Today it’s a different piece of music, and we’re experimenting again. Please read the introduction carefully.
The real-Galaxy version of the story. Thanks to Erin for suggesting it during a tennis match we had some years ago. This is an early-days-era piece. Nasriel was being mildly autistic when we were working on it, and I got frustrated, and… sigh. I’m still not totally sure even Obi-Wan has managed to pull it all back together.
The story has been arranged to fit into the span of time occupied by a deliberately unfamiliar piece of music – assuming reading at an average between my pace (fast) and a friend’s pace (slow). This approach was inspired by Terry Pratchett, none of whose work I have ever read, but they had a quote of his outside the bookstore once: Sometimes words need music too. Sometimes the descriptions are not enough; books should be written with soundtracks, like films.
When you’re ready, press play, then start reading.
Obi-Wan frowned. “Your footwork’s sloppy. You have to feel where to go, Padawan, it’s a dance, not a chemical reaction where A plus B gives C every time.”
“It doesn’t… but anyway, I’m a Jedi Padawan. I don’t dance. I fight.”
A sudden smile illuminated the Council Master’s face. “You think it’s sissy.”
“Well… yeah, now you’ve said it, yeah, I do.”
“I’ll teach you. I think it would help.”
Nasriel swiveled on one heel to gaze pointedly around the dojo. Toward midday, the sunlight cut through the Coruscant smog and blazed in at the high windows of the spectators’ gallery above the dojo floor, a blinding corona on the efforts of the Jedi below toward perfection. It was crowded, but not noisy, despite the small simulated melee starting in one half of the wide expanse of wooden floor.
After Geonosis, several of the Temple’s better swordsmen realized that their as yet untried apprentices would soon have more use for untidy pitched-battle techniques than for the traditional disciplines of dueling and blaster defense, and adjusted training accordingly. The new crop of Padawans coming up neither knew nor cared what their preferred ‘saber form was, so long as it kept them alive. In the face of this new attitude, older Masters, raised in peacetime, worried for the long-term future of the Order, for the dignity and poise that had become integral to the Jedi mystique. Younger Knights, those who had been Padawans themselves until after the Naboo crisis, worried for the Order’s immediate survival. Obi-Wan, falling uncomfortably into the gap between old and young, worried for both.
The Padawans did not often discuss their fears except with each other, but were mostly preoccupied with the future of the Republic as a whole, on the grounds that if the Order fell in saving the Republic and the security of the worlds it comprised, it would not be so much a loss as a huge and noble sacrifice. We are not called to be an Order, or even to be Jedi. We are called to do the will of the Force, whatever that may be, Telcontir Leannen had said once, and half the younger generation had taken the quote to heart.
But in the meantime – “Let me teach you how to dance, Nasriel. Not right now; I’ll meet you in the little dojo below the spire after tonight’s session. Probably about midnight. For now, show me that Sentinel kata you were practicing this morning.”
A Master’s summons superseded a class schedule, and Nasriel, called away from a chemistry lecture, was fidgety and distracted, thinking more about oxidation reactions than the Wandering Moon kata.
“Focus, Padawan!” Obi-Wan snapped. “Where’s your center today?”
“Sorry.” Nasriel sighed, deactivated her ‘saber, aware that at least three people she knew were watching surreptitiously – or not so surreptitiously – from the gallery. And one of them was the Sentinel who had devised the kata she was mangling. “Can I try again?”
“No time. Go on from where you were. But I think in future you’ll keep to Templar kata – this doesn’t seem to have a pattern to it.”
Visiting Sentinel Tzinu Malie vaulted over the gallery rail, landing lightly beside them. “That’s because she’s trying to do it on her own. It’s a two-person kata, Kenobi, I know, I invented it. Here – Witch – I’ll take the Master’s part if you’ll take the Padawan’s. We’ll go from the apogee, okay?”
“Oh, yes!” And the dance began, moving in graceful, regular patterns across the dojo floor, flowing to a strange Sentinel measure counted out by the up-and-down swooping hum of lightsaber blades and the crisp tap of boot-heels against wood. Facing, moving apart, whirling suddenly back with a screaming clash of blades, the kata spun ever faster and more intricate, an elegant dance that, with full-powered lightsabers instead of the dialed-back practice variety, would end in disaster for whichever partner blundered first. The Sentinel philosophy breathed through every figure, the idea that death would come when it was ready, and until then, to the nine-Sith-hells with the danger! Abruptly, both Jedi halted, swung sabers back to the wide-held Niman en-garde stance, and bowed politely to each other, the Wandering Moon returned to its calm center.
Stalking off the dojo floor, the Sentinel called back casually over his shoulder, “Been a while, my Witch. Footwork could use some practice – run the fine-weaving steps a few times to tidy it up.”
Obi-Wan smiled wryly. “Well, the small dojo at around midnight, I think I said?”
“Okay. I’ll meet you there. Force help you if you forget about it this time.”
“Yes, Master. Sorry, Master.”
So it was that when Obi-Wan finally finished debating the proposal to lower the age limit for apprenticeship, he found Nasriel already waiting, sitting cross-legged in a corner of the bare, board-floored room, meditating composedly, spilling coruscating flecks of glitter into the Force. She bowed politely to Obi-Wan, a standard gesture that in this case looked rather surreal, as the usual motion, with arms folded and upper body tilted forward, was performed from the lotus position, so that the brush-tip of the girl’s black braid swept across the floor.
“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting?”
“Oh… not so that I noticed. It’s okay.” Nasriel deftly unfolded herself and stood, as per habit, a little way beyond Obi-Wan’s reach. He wasn’t sure what prompted the practice, and didn’t particularly like to ask, but assumed ancient history of some sort, and decided not to rake it up tonight of all nights. It was early days together yet, and there would be plenty of time for difficult questions. Tonight was about something else entirely – for once, for a few stolen minutes, to have fun. He hoped so, anyway.
“You’re going to have to come nearer. I don’t bite.” Deliberately passing close to the Padawan, he activated an audio file on his datapad, and crossed the room to balance the device precariously on one of the row of hooks in the wall. The file was a recording of a waltz, and Nasriel eyed the datapad with mild hostility.
“If that’s music, Master…”
“Take my hand. Quick, before it gets through the introduction.”
Suddenly decisive, Nasriel took two rapid steps forward, open and trusting, though not without tangible effort. In life, there are times when a handclasp is more than it seems, when heart and soul and total faith are cupped in the palm and transferred at a touch, and this was one such time.
He knew this waltz inside out, note by note and all the interwoven melodies, had first danced to it almost twenty years before, with – but that didn’t matter now. And so it was easy to let the music flow across the tenuous contact-bond for Nasriel. She stiffened as if by instinct at even that light touch, but didn’t pull away, and submitted docilely enough to Obi-Wan’s drawing her toward him and resting his hand lightly across her back.
“And your other hand on my shoulder,” he instructed. “Now, don’t think, and don’t look down, just follow me.”
As usual, Nasriel obeyed, silent and detached, doing exactly as she was told and nothing more, matching steps – getting the general idea of which way to go and the meaning of timing fairly rapidly – but wearily, and as if thinking all along of something else. After a few turns around the shining wooden floor, Obi-Wan had had enough.
“What are you looking at, Padawan? I’m over here.”
She turned her head to regard him, deep resignation in her golden eyes. “Are we almost done? I don’t – I don’t understand this.”
“What don’t you understand?” For a long instant, the music played on ignored, as Obi-Wan waited for an answer.
“I don’t understand what this is about. And… I don’t… I don’t really like being touched.”
Instantly, he released her hand, stepped back, cursing himself for not asking, for not raking up ancient history tonight of all nights. “I’m sorry.”
Nasriel shrugged, awkwardly, arms crossed defensively in front of her, shoulders hunched, feet crossed, as close as possible to curling up and whispering leave me alone without actually doing so. “‘S’okay. You weren’t to know. I’m sorry, I just… don’t get it. Do you… want to try again?” She could not have sounded less enthusiastic about the idea had she tried, but Obi-Wan, for once, elected to ignore the subtext.
“If you don’t mind, of course.” This time around he was more careful, deliberately keeping contact light so Nasriel knew she could get away at any time she chose. And this time, warily, he showed her more than just the music. The hopes and dreams and memories and disappointments he was reminded of every time he played it. The first time he had heard this tune, and the person who first gave him a copy of the recording to keep.
And this time, Nasriel fixed her eyes on his, of her own volition, and the confusion in them gave way gradually to comprehension as the music cast its spell and swept away doubt. Tonight was a dance like no other – to the scratchy strains of a sub-par recording, but smoothed and covered and filled with beauty by memory – two eminently practical Jedi spun through the figures of a waltz, boots gliding precisely over the floor, reflected in the satin-smooth finish under a blaze of white electricity.
When the recording finished for the second time, Nasriel didn’t step away at once, but stayed in the fragile embrace of a waltz, understanding.
“You see?” he asked at last.
“Oh, yes.” The girl smiled shyly. “I didn’t think you were the type to…”
“Dance? Why not? Where in the Code does it say Jedi may not dance?”
“Tzinu said the Wandering Moon was a dance without music.”
“Why not?” Obi-Wan repeated. “How does it begin again? Niman en-garde?”
“It’s not from any one style,” corrected Nasriel. “You begin with the Soresu closed-start.” She swept her lightsaber from her belt, turned it to low power, and adopted the familiar watchful stance, guardedly observing from behind the green glow of her blade.
Obi-Wan mirrored the stance, and the dance began.