Buried Deep, Scattered Wide 6

It was hot. I was glad of the hooded cloak, the extra water and my Dantassi mask which helped to keep me cool. Mej-mej walked at a steady pace and I was surprised at how quickly we actually covered ground. By late afternoon, after stopping to shelter and rest from the midday heat, we came to the Lars homestead and it wasn’t a moment too soon. I ached from riding all day.

“Ta’dosh!” I told Mej-mej. She made a snorting sound and sank to her knees so that I could slide off her back. My legs were stiff and a little shaky. I was used to many things but riding a bantha was not one of them. I patted her and gave her some of the fruit treats Uncle Vahlek had provided me with. Then I looked around. I had about three hours of light left so what ever I was going to do I needed to do it now.

There was not much to see. The main building had been badly damaged and there wasn’t much left of it. I walked around the ruins and understood why uncle Vahlek had said the Sand People avoided this place. It tasted bad and made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

I made my way down into the underground part of the house and began to look around. Most people actually lived underground on Tatooine because it was cooler. What you saw on the surface was only a small part of the actual structure. There was nothing left. Anything and everything that could be taken had fallen to the scavengers. What had been left was either broken beyond repair or burnt rubbish. In the main open courtyard not even the décor had survived. As I went through the rooms, I felt as though I were the ghost not the other way around. I ran my fingers along the walls and tried to pick up anything I could but my ability to conjure images from inanimate objects was not always reliable. Of all my weird ways this gift was the weakest and I couldn’t force it. It did not surprise me that nothing sharp came to mind. There were vague images of people and sensations of fear and anger. The kitchen had been torn apart, all useable machinery removed, dishes scattered about the place and broken, the cupboards ripped apart and smashed. Each of the sleeping rooms was much the same, what was of no value was destroyed. Nothing personal remained, not even clothes. Tatooine was a hard planet and anything that could be salvaged or scavenged was taken.

With a sigh I went back outside and found the entrance to the workshop and speeder garage. There was not much else left in this place either. Machinery, tools or spare parts of any sort would have been stripped and sold. All that was left was a big mess. Both garages were empty except for a wamp rat had nested in the air speeder garage. I left it alone. Although they were small they were also vicious, especially when they had young. The main work shop was a wreck. I stepped over bits of twisted plastic and metal that was of no use. There were animal droppings and rubbish all over the place. I wasn’t going to find much here. I went to kick a bit of junk out of the way and stumbled over it instead because it didn’t move. I squatted down to look at it. It was a table peg, used to fix a work bench to the ground to stop it from rocking. I sighed and looked around. From this angle I saw things I had not seen while standing straight and one of them caught my eye, near the door under a piece of twisted dura plastic. I retrieved the toy, a small broken model of a sky hopper and gasped. Too fast, too jumbled for me to make immediate sense of them, the images tumbled one after the other through my head. When the onslaught had faded and I was returned to the here and now I got up. I tucked the broken toy in my pocket and left the work room.

Outside the light was starting turn from glaring bright to soft gold. I clicked my tongue and Mej-mej ambled to my side. I patted her flank and walked around the outside of the buildings again. Tosche had said there was a mourning marker and after a few moments I found it. I knelt down and looked at it. I was hesitant to touch it because I was still buzzing with the flashes from the broken toy.

People had left chullpas of various sizes and shapes draped across the rough hand made marker. A few of them were yellow with age, worn smooth by the sands, the carved markings no longer visible. I looked at the marker, a plain piece of durasteel, something had been etched onto it but so eroded by the elements that I could not decipher its meaning. I drew a deep steadying breath and reached out to touch it. To my surprise there was nothing. I laid my hand flat against it and concentrated but still there was nothing. I sat back on my heels and sighed. I then, out of curiosity began to touch the chulpas. Most of them were blank to me but one of the oldest suddenly set off a series of intense flashes. This time, unlike with the toy the images were more specific, far more powerful and centered around one moment in time, a burial. The vision knocked me flat on my ass. It was full of anger and pain, loss and regret. I let the breath I had been holding slowly out. No wonder the Sand People avoided this place. It was full of ghosts and sorrow.

I didn’t want to camp here over night although that had been my initial plan. Mej-mej nudged my arm breaking me out of my reverie. With a sigh I got up. The ability to ‘see’ from inanimate objects was draining but I didn’t know why. I brushed my fingertips over the carved Japor snippet once more but it had shown me all it was going to so I left it where it was.

The bantha knelt down allowing me climb back into the saddle. It was dangerous to travel the edge of Dune Sea at night but I wanted to get away from this place. I sat still leaning forward on Mej-mej’s back resting my head against her neck. The twin suns were setting and it was always a glorious sight to see. I was tired.

“Riy bunkie dunko” I told her in Huttese. Go home. She tossed her head and turned in the direction we had come from. I pulled my hood up over my head and absently touched the bone mask. It gave me a strange sense of security. As a rule, most sane people never travelled alone at night. The Sand People often had hunting parties out after dark. I had been raised on this planet, heard the stories, been given the warnings about how dangerous it was, but as I sat high up off the ground on a creature large enough to tear a small house apart if she wished, I didn’t care.

I had never travelled like this, alone so far out beyond a city limit after dark. It was awe inspiring. As every colour but the darkening blue faded from the sky, the stars began to shine. They were as bright as I could ever recall, reminding me of the night I had ridden back to the village with Navaari on Hjal, except these constellations were known to me. As Mej-mej walked towards uncle Vahlek’s home I leaned backwards against her broad back and stared up at the sky, looking for the twelve sisters, the laughing wrix and best of all, the great Krayt dragon. Only the one moon was up so far and its light was still watery and pallid. The shadows from the rising jagged hills of the Jundland Wastes were eerie.

Tatooine had three moons, Ghomrassen, Guermessa and Chenini. They did not all rise at the same time and they each had very different orbits so to have three full moons all at once was very rare. Tonight I would see Guermessa rise first, then Ghomrassen and only catch a glimpse of Chenini if I was still awake at about four in the morning. Tonight though, Chenini would be full. Ghomrassen was the largest of the moons, even when she was just a sliver of light she was still bright enough to cast shadows. Chenini was the smallest and had the largest elliptical orbit. For the longest time she was over looked by astronomers, her name meant forgotten sister.

The night was still, not even a whisper of wind which was unusual. One of the things that off worlders complained about the most was the constant winds. The only sounds I heard was my own breathing, the occasional howl of some creature in the distance and the rhythmic sound of Mej-mej’s feet in the sand as she walked. During the day I had thought mostly about the job ahead. What I would find at the farm, how it would look and where to find shelter during the midday zenith. The way back to uncle Vahlek’s home was filled with thoughts about the images I had been shown. They had been conflicting, and from two very different time periods. The problem with this gift was it was incoherent most of the time and I was not skilled enough to control it.

I pulled the toy sky hopper from my pocket and looked at it. My fingertips tingled touching it and I had to block the rush of images that threatened to overwhelm me. Mostly they were centered around a young boy, I wondered if this was Luke, I was certain it was but it was hard to tell with the visions sometimes. I tucked it away in the satchel I usually kept my mask in. I was tired and it had been an exceptionally long day. Mej-mej’s gate was regular and hypnotic and eventually I dozed lightly in the saddle. I never heard them approach.

Mej-mej stopped suddenly and made an eerie sound. I was suddenly very awake with all the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. They had come up from behind, single file, soundless and deadly, a Tusken raiding party of seven. They manoeuvred their own bantha mounts to form a circle around me and they just waited silently.

Most settlers think that the Sand People are ignorant, backwater savages who are brutal for the sheer joy of it. The settlers shoot first and ask questions later, don’t take the time to learn the local customs and languages. Of course, the Sand people’s language is almost impossible for most non Tuskens to learn and in that I was no exception. It was a guttural language that no matter how hard I had tried learn or understand it, had never made any sense to me what so ever. Sometimes some of the more travelled Tuskens spoke Jawa or even Huttese.

I waited until the leader moved forward one step as was custom. I was masked, alone and unknown to them. They had no grounds to attack me and they didn’t know the risk at stake, there could have been more of my kind hiding. Tuskens were cautious, despite what everyone thought about them.

I nodded my head to the leader and signed a traditional greeting. He replied in kind, and then to my very great relief asked in a heavily accented Huttese what I was doing.

“I travel homeward.” I told him.

“The desert demands tribute.” He replied. The traditional way of saying that they wished the water rite to be observed, essentially I would buy my way out of a fight by offering them a full water skin. Uncle Vahlek had tied extra water skins to the saddle for just this occasion. I untied them and offered them to the leader.

He accepted and barked something to his men. I let the skins fall to the ground and watched quietly waiting to see what would happen next. While I hoped they would honour the water rite there was always a chance they would not. So I waited. Mej-mej made a slow low sound and I placed a hand on her neck.

“Na’shej’la, Mej-mej.” Be still, I whispered in Cheunh, the one language I was certain no one except me understood. I sent her calming thoughts. I could sense her willingness to defend if she had to but I was hoping it would not come to that. She stopped making noise and tossed her head from side to side, then settled down.

The Tusken leader looked at me for a long time. Not that either of us could see each other’s face. We were both masked. Then he said. “Your bantha serves you well.”

I stared at him and was suddenly angry. He had very deliberately insulted me.

“Mej-mej, ta’dosh.” She hesitated just a second and then sank to her knees. The Sand people remained on their own mounts and watched carefully. I was well aware of the sudden rise in tension in the air but didn’t care. I slid down from the saddle and went to stand to the side of the leader, so that he could see me and where the others also could see. I heard Mej-mej get back up and move to stand at my side.

“She is not my bantha.” I told the leader. “She does not belong to me. She belongs to the desert and the sky, to the wind and the sand. She permits me the honour of her company and she carries me by her own will. ”

There was a long moment of silence and then the Leader spoke a command, his bantha lifted one of his front legs and the Tusken warrior dismounted with as much grace as any palace dancer. He came to stand in front of me and I had to push at Mej-mej to get her to step back.

The Tusken warrior looked at me, walked around me, studying me. I was not what he had expected.

“You are not like the others.” He said, his oddly accented words sounding harsh and threatening to me. “You have the bearing of a hunter, a warrior and your mask tells stories. You speak of the desert and your bantha companion with much honour. You know our ways and you respect the path of the Ghorfa.” He said.

“The desert is a living thing; it and its people deserve my respect. I have earned my mask and my place amongst the Mathäd’antass’Iyantha through hunt and ritual. Mej-mej honours me with her friendship. It is what it is. ” I answered.

He regarded me for a long time through the strange goggled mask he wore. Ghomrassen rose three quarters full behind him. The moon’s light shone off my mask, causing the whiteness of the bone to glow, making my face ghost like and luminous.

“You are human.” He said looking directly into my eyes.

I nodded.

“Will you allow me to see your true face so that we may tell of you, let others know you are welcome amongst the sands, given right to go freely without fear.”

I was a little hesitant about this, unsure of the Dantassi policy on this sort of thing. Then I decided that given the circumstances and my lack of education on bone trader etiquette and regulations in this area I needed to make my own rules. I removed my mask and pulled back the hood on the cloak. Moonlight bathed my face, shone on my long hair and I welcomed it.

There was a ripple of shock and murmurs from the Tusken raiders but a single hand gesture from their leader silenced them.

“You are female.” He stated. While this had caused a stir amongst his men, he had not been surprised by this, in fact if anything I had gotten the distinct impression he was expecting this.

I put my mask back on and nodded. “I am Akiana’myshk’apavjäska, clan daughter of Kirja’navaar’inkjerii and Ta’kasta’cariad to Nikätza’arth’pavjäska.” I told him. “On this world I am Merlyn Gabriel, daughter to Kitga'ar and Eri’ Gabriel of Mos Eisley, and nahlei’lei to Vahlek Akosh and Bedi Nuale.”

He nodded at the recital of my lineage, such as it was. “We will remember you and pass the word along. You have shown much courage here tonight and we do not forget. As you have entrusted me so I give you my name.” then he spoke it twice once slowly and once at normal speed I repeated it once and he nodded that my version was acceptable.

“I am an honoured hunter to my tribe and I have waited a long time to meet you.” He said. I was puzzled but remained silent.

He drew from underneath his clothing something wrapped in a piece of cloth. He unwrapped it slowly and I saw a simple ring on a leather thong. He held it out to me, laid in the flat of his palm and allowed me to take it from him. I picked it up by the leather and didn’t touch the ring at all. It looked like a wedding band. The last thing I wanted was to deal with any images, visions this thing had to offer.

“It was foretold to me that I would meet a warrior girl with a ghost face. That she would know our ways and walk our path, and that she would be willing to accept the gift of pain.” He told me. “I have been carrying this burden for a long time. Before your time, there was a farmer who would not honour our ways, shot at our people, did not respect the desert.” He gestured to general direction I had come from. “The hunters from the tribe took the woman who belonged to him and held her as payment. It is our way.” He paused for a moment and watched my reaction when I didn’t give any he continued. “One night the devil from the dark came to take her. He slaughtered every single member of the tribe, men, women and children, showed no mercy. The foot prints in the sand were human, male. He killed with a sword of light. I was a boy, on a hunting party. We saw from the far away his death dance of light but could not arrive in time to stop the demon. After that night much war was waged between the Ghorfa and the off worlders.”

I kept silent. His story made me shiver. I had heard rumours, tales told about this desert demon wielding a sword of fire which had torn the Sand People apart and of the terrible retribution that followed but I had always thought, like most of the people I knew, that these were just myths and campfire legends. Things your parents said to keep you in line. You better behave or the B'Thazoshe Demon would come and get you with his weapon of light and drag you off forever to be his slave, if he doesn’t eat you first. If there had been strife before between the settlers and the Ghorfa after this event it had come to all out war.

He broke the silence and continued. “I found it left in the sand in the ruins of the tent where the woman was held. It was her token. I do not know what it means, but it was of value to her. I have carried it with me as a reminder that all outsiders are to be hated, to be killed, that they are vicious, mindless creatures, who do not respect the wills and ways of the living desert. To remind me of what off worlders are capable of, but tonight I see a different face and I know I can now pass this burden to you. I must no longer carry this memory, this pain, now it is yours.” He said. “You have given me my freedom.”

I looked at the ring dangling on the leather thong and then slipped it in my satchel.

“I am sorry for your loss.” I told him.

“The desert reclaims its own.” He replied. “You are of two worlds and there is much mystery about you. I see that you seek answers and your questions are your burdens. Answers will come to you when you do not expect it but they will not bring you happiness or peace. You are now known to us, Girl of the Ghost Face.” He said, “Go your way in safety.”

He mounted his bantha with an ease I envied and before I could even think to say another word he and his fellow hunters vanished single file back into the night. I watched them with a mixture of disbelief and awe. Only when I could no longer see them did I ask Mej-mej to kneel down so that I could scramble up into the saddle again.

“Riy bunkie dunko, Mej-mej, let’s get the hell out of here and go home.” I whispered. All I wanted now was to be some place safe and familiar. The whole event had had a terrible surreal quality to it, as though I were dreaming. It had unsettled me and left me feeling lost. Mej-mej sensed my need and she hurried. We were back before dawn.

I took off her saddle and made sure she had food and water before I went inside. The door was not locked and the spare bed had been made ready for me. He had expected me home. I stripped off my clothes and crawled under the covers. I slept like a baby. No dreams, no nightmares and interruptions. I woke mid morning to the scent of spiced coffee.

I had planned to return to Mos Eisley right away but the meeting with the Sand People had shaken something in me. Over spiced coffee and some fruit I had asked if I could stay for a few more days. For a long moment uncle Vahlek had just stared at me, as though he could dig beneath my lack of explanations and find the truth merely by looking at my face.

“Of course, just let your father know.” Uncle Vahlek answered. “I am happy to have you here.” I searched for any hint of untruth but there was none.

I had contacted my father and told him of my plans. He had not asked why and I had not elaborated. Once we were done talking he had wanted to speak with Vahlek. I had left the two to their conversation and went into the living room to curl up on the couch. I was stiff and sore from the long ride and I was still tired. As soon as I got my self comfortable, Maddy who had become my constant companion jumped up on my lap. Uncle Vahlek joined me in the sunken floor room, sitting in the chair adjacent to me and drank his coffee.

“What happened last night?” he asked. “I noticed the water skins are gone and I am sure even you cannot drink that much.”

I drew a deep breath and let it out noisily. He waited. I wondered where to even start and remembered Navaari’s words. Start at the very beginning and do not stop until the words have done their job. So I told him about the entire journey from start to finish. I repeated almost word for word the conversation I had had with the Tusken leader and then I waited.

“This ring, did you touch it?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No.”

He just nodded thoughtfully but didn’t comment further.

“It was the strangest thing.” I said when I was finished. “Have you ever heard of them doing anything like this?”

Uncle Vahlek shook his head. “No, as a rule they avoid all contact with anyone not Ghorfa unless they are trading or killing. I do know they are a deeply superstitious people with many beliefs and customs. It sounded to me as though this meeting was part of some prophecy and you along with it. Stranger things have happened.”

I sighed. “My life just keeps getting weirder and weirder.”

“Forgive me for saying, lei’lei but your life started out pretty unusual to begin with.” Uncle Vahlek smiled. “Well, stay as long as you like. If I understood what your father was trying to tell me without actually telling me anything, you need the rest.”

Was that it? I just needed a holiday, no drama, no seduction, no violence and no threats? I nodded. “He’s right, I do.”

He got up. “I have errands to run, and groceries to buy. I will be back in a couple of hours. When you are ready you can tell me about what your father would not. I do not like all these secrets and hints of things that perhaps I should know.” He said.

I looked at him for a moment. “Okay.” I said.

He patted me on the head as though I were six. “Sleep, you are safe here.” I wonder what he would have said had I told him how many times I had heard those words lately.

I closed my eyes and absently stroked Maddy slowly. I could hear uncle Vahlek move about the kitchen and I heard when he left the house. Its silence settled about me like a blanket and I remembered why I loved my home world so much. I don’t know if it was just being in a place of peace and quiet or that the rhythmic purring of the Jax was hypnotic or if it was a nice combination of both but almost as soon as I closed my eyes I slept and I dreamt.

I had traveled across the desert to come to a small house tucked away in the hills on the very edge of the Jundland Wastes, near the Dune Sea’s edge. I didn’t know why I had come here only that I was drawn to it the way a thirsty man is drawn to water. I walked into the house and was not surprised to find that I was not alone. It was the same long haired man from previous dreams. He had been waiting for me.

“Sit.” He said and I did.

“Where is the Chosen One?” he asked.

“I don’t know who that is.”

He sighed. “Yes, you do and he needs your help.”

I frowned. “You make no sense.” I told him, annoyed.

“He lost his way. He lost his soul and I could not help him.” He sounded incredibly sad.

I shook my head. “Who are you? Why do you keep coming to me?”

“I am the teacher looking for the student, the student looking the teacher. I do not seek you out, you come to me.” He said.

I got up, angry with the cryptic answers. “What do you want from me?”

“It is you that seeks answers from me.” He said. “You have many questions.”

I paced back and forth. “Who are you?” I asked again.

“That is the wrong question.” He told me patiently.

“Who is the Chosen One?”

He shook his head.

Exasperation made me cross. “Who am I?” The words falling from my mouth before I could even consider them

He smiled. “That is the right question.” He said. “The answers await you in the place where it all began.”

“A map might be helpful.” I told him.

He laughed, his blue eyes twinkled. “Go to the beginning, what you seek will find you.” He spoke softly and he turned his back to me signalling this discussion was over. I stood staring at his back for a long time but he said nothing more. I left the small hut to walk back out into the desert and instead I found myself looking at the city of Mos Espa. It was in this moment I woke up.

Mos Espa, I thought as I sat up. Wasn’t that the place where Anakin Skywalker had won the Boonta Eve Classic? Is that what he had meant, I would find answers to the Skywalker question there? Who am I? What sort of a question was that? I felt as though I were a snake eating its own tail. Everything was going around in circles.

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