Buried Deep, Scattered Wide 5

I stepped out of the shuttle at Wayfar and looked around. It had been a long time since I was here and at first glance nothing much had changed. Wayfar is a tiny place on the edge of the Dune Sea very close to Jabba’s Palace. A lot of the Palace workers who didn’t want to live there stayed in Wayfar but that didn’t help the place out much. It was not the prettiest town on the planet, or the safest. The wind had picked up. Sand made its way into everything, even my mouth. I had forgotten about the taste and feel of grit between my teeth was like. It made me laugh but it wasn’t pleasant.

I had decided on bringing my Dantassi clothes, because they were light weight and easy to move in. I wore the light weight hooded coat for the trip. My mask hung across my shoulder in its satchel and the light weight back pack was filled with only what I would need, clothes, water, food and the bare essentials. I had weighed bringing my culling staff but in then decided against it, the weapon was unusual enough it would raise questions.

At my father's suggestion and as part of the compromise I had agreed to, I was to meet a very old family friend, someone who was not only familiar to me, that I trusted but also someone who could help directly. Vahlek Akosh was my Dajdofa’zte’sa. I did not know what the basic translation for that word was and I had always just called him Zte’sa or uncle. He had sworn to take the responsibility for my life should anything ever happen to my parents.

I did not see my uncle Vahlek all that often, he travelled a great deal and was, of all the people in my life, the most mysterious. He breezed in and out of our lives like wind. My father rarely spoke about him in much detail but he was always welcome in our house when he visited. I had adored him as a small child because he always had some sort of animal with him, usually a baby that he was training, and he always brought me really interesting and strange gifts. I didn’t have to worry about looking for him in the crowd at the shuttle port because he recognized me right away.

“Lei’lei, there you are!” He said using his childhood nick name for me, a derivative of the word for Nahlei’lei which roughly translated to basic it meant gift child or niece. He was a tall, lithe, fierce looking man with weird pale, green eyes and long, very straight, white hair. I had never seen him without the two day’s worth of stubble which never quite hid the long jagged scar running from jaw to temple on the left side of his sharp, angular face. He grasped me by both shoulders and pulled me into a hug. “Look at you, quite the young lady, all grown up and lovely.” His husky voice was soft and warm.

I looked up into his pale eyes and grinned. I had not seen him in a very long time, but he had not changed a bit, well his hairline was receding and his face was more weathered looking but that was all. “Zte’sa Vahlek, it is good to see you again.” I said.

He bowed his head in acknowledgement and then began to cover his face up with a scarf. “We must hurry, this wind brings a storm with it and my home is an hour’s walk. I’d have brought the speeder but with this wind and the sand it would have broken down, by foot is the best way to go.”

“I didn’t know you lived out here, if I had I would have come to visit when I worked at the palace.” I said as we began to head away from the shuttle port.

He nodded. “I did not own the house at that time.” He told me then added tartly. “If I had known you were working for Jabba out here I would have skinned your backside, though. I was glad to learn you were smart enough to get out of there while you could. Lucky for you I was off world and out of contact at the time.”

I shot him a look. “It wasn’t so bad!” I protested.

“Hmm.” He told me gruffly “You say that but you don’t believe it. I know the palace well enough to know it was not the right place for you. I was very shocked to hear you were dancing there. Your mother would have been horrified. She did not raise you for that sort of a life.”

“Well, I stopped.” I said defensively. One of the things I had forgotten about uncle Vahlek was his sharp tongue and no nonsense manner.

He stopped walking for a moment to look at me and I shrank back from his stare. “Yes, you did. There is hope for you yet.” He relented a little. We continued to walk towards the city gate. “I had not planned on buying a house out here, but it was time to settle just a bit. Your father told me about the property and it was perfect for my needs.”

I was not unhappy to leave Wayfar; it was a place of many memories for me from when I had worked out at the Palace, some of them not all that happy. Uncle Vahlek had not been far off the mark in chastising me for taking a job there but that didn’t mean I liked to hear about it. I drew my hood over my head to shade my face from the burning suns and the strengthening wind. We were about five minutes out of the city walls when the sting of the sand against my face annoyed me enough to pull out my Dantassi mask and slip it on. Uncle Vahlek watched this action with great interest but did not say a word.

The trek to his house led us into the rocky edge of the Dune Sea and walking in the sand dunes in between the stony parts was taxing. I remembered Navaari’s comment about my ability to walk through the snow. It had not occurred to me at the time that sand and snow were very similar. By the time we were half way to his home the sand storm was building up to be nasty. I could see the dark ribbon of what was to come off in the distance and the occasional flash of dry lightening. I hoped it would not last long. Sometimes these storms could last for days. It hadn’t been forecast but that never meant much. The winds and the sands seemed to take a huge delight in doing the exact opposite of what the weather bots predicted. We reached his house shortly before midday and I was grateful to get indoors to where it was cool and sheltered from the wind.

In the entrance hall I shook off the sand from my clothes and removed my mask. I was about to slip it back into the satchel when uncle Vahlek held out his hand, silently asking to look at it. I watched as he turned it over in his hands, studying the markings carefully. His fingers traced the carvings Navaari had recently added and I could not decipher the look on his face. He handed it back to me without saying anything and I followed him down the hall and found myself in a large, warm kitchen. I was greeted by three curious jaxes who came to running to greet him, mewling loudly, with their tails straight and high.

“Maddy, Mayhem and Kahvi.” He said telling me their names. I took off my cloak and hung it over the back of one of the kitchen chairs. He put the kettle on the stove to boil water and I drew from my backpack the gift I had brought for him from my father.

“Papa said he promised this to you.” I handed him the small box.

Uncle Vahlek took it from my hands. “Ah yes, black Koyish tea and Teki spice from Iridonia. I never know how your father does it but he always manages to find me some.” He put it on one of the shelves above the stove. “Spice coffee or mint tea?” he asked. “I’ll get lunch ready in a bit, I expect you are hungry.”

“Spice coffee, please.” I said and sat when he indicated me to do so. I immediately had a jax jump in my lap. The orange one he had called Maddy. She curled up lap and began to purr loudly as I absently stroked her fur.

“You’ve still got a way with the critters, I see. The jaxes don’t normally like strangers, usually run and hide when I bring someone in they don’t know.” He said setting cups on the round, worn wooden table.

His home was welcoming and warm. It was clean and tidy, decorated with all manner of curious artwork and strange artefacts. In the open throughway between the kitchen and the living room was a mobile that hung from the mid beam. I studied it carefully. It was made from long bones decorated with feathers and its main piece was a human looking skull.

“A Sayormi mobile.” He said watching my gaze. “Supposed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.” He said, “It was a gift.”

“It’s very intriguing.” I told him.

“Yes, you, of all people, would find it of interest.” He said then after a moment’s pause added, “The mask, your father has no idea does he?”

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin explaining it all to him, he'd probably flip out. You know how papa gets sometimes.”

Uncle Vahlek shrugged. “Never knew the Bone Traders were ones to be taking in strays.” He said. “You’ve not been with your tribe long though.”

“Not really, no.” I said. “You seem to know a lot about them.”

He shook his head. “More than the average person, I expect, and probably less than you. I know enough to give respect. They go their own way mostly, but I have crossed paths with some of their kind from time to time. That is not unexpected in my line of work.” He poured spiced coffee and I accepted the cup gratefully wondering, not for the first time, exactly what his line of work was. I had asked a few times when I was younger what he did for a living and was never given a straight answer. I once made the mistake of badgering my father about it until he had crossly told me it was none of my business, then relenting his hard words had mumbled something about Vahlek being good with animals and a bit of a wanderer. After a while I had stopped asking.

He sat down across from me and studied me carefully. I was not the little girl he remembered and my connection with the Dantassi had unsettled him. “I know they look after their own, that they are not to be crossed and they are not at all what they appear to be. It would seem that neither are you.” He said.

I didn’t know what to say. He was right.

He regarded me for a moment with his pale green eyes. “I’ve known you all your life and from day one you were always a little mystery. I still remember as clear as crystal the day we found you.” He said.

“You were there?”

“Yes, I suppose your father never mentioned that, did he?”

I shook my head. “I only learned the truth about it all just before I went off world and he didn’t mention you. Well he didn’t get into a lot of specifics. I don’t think he knew how to tell me and it was a bit of a jumble.”

“Yes, indeed, he contacted me shortly after you left to let me know he had finally told you. Should have been spoken of sooner rather than later but done is done.” He nodded. “Your father was always one to keep a closed mouth and he had his reasons for keeping my name out of it. I have my own past, one that I prefer to keep to myself, although it does seem that one’s past has a way of following one around.” He said quietly. Then he continued. “I can still remember that night as if it were yesterday, myself, Bedi, and Kit all sitting in the living room looking at you in your mother’s arms. I had never seen Eri’ so happy or so worried. We discussed what to do for many, many hours and in the end everyone decided that Kit and Eri’ adopting you as their own was for the best. I remember the moment of when your father realized that he now had a daughter, how proud he was and how scared he was. I remember the love in your mother’s eyes when she realised that she had finally been given a child, even if you were not her flesh and blood, she loved you as if you were. When Kit and your mother asked if Bedi and I would be your Dajdofa guardians, well, I was, we were honoured, although as a guardian, I don’t know that I have actually done a very good job at it.” He paused. “It was me who arranged the paperwork, got the birth certificates and forged adoption papers done up.” He shook his head. “I should have been there for you more often, especially after Eri’ was killed.”

“Wait, Bedi is also my Dajdofa Guardian?” I asked. This was the first I had heard of this.

He nodded. “They never told you that?”

I sighed. “No, I suppose the only reason they told me you were was I asked why I should call you uncle when you aren’t even related to anyone in the family. Bedi was just always there, she worked for my dad. I never thought there was anything more.”

He rubbed his forehead. “I’m sorry you have to find all this out now and in this way.”

“Why keep all of this a secret, why? I don’t understand it.” I asked.

“We all felt that some things were better left unsaid, especially at that time. From the note your mother had left with you, it was pretty clear she thought you were unique. She had written it in haste and she was frightened.”

“Did you read it? Do you remember what it said?” I asked.

“Wasn’t much to read. It said ‘Her name is Merlyn and she is very special. Please love her as I do and protect her from those who would harm her for what she is.’ Maybe we were wrong not to search even more than we did for who had left you, I don’t know. I just know we were all concerned for you. A tiny baby abandoned by a mother so scared by something she was willing to give you up to total strangers. I do not doubt that she chose the time and the place and the people who would find you very carefully. It was not a random act, but still it was a terrible risk. The Jedi were being hunted to extinction and we were hearing stories that all force sensitive children were being taken. None of us knew what that meant but it didn’t sound like a pleasant thing. We buried the truth and hoped you would go unnoticed.”

I just stared at him. Every time I turned around another piece of this story, this little puzzle unwound itself. I just sighed.

He continued. “I remember once, when you were no more than a titch, you hardly come up past my knees that the baby bantha I had with me that day took to you as though you were its mother.”

I smiled at that memory, I had forgotten about it. We were still living out in the house near Bestine. His baby bantha was twice my size and had chased after me, nudging me in the back every time it had caught up to me, licking me with its huge sticky tongue, wanting to play. We had spent hours at that game.

“I always knew you were special but that day confirmed it for me.” He said. “So, it does not surprise me that the Bone Traders would take you in or that you would travel far in the Galaxy, although that you would end up working for the man who helped to wipe out the Jedi is an odd twist of fate.”

“The Dantassi say nothing happens by accident.” I said.

“So they do.” He said. “Perhaps you will tell me about your association with them some day. I would very much like to hear it.”

I just looked at him. He was right I had known him all my life and although his visits had been infrequent they had been special. I always thought of him as eccentric, now I learned he was much, much more. There was something he wasn’t telling me about himself, something secret and dark he wanted to keep hidden. But now I was a mystery to him, with secrets of my own. I guessed that the keeping of secrets ran in my crazy family. The thought made me smile.

“Perhaps.” I said after a while.

He sat back in the chair and changed the subject. “Why do you want a mount? There isn’t anything out there but sand, critters, bones and the Ghorfa.” He asked, using the Sand People’s own name for them selves.

“I am looking for information about a boy named Skywalker.” I told him plainly.

“Funny how that name keeps getting bandied about.” He said but didn’t elaborate. “Taking that as you want to head out to the Lars farm then?”

“That was the idea.” I said, wondering how he knew.

“Why? The farm was destroyed.” He asked.

“I might be able to learn something anyway.” I said.

“Ah, yes, one of your gifts. I remember that one very well. Are you sure you want to go out alone? I’d be happy to go with you.”

I shook my head. “No, I need to do this on my own, I don’t know why, I just do. Please?”

He sighed and made a face which said he didn’t like the idea much. “Well, doubtful the Ghorfa will bother you out there, they avoid that place. Say it’s haunted, cursed.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

Uncle Vahlek shook his head. “I don’t know exactly, they won’t talk about it, steer clear of the area as well as the place where the Jawa transport was attacked. Tell stories of bad spirits and desert demons.” He paused to sip his coffee. “Your father wasn’t very specific about your needs when he asked if I could help.” He said. “So, I like to know what’s going on before I let anyone take one of my critters, even you.”

“Papa doesn’t know the specifics.” I said. “Hell, even I don’t know the specifics. I was asked to find information, nothing more and nothing less. If that means I need to go visit this wreck of a farm then that’s what I have to do. Lord Vader gets a bit tetchy when he doesn’t get what he wants.” I was going to win an award for understatement of the year.

“Your father and I go way back. He doesn’t speak of our past much I suspect but when he needs my help he has it and as my nahlei’lei, so do you.” He was silent and we both looked up as a strong gust of wind made the house shudder. “Good job you got to Wayfar when you did, looks like you’ll be here for a bit. This storm’s building to be a bastard.”

“The ones they don’t forecast are always bad.” I agreed, and then asked. “How do you know papa?”

“I met him years ago off world, long before you came into the picture, long before he met your mother and settled down into a respectable living. He saved my life.” He said. “Then, about a year later I saved his life and two years after that he saved mine again. We seemed destined to be saving each other’s hides.” He paused. “Somewhere along the line we became friends.”

“I never knew that.” I told him. “He doesn’t speak about you much. Come to think of it he doesn’t speak about himself much at all.”

Uncle Vahlek smiled. “Do you ask?”

I looked up at him and shook my head. “No, Zte’sa, I guess I don’t.”

He gave me a look that said, ‘well there you go.’ Maddy shifted on my lap, looking for a more comfy position and Kahvi rubbed herself around my ankles. I leaned down to scratch the black jax between the ears.

“This storm will blow itself out by tomorrow, but till then you’re stuck here. Got a spare room downstairs, bed’s made and clean. ‘Fresher is through past the living room, to the left.” He said. “Over lunch, if you want, I can tell you some stories about your old man.” I nodded and he got up, “Right then, let me show you around.”

Just as he had predicted the storm exhausted itself out sometime in the very early morning. I woke up to the sound of purring jaxes, all three of whom complained loudly when I decided to get up.

I slipped on my cloak and went outside. This was one of my favourite times of day, although it was rare for me to be awake this early to actually experience it. The dawn sky was a soft velvety blue blushed with the faint pinks of the rising suns, the in between time. I sat on the sandy steps which led up to the front door and watched the suns rise for the first time in since I had returned to Tatooine.

I breathed the air in deeply, there is a moment when the night has passed and the morning has not yet begun when the air has a scent to it that always made me think of the word clean. As though no one had yet breathed this air in and out, that it had somehow been scrubbed new by the night and the suns’ heat had not yet managed to change the smell and taste of it all.

As the light slowly took over the sky, I watched the colours of the desert change, from a strange silvery blue to a soft glowing gold. These moments of quiet and solitude were rare and I treasured them. This had been part of the reason I had often escaped to the bluffs above Mos Eisley, much to my father’s annoyance and spent the whole night just watching the stars and waiting for the dawn, waiting for that moment of perfect stillness, and new, fresh air.

The quiet was broken by the snuffling sounds of an animal near by. I got up off the steps and walked a little ways past the front of the house. Around the side was a large bantha, probably looking for water and food. I smiled when I saw her because she was beautiful. It never occurred to me that standing in front of a creature that could have killed me with a single stomp of her foot might not be the best idea in the world. I knew no fear of these animals and I sensed no fear from her.

We watched each other for a long time, she sniffed the air, getting my scent and I stayed still letting her sort out whether or not she would stay or go. I relaxed and let my weirding sense touch her a little, sending thoughts of calm and peace. I was not a threat.
I guess she figured this out and in the end decided to approach me. What surprised me, more than anything else, was not her acceptance of my presence, that was normal for me and most animals, but when she knelt down to lie in the sand in front of me. This was how Uncle Vahlek found me when he came looking for me, sitting on the sand in the rising suns’ light talking to and petting a bantha as though she were one of his jaxes. She alerted me to his presence by jerking her head up and making a very odd growling sound that came deep from the back of her throat. I stood up and she did too. He looked at me with a smile.

“I see she still remembers you. Nor do I need to help you find a companion for your trek to the Lars’ farm.” He said. “Her name is Mej-mej which is Zabraki for little sister.” Upon hearing her name she ambled over to uncle Vahlek and head butted against him. “Come, dress, have breakfast and I will make sure you are all set to go. I feel better now that I know she will take care of you.”

After a good breakfast, and some quick lessons on how to guide Mej-mej I was ready to go. I had a datapad map with the way point plotted in. I also had an old fashioned way finder. Uncle Vahlek had attached additional water pouches to the saddle and given me a vibro lance that also attached to the large and surprisingly comfortable saddle.

“If you happen to meet Ghorfa along the way, offer them the gift of water.” He said. “But you should be left alone, especially if you are also masked.” He nodded at my satchel I wore slung across my shoulder.

He gave Mej-mej a pat and spoke the word for down. She knelt on the sand and allowed me to climb up into the saddle.

“I expect to see you back here by tomorrow morning, tomorrow night at the very latest. You have a comm, so keep in touch. If I don’t see you then, I’ll come looking for you but that won’t make me happy.” He said.

“Yes, Zte’sa. Don’t worry; I am pretty good at taking care of myself when the odds are more or less fair.”

He nodded. “Yes, someday you’ll have to tell me about that. Now go before it gets too late, and remember drink enough.”

“Will do. See you when I see you.” I gave Mej-mej a nudge with my heels and we were off. I did not look back.

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