Or, Taking the Test and Then Learning the Lesson.
Ben and I take turns; it’s the fairest way. Whenever Master Obi-Wan is assigned a mission, the one whose turn it is, goes, and to stop the other one feeling left out, they are sometimes found a relatively straightforward mission elsewhere. I treasure my turns like the precious jewels they are – whole days at a time with my Master, listening, watching, learning the fine art of diplomacy from one of the Galaxy’s acknowledged experts, learning more about what it is to be a Jedi, and helping the Republic in my own small way besides.
When we’re all in the Temple, we adopt the same system, taking turns, day by day. I can hardly keep the joy out of my voice some mornings, when I tell the other Padawans at the laboratory, “I’m not coming in today. It’s My Turn.” Admittedly, Master Obi-Wan can make it so difficult that I am almost glad to return to the workaday air and chemical fug of the lab, but it usually feels more like a patiently-borne loss – just until tomorrow.
This morning, it is Ben’s Turn, and if a mission comes up, that will be his as well. I am on my way to the chemical workroom, and in fact I’m just leaving my comlink in the locker outside the door when it rings. Master Obi-Wan wants me to come to the Council Chamber. Dropping my notebook to the blue-tiled floor, I run, anxious to know the worst, feeling dread pounding from my heart, thumping in my temples, lending swift wings of fear to my racing feet. As I skid to a halt in the antechamber, I stop briefly to twitch my tunic straight, pat my hair back into order, and, in short, compose myself, before knocking on the door.
Master Mundi lets me in, but manages to give the impression that I am unwelcome and a nuisance here. From the other side of the room, from his place between Adi Gallia and Plo Koon, Master Obi-Wan flashes me a quick smile, but instantly becomes serious again. I smile back – I can’t help it – feeling warm and safe inside although the room is as cold as Hoth, and go to stand with Ben in the center.
“Padawan Threeb,” Yoda says without preamble, “A civil war at Yavin there is. Agreed between themselves, the warring houses have, to accept Jedi mediation. Inclined to send a Master on such a trivial matter the Council is not. Send you instead, we shall. Dismissed, you are. Go.”
I flee to the hangar. I am not ready for this, I want to argue, but Master Yoda says otherwise, and Master Obi-Wan does not disagree with him, so perhaps I am after all. And in the midst of a far larger war, it is true, no Masters can be spared. Although I suspect that this is the sort of mission a Master and Padawan team would be sent on in the old days, before the Separatist War, I brush off my misgivings and realize I am honored to be chosen.
At Yavin, I am met by representatives of the two clans. Fortunately, these four men are civil both to me and to each other, despite their surprise at my age, and we can begin at once. By the end of two days of retracing the course of this meaningless squabble, the office that has been placed at our disposal in the Supreme Court of the planet is positively littered with papers: letters, maps, printed news reports, and other documents I have been using to glean the truth from, and I am heartily tired of the whole confusion. Finally, the root of the matter seems to be in sight: members of one clan burned a village inhabited by members of the other.
I ask the perpetrators what prompted this extraordinary action, and they reply that a boy from the other clan dishonored one of their women. Ordering that the boy be summoned, I begin to hope that I will finish this assignment, and make Master Obi-Wan proud of me. At the very least, I hope not to shame him.
When the wretched boy is brought before me, I notice he is even younger than I am. And this child started a bloody war? One of the boy’s kinsmen has come as well, and states that their clan is glad if punishing his young nephew will qualify as retribution and serve to end the hostilities. Wearily, I desire to know what punishment the other clan had in mind. Whether the boy is innocent or guilty scarcely enters my mind: his own relative accuses him. The penalty is oddly mild, for such a planet: they desire that the boy be publicly whipped, and then will agree to a truce, until such time as all wrongs can be righted, on their side as well as the other. “Very well, let it be done,” I order.
It all seems strangely easy; I have a bad feeling about this, as my Master would say. But it is the sensible thing, and must be done. Although I do not approve of whipping as a rule – I have been in too close contact with it too many times for that – it will hardly kill the boy, and will prevent the killing of many others. Standing in the window of the office, looking out over the portico and the courtyard beyond, I think I am pleased with my decision. As the man whose wife was ‘dishonored’ raises the whip, awaiting my approval to take the first blow to this miserable boy’s pale, quivering back, I do not see a child tied to the white marble of the column outside the court.
I see Baron Nuret, and Gueca Sala, and Count Dooku, their forms weirdly merged into one, and my heart is hardened. “When you please,” I say indifferently to the man, and he swings the lash. Hissing through the still atmosphere of the public square, it cracks across the tender white flesh, raising a dark weal. The boy screams, but I do not hear him. Again and again, the lash whistles through the air, until the blood runs down his back onto the waistband of his pants, staining them deep red. He does not scream now, merely grunts in pain, like an animal, as each blow falls. I cannot bring myself to care. The truce is sealed with this boy’s blood. My work is done.
Back at the Temple, Master Obi-Wan and Ben have returned before me. I ask, how did their mission go? “Easy,” laughs Ben, his straight white teeth gleaming. “It’s your Turn tomorrow, by the way.”
In the morning, my Master calls me early. “Come on.” I don’t ask where we’re going; often we roam merely for the sake of it. Because the journey is almost as important as the destination. Occasionally, long and tortuous obstacle courses around the city have led – only to Dex’s Cantina, for a cup of caf before returning. But this morning Master Obi-Wan has a destination in mind, a destination within the Temple, for he is leading me deep into the heart of the great complex, into the basement.
Palming open a door, my Master shows me into a large, dim hall, the roof low, glowering over-near the floor. Not that it is uncomfortably low: neither of us is exactly tall. Seeming to seep from the walls, the dim light is a sickly grey color. Master Obi-Wan stands by the far wall, fully twenty meters from the closed durasteel door, stands ramrod-straight, hands hanging calmly by his sides, with his back to me. His creamy white tunic appears to glow in the half-light, against the dark smooth stone of the walls.
I have to ask. “Master? What’s going on?” Just for a change from the norm, he gives me an indirect answer.
“I read the report of your mission, Padawan.”
Now I am nervous. “Well?”
“It was… interesting. You did not examine the accusations against the boy?” Why does he ask this? If he read the report, he knows already that there was no need.
“No, Master. His guilt seemed established.”
“I see.” Master Obi-Wan gestures toward an object laying in one corner of the bare room. I saw it as I entered, but I did not check as to what it is. “That, over there. Pick it up.” Obediently, I go to the corner, but when I see what it is he wants me to touch, my skin crawls. A whip. It is very long, coiled in a perfect circle, and shines dully in the dead light. My Master’s voice interrupts my horror. “Did you not hear me?”
Forcing my fingers to overcome their revulsion, I bend down and curl them around the heavy handle. I cannot make my fingertips meet the heel of my palm; this thing was made for larger hands than mine. “I heard you, Master,” I say, aware of the unsteadiness in my voice. “What would you have me do?”
Cold and precise, Master Obi-Wan answers after a slight pause. “I require you to lash me. Until I order you to stop. Do you understand?”
Oh, I understand, all right. But I cannot. I let the whip slide from my fingers and hear it thud to the permacrete floor. “I can’t do that,” I choke eventually.
He is still standing quite still, his shoulders tense, waiting, but his voice is steely calm. “Do you mean to disobey me?”
I can’t! Already, my mind’s eye has flung the image before me: the image of that pure white fabric with a ragged tear across it, sticky with blood – with my Master’s blood. I swallow hard, and reply tremulously. “Yes, Master, I do. I cannot do as you order.”
Still the muscles of his back are tense and knotted, ready. “Why not?”
“Because it’s too horrible!” I cry.
“Inadequate. You have had your orders. Obey them. When you please.”
My blood is cold; why cannot I chill my heart as well? He has read the report, he knows that those are the words I used to give the same order. “Did I do badly with my judgment, Master? Please do not make me do this.”
Still tense. Still cold. Still distant. “When you please.” I draw before my mind the one image that will allow me to obey him: Baron Nuret. The one image I can allow myself to hate. And I raise the whip, and I slash downwards with it.
But it is Master Obi-Wan who cries out in pain. Flinging the whip to the ground, I run to him. He pushes me away, with the Force, not even allowing me to touch him. “I did not say stop.”
Again I pick up the filthy tool, and again I raise it. “I can’t!”
“Because…” I feel the tears start into my eyes, and a new part of my soul is speaking to me, a part whose voice is as familiar as breathing, but which I have not heard for years. Suddenly, I can reply, I know I have the one answer that will be enough to halt this nightmare. “I can’t do that because it’s wrong, Master.”
He whirls around to look at me, and on his face is a look of triumph. I can no longer see the ragged tear I have made, I only see my Master’s face, and I know all is well; the whip falls to the floor again and I kick it violently into the corner of the room. Taking me by the shoulders, he shakes me gently. “Yes! Yes, you’re absolutely correct, it’s wrong. How do you know?”
I know because my soul told me so. Because for the first time in years I knew what to listen to. “Is that conscience?” I ask tentatively.
“Yes, that’s it. You’ve been taught not to hear it, little one. After that case at Yavin, I knew, somehow, you would have to be… shocked into listening. The Force can only tell you if something is wise, or sensible, not if it is right. And what you did at Yavin, what you ordered, was sensible, and prudent, and thoroughly thought through – but nonetheless wrong. And you will have to remedy that. But you’ve taken the first step in learning how – learning to judge between right and wrong.”
Finally, I dare ask. “If I hadn’t… worked it out, how long…”
“Would I have insisted you continue?” Master Obi-Wan smiles, and then calmly answers the question, “Up until I passed out. If I taught you everything else there was to know, but not to listen to your conscience, I would have failed you. And I will go to great lengths to avoid failing.”
At Yavin, a week later, alone again, but this time knowing what to do, I request that the representatives come back to the court, to discuss reparations. The first thing to do will be the hardest, at least for me.
“The boy who you say started this war… where is he?” He is brought in, roughly, his dark eyes darting distrustfully about. “Did you really dishonor that man’s wife?” I ask. I almost hope he will say yes.
“I ain’t done nothing,” the boy whines. “I didn’t even know her. My da offered me, for peace, like.”
Oh, dear. There is only one thing I can say. “Then I am truly sorry for having had you punished without demanding proof. I… hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me my rashness.”
One side of his mouth perks up in a smile. “Sure thing. Ain’t never heard a Jedi apologize, but. You’re all right.” From a boy like this, that is high praise indeed.
“I thank you. Perhaps, if you are not busy, you could help me to work out what each side ought to pay to the other? I could use a friend.”
Now both sides of his mouth smile. “Sure thing,” he says again. “I’ll help. Get you out of this mess and off home to fight the real war.”
After that all goes smoothly, and a treaty detailing reparations is signed only a few days later. The war truly is finished and sealed. Only now is my work here done. And better yet, I have learned.
Master Obi-Wan meets me at the landing pad when I return. “Well done, Nasriel.” He teases in a whisper, “I’m glad you did work out wrong from right so soon – that’s a fine backhand you have there.”