Chapter 13: Dress Uniform II
By Linda Bindner
Leia did her absolute best to eat the food she had been given, but it was hard. The furry little creature she had followed to this tree village had thrust a piece of bark covered with food at her the moment they had arrived, and it had been a natural part of her training to eat every bite on it. Yet, it took every ounce of her willpower to swallow the boiled ants that were the last item set before her. In spite of training that insisted she remain polite, the fact that those tiny insects kept lodging in her teeth was driving her crazy!
Still, the creature who had helped her overcome an Imperial stormtrooper not two hours earlier was certainly of the friendliest sort. He had been nothing but a gentleman since she’d come to his home.
At least, she assumed this was his home. The hut she was currently sitting in came equipped with all the comforts of a permanent residence, including a fire pit, a bed made of what looked like furry blankets, and a long shelf on the wall full of trinkets, rough hewn bowls, and piles of some kind of material. Her mind was just turning to the next part of her training (‘establish loose communication bonds’) when the creature started to once again prod her in the arm.
Princess Leia understood that gesture as a less-than-subtle hint to produce more mission rations. Since she had eaten some of their food (if she could call it that) it was time for them to eat some of hers. The fact that these cute little Wookie-type creatures actually liked Rebel issue ration squares amazed her on several levels.
Leia obligingly reached into a pouch on her belt and pulled out another ration square. “You want some more food? Here you go.” She handed the food to her host, who immediately went to stuff it in his mouth when her hand shot out to stop him. Smiling, she gently said, “No, I’ll take the first bite. Remember? Like from before.” Slowly, and with exaggerated motions, she took a small bite from the packed grains in her hand, then retrieved several more chunks from the pouch on her belt. “Some for you.” She handed the piece back to the small creature. “And some for your friends.” Still smiling in the least threatening way she knew how, she carefully handed the other pieces to the creatures forming a ring around her.
As one, they sniffed suspiciously at the food in their hands, tongues hesitantly flicking out to taste the offerings. When the food didn’t immediately attack them, their gaze turned to their youngest comrade, Leia’s new friend. Not hesitant at all by now, he joyfully stuffed his piece into his mouth and chewed enthusiastically. “Eche wa nub!” he said, unashamedly spraying crumbs as he spoke, arm gestures encouraging his elders to be less cautious.
A minute later, the skeptical elders were chewing with only slightly less enthusiasm than Leia’s friend. “You like that?” she rhetorically asked, nodding her head and beaming. Since her first offering of food had been such a big hit, she reached in for several more squares. “Here, I have more.” She slowly repeated her previous motions, and now the elders almost yanked the food out of her hands. It was a good thing she had thought to pull out a chunk for each of them, or she suspected that a Ration War would break out among the group.
“Wish I could communicate with my Alliance friends as easy as I do with you,” the Princess ruefully said as she pried the locator beacon from her supply belt to give another forlorn look to its many pieces. She had been handed the intact beacon and its accompanying grid before they left for Endor, but suspected that it had broken during her fall from the speeder bike earlier that day. It was a pity that they couldn’t eat the useless device.
Now she dragged the entire belt away from her waist. “This thing pinches when it’s pulled tight enough. I hope you don’t mind if I take it off.”
Nope, the creatures didn’t mind at all if she could judge by the way they fell to avidly examining every bit of her Rebel issue survival equipment that was still intact. She carefully unholstered her laser gun and set it aside to avoid any accidents, but let them examine the rest of her gear unmolested. They studied the chronometer, they tasted the wrapped bandages, burst into grunts at the vials of medicine, and gasped at the binocs when she showed them how to properly peer through the lenses. Suspecting they had never seen binocs before, she pushed the buttons to zoom in and out for each of her hosts. “Nice, huh?” Vigorously bobbing heads met her on all sides. Glad to produce another big hit, Leia let the largest creature keep the binocs as she pulled her camouflage cape over her head.
The creature must have dropped the binocs to the dirt floor, because Leia heard a definite thud, followed by a panicked, “Ego nu tak!”
Surprised at the outburst of noise, Leia jerked the cape from around her head, only to get the material tangled in the end of one of her coiled braids. She tugged furiously, but had to work the material loose with her fingers before she was finally able to free her head enough to see. The spear suddenly thrust in her face brought her up short, and Leia froze.
Hardly daring to breath, she simply stared at the creature wielding the spear, who did nothing but stare back. What had resembled a tiny and gentle Wookie a second before now refused to lower his scary looking spear a single centimeter.
But then Leia’s new friend intervened. “Ichi wu ga,” he calmly said. Leia couldn’t understand what he was saying, but his hands gently pushing the spear aside was an unmistakable gesture of goodwill.
“It’s all right,” Leia reflexively said, though if she thought about it, she’d know that these creatures had about as much chance of understanding her words as she did of understanding theirs. Just when I need Threepio and his six million forms of communication, he’s nowhere to be found, she groused to herself, all the while wondering if she was ever going to see the golden droid again.
For that matter, was she going to see Luke again, to say nothing of Han? The icy despair hovering on the edge of her mind threatened to engulf her. She fought it, but the sudden cold of the air made it hard. Ignoring her worries, she instead tried to warm herself by briskly rubbing her arms in the cooling air.
Though she hadn’t meant to do anything other than to distract herself, the gesture had a very strange effect. The armed miniature Wookie abruptly lowered his spear to stare at her in quizzical wonder. More to the point, it stared straight at her arms.
Following his gaze, Leia’s eyes were drawn to her arms barely covered by her short sleeved tunic. “What? You haven’t seen skin before? Or maybe it’s my goosebumps.” She rubbed her arms again. “It’s all right. They’ll go away in a minute. See.” She held out her right arm for inspection. “They’re fading already.”
The spear wielder dropped his weapon entirely to study her closer. After a minute, it bravely poked at her hand. A second one poked at her arm. Then a third. Seeing an opportunity to make another connection with these creatures, Leia stroked a finger down her arm, then slowly guided one of the creature’s fingers down her arm, too. She tried to look pleased. “See. It’s just an arm. It won’t hurt you.”
In sudden comprehension, Leia’s new friend picked up her hat from the floor beside the door and held it out to her. “Incomu?”
Was he referring to how she’d taken her hat off earlier, just like the cloak? Smiling, Leia took the hat, though admitted to herself that he could also be using it to symbolize how her head was now as bare as her arms. She didn’t know what to do next, so just sat there, smiling and holding the hat. The creature pantomimed putting the hat on his head. Imitating him, she put the real hat on her own head. Then he acted like he was taking his fake hat off again, so she mirrored that as well.
He put his invisible hat on his head. She put hers on her own head. He took his off again. So did she. Then he pointed at her crumpled cloak, and pretended to pull it over his head. Leia did the same. He pointed at his arm, then pulled the invisible cloak off again. She pointed at hers, then pulled the cloak off for a second time. He tugged on the fur growing on his arm. At that, Leia was stumped. She couldn’t imitate pulling fur on her arm when fur didn’t naturally grow anywhere on her. Not knowing what else to do, she stroked a finger down her arm, looked sad, and shook her head.
But the tiny Wookie creature tugged on his fur again, then pointed at her braided hair. “Oh,” Leia gushed in understanding. She pulled away the pins from one braid until her long hair fell in graceful swirls around her head. “Fur.”
The creature’s head tilted to the side, curiosity sparking in his eyes. It was the same look that he had given her in the forest when she had first removed her hat. Though she couldn’t take off her hair and hold it out for his inspection, she was able to lift the ends up closer to him. “See? It’s my hair. It won’t hurt you, either.”
The next thing she knew, many furred and stubby fingers were gently brushing through her hair as they all oohed and aahed together. Leia obligingly released her second braid so that it also hung down her back in a brown wave. There were more oohs and aahs.
Several free strands of hair brushed her bare arm, feeling warm on her skin. The sudden warmth reminded her of the growing cold, and she gave an involuntary shiver.
As one, the creatures shivered back.
So Leia shivered again.
The creatures shivered back.
Could she possibly communicate a simple idea by shivering? Well, this isn’t in the protocol manual.
Willing to try anything, she put her cloak back on, then fanned her face as if she were hot, then took it off again, and rubbed her arms, shivering. “Cold.”
The way the tiny creatures did the same thing so enthusiastically was almost comical. “Cooooold’.”
Leia tugged at the fur on her friend’s arm, nodded her head, stroked her own bare arm, shook her head no this time, then shivered and repeated, “Cold.”
Intense curiosity met her on all sides. The creatures tilted their heads. They stared at her hair and her bare arms. They stared at their own furred arms. Then they pointed at her naked arms and pretended to shiver, a gesture that led them to confer with each other in grunts and hacking sounds. Then her young friend trotted cheerfully to the shelf with the piled material and happily presented her with a bundle of clothes.
“Ur,” said her friend, and purred. For added benefit, he tugged on his arm fur, then stroked her bare arm, then pointed towards the bundle of clothes. “Ur,” he proudly repeated.
Was he saying ‘fur?’
Leia held up the bundle so that it unfolded into a human dress over a long sleeved white shirt. Clearly she wasn’t the first human these creatures had encountered. Trying not to think about the whereabouts of the owner of this dress, she simply repeated, “Fur.” She smiled and nodded as if to thank them.
The creatures all jabbered at each other in pleased tones, nodding their heads, happy to have helped her.
Leia didn’t dare to refuse the offering of their rendition of fur, not if she ultimately needed their help to find and return to the strike team. So she should change clothes. But the creatures didn’t act like they planned to leave her alone to change clothes any time soon. Was she expected to change clothes right in front of them? Good thing I’m not modest.
As a compromise to actually changing her clothes, she donned the dress over the Alliance clothing she already wore. It was fortunate that her short sleeved tunic was as low cut as the dress. She had expected the white shirt and dress to feel rough on her bare skin, like bark, but both were soft and admittedly warm. Once the dress was in place, she removed the boots she was wearing, then her pants, which were too bulky under the dress. Shoes more suited to quietly traversing the forests of Endor completed her transformation. The long sleeves felt wonderfully warm in the cooling air. She smiled broadly, and nodded. “Thank you.”
Their pleased looks multiplied. They might not understand what she said, but they had no trouble understanding her obvious pleasure. She had successfully formed a bond with them without really saying a word. To celebrate, Leia pulled out more rations that she had been saving for a later emergency and handed the treats around. They were as excited about getting more unexpected food as they had been about the clothes.
“Good,” Leia intoned, still exaggerating, rubbing her arms and smiling. They smiled back. It was communication at its most basic, but it was still communication.
That was when Leia grew aware of the commotion that had been filtering into the hut from outside for quite some time. It had grown decidedly darker as they spoke, but none of them had noticed that, either. Now they headed towards the shadowy entrance of the hut to see what was going on.
Several minutes later, Leia was begging for the release of her Alliance friends while knowing without a doubt that she had been supplanted as the resident royal by a golden droid on a throne of sticks who was over six million times better at communicating than she would ever be.
It was fortunate, then, that instead of the six million forms of communication that Threepio needed, Luke only needed one.