On we go. Something sweet and easy to swallow today, I think, because some of us are following Growing Pains and… well, we could use the spoonful of sugar after Chapter 54 of that.
It took three days for Bant to pronounce Ben well enough to travel – three days for frantic catching upon Council memos for Obi-Wan, and scores of circuits of the perimeter running track for Nasriel, whose friends were all either sick or at war. On the third day, all three managed to escape prior commitments to debates, medcenter solicitousness, and utter boredom, and met in the dojo.
“We’ll try something a little different today,” Obi-Wan announced when they were all together in the center of the deserted, ringing hall. It was noon, and oddly, even the spectators’ galleries hung empty. “You two against me. Any style you like. Take a minute to confer on tactics – but think twice about teamwork. First strike wins a copy of the new Greatest Corellian Hero holovid.”
Withdrawing to a corner of the dojo, Ben whispered to Nasriel, “Work together and share the holo?”
“You’re on. And…. look, no Ataru, he’s too good at defending from that. Not a month ago he sprained my ankle fielding a kick I bet even Master Windu would have had trouble with. What about we start together and work around so we’re on opposite sides? Even Master Obi-Wan can’t deal with an opponent on each side.”
“Yeah.” Ben grinned, and held out his hand. “Friends, Witch?”
Shaking it solemnly, Nasriel agreed, “Exeno v exenu. Brother-and-sister.”
They went back to Obi-Wan, lightsaber hilts in hands.
“Ready?” The blue lightsaber shimmered forth, and the blue eyes behind it regarded them watchfully.
“Ready,” assured Ben, and violet and green appeared together. Then the duel was on. At first, the two Padawans fought shoulder to shoulder, a Makashi-Soresu double-act reminiscent of Unduli and Offee’s elegant style, but not hard to meet – certainly easier than even only six training remotes, which was the usual number for any rank above junior Padawan.
Obi-Wan defended without seeming to expend much energy or concentration, but his eyes darted from one expressionless face to the other, trying to work out their strategy. In the course of a few experimental sallies, he learned that his opponents had no interest in cornering him, and only a mild preference to remain in the center of the dojo.
After a few minutes, the Padawans slacked off, just a little, and exchanged a glance. Now. Drifting apart, they abandoned their perfect sync, Ben keeping Soresu and his place, Nasriel taking Makashi and gradually working her way around Obi-Wan so that he was always exactly between them.
A faint smile crossed the Master’s face as he saw the children’s plan. By then, of course, it was too late to do anything but weather the storm, try to conserve his energy, and delay the inevitable. It was Ben who eventually darted forward, in a moment when Obi-Wan was occupied in every nerve by a swift double-change attack from Nasriel, and touched the edge of his ‘saber to Obi-Wan’s side.
“Sai tok!” he shouted in triumph. “We win.”
“You do indeed,” the Master acknowledged ruefully. “The holo’s in my cloak pocket.” He waved one hand in the general direction of the row of cloak-hooks at the dojo door. “Well, Nasriel, it looks like we both lost.”
“Oh, no!” Nasriel laughed, with a good imitation of surprise. “It’s called teamwork, Master. We agreed to share the prize.” An idea struck her, and the smile on her lips twisted shrewdly. “That was the point of this duel, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. I was curious to see whether you’d work together when it wasn’t in your best personal interests. You both pass. Now go pack, we’ll leave for Lahsbane tonight.”
By the time they arrived, it was dusk, and blue shadows thickened slowly around the collection of huts and tents forming the current location of Chu’unthor, the base of the wandering Altistian sect. Djinn Altis greeted Obi-Wan as a respected equal who just happened to disagree with him on a minor point or two – in fact the Council had declare the Altistians heretical – Ben as an interesting and probably friendly stranger… and Nasriel as a long-lost child.
Clapping her on the shoulder almost hard enough to topple her, he said with disproportionate gentleness, “I’m glad to see you, Kal. Sorry to hear about young Jados. That has to be hard.”
“I’m fine,” Nasriel told him. “Really. I’m even happy, how about that?”
“That’s good, that’s good. What, you’re Temple now, you don’t care for old friends? Gree and Wawa are here, go on and find them.”
As Nasriel hurried away between flimsy buildings into the gathering dusk, Altis said more seriously to Obi-Wan, “Now, what’s all this about? I’ve been told of a murder, and the involvement of the Del Gormo blades – Gree’s just in from Malastare – but she only knows a little. Tara is always discreet.”
“I wish she had been more so,” Obi-Wan complained stiffly.
“Oh, we’re all family here. Listen, Kenobi, I get the idea our Witch is in more trouble than she knows. Perhaps more than you know.”
“She is. So far nobody official knows she’s alive, but as soon as that changes, she’s at the mercy of the Chancellor. And I fear mercy is a quality he is distinctly lacking in. Bluntly, I am afraid for her.”
“I see.” Altis said to Ben, “Lad, run along and find your friend, eh? See if you can get introduced to a good sparring partner.” When Ben, at Obi-Wan’s insistence, had obeyed this transparent hint, Djinn Altis continued, “You – Kenobi, are you all right? You’re carrying a lot, with the war, and the seat on the Council… and the kids.”
“I’ll get by. I’m just tired.”
“Stay with us a few days, get some rest. If you want information on the Del Gormo Air ‘saber, you’ll have to wait until Suri gets home. I mean, the blade’s here, but he’s the one to ask about it. Call it a furlough – if you don’t mind associating with heretics.”
“I just spent three days at the Temple,” Obi-Wan protested half-heartedly.
“Ah, but you were working, weren’t you?” The older man chuckled. “Got you there. Look, it’s late. Well, by our standards. Go and get some sleep, you look like you could use it. Corri!” He summoned a small H’Vong girl. “See if there’s room somewhere for three more. Take Master Kenobi with you.”
“Nasriel and Ben -”
“I’ll have them found and sent along. Go with Corri. Go on, humor an old heretic, just this once.”
“Wait. Did you say Air was here? But that’s impossible! That’s -”
“I also said wait for Suri,” Altis reminded mock-sternly. “Go away and rest, you need that even more than clues. Tomorrow is another day.”
There was a room spare at the end of one of the long huts – as Corri rather tactlessly put it, “Well… Foz and I were moving in with Gree anyway, so it’s spare as of three minutes ago.”
It had been pitch dark for over an hour before Ben and Nasriel crept in, giggling in whispers about – it seemed – everything that occurred to them, but still trying to be a silent as possible while they unrolled sleeping mats and blankets that had been tossed into a corner. Feigning sleep, on his mat along the far wall, Obi-Wan noted with grim humor that one of the few things that failed to occur to them was the fact that under ordinary circumstances it is not possible to enter a room where a Jedi is sleeping without waking him at some level. After a while, Ben and Nasriel had evidently arranged things to their liking, for the movement, and then the whispering, petered out, and all three Jedi slept.
It didn’t last long. A very little after midnight, Obi-Wan woke, suddenly, not even sure why. But as his senses began reporting back, he found out.
“Master Obi-Wan? Are you awake?” A clear sibilant whisper.
When he replied, he attempted to inject civility into general grogginess, though Force knew why, the Padawan was the one being irritating. “Yes, Nasriel, I am now awake.”
“I have to talk to you.”
That surprised him. “What, now?”
She hesitated, but only for a second. Although it was too dark to see, Obi-Wan felt fairly confident she was reaching to rub the pendant of her necklace, then snatching away her hand with a conscious effort as she remembered it wasn’t there anymore.
“Yes, now. I have to ask you four questions.” Dear Force, she’d planned this.
“Was are you awake the first? No, I know it wasn’t, go on.”
“One: May I please ask you a question using your…” she pronounced the word carefully. “She’iil name? I want to be absolutely certain you don’t try making something up to spare my feelings. I’ve got an idea you would if I let you.”
“You may. Second question?”
“On the Red Robin,” Nasriel began formally, “when you came to visit me in the brig, as you were leaving, you called me brat. Specifically, you said, goodnight, brat. Ae’enn Narshala, why did you call me a brat?”
“I wasn’t thinking,” Obi-Wan began uncomfortably. “I thought you were asleep… I didn’t think you’d take offense.”
“Didn’t you really?” retorted Nasriel, a bite of sarcasm to her tone. “You astound me. It seems you were doing a lot of thinking. But you still haven’t answered the question.”
So he had hurt her, then, badly. Steeling himself, Obi-Wan said rapidly, before he changed his mind, “It’s what Qui-Gon used to call me when I’d gotten into trouble but he wanted me to know he wasn’t angry with me.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, Master. I misjudged you. Will you forgive me?”
“Was that the third question?” he teased. “Nothing to forgive. Go on, I count there are still two.”
“Third question: On your homeworld, where does the honor-name come from? I mean, who gives it?”
“Usually the father. If he’s a long way away or dead, an older brother or uncle. Never a woman, for some reason. Next.”
“Would you have any objection to giving me such a name? Because I’ve got something on both of you, and you’ve nothing on me. I’d like to be on an even footing, if you don’t mind.”
This was more serious. “I’ll have to talk it over with Ben.”
Apparently, Nasriel nudged the sleeping boy with her foot, because he sat up at once. “Hey, what’s up?”
Obi-Wan explained in rapid and idiomatic Shendi, and Ben replied, only a little slower, in the same language. After a brief further discussion, Obi-Wan switched back to Basic and turned to Nasriel.
“No objections. We think there must be a tradition for Jedi in this family to be named for the original Ae’enn Narshala in some way, so the Ae’en part is non-negotiable.”
“One n makes it feminine,” Ben put in. “How does Ae’en Te’ruis strike you?”
“It’s pretty,” Nasriel said doubtfully. “What does it mean?”
“Te’ruis – Peace,” Obi-Wan translated. “All right? I’d suggested Kantavali, destiny, but Ben didn’t think you’d like that so much.”
“Well. That’s your fourth question answered. Now, Ae’en Te’ruis, go to sleep. And if you think of any more questions, ask them in the morning.”
And peaceful quiet returned. For the time being.