Ben spent the trip from Umbara to Xathomir in a panicky attempt to finish his math homework, interspersed with a long and highly eloquent explanation of why one night sleeping in a cantina was absolutely without a tiny shadow of doubt quite enough for one lifetime.
“Ben,” said Nasriel after the fifth outburst in complaining vein, “please shut up.”
“Go to Xath to find a Sentinel,” muttered Ben. “Where on Xath, Witch?”
“There’ll be a message at the spaceport,” Nasriel said airily. “Somewhere only a Sentinel would think to look.”
“Oh, you and your wonderful Sentinels,” snorted Ben. “Go boil your head.”
“The Sentinels are wonderful,” she retorted hotly. “And they don’t whine like younglings about perfectly good quarters either, you – you Templar, you!”
“I Templar! You’re lucky to be out of the Agricorps.”
“I can think of another being than me who oughta be in the Corps.”
“All I’m saying is that half the Galaxy’s at war and we Templars are at the forefront and even the HoloNet knows it. Your Sentinels skulk around and make out to be important. I’ll be the smartest thing Jados even did was get killed and land you with a real Jedi.”
“You can’t even finish your math homework!” taunted Nasriel.
“Yeah, well, you can’t do anything else. Bantha-brain.”
Flipping the controls to autopilot for a minute, Obi-Wan caught the Padawans by their respective collars and banged their heads together. “Stop it at once. No branch of the Jedi is any more or less important, necessary, skilled, or courageous than any other. If you want me to treat you like younglings, go on acting like this. Ben, do you understand?”
“Yes, Master.” Ben cautiously put up one hand to rub his aching head.
“Excellent. The next one to say a word without leave will be returned to the Temple by scheduled shuttle with a full explanation addressed to Master Windu. Is that also understood? You have leave to assent.”
“This argument is now over. Ben, you may finish your math. Nasriel, you may copilot and I will resume the lesson on Teth history.”
The spaceport at Xathomir had exactly the opposite problem to the spaceport at Umbara: it had been built in a time when the world was a bustling and prosperous trade planet, but since the war, much of the population had fled to the relative safety of the Core Worlds, and the remnant did not travel overmuch. Eventually locating a spaceport official, Obi-Wan gave the Padawans leave to talk – “if you can contrive to be civil” – and started on the long and painstaking explanations involved in landing on an unguarded world with no more identification than a lightsaber.
Nasriel vanished at once to find Reseda’s message, with Ben in close pursuit, but they were both back long before the official was satisfied as to Obi-Wan’s bona fides.
“We’re looking for a cantina called the Nine Riders,” panted Ben.
“Very well. Go and find your friend, find out what we need to know, and meet me back here. Don’t fight on the way.”
The Nine Riders was a tall, narrow brick house, with a deeply-pitched roof and a furtive air. It looked oddly ashamed and shy in its street of prim glass-fronted shops, even though most of them were closed and the windows whitewashed over. Ben had to squash a shudder of unease. If ever an inanimate object looked shady and unpleasantly piratical, the Nine Riders Cantina did. But Nasriel had already pushed open the door and ventured into the darkness within, so great a contrast to the clear warm sunlight in the muddy street it was a few moments before Ben followed.
Footsteps clattered on the rickety wooden stairs, and a green-skinned Twi’lek appeared in the doorway to the dim lobby where Nasriel was glancing uncertainly around. After resting scowlingly for an instant on Ben, silhouetted in the doorway, the Twi’lek’s gaze fell on Nasriel, and he stopped scowling to laugh.
“Laaady Kaliu!” In two steps he was beside her, lifting her by the waist in his muscular arms and turning in a strange kind of pirouette.
“Reseda!” Nasriel gasped when her feet were back on the floor, “Long time no see. Hey, we need a hand.”
Two, broad and clean, were presented for her inspection. “At your service. But answer me this, milady: where shall I find that young excrescence Jados? He owes me money. Is he here with you?”
Tapping Reseda’s hands away, Nasriel said softly, “Res, Roni’s dead. He died six months ago. I’m sorry.”
Curiously, Reseda did not seem to be surprised. “Oh. You’re with Kenobi now, I see.”
“H-how did you – ?”
“I can’t tell you ‘I know everything’, anymore, can I?” He sighed and ruffled her hair. “As a matter of fact I spotted your boyfriend in the doorway. (Come in here, lad.) He’s all Kenobi if anybody is, and there’s a rumor flying that the Council is all in a giz of Obi-Wan training his nephew.”
“Rumors fly, but not often straight,” Ben offered, unconsciously quoting Qui-Gon Jinn. “This one’s true, though.”
Now that his eyes were more accustomed to the dark, he could see Reseda clearly. The Twi’lek had an oddly ageless face, darkened by the sun to the color of a summer leaf, and shifting expression by the second, alternating between the cynical humor lurking in one corner of his mouth and the tragical seriousness in his bottle-green eyes. He could have been of any age between twenty-five and forty-five, and had an aura of discreet forgetability; nobody would ever remember seeing him in a cantina or on a street unless he cared to be remembered, it was a simple as that.
“Akk got your tongue?” Reseda asked for the second time, jerking Ben back to the real Galaxy. “What’s your name?”
“Uh… oh, I’m Ben. Ben Owenson Kenobi.”
“Reseda Che. Yes, related to Vokara Che, but only Yoda knows how,” the Sentinel laughed. “Lady, you said you had employment for me. Be it never so slight, the whim of Kaliu Threeb is as law to me, youse humbule servaunt,” he concluded pontifically, accompanying the Gungan twang on his last words with an elaborate bow.
But he didn’t mean a word of it, Ben suddenly felt. He was making fun of his best friend’s orphan, a girl who trusted him absolutely and took him at face value, and for that, the boy candidly admitted to himself, Che was thoroughly deserving of hatred.
“We want to find K’tarr,” he said as insolently as he dared, but hastily changed his mind, adding, “Sir.” Reseda Che was six feet tall and sturdily built.
At once, iron-strong fingers caught Ben by the face, and he was unwillingly turned toward the light of the doorway, wincing as the sharp nails bit into his cheeks.
“All Kenobi,” whispered Reseda, studying him closely, “and all Templar. So hasty. Ben Owenson Kenobi, that is now how a Sentinel doe business. First we exchange news. It is polite for you to slip in the real purpose of the meeting at this point. Then the men discuss what you want and why I should give it you. If I am satisfied, I tell you all I know about your quarry, including where it can be found. Did your Master not teach you this?”
“No,” Ben managed through his cruelly squeezed mouth.
Releasing him abruptly, the Twi’lek snapped, “Well! I have no dealings with children, and… if I am to hand over one of my fellows to the Senate’s retrievers, I would meet the man to whom I betray him. Milady,” the tone did not change, but Ben could feel the mockery. “Would you do a small service for me? Would you run on your lovely feet and bid your Master hither? That way,” he went on, addressing Ben, “I can tell all of you the directions at once and save both time and the risk of two silly children garbling the message. Forcespeed to thee, Kaliu,” he dismissed her. “I shall remain to teach your friend the ways of the Sentinels. For you know, and he had better know if he’s going after K’tarr.” Nasriel stalled until Nasriel sent her away with a kiss on the forehead and a firm command, and then raced away down the muddy street, little splashes of water leaping from the ground and rippling down again at every step.