The next morning started out like the day before: gym, self-studies, lunch... she was about to make evening arrangements with Rav as Jango requested his pants back and dropped off Boba after lunch.
“You can have them returned any time, but the mending isn’t finished yet.”
“Too busy embellishing your own clothing, no doubt.” His eyes slid over her now formfitting tunic and pants. She was positively alluring in the clothing she had modified.
Cin’ciri had belted it with a narrow sash that looked like it had been the side joints of fatigue-pants in an earlier life, her knife protruding proudly from underneath the hand on her hip. “It’s a very sturdy material. I mended the softer body layer most carefully, but I cannot get the needle to penetrate the protective layer.”
“That’s what Vulcanizing-patches are for. Since you didn’t finish your duty, you will do it in your personal time before telling Boba’s bedtime story. 2030 our place. Bring my pants.” He turned to leave without further comment. ‘No more hanging around with others, cyar'ika...’
‘You could have told me...’ then she realized that he would not have carried a bundle through all the afternoon exercises in case she had managed a miracle and finished the job in time. ‘That’s merely your need for control acting up again...’ she knew it was pointless, but his attitude ruffled her feathers and she hated how quickly she was drawn into his domain again.
“Sire.” she stopped him before adding, “You forgot something yesterday.” Staring back at him, she shifted her balance on her right foot then glanced downwards purposefully, the toes of her socked left foot resting on the floor lightly.
If she expected him to kneel in front of her in a public corridor, she was sadly mistaken. “The removal of that anklet can wait until I have tools around.”
“Looks like I need to help myself then...” She mocked Mr. Walking Armory’s poor excuse “...to a pair of boots for example. I won’t step to the repairs of your second set personal items until I have one set of proper footwear.”
“I’ll have to pick you up then.” He smiled at her with a possessive gleam in his eyes, ‘Walk or I toss you over a shoulder, mir'sheb,’ he thought. Then he slid the helmet over his face and went about his afternoon task.
‘Patience... don’t let him wind you up.’ Tomoe surveyed Boba shaping his practice saber with firm, even strokes. It was therapeutic. ‘Concentrate at the task at hand.’ They finished the blade with a simple mounting and tidied the workshop. “Time to try it, isn’t it?”
“Sure.” There was a whole new bounce in Boba’s steps on the way to the sergeants training room that was deserted at this time of the day.
They did a quick warm-up together followed by an introduction to basic footwork under Tomoe’s careful watch. It consisted of successive strikes vertically left and right. “Alright.” She picked a quarter-staff from the shelf “And now we do that 400 times...”
This had nothing to do with what Tomoe had done to his dad two evenings ago, but he slowly got the hang of it. “...my right arm’s nearly numb.” Boba winced in the three hundreds.
“The power should come from your left arm anyway, while the right hand does the guidance. With practise, you will relax your hands and shoulders and over the time you will find an adequate grip. Breathing can act as a key to releasing the tension in your upper body. Quick breath through nose, push down to stomach hold 5, let slip-out through mouth for count of 5 repeat. Got it?”
They finished and put the practice weapons away. “Now we do 20 push-ups, 20 sit-ups and 20 frog-jumps to loosen up.”
Tomoe called endex and treated a blister on Boba’s foot. “We will practice centering, distance and correct technique, while building your spirit and stamina. Well done.” They retreated to Tomoe’s quarter for the daily homework.
This afternoon, Boba had no problems to sit still.
When Jango passed by at Cin’ciri’s quarters in the evening, nobody opened to the door buzzer. ‘If this is meant as an attempt to avoid me, it’s not a promising one.’ He checked the location of the monitoring anklet which was down in the cantina. The bounty hunter found them sitting at a table squished between Rav’s red and Isabet’s yellow armor. Maybe not such a stupid idea after all. There was just one thing Mandalorian men were known to be afraid of: Mandalorian women. Not him, though, he was the boss here.
“I said I’d pick you up.” Jango’s gravelly voice rang in Tomoe’s ears when he leaned over her, his face close enough to her to take in her scent.
“We finished early and worked up quite an appetite,” she excused herself. He stood so close she could feel his breath on her skin. “Since you denied removing that anklet, I knew you would have no difficulties to locate us. Go ahead, grab your dinner.” She added lightly.
Jango had a quick look over the audience, made a beeline to the food counter then settled down across them. “Why do you always talk back?” he inquired.
“You ‘ve an entire city answering to your command. Someone must take up the role of resistance.”
Isabet chuckled. Rav had seen the marks under Tomoe’s tunic which made her death serious about her decline.
So much to subservience. Was it just him who got her in the non-teachable moments? Nevertheless, this small woman picked up certain Mandalorian habits faster than he wanted her to. “Brought your evening task with you?”
“Under my seat.”
“I insist you finish it tonight and tell Boba’s bedtime story - as usual.”
“I’ve got an appointment already, so no more night-time demands from you, Sir. Hand me a vulcanization patch and I’ll do it afterwards.” Boba pouted. “I’m sorry. I’ll tell you stories whenever your dad can’t be around,” Tomoe told the boy and continued eating like nothing happened even though it tasted like ashes in her mouth.
“Do I have to remind you what I pay you for?”
“Do I have to remind you that you haven’t delivered on your promise yet?” She could play the parrot-game with Fett all evening from where she was seated. If he reached under the table, her first slash would slit his throat.
“I said I’m going to remove the anklet with tools I have in my quarter. Repairs, bedtime story, that’s it.”
“You are a man who will not take ‘no’ for an answer. How do I know I can trust you?”
“My word is my bond. Try me.”
This was going into an unhealthy dilemma for all of them. Tomoe wouldn’t line up for another rape; the Mandalore’s word was to be respected. Both were ready to kill when push came to shove.
“I’m sure we girls can meet a little later. Just call me.” Rav made a show of slowly reaching into her utility belt. She produced a comlink, slipped it to Tomoe and immediately turned on Fett. “I expect that returned tomorrow, so supply Tomoe with one for her to keep. What frequency does that anklet use?” She noted it down on her gauntlet and stood.“Make sure Tom’ika isn’t late...” Isabet arched a brow, “and don’t do anything we wouldn’t do.” then she left the cantina with Rav. Chapter 3.1 – Fairytale: The Eight-Headed Serpent
They finished dinner and went to Fett’s place. Tomoe was silent and glad that Jango made no further comment than explaining the technology he used to fix the body glove. He started the time-consuming chemical process afterwards, played and chatted with Boba, all paternal indulgence.
Tomoe knew what monsters hid underneath that amicable surface and it drove her crazy. ‘Don’t draw attention... Rav and Isabet are around... stay patient... stay polite... you can defend yourself... IF...’ repeated through her head while Jango procrastinated the task until it was Boba’s bedtime.
Tomoe sat on the edge of the bed, turned her straight back on Fett and made no movement at all first. She took a deep breath and released it slowly to relax consciously. “ How the God of the Moon angered the Sun Goddess, and why day and night are never together... ” she started.
“Uaghhh...” Boba complained soundly “Now _that_ is a boring story. Please tell me the one about the Storm God in the land below...”
‘How could he know...?’ Tomoe arched a brow, but she started the story he had asked for, slowly at first, fishing for words...
“When the punished Storm God was expelled from heaven, he descended near a river through the Central Land of Reed Plains between the high snow covered mountain roof on which She-who-invites had been buried, where the entrance to the world of land of shadow was locked, and the inner sea.
While he followed the river up-stream, he heard an elderly couple crying. Sitting between them was a lovely young maiden. He inquired to the nature of their sadness, and they replied that a great eight headed serpent had forced the deities of the land to give it one of their daughters every year or it would ravage the land. Seven years had passed and seven of their daughters had been sacrificed, and now they must sacrifice their final daughter, Rice Paddy Princess.
Storm God fell in love with the beautiful princess on first sight and went to investigate the opponent. Indeed, it was a terrible monster with eight heads and eight tails, stretched over eight hills and was said to have blood-shot red eyes and could breath fire... Nevertheless, he made the couple an offer upon his return, if they wanted him to slay the serpent they had to grant him their daughter’s hand in marriage, and the couple happily agreed. Transforming the princess temporarily into a comb to have her company during battle, he hid her safely in his hair and detailed his plan to her parents.”
Leaning back into his pillow, Boba followed the dance of her slender hands and grinned “No problems. He’s the Storm God.”
“As much as the storm rages, it does not turn over a mountain… even if the Storm God had cracked the huge cedars off the serpent’s back with brute force it would have barely scratched the surface of that adversary… so, he had to come up with a different plan….”
“The Storm God asked the old couple to brew and distil an eightfold refined liquor, he then divided into eight large tubs. He also ordered a large fence built around the house where they knew the serpent would come. Then he placed the tubs on individual platforms positioned behind the fence with eight small gates leading to them. The serpent arrived and was furious to find its usual path blocked. As it drew a deep breath to show its might, it smelled the liquor and proceeded to drink it all before devouring Rice Paddy Princess for dessert.
But the eight heads faced a dilemma. They wanted to drink the delicious rice wine that called to them, yet the fence stood in their way, blocking any method of reaching it. One head first suggested they simply smash the barrier down... but that would knock over and waste the liquor making it all for naught. Another proposed they combine their fiery breath and burn the fence into ash... but then the liquor would evaporate.
The heads began searching for an opening and found the hatches and eager for the liquor, they were keen to poke their heads through to go and drink it. Yet the eighth head, which was the wisest, warned his brethren of the folly of such a thing and volunteered to go through first to make sure all was well. In hiding, the Storm God patiently waited for his chance. He let the head drink some liquor in safety and report back to the others that there was no danger. All eight heads plunged through a hatch each and greedily drank every last drop of the liquor in the tubs.”
Jango perched on the edge of his son’s small desk and watched the show, his arms clasped over his wide chest. The entertainer had come out of her shell, gestures and gentle body movements made her words come alive.
This fairytale was far more comprehensible and instructional than the last he had witnessed. Like any good mercenary, the protagonist asked first what was in for him, did his recce and preparations to master the task at minimum risk. He wished he had placed a holo-recorder on Boba’s headboard instead of just recording the view from his helmet sitting on the desk beside him. Their historian, Llats Ward would be interested in it.
“As the heads finished, the Storm God launched his attack on the eight-headed snake. Drunken from so much liqueur, the great serpent was no match for him, who decapitated each head in turn. A nearby river was said to have turned red with the blood of the defeated serpent.
The Storm God then proceeded to cut the rest of the monster apart, and reaching the serpent’s tails he struck something metal. From the fourth tail of the serpent, Storm God drew forth a great curved blade, and this sword was called the cloud gathering sword. To come to terms with his sister, the Storm God sent the sword to the Sun Goddess as a peace offering and she gave him some of her jewels in return.”
“...and then?” Boba didn’t let her up that night. At least he would get his happily-ever-after.
“After the incident with the snake, the Storm God built a large wooden palace by the sea and protected it with an eightfold fence of clouds. He transformed the comb he had kept safely in his hair back to the form of the girl and took the beautiful Rice Paddy Princess for his wife. He appointed the Elder Deity of the Land to be his steward and ruled in peace and prosperity for many years. He gave up his old habit of wailing and withering and planted out many seeds of trees, so his living area was soon called Woody Land between the Reed Plains and the Land of the Shadows where his mother, She-who-invites dwelled. Hidden there, the Storm god lived with his youngest daughter Forward Princess. But that is another story.”
Tomoe rose, straightened the blanket and kissed the boy’s forehead “Sleep well.” She left but stopped at the main door on the notice of her left foot. She felt so very tired, unable to put up with that detail right now... or him.
“Please sit and look as beautiful as your exemplary princess, your savior’s coming with the tools.” Jango crooned and made a show rummaging through the storage.
“The lucky eighth one, you mean?” Tomoe perched on the arm rest of the easy chair wearily “I don’t mind a beautiful role model, but the tale also says that if you are one out of seven, you’d be very dead waiting for a hero instead of slaying the serpent with your own hands...”
“Savor your luck then.” Jango squatted down cautiously and produced a small tool box. “Would you please sit still for a moment? I can’t do such delicate work when you are squirming around like this.”
“Sorry, I’m cold.” Tomoe froze up, silent as the grave and solid as a statue. Not moving or making another sound. She realized it wasn’t working, just the opposite, he was enjoying himself. The removal of the anklet would not make him realize that he had to set her free.
‘Still so afraid,’ he thought and knew that with one more comment and her demeanor would crack. “My offer to warm you still stands, princess.” He rolled down her sock sensuously and grinned up at her, mischief flickering over his rugged face.
‘Run!’ The command of her instincts resulted in a mad dash out of his quarter.
Jango rolled to his feet and watched her make a run for it before he could enter the opening code to the anklet. “No patience,” he shook his head and chuckled, placing his tools back into the box. He hadn’t even needed to tell her how much he liked her scent before she kicked him in the shoulder... but not in the face. Maybe she liked him a little after all.
Tomoe escaped into her quarters and leaned her forehead against the door for a moment, trying to muffle her cries and stop her tears. She had lost her nerves for no palpable reason. Everything seemed so hopeless, so pointless.
The door buzzer went. She searched for the controls beside the small security monitor blindly. “Tom’ika?” her helmet’s amplifier saved Rav the screaming. The door slid open. “I’m okay...”
The Mandalorian in red armor gave her a once over “No, you are not.” She motioned her over while her comrade in yellow lobbed something inside. In the awkward moment in front of the closing door, Tomoe felt armored arms close around her and turn her around. “C’mon, stay with me. Isabet will clean your place.”
Rav walked Tomoe down the corridor briskly, checking something on her gauntlet. Once inside her quarter she raised the security level and paced in the corridor, her head lowered like listening to something in her helmet. “Make yourself at home, Tom’ika.” She advised “Take a shower, get some rest. There’s a clean set of clothing on the bathroom shelf.”
The younger woman followed mechanically, some of her tension draining away with the water. When she finished dressing, Rav stood in the open bathroom door. A tilt of the slimming T-shaped visor acknowledged her guest. “The anklet, he... you...”
“I’ve jammed that frequency.” Rav closed the channel to Isabet and slid the helmet off her head. She shook her grey-shot chestnut braids on her back and transferred the bean-comlink into her ear. Considering what she had been through, the young woman had reacted remarkable well to their armor, but there was no need to overdo it. ‘She needs a familiar face to talk to...’ She retrieved the blanket from the chair and tucked her protégé in like a child. “Want to tell me what happened?”
“N... nothing...” Tomoe pulled the blanket up under her chin, her eyes locked on Rav’s unmarked face “Everything took longer than expected... then... I don’t want you to get in trouble...”
“Then what?” Rav’s voice was even, interested without being impatient.
“I told Boba his bedtime story. He just watched. Afterwards I wanted to leave and he wanted to remove the anklet... as promised... he didn’t have that time before... then I snapped... suddenly... I kicked him and ran out.”
“You kicked him... where?”
“In the shoulder, I think.”
“No immediate reason? Did he touch you? Threaten you?”
“Just my foot, he needed...”
“I see.” Rav closed her investigation. “You don’t need to defend him. It was well deserved anyway.” She staked her armor, locked her main-weapons in the nightstand and placed the gauntlets with the jamming transmitter on top beside the helmet. “Isabet de-bugged your place. She found monitoring devices for sound and video. Of course we have no evidence it was Fett’s doing, which is like a proof that it was him indeed.” She yawned “He made a pass on you, you kicked him where he can take it easily because you are too nice of a girl. That’s how the two of us see it.”
“But... what does he wish to accomplish?”
“He’s a curious guy and he takes what he can get.” Rav snuggled under her own blanket beside Tomoe, “Sleep now. I will keep you safe.”
“But what can I do? I have given my word, yet I can’t even control myself.”
“When you confront him directly, he will tell us something like ‘Oh, I just pulled her foot a little’.” Rav put her palm on Tomoe’s forehead. It felt cool and soothing “Don’t worry, tomorrow Isabet and I give you some hints how to ruin his fun. I bet you want to do something on your own.” She chuckled at Tomoe’s full hearted agreement and settled down to listen to her slowing breathing rate.
Jango had just logged into his monitoring frame as it was shot to haran with an efficiency he was sure his prey could not muster. ‘Where do you run to now, Cin’ciri?” Not that she could go far without being noticed. ‘Ease your mind.’ Sooner or later she would tire and settle down. He briefly wondered if he should check her room personally and install another monitoring set in case she stayed elsewhere, but decided against it. After all, he made her schedule himself which deserted her place on a regular basis. Whoever had supported her deserved to stay awake all night and wait for something that did not happen.
He had all time in the world to figure her out.
“Run... don’t look back...” A familiar voice calls to her, underlined by the swiff of a perfectly balanced blade cutting down the reed in wide circles as it catches fire. “Run, Tomoe-chan, run and never come back”
.... and she runs... runs against an invisible eddy...
The suffocating smoke obstructs her view, then fades to the warm glow of crackling embers. A small wiry man settles in front of the hearth and stares into the flames, the shine caressing his wrinkled face “It’s yours Tomoe-chan... It doesn’t matter what you do with it... as long as you put your heart into it.” His yell splits the air, water sizzles on hot metal, steam rises to the wooden roof beams.
“There’s a time for everything,” a figure wearing full armor pushes past her, the shoulder pads dwarfing her. Flashing black eyes are the only life sign under the bearded facial mask. “Your time to make a stand will come - Don’t miss it.” The golden three-fold wind wheel on the helmet catches the light one last time when he turns out of the door harshly. The winged outline is swallowed in the mist.
The brilliant sound of a small bell rings through the darkness... ring.... silence... ring... “Patience, Tomoe-chan... patience is the key.” The voice wanders around her in the darkness like an invisible sentry... the velvety darkness enfolding her like cool black silk.
The clear ring of the bell fades into the soft jingling of hair ornaments “Mighty castles... are lit by the desire of men.” The woman stands smoothly with regal demeanor and opens the vermilion red lining of her overcoat to the evening splendor that gleams on her raven black hairdo.
A slender bare foot flips the heavy padded hem aside as she turns away, “stop asking, start acting.”
A cute girl who had been leaning against the tall woman’s thigh pushes away from the waterfall of her silken sash. A thread ball rolls to the floor.... hop... hop... “You are still my little girl” an angelic voice carries over the brush of manifold silken layers... “Little girl...” the kid approaches...
...and merges into her body, leaving her to embrace empty air that is humming “Always my little girl...” the singsong faded away.