The skinny, two-legged, frighteningly patchy-haired calf was back with them again. She worried about it, wandering off on its own all the time. Herd was important.
In fact, it was such an odd calf that they’d initially wondered whether it was actually Herd at all… but no one who wasn’t Herd followed them so assiduously… at least, not without trying to eat one of them or interfere with the Herd’s business in some way. And patchy calf had never done that.
Still, it was a miracle patchy calf had survived as long as it had before finding them. It was so stupid.
“So, Dolo, what’s the news?” Patchy calf paused, head cocked to one side, then continued. “Glad the migration seems to be going well. You know, I never thought I’d miss GAR rations, but after months of only snake and desert scrag, I’d give a great deal for a ration bar or some RRs. Force, I’d even take a nutrition cube and if you’d ever had one of those, you’d know that that’s saying something.”
Ah, it was bleating unintelligibly to itself again. It did that a lot, poor thing.
“And what about you, Nara? …Mothering everyone as usual, I see.”
Patchy calf was now facing her, and she gently butted her head against its in greeting. It let out a whuff at the contact that turned into a series of those rumble-snorts of which it was so fond.
“Easy does it, girl, easy does it. Good thing I’ve got a hard head, eh? …Maybe too hard. Perhaps… perhaps if I’d been a little less hardheaded, this all could have been avoided. …Then again, perhaps I wasn’t hard enough…” The calf let out a low whuffle, shoulders drooping. “I know, I know, ‘dwell not on the past’… but it’s hard when the past is all that’s left to you.”
It was working itself into a mood again, she could tell. Calves did silly things like that sometimes. Clearly it was time to feed it again.
Using her tongue, she pulled a clump of weedy scrag from the sand and dropped it at the calf’s feet.
Eat, little calf. You’ll feel better once you do, she informed it.
“Is this… for me? Really, you shouldn’t have.”
She nudged the calf and repeated firmly, Eat.
There was that odd rumble-snort again. “No, really – I can’t eat this raw, Nara… I have to stew scrag half to death before I can chew it properly. I don’t have teeth or a digestive system like yours.”
Eat eat eat eat –
“Fine,” the calf huffed, and finally took a bite. It screwed its face up strangely and chewed the small bite for far longer than necessary, but eventually it swallowed it.
Honestly, patchy-haired calf would probably starve to death if she weren’t here to remind it to eat. Didn’t know how to take care of itself, this one.
Another rumble-snort. “Well that serves me right for complaining, I suppose. Master Qui-Gon never would have let me get away with that kind of behavior, and I rather think you and he are kindred spirits. You both certainly have the same predilection for pathetic life-forms.”
At least patchy calf’s lowing was less frantic now.
“You would have liked him, Nara. I think you would approve of that adage he always quoted: When food arrives, eat. He always was a practical sort, Qui-Gon. Live in the moment and accept it for what it is. Enjoy life’s small pleasures. …And speaking of life’s small pleasures…”
It swiftly contorted itself into what they had all come to recognize as its napping position: two legs tangled together against the ground, useless tiny forelegs on top of the actual legs, and head upright. Everyone agreed that it looked uncomfortable, but patchy calf always seemed to feel better after napping like that. Very odd.
Ah well. Everyone was allowed their little eccentricities as long as it didn’t harm the Herd. Old Two Spots liked to swish his tail from side to side every time he took a step and no one complained about that.
…yes, it was as she’d thought. Patchy calf was napping now, breaths slow and deep.
Good. Its eyes had been looking a bit dull lately, and that was never a good sign.
Ah, here came the strangest bit of the whole process – patchy calf was floating again. Some of the Herd had been skittish the first few times patchy calf done as much, but by now they were all inured to it. Besides, there was something oddly soothing about watching patchy calf nap in the air. It felt almost as though there was a cool breeze of some sort passing over them… but there was no breeze, of course, as could be attested to by the lack of sand blowing into her eyes.
She tossed her mane disgustedly and let out a snort at her own silliness. Time to get back to the important things… like food.
She returned her attention to the ground and soon fell back into the familiar pattern of the Search.
Now where had she last smelled some scrag…?
Patchy-haired calf with the two legs was back again today. It had been some time since it had been with them… and it showed. Patchy calf was thinner than ever and it had been bleating agitatedly on and off all day.
In fact, the Time for Sleeping was approaching, but patchy-haired calf was still going on about Ann-uuu-keeen, whatever that was. Maybe it was a type of food?
Well, it was patchy calf’s own fault if it was still hungry. She had tried to get it to eat earlier. None of her own calves had been half this troublesome, she was sure – not even Small Horns or Lazy Eye.
…wait, she recognized that particular keening now. She had heard it before from calves that had lost their mothers. Patchy calf was mourning and this ann-uuu-keeeen was involved in it somehow, as was a quiii-goone. Or was it awl-goone? Patchy calf wasn’t very consistent about that one.
She licked the calf’s face consolingly – it was wet! and salty, of all things! – and it let out a series of rumble-snorts in reply.
“Thank you, Nara.” Its cry was weak and shaky as a newborn’s legs. “I don’t think Empire Day will ever get easier. But I am glad to have you, my friend.”
It extended one of those useless tiny forelegs, stroking first her muzzle and then side. The sensation was… odd, but nice. A bit like being groomed, only with a foreleg instead of a tongue. Then again, patchy calf had a terribly small, smooth tongue. It probably couldn’t do anything useful with it.
She let out a little hummm-moan of contentment as patchy calf continued to groom her, its foreleg deep in her hair. Ah yes, that felt good.
“I… am grateful to have all of you,” the calf continued. “Jedi aren’t meant to be alone; we are communal creatures as much as any bantha. – Of course, as we were all taught in the crèche, no Jedi is ever truly alone, for the Force is always with us, but… it isn’t the same.”
Patchy calf’s foreleg had ceased its movement, so she nudged it encouragingly. It let out a faint rumble-snort in reply and then began to stroke her again.
“As Jedi, our identities were always wrapped up in the plural we of the Order. What does it mean to be a Jedi alone, Nara… a Jedi without an Order?” It let out another one of those rumble-snorts, but this one sounded harsher than normal. “In retrospect, I suppose we all allowed ourselves to become too attached to the Order and the Code. Ironic, really. We were ready and willing to make any number of sacrifices, but it never occurred to us that we might be called upon to sacrifice the very framework that determined our lives… or that we might not even have an illusion of choice in the matter.”
It let out a deep huff.
“I… never thought about the Order as an attachment before, but it really was, wasn’t it? A broad one rather than a specific one, but I don’t know if that made it more or less dangerous. …Force, we were so blind!” Its eyes were leaking again. “The Order may have been an organization with a objective, but we… we were a family too. What made us any different than other sorts of families? Our willingness to put the greater good before one another? But there are families of blood and choice who have done the same; I know there are, I met several of them during the War. Personal ties are dangerous to a Jedi, of course, but I do sometimes wonder…”
Patchy-haired calf shook its head abruptly, tangled mane whipping this way and that with the motion.
“Enough. There is no point to this, just as there is no point to any of the ‘what-if’s. The Jedi are gone, and with them, nearly every being I have ever called friend. I… cannot change that. The future may bring change, but it cannot make things as they once were. It is folly of the worst sort to pretend otherwise – even for a few breaths… even in a dream. …Those are almost the worst sorts of dreams, you know that? The ones where we are all happy and alive. Because then I have to wake up.”
It snorted again.
“Qui-Gon still refuses to appear to me and I cannot truly blame him. Not anymore. ...I must find a way to release this into the Force. My guilt and grief help no one and it is self indulgent to cling to them... it is attachment. That has always been one of my failings, you know."
It let out another huff, this one calmer and more resigned. Perhaps it was finally wearing itself out?
She licked the calf’s face again – still wet, still salty, still a ridiculous waste of water – and it rewarded her with another rumble-snort.
"In that respect, I was likely the worst teacher for Anakin. I made errors. Force, I made so many errors with him. The Jedi made so many errors. But… we were not solely culpable. It would be the height of arrogance to think otherwise. And Anakin…”
Yes, here was ann-uuu-keeeen again.
“No, I cannot think of him right now. I cannot think of what he has become. Of what I could have, should have prevented, so many times over. Anakin Skywalker is dead. I tried, but I could not save him. Padme could not save him. And I will lose my mind if I continue to wonder whether any of him yet lives within that… that creature. Anakin would have died a thousand times over before harming a hair on Padme’s head. Nor would he have ever willingly knelt and named any being master, let alone a Sith. He is dead. He died the moment he turned to the Dark Side.”
She nuzzled the calf and it let out a gust of air, shoulders dropping.
Right. Enough was enough.
Mourning was necessary, but patchy calf was going to make itself sick if it kept on this way.
It is the Time for Sleeping, she told it firmly. Sleep.
“Yes, Nara? What is it?”
She repeated herself slowly and clearly: S l e e p.
It looked around, seemingly surprised that the rest of the Herd was asleep.
“Ah, it is rather late, isn’t it,” the calf said. “I suppose I should get going…”
With a huff, she gently pushed it all the way down into the sand.
It sputtered, then released a few rumble-snorts.
“Now really, Nara…”
It made as though to get back up again, stubborn little thing, and so she laid her head atop it with a grunt.
S l e e p.
Patchy calf tried to push her off, but its tiny forelegs were no match for her strength. She turned a decidedly unimpressed eye on it.
Sleep sleep sleep sleep sleeeeeeeeeeeep.
And struggle though it might, she did not budge.
…what was she doing in the air? Only patchy calf hovered like thi… wait…
No sooner had she registered this and begun to panic, however, than she was safely back down on the sand… and patchy calf was trying to sneak off.
With a snort of disapproval, she trotted after it and wrestled it back down to the ground again, adding in a swat of the tail for good measure. Patchy-hair might have more tricks than the average calf, but that did not mean she was going to let it get away with this kind of behavior.
It was for its own good.
S L E E P.
This scene repeated itself a few times before patchy calf finally realized that she had no intention of relenting and gave up its struggle.
Sleep, she crooned to the calf trapped against the sand by her head.
“You, my friend,” patchy calf sputtered, “are worse than Qui-Gon. Although perhaps not quite so hairy.”
A sudden gust of wind blew a pile of sand directly into Patchy-hair’s face.
It let out a rumble-snort, this one deeper and richer than any she had heard from it before.
Well, she was glad Patchy-hair was feeling better. But now it was time to –
And finally… finally… the calf gave in and did just that, small body going limp and boneless beneath her.
Snorting softly, she joined it.
And somewhere in the distance, a Force Ghost smiled.