"I don't see why I have to do this," Obi-Wan muttered, not quite under his breath. "Seems pretty senseless to me," he added with a pointed look toward Qui-Gon.
An amused glance from his Master only made the young man sigh heavily. "You'll see the value in it eventually," Qui-Gon assured him.
Obi-Wan blew out a breath and squinted at the pile of stones beside him. "That's a lot of rocks," he observed, just in case his Master had not noticed.
"I'm aware of that, Padawan," Qui-Gon replied dryly. "In fact, since there are so many of them, perhaps you should get started?"
The suggestion was more than a suggestion, and they both knew it.
With a resigned nod of his head, Obi-Wan turned his attention to the task assigned to him by his Master. Perhaps Qui-Gon was angry at him for something, he mused. Or maybe his Master was merely cranky over something else entirely and it would be the innocent Padawan who paid the price. As usual, he thought a bit sourly.
Obi-Wan scowled at the rock he was carrying.
Carefully, he put it in place, making sure it was level and well nestled in the ground.
A firm foundation, he thought. The Padawan looked back at Qui-Gon for approval, but his Master was sprawled on the grass, his head pillowed on his arms and his eyes closed while he hummed a less than musical tune.
"Must be nice to have nothing to do," Obi-Wan grumbled to himself, though he thought he saw a ghost of a smile tug at Qui-Gon's lips.
He continued to carry stones and Qui-Gon continued to hum. Then suddenly, Obi-Wan realized that all he heard was the sound of the wind whistling through the grasses and was relieved that Qui-Gon had stopped with the incessant humming.
Even a Jedi can only take so much, he assured himself.
Obi-Wan stopped counting how many trips he made between the pile of stones and what was rapidly beginning to resemble a wall when he hit one hundred seventy-seven. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he stopped and studied his Master.
Qui-Gon appeared to be asleep, his long legs sprawled out, his hair waving in the gentle breeze, and -
What? Was he actually snoring? The man could rival a bantha with that noise, Obi-Wan thought with a smirk.
Another loud snort reached Obi-Wan and he shook his head in disbelief. While he labored under a hot sun, Qui-Gon was having himself a nap. And enjoying it quite a bit, if appearances were not deceiving. Even as he watched, Qui-Gon exhaled lustily and idly scratched at his belly before giving another hearty snore.
Enjoying his nap indeed, Obi-Wan thought crossly.
The young man turned his attention to the ever-so-slowly disappearing pile of rocks. Selecting one he thought just might fit in a small hole between two larger stones, he carried it back to the wall and began working on discovering the best position for the smaller rock. He tried it first one way and then another, but in the end he had to move the largest stone slightly to the right to make room for it. It was more challenging than a puzzle, he mused, but more satisfying somehow.
When that problem had been solved, he returned to the pile and selected yet another rock. Grunting with the effort, he could not help but think that the whole process would have gone much quicker if he had been allowed to carry more than one stone, especially the smaller ones, in a single trip.
"And what good is being able to use the Force if I can't even carry a blasted rock with it?" he asked himself. "I'm a Jedi! Not a farmer, for Force's sake..."
Qui-Gon, however, had been most adamant that he could transport only one rock at a time and only using the power of his own muscles. His Master's purpose was a mystery, as so many things about Qui-Gon Jinn were.
Slowly, laboriously and with meticulous attention to detail, Obi-Wan built the wall as his Master had instructed. What purpose the wall would serve in the middle of an empty field, he did not know. It reached no other natural boundaries, so it would merely stand alone, a useless stone wall in the middle of a field.
The sun rose high in the sky, and Obi-Wan felt his tunics begin to stick to him. At last, he gave in and removed his outer garments, working only in his leggings and a thin tunic. Qui-Gon, still snoring under the afternoon sky, seemed quite comfortable, a fact that only added to Obi-Wan's general sense of annoyance and misery.
Qui-Gon had thoughtfully (but wasn't it the least he could do, Obi-Wan reflected) provided two full canteens of fresh, clear water. The young man drank the first one in short order, but rationed the second one more carefully. Qui-Gon had not given instructions against obtaining more water, but Obi-Wan was not going to take any chances.
Working in the heat was brutal enough without being thirsty as well.
When he picked up the last stone, Obi-Wan could not prevent the heartfelt sigh of relief that escaped him. He carried the stone to the wall and considered the best placement for this, the rock that would complete his task. It was a sturdy wall, and he felt a measure of pride in it.
He had carried out his Master's instructions with care and dedication, if not enthusiasm.
Obi-Wan was not surprised to turn around and see Qui-Gon on his feet, studying the wall from a distance. Qui-Gon rubbed at his beard thoughtfully and paced, considering Obi-Wan's work from several angles. At last, he nodded and smiled.
"Excellent work, Padawan." He gave the praise with a warm look in his eyes and Obi-Wan suddenly felt his aches and pains disappearing, taking along with them his lingering resentment over the odd assignment.
"Thank you, Master."
Qui-Gon came to stand by Obi-Wan's side and laid a friendly hand on the young man's shoulder. "You worked hard," he murmured.
"You probably wondered why I would give you such a seemingly meaningless task," Qui-Gon guessed with a small laugh, "and yet, after your initial doubts, you put yourself to the job as you would any other."
Obi-Wan struggled with himself for a moment and then confessed. "Not completely, Master. I continued to have my doubts even as I worked."
"I know you did," Qui-Gon said warmly, "but you did not allow that to interfere with completing your task."
The two men were silent for a moment, each absorbed in their own thoughts. "Tell me, Master," Obi-Wan said hesitantly, "why did you ask me to build the wall?"
"You won't always be the Padawan, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said enigmatically. "There will come a day when you will be the Master."
"True..." Obi-Wan replied, confused.
"It's not an easy thing being a Master, you know," Qui-Gon said softly. "Being a Padawan requires patience and discipline and obedience, it's true. But being the Master requires all of those things and much more besides."
Obi-Wan paused for a moment. "I still say being a Padawan is the harder job," he answered ruefully.
Qui-Gon laughed and shook his head. "I did too, when I was a Padawan," he admitted. "It was only when I became a Master that I saw how difficult it was to be the teacher and not the student. Of course, it is often the teacher who learns the lesson."
"Have I taught you a lot then?" Obi-Wan asked, his lips quirking.
"More than you can realize," Qui-Gon answered. Then he sighed deeply and clasped his hands in front of him. "Building this wall is a bit like building the bond between a Master and a Padawan." He turned and met Obi-Wan's eyes. "You must build it slowly and carefully," he said, gesturing toward the wall. "Each act, each word, is a small stone you put in place. It must fit, or the wall weakens and will give way in the face of the first strong wind, and you cannot be in a hurry to finish the task, or it will not stand the test of time."
"I think I'm beginning to see the purpose of the task," Obi-Wan replied.
Qui-Gon continued as if he had not heard Obi-Wan's words. "And the most important thing about the bond to remember is that as much time and care as it takes to build it, no matter how strong it appears, it is in reality quite fragile..."
With that, Qui-Gon lifted his hands and gave a mighty push with the Force. There was a rumbling sound and then stones flew backward and away from them. The wall had been completely demolished with a thought. Obi-Wan stared at it, bewildered to a point beyond anger at the lost work. He was merely confused.
Blinking, he looked up at his Master. "Why?" he asked simply.
"What you create over time can be destroyed in an instant," Qui-Gon said softly. "That is the lesson I wished to teach you today."
Obi-Wan stared at the pile of rocks scattered around them. What had been a well-built wall just a few moments ago had been reduced to nothing more than rubble. A drop of sweat trickled down his back, an unwelcome reminder of all the hours he had spent building the wall that Qui-Gon had destroyed so casually.
Then to his surprise, Qui-Gon knelt in the grass and began selecting stones just as Obi-Wan had done all morning, settling them into the foundation that Obi-Wan had built so recently. Without a word, Obi-Wan knelt beside him, placing stones carefully beside his Master's, fitting them together.
"And what is destroyed can sometimes be repaired," Qui-Gon said. Then he glanced at Obi-Wan. "When we work together, we will find that the task is much easier."
Together, the men worked and the wall was rebuilt.
It stood, a solitary island of stone in a sea of fragrant grass.
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.