The paved road gave out only a few meters outside the city, and a dirt trail twined away through the long, coarse grass of the plains toward the horizon. Grey clouds skidded across the sky, not the grey of Coruscant smog, but dark with rain. Ben groaned. “It’s going to pour! And this is the main road, Nas, so there is no hope of not getting totally muddy. And soaked.”
Surprisingly, even when the rain came, a vertical torrent hammering the grasslands, the road, and the travelers equally hard, Nasriel seemed to be enjoying herself, drenched though they all were in a matter of seconds.
“I can’t see anything further ahead,” complained Ben after five kilometers.
“Nonsense,” replied Nasriel dreamily. “You can see your homeworld. It’s beautiful. I see silver rain and grass and a dark brown road and somebody on it.”
Obi-Wan spoke for the first time on the long walk. “I see Erirea.”
“Aunt Erirea?” asked Ben. “Hey, yes! I see her. And a lot of pouring wet rain and a wet mud road and three soaking wet Jedi. Just thought I’d mention those.”
The three of them continued along the road until they met Erirea. Nasriel’s first impression of Master Obi-Wan’s sister was that she was also very wet, and – glancing at Ben to be quite sure – probably had the same color hair.
“You forgot to tell me you were coming.”
“I did call Owen four hours ago, from the ship,” returned Obi-Wan calmly.
Erirea snorted. “Since when was my name Owen? You, Obi-Wan Kenobi, forgot to tell me you were coming. All I got from Owen was some incomprehensibility about Obi-Wan and Ben and something called Nasriel.”
“This is Nasriel. Padawan Nasriel Kenobi Threeb. Complain at your peril.”
Addressing Nasriel, Erirea remarked, “He’s mad. Comes of being a Jedi. I’m Erirea, by the way.”
Nasriel replied politely, “I am pleased to meet you.” Trying to match a name to the face, she added uncertainly, “You are the Aunt Erirea that told Ben he must be kind to his sister or run the risk of being like Master Obi-Wan and dying on a foreign planet?”
“Nas!” hissed Ben. “Shut up!”
“That’s me,” said Erirea cheerfully. “You’ve got it word-perfect. Except that I am not in the habit of referring to my annoying twin as Master Anything.”
“Are you the older or younger twin?” asked Nasriel instantly.
“Older,” laughed Erirea recklessly. “We’d better keep moving or we’ll get soaked.”
“Younger,” corrected Obi-Wan. “We already are soaked, Eri.”
“I know. It’s a figure of speech. Come on.”
The three Shendi talked as they continued along the road, catching up on gossip and news from both Coruscant and Steujan. Nasriel listened, finding that since she couldn’t understand what they were saying, she paid closer attention to the voices and the cadence of the speech. Occasionally she caught a name, and once her own name, almost immediately followed by Jiron Jados’s and Qui-Gon Jinn’s, sounding oddly harsh and out of place in the soft, fluid Shendi language, and she knew Master Obi-Wan was explaining to his sister precisely why he was now looking after two Padawans, one of them a halfster.
Eventually they reached ‘home,’ the Kenobi farm. Low grey stone buildings surrounded three sides of a cobbled courtyard, and Erirea quickly escorted Nasriel across the rain-gleaming stones to a weathered door, and into a warm kitchen.
“Oh, you are soaked,” she said ruefully, switching easily into Basic.
“Where are Master Obi-Wan and Ben?”
Erirea pointed out of the narrow window. “Do you see, just across the courtyard, there’s another house? That’s Owen’s. They’re over there. I brought you to my house because you don’t speak Shendi, and it will be absolutely impossible to convince those men to speak anything else for at least an hour. We ladies can be polite and talk in Basic. The first thing is to get you dried off. Do you have any other clothes with you?”
“Yes, but my rucksack is not waterproof. My other tunic is also wet.”
“Okay. Go out the door on the far side of this room, and in at the first door on the left. That’s my daughter Abiya’s room. She’s over at Owen’s right now too – practically all the family is. Dry yourself off and change into some things of Abi’s, then come back here. Got it?”
Nasriel nodded solemnly. “I understand. Thank you.” She reappeared in the kitchen a few minutes later, fairly dry and dressed in a tight dark brown dress with long wide sleeves. “Is this all right, Mrs. Kastrilley?”
“Please, just call me Aunt Eri like Ben does. You look fine. Now sit down and answer questions. I like to find out all about people – it annoyed Obi-Wan no end, because he doesn’t know half anything about you. How old are you?”
“I am seventeen Standard Years old, Mrs. – Aunt Eri.”
“Just the same as Abiya, then! And how long have you been at the Temple? Do you have lots of friends?”
Nasriel counted carefully. “Fourteen years. I have very few friends.” Her face brightened. “Did Master Obi-Wan tell you about Siri and the last Halls Play?”
“No!” Erirea leaned conspiratorially toward her. “Tell me.”
“Well, for the Halls Play, that’s the Padawan Hall, we were performing a play of a mystery novel, and Telcontir Leannen, he’s the one who always organizes it, he’s nice, and he asked Master Obi-Wan to please play the detective, because none of the Padawans could do it quite right. Well. In the novel we were dramatizing, the detective has black hair, and –”
“Obi-Wan obviously doesn’t,” broke in Erirea. “I can see where this is going.”
Nasriel choked back a giggle. “He got Master Tachi to dye it for him. She used my art ink. It’s waterproof. It wouldn’t wash out for weeks, and it got everywhere: on clothes, on hands, in the washbasin, everywhere. But please don’t tell him I told you.”
“I won’t,” promised Erirea. “Now then. I have to get on with the cooking. On this planet, the females do the cooking. Is it like that at Saalis?”
“I don’t know. I’ve only been back once.”
“When was… oh, I know. It was a year or so ago. Ben wrote to say that you hadn’t come here earlier because Obi-Wan was waiting to see how… something political worked out. Was it good? Did your family recognize you? You must have loved seeing them all again!” She hesitated, noticing that Nasriel had – what was the word? Obi-Wan would say ‘retreated into the Force’ but that was nonsense. She was just sad. “Was there a fight about your being a Jedi?”
“No. I certainly had a fight with a Jedi after we got back. Master Obi-Wan – gods, I hated him for what he did!”
“Obi-Wan! Don’t tell me he met your family! Of all the tactless…”
“Yes. And I don’t think he’s tactless at all. I prefer not to talk about it, if you please.”
“Oh, that’s fine.” Erirea made a mental note to tackle her brother on the subject of Saalis later. “Hello, Abi.” This was to her daughter, totally unlike her with white-blond hair and a tall, inelegant figure, who had just run across the courtyard dodging raindrops and slammed the door open.
Abiya Kastrilley banged the courtyard door dramatically shut behind her and leaned on it. “Oh, those males. Can I get a word in edgewise to ask Ben a question? No I can’t. Can I say as much as a simple hello to Uncle Obi-Wan without Yiv telling me to shut up? No I can’t. Who’s this?” Nasriel could almost hear Abiya’s mind working, the deductive reasoning she was employing. Foreigner. That’s a lightsaber on the table in front of her. Foreign Jedi, then. Her hair’s wet, and that’s my dress she’s got on. Arrived during the rainstorm. Foreign Jedi, arrived recently, therefore came with Uncle Obi-Wan and Ben. Therefore this is the mysterious Nasriel. She tested her reasoning. “You’re Nasriel Threeb, no?”
“I am. You must be Abiya. You have beautiful clothes.”
“Nasriel. Nice name. I heard the guys arguing: it’s Nasriel Kenobi Threeb, right? I always wanted a girl cousin.”
Erirea remonstrated, “What about Mersy and Olay? They’re girls.”
“Mo-ther! They are five and seven. And they live right across the courtyard so I see them every single day. And they are currently all over their big brother. I meant I always wanted a girl cousin who would:” she counted off on her fingers, “talk to me intelligently, be about my age, and see me rarely enough that I can be excited every time.” Abiya flashed a gleaming smile at Nasriel. “A Jedi girl cousin is just an extra bonus. Can we go talk in my room?”
Nasriel smiled back, shyly. “Blue is not a problem?”
“No! I like blue. The sky’s blue. Usually.” Abi sat down next to Nasriel at the table, sneaking her slim fingers over to play with the Padawan’s lightsaber. “Mother, how does Nasriel fit in with Ben’s family? For me it’s easy.”
“G.O.S., I think,” replied Erirea after a moment’s thought. “That’s Good Old Standby, Nasriel. It means everybody calls you a cousin. Abi, why don’t you ask before you touch that thing?”
“Yeah,” chipped in Nasriel worriedly. “These are dangerous. It’s okay; just don’t touch the activation switch. Are Master Obi-Wan and Ben likely to be a while over there?”
“Absolutely.” Abi giggled suddenly. “It sounds so funny when you call him that. I guess you think it sounds funny me calling him Uncle. Hey, do you speak Saalisan? What’s ‘uncle’ in Saalisan?”
“There’s not an exact word, but you can use chenray. As in,” Nasriel leaned to look over Abiya’s shoulder, and then added in a louder voice, “Erelyan, Chenray Obi-Wan!”
“Same to you, Nasriel’yana, whatever it meant. Hi, Abiya. Didn’t have time to come say hello?”
“I did!” protested Abiya. “You just didn’t notice. I like your new Padawan, she’s nice.”
“Just out of interest,” said Erirea, a propos of nothing, “who is sleeping where tonight?”
“Nas in my room!” cried Abi. “They” dismissively “will probably go over to Uncle Owen’s.”
As if happened, nobody got any sleep anywhere until after midnight – there was far too much to talk about. In the main room of Owen’s house, Nasriel listened for hours, drowsily letting the unfamiliar words flow over her mind. She was jerked back to wakefulness by a general laugh following an apparent joke told by Erirea’s husband.
“Not in front of the children,” objected Obi-Wan immediately in Basic.
His brother laughed harder. “This one’s heard that joke a few times already,” he said, ruffling Ben’s hair, “and your other young friend didn’t understand it anyway.”
“I think she does now,” commented Ben drily, noticing Nasriel’s shocked expression. Abiya wriggled back to her seat, having rapidly given a whispered translation, and explanation, of the risqué witticism to her new cousin. “Hadn’t you girls better be getting to bed?”
Abiya saluted. “Yes sir, Padawan younger-than-either-of-us Kenobi, sir. Coming, Nas?”
On the way out of the room, Nasriel whispered, “Does that really mean –”
“Yes it does. It’s not a nice word. Don’t use it.”