her head and she did not even feel herself falling. The floor was cold and felt odd, pressed against her side. It was like it had tilted to meet her body instead of the other way around. How to get up again? She knew the floor was down, but her balance still seemed to spin, and when she braced her hands against the ground, she did not know which direction to push.

"Hey!" Rand's voice broke through the haze of sickness and nausea, "Whoa, sick passenger here!" This time there were murmurs of concern, and hands touched her, pulled at her arms to roll her over to her back. She blinked and saw Rand, his face looking a bit worried. He did not seem surprised to see her.

"Can't let her board like this," She heard someone murmur. She could not even panic over it, she was so sick.

"Issue refund? Still two hours before departure…"

"I got this one," She heard Rand announce, and them promptly felt him gather her into his arms. She resisted at first, but quickly surrendered. What use was fighting?

"…hospital a few blocks down…"

"Yeah I know where it is. Can I get a refund here or do I have to go to the front?"

"…right here. She doesn't look…too, sir?"

"Yeah I know her."

He lifted one hand from her to accept the returned credits, and tucked them into his breast pocket.

"…call the EMT?"

"Too pricey," Said Rand, as he lifted her, "I'll probably get to the emergency room faster if I carry her. She weighs nothing. Pass me those, will you? Think those are hers…Don't worry, babe, we're getting you help, alright?"

She did not answer, because she never answered any question for the past three years, but she found herself opening her mouth and breathing out, trying to speak and feeling no response from her vocal cords. Then the world tilted once more and she shut her eyes.

Maybe she was dying. It sure felt awful, but no less so than the violent deaths of her men. She sank into darkness without fighting.