The young padawan turned at the sound of his name, and then wished he hadn't. He groaned inwardly as Siri Tachi raced toward him, and the other kids around him began to giggle.
"Oh, look, Kenobi!" An older boy named Jero stepped forward from the cluster of padawans and twirled his braid mockingly around a finger. "It's your little girlfriend!"
Obi-Wan blushed, and turned away from the crowd. "Hello, Siri," he mumbled as she stopped next to him.
Jero continued to jeer at him. "Awww, widdle Kenobi has a widdle girlfriend! Aren't they just adorable?"
Siri's sharp blue eyes narrowed dangerously. "You'd better shut it, Jero, or I'll give you a matching bruise for your other shin!"
Obi-Wan couldn't help but smile as the blood drained from the other boy's face. Last week, Jero had been teasing a younger girl about sucking her thumb, and Siri had kicked him so hard that he had been in the MediCenter for three hours. Jero raised his hands in surrender and backed away.
"Hey, hey, no need for violence, little girl. I'm just kidding." Jero offered an innocent smile, but Siri continued to glare at him.
"I am not a little girl!" she spat, folding her arms over her chest.
Jero laughed out loud, but stopped short when Siri raised her foot threateningly. He narrowed his gray eyes, and smiled shrewdly. "All right, then. Prove it."
Obi-Wan shook his head desperately at Siri, but she ignored him. "How?"
Jero's grin widened. "Well, in order for you to prove that you're a real padawan, you have to take a bravery test. Everyone else here has."
"Siri, don't listen to him-" Obi-Wan began.
"Shut up, Kenobi!" Jero snapped. He turned back to Siri, and placed his arm around her shoulder. "Now, do you want to prove that you're a brave padawan, or not?"
Siri yanked away from his grasp. "Why would I want to prove that to you?"
Jero shrugged easily, and began to walk away. "Oh, no reason, I guess. But you know, the Jedi Masters usually pick the brave padawans as their apprentices..."
Jero turned around, his mouth curled up in a knowing sneer.
"Siri, don't-" Obi-Wan tried again.
"Be quiet, Obi-Wan!" Siri told him. "I know what I'm doing." She stepped forward, and placed her hands on her hips. "What do I have to do?"
"It's a secret. You have to promise to do it before we tell you, or else you might back out."
Obi-Wan groaned. That meant that the task would be something unthinkable. Jero would probably make her eat raw bantha brains, or spend the night in Coruscant's lower levels, or...
"I won't back out!" Siri insisted.
Jero smirked. "Then you accept?"
Siri thought about it for a minute, while Obi-Wan continued to shake his head violently, and then she held out her hand. "I accept."
Jero's smile widened into a grin as he took her hand, and shook it. Obi-Wan groaned, running his fingers through his hair. Now if Siri backed out, the whole cr?che would know about it, and she would be branded as a coward for the rest of her life. She wouldn't back out, though. At least, he didn't think so.
Siri stood up straighter, trying to look brave, but Obi-Wan noticed her eyes flicker nervously as she did so. "So what do I have to do?"
Jero leaned back a bit, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. Jero was just trying to make himself look more important by copying Master Windu's gesture. The effect was obviously starting to work on Siri, though; she began to fidget a little, and shift her weight from foot to foot.
"Come on, already!" she cried after several moments. Jero snapped out of his trance, and his expression was perfectly serene, except for the dangerous twinkle in his eyes. Siri gulped, but tried in vain to hide it.
"I have decided that your test will be..." Jero's tranquil expression was replaced by a smug grin as the entire group waited, holding their breaths. "To get a hair from Master Yoda's head."
"What?" Obi-Wan shrieked. That challenge was even worse than eating bantha brains, and even more dangerous than spending the night in the lower levels. The other padawans gasped, and began to whisper among themselves. Siri showed no reaction at all, except that her cheeks turned a sickly gray color.
"O--oh. Is that all?" she asked. Her voice was barely a whisper.
Jero laughed evilly, and strode away, gesturing for the other padawans to follow. "Good luck, little girl!"
"I am not a little girl!" Siri's voice cracked.
Obi-Wan stepped forward, and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I don't think you're little," he offered.
Siri took a deep, shaky breath, and glared viciously at Jero's retreating back. "I'll show him!" she whispered harshly. "I'll get that hair, and then who will be the brave one?!"
"Siri, you don't have to-"
"Yes I do!" she cried. "You don't understand, Obi-Wan! I hate being little! I hate being called a helpless baby! I'm gonna prove once and for all that I'm bigger and better than all of them! And no one's going to stop me! Not even you!" With that, she stormed away, and Obi-Wan was left alone in the hallway. Or so he thought.
A small sigh came from behind a nearby pillar as Obi-Wan sulked back to his quarters, shaking his head sadly. The wizened form of a Jedi Master crept out of the shadows, and headed in the opposite direction, gimer stick in hand.
Siri paced the length of her floor, then spun on her heel and walked in the other direction. She had run head-on into disaster, despite Obi-Wan's warnings. How she hated it when he was right!
"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" she moaned, smashing the palm of her hand against her forehead.
Siri knew that she couldn't back out now. She had shook on it, and besides, she wanted to prove her bravery to Jero and the rest of the padawans. She wanted desperately to wipe that unbelievably annoying smirk off his face, and to prove to everybody that she wasn't some dumb little girl.
The only problem was, she had no clue how.
Okay, if I were Master Yoda's hair, how would I get me?
Her eyes fell on a large pair of scissors that lay on her desk, and she beamed.
"Scissors!" she cried triumphantly, snatching the shears from her desk. She would cut a hair from Master Yoda's head while he was sleeping, and he wouldn't feel a thing. What could go wrong?
Grinning from ear to ear, Siri stuffed the scissors under her pillow, and quickly changed into her nightgown. She climbed into bed, and waited.
Within a few minutes, a knock came at Siri's door. Master Adi Gallia stepped lightly into the room, and smiled down at Siri.
"Still awake?" she asked gently.
Siri shook her head a bit too fervently. "No, Master Gallia. I was just going to sleep."
Adi nodded, started to say something, and then hesitated, opening her mouth and shutting it again. "I heard that some of the older padawans were teasing you today, Siri. You know, you can always talk to me if you have any problems with them."
Siri looked confidently into her brown eyes, and smiled. "Thank you, Master Gallia, but they're not going to tease me again."
Adi returned the smile, and shut off the lights. "Alright. Goodnight, Siri."
Moonlight streamed through Siri's window, and glinted off the scissors. After she had heard the last "lights-off" warning from the hallway, she climbed out from under the covers and pulled her Jedi robe over her pajamas. Rummaging in her closet, she found a survival pack. She pulled a glow stick from the pack and snapped it in half. The neon green glow illuminated the room, and Siri took a deep breath.
As she exhaled, she rose to her feet, and slipped out into the hallway. She was so focused on what she was doing that she completely forgot the scissors, and had to trek halfway back across the Jedi Temple to retrieve them. As a result, she ran a little too fast, and almost bowled over a flabbergasted Obi-Wan, just coming out of her room.
"Siri?" he whispered loudly.
"Shhhh!" she demanded crossly. "What are you doing here?"
Obi-Wan shifted. "I-I just thought you might want some help."
Siri scowled. "You don't think I can do it alone?"
"I do, but..." He looked around nervously. "It's dark and...and cold... and-"
Siri smirked. "Scared, Obi-Wan?"
She thought about it for a moment, and then sighed dramatically. "Okay. You can come, just as long as you're quiet about it."
He nodded, and the two jogged down the hall in companionable silence. They reached the Northeast wing where the Jedi Masters lived, and looked helplessly down the long corridor.
"Do you know which one is his?" Obi-Wan asked.
Siri shook her head. "No. I didn't really think about it."
"Oh, great," Obi-Wan moaned. "We came all this way for nothing."
But Siri was already moving. She opened her mind to the Force, and searched for Master Yoda's presence. His was unusually strong, and surprisingly unguarded. She walked forward, and Obi-Wan followed hesitantly.
Suddenly she stopped and looked at a door to her right. "That's it," she announced softly.
Obi-Wan looked at the door, and raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Are you sure?" he asked. "It looks like all of the other ones."
"Well, what did you expect it to look like?!" Siri snapped. "A little green door with 'Master Yoda' written on the front? Now come on." She approached the door, and brought a hand up to the touchpad. The door slid open with a hushed whir, and she slipped inside.
It wasn't until Siri could hear Master Yoda's slow, steady breathing that she noticed that Obi-Wan wasn't following her.
Scaredy-shaak! she thought. Well, who needs him anyway? I'll do this by myself.
She crept toward the sleep couch and was close enough to reach out and touch Master Yoda. She shivered, even though it wasn't cold. Disturbing him just seemed...wrong. But Jero's taunting echoed in her mind, and she scowled, holding the scissors up to Yoda's lumpy green head. She wasn't a scared little girl.
Before she could snip off a hair, a loud thump came from the hall. Master Yoda's green eyes popped open, and Siri ran for her life.
But as she raced from the room, she tripped over something big and heavy. As Siri fell flat on her face she recognized Jero's soft chuckling as he disappeared toward his quarters. Looking behind her, she found Obi-Wan lying on the floor. She held up her glow stick, and saw a dark liquid seeping out of a small cut above his eye. He trembled violently, clutching at his wound.
"Siri," he hissed between clenched teeth, "I saw?Jero?he was going?to pound?on the door. I-"
"I know," Siri whispered back, pulling Obi-Wan to his feet.
"Who's out there?" Master Yoda's voice called. "Reveal yourself, or face the consequences, you will!"
Siri looked to Obi-Wan guiltily. It was all her fault that he was here instead of safe in bed.
She shoved him toward the padawan quarters. "Go!"
Obi-Wan stared at her uncertainly for a moment, and then took off down the hall. His stride was a bit unbalanced, and he still held a hand to his eye. Siri watched him go, concern evident in her young features.
She didn't have much time to worry, however; just as Obi-Wan disappeared around a corner, Master Yoda stepped into the hall. He arched an eyebrow, eyeing the scissors in Siri's hand. "Young Siri, a surprise this is."
Siri lowered her head. "Yes, Master."
Hearing the commotion, several Jedi stepped outside their rooms, Adi Gallia among them.
"Siri?" she asked, her brow furrowed incredulously. "What are you-?"
"Never mind, Master Gallia," Yoda interrupted firmly. "Deal with this, I will."
Siri watched helplessly as the Jedi Masters returned to their quarters. Adi continued to stare at her with a mixture of curiosity and concern until Master Yoda cleared his throat pointedly, and she too strode back into her bedroom.
"Come, young padawan," Master Yoda said softly, gesturing to his door. "A talk we must have."
Siri looked at the floor, avoiding eye contact at all costs. She walked into the tiny room, and Master Yoda flipped on the lights, gesturing to a chair. She sat down hesitantly with Yoda opposite her. He stared at her for a long time, and the silence became almost unbearable.
"Master Yoda, I'm really sorry-" she began, but Yoda raised a hand and she bit her lip. He sighed, and twirled his gimer stick in little patterns on the floor. It wasn't exactly the harsh position Siri had expected. Still?she braced for the worst.
Yoda brought his green eyes up to meet Siri's blue ones, his expression stern. "When young was I, often was I teased. Small, and very shy, I was. Stick up for myself, I did not." He paused, and looked away. "Hard, it was. But a good friend I had then. Always stuck by me, he did, no matter the circumstances."
Siri looked away. She knew that he was referring to Obi-Wan. Master Yoda always had a way of alluding to things without actually saying them. She did feel horribly guilty for bringing Obi-Wan into this mess, and for all the times he was teased because of her.
"But stop, the other padawans did not," Master Yoda continued. "Nor will they ever." He looked at Siri meaningfully. "And hurtful their words may be. Nevertheless, unacceptable breaking the rules is."
Siri sighed. "I know that, Master. It wasn't just because they were teasing me, though. Not really."
Yoda cocked his head. "Why else?"
Siri searched for the right words. "Well... I suppose it's because everybody sees me as a silly little girl. I wanted to prove that I'm not. I'm brave, just like the older padawans."
Master Yoda nodded slowly. "Size matters not, young Siri. Judge me by my size, do you?" He raised his eyebrows, and Siri shook her head fervently. He nodded again. "As you should not. Not measured is a Jedi's courage by feeble challenges such as this. "She, who helps others in a time of need... the bravest Jedi of all, she is" He gave a small smile. "Proud of you, I am, for helping your friend."
Siri's cheeks went pale. "Oh, no. Master, Obi-Wan had nothing to do with it! Please don't punish him!"
Master Yoda chuckled. "For your sacrifice, young Siri, go unpunished he will." His smile became wistful, and he sat back a bit. "Remind me of my friend, you do. Loyal you are to young Kenobi. Clear that much is."
Siri's brow crinkled. "I thought you meant that Obi-Wan was like your friend."
Yoda nodded. "Many meanings, my tale holds. On what you have done meditate and reflect. Dismissed you are."
Siri stared at him in shock. "That's it?"
"More punishment, would you like?" Master Yoda teased. Siri smiled and began to leave, but he stopped her.
"One last thing. Overheard, I did, you and Jero's conversation. Worried you were about finding a Master."
Siri's face colored, the smile disappearing. "You knew?the whole time?" She shook her head sadly. It had all been for nothing. "Once everybody finds out, no one will want me as their padawan."
Master Yoda's eyes twinkled. "Oh? Very interested, Master Gallia seemed, in taking you as her apprentice."
Siri thought her heart would hammer right out of her chest. "She did?"
He nodded again. "When done meditating you are, go to her you will. A new master will you have, young Siri."
Siri gave a whoop of joy, and just barely contained herself from hugging him. "Thank you, Master Yoda!"
He smiled secretively, and beckoned her closer. Slowly, Siri leaned forward. Master Yoda held out his hand, and dropped a single white hair into her palm.
"Next time when a hair you need, ask," he told her. "Plenty, I have."
"....And you should have seen him run! Jero sprinted down that hall like a charging acklay was after him!" Obi-Wan chattered away cheerfully, and the padawans around him giggled wildly. His head hurt a little, and was bandaged tightly, but other than that, he was unharmed.
The young padawan turned at the sound of his name, and beamed as Siri approached him and the group of padawans around him with a curious look. "Oh, hey Siri! I was just telling them about our adventure last night."
She frowned at the other padawans suspiciously. "Where's Jero?"
The other padawans stifled giggles with effort, and a young boy with a squeaky voice piped up, "Oh, didn't you hear? Master Windu caught him running back to his quarters, and he's been sentenced to the meditation cell for two whole days!"
Siri's eyes widened. "Really?" At Obi-Wan's nod, a smile began to tug at the corners of her mouth. "Oh. That's too bad, 'cause I had a little something that I wanted to show him." Beaming triumphantly, she produced Yoda's tiny hair, and the other padawans gawked incredulously.
"I knew you could do it, Siri," Obi-Wan said quietly as the other children looked to Siri with a newfound respect.
Siri looked at her friend for a long time, then nodded to herself. She stepped boldly toward him and placed the hair in the palm of his hand.
"Take it," she told him. "You earned it more than I did."
Obi-Wan gaped at her. "But--but Siri! You worked so hard to get this. I couldn't-"
But Siri was insistent. "You've been a good friend to me, Obi-Wan. You've always put up with Jero, and last night you got hurt just to save my neck. Well, now it's my turn to do something nice for you." She reached out her hand, and closed Obi-Wan's fingers over the prize. "The bravest Jedi of all is the one who helps a friend in a time of need." She cocked her head and smiled softly. "I guess that means you."
Obi-Wan narrowed his crystal blue eyes, and smiled genuinely. "Don't you remember, Siri? You took the blame for me when I was hurt." He held the hair in front of him for everyone to see, and tugged on the ends until it snapped into two perfect strands. He handed one of the strands to Siri, and kept one for himself. "Two prizes for the two silly padawans that tried to prove themselves to a bully, and got very, very lucky," he laughed. Siri beamed, and the two padawans walked away together.
And from behind a nearby pillar came the soft, merry laughter of a very small, very wise Jedi Master.
Original cover by FernWithy. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.