From Lions and Tigers and Padawans, Oh My!
Excerpt by Jemmiah
|"...And this is the Murrit enclosure." the keeper indicated with a general sweep of his arm.
Mace Windu felt as if he was glowing. Infact, he felt positively radiant. In many ways, this was his greatest triumph since he had gone from Padawan to knight.
The kids were quiet!
He'd cracked it! The little horrors were listening attentively to the animal keeper, literally hanging on his every word, excited at the chance to actually mingle with the creatures and see them face to face instead of behind a force barrier. It had taken a little persuasion on Mace's part for the eight strong private party of master and initiates to be allowed into the enclosure itself, but the keeper had taken pity on him and agreed, on condition that everyone was silent and well behaved.
The keeper had stressed the well-behaved part, Windu had noticed, before fixing him with an "OR ELSE" kind of look. But then again, if you can't trust a Jedi to remain calm and placid in times of chaos, who could you?
If only Qui-Gon was here to see this wondrous transformation from hellions to little angels in one fell swoop! Mace wondered if his friend had had any luck with locating the little boy, and found himself glancing at his wrist chrono. I hope he finds him soon, he thought, hissing through clenched teeth. Yoda would have them dismembered if they didn't. Or worse still, assisting the temple cooks for a month...
He was brought back to the present by a quite deliberate kick to the shin. "You're not listening." the little girl hissed at him. Frowning, as he rubbed his injured leg, Mace tried for appearance sake to look interested. After all, if the kids could stay quiet, he could stay awake.
It appeared that they were just past the Murrit breeding season, but for as yet unexplained reasons the egg production of the impossibly hairy creatures had been extremely low.
"It's probably because we had to move them to a larger enclosure earlier in the year." explained the keeper in hushed tones. "Murrit's are very territorial creatures. They don't like a lot of disturbance to their surrounds. We think that by moving them we may have stressed them slightly, hence the low egg production."
Sabra-Ni held up her hand to ask a question. "Why do they lay eggs? They've got fur."
The keeper smiled. "That's a good question. Usually, it's birds and reptilian creatures that lay eggs..."
"And spiders." whispered one of the older girls.
"Yes." agreed the keeper, slightly annoyed at the interruption.
"And fish." muttered another girl.
"Yes, thank you." glared the keeper, with a just-who's-the-expert-here-anyway look about him. "However, this is a prime example of how truly diverse nature is. Murrits are warm blooded, lactating animals that just happened to lay eggs. Nobody knows why."
"Because eggs go better with toasted bread!" giggled Sabra-Ni.
Mace recalled Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon's earlier urge to hit their heads off various walls and supporting structures and found that it was all he could do to stop himself from walking over to the nearest tree to do likewise.
"Why are they so far away?" little Kelda Rosset asked in disappointment, pointing to a group of suspicious looking Murrits hovering some forty feet away.
"Well, because they don't know who you are," the keeper tried to console her gently, "They're used to myself and the other keepers, infact they're quite tame. They're hanging back to see if you're a threat to themselves and the few eggs they've managed to produce."
As he spoke, one of the male Murrits started to edge its way forward out from the tall grasses where they were congregating. For some reason Mace couldn't fathom, it seemed to have fixed its beady eyes firmly on him...
The keeper continued cautiously, "Murrits make very protective parents. They have special grips on their feet like suckers, that help to grip hold of their eggs. They secrete a rather foul smelling glue-like substance from glands in their paws that allow them to do this. Once the Murrit father has attached himself in this way, it becomes almost impossible to remove him from the egg."
"Why do they do that?" asked Kelda, frowning.
The keeper thought. "Well, when they're in the wild there are lots of hungry predators that might be looking for something to go with their toasted bread." he smiled. "By staying attached, the male can almost make certain of the initial survival of the offspring. He has another interesting defense mechanism; a spray of scent from the base of the tail which, believe me, is quite enough to deter the most persistent of egg robbers."
Oh, charming, thought Mace. They sound so cute. Maybe we should get one to use as the temple mascot. He noticed the Murrit still had its eyes trained rigidly on him. He watched it slink a little closer to them.
"How big are the eggs?" Sabra-Ni asked.
The keeper pointed to the Murrit. "You can see how big that one is," he replied. "Well, that's the normal size for a fully grown adult. The eggs are about the size of a human head," he said gesturing to his own skull, "and are a shiny brownie-tan color. They only lay one at a time to enable the male to protect it at all times."
At this point, Windu thought he ought to look as if he'd been paying attention. "Why the male?"
"Whilst the male is sat on the egg, the female goes out and collects the food. Berries, nuts, grasses and the like. She also, err...cleans up after the male."
A small groan of disgust ran through the group. Sabra said " You mean he doesn't get off the egg even to have a..."
"NO!" finished the keeper quickly. "As I say, the female does all the work."
"Figures." muttered one of the eight-year-old girls in Windu's group.
The Murrit that had been eyeing Mace had paused momentarily, its head cocked to one side as if in thought. Infact, it reminded him greatly of a cannoid of sorts, with its almost dog-like snout and small sharp fangs. For most part it was covered in vast quantities of hair, ranging in golden brown through to near black on its tail, which it held aloft like a streamer.
Slowly, it continued its stalking. Slowly.
"How long do they sit on the eggs for?" asked one of the boys.
"Usually, about two months. Sometimes longer, sometimes less. You can never really tell. For as long as it takes for the Murrit to hatch. But as I say, they are doting parents, and once they're on their egg, it's very much a case of being there for the duration..."
A flash of golden-brown fur and a crescendo of screams from the kids in Mace's charge told him that something unexpected was happening, and before reaching out with the force to confirm his bad feeling, there was a whoosh of air from towards his left side, and a horrible feeling of hairy warmth settling upon his face and head. He reached up instinctively to see what was going on, and received a nip to his right hand. Suddenly, his vision went completely black, as a dark blanket of long hair settled over his eyes.
Mace tried to swat the offending object once more, but it was futile. Whatever it was, it was stuck tight.
"I'm sorry Master Windu," the keeper shook his head in despair, "Nothing like this has ever happened before in all the days I've been working here."
Mace Windu just stood there with his arms folded, complete with his new Murrit headgear. It had been a considerable amount of time since his head had been this warm, and it made him feel damned uncomfortable. The Murrit itself seemed quite content, and had settled down remarkably quickly. It fixed one eye on the keeper, watching for any sudden movement.
GO AHEAD, it seemed to be thinking, YOU KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU DO.
"So it's never happened before," Windu's reply came back slightly muffled under a cascade of Murrit hair. "That doesn't help me in the slightest."
"I don't know why it's behaving this way." The keeper scratched his head, at a loss to know what to do next.
There was a wave of giggling from amongst the children, until a tug on his robe got Mace's attention.
"Master Windu," Sabra-Ni tittered, "HE THINKS YOU'RE AN EGG!"
Mace swallowed. Where was Qui-Gon when you needed him?
He turned to where he thought the keeper was.
"Err, how long did you say these things stayed put?"