Parting ways with the Dead 2
I struggled in the soft powdery snow, tripping over the snow shoes strapped to my boots and falling, for the billionth time, flat on my face. Trying not to laugh, Navaari backtracked and hauled me to my feet by the scruff of my neck. One would think that years of walking in the sand would have prepared me for this but that was not the case. I still sometimes struggled with the snow shoes despite the hours and hours of practice, tripping over the extra size they added to my feet. I used to think I was graceful but not now, wearing the large flat additions to my boots just made me awkward and clumsy.
Navaari sighed and shook his head. “You look like a jax trying to swim.” He said, his breath lacing the air with white puffs.
“I feel like it as well. How in the name of the almighty Sarlacc can anyone walk in these things?”
“Practice.” He replied.
I glared at him. “I’ve been practicing this for ages now!”
He laughed. “Yes and your skills at falling flat on your face are improving with each try.”
I grinned as I flung a handful of snow at him and sat down. “Ha very ha!”
He squatted down at my side and looked at me for a moment. “You are giving up?”
I nodded. “We’ve been at this for hours, we haven’t found anything worth tracking and the weather is going to turn.” I said.
He looked at the sky which had gone from a clear deep blue to a strange flat silver colour.
“Yes, there is a big blow coming in from the North East. It will be bad, I am thinking, three maybe four days.”
I nodded. I knew the signs for storms.
Navaari gave me a smile, “Maybe you are not so good at walking with the snow shoes but you surpass my skill in sensing the weather. Come, time we head back.”
We were close enough to home that we would probably get there before the storm really hit and I was glad for it. There had been a few times when we were not close enough and had to find shelter and camp out. I had learned a great deal about cold weather survival but that didn’t mean I liked it any more than I had when I first stepped foot on Hjal. It was one thing to watch the wildness of a blizzard from the comfort of the enclave but quite another to be out in the middle of it, and I should know, I had done that on my own once. The enclave still talked about it, using my idiocy as an example to small children who thought playing in the wild wind and snow was a pretty good idea. If Navaari had not placed a tiny tracer chip in the bone mask he had made for me I would have died, curled up in a little ball in thinking I was warm when, really, I was freezing to death. It was not often that Navaari lost his temper but he had then, and rightly so. It had been a stupid thing to do and he never let me forget it.
By the time we made our way back to where the sled and hounds sat the first lazy flakes of snow had begun to fall. There was no wind yet but it would come. I could sense it the way I could sense lies. Navaari was right it was almost as if I had a gift to feel changes in the weather and I had never been wrong about it yet. I glanced up at the eerie sky and just knew this storm would be bad, Nagh’anni’s brush, as the Dantassi called the storms that came during this time of year, were the worst. Violent and unpredictable they swept the planet for days on end with winds reaching past two hundred kilometres per hour and falling and blowing snow making the world impossibly white and visibility null. Better to be indoors safe and warm than out in it, that was for sure. During such weather the enclave battened everything down and concentrated on activities which could be done indoors. The spring and Autumn storms were often the times when the council sat in long sessions or weddings and other rites of passage were performed, because these storms pretty much guaranteed that most everyone from the enclave who was on planet would be present and would not be going anywhere for a while.
It was the first time in my life that I had ever really experienced any sort of community on such a large yet intimate scale. It was strange and wonderful thing. People lived together and got along together, for the most part. Disputes were settled either in house or when they got out of hand, by the council and the Elder. Almost everyone in this particular enclave knew each other and even though there were well over several hundred people living in the enclave at any one time it never felt crowded.
There five enclaves living on Hjal, widely spread apart across the planet. I had not known that when I had first arrived, the Dantassi kept their numbers a secret. No one really knew how many there were or exactly where they were all situated. Navaari told me it was to keep the come from aways from learning too much. Once a year, all five enclaves came together for a week long gathering at a neutral place. It was a spectacular thing to experience but I had found it overwhelming to see so many Dantassi in one place, especially as I was the only human among them. The gathering site was huge, built into one of the mountains that ringed the very southern edge of the central tundra. It was a place of power Navaari had told me, the first settlers had found the caverns not dug them and to this day it was only ever used for the gathering.
It was at this huge meeting that the five councils got together, discussed politics and policy, caught up on the news of the outside worlds brought in by the hunters who had traversed the galaxy and returned. It was also a great social gathering time, the intermingling of clans and families. The mixing of blood between enclaves was encouraged so there were always a few binding ceremonies at this time and it was the one time of the year when the rule about being masked before anyone but your own enclave and family was relaxed. Mostly, I had thought at the time, it was an excuse to party like crazy for a week. It was exhausting and I had been grateful when it was all over but also a little sad.
The Dantassi were a very close knit people and even when there were conflicts, the ties that bound them together were stronger. They looked out for one another, worked as a group for the better good and it was a far cry from the back stabbing, bitchy politics I had experienced while working at the Imperial palace. Here, there was no Emperor’s favour to curry, no vying for positions of power. Power came from contribution the more you contributed the higher in esteem you were held, but in the end it was simply about respect, there were no awards for hunting the most or doing the most. You were expected to pull your weight and do your part and in difference to humans, the Dantassi accepted this with grace. It was their way of life and their survival depended on it.
I came to understand why Thrawn admired them so much. While it was not the perfectly harmonious society that philosophers had dreamed about, it was organised and healthy. Once I had been able to see past my own grief, I came to realise just how lucky I was to be given the chance to experience this, to live with them and be considered one of them. Thrawn had not done me a disservice by sending me here to get better, he had done me a huge favour. It was my own stupidity and stubbornness that kept me from telling him this.
I trudged back to the sled. The air had taken on that strange buzz that always came before a violent storm, as if the oncoming weather caused a certain vibration which only animals and beings far more advanced than me could actually hear. It set my teeth on edge though. I looked up at the sky as I stowed the hunting gear in the sled-box. This storm would be bad, the air pushed at me like a giant hand and what had started out as a few fat lazy snow flakes would become mean and vicious. I breathed the scent of the on coming weather in deeply. The air had a damp smell to it, peppery and biting. It smelled of snow, lots and lots of snow. Navaari clapped a large hand on my back, reminding me that we had to get moving and there was not time for day-dreaming. We had at least a hundred kilometres to travel and we needed to do it as quickly as possible or we would have to make camp. I tied off the sled-box and then straddled it for the ride back. Navaari usually ran the sled hounds on the way home, he was still far more experienced with the hounds than I ever would be, but he had been insistent that I learn how to handle them and learn to drive a snow sled. Unlike walking with snow shoes I was actually pretty good at it but it helped that I had always been good with animals, something to do with my force gifts I suspected.
By the time we arrived back at the enclave, shortly before dark, the weather had turned fully. The wind had picked up from a gentle breeze which had played tag with the lazy snowflakes to a whining howl which sent snakes of powdery fine snow writhing across the ground. It was well on its way to being a violent beast which blew snow in all directions and the snowfall had gone from vertical to horizontal. The flakes of snow that had been fat and lazy were now mean and small, stinging as they smashed against us. I was grateful for all the protection my clothes and mask offered. The storm had not even begun to show her full fury and already the gusts shoved the sled from side to side as though our very presence was an affront to the weather gods. I had learned how to shift my weight to compensate for the gusting winds, keeping the sled from toppling. This was the reason for sitting on the box, not just to get driven home but to be a counter balance. It was achingly hard work which, because of the subtleness of the job, one did not notice at first, however the aching muscles a day later sure let one know that the ride was not just a pleasure trip. This storm had come down faster than even I had suspected it would and I was glad when we made the outer ring of the enclave, lights telling us we had come home, before things got really interesting. In spite of the fact that I loved the sheer ferociousness of this kind of weather it was exhausting to be out in and the lure of warmth and a hot meal was far more enticing.
Unpacking the sled and dealing with the sled-hounds was my job. While I took care of the animals, Navaari went inside to make supper. He had long since discovered that while I was pretty good at many things, cooking was definitely not one of them. It had only taken one of my very bad attempts at preparing a meal for him to make me swear I wouldn’t do that again. That was a promise which was easy to keep; I hated cooking anything more than tea and toast. It became my job to deal with the sled and the dogs after a trip, and that was just fine with me. I liked the time I got to spend with the animals, they were simple and easy to be with. They made no demands on me; they yipped and yowled, tails wagging, tongues, hanging out as they bounced about me when I readied their food. I loved their furry warmth, their trust which they did not give easily to many. Once they were fed and settled, I sat on the sled box and oiled the leather sled lines before stowing the gear away. It was a peaceful chore and it always relaxed me after a long trip.
The sled wolves were housed in a large kennel, each had its own place to sleep and its own food, while the hounds ran as a team and pulled the sled as one unit when left alone the pack instincts came out and if they were left in one area all together they started fighting with each other. I took my time with the animals because I liked being with them. It was uncomplicated, something I had come to appreciate living here. I loved the peace and quiet. It was something I had known on Tatooine as well but until I had gone to Coruscant and started to work for Lord Vader had never really treasured before. This time I savoured every moment of it. As I hung up the harnesses it occurred to me that I was truly happy here, which surprised me. When I had first arrived I was sullen and angry, hating everything, now I wondered why.
When my chores were done I closed the kennel up and made my way through the underground passages to where Navaari and I lived. As I walked through the door to the cosy apartment, shrugging off the heavy warm clothes I noticed the lack of cooking smells in the air.
“Hey!” I yelled as I kicked off my boots and hung up the coat, “Are we eating out tonight?” I grinned at that thought; eating out meant that we had probably been invited to eat at An’jast’a’s place which was just wonderful, she was an amazing cook. She had been showing a great deal of interest in Navaari as of late and he was not averse to accepting her frequent invitations for dinner. I got to eat with them but it was expected that I would suddenly become quite tired and leave shortly after the meal. It was fun to watch the two of them court each other even if it did make me a little sad concerning the status of my own peculiar relationship.
I made my way to the living room, still grinning, still holding my running commentary. “Oh, I bumped into Kai’ on the way and I cancelled the lesson with him because he asked if I cou….” I froze dead in my tracks and so, it felt, did my heart.
Navaari looked at me but said nothing then he looked at the man seated across from him. Their conversation had stopped cold the second I had walked into the room. For a moment there was absolute and awful silence, only the faint sounds of the howling gale from outside could be heard. I didn’t know what to do or say and like a terrified durni caught in the headlight of a speeder I stood stock still hoping the ground would swallow me whole. I wondering for a moment if the person in front of me was real or not, but when he spoke I knew it wasn’t a dream it was all very real.
“Hullo A’myshk’a.” Said Thrawn getting up from the couch he had been sitting on. “It is good to see you.”