Second part of Erin’s present. Please note this chapter is based mostly on my own experience: I’ve never had an American – or Coruscanti – Christmas! And I hope it’s not frightfully bad form to include the recipient’s avatar in the story?
Winter Solstice, or, Christmas in the Temple.
The only person wakened by the dawn was Ben. As soon as the first weak rays of the winter sun slipped over the horizon, winking in at his open door through the wide transparisteel door of the balcony and glittering off his tousled auburn hair, Ben sprang up, fully awake in an instant, flung open the sliding portal of the balcony, and leaned over the edge, filling his lungs with the icy air.
Winter Solstice. The words tingled in his mind. A whole day with nothing he had to do, extra-interesting things to eat, and, provided Master Obi-Wan hadn’t completely forgotten about Solstice like he did last year, presents. Yes, it would definitely be a good day.
The pavement below looked a very long way away. In this weather, on this day, Ben was astounded to see somebody already running The Circuit, the tiny blue-faced figure seeming to move comically slow along the wide sweep of wall. Surely, nobody could have annoyed their Master that much this early? Oh. Nasriel. Ben picked up a chip of stone from one of the six or so plant pots on the balcony – Master Jinn’s plants, that had somehow stayed there after his death – and threw it, with a creditable overarm motion, toward the runner, drawing on the Force to lengthen the projectile’s range.
In the clear air of the early morning, Ben faintly heard the stone bounce on the path. The runner stopped, looking back up at the Temple as if working out which window was responsible. Straining his eyes, Ben made out the familiar features of Adi Gallia – and ducked hastily below the parapet, cursing under his breath. Of all the people to chuck rocks at in the early hours of Winter Solstice, while standing on a balcony wearing one’s sleep pants and tunic and little else, Council Member Master Gallia was close to the worst.
Ben retreated hastily into the quarters. Master Gallia might understand, and pass it off as youthful high spirits on Winter Solstice – or then again she might not. He turned the switch of the electric kettle on the tiny countertop in the corner, and began to formulate an alibi for rock-chucking.
Obi-Wan was wakened thirteen minutes after dawn by Ben knocking softly on his door.
“Master Obi-Wan? Are you awake?”
Staring at the ceiling, he asked himself, not for the first time, what had possessed him to take on two Padawans at once, while the last one still only remembered he was a Knight when they were arguing about something. This could be much worse. If I hadn’t been a Jedi, Force forbid, I might have gotten married and had children of my own, Force forbid. You can’t Knight children, you’re stuck with them. “Yes, Ben, I am now awake.”
Ben nudged the door half-open by the Force and slipped into the room, gingerly carrying two steaming cups. “I made you some tea, Master. Can you take this? This is hot. Ouch.” Setting one cup down on the bedside table, Ben smiled, a white gleam of teeth that brought all his dimples out. “Good Solstice, Master.” The smile widened. “Nas isn’t up yet, so I guess I got in first.”
Children. “No, I’m afraid not. Two hours before dawn still counts as Solstice.” Obi-Wan sipped his tea and nodded in approval. Strong, bitter, and unsweetened – perfect. “Not bad.”
“I asked Anakin,” Ben admitted. “He said if I was going to come annoy you before sensible beings were even stirring, I’d better get it right.” Secure in the knowledge that he was not in trouble – at least until Master Gallia tracked him down – Ben sat cross-legged on the end of his Master’s bed, leaning back against the wall. “What happened to keep you two out so late, anyway?”
“A fount of knowledge, is our Anakin. We had gone to find something for Nasriel because I had forgotten, and something for Ahsoka because he had forgotten, and we ran into some of the 501st on shore leave.”
They drank their tea in comfortable silence, savoring the hot, earthy-tasting liquid. Finally Obi-Wan spoke. “I did get you a Solstice gift, but I can’t remember where I hid it.”
“Behind Satele Shan’s Treatise on Ataru,” came the reply, instantly. “You always hide things there.”
“Oh… yes. Yes, that’s right.” The Master waved vaguely at the bookshelf. “Well, since you apparently know where to look -”
Ben had already sprung up and levered the heavy volume off the shelf, to dip one hand into the dark cavity behind. He drew back with a yelp. “Ow. There’s something sharp in there!” Examining the drop of blood welling from a cut finger, he more cautiously looked again, and extracted an unsheathed knife, small and wickedly sharp, the blond wood of the handle carved to resemble a lightsaber hilt. Ben grinned. “Thanks, Master.”
“I saw you eyeing Nasriel’s. Is it all right?”
“Oh yeah.” He was already slicing it through the air, testing the balance – knocking his tea bowl from its precarious place on the edge of the desk, to smash across the floor. “Whoops. At least it was empty.”
“Suit your choice of weapon to your opponent, Ben. The bowl never did anything to you.”
Running his fingers more cautiously up and down the shining blade, Ben slumped back onto the bed. “Chakora Seva. That reminds me, Nas and I’ve got something for you as well, only I can’t get it yet. It’s in her room, because you never threaten to throw half of her stuff away one day when she’s out.”
“Half of her stuff would less than fill one rucksack, Ben, and you know it. Half of yours… I shudder to think. Probably a troopship.”
“Well,” conceded Ben, “you are the expert on troopships.”
“It’s Solstice. Can we forget about the war, just for one day? Oh,” in response to a tap on the half-open door, “is that you, Nasriel?”
Nasriel stuck her head into the room. “Yes, Master; Good Solstice. Good Solstice, Ben. C’n I come in?”
“By all means,” laughed Ben. “Good Solstice, Witch.”
Already dressed, hair wet from washing, Nasriel sidled in, and after a moment’s hesitation, sat on the floor.
Obi-Wan reached under his pillow, then held out his closed hand to Nasriel. “This is yours.”
Uncurling his fingers, Nasriel took the smooth, rounded stone from him, gazing at it in frank curiosity. The sphere of crystal was a deep, rich golden color, with a hole drilled through the center. Finally she looked up at him, brows furrowed in puzzlement. “It’s very pretty, Master, but -”
“It’s a topaz,” Obi-Wan explained. “For your new braid.”
The confusion cleared, replaced by delight as the sun replaces rain clouds. “Thank you so much! It’s perfect.” She was not entirely right, for the blue and green flecks of calcite crystal speckling the bead technically flawed it, but, “They make it much lovelier.”
“Have you got your braid there?”
Nasriel drew from her belt pocket a carefully woven braid of black silk thread, which appeared to differ from a real braid only in that it was missing the markers and tiny beads most Padawans had braided into theirs to commemorate special achievements and events.
Obi-Wan glanced from Ben to the door. Give us a minute, would you?
Standing up, stretching his arms and bringing the knife dangerously close to the bookshelf, Ben said casually, “I’d better go wash – no point wasting the day.” As he left, he slid the door shut.
Nasriel clipped her braid into the short hair on the right side of her head, and Obi-Wan saw with no little amusement that it was at least ten inches too short: five years as a Padawan, at four inches a year, did not equal well above waist-length.
“I was only counting time with Jiron,” Nasriel explained when he pointed it out. “I didn’t want to – to mark Gueca and N’Cai’s years.”
“Refuse to permit evil in the same breath as good, and you defeat it indeed. Your judgment is sound.” He threaded the topaz bead onto the end of the black braid, knotting it securely in place, before flipping the cord forward over the Padawan’s shoulder.
At that moment, Ben rapped irritably on the door. “Witch! Listen, girl, if you must take a cold shower for Force sake turn the temperature up again when you’re done!”
“Whoops.” Nasriel grinned. “Say, Ben -”
On the other side of the door, Ben was not listening. Ahsoka had slammed the quarter door open without stopping to knock, and he found this disturbing, semi-clad as he was in sleep pants. “Tano, please!”
“I think,” Obi-Wan whispered, “I’d better sort this out.”
Anakin beat him to it, though, dragging an indignant Ahsoka, by the belt, backwards out of the room to spare Ben’s blushes. “Scram, Snips. Benny-boy, put a shirt on so she can come back, will you?” As Ben retreated into his room, Anakin called, “Master! You guys coming down this morning or next?”
“Just wait, Anakin!” An idea struck Obi-Wan. “What are the three pillars of the Jedi Way?” It was one of the first questions in the ancient question-and-answer system younglings learned.
“The three pillars are Knowledge, Skill, and The Force,” recited Anakin wearily, “and the foundations on which they rest are Humility, Obedience, and Patience. Ha-ha, very funny, Obi-Wan.”
Nasriel opted to skip breakfast, citing as excuses that she wasn’t hungry anyway, and that she had promised to set up a “stunt” for later in the day, at the chemical laboratory. Ben opted to go with her, on a suspicion that the “stunt” involved interesting comestibles, and the certain knowledge that Master Adi Gallia never went to that level of the Temple, let alone into the labs.
By mid-morning, the lab was a chaotic whirl of activity, and when Obi-Wan extricated himself from Adi Gallia’s suspicious questioning and came to the laboratory wing, it was a few seconds before he could find Ben. A shock of red hair bent over a burner confused him for a split-second, but it was pale pure red and crew-cut, with patterns shaved into it like a clone’s: not Ben, but Telcontir Leannen.
“Master Kenobi!” A Miralian girl, her hair dyed bright green, waved to him from near the ceiling, where she was engaged in fixing an electric light. A shower of sparks, and the light flickered off again. “Try that.”
By the far wall, the door to the chemical store, Ben flipped a switch, and the light turned on. “Yeah, it works, Sima.”
Nasriel emerged from the storeroom. “All right, who was the smart-aleck who hid the vanilla on the metals shelf? Oh, hi, Master.”
There was a strange smell in the laboratory, not chemicals, not soap… burnt sugar. “What is going on in here?”
Several Padawans exchanged sheepish glances, and most of the dozen or so in the room looked expectantly at Nasriel.
“We’re making candy, Master,” she explained after an awkward silence. “To share around the Halls, because it’s Solstice. We do most years. It’s quite safe, we don’t use the lab glassware. Ulex borrows some from the kitchen.”
Obi-Wan looked past her to the gas burner on the countertop. “Quite safe until it catches fire. Your… candy is boiling over.”
Zaina Daemes dived to the rescue, and when the gas was off and the pan clear, poked dismally at the sticky mess firmly adhering to the metal. “Nope, no good. We’ll have to start this one over.”
Sima fetched another pan and started finding ingredients. To the first person she saw, she said absently, “Hi, you, get the sugar, would you? It’s over there, in the tin labeled helium tricarbon cyanide.” She chuckled. “Sounds toxic; it doesn’t exist. You can’t react helium.”
“This tin?” Obi-Wan checked.
“Oh… thanks. I didn’t mean you, sir, but, yeah, thanks.”
Only when all the sugar was used up, and it was nearly time for noon meal, did the Padawans quit making a mess of the lab. On his way out the door, Telcontir Leannen turned to Obi-Wan and said quietly, “With all possible respect, sir, you’re an absolute brick. Anybody else would have shopped us straight to the Council.”
“Oh, shut up, Telc,” sighed Zaina wearily. “Don’t mind him, Master Kenobi, he’s impossible. Nasriel, however -” she draped one arm affectionately over her friend’s shoulder “is just insane.”
“Daemes,” said the so-called insane Padawan coldly, “kindly unhand me at once.”
“Whoah! Y’unemotional young gundark. Master Kenobi, is she always like this?”
“I’m not sure what you mean by always. Nasriel, are you coming?”
Shrugging off Zaina’s arm, Nasriel nodded. “Yes, Master.”
The afternoon was passed sweetly and uneventfully in the dojo, everybody relishing the chance to spar without Cin Draillig correcting their mistakes. It was also discovered that a ball of string, in the hands of so experienced a Force user as Master Kenobi, could easily match every twist and spin of a wooden yo-yo in the hands of his Padawan, even though Master Kenobi could not make the yo-yo work at all and got it into a terrible tangle when he tried.
The dusk gathered early in the winter, and Obi-Wan quietly left the dojo only a few hours after noon. At once, summarily forfeiting a duel, Nasriel vanished as well. She found him, wrapped in his brown cloak and what some call a brown study, leaning against the statue of Chakora Seva in the open colonnade, watching the sunset as he did every evening. Tonight it was unspectacular, for a heavy mist blanketed Coruscant, drowning the sun until it was almost below the horizon. But just as Nasriel scurried across the pavement toward her Master, some strange trick of light flung the last of the sunset into the mist, transforming the clinging grey dreariness into an auburn blaze.
Sighing in rapture, Nasriel tightly folded her arms against the cold. Obi-Wan turned away from the west momentarily to see who was there.
“What are you doing out with no cloak on?” he scolded gently. “You’ll freeze. Come here.”
Nasriel stared at him nervously and shied away. In the all-obscuring mist and lurid golden light, with the color of his hair blending into the clouds, Obi-Wan looked like a strange paintings she had seen at Unamtab; a majestic painting of a fierce and vengeful god. The image had frightened her then, and it frightened her now.
“What is it?” Suddenly the sun’s dying light bled into the mist, the blood of the sun a fiery crimson, banishing the alarming false god, and Obi-Wan gathered her into the rough folds of his cloak. “Better?”
“Mmm.” Nasriel rested her head dreamily against his shoulder. “I like it here.”
Obi-Wan nodded toward the statue behind them. “As Master Seva said, little one, The truest repose is found in wisdom’s arms. But I’ll be there for you as long as I can.”
When the sun slid away, leaving the chilly clouds swirling around the Temple in the twilight, the breeze whistling through the open colonnade grew icier than even Jedi might be expected to endure from choice. Obi-Wan found little enough difficulty in coaxing Nasriel inside. Begging leave to stop by the quarters, she pointed out that although it was full night without, there was still time to spare before evening meal – “And anyway, Ben’ll be waiting for us by now.”
Ben actually arrived at the door at the same time they did. “Hi Master. Witch, listen, I didn’t have time to find it…”
Although her reply to this was exasperated, Nasriel’s demeanor was rather pleased than otherwise, as she slipped into her room to find… whatever it was.
Finally unearthed, “it” turned out to be a small book, bound in heavy grey silk, and bearing no title on its covers. The Nasriel handed shyly to Obi-Wan.
“It’s from her and me,” Ben explained. “She searched it all up and I did the binding and helped copy some of it.”
“Searched…?” Obi-Wan opened the volume to the title page and frowned. “Collected sayings of Master Chakora Seva? This doesn’t exist. There’s no such book.” His expression cleared slightly as he read on. “Collated by N. K. Th. for Master Kenobi. How long did this take you? Master Seva is quoted all over the Archives.”
“A few months,” Nasriel replied candidly. “Most of the quotes are in hard-copy works. Oh, and Kijé said I’d better leave just one out deliberately. You know, because of wisdom cannot be collected and held in one text any more than one may hold the entire wind and sky in a single lungful of breath. So it’s not all in one text so it’s not disrespectful to Master Seva’s wishes,” she finished breathlessly. “I’ve probably missed a few by accident as well. But the one I missed on purpose was the present is only the shadow of the future, and I left a space at the end of the book so you can put that in yourself if you like.”
Obi-Wan flicked through the pages. “It’s calligraphy. You two wrote this all out by hand. Nasriel, Ben, this is beautiful. Oh, I see another you’ve missed.” He smiled slightly, and quoted, “A heart paralyzed by greed must be compelled from without, while a generous nature is moved freely from within. Thank you both very much.”
Seeming uncomfortable with thanks, Nasriel said awkwardly, “Ah, it’s nothing. Hey, I think it must be near meal time.”
In the refectory, they joined Garen, Shaniel, and Siri at a table off in one corner, and Anakin soon appeared with Ahoska in tow.
Not eating anything, Nasriel rested her chin on her hands and looked at the others as if trying to work out a riddle. “You know what we all look like?” she asked at last. “A family.”
“The Force is thicker than blood,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “We are a family.”