My first duty was to mourn.
The ashes were still hot...an almost unholy mixture of sweet incense and what had once been the body of my Master, smoldering on the pyre. I stood as close as I dared, feeling the heat radiate toward me and the heady rush of the incense staving off the scent of burnt flesh and bone. Nearly the entire pyre is covered in the fine, pale ash; Qui-Gon Jinn had been a tall man, filling the length of the pyre with his presence, imposing even in death.
For a long moment, I closed my eyes against the heavy smoke, not caring that it stung my throat and my eyes at this range, not caring that most everyone else had filed out of the funeral chamber, not caring that I was even alive.
I stood there until sunrise. The ashes would not be removed until all had left the chamber, and so an unreasoning part of my mind told me that if I stayed, he would not truly be taken from me...a part of me willed him to return somehow. All time seemed to have stopped in that instant, as if it had shattered at my feet with the death of the one person I trusted most, the one person who knew me better than I'd known myself, the one person who had truly believed in me and brought me to the brink of Knighthood.
My first duty was to my Master.
The small hand at my arm startled me; I looked down in my silent grief to see the boy next to me, his blue eyes wide and wondering. I could feel his pain too, like an open wound, and it was more than apparent that he was aware of mine. Quickly I clamped down on my thoughts, knowing that they were bleeding into the space between us like air escaping a pressure tank. Anakin tugged at the wide sleeve of my robe, and I knelt down to be at eye-level with him.
Wordlessly the boy reached up to wipe away my tears with young fingertips, and inwardly I shivered. It was the same, apologetic motion Master Qui-Gon had made as he lay dying in my arms; an "I'm sorry Padawan" inherent in the weak but affectionate touch. Much to Anakin's dismay, the link between memories opened up new floodgates; fresh tears tracked down my cheeks even as I tried to comfort him, to explain to him. It was a futile gesture, and soon Anakin was in tears as well. Pulling him close to me like a drowning man might grasp a life raft, I hugged him, and we mourned together and alone.
But it was a new day, even though the sunrise had been shadowed by grief. There was no time, Master Yoda had explained, to return to Coruscant. There were pressing matters, not the least of which was the hammering out of the peace process between the Naboo and the Gungans. Since I had been so recently involved in the situation in intimate detail, this assignment was now mine.
In the span of fifteen short minutes, my life had changed. The Council was granting me Knighthood, an apprentice and a mission all at one shot. No time for grief, no time for recovery.
No time for a true Knighting ceremony, before the entire Order in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.
My first duty was to obey.
My first duty was to the Order.
There were only a handful of Jedi present; only those from the Council that were overseeing the peace ceremony in Theed. The other observers were Queen Amidala, Boss Nass and Jar-Jar Binks, all at my request. And of course, Anakin, standing beside Amidala and watching with curiously luminous eyes.
I don't think I quite saw either of them as Master Yoda and Master Windu spoke the rites, words that I'd grown up hearing and memorizing all my young life; I looked straight ahead. The oath was placed before me and I took it, reciting the lifebreath of the Jedi Knights, allegiance to the Code and to the protection of peace. To uphold the weak, to defend the defenseless. To trust the Force in all things and call upon it to guide me in fulfilling my duties.
My voice sounded hollow in my ears, despite my unfailingly accurate recitation. It ought to have been the proudest moment of my life, the reaching of my goal, my fingers brushing against the prize for which I had worked so hard and indeed somewhere in the back of my mind there was a vague pleasure at it. But over it all was a horrible ache that hadn't even begun to register with my scarred heart, let alone to leave it.
The image of intense blue eyes, a proud expression, and a proud voice that should have been there filled my thoughts. and I had to force them down before they overwhelmed me right there.
I felt the presence behind me before I'd even really seen Master Windu move to stand at my back. Again, an irrational part of my mind wanted to scream, "NO! No, not yet!" even as he grasped my Padawan's braid firmly with one hand and then...
...cut it with the other. The final piece of me that belonged to Qui- Gon had been ripped away from me, ceremoniously cut and placed in my hand with the admonition that I was now a Jedi Knight, Keeper of the Peace and Servant of the Force, May the Force be with me.
Seamlessly from one to the other, the second ceremony happened faster than the first. I beckoned Anakin to my side, and the ageless words spoken by masters and apprentices echoed in the room as I accepted Anakin as my Padawan-Learner and he took me as his master, to fulfill my charge to bring him to Knighthood.
It was then up to me to mark Anakin as a Jedi Padawan. My hands trembled as they reached in to soft blonde hair and separated out three strands. They felt awkward and clumsy as I plaited the braid, something I did not understand. It was a motion I had repeated often for the past eight and a half years, when my own braid had become too unkempt and needed redoing, but here before these witnesses and still unable to speak my own grief I felt as if the motion was foreign and unfamiliar. Finally, the braid was in and Master Yoda gave me the formal charge to train the boy in the ways of the Force and the Jedi Order, and I swore it solemnly before them.
As I would have solemnly swore it before him now, if I could have. Yes, Master, yes I will train the boy as you asked me. I promise. I promise. The words screamed in my mind as if I could make Qui-Gon hear them wherever he was in the Force. Maybe he could; I don't know. But I promised.
My first duty was to Anakin Skywalker.
My first duty was to that promise.
My first duty was to be a Jedi.
I look down at the callow boy at my feet now, somewhat abused but no worse for wear, and I quickly kneel beside him, my hand to his forehead. Slowly he begins to stir, and his blue eyes open in recognition.
"Ben? Ben Kenobi?"
Young Luke Skywalker slowly sits, and I help him to do so, my aging hands not what they used to be when they grasped the blue-bladed lightsaber to cut down my Master's murderer. Twenty years of grieving him, grieving Anakin, grieving my own failure was about to be put at an end. This boy was my-was our chance at redeeming past wrongs. He was the new hope that Yoda had spoken of long ago and for whom his mother had died.
My first duty is to preserve that hope.
My first duty is to Luke Skywalker.
My first duty...
...is to be a Jedi.
Original cover by Shada. HTML formatting copyright 2005 TheForce.Net LLC.