I thought that On Loan had settled the question of Sentinels once and for all – but apparently not. So here we all are again!
Due to an accident with the timeline (a pot-plant fell on it, obscuring some vital dates) this story was originally written with entirely different Templars – leading to a hasty scramble through Wookieepedia and some interesting thoughts on basic gender-swapping. Which may or may not lead to other things.
The inhospitable world of Nal Shend has a history longer and more confusing than all the monarchs of all the dynasties of Teth – whose own history is no longer studied by any but the B’Omarr of Tatooine, who have plenty of time. However, the only aspects of Nal Shend history with which anybody has concerned themselves for a long time are as follows: one, that the nomadic Shendi tribe left the world, according to their own mythology some ten thousand years before the Great Resynchronization of the Galactic Calendar; and two, that three thousand years before Resynchronization, the Jedi Order established an outpost there. This outpost survived two millennia, but Nal Shend was so isolated that after this time it was no longer considered by the Temple to be a practical concern.
Within a month of the outpost’s abandonment, the wandering branch of the Order, the Sentinels, adopted it and dubbed it Priory. The Priory was cold at night and hot during the day, because that was the climate of Nal Shend, and the climate-controls in the buildings had been destroyed. The Sentinels didn’t mind. Over a few years, they shifted into the outbuildings their communal belongings, the odd mish-mash of castoffs, hand-me-downs, Jedi garb to impress and civilian garb to vanish, gear and weapons from all corners of the Galaxy – this was collectively and mysteriously known as the Hatbox. But then, the Sentinels had always had a genius for giving curious names to people, places, and things, essentially creating a language of their own, inaccessible to the Templar Jedi.
For centuries, the Sentinel way was thus: disdain of the Temple was considered an acceptable fallacy in the young – but woe to the Master who did not take the Knighthood of his first Padawan as a signal to become a responsible member of the community and encourage others to respect the main branch of the Order! Nonetheless, the Sentinels were a close-knit and secretive clan, defending each other, their multitudinous secluded haunts and bolt-holes, and above all the peace of the galaxy, with unrivalled tenacity.
By ten years after the Naboo crisis – thirteen years after the Resynchronization – the Priory was showing signs of wear. The roofs of the outbuildings had almost all fallen in, and that of the Great Hall was maintained by irregular work parties organized among the transient population of the Priory. Over the years, the graceful complex had gradually gained an air of serene mystery – and simultaneously the unbridled joy of the Sentinel children, released, for the duration of their stay in the Priory, from the unnaturally adult behavior demanded of them by life on the road. And as the outbuildings fell in one by one, the Great Hall increasingly took on the role of kitchen, living room, bad-weather dojo, and sleeping quarters, filling at the edges with mattresses of bracken and occasional blankets from the Hatbox – though most slept in their cloaks.
On one particular afternoon, the most urgent job on the ever-present list of tasks was the mending of some roof tiles that had been blown off in a recent windstorm. And the team who first appeared and offered to get the job done was the Che-Jados team. Jiron Jados, as a fully-grown Karori and therefore too heavy to go clambering about the roof, remained on the ground and held the ladder, while his partner Reseda Che, and his Padawan Nasriel Threeb, went up to investigate the damage. Four tiles were gone, two cracked, and another two loose, so it was decided that to sit in the shade of the Hall and whittle replacement tiles out of scraps of firewood was no terribly hard thing. Nasriel loved the strong sunlight her companions could not bear for long, so she stayed on the roof, smoothing each tile more exactly to shape with her dagger and fastening it in place with a single iron nail and a sweep of pitch for waterproofing.
Late in the afternoon, when the sun slanted down and flung the Priory and all its surrounds into a blaze of crisp chiaroscuro, the long shadows of three people afoot – a man, a woman, and a child – approached the boundary wall, where two of them waited while the third vaulted over the low wall and dashed toward the Great Hall.
“Tzinu brings guests,” Reseda noted, laying down his knife. “Who are they, Tzinu?”
“Billaba and Dume of the Temple. They are both exhausted – and the boy is wounded.”
At the mention of the names, Jiron had bounded to his feet, knife tight in his fist. “We can veto. We do veto – Reseda and I – we speak against their entry. Find four to counter that if you can.” For while most guests to the Priory could enter as soon as announced, one dissenter could bar one entry, and it took two of the Sentinels already in the Priory to remove the ban.
At Tzinu’s approach, Foz Ferens, a tousle-haired Kiffar Knight, scowled up from his seat by the hearth, where he had been laying a fire for the coming night, before being dragged roughly to his feet by his partner, the ghostly Rattatakian Gree Yarzakawula.
“We speak for Dume,” Gree snapped. “Come on, Foz. We’ll fetch him while Tzinu finds someone to admit Billaba. The boy is wounded, and Jiron’s grievance with the Master does not extend to the Padawan.”
Someone else, the premises’ amateur lawyer, who as a friend of Jiron’s would not counter the veto, nonetheless raised an archaic statute, many years out of use. “In life,” he said, “Master Jinn was counted one of us, and noble among the Sentinels. Nonetheless he was Templar, and it is certain he would speak for Billaba if he were here, so let that be one voice for her entry.”
Foz and Gree went out to the boundary, where Billaba knelt on the sun-baked ground, waiting patiently. The boy Dume had fainted, and lay now in the strip of shade flung by the low wall. His face was white under an angry sunburn, and slicked with cold sweat.
“The boy is sick, not wounded,” Gree observed. Billaba glowered at her, and yanked open the neck of Dume’s grimy tunic. The Padawan’s chest was marred by a long, ragged cut, red and swollen with infection, and oozing pus. Foz nodded, jumped the wall, and hauled the Padawan over to the Priory side, roughly efficient, but gentle enough. When the Templar Master made to follow, Gree held out one hand to stop her.
“Not you, Billaba. Somebody vetoed, and Tzinu’s still trying to find a second person to lift it for you. Foz and I spoke for the kid – he’s an urgent case, and nothing to do with this quarrel.” She passed a canteen of water across the wall. “Could be a while. Nobody here wants to cross the guy who laid the veto.”
Taking the canteen, Billaba sank back into the shade, and nodded. “I’ll wait. But – is there a medic here? I’m worried for Caleb.”
“I’m it. I’ll do what I can.” Gree turned away, and helped Foz to carry the ailing Padawan back to the Great Hall. They laid him on one of the newer – and therefore softer – piles of bracken, in the chimney corner, where it would be warm come night, and Gree anxiously studied the boy’s wound, while Foz went to join Tzinu in begging for a second voice. At length they had exhausted all the Sentinels indoors and made their way outside.
Nasriel Threeb had been sitting on the roof for an hour after the last tile was laid, staring at the Templar waiting by the boundary wall. As Foz rounded the corner of the building, she called down to him.
“Fine. You know what, I’ll speak for Billaba. She’s Council, so that makes her a forsworn liar like them all, and I’d be the first to rejoice if any of them got killed, but she’ll die out there tonight, and I won’t sink to the Templars’ level by letting that happen.”
“Attagirl, Witch.” And Foz started back to the wall to fetch Billaba.
“Come on. Somebody had the guts to let you in.”
“Nobody anybody expects you to know. Come on if you’re coming – you don’t look too healthy yourself, mate. Where have you jokers been?”
“Nar Shadaa. We set the ship down without realizing the ground was mined, and the comms went up with the ship, so we were somewhat stranded until Tzinu arrived.”
“Look, you need to call someone, use mine. But come on in and get yourself a feed and a bit of a breather before you try going anywhere else. Oh – and Gree’s rustled up enough bacta to see to both the kid’s damage and that nasty one in your shoulder, the one you’re trying to hide. It’s bled through your tunic, mate.”
Billaba pulled her cloak around her despite the heat. “It isn’t anything worth wasting bacta on, especially if you haven’t much.”
“Look, moron, you’re a bloody Council Member. Literally, just now. We’ve got enough that it’s worth wasting on you. Our crew have been getting by on kolto for months; we save the bacta for big problems, and believe me, you two showing up is a big problem.” Foz sat crouched, froglike, on the wall, staring down at the Templar Master kneeling humbly in the dust. Apparently, Billaba had not moved since Foz had last seen her, but Gree’s water flask, lying empty and open on the ground, suggested otherwise. “Yeah, you looked like you could use a drink,” Foz grinned. “A bath, too, at that. It’s been wet weather over the mountains, so the well’s overflowing all over the bathroom. A good one, got a roof and everything,” he hastened to add. “And not that I’m not enjoying watching you sitting there waiting to be let in, but come in already, it’s getting late and it’s cold here at night.”
“Chatty one, aren’t you?” But the Templar staggered to her feet and scrambled over the wall, following the Sentinel back to the shade of the Priory, and through the maze of interconnecting outbuildings. The bathroom was all the Kiffar Knight had promised – though the murals on the walls suggested it might have been a small classroom before the boring of the artesian well – and Billaba found that “everything” included not only a roof and a door but also soap and clean towels. Somebody coaxed the chaos of the Hatbox into giving up a clean, intact, fairly well-fitting set of Jedi clothes, with the cumulative result that Billaba came to the Great Hall at dusk looking significantly tidier and more Templar-ish.
Nal Shend grew cold almost as soon as the sun set, and a wood fire crackled in the broad hearth at the end of the Hall, dissipating warmth throughout the large room. Dume was awake, sitting up on his makeshift bed and drinking tea from a smoothly-polished wooden bowl.
“Gree thinks I’m a baby, Master.”
“Eleven Standard is hardly otherwise,” commented that lady tartly. “But if you call having your injuries seen to ‘babying’, I don’t deny the charge. Speaking of which… come over here, Billaba.”
“How old are you, anyway?”
“I fail to see how that makes the least speck of difference. I’m old enough that I know what I’m doing, now come here.” Billaba came, and obediently shrugged off one side of her outer tunic to expose the wound in her shoulder. Sheer neglect had let it partly heal, even around the thin shard of metal still embedded, but it had reopened and welled with blood. Gree made a sound remarkably similar to a snarl. “What is this? Are you crazy?”
“I couldn’t see it,” she explained uneasily. “I didn’t think it was that bad.”
The Rattatakian’s blue eyes narrowed. “It is that bad. I’ll have to get this out somehow; hold still. No, don’t bite your tongue unless you want to lose it – this is going to hurt, all right?”
Billaba, against all odds and despite Dume’s sardonic smirk, managed to maintain a degree of dignity, showing no more reaction to the agony of having a barbed shard of metal pulled out through newly-formed scar tissue, than a hiss through clenched teeth. Gree was quick and neat if not entirely gentle with the bacta and bandaging, and was soon done.
Billaba glanced at her Padawan. “Well, I’m glad to see one of us found that amusing. Thank you… Gree.”
“It has manners!” cried Reseda. “Don’t do that, Councillor, she’s not used to it, you’ll scare her!” Leaning against the mantel of the hearth for balance, he expertly kicked a heavy iron pot out of the fire, letting his boots protect him from being burnt, and with one well-placed stamp, flipped the lid off, sending it clattering over the stone floor and everyone else scrambling out of the way.
This camp-oven was filled with the sort of thing that generally constituted dinner among the Sentinels: a stew, made up of assorted vegetables and grains, and some dried fish the amateur lawyer had had in his pack, and a ‘smuggler’s payday of spices’ as Gree’s Padawan Halwaro expressed it. Tonight there was even bread to go with the stew – flat and smoky-tasting, baked in the coals.
The fire at the Priory was heating, cookstove, and lighting, and excuse enough for most of the inhabitants to gather around and tell stories. Except for three. Jiron, Reseda, and Nasriel, packs strapped, cloaks and boots on, were preparing to leave. Gree caught Billaba’s questioning glance.
“If they leave now they’ll reach their ship by dawn. Sure, it’s dangerous to travel by night, but it’s easier to walk cold than hot.”
Under the pale-red moonlight of Nal Shend, the Che-Jados team journeyed toward the west, to continue the endless roaming of a Sentinel’s life. Before them, the level sandy ground stretched on to the horizon. Behind them, the smoke floated across the mended roof of the Priory, as warm and homely-looking as it had been for a thousand years, and would be, all indications conspired to suggest, for another thousand at least.