Ben kicked the bathroom door. “Witch! Get a chrono that works! It’s my turn.”
Groaning theatrically, Nasriel flicked the door open and sauntered into the main room of the quarters. “Bestalk y hrabe kaliu artsu no l’saget,” she said amiably, pausing just long enough in dragging a comb through her wet hair to snatch her tunic from the bathroom floor before Ben closed the door.
“I know, Master, I know. Clothes.” She grinned, and quoted, “A strategically placed towel does not constitute decent dress. Kindly go and put on a tunic, or at the very least leggings and your underwear. Some of us are concerned about what the females in our vicinity have on.’ You’ve said it before.”
“You missed, ‘And for Force sake hurry up.’ I wasn’t going to mention that, but since you have, go and get dressed and then come back.” Nasriel vanished into her room and returned a minute later wearing her sleeveless inner tunic with the towel wrapped around her waist. Obi-Wan sighed. “Marginally better. Now, first, I don’t mind if you speak Saalisan, so long as you have the common courtesy to provide a translation.”
“It means,” interrupted Nasriel, “‘May the darkness rise and swallow you alive,’ but he knows I don’t mean it.”
“Secondly,” continued Obi-Wan imperturbably, “Madame Nu couldn’t find you last night. She said I was to pass on the message that you did all right in the chemistry test. Better than all right. Hundred per cent. A+. Well done. And one other thing – ” Nasriel noticed the direction of his gaze and instinctively closed her left hand over her opposite shoulder. “Does that still hurt?”
“Only when you look at it,” growled Nasriel crossly. “Of course it kriffing hurts. I know it looks ghastly, but Master Che says she can’t get rid of holocron or lightsaber scars so I should stop complaining.”
“Personally, I can’t see the difference between that and the tattoo on your hand.”
“I can. One was a disaster, the other was just stupid family stuff. One hurts like hell and the other doesn’t.”
“Take your hand away.” Obi-Wan’s fingers ghosted over the three-pointed violet scar. “Better?”
“Yeah.” Nasriel sounded mildly surprised. “What did you do?”
“Oh, Force stuff. I’ll teach you some other time. Unfortunately you can’t do it for yourself, which rather limits the applications to which it can be put.”
There was a knock on the open door, and Garen poked his head around the entryway. “Kenobi? Hey.” He saw Nasriel and rapidly looked away. “Force sake, girl, get some clothes on. Obi-Wan, you let her go about like that?”
“No. Nasriel, move.”
Nasriel blushed electric blue. “Skeg. Master Muln, can you not knock?”
“I did, kark it! Can you not go about like that?”
“I live here? I didn’t think anybody would be visiting at this hour of the morning.” Nasriel moved very quickly to her bedroom again and closed the door firmly.
“I was just about to make some caf, Garen, did you want a cup?” When Garen declined, Obi-Wan shrugged and walked over to the countertop in the corner of the room. Pouring boiling water onto the caf powder in a mug, he jumped back as the contents of the mug fizzed up and overflowed in a bubbling, foaming mess onto the counter and the floor. “Nasriel!”
Nasriel appeared as if from nowhere, by now fully dressed and with an innocent smile on her face. “Yes, Master?”
“What besides caf powder was in that jar? Precise answer, please.”
“Dry-powder mixture of sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid,” replied Nasriel glibly. “It’s inert until you add water.”
Garen muffled a snicker, and tried to keep a straight face. He failed miserably. “Oh, Obi-Wan, you should have seen your face! Gods, that’s a good trick. But I actually came to ask if you knew Senator Organa’s callsign.”
“I do. There’s a pen and paper on the table.”
Holding up a quill pen questioningly, Garen started to ask, “How am I supposed to…”
“Bottle of ink… propping up the orange textbook. All right, the number is 0-9-4-6-5-5-5-2- what?”
“The paper turned blue when I wrote on it,” gulped Garen. “Threeb…”
“Litmus paper, and citric acid in the ink,” explained Nasriel. “Acid/base chemistry’s by miles the most fun, Master Obi-Wan.”
“Fun?” questioned Ben from the bathroom doorway. He was standing there bemusedly, completely dressed and completely dry, but holding a bar of bright red soap. “What did you put in this, Witch?”
“Nothing!” protested Nasriel, but when she noticed Obi-Wan’s stern expression, she amended hurriedly, “nothing in the soap. There’s two tablets of phenolphthalein indicator in the faucet. Soap is a base.”
“I suppose this demonstrates how thoroughly you wash, Ben,” smiled Garen. “That you’re already dressed and only just started thinking about soap.” He immediately had to duck as Ben flung the crimson soap at his head. “Quit it, I’m going, okay?”
When Garen was gone and the door closed, Ben said pleadingly, “Master Obi-Wan, can this stop happening?”
“Yes, I think it’s gone far enough. From now on, Nasriel, you confine all chemistry to the laboratory or the other members of that little gang of yours in the Halls – Boehme, isn’t it? Got it?”
Obi-Wan sat down in the kitchen chair suddenly and began to laugh. “What a morning. Next, I’ll bet that Master Windu comes in, wanting to know what all the noise is about. Or maybe Anakin, who’s been either a, beaten by his Padawan in a training duel, or b, scolded by the Council, but either way looking for sympathy.”
Ben sighed. “I think the former is more likely, Master,” he said, mischievously.
Nasriel slipped over to the door and looked out. “How much do you bet?” she asked slyly. “I need some more glitterstim, I’ve nearly isolated the element I want, but I’m broke.”
“Twenty credits,” replied Obi-Wan recklessly. “Well, which is it? Mace or Anakin?”
“You’re uncanny,” grumbled Anakin, sloping in and collapsing into another chair. “How did you know?”
“Ahsoka or the Council?” asked Nasriel, her tone sympathetic, her expression bubbling over with silent laughter. Obi-Wan shot her a warning glance: Make sure he doesn’t see you doing that.
“Ahsoka,” said Anakin automatically, then realized what he was replying to. “Master, she’s already a witch, you don’t need to give her lessons! That’s just unfair.” Picking up a cloth from the countertop, Nasriel began to clear up the caf that had spilled as a result of her joke. “Somebody’s been training Ahsoka behind my back,” Anakin was moaning. “How am I supposed to get anywhere with her if those idiot Boehme clowns teach her how to do everything the wrong way about? I spend all my time un-teaching. And I don’t have that much time to spare on her anyway!”
“I’ll talk to Kijé,” murmured Nasriel. “He’s just trying to help.”
Anakin rounded on her. “I don’t need a lame… paper-shuffler trying to teach my Padawan! He hasn’t got a clue, I doubt the fool’s ever left his quiet library except to meddle in other Jedi’s business.”
Very deliberately setting down the cloth, the floor cleaned, Nasriel seemed to be about to say something sharp on the subject of Chosen Ones keeping their mouths shut about things they didn’t understand, but instead, asked sweetly, “Would you like a cup of caf, Master Skywalker?”
Obi-Wan frowned at Anakin. “That was uncalled-for, Anakin,” he said sharply. “You may have been knighted, but I’m still your superior, and I still won’t stand for that sort of nonsense. No man is less respectable or honorable because he chooses a different path. You may be a Knight, but that doesn’t mean you can stop accepting new teachings.”
Anakin huffed grumpily. “But… how did you know I was… and how…”
“How did Nasriel know what your troubles were? Well, I listed them before you entered, and you… you’re predictable.”
Anakin glared. “Excuse me?”
Obi-Wan watched him, exterior serene, unruffled, every inch the Jedi Master. “You heard me.”
“Master!” Anakin said in his irritating whiny voice.
Obi-Wan looked at him with just a hint of the infamous quirk up in one corner of his mouth. “You are. At least, to me. You forget, Anakin, I practically raised you, and you’ve been with me every single day of the past twelve years or so.”
“Fine,” said Anakin. “So I’m predictable. Get lost, Witch, go practice with a remote. Grownups are talking.”
Obediently starting for her room, Nasriel turned when she heard Anakin’s insouciant comment to Obi-Wan: “Damned Saalis. Planet of walkovers,” and mouthed vehemently at his unconcerned back, “Sarlaac artsu no l’saget, no… hrabe yrelt bukee! Di’kut.”
“To control your emotions…” began Obi-Wan softly, apparently to nobody in particular. Is to be a Jedi, Nasriel belated remembered, and didn’t slam her door. She took a deep breath to blow away her anger, and launched into the meticulous, repetitive motions of the familiar alchaka mediations. Always striving to make every sequence perfect and identical, never quite succeeding, but rapturing in the warm glow of the Force with every instant. Although her chrono superciliously said otherwise, it seemed no more than a few seconds later to Nasriel that Ben was kicking at the door again, this time to tell her that Anakin had finally finished complaining and had grumbled off down the corridor.
“I’ve been thinking,” announced Obi-Wan, when both Padawans were sitting moderately still at the book-littered table in the main room, having finished their argument about the infuriation of being yanked out of a trance and the impossibility of getting attention any other way than knocking.
Ben flashed a mischievous grin at Nasriel, all animosity forgotten, and counted surreptitiously down on his fingers. Three, two, one… “In my experience,” they chorused in perfect sync, “no conversation beginning with the words ‘I’ve been thinking’ ever ends well.”
“I don’t say that that often,” protested Obi-Wan. “Do I? What I was thinking was that – Ben, listen for just three minutes, would you? – that it might be a good idea to take a trip away. Spend a week at Dar Valin. What do you think, Ben? That smile is all the answer I need from Nasriel.”
Ben thought for a moment. “Bring friends?” he asked eventually. “Then yeah.”
“Of course. Would you two mind tracking down Siri and Garen?”
An hour later, “No,” repeated Siri patiently, “we can’t ‘just chance it’, Garen.”
“May I speak?” Shaniel scrambled to her feet from playing the card game Adders with Ben, who had rapidly lost interest in the planning. “Padawans allowed to speak?”
“It’s difficult to make you do anything else,” said Garen. “Sure, speak.”
“Well, Master Siri told me about last time there was a trip like this, and… is it worth making somebody responsible for the cooking?”
“I nominate Obi-Wan,” cried Garen.
“Second the nomination,” muttered Ben. “Hang on, Shani, you can’t have played a Senator there! It would have to be a viceroy or a three.”
“I,” said Kijé Yenseh from the doorway, where he had been standing unnoticed for several minutes, “nominate Nasriel. Need some permanganate, Witch, Nebs and Twojay had an accident.”
Ben tidied away the cards. “I won, Shani. Master, can I bring my friend Zait Sterolb?”
“I don’t see why not,” shrugged Siri. “who is he? I haven’t heard the name.”
“She,” corrected Ben self-consciously. “Zait is a she. She was transferred from Nud Goerl a few weeks ago.”
Obi-Wan frowned. “Is that really a good idea, Ben? You know how fast rumors spread in the Temple.”
“Oh, this is hardly fair!” said Ben hotly. “If you’re going to accuse me of having romantic attachments, what about picking on the Witch about Yenseh? No, wait. That doesn’t count, because Yenseh…”
“Let me guess: ‘Yenseh is lame’.” finished Kijé tightly. “Shut up, Nasriel. I can handle it. Elimyo might have some stuff I can borrow. I’ll see you later.”
“Well,” sighed Siri. “That went well.”
“Because I am not your Master, Witch,” began Shaniel, “this is just advice: break it up with Kij the Droid. He’s horrible, worse than Jodiit.”
“You have no idea what it’s like to be designated inactive,” said Nasriel flatly.
“Come on, Threeb,” coaxed Garen, “everybody in this room has done their time on the inactive list. It’s no excuse for a vile temper.”
“You don’t understand. Kijé can never, never be sent on a mission again. He is the best swordsman in the Halls and he puts up with all you arrogant insufferable Jedi who aren’t half as good. I hate you!” Nasriel stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
“I’ll go after the stubborn little schutta,” offered Shaniel.
Siri groaned. “How many times have I told you not to speak Huttese?”
“And don’t apply that term to my Padawan,” added Obi-Wan. “This is exactly why we are going on vacation,” he snapped. “Everyone is short-tempered, including me, and seeing that the rumor is that I have elastic patience, we just need a break. Desperately.” He dashed off in pursuit of Nasriel.
Siri scowled at Garen. “That went over well,” she said.
When Obi-Wan came back, he was practically carrying Nasriel, who was proudly trying not to sob. “Everyone, just, please, shut up and apologize to each other,” Obi-Wan said, obviously resisting the urge to run his hand through his hair in exasperation, since he was holding Nasriel. “Because, if you don’t, I’ll have you all… placed on kitchen duty for a month! Do you understand? And we can argue dialectics and philosophy on the way to Dar Valin. I’m honestly too tired to argue with anyone right now.” No one looked particularly impressed. Obi-Wan thought for a moment, then shouted to no one in particular, “We’re leaving Anakin behind. He causes more problems than he fixes, and he’s a genius at making things worse. But we may be stealing Ahsoka. As long as she can be nice. And Shaniel, if I catch you gossiping about Kijé like that again…” Obi-Wan shot Shaniel a venomous glare that made the normally garrulous Padawan shut up without a second thought.
“What would Qui-Gon say if he heard you talking like that, I wonder?” mused Siri.
Garen said slyly, “Probably, ‘what has gotten into you, go and practice saber drills’.”
“What Master Jinn would or would not have said,” replied Shaniel sharply, “is completely irrelevant. He is dead. I will continue to repeat that if I must until you adults work it out.”
“Can we leave Shani behind?” pleaded Ben. “And what the blue kriff is dialectics? Is it about languages, because the girls were swearing in Huttese? I wasn’t,” he added, just in case Obi-Wan had not noticed.
“Nasriel,” said that Master, carefully changing the subject, “would you mind working out which of the Boehme kids might be able to take a week off?”
“Not Ulex,” replied Nasriel instantly, “because N’Cai would never let him go anywhere with you or me and certainly not both, and not Sai-Dan, because he’s technically still a youngling and Master Alann doesn’t trust any of us. So… Sim-and-Lim, Telcontir, maybe Kijé. Depending on how many new planets Madame Nu needs catalogued by the end of the summer.”
“Not Yenseh.” Shaniel was adamant. “If he comes, I don’t.”
“Nobody,” said Siri firmly, “offered you the option of staying behind. That makes six, plus Zait and Ben is eight, plus Ahsoka – if you can talk Anakin into that, Kenobi – would make nine. Is that really feasible?”
“If Shaniel can keep her ideas to herself, and if Nasriel learns to be less touchy, and if Ben stops pretending to be so kriffing innocent when we all know he’s not, then yes, possibly.” Garen sounded less than convinced.
“When you get assigned a Padawan, Muln – and heaven help the kid who gets landed with you -” snapped Siri, “then you can start lecturing us on ours. Until then… shut up.”
“Everyone…” Obi-Wan began, then bit his tongue. “How I wish my master were here! He would knock the nonsense clean out of this situation. I can’t stop this, obviously. Shaniel, clean up your act. If you don’t, then you risk being confined to the Temple. And yes, I would do that. You’re wearing my patience out. I think Kije misses going on missions; just you try walking a mile in his shoes.” Shaniel finally shut up. Obi-Wan sighed. “I think you could learn quite a bit from him, if you’d only look past your own prejudice. I’ll tell Jocasta to find someone else to help her, Kije needs a break. And yes, we can take nine people out to Dar Valin. We’ll probably camp out somewhere in the wilderness.”
They were just about to leave when somebody noticed Telcontir and Garen were missing. Around about the time Siri started tapping her foot and looking at her chrono twice in the same second, they showed up. “You’re late,” Siri snapped.
Garen was a little out of breath from having run all the way from the east end of the Padawan Halls, where the Boehme base is, but Telcontir was as fresh as if he’d just woken up. Running the whole length of the Temple five times a day will do that to you. “Blame Leannen,” panted Garen. “His idea. I just helped.”
With a flourish that would do a politician proud, Telcontir produced a sheet of crackly pale-green flimsi from his pocket. “Absolutely necessary,” he proclaimed. “You’ve got the best voice, Orezna, read it out.”
“Amnesty,” Sima read aloud, trying not to laugh, “On all Hijinks and Immature Behavior. For the Dar Valin Trip. The rules: Master Siri Tachi is in charge. No scoldings for stunts will be tolerated. This ends the rules.”
“And we all have to sign it,” added Garen.
“This,” said Obi-Wan ominously, “is ridiculous. You must be madder even than usual, Garen.”
Nasriel tugged at his sleeve. “Please, Master? They’re just trying to help. Here.” She handed him one of her ink-pencils. Obi-Wan seemed a little uncertain writing with the unfamiliar tool, but he signed the Amnesty and handed it on to Ahsoka. Siri signed last, and offered to ensure that the first thing she did as Person In Charge would be to assign Garen as responsible for cooking all week. Surprisingly, Garen was less than enthusiastic about this idea and immediately volunteered Obi-Wan. Shaniel, quite out of character for her, came up with a workable suggestion: Make the Padawans as a unit responsible for cooking, and decide who had to take which day and who got to skive out by a sparring match. Masters could help or not as they pleased. Although Elimyo and Zait were not keen on this idea – “I hate cooking and I suck at sparring” was how Elimyo put it – the suggestion was nearly unanimously agreed to.
They were staying in a clearing in the woods, a little ways from a pretty wide river, say about thirty yards, where there were rapids about level with the clearing, and a deep, smooth-surfaced pool just upstream. On the far side of the river, a cliff rose straight up for fully thirty feet, hedging the river in for as far as the Padawans explored in each direction, and a jut of rock hung out from the top of it just above the really deep part. So of course the boys, Telc and Ben and Lim, found out that if they went to the right place, there was a chimney of rock that came out on top of the cliff. So, despite Siri and Obi-Wan’s distinct misgivings, everybody spent most of the day climbing up and leaping down off the top of the cliff into the water. Well, nobody got hurt; it didn’t really matter. Well, Elimyo smacking his head in on a rock he hadn’t noticed doesn’t count as strictly hurt because he wasn’t unconscious and there was no blood or anything. Actually, most of the time nobody was entirely sure where any of the others were.
Siri had set the rules when they got there: everybody was to be back at the clearing at dusk, and preferably at dawn, just to prove they hadn’t been killed or anything – ‘because what would Master Windu have to say about that?’ – but otherwise it didn’t really matter where anybody was. That’s all kind of background. Not a lot happened, really. Of course, there was the time Zait and Sima went picking berries, and Ben expressed doubt as to their prowess in identifying plants. He proceeded to go off on a similar expedition of his own, and was beautifully sick the whole evening. Siri alternated between worrying about him, telling him he was an idiot, and informing Obi-Wan that she didn’t actually mean ‘idiot’ as such, just that it was less than diplomatic to insult the girls’ intelligence and then go and make a hash of things by himself. Obi-Wan said that if anybody knew the difference between diplomatic and not it was him, and proceeded to repeat Siri’s lecture back to Ben almost word-for-word. Ben was less than impressed. Zait was trying not to giggle.
“Whatcha reading?” asked Siri casually the next morning.
“Smugglers’ Moon,” replied Nasriel, not looking up from her datapad.
“You can’t be reading that,” Zait objected at once. “That’s a symphony, not a novel.”
Turning the datapad around so Zait could see the rows of notes on the screen, Nasriel raised one eyebrow in the “well?” expression she had inadvertently picked up from Obi-Wan.
“But that’s not what reading music means!” wailed Zait in exasperation. “You’re supposed to use sheet music to play from, not read it for pleasure like that. Siri, help, tell her to… to stop being insane.”
Before Siri could answer, “Not insane, Zait love, just Boehme,” corrected Elimyo, waltzing up behind them with an invisible partner.
Zait tapped him on the shoulder. “May I cut in?” “By all means,” replied Elimyo courteously. “If you don’t like to dance to counting we can get Telcontir to sing. Go find him, Witch, and show him the Dune Sea Waltz. I know you’ve got it.”
“Can’t Nasriel sing it?” asked Siri.
“No,” replied Elimyo. “She can’t sing anything at all, and anyway Telc has a nice voice. Hang on, that’s an idea. Does anybody else here sing?”
“Obi-Wan,” replied Siri drily. “But don’t ask him to. Ben.”
It eventually transpired that Zait had a fairly tuneful, if husky, voice, and Ben astonished everybody when, blushing up to the ears, he was finally coerced into singing and proved a fairly pleasant-sounding soprano. Telcontir appeared eventually, and Nasriel tossed him the music for the Dune Sea Waltz and vanished very rapidly.
She did not reappear until almost after Siri’s sunset deadline, by which time all the others except Obi-Wan were already waiting. Siri sighed. “Kenobi, location of? Any clues?”
“Upriver,” said Kijé laconically, and Ahsoka elaborated.
“He said he was sick to death of us kids making a row and he wanted some time alone with nobody asking him tricky questions for the first time in years so he headed upriver, along the bank. Sometime just after noon. I think… it might be a good idea to just leave him alone.”
“Oh, gods.” Garen stood up suddenly and stormed off. Upriver.
When he returned, it was dusk, the scorching sun of the long day dying in a storm of red and gold tossed on the dark treetops around the clearing. In the center of the springy turf, a small circle had been cleared and ringed with round smooth stones from the river, and a fire crackled brightly in the middle of the ring. Earlier in the day, Nasriel had found a large flat rock, and coaxed Telcontir to stop swimming just long enough to help her scour it clean with fine white sand from the riverbank before hauling it back up the bank to the clearing. Now she was sitting crosslegged by the fire, using the rock as a board to mix flour and water with a mysterious whitish powder which she had tipped out of one of her ubiquitous paper packets, made from a torn-out leaf of laboratory notebook.
“What in the blue wilds is that?” asked Garen suspiciously.
“H2SO4,” guessed Telcontir from where he lay sprawled in the grass a few yards away. “Ouch. Witch, do you have anything for sunburn in that bag of tricks?”
After mentally cataloguing the contents of her canvas bag, Nasriel replied logically, “No, why would I? I don’t get sunburned. Try asking Siri.”
Mumbling something uncomplimentary about Saalisans in general and Nasriel in particular, Telcontir reluctantly picked himself up and went to do just that.
“But you’re Karori,” snapped Siri unsympathetically, “which means that you look like a Human, just six inches taller and brown as a nut, and you don’t burn in the sun any more than Threeb does.”
“Foiled again!” cried Telcontir. “But,” he added smugly, “the Witch doesn’t know that, so she’s taking my turn cooking.”
Zait had been listening, and now she looked sternly up at the irrepressible Leannen. “I’ll tell her,” she threatened.
Instantly Telcontir was serious again. “She’s Boehme, so am I; you aren’t. The only outsider Padawan whose word she’ll take above mine is Ben. And…” he glanced over to the fire. “I think we should leave them alone, at least for now.”
Obi-Wan had reappeared from his hiding place upriver and gone to give his Padawan a hand. At that moment, he was calmly critiquing the stew bubbling in a caldron placed on the embers, and Nasriel was trying not to laugh. Telcontir whispered to Zait, “None of us gets much time to laugh nowadays.”
“Garen’s there,” pouted Zait.
By the fire, “Please answer my question!” Garen begged.
Nasriel swept a lock of hair out of her eyes, leaving a streak of flour across her forehead. “Sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid, cornstarch,” she replied shortly.
“Okay, and for those of us who don’t speak chemist?”
Obi-Wan had been watching closely, and now he spoke. “I think you’ll find it’s baking powder, Garen.”
“Right.” Nasriel grinned, then explained inconsequentially, “Sorel Jados taught me how to make this sort of bread when Jiron and I were on outpost at Karor. They call it vahn, and it’s so easy even I can’t mess up.” As she spoke, she used a stick from the firewood pile to scrape a hollow in the ashes, and, setting the ball of dough in the hollow, raked embers over it. She brushed ash and flour off her slim fingers, and turned to hunt in the canvas bag lying on the grass behind her. A few seconds’ search produced a pair of practice sabers, which she held up to show Obi-Wan. “Got time for a duel?”
Drawing one saber toward him, Obi-Wan replied, “Certainly. Shall we play for forfeits?”
Suddenly Garen was interested. “Make it jumping off of the high rock,” he suggested.
Obi-Wan shuddered. “Perfect. All right?”
Nasriel nodded reluctantly and activated her saber.
Although the Padawan indisputably did her best, the fight was hopelessly unequal. She fought too close, rather than bringing the battle into her opponent’s ground, Obi-Wan noted detachedly. And that left gaps, and one day one of those gaps would get her killed… “I win,” he said gently, flicking Nasriel’s saber out of her hand and holding the point of his against her throat.
“Best of three?” begged Nasriel hopefully.
Obi-Wan shrugged. It wouldn’t make a great deal of difference to the final outcome. “By all means. En garde.”
This time Nasriel made him work harder, abandoning the close, graceful, but woefully inadequate style Gueca Sala had taught her in favour of her own mixed-form, agile, frankly bizarre style. But for once she seemed to be enjoying herself, with crazy tricks like using the Force to turn a one-handed handspring apparently over the blade of her Master’s saber.
Kijé was watching disapprovingly, and called, “Flipping like a bug again, Witch.”
“But Kij, it’s fun!” Nasriel protested. That instant’s distraction cost her the duel, as Obi-Wan saw an opening, dived forward, and in a split-second had Nasriel back on the defensive, back with the tight form that meant that it was only a matter of time before she lost – again.
“Okay, so I lose,” Nasriel conceded. “But it’s cold!”
“That,” explained Obi-Wan cavalierly, “is the point. Go on, move.”
Nasriel stepped carefully across the stones to the far bank of the river, and scrambled rapidly up the cliff to the high rock. Standing on the far bank, Elimyo asked Obi-Wan anxiously, “You’re going to stop her, right?”
“No,” Obi-Wan replied, amazed. “Why would I?”
“The Witch can’t swim. Standing joke, but true nonetheless. I assumed you knew. Oh, hells,” groaned Elimyo, as Nasriel jumped from the rock. “With all due respect, sir, you’re an idiot.” He swam out into the deep place, and dived after Nasriel, dragging her back to the shallows. “You’re an idiot too, Witch,” he added dispassionately. “Now go dry yourself off.”
Late that night, when everybody was in at least roughly the right place, Sima was telling a story, completely implausible, about a wizard who offered a boy a wish: ‘One wish, for anything at all, preferably impossible.’ The flickering light of a small fire lit up a circle of gold in the middle of the dark woods, and Ahsoka grinned and said that pools of light were magic spells too, much to the disgust of the boys. After Sima’s story ended, predictably, with the boy marrying a princess, there were groans and vehement protestations from almost everybody. Rolling her eyes in exasperation, Sima said, “Fine. Then smerniat guk lidchol. That,” she explained for the benefit of the adults, whose grasp of Padawan slang was necessarily limited, “means, ‘then they all died horribly’.”
“Charming,” said Obi-Wan politely. “Is there another ending still?”
“Nope.” Telcontir was positive. “When you hit ‘lidchol’, that is the absolute end.” He was silent for a moment, then asked curiously, “What would you wish for?”
Nervously, Ahsoka asked, “What would who wish for?”
“Everybody,” shrugged Telcontir, “starting with you.”
Not needing to consider the question, Ahsoka sighed, “For Master Skywalker to have more time for me.”
“Granted,” said Obi-Wan. “I’ll raise it with him when we get home.”
Next it was Kijé’s turn. “I’d wish for two legs, both in working order,” he laughed ruefully. Nobody had any reply to that.
Breaking the tension, Ben cried, “I wish for a million credits! Master Obi-Wan?”
“For the Republic to win the war. Soon,” said Obi-Wan sombrely.
“Waste of a good wish,” judged Ben. “We’re bound to win anyway.”
“Fine,” sighed Siri. “I wish I shared Ben’s optimism.”
“Merex narachi orzaichol,” said Elimyo dreamily, “or else a speeder of my own.”
Sima tossed a clod of earth at him. “It was Shani’s turn, Lim, you idiot.”
“Wish I could study Vaapad,” declared Shaniel.
“Denied,” said Garen emphatically. “But I wish the same.” Glancing over to Obi-Wan, he laughed suddenly. “Well! This is history.” Siri had been looking around for Nasriel, and at that moment spotted her in the last place she had expected: right next to Obi-Wan, leaning her head on his shoulder, with his arm around her.
“History is right,” Siri agreed. “What happened to Master Don’t-Touch-Me Kenobi?”
Shifting uncomfortably, Obi-Wan replied with a wry smile, “He decided that it wasn’t worth waking his Padawan up to hear that story.”
“Wake her up now,” demanded Ben. “It’s her turn to wish.”
Nasriel murmured, “Wasn’t asleep. Wish I could remember my mother like Anakin can.”
“Well, if you weren’t asleep after all, you can get off of me.”
Nasriel stood up quickly, stepping out of the circle of firelight and vanishing into the dark trees fringing the clearing.
When Obi-Wan went looking for his Padawan nearly an hour later, he found her lying statue-still on the huge flat rock in the middle of the river, one hand reaching down so that her fingertips trailed in the rushing water, silently watching the changing patterns of the starlight on the surface of the river.
“I can’t remember,” she called back, as if she were carrying on a long conversation instead of starting one. “I can’t remember, but I so desperately want to.”
Picking his way over the treacherous stepping-stones to the rock, Obi-Wan went to kneel beside Nasriel, and after a moment’s hesitation, lightly rested one hand on her shoulder.
“Please don’t,” she said matter-of-factly. “Still hurts.”
Nasriel wriggled herself upright and sat facing him. “I know it’s not… not Jedi, but I’m not the only one envious of Anakin. All I know about my own mother is that she was half-bad-Shendi, and I was the cause of her death. That’s all!”
“Is it?” Obi-Wan asked challengingly. “I know more about your mother than that.”
Seeming to forget that her scar still hurt, Nasriel pressed close to him. “Tell me.”
“All right. If her daughter is anything to go by, your mother was… intelligent, shrewd, courageous, impetuous, selfless, fiercely loyal, and -” he broke off to look carefully at Nasriel’s upturned face. “Probably quite beautiful.”
Nasriel laughed half-heartedly. “Thank you. But I don’t think that counts.” The Force was buzzing with his incredulous question, so she answered it first to save time. “I differentiate between good and bad Shendi because that way at least I always know what I mean. My grandfather and the others who conquered Saalis are bad Shendi, you and Ben are good Shendi.”
“Thank you! Now, are you going to sleep out here, or are you coming back with me?”
“I’m coming back. I haven’t got my cloak here.”
Obi-Wan put his hand under her back. “See, Nasriel? Easy. Just relax, and when I take my hand away you’ll float. It’s simple.” Slowly, he moved his hand away. Immediately, Nasriel panicked and sank, splashing him. Obi-Wan bent down and grabbed her. “Didn’t I say ‘And whatever you do, don’t panic, I won’t let you drown’?”
“Sorry, Master,” Nasriel apologized. And then started to laugh.
Obi-Wan stared at her. “What is going on?” he asked.
Nasriel swallowed another giggle and explained, “You look like a wet ‘kurra, only a ginger one and a lot less shaggy than Blaze.”