Chapter 1: Jedi and the Mandalorian
“You were supposed to just calibrate the stabilizers.”
“That has nothing to do with the stabilizers.”
“No, but it looks better that way.”
He gave her his best disapproving scowl. Though in truth he saw this coming a mile away. Looking on at the burnt orange and blue slate gauntlet before them. Lined with grey and white it actually was nice to look at. Much better than that crimson forever reminding him of Maul, but as much as he liked it, that was not was he asked for. Turns out Gauntlets were very expensive to maintain, more so than even the Ghost. Most parts were not compatible with other ships of similar make so he couldn’t just get used parts from a dealer or buy them in one of the larger ports. Nope, parts outside of the Mandalorian Sector were rare and very expensive. Lucky for him he knew just the mando for the job. Unlucky for him she has extravagant tastes.
“Sabine, I…” He breathed.
The mando in question turned to him. Her hand falling on his shoulder. Sabine had removed her heavy duty welding gloves and he noted how her second and third fingers on her right hand were splinted and taped together. Knuckles scabbed over, blotched red and purple.
“Don’t worry about the cost, Ezra. The modifications I made were approved ahead of time by my buir, and I did them all myself. I… we, owe you a great deal.”
Ezra stared down at her as she smiled. There was dirt and grease smeared over her cheek and some coating her crooked nose. A bit of guilt pooled in his stomach. He supposed it had never quite healed straight after he and Zeb had mistaken her for a storm trooper that one time. That bruise around her eye and busted lip however, was new. He’d have to asker her about it but…
“Wait, modifications? As in more than one?”
Sabine only grinned at him in response before trotting off to the Nightbrother’s ramp. Ezra could only rush after her as she disappeared inside with a snicker.
“Sabine, what else did you do?!”
The Gauntlet’s ramp gave immediate access to the lower cargo area. One with the troop drop and a small room behind it. Or at least that was originally how it was. The normally small cargo bay was larger with the drop area dividing wall gone along with the rack.
“I figured you wouldn’t be deploying a jurkad team in the near future so I got rid of the drop rack for added cargo space and replaced it with cargo mag-locks.”
Sabine gestured to the floor and space around where hooks and strap locks had been added, as well as a control for the floor mag-locks.
“The floor bay still opens though.” She pointed to the door, stomping for emphasis. It had been repainted a bold striped yellow for safety. “So try not to drop all your cargo.”
“That was once. One time I dropped the rack on accident!”
“Yes and we nearly lost all the equipment you haphazardly stored in there.”
“Well it’s not my fault I can’t read any of the icons.” Ezra huffed, throwing his arms up. Much to Sabine’s amusement. He didn’t know how Maul was able to navigate the ship’s controls so well without being able to read any of it. Even the ship’s internal map and navigation system was in foreign mandalorian writing, or maybe the sith could actually read it he supposed.
“Then you’re in luck.” Sabine exclaimed as she proudly strode over to the ship’s side lift panel. The one that he was supposed to use to raise heavy or larger than the door crates, but he could never figure out. “I happen to speak and read both Mando’a and basic. So I took the liberty of installing basic translation and re-stenciling all the controls so you’ll never be made a fool of again.”
He rolled his eyes and glanced over the panel. True to her word everything had been translated to basic. She had even changed the layout and color of the buttons to make them simpler to use. However unable to pass up the opportunity to see him embarrassed by every guest he would ever have aboard she also took the liberty of stenciling them in bright glittery pink.
“This is just the lower deck. Let me show you the next level.”
Force save him.
Not as pink as he thought it would be. The mid-level cargo bay had some space taken from it for a common area addition. He didn’t mind at all that she had changed it given that the lower level was now entirely devoted to cargo. The kitchen was now connected to a common area but remained mostly the same, small and efficient, and a refresher had been added to this level. Ezra smiled to his self at the sight of Sabine’s mark painted large, orange and gold on the largest wall inside the common area.
Ezra smiled wider as the explored the top level. There was of course a refresher here, but the 24 troop bunk area had been divided into a crew quarters not too far off, if a bit larger than the Ghost’s. She led him to the bridge next where controls had been updated and thankfully changed to basic as well. Though Sabine had taken to painting the pilot and co-pilots chairs with loth cats respectively. The captain’s quarters were where she stopped however, seeming to hesitate, her hand hovering just over the door pad. Seeming to decide otherwise she turned gesturing for Ezra to open the door his self.
It was a Lothal morning skyline. A pair of loth cats playing in the foreground grass and his tower, tall and ivory, in the distance overlooking a golden sea of wind swept grassland. He followed the painting with his eyes until the day bled to night. Behind him on the opposite wall was a Lothal night. Cliffs and smooth ledges broke into the night scene adorned with a pack of loth wolves at rest amongst the cool stone. In the foreground a shining city of spires illuminating the night sky like a beacon of hope lighting the way.
“I thought…. maybe, you’d want to take some of Lothal with you on your adventures.”
“It’s beautiful Sabine.” Young Jedi neared the night sky wall where the white loth wolf perched above his pack, his hand reaching out for the nostalgic scene. “It’s per- Ouch!”
Ezra snapped back, cradling his offended hand staring wide eyed at the offending mando.
“Don’t touch.” Sabine warned with a glare and wave of her welding glove. “It’s not dry, or’dinii.” She scolded.
He rubbed his knuckles with a huff. There was no pain. Being swatted by her glove hadn’t hurt the least bit but he had certainly been caught off guard. Embarrassed by his yelp he hoped Sabine either hadn’t noticed or wouldn’t hold it against him. The roll of her eyes and the slight upturn of her lips as she made her exit told him neither of his wishes would be granted. Heat rose in his cheeks as he shuffled after her.
“She’ll be ready to go once the paint has dried and the navigation system is done installing.”
Stepping off the ramp Sabine made her way to the first cloth she could find amongst a group of box crates he assumed were for her equipment and parts. She wiped at the remnants of sweat and grease with the already black and orange stained rag. Much to Ezra’s amusement she only succeeded in smearing the grease more along her cheek and brow with some paint flakes now added to the mix.
“You missed a spot.” He chuckled, gesturing to all of her face.
Sabine huffed and Ezra quickly side stepped as the well-used cloth flew passed him.
“So childish, Ezra Bridger, even with that fuzz growing on your chin.”
“Hey you’re the one that threw the rag at me, and it’s a beard not fuzz. I’m a man now with a beautiful beard from jaw to chin.” He petted the hair smooth, making sure to step into Sabine’s space as she mocked him with hands on hips.
“Sure” Sabine made to exaggeratingly push him away. “If that’s what you want to call that leech caterpillar.”
A hand rose to cup his cheek along the growing stubble not quite a beard. Her hands were not soft. Rough with calluses and worn with craft and conflict. Sabine was no gentle soul. She was a warrior born in the thick of battle, shaped in the heat of a forge, and honed with time, but just for a moment he wanted to shut his eyes and drift into her touch. Fingers ghosting over his scars down into the hair along his jaw. The battered digits tickling under his chin as her thumb brushed the edge of his chapped lips. Half lidded blue eyes meeting hazel.
He thought for that tiny moment her paint and grease stained hands were so soft and warm. Tender even. There was a look of sorrow swirling in those hardened hazel eyes, along with something he couldn’t discern. The bond of kinship they shared, forged on a battlefield of loss, bleeding through her tough mandalorian exterior to the surface of her slight smile.
Or perhaps he had imagined it all.
Pulling away rubbing his chin, where the hair was longest, and swatted her hand half-heartedly.
“That wasn’t necessary.”
He expected something witty from her. A retort of some kind at least. Instead Sabine stood there silent a few steps from him. Ezra had faced her once again in time to see her hand fall loose at her side. There was something unreadable on her face again. Something familiar that made his heart flutter and butterflies bounce in his stomach.
“Ner cyare.” She spoke in nearly a whisper.
The young Jedi craned his head. He almost didn’t hear her over all the machinery and work going in the background. Sabine knew he couldn’t understand mandalorian, or mand-o-ah-whatever she called it. Often she used this to her advantage to rebuke or mock him. To her amusement and his dismay. Those words though…. and her face… he couldn’t help the knot forming in his chest at her tone.
What did she say?
“Sabine you know I don’t-“
“Stay.” She started, bolder this time. Making him fumble over his words. “While your kom'rk finishes its update.” The warrior tilted her chin towards the towering gauntlet behind him.
“Sure.” He coughed. “Of course, I’ll let Hera know.”
He could stay a little while….
“Good.” Sabine smiled up at him. Face still dirt and sweat covered. Her hair a complete mess.
“It will be Krownest’s spring cycle in a few days.” A few steps were taken towards him. “There will be a few events before the festival.” Another step closer.
“A festival sounds fun. What kind of events?”
Him and Sabine at a festival? Together? He gulped.
“Traditional fishing is first.”
“I’ve never been fishing before.”
They were within arm’s reach again. Sabine giving him a knowing, somewhat mischievous smile. The same look she sports when she’s painted something she shouldn’t have or booby trapped your shampoo.
This couldn’t be so bad, right? He’d seen some ads for fishing on the holonet. Couldn’t be that different on the snow than a sandy bank. Pole in hand, baited hook in the water and patience while they sat on the ice warm in their parkas. Maybe even Hera and Jacen would join them, or Tristan and her father too. Ezra was a little too lost in his daydream when he realized Sabine had left him standing there.
“Wait, Sabine!” He rushed after her. Weaving through the engineers that moved about. “In don’t have a pole!”
She flashed him a grin over her shoulder.
“You won’t need one.”
Chapter 2: Traditional Wren Fishing
Krownest was a beautiful place. Truly it was. Though Hera found herself a bit under suited for the climate. Familiar with the arid, desert bordering, scape that was Ryloth, Hera found herself covered with as many clothes as she could manage to fit on her frame and still move about. She shivered, rubbing her gloved palms together and made and effort to pull her head cap tighter over her lekku. Knowing Krownest was an ice locked tundra planet she had come prepared. Thick coat, boots, gloves and a cap for the pair. Though that was hardly enough to keep her warm. Sabine had laughed at them when they arrived. The Ghost touching down in the stronghold hanger hidden on the mountain side none of them knew was there.
“You’re underdressed.” She had teased.
The mandalorians had been very generous to her and Jacen. Quickly they had been ushered into ‘proper’ attire as the Count had called it. Genuine fur. Soft and warm it out classed her cheap faux fur on so many levels.
“Fur of the Stag moose.” The Count, Alrich Wren, gave a slight bow as he addressed the now properly attired Hera and son. “My wife, Ursa, has given you all guest rights.” He chuckled. “Can’t have you freezing on the first day.”
Hera startled from her thoughts when she heard a short cry. The stronghold towered behind her as she sat on a flight of stairs overlooking the lake’s frozen surface. A few clan children were playing around a smooth boulder and Jacen had jumped at the idea of joining them. Mandalorian children could be rough in their games, most of which seemed to be a form of mock combat. From sword sticks, toy stun guns, to flat out punching, she couldn’t help worry for her child when he joined with them. Already her son had gotten a black eye from wrestling with another boy. She had scolded him to be more careful and stay out of fights, but Jacen had just laughed and shrugged off her coddling.
“We were just playing Mama. I like to play with the swords!”
It had been an accident and Hera had voiced her concern to one of the warriors watching the children for the day. He had chided not just the offender but the older children as well for allowing one so young to be playing such a rough game. Mandalorians were very steeped in tradition and she supposed it shouldn’t have surprised her when the eldest of the bunch, a boy of about ten, came to her and bowed his head. His accent was thick and his basic broken but he had apologized for allowing her son to be hurt and asked if he could return to play with them again, that he would keep a better eye out for their guest.
She had agreed of course. Jacen was young and Hera wanted him to enjoy as much play as he wanted and experience as much culture as he could. The twi’lek smiled as she saw her son dart around the boulder twice his size to avoid a snowball. It was five boys and 3 girls that threw the snow at each other. Clearly they had bored of making snowmen and had piled it all up in two barriers they could hide behind while reloading. It was a cute sight watching him play with kids his age. The lot of them hobbling around in their large fur parkas barely tall enough to wade through the two feet of snow at the lakes edge.
The eldest three had the most accurate throw. One of them nailing Jacen in the back making him laugh. Those three, a girl and two boys, had bits of armor adorning them unlike their younger kin. Arm bracers and shin guards, the eldest of them and “leader” of the small band even sporting a shoulder plate and knife holstered on his leg. Armor was so ingrained into their culture and way of life she supposed it made sense they started wearing it early in life.
Spring had come to the tundra planet some weeks ago. Not that Hera could really tell the difference. Birds sang their spring songs filling the air with more than just the howling of wind and there was a bit more green on the ground as hardy shrubs came back to life. Though if she had not been told of the seasons changed this visitor likely would not have noticed. Certainly not with the blanket of snow still smothering everything in sight.
“What the hell are you wearing?!”
Hera tuned in her seat to look further up the steps at the voice. It was Ezra huddled in his parka. The young jedi shaking his head in disbelief and flailing his arms.
It was Sabine’s brother. He shrugged, moving to stand at the edge of the steps.
“I’m wearing trunks.”
Tristan popped his waistband to emphasis he was indeed wearing trunks. Hera stood to look at him in shock as well.
Arriving at the bottom he stepped off into the snow with bare feet. He laid the crate in his arms down and offered Hera a light bow.
“Morning…” She sputtered. “You- you’re not cold?”
He smiled wide. His hands coming to rest on his hips as he chuckled. Hera was just as surprised as Ezra at the mandalorian. The mandalorian currently not in armor. The mandalorian in only trunks standing in snow on a tundra planet.
“Of course I’m cold, but I can’t very well fish in armor. I’ll sink.”
Ezra came to join them at ground level. His cheeks and nose rosy in the frigid air.
“Yup. Now come on, Jedi.” Tristan retrieved his crate and started for the lake. “We gotta cut a hole in the ice to fish from before the others beat us to the good spots.”
The Jedi grumbled but followed. Returning to her seat Hera watched them wade through the deeper snow at the bank and out onto the ice. Jacen waved at Ezra from atop the boulder. Laughing when the man slipped on the ice nearly falling more than once.
By the evening the sun was at its peak in the sky. Warming the surroundings and Hera just enough to make returning outside bearable. As Hera made her way out onto the balcony overlooking the lake she could see many more Mandalorians on the ice. Spread out into groups of 5 or more she could see them cutting squares into the frozen surface. There was a tug on her coat prompting her gaze to turn downwards. Jacen’s blue irises starring back up her.
“I wanna go see Ezra and Bean.”
Hera smiled and ruffled her son’s shock of green hair. Hand in hand the pair made it out to the lake. At the base of the stronghold tables had been propped up and a few fires lit. Clansmen, armored or not, mingled about. The smell of fish was strong. Both fresh and cooking. She recognized those in in white and yellow as Wrens. Their distinct helmet paint making them easy to spot but the others she realized were not Wrens. At least not as far as she could tell.
Wolves in blue and grey, stags in red and white, and a multitude of other markings adorning armor. Mostly in mute greys and whites, some blues here and there. Perhaps other clans had come for the nearing festival. The pair passed table where freshly cooked fish on a stick was being laid out. Hera smiled as eyed the food, the crispy meat filling the cool air with spices. Jacen’s mouthwatering as she could see him contemplate how he could get one.
“They look good?” A woman chuckled. Coming into view with tray of more fried fish to lay out. She was outfitted like any other warrior in armor. Except her breastplate was missing and her midsection a little rounder than most.
“Uh-huh.” Her son nodded. His hands gripping the neck of his coat as if to keep them from wandering over towards the table.
“I tink soh too.” She smiled at Jacen. Picking a pair of fish on sticks off different tray and handing one to Jacen and the other to Hera. “Tes’ ones have soft bones so em safe for kids to eat.” Her accent was very thick and broken likely from not having to speak much basic often.
“Thank you.” It was no sooner that Hera had taken hers in hand that she could hear Jacen tearing into his, pulling her towards the lake. Eager to find Sabine and Ezra.
It wasn’t quite as easy to find the duo as Hera though it’d be. The lake was rather large once you were out on it and there were a lot of people on it. More than she’d ever thought she’d seen at the fortress its self, but she supposed she had no actual idea how numerous a mandalorian clan was. It was also possible many of them were from other clans as well as she had seem back at the foot of the stronghold.
Asking for directions came with a bit of difficulty. Hera was so accustomed to talking to Mandalorians that spoke basic she hadn’t even considered a majority of them didn’t speak the language. What an ass she must have made of herself assuming. Though they seemed to understand that she was asking a question, and that Sabine’s name was mentioned more than once.
“Alor ad?” One had said while scratching his beard.
“Sabine?” Another had joined. Placing her nets with the others near their cut in the ice.
Hera nodded hoping they could overcome this language barrier. Sabine had always made it look so easy to speak across languages.
“Vaii Sabine?” He turned to the woman.
She nodded as he spoke to her.
“Gar mar'eyir Alor ad ogir.” She pointed out across the ice.
“Thank you.” Hera nodded. She and Jacen waving goodbye to them, thankful for a direction even if she had no idea what had been said.
“Ret'!” They said in unison, waving bye in return.
Maneuvering around the other fishing Mandalorians they finally made it to their destination. Further towards the rear of the lake where it started to curved with the landscape. There Hera spotted a familiar purple cooler painted with a phoenix and loth cat. Sitting at the edge of a square cut into the ice was Sabine’s brother.
“Evening General.” He greeted. His feet dangling in the water and spear in his lap.
Jacen pulled at her hand trying to urge them closer to the water, but Hera was sure it had to be a drop off there so she reigned him back. She started to ask were the duo was when a cluster of bubbles started in the middle of the hole. Tristan grinned and tugged his feet from the water as something breached the surface with a wail. It was Ezra. He surfaced gasping for air and screeching. Scrambling for the edge.
“Calm down!” Tristan shouted. “Or you’ll drown.”
The young Jedi stopped his thrashing to glare at the other man. His hands dug into the ice like claws holding on for dear life.
“It’s not drowning I’m worried about!”
Sabine was next to surface. Her breach far calmer and practiced than Ezra’s.
“Ezra!” She called. Reaching for him with one hand as she laughed heartily, almost manically.
He flinched when her palm grasped his bare shoulder for balance. It was then that her other hand emerged from the water to reveal the source of his fright.
“Save me Hera!” He called. “They’re crazy!”
That earned another bout of laughter from Sabine as she hoisted a fish into the air. Drawing most of it out of the water as it thrashed. Her hand firmly holding it by the gills.
“Oooh!” She could hear Jacen start, trying to pull closer.
“Get that monster away from me!” Ezra shouted again.
“It’s just a fish, Ezra, chill.”
Sabine pulled said monster onto the ice as she too sat on the edge, spear dangling from her back. Ezra being sure to keep to the other side. To say that it was just a fish would be a bit of an understatement. Hera watched it flop on the ice, mouth snapping and a hiss emanating from its jaws.
“I told you we were traditional fishing, Ezra. What did you think we doing?”
Pulling a heated towel over his body he responded, if a bit exasperated. “Fishing like normal people.”
“You think we’re not normal?” Tristan cut in. Frowning and crossing his arms.
To his side Sabine pushed her hand deeper into the fish’s gills as it struggled. Countered shaded with a pale belly and dark grey body dotted with lighter rings over its fins and back. It wasn’t even the size either that shocked Hera, and it was nearly at long as Sabine’s torso.
“Swimming in freezing water and catching fish with teeth as big as my hands is not normal!”
“Its teeth are not that big.”
Its snout was long. Indeed filled with finger sized teeth. Like the head of a crocodile had been stitched onto a fish. Hissing and swatting its thick tail as Sabine moved to subdue it more.
“Don’t be a baby.” She huffed at the Jedi.
“Laandur.” Her brother seemed to mock as they both laughed before she swatted his leg. Tristan jumping back to swat her in return.
Hera just sat amongst them on the cooler. She and little Jacen watching them run around the ice hole. Striking each other’s freezing skin in a sort of cruel tag. Sabine turning the fish’s jaws on the men and watching them scatter. Hearing Ezra yelp as teeth latched onto the back of his towel. It reminded the twi’lek of the Ghost. When the crew was all together. Their play, laughter and of course, shenanigans.
When chopper took the screws from Ezra’s bunk. When Zeb was pink for nearly a month after using trapped shampoo meant for Ezra, or when the boys tried to get her back for her traps. Next to her Jacen stood and cheered as someone splashed into the water. It was Tristan that stood over the edge, arms extended, Ezra to his left. Leaving one person that could been pushed. Emerging cursing them with a grin and splashing water not a moment later.
The foolishness when on for a while longer. Their play and roughhousing seeming to keep them warm for a time despite their lack of clothing. Hera shook her head as Ezra’s attempts not to stare in Sabine’s general direction and at her lack of armor, or lack of clothing really. It’s not often you see the mandalorian in anything but armor, but here she was in what could only be described as a sports bra and trunks. She suspected the red on his cheeks wasn’t all from the cold. Poor boy was an open book. Sabine on the other hand was a bit more mysterious. The young mandalorian wore her emotions under her armor and was for more difficult to measure.
The twi’lek rolled her eyes as the simple play had already devolved into rough wrestling between Sabine and Tristan. Both of them hands locked and grinning as they pushed at each other. Tristan with the upper hand due to his height and weight over his sister, but she dug in with her toes and pushed back twisting his hands with hers. He grimaced as Sabine gained the advantage in their strange game of mercy.
Ezra sighed next to her. He’d wrapped himself in a heating blanket. His hair standing on end, white and iced over, earning a laugh from Jacen as the jedi crouched down to allow the boy to ruffle his frosted locks.
“Surrender, vod’ika!” Sabine roared, twisting Tristan’s hands further.
“Nu draar!” He pushed back but the game was lost for both siblings.
Tristan’s foot slipped on the frozen surface, sliding back and startling them both with the sudden movement. Hera could have sworn she heard and eep come from one of them as he made a quick effort to twist his leg and replant his foot. In an attempt to avoid a potentially painful split he sprang forward and they all heard the thunk as his head came down on Sabine’s sending the pair crumpling to the ground.
Ezra and Jacen shared a loud full laugh as Sabine cursed, pushing her brother off her. Though it seemed Tristan was trying his best to suppress his chuckle as he clutched his forehead. Hera stood. Perhaps it was time they all went in to warm up before the fish measuring contest that would happen later in the evening.
Sabine started to her feet. She pinched her nose with a frown. There was no blood but she wasn’t concerned about that. Obliviously checking to see if her nose had been made anymore crooked than it already was.
“Haar'chak, Tristan! If you broke my nose….” She cursed him, but here was the beginnings of a smile behind her had.
“Too late. Looks like someone already beat me to it.”
He moved quickly as Sabine made a grapple for his knees. Yup, it definitely time to head inside.
“I think it’s time to warm up, everyone.”
Out in the snow again. After abandoning their mounts to a campsite and an hour of trudging through ankle deep snowpack Ezra came to the realization it was actually hot outside. There wasn’t any wind today and he was sweating in his parka. Worse was the top layer of snow was slick making it harder to get a footing in the already packed ice. He sighed. The weight of the spears in their pouch Sabine strapped to his back wasn’t helping either.
“Tristan and I are going hunting. You wanna go?” She had asked.
Stupidly he had agreed. Thrilled she had asked. Though he had considered this could turn into another life altering fishing experience, but considering the alternative… Which was of course staying back at the Stronghold and risk running into the Countess, Ursa Wren, herself. He didn’t dislike Sabine’s mother. Not in the slightest. Sabine was near the spitting image of the Countess. Albeit the older wren was a taller, more mature, scarier version of Sabine. He swears the woman could break ice with her glare alone, and he gets the distinct feeling the Countess hates his guts.
To make matters even more confusing her husband seems the exact opposite. Casting Ezra a warm smile, apologizing for his wife’s poor manors, all while twiddling his fingers. The man was a general delight to be around. A well-spoken connoisseur of art. Ezra could certainly understand how he became such a renown and respect mandalorian diplomat. Such a strange contrast to the bulk of mandos he’s met so far. The Countess had scarcely spoken to him since they first met. Mostly out of necessity. Usually sharing only a brief glance before moving on. Sabine had shared with him that she was usually busy with clan business so he wasn’t likely to run into her often. Not often was still too high a risk.
“Hey.” He called out. “You don’t think I should be worried that I offended your mother or something.”
“Did you say something Jedi-y to her?”
Tristan chimed in from his right. Helmet under his off hand, spears like Ezra’s own settle on his back. Casually snacking on some jerky. Sharing some between them as they fell in step behind his elder sibling.
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”
Ezra frowned. He knew mandalorians held a grudge against Jedi, but this seemed a little different than age old vendetta that some of them didn’t even remember why they held.
“You didn’t take a step up towards the throne did you?” Tristan gave him a suspicious look.
“What? No. Is that a thing?”
The younger man nodded somewhat seriously. Jerky half protruding from his mouth.
“Tristan. Stop scaring him.” Sabine warned from the lead. Voice muffled by her helmet. “If buir was offended he’d know.”
“True.” He nodded, offering another piece to Ezra.
“What’s this about not stepping on the throne?”
Maybe he should’ve gotten a data card of all the rules guests should follow around mandalorians. It was getting hard to keep track at this point. He hasn’t felt so out of place since he told Sabine her armor was shiny.
“Oh it just means you’ve issued a challenge directly to the Herr’alor for her position is all.”
Tristan had said it so nonchalantly too. Like he wasn’t at all at risk of being thoroughly destroyed by the- wait, who did he say it was a challenge to?
“The air ahhh-Lor?” He questioned.
“Hair ah-lor.” He pronounced the syllables slower the second time. Not frustrated at Ezra in the slightest for his ignorance in the subject.
“In basic the title was equated to a Count or Countess, but it actually lacks a direct translation. Roughly you could translate it to mean: Territory Holder.” Sabine cut in. Tristan rolling his eyes at her thoroughness.
“Our buir,” She paused, remembering to use basic. “Our mother is the Countess or Territory Holder of this region for House Vizsla. The position being above Clan Chief but below House leader.”
“As the Chieftess with the largest, eldest, most loyal clan on Krownest” He could see the younger man practically puffing out his chest as he went on. Whether in seriousness or comic relief Ezra wasn’t quite sure. “Our buir and many a Chieftain of clan Wren for centuries have been House Vizsla’s foothold in this sector.”
So she’s a Chieftess, but also Countess. Ok. He thinks he can wrap his head around that. He used that word again too. Bo-er? Boo-eer? So that means mother. Then why has Sabine called her father boo-eer as well? Ezra lagged behind the pair in thought. His foot nearly snagging on a particularly nasty looking thorn bush poking up from dent in the snow. Strange shrub, he thought, looked like something had been chewing on it. Taking a moment to catch his breathe. The frigid air stinging his nostrils and lungs. Reminding the Jedi of the hike he was currently on.
“Just give me a minute, guys.”
Sabine, hands on her hips, looked like she was ready to protest when Tristan shot her a look. Something akin to a pout, but on someone that should be too old for that.
“I guess we can take five.”
Her shoulders slumped in defeat. Unable to overcome the power of the baby brother.
“Perfect.” He shuffled his spears over his shoulder. Unceremoniously dumping them at Sabine’s feet. “I’m gonna go take a leak.”
“Don’t go too far.” Sabine called to his retreating form.
“Yes, Ori’vod.” Ezra smiled, catching sight of Sabine’s eye roll as her helmet at last was removed. “Close enough for you to hear my piss.”
He laughed at the two. Earning Sabine’s scowl. Reminded him of home. Laughing with Hera, fighting with Zeb and Chop, trying to do his damnedest to earn the tiniest bit of attention from Sabine. His smile deepened at the thought of his foolish 14 year old self, and how once he had stopped trying to flirt with her every time he saw her they had become true comrades. The best of friends even. Then it faltered, his smile shrinking.
His hand jumping to his lightsaber. Only it wasn’t there. Hand gripping tightly into the material of his pant leg instead. It had been confiscated the moment he left the Ghost. The mandalorians allowed him to wander their home, but he supposes they’ll never trust a Jedi with a lightsaber. Looking above into the conifer needles he wondered why. Why did mandalorians hate Jedi so much? Did Jedi share the same animosity? Ezra had only met few Jedi from that era. Ahsoka nor Kanan had never once shown any hate for Sabine nor any other mandalorians. Just frustration at their stubborn warrior pride.
What happened? Where did it began?
He’d asked before of course. Though he supposed he never really understood what he was asking at the time. “It’s very complicated, and the mandalorians haven’t forgotten. Most of them.” He’d always hesitate there. Fumbling over the right words to tell a 15 year old. “I don’t know the full story, but a lot of people lost their lives and the mandalorians have closed themselves off to the Jedi ever since.”
Thinking back he knows Kanan was nothing but honest with him. His master couldn’t give him the answer because he didn’t truly know. Only being able to pass on what he heard. What he was likely told.
Her head turned slowly towards him. Simply offering him her gaze in response. There was sadness in her eyes, swirling around her. Behind her back, where she kept it on her belt, her hand clenched around Kanan’s lightsaber. The one he and Hera both agreed should go to Sabine. A Jedi would always make their own and Hera had no need for an item to collect dust and be a constant reminder of what could have been. Sabine though was not a Jedi. She is a warrior, and a warrior would always have a need for a weapon.
This way Kanan would always be with her. To protect her.
No doubt she took notice of his sudden dejection. Ezra smiled. She knew him to well. To automatically know it was because he was reminiscing about Kanan. The Jedi shook his head. He needed to snap out of it. Digging his fingers into the snow at his sides Ezra took a decent clump of ice and shoved it into his face. Yelling out as he rubbed it in. It burned. Who’d have thought something so cold would feel like fire on his skin.
“Di’kut!” Ezra flinched when Sabine swatted the snow from his hands. Eyes wide in shock and face stinging. “What do you think you’re doing? Do you want to get frostbite on your nose and have it fall off?!”
Well he hadn’t considered that. Hand moving to pinch his nose and feeling it sting. Feeling was good even if it hurt. However it was worth it in the end, working to break both of them from their spell. Eyeing the snow as the stinging changed back to burning. He saw Sabine shake her head not even looking at him despite being crouched over his seated form. There was a tinge of rose to her olive cheeks. Lips quivering, holding back a laugh. He beat her to it. Laughing out loud.
It was worth the risk or frost bite.
“Di’kut!” She repeated, pushing him fully down into the snow as she rose back to standing.
He assumes she’s calling him some type of rude name. One he probably deserves considering he just burned himself with frozen water, but revenge was surely sweet. Ezra made a quick gesture with his palm, before Sabine could put together what he was doing, and abruptly brought his hand down with a sweeping motion. Swore he heard her yelp as a whole heap of snow came down from its resting place among the conifer branches. Both of them were engulfed in the mini avalanche. Ezra having overestimated the force needed to move a bit of snow. Sabine, despite being in heavy plate, was able to dig herself out twice as fast as himself. He considering force pushing it all way for moment before she seemingly read his mind.
“Don’t. We’re surrounded by mountains genius. You want to risk setting off a real avalanche?”
She motioned to the mass of snow rock all around them, they were in a valley after all, before resorting to pulling his arms.
“Geeze Ezra, you’re heavier than my armor.” Sabine grunted, attempting to pull the fool to freedom.
“I’m a growing boy.”
It was to no avail and they resorted to digging in frustration. Ezra hoped they could free him soon. It was starting to become really unbearably cold in places he’d rather not have to share with a med-doctor back at the stronghold.
“Haar’chak. Tristan where are you?! The di’kut Jetii is stuck!”
“Set off an avalanche, Sabine.” Tristan returned.
“And just what took you so long?”
“I was just enjoying the show.”
Tristan laughed as his elder sibling went into a quick succession of mandalorian words to fast for Ezra to keep track. There was one though that he thought sounded familiar even in their language.
That was the mandalorian word for Jedi. It was what he was, but what would Sabine or Tristan call their own people? Maybe if he learned more words he could ask someone who knows why mandalorians distrust Jedi. No, Jetii.
They set to digging him out. The siblings making quick work of the snow enveloping most of Ezra. As the Jedi got to his feet Tristan helped swat the remaining snow from his parka, with a little more for force than needed.
“Time to keep moving. We need a stag for tomorrows dinner.”
“I’m freezing, Sabine.”
“Then start walking.”
Walking had indeed warmed him up quite a bit. He kept his eyes peeled for a deer of some kind. Sabine had long since silenced their chatter. The noise likely to alert any game of their presence. They’d covered some distance from where he had been buried. The trees growing thicker and snow not nearly as deep or hard packed, allowing for more shrubbery to poke through to the surface. Sabine halted their pace. Squatting in the snow to examine some impressions.
“We’re on the right track.” She announced. Standing and taking a few steps in the direction of said prints.
“Looks like one has been feeding in this area.” Tristan pointed out the ruffled shrubbery and naked conifer branches.
Ezra allowed himself to fall back from the two. He’d leave the hunting and tracking part up to them. Preferring not to be the one in position to harm the animal himself, even if it was for dinner. He sighed, leaning on the closeest tree. Branches above his head broken, hanging limply. Ezra cocked his head at the sight. There was a faint sound. Like crunching. The Jedi glanced over at the mando siblings. Neither seemed to have noticed. Both some paces from him. Likely too far and too engrossed in their own conversation to hear the light sound.
Suspecting something akin to a loth-bird Ezra took a peak around the large tree. At first he saw nothing, eyes scanning over the brown and green spots among a backdrop of white. Then it moved. Shaking its head to displace a clump of snow from its antlers. He did his best not to alert the creature, but an involuntary gasp had its ears swiveling in his direction. It was big. Broad horse face on a thick neck and muscular shoulders. Back sloping down to powerful hind legs.
Perfectly adapted to the weather unlike said Jedi. Thick pale white coat and brown to black points. It snorted, shaking its head in Ezra’s direction. Not a cloud of hot breath escaping its nostrils. The antlers were huge, with a width between them Ezra was sure he could lay down in. Wide and flat with long thick points protruding from the front and sides. Waving them up and down he knew it was only a matter of time until the thing charged.
Ezra considered his options. Backing away slowly seemed like a good option, but with the aggressive display it was giving he doubted it would just go back to minding its own business. Climbing the tree was another thought. With the force he could make quick work up its branches, but would that leave Sabine and Tristan open to attack? Ezra shook his head. He had to warn them. Though calling out was likely to agitate it. There was also the option to use the force to pacify it, but considering its show of teeth and drool trailing from its maw, he doubted it was in the mood to make friends.
He made his choice.
“Guys, look out!”
It charged. Elk-ish roar echoing out followed by the pounding of its hooved hands across the snow. Relying on the force Ezra pushed himself from the tree in time for a mass of antlers to strike where he had been. A patch gouged into the tree sending bits of wood and bark in every direction. It snarled, adjusting its gait with little effort to continue in his direction. Ezra scrambled to his feet. Doing his best not to slip in the soft snow ground. His spears falling from their pouch as he got his footing.
“Ezra!” Sabine called. “You’re running the wrong way!”
“Don’t drop your spears!” Tristan followed up.
Forget that. This thing was charging him and its legs were definitely longer than his. He used the force to propel himself forward again when he thought he could feel the things cold breath on his hair. A risky move as it had him sliding in the snow again. Ezra cursed as the distance he had gained was wasted when he struggled to regain his footing. Jumping around on a solid ground was easy enough but he realized too late how different a snow laden field was to move on.
The beast shrieked as Ezra slid fully to the ground. He could feel the ground shake under its weight. Rolling away as best he could onto his back Ezra watched the creature stumble. Snow being flung in every direction under angry hooves, the animal sliding over the surface. Its rear legs were down, struggling to find purchase with a well-placed spear protruding from the animal’s hip.
Ragged breathing Ezra spotted Sabine in the small clearing. Spear pulled from her sheath she was rearing back for another throw. Loosing the spear, Ezra flinched. He could hear the sound of the spear head striking flesh. The animal’s gurgling cries filling his ears. It shouldn’t have pained him so much to hear it, he thought. Him, a Jedi that cut down many a Stormtrooper with his own blade. Surely he knew what hunting entailed, but watching it thrash about and blood gushing from its neck had him turning his head.
Sabine came around the beast as its flailing slowed and it laid its head down. Fight leaving it to heave for breath. She reached over its back, clear of its sharp hooves, and dove her knife into its jugular putting the creature out of its misery. It had all been fairly quick. Sabine’s aim had been true and she had undoubtedly saved his life. She cast her dark visored gaze over him. Standing with one foot on the animals back he could see the bit of bright blood drip down from her knife. She seemed to be considering his reaction and he looked away unable to meet her helmeted face.
Tristan’s heavy hand falling on his shoulder snapped him out of his haze making him jump.
“Yeah…yeah, I’m fine.”
He could feel the hot sweat that made its way down his face.
“What the hell was that thing?!”
The younger man helped him to his feet. Steadying him when he almost slid again.
“What? That looks nothing like a deer!” He breathed.
A glance at the thing and he could see Sabine was still in the same place, knife still in hand. Giving him the same helmeted stare. He fought the urge to look away again, but just when they seemed to meet eyes past her visor she turned away. Wiping her knife on her pant leg before putting it away. Ezra frowned. Was she disappointed in his reaction?
“Was this your first hunt?” Tristan broke his train of thought again.
He nodded at Ezra, patting his back.
“Sorry. We shoulda had you on something a little less dangerous for your first time…” He trailed off.
“No. I’m fine.” He rubbed the bit of sweat from his brow. “It was just so sudden…”
Ezra realized he’d never seen Sabine kill before. Recalling Kanan chastise her more than once, Sabine those blasters better be set to low, and hearing her huff in response. He hadn’t really thought much about the meaning of Kanan’s words. Krownest is a wild planet. Cold with little plant life. Hunting was how the mandalorians here lived and ate. Ezra sighed, feeling a little stupid. He eyed Sabine again. Her hand resting over the right side of her helmet. Likely she was on the coms informing those at camp to bring the mounts around.
He came up behind Sabine once her hand had fallen from her comlink. Giving her a light shove. She whirled around in response. Not missing a step in the snow. Her hand briefly touching her blasters didn’t go unnoticed but he chose to ignore the fact he had caught her off guard. A questionable stare likely behind her visor as her hands came to rest on her belt to cover the fact she’d been startled.
“That is what you call a stag? It looks nothing like a deer.”
She shrugged. “I never said it did.”
“It better be delicious.”
“It is.” Sabine shoved him back. “My buir is actually a great cook.”
Dinner with her mother? Shit.
Next chapter is A Dinner with Wrens (working title). Possibly then Warrior and the Pacifist I.
Chapter 4: A Dinner with Wrens
Fenn Rau sighed as he stood with the others. Landing gear of the Mand’alor’s krom’rk coming to rest in the hanger. He was on Krownest again. Well within the territory of House Vizsla. Which, a few years ago would have been a death sentence for any protector. Now he was hear as a guest of the new Mand’alor. Change was slow and difficult among his people, proud and stubborn as they are. No doubt even more so for those of House Vizsla. Among the most ancient of lines and changing least over the centuries.
From the research he had gathered, the Wren Stronghold having been built sometime during the waning years of Tarre Vizsla’s rule. It was important that Bo-katan as the new Mand’alor maintained a decent enough relationship with not only House Vizsla itself but Clan Wren. Krownest may have seemed like a strange place for a clan to make its home. There being more suitable worlds for a House Vizsla border planet. With its frozen surface where nearly nothing grows, and a night left to the elements being nearly as dangerous as the few species that call this place home. At least on the surface it would appear to be more trouble than it was worth, but Rau has accompanied Bo-katan in the few conferences with House Vizsla that they can get out of the stubborn House Leader. Though much to his suspicion, Bo-katan seems to know more about Clan Wren then he would have suspected of a warrior from a rival house.
She had shared with him that Krownest was highly valued by House Vizsla due to the sheer amount of ore and minerals found in the mountains all over the planet. Though she hadn’t said it aloud, that bit of information told him much about the function of the Clan within its House. As he had seen from Sabine and the Herr’alor, Ursa, much of the clan specialized in explosives, electronics and by extension sabotage. With the literal gold mine of ore and mineral pulled from the mountains it was also likely Clan Wren was responsible for manufacturing munitions, and ships for its House. The planets harsh environment making it near impossible for all but the most skilled or foolish of warriors to lay siege to it.
Rau frowned as he stepped off the gangplank. Clan Wren was likely the source of the weapons, and ships used by Death Watch in their reign of terror. If he had only known then. The protectors could have assaulted the stronghold effectively crippling Death Watch’s supply. Not a lot he could do about it now save for cast a glare at the Wrens he passed. As Mand’alor Bo-katan needs the resources here to begin repairing the damage done during Imperial rule. A task made all the more difficult with the shadow of the new Republic breathing down her neck at every waking moment. Vehemently insisting Manda'yaim join them. Vague threats is what he called it. The senate making reference to their current lack of structure and collapsing economy. It was only a matter of time before they decided it was in the best interest of all Mando’ade that Manda'yaim be brought under Republic control one way or another.
Perhaps however earning the favor of Clan Wren wouldn’t be as difficult as he thought. Amongst the welcome party of Wrens was the Herr’alor Alrich Wren. He gave a smooth half bow to Bo-katan before engaging in a forearm shake.
<Welcome back to Krownest, Mand’alor Bo-katan.> He greeted.
<Always a pleasure to be here, Herr’alor.>
The greeting was formal between them, but the smile and twinkle in the eye of the Herr’alor seemed to hint there was more information that went unspoken between them. He considered it was likely she had visited the planet during her time as part of Death Watch.
It took Rau a moment to realize Alrich was addressing him, and as Protector Commander no less. He’d be one of the first among House Vizsla to address him as second to Bo-katan.
<It is an honor.>
Rau took the man’s extended arm. Greeting him with practiced formality. Alrich Wren was an odd sight amongst the backdrop of armored warriors. Adorned in formal wear rather than beskar’gam he wasn’t at all what one would think of when considering the partner of an Alor. Granted despite what an outsider might assume about their culture not all mando’ade wore armor. All were trained as warriors and had armor, but it was in no way a requirement to wear it at all times. Only those of warrior class wearing it at all times. Farmers, engineers and such those with jobs off the frontline usually choosing to forgo the extra weight that was beskar.
Alrich was of course a diplomat by trade. Being armed to the teeth at all times would likely be a hindrance in negotiations. Though Rau couldn’t help but wonder how an eccentric diplomat and artist with a bright almost too friendly personality managed to become the partner of the cold and stoic Ursa. Diplomacy wasn’t usually something taught by clans so it was likely Alrich originated from outside Krownest which made the prospect of their partnership all the stranger.
<If everyone would come this way, we can make our way into the stronghold.>
Alrich led the way through hanger. The man may just be a blessing in disguise. Relations between the protectors and House Vizsla were not so good at the moment due to years of conflict but if Rau could successfully recruit members from its supporting clans it would do well to change sentiments. Though Alrich himself didn’t have the authority to give permission for recruitment, only having the title of Herr’alor due to his partnership, he was likely to be the only one that could budge Ursa’s opinion on the matter.
Rau trailed behind Bo-katan as the party moved through the hanger. She and Alrich engaged in formal small talk. He saw to it that the band of Kryze warriors and pair of shiny protectors accompanying them remain with the krom’rk. Last thing any of them wanted was an incident between clans. Given how well Alrich and Bo-katan were chatting they needn’t worry for their new Mand’alor’s safety. The both of them were under guest rights now and a clan as old as Wren was not about to break an ancient law, he was sure.
The hanger they crossed was mostly empty. Probably due to the nearing festival he had hear of. Due to negotiations with other clans neither he nor Bo-katan would be able to attend despite how much it would do to earn the favor of warriors. So instead they had opted for a dinner with the Herr’alor and her immediate family as to allow the Mand’alor to show her support of the clan. Bringing exotic resources with them he supposed didn’t hurt either. This hanger was filled with krom’rk and fang fighters. Many of them finished and awaiting a proper paint job. Others already painted with the colors of Clan Kryze. Four of the krom’rk Bo-katan requested already completed. Impressive work for sure. Rau stopped in his tracks. Falling away from the group as a flash or burnt orange caught his eyes. Cocking his head at the kom’rk before him. A slightly larger model than the standard. He had no idea what clan the striking array of orange, blue and slate could belong to. A nice piece of work. Custom. He could tell by the forward guns that had been changed to a larger type, and the added dorsal turret. Rau squinted at the brighter orange line art of an animal painted along the nose of the krom’rk to the cockpit.
It took him a moment to realize where he had seen similar work before. Bridger. A loth cat he believed it was called. Now the color made perfect sense and he suspected this was the work of Sabine. Most of the things the Jedi owned seemed to be painted by her. Rau smiled and shook his head, quickening his pace to catch up to his escort. So the Jedi was here among the warriors. He hoped the young man was doing well in such unfamiliar territory. Recalling the snarl that had appeared on Sabine’s face when the Jedi had referred to her helmet as a bucket. There was much he would have to learn if he had any hope of barking up that tree.
Once they had come down a long grey hall Alrich stopped before a large double door.
<Here is the dining hall.>
Alrich had started to reach for the door’s control when Bo-katan spoke.
<I had hoped to speak with Ursa before the dinner if that would be possible.>
<Of course.> Alrich nodded.
It didn’t go unnoticed to Rau at Bo-katan’s lack of honorific when referring to Ursa now that it was just the three of them. She turned to face him.
<Go ahead to the dining hall. I’ll join everyone there later.>
The two of them started back down the hall to an intersection they passed before. Bo-katan not giving Rau enough time to respond before she was gone. Being the leader of the protectors it was a bit odd for her to have a meeting without him, but perhaps she had her reasons. Composing himself, Rau entered the dining hall. It was a large room with a prominent rectangular table taking up the center space. Frosted windows making up the far wall and a lit fireplace on the opposite end far behind were the clans leader would sit.
The headdress of a large spotted blue furred bear like animal hanging just above. A grouping of Wren helmets adorning a shelf to its left. One of the helmets being distinctly shaped for a non-human head. Above resting a long worn glaive polearm, clearly far bigger than any human could wield. To the right of the fireplace was a real surprise to Rau. Set on a small stand and similar shelf was a pair of matching lightsabers. He frowned at the connotation of the weapons. Their light gold and silver embroidered hilt likely belonging to a Jedi. Making this matching set the trophy of a Jedi killer. Something that was worth commendation among warriors. Jedi being the eternal nemesis of mando’ade. The killing of such a high profile foe earning anyone the title of Jetii kyramud. On display here he could only hope they were not recent trophies. For the young Jedi, Ezra Bridger’s, sake.
Speaking of Bridger. A door on the right wall revealed said Jedi pushing in a cart of dishes along with Sabine and Tristan Wren. They must have been charged with setting the table. Careful not to draw too much attention Rau moved to block the view of the lightsabers. Hoping they might remain unnoticed by the Jedi.
“Oh hey Rau. You’re here too?” Bridger greeted, moving to help the siblings set the table.
“I am. As a guest of the Mand’alor.”
The Jedi made a slight face. Eyebrows pinching in thought.
“Mahn-dah-lor, Ezra.” Sabine pronounced for him. “The title not the planet. He’s talking about Bo-katan.”
Bridger frowned as he set a covered dish on the table.
“That’s complicated. Why does your leader have the same name as the planet?”
That earned an exasperated eye roll from Sabine.
“Because the planet is actually called Manda'yaim.” Bridger started to interrupt with a question only for Sabine to silence him with a look. “Mandalore is just the rest of the galaxy misnaming it.”
“Oh.” Her response seeming to answer his question while confusing him even more on their culture.
“So, Bridger.” Rau began. Feeling the subject needed changing. “What brings you to Krownest?”
The young man perks up at Rau’s inquiry.
“My gauntlet was here for some repairs. So I was originally here to get it, but it wasn’t done yet since someone decided to go all out on it.”
“I got rid of that hideous color!” She called from the far end of the table.
“You were only supposed to fix the stabilizers.”
“Well if you don’t like it I can change it back.” Sabine turned her head away. Flicking her hair with mock annoyance.
Rau smiled at the exchange. Catching the eye roll Tristan gave both of them as he moved to set cups and flagons across the table.
“I believe I saw the krom’rk in the hanger. The orange one.”
“That’s the one.”
“A well mortified piece of work.” He praised.
“It took some time working on it alone but I managed to outfit it to much better accommodate a small crew and house more cargo.” Sabine beamed. “No to mention the updated guns added.”
“Careful there.” Tristan swatted at the arm of his sister. “If your head gets any bigger your helmet won’t fit anymore.” Earning him a swat in return.
With the table set a new guest arrived through the same set of doors he had come through.
“Hey Hera.” Ezra and Sabine greeted.
“General Syndulla.” Rau opting for a more formal address, bowing his head. “It is an honor to see you again.”
“Just Hera is fine.” The green twi’lek offered him a bright smile. Waving off his formality. “We’re a long way from a war room.” She laughed.
Rau returned the smile, noticing the smaller form just behind her legs.
“Say hello, Jacen.”
The child in question peeked out from behind Hera’s leg. Giving the protector a suspicious stare.
“Hello, young man.” Rau kneeling to ease the child’s nerves. “I am Fenn Rau. Once I had the privilege of fighting alongside your mother.” He offered the boy his hand. Jacen shaking it with both his, giving Rau a toothy grin at the mention of fighting alongside Hera.
Standing he returned his attention back to Hera, paying no mind to the obviousness that was the child’s hybrid genetics.
“I see you got wrapped into this dinner as well.”
“Sabine invited us.” Taking her son in hand she made to herd him into one of the far seats. “It’s an excellent opportunity to talk business with the Countess and Lady Regent while enjoying some fine mandalorian cuisine.”
“Have business with them do you?”
Hera raised a brow at his off handed prying. Offering another kind smile as she settled Jacen into his seat.
“Just the usual dispute. I promised Senator Organa I would at least mention a few things.”
Rau took a seat at the far end as well as Hera sat to the side of her son. Personally he wanted to be as far from Herr’alor’s ire as possible when the subject of the Republic was brought up. Once the table had been set with an array of foods, all of which smelled fresh and delicious, the others in the room took their seats. Sabine taking a chair on the same side as Rau. One seat away from the head of the table where her mother would be. Her brother doing the same just opposite of her. Seating himself next to Hera.
“Um.” Ezra fidgeted. “Where should I sit?”
“Over there between Rau and your cyare.” Tristan informed.
Rau’s head shot up from where he had been looking over the table to Tristan. The young man grinning as Sabine hissed through her teeth much to the confusion of the non-mando’a speakers in attendance. Ezra took his place in the empty seat between himself and Sabine with a puzzled look. The woman in question looking about ready to scale the table and strike her brother. The protector shifted in his chair. Hoping he wouldn’t have to break up a fight before the dinner was even started. Luckily fate seemed inclined in his favor today.
The double doors sliding open to reveal both Herr’alor and Mand’alor. Sabine quickly standing and composing herself. Hands clasped behind her back and perfect smile spread over her face as her mother moved passed. Ursa giving her daughter a glare as if she had clairvoyance. All of them stood from their chairs once again and sat once Bo-katan had. Ursa as owner of the stronghold at the head of the table. Bo-katan second next to Sabine and Alrich opposite her next to his son.
Everyone was silent at first. No one sure if they should be the first ones to start talking or eating. Sabine seemed to be looking at anything in the room except at her mother who had all her attention directed at her daughter. Ezra looked to be doing his best hide behind Sabine, hands in his lap and slouched in his seat as if to make himself smaller. Rau didn’t blame the young man for his apprehension. Being a Jedi among mando’ade was one thing, but his odd and close relationship with the Herr’alor’s daughter wasn’t doing much to dispel the awkwardness of the situation.
Though Rau hoped Bridger would realize sooner than later that his craven only worsened her view of him thus far. Warriors respected strength and her favor was not something he could earn by avoiding her stare no matter how frightening she seemed and likely was. Rau had his suspicions about the pair. Everyone in this room likely having one thought or another about them. Such assumptions being the probable source of Ursa’s ire.
“Ah-hem.” Alrich broke the silence by clearing his throat. He held up his cup. “Everyone is more than welcome to dig in. I’d hate for this meal to go to waste.” He chuckled genuinely, successfully dispelling the tension. “Sabine, I hear you hunted this evening’s meal.”
“I did.” She grinned along with her brother. “Just the other day with Tristan and Ezra.”
Fork in hand Sabine went into the tale of their hunt, using said utensil as a stand in for her spear.
“So the stag came running.” She began animatedly. “Heading straight for Ezra. Ready to trample all over him, and I threw my spear.” Lunging with her fork she emphasized her spear throw. Spilling the contents of her cup over the table. Ezra jumping back as the fork nearly impaling him in the process. “Saving the poor Jedi!”
The young man frowned as Sabine leaned fully in his space, nudging him with her shoulder.
“He screamed like an ik’aad too.” Tristan added to the story earning a laugh from the siblings.
“I want to go hunting too!” Jacen exclaimed, sharing a laugh at Ezra’s expense.
“Maybe when you’re older.” Hera told her son, doing her best not to add anymore to Ezra’s embarrassment.
“You guys are terrible.” Ezra pouted.
Doing his best to push back against Sabine’s invasion of his space they were now shoulder to shoulder. This did not go unnoticed by the Herr’alor. Frown deepening on her face. Knife warping under the pressure of her left hand. Rau hadn’t realized she had that kind of strength. Ezra catching sight of the Herr’alor’s gaze nearly jumping from his seat. Sabine, none the wiser, using the distraction to steal from his plate. From afar he could see Bo-katan roll her eyes. Alrich doing his best to change the subject.
This was going to be a long day.
“General Syndulla.” The most diplomatic among them began. “I trust you and your son are doing well.”
“We are indeed. I thank you for allowing us to attend this dinner.”
Subject successfully changed Rau took a moment to cast his sight over the table. Young Jacen quietly enjoying the stag meat. Getting more of it on his face than in his mouth. Hera engaging conversation with Alrich. Tristan and Sabine giving each other silent threats from across the table. Ursa’s expression returning to neutral. The formal chatter of little interest to her. Rau raised a curious brow however, as her head snapped in Bo-katan’s direction to her right. Wearing a face similar to the one Sabine had when she was about ready to bite Tristan’s head off. What was that about? He hadn’t heard Bo-katan say anything. She hadn’t really even looked up from her plate, and as Ursa turned her snarl towards the Mand’alor she merely sipped from her cup.
“And how are you and the protectors faring as of late, Al’verde Cabur Rau?”
Realizing the conversation had turned to him Rau cleared his throat and took a drink from his cup. The action giving him a little more time to consider his words.
“All is running smoothly. Though our numbers are lower than I’d like. I plan on recruiting warriors from more clans soon.” Rau made sure to lock eyes with Ursa as he added that last bit. The narrowing of her eyes telling him she caught his meaning.
“Excellent.” Alrich nodded. “I can see how recruiting from more clans would go a long way towards unification.”
Good that Alrich understood him as well. With luck he would talk Ursa into allowing it amongst her kin.
Much of the rest of the dinner was uneventful. Casual conversation about the mundane. Hera did mention that Senator Organa wished to speak with Bo-katan about the possibility of trade with Manda'yaim. While the prospect was an interesting one, Bo-katan did her best to skirt around the question without giving too much away. Truth was Manda'yaim had little to offer in the way of trade. A barren planet with few natural resources other than ore. Which was one of the reasons the former Duchess Satine struggled to maintain the economy and feed the populace, and with the Empire’s strip-mining of much the planet’s surface there was even less natural resources than before.
Hera hadn’t pushed the topic. Years spent living with Sabine likely gave her inside knowledge at the stubbornness of mando’ade. The subject of art had come up at one point. Both Alrich and his daughter joining the chatter. Alrich sharing about the historical carvings in Sundari and all but pouting in recollection of how he wasn’t allowed to view them during his time as a political hostage. Tristan sharing his displeasure at his sibling’s paintings all over his room earning a laugh from Sabine.
At the end of the evening Rau felt things had gone well enough, and he hadn’t lost his head. Now back in the krom’rk headed for Manda'yaim he sat across Bo-katan in the ships common area.
<You intend to recruit protectors from Clan Wren?> Bo-katan asked.
<If I can manage to convince the leader of any clan with in House Vizsla I think it would go a long way to breaking tension between Houses.>
She nodded. Acknowledging his words.
<It will be difficult to convince Ursa.>
<You know her well?>
Bo-katan turned to face him fully. Giving him a long neutral stare.
<I’ve known her since before I was Pre Vizsla’s second.> The faintest hint of a smile tugging at her lips. <We got into a lot troublesome situations when we were younger. The five of us. I was even there when Sabine was born. Though she looks nothing like her father.>
Rau raised a curious brow at that. Sure he would say the she looks more like the mirror image of a younger Ursa but the couple shared comparable features. Dark eyes, hair, and tan complexion. Most of Clan Wren did after all, but she took after him in terms of artistic ability didn’t she? Though he couldn’t say such a skill was inheritable for sure.
<What do you mean?>
He watched Bo-katan’s eyes go wide for a second before regaining her composure. It would seem she had said something she shouldn’t have.
<I just meant that she takes after her mother. Very much like Ursa was when she was younger.> She was quick to correct.
Rau didn’t push the subject anymore as he watched the retreating form of the Mand’alor as she returned to her quarters. Curious about her slip. If there was something behind it or she truly just misspoke.
Every hall looked the same to Ezra. Grey, plain and confusing to navigate. Late as it is he was supposed to be sleeping but grew bored of counting goat-sheep. So he wandered out of the guest wing through the maze that was the Wren stronghold. A lot bigger than he thought it would be. Seemed you could house an army in here and yet he had seen so few Wrens patrolling. He carelessly tapped door controls as he passed. Exploring since he couldn’t find Sabine and wasn’t allowed in the Countess’ family wing to search.
Most of the rooms he passed were dark and empty. Either left to collect dust or filled with an assortment of storage. Why did they need a place so huge if they weren’t even going to use all the space? He flicked the lights in one of the empty areas. No power. So not all of the stronghold was powered at all times either. Weird.
He turned a corner passing another warrior on patrol. They didn’t pay much attention to him, offering a wide berth. Ezra figured it meant his exploration was to be tolerated then. Walking aimlessly a large pair of double doors caught his eye. Pair of statues adorning either side. Tall bare stone warriors facing the hall at attention, pikes in hand crossed over the doors. Ezra advanced on them. He wondered if the room beyond was of some significance. If it would be ok for him to enter.
Ezra twiddled his fingers looking around. A plaque was fixed above the doors, gold and silver embellishments around it curving down along the entrance. All very fancy. He squinted at the writing on the plaque. Raised letters unreadable to him of course. Written the strange narrow lines that was man-doh-ah. To the right was a small button panel. He considered it, opting that if the doors were unlocked than that meant he was free to enter. Right?
They swooshed open. It was a large two story room he stepped into. Furnished and well decorated. Ezra’s mouth gapped. The blue and yellow light of holobooks emanating from rows of shelves. His eyes lit up as he started down the shelves. Almost running in delight but mindful of the layout. He slid out the first holobook he could get his hands on. Activating it, then groaning when he remembered he couldn’t read any of the words. Sighing he returned the item to its place.
Moving down the rows Ezra found an interesting glow coming from the far end. Further inspection revealed the light to from collection of holo-art. Some of it even actual paintings. Again Ezra found himself gawking. They appeared to be scenes of battle. Distinct mando armor painted in an assortment of styles and colors. Men and women rushing over burning fields, active battle zones, dark skies, and familiar snowy outcrops. He smiled, of course mandos would paint images of battles. Though not all were so active portrayals. Just as many a painting of groupings of warriors wearing different colors. Some of them in armor not in the style he had ever seen. Just as many abstract backgrounds as realism. Not a single one out of armor, not even without a helmet. He wondered how they recognized each person. Even the ones seemingly in near identical plate.
He scanned around. The wasn’t any descriptions or names on any of them. Though he wouldn’t be able to read them he thought it strange for there to be none at all. Down the line there was more than just paintings and holos of paintings. Some were holos of sculptures. The lot of them depicting similar scenes however, one in the back stood out from the rest. Ezra stopped to stare up at the giant holo. Neck straining as he took it all in.
A piece that looked old. Simple carvings painted grey over black stone. This scene was of a large mandalorian figure in the center. A sword held in his right hand and left fixed in a fist. A large circle with a crack through it behind the figure to the side of his clenched fist, smaller circle orbiting the larger. What he recognized to be little gauntlet ships by the circles. Ezra was no Sabine when it came to art but he thinks he’s picked up a thing or two. So he concludes the circles likely represented a planet and its moon. Why it had a crack down the middle of it however was beyond him. Smaller mandalorians marched beneath the figure. Their weapons drawn in the midst of a battle. Across from them in the line of fire were what he assumed was the enemy.
Ezra inched closer. The little figures were not in mandalorian armor. Some of them in masks he thought were familiar but most unarmored. They looked to be carrying swords. All of them. He rubbed the bit of hair on his chin. An army of men with swords, only swords, fighting an army of mandos with blasters. Ezra examined the largest figure again. He didn’t have a blaster. The only mandalorian with a sword. A long straight edge with a sharp point. His blade left the black color of the stone while the enemy’s swords had been painted pale. Ezra looked closer. The only other difference was the sword points were rounded instead of pointed.
Gasping Ezra moved back from the holo to take it all in at once. They were Jedi. This was a battle of Jedi against mandalorians. Ezra nearly choked on his own breathe, backing into the pedestal of another holo. It toppled but acting quickly he was able to steady it. He didn’t really understand the carving. The holo of it was so giant it had to be of some important battle. When? Where? Why? So many questions and nothing to answer them.
Were the mandalorians attacking, or were the Jedi?
He sighed. There would be no answers from the silent holo. Its secrets over his head. Mandalorians and Jedi fought. That was nothing new. Kanan had told him there had been much conflict between them. Their ways of life conflicting greatly. A scoff from Sabine and her shear disregard for all things Jedi coming to mind.
“The difference between us, Ezra.” He remembered. “Is that you want to talk and I want to shoot.” She had twirled her blaster in hand. The show off.
Vivid memory of Kanan sighing. “Can’t we go anywhere without you shaking someone down?”
Ezra smiled to himself. Yes, they were very different.
Despite their differences they had learned to coexist. Friends. Comrades. Family. As long as Sabine knew him for who he truly was, that was enough. Beyond the Jedi and the orphan boy. Street-rat and thief. If he could make some sense of her culture all the better.
Up the stairs on the second story was much the same. However to Ezra’s astonishment, set upon a single shelf to the very back where books. Actual paper books. The shelf was locked behind a glass shield out of reach, but that didn’t stop him from smooshing his face into the surface for a better look. It wasn’t a full shelf, but a far larger collection than Ezra had ever seen. Not that he had ever seen a paper book before. Next to the shelf was another case. This a box on legs. Inside behind the glass where three books laid on a velvet cushion. Brown leather like cover, they were well worn. One of them being torn badly at its edges. Spots of some red stain across it.
The book in the middle was the largest. Thick with uneven pages poking from its sides. A symbol the exact likeness he had seen on the helmets of all members of Clan Wren pressed into its hard leather cover. Ezra put his hands on the glass, staring at the book intently as if to will it to reveal its secrets.
“I see you’ve found some of the oldest parts of clan Wren.”
Ezra screeched. He shot back away from the voice. His body instinctively going into high alert. Fists raised in defense.
“For a Jedi you sure do react like a mandalorian.” He chuckled. “I wouldn’t think a fighting stance would be the first reaction of a harbinger of peace.”
“I’m so sorry!” Ezra sputtered. His fists dropping immediately to his sides. “It’s just…. well, you scared me.”
The elder man chuckled again. He was seated at a small cluttered table to the far side. Leaning back, relaxed in his chair. Arms crossed with one hand tucked under his chin. He was attired as usual. Sleek grey tunic lined with yellow and blue. Collar undone by a few buttons so maybe he hadn’t been expecting company. There was a necklace hanging from his is open collar Ezra hadn’t seen before. Thin leather string coiled around the curved fang of some animal. A carnivore for sure. Ezra let out an embarrassed breath at his sight. Couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed the man. Sabine’s father smiled even wider at him.
“Forgive me. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Um” Ezra rubbed his knuckles nervously. “I’m sorry for intruding. I should’ve asked before entering.”
Alrich waved him off. Moving to stand.
“Nonsense. If I wanted to keep people out I would’ve locked the door.” Ezra shared a faint chuckle at that, rubbing his neck. “Besides this is the public archive. Not that it gets much use.” He gestured to the rooms emptiness.
The Count came closer. His pleasantry putting Ezra at ease. A mandalorian not in armor, which was a bit odd. He wanted to ask, but would that be rude? Sabine was always finicky about her armor. The lifeless equipment getting more care than she gave herself.
“I was born in this armor, and I’ll die in it.” She had chastised Kallus when he had commented on the practicality of wearing such heavy equipment to breakfast.
“Do you shower in it also?” Kallus had followed up. Unafraid of Sabine’s scowl. Ignorant of how far she would take a grudge. He had learned to never question her choice of attire again. The ex-imperial finding his usual blonde locks and sideburns pink after a shower.
“I haven’t seen you since that awkwardness that was dinner. I hope you enjoyed the food.”
“I did.” He nodded. Going from one pleasant memory to the horror that was dinner. Doing his best not to cringe.
Ezra avoided eye contact as Alrich seemed to read his face. Choosing instead to focus on the case. Alrich followed his eyes, thankfully changing the subject.
“That one in the middle.” He tapped on the glass. “It is as old as this fortress. A catalog of every chief and chieftess to ever lead clan Wren.”
Ezra’s eyes widened at the information. The book was rather thick. There must have been a lot of leaders. He hand never really thought about how old the clan itself was.
“Each leader all the way down to Ursa has set their name and dominant hand print into its pages.”
“Whoa. How do you keep it from falling apart?”
“With lots of care.” The Count spoke, clearly amused the question was about the books condition rather than its contents.
“What are the other two?”
Alrich tapped the glass over the one to the furthest left.
“This one is the memoir of Chief Wyren. First Chief and from which the clan takes its name.”
“This other one belonged to the Chief of a now extinct clan.”
“What happened to them?”
This was great. Ezra wanted to know all he could.
“They were destroyed by clan Wren.” Alrich began. His soft tone becoming serious. “Their homes were torn to the ground and kin scattered. Name scorned and erased from history so that all to remain is this single tattered journal.”
Ezra looked to the one Alrich’s hand hovered over one the glass. The book with the rough edges and sprinkling of a faint red stain.
“Why…?” Was all he could breathe.
“For committing one of the gravest sins.” He paused no doubt for dramatic effect. “Betrayal.”
Dramatic effect delivered. Ezra gasped. Alrich could sure tell a story. He’d let the man read him a dictionary.
“That’s crazy.” More than just crazy. Frightening.
Alrich’s gaze softened. He motioned to a nearby table for the two to sit. Ezra joined him there, seated across from the Count. Holobooks and a data pad littering its surface. Ezra had so much he wanted to ask but didn’t know where to start. The giant holo down stairs?
“What about the holo of that giant sculpture on the lower level?
His face fell at that. Frown like something foul wafted into the room crossed his features for a moment. Though he was quick to replace it with something softer.
“A sculpture of the Dral’han. The piece is a beautiful work of art in Sundari. Ancient and much bigger in person. You have an interest in mandalorian culture?”
“Yes.” Ezra nodded, perhaps a bit to energetically. “I thought it might help me get along with everyone a lot more if I understood more about the culture.”
A brow raised on Alrich’s face. He leaned back in his chair, setting a stray holobook on another. The Count had both answered and avoided his question. Suspicious since he was usually so much more forthcoming.
“Knowledge is power as they say. Though I suspect many a warrior might disagree.” He clasped his hands over his lap. Ezra got the feeling he was studying him. “My weapon of choice, of sorts.” The man smiled. Seeming to laugh at his own in-joke.
“So you don’t fight?” Damn, Ezra thought. He had let Alrich change the subject.
“I prefer to do my fighting with words. Much to the annoyance of the Saxon brothers I believe.”
He was held hostage on Mandalore. Ezra could never forget their daring rescue, and his rather embarrassing first impression.
“On Sundari for such a time and refused all things paint related. Such deplorable conditions.”
Alrich shook his head and Ezra blinked debating the seriousness of his exaggerated tone.
“But tell me about you.” He continued. “You and Sabine get along well. Close friends are you?”
This was not the direction he wanted this conversation to go. Not with her father of all people. He did his best to not give too much away. Not that there was anything to give away. Theywerejustfriends. Nothing more. Nothing has happened between them. Nothing will.
“It was a rocky start.” Ezra looked up sharing sheepish smile. His face suddenly warm.
“A lot like her mother.” He snorted. “Shoot first and ask questions later.”
Thank the force he didn’t press the question. The pressure in Ezra’s chest passing some. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so wound up over it. Alrich could have just been genuinely asking about their friendship. One that wasn’t strange in the slightest. After all he didn’t look to be prying in anyway. Innocence and compassion in his eyes. On the other hand… he is her father.
Though it did brighten Ezra’s mood somewhat to know Sabine was like her mother. Like a little window behind the curtain wall that was Sabine. So much that she still kept to herself.
“The first time we met she pointed a gun at me.”
Alrich sat forward in his seat. Consideration on his mind.
“When Ursa and I had first met she punched me in the face.”
“I was stealing from them.” Ezra added. His time as the street-rat still a running gag amongst the specters. Smallest of smiles gracing his lips.
“I was stowing away in a crate.” Alrich informed. His gaze drifting to the ceiling. Face thoughtful, reminiscing.
They considered each other’s tales. Staring at each other in a moments silence. Light laugh breaking after a time. Ezra wiped the bit of water that had welled up in his eyes. The bit of insight on Sabine’s similarity to her mother making him feel a bit less afraid of the Countess. Just a little. Nervousness returning to his gut. Alrich likely taking notice of his growing anxiety.
“You needn’t worry about Ursa, she’ll come around eventually. She’s just slow to trust.”
That sounded familiar.
“Be yourself. Boldness will go a long way. Warriors respect strength after all.”
“So are you saying I shouldn’t be afraid of her?” Was his meekness the reason she disliked him?
“Oh not at all. Ursa is the most terrifying person I’ve ever met. Bravery not bravado is key. Though if you do ever manage to get on her bad side, make sure to check your ship’s breathers first. That’s her favorite place to stash explosives.”
Ezra’s head shot up. Eyes wide in horror. He tried to discern the man’s seriousness, but his features revealed nothing. He was joking, he had to be. Before he took Sabine’s masterpiece anywhere he would be sure to check it first. A ships breathers heat up with use. Any charges placed there wouldn’t even have to be remote detonated. He could be half way across the galaxy before they went off. A genius albeit cunning way to get rid of someone since there wouldn’t be much to connect back given the time and distance.
“But not to worry. I’m sure Sabine would be very upset with her if something were to happen to you.”
He said everything so genuinely too. Like he hadn’t just told Ezra how he might die. Him and his son the masters of ambiguity. Ezra fighting off the need to roll his eyes, but maybe a little cheery that Sabine would be upset if were to get blown up.
“You are more than welcome to ask me anything of course.” His smile and pleasantry returning. “At the moment however,” He looked up at what appeared to be a holo clock cast on the wall. “It is quite late into the night. You’ll likely want your rest if you hope to catch Sabine before she leaves in the morning”
Leaving? His heart nearly leaping from his chest. She hadn’t told him she was going anywhere.
“Where is she going?”
There was a gasp in his words and Ezra cringed as it came out. Not wanting to sound so despondent over the information.
“Off on and errand Ursa assigned. They’re likely discussing it now.”
Dodged a bullet there. If he hadn’t come here he likely would have ended up running into the Countess if he found Sabine. The knowledge that she hadn’t avoided telling him, rather just learning herself now, offering immediate relief. He probably should get some sleep so he could tag along. Past days incidents doing little to deter him. Ezra stood. Alrich watchful of his movements.
“Thank you for speaking with me. I hope we can talk some more again.” Politeness to hide his is eagerness to be prepared for the morning.
“Do return. This archive is always open.”
Ezra bowed his head like Sabine had taught him before. When he was finally formally introduced to the Countess and not under the aim of blasters. Alrich stood to watch him go. Offering a nod in acknowledgment. The young Jedi started to make his way to the stairs. He would be sure to come back at another day. Right now though he wanted to make sure he would be awake to meet Sabine in the morning. To join her or at least see her off.
He stopped midway along. Backtracking till he could see the Count again. The man in question standing, in the process of rearranging the holobooks on his table.
“I do have just one question.”
Alrich turned. Facing him with some of the holobooks tucked under his arm.
“What does cyare mean?”
Shah-ray. He thinks that was how it was said. He’s heard it twice now. Once quietly from Sabine and mockingly from Tristan. Though the latter had seemed to have Tristan glared at by his sister.
Oh? The Count had seemed to freeze up at its mention. His face blank but brows slightly raised. One of the holobooks slipping from his arm to clatter on the table. Ezra waited, now even more curious.
“Where did you hear that?”
Ezra cocked his head. Alrich seemed surprised. Taken off-guard even.
“Sabine and Tristan, but I think he was mocking. her.”
“Oh.” He said it again. The suave diplomat drawing a blank for once. Another holobook slipping from his grasp. The only sound in the room a clatter as it missed the table.
“That’s probably something only Sabine can tell you.”
I may have altered the timeline of past Mandalore events somewhat.
Originally Mandalorian and the Pacifist I was meant to go here but I've decided to hold off on that one for now. The chapter after this one being Use of Power. Which will be published possibly next week once I've finished editing it.
I've notice errors in spelling and grammar. I do my best to fix them as I see them.
Thank you everyone for commenting and liking the story. I'll do my best to answer questions without giving to much away. Since I enjoy being vague. Certiv you seemed to have predicted future lol. There will certainly be more between Ezra and Alrich down the line. With everything that had transpired between him meeting Ursa, becoming a father, the fall of the republic and Mandalore, to eventually being held hostage by Saxon its been a while since he's been able to meet anyone from his side of the family.
As for Bo-katan, her relationship status was originally meant to be part of the story if a bit ambiguous. Though it was indeed a sort of past relationship. However as I've been wirtting the story has seemed to take its own course from somethings originally planed. In reference to Bo-katan's conversation with Rau, well anyones' guess is as good as Fenn Raus lol.
Curious is the cat of the owl, the wren, and the hawk.
Sidestep left, then right. Ducking before bouncing back two paces. Frustration building and sweat soaking through her body glove. She swung her head back as the tip of the electrostaff passed. A miniscule amount of energy jumping to her helmet. Just enough for her to feel the tingle on her skin. Heaving a breath she made to dodge again but missed her timing. Attempting a parry instead and ending up weapon locked with the old magna guard. Realizing her mistake against the droid which had both height and strength advantage she made to angle her blade and slide the electrostaff off.
The droid predicted this of course, re-angling its staff to better remain locked with her blade. Sparks jumping from the contact with the blue energy. A knee come up aiming for her gut which she barely managed to avoid. It was a faint and she realized to late the magna guard had reared back and slammed its metallic head into the top of her helmet. Blade lock broken she stumble back doing her best to regain both her vision and footing. Not losing its momentum the droid spun around bringing the end of its staff hard into her gut, shocking and sending her back onto the cold training yard. She landed with an oof and a clank from her armor. Nearly spiting up in her helmet from the force and dazed from the shock.
<Ok.> She breathed. <That’s enough.>
Attempting to roll onto her side she watched as the droid spun its staff around in one and before low gripping it in both. It reared back, electrostaff held high overhead.
<Wait, wait!> She reached out, realizing the droid must not have heard her. <Hold on!>
<You shall have no mercy from me!> It returned in its garbled metallic tone.
It had heard her. The newly rebuilt magna guard didn’t have enough independence yet to understand anything other than its preprogramed command prompts it seemed. She curled into herself best she could as the droid released a series of full overhead strikes. Flinching and yelping with every heavy hit to her shoulder, ribs, and gut. Her own weapon long forgotten. Blade deactivating as it rolled away.
<End sequence! End simulation!> She snapped out doing her best to remember the exact phrasing.
The droid halted mid swing, stepping back and returning to a passive stance. Electrostaff deactivating. Pushing her helmet over her head and sweeping back slick hair she rolled fully onto her back. The cold air of the late evening offering some relief from the heat of her armor. Reaching up she pinched her nose gently checking the already crooked bridged for more damage. Feeling none and running her hand over the old scar there she raised her head to the source of slow clapping.
Of all the people she could hope didn’t see her make a fool of herself it was the first one on the list.
<It’s been a while since I’ve seen a functional magna guard.>
Sabine pulled herself into a sitting position as her buir advanced into the yard. Though the woman’s face was neutral there was a hint of sarcasm to her tone. Enough to make Sabine bristle in defense.
<Yeah well, guess Sparky could use some more work.>
She eyed the large droid as it cocked its head in return. Ursa offering her daughter a towel to dry her face as she moved to examine the droid.
<You rebuilt this one.> It was a statement more than a question. The elder woman already knowing the answer. <And you named it.>
<His name is Sparky. I repurposed him to help me train with a lightsaber.>
Sabine let the towel hang around her neck as she stood, doing her best not to flinch due sore muscles under her buir’s watchful eye. She was sure the other noticed, but thankfully remained silent.
<It doesn’t fight like a Jedi.>
<Well I may have added some mando’ad tactics to the mix.>
<That would explain the underhanded moves I saw.> Ursa circled the droid. The slightest of smirks gracing the corner of her mouth. Seeming to admire Sabine’s engineering more than her fighting ability.
She moved to pick up the discarded lightsaber, turning it over in hand.
<Why are you practicing with this droid and not the boy?>
Sabine accepted the lightsaber from her mother. Ignoring how she referred to Ezra as boy.
<I can’t always rely on Ezra being here to help me practice.>
Ursa raised a brow at her. A look that said she suspected otherwise.
<There are plenty of swords here for you to use. You could even have one made to fit your hand.> Her buir turned fully to face her. <Why do you insist on using a lightsaber?>
<Because I want to.> It nearly took all she had not to hiss at her buir. <Kanan believed in me. Don’t you?>
Ursa turned away and Sabine would never admit to how much the action pained her.
<I have never doubted your skill.> It was an honest statement. Though said with a somber tone, Sabine didn’t understand why her buir had to turn her back to her just to say it. <That doesn’t mean I don’t worry for your safety. Jedi are dangerous.>
<Ezra is not dangerous.> Sabine really didn’t understand what her buir’s deal was. Ezra had been staying her for a while and no one has been hurt. <Have you ever even met a Jedi?>
Ursa’s shoulders tensed at that before slumping. She heard her buir sigh before returning to stand before Sabine. She griped the younger woman’s shoulders firmly.
<You are stubborn like your father.> She frowned. <Reckless too.>
Sabine raised a curious brow at her buir. Was her father stubborn? Guess he would have to be. Anyone would need to be to put up with her mother. Though she’d say her mother was far more reckless than her him. Choice of weapons evident of that. Her mother using explosives and dual blasters like herself, and her father, who is not to be trusted with highly explosive material, uses a rifle. Though Sabine has rarely ever seen him in his armor or use a weapon. Special occasions was what it was reserved for.
<From what I’ve heard, the recklessness comes from you.> She retorted, patting her buir’s left arm.
That earned the slightest up curl of Ursa’s lip as she released Sabine’s shoulders.
<I didn’t come out here to judge your choice of equipment.> She begin, picking up Sabine’s helmet. Brushing her hand over the scuffed paint on the fore head. <I need someone I trust to deliver power cells to Clan Hirsch.>
Sabine perked up. The prospect of her buir trusting her with important clan relations making her heart flutter.
<When do you need me to depart?>
<In the morning. I will appoint you a Ver’alor for the task.>
A Ver’alor? She was getting her own lieutenant?
<Wait.> Her buir paused from where she was exiting the yard. <You’re promoting me to Alor’ad?>
<I think you’ve earned it by know. Unless you don’t think you can handle it.> Ursa stated, obviously to stoke her daughter’s warriors ego some. <I can find someone else if->
<I’ve got this.>
Sabine straightened. Pride filling her. Her buir’s belief in her something she hadn’t realized she needed.
<Good.> Ursa nodded. She cast a glance at the magna guard. <Now put your pet droid away and go to sleep.>
<Yes!> She silently cheered after she was sure her buir had gone. <C’mon Sparky, let’s get you to your charging station.>
Early morning Sabine watched as the doors of hangar one screeched open. In need of oiling she supposed. Last night’s frost falling away like shards of glass. Cold air swept in, filling the warm hangar. Despite the danger Sabine approached the edge looking out over her home and the valley. Seeing the temporary structures for the spring festival and feeling the wind ruffle her dark hair dyed violet at the fringes. A trim and touch up over do, she noted feeling the ends brush past her jawline. It was well past time for a new color. Maybe blue would be good for a change. Her natural black fading to lighter blue tips. That might be nice for a while.
Turning she spotted her newly appointed second approaching.
<Your krom’rk is loaded and ready for departure.>
<Good.> She nodded, shuffling her helmet to her other hand. <Is everyone in attendance?>
<Yes.> She noticed his hesitance. There was a, but, coming somewhere. <The Jedi is looking for you.>
Of course he is.
Moving back towards her ship for the day she indeed noticed Ezra was there waiting for her. He waved as she neared.
“Where are we going today?”
Sabine ignored the sideways helmeted glance her second, Vrurik, gave her.
<Ver’alor, give the cargo a once over and have the engines primed for departure.> She was sure to give him a task so he couldn’t stand there and glower over her shoulder. <I’ll join you shortly.>
Vrurik affirmed her order, giving the Jedi a second look before moving up the ramp.
“So captain huh? That’s pretty cool, but I still out rank you.”
“Not here you don’t.” Sabine returned, sharing in his snarky smirk. “And I’m going out to make a supply delivery. You,” She jabbed her finger in his parka. “Are staying here.”
“Why don’t I get to go?” He pouted.
“I’m visiting another clan, Ezra. Alor Jor’mn may not take too kindly to having a Jedi in his territory.”
Frowning Ezra brought his hands to his hips.
“You’re embarrassed of me.”
Sighing Sabine planted her hands on Ezra’s chest and began shoving him back away from the krom’rk.
“You are not mine to be embarrassed of.”
Ezra made a face. Something akin to confusion and hurt. Sufficiently away from the ship Sabine stopped pushing him. Inwardly cringing at her own phrasing.
“I know you’re a soft little loth cat on the inside, but they don’t know that. All they will see is the Jedi on the outside.”
Harsh but true. Her buir and clan may tolerate Ezra’s presence, but that was the exception not the rule. A special case. While her clan was grateful for the help Ezra gave them in the past, a Jedi still made them nervous. Her buir in particular having a great distaste for Jedi that even Sabine couldn’t quite uncover the reason behind. Ezra didn’t need to know the amount of begging she had to do to convince her buir to let him visit, much less stay within the stronghold. The woman was a wall of fortitude and when it had seemed no amount of harassment would sway her, it was her father that had won in the end. As much as Sabine wanted to know the secret of changing her mother’s mind her father wasn’t willing to reveal his wiles. Which truthfully was probably for the best.
“I am a Jedi, and helping people is what I do. Since you’re making a supply run I should obviously go. To help as Jedi do.”
She paused, giving him a hard stare. Sabine had seen that look on his face before. The ‘this is all true but I’ve come up with it on the spot’ look. He had a point she supposed, but on the other hand there was no way of know how the members of Clan Hirsch would react. A small clan some ways off from her own home. With roughly enough numbers to be on the small end of a company. Sabine bit her lip weighing her options. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to not take him. She wouldn’t lie but didn’t necessarily have to tell the Alor about Ezra if he didn’t ask…
Lost in thought she almost didn’t notice Ezra raise his hand and wave it in front of her face. Did he just? Though he hadn’t said anything, the implication behind the gesture had her reaching out. Sabine snatched his hand by two fingers, twisting them in her grip.
“You did not just try to use your magic on me.”
“Kidding, I was just kidding!” He squeaked, smiling despite the pressure she applied to his fingers. “I have never…” He paused, considering his words. “Would never use the Jedi mind trick on you.”
Narrowing her gaze to fix him with a suspicious and deadly frown Sabine released her vice grip. The Jedi flinching back to cradle his fingers.
“Not like it works on you anyways.”
Ezra was ready for her this time. Flinching back a few steps to avoid another go at his hand.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that you’re obviously far too strong willed for it to ever work on you!”
He jumped back again. Hands going up in surrender. Sabine cast him the best suspicious stare she could muster. The goofy puffed cheeked face he was giving her as he tried not to smile not helping her hold her glare.
“I’ll let you go, but…” She stopped him with another finger to his chest. Jabbing him a little harder than she meant to. Ezra’s body a little firmer than she thought it was. “Don’t say anything Jedi-y and keep your magic to yourself.”
“Yes captain.” Ezra gave her a Republic style salute and Sabine definitely did not smile at his childishness.
The takeoff was silent as Sabine addressed her crew of six plus Ezra. Yes she saw every side glance they gave to the Jedi, and how they were all nonchalantly on the opposite end of the briefing room.
<When we land I want everyone to begin off-loading the power cells. Look to Clan Hirsch’s Holt’verde for where to put them and assist the clan with instillation if needed.> Sabine instructed in mando’a knowing not all her crew understood basic. “Ezra help them move the cells too.”
<Questions?> She asked though the shook their heads. “Questions?” Finally she turned to Ezra as well.
He gave her a silent response too. With everyone briefed Sabine dismissed them for the flight.
“Not you Ezra.”
He stopped, stiffening at the commanding tone of her voice.
“You stay with Vrurik. He knows the most basic.” Ezra nodded. “Make sure you address him as lieutenant, and be on your best behavior.”
“I will and I always am.”
“The ties you’ve stolen beg to differ.”
“Whoa.” He pointed a finger at her. “That was one tie. You’ve stolen way more ships than I have. Not all of them have even been Imperial either.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It didn’t take long to reach Clan Hirsh’s territory. Nestled deep in a wooded area. The krom’rk shuttered as it touched down, supports sinking deep into the snow. Her pilot was no Hera that was for sure. Sabine stepped off the gangplank to take in the sight of the clan. There was no fortress here like her clan. Small in number they lived in a grouping of metallic and wooden hovels between and around a pair of longhouses. The largest of the hovel’s belonging to the Alor which is where she made her way to. A single krom’rk at rest furthest to the rear. An older model for sure with the paint nearly worn off and dirty with ion scoring. Sabine ignored the sound of someone slipping her krom’rk’s slick ramp. She didn’t need to look to know who it was.
“I’m ok.” Ezra called out to no one in particular.
She could practically hear her second sighing even given the distance. Keeping her helmet under arm she moved through the clan in search of their Alor. The gesture of keeping her helmet off telling the clansmen she was a friendly and not there for a confrontation. They kept about their business as she passed. Offering a nod of acknowledgement to an officer of a higher status clan. Though Sabine couldn’t help the worry creeping in the back of her mind that Ezra would somehow set off the clan and end up shot. She had to push it away since it was important she meet with the Alor. Ezra was perfectly capable of keeping himself out of trouble.
When their leader had finally revealed himself he addressed her by rank with a bow. Sabine returned to motion.
<Alor Jor’mn, I am Sabine of Clan Wren. I’ve brought the power cells you requested.>
He was a brutish looking older man. Tanned wrinkled face with a scar behind his eye and stubble on his chin. Armor similar in color and style of her clan. Likewise just as good for blending into the snowy terrain. As the head of the clan, emblazon with the line art of a great stag in blue detailing his helmet and breastplate. Though he had the look of a stubborn old goat-sheep he smiled genuinely at her.
<Thank you, thank you> He bowed his head again. <I thought for sure we would all have to huddle together for the next freeze.> Alor Jor’mn took Sabine’s outstretched arm, shaking it vigorously. <Give my utmost regards to the Herr’alor.>
Sabine smiled in return. Surprised at his gentle demeanor and spirited appreciation. A light buzz began as the longhouse floodlights flashed on, signaling power had indeed been restored. The clan pausing in their day to day musings to regard it in joy. Sabine was grateful at being able to assist them in their time of need.
<Is there anything else you require, Alor.> She was sure to ask before her departure. <I’ll be sure to inform the Herr’alor once I’ve returned.>
<No, thank you.> He shook her forearm again. <We’ve had a bountiful hunt this season.>
They made their way along were where the generator was. A trail well-worn into the snow guiding the way. Around the back of the longhouse she spotted her warriors, finished with their task, mingling with those of Clan Hirsch. Ezra stood off the side. No doubt feeling out of place among non-basic speakers. Though his expression changed when he saw Sabine. Almost dashing over to her, but thankfully remembering to keep professional.
“Hello sir.” He offered the Alor his hand. “I’m Ezra Bridger.”
Alor Jor’mn gave her a confused eye before looking down at Ezra’s outstretched hand. Sabine inwardly cringed. She cleared her throat to regain the Alor’s attention before translating.
<Alor Jor’mn, this is Ezra Bridger. A member of my party.>
“Ezra Bridger, this is Chief Jor’mn. Leader of Clan Hirsch.”
Sabine had hoped that her emphasis on Chief and Leader would hint to remind Ezra of proper etiquette when in the presence of someone of prominence. It would seem he needed reminding. Pressing her shoulder into Ezra’s so the Alor couldn’t see her hand she reached around, grabbing Ezra’s backside with a squeeze. He went ridged and suddenly bowed his head. The bow too low and awkward but that was ok. As long as the Alor wasn’t insulted neither wouldn’t have to worry about an incident.
Alor Jor’mn accepted Ezra’s hand with a smile, shaking his arm instead.
<Please stay and allow my clan to see your warriors fed.>
<We would be honored.>
After the Alor departed to prepare for a small feast Sabine turned her frown on the Jedi. He rubbed his rear where she had grabbed him.
“That hurt, Sabine.” He pouted.
“Well it was either that or both of us would be getting it from my buir if you insulted a Chief.”
That seemed to straighten him out.
“Are we leaving now?”
“He invited my party to eat with them so we’ll be staying a little longer.”
“Ok.” He gave his backside one last check. “I’ll be on the gauntlet then. I ate earlier and am still pretty full.”
“No. You are not.” Sabine took hold of his parka hood before he could slink off. “It is considered very rude to my people to not accept a free meal when offered.”
“But Sabieeene.” He pouted, extending her name unnecessarily.
“If you miss this meal and insult the Alor of Clan Hirsch my mother will be furious.” He froze. “No doubt she will see you are educated on proper clan etiquette personally.”
“You know, I’m suddenly starving. When do we eat?”
The festival will be starting soon.
Also yes, I both write this story and draw some art lol. There was a story I wanted to tell that I felt could be told better through writing. Thus this one was born from the drawings and my insomnia lol
Mandalore. Years ago.
Before Imperial tyranny. Before the clone wars.
Before Death Watch pulled itself from the shadow of Concordia.
It was the early morning in Sundari. The dome’s lights starting the day cycle. A slow process that saw them go from low to high intensity over the next few hours. More than enough time for him to slip away unseen. He’d been observing this dock for weeks. Waiting and watching. At this time there was hardly anyone here. Most of the guardsmen were weary and ready for a change in shift. Not that there were many to cover the expanse that was Sundari anyways. Few dock workers milled about. They weren’t a problem. Working long hours for little credits they were easy enough to slip past, not caring enough to check anything above their pay grade.
So he moved with what he would like to think was with adept stealth at the very least. Gripping his satchel closer to his form to muffle its contents he tip-toed closer to a prospect ship. It was a decently sized one. Smaller than a freighter but large enough to hold a small crew and cargo. Some men who he dare say looked a bit sketchy were off loading some crates and replacing them with others. All under the watch of a fully armed guardsman. Which truthfully was a bit odd.
The guardsman had his arms crossed and back to the grey crates they had prepared to be loaded. He tapped his fingers over the crates currently acting as his cover. Being orange he doubted he could get away with hiding inside one of them, but there had to be a spare crate around somewhere. He was in a shipping yard after all. It didn’t take him long to find one thankfully. Searching he found himself a suitable grey box-crate to hide in. Emptying the bit of contents, some kind of dried food goods, he made this box his own. A bit on the small size compared to himself, it would have to do.
Observing the loading men he notice a bit of a pattern to their movements. They would pick a crate, take it into the ships hold, then return after at least two minutes. More than enough time for his plan. Quietly, once they had moved up the ramp he floated his similar looking crate over. Careful of the guard waiting around. The man seemed more preoccupied with the time it seemed, to notice the new addition to waiting cargo. Hopping inside and cramming himself down as best he could he pulled the lid on to await his turn.
The space was cramped and already he could feel the pressure in his legs. Luckily it didn’t take long for his crate to be moved. If a bit roughly it made its way up the ramp and into what he assumed was a cargo hold. There was a heavy thunk above him and he was pretty sure that was the sound of another crate being stacked on top of his. That was ok because soon he would be off Mandalore, out of Sundari, and best of all away from the strict rule that was his parents. Then he would be free to explore the galaxy to his heart’s content.
He just knew he’d have to paint the first think he saw.
A groan of metal and a swish of air as the ship’s ramp closed and sealed. Followed by hum that shook him and the crates. Bit of a teeth gnashing sound the engine made as it roared to life. The entire craft shifting and groaning again as he felt it lift and lurch forward. His stomach doing a flip at the motion. How horrible it was that he nearly puked all over himself. Whoever the captain was seriously needed to get their stabilizers overhauled. Worse still was when he felt it make the jump into hyperspace. Butterflies bouncing around his insides. Of course he had picked a craft in disrepair to stow away in. He could only hope it actually made it to another port.
He didn’t have long to consider his poor choice of transport. There was a sound approaching. A metallic thud one after the other. Someone was walking. Someone with metal on their feet? It didn’t sound like a droid’s gait though. Metallic boots perhaps? A voice followed. Definitely not a droid. A woman, but she sounded muffled. There was a buzz when she spoke. He could make out some words through his container. Flattening his ear on the cramped wall to listen. Odd, she was speaking in Mando’a. Well-spoken but heavily accented. He supposed it shouldn’t be that strange given this was a ship of mandalorian craft that just left the new capital’s dock, yet at the same time the dominate dialect on Mandalore had become basic in recent times. Mando’a a relic from a bygone era like the warmongers that used it. To find someone outside a lecture hall casually speaking it was not commonplace.
<No, we will not be stopping at Tasheen.> Her voice was low and harsh. <If you didn’t waste all your shots we wouldn’t be having this problem.”>
Shots? Like medical shots? There was more thunking back and forth. She was pacing he guessed. He couldn’t hear anyone else in the room so she must be talking through a comlink.
<Tyr, tell Sabine to focus on flying before I have to come up there. > A sigh. <I’m working on it, damn it! > Agitated foot falls came his way. Followed by the scraping of metal as crates were being shuffled. <All these crates look the same. Which one has the explosives in it?>
He was doing his absolute best not to panic. Pressing himself as far into the little space as he could. Hand clasped firmly over his mouth for fear of even breathing to loudly. Exposure had certainly been a possibility from the beginning. Odds were that he could be found by one of the crew, and he had accepted that there might be some sort of punishment for stowing away when he, well, stowed away. What he hadn’t considered was that he could possibly ever find himself stowed away next to high explosives. Where would they have even gotten them? You can’t buy weapons of any kind on Mandalore, and certainly not its capital, pacifist center of the galaxy!
<I don’t see an owl on any of them. > Irritation was growing in her tone. <I swear, all the trouble we went through to get theses discontinued arms. If the explosives aren’t here I’ll go right back to Sundari and->
<You’ll what, blow something up? > A new female voice entered the mix. Lighter in tone. <Get us all in trouble because you didn’t get your toy. >
There was a slam as one of the crates was closed harsher than necessary. More metallic clunking. This person seemed to also be wearing metallic sounding shoes as well.
<You must be blind. >
<Right there. On the side of that crate. It’s the owl just like I told you. >
There was a pause. Filled by the sound of his racing heart in his ears and cramping muscles.
<That’s not an owl. >
<It’s an owl. > He could hear the growing annoyance in the other woman’s voice.
<No. It’s not. >
<And what would you know about owls? > Was she getting defensive?
<Did you stencil it on? >
There was an annoyed huff in response. His knees were numb now. Cramp having moved up mid-thigh.
<Looks kind of like...> He could hear her hm in thought.
<An owl is on my crest, Ursa. I think I know what one looks like.>
They didn’t seem like they were going to move on anytime soon. The bickering just beginning as he couldn’t hold still anymore. He flinched from the strain in his leg. Effectively silencing the room as the back of his head hit the crate top. There may have even been the ever slightest eep, but he’ll never admit to that. It was a moment of pregnant silence before his world came crudely toppling over. Displacing the lid and its contents onto the floor. His eyes snapped shut at the sudden onslaught of light. Squinting, forcing his eyes to open and adjust while fighting the urge to rub them. Body relieved from the cramped space, but head sore from where it made contact with the hold floor, he stared at the face of his finder.
The face staring back at him was his own. Reflected in a black visor. A helmet with a T shaped visor. His eyes widened in horror. He knew this distinct helmet and the armor. The mark of the enemy. An enemy that had tried to destroy their society years before he was born. Like a mythical beast leapt from the pages of his history book. Killers. Savage Warriors returned from extinction. Hovering overhead, him completely at their mercy.
Helmet head reared back. Adorned in grey-white and slate, stripped yellow in few places and most prominently on the helmet. It would be a beautiful design adorning the face plate if her arm wasn’t at full draw. Fist clenched tightly, headed straight for his face.
<Alrich. You’re still up? >
He jumped. Paintbrush laden hand snapping back from the canvas before it could paste a blob of yellow in the wrong place. Releasing an exasperated breath he turned toward the intruder.
<You startled me, Ursa.>
She stood at the open doorway between his study and their room, leaning lazily along its frame. Right hand coming up to brush stray hairs from her face. Not in her armor, Alrich realized. Loose hair hung around her shoulders, tank top loose over her form, and basic shorts higher above her knees than anyone other himself would ever see. Squinting at him she looked like she’d just rolled out of bed. A rare sight given how much sleep she actually gets with her title. Smiling at her overall disheveled state, he was very much tempted to abandon his project there and then.
Alrich stole his eyes away for a moment to glance at the one way window to the far side of his study. The sky was dark. Though some red was beginning to bleed into the blackness. Seems he has been up well into next morning.
Arms draped over his shoulders as a weight rested against his back. He’d heard her coming. Her right leg heavy even on the padded flooring. The faint screech of joints announcing it was likely time for a tune up. Stiffening as the cold metal of her shoulder brushed his cheek. Smiling because he knew it was deliberate.
<You weren’t in bed.> Her tone was serious, though he could tell by the yawn Ursa fought back she wasn’t at all. <Here I thought I’d have to rescue you again.>
<Yes, you certainly came dressed for battle.> He mused. Ursa’s form pressing into his back telling him that she wasn’t in no way attired for combat.
<That depends on the battle.>
That earned a snort from him as he discarded his brush to a glass of water. Choosing instead to overlap his arms over hers. Catching her left hand before the cold metal of her prosthetic arm could make its way under his tunic. He could feel the grin she wore where their cheeks touched, her eyes ghosting over the painting before them.
<What are you working on?>
<Just being nostalgic. Watching Sabine interact with Bridger reminded me of when we first met.>
Ursa tensed. Grin faltering. She made to pull away but he held firm preventing her escape.
<As I recall, you punched me in the face.> He added, burying his nose into her neck.
<As I recall, you were a stow away.> The countess retaliated, her prosthesis finding an opening in his tunic. Cold metal brushing his stomach nearly displacing him from his stool.
<That’s cold,> He chuckled despite doing his best to scowl at her action. <and I know you’ve got a blade hidden on there.>
That earned him an eye roll. Doing little to dissuade her from trying to change the subject. They both knew she always put the safety on after removing her armor. It was unlikely to reveal the blade by accident. Though considering all that had happened to get to this point he supposed he was pretty used to having knives in his gut by now.
<Do you remember Keelos?>
<I do. Though I suspect you and I remember that planet differently.> He lamented.
Ursa’s grin was returning now. Faintest smirk pressed into her lips. She thinks she’s managed to change the subject.
<You got arrested for painting a beard on their Minister’s mural.>
The Count shook his head with a huff.
<I got arrested because of the firefight that broke out when the guards came. They would have never known it was me otherwise.>
<That was Tyr’s fault completely.>
<It certainly had nothing to do with you smashing in the face of their captain’s son days prior.>
<He cheated at cards, and you were still arrested for graffiti of all things.> She stated flatly.
<I was a sheltered child rebelling against the world.>
That earned him a breathy not quite chuckle. Ursa pulling away and for the first time since arriving she took a good long look at his work. Right hand, callused and warm trailing a path up the back of his neck into greying locks.
<My old helmet.>
Alrich only hmed in response. Carefully watching her face for the slightest change in the calm mask she had donned.
<The one I had then, before I passed it to…>
Ursa’s eyes drifted down. She could mask her pain well, but he knew her better than that by now. Better than anyone alive today. Alrich reached out. Taking the metal of her hand into his. The prosthesis’ she bore a constant reminder of the harshest battles she’d faced. Some, he eyed her leg, worse than others. A tragedy that shattered the entire world of the Ursa he first met as a stow away. She was still there of course. Hidden behind the mask of the Countess of Krownest. Chieftess of Clan Wren.
<Give the boy a chance.> He paused. Wary of how she may react. Holding tight to her hand. The other giving away some of her tension as it curled tighter over his shoulder. <He is not the same Jedi that killed-.>
She pulled away, jerking her hand from his.
<I know.> Ursa snapped, breathing through clenched teeth. Face curling into a foul frown as she turned away from him. Focusing her ire on the wall. Both her hands clenched at her sides. <Of course I know that.> Ursa stared down at her right palm. The one that was still flesh and bone. <I’ll never forget what he took from me, nor will I ever forget the shock on his face when I ran Tyr’s sword through his chest.>
Alrich’s glass tipped from its perch spilling paint water and his used brushes on to the floor. He frowned at the stain knowing he shouldn’t have placed it so carelessly on the edge of his easel.
He pulled at the back of her top hoping the action might persuade her to come closer and bring her mind back to the present. Ursa glanced over her shoulder. Her face neutral as usual, but brows furrowed. Alrich gave her a smile from where he was seated. Doing his best to remain strong. He was there that day. Had seen for himself the horror that was a lightsaber taking someone’s head.
Slowly she made her way back over to him. Standing between his knees to run her hands through his hair.
<You always have been.> She spoke softly, leaning in to rest her head against his.
This chapter was on the back burner for a while. Part one of the tale to be told between current shenanigans.
Chapter 8: Pyramid of Discord
Sorry if this update took a while. My computer died during a storm and I had to transfer all my data from my old hard drive, but thankfully I was able to recover it all.
Sundari, Capital of Manda'yaim.
Seven out of twelve. He’d say those are good numbers. To have a majority of the seats filled put the power scale in Bo-katan’s favor for sure. Though, Rau eyed the seat meant for Vizsla, some house leaders were being more difficult than others. From his seat a step down from the thrown Rau made a discreet glance at Bo-katan. Visually she was neutral. Listening to the animated chatter going on between the house leaders. From their seats below she had the look of power, Mand’alor sat high on her throne. From his closer position however, he could see her fingers curled. Hands gripping the cold metal with enough strength he was sure her fingers were pale under her gloves.
The chatter had become a bit more animated as house leaders Kal and Fyk squabbled over their borders.
<I want your clans out of my territory!> Fyk roared. His chair screeching back as he stood too quickly. <Dobek has always been on my side of the border!>
They’d been at this the past few meetings. Normally such disputes would be left for them to sort out, but with the Mandalorian Sector in risk of Republic encroachment now was not the time for infighting.
<Dobek was given to my house fairly by Viceroy Saxon.> Kal returned.
At the mention of the former Viceroy the collective tension in the room changed as Kal realized his slip. Earning him the direct attention of many houses larger than he, Kal quieted. The implication that he once had enough devotion to Saxon to earn land was more than enough in invite the destruction of house Kal.
<Traitor!> Fyk started forward.
Bo-katan took this time to intervene lest the summit erupt into chaos. She inhaled, reining in her annoyance before continuing.
<Alor’an Kal, who is your hold on Dobek?”
Kal cleared his throat before answering. Obviously steeling himself after being addressed so directly by the Mand’alor.
<What are you exporting?>
Fyk had returned to his seat by the time Bo-katan cast her stare at him.
<Alor’an Fyk, who was your hold on Dobek before house Kal’s occupation?>
<It was at the time unoccupied.>
Silence filled the space and Rau could see Bo-katan debate the best way to respond that wouldn’t end with her shooting Fyk.
<So,> She began. Irritation in her tone. <You’re telling me you’ve been squabbling over a planet you haven’t even occupied?>
<It is the principle of the border, Mand’alor. What more might house Kal take if we allow them to get away with invading Dobek?>
Rau considered that was true. Not only is Dobek on Fyk’s side of the sector but it was given to Kal by a deposed ruler. On the other hand Fyk neither had a hold on it nor was it being put to use. House Kal has put the planet to agricultural use which could potentially benefit Manda'yaim with imports. Either choice could potentially have more houses turning on her. Houses Fyk being more than friendly with house Haust, a major ore exporter and Kal having trade relations with house Shor, a fuel exporter.
<Dobek will remain under Kal control.>
Kal seemed to release a quiet breath of relief at the Mand’alor’s rule.
<You can’t give parts of my territory away!>
Fyk was furious, though Rau would never recommend shouting at your supreme ruler.
<I will not evict clan Arro from its home, not when the planet has been put to use that could befit the sector. Neither of you will continue to fight over it and nor will house Kal usurp anymore territory.>
Kal nodded when Bo-katan looked to him. Giving his affirmation that he would not seek to take any other land. Rau sat forward in his chair. He could tell Fyk was boiling. It was unlikely to lead to retaliation here and now but one could never be too careful.
<If you want someone to fight with perhaps you should turn your attention to the other side of your border.> She deadpanned.
Was that threat? Rau racked his brain for who occupied that area. Oh. House Vizsla. Fyk quieted down, returning to his seat for the second time. Choosing silence over spilling insults he desperately wanted to make to Vizsla who was not attendance. It probably wouldn’t take much to provoke the old house into invading Fyk’s territory. Last think he wanted was for anything he said to make it back to Vizsla.
<Does anyone else have any disputes?>
<The pacifists are making it difficult for my house to move materials to and from the docks.> Eldar spoke up. <Their protests clog up the yards and take up warriors devoted to keeping them out that could be put to better use elsewhere.>
<They contribute nothing.> Geirr scoffed. <Why do we allow them to continue remain on Manda’yaim? It would take no effort at all to oust a bunch of peace lovers.>
<There will be no violence against the pacifists. Protectors will be deployed maintain the protestors.>
Rau agreed with her even though he wished the local guard had been reestablished. His men were currently spread thin and while he didn’t want there to be any violence between the warrior and pacifists factions, sending more warriors in armor to police them was likely to have to opposite effect.
<That is all for today. You are dismissed.>
Not much over all had been done today. Not much had been done since Bo-katan had begun calling summits. So much to do and so few willing to cooperate. Rau stood to face her as the last house leader made his way out. Bo-katan letting out a sigh. She was tired. It was clear this was not a position she desired, but took out of necessity. Who else could hold her position? A pacifist leader would be deposed near immediately. With the resurgence of warriors on Manda’yaim there would be no way for a non-military leader to hold the planet. Ordo? Eldar? Fair leaders in their own right but too likely to favor their own over the whole of the sector. Neither having the support of enough other houses to rule another war.
Vizsla was out of the question. Rau and his protectors would absolutely not support him. Granted house Vizsla had a history of Mand’alors. One’s reign being far longer and glorious than the other, but the wounds inflicted by death watch were still too fresh for many. Despite the years that had passed mando’ade could hold a grudge. Bo-katan herself was a lieutenant but had earned the respect of the other house leaders on the battle field fighting for Manda’yaim as a whole.
Having the darksaber also helps, but perhaps not everyone knows who wielded it before.
<Mand’alor.> A protector approached the base of the throne.
Bo-katan acknowledged him silently. Returning from her brief slip from persona.
<A pacifist leader demands an audience.>
<Send him in.>
Rau returned to his seat as Bo-katan shifted in hers. The throne looked uncomfortable and she had to sit in it more often than she cared to now days.
It wasn’t hard to guess who would dare demand anything of a Mand’alor. Brave, Rau would give him that, but perhaps he relies too much on his relations. He entered with purpose, head held high and shoulders squared confidently as he strode to the thrones steps. The title of Mand’alor was not one for a pacifist leader, they refused to acknowledge its existence, and Bo-katan had refused to be called Duchess.
“Lady Regnant.” He addressed with practiced respect, if with a bit of annoyance. There was another meeting without a representative of our community.”
“You have no representative.”
“We had one.” He scoffed. “Until he was assassinated”
“Unfortunate, but I cannot allow just anyone to attend. Not with relations so tense.”
The pacifist bristled.
“You think one of us might insight violence at a peace talk?”
That wasn’t the problem. The house leaders were war hardened veterans. Anyone short of a silver-tongued and iron will would just be fed to the lions. Which is exactly what already happened. Rau has his suspicions on the ill fate of their former representative but a lack of evidence. As far as what they have is that a wall statue fell on him in his home. A possible accident but unlikely given the politics.
“Pacifist inclusion will provoke violence regardless. Any representative you select must understand this and be hardened to it. A weak person will accomplish nothing.”
“Then let me-“
“No.” She snapped at him.
“Aunt Bo-katan.” He pleaded this time to their blood ties. One foot moving to rest on the lowest throne step. “I have the experience and confidence of my peers. I am not afraid of the warrior leaders.”
“I have made my decision, Korkie.” Bo-katan stood, silencing her nephew. His foot quickly leaving the step. “Find someone suitable.”
The meeting was over. Rau rose to follow her out. Casting a glance back at Korkie as they made for a side door. Korkie remained at the bottom step starring at his shoes in frustration, fists clenched at his sides and jaw set. Slowly his gaze rose up the steps to the throne. Expression forlorn and shoulders slumping.
<He’s right you know.>
Rau spoke once they were beyond the door and it had close firmly behind. Bo-katan flinched ever so slightly but didn’t slow her pace.
<If I put a relative of mine in that position the house leaders may think I’m plotting with the pacifists or trying to monopolize the council.>
A truth but more of an excuse for her to not have to put her nephew in immediate danger since as Mand’alor she already has absolute authority. The fact that she allows the leaders so much freedom could be considered generous. Mand’alors past having lead with more of an iron fist. He could understand what Korkie is, the last real remnant of her sister even if she doesn’t really know him that well. Though Rau didn’t know there was a third sibling. One that he has yet to see for himself. Bo-katan certainly hasn’t mentioned them or offered a name or anything really. Almost as if they don’t exist, not that Rau has bothered to look.
<If not him than who?>
They entered a study like room. Well decorated and furnished, bookcases, a bar, balcony. Bo-katan took a seat on a sofa, leaving her helmet on the table. He could tell she was beyond frustrated. Glad that by now she was more willing to lower her barriers when there was no one else around. Trusting him in his position and as a confidant. Rau made his way over to the bar, setting his own helmet on the counter and pouring drinks. He handed one to Bo-katan as his sat on a sofa right of hers. She raised a brow at him as her fingers grasped the small glass. He shrugged. There was lots more work to be done today and even more after Manda’yaim’s star had set, but they could relax for an hour at least.
She downed the glass in one go just as he had. Frowning at the taste and burn.
<Do you know where Vizsla went off to?> She asked, changing the subject and casting a scowl at the glass balcony doors.
<Protectors on Concordia reported he left his hold there with a small squadron of gauntlets and fang escorts.>
She hmed in response, leaning back on the sofa and tapping her empty glass on her armored knee.
<Unmarked containers for all my men could gather. No destination as of yet.>
Rau eyed his empty glass wishing he’d brought the bottle with him. There were a few clans that were being difficult, but none had the history that house Vizsla did. He didn’t suspect outright treachery from the man, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t trying to impede the council Bo-katan has been working on for his own benefit.
<I know where he went.>
He turned to her. Silent as he waited for her to elaborate.
<Likely the festival on Krownest. I’d bet he wants something from Ursa.>
<The cargo is a payment then?>
<A bribe more like.>
Bo-katan stood to make her way back to the bar. Rau watched curiously.
<A bribe for his own Herr’alor?>
A payment in return for services was something he could understand. Houses often made regular shipments to their holds to maintain relations. A wise leader requests rather than demands, his predecessor had told him once, but surly a house leader shouldn’t need to bribe one of their own.
<He and Ursa have had bad blood between them for some time.>
She carried the bottle back with her and passed it off to Rau so he could fill his own glass.
<Long standing grudge?> He took a sip, listening diligently.
Bo-katan crossed one leg over the other, swirling her drink in thought.
<It’s been about 20 years I suppose.> She took a moment to consider it more. <26 years I think.>
Rau sputtered. Some drink spilling from his mouth. Must have been some grudge between the two for them to hold it nearly as long as the Herr'alor's children have been alive.
He sat forward. Doing his best to brush the spilled droplets from his chest plate as best as he could without a towel. Bo-katan met his gaze, a soft smile hidden behind her glass as she took another drink. Knowledge of a secret she wasn’t about to share putting a twinkle in her emerald eyes. Rau sighed, pouring another glass. Maybe he didn’t really want to know. Last thing he need was more squabbling on his plate. Let the Wrens and Vizslas hash this out on their own. So long as Vizsla wasn’t plotting something dastardly Rau could focus elsewhere for the moment.
Rau gave pause to his current chain of thought. Eyes widening at a revelation. Bo-katan seemed to notice his change in demeanor. Turning to eye him questioningly.
<Speaking of Wrens.> He began, locking eyes with his Mand’alor. <Don’t we know a certain Wren diplomat?>
She mimicked his posture. Sitting at the edge of her seat and abandoning her glass to the table in thought.
<Even if he can’t represent the pacifist faction himself he could help select someone qualified.>
She nodded at that.
<Being from Manda’yaim, Alrich certainly has experience from both sides.>
Being the riduur of a Herr’alor certainly didn’t hurt either. A Herr’alor of house Vizsla was even better. No matter whether the death of the former representative was on accident or not, Rau doubted any of the other houses would risk war with old and powerful house Vizsla by assassinating Alrich Wren. Bad blood between the Herr’alor and Alor’an aside, Vizsla would not allow such and insult.
<I’ll contact Krownest myself.> She stated. Though didn’t move from her seat, choosing to return to her glass instead.
Rau smiled at that, raising his own glass to his lips. They could relax for just a little while longer before returning to the mountain of tasks awaiting either of their presence.