Shock is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it. As I set the coordinates for Kerest into the nav computer my hands started to shake. I managed to punch the switch before I had to run to the ‘fresher to throw up. I knelt in front of the toilet, resting my head against the seat fighting the waves of nausea and dizziness. If this happened every time I got myself into a fight or a scrap I wasn’t going to be much use to anyone. I might have stayed there on the floor forever but a soft knock on the door made me remember I was not alone. When I didn’t answer, the door opened.
“I’m fine.” I said not looking up.
I heard the tap run and then Navaari handed me a glass of water. He knelt by my side and studied my face. I rinsed my mouth out and spat very un-lady like in toilet. He waited until I was finished and took the glass back when I handed it to him. When my legs stopped shaking I got to my feet and cleaned my teeth.
He said nothing. I went from the ‘fresher into the crew quarters where Lianna was lying on a bed. I could see she was breathing but I touched my fingers to the pulse on her neck all the same. Just to feel it, just to be sure.
“She will live. She was lucky that blaster was set to stun and not kill. There is a burn on her back from the shot.”
“I have a med-kit with bacta strips and synthflesh.” I said going to fetch it.
I watched as Navaari rolled her over onto her side and cut away the rest of her top with a bone knife that was wickedly sharp. The blaster burn wasn’t pretty but it would heal without a scar. I cleaned it up and laid a bacta bandage over it.
I prepped a syringe and sedated her. Navaari cocked his head in question.
“She needs to sleep and I don’t feel like answering the questions she’ll have seeing me like this or why you are onboard.” I told him.
I watched as he laid a blanket over her gently and was reminded that he was a father. I wondered how old his daughter was.
“I need to go and wash this stuff off my face.” I said but was surprised when he grasped my arm.
“No.” He said shaking his head again. He let go of me and with a glance once more at Lianna he left the crew bunk room and walked with me to the galley.
“No?” I asked. “What do you mean, no?”
He sighed. “How is it that you are so ignorant?” he asked, sounding almost angry for the first time since we had met. “How is it that Nikätza’arth’pavjäska has taught you nothing? How is it that he binds himself to you and you do not know even this simple thing?”
I shook my head at him. “What simple thing?”
He explained to me as though I were a small child. “It is our custom that we are masked. We do not show our true faces to the outside world, beyond the confines of our enclaves and clan. Our faces are private, sacred. Only the members of our tribes may see us uncovered. You are not of my tribe and I am not of yours. It would be taboo for me to see your true face out here, without proper ritual or ceremony. It is our way, A’myshk’a. It is a manner of protection that dates back to before the great Cold came. I would explain it in greater detail but that is not for me to do. This is the responsibility of Nikätza’arth’pavjäska. He gave you this name and made you one of us. He should have prepared you better.” He was angry but not at me.
“There was no time. There has been no time.” I said quietly.
“This duel life you lead, a reason it may be for your lack, but he should know better” He shook his head. “Uljask’peylan ji’rüshjen taeami.”
“A way will be found.” I sighed.
I shook my head. I felt like bantha poodoo. I put the kettle on to make tea. I rummaged through the cupboard looking for the honey that had been left from the last big trip I had made in this ship. That seemed to me to be a life time ago but it wasn’t.
“Will you drink tea?” I asked. “Or is there some weird code against that as well?”
He chuckled. “The drinking of tea is not forbidden.”
I loaded mine with honey and sat at the table. I had the weirdest sense of having done this before and time seemed to swim. I rested my head in my hands and concentrated on breathing in and out.
Navaari spoke softly to me. “You were not born to this life and you are inexperienced in the ways yet you fight with a valiant heart and you keep your compassion. The shock your felt earlier will pass in time. If you continue down this path you will, perhaps, no longer feel so ill afterwards. But these feelings are normal and should not be ignored. After a great hunt we celebrate. We feast and we drink, we dance and we couple. These things allow the energy that is gathered from the hunt, the tensions that are created to flow back to the place where they came from.” He cocked his head to one side. “Nikätza’arth’pavjäska must teach you the ways or lead you to someone who can. It is one thing to know how to fight. It is quite another to deal with the ways it will make you feel. It is not a life for everyone. You are well trained, you know how to defend yourself and you hold much grace in your movements but the consequences are difficult for you. If you continue along this way as untried as you are, it will eat you up from the inside, I fear.” He shook his head. “Not even your weirding magics will save you from that.”
I sipped my tea silently and watched as he tilted his mask slightly to drink also.
“And, you should have a bone mask of your own.” He added offhandedly, “Painted masks are for small children.”
“I set course for Kerest. The journey will take about four hours or so.” I told him after a very long pause. The honey in the tea made me feel better.
“I am grateful.” Navaari said.
“It seemed to be the least I could do.” I said.
There was a long silence. It was not uncomfortable but it was not easy either.
“You knew him.” Navaari said after a while. “I saw your face when you took away his mask. The one in black, he means something to you.”
I got up to get more tea, with more honey. I didn’t want to talk about Jyrki. I shut my eyes tightly as his face, his clear blue eyes, flashed in my mind. I had stabbed him through the hand, I had drawn blood from him, this man who had once been my friend, had once been someone I had loved with all my heart. I had smashed my fist into his face. We had tried to kill one another. The look of surprise, more than that the look of shock and hurt that had flashed through his eyes when he realised who it was he was fighting against. Why had he been there? What was really going on? Why was he trying to kill Lianna? What was she to them? What was she at all? I had no answers to any of my questions.
“He is someone from my home, my past.” I said coldly.
“You have feelings for this man?”
“Once.” I said but that did not seem to do it justice. I still had feelings for Jyrki, I just didn’t know what they were any more.
“You did not expect to see him, nor he you?”
I shook my head.
“He is a part of your past but you cannot let go.” Navaari stated flatly.
He laughed then. “Everything about you is complicated, Tjällh.”
I shrugged. What could I say, he was right.
“Have you spoken of your bond with this man to Nikätza’arth’pavjäska?”
I made a derisive snort. “Not in any detail.” but Thrawn had a pretty good idea.
“Perhaps it would ease this burden on your soul if you did. Secrets will tear you apart.” Navaari said.
“You have no idea.” I said quietly, bitterly. The warning in my voice for him to back off did not go unnoticed but he ignored it.
“If you cannot confide in the one who is bound to you…”
I cut him off. “Za’ar is not bound to me. He is bound to no one. I do not have a clue what I am to him, and I don’t know what he is to me. I don’t think I will ever know what he is to me, but bound, tied, attached to, whatever name or lable you wish to put on it does not apply to either him or me.” I said. “He makes no commitment to me nor I to him. Our lives, such as they are, do not allow this. Not now, not ever.” I was shaking as I said these words.
Navaari raised his hand for me to stop. “A’myshk’a, you have my apology for my words. They are not meant to distress you further.” He said.
I sighed as I sat back down at the table. “You are right. I am not used to this way of life. I almost killed a man tonight, someone I cared about, even loved once, to protect a woman I neither know nor like.” I paused as emotion caught in my voice. “The man you know as Nikätza’arth’pavjäska is still a stranger to me. We have not spent much time with one another. We live in a world where time is scarce. Our moments together are stolen, tentative and precious.” I took a deep breath wondering why it was easier to talk to a stranger than to confide in someone I knew and cared about. “Our relationship is still…new and very…well, very…complicated.” I said.
Navaari listened and was silent for a longtime. “Among my people there is a saying. We do not choose the flakes of snow the wind blows in our face. I hear in your voice the passion you have, the pain you hold close, the uncertainty of your life, so I will tell you this one thing. Nikätza’arth’pavjäska would not have made you of his get were there not some connection, some feelings there. He, when I knew him, was not a man to attach himself to anything or anyone. He was aloof, separate and difficult to get to know. I do not need to see him with you to know that he is drawn to you in a way he cannot explain or understand. That is what it means to be bound.” He tapped his chest. “You feel the lack of his presence here. This pain, this need it goes beyond words and deeds. I see it in your eyes when you speak of him, when you think of him. This feeling you carry with you is a binding, a mating of spirit and soul. That is what it means to be bound. I have no other words in this language to express it.”
“Did he send you to Rothana? Did he know you would be there?” I asked after a moment.
Navaari shook his head. “No. I have neither seen nor spoken with him in many seasons, but the hunt on Kerest is one my people attend every year. It is a gathering of sorts for the scattered tribes. This fact would be known to him.” He sensed my questions. “We do not question destiny, A’myshk’a. Nothing happens without reason, nothing. Sometimes we are too small, too close to see the bigger path. When all around you is snow, it is often difficult to see a single flake and when sometimes we seek only that single flake, we miss seeing the snow.”
I smiled. “The Sand People from my home world say much the same thing.”
Navaari nodded. “Same meanings, different words.”
I nodded and went back to my tea. The rest of the journey to Kerest was passed in silence.
I landed the ship without incident and walked with Navaari to the ramp. I hated long drawn out goodbyes, they made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say to him and I didn’t want another lecture on my ignorance of all things Dantassi.
The door opened and the ramp dropped and we both stared out onto this planet. It was eerie and barren looking. The space port we had landed in was small, isolated and unmanned. It was early by Kerest standard time and the dawn was still a few hours off. The air was bitterly cold and the wind bit at my skin.
“There’s no one here.” I said.
Navaari cocked his head to one side. “Not so as to be seen, but we are not alone.”
I shivered and not from the cold. This planet had a bad past and I felt it keenly. There were ghosts here and they were unhappy. I looked up at Navaari who only nodded.
I sighed. “Thank you.” I said. “I’m not sure what would have happened if you had not helped me on Rothana but things would probably not have gone so well without you.”
He bowed his head slightly, a gesture of acknowledgment. “It was an honour to meet you, Akiana’myshk’apavjäska.” Then he took from his neck on of his amulets and placed it over my head, around my neck. “Wear this in remembrance.” He said quietly.
“I have nothing to give to you.”
He chuckled. “You have given me much.” Then he removed a second necklace and pressed it into the palm of my hand. “This you will give to Nikätza’arth’pavjäska and tell him this 'Amdau’inte mikka-mawri’Ka. Ta’chi’sah a’mawri’Ka.' ”
I repeated the words and Navaari nodded. He touched three of his fingertips to his forehead then reached over and touched mine in the same place.
“We will meet again, if not in this lifetime, then in the next.” He said and then he was gone. I watched him walk into the darkness until I could no longer see him. I waited until the cold won and then I closed the ship back up.
I looked in on Lianna, she was still asleep. Then I settled back into the pilot's seat and took off. Automated landing stations always scared the sandjiggers out of me, but this place was worse than most. Kerest was a creepy planet that was full of darkness. I had felt its restless spirits and was glad to be well away from it. I set the nav computer for Naboo and watched with a strange inner stillness as the stars spun and elongated. My ship felt strangely empty without Navaari’s calm presence. I looked at the small amulet he had given me. It was little flower with four petals, giving it a square shape. It was small and delicate, yellowed with age, and not carved from bone but something similar, tusk or tooth perhaps. I studied it closely. It was a claw, a large claw that had been carved into the shape of a standing bear. It was extraordinary.
Once I had checked the ship and made sure everything was running smoothly I went to the 'fresher and began the process of washing away the Bone Trader guise. I was glad to get back into ordinary clothes and put my hair back up. I made sure there was no trace of the face paint on me and folded up the Dantassi clothes, packing them back in the box Thrawn had delivered them in. Once the box and my culling staff were safely tucked away in their hiding places I settled back into my standard ship routine. I made some soup and picked up the book I had been reading. I expected that Lianna would be out for at least another hour or so. I took my mug of soup and my book back up to the cockpit and sat down, my usual feet upon the consol position. I tried to read but I couldn’t concentrate so instead I stared out of the cockpit and let my thoughts drift. My life just kept getting stranger and stranger but at least it wasn’t dull.