?Congratulations, milady,? the midwife said quietly. ?You?ve got a fine boy here.?
Lenora Jinn lay back wearily on the pillows. She reached out her hands. ?Let me see him. I want to hold my son,? she whispered.
The two women exchanged a smile. They had spent the long hours of Lenora?s labor together, and the midwife was almost as tired as the new mother was. However, Lenora felt all of her exhaustion fade away as she held her newborn son. The crackle of the fire in the hearth was all that was audible in the room, for the baby was quiet and seemed content to be held.
She ran her hands down the length of his body and shook her head in wonder. ?He?s so big,? she said. ?He?ll be a big man.?
Sarta, who was both her childhood friend and midwife, grinned. ?I?m thinking that?s what took so long.? She leaned over and inspected the quiet babe more closely. ?Look at those feet, Lenora!?
Lenora held the boy?s feet and chuckled. ?I think we?ve got a fine pair of feet with a son attached.?
The baby stared up at her with deep blue eyes, his little fists moving about, but he still was not crying. She pulled him closer and his head turned unerringly toward her breast, from where he sensed his sustenance would come. Lenora gave a sigh of contentment as the little one nursed. She brushed her fingers over the moist brown strands of his hair.
?He?s going to have my hair,? she murmured, ?and his father?s eyes.?
Sarta laughed. ?I?m sure they?ll get word to him soon,? the midwife said as she began setting up a cradle for the baby. ?And he?ll come rushing in with his big loud voice and take charge, mark my words.?
Lenora smiled fondly at the thought of her large, boisterous husband holding their son. His huge hands would dwarf the boy, even as big as the babe was. The baby continued nursing, not at all disturbed by the conversation. He wriggled closer, his tiny hand resting against his mother?s flesh.
The two women heard a commotion outside her chamber, and Sarta hurried to open the door. Before she reached it, the door was flung wide open and there, framed by the light spilling in from the windows behind him, stood Amri-Lon Jinn. His eyes were immediately drawn to the bed, and when he saw his wife holding their baby, he gave a wide grin.
He rushed to her side and sat down on the bed, peering closely at the babe. ?Well now, that?s a fine?? he stopped and smiled at his wife, his blue eyes alight with laughter. ?Boy? Must be a boy; too big for a girl, wouldn?t be proper!?
Lenora laughed. ?You?ll take what I give you, Amri!? Then she drew back the blanket. ?But yes, this is your son.?
Amri gave her a swift, thorough kiss. He always seemed to be in a rush, forever hurrying from one task to the next. Sometimes she felt as if she lived in the center of a whirlwind, but knew she would not change one moment of her life with him if given the chance. She did not even notice Sarta discretely slip out of the chamber.
The baby continued to eat steadily, although his eyes had briefly opened at the sound of the deep, loud voice above him.
?That?s my son all right,? Amri bragged. ?Nothing comes between him and his supper!?
Lenora pulled her husband closer and gave him the soft, tender kiss she had been longing to share with him the moment he had walked into the room. ?Your wife is hungry,? she informed him. ?I expect you can have some food brought to me now that I?m done with this business of birthing your overly large son??
A bark of laughter rang out in the room, causing a momentary pause in the baby?s eating. Then the little one continued calmly, ignoring the noise.
?He?ll eat us into the poor house by the time he?s five,? Lenora said with a smile. Then the baby pulled back and his eyes closed as he dozed in a satisfied stupor. A tiny bit of liquid dribbled out of the corner of his mouth. He pulled his rather long feet back into the blanket and settled in against his mother.
?Then I?ll make another fortune to feed him,? Amri promised. His twinkling eyes softened as he met her gaze. ?I?ll never let anything happen to him, Lenora. I swear to you.?
She reached up and cupped his large, craggy face in her hand. ?I know, Amri.? Her brown eyes filled with happy tears. ?We?ll keep him safe together.?
Amri swallowed hard and his face flushed. ?Thank you, my love, for?? his voice trailed off and he looked as if he was going to burst, unable to find the words to express his gratitude. ?Thank you for our son,? he finally said simply.
The baby opened his eyes and stared up at his parents quietly. Amri looked down at him and gave his wife a puzzled smile. ?He?s quite? Well, isn?t he a bit aware for a newborn?? He stared at his son.
Lenora looked at the baby with consideration. She brought his face up close to hers, and mother and son gazed at one another. Then he burped and the moment was gone. She laughed and shook her head. ?I suppose he is,? she said and her eyes flickered up to her husband?s face. ?Or perhaps he?s just going to be as big and noisy as his father, and he?s saving up his energy.?
Amri took the baby from her arms and carried him to the window. The baby blinked at the strong sunlight but seemed to bask in its warmth, stretching like a sand cat cub. The tiny mouth opened and closed, and the little fists came out of the blanket as if reaching for the sun?s rays.
He looked back at his wife. ?Needs a name,? Amri-Lon said.
Lenora smiled slyly. ?He?s got a name, Amri.?
The big man smirked. ?You still insist on naming him after my father??
?I loved your father,? Lenora reminded him. ?We understood each other.?
?He loved you like a daughter,? Amri-Lon agreed.
?Then we?ll be naming our son after him, just as I said.?
Amri shook his head, surrendering as he always did. ?Whatever you say, my love, whatever you say.?
He held up his son and together they looked out the window over the endless fields of the Jinn estate. ?One day, this?ll be yours, Qui-Gon Jinn.?
Lenora sighed with contentment as she nursed her son and looked out the window. Amri was directing the farm hands, showing them which areas of the field he wanted worked next. Every now and then, he would glance up at the window where he sensed she was, though he could not see her.
She leaned out a bit and waved, prompting a grunt of protest from her son who lost his grip on his food source. ?Shhh,? she soothed quietly, arranging him to his satisfaction once more. He wriggled closer and gave a little hum. He was a very vocal baby, which made his father observe that their son enjoyed eating so much that he sometimes hummed his way through a meal.
Amri insisted that he purred like a kitling with a full belly, while Lenora maintained that he was merely trying to see if he could be louder than his father could. Finally, the baby gave one last tug and pulled away with a satiated groan. ?You?re a rare glutton,? Lenora said fondly.
He looked up at her somewhat drunkenly, milk dribbling down his chin. A wide grin appeared on his face, and then his eyes crossed and loudly filled his diaper. Lenora could not help but laugh. ?Oh, that?s going to be a bad one, isn?t it little one?? She kissed the tip of his tiny nose. ?Perhaps we should call your brave, brawny father up here to attend to it??
Lenora placed her wriggling son on the bed and prepared a new diaper. He seemed content to merely watch the play of the sunshine on the ceiling and chew on his toes. At four months of age, she thought he was an active and content baby. He rolled over on his belly and began scooting closer to the edge.
She took hold of his little ankles and dragged him gently back to the center of the bed. ?Oh, no you don?t! You?re staying right there until I get you cleaned up, young man.?
He stuck out his tongue and blew hard, a wet blat that apparently pleased him because he did it again quickly. He glanced up at her and smiled as if to ask if she had noticed his wonderful new trick.
?You are a boy of many talents,? Lenora said, laughing.
Again, he started scooting toward the edge of the bed, moving his tiny body back and forth until he achieved some momentum, and then his body would inch forward. He looked around and gave her a pleased grin.
Lenora smiled back. ?You think you?re something, don?t you? Getting around on your own and giving your poor mother grey hairs!?
Qui-Gon chortled and scooted some more.
Amri flung open the door and scooped his son up in his huge hands. ?And where do you think you?re going, my son?? He nuzzled the baby?s neck with his heavy, black beard, causing the baby to laugh loudly. ?The boy?s mobile now,? Amri said, pleased. ?I?ll have him outside with me sooner than I thought. We can take a ride every afternoon.?
?You?ll not be taking that baby in a speeder,? Lenora said as she quirked her brow. ?I?ve seen you drive, Amri-Lon Jinn, and the memory doesn?t inspire confidence!?
Her husband shot her a chagrined look. ?He?ll be safe, I promise.?
?I know he?ll be safe,? Lenora answered, ?because he?ll be staying right here with me, thank you very much!?
Amri looked crestfallen. ?You take all the fun out of it.?
?That?s my job; I?m his mother.?
The big man turned his attention back to the baby boy in his arms. ?I?ll teach you to drive that old speeder that scares your mother so much,? he whispered. ?We don?t even have to tell her.?
?I heard that Amri,? Lenora said tartly. ?Don?t think I won?t have your hide if you so much as let him sit in that speeder before I say he?s old enough.?
She approached her husband and placed her hands on her hips. Though she barely reached his shoulder, he took a step back. Shaking her head, she grabbed his beard and tugged him down to her level despite his howls of protest. ?And just what do you think you?re going to do with my baby boy??
?Nothing,? Amri panted, ?nothing at all, my love.?
Lenora looked at him through narrowed eyes and gave his beard one final tug. ?That?s what I thought you said.?
Amri rubbed his chin and scowled. ?For someone so tiny, you?re certainly mean.?
?I?m not mean. I?m a mother,? she replied with a firm nod as if that settled the matter.
He frowned and sat down with Qui-Gon still in his arms. ?What if I?d dropped him?? he said with the triumphant air of a man who had finally won the argument.
Lenora sat down on the arm of the chair and rested her chin on his head. ?That?s just bluster. You?d never let anything happen to our son, Amri.?
He grumbled and shifted uneasily in the chair. ?You startled me! What if I?d forgotten I was holding the tyke and dropped him on his head?? However, his voice was not quite so victorious now; he sounded more disgruntled.
?Well,? Lenora drawled, ?if he?s got a skull as hard as his father?s, he?d just bounce right back.?
The baby seemed to appreciate the joke because he laughed and gave his father?s beard a good tug. ?What is it that prompts him to yank on my beard?? Amri scolded as he gently disengaged his son?s fist.
?It?s black and covers half your face,? Lenora informed him. ?It?s a natural target.?
?I?d best shave it then,? Amri said. ?The boy?s got quite a grip.?
She leaned down to whisper in his ear. ?And then how would I get your attention, kind sir??
Amri kissed her soundly and then pulled back. ?I?m wagering you?d find a way.?
Lenora and Amri were amused to see that, at five months of age, her son had discovered that his hands were not only infinitely fascinating to watch, they were also quite adept at grabbing things. He would chortle with delight when his lightning fast little fingers grasped something that made his parents come running. Not to mention that everything he could get his hands on usually ended up in his mouth, leaving his mother or father to sweep their fingers through a pair of tightly clenched lips.
?No, no,? was the phrase of the day. Lenora and Amri could not help but laugh when the baby began to shake his own little head as he reached for something forbidden. Their son could not speak yet, but it was obvious he had made the connection between his new game and the frantic shaking of the adults? heads.
Lenora sighed as she removed yet another object of temptation. Sitting in a canvas chair that gently swung in the breeze, he had been reaching for a particularly enticing set of leaves. He frowned at his mother when she pushed them far out of his reach. She watched, as grunting and pushing himself forward, he stretched out his little arms, reaching for the dark green foliage that had captured his attention. He began to cry when he realized that he was not able to reach them.
His mother could not help but laugh at the woebegone expression on his tiny face and the tears that filled his dark blue eyes. His bottom lip stuck out and he scowled fiercely. Picking him up, she began to tickle him lightly. His good humor was restored quickly, as it usually was, and soon he was giggling wildly. He grasped her long brown hair and pulled.
?Ouch!? she said, more surprised than hurt. ?You?re getting sneaky!?
?I told you he?s smart,? Amri said from behind her.
She turned and lifted her face up to receive his kiss. ?Just like his mother, isn?t that what you said about his intelligence?? she asked coyly.
?Of course, milady, of course,? Amri replied as he held out his arms for his son. ?And how?s this little prince of ours doing today??
?I?m afraid he is a bit angry with me,? Lenora replied as she sat down in her chair. ?I wouldn?t let him eat leaves.?
Amri looked at his son in mock outrage. ?Not letting the boy eat leaves? And you call yourself a mother!? Father and son locked gazes. ?I?ll find you a mother who?ll let you eat all the leaves you want, son. Just see if I don?t.?
The baby laughed and crinkled his nose.
?In fact, she?ll bring them to you on a silver platter,? Amri promised. ?Does that sound good to you??
Squealing in delight, the boy gave a loud blat to express his delight fully.
Amri looked at his wife with twinkling eyes. ?Well, I guess you can see which way the wind is blowing, my dear. I?m afraid we?re going to have to let you go and get a more cooperative mother for the boy here.?
Lenora sighed dramatically and put her hand over her heart. She sniffed and pretended to wipe away a tear, wailing, ?And I tried so hard.?
Amri patted her shoulder. ?Now, now, Mrs. Jinn, it?s not as bad as all that. We?ll give you a good letter of recommendation. Won?t we, my son??
Qui-Gon, however, had become sidetracked and was leaning toward his little canvas swing, holding out his arms.
The man laughed and secured his son in the seat. ?I think he?s bored with this topic, my love.?
?Easily distracted,? she said. ?Just like his father.?
Amri pulled a flimsy out of his pocket. ?Look,? he said as he thrust it into her hand proudly. ?It?s an invitation to the Governor?s Ball.?
She glanced up at her husband and noticed the slight flush above his bristly black beard. ?I never imagined you as being the type that wanted to dance the night away with a bunch of stiff-necked politicians.?
Amri hunched up his shoulders as he always did when he felt uncomfortable. ?No, that sort of thing has never appealed to me?? his voice tapered off.
Heaving a sigh of understanding, she settled herself on his lap. ?Is this because you think I might miss my old life??
He would not look at her, but stared out over the fields he had labored on for so many years. Fields that were finally yielding enough credits to put them in the ?wealthy? category and enabling him to buy the finer things he had always wanted to give her.
?Amri,? she said, turning his face toward her, ?if I had wanted nothing more than shimmersilk dresses and moonstones draped about my neck, I would not have married you.?
?But I want to give you shimmersilk and moonstones,? he replied softly.
?I want you and our son much more than things,? she said firmly.
?This invitation means I?m finally making enough money that we can start moving in the circles you were used to, the ones your family could have given you.?
?You and Qui-Gon are my family now,? Lenora insisted. ?My parents disowned me when we got married and I?ve never looked back. They are the ones who have let their own bitterness stand in the way of knowing their only grandchild and the finest son-in-law any parents could hope to have.?
Giving a soft tug on his beard, she cut off his words. ?Listen to me, Amri-Lon Jinn. I?ve got something more in my life now, not less.? She caressed his cheek with her hand.
Amri said nothing, just pulled her closer and kissed her.
They turned as their son began laughing and they saw that something dark was sticking out of his mouth.
?Now how did he get those?? Lenora fussed as she removed the leaves despite his screams of protest. She frowned in bewilderment. ?I know I put them out of his reach.?
Amri just laughed. ?He knows how to get what he wants,? he boasted proudly.
Lenora, however, continued to stare at her son, still puzzled.
Amri-Lon Jinn stared at his image in the mirror and frowned. He heard Lenora laugh behind him, and then her soft arms were slipping around his waist.
?What?s bringing such a fearsome scowl to your face?? she asked teasingly, sliding her hand inside the tunic he wore.
?It?s this damn tunic,? he grumbled. ?Are you sure this is the style??
Her lips quirked and she nodded. ?Quite sure,? she replied firmly.
Still frowning, he considered his image again. ?I still say it makes me look like some sort of?pleasure worker,? he said with distaste.
?Well now, that is an interesting notion?? she said in a thoughtful tone.
He caught her hand before she could cause any more mischief. ?Now, now, Lenora, we?ll have none of that. Do you think the tailor could make this in a fabric less?less sumptuous?? Amri grumbled as he recalled the tailor hands fluttering over his shoulders.
She pinched his taut abdomen and giggled when he rolled his eyes and began pleading loudly to the goddess for patience.
?You look absolutely, devastatingly handsome, husband,? she assured him huskily. ?You?ll turn every female head there.? Then she laughed throatily and let her hand roam up his ribs and to his broad shoulders.
Amri crossed his arms over his chest and tried his best to give her a very stern look. ?You?re a very naughty wife,? he said reprovingly.
She nodded solemnly and began to unbutton the tunic. ?You?re right, I am,? she said without remorse.
?And I should spank you,? he said in a husky whisper.
Her eyes bright with laughter, she pursed her lips. ?Yes, you should, in fact, I demand that you do.?
?If only my father knew what a hoyden I?d wed,? he said.
Lenora smiled smugly and crinkled her nose at him. ?He knew exactly what I was, and that?s why he knew I was perfect for you.?
Amri lifted her up against him, the problem of his tunic for the ball forgotten. ?So you think I look handsome in these fine clothes??
?Actually, I think you?ll look far better out of them,? she murmured.
?So there?s an agenda here??
She kissed the pulse now racing in his throat. ?Oh, most definitely,? she agreed.
?I?ve turned your head. Is that it, milady??
?Since the day I met you,? she affirmed.
?Then you?d best be keeping a close eye on me when we go to that ball,? he murmured just before his lips slanted over hers.
They kissed and when she leaned back, her face was rosy. ?I?ll be keeping more than my eyes on you, my fine rogue.?
Throwing her over his shoulder, he gave her rear a playful whack, causing her to pummel at his back with her fists. She was laughing so hard she could barely breathe.
Then he gently placed her on their bed and smiled at her tenderly. ?It?ll be a chore letting you run those sweet, soft hands of yours over my fine specimen of a body, but I guess I?ll manage.??
Pulling his head down to hers, she whispered, ?That?s my brave pirate.?
Lenora stood before him, her hands on her hips, and jerked up her chin. ?I still say I?m not leaving my son at home!?
?But Lenora,? Amri tried to placate her, ?traveling with a baby is a major nuisance.?
?When have you had to travel with a baby, Amri-Lon Jinn?? she asked.
He sputtered for a moment and then replied in a subdued voice. ?I meant that I would imagine that traveling with a baby is rather tiresome.?
?Well then, I imagine that I?ll just be staying right here with our son,? she said. ?Go to your blasted ball and have yourself a fine time!?
?Now, Lenora,? he said soothingly and placed his huge hands on her slender shoulders.
Neatly she stepped away from him. ?Now what, Amri? You want me to change my mind? You want me to be reasonable?? Her voice was dripping was sarcasm. ?What is it that you want me to do, Amri? Play nice??
?Just think about this logically,? he said and then clapped his hands over his mouth in horror. If there was one thing his wife did not want to hear, it was that she was not acting logically. He had learned that the hard way. Small though she was, she made up for her size with sheer tenacity. Once she had decided on a course of action, nothing short of death would keep her from that goal, including logic and the dire warnings of others.
Bearing down on him with one finger aimed at his chest, her brown eyes narrowed. ?I think you may want to reconsider that statement, husband.?
Amri sighed heavily. If he was honest with himself, and he usually was, he dreaded leaving Qui-Gon behind as well. ?Let?s at least see if Sarta is willing to go with us. We?ll need someone to keep an eye on him while we?re at the ball anyway.? He had run up the white flag of surrender, and they both knew it. He should have known not to argue with her, especially when it came to their son.
She slipped into his embrace and rested her head against the soft blue fabric of his shirt. ?You would have missed him, too, you big gundark.?
?I?m letting you have your way only because I don?t want to sleep with one eye open.?
?Of course you are, my love, and it?s very noble of you, too.?
Though they had expected the baby to be fussy on the journey, he had surprised all of them by usually being content to enjoy the changing scenery. Secured in his seat, he turned his head constantly, as if trying to take it all in. Even at seven months old, he was very well behaved.
When they passed by an enormous and ancient forest, the boy became so excited that Amri decided they would stop and let him get a better look at the towering trees. The little one wriggled and crowed his delight in his mother?s arms as they neared the trees. He began reaching for them as soon as they got close.
Lenora looked at Amri and he just shrugged, so she let her son?s tiny hands touch the bark. A grin spread across his face as he caressed the rough bark of the old trees. Then the babe rested his cheek against the tree and he laughed.
?He?s talking to trees now,? Sarta said with an indulgent smile.
?Wonder if he could talk to my crops and make them grow faster,? Amri said with a chuckle.
?You?d have the poor child out there chattering away to them all day if you thought he could actually encourage them to grow,? Lenora replied.
?All those fields will be his some day,? Amri said proudly. ?Look at those hands, Lenora; those are a farmer?s hands ? they?re big and broad and they?ll make things grow.?
Looking at his father, the baby reached out. ?Tired of me already?? his mother asked.
Taking his son in his arms, Amri shook his head. ?He wants to get a look up higher, but you?re just a little thing.? He let the baby sit on his shoulders and they walked south, the two of them inspecting some of the trees at the edge of the forest. Even from a distance, Lenora and Sarta could hear the little boy?s happy laughter.
Lenora decided that the location made a perfect spot for a picnic, and she and her friend began to bring out their food supplies from the sturdy little land transport. Sarta spread a blanket and Lenora placed the food on it. They talked and laughed, gossiped about the people they knew and discussed the upcoming ball. Lenora was not thrilled to attend the function, but she had decided not to ruin Amri?s joy in giving her something from her old life.
Shielding her eyes from the sun, Sarta looked after the big man who was twirling around with his son on his shoulders. ?He?s going to make the child dizzy,? she said with a shake of her head and a smile on her face.
Lenora looked up and sighed. ?Then he?ll get a surprise on those broad shoulders of his, won?t he??
The women?s eyes met and they burst into laughter.
?Is he still fretting about that blasted tunic?? Sarta asked as she took a deep drink of cool, sweet water.
?No, I finally convinced him that he?ll be in the height of fashion,? she answered. ?Of course, I don?t know if those politicians and their wives have ever seen quite so much man before,? and her eyes twinkled wickedly.
Nodding her agreement, Sarta chuckled. ?I?m thinking they?ll be a bit surprised when you and your rogue of a husband walk into that fancy ball.? She shot her friend a sly look. ?The ladies especially...?
?If they can?t keep their hands from him, they just may find those hands go missing,? Lenora said nonchalantly, but there was a determined gleam in her eyes.
She turned when she heard Qui-Gon?s chortles behind her. Amri had him lifted up high in the air and was pretending the baby was a space ship ?flying? through the air.
?He?s going to vomit if you keep that up,? she said dryly.
Amri immediately lowered the boy and gave him an anxious look. Then he grinned. ?I don?t think so, my love. He loves it!?
Moreover, the look on his face confirmed his father?s words. He immediately began thrusting his little body up, clearly demanding that the action be repeated.
?Uh!? He stared as his father and bounced.
?Your mother says you?ll get sick,? Amri told him.
?UH!? Qui-Gon frowned and bounced again. ?UH!?
The big man shook his head but something in his face must have given away his intentions, because Qui-Gon began to grin and bounced up and down in his father?s arms in earnest.
?Uh, uh, uh!? His little arms stretched upward.
Amri gave his wife a triumphant look. ?I told you he?s made of sterner stuff. He likes it.?
?You mean you like it.?
?We like it,? he said and then he nodded at his son. ?Don?t we?
The baby nodded back in perfect imitation of his father.
Amri pulled at his collar and grimaced. Lenora glanced at him with an indulgent smile. No matter how strongly he had argued that they should attend this function, he was now finding out firsthand just how deadly dull such things were. He was also discovering how very uncomfortable the required clothing was.
She could remember many, many hours spent in shoes that pinched and dresses that made breathing difficult, all in the name of being stylish. There was a good reason she had never wished for the social life her parents had provided and that was because she did not miss it ? not one bit.
They were now mingling with the stuffy crowd, something she could do with her eyes closed and hands tied behind her back. That thought brought an inappropriate grin to her face as she considered tying Amri?s hands and kidnapping him away from this supremely boring affair. She felt his hand on her elbow and prayed that he was going to direct her out into the garden. At least there, she would be able to breathe without smelling a cloying perfume that had been applied with a too liberal a hand on some politician?s wife or mistress.
As she turned, however, she saw that it was her husband?s friend, Shim Absolon, who had arranged for their invitation. He had at his side a Jedi Knight. As soon as Amri saw who Shim?s companion was, he began to shift from foot to foot in excitement.
?Welcome, Amri,? Shim said with a smile and a nod to Lenora. ?You look lovely tonight, Lenora. Which is no surprise at all,? he said in his husky voice as he gave her a gallant bow. His eyes went back to his friend and a twinkle appeared in them. ?May I present Master C?Lyn Bortan, representative of the Jedi Order and a visitor to our fair planet??
Amri cleared his throat and could barely seem to force words past his throat. He had been raised on the heroic tales of the Jedi, and to him that Order represented all that was still good and noble in the galaxy. Lenora had teased him more than once about his unswerving adoration of the Jedi, but he had taken it in stride.
Amri liked to believe the best of everyone, but even to him the Jedi occupied a special place in the galaxy. It might be somewhat unsophisticated of him, but she knew deep in her heart that his na?ve belief in the inherent goodness of those around him was one of the things she loved best. No matter how much evil he saw, there was a deep, immutable core of endearing innocence in her husband.
?Master Bortan, it is a high honor to meet you,? Amri said fervently.
Lenora glanced around and saw some of the politicians snickering at her husband?s obvious awe of the Knight. They considered themselves much too urbane to feel anything but boredom, so his earnestness was a source of amusement for them. The Jedi Master, however, merely ignored the laughter and mocking smiles. He grasped both of Amri?s hands in the traditional handshake of close friends and gave him a warm smile before giving him a small bow.
?It is a high honor to meet you as well, Amri-Lon Jinn.?
A flush of pleasure washed over Amri?s face and the tall Jedi clapped a hand on his shoulder. ?You?re a fine man, honest and forthright,? he said and his gaze flickered to the crowd. ?That?s a rare thing in the galaxy today.?
Lenora placed her hand proudly on her husband?s forearm. ?You are correct, Master Bortan. My husband is a giant among men in more ways than one.?
Master Bortan smiled at her. ?Then he is deserving of the treasure he has found in you, milady.?
The Jedi gave them both one last smile and moved on, greeting each guest with a polite nod. Everyone in the room, however, had noticed the very warm and familiar greeting he had given to the provincial farmer. Now they murmured to each other, whispering that there might be more to the country giant than they knew.
Never being ones to miss an opportunity to take advantage, many of the guests soon crowded around the Jinns, even though they had been wondering earlier how the huge farmer and his wife had warranted an invitation. Now speculation ran wild that Amri and the Jedi had known each other long ago and the Jinn fellow was advising his friend on trade negotiations. On the other hand, maybe Amri had trained at the Temple and not been quite good enough to become a Jedi but had maintained his old contacts. Who knew what delicious gossip might come forth in the coming days?
The Jinns were the focus of much conversation as the evening progressed. Lenora took control of the situation and smoothly diverted any questions. Amri was too honest to deal with the bunch of them, she thought. Rather than giving them any direct answers, she gave responses that were stellar examples of evasion.
It was just like the old days, she reflected sadly.
They would be leaving tomorrow, Lenora thought with relief. At last, she would sleep in her own bed and watch Qui-Gon crawl through the gardens of her own home. He loved to be outside, and on the rare occasions he became fussy, a trip to the garden was almost guaranteed to put a smile on the little boy?s face.
Too many days spent indoors, no matter how luxurious the rooms, had made the babe restless, so they had brought him to the Governor?s gardens. He was happily digging his hands into the dirt, having plopped himself down by a bush and started his excavation.
?Should we let him dig there?? Amri asked anxiously. ?It might upset the gardeners.?
Lenora just smiled. ?Let him have fun and get a little dirty. He?s been cooped up for too long.?
?Well, if you think it?s all right,? he said uncertainly.
She suddenly realized that this was something else that had bothered her since they arrived. Amri was always so confident, so self-assured, without crossing the line into arrogance. Yet here, he seemed uncertain about almost everything, almost as if he felt unworthy of being here. Since she considered him the most truly noble man she knew, his uncertainty ate at her.
Lenora wanted to get him home and watch him strut around their small estate. She wanted to hear his big, booming voice shake the rafters. She did not like this tentative Amri.
A loud chuckle from the baby turned her attention back to her son. She blinked when she noticed the Jedi standing over the babe. ?Master Bortan, we didn?t expect to find anyone else in the gardens at this hour.? She nodded and moved over on the small bench. ?Please, join us.?
He greeted them and then sat down in the grass close to Qui-Gon. He plucked a small flower and held it out to the boy, who leaned forward to inspect it more closely, and then reached out to take it. The Jedi gave him the flower and the baby held it close to his face before rubbing it on his cheek.
?You like that?? Master Bortan grinned at the little boy sitting in the dirt, a red flower pressed against his face. Then Qui-Gon touched the Jedi?s sand-colored tunics with his dirty little hands.
Amri came forward in a rush. ?I?m so sorry, Master Bortan.? He began to reach for his son.
?Oh, it?s no bother,? he said as he picked up the baby and placed him in his lap. ?I assure that these tunics have been through much worse.?
Qui-Gon sat for a moment, quietly surveying his surroundings from this slightly new perspective. Then he crowed with delight, seeming to find a great deal of satisfaction in his altered seating arrangement. He watched the birds above and tilted his head as they began to call to each other.
The Jedi presented the baby with yet another flower, which he seemed to like even more than the first. He tried to eat it, but Master Bortan gently removed it from his mouth. For a moment, Qui-Gon looked as if he could not decide if he wanted to cry or not. Apparently, he decided that the loss of the flower was not a tragedy and settled back against the Jedi?s chest.
Lenora watched the warrior interact with her child and she began to understand a little of her husband?s deep admiration for the Jedi Order. Though she knew the man sitting before her could easily destroy any enemy, he seemed equally at home with a slightly grimy baby in his lap.
?You are good with children, Master Bortan,? she said, and she could not completely disguise her surprise.
?In the Temple one must learn to get along with all ages,? the Jedi said easily.
?Are many children there?? Amri asked, his natural curiosity coming to the fore.
Adjusting the child, Master Bortan answered. ?Many, many children live there, younglings of all species and from every corner of the galaxy.?
?I imagine you?ve seen much of the galaxy,? the farmer said, a note of envy in his voice.
?I?ve seen a lot, yes. But not all of it good,? he said quietly.
?I?ve got a farm near the edge of the western sea,? Amri said. ?I?ve not been off planet in a long, long time,? he said as he sat down beside his wife. He pulled her hand into his and cradled it on his lap.
Qui-Gon turned in the Jedi?s lap and grabbed the fabric on the man?s shoulders. Then he began to struggle to his feet. Somewhat wobbly, he nevertheless gave the Jedi a triumphant grin when he did not immediately fall.
For a moment the Jedi did nothing more than stare at the little boy. The two of them looked deeply into each other?s eyes and the baby was unusually quiet. Then he leaned forward and placed his forehead against the man?s broad chest.
C?Lyn ran his hand through the boy?s brown curls. He closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them to stare at Amri and Lenora.
He gave them a smile that was both sad and amazed at the same time.
?You have a very special son.?
In all the years that came after that day, she could never exactly recall the words Master Bortan said. She did not remember the walk to their rooms or sitting down and speaking with the Jedi while Sarta watched the baby in another room.
She did not remember taking her son to the healer and holding him while they tested his blood. The sound of his cries as she comforted him was something that she remembered all too well, as well as her own frantic clutching of Amri?s hand. Lenora also recalled that the big hand shook as it held hers.
Master Bortan stared at the results on the data pad and then turned his eyes toward them. He held out the data pad silently, letting them read it for themselves.
Midichlorian count: 10,000
Through an odd rushing sound in her ears, she tried to take in the words that the Jedi spoke. At times, she could see his mouth moving and knew he was saying something important. However, she could not make out the words above the anguished voice screaming in her head.
From a distance, she heard Amri ask C?Lyn Bortan questions. What those questions might have been or how the Jedi responded, she could not say. Long afterward, she and Amri would discuss that meeting and she found that holes existed in his memory as well. Together, they reconstructed the meeting as best they could. However, they would always wonder if they remembered it correctly at all.
It took a long while, but Lenora finally quieted the cries in her mind and focused her attention on the almost apologetic Jedi Knight. Master Bortan held out his hands as he spoke. ?Your son is very strong in the Force,? he said quietly. ?He has the potential to be a gifted Jedi.?
?But you would have to take him now?? Amri asked, still unable to wrap his mind around the idea of never seeing his son again. He could get no further than that concept.
Bortan?s shoulders slumped and he nodded. ?Yes, I?m afraid that is the way things are done.? He glanced at Lenora. ?The life of a Jedi is not an easy one, milady; I will not lie to you.?
Lenora nodded stiffly, and was suddenly aware of every centimeter of her skin. Her flesh felt raw, burned. She ached all over.
?It is a lonely life at times,? he admitted, ?but there are great rewards as well.? He turned to Amri. ?Your son will be a part of the Order that has safeguarded the galaxy for thousands of years. It is a worthy tradition to which he would dedicate his life.?
Amri and Lenora could do no more than sit silently. Words did not have the power to convey what they felt and so they did not speak them.
?Your son has a special bond with the Force. It is a rare gift, not given to many and utilized to its fullest by even fewer.?
?But we will not see him again,? Lenora came back to the only fact that seemed important.
?No, you will not.? Master Bortan could be nothing less than completely honest. ?He will grow up in the Temple and eventually train with a Jedi Master. When he is old enough and has passed his trials, he will become a Jedi Knight. One day he might take an apprentice, or Padawan, of his own. However, those will be the only ties he will have. Attachment is forbidden to the Jedi.?
Bortan got up abruptly and walked over to the window. He did not look at them, but kept his gaze focused on the gardens below. ?He will not know your names or even the planet on which he was born.?
?You are asking me to give you my only child,? Amri said in a choked voice.
?Yes, that is what I?m asking.? Master Bortan?s voice was calm.
Amri met Lenora?s eyes, matching expressions of pain on their faces.
?We have to talk about this privately,? Amri said.
?I understand,? Bortan said quickly. ?I will be in my room. You may contact me when you have reached your decision.?
He showed himself out and the confused parents were left to stare at one another, completely at a loss.
Amri-Lon studied Lenora, noting the stiff set of her shoulders, the way her hands clenched around each other so tightly that her knuckles shone white.
She cut him off with a gesture. ?Please, just don?t speak right now.?
?If you talk, Amri, I will have to respond. And if I speak any more I?ll begin screaming and I won?t be able to stop.?
Amri closed his mouth without making another sound.
He watched his wife pace around the small chamber. He saw the tears trace their way down her cheek, though she did not seem aware of them in the least. They fell and spotted the bright green fabric of her dress. Finally, she stopped and almost threw herself at him. He had remained in his chair, and she knelt on the floor before him and wrapped her arms around his waist. ?I know what we should do, but I don?t think I can bear it.? Her voice was muffled against his chest.
His fingers twined in her long brown curls and he rubbed the silkiness of it, finding comfort in that familiar texture. ?I cannot imagine a life without him,? Amri admitted.
?My heart is being ripped out of me,? she said quietly.
?We don?t have to let him go,? he said in a tight voice.
?No,? she said. ?But do we have the right to deny him that life?? Her face came up and she met his tortured gaze with her own. ?What will he think of us if he ever finds out he might have become a Jedi, but we were too weak to let him go?? she asked.
Amri cradled her face in his hands. ?He will think that we loved him too much to live without him.?
She shook her head. ?He will resent us.?
?Or maybe he will grow up in that Temple and wonder how we could have ever given him up.?
Lenora nuzzled his palm with her cheek. ?We cannot know what he will think. We must be strong and do what is best for him. No matter how hard that might be.?
?Even if it means giving him up?? Amri asked.
?Even giving him up, Amri, we have to do what is right.?
?I don?t think I am that strong,? he confessed.
?You are the strongest man I know,? Lenora told him as she caressed his bearded cheek. ?And right now I need your strength as I have never needed it before.?
?I?m afraid I will fail you,? he murmured.
?You could never fail me, Amri-Lon Jinn.?
She climbed in his lap and he held her, running his hands down her slim back. They did not speak, but they communicated in the way that they always had, which had no need of words. The sun had moved far in the sky when she finally stirred. She wiped the tears from her face and then gently did the same for him.
?So, we are decided then??
?We do what is best for him,? Amri said firmly, though his eyes were red with unshed tears.
Lenora got to her feet and brushed off her skirts, suddenly business-like. He knew, though, that she concentrated on the details, the mundane minutiae, to distract her from what was coming. When his wife was troubled, she was just as likely to catalogue the household spices as to weep.
?I will tell Sarta to pack his things,? she said, and when her voice trembled on the last word, she straightened her shoulders resolutely.
?I will do that,? Amri protested.
Lenora shook her head. ?No, we will let Sarta attend to that. You and I will spend time with our son before-? She could go no further. Her voice failed but her determination did not.
?We had better warn them,? Amri said.
Curious, she turned to him. ?Warn them about what??
He gave her a smile that was a ghost of what it had been. ?About how much the boy eats,? he said quietly. They did not laugh, but tremulous smiles briefly danced upon their lips before being chased away by the knowledge of what they must do.
Amri stood with his arm around his wife as the tall Jedi turned and walked away with their son. Qui-Gon peered over Master Bortan?s shoulder at his parents, but did not seem distressed. He smiled and gurgled at them, as if pleased to be off on an adventure.
Lenora could do no more than quietly weep, Sarta?s hand holding hers and her husband?s arm around her, supporting her. She thought she might fall to the ground if not for their strength. She did not know until months later that they felt it was her strength that sustained them.
Amri spoke to his son for the last time.
?Though you are far from home, you will not be far from our hearts, Qui-Gon Jinn!?
The Jinns returned home to their farm near the edge of the western sea. Their friends grieved with them for the little boy who had brought so much to them all. Amri did not walk quite as confidently through his fields as before, and Lenora?s smile did not really reach her soft, brown eyes. However, they did not mention these things; they accepted them as part of their natural sorrow.
Then one day, Amri heard Lenora laugh and he knew that a time would eventually come when they would be all right. They would not forget; no, they could never forget their son. Nevertheless, they would know joy again.
Two years later, they were blessed with a daughter and a small patch grew over the wounds in their hearts. Little Jesetta rode on her father?s shoulders as he strode through the fields, proud once more of what he grew there. Lenora was able to think of her son and found that tears did not automatically spring to her eyes. Their daughter had her father?s blue eyes and her mother?s brown curls. She did not talk to the trees, but she did sing along with the birds.
When Jesetta was six, Lenora gave birth to a big, healthy son and the wound on their hearts healed even further.
Exeldor, as they named him, was as dark-haired as his father was and had his mother?s warm, brown eyes. He had Lenora?s irreverent sense of humor and Amri?s love of growing things. He liked to roam in the almost endless fields that one day would be his responsibility. Jesetta and Exeldor grew up in a home full of love and warmth.
Their laughter was the music of those years.
They knew of their brother, of course, for young Qui-Gon was still remembered fondly by all who had known and loved him. Their parents spoke of him often, their voices resonating with both sadness and pride. The children could not remember a time when the small holo of the grinning baby was not by their mother?s side of the bed. They also knew that inside a drawer was nestled a small lock of baby soft hair exactly the color of their mother?s own curls.
Exeldor often saw his mother give the holo a single, longing touch before she went to bed. At times, he would sneak into his mother?s room and look at that holo and share his childish sorrows.
The two children grew up and got married. Jesetta moved away, as children will do, but came home often with her husband and two children. Exeldor stayed close to home, and eventually he and his wife built a small cottage on the edge of his parents? property.
Amri and Lenora grew old together. Her hair turned white and his shoulders rounded with age. Their love remained strong and vital as the years passed. Everyone who knew them marveled at the strength of their bond. That bond had been built as much by sorrow as by joy, and so it was doubly precious to them.
When Exeldor was in his early forties, he got word that a fire had ravaged his childhood home. He arrived to find that everything familiar had been transformed into something else entirely. The fire had spread quickly and Amri and Lenora had perished, together in death as they had always been in life. They were found huddled in their bedroom, Amri?s big body draped protectively over his wife.
The smoke that had killed them had also left them relatively untouched, and Exeldor was surprised to see that each of them wore a peaceful smile, as if it had all worked out according to their plan.
Exeldor and his family moved into the lovely new home that became a living testimony to the great love shared by his parents and passed down to their children. The holo of his brother had survived the fire that his parents had not. It seemed wrong that an object would escape unscathed while his parents were gone, but he treasured it as they had.
In the year that Exeldor became a grandfather for the first time, his small world came under siege. Through luck and isolation, Exeldor and his family were safe during that brief but dangerous time. Exeldor and his people suffered, but they endured their troubles without complaint, keeping hope that they would be delivered from their enemy. The verdant planet was not without its defenders.
Soon the droid army was defeated and their young queen was restored to her throne. Exeldor and his family celebrated with the rest of Naboo. Word spread of the heroes and among them was the fallen Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn.
Upon hearing the name, Exeldor went to his knees and wept for the brother he had never known.
The ashes of the Jedi Master who had given his life in defense of Naboo drifted up into the gentle breeze that carried them over the western sea and to the lands beyond.
So it was that the boy who had grown up so far from home came back at long last.
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.