Dex shambled back to the kitchen at the rear of the cantina, and Obi-Wan sat down beside Nasriel. “I’m sorry.”
“No you’re not.” Her voice was tense, and barely audible. “It’s not your homeworld, you don’t care. What is this, anyway? It looks like transporter fuel.”
“It’s caf. Drink it, you’ll feel better.”
After one tentative sip, Nasriel’s face screwed up. “It tastes like transporter fuel too.”
“Master Obi-Wan.” Nasriel spoke more brusquely than usual, trying to hold back tears. “In the last two months, Master Jados was tortured to death in front of me; I had a run-in with not one but two Sith; I had a holocron planted in my body; I defied Master Windu to go look for the Blue Shadow Virus; you almost died; all three of my older brothers died, one in horrific circumstances that I was fully aware of at the time; I was tortured on my younger sister’s orders; she was publicly executed and I know that that was partly my fault; and now my homeworld has fallen back into political chaos. I am not all right. I doubt I will ever be all right again. Thank you for your concern, Master. I don’t need it.”
Slowly, he began to see what she was thinking. “This isn’t about Orien, is it? It’s about justice. Nasriel, the Senate must be seen to do justice in cases like this.”
“Even when they don’t?” she spat at him. “When you have had a life like mine, Master, then you may presume to tell me what I am thinking; not before. If what I suffered on Saalis was the only price I had to pay to ensure the safety of my homeworld, I would gladly have paid it twice over. You will never understand that.”
“Nasriel, I do. Did Master Jinn never tell you about the revolution on Steujan? The one we had to go and stop? The time we both almost died?”
“You killed her.” Nasriel wasn’t listening, and seemed to be thinking along an angry tangent. “You killed my sister. You told Yoda; you killed her. Master, she was only a kid, for skeg sake. It would be like – like killing Ahsoka. I hate you!”
“The Jedi don’t –”
“Hate,” finished Nasriel miserably. “I know. I know we don’t. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. I just – she had so much hope that she could finally stabilize the situation. So much hope.”
“I’m sorry, I said I was sorry. I didn’t understand how upset you were. Listen, why don’t you tell me about the history of Saalis?”
The ruse to take her mind off current events worked even better than he had dared hope. Nasriel brushed her fingers over her eyes as if to try to see the past, and began. “Okay. Roughly seven hundred years ago the king of Saalis had three sons: the oldest, and then twins. Nobody was sure which twin was the elder, but, as they had an older brother, it didn’t matter too much until almost a hundred years later. What happened then was that the line of the oldest prince, who had become king in his turn, unexpectedly died out, leaving nobody sure of who would be king next. The descendants of the twins had an equal right to the throne, and they started a civil war which lasted twenty years.
“It didn’t end with one of the claimants becoming king, because the Shendi saw that Saalis was in such a political mess it would be a walkover. So they walked.” She paused to collect her thoughts. “History was banned during the occupation, but the arts weren’t. ‘Natases’ Voyage,’ if you read the pages in the right order, is actually a record of the history of Saalis before the invasion, but there is no record of history during the occupation. However, the hereditary lords of Saalis continued to keep track of who the Earls, Barons, and above all the royal family, ought to be, for the whole five hundred years.
“Eighty years ago, my great-grandfather, Xankor Threeb, led a party of other Saalisan nobles to Coruscant, to take up the matter with the Senate. They were given hope, by the judgment passed down in the Iridonian Crisis a few years earlier, that Senate would give them justice. Actually, the Chancellor exceeded their wildest hopes by personally ordering the Shendi out of Saalis. Since then, the Threebs have been the most powerful nobles, and the only ones strong enough to place or depose a king. Up until three weeks ago,” she ended sadly.
Nasriel’s tousled dark head fell onto her arms, and she murmured something Obi-Wan couldn’t hear. “What?”
“Damn Master Jinn. Damn Master Jinn. There is death, and the Force can’t change that.”
He grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her thin body in an illogical attempt to snap her out of her dark, bitter mood. “Don’t say that!” he hissed. “Never! Never say that again! If it wasn’t for him neither of us would be here. I will not let you talk like that about Qui-Gon!” Suddenly he dropped her, as a man drops something foul, and the girl squirmed away from him into a corner, tear running down her pale face. He had never seen her cry, even on Saalis when her sister’s full treachery was revealed. “I’m sorry, Nasriel.”
“Don’t be.” Nasriel sounded tired and distant. “What is there to be sorry for? I said something stupid; I know now not to say it again. Thank you.”
It was days later that Obi-Wan got an explanation of Nasriel’s odd behavior. What other Padawan would thank anybody for losing their temper? Telcontir Leannen replied coolly to the Master’s query, “Oh, the Witch is nuts. Everybody knows that. She has no moral compass – Gueca Sala burned that out of her – so I helped her to make up one for herself to stop her stealing my stuff. It goes like this: Would Master Jinn approve of an action? Would Master Jados? The final clincher is, Would Master Kenobi? She thinks if you would approve, it must be okay. If I might be so forward as to advise you, sir, I’d advise either watching your temper, or watching hers. Because it will probably get more… explosive from here out.”
Two nights later, Obi-Wan awoke with a start, and lay still, trying to decide whether the sound that had wakened him had been a dream or whether he would have to do something about it. It couldn’t be his comlink, because that was laying dark and silent on the bookshelf. Presently, he heard the soft scritch of a sulfur match, and a barely audible rustling sound. Nasriel. Now what was she up to? Reluctantly, Obi-Wan got up and wandered across the main room to her door.
Nasriel was standing in the faint pool of light cast by a candle precariously balanced on a pile of books, leaning against the edge of the desk as if needing its support to remain vertical. In one shaking hand she held a small glass jar, from which she seemed to be counting something into her other palm. She started, surprised, on noticing him, silent in the doorway, and dropped the jar on the floor.
“I didn’t see you there, Master. What’s wrong? It’s past midnight.”
Bending to pick up the dropped jar, Obi-Wan murmured, “So why are you still awake?” but then moved closer to the candle to read the jar’s label. “Chloro… what is this? You’re taking sleeping tablets? Where did you get these? You can’t get them from the stores without a prescription, and somehow I can’t see Vokara giving you a chit for drugs.”
Nasriel replied frankly, “Chlordiazepoxide. And I used yours. It had gotten stuck in a crack in the floorboards in your room in the Padawan Halls, and that later became my room in the Halls. The droids in the stores didn’t mind giving me the tablets because I had a chit; they don’t check whose it is, did you know?”
“It is usual to take sleeping drugs before you go to bed, not in the middle of the night.”
“Nightmare,” returned Nasriel shortly. “Wanted to get back to sleep.” Moving slowly across the room to sit down on her bed, she rolled the tablets she was holding thoughtfully around in her hand. “Would that be all right?”
Obi-Wan didn’t really want to raise the matter in the middle of the night, but… since Ben was now sure to be out of eavesdropping zone… “Heard you were fighting Padawan Reay yesterday.”
Hot indignation blazing in her tone and her eyes, the Padawan explained, “Jodiit said Bruck Chun said you were a fool and a bastard and he said Bruck was right. So I punched him,” she added cheerfully.
“You broke his jaw! You may not realize this, but when you start fights, I get taken to task over it. And I don’t particularly enjoy explaining your conduct to Master Yoda when I haven’t the faintest idea what you thought you were doing in the first place. Bruck Chun and his friends have been calling me worse names than that for nearly thirty years. As of now, you are not to take offense over any insults aimed at me whatsoever. If somebody calls you a bastard, that’s different, but please try to make it a duel instead of a fistfight so I have half a chance of passing it off as training.”
“Is that all?” Suddenly she smiled. “I dreamed about Master Jados. It was still a nightmare, but at least a change from dreaming those infernal pirates every other night.”
“Oh, take the tablets and go to sleep. In the morning I want you to apologize to Padawan Reay, all right?”
“No, but yes anyway. G’night.”
“Sleep well. No nightmares.”