Know how it is when you’ve got a story, and just need to find out how to get it on the page? This is one of those. We’re back in the usual Galaxy, by the way. In the end I had to resort to disguising it as a radical experiment – second person and future tense both in one story – to get it down.
Written using a book carton as a desk, while my life is packed up around me. Published using a suitcase as a desk, while my life waits to be unpacked. It’s good to have another universe to retreat to when times get rough. Possibly I’ve overestimated the merits of this story, but enough preamble. I’ll leave it to you to decide.
Perhaps, when it is all over, you will go to live on Tatooine, to watch over Luke. You will learn to love the bleak openness of the sand dunes, learn how Anakin could have been homesick for this place, where the Force flows unchecked. Without even noticing, you will sometimes spend days at a time in a trance, and relish your newfound loneliness.One day, you will return from a long walk, and as you approach your hut on the edge of the Dune Sea, your heart will stand still in terror, for a stranger will be waiting for you on the threshold. He will be holding something in his hand, and, drawing closer, you will recognize it as the lightsaber, Anakin’s lightsaber that you will have been keeping for Luke, and you will see that your door is open. You will not have left it open.
The stranger will not truly be a stranger, but someone who you had almost forgotten. You will recall dimly that he was a friend – perhaps the closest friend – of your long-dead Padawan, Nasriel Threeb, who you will never be able to forget. Although her face will be beginning to fade in your memory, you will still remember her voice. That voice will remind you sharply that this boy – now a man – invading your solitude is named Kijé Yenseh. Kijé will smile shyly, as though unsure of his welcome, hand back the saber, and speak, apropos of nothing, with no greeting, like someone continuing a long conversation, not beginning one.
“It’s about the Witch, sir,” he will say, in his old crisp, deferential tones. “I want to marry her.”
“Jedi Padawan Nasriel Kenobi Threeb, onetime Imeltaneska-Kaliu Hrabe, Viscountess Threeb?” you will check, unconsciously repeating the full name with which she will have signed her last letter to you, a letter stained with blood and tears, and more precious to you than any other document in the Galaxy. “She’s dead,” you will say wearily. “She died in battle three years ago at Tebrin.”
“Nasriel was alive two days ago, when I kissed her and told her I would be back soon,” Kijé will inform you, his glass-green eyes watching you steadily. “She works as a chemist in a medcenter. I’m the curator of the medcenter library. We live next door to each other, and I want to marry her.”
You will feel yourself reeling at this news, and Kijé will place his hand on your shoulder. You will notice that he still stands stiffly on his lame leg, still has the same inscrutable expression, but that his face has aged beyond his years. He will look well-travelled, unkempt, with a scruffy beard as if trying to appear older. You will wonder if you looked as hopelessly young when you were twenty-five, trying to do a job meant for a man of thirty, as he does now.
“Why – why are you here?” you will ask, feeling that you should have asked this at the outset.
“Because she insisted I ask your permission. Permission both as her Master, and as the only surviving member of the Council,” he will explain. “We still think of ourselves as Jedi, silly as that might sound.”
“Not remotely silly,” you will assure him. “But what is to prevent you from going back to Nasriel now and telling her I agreed?” You will remember that the Kijé you knew in the Temple was strictly honest, but you will not know what three years running and hiding from the Empire may have done to that honesty.
Kijé will say sheepishly, looking out over the desert and avoiding your eyes, “She said I was to get it in writing, sir.”
In writing. In your own unmistakable, inimitable handwriting. Instantly, you will become suspicious. You will suspect that the request for something written is merely a way of proving Kijé has found you. That he thinks mention of Nasriel will lower your defenses. “How do I know this isn’t a trick?” you will snap. “A way for Palpatine to find me? I know what I’m worth to him. I know what I’m worth to you if you betray me.”
But Kijé will nod, as if this is the most reasonable question you could ask. “She said I should say these words exactly: ‘Ae’en Te’ruis asks if you wear the charm, if you recall the night she stayed with you, and if you recall the sonnet the Countess wrote.’ She said you would understand.”
And you will understand. The question will refer to four different secrets: one known only to four people, two known only to three, and the last a secret kept between yourself and Nasriel. And you will know she is still alive. You will stand in front of your house, in the blazing sunlight of Tatooine, overcome and unable to speak, until at length Kijé will shake you and ask if you are all right.
“Yes,” you will answer. “More so than I have been in a long, long time.” On a scrap of flimsi, you will write two words: you may. You will hand it to Kijé, and ask him to tell Nasriel that you love her. You will want to ask him to tell her much more, but he will be anxious to leave, and nervous lest he be noticed.When he is gone, you will go indoors, and read your Padawan’s last message over again. You will weep for her, one last time. And you will write a letter to her, one that will be burned and never sent. Because it would not be safe for her to be caught with a letter from you. The note giving her leave to marry will be danger enough.
Two years will pass, and you will occasionally wonder if Kijé made it back to Nasriel alive, if he married her, and if they are all right. You will feel confident that his coming was not a trap, for if the Empire had compromised him, you would have been arrested almost at once.
One day, when you venture into town for supplies, a cantina keeper will stop you in the street. “I’ve a message for someone fitting your description,” he will say, and give you an unmarked envelope, which you will open only in the relative safety of your own home.
It will contain a single sheet of paper, with a photograph printed onto it. Smiling at you out of the image, Nasriel will look much as ever, with her sky-blue skin and amber eyes – but her heavy black hair will be far longer, and you will realize you never knew it curled naturally. She will look happy and secure, sitting on a sofa in a shabby apartment, with Kije’s arm around her shoulders, and a silver ring on her left hand. On her lap will sit a child, a little boy about a year old. He will have golden-green eyes and black hair, and almost imperceptible Saalisan markings on his white skin.
Turning the paper over, you will find the brief note Nasriel will have printed in block capitals on the back: “We’ve named our son after you. Love you.” That night, you will fall asleep still studying the photograph, by moonlight, and wondering how the blazes they will get away with calling their baby Obi-Wan.