In the morning, the nightly rain had cooled down the warm air noticeably, so a cold fog was hanging over the reed. Boba felt the cold seep through the opening Tomoe had created in the front of the boat when she rose to get the brazier going with stiff hands. Her raincoat draped over her shoulders like a wampa-fur, a barbarian pelt of brownish-greens. The heavy rain had ceased to a slight drizzle that seeped through the mist.
Boba curled his bare toes into the blanket, pulled the second sheet around his shoulders shivering as he searched for his tunic. It wasn’t freezing cold, just wet and nasty. But Tomoe was a morning person and handed him a warm washcloth while tasking him.
“Fold up our stuff, please. Keep everything wrapped and dry in the cover. We’ll have to wipe up incoming water regularly today.” She turned back to the brazier to make them breakfast. Tea, yesterday’s rice, some uncooked veggies and eggs of sorts. Some white ash clung to the rim of the yellow glob, but it didn’t taste bad at all. It just didn’t fill him up like food board.
Tomoe ate and studied Boba’s face. Her boy was cold, his moral was low and he was used more proteins in his diet than she provided. He would accustom given time, but not as quickly as she was pushing it in the moment. If he fell ill, she couldn’t take care of him properly in a small boat in the middle of nowhere.
He could feel her gaze resting on him “I’m fine. Can we go? It’s warmer when I move.”
“Of course.” She helped him folding up the large boat cover. The force from her pulling out the punt pole shook the boat and they were on the way. “You can take over the rudder once we reach a bigger channel. That will warm you up.”
Boba nodded and sat in the front, watching leaves and lost feathers trail in the slight bow wave. “You declared yourself dar’manda so they let you go?” he caught up with last night’s tale.
“That’s how they took it at eyesight... like the marshes: left alone because I’m no use for them.” Tomoe chuckled dryly. “Most wars are no use but for useless people far behind the front line, so I’m happy being sorted out like that. I still have all it takes.”Boba stepped up on the rudder platform as she turned the boat into a bigger channel. He was wet, cold and miserable. “Are you afraid of becoming dar’manda?” She asked. He dipped his head, the rim of his head concealing his face. “Tell me what makes you Mando.”
“Ba’jur bal bes’kar gam, aran’ov, aliit, Mando’a bal Mandalor- an vencuyan mhi. ”
“So your Mando’a survived just fine,” Tomoe smiled, “while I still have much to learn from you to make up a conversation. Our protective instinct is so ingrained with us; we couldn’t stop it even if we wanted to. You will wear armor in training, in tournament and probably on the job when you are grown up. Up to you.” ...and here comes the tricky part... “In regard of the Mand’alor... let’s wait and see who’s chosen. I could live with Skirata if he doesn’t try to kill me in return.”
So he wouldn’t be dar’manda, technically, but... “and with dad?”
“Been there, figured that.” Tomoe’s face locked up. Sooner or later the boy had to come around!
But Boba didn’t leave up. “You really think you killed him?”
“Happens to guys who try to murder me in my sleep - Mand’alor or not.”
“How do you know?”
“He broke into my quarter with a weapon drawn.”
“Maybe he just wanted to visit?”
“Could have used the door buzzer and left his blaster in the holster.”
“Maybe you didn’t hear the buzzer, so dad went in to check if you were alright?”
“With a drawn blaster? …and no, he did NOT buzz.”
“Maybe something was wrong with the door panel and he thought you had been attacked?”
“Unlikely. He didn’t knock in the shower room either.”
“That was a public room.”
“It was still impolite of him.”
“But you didn’t attack him there.”
“If he had drawn a weapon on me in the shower room I would have.”
“Just because of impoliteness?”
“Impolite sums him up pretty well, yes.”
“Would you kill me, too?”
“I’d teach you manners.”
“You could have taught him, too, instead of killing him.”
“I tried. I failed.”
“What if you fail with me?”
“I won’t. You are as a quick learner as you are argumentative.”
“Because I know not to stare?”
“Because you have learned about lots of plants and animals and boats and new weapons the past days. Manners and customs will come with daily life.” She had to give the kid something to do before she lost her patience as well. “Let’s start with your third language.”
“Fourth. I speak a little Huttese as well.”
Tomoe shoved the rudder in his hands and started with the first sentence of an introduction, then let him repeat. Bouncing words to and thro, they covered a good distance. It changed Boba’s status to warm, low morale and ravenous. The boy would eat the hairs from her head. But at least it had stopped raining.
She barbecued another fishy lunch, they ate and she returned to the back, leaning on the rudder. “Let’s try something new.” She announced and Boba cocked his head curiously. “Let’s check out things at home, have a hot bath and dinner at a real fire place. Pop up, then vanish for another night and see if something happens.”
Boba smiled. Home, bath and food sounded really good, especially when combined.
In the late afternoon, Tomoe browsed their fishing equipment and came up with a bent piece of hard wood. “Alright...” she pushed it under the back of her belt. “K'uur...”she put a finger over her lips, then checked the direction of the breeze. Somehow she managed to move the boat through the tiny channel more silently. The channel passed a lake with a scattered flock of waterfowls. Tomoe retrieved the wood and let the boat continue the gliding approach. Several heads cocked, nervousness broke out, and then the whole swarm took flight. Tomoe stood upright on the rudder platform and hurled the wood. “Oya!”
Boba watched two birds tumble and drop into the lake. “Stick’s coming back!” mom yelled and Boba ducked at the wood dropping into the water next to the boat, and then fished it out with a wide smile “Kandosii!Can I give it a try, too?”
“It’s duck for dinner.” Tomoe commented and turned the boat to collect her prey, snapping the bird’s necks quickly and cleanly. “You could if I had hit just one bird but for now we have enough for ourselves and can hand one to Ukon for her troubles. Never hunt more than you can eat.”
“Ner ori’vod... My ‘O-ne-san’ like an ‘older sister’... She’s taken up the role, but she’s old enough to be my granny... and she’s really nice.”
“Hmm.” His small clan was growing rapidly. But then, he had never had an aunt or a granny or an animal for family. Dad would be surprised if he came back. He certainly would not feel lonely any time soon.Chapter 9.1 – Home (Day 14)
Tomoe pushed the light boat into a channel with more current and worked harder to move up the stream. The scenery changed quickly from reed-wilderness into large orchards surrounding small huts. Fruit trees grew along the raising river banks. Every lot of land seemed to have its own footbridge. Suddenly they were back in civilization, a bustle of small boats passing by in the evening sun. People seemed to come home from work or markets, baskets with food and flowers, live animals and all sorts of goods loading the boats.
She moored their boat at one of the private footbridges, and then grabbed the tied ducks and their thermos flask. She jumped ashore, holding out her hand to Boba. He was glad to be back on firm ground, even when it was creaking wood. “Don’t you secure the boat?” Tomoe looked over her shoulder “That knot should hold and it doesn’t look like it will rain again tonight.”
“But it is open. What if people take the boat away or grab stuff from it?”
“Nobody will.” Tomoe opened her raincoat to the evening sun but kept it around her shoulders. “Everybody has open boats and thin walls, so people are pretty honest around here and take care of their neighborhood.”
Boba nodded silently and they walked up the narrow path in the plant growth together. A small hut marked the entrance to the orchard, but it was deserted and they continued down an alley parallel to the channel. Tomoe occasionally greeted people with a nod, then suddenly took a step to the side and stopped walking. Boba froze; ready to duck into cover, but Tomoe just pulled her hat reverently to an old man that came down the alley with a swing in his step that defied his age. His deeply etched dark face made even Kal look like a young man.
‘Here we go again’ Boba thought. ‘More chatting.’
But his mom just bowed, the hat held closely in front of her. A smile spread over the old man’s face as if he hadn’t recognized her on the first glimpse. His voice was a low rumble that couldn’t get loud. Tomoe asked a few questions before she replaced her hat and their ways split again. This time, Tomoe was quicker in filling Boba in “This was the gardener of the resort. I told him it’s our boat moored at his footbridge and asked for news from home. Nothing unexpected happened, but there are a couple of packages waiting for me.” Tomoe tilted her head and considered. “And the head of the resort is less than happy with my absence, so we’ll just slip in on Ukon-san and get lost again. I’m in no condition to put up with Okasan tonight.”
They took a path to the backside of the resort area, slipping in through a small garden gate, not far from the point where Jango had disembarked the Slave I. Boba wondered if the foot prints of his heavy armored boots were still visible in the humus between the trees. The burns of the sublight engines would be. The cottages all looked very similar to him, but the pond helped his orientation. “K’uur.” Tomoe’s steps suddenly hurried up and they slipped up a veranda and around the corner of a white paper wall. She suddenly pulled Boba back sharply and knocked lightly on a wooden protective board at the back of the cottage. Then she sat back on her heels, her hat draped over her knees.
Nothing happened at first. Boba was about to look around as the board was moved aside and somebody peeked through the crack “Tomoe-chan!” The crack widened and revealed a woman of about Kal’s age kneeling on the floor inside. His mom bowed and so did he, as it was polite. A low voiced exchange followed...
“Good evening, Onesan.” – “I’m so glad you are back, I worried a lot.” – “Just for a few hours, but we will be back for real in a few days.” – “Okasan’s going to fire you.” – “She can’t fire somebody who isn’t around.” – “Then she’ll do it once you are back.” – “Security is her responsibility.” – “I have guests, Tomoe-chan.” – “I know.” Tomoe passed Ukon the ducks in the bowl of her hat “We just want to warm up in the bath, eat something... then we get lost again for another night... at least.” Ukon received the gift with another small bow. “I’ll make something nice. You look terrible. Meet you in your place later.” Tomoe bowed deeply and the board slid close.
“Let’s head for the bath. We smell ...ripe.” They withdrew over the path they had come and took another crossing that lead to another thatched building on the side of the main bath-house. “Servants’ bath.” She peeked through a crack in the wood work. “Deserted as usual at this time.” She hid their raincoats behind a large pine tree that towered over the wooden bath house and ushered Boba to enter. “Be careful with the light when you approach those paper-walls. You can’t see through, but your shadow can be seen from the inside.”
Boba nodded and placed his clothing in the basket Tomoe offered him. They grabbed towels and proceeded into the bathroom. He was aware that Tomoe kept her knife close, hidden in a washcloth. “We wash before we enter the basin.” She informed him and settled on a small stool in front of a tap. There was plenty of running water and a soap that didn’t smell antiseptic but discreetly of plants. Boba leaned into her as she soaped his hair and scrubbed his back. He was so tired again. Tomoe smiled and rinsed the foam off with a bowl of lukewarm water. “Don’t fall asleep on me just yet.” He straightened up with a low groan “My back needs another scrubbing.” She reminded him, ‘and half a dozen of peelings, probably.’ Only then she could visit a bathhouse to the usual times...
Boba returned the favor and they reclined in the steaming basin. “Nice alternative to a sonic shower.” The boy commented and skimmed the water surface, looking around lazily. One side of the building was open and allowed the air to circulate. The roof above was wood, the thick rafters darkened from age and the constant humidity ensnaring them. The rim of the basin was formed by large rough stone that looked polished along the edges. On the garden-side, moss grew along them and formed a transition to the rustling, high grass growing outside. A bench was embedded in the sunken tub. The water reached Tomoe’s shoulders just barely, but he was still too short to be comfortable when sitting, so he knelt and later rested his head on the stones to float in the water. “Kandosii.” He could stay here forever.
But Tomoe straightened up before long. “Let’s have dinner before we are all drained by the water’s minerals. We need to keep our wits about us.” Boba nodded and grabbed the towel she passed him. He felt terrible relaxed already. They dried off and went back to the dressing room. He didn’t get to reach for his tunic because Tomoe shook a blue and white robe out in front of him. He slipped his arms into the sleeves. The material felt cool and fresh on his skin, but there was a problem... “Isn’t that a little long?”
Tomoe giggled and helped him to tie the trailing hem up. “One-size-for-all. You are going to grow out of it... in a few years. Remember how I do it...” For now, the fold she made around his waist reached down to his mid-thigh, but at least he wasn’t stumbling over the hem. His mom sent him off with a pad on the bottom and got dressed herself. Boba felt that he was too old to be dressed and watched how she was doing it. The fold she made on herself barely reached her hip and she tied the skirt a lot narrower than his. She grabbed the bundle with their ‘ripe’ clothing, they slipped into their straw sandals and they made their way back to the cottage next to Ukon’s.
Tomoe’s eyes run over every detail of the structure, roof and even underneath before she entered through the backdoor. It looked neat on the outside, but the inside was a chaos, thrown blankets, dried and crumbled flower arrangements, a ruined scroll and shards that littered the floor. At least the water had seeped into the blankets instead of staining the floor mats, but it was still a mess. “Uhm yes. Lot’s of work to do.” Tomoe commented, closed the slide door behind Boba and went on to check on her home. No hidden enemies... no monitoring devices. She knew any crevice of her place from daily cleansing by hand. A pile of boxes sat beside to the main entrance. She checked the numbers and contents briefly, then took the whole pile in the next room. Boba followed closely.
She stored two of the boxes on the bottom of her locker. “Formal clothing for tomorrow – maybe - and some old baubles I might need to cash in.” She opened the box that still sat on the floor. “This was the last pair of sabers that left my Grandpa’s forge before he switched to making kitchen knives. He wanted my son to have them... he believed in changing times.” While the larger bundle snugly fit into the box diagonally, she took the shorter out and unwrapped the brocade hull reverently. “You are far too young to wear them as a pair, but you have learned how to handle this. I present it to you for the case you have to defend yourself against enemies who don’t care about your age.”
The blade she slid from the gold-stitched hull had a matte black sheath, an oval hand guard and a handle wrapped tightly with a black silk. She looked it over briefly, and then held it out to Boba who received it with both hands. It was much lighter within its sheath than his practice saber without. “Thank you.” Compared with the lacquer work of Tomoe’s knife, it looked quite plain on the outside. He checked the blade approvingly. It looked a lot like Tomoe’s knife, just longer and with slightly more bend. He had nothing to test it, but the gleaming steel looked murderously sharp. Definitely not plain on the inside. “I’ll take good care of it.” He promised.
“Be aware that people aren’t used to see those on street anymore, let alone on a child. I’ll show you some ways to keep it around unobtrusive later... maybe we have to remake the hilt.” Tomoe smiled and took up two more bundles wrapped in white, structured silk. “Another thing to re-make.” She giggled “A girls’ thing.” She retrieved a slightly bent wooden stick of light color from the bag and unsheathed a medium length blade, but her main attention stayed on the fixings of the rough handle. “Splendid.” She sheathed it again and had a look in the other bag. The contents clanked as she shook them out onto a cloth covering the mat. A lengthened U-shape and a couple of blackened nails fell out.
This was getting less and less impressive in Boba’s view - until she aligned the parts “A mounting?” Tomoe nodded “...a very long mounting,” he added.
She shrugged “The hilt was partially burned and I couldn’t store it in the deposit box anyway. Everything else is here. That’s the pommel.”
Boba smiled “This thing’s is going to be huge when you reassemble it.”
Tomoe laughed “I’ll have to shorten it in comparison with the original assembly to fit its new home... but not much.” She crossed the living room with quick small steps and reached up on the timber set over the door, retrieving a long wooden staff, polished and darkened from frequent use. She whirled it around with a swiff that ended abruptly as she clutched it under her forearm as she came back to check the diameters. “Just a neat cut, a few holes and I’m upgraded as well.” She marked the end with some scratches. “Granny will be delighted.”
Boba gulped. He had an idea what his mom could do with a short blade. Transferred by a pole arm’s lever, the multiplied effect would be murderous... “Ke barjurir gar'ade, jagyc'ade kot'la a dalyc'ade kotla'shya.” He commented.
Tomoe laughed, closed the box, pulled a set of clothing from the upper shelves and stored everything they wouldn’t take with them. For the time being, she returned the staff, clearing the drawing room from the worst remains of her skirmish with the bounty hunter. The shadow that glided over the sunlit paper walls was Ukon’s.
“Come in, please.” Boba already understood the greeting and listened intently to the two women who set a dinner for two from the tray Ukon had brought with her. He picked up his name frequently and Ukon smiled and nodded at him. She poured hot water in their cups and excused herself with a bow on the door step. Boba wondered how somebody could buckle so much and look royally elegant at the same time. Then he realized that Tomoe had picked up the same style of movement once she changed clothing.
His mom said something that invited him to dig in, and it tasted as splendid as it looked. Lots of different tastes carefully arranged around a couple of slices of what seemed to be the bird they had hunted. It didn’t look much, but together with the white stuff... rice - it filled up comfortably without overstuffing him.
“Ukon likes you a lot. She said she would dig up some of her grand-son’s clothing for you.” Tomoe poured some hot water in her rice bowl and swirled it clean before drinking up the contents, leaving the bowel squeaky clean. “She’ll take care of things here until we are back.”
Boba nodded and carefully settled his utensils on the tray as Tomoe had done. Ukon was back the next moment as if she had a sensor implanted for such things. She carried a bundle wrapped in thin paper and immediately started fussing over him with soft cooing sounds. ‘Wait a moment... I’m not a baby anymore?!’ In her opinion he wasn’t even able to dress himself properly... and considering all the binders and folding she did, she was probably right. He extended his arms and plucked on the strange wing-like sleeves, wondering what to do with all the excess fabric. Ukon laughed and put an additional set of socks up his sleeve.
Ah, pockets! Boba smiled and she patted his cheek. Her hand was cool and dry, velvety from age. Nobody ever patted his cheek but Jaing, right before that fresher incident... and this felt... very different. “Thank you...” he picked through his memory “...arigato, Ukon-san.” She said something that sounded very pleased and left with the tray and their worn clothing.
Meanwhile, his mom had dressed in a fresh set of pants and tunic that looked sturdier than the last set. The woven fabric was soft and well worn. She finished tying her pant legs at the calves. “Let’s go before the light’s all gone.” She helped Boba to tie the sandals to his sore feet, replaced her hat and picked up the freshly filled thermos flask. The handle from the door rafter transformed into a tall walking stick. They retrieved their raincoats and slipped out of the resort unhindered at dusk, looking no different of peasants returning late from the grooves in the hills. Lanterns were lit in the main house and most of the cottages. Suddenly, Boba didn’t feel like leaving.
Tomoe borrowed some tools from her colleagues’ garden shed on the way down to the river. Their boat was as they left it. Tomoe loosened the line and the stream took them back where they had come from. No throbbing engine sound of a space-ship broke the silence. No light of a speeder interrupted the velvety blue darkness of the sky, just the sound of a rich nature that prepared for another night in the marshes.Chapter 9.2 – So this is Hell – Bando Gora (Day 14)
Jango remembered now. Tomoe. She had stabbed him and he would get her back for that, for transporting him into this state of incoherence. He badly needed a frame of reference - her face was easily conjured. "Stop fighting me! You cannot stop our link, you can only make it more painful," he murmured as he began to caress her cheek.
So close. Why does it hurt so much? Why can’t I detach?
Take it out on her. Unleash the beasts you are holding down. Share your world of pain through your link.
Her arms jerked out, as did her legs. Her face flamed and she squeezed her eyes tight in a futile attempt to avoid him. Shackles bound her to a rack, forcing her spread eagle. She stood trapped and helpless, totally at the mercy of the figures that rose from the shadows of his mind and shuffled towards them.
Pairs of black horns that pointed downwards, blue green eyes gleaming in the darkness from skull-like masks that covered mutated faces. “...and the insurgents will cooperate,” they whispered. She struggled in panic, pulling the bounds tighter around her wrists and ankles... He could see she wanted to faint with fright so he slapped her awake. She would face what he had faced.
"A very nice capture,” one of the devilish figures spoke, “The Bando Gora have ways of weakening your mind and breaking your will ... Enjoy your spoils, Sir.” Sickly sweet smoke of burning death sticks billowed around them.
She was writhing and shying away from his fingertips. His eyes locked with hers and his nostrils flared as he breathed in her scent, "Uh hu," he shook his head slowly. There was no pulling away from him this time. He nibbled her throat lightly. She screamed in terror – or was that his own voice? He listened intently while he continued his caress, licking and biting a path along her jaw.
His next words were gentler, soothing, low whispers in her ear. Telling her he had compassion, he had a soul, that she would die... loved. Her eyes were clenched closed and her heartbeat fluttered against his lips as he continued to test her resolve. His first caress was almost tentative and featherlike. He stopped and started again and again until she was shivering incoherently.
When he released her reluctantly once more, she stared back at him, spellbound. She was the only one to see the change in his eyes. Eat her like it was eating him. Have at it until she couldn’t take it anymore, rip her apart and turn her insides out to retrieve what was his ...while she watched. Then he would be free of her and she would rest in his memory together with all the other monsters.
"You've come to the right place for a burial." From the clouds of smoke suddenly a large paw dropped on the top of her head, gloved fingers clenched in her hair and jerked back, baring her throat to him.“Just like ol' times, you and me, man to man, face to face.” Montross heavy set form and brutal face emerged in the frame of reference, his military crop gleaming like a silver halo “Only now we do this to the death! May the best man win."
"I am the best, always was."
"We'll see about that."
Jango stepped in, “Mine,” he snarled at the fierce exhilaration that mating with her always produced in him. She was pushed against him and rubbed along his chest like a ragdoll, the bonds straining. Unable to stop the brutal assault, her face was contorted by the endeavors of his life-long adversary. Pain erupted in their bowel. A scream was torn out of their throats.
He reached down and then smeared her blood over her cheeks like stripes of red war paint. Her breath was warm and wet on his face like the blood filling his mouth, chocking him. One hand slipped between their bodies, the palm pressing gently on her abdomen. He reached for the gleaming crescent of the knife that would put them out of their misery.
He started it, he would finish it. Still it continued, relentlessly.
And then it was suddenly Vau’s head that towered over her shoulder where Montross had leered at him a moment ago. Jango growled low. “You are a major pain in the ass, you know?”
“Literally.” Walon’s drawl sounded so damn real it was instantly sobering. No weird dream could ever emulate that sound of metal scraping across brickwork.
Jango hung there and shuddered incoherently, again oblivious to his surroundings. Fight to win and survive to... what exactly? The question never went away... and he felt at a loss.
Merciful darkness claimed him again.