Many thanks – as usual! – to Erin, this time for advice regarding Shendi customs and language.
“Hi – hi, Master. Sorry I’m late – I forgot – to tell you -” Nasriel was one of the worst Padawans in the Temple for running in the corridors, and it did not look as if that was about to change today, as she skidded around the last corner into the hallway, only just stopping herself from crashing into the wall.
Obi-Wan had stepped prudently back into the quarters. “Well, you’re here now. Why you weren’t when I specifically told you to be is immaterial.” Studying his Padawan’s rather disheveled appearance, he added, “Where were you?”
“I kind of – there was a problem with -” Out of breath from running halfway across the Temple, Nasriel seemed to find difficulty in collecting her thoughts. “There was a little argument in the dojo spectators’ gallery and… well, it wasn’t actually my fault, Master, but I sorta… and nothing really got broken, but Master Windu… hey, is something bad wrong that only the Council knows about yet? ‘Cause he was really stressed… okay, so remember how you were teaching me that thing the other week?”
That thing? “Which thing? I’ve taught you many things.”
“That thing Master Piell taught you years ago, with Force-throwing, like how to do it really hard. ‘Do it like you mean it’, you said. Well. I didn’t mean to, but Sinsin Korey was slightly furious and also like right there and I got a little worried, so…”
Ah. That thing. “Where did you throw him to?”
“Um… the dojo floor, Master. And Master Windu was quite unhappy about that because Sinsin was concussed for maybe a teeny little minute, and he – Master Windu, I mean – thought the whole thing was totally my fault, so he told me off and – gee skeg, and here I thought you could be pretty icy! – and he kinda shut me in one of the Force-blocked cells in the lower levels. He said he wanted me out of his hair, and I laughed, and I guess that didn’t help. That was just after noon and he forgot all about me, so I was sitting there in the dark for eight hours doing mental math and trying not to go actually barvy, because I couldn’t feel the Force and couldn’t meditate or anything, and it feels like being dead.” Nasriel finally ran out of both breath and conjunctions.
“I see. I had hoped to show you some of the tai vordrax techniques you didn’t know, but perhaps not tonight. Advanced tricks on top of eight hours’ Force deprivation would be a little much, I fancy.”
“Barium chloride… two of those mean there have to be three of those, so… three and one-tenth grams… oh, and the temperature should be…”
“Nasriel, stop that. Think quietly or work in your room.”
“Oh. Yes, Master.” Nasriel bent back over her notebook, but a few minutes later was murmuring again, “T’Varel fess lu pyn natazal, mikravt v rashl… how many syllables… Ae’enn Narshala…” Suddenly she flung down her pencil and asked directly, “What really happened at Zigoola?”
Although Obi-Wan flinched slightly at the question, his reply was even. “Refuse to speak.”
“What? I mean, I beg your pardon, Master?”
Realizing Nasriel didn’t understand the implications of what she’d said, Obi-Wan explained, “It’s Shendi law. By using that name, you gave me two options: tell you the entire, unveiled, untwisted truth at once, or refuse to speak at all.”
“Really?” Nasriel laughed. “I didn’t mean it like that at all! Actually…” the pencil described a rueful circle in the air. “I was trying to write a poem.” The pause following these words lasted barely a heartbeat before she asked, “Do you mean to say I can make you do something, I can make you tell me the truth?”
“You can. But as a Jedi you will rightly perceive that as an abuse of trust. An abuse of power, if you like, because trust is a form of power.”
“I give you my word, Master, I would never -”
“I don’t want your word. I want you to understand who you are. Now is as good a time as any to remind you.” Obi-Wan paused for a moment, fixing Nasriel with a steely gaze until she was forced to look away. “You are a Jedi. You are bound by a stricter code of honor than any being outside the Order, except perhaps the Chancellor, and you must – you must – keep within it or be damned indeed. And in word by much of the Galaxy. That is partly my fault. The war and the HoloNet being what they are, it is not possible for you to be my Padawan and avoid attention, so you and Ben are more visible than many of your friends. On the whole, though, publicity entirely aside, you owe it to yourself to be irreproachable. Could you sleep easy knowing you weren’t all a Jedi should be?”
Nasriel’s sharp teeth showed for an instant in a wicked grin. “Why, yes, Master. I can sleep anywhere.”
“That is not the point. The point is that you are a Jedi and I – and the rest of the Galaxy – expect you to behave like one. I should not need your word. I should be able to know you will always act from the very highest motives. If you have to give me your word that you will behave honorably regarding one small issue, then that says volumes, all of it scathing, about how you mean to behave in other matters. Do I make myself clear?”
Chastened, Nasriel whispered, “Yes, Master. Thank you,” and turned back to her work as before. But now she was silent.
The blessed peace lasted nearly half an hour before it was rudely smashed by a persistent hammering sound on the hallway door. Regretfully setting down his book, Obi-Wan listened attentively. Far too hard and slow to be knocking, the sound was evidently produced by somebody kicking the door. An image floated uninvited into Obi-Wan’s mind: an image of a wry face framed in unruly dark hair and marked with tribal tattoos. Glancing up, he saw his Padawan raise her head to meet his eyes, willing him to acknowledge her silent query.
“Yes, Nasriel, it is Master Vos. You’d better go work in your room.” Not raising his voice, Obi-Wan turned to address the door. “Technology has advanced somewhat, Quinlan. Try using the keypad instead of brute force.”
The door swished open before he finished speaking, and Quinlan Vos swirled into the room, effectively halting Nasriel by a tight grip on her cropped hair, before she could vanish into her room. “Whoa, whoa, not so fast, blue. What, Obi, you think I want to talk to you? No way.” Catching the girl’s hand, he slapped a lightsaber into her palm. “Whose?”
“What?” Helplessly, Nasriel looked to her Master for counsel.
“Not what,” corrected Quinlan. “I know what, it’s a ‘saber, I asked whose. It got left behind in the dojo when your crowd were the last kids in. And as I have no clue which of my friends have been cursed with the rest of that gang of urchins, I thought it high time to pay a visit to the exalted Master Kenobi. I ask again: to whom does this belong?”
“It’s mine,” Nasriel said. “Thank you. I didn’t realize I’d left it.”
“No, it isn’t,” Quinlan insisted. “Here, Obi, look.” Plucking the lightsaber from the Padawan’s unresisting fingers, he flung it haphazardly across the room, confident that his friend would divert the path of the missile and neatly catch it. Which he did.
Having looked the weapon gravely over, Obi-Wan observed, “I only know of one lightsaber with a gilded pommel and green leather grips. It’s all right, Quinlan, Nasriel’s had this for as long as I’ve known her. Longer, I daresay.”
“But it’s not hers,” the Kiffar Master replied dogmatically. “There’s stuff in the deep imprinting that’s older than any of us three. Nasriel… I’m not asking you to tell me anything. And I understand that you wouldn’t want to ‘fess up with me here. But…” Quinlan nodded toward Obi-Wan. “He saved your life once, kid. And he’s your Master besides. Tell him the truth.”
“It is mine,” Nasriel pleaded. “Master Obi-Wan, you believe me, don’t you?”
“I’m afraid I can’t. I would very much like to believe that you would not lie to me, but Master Vos is right. This is far older than any of us. Do you remember what I said about honor? Telling the truth – always, always being honest – is part of that. If you prefer, Master Vos can leave, but I require you to tell me: did you find this somewhere, or…” for a long moment, Obi-Wan paused, wrestling inwardly with the fact that there was another possibility. “Did you steal it?”
“No!” The outraged reply burst from the girl’s lips with more than a faint promise of tears. “I’ve stolen before, Master, and I’ve never hidden that from you. I told you before you even had to ask, remember? I stole food, when ‘Roni and I were on the road, broke, and I’d been starving for weeks. But a lightsaber? You know me. I hope you know me better than that. I wouldn’t steal anything valuable, for sure never something I could make for myself. I swear.”
“Oh, no, naturally,” agreed Quinlan sarcastically. “Would you care to tell us, then, just exactly where you did get this non-stolen lightsaber?”
Nasriel dropped abruptly into lotus position on the floor, closed her eyes, and began dreamily to recite the long-memorized story. “‘Many years ago, a Jedi Master named N’Kata Del Gormo had two Padawans. One of these was named Yoda, and the name of the other has been lost in the mists of time, but it is known that he was also the founder of a Jedi dynasty. Alas, from that lineage came none so great as from his companion’s pupils.’”
Blinking her eyes open, Nasriel grinned, “That’s your line Lusien means there, Master,” and went on evenly, “‘It happened that Master Gormu foresaw this outcome, and willed that his lightsaber with the blade as true and green as a blade of grass and as bright as the Living Force’ – Master Jinn would have liked that bit – ‘was to be given by each Master of the lesser line to his first Padawan. This was the wish of the great N’Kata Del Gormo, and it is honored to this very day.’ Now comes my part, where I always have trouble remembering how many generations to count. ‘Lusien Gorixo my Master’s Master was once the Padawan of Master Del Gormo’s Padawan’s… Padawan three generations removed,’ I think. You understand what I mean, don’t you, Master?”
“No,” said Quinlan bluntly. “You’re meant to build your lightsaber yourself, not inherit it.”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan replied. “I understand.” Nasriel gladly returned his slight, mysterious smile, knowing that he did understand their shared secret, and did see why her lightsaber was so valuable to her as a memory of a bygone – a more carefree – time. “I understand, but I’m afraid Master Vos is right again. It’s best that you don’t keep that lightsaber. I’m sorry, Nasriel. I know what it means to you, but that’s how life is.”
A curious compound of abstraction and bitterness drenched the Padawan’s reply. “Let me tell you about life, youngling,” she quoted. “Life sucks and then you die. It’s – it’s okay, Master, I knew this had to happen sooner or later. May I be excused to go away and read now?” When assent was given, she uncurled herself and slipped silently away, leaving her lightsaber on the table.
In the morning it was still there, but Nasriel had risen early and gone out before dawn. Obi-Wan had more important things to do than search for a Padawan in an unseemly sulk, such as informing Yoda that the ancient treasure once believed lost had been located, explaining how it was that he hadn’t noticed it before, and agreeing that the best place for N’Kata Del Gormo’s lightsaber was in a safe-box in the Archives.
It was late day before he caught so much as a glimpse of Nasriel, hastening furtively out of the Archives just as he entered to hand over for safekeeping the weapon that had caused all the trouble. With that came more documentation than even the Great Negotiator had though could possibly be necessary: it seemed that as soon as each question was answered, the inscrutable green-eyed Archive assistant would produce another, which of course would have to be filed, and then prove to lead to yet another detail he’d forgotten. As a result, Obi-Wan found himself with no time between leaving the Archives, and sunset, to locate Nasriel, much less find out where she had been all day.
The twilight seeped grayly through the high windows of the dojo, dipping the edges of the broad chamber in dusk, and washing the center in dull silver. Through the stillness sang a soft humming sound, changing in pitch and dancing through every note of the scale in turn, as a pale beam of violet light swept slowly, almost awkwardly, through a kata, darting around but never illuminating the shadowy figure of its wielder.
For two minutes – three minutes – Obi-Wan stood watching, until the purple blade abruptly vanished, and the slender silhouette of the swordsman crumpled to the floor. A clatter over by one wall heralded where the lightsaber had been hurled, and then silence reigned in the dojo. Obi-Wan turned to leave, unwilling to further humiliate a gawky young Padawan by letting them know of a witness to their clumsiness – and a member of the High Council at that. Before he could vanish as unobtrusively as he had appeared, though, a voice, choked with tears, whispered his name.
“Master Kenobi… oh, dear Force.” The voice was not talking to him. “He’ll be so disappointed. I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it!”
“You need not. Not alone, at any rate,” he said quietly into the fast-gathering dusk. “Will you tell me what is wrong?”
“Who’s there?” snapped the Padawan, springing to its feet. “I can’t see you.” The young Jedi made as if to leave through one of the other doors before he could learn its identity, but it was already to late for that.
“It’s only me, Nasriel. What am I going to be so disappointed about?”
“I – oh.” In an instant, Nasriel was on the defensive. “Dear Force, why are you always creeping up on me?”
“What’s wrong?” Obi-Wan persisted.
“You’ll see sooner or later, Master. Sooner’s fine. I’m no good with another ‘saber. I mean, I can hold it together – just – it works, but… you know, ‘the blade is the heart of the Jedi’. It sounds kind of melodramatic, but it’s true: it was Master Del Gormo’s blade that was this Jedi’s heart.”
“Then whose did you just fling across the dojo?”
“Oh. That’s Kijé’s. He said I might as well have it, for it’s no use to him now. Unfortunately it’s no use to me either; it’s not mine, if you see what I mean.”
While seeing precisely what she meant, Obi-Wan did not quite see the reason for his Padawan’s distraction. “That’s easily remedied.”
“How?” Nasriel begged. “It’s not like I can go to Ilum and build a new one: I can’t. The caves were destroyed in the battle last year.”
“Well, Halm, then.”
“Sector J-16. It’s another crystal planet. We can leave tomorrow, but in the meantime, you’ll come home. No more sleeping in the Archives when you’re upset.” This time he did leave the dojo, not looking back, as though expecting Nasriel to dart to the far wall, retrieve Kijé’s lightsaber, then turn to scurry after him. Which she did.