Many thanks to FanFiction.net’s ruth baulding for the loan of Chakora Seva: he’s worth his weight in glitterstim!
A Week Before Solstice, or, The Ghost of Christmas To Come.
In midwinter on Coruscant, although the temperature rarely dropped much below freezing, it still grew cold enough that most Padawans in their right minds would do almost anything to avoid having to run the two kilometers around the outer wall of the Temple. Due to the popularity of this exercise as a consequence for any of a long list of transgressions, midwinter was generally tranquil and untroubled by too many unusual pranks.
Of course, as with any general rule, there were exceptions. Some Padawans ran the perimeter a few times a day for the sheer joy of it – these were regarded with bewilderment by their agemates, on account of apparently inexplicable conduct, and exasperation by their Masters, on account of necessitating more inventive disciplinary measures.
One of these Padawans was Nasriel Threeb.
As a result, “Master Jinn used to say, he whose tongue runs in the present will find his feet running many laps around the Temple perimeter in future,” a comment Obi-Wan frequently made to Anakin and later to Ben, was a comment Nasriel agreed with wholeheartedly but found utterly unmenacing.
On one particular morning, a week before the winter solstice, she came back to the quarters at dawn, out of breath, glowing with cold and exercise, and with the first snowflakes of the winter in her hair.
Ben shivered. “I don’t understand how you can go running around out there with no cloak on every morning. Ugh.”
“I don’t understand how you can stagnate in here until hours after dawn, so we’re square on that one.” She glanced across the orderly room, noticing the oddly uncluttered table, and that their Master’s door was firmly closed and keyed shut, and frowned. “Is Master Obi-Wan gone already? Ye blue Wild Space, I thought surely even in a war the Council doesn’t meet this early.”
“Actually,” whispered Ben conspiratorially, “he’s still asleep. It’s a week before Winter Solstice: nothing happens early in the morning at this time of year.”
Nasriel’s frown cleared. “Is it really? Oh, of course.” She explained awkwardly, “I’d forgotten what date it was – this project I’ve got going in the Archives is taking over my life right now.”
“Uh-huh.” Ben nodded sagely. “When was the last time you remembered to have anything to eat, you photosynthetic half-Saalisan?”
Brushing droplets of melted snow irritably out of her hair, Nasriel considered the question. She eventually resorted to counting on her fingers. “Sometime last week, I think. Or maybe the week before. I know it was just after the debacle with that damnable sonnet. And it was before Master Pakkra started raising hells about the smoke in the eastern corridor.”
“That,” groaned Ben, “was nearly two weeks ago. Your friend Murcrey blamed Zait for it.” He took Nasriel firmly by the collar. “You. With me. Breakfast. Now.”
In the refectory, the two current Kenobi Padawans met the one former such, made polite small-talk about Captain Rex and the 501st, and escaped as soon as was tactful to join an uproarious gaggle of Padawans in the far corner, practically the only beings there.
Foxtan Dhub, a young Nautolan Knight recently back from a mission, was quietly regaling as many as could find places at the table with stories of the unusual – and to judge by the stifled laughter hilarious – customs of the Karori people. Momentarily forgetting breakfast, Nasriel and Ben wriggled in between Telcontir Leannen and Sima Orezna. Ben’s friend Zait Sterolb smiled shyly and squirmed further along the bench to make room for him. That she accidentally forced Elimyo Zahani off the end and onto the floor was of minor consequence: no doubt Elimyo had calmly displaced a smaller child to get that seat anyway. Only half of the assembled Padawans actually had anything to eat. The remainder, consisting of those who could not be troubled getting up, “borrowed” bits of bread and fruit and sneaked sips of caf from their neighbors. Naturally enough, this resulted in whispered recriminations from the victims, and peremptory orders to shut up and listen from the unaffected.
On seeing Nasriel, Foxtan hailed her as a long-lost friend. “Ah, Jiron’s Witch.” He twitched his head curiously from side to side as if looking for something. “A Knight so young, or still under orders from Koon the Mask?”
Nasriel replied evenly, “Master Plo Koon has not lifted the ban on braids for those frequently in the laboratory, no. Oh, thanks, Elimyo,” she added, deftly catching the bread roll her friend tossed her from across the table. “Get one for Ben?”
Reaching into the basket on the countertop behind him, Elimyo snatched another roll, much to the annoyance of a nearby serving droid, and flung the bread in Ben’s general direction. “There. Go on, Foxy, you were talking about Solstice customs.”
“It being so seasonal,” added Sima with a breathy half-chuckle.
“Go away if you’re going to make that horrible noise,” grumbled Foxtan. “Hi, Kenobi – oh, sorry, it’s Ben, of course, we’ve not been introduced. Anyway. Your Master’s after you. Over there. Hide or face the music?” He waved one hand carelessly in the direction of the main doorway, and Ben slipped out of the crowd to look across the refectory. Brusquely detaching himself from Anakin, Obi-Wan seemed to be looking for somebody.
Two somebodies, Ben surmised, and wondered which of Foxtan’s suggestions would be the safer to follow.
“We’ve not done anything,” Nasriel hissed in her fellow Padawan’s ear, “so we’re safe.”
Obi-Wan surveyed the chaotic cluster of Padawans without emotion, only remarking mildly, “There are other tables.” In reply to Telcontir’s amiable grimace, he added, “And I only need to find two of you.”
When the required two appeared, Ben willingly and Nasriel forcibly extricated, Obi-Wan said sternly, “Master Pakkra has been asking me what you two do in your spare time. He has concerns about your tunics in connection with paint” – pointing to Ben, “and frequently occurring, utterly irremediable chemical stains” – pointing to Nasriel, “and you are going to come with me now to explain to him.”
“Yes, Master.” Nasriel added a moment later, “Foxy, shut up, this is not funny.”
Fortunately for Foxtan, his disagreement with this statement was not voiced until after Obi-Wan had firmly escorted both Padawans out of reach.
Ben rubbed nervously at the beads on his braid, long enough now to lie against his tabards instead of merely brushing them. He stopped abruptly as he caught Nasriel gazing wistfully at the strand, the unmistakable symbol of his position as a Jedi. The symbol her talent for chemistry forbade her to wear. Thrusting his hands out of temptation’s way in his cloak pockets, Ben mumbled an apology. He knew well enough what it was like to be the only one of your agemates without a braid.
“It’s all right,” Nasriel whispered. “I know who I am. And anyway,” she added, nearly hugging herself with excitement, “I’m making myself one I can clip into my hair and wear outside the laboratory. Only -” her shoulders dropped. “Only I’ve not got a bead for the end, and it’s not quite right without. And you’re not supposed to choose the beads yourself. That’s a Master’s place.”
Not understanding quite where the problem lay, “Well, ask Master Obi-Wan for one, then,” Ben said reasonably.
“I can’t,” moaned Nasriel, stealing a furtive glance ahead to check that their Master was not listening. “It would just sound so silly: he knows I’m not allowed to wear a braid.”
“So explain,” retorted Ben shortly. “And don’t be such a worry-wampa.”
“A worry-what?” Nasriel choked momentarily, then regained her composure. “I am not either worrying. I’ll start worrying if I can’t get back to the Archives today, though,” she added uneasily. “Kijé found the last few books I needed for my project, but he can only hold them for one day.”
“What is this damnable project, anyway?” grumbled Ben. “Oh, that project. Stow it, Witch, we’re here and we’re in deep chosski if we can’t think of excuses.”
Master Pakkra, responsible for the stores, was not amused. “Hydrochloric acid, forsooth. Padawan Threeb, over-garments are dispatched to the laboratory as acceptable substitutes for everyday tunics. On these you may spill what chemicals you please. And what was the other name you said?”
“Trimethylpentane, Master Pakkra. It’s a part of speeder fuel. I didn’t mean to set the splashes alight as well,” Nasriel pleaded. “That truly and honestly was an accident. I meant to light the bits in the beaker.”
“Hm. I can see why Master Koon decreed no braids. That way we can all see at a glance who the troublemakers are.” He smiled slightly. “Not that I think it would occur to you to cause trouble outside the laboratory corridor. Just keep it all there, hey?”
“It is better to meet mischief head on than to vainly strive to contain it, right, Master Obi-Wan?” Ben quoted, fully aware that the wisdom of Chakora Seva was often the best escape route from a difficult situation.
“Indeed. Master Pakkra, are you satisfied that no damage was intended? If so I had better cause these young mischief-mongerers to meet each other head on, safely contained in the dojo, rather than vainly strive to keep them out of trouble elsewhere.”
On the way to the dojo, Obi-Wan mused, “I’m positive Anakin never caused this many explanations…”
“There’s only one of Master Skywalker,” Nasriel pointed out. “And he certainly offered pride no opening.”
“Every advantage is in itself a weakness,” the Master countered. “And the weakness in the advantage of your familiarity with Master Seva is that you will now have to quote that saying in its entirety.”
“He who lacks special skill offers pride no opening,” sighed Nasriel, “for his armor is ignorance.” Sensing what the next comment would be, she hastily added, “I apologize for my disrespect to your former Padawan, Master.”
“Splendid. You can go tell him so and then meet Ben and me at the dojo.”
That which is given has both a smiling and a scowling aspect, Nasriel grumbled to herself as she trudged along the corridors to Anakin’s quarters. Master Obi-Wan seemed to delight in using his scowling face today. Ask Master for a bead for your braid – Huh!