Sunset stained the high windows. Light striped the dusty air of the
training room. The deadly, graceful patterns of the blue blade sliced
through dimness and shafts of deep gold illumination.
In the polished walls, Padawan Jinn's reflection matched the low
speeding grace of his attacks, soared with him through the aerial
portions of the kata. The strenuous perfection of the exercise eased a
tightness in his soul. Today I have done well. It hurt to
hope. It hurt to crave his Master's praise so much and earn only
disappointment, But today I know I got it right. Today, for once, he
will be happy with me.
Master Yoda paused in the doorway. Hmn, he cautioned himself,
Enchanted you will not be. Disobedient he is, disrespectful.
Yet still he stopped, just for a moment, to watch.
With a rapid flurry of delicate moves the boy retreated in back stance.
His posture was impeccable. The Force rooted him, rose through him,
poured out into a blossom of cutting light. Always like sap, a tree,
a storm, Yoda thought ruefully, Never like a star, The boy's
strangeness expressed itself even here, within the most rigid of fixed
Know this kata at all he should not. Too dangerous for children it
is. Words I will have with whoever taught him this.
The boy knew he was being watched. Finishing the kata with a flourish
of flame in the shape of a helix, he bowed to his imaginary enemy, put
the training sabre back in its rack and padded over, his rough features
softened with a smile of achievement. "Master?"
Yoda sighed. Impudence! "That innocent face you will not pull
with me, Qui-Gon Jinn."
Instantly the smile was gone. Something haunted and vulnerable flinched
through the sky blue eyes, but the boy said nothing. How was it, Yoda
wondered, that this youth could go through his life breaking every rule
and still look so hurt and puzzled at a simple rebuke?
Long habit brought Qui-Gon to his knees at his Master's tone, making it
easier for Yoda to study his face. Worried he looks. Oppressed.
Guilty he feels not. A very common combination. "Qui-Gon Jinn,
your birthday it is."
"Yes I know, Master."
"Thirteen you are."
The boy nodded, acknowledging the fact, waiting for the sting. There
was still honest puzzlement on his face. One of his over-large hands
was toying nervously with his chocolate brown braid.
Yoda felt a familiar exasperation at the sight. Hard to believe though
it was, he was certain now that young Jinn didn't know what it was that
he'd done wrong. Stupid he is not. Why then can he not
"A solemn date it is. Asked, you were, to review your past and the past
of your Order. Your heritage. Spend the day in study and meditation
you should, to accept, come to terms with the past, to let go.
Important this is."
In a seven hundred year run of Master Yoda's apprentices, every one had
spent their thirteenth birthday in quiet contemplation. Every one had
emerged from their austere self-examination revitalized, committed,
mature. Why should this one be different?
"This morning several hours you spent in the crèche, playing and
drinking tea with Supervisor Gafiest."
The boy's mouth twitched slightly, unrepentant, but unable to commit to
a larger smile for fear of censure. He inclined his head in agreement
and waited for the point to become clear. Making this easy he is
not. "And then?"
Qui-Gon wrapped his arms around himself. The light tunic he wore was
damp and clung across his shoulders. Skin stood up in bumps along his
arms. Unable to suit his actions to his feelings, Yoda stumped away and
returned with the cloak that had lain crumpled in the doorway. He
draped it over his Padawan and watched as the warmth eased a tension in
the boy's distant eyes. A shadow in Qui-Gon's aura withdrew, slightly.
"After that I played smashball with Ki, Tahl and Gemda."
"Educational that was, I'm sure." Wrong, something is. A symptom,
this disobedience may be.
Jinn laughed - the little chuckle which seemed too restrained, too adult
for him. "It always is."
"Next, with Padawan Gemda, watched a vid you did."
"It was about Nomi Sunrider," said Qui-Gon, as if that explained
Yoda fought back an onslaught of futility, beckoned for his Padawan to
follow, and set off towards his quarters at a smart pace. "Later,
disappeared entirely you did..."
"I went to visit my friend Shebreth. He's a municipal gardener in
"Oh, appropriate this is," Yoda grumbled to himself, shaking his head
over yet another of the boy's strange acquaintances. "Solemn lessons
you are to learn. An entire Temple of Jedi Masters you have available,
and seek out a nobody you do. Good enough for you your own master was
Qui-Gon's step faltered. Looking back, Yoda caught the unbelieving look
as it flinched across his Padawan's face. "Nobody's a nobody, Master.
And Shebreth's very special."
Dares to rebuke me now, does he? Yoda's indignation was tinged
with amusement, but steely nonetheless. In disgrace he is, not
"Shebreth knows everything there is to know about ambulatory lilies."
The defensive tone had segued seamlessly into enthusiasm. "Do you know
the blood-orchids of Jalan Omega are semi-sentient? He's been raising
one. It's ten feet tall, and deadly poisonous, and it likes me!"
Qui-Gon bowed his way through the low door of their quarters, shucked
off the cloak and threw it on a chair. Then he peeled off his wet
training tunic and dumped it on the floor.
Yoda sighed again. "Not finished with you, I am. Finally track you
down, I do, and find you practising a kata unsuitable and dangerous for
one your age."
At last, now that he was home - in his own space - the Padawan was ready
to be vulnerable. He stopped in the act of pulling a clean tunic from
the rumpled pile at the bottom of his cupboard, and went down on his
knees again, twisting the material into long creases. "Master, please,
just tell me what I've done wrong this time."
He wasn't stupid, Yoda reminded himself, but sometimes it was as if he
lived in an entirely different universe from everyone else. "Intend to
do the traditional meditation and reflection at all, do you? Fit it in,
you will, during the last five minutes of the day, perhaps? Or need it
not, you think? Good enough for every other Jedi it is, but not for
Some of the constant frustration of dealing with young Jinn pointed the
next words and made them cut. "Too special you are to do as others do?
Rules apply not to you, hmn?"
"But..." Qui-Gon's eyes widened and his calloused fingers lifted to
rest gently on the side of his broken nose - a gesture that Yoda knew
well. It meant 'Please stop hurting me'. "But I have done it."
Sincerity was obvious as the voice slipped from adult to child and back
again. "I spent the whole day, like you said. I did what you said."
Too old for this, I am. Yoda reached out to the Force for
patience. Immediately it suggested to him that keeping the young man
kneeling half naked on the stone floor was not the best way to
re-establish concord between them. "Shower, dress. Then explain you
will. Convincing you must be to escape punishment."
He was baking bread when the boy returned, bringing the smell of soap to
sweeten the fire's acrid smoke. Quietly - certainly his Padawan had a
gift for quiet - Qui-Gon brought out plates and mugs, set the low table.
"Master." Well used to sitting on the floor, Qui-Gon curled himself up
against the wall, watching the flat bread crisp on its hot stone. "You
asked me to review my past. To examine my heritage - what I need to
abandon and what take with me."
A succinct beginning. Yoda nodded and patted out another loaf, careful
not to watch the boy, careful to give him the space around himself that
he had always needed.
"When I think of my past," Qui-Gon said, "I think of people. Gafiest is
the first person I remember. Ki, Tahl and Gemda have been with me every
step of my life. Shebreth really helped me when I couldn't decide if I
wanted to go into Agricorps."
Yoda felt the alert gaze graze his back, gauging his annoyance, felt the
boy suppress another gesture of distress. "They all know more about me
than I do. I talked with them, listened to their memories of me, and
reviewed my life through their eyes. Then I used their perspectives to
help me define my own."
"See that I do," Yoda conceded, his heart sinking with the consciousness
of shame. Misjudged him, have I. Yes. "Illuminative the
opinions of our friends can be, if honest they are. And listen well you
do. Even if agree you cannot."
Correctly, Qui-Gon interpreted this as praise. Equally correctly he
neither relaxed nor faltered in his report. "The history of the Order?
I tend to see that as people too - a succession of dazzling
individuals. Yes, I understand the philosophy, and the prophecies, but
it's the people who make it what it is, for me."
"So the vid of Nomi Sunrider, yes. And the Kata?"
"I meditate best in action."
Eight hundred years of Jedi experience, Yoda thought, and he was not
prepared for this. So many Masters and Padawans, taking the same
routes, making the same responses to the same problems, and after a
while you no longer saw the faces. Only the process, only the Order
itself in its monumental evolving beauty.
How had this boy happened now? A thousand years ago there had been Jedi
like this - obeying the Force in their own way, and obeying nothing
else. Strange, wild, uncomfortable beings, untameable, splendid,
chaotic. A thousand years ago they had been needed, to fight the Sith.
But the Sith were dead, and what the galaxy required now was Jedi who
could bring order, and exist in order.
Yoda sighed again and looked down on his Padawan, noticing the
compressed mouth and newly drawn up knees. Qui-Gon was expecting
condemnation, and his spirit was dark with something he had not yet
In his own way, the boy had indeed done everything asked of him, but
still Yoda wanted to punish him. There was not room in the galaxy for
that type of Jedi any more. This anachronism of a child must be brought
into the modern world.
But justice wouldn't permit him to reprimand the boy. A thousand years
out of date though he was, he had still done well. "A fool you have
made of your old master again, hmn?"
He saw, with regret, the serious thought Qui-Gon gave to this joke. The
way the boy studied it, rejected the humour and took it into himself
like a knife - like blame. Why? A joke it was. See it he
"I'm sorry, Master. I guess...I should have asked exactly what it was
you wanted me to do. I just..." A scowl and then disciplined
breathing, obvious as tears, "I just thought I already knew."
The opportunity for praise had passed. Spoken now it would not be
believed. The old Master sighed again and put down a bowl of stew and
flat bread in front of the perpetually growing lad. "Thought, I have,
about a gift for you."
That too was traditional. At thirteen an apprentice was considered old
enough to travel the Outward Path - to leave the Temple and go into
danger beside their master. Something of a liberation for Master and
Student alike, the occasion was always marked by a small but meaningful
gift to the apprentice. Much like blackmail though it was in this
situation, Yoda had never known a child to be unmoved by the thought of
It seemed to work. Qui-Gon left off stirring the nameless vegetables in
his bowl and looked up with interest.
In the few snatched moments between steering the Order and restraining
the Senate, Yoda had been over the possibilities carefully. The answer
had always been the same; because they were so unalike, if he chose he
would undoubtedly pick something that the boy wouldn't appreciate or
understand. Therefore, "Any one thing within my power to give you, give
it I will. Your own choice it will be."
Privately Yoda felt his Padawan would ask for something astonishingly
inconvenient. Permission to drop basic engineering perhaps. Or
sponsorship to the knights' freestyle competition. It was horrifying to
think of the hurt feelings and ruffled feathers it would cause when he
He braced himself to meet the faith that lightened the boy's dawn blue
eyes. Oh yes, he was going to regret this, he knew it.
"I don't know how you knew I was going to ask. Master, I'd like
permission to meet my parents."
Empathic as he was, the apprentice would not miss Yoda's reaction,
whichever way he chose to mask it, so he allowed himself the luxury of
honesty. Feeling his shoulders slump, ears lower and eyes narrow, he
tracked the boy's answering emotions through the bond. Disappointment
and something darker, unexpected...anguish?
"Unwise this request is." A boy whose feelings were tugged by every
crying child he passed would certainly be unable to maintain Jedi
control when confronted by his family. Suppose they asked him to stay
with them? Almost certainly he would. And if they did not ask, then he
would feel devastated, unwanted. Harm to the Jedi either way it
would cause. Either by losing a boy of outstanding potential, or by
having him returned with yet more emotional scars. "Why? Why want you
Yoda heard his concern come out sounding like accusation, watched the
boy push away his food, face utterly still, but the haunted look
deepening in his eyes.
"You wanted me to review my heritage." The voice managed to combine
sullen with something deeper - a note of despair. "Aren't they part of
Despite his quietness, he could be eloquent when he wished. Even when,
as now, his words and hands trembled. "I have a heritage twenty five
thousand years old through the Jedi. But I have another, equally old,
through my blood, and I know nothing about it. Maybe there I can find
the answers I need. Why I don't... Why I can't... Why I don't
"Foolishness, you talk." So Qui-Gon felt like the misfit he was, did
he? Understandable - he was not stupid. "Belong here you do. Nothing
you will learn there but pain."
Protectiveness earthed itself through Yoda, with a strength he had not
felt in decades. He limped forward and prodded the boy's knee with his
stick. "Judged better it was, a long time ago, for the break with
parents to be complete. Jedi wisdom it is. Accept it you should."
Qui-Gon had begun to breathe hard with uncontrolled anger or distress.
Now he threw himself to his feet, movements full of violent energy.
Already he was too tall to stand comfortably in Yoda's chambers. Forced
to lean awkwardly, he slapped the ceiling with a long arm. "I feel like
this, Master. Crushed, bent, constrained! It's like I'm not
even the right shape for the Jedi. Doesn't today prove that? I tried
my hardest. I really thought about it. I did what had meaning for me,
and I got it wrong!"
The blue eyes were fierce and clear and far seeing - too alert to accept
a half truth even for comfort. "I know you wanted to punish me,
Master. Even when you said I'd done right, you felt I was wrong. I
don't fit. I just want to see if maybe that's because I belong
So already he was thinking of leaving. Perhaps it would be best just to
let him go. It would be an easy solution to a Force strong child who
was already tainted.
A pain closed around Yoda's throat. Want him to leave, I do not.
Tame him I still can. And love for the boy made his voice harsh.
"Forbid this, I should. Set a precedent, it would. Dangerous, leading
other initiates into peril, introducing bad influences, harming the
Silence, for a long time, as Qui-Gon processed what he'd just heard.
Utterly opaque, behind shields of which a knight could have been proud,
his face had smoothed into emptiness. His master had to guess at what
was going on behind the blank eyes. What was he focusing on? The
loneliness of being constantly out of place? Or a simple boyish sense
of betrayal at being offered a gift and having it snatched away again?
Though they had worked on his anger for four years now, still Yoda would
have preferred an explosion of rage to this.
Finally, still shrouded in ice, Qui-Gon folded smoothly into the posture
reserved for the most abject apology - on hands and knees, face pressed
into the floor.
"Young One? Child?" Punish him wrongly I do, refuse him what he
wants, accuse him - groundlessly - of harming the Order, and apologize
he does? Yoda crouched and touched the lowered shoulder. There was
no tremble; little sense of anything in fact, only a withdrawal so
profound it was like touching the event horizon of a dark star. Yoda
had encountered such a thing before only in suicides, and it shook him.
How had it come to this?
"Master," the voice too was desolate, "Please. I can't bear this any
more. I struggle every day, only to disappoint you by being who I am.
I know you want me to be somebody else, and I can be. I will be."
The mask slipped, enough for Yoda to see that it was a kind of
suicide being offered here. "I can do it, Master. I can be the kind of
Jedi you want me to be. It won't be real, but maybe that doesn't
matter. I can do it. I can make you proud..." A flash of wordless
terror quickly mastered and released, "If you ask."
One could not accept the sacrifice of a child's soul lightly. Though a
small part of Yoda's heart clamoured for him to raise the boy
immediately and hug him - to deny every truth he so painfully saw for
the sake of a moment's comfort - he would not. The offer had been made
with heartbreaking sincerity; it must be dealt with the same way.
Stepping back, Yoda folded his claws over the knob of his stick, studied
the form of his Padawan - crouched as if for execution. His desire was
to accept. To see Qui-Gon's stubborn will shaped to a blueprint of his
design. Great, he could become. Grow, he could, into what at first
he only pretends to be.
He centred himself and reached out to the Force, allowing his mind to
navigate the eddies of Time, which streamed brightly away from this dark
moment. The vision took him instantly, with a realism so sharp he could
A forest; ancient, tired, the trees broken under a weight of ivy,
lianas, moss, brittle unfallen leaves. The ground was tinder dry
underfoot, deep with desiccated timber, mould, fallen giants rotten with
fungus. The air smelled of dust and static, musty as a long closed
room. Only on the very edges of it, where twigs touched the light, was
there growth. The heart was tangled, weary, dying.
Sorrow flashed through Yoda at the sight. Untrue this is. My home,
my Order! Dying it is not...Is not!
Struggling through the cage of boughs came a man Yoda knew to be his
Padawan. Bruised and greened by the lichen shrouded branches, his long
hair was plucked by choke vine and the Master's cloak he wore was ripped
by fighting through the rat's nest of undergrowth.
The feeling of static increased, making Yoda's skin crawl, and then the
tall man met his eyes. An incredible feeling of homecoming,
recognition. The man's expression was worried, but he felt no guilt,
and he was about to do something horribly reckless. Qui-Gon!
But Qui-Gon had already opened his hand and loosed the fire he was
He watched it all burn - the growth of twenty five millennia gone in an
obscenely brief inferno. And Qui-Gon burned with it, in a magnificent
pyre he surely didn't merit. The smell of carbon choked Yoda and tears
made tracks of shivering pain down his scarred and broken face.
Killed him I should have, when I had the chance.
He looked out on desolation and pleaded with the Force not to show him
any more. But all it did was scour the landscape with a breath of wind
the forest had baffled for too long. It pushed him - insistent, chiding
- until he knelt beside the burnt corpse of his apprentice. And he saw
a sapling, fresh and frail, unfurling into new life under the shade of
the dead fingers.
Understand I do. The vision left him shuddering. He reached up,
surprised to find his skin unburned and his eyes dry. In desolate
patience the young man who might cause the destruction of the entire
Jedi Order knelt before him, waiting to be told his will. And still
care for the boy lodged in Yoda's heart like a barbed arrow he couldn't
So I should tell him yes. Lie he should about who he is. Learn to
be someone else, he can. Save him and us I can with that one
choice? Hope was like a hunger in him as he laid that decision
before the Force.
This time Qui-Gon was not in the vision at all. As though choosing that
path had wiped him out of existence. This time the static grew to a
howl of white noise, and lightning leapt from the sky. He watched the
Order burn all over again, but this time there was no seed. The ash
settled on him. Soot and carbon crunched like toxic snow, burning his
feet as he walked forever, looking for hope and never finding it.
He opened his eyes, reeled back, a tear dripping from the angle of his
jaw, darkening his faded collar. The child had not moved. Only the
sun, filling the lines of traffic with scrolls of purple sunset, showed
that Yoda had indeed wandered for hours.
It touched him, a little, that Qui-Gon had not stirred in that time.
What I know, he knows not, the old master thought, trying to ease
apart the fist of blame. If use him the Force will, punish him I
should not. Knew I did, when I chose him, that he was
important.... And another thought, like an irrelevance,
Uncomfortable he must be.
It spoke well of the boy's training, and of his endurance, that - after
offering up the integrity of his soul - he would wait so patiently for
judgement. "Padawan, sit please."
Or it spoke of a defeat Yoda did not want to think about.
Qui-Gon sat back on his heels, full mouth twisting at the pins and
needles. When it was at rest his face was round and innocent, but his
eyes were still capable of astonishing subtleties of expression, awed
and faintly afraid. "The Force was with you, Master."
"Yes." Looking at all that vulnerability, Yoda needed meditation with a
physical thirst, far too aware that what he wanted was to strike out.
"Master, are you all right?"
He summoned a smile, Bad for him I am. Bad for me, he is.
Perhaps... Even after eight hundred years of practice dispassion
did not come easily. Perhaps avert the future darkness we can if a
different Master he has.
"I will be, Young One. Interested the Force is, in you. The answer to
your question it gave me."
The eyes closed. Qui-Gon's breathing speeded and slowed as he brought
fear under control. He said nothing.
"Not served by lies, the Force is. Kill you it would, to ask you to
live a falsehood..." A pain in his chest as he tried to remove the
arrow but could not, "And see you dead, I would not."
The stunned look, the incredulity and relief his apprentice projected at
that response, flashed through the room like a supernova. Shame joined
everything else in the bleak landscape of Yoda's day. Thought I
would accept, he did. Take the pretence, leave the truth...Knows me
well, he does.
Long silence, as both fought for Jedi calm, and then Qui-Gon gave him a
look of recovered mischief. "Then if I'm to be myself, I have to find
out who that is, don't I? Can I please have what I asked for my
birthday? You did promise."
A fine negotiator, he will be! Yoda embraced the thought as a
life raft, allowing himself to drift back to normality. And always
in motion the future is. Change the present, I will, and a new future
He had a strong urge to get the boy out of his sight until that thought
stabilized: To put him away until he could look at the face and not see
death. This would be a fine opportunity. "Very well then. Passage I
will arrange for you tomorrow."
Qui-Gon unclenched his fists from the skirts of his tunic and slapped
half-heartedly at the creases he had left. Brushing did little to
remove smears of dirt from his knees - he hadn't thought about mud when
he knelt beside the path to watch the school of pittins cross.
Scruffy, you are, he thought, with a twist of homesickness for
his master, Important, first impressions are. Think what of the Jedi
will they, when you they see?
But that was rather the point, wasn't it - that his family should see
and judge him for what he was?
He raised his hand to knock at the heavy door, and couldn't quite do
it. Now that he'd arrived, excitement had changed into a sick,
unsettled jump of nerves. A feeling he associated with Mechanical
Engineering - the almost certainty that he could not do this.
Hesitating, he looked back down the valley. A gentle swell of hills
tumbled down to the harbour's ivory pale stone. Forest enfolded him;
coolness, the smell of pollen and the long, monofilament ribbons of
leaves undulating in fir-dark ripples down to the sea. Tiginnii wheeled
in the aqua sky, bright as birds of copper.
Qui-Gon breathed in, accepted this moment as one of rare beauty, and
allowed fear to fall away. Just as in Mechanics, so it was with meeting
his family; he would do what he would do, and the result would take care
He knocked. The door opened slowly, a woman's brown hand wrapped around
the lip. For a heartbeat his breath failed as he found himself looking
into wary blue eyes on a level with his own. What do you say? What
do you say to your mother?
A pause as long as death as he saw her fear - the mirror of his own - on
features that teased him with imagined familiarity. Something ached in
her and he reached out to soothe that pain, not really aware of what he
was saying. "My name is Qui-Gon Jinn. Were you the one who gave it to
She stepped forward, well inside the space he found comfortable. A
plait of long hair, brown blonde as oak, flicked behind her like the
tail of an angry cat as she lifted a small hand to his cheek and pushed,
turning his face, examining it. Her fear receded, but something else
took its place as the searching gaze catalogued his bruises, lingered on
the broken nose. She met his eyes with anguish; "They hurt you."
The bruises would have faded in seconds under Bacta. He hadn't thought
them serious enough to bother treating them. "Pain is a teacher whose
voice you can't ignore," he said, cheerfully, hoping she would see from
his calm that this wasn't abuse, it was learning.
The questing hand was snatched back - as if his skin had suddenly
blistered her fingers. The tentative connection he had felt from her
was torn wilfully away. Why? But he could read her guilt as
clearly as if it was his own. She gave me to the Jedi, and they beat
Reaching out, he caught her shoulder as she turned, trying to take away
her self disgust. "Mother," The word tasted strange in his mouth, "The
bruises are from combat training. If my opponents don't pull their
blows, it's because they know I'm good enough to block. I was sloppy
and a few punches got through," he shrugged, "That's all. I'll train
harder next time, and one day these bruises will save my life - because
they made me get better."
She broke away, unconvinced, "My name is Lin-Mai. Please don't call me
Mother. I can't..." Like a wild animal startled by danger, her spirit
pleaded to be left alone, and he obeyed it instinctively, withdrawing.
Leaving them both to handle the fact that they didn't know each other at
Following her into the house he passed through a succession of bright
rooms. Flatpics smiled down on him from the walls - a confusion of
nearly familiar faces. Corners were cluttered with antiques, and the
naive work of home craftsmen. Someone in the family was a fine weaver -
the doorways were curtained with elegant embroidery.
"You can sleep here." Lin-Mai gestured him into a small room, its
terracotta walls glowing against the sweep of orchard visible from the
open window. She fled as he entered, and he let her go for her own
comfort, and because he didn't know what to say.
There was someone in his room. Mouse like, waist high, her short fur
was iced with age and her huge eyes filmed about their edges with milk.
The sheets she clutched seemed too heavy for her arthritic paws.
"Hello?" Qui-Gon liked the way her ears twitched - it reminded him of
Yoda, in one of his playful moods. Something of the same childlike
mischief twitched the faded ends of her whiskers.
"Hello, young master." She had a small, whispery voice, laced with
humour. It made him relax, like coming in out of the rain to stand
before a blazing fire.
"I'm no Master!" He grabbed the sheet and tugged it carefully from her
lax grip, "Here, aren't you a bit old for this? Let me."
A staccato flurry of squeaks was probably laughter. Her tail lashed the
bed as he smoothed the blankets over it. "Oh," she chuckled, "Jedi
diplomacy! The galaxy is in safe hands, I see."
Pure and uncomplicated, affection made him kneel at her level, where he
could grin into the sable eyes. "I'm Qui-Gon. Who are you?"
"Mimi." Her long snout nudged him under the chin. She snuffled,
testing his scent, the small black nose wet against his skin.
Qui-Gon laughed in delight at the flex of her whiskers. "It tickles!"
"Mimi!" His mother's voice was harsh with reproach. She stood in the
doorway, rough green skirt draw tight about her legs, as if she feared
to brush against him, "Be about your work!" Her handsome face hardened
with a look of betrayal as she watched the old creature bow away. "Qui,
don't you know better than to fraternize with the servants?"
Now he too felt betrayed - disappointed in her. "I'm a Jedi," he said
coolly, "That makes me a servant too." Then he wondered, when she
turned away, if he'd been unnecessarily cruel.
Meditation beckoned like sanity, but he couldn't, not yet. So he kicked
his bag into a corner and sat down briefly, opening his mind.
A nice house - full of the serenity of past generations. Force
signatures of the long dead murmured with sleepy content in the stone
and hand smoothed wood of the walls. Yes, he smiled, in general the
people who had lived here were happy, but - an imprint, like the wail of
a far away child - they were not happy now.
His mother's distress drifted like a scent from the kitchen. My
He tested the spring of the mattress - too soft - stretched out on a bed
which made him feel small. Room to grow! Odd that such a tiny
accommodation should catch in his throat so. Ironic too, because he
slept curled and only needed half the space.
Outside the window, an orchard brushed the mountain with cloud like
swells of yellow cream blossom. In the long aisle of trunks someone
tall was standing, rigid with the effort of not looking.
My father. Qui-Gon closed his eyes, struggled for calm again -
he had not expected this to be so difficult - and then rose, brushed
past the closed silence in the kitchen and went out into a shower of
The tall man did not move as he approached. A breeze pushed his light
shirt against a back braced tight as a crossbow. The man's hair was
black bronze, darker and longer than Qui-Gon's, but the face - when
Qui-Gon circled him carefully - might have been his own. He knew that
look of mulish obstinacy from the inside out.
Four years with Master Yoda had taught him to associate affection with
the percussive rap of a cane across his shins, but here, looking at his
father, Qui-Gon was seized with the sudden desire to be hugged. This
man could do that - he was big enough to enfold a boy even as overgrown
as Qui-Gon felt himself to be, big enough to make him feel like a child
He craved a hug, like air, but his father would not look away from the
gray-green bulk of the tree.
Qui-Gon licked his lips and with a huge effort of will, concentrated on
the spot his father was watching. He could see immediately the Force
aura, sickly as the sparse blossom. "There's something wrong with its
roots," he told the man gently, "I see infection... It could recover."
A coiled moment, like the instant before battle, and he tried to remain
in readiness, but he needed...
The man swore, turned his back with the jerky movements of a battle
droid, and strode away. The door slammed behind him, and Qui-Gon slid
down to sit against the pitted trunk, hugging his own knees for
comfort. He had survived worse than this, he told himself firmly. Much
"We don't want you here, Jedi." Sweetly, a voice fell out of the
flowers, followed by the long form of a lichen greened girl in a
tattered yellow coverall. She had the wood grained blonde hair of their
mother and a scowl, as if she'd caught him taking away something that
belonged to her.
"Are you Ju-Gon? My sister?"
"You don't even know how your name works, do you?" The girl's
resentment shaded into contempt. "No one uses the generation marker,
except on wills and stuff. Don't you know anything?"
At least she was talking. "No," he said, levering himself up to watch
her meekly, "I don't know anything at all, about any of you. That's..."
"That's how it's going to stay." The young man who ghosted out of the
shadow had a deep, soft voice which trembled, shaking almost as much as
the pruning scythe he held. The wide blade glimmered with uncertainty
in the moving sunlight.
"And you must be Li." Qui-Gon took a step back, falling into battle
meditation as if it was the easiest thing in the world. His brother was
seventeen - tall, strong and, for some reason, terrified of him. An
"Why don't you kriff off, Jedi. Kriff off back to your Temple. Leave
"Haven't you done enough damage?" Li's shout came out between a snarl
and a sob. The wide, inexpert slice of the knife drew a silver line in
the air. "Go away!"
Qui-Gon knew he couldn't disarm the youth without humiliating him, so he
turned and ran. The sound of jeering laughter pursued him, until he
could hide behind the boundary wall, cover his ears, and pretend that he
"Master Qui?" It filled him with shame that he hadn't heard her
approach - hadn't noticed her until the gnarled paw touched his boot.
He looked up from the square of mossy ground he was now so intimately
familiar with and was shocked to see twilight, silver blue, behind
Mimi's lowered head.
What a total waste of space he was - sitting here in a fugue, letting
his world narrow down into the soap-vid lives of the insects in the
earth beneath his feet. "I shouldn't have come, should I? I've just
hurt them, all over again."
His hand strayed to his communicator, thumb braced at the latch of the
pouch. He should comm his Master and leave, before he did any more
harm. It was clear enough that though he didn't quite fit with the
Jedi, he certainly didn't belong here. And yet - he eased the buckle
shut again, sighing - he had felt so strongly that he had to come.
Mimi pressed her muzzle to his nose. On all fours, she really did look
like a giant rat, but her breath was that of a ruminant - sweet as
straw. "How do you heal a bone which has been broken and set badly?"
"You re-break it." Simple as that. He understood the answer as soon as
he received it. The Force had sent him to be the healer of this family;
to re-open their infected wound so it could heal. With the thought came
a wave of self-pity he couldn't overcome, even though he knew it
was childish and unworthy of him. Whatever made me think this was
about my needs? It never is.
"Come on. I have something to show you." She turned a humped back and
scurried down the path, trailing her tail like a cable in the dirt.
Evening breeze, heavy with the toasted hazelnut scent of the orchard,
brushed over Qui-Gon's tired eyes, and he turned his face into it for a
moment, hoping it could scour away the self-pity and leave him clean.
It didn't work.
"Why do they hate me so much? It's not like I had any choice."
An arm of the Galaxy had risen across the sky - tendrils of platinum and
pearl like the beard of a sleeping god. Down by the harbour the lights
of air traffic flickered, drawing ruler straight lines toward the town.
Qui-Gon could guess at the bobbing brightness of ships, anchored where
the river met sea, but over the hillside below his family's house was
nothing but forest and whispering darkness.
"It's hard for a mother to give up her child," Mimi's voice was another
whisper, and her clouded fur melted into the night. He thought he felt
weariness from her, but couldn't be sure. She certainly was ancient.
"Or for a father. Try to understand." This time she certainly winced
as she put her fore-paw down. "They believed they were doing what was
best for you."
He stopped. "Is it a long way?"
Surprised, she nodded.
"Then let me carry you." Qui-Gon unwound his sash and made it into a
sling, so she could ride on his back with her paws and her chin on his
"Young master! You shouldn't be doing this for me!"
He smiled at the sound of shocked pleasure. "I carry my Teacher all the
time. I won't drop you - that was one of the first lessons I
A chuckle like a sound of chewing in his ear and for a while she was
silent, enjoying her own reversion to childhood.
"And then you came back," she continued quietly, while Qui-Gon threaded
down the kaadu-track he was following, lifting branches out of their
way. "If you decide to stay, it means they were wrong - they sacrificed
your childhood for nothing - but if you go, they lose you again."
On the edge of the world a moon rose, golden as the eye of a Hutt, and a
faint malformed shadow followed them down into the valley.
"And you've returned as a Jedi," she mused, "So strange. Always
watching, seeing things that others don't see. With powers, and poise,
and.... You scare them."
Steps, cut into the rock, and trees tilted over the face of the cliff,
their twisted roots straining to hold on. Below he could faintly see
the rope handrail of a narrow track, and he was thankful for his balance
lessons. Mimi's paws tightened around his chest.
"But Li and Ju? They reacted like I was some kind of threat."
She looked over the edge, gave a small squeak of anxiety and closed her
eyes before answering. "Ju was conceived to replace you," she
whispered, "So she feels..."
"That if I come back, she won't be wanted any more?"
Her nod was a rub of fur against his cheek.
"That's stupid," he said, but it was a kind of stupidity he could
imagine himself sharing. "And Li?"
Sand, below the final step, cushioned his feet. Grass grew in random
tussocks, but there was no more path. The steep sided valley was hidden
and dark - cliffs cutting out the glaring moon. The softness and smell
of water hung in the air.
"Li was four when they came for you," Mimi said, struggling to get
down. He lifted her out of the sling and set her on the ground gently.
"For years he had nightmares about the hooded figures who took his
brother away; terrified they would return for him. The nightmares only
really stopped when he realized he wasn't good enough to interest
"Oh, gods!" Sympathy welled up in him like a spring. How could he have
been so unbelievably self-centred as to worry about his own problems in
the face of theirs? I must do something for them. I owe them
Falling silent, he heard the lulling murmur of water. The Galaxy above
shone dim highlights on a wide, dark river. Splash and heave as an
animal raised itself from the edge, its curved back almost invisible in
Mimi crept forward until she stood belly deep in the river. Black
against the black satin swirl of water, even the gleam of her eyes was
lost as it blended with the stars spattered on the surface.
"Every child on our planet," she whispered, "Is named in this river, at
night. I carried you here myself, thirteen years ago and placed you in
the water. Please come here."
He took off his cloak and boots with a prickling on the back of his neck
as if the leaning trees were watching him. What was this supposed to
do? Take away his name and make him someone else? He'd been through
that option already with Master Yoda.
It was so dark he had to use the Force to get to the waters' edge
without stumbling. "Mimi? What is...?"
"Hush. Just walk."
A step into coolness, the liquid rush soothing. He set his foot down
gingerly on smooth pebbles, black in the black water. A silence of
immanence, and suddenly he was walking in light, his footsteps tracking
blazing gold across the sweep of darkness. Radiance lit the valley
walls, colouring the hanging leaves, painting his reflection gilt and
cream as a young god - if gods are allowed to look shocked.
He waded in deeper, leaving a track of brilliance, and stood, the
confused centre of an underwater star, while the flood nudged at his
knees and a glow curled away from him along the river bed, washing like
luminous paint toward the harbour.
"This is how we knew what you were." Mimi sloshed to the bank, making
ripples of darkness, and he couldn't read her inhuman face in the
strange playful light. "How we knew to give you to the Jedi. Here in
the River of Light the Force claims its own."
Awed, Qui-Gon looked down at his feet, glowing red as the light passed
through his blood. He stooped, picked up a pebble - the stir of his
fingers painting more lines of gold. 'The Force claims its own'?
He felt his mouth twitch. Mimi shook herself like a big black dog -
spraying him with sparks, and the laugh escaped, even the sound of it
making him happy. How stupid could one person get?
He had to share the revelation while it was new and special. After a
pause the com-unit grumbled with the sound of a newly awakened Yoda.
Oops! "Master? Thank you. I understand now. The Force is my
heritage." Repeating it made it sink in, made the sense of liberation
and purpose coalesce into a firm foundation upon which he could build
his life. "The Force is my heritage. I belong to the Force."
"Hmn." His master sounded - unbelievable though it was - a little
relieved. "Home you will come tomorrow then?"
He looked at Mimi, watching him expectantly from the shore. "I'd like
to stay a little. Make peace..."
"From a Jedi, expected that is. Glad I am that the right decision you
have made." A sound of sheets rustling irritably, "When next you call
me, check the time zones first you will."
"Always I have known it, now know it too, you do. To the Jedi you
belong, Padawan. Good night."
Qui-Gon thumbed off the comm and waded out of the river. The stone in
his hand slowly faded as he let his shields rise. Soon it was nothing
more than a black pebble, veined with red. That's not quite what I
said, Master he thought, and cradled the unassuming treasure in his
palms, brushing away sand.
This little stone was coming home with him, to remind him that the Force
had claimed him. From now on he would follow the Force's will, its
wisdom, its guidance. No one else's. No matter what.
Tucking the river stone into his tunic, where it warmed his skin, he
dried his feet on his cloak, dressed, and crossed to pick up Mimi
again. Fur was damp and smelly against his back. "Thank you," he said,
contentedly, as he began to climb the narrow path out of darkness on his
way home. "Now tell me what I can do to help."
Note: This is a tie in with the Jedi Apprentice books, in which Qui-Gon gives the stone from the River of Light to Obi-Wan as a thirteenth
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