I am aware that little of fiction has been published lately. I am working on this but unfortunately the pipeline got a little messy with War Stories and there are currently three projects jostling for priority. One of them is nearly finished but needs some expert advice in the editing – when I find an expert I’ll put it up.
In the meantime, as promised late last year, here’s the ‘absolute end’ of War Stories, the epilogue, if you will. Heavy Saalisan-language, heavy cutes (for me anyway).
I might do more in this universe sometime, but at the moment I’m making my mother happy by writing this-world-this-century, and golly it’s a strain.
Um… longread, yo. Go make a cuppa, you might need it.
“Qui-Gon?” He paused, silent and listening, on the gravel path, motioning for Obi-Wan to wait, and gauging how long it would be before he was found. Not long – for one thing, his pursuer knew his Force signature, and for another, Obi-Wan, a few meters further along the path, was trying with limited success to muffle his laughter in his sleeve.
“Chenray, ereli wlen no? Qui-Go-onnn…” The singsong voice came closer, then, with its owner, rounded a corner guarded by a stand of trees. “Chenray!” The speaker was a small girl, blue skin glistening dully in the uncertain dusk of the Temple gardens. She grinned suddenly, showing a row of pearly round-edged baby teeth, with missing incisors.
“She’s nine… is she supposed to be out alone?” Obi-Wan demanded, laughter changing rapidly to the full-body scowl his own Padawan was already learning to fear: head back, with narrowed eyes, thinned lips, and knotted brows clearly visible; feet planted, arms crossed tight across chest and hands rammed into opposite sleeves. ‘Full-on scary mode,’ the irreverent Anakin still calls it.
Back then, watching the young man he still thought of as a Padawan grow into the responsibility of raising the next generation, Qui-Gon found the look merely amusing, remembering the adolescent sulks and storms that had been its dress-rehearsals. Now… now Obi-Wan can be truly intimidating, perhaps even as much so as Qui-Gon himself. But eight years ago in the room of the Thousand Fountains, only the blue-skinned youngling was affected in the least.
“I – I need talk Qui-Gon,” she explained shyly. “So I runned away Master Palo.”
“Ran away from Master Palo,” Qui-Gon corrected. “Next time you should have him call me, instead of sneaking off. You can go back now.”
“Nasriel, we have already discussed what you may call me.”
“Qui-Gon,” the girl amended crossly, before her frown melted in a trickle of tears, and the corners of her mouth drooped. “Yuxan rayen w’sagen.”
Now, how would she know that, Qui-Gon wondered. Jedi children are not typically told of their parents’ fates – the information is not deemed relevant. Oh, they find out, if they go looking: not five years before that day in the garden, there had been a mission to Steujan, and Obi-Wan had been quietly pleased, and deeply discomfited, to finally meet his mother, father, and younger brothers. Qui-Gon once did some surreptitious delving into the birth records of his own homeworld, and was both disappointed and oddly relieved at what he found there.
But Nasriel was a youngling – how could she have known her father had died?
He contented himself with an “I see,” before turning to Obi-Wan. “I’ll take her home and catch up with you later.” When Obi-Wan had taken his leave, Qui-Gon held out his hand to Nasriel, and walked with her along the crunchy gravel path toward the garden gate. “Erelyan, Sriel, v sihroest na, xekalxixian.”
“Madame Nu sihroest,” Nasriel explained obediently. “Lu sihroest nu erelyan… um… Archives… v lu sihroest loen w’sagen. W’sagen,” she repeated.
“Harextoen imeltaneska,” Qui-Gon reminded the child – more gently than he would have said it had she been older. Nine was too young to have fully learned the inevitability of death. “Yoal smerniat wira guk, serl.”
“Xek no,” she contradicted too fast. “No – no xekwira.”
“Wira,” Qui-Gon said cheerfully. “Sh xek wlen, yo sidarvai. Ah – v yoal hroest xor nuxan ray.”
“Loxan uscalialen – uscaliel vehl – miw fafita,” Nasriel remembered. “Lo vehl xekynanze, Qui-Gon, sh lo vehl yuxan ray. V engkaliu svess vehl b’nedik no.” Within sight of the gate, she halted suddenly and looked up at her companion – a serious, adult look. “Chenray, yuxan linda vehl Kanxei Threebxan teha mirvarel, v lo vehl toranarxai Saaliski, v – v… wlen yuen toranarxai. Hol yuen tehafita, yu terezen.” Ignoring – or not noticing – Qui-Gon’s tangible confusion, she hurried on. “Loxan teha adnil – loxan tehasilevrien – yuxan exeno – loen xekhedyen, sh wlen miw Minetz, v Minetzxan lindaen yuxan rayxan rui mirvarel. V Minetzen xek toranarxai… yuen.”
“What?” The unexpected flow of Saalisan legalese – including a few words most Jedi never had cause to use in any language – confounded Qui-Gon into switching back to Basic.
“I say,” the youngling enunciated impatiently, “my mother was my father’s first wife, and my father was… toranarxai… earl? So I is –”
“Am, not is.” Six years of Temple living, speaking Basic every day and collecting the best part of… four other languages besides Saalisan, at last count… along the way, had expanded Nasriel’s vocabulary, but done little to alter the persistent absence of articles and correct verb forms from her grammar. To be fair, most of the Temple’s other nine-year-olds also regularly perpetrated I is and worse semantic sins, and many of them did not also speak five other languages with varying degrees of fluency.
“I am heir, I am earl, and I am much rich now.” And therein lay the problem: Jedi may hold no lands, titles, or personal wealth – yet Nasriel was heiress to an estate on her homeworld second only to the king’s. The heiress hunched her shoulders, chewing unhappily at her lip – a habit that Qui-Gon did not doubt would end abruptly on the day her sharp-pointed grown-up teeth started growing into the gaps in her smile.
“What do you expect me to do about it?” Having no official connection to Nasriel, Qui-Gon could legally do little more than advise – and advice is of limited use to a child of nine.
“Well…” Nasriel frowned, shuffling her feet. Another habit she would have to lose in order to make any headway in the life that awaited her as a Padawan. “Yu xeksimuredarvai nar yu erelyan wlen.” And he had said she might come to him for help, even before her eleventh life-day when she could be officially apprenticed.
“I think we should go back to Madame Nu and find out what you’re allowed to do.”
A protracted discussion with the Archivist established that Nasriel was not permitted – by Saalisan law – to control her inheritance until she came of age, or to appoint anyone other than a blood relative of some degree as steward until that time. Nasriel chose her older brother, the son of her father’s second wife.
“He is oldest,” she explained. “And Kanxei was his father too.”
“Did you hear me disagreeing with you?” the Jedi Master asked peaceably.
The Jedi Archivist was unamused. “Are you aware of the income of this estate, youngling?”
Although the income in question was modest on a Galactic scale, barely more than twice the expenditure of the Sentinels and the Service Corps combined, it was still enough to do a great deal of good or a lot of damage. Nasriel wanted Minetz to have half – “Because until I was born he was going to get it all,” and, prompting an outraged sputter from Madame Nu and a stifled chuckle from Qui-Gon, she wanted the other half to be forwarded to the Altistians.
“Master Jinn has been telling you foolish stories again,” fumed the Archivist.
“I have never apologized for telling the truth,” said Qui-Gon, and “They do good, and when they have money they give it to people who need it; I want to help them,” argued Nasriel.
Over the ensuing eight years, the mildly heretical Altistian sect of the Jedi have enjoyed the expanded exchequer that Nasriel insisted be provided with no hint of her involvement. Every year, Minetz Threeb faithfully reports the estate’s financial dealings to the Council. Having set this elegant system in motion, Nasriel ignores it, mentioning her family and homeworld neither more nor less than any other Padawan; her Saalisan conversations with Qui-Gon continue, but of recent years have been about ordinary concerns – and Jedi concerns, which is not at all the same thing.
One not-so-very-special day, the Padawan appears midmorning in the doorway of Qui-Gon’s room, as he sits at his desk working on some of the ephemera with which he now occupies his strangely vacant time. He is permitted to make himself useful by teaching astrography to a class of younger Padawans, but in the eight weeks since he came home, the Council has decided he may not train his own Padawan, this girl who from the age of three has always come first to him with her questions, her problems, her interesting news. If she could be corrupted, she would have been so long ago. Yet Nasriel now lives with Xanatos, her room in Qui-Gon and Tahl’s quarters a nagging lacuna, like a missing tooth to which the mind keeps returning, nature uneasy in the presence of a vacuum.
Nasriel still comes home – to chat, or for tea and a hug after a hard day, or to ask something about the proper care of the kaba lily now in her custody, or to rehearse a mission report before going to present it to the Council – every day when she is in the Temple. Today she carries a brown cardboard folder, and settles herself, uninvited but certain of her welcome, crosslegged on the foot of her Master’s bed, within easy talking distance.
Brushing paperwork aside, Qui-Gon turns in his seat to face her. “To what do I owe the honor today?”
“Qui-Gon, I’m seventeen now.”
“It had not escaped my notice,” he assures his Padawan.
“That’s legal-age at Saalis.” Nasriel unhappily bounces the brown folder on the mattress in front of her feet. “This is from Minetz. He sent it straight to me, bypassed the Council. I’m worried, Master.”
“And yet you bring it to me instead of going to Xanatos,” Qui-Gon muses. Recently, to solve a minor mutiny based on the premise that as Nasriel had sworn her oath as a Padawan (loyalty, respect, obedience, and absolute willingness to learn) to Qui-Gon, and therefore was not bound to obey Xanatos, the older Master had merely ordered her to behave in all respects as if Xanatos were her Master, until further notice.
Nasriel is as stubborn as Qui-Gon – at least it is fortunate that they have similar opinions on most things. “You’re my Master, whatever they say. It’s you I listen to; you know that.” Bounce, bounce, bounce of the folder: he sorely wants to take it off her, put it down, stop her fidgeting, but they don’t do that now. Nasriel is still nervous about being touched without warning – but making progress, which he is determined not to undo by a show of impatience.
“I will gladly listen to you as well, if you will just tell me what you are talking about.”
“Can I make tea?” the Padawan asks, tipping a pile of flimsis from the envelope before changing her mind and fanning them out like a deck of cards.
Qui-Gon deftly extracts a stapled sheaf that stands out as incongruous. Handwritten, in a script he doesn’t recognize, it seems an unusual document to be included in a legal file sent into the Core. “You may make tea after you have told me what this is.”
Taking the flimsi, the girl scans the last page and hands it back. “Minetz can go do what he wants, I’m not having him boss me. Yrelt hedyen, yuxan exeno.”
“What does it say?” he demands.
“Fine.” Running a finger along the lines, Nasriel skips over the first paragraph. “‘My dear sister’… greetings greetings greetings… ‘been an earthquake’… Force, not again – long description of the damage – ‘a Master Altis, who I understand is a friend of your Master Jinn’ – my Master Jinn, I like that – ‘was in the system and kindly offered us aid in searching for the missing. We had some most agreeable talks about the work he and his people do, bringing succor to the innocent victims of this terrible war.’”
“I like your brother already,” the Master comments drily – he usually likes the war’s detractors, mostly because the war is one of the few things Qui-Gon Jinn hates with all his heart. If he had his way, the Order would be strictly neutral, doing as the Altistians have chosen to do, providing aid to both sides and trying to mediate peace. Of course, he does not have his way. And it is too soon after his last major rebellion to threaten defection to Altis’ sect now… more so as this time, a decision to leave would be forever, and this time, Nasriel would certainly be kept in the Temple, by main force if the Council thought it necessary.
Nasriel’s mouth forces a smile; a wan, strained ghost of her usual swift flash of amusement. “I’m sure you would,” she manages, and continues reading. “Where am I? ‘I must say I find it…’ what’s that? Supercoincidental, apparently… ‘find it supercoincidental that Master Altis and his followers should have been sent from the Temple, in the year of our father’s death and every year thereafter, a sum of money corresponding exactly to the amount I forwarded to you from the estate in that year. I have not informed Master Altis of the source of these funds. Let us put this aside for the moment, and’…” Nasriel stops suddenly, blinks, and reads on silently. Partway down the third sheet of the letter, she raises her head to meet Qui-Gon’s enquiring gaze.
They have known each other for fourteen years now, and are familiar with each other’s every nuance of expression and aura: he knows that whatever Minetz has written, it is deeply personal and painful to Nasriel.
“Well?” Qui-Gon prompts.
“It’s about my mother.” The explanation sounds shy, aware of its own inadequacy. “It’ll do for later.”
“Your mother…” he begins, then halts, letting the words hang in the air, a moment of respectful silence for a life cut short by ignorance and stupidity. The cause of Rasla Gul’s untimely death is never mentioned between Master and apprentice; by extension, Rasla Gul herself is spoken of only rarely.
“Well?” echoes Nasriel. Nasriel who inherited her mother’s sharp, slender features and form, husky voice, and quiet earnestness, but not her breathtaking beauty… nor the guarded, hunted expression that in the lady’s last years had become her default.
There is pain the memory of his last conversation with Rasla; pain that he accepts – yoxan enkath, yo vehl b’nedik nu – and releases, telling Nasriel serenely, “Rasla was a lady such that nothing derogatory could be truthfully said of her.” It isn’t what he meant to say, and Nasriel can surely see that in his eyes, but she makes no comment.
“Minetz goes on to say,” Nasriel picks up the dropped thread of the conversation, “that he thinks Master Altis is doing good work, and hopes I’ll continue to support him when I return to Saalis to take up the title.” Nasriel smiles, sharp teeth only slightly visible. “If he thinks like that… I don’t have to choose between helping the Altistians and being a Jedi myself. I can have the best of… both worlds.”
The smile widens, and Qui-Gon feels his heart break. It will not be the best of both worlds, because Nasriel still lives with Xanatos, they are still separated by Council decree, and, while the same Council has decided that he is no more a dark-sider than he has ever been, they do not trust him with Nasriel. So the former Master and his former Padawan have filed, and Xanatos, as acting Master, has signed approval of, a petition for Nasriel’s reassignment of apprenticeship, which is with the Council now. This is the eighth since Qui-Gon came home.
Force, why does this hurt so much? The pain he thought was a physical manifestation of sorrow spreads and intensifies, a band of red-hot iron growing ever tighter around his ribs. Feeling sick and dizzy, he lays one hand on the desk to steady himself; notices that Nasriel has started up from the bed, scattering springtime snowflakes of flimsi everywhere, and is looking at him strangely. Her voice comes from a long way off.
“Chenray, you look awful. Are you okay?”
Oh Force. No – no, he does not want to accept this right now, he has far too much to do.
“Qui-Gon.” Insistent. Frightened. So she should be: he is frightened too.
“Call Bant,” he says.
“Call Bant.” He is sweating; when he grips Nasriel’s arm, forcing her to help him to his feet, his touch leaves a damp mark on her sleeve. “Tell her I said nothing can be deferred forever. And then go home.”
“What’s happening?” the Padawan repeats.
It is harder to breathe now. “Heart attack. I’m going to the medcenter. Call Bant, and go home.”
“Nuh-uh. I’m coming with you.”
He cannot be bothered to object, and Nasriel walks with him through the subduedly busy halls of the Temple, reining in her pace to stay beside him. A few hundred meters from the medcenter there opens a dark void, a hole in the fabric of space, and, with a kind of inevitability, Qui-Gon falls into it. For the instant that the magnesium flare of panic lasts, he feels the marble of the floor cold against his face, hears Nasriel gasping something he is sure he has told her never to say… but it is too dark to go looking for the words to rebuke her, and then the terror fades and he slips away.
When he wakes, in a medcenter bed, in a bright room with the lights of night-time Coruscant glittering outside the window, his field of vision slowly coalesces around the shimmer of vivid color he felt in the Force – and sure enough, Obi-Wan is there, leaning against the wall.
“Mace said I ought to tell you at once,” he says, apparently carrying on a conversation whose beginning Qui-Gon doesn’t remember. “Eighth time lucky.” The Great Negotiator tosses a folded sheet of flimsi in his former Master’s general direction.
“You’ve been assigned a Padawan. I gather the child’s quite a handful – previous Master was so glad to be rid that he signed the transfer paperwork without a moment’s hesitation.”
Realization gradually dawning that he thinks he knows what is going on, Qui-Gon unfolds the flimsi, and his relief at what he finds printed there is so great he almost laughs. “You have been planning this, brat.”
“I fought for it,” Obi-Wan confirms quietly. “Nasriel was scared to death the last few days, Master.” A pause. “We all were. For a while I really thought…”
“How long –”
“You’ve been out for three days – it’s fourth hour on Taungsday the thirty-third, by the way – Vokara called Master Li back from his outpost.” And now Qui-Gon knows exactly how scared the healers were. Ben To Li retired to a Mid Rim outpost ten years ago, swearing never, ever, ever to return to the bustle of the Temple medward. For Vokara Che to call him back… and for him to come… “Master Li said a lot I didn’t understand, and called you a fool more than once. Nasriel seemed to know what he was talking about, when she was allowed to be here. Since the Council approved your petition it’s been hard to get rid of her.”
“I wouldn’t want to,” Qui-Gon says.
Obi-Wan goes to open the door. “All right, Nasriel. You can come in if you behave yourself.”
And then Nasriel is there, smiling through a sheen of tears, standing at the end of the bed, tense as a coiled spring and wanting to ask a dozen different questions at once. Eventually she settles on one.
“How did you know – you told me to tell Bant – how did you know this was coming?”
“Lightning is electricity, minx. It’s not good for things that run on fine-tuned electrical impulses. We knew something had to give, sometime. It’s all right. I don’t expect it to happen again.”
“I was scared.”
“So was I,” he tells her. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Obi-Wan shrug and leave. Nasriel promptly drops the pretense of beautiful behavior, coming to sit on the bed beside her Master… very like their last conversation, except that the movement jostles something that shouldn’t have been jostled, and the pain is excruciating. Qui-Gon sets his teeth and waits for the tide to ebb. He guesses, based on the Force’s propensity for pointing out broken things with a particular clarity, and also from the more mundane data of what hurts, that his ribcage has been hacked open with a vibrosaw and stapled back together. He knows from talking to Bant a few weeks ago that this is roughly what has happened.
When he looks up, Nasriel is standing back where she started, looking white and stricken. “I’m sorry, Master, I’m so sorry, I forgot. I – d’you want me to leave? I should leave.”
Whatever painkillers the healers have been using have well and truly worn off. “I want you to sit down in that chair and talk about the first thing that comes to mind,” Qui-Gon says tightly, hearing and ignoring the sharpness of his tone. He doesn’t want to keep thinking along the path his mind has chosen to take, because if he does he will be sick; simple as that.
“Minetz called,” Nasriel begins. “He’s… he’s really nice. We talked for an hour, and in the end we agreed he can have the estate and the title, and he’ll keep sending Master Altis half the income. Because what am I going to do with a title?”
“Use it to make shallow people listen to you,” the Master suggests.
“I can’t. Jedi may not hold secular titles,” contradicts his Padawan. “And that’s properly against the Code, not just so-crazy-only-Qui-Gon-would-try-it against the Code.” A wry grin, all gleaming teeth and golden eyes.
He decides to laugh, join in the fragile joke born of a hundred shared Council censures. After all, Nasriel, the youngest of his Padawans, seems to be the most likely to follow wholeheartedly in his footsteps… he regrets the laugh, and it turns abruptly into a hiss of indrawn breath and a muttered curse.
Nasriel starts. “Um… shall I…”
“Go find Vokara and tell her I am old enough that I have nothing left to prove, and I want a painkiller if she’s got one. And then come back.” Because he knows Nasriel will just disappear, given an excuse. Love and loyalty will keep her either in the medcenter or as near its doors as possible, but the vague terror that every youngling knows, few acknowledge, and nobody ever quite outgrows, will keep her uneasy and casting about for reasons to be elsewhere. It is the fear of seeing the strong made weak and vulnerable, the horror at a shaking of one of life’s unshakable anchors. At seventeen, Nasriel has learned the fragility of life in general, but has yet to have it driven home to her that this includes the people she loves. It is bound to come sooner than either of them would wish: Qui-Gon is almost old now, and occasionally even feels so.
After a few minutes, the Padawan returns, alone, Force aura carefully smoothed as bright and serene as ever – he has told her often enough that he hates it when she worries about him, and she is doing her best. Carrying the pretense of unconcern with a regal air she must have learned from Padmé, Nasriel also carries a small metal cup with tablets in it.
“Vokara said this is all she’ll let you have, Master.”
“Then it will have to do, won’t it?” He is a diplomat – almost a Sentinel – rather than a soldier, and not often enough in the medcenter to be familiar with every weapon in the healers’ arsenal, but he has seen Vokara give Obi-Wan these particular meds, and he knows they are not just painkillers.
Noticing the skepticism in his face, Nasriel says nervously, “I tried to tell her.”
“What exactly did you say?” Qui-Gon asks, amused.
“I said… I said you were in a mood anyway and trying to trick you with sedatives wouldn’t help.”
He takes the tablets anyway: Jedi heal far faster than normal people, but there is no point being in agony in the meantime. And real sleep – rather than mere unconsciousness – might even do some good.
Nasriel sits on the floor, leaning against the bed and evidently barely awake.
“When did you last get any rest?” the Master checks.
“Um… Primeday.” This seems to require an explanation, and she offers one. “Vokara and Master Li kept sending me away, but I was too worried to sleep. Can I stay now?”
Resting his hand on Nasriel’s head, Qui-Gon is almost surprised by the intense warm glow of contentment that suddenly suffuses the Force – a kind of psychic purr. “Minx, after all we’ve been through together, I won’t send you away anywhere unless you want to go.” She is already asleep, kneeling on the floor, snugly cocooned in a swathe of quiet happiness.
The garish neon of the city below fades as the grey light of morning creeps out of the night and touches the ashen smudges of cloud on the pale face of the dawn, setting them alight and washing the sky behind them a pastel rainbow of pearly pink and purple that stretches eventually up to blue.
Lying still and wakeful as he waits for the drugs to take effect, Qui-Gon plays absently with Nasriel’s hair, twisting a strand of it around his finger. He is home. He is free of the Darkness and Dooku both, and his Padawan is back at his side where she belongs.
It is going to be a beautiful day.