Obi-Wan knew something was wrong the minute he stepped in at the door and found Ben waiting for him. Usually, when he got home, Ben was out and Nasriel was waiting with a tricky question, but not tonight.
“Uncle Obi-Wan, I need to talk to you.” Make that ‘something was very wrong’.
“If I had a friend,” Ben began hesitantly, “just suppose, purely as a hypothetical thing, and this friend was quite unpopular in the Halls, and Jodiit Reay and his gang often cornered my friend, and beat… him or her up, and he or she didn’t want to tell any Masters, but told me, what would you suggest I do? Assuming that it happened quite a lot. Just suppose.”
Taking the question seriously, Obi-Wan replied, “I would advise you to encourage your friend to tell their Master what was going on, and to avoid Jodiit in the meantime.”
“She can’t,” Ben said flatly. “She has to go to that part of the Halls nearly every day, and she’s afraid to tell her Master because if she does, the Master will realize that she’s been lying about why she’s so often late for classes and training sessions. Her Master can have quite a temper, you see.”
If the subject hadn’t been so grave, and Ben so obviously worried, Obi-Wan would have been amused. “So there really is a friend? In that case I would say she should tell Master Vokara Che and ask her to explain to the Master.”
Ben was visibly relieved. “Thanks. I’ll tell her you said so. Hey, have you seen Nasriel anywhere?”
“Try the library or the gallery where the Boehme kids live.”
With a hasty, “Thanks-Master-you’re-the-best,” Ben raced out the door.
Obi-Wan shook his head in bemusement. What had that been about? Frowning, he ran over the clues. A female friend of Ben – of Ben? – who was unpopular, with a Master known for having ‘quite a temper’. It could be anyone. He sighed and put the impossible question aside. No doubt the Council would hear about it in due course.
The next morning, Obi-Wan found to his boundless astonishment that there was nothing terribly vital to do. He was gradually coming to terms with the concept of free time, when there was a knock at the door. It was Bant. Since he was on the Council, and she was a healer, they rarely met in the line of duty.
“Hello, Bant. I haven’t seen you for a while.”
“We need to talk.” So, not merely a friendly visit.
Cagily, Obi-Wan asked, “About what?”
Bant took a deep breath. “Privately. Is Ben out?”
A cursory glance around was enough. “He’s off sparring with Ahsoka. They’ve been planning it for days.”
“Good.” Bant closed the door firmly behind her. “It’s about Nasriel. She’s been getting into quite a lot of… trouble lately, and Master Che sent me to tell you because she says you won’t listen to her.”
“Wonderful. What is it now? Last time it was…” he smiled at the memory. “It was putting sodium something-or-other into a fountain.”
Bant did not smile. “I don’t recall. It’s not that sort of trouble. Vokara’s worried – she thinks next time this happens the consequences could be really serious. As things stand it certainly can’t be doing Nasriel any good. I wish you’d talk to her, ask her about Jodiit Reay. Under ordinary circumstances, I know, she’s nearly a match for him, but when he has backup and she’s alone it can get truly nasty. And they’re careful: they only make bruises you won’t see.”
“It was Nasriel? Ben was asking me about Nasriel last night? She’s the one being beaten? This is absurd. Why didn’t I know?”
“That’s easy,” said Bant coolly. “You didn’t know because she’s scared to tell, and they’re hardly the type to get caught or confess.”
“Scared? Of me? Why?”
Bant explained it well – she always did. “If it was you being regularly beaten up as a Padawan, would you ever have told Qui-Gon without being ordered to? No. Why not?”
“Because I wouldn’t want him to think I couldn’t look after myself.”
“Even if it was true?” Bant pressed.
It hurt, but… “Even if it was true,” Obi-Wan eventually acquiesced.
“She’s waiting for you in the Archives,” his friend informed him. “And, Obi-Wan? Don’t be too angry. The kid’s feeling fragile enough as it is.”
The cool, quiet Archives were by far Obi-Wan’s favorite place in the whole beautiful Temple. Even at a busy time of day, like now, it was always possible to find a secluded corner to study. And only one person was even remotely interested in endothermic acid/base reactions, so Nasriel was easy to find. This narrow corner between shelves, away from any windows, was dark even at noon, and to counter this the reading lamp over the desk glowed steadily onto the pages of the volume open beneath it, but Nasriel was not reading.
Nor was she alone. Two older Padawans, already as tall and muscular as men, were in the dead-end of the aisle as well. Perhaps deliberately, one of them stood sideways to the desk, and the other faced him, so that anybody approaching them would see only their silhouettes. It was a moment or two before Obi-Wan saw his Padawan, standing with her back to the first boy. It was a moment more before he saw that her arms were pinioned behind her back, and that her coin-gold eyes shone wide with fear. The other Padawan was speaking softly, his voice kind, even brotherly, and although his tone was clearly audible, Obi-Wan had to strain to hear his exact words.
“Of course you’d never rat on us, Witch. Never tell Ben. Or Vokara. Or Bant. Can you think how I know you snitched?”
“No, I haven’t a clue. ‘Diit, please!”
Leaning closer, his face only inches away from hers, Jodiit sneered, “It was Ben, you fool. I didn’t even have to touch him before he told me you ratted – and only one little tap told me where to find you.” Very slowly, the boy drew back his fist, smiling nastily. Still at the end of the aisle, nearly twenty meters away, Obi-Wan could do nothing as Jodiit threw his full strength into a punch at Nasriel. She double over with a stifled gasp, and Jodiit’s friend let her fall to the floor. “Pick her up,” the boy snapped. “I’m not done with her yet.”
“Oh, yes, you are.” Obi-Wan was sure he had been this angry in the past, but he couldn’t quite remember when.
Jodiit turned around, startled. “Why, hello, Master Kenobi.”
“You are done. You are done with beating my Padawan, you are done with bullying in the Halls, and if I have any say left with the Council you are done with the Temple. You are a disgrace to the Order, the pair of you. What you are doing is not only stupid and cruel, it is cowardly. Shame on you.”
“But, Master Kenobi,” smiled Jodiit smoothly, “permit me to explain. It’s not what you think; we were just playing.” Turning to help Nasriel to her feet, he added, “Isn’t that right, Nas?”
“Ye-yes. That’s right,” replied Nasriel eagerly. “Just a game, Master.”
“I know you, Reay,” said Obi-Wan coldly. “I know you. But not your friend. Name?”
“Madeinso Korey,” supplied that Padawan subduedly.
“Fine. Reay. Korey. I’ll remember. Get out of my sight.”
As soon as the boys had scurried away around the corner, he turned to Nasriel. “Is it true that you were only playing?” he demanded sternly.
“Are you all right?”
“Well, stop talking like a shy chikka, then. How long has this been going on?”
“Nearly ten years.”
Obi-Wan sighed. “It stops here,” he promised. “Who’s his Master?”
“He’s an orphan like me,” Nasriel explained. “Gueca keeps an eye on him. They get on well together, they were thinking of going to Yoreh to ask if Gueca could be put back on the lists as Jodiit’s Master.”
Obi-Wan murmured, “I’m not surprised,” and reached up to turn off the lamp. “We’re going home. Now.”
Ben was waiting for them, with a slightly wary smile and a truly spectacular black eye.
Although he already knew, “What happened to you?” Obi-Wan asked, sounding incredulous.
“Walked into a pole,” replied Ben quickly. “I’m fine.”
“Funny-shaped pole,” his Master suggested gently. “Are you going to tell me who hit you?”
“Uh… Elimyo,” lied Ben. “It was an accident, and he apologized, so we’re square.”
“Are you quite sure it wasn’t Jodiit Reay or Madeinso Korey?”
“It was both,” Ben admitted awkwardly. “I don’t know which is worse, getting hit or not being able to hit back. Can you do something about them?”
Obi-Wan checked his chrono. “The Council meets in an hour. I’ll raise the topic there.”
“Minor Padawan arguments,” said Mace Windu patiently, “are really not this Council’s highest priority.”
“It is not minor!” protested Obi-Wan. “And it’s hardly an argument. It’s a deliberate, calculated, tormenting.”
“Of one Padawan. Who happens to be yours,” argued Even Piell. “And she’s in with one of the worse-reputationed Halls gangs. The real question is, what did her gang do to Reay in the first place?”
“Boehme formed – in the first place – to protect each other from Reay and his crowd!” retorted Obi-Wan hotly.
“If much more about Threeb and young Kenobi this Council hears,” announced Yoda ominously, “assign them to Agricorps we will, the nuisance and waste of time to remove.”
Adi Gallia said gently, “Yoda’s right, Obi-Wan. We can’t stand for favoritism, not here. If you really care about those children, shut up about them.”
“What will they do?” Ben asked eagerly a few hours later.
“Nothing,” spat Obi-Wan in disgust. “They will do nothing. Yoda threatened you both with the Agricorps, and they will do nothing.”
“And now,” Nasriel observed glumly, “they won’t even be afraid of you anymore, because they know you can’t stop them. So really, we’re worse off, because now Ben’s a target as well, and Jodiit knows he can get away with murder.”
“Agricorps…” mused Obi-Wan. “Of course! Yoreh Deah still owes me a favor.”
Nasriel considered the idea with the air of a practiced campaigner. “Korey alone would do,” she said. “Because ‘Diit’s nothing without him and all Halls knows it.”
Yoreh looked at Obi-Wan blankly, and then a slow smile crept across her face. “I would be more than happy to oblige. And this is not a favor – I wish I’d thought of it myself. I still owe you.” A few keys clicked, a few pages turned, and it was done. “Korey will be at Karor by the end of next week. They pick on my Padawan too,” the Master of assignments added. “She doesn’t think I notice the bruises. Let me tell you, kids,” she turned sharply to Ben and Nasriel, “Masters notice more than you give us credit for.”
Nasriel looked dubiously at Obi-Wan, who had the grace to blush. “I didn’t, Yoreh,” he admitted. “I had no idea.”
“You have an excuse,” Yoreh replied sadly. “The Halls were a far gentler place when you were growing up. War changes everything. Tripping, stealing, calling names – you would have spotted those if they were still common practice. But deliberate, sadistic violence… you can’t notice a thing if you don’t really believe it happens. But,” she finished brightly, “not anymore! And Threeb? No revenge, you hear? It’s not the Jedi way.”