Chiri’s eyes had grown wide the moment they set Wraith, the latest shuttle to end up attached to Ghost, on one of the huge boughs that served as landing pads on Kashyyyk. Hera could hardly blame her; she had never seen anything like the trees that seemed to stretch forever from this vantage point. For a four-year-old, it must have seemed unimaginable before they touched down.
“Stay with us!” Hera called to her daughter, her stomach tightening as Chiri’s steps wandered toward the edge of the landing pad. Chopper burbled a worried noise, rolling around from the other side of the shuttle.
“I want to see how high up we are.” At least she’d paused, her lekku swinging as she looked impatiently back at her parents. “I can’t even see the sky.”
“You aren’t the only one.” Kanan’s laugh was a deep rumble. Acknowledging his blindness was only a matter of course these days, something as much a part of him as his beard. He held out a broad hand. “Come over here, and you can tell me everything you see.”
When Chiri ran back over to her father’s side, Hera could breathe again. She set about securing the shuttle with the sound of conversation at her back.
“The leaves are green, but dark green. Not green like us. Can we touch the tree bark? Uncle Ezra said it might hurt us.”
“Hurt us?” Kanan sounded skeptical. Hera could picture him, squatting down so he was on the same level as Chiri. “Are you sure?”
“He said with all that bark, I should watch out for a bite.”
“Oh.” It came out half-laugh. “Uncle Ezra was trying to be funny. The key word there is trying. Come on, let’s go touch the bark. Then you can tell him he was wrong.”
Every level they descended from the ship, their steps lost a little more of the sunlight filtering through the innumerable branches and leaves in the canopy above. Torches, their flames flickering,
“How do Wookiees know when to go to bed?” Chiri asked. Her grip on Hera’s hand, easier for her to reach than the Wookiee-sized railing, was tight. As curious as she’d been to see over the edge of the landing pad, Hera suspected Chiri had gotten her fill of heights for the day. Since they’d started down the winding steps down to the Life Day grounds, she’d stared resolutely forward and was careful to keep both her parents between her and the edge of the wooden stairs. “They can’t see when the sun goes down.”
Hera glanced around them, but if any of the Wookiees before or behind them heard the question, they showed neither interest nor offense. In an even voice, she asked, “How do you know when to go to bed when you’re on a spaceship? You don’t see suns there.”
In fact, Chiri had probably more of her life aboard one ship or another than she had in buildings on-planet. The thought of suns still coloured the way she thought of days, though; talk of sunrise and sunset sneaked into idioms, featured in her picture holobooks, and determined when lights dimmed in corridors and bunks. Hera remembered the feeling from her own childhood; sunlight meant little in their hiding places underground, but somehow the knowledge that they were beholden to day and night remained. She wondered how much of it was integral to being Twi’lek or human, or a mix of the two, and how much of it was simply habit.
“You and Papa say I have to.” If they weren’t descending from an enormous height, Hera suspected Chiri would be turning to give her a baleful look. Enforcing bedtimes could be a fight at the best of times, and inevitably it was worst when the Alliance was on red alert. With everyone else awake and rushing around, Chiri hated to be left out.
“Wookiees have mamas who tuck them into bed, too,” Hera pointed out.
“Oh.” For an entire spiral around the thick tree the steps were built into, Chiri was quiet, mulling over the idea. “Can I stay up late tonight?”
“Of course,” Kanan said, just as Hera was saying, “We’ll see.”
Chiri made a pleased little sound, and if they weren’t on steps so high above the ground, Hera suspected she’d be skipping. As important as Life Day was this year, for Wookiees especially but for the galaxy as a whole as well, they could stand to let Chiri have an evening of celebration. After so many sacrifices for the war, being able to spend this time together—outside, in peace—was more important than any of them could really grasp.
When they finally reached the ground, the thin, drafty lines of sunlight had faded to nothing. Everywhere she looked, Hera saw torches and lanterns sending wide pools of light flickering over the crowds. Beyond that, she couldn’t see much; by Wookiee standards, she was minuscule, and most of the crowd was made up of Kashyyyk’s home race.
“Won’t the trees start on fire?” Chiri reached for Hera’s hand, and Hera squeezed gently. It wasn’t hard to hear the worry in her voice, though she was trying to disguise it.
“They already thought of that. They angle the torches out—see?” Of all the things she’d reassured her daughter over, this was one of the simplest. It was a relief not to have to talk about stormtroopers or what would happen if she and Kanan didn’t come back from the next mission.
“You know, I was talking to Chewbacca about Life Day a few weeks ago,” Kanan cut in, deceptively casual. Above Chiri’s head, he gave Hera the twitch of a smile, a silent here, let me. “He says that everybody who’s anybody has to eat a cookie. Especially if they’re four years old.”
“I’m four years old!” Chiri cried, her mouth opening in guileless shock. “Can we get cookies, Papa? Please?”
Hera laughed, leaning over just enough to bump her shoulder against Kanan’s. “I think Papa wants a cookie, and that’s why he’s bringing them up.”
“Can’t blame a guy for trying.” Kanan shrugged, holding out a hand for Chiri to take.
Each cookie was enormous, the size of Chiri’s head if you didn’t count her lekku, and Hera suggested they find somewhere to sit down and eat them. In the crowd, she couldn’t risk letting go of Chiri’s hand and losing her among a sea of furred legs, but if they weren’t moving, things would be different. Far from the Life Tree at the center of the festivities, the crowd thinned a little, and they found a place to sit among the roots of another enormous tree trunk that jutted toward the sky.
“How do you say it again?” Chiri’s hands were already sticky, and dark brown crumbs crowded the corner of her mouth.
“Wookieeookiee,” Kanan said around a mouthful of his cookie. When Chiri dissolved into giggles for the third time, he laughed, too. “That’s the reaction I got from Chewie when I said it.”
“Why don’t you try, Chiri?” Hera suggested. The flavours of the cookie had a spice to them she couldn’t quite name; it reminded her of the smell of well-used kitchens, and of roasted nuna. Despite that, it was sweet, sticking to her teeth a little as she chewed it. Not her usual kind of snack, but not bad at all.
“Wookieeookiee,” she answered, still laughing, and Hera got a view of the cookie she could have done without, half-chewed in her daughter’s mouth. “Wooky-ooky.”
It wasn’t, Hera supposed, the way she and Kanan would have experienced the holiday before Chiri, or how she would have gone if she was alone. Fewer cookies (cookiees?), more conversations with locals, a hand ready to grab her blaster if the dregs of the Empire tried to make trouble—and maybe more than a single glass of the sweet wine an old Wookiee woman was selling near the Life Tree. With a child in tow, the vastness of the galaxy sometimes seemed to tighten into a much smaller place. There was a little girl, and then there was Hera and Kanan on either side of her, there to make the space around her as safe and supportive as they could. That meant focusing on a little ring of life rather than the sprawling, messy star systems beyond it. She tried to to leave those back at work these days.
At moments like this, more than any, she wondered how her own mother had done it. Her memories of childhood were biased by the longstanding, entirely untrue belief that her family was invincible. That Twi’leks as a whole might not be, Ryloth might not be, but her mother and father couldn’t be bested by any force in the galaxy. How did you manage your worries for me? she wanted to ask. How did you know what to say when I asked for things I couldn’t have?
She was luckier than her own mother—Kanan, luckier than either her father or his master. The last few years had been difficult, with the Empire dogging their every step, but without its emperor, it was falling apart. At four, Chiri was growing up in a galaxy that was gaining freedom, not losing it.
And that’s why we’re here, Hera thought, looking at Kanan’s mask, with its sharply angled jaig eyes, and at the little patch of tan skin that ringed Chiri’s left eye. We’ve lost so much—so many friends, more than a few bases—but life continues. So will we.
“Mama?” Chiri asked, pulling at Hera’s sleeve with fingers that left sticky marks on the fabric when she let go. Good thing they hadn’t bothered to dress up. Hera glanced down, realizing belatedly that she’d missed most of a conversation about some kind of insect that was crawling up Kanan’s palm. “Can we keep it?”
“We don’t know what it eats,” Hera answered smoothly. “It’s better off living here.”
By the time the celebrations reached their peak—a dedication to the Tree of Life and a few well-placed speeches—Chiri was leaning heavily against Kanan, stroking the tip of one lek between her fingers. “I can’t see anything.”
“I don’t think any of us can,” Hera said. Even stretching on her toes, she caught only glimpses of the dais where a Wookiee was oowralling too quickly for her to understand. Just about everyone who worked with Chewbacca ended up picking up a few choice phrases, other pilots especially, but Hera had never sat down to try and learn the language properly. Now it was a melodic but unintelligible roar that echoed out above their heads. Occasionally, she picked out words she recognized--freedom and something that was difficult to translate literally but served as a derogatory name for the Empire--but most of it slipped past her. Too bad, too. Wookiees weren't exactly known for mincing their words, and it sounded like a rousing speech.
Kanan bent down and hoisted Chiri up so she could sit on his shoulders. She didn’t howl with laughter as he lifted her, as good a sign as any just how tired she was getting. “How’s that?”
In lieu of answering his question, she held tight to him, wrapping her arms around his forehead, and shrieked, “It’s Princess Leia!”
Laughter rumbled all around them, from Wookiees whose knowledge of Basic far exceeded Hera’s understanding of Shyriiwook.
If she couldn’t see the Wookiees standing at the front of the crowd, Hera had no hope of catching sight of Leia Organa. The princess never seemed small when you were in a room with her—not with her personality filling every corner—but in a clearing thronged with Wookiees, things were different.
Her voice burst over their heads, though, clear enough for everyone to hear. “This holiday is yours, but we all share with you the hope that this day brings us closer to freedom…”
She spoke of the triumph of light over darkness and asked her audience to look for the similarities between them, rather than the differences. Hera remembered the teenage senator she’d met close to a decade ago—confident, determined to prove herself, and just a little amused by the idea that she and Ezra were the same age—and wondered at the fact that the woman speaking now had kept so much of that fire. Her thoughts strayed to Sabine, who only defaced more walls on missions after a stormtrooper caught a lucky blast that took out her left arm, and to Zeb, who destroyed a T-7 disruptor plant and walked away to let the Alliance take its owner prisoner. Ezra, who chased Maul all the way to an Outer Rim planet called Tatooine and found it in himself to keep a promise of secrecy an old Jedi hermit asked of him, little as he liked it. That hermit’s sandy-haired protégé, Luke, who’d saved the Alliance again and again, and everyone else the Alliance picked up along the way.
And Cham Syndulla, whose love for his home determined everything he did. He hadn’t feared any fate the Empire could throw at him, as long as he was working to make Ryloth free. I wish you were here, Father. She'd lived so long without her mother that the longing to see her had dulled to a vague, empty ache years ago, but her father's loss was still too fresh in her mind. You would love your granddaughter. I won’t let your hard work go forgotten by our people—or by my family.
A nudge to her shoulder brought her out of her reverie, and she glanced over at Kanan. He had one hand on Chiri, who had slumped forward with her arms wrapped around his forehead, her cheek pillowed against his hair. Hera laughed under her breath at the sight. “So much for staying up late.”
A grin stretched Kanan’s mouth. They were maybe half an hour past Chiri’s usual bedtime, and he knew it. “Think it’s safe to move her?”
Under other circumstances, Hera would err on the side of leaving Chiri where she was, but with all the steps they were about to climb… “I’ll take her.”
They slipped through the crowd as quietly as they could, Kanan’s hand a heavy, reassuring hand on one of Hera’s shoulders. Chiri’s head rested on the other. As they walked away, the princess began to sing what Hera supposed must have been a traditional song for the festivities; though she sang in Basic, the Wookiees in the audience joined in with Shyriiwook. The sound rolled through Hera, filled with such deep growls that it echoed in her chest as well as her ears, and the steps up to their shuttle vibrated beneath her feet. It must have sung up through the trees around them to the sky beyond, filling all of Kashyyyk with proof that the Wookiees—and soon, she hoped, the entire galaxy—were free.